Florida State Road A1A

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Roadgeek Blog
Aerial photo of Florida State Road A1A in Ft. Lauderdale taken by Global Jet and posted to Flickr. Licensed under CC BY 2.0. (Source)

 

Florida State Road A1A is a legendary north-to-south road that goes all along the eastern coast of Florida. It goes from the tip-top of the state all the way down to Miami. This is basically the main road through most oceanfront towns on the eastern coast of Florida. If you drive all the way from the north to the south, you’ll pass through countless charming beach towns.

Originally known as Atlantic Boulevard, Florida eventually changed the name to State Road 1. However, Florida State Road 1 and US Highway 1 were really close to one another, sometimes even overlapping. It was very confusing. In 1946, Florida changed State Road 1’s name to State Road A1A.

 

Florida A1A
Florida State Road A1A – Google Maps

 

If you’re looking to go to the beach, this is a great way to do it. If you go down this road with no plans and no preferences on where to stop, you’ll very likely find a place that speaks to you before the sun goes down. You’ve got practically 400 miles to choose from.

 

Florida State Route A1A
Florida State Road A1A. Photo taken by Doug Kerr and posted to Flickr. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. (Source)

 

It’s easy to forget how huge and diverse Florida is. It’s a massive state with a population of over 20 million people, including multiple major cities like Jacksonville, Miami, Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Orlando. It takes a massive stretch of road to capture the beating heart and soul of a place so big and so talked about.

The weather is lovely this time of year. Don’t you want to take a trip?

 

DaytonaBeach-A1A-South
Florida State Road A1A through Daytona Beach

Connecticut River Byway

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Roadgeek Blog
The Connecticut River Valley, photographed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and posted to Flickr. Licensed under CC BY 2.0. (Source)

 

The mighty Connecticut River weaves its way through the New England region of the United States, passing through Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and – perhaps unsurprisingly – Connecticut. In addition to the spellbinding beauty of the water itself, the river has written a complex story of history and culture in its valley. That is why the Federal Highway Administration officially recognized the series of roads along the river’s course as a national scenic byway.

 

Connecticut River Byway – Google Maps

 

There are a lot of different ways you can experience the Connecticut River by the road. Nearly 500 miles have been qualified as part of the scenic byway, but for simplicity’s sake I’ve highlighted the most straightforward route above. There are all sorts of small towns along the way with various historical sites of intrigue. What speaks to me the most, though, is the railroad history. The railroads between Montreal, New York City, and Boston helped develop the Connecticut River watershed. Not only could manufacturers and traders do business faster, but urban life became viable well outside of the confines of the big cities.

 

The railroad station at White River Junction, Vermont. Taken by Doug Kerr and posted to Flickr. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. (Source)

 

Railroad development really started to take off in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and you can tell by the way the towns look when you drive past them on the byway. This put the towns of Brattleboro, Bellows Falls, Claremont, Windsor, and White River Junction on the map. It’s not just the towns, though, you can tell how the Connecticut Valley developed by the roads themselves, which have dozens of covered bridges. You don’t see those all that often! There was a small window of time in which covered bridges were in vogue that just so happens to line up with when the Valley was developed.

 

The Columbia Covered Bridge in Lemington, Vermont. Taken by Doug Kerr and posted to Flickr. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. (Source)

 

 

Has this piqued your interest? If you’re hoping to take a New England tour this summer, check out this site – it’s entirely dedicated the Connecticut River Byway.

 

International Selkirk Loop

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Roadgeek Blog

 

I am fascinated by the International Selkirk Loop! As byways go, it’s not talked about very much. That’s a shame, since it crosses so much gorgeous territory – mountains, lakes, and rivers. It’s situated in the quietest parts of Idaho, Washington state, and – grab your passport – British Columbia. As the picture above suggests, it’s a great place to take your motorcycle, especially during the mild summers.

