Granted I have not been everywhere in the US but I have been in every state but Alaska, Hawaii, and Oregon, and know there are many beautiful drives. These might not be the most spectacular but each speaks to me for various reasons. And while the title says 10 I thought of another favorite while writing! These are in no particular order.
1. The Tunnel of Trees US M-119 in the northwest corner of the lower peninsula of Michigan
I probably rode down the Tunnel of Trees when I was 1 or 2 years old for the first time. When we started driving home from Canada or the UP we would drive down the Tunnel of Trees. On the way there we drove on back roads, wandering from Mackinaw City, and I distinctly remember a corner that had a fence made of cement and glass bottles. I’ve asked people up there where it was but no one knows. I don’t think I’m dreaming! We’d start the Tunnel of Trees at Cross Village, which is a wide spot in the road. The tiny town is famous for Legs Inn, a Polish Restaurant in a beautiful stone building. The part of M119 that is officially The Tunnel of Trees is 20 miles long, a narrow road that twists and turns through the woods on a cliff above Lake Michigan with a peek here and there of the Lake. It would be a lot of fun on a motorcycle! There isn’t much development along the route just a lot of trees that meet above you creating a tunnel.
2. US1 through the Florida Keys
The Overseas Highway is a 113-mile highway carrying through the Florida Keys to Key West. Most of it was built on the former right-of-way of the Overseas Railroad built by Flagler and completed in 1912. It was severely damaged in a 1935 hurricane. Which ended the railroad. Starting in the 1950s it was refurbished into a highway. Funny I don’t generally like bridges but I have no problem crossing the 42 bridges you drive over on your way to Key West. Even the 7 Mile Bridge doesn’t bother me, probably because none of them are very high off the water. The first time I went to the Keys was in 1983, Michael had been going since 1970. When he started going you still drove over some of the original bridges left over from the railroad. Including the bridge at Bahia Honda where you drove over the top of the trestle. NO WAY could I have done that. It was not only rickety but very narrow. He also was at Sunshine Key when the Seven Mile Bridge blew up and he had to spend extra time there. Being from Michigan and there in the winter I’m sure it was no problem for him.
As you drive along the water is Carribean blue, you can peek through the mangrove, you see the birds, on one side is the Atlantic, the other the Gulf. I don’t know what it is but I love it. It was when I was there in 1983 that Michael and I decided to get married. We didn’t return again for 6 years, those years we spent in Colorado. When we returned we were in an RV towing our VW Bus and we stayed for a year. When we left we moved to New Bern! Since we’ve been in New Bern I’ve been back there at least a dozen times, and since I retired I go to Key West every year.
Here is a photo of part of the old and new Seven Mile Bridge, looking toward Marathon, this is not my photo it is from AP.
Closest to home is a drive I always take visitors on. We start by going over the Neuse River Bridge and out to Oriental, the Sailing Capital of North Carolina, then swing around to catch the Missosott Beach/Cherry Branch Ferry, going down Hwy 101 crossing the Intracoastal Waterway at Core Creek. There used to be a great swing span bridge there, then we continue into Beaufort. At Front Street we turn left and go down to Curtis P. Perry Park. That part I love with all the live oak trees alongTaylor Creek. A couple stories about that part of the drive, one of the last times Michael and I made the Beaufort portion of the trip I said “don’t you just love this part?” He said he could care less! I was crushed. But I continue to go out of my way to drive that stretch of Front Street whenever I go to Beaufort. The other story is my sister Betsey came to visit from Michigan and said “the main thing I want to do is see the horses on Carrot Island” (our friend John called it Pony Poop Island). I thought to myself, ugh, because you can go there 100 times and not see any horses. As you drive down Front Street you can see Carrot Island, easily it is very close, just across the channel. There have been wild horses living on the barrier islands since the 1500s. This particular group has been on our islands just since the 1940s. Well that day when we took Betsey there we must have seen 50! I’ve never seen that many before or since, if you do see any it’s usually 2 or 3.
