Sunday, February 28, 2010

America's Most Scenic Road Trips

I came upon a list of America's Most Scenic Drives. I was surprised by how many of them I have Roadtripped on. And have already written about on this very blog.

Or that I intend to write about, but have not gotten around to it yet. Such as Highway 49 in California. Or Yosemite. Or Yellowstone. Or the Oregon Coast.

Several Scenic Roadtrips in Washington are on this list of 30, but not Chuckanut Drive. Chuckanut Drive takes you from the Samish Flats in Skagit County to Bellingham. The road twist and turns on the sides of mountains, with steep drop offs to the saltwater bay below. It is a very scenic drive.

Below is the list of 30 Scenic America Road Trip Drives, with links to my version of a Scenic Drive and possibly a comment or two.


1. Going-to-the-Sun Road, Glacier National Park, Montana. This drive past fiord-like St. Mary and McDonald lakes, the glacial scenery of Logan Pass, waterfalls, sheer slopes covered with beargrass, and old-growth forest on Avalanche Creek is the most scenic 50 miles of highway in the US. Don't miss it.

I have survived Roadtripping Going-to-the-Sun Road.

2. Grand Loop (US 20-89-191-287), Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. Three million acres of wilderness is accessible from this loop drive. The diversity of the scenery on this road is amazing: geyser basins and terraces, waterfalls, wildlife, fishing in seven rivers, Yellowstone Lake, the canyons of the Yellowstone River, rugged mountains and valleys.

Roadtripping through Yellowstone is one of my favorites.

3. Yosemite Valley Drive-California 120-California 41, Yosemite National Park. The valley that inspired John Muir is still unforgettable. After seeing the Valley, get on the Tioga Pass Road to access the Sierra high country of granite mountains and blue lakes. All roads in the Park are scenic, but the Wawona road (Calif. 41) has the best sequoias.

Writing about Roadtripping to Yosemite is on my to-do list.

4. US 212 (BearTooth Highway), Yellowstone National Park-Red Lodge, Montana. This highway climbs both sides of the 10,000-foot BearTooth Plateau, a million-acre wilderness with awesome views. First part of the drive is Yellowstone National Park backcountry through the Absaroka Mountains.

5. Rim Drive, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. Driveby sightseeing is not the best way to experience the Grand Canyon, but it's better than nothing.

I prefer the rim drive on the north rim. Way fewer drivers.

6. Teton Park Roads and Rockefeller Memorial Parkway, Grand Teton-Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. Spectacular lakes and valleys with the Teton Range as a backdrop.

I have Roadtripped Rockefeller Memorial Parkway, but I've always Roadtripped right by Grand Teton National Park. I regret this omission.

7. US 101 (Redwood Highway), Crescent City-Trinidad, California: The world's tallest trees are the main attraction, but side trips to the Pacific beach and hikes like Fern Canyon make this area one of the country's most scenic.

Stopping the Roadtripping and getting out to hike in the Redwoods is a good thing.

8. US 441 (Newfound Gap Road)-Tennessee 73 (Little River Road), Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee-North Carolina. The quiet beauty of the Smokies is good in any season, and this drive is a good tour of some of the park's best areas. Fall colors are among the best anywhere in the world.

9. Utah 9, Zion National Park. Including the spur road up Zion Canyon, one of the most spectacular and haunting places in the Southwest.

Zion may be my all time favorite scenic Roadtrip Scenic Drive.

10. Blue Ridge National Parkway, Great Smoky Mountains National Park-Skyline Drive, Virginia. Besides spring flowers and fall leaves, this national parkway offers enough views, hikes, and scenery to justify the extra driving time.

11. US 101 and Olympic National Park roads, Washington. The drive along the shoreline of Lake Crescent through the Olympic rain forest is incredibly scenic. But even better are the spur roads (the Hurricane Ridge, Soleduck Valley, and Hoh Rain Forest roads) that go deeper into the national park.

And the beaches, particularly La Push and the hike from Lake Ozette to the Pacific.

12. California 1 (Coast Highway), Leggett-Morro Bay, California. Three hundred miles of the Pacific.

For me, this is the best Roadtripping Drive on the west coast.

13. US 550 (Million Dollar Highway), Ouray-Durango, Colorado. An engineering feat, this road goes through the best scenery in the Colorado Rockies.

I was not as overwhelmed as I wanted to be by the Million Dollar Highway.

14. Utah 12, Bryce Canyon National Park-Torrey, Utah. Connects two great national parks, Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef, but the scenery in between is just as good, including the Escalante slickrock country and the aspens and 100-mile views on Boulder Mountain.