 

International Selkirk Loop – Google Maps

 

This winding international loop takes travelers through a valley in the American and Canadian Rockies. The valley was formed by the Kootenay River and Lake, which drivers will find themselves driving alongside for quite a while in a postcard-esque landscape. The route even includes a the world’s longest free ferry, which sails across the Kootenay Lake. Something about driving your car onto a boat always excites me, and not the least of which because it reminds of the Outer Banks ferries.

 

Old postcard of Canada Highway 3A

 

 

This is a drive you take when you want to get waaaay out there. There are a handful of sparsely populated towns that dot the map along the Selkirk Loop, but there are no major cities anywhere close. The location of the scenic byway certainly contributes to this isolated feeling. Yet even in its isolation, the roads are great quality even while they wind and twist as mountain roads so often want to do. One traveler on TripAdvisor aptly referred to it as “a motorcyclist’s dream.”

 

The Dinosaur Diamond

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Roadgeek Blog

 

A photo taken on Colorado Highway 139 by WildEarth Guardians and posted to Flickr. Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. (Source)

 

Stretching across the rugged landscape of western Colorado and eastern Utah, the Dinosaur Diamond is an epic 512 mile loop. It spans several US highways and a large portion of I-70. This is one of the few places in the United States where the roads are so gorgeous that an interstate has been designated as a national scenic byway. It’s a small wonder, too. The road passes several national monuments and parks as well as national forests. The scenery provided by the wise, age-old desert is nothing short of jaw-dropping in its beauty.

 

Dinosaur Diamond: Utah and Colorado - Google Maps
Dinosaur Diamond: Utah and Colorado – Google Maps

 

That’s just speaking of the scenic qualities of the road alone. The Dinosaur Diamond loop got its name from its roots in archaeology and history. If you stop in the town of Moab, Utah, you can find rock art created by Native American cultures. The Arches National Park also has petroglyphs and pictographs on display from a distant past that we sometimes forget we came from.

Many museums along the route contain dinosaur bones and tracks. In the towns of Moab, Vernal, and Price, in fact, they are still actively digging up bones. I don’t know about you, but I can’t say that about my hometown!

 

A photo taken on Utah State Route 128 near Moab, Utah by Ken Lund and posted to Flickr. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. (Source)

 

Perhaps you don’t want to stay in your car the whole time, stopping only occasionally for sights and historical intrigue. If you want to get out and be active, there’s plenty of opportunity for that, too. If you find yourself attracted to the water, there’s a lot of opportunities to go rafting – calm-water and whitewater. There’s also a ton of hiking and biking trails as well. Want to go snowboarding, skiing, or ice-fishing? There’s lots of places to do that up in the highest altitude regions along the byway.

 


 

Have I piqued your interest for a summer road trip? There’s a whole website dedicated to the Dinosaur Diamond. If I just gave you your next vacation destination, you’ll find it very useful for making plans.

 

The Blue Ridge Parkway

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Roadgeek Blog

The Blue Ridge Parkway contains in its 469 miles of pavement, the essence of a scenic byway. This road stretches through the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina and the Shenandoah Park of Virginia. The entire road is maintained by the National Park Service and it remains a smooth, scenic, safe drive.

 

Blue Ridge Parkway Google Maps Route
Click for directions

 

The Blue Ridge Parkway is popular not only for its views and smooth travel, but also for its architecture and convenient location. The Blue Ridge Parkway is not too far from many urban population centers on the Eastern coast, but it has a wild, services-50-miles-apart sense of solitude.

This is the road that started my love of road trips. On Labor Day weekend of September 2015, my brother and I set out from Chattanooga, TN to Cherokee, NC. We took the entire road in one day, but many people take it over a course of several days. We roughed it, even sleeping the night before at a scenic overlook in the back of the 1990 Toyota Camry I was driving at the time. (I do not recommend this for both safety and comfort reasons.) Yet having watched the sunrise over the Great Smoky Mountains in the balmy 50-degree weather of the late summer Southern mountains, it was totally worth it.

