Published: March 15th 2013March 14th 2013
The Road Goes Ever On
Taking a break from a 35,000 mile road trip, somewhere in Nebraska
How do I summarize a trip of 35,000 miles in a few minutes?
Since I’ve been back, many people I’ve met have wanted exactly that.
It can’t be done; the range of experience and sights was just too broad.
In the end, I wrote up a bunch of lists.
The first half is below, with post references where appropriate.
1. I love to explore and discover things. I spent the entire trip doing it.
2. Direct experience provides insight other methods can’t match. Travelling somewhere to be there in person has a much greater impact than reading or seeing a video about it.
3. I’m very good at solving problems. They came up repeatedly (hit in a parking lot, cracked my camera, road I needed was flooded) and I found solutions within a few days.
4. I’m very through at research. I found the mechanic I needed to fix my car through internet research and phone calls. I found lots of obscure but truly worthwhile sites through internet research and specialized travel guides, plus talking to people on the road.
5. Standing still can be just as
The iconic valley from Tunnel View Overlook, taken with high zoom
much fun as moving all the time. I dreaded my first down days to catch up on errands and relax; by a month into the trip I looked forward to them as much as travel days. Some were downright amazing (Torrey Utah [A Rare Place to Relax
], Santa Fe New Mexico [Santa Fe Relaxation
], Rainbow Springs Florida [Almost Paradise
6. A long trip requires a tricky balance between structure and spontaneity. I needed just enough structure to split the overall trip into manageable pieces, and to make advance reservations when needed. Within each piece, I let the schedule be quite spontaneous, often going somewhere with no idea of what to do there until I arrived.
7. An expense book is essential to a long trip. It not only shows when to cut back, but when to splurge! Expensive items (Rafting the Tuolumne [The best raft trip in the United States
], Siggraph [Clever things with math
], the Jefferson Hotel [The Glory of the New(ish) South
]) were only possible thanks to that book
8. I can thrive with relatively little stuff. I brought three bags of clothes, camping equipment, my computer, six guidebooks, two art books, and two novels. I bought everything else I needed on the road. I bought ALL of my Burning Man equipment two days beforehand and sent
Grand Staircase Escalante
Lonely backcountry road through the stack solitude of south central Utah
it home/donated it afterward.
9. I can adapt to changing conditions, even bad ones. I encountered bad weather, closed attractions, changed hours, and much else. For most, I consulted a guidebook and found somewhere else just as interesting. I was hit (in a parking lot!) far from home, cracked my camera, and had to replace my car tires. These I handled with internet research and cash budgeted for emergencies.
10. The trip was exactly what I made of it. My enjoyment mapped directly to my willingness for adventure and my research to find it. I measured the results on what I experienced, rather than what other people thought of those experiences. This is the same way most participants describe Burning Man, which is not surprising.
Best Public Lands:
1. Yosemite National Park [The Lazy Hikers’ Scenic Viewfest
]– Jaw dropping granite monoliths, scenery that swallows visitors whole, incredible waterfalls, and epic hiking trails.
2. Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument [Few People Can Go Here, and We Like it That Way
]– One of the few places left to experience true solitude, deep in the beauty of the desert.
3. Yellowstone National Park [Thar She Blows, Captain
]– Rare thermal phenomena, western history, incredible wildlife, huge views, and waterfalls.
4. Olympic National
Spectacular but hard to catch Beehive Geyser in Yellowstone National Park
Park [Waterfalls and Trees
]– A park with endless variety: temperate rain forests, isolated wilderness beaches, carpets of wildflowers, and long hikes to huge vistas.
5. Bryce Canyon National Park [Hoodoo: a Weird Name for Weird Rocks
]– One of the weirdest landscapes on planet earth.
6. Death Valley National Park [Death Valley Tries to Kill Me
]– Extreme conditions, vast empty views, and a castle created by one of the tallest tales in the west.
7. Sequoia National Park [Wide Trees
]– Enormous trees on enormous granite mountains
8. Humboldt Redwoods State Park [Forest from Another Time
]– A cathedral of living things; feel like an ant in a forest that has survived since the days of the dinosaurs.
9. Nantahala National Forest [The Land of Falling Water
]– The highest concentration of waterfalls over a wide area in the United States.
10. Grand Teton National Park [The Still of the Night
]– Dramatic mountain views without foothills, and fantastic backpacking.
11. Great Smokey Mountains National Park [Roaring Forest
]– The largest and most diverse old growth forest east of the Mississippi, pioneer history, and great views.
12. Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area [Grand Gorge
]– Huge dramatic gorge lined with some of the tallest waterfalls in the United States.
13. Zion National Park [Parking Hell in Scenic Heaven
]– Narrow canyon between dramatic red and white sandstone cliffs, with fantastic
Olympics National Park
Central Olympic Mountains from Hurricane Ridge
views and hiking trails.
14. Mount Rainier National Park [The Great Mountain
]– One of the largest volcanoes in the United States, great views, and old growth forests
15. Guadalupe Mountains National Park [Most Beautiful Spot In Texas
]– Unusual limestone mountains and great foliage in a part of Texas few know about
16. Capitol Reef National Park [Incredible Foliage and a Big Red Fold
]– A long wall of sandstone with unusual hiking trails
17. Canyonlands National Park [Losing Myself in Surreal Southwest
]– Enormous mazes of exposed canyons create one of the most unusual landscapes on earth. Very difficult, but rewarding, hiking.
18. Carlsbad Cavern National Park [The Grand Canyon With a Roof
]– One of the largest caves in the United States, overflowing with formations.
19. Custer State Park [Sacred Peaks
]– Great views, unusual rock formations, and one of the largest buffalo herds in the United States.
20. Badlands National Park [Welcome to the Geology Freakshow
]– Erosion run riot in a landscape as unearthly as the moon.
21. Sequoia National Forest [Granite Majesty
]– One of the best drives in California, down the side of a dramatic canyon. Huge trees too.
22. Goblin Valley State Park [Indiana Jones Meets Southern Utah
]– Nature has a sense of humor with rock formations that bring out the child in anyone.
23. Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge [Golden Swamps
The iconic view of Bryce Canyon from Bryce Point
watery wilderness, a remnant of how the southern coastal plain once appeared.
24. Arches National Park [Large Rocks With Holes
]– Otherworldly landscape of thousands of sandstone arches that must be shared with thousands of other visitors.
25. White Sands National Monument [Out Of This World
]– Stark desert landscapes of pure white sand.
Best Art Museums:
1. Chicago Art Institute [Having an Art Attack
]– The second largest art museum in the United States, with comprehensive collections on all possible subjects. Exhaustive and exhausting.
2. Detroit Art Institute [Put Your Hands Up For Detroit
]– Large, comprehensive museum with the best art education department I've ever seen. The place to learn about unfamiliar work.
3. Butler Art Institute [New Creativity in New Media
]– The most important collection of new media artwork in the United States, plus deep and specialized holdings of American art.
4. Virginia Institute of the Arts [The Fountain of Creativity
]– Very through specialized collections on Modern Art, the Civil War, and Faberge jewelry. They had a great show on Picasso too. One of the best regional museums in the country.
5. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art [San Francisco Modern
]– Comprehensive collection of modern artwork in an architectural masterpiece of a building.
6. Portland Art Museum [Art of the Pacific Northwest
]– Amazing collection of art from
The Cloud Gate sculpture in Chicago, better known as the Bean.
the Pacific Northwest, complemented by a descent collection of modern art.
7. High Art Museum, Atlanta [Atlanta Glamour and Surrealism
]- Great collections of modern art, American Art, and Southern folk art, in buildings that are architectural landmarks.
8. Dia Beacon [A Whole Lot About Nothing
]– The world’s largest collection of art from the late 1960s to the 1970s.
9. North Carolina Museum of Art [The Future is Now
]- One of the largest state owned art museums in the United States, featuring a comprehensive collection and boundary pushing temporary shows. Fantastic building architecture too.
10. San Antonio Art Museum [Hispanic Art
]– The largest collection of Hispanic artwork in the United States, plus modern art from Texas artists.
11. Morris Museum, Morristown New Jersey [The Birthplace of Modern America
]- Amazing collections of modern art by Native Americans and American art.
12. Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth [Unexpected Art
]– Comprehensive but small collection, plus amazing temporary shows in a stunning building.
13. Dallas Art Museum [JFK
]– Comprehensive collection of artwork, great collection of Southwest pottery, and space for visitors to experiment with making their own art.
14. Oakland Museum of California [The Golden State
]– The largest collection of artwork by California artists in the state
15. Cleveland Art Museum [I Want to Rock Right Now
San Francisco Modern Art Museum
Landmark museum building holding a special art collection.
impressive collection of modern art paired with lackluster samples of other art types.
16. St. Louis Art Museum [Arch Madness
]– Good regional museum with a deep collection of work by historic and contemporary German artists.
17. Indianapolis Art Museum [Finding Excitement in a Sleepy Place
]– Comprehensive collection of artwork with three unusual collections: the Naibs, Pointillism, and art from Indiana.