4. Cabot Trail Cape Breton Island Nova Scotia
It’s been a long time since I’ve been there, in fact close to 50 years, but I remember it like it was yesterday. I had planned on going up there this summer, now hope to go next year. This is a ribbon of a road that goes across the top and through Cape Breton Highlands National Park, along the St Lawrence and with spectacular views of the Atlantic. There is art, hiking, tubing, sailing, kayaking, bike trails, villages and more…. it is stunning.
It was a four hour drive from Aspen to Moab, Utah and we went whenever we had the chance. As I said I’m not a fan of bridges (funny since I love driving down the keys) but I loved the Dewey Bridge on the way to Moab. It was an 8 ft. wide bridge crossing the Colorado River. You could feel the boards bounce as you drove over it! It was replaced at about the same time we were getting ready to move so did not see the replacement. Then some kid set it on fire so all that is left is a sign I think. It was replaced in the 1988 by a metal and concrete 2-lane bridge. Once in Moab we went to Arches National Park – where there are 2000 natural arches! A memorable evening was spent sitting near the double arch and seeing them glow red as the sun went down. We would also drive out to Dead Horse Point on a cliff above the Colorado in Canyonlands. Once on the way out 3 giant big horned sheep ran in front of us then abruptly stopped in unison and turned to look at us. And another time on our way to Arizona we parked our VW bus Poke right beside some petroglyphs in Canyonlands and spent the night.
It appears the trail this road follows has been traveled since the 1770s and probably Indians long before that. The region’s first known Thoroughbred Farm was founded on this road in 1790. What caused us to go on this road was to visit Excelsior Motors, owned by a guy that has spent his entire adult life restoring Citerons. After Michael retired and was diagnosed with cancer he said he was getting brain fog from the treatments and wanted something to keep his mind sharp. When he got home from VietNam his dream car was a 1970 Citeroen SM but he could not afford one. Instead he collected an even dozen Crosleys! He said the Citeroen is the most complicated car ever built and it would be a good puzzle for him so he got his dream car, and it was in need of some tlc. Unless you are a great mechanic like he was I would not choose this car to work on yourself. We did have fun with it.
Anyway back to the road. In addition to the shop this road is lined with a stone fence and some of the most well known horse farms in the world. Some of them are Stonestreet Farm, Lane’s End Farm, Airdrie Stud, Darley America and Three Chimneys Farm plus nearby Calumet Farm, WinStar Farm and more. One time as we were driving along we came across a fawn that still had its spots. He was so small he could not get over the stone fence so we slowly followed him, so the cars behind us would not run over him, until he came to a gap in the fence and could escape. It is a lovely drive.
7. Driving around the lake
The Lakes are Round and Devils Lakes in Lenawee County in southern Michigan. I grew up on the south side of Round Lake. Every Sunday after church we would go for a ride. In the 50s and 60s we were one of the few families that lived on the lake year round. During our rides it was fun to see all the activity on the water. As we would approach Christians Corners in unison we three kids would cry out “Ice Cream!” And more often than not we would stop because Dad liked it too. My folks moved away from the lake after 50 years when my Dad started to decline (1997) but I still go up and ride around the lakes when I visit.
8. Driving up the Delaware north of New Hope on Route 32 AKA River Road
It’s a narrow road that follows the river, at times twisting and turning. I don’t know what it is about it that I like so much, maybe the history, maybe a little bit of interesting architecture, but If I’m anywhere near I always go out of my way to make the drive. Click here to read a blog post about the last time I was there.