 

Blue Ridge Parkway in 2015

 

This road is non-stop beauty. No billboards. No advertising. It’s just a lot of scenic overlooks, the occasional pull-off to a small town where you can get gas and food, and a few public restrooms. This parkway is a park, first and foremost.

 

Blue Ridge Parkway
Photo taken by Matthew Paulson and posted to Flickr under the license CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 (Source).

 

Whether you take it fast or take it slow, I cannot recommend this road highly enough. Today is the first of May,  and the Southern spring is now reaching even the heights of the Smokies. Why not go this weekend?

The Dalton Highway

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Roadgeek Blog

I have an unhealthy fascination with the state of Alaska. Having lived most of my life in Tennessee, I find it hard to imagine a place so disconnected, distant, and cold. As you might expect, Alaska’s geographical detachment from the continental United States that this has become a defining aspect of its character. That’s part of why cheesy television shows refer to it as the Last Frontier.

When it’s relegated to a tiny box in the bottom left corner of a map, it’s easy to lose a sense of the scale of the state. Alaska is 2.5 times bigger than Texas – a state which prides itself on its size. Bear in mind that Texas is an absurdly large state – about 3 times the size of the United Kingdom.

Alaska is a massive, isolated, cold state. That’s why I’m so fascinated with Alaska Highway 11, also known as the Dalton Highway or North Slope Haul Road. This is a road which captures all the ruggedness of the state and much of the beauty as well.

 

Dalton Highway Alaska State Higway 11 North Slope Haul Rd Google Map

 

The Dalton Highway is a 414 mile stretch of road that starts about 80 miles northwest of Fairbanks and stretches all the way up to the ominously named oil refinery town of Deadhorse. It’s an ugly road. Most of it is unpaved. You can expect multiple flat tires. It can snow at any time, including July and August. There’s very, very few places you can stop for gas or shelter. Big trucks have the right of way at all times. The speed limit is 50 miles per hour, but there will be places where you can’t go faster than 15. This is not a road for the faint of heart.

 

Photo taken by Bob Wick and posted to Flickr. Licensed under CC 2.0 BY. (Source)

 

The reward for steeling your nerves to travel this dangerous road is an unparalleled peek into the hundreds of miles of untouched wilderness. I throw around the word “isolated” a lot, but this road makes “The Loneliest Road in America” seem like the 405 in California.

 

Sukakpak Mountain on the Dalton Highway in Alaska
Photo taken by Scott McMurren and posted to Flickr. Licensed under CC 2.0 BY. (Source)

 

As if the road weren’t hard enough to traverse because of its constant slushy consistency and ample potholes, there’s mountains to climb, including the fearsome Atigun Pass. Some of these mountains are so scary that even pilots are worried about crashing.

 

Photo taken by Anita Ritenour and posted to Flickr. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Source)

 

Travelling this road is an ambition of mine. You don’t travel it for the food. The food isn’t good. You don’t travel it to reach Deadhorse, because the town of Deadhorse is hideous. You don’t travel it to see the Arctic Ocean, because you can’t see that unless you’re going on a trip with others. You don’t even drive it for the scenery, which while gorgeous, is still hard to justify going to Alaska to see.

You drive the Dalton to drive the Dalton. You do it for its own sake. You do it to conquer it. Why else would you drive a road so dangerous that rental agencies outfit cars specially for the road and refuse to rent to folks under age 30?


Have I piqued your interest? Check out this fantastic article by the New York Times written from the perspective of someone who’s driven the Dalton. It’s a great read!

