Hit the high roads

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

From Page 1 west­ern mi­gra­tion, an Ore­gon Trail for Chevys. This is the road the Okies took to es­cape dust-bowl de­pres­sion, the road soda foun­tain girls fol­lowed to Hol­ly­wood and the road Chuck Berry made fa­mous in his cover of the song of the same name.

It starts in Chicago, drops down into Illi­nois and Mis­souri, runs across the Texas Pan­han­dle, be­fore head­ing due west through New Mex­ico, Ari­zona and Cal­i­for­nia to Los An­ge­les.

The kitsch and the weird loom large on Route 66, from the Cadil­lac Ranch near Amar­illo where 10 Cad­dies have been planted in the ground, bon­nets first, to the quirky Bagh­dad Cafe where the 1988 film of that name was shot.

The best stretch is in Ari­zona where 640 un­in­ter­rupted kilo­me­tres of the old high­way run through time­less towns such as King­man, Oat­man and Winslow, with their age­ing mo­tels and clas­sic din­ers. www.na­tional66.com; www.his­toric66.com.

Grey­hound Bus coast to coast, two days, 19 hours, 30 min­utes: Grey­hound buses roll into small towns to carry boys away to wars, young dream­ers to big cities and child­hood sweet­hearts to col­lege. The transcontinental Grey­hound is one of the clas­sic jour­neys; catch the bus in New York City at 6.30pm and three days later you’ll be in Los An­ge­les in time for lunch. Dis­ap­point­ingly, it is no longer a through trip; you need to change twice.

You may have time for din­ner at the St Louis trans­fer (two hours, 45 min­utes) but you would be ad­vised to just grab a burger in Pittsburgh (45 min­utes).

Be­yond Mis­souri, the names of the stops are places that have haunted pop­u­lar songs for decades: Tulsa, Ok­la­homa City, Amar­illo, Al­bu­querque. www.grey­hound.com.

Florida’s Emer­ald Coast, five hours: The sun­shine state has plenty of coastal drives but not many are as un­spoiled as High­way 30A on the Emer­ald Coast of Florida’s Pan­han­dle. Along this 30km stretch, the bril­liantly blue and green wa­ters of the Gulf of Mex­ico lap against pure white beaches. There are no Florida high-rises or tacky drive-in food joints, only pic­tureper­fect vil­lages such as Sea­side, the small town where TheTru­manShow was filmed, which is just as quaintly per­fect and sur­real as the movie.

Go­ing to the Sun Road, two hours: High in the Rock­ies of west­ern Mon­tana, in Glacier Na­tional Park, is a road so steep it feels as if you are driv­ing to the sun. It is a spec­tac­u­lar climb through a land­scape of alpine lakes, thick forests, daz­zling mead­ows and tight hair­pin turns.

Be­tween snow-bound peaks that fill the wind­screen lie im­mense si­lent val­leys, home to bighorn sheep, griz­zlies, wolves and moun­tain lions. Trav­el­ling west to

Au­tumn colours: On the Blue Ridge Park­way east you cross the Con­ti­nen­tal Di­vide at Lo­gan Pass (2000m) and be­gin to drop to­wards the At­lantic, more than 3000km away. From the east gate of the park take US89 8km south­east for a stun­ning view of the beginning of the Great Plains.

The Cas­cade Loop, four days: The Pa­cific North­west has scenery the way Texas has red­necks. There are gi­ant red­woods, glacier-draped moun­tains, bald ea­gles, dra­matic river gorges and quirky towns with din­ers that serve damned fine slices of cherry pie. Some folks keep driv­ing on the Pa­cific Coast High­way from San Fran­cisco all the way up to the Cana­dian bor­der. For less am­bi­tious driv­ers, there is the Cas­cade Loop.

From the coast at Burling­ton, 100km north of Seat­tle, strike in­land on High­way 20, which takes you through the spec­ta­cle that is North Cas­cades Na­tional Park. This is one place where you should get out of the car as the area boasts scores of ex­cel­lent hik­ing trails as well as boat trips along the Sk­agit River.