18. Akron Art Museum [The Glory of the Game
]– Solid regional museum with the largest collection of work by Ohio artists in the state, and great contemporary art.
19. Philcreek Museum [Native American Art
]– The largest collection of modern artwork from Native Americans in the United States, plus absolutely stunning gardens.
20. Seattle Art Museum [Do you Like Green Eggs and Ham, SAM I Am?
]– Large collection of modern art, plus art from Northwest Native Americans and African artists.
21. Gibbes Museum, Charleston [The Heart of History in the Old South
]– Wonderful survey of art made in Charleston, plus contemporary art from South Carolina.
22. Buffalo Bill Center [The Real, and Fake, Wild West
]– Comprehensive collection of historic and modern western art.
23. Cincinnati Art Museum [Big Architecture in a Small City
]– Through collection of artwork made or collected in the city, plus a survey of other American and European art.
24. Port Angeles Art Center [Wildflower View Fest
]– Small museum with an amazing sculpture path through a forest. Every turn
Philbrook Art Museum
With gardens like this, people may not even notice the art
of the trail reveals a new surprise.
25. International Folk Art Museum [Santa Fe, Art Magnet
]– Amazing collection of folk art from around the world, tightly packed together in a maddening maze.
The Armory Show [The Heart of the Art World
] An art fair instead of a museum, it had an astounding amount of contemporary art in one place.
Best Historic Attractions:
1. National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis [By My Works Ye Shall Know Me
]– Incredibly done story of one of the most pivotal movements in United States history.
2. Chaco Canyon National Historic Park [Center of the Pueblo World
]– Remains of incredibly huge pueblos constructed with incredible precision, the most sophisticated pre-European contact society in the United States
3. Abraham Lincoln National Historic Site [Land of Lincoln
]– The neighborhood of Abraham Lincoln when he became president, so well preserved it feels like a time warp
4. Edison National Historic Site [The Birthplace of Modern America
]– The laboratory and house of the most important inventor in United States history, with a through explanation of his working methods.
5. Manzanar National Historic Site [It Can Never Happen Here…And Already Has
]– Moving and tasteful interpretation of the site of one of the country’s deepest shames.
6. Old Charleston Slave Market [Heart of Darkness in the Holy City
]– Unflinching presentation of a difficult and vital
National Civil Rights Museum
The room where Martin Luther King spent his last night.
7. Alamo [Historic Texas Pride
]– The spot where the massacre of Texas rebels by the Mexican army became a legend that still inspires Texans and many others.
8. Museum of the New South [The New South
]– The post Civil War history of the South rarely covered in the region, thoroughly and tastefully presented. Worth seeing for the exhibit on Brown vs. Board of Education alone.
9. Richmond Civil War Center [War and Remembrance
]– Everything anyone wants to know about the causes and course of the Civil War.
10. Sweet Auburn [Birthplace of a Legend
]– Martin Luther King Jr.’s home neighborhood, now a monument to his life and work.
11. First Black Baptist Church, Savannah [The Calm Before the Storm
]– A monument to the faith of enslaved African Americans, and one of the largest stops on the Underground Railroad.
12. National Trails Museum [Pioneer Trails
]– Incredibly through museum on the westward migrations of the early 1800s.
13. Chicago Architecture Foundation tours [The Birth of The Modern City
]– Chicago is a showcase of architectural history, and their guides explain it in through detail.
14. Haight Ashbury Hippy Tour [Enclaves
]– The inside scoop on the famous neighborhood, from someone who both was there and remembers it!
15. Oakland Museum of California [The Golden State
Chaco Canyon pueblo
A small portion of the incredible pueblo remains in Chaco Canyon
Through, comprehensive history of the Golden State with many artifacts
16. Museum of Appalachia [Mountain Ingenuity
]– Quirky, folksy and comprehensive museum on Appalachian pioneers and their amazing ingenuity. The music instrument gallery alone is worth the visit.
17. Rock and Soul Museum, Memphis [Walking in Memphis
]– Comprehensive museum on the birth of Rock and Roll in Memphis, and how it took over the world.
18. Sun Studio [Walking in Memphis
]– Simply put, the place where Rock and Roll was first recorded, restored to the look of its heyday.
19. Fort Sumter National Monument [The Heart of History in the Old South
]– The fort where the Civil War started, and a group of Confederates then held off the Union army for almost four years.
20. Lincoln, New Mexico [Western Legends
]– Site of one of the most famous outlaw wars in the wild west, looking very much like it did then. Through museum on all key players, including Billy the Kid.
