Scenic Roads

Years ago I made a list of the most scenic roads in America that I’d experienced.  You have heard of most of them and been on some of them.

Oak Creek Canyon into Sedona, AZ from the north, an hour of red rock cliffs, was my clear choice for number one.

I wouldn’t argue if you chose Going to the Sun Road over Logan Pass in the south end of Glacier National Park in Montana, where a tall, thundering waterfall diminishes to a twinkling thread when seen over your shoulder at 17 miles

The Blue Ridge Parkway, the only highway that is a National Park, and its connecting companion to the north, Skyline Drive.

The highway into Hot Springs, Arkansas.

The overseas highway that flies as a magic carpet the length of the Florida Keys.

They were my five until today when, in Eastern Arizona’s Tonto Forest, they all got blown away.   Along a section of the Apache Trail between Roosevelt, the settlement associated with the dam and the lake, and Tortilla Flat, is twenty-eight miles of cliffs that rival downtown Manhattan for neck-stretching verticality.   Billion-year-old rock sculpted by Nature’s erosive tools into cracks and fissures and canyons.  Boulders, the marbles of the gods, and caves that belonged to lions and bears not so many hundreds of years ago.

I have learned how to use the Panorama feature of my camera– like the two pix above. Photographing panoramas is the curse of the traveler.  We must take pictures the size of jigsaw puzzle pieces and lose the grandeur of the vista. The setting allows you to take three adjacent pictures and then it will stitch them together for you.  Still, is it merely three jigsaw pieces and they ought to be shown on a 45″ computer screen.  When cameras are ready to capture the 150-degree field of human vision, we will need 18-foot curved computer screens.

Tortilla Flat was a stagecoach stop which retains its authentic look while thriving as a tourist attraction.  Tortilla Flat will be the subject of another blog.

The road surface is as awful as the panorama is breathtaking—unpaved, it is the worst washboard I’ve ever asked tires to tangle with.   Do the trip in the luxury a well-sprung car throttled-down to twenty miles an hour or so and experience the homogenization of your body juices.  Or do it in a pickup truck if you are practicing for a rodeo event.

While much of the road is two lanes wide, there are plenty of narrow constrictions, sheer drop offs, and 180 degree switchbacks.  If your driving skills are up at professional muleskinner level you might wrangle an RV over the road.  I wouldn’t recommend a motorhome over 30 feet (nor a trailer over 15 feet) and expect to throttle down to less than ten mph.

However you do it, it is worth every bump and bounce.

This road is my new number one and I am sticking to it.  You have your list.  Care to nominate your favorite?   You know me, I never met a scenic suggestion I didn’t like.

13 Responses to Scenic Roads

  1. Dave L says:

    Nice riding along.

  2. karen wittgraf says:

    Any road in Yosemite…also whatever road it is (don’t remember the #) that goes through Jackson Hole, Wyoming north to Cody…beautiful Big Horn mountains! However, the power of height, waterfalls, eagles above and streams below was almost frightening, in a very quiet supreme manner. Jerry brought his horses there and camped several years ago and thought he was in Heaven.

  3. Carol & Dick Volckmann says:

    Great photos, great discriptions – looks like a “must” on one of our adventures.
    Thanks for sharing,
    Carol & Dick

  4. Colleen Rae says:

    I know the road that Karen mentions, the one north out of Jackson Hole. It is indeed one of my favorites. So many fantastic roads – too many to choose just one – Hwy 1 between Gualala and the turnoff to Guerneville, CA is gorgeous, dangerous and curvy. The road to Sedona -the road to Oatman, AZ on old Hwy 66 across the mountains to Kingman – the Blue Ridge Parkway. Many of these you have traveled Al, or will soon.

  5. Wally Herrick says:

    I agree with most of your road selections — might add sections of I-70 in Utah and western Colorado and the Beartooth Pass road out of Yellowstone to the northeast. I believe both the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and the Natchez Trace Parkway are maintained by the National Park Service but without a National Park designation.

  6. Christine Thomas says:

    AL-Absolutely gorgeous-and I like your comments also.
    What amazes me are the immensely strong geological forces that work with so much energy to create these marvels!
    I saw so many beautiful roads while living in the NorthEast, espc during prime “Leaf Peeping” season in the Fall…upstate NY (The Adirondacks), the Green Mountains in New Hampshire and Vermont, the highways along the coast of Maine..just incredible in the Fall, and the summer is lush -almost tropical in the green against the ocean, with quaint homes and villages…and then there’s winter, with the quiet of a snowfall…
    I guess we have so much to admire and see in our country…and I still have yet to see Alaska…by boat or land….(oh, yes, the “lobsta” is pretty good too!)
    And, upon thinking about it, seeing the Maritimes in Canada from a 44′ custom-made yawl, anchoring in quiet harbors, getting your own mussels from Cape Breton Island…lovely, just lovely…so much to see…so little time…

  7. john miller says:

    Durango Telluride Colorado Million Dollar Highway!

  8. robbie says:

    1. oAK cREEK cANYON

  9. Colleen Rae says:

    There is a small artist’s town, Jerome ,not far fr0m Sedona on 89A. If you have a chance, see it. I was there 30 years ago! It sits on the side of a mountain. I think about 30 miles or less from Sedona. The road there is very pictureque, too.

  10. Ellen says:

    I used to drive Hwy 1 north from San Francisco to visit a friend in Fort Bragg…. loved it…. a little windy and scary in parts on the way back down, but gorgeous…. occasionally, if I didn’t have the time for Hwy 1, I’d take 101 north and turn off on CA 20 towards the coast…. no ocean views, but farmland and meadows and redwoods and old cemeteries along the roadside… loved 20 too!

  11. Oh Lord, so many. I think my current favorite is US 395 down the eastern Sierra through California, Nevada and back again. An incredible wash of blue and gold with the great blue and white wall of the Sierra on one side and the low golden hills and mountains of Nevada on the other. I’ll be going that way again sometime this summer, partially to promote my East Sierra-set debut novel “Dragon’s Ark” (you can buy it now at Amazon and B&N, broad nudge and wink) . . . but really, even that is merely an excuse.

    My wife and I drove the Oak Creek Canyon Road on our honeymoon in 2003. The red and gold cliffs still tower magnificently in my memory. I was pleased to learn recently that Vladimir Nabokov stayed at one of the inns there while on a butterfly expedition in the 1950s. The inn is still there (though its name is not handy to my memory, right now).

  12. I took this book to a trip around Utah (Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Arches, Canyonlands and Monument Valley) and I must say that without the book the trip wouldn’t have been the same! There are a lot of side trips and places described in it – including the history of each route, comments and anecdotes – that does not apper in any of the two Utah guides that I had with me. Also, a lot of great detours and even view points that otherwise I would have missed. Definitely a must have!

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