"Beauty is and always will be blue skies and open highway".
I grew up in Southern California in the 1960's. I suppose, to some extent, everyone who grows up in the West has a permanent mark left on their psyche from our "car culture".
I remember loving to drive anywhere with my parents in 1965 so I could count the Ford Mustangs on the local roads. Conversations with other boys in school invariably ended up with sports or cars. "Which is your favorite?" "What size is the engine?" "Chevy's suck!" "NO WAY- Ford's suck" "Four on the floor" "Three on the tree". "Mooneyes or Mags?" STP stickers were all the rage. If you didn't know who Big Daddy Garlits or AJ Foyt or Parnelli Jones were or the difference between a 283 and a 389 then, well, you were completely lost and ran the risk of being laughed off the playground.
What is the cliche? The "lure of the open road"? It had us all firmly in its' grip and we were all too young to drive. There was (and is!) romance in asphalt, steel, chrome and the freedom it represents. I have spent many hours trying to determine why I craved and still crave the open road. It's a spiritual, mystical and oddly ethereal concrete symbol for getting the Hell out of my head and out of here.
I fantasized before retirement about just hitting the road as soon as I could...
THAT dream has become a reality. I have been traveling the highways about half the time since June of 2013 but I have been loving highways my entire life.
Recently, on Twitter, I asked my followers to tell me some of their favorite highways. I was surprised at the number of responses I received. It's obvious that I'm not the only one who is in love with the road. Of course, were it not cut into pieces the "Mother Road"- Route 66- might have been on everyone's list. While I appreciate the efforts to preserve or re-create that route, I've done bits and pieces and it's a puzzle to even find it at times and much is gone in favor of the interstate system. So, we won't include that here which is too bad.
So what criteria did I use to determine my favorites? In two main ways- how the road makes me feel and whether I'd recommend it. That's not too subjective, is it? Well, of course it is but it's also very simple...
Here's the list:
1. California State Route 1 Growing up in SoCal this one was king. Commonly called PCH it stretches from San Juan Capistrano in the south to Leggett in the north- encompassing some of the world's most beautiful scenery and vistas. Big Sur and environs is typically considered the most beautiful part of the drive but there are little stretches - from it's southern terminus to it's northern end that are emblematic of everything that represents the "California culture". The drive from Santa Monica to Oxnard is an example...waves, surfers, sand, seafood, fishermen and the shaka sign.
2. Highway 101 is also known, in places, as "PCH". This, if I had to pick, is the highway that I think I've loved more and longer than any other. As a young man I read and was captivated by John Steinbeck and his descriptions of the land (I still am). Highway 101 (one oh one) traverses the heart of what I think of as "Steinbeck Country"; the rolling hills with large oaks that are shimmering green in the spring and golden in the autumn. The world changes as you approach the Gaviota Pass and I cannot describe how glorious it feels to go through the Gaviota tunnel heading north - I simply leave all the Southern California bullshit behind me, get out of my overthinking mind, and embrace the visual poetry of the drive.
There have been times, I'm not ashamed to admit, when the stretch between Santa Barbara and the Bay Area has literally brought me to tears. It's also known, of course, as "El Camino Real" and even that name, as a child, filled me with romance as I pictured Californios walking the Royal Road. I feel more "connected" to the 101 than any other Highway.
Now that I've taken up photography as a passion I'll be traveling more on 101 in Oregon. Most of the highway skirts the Pacific there and the sights are as peaceful and stunning as these eyes have ever seen. When I met my wife Lupe one of the first places I wanted to show her was the Oregon coast.
3. Highway 395 - this highway, lesser known than the coast routes is a gem. The granitic Sierra Nevada, sloping and gentle on the western slopes is completely different on the eastern side. On the western side you see the mountains off in the distance, on 395 they rise seemingly straight up, off the valley floor. I believe that I will probably spend more time on this highway than any other in the next few years. In fact, next month I'll be fishing with my sons in the Bishop Creek area and then I'll be exploring the Alabama Hills in October.
Of course, this is a federal highway and runs to the Canadian border from the Mojave Desert but I do not know the Oregon and Washington sections very well having only traveled them a few times. I believe in the next few years I'd better correct that.
4. Highway 89 - Strong arguments could be made that this is simply the best highway in the West and, therefore, the entire USA. If someone were to ask me to "show them the West", I'd head right for Highway 89. Highway 89 used to run from the Mexico border to the Canada border but that was changed in 1992 and now there are two sections.
Remarkably, Highway 89 links seven National Parks. In addition, 14 National Monuments are located close to this route. It is mind blowingly beautiful.
Here is a list of highlights:
Saguaro National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, and near Casa Grande National Monument and the Hohokam Pima National Monument. There is Tuzigoot National Monument, Walnut Canyon National Monument, Sunset Crater National Monument, and Wupatki National Monument.