21. National Atomic Museum [Is Ballooning Just a Bunch of Hot Air?
]– The story of the birth of the atomic bomb, and what happened afterward.
22. Biltmore [One Big House
]– The largest house ever built in the United States, surrounded by vast gardens. The incredible beauty is marred only by the equally incredible ticket price for
Abraham Lincoln's neighborhood
The steet where Abraham Lincoln lived when he was elected President, looking unchanged after 150 years!
23. Laura Plantation [Life on the River
]– The most authentically restored Creole plantation in the country, and one of a handful of plantations with intact slave quarters.
24. National Cowboy Center [Home on the Range
]– Everything anyone ever wants to know about an occupation mythologized as the highest expression of the American spirit.
25. Lead Mining Museum [Gold Fever
]– Recreation of a century of gold mining history, with a through explanation of the business.
Best Regional Food:
1. Philadelphia Cheesesteaks [The Birthplace of Modern America
]– gooey, greasy, fattening, likely to cause a heart attack, and absolutely delicious. Get it with Cheese Whiz!
2. Barbeque from Lexington, North Carolina [Pigs and Tobacco
]– What meat lovers dream about: pork moist enough to melt, with just the right amount of seasoning. So perfect it doesn’t need sauce.
3. Any microbrew from Portland Oregon [Chilling In Hipsterland
]– The city is a beer lovers paradise, where literally everything is flavorful, tasty, and unusual.
4. Philadelphia TastyKakes [The Birthplace of Modern America
]– The world’s most addictive snack food, sponge cakes filled with cream and covered with sugar frosting.
5. Authentic Pennsylvania Dutch Cuisine [Dutch Treat
]– Hearty, tasty, fresh, incredibly filling farm food served in vast quantities. Finding the best now requires significant work,
Thomas Edison's Lab
The main machining floor of the last lab of the most prolific inventor in world history.
and is worth every needed second.
6. Detroit Coneys [Put Your Hands Up For Detroit
]– Ground beef covered in chili and mustard, in a hotdog roll. Incredibly tasty and dirt cheap.
7. New Orleans Gumbo [After the Flood When All the Colors Came Out
]– Tasty, spicy Creole dish that doesn’t require a Black Centurion card to order.
8. Anything from Stewart’s Shops in Albany [Go west, young man
]– Cheap convenience store snacks with the quality and taste of gourmet versions ten times the price.
9. Hand Brewed Sweet Ice Tea [A Little Slice of Heaven
]– The classic southern drink without the bitter bite of the mass-produced version.
10. Horseshoe from Springfield Illinois [The Wright Stuff
]– Comfort food for big eaters only; a mix of French fries, ground beef, and melted cheese.
Best Chain Restaraunts:
1. Waffle House [The Nation’s Attic
]– Addictive comfort food served fast for dirt cheap, and they truly never close (not even Christmas!)
2. In N Out Burger [The Golden State
]– They only make a few things, but they make them incredibly well: the best chain burger in the United States, crispy fries, and addictive shakes. The prices look like misprints too.
3. Steak and Shake [Plane Envy
]– Wide variety of burgers and shakes (and almost nothing else), tasty, cheap, and always open.
The final resting place of Japanese Americans who died at Manzanar Relocation Camp. The characters mean 'Soul Consoling Place'
4. Cracker Barrel [Winding Roads and Falling Water
]– Tasty comfort food in wide variety for reasonable prices, and open late.
5. Texas Dairy Queen [Its Beauty Can’t be Exaggerated, Even by Texans
]– A state institution serving descent fast food and surprisingly addictive soft serve.
6. Subway – Sub sandwiches and chips, reliably tasty and relatively healthy.
7. Arby’s – Chain fast food a cut above average, relatively cheap.
8. Shari’s [Galloping Gertie
]- Descent family restaurant food and heavenly pies, but slow service.
9. Whataburger [Oil, Art, and Football
]– Tasty burgers a cut above average at very low prices.
10. Denny’s – Reliable comfort food always available.
Best Cheesy Tourist Traps:
1. Wall Drug [Tourists in a Sacred Land
]– Drug store turned western themed mall and cafeteria, advertised on billboards for hundreds of miles and bumper stickers worldwide
2. Weeki Wachee Springs [The land of springs
]– A live mermaid show in a Florida spring, with the cheesiest songs imaginable.
3. Rock City [Stress, Danger and Discovery
]– Natural formations turned into a tourist wonderland, once advertised on barns throughout the south.