Just be­yond the won­der­fully named Twisp, take High­way 153 to High­way 97, which fol­lows the twist­ing route of the Columbia River Gorge. At High­way 2 turn right to cross back over forested moun­tain passes to Seat­tle. The loop is closed from Novem­ber to April due to snow in the high passes. www.cas­cade­loop.com; www.nps.gov/noca; www.chi­nook­ex­pe­di­tions.com.

Blue Ridge Park­way, two days: Known as Amer­ica’s Favourite Drive, the Blue Ridge Park­way sweeps along the crest of the Ap­palachi­ans from Vir­ginia through North Carolina to the Great Smok­ies of Ten­nessee. Built specif­i­cally as a scenic high­way, the park­way is that rare thing in the US: a pris­tine road. There are no bill­boards, no tacky mo­tels, no gas sta­tions, just lay-bys, a hand­ful of vis­i­tor cen­tres and un­in­ter­rupted views of blue for­est-clad moun­tains and rolling farm­land.

For a taste of Ap­palachian cul­ture, and to hear some au­then­tic blue­grass mu­sic, take the side roads off the park­way from time to time into the lo­cal towns; Asheville is a funky place with a Moun­tain Dance and Folk Fes­ti­val in Au­gust. Au­tumn is the peak sea­son on the park­way, when the place is bathed in eye-wa­ter­ing colour. www.nps.gov/blri; www.folkher­itage.org.

To­wards the Rio Grande, seven days: This road trip takes us across Texas to Big Bend Na­tional Park, a stretch of the Rio Grande that guide­books reg­u­larly call one of the coun­try’s best-kept se­crets. Only an hour or so out of New Orleans, you are in Louisiana back coun­try still in­hab­ited by French-speak­ing Ca­juns. Their zy­deco mu­sic (big on ac­cor­dions and fid­dles) makes Dix­ieland sound like a fu­neral march, and the food (big on craw­fish and shrimp) will blow you away. Check in with one of the swamp tours on the levee road in Hen­der­son to go head to head with ’ ga­tors.

Then head west to Texas, by­pass Hous­ton and spend a night or two in Austin, the only town in Texas with a gen­uine bo­hemian vibe. Austin is full of honky-tonks and live mu­sic; it is renowned as the place to catch to­mor­row’s big names. When the mu­sic stops, head west again into the Hill Coun­try, fa­mous for its wild flow­ers and its wines, jink south to San An­to­nio and the Alamo, then take High­way 90 through long stretches of Big Sky coun­try to Big Bend where the Rio Grande makes a bit of a de­tour on the Mex­ico bor­der.

In Big Bend the flat­lands give way to gor­geous moun­tains, and the long straight roads to scenic high­ways that curve through some of the most beau­ti­ful views in Texas.

In the small towns there is a real old west feel, nicely com­bined with artsy in­com­ers, and in the parks there is hik­ing, raft­ing and glider rides as well as lots of glo­ri­ous driv­ing. Don’t miss High­way 70, the so-called River Road, which climbs spec­tac­u­lar desert buttes for views of the Rio Grande be­low. www.nps.gov/bibe.

Check­list

The US is packed with car hire agen­cies, in­clud­ing big guns Hertz, Avis and Na­tional. A cou­ple of op­tions merit spe­cial men­tion. Car Rental Ex­press com­pares rates from dif­fer­ent in­de­pen­dent rental agen­cies; www.carren­talex­press.com. Rent-a-Wreck aims to achieve lower rates by rent­ing some­thing less spiffy than a new Ford. www.rent-a-wreck.com. It could also be worth con­sid­er­ing a drive-away car, de­liv­er­ing a client’s car to a spe­cific des­ti­na­tion for an agency. It is usu­ally good for coast-to-coast runs; you just pay for the fuel. www.au­to­drive­away.com.

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