Zion National Park, Bryce National Park. Two sections of U.S. 89 in Utah have been designated Scenic Byways. The Kanab to Mt. Carmel and Long Valley Scenic Byway is a designated Utah Scenic Byway. From Logan to Bear Lake is designated as the Logan Canyon Scenic Byway by the National Scenic Byways project.
This stretch, bordering Utah, does not have a National Park nearby but it's pastoral and enchanting as it goes through Montpelier and you know you're getting closer to the mountains and grandeur of Wyoming's National Parks.
Here you go. Highway 89 leads to Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park which is, of course, the gateway to Yellowstone National Park - the granddaddy of National Parks and subject of my next post.
The highway winds through the state, with breathtaking scenery along the way, to magnificent Glacier National Park.
My friend, Eric Temple, who I've mentioned previously, is the creative force behind Highway 89 Media. Our man knows how to name things...
If you have the time you'd be smart to put this road first on your list.
5. US Route 550. I was on this highway two years ago and it is an unforgettable and spectacular drive. It is known as the "Million Dollar Highway" as it stretches from Durango, CO to Montrose, CO. The road goes through and around some of the most impressive mountains in the United States. It is glorious and if you have not been on this road, as I suspect a few of you have not, I encourage you to make plans to see it post haste. I guarantee you will not be disappointed- just check the weather forecast. You can see some of the sights on this road if you scroll down my Trip Review Page to September 2014.
6. Utah Highway 12. While Highway 395 was my inspiration for this blog the first other highway I thought about was this dramatic road. It's only 125 miles from beginning to end but what an irresistible stretch it is. Starting at Bryce Junction (off Highway 89) and ending at Capitol Reef National Park it captures Southwestern Utah and its' uniquely sculptured magnificence. It travels through some of the most picturesque country in the West. Red Rocks, Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument and Kodachrome State Park are along the way. While Highway 89 may be the highway I would recommend to "See the West" it is a long route. If you have limited time then get yourself over to Highway 12 and check out its' wonders. I offer a 100% money back guarantee that you'll love it.
7. Beartooth Highway. Many people consider this the most beautiful drive in America (including none other than Charles Kuralt according to the always reliable Wikipedia page). This is the Northern Rocky Mountains at their very finest. It leaves Yellowstone and then twists and turns and switchbacks all the way to Red Lodge, Montana. I've only been on this road four times but I can remember each drive...the clouds and sky...where I had lunch and those breathtaking mountains. It's that unforgettable. It is notorious for its' unpredictable weather and summer snowstorms, while rare, are not unheard of. I have a dream of doing this drive some early September morning and stopping every few miles along the way. It's a nice dream. I hope to make it a reality quite soon.
There are other roads that I must mention even if I don't give them the words they deserve. I drove Interstate 93 through Massachusetts and New Hampshire about 15 years ago in October which started and ended my career as a "leaf peeper" but I'd go back in a heartbeat. My teen years and first years of driving were on the "Rim of the World" Highway 18 in the San Bernardino Mountains and I still think about it often...I drove it for 20 years in my career as well from the little town of Running Springs to Lake Arrowhead through every possible kind of weather and I'll always love it. On those rare clear days you can still see Catalina Island. A current favorite is Highway 70 in New Mexico that runs by the Organ Mountains and White Sands National Monument in New Mexico along the way to Alamogordo Going over the La Veta Pass on I-25 from Pueblo, CO to Santa Fe, NM is another fave.
So, there you have it. My top 7 American Highways and some honorable mentions. My hunch is lots of folks would disagree with this list and that's great. Educate me (but be gentle). I know that my eastern US knowledge is fairly weak and I probably missed some great roads in the midwest too. I also know there are many local highways that may provide for your escape and, perhaps, your inspiration too. The terrific photographer Alex Kunz mentioned, for example, California Highway 78 which runs from the beach to the desert and is an underrated heavenly drive that has inspired much of his remarkable work. Tell me about yours and I'll put it on the list of my future travel destinations...
I plan on sharing more of my "favorite places" in the coming months. Next up will be my favorite National Parks and, I guess, I'll try and limit that to seven as well... it won't be easy.
See you on the road...
I was unprepared to retire when I did. While the circumstances might be unique for each "retiree" I don't think I'm alone in that feeling. Most of us go from being productive "members of society" to being a little lost with this new stage of our lives. That probably sounds strange to many of you still working who look forward to retiring- I know it was a foreign thought to me. But, like many things in life, you can't realize how different it feels until you're there.
I remember telling a friend I went from daily trying to make the world a better place to having little purpose. She asked me, "So, you wanted to change the world? You did all that academic work, got your doctorate, and worked in school districts to help kids and change the world, right?" "Yep", I replied. Her response?
"How'd that work out for you?".
Brilliant, even though it did sound a little like Dr. Phil. It was a painful truth. She said three things that resonated afterwards...
1. Trite as it may sound, maybe all any of us can do is be the best person we can be. Set that example and quit trying to "change anything" except yourself.