4. Fountain of Youth [Historic Florida
]– The place where Ponce de Leon supposedly discovered the Fountain of Youth.
5. Stone Mountain Georgia [One Big Rock
]– Enormous granite monolith turned into a theme park, with its
Where the Heck is Wall Drug?!?
In front of my car, apparently
own laser show
6. Shrine Drive Thru Redwood Tree [Forest from Another Time
]– Just what it sounds like, drive through a hollowed out redwood tree!
7. Pat O’Brien’s New Orleans [After the Flood When All the Colors Came Out
]– Famous bar known for its potent drinks, sing along piano bar, and vast alcohol consumption by hordes of tourists. To catch it at its best, arrive very late with the locals.
8. Dinosaur Park [Tourists in a Sacred Land
]– Four green concrete dinosaurs on a hilltop in the Black Hills, on the National Register of Historic Places!
9. Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede [The Majesty of Trees
]– Chow down on southern cooking while watching a horse riding showcase as fun as a day at a state fair.
10. Hole N” The Rock [Losing Myself in Surreal Southwest
]– When someone turned a sandstone outcrop into their house, this was the result.
Places Where a Convertible or Motorcycle is Far More Fun Than a Normal Car:
The real answer is ‘any place with descent scenery and weather’, but here the unobstructed views and twisty roads have an extra kick:
1. Pacific Coast Highway through Big Sur [California Coast and Open Road
]- Mountains on one side and the sea on the other, stretching to the horizon. Other people seem to agree
Iconic old fashioned Florida entertainment at Weeki Wachee Springs
with me, because I saw a higher ratio of convertibles on this highway than anywhere else on the trip.
2. Kings Canyon Highway [Granite Majesty
]- In a hard top, this road provides some of the best views in California as it drops a long way into the canyon of the Kings River. They can’t compare to seeing scenery stretch in all directions, including straight up, from an open car.
3. Avenue of the Giants [Forest from Another Time
]- This road has coastal redwoods so close people can practically touch them. Through the windshield they might as well be big stumps.
4. Generals Highway through Sequoia National Park [Wide Trees
]- Sequoia trees through the windshield are just even larger stumps.
5. Downtown Chicago [The Skyline
]- Big buildings stretching to the sky are just as fun as big trees.
6. Yosemite Valley [A Symphony in Granite
]- In a hard top, this drive is a highly ecologically incorrect exercise in patience with traffic that provides views worse than the park shuttle bus. In a convertible, this drive is a highly ecologically incorrect exercise in views so astounding I barely noticed all the traffic.
7. Highway 12 in Southern Utah [Desert River Walks
]- One of the most scenic highways
Along Big Sur, every viewpoint looks like this!
in the United States, it goes though an unbelievable landscape of hoodoos, steep canyons, open slickrock, and mountains covered in aspen trees. Much of it stretches overhead, which those in a hardtop can’t see.
8. Eastern Kentucky [Riot of Carved Rock
]- This area has been eroded into fantastic valleys and spires that resemble southern Utah with far more trees. A hard top shows only a fraction of the scenery.
9. Needles Highway [Sacred Peaks
]- Scenic road through the heart of the Black Hills, with narrow granite spires all around which can’t be seen through a car roof.
10. Newfound Gap Road [The Majesty of Trees
]- This road goes over the Great Smokey Mountains, with views in all directions. Like all national park roads, the view in front is very nice. The unobstructed view is much better, with mountains stretching overhead.
Places where a Regular Car is Preferable to a Convertible or a Motorcycle:
Driving a convertible cross-country is not all fun and thrills. Consider, for example, the following:
1. Central Valley of California – The most productive agricultural region in the world, and driving through in a car with poor seals I certainly knew it.
2. Black Rock
Middle Fork of Kings Canyon, from the Three Kings Viewpoint
Desert - The dust is the finest in the world, and it seeped in everywhere
3. Rural Illinois, Indiana, and Missouri - Very flat regions also known for their agricultural productivity.
4. Southeastern Texas - The region is a center of petrochemical production, and the odors it produces are everywhere.
5. San Francisco - The fog was so cold I couldn’t open the car!
6. Death Valley during the day - So hot that opening the car led to heat exhaustion.
7. Anywhere in a heavy thunderstorm - All soft tops window seals leak when the water flow is high enough.
8. Northeast in March - Only part of the trip (along with San Francisco) where it was too cold to drop the top.
9. Houston - The visual assault is so intense that NOT seeing it is a relief. The humidity got to me too.
10. Zion Canyon - After driving a hardtop, the restricted view from the shuttle bus is less of an annoyance.