 

West Cascades Scenic Byway

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Roadgeek Blog
West Cascades Oregon Scenic Byway Sign
Photo taken by Mark Goebel and posted to Flickr. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Source)

 

I’ve decided to write this article as a mission of mercy for all those poor, poor Oregonians suffering in Portland, running themselves ragged in the rat race of microbreweries and coffee shops. I have found a respite from your hellish existence! …Not convinced of my pity? You have a keen instinct. I happen to think Portland, OR is tied with Austin, TX for the title of “hippest city in the country.” It’s definitely the better of the two big Portlands in America, and the one in Maine is no slouch!

As it turns out, just a little bit southeast of your incredible city, there’s a gorgeous road that cuts through the Willamette National Forest: the West Cascades Scenic Byway.

 

West Cascades Scenic Byway Google Map
Click for directions on Google Maps. (These directions vary slightly from official directions, so be mindful!)

 

This 200ish-mile drive goes from a little bit southeast of Portland and ends a little bit southeast of Eugene. The West Cascades is all about the scenery! You start driving alongside the Clackamas River and eventually go through the Mt. Hood forest. You’ll have incredible views of the river, the mountains, and bright, green forests. This road is a great example of the lush, green, other-worldly beauty of backwoods Oregon.

 

North Sister Mountain Oregon Scenic West Cascades Byway
Photo taken by Kirt Edblom and posted to Flickr. Licensed under CC BY SA 2.0 (Source)

 

This is a road you want to take slowly. A lot of roads are best appreciated while moving, but this isn’t among them. There’s lots of places to enjoy nature. There’s places for hiking, boating, fishing, picnicking, and sightseeing. The road covers all kinds of different scenery, including mountains, glaciers, lava fields, forests, lakes, and rivers.

 

West Cascades Lake Oregon
Photo taken by Kirt Edblom and posted to Flickr. Licensed under CC BY SA 2.0 (Source)

 

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you probably know I’m a roadgeek. I get hyped about the numbers, the mileage, and the distance. I like putting pavement behind me for its own sake. I like the meditative experience of being behind the wheel for a long, long time. Yet I have to say that the West Cascades Byway is a road I want to drive for the scenery. This is a road I want to stop every five miles on to breathe in the fresh air and take in the sights.

The Loess Hills of Iowa

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Roadgeek Blog
Iowa Loess Hills Google Map
Click for directions on Google Maps. Please note that there’s many alternate routes to travel the Loess Hills, and many of them involve gravel roads. Do your research and don’t just depend on this blog!

 

The American Midwest is characterized by boundless stretches of flat amber plains, but that’s not the whole truth. In a country as geographically massive as the United States, sometimes the land takes curious shapes the likes of which are seldom seen anywhere else. Nestled in the westernmost portion of Iowa, there are a series of highways traversing the Loess Hills. These gentle rolling dunes were created by thousands of years of silt and dirt being blown about by the prevailing winds and eventually conquered and stabilized by grass.

 

Photo taken by Matt Harriger and posted to Flickr. Licensed under CC 2.0 BY-SA. (Source)

 

There are many routes you can take to travel the Loess Hills, ranging from high-quality highways to gravel roads. The basic route you need to follow is simple: stay close to the Missouri river and stay off I-29. Like the hills themselves, this is a very laid back road trip. You can take it at your own pace and feel comfortable knowing that you’ll never stray too far from the interstate. You can make a day trip of it, and depending on which direction you’re headed, stay in Lincoln, NE or Sioux Falls, SD for the night.

Going to Iowa may not top the bucket list of starry-eyed travelers who set their sights on big cities, high mountains, and expansive oceans. The Loess Hills are not so dramatic. They are a delicate paradise spread over hundreds of miles. To me, that’s reason enough to pack a cooler and put gas in the car.

 

Iowa Scenic Byway Road Sign Loess Hills
Photo taken by Jimmy Emerson, NVD and posted to Flickr. Licensed under CC 2.0 BY-NC-ND. (Source)

Natchez Trace Parkway

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Roadgeek Blog

After taking you across vast swatches of desert highway and isolated stretches of beach, it is now my very good pleasure take you to a place that’s close to my heart. It’s also a place close to my home in Chattanooga, Tennessee. This is not just a road trip on my bucket list – it’s one I traversed on March 18-20, 2016.

