My folks never needed to wait for Labor Day to take a road trip. I was not born in the back seat of a 1940 Buick but I might have been if my dad hadn’t gotten a job the week before.
It all started when he came back from the ETO, married my mom, and swept her off on a grand tour. Over the years, they circumnavigated the United States by car a dozen times, packed the car and drove somewhere for weekends or weeks at a time, cruised hither and yon in the boat, and one year even moved to Gallup, New Mexico, so my mom could paint there for three months.
Rufus sent me an AOL advert flogging the five most awesome American roads to drive in a ragtop. By a strange coinkydink, it’s Labor Day and I have a topless car.
The Overseas Highway, U.S. 1 for 127 miles through the Keys to Key West
Getting to Key Weird is easily as much fun as the destination. There are few mile markers along the way without an art gallery, a state park, live music, fishing, and, of course, the beautiful blue horizon beckoning from every bridge and byway.
I live there and I can’t get enough of it.
Route 2, M-22 117 miles across Michigan
We dipped the kids’ toes in the National Lakeshore but curvy M-22, is a whole lot more fun to drive than the towering sand dunes.
Route 3, the 266 mile Aloha Loop on the Big Island
“This one may require some advanced planning” the tour director wrote. From snorkeling at Hookena Beach Park to climbing Hawaii Volcanoes National Park there are “majestic views from just about anywhere.”
Route 4, 208 miles across Monument Valley, Arizona
The northeast corner of Arizona (Tsé Bii’ Ndzisgaii, or valley of the rocks) mostly includes the area surrounding Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, the Navajo Nation equivalent to a national park. This was also part of the area where my mom painted.
The 310 mile Route 5 of Death Valley
Pack plenty of water and gasoline to traverse the arid desert of Death Valley National Park where there are dunes, lava flows, desert overlooks, and mountains way in the distance but close enough to touch. The Badwater Basin is the lowest elevation in the United States.
I’ve been on (almost) 4 of the 5 trips. We skirted Monument Valley and I don’t do off-road, so I haven’t done the 17-mile route inside the park. And I’ve never been to Hawaii.
“I have done Hawaii,” Rufus said. He spent two days circumnavigating the Big Island and spent the night in Hilo. “I MAY also have done the Michigan run accidently, driving from Manistee to Traverse City. But if so it was probably at night.”
“How on Earth did they miss the Pacific Coast Highway?” he asked. “I have done that from Sherman Oaks to just south of Monterey but never did get to Monterey.” That highway runs alongside some of the most beautiful coastlines in the country; it is designated an All-American Road.
He also hasn’t “done Skyline Drive but the impressions I’ve had suggest it should have made the list, too.”
I have and it should. In fact, I try to route myself along there when I drive from Rufus’ house to my friend Bill’s house just south of Charlotte. That 105-mile road runs along the ridge for the entire north-south length of the Shenandoah National Park in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.
A road trip through the mansions and gardens of Chester County and the Brandywine Valley in Pennsylvania is pure nostalgia for me since I grew up there seeing those sights and sites every day.
SWMBO and I spent an August weekend on the beach in Cape Cod hopping from clam shack to dune to vintage home. Take a sweater. We forgot. It gets cold on the beach when the sun goes down.
Then there is the Forgotten part of Florida, the “real” Sunshine State where crackers raised cattle and life was simpler. Christmas has one of the nicest and most unexpected Town Parks in the state. It is really, really dark around Chiefland at night. Daytona may be better known but race cars roar across Sebring almost every weekend. Route 27 around Okeechobee introduces locks to let boats navigate the elevation changes across the state. Florida has hills? Who knew?
Maryland’s Eastern Shore offers up-close encounters with skipjacks, crabs right off the dock up the Choptank in Cambridge, and wild Chincoteague ponies. Our first stop with the boat was in the Northeast River but we wandered down the Bay year by year to Chestertown. Joe Strong has passed and his Kibler’s Marina has gone upmarket as the Chestertown Marina now.
And let’s not forget the Vermont Maple and Cheese Trail! No matter what Arizona Highways thinks, the Green Mountain State offers great food and the best fall scenery in the world.
Bottom line is this: there are few roads in this country that don’t have something interesting to see or do and gas is only 15 times more expensive than when I was a kid. Go see something today. Take your camera.