2. Do all the things that you've wanted to do. That's not selfish, that is leading a productive and meaningful existence and following your heart is an opportunity that many people never get.
3. Surrender to what is.
So, I took her excellent advice.
I have been a traveling fool since that conversation. I work at being the best husband, father and friend I can be. Two new lights of my life, Finley and Joaquin, have been born. I have found a new love- photography. I have embraced my love of music and literature. I have re-established some long lost relationships that are deeply meaningful to me. I have seen and been places I wanted to see my entire life. This year is no different. I'm getting into my "golden years" and I'm loving it. Turns out this next stage of my life is a powerfully poignant and beautiful time.
Here's where I'll be the next few months:
April - I'll head to Utah and the Colorado Plateau. Zion, Monument Valley, Canyonlands NP, Kodachrome Basin and the Valley of Fire in Nevada.
May - Arizona - Painted Rock Petroglyph CG, Kartchner Caverns, ghost towns, Chiricahua National Monument, Bisbee, Madera Canyon.
June - San Onofre, Pinnacles NP with Lilly.
July - Utah, Idaho, Oregon, Wyoming and Glacier NP in Montana with Lupe. Point Mugu with Lilly and Lupe.
Aug - High Sierra fishing with son Jordan (and maybe Kevin?). Sequoia NP with daughter Lilly.
September - Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, Redwood NP, and Harris Beach in Oregon.
October - Arizona and a visit to Little House Customs for some improvements to my little trailer and camping along the Mogollon Rim.
November - Still not determined but that sounds like desert time, doesn't it?
Come on and join me!
See you on The Road...
It's that time of year when an old Cactus Man's fancy turns from the desert to the mountains and sea.
I have been trip planning for the last week while homebound. Lupe and I have had some domestic issues like painting and appliance repair to deal with (I swear it feels like these damn things are never done). As a result, I have nearly finished my trip plans for the next few months. In addition, Lupe and I are looking at the possible purchase of a very small, affordable, versatile, high ground clearance travel trailer. I need something that is homey enough for Lupe but I can take on my beloved dirt roads. While I love my current setup with just the camper shell I must admit it would be nice to have a place to hole up in bad weather. Anyway, we're not looking for something that resembles our home in any manner (why not just stay at home or in a motel then?). We want a tiny hideaway to take us away to private and secluded spots as well as the National Parks. The research continues...
In June- next week in fact, my son Kevin and I are headed to Boulder Basin in the San Jacinto mountains for a couple of days. I've been trying to get him to go camping with me for a few years now and I'm really looking forward to it. From there he'll go back to work (poor bastard) and I'll head to Nevada and Great Basin National Park. It's my first visit there and it is one of the lesser known National Parks- which is right up my misanthropic alley.
Then it's time for Lupe and Lilly! At the beginning of July Lupe and I are going to Point Mugu and camp right on the beach. Then, at the end of July she and Lilly and I are going to Jalama Beach and Pismo Beach. We'll spend a night in a motel in Morro Bay to wrap up (love that sleepy little town).
In August I'm headed back to the Southwest for a trip to the north rim of the Grand Canyon. I've been to the south rim probably 10 times but I don't usually head there in summer when the north rim is free of snow and open. I will probably camp a night or two at nearby Jacob Lake and look for future boondocking spots. At the end of the month and just before Lilly starts high school (Good God!) I'm taking her to one of my favorite spots in this lifetime - Lassen Volcanic National Park. I know it so well I can show her around! As she grows older these chances will be come fewer and fewer (see Jordan and Kevin) and I will cherish this time together. It will be an unforgettable trip.
My next BIG trip is in my favorite month to travel - September. I'll be heading to Devil's Tower National Monument in Wyoming and the Little Big Horn Battlefield in Montana. You've probably figured out my appreciation of and fascination with the indigenous people of our continent and this trip will focus heavily on Native American history and culture.
In October I'm heading back to Big Sur area to stay at Kirk Creek Campground and boondock in the mountains that overlook the sea, I'm gonna squeeze in a weekend back at Pinnacles National Park with my dear Bay Area family.
November brings me back to the desert...
I'll look forward to showing my pictures and narrating the trips as I return from each one.
The weekend will go quickly as I anticipate leaving for the Slickrock country of Utah. I'll be hanging out with my daughter and I love her so much that time just flies when she's around. Just a few more items to address before I hit the road. I look forward to sharing about my trip on my return. I've been to many of the places I'm heading before but never in the beautiful month of October.
My trips for next year are starting to shape up. I have 4 big trips in the works already. Big Bend NP, Rio Grande Del Norte in New Mexico, Devil's Tower NM in Wyoming, and the mighty Cascades Loop in Oregon and Washington.
I'll leave you with this quote which reminds me that the past is always past- especially when we're on the road:
“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.”
Please take care of yourselves.
This will mostly be a journal of my travels. I may include other items that interest me. Feel free to join in.