 

Natchez Trace Parkway Google Map
Click to view directions on Google Maps.

 

The Natchez Trace Parkway is a 444-mile drive through the warm forests and gentle rolling hills of the American Southeast. The parkway commemorates the Old Natchez Trace, a trail originally created by Native Americans. It was co-opted by European and American settlers who wanted to connect the distant parts of Mississippi with the more centrally located city of Nashville. In 1801, the United States Army started turning the Trace into a main thoroughfare. Relentless in its stolid advancement, the sands of time eventually diminished the importance of the Trace. Steam power made the Mississippi much more navigable and this facilitated easier ways to connect the sprawling United States.

 

Photo taken by Pratap Sankar and posted to Flickr. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Source)

 

History was born on the Natchez Trace, and it slowly faded away. This road is filled with historical sites and scenic pull-offs. Yet even if you’re not a history buff, it’s gorgeous in the spring and fall. It’s a special road – completely free of advertisements and tourist attractions. It’s singular in its purpose to preserve history. It’s a peaceful retreat from a loud world.

 

Photo taken by Matthew Nichols and posted to Flickr. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 (Source)

 

Even in its relative isolation (the only things on the radio are NPR and preaching for most of the route), the Natchez Trace Parkway is a well-maintained road. Not only is it a smooth drive, but there are lots of campsites and well-maintained rest areas. A lot of the places I’ll be talking about on this blog are rough-and-tumble, rugged stretches of road. Many of the roads I suggest will be technically difficult to drive, even ones in the same state (I’m looking at you Tail of the Dragon). This road isn’t like that. The Natchez Trace Parkway is a nurturing and sedate road.

 

North Carolina Outer Banks Scenic Highway

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Roadgeek Blog
Google Maps Screenshots of North Carolina Outer Banks
Click for Google Maps directions.

 

If you drive to the very easternmost portion of North Carolina, you might be surprised at where it takes you. There’s a chain of islands known as the Outer Banks that extends outward from the mainland state – as if the lining of the state had been pulled out into the Atlantic Ocean. It has to be seen to be believed.

 

Satellite view of North Carolina Outer Banks. Taken by NASA.

 

That thin white line that is separated from the rest of the state are the sandy beaches of the North Carolina Outer Banks. I think what most fascinates me about this region is how its separation from the mainland created its culture. Sure, you’ve got what you might expect of a coastal region: fishing and boating are a big deal there. However, no other place can claim to be the “Graveyard of the Atlantic” because of how easily that thin white sandy line that shows up on satellite images can utterly destroy unsuspecting ships. There’s even a museum bearing this title. And no discussion of Outer Banks culture would be complete without bringing up the distinctive Outer Banks accent which is very unlike the typical American Southern super-dialect. When visiting the mainland, many people think the residents are from Ireland because of their accents!

 

 

So how do you get there? Well, first, fly on over to Kitty Hawk. (Get it? Okay, you might just have to drive…) Travel south on North Carolina State Route 12 and go through Kill Devil Hills, Nags Head, and all the way to Hatteras. Take your car to the ferry and sail your car to the next island. Yep, it’s going to be that kind of trip! When you reach land, drive to Ocracoke, and stop to appreciate the lighthouse. Then take another ferry to boring mainland North Carolina. When you’re done, you can say with complete pride that you drove on this incredible stretch of road.

 

 

Photo taken by Counselman Collection and posted to Flickr. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 (Source)

 

The United States of America contains multitudes. It’s easy to forget the sheer amount of variety that characterizes the nation. Go explore! See how many cities and towns you can visit. See how many cultures and accents you can exposure yourself to. See how many sandy beaches, rolling hills, and snow-capped mountains you can set foot on. The country is a big place, my friends, and so is the world at large.