9. Glenwood Canyon
We lived in Aspen Colorado for 6 years in the 1980s, at that time US 70 through the Canyon was still 2 lane, the four lane part was not completed until 1992. I don’t like it as much now, it’s still beautiful, but with the four lane there aren’t many places you can stop and take photos. The Canyon is about 12 1/2 miles long, you drive along the Colorado River and the Union Pacific Railroad with 2000 foot peaks around you. At the end of the Canyon you arrive in Glenwood Springs. Michael would always say, can you imagine what it would have been like to ride the train from New York in 1888 and get the opportunity to soak in the hot springs. The hot springs pool is the world’s largest mineral hot springs pool. We would soak there every chance we got and spent every Christmas Day we were in Colorado there, soaking is 104 degree water, surrounded by snow, with the steam coming off the water. I also distinctly remember the day we moved to Colorado. We were in a motor home towing a car. As we started into the mountains we realized the motorhome didn’t have quite enough power so we unhooked the car and drove separately. I was awestruck. Seeing the small towns along the way, there was house racing with mudslides as we went through Vail It was raining as we drove through the canyon and it was very dark at the bottom of the canyon, then all of a sudden wow, out into the light we came! Then off to our right we saw the huge hot spring pool. I thought right then, we’re going to like it here.
Going out of Aspen heading east you immediately start the long rise to Independence Pass on Hwy 82 and over the highest paved highway in the continental US. The summit is at 12,195 feet. The pass is 32 miles long and goes along the Roaring Fork River. It is the site of the first road in the Roaring Fork Valley, which was pioneered over Hunter Pass, the original name of Independence Pass, in 1881. An old stage road still remains visible from several locations. The road was built in its current location in 1927 and was paved in 1967. I worked at the Aspen Times and the owner/editor Bill Dunaway rode his bike to the top of the pass every day for at lunch, at that time he was in his 60s.
In addition to spectacular scenery and hair raising narrow curves with 200 foot cliffs up on one side and 200 foot cliffs down on the other, with barely enough room to pass another car you will find the remnents of the town of Independence. It’s sixteen miles east of Aspen and was once a thriving mining town with over 40 businesses and an estimated population of 1,500. Now you can see the remains of miner’s cabins, the Farewell Stamp Mill, stables and a general store.
My favorite stop is the Grottos which are 9 miles east of Aspen. There are hiking trails that lead to waterfalls, rock formations, and ice caves. It’s an easy hike and an interesting one through the boulders where you can barely see sunlight.
On another longer hike you can reach the site of the town of Ruby. It’s about 5 miles off Hwy 82.
Then once you get to the top of the pass you are at the Continental Divide The midway point between Aspen and Twin Lakes and is the dividing point between watersheds that drain into the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, at 12,195 feet. What a view! You are surrounded by 14,000+ foot peaks. Once when friends were visiting they were just starting up the pass going from east to west and my friend said “look at those idiots way up there!”. By the time they got “way up there” I believe she said she was on her second Valium.
It could be scary doing that drive. Once I showed my work at an art show in Buena Vista, which was on the other side of the pass. Michael joined me later so we had 2 cars. It was in early October. After the show Michael took off (I was not happy, this was before cell phones) and so I was driving over this wilderness pass, close to dark, by myself. As I approached the summit it started to snow, and by the time I got to the tight curves near the grottos it was snowing pretty good. As I rounded a corner I came upon a car that had nosed into the stone cliff rising above the road. Two people were trying to get it unstuck. I got out to help, I would have stopped anyway but the fact that the road is very narrow there I could not have driven around them even if I wanted to. So the wind is howling, the snow is flying, the man is quiet and the woman is having hysterics. I finally determined that he could not hear. We finaly got them unstuck and he started getting into the drivers seat and she screamed “you can’t drive you can’t see!” I thought to myself, great, I’m following someone that is deaf and blind down this steep mountain road in a snow storm. I did make it safely but they closed the pass that night shortly after I made it to Aspen. I’ve tried to go back to Aspen every year the past few, here is a link to one of my blog posts about the Pass.
11. Leelanau Peninsula Michigan
The Leelanau Peninsula is north west of Traverse City and the drive around it is on M22. I start in Traverse City and end at Sleeping Bear Dunes. A lot of what I like about this drive are the small towns that line it, Suttons Bay, Northport, Leland, Glen Arbor, Empire to name some of them. They all have neat art shops, there are wineries, and outdoor things to do.
To some people there are probably drives that are more beautiful but to me part of the beauty are the memories the drives evoke.
I’m anxious to discover more once we can readily travel again!