Hit the high roads
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.
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.