The things I remember most about this Scenic Roadtrip Drive was the high summits and the hike into Calf Creek Falls. That is one of the summits, on this Scenic Drive, in the picture at the top. I mentioned this drive when I wrote about a Roadtrip that ended up at Bryce Canyon.

15. US 34 (Trail Ridge Road), Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. One of the most dramatic areas of high country in the West, let alone reachable by highway.

I have Roadtripped this road, but can not find a single photo of it.

16. Hawaii 360 (Hana Highway), Maui, Hawaii. Some of the best parts of Hawaii are for hikers only; the Hana road is definitely one of the exceptions.

17. US 101, Astoria-Brookings, Oregon. The Oregon coast is sometimes dramatic, sometimes gentle, always scenic. Side trips to old-growth forests, rivers a plus.

Roadtripping the Oregon Coast is a close second to California's version of driving alongside the Pacific Ocean. Washington's version is much wilder with a lot less highway running along side the ocean.

18. Catalina Highway, Tucson, Arizona. Goes from saguaro desert to Douglas-fir forest in 20 miles.

I have Roadtripped all over Arizona, but I have no memory of Roadtripping on Catalina Highway.

19. Rim Drive, Crater Lake National Park, Oregon. Deep blue and just deep, Crater Lake is fascinating.

The last time I was at Crater Lake National Park the snow was deep. And the lake was still a deep, deep blue.

20. Washington 706, 123 and 410, Mount Rainier National Park. Climbs through forested slopes and encircles Mount Rainier.

I Roadtripped around Mount Rainier just over a year go, seeing The Mountain, up close and cloud-free for the first time.

21. Alaska 3 (Parks Highway), Fairbanks-Willow, Alaska. Driving in Alaska is not like driving in the Lower 48 --- the vastness of the landscape is overwhelming. Other roads may have even better scenery (e.g. the Richardson Highway) but the road to Denali is a journey through the heart of Alaska.

I am reading a book that is making me want to Roadtrip the Alaskan Highway. I have never Roadtripped in Alaska. I have flown there, I have floated there, but have never Roadtripped there.

22. Colorado 82, Aspen-Twin Lakes, Colorado. US 160, Pagosa Springs-South Fork, Colorado. It's hard to single out part of Colorado as being more scenic than the rest, but the drives across Independence Pass and Wolf Creek Pass are as good as any.

23. Route 100, Vermont. Still rural, still natural, and still inspiring, New England is one of America's most unique cultural areas.

24. Washington 14 and Interstate 84, Columbia River Gorge, Washington-Oregon. The now-tamed Columbia River's natural gateway to the Pacific. Plus side trips to waterfalls, old-growth groves, and up the Hood River valley to Mount Hood.

There is part of the Scenic Drive, through the Columbia Gorge, which is the first road ever built in America just for the purpose of giving people driving access to spectacular scenery. And it is one spectacular road.

25. Talimena Scenic Drive, Talihina, Oklahoma-Mena, Arkansas. Though not well known nationally, this parkway follows the crest of the Ouachita Mountains for 75 miles through the best scenery in the central U.S.

26. Natchez Trace National Parkway, Natchez, Mississippi-Nashville, Tennessee. The National Park Service built this relaxing alternative for drivers through the Old South. The parkway takes you almost 500 miles, from the Mississippi delta to the edge of the Tennessee mountains, with historic sites, walking and hiking trails. Why can't all highways be like this?

27. Washington 20 (Cascade Highway), Twisp-Marblemount, Washington. A long drive through the big wilderness of the North Cascades.

This is where I lived in Washington. I've Roadtripped this Scenic Drive more times than I could possibly remember.

28 and 29. Michigan 20, Eagle River-Copper Harbor, Michigan. Birch forest, iron mines, and the shoreline of blue Lake Superior make this road scenic. US 61, Two Harbors-Grand Portage, Minnesota. The best-known of many excellent drives along the Superior lakeshore.

30. Florida 9336, Florida City-Flamingo (Everglades National Park). For the wildlife, vegetation and views of Florida Bay.

Monday, February 1, 2010

1001 Natural Wonders I Need To See Before I Die: 50 Down 951 To Go

I am reading a book called 1001 Natural Wonders You Must See Before You Die.

When I got the book I figured I'd likely seen at least a few of the 1001, thinking the usual suspects, like the Grand Canyon would be on the list.

When I looked through the 1001 Natural Wonders, that I need to see, I guess I was pleased to learn I only have 951 Natural Wonders to go. That means I have seen 50 of the 1001 Natural Wonders.

Lists like this always have a few goofy elements. Which is understandable. Coming up with a list of 1001 of anything would be daunting. To get to 1001 the authors stretched things a bit. Or so it seemed to me.

For instance, Yosemite National Park is one of the 1001. Also among the 1001 are Half Dome, Sentinel Dome, Glacier Point and Bridalveil Falls. All inside Yosemite National Park. Why not add El Capitan? I don't recollect Sentinel Dome, but El Capitan leaves a huge impression.

In my old home state of Washington I was not surprised to see Mount Rainier and Mount St. Helens on the list. But the Upper Skagit River Valley? I lived in the Lower Skagit River Valley. It's very scenic. But one of the 1001 Natural Wonders one must see? Both Grand Coulee and Dry Falls are on the list. Grand Coulee is described as a stark canyon, with Dry Falls being in the middle of Dry Falls.

Well, I may be wrong, but my memory of the Grand Coulee is it is now filled with Lake Roosevelt, that lake being the reservoir behind Grand Coulee Dam. Dry Falls is at the end of a coulee, but I do not believe it is the Grand Coulee.

Badlands, in South Dakota, is one of the 1,001. I've seen it. Wouldn't look at it a second time. Wall Drug, near the entry to Badlands National Park, that I would visit again. But Wall Drug is not a Natural Wonder.

If I were visiting the Black Hills of South Dakota, since I was in the area, I would go see Natural Wonder, Devils Tower in Wyoming, again.

Bryce Canyon National Park and Thor's Hammer, inside the park, are on the list. Bryce Canyon is a place I never would grow tired of seeing.

Both Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse State Park are on the list. Dead Horse SP is on the road that leads to the Islands in the Sky section of Canyonlands. Dead Horse SP being on this list makes no sense to me. I've seen Dead Horse SP once. Islands in the Sky is similar and much more impressive.

Zion National Park, in Utah, is on the list, of course. One of my favorite places I've ever seen.

The list of 1001 Natural Wonders, you have to see, would make absolutely no sense were Arches National Park not on the list. Delicate Arch, inside Arches NP, I could see pointing it out separately, it is an impressive Natural Wonder, all on its own. As is Fiery Furnace. But, neither is mentioned as its own wonder.

Natural Bridges National Monument is one of the Utah parks I visited after maybe having seen one too many arch. I was not all that impressed. Not like I was with Rainbow Bridge, which is not on the list.

The Painted Desert in Arizona. Well. It's scenic and fun to drive through. But a Wonder of the World?

Monument Valley and The Mittens in Monument Valley are on the list. The need to pad to get to 1001 explains having both, to me. I've been to Monument Valley 3 or 4 times and would go again if I was driving by.

White Sands National Monument and Carlsbad Caverns, in New Mexico, are a pair of Natural Wonders I would love to see again.

The Columbia Gorge? And Multnomah Falls? But not Beacon Rock? I believe Beacon Rock is the world's second biggest rock monolith, after the Rock of Gibraltar. It sits beside the Columbia River on the Washington side.

Mount Hood is also near the Columbia Gorge and is also on the list. But Mount Shasta and Mount Baker are not. Mount Lassen in California is though.

Also in California, and on the list, is Mono Lake and Craters. I've driven by, but did not feel the wonder. Joshua Tree National Park, the Giant Redwoods and Kings Canyon National Park, all in California, and on the list. The Redwoods and Kings Canyon, but not Sequoia National Park, with its groves of huge old trees and Sierra Nevada mountain scenery?

Lake Tahoe, which California and Nevada share, is one of the Natural Wonders you need to see. I agree.

Death Valley National Park is definitely a wonderful Wonder to behold, but the San Andreas Fault? As long as we are still in California I'll mention the that the Beaches of Southern California are on the list. I have had a lot of fun on those beaches, but I never thought of them as a Natural Wonder.

Crater Lake National Park,, in Oregon is one of the 1001. Deservedly so. One of the biggest volcanic eruptions ever to shake the world came from this crater.

Glacier National Park is not on the list. But St. Mary Lake and Lake McDonald inside Glacier National Park are on the list.

Yellowstone was the world's first National Park, obviously it is on this list of 1001 Natural Wonders of the World. So is the Vernal Pools, Mammoth Hot Springs, Grand Prismatic Spring and Firehole River, all of which are in Yellowstone.

Grand Teton National Park is on the list. This would not be on my list.

Great Salt Lake, in Utah? I've swam in it, well actually floated. It was fun. But a necessary to be seen Natural Wonder? I don't know.

As for the last on the list of 1001 that need to be seen, that I've seen. It is not in the Lower 48, it is up in Alaska, just outside Juneau. I've seen it once and it left a lasting impression. Mendenhall Glacier. Definitely a Natural Wonder.

Now, that was fun. I don't know if I managed to mention all 50 of the Natural Wonders I've had the pleasure of seeing. Somehow I think I'll be a really lucky guy if I manage to see 50 more of the 1001 before my die time arrives.