In 1982, William Least Heat Moon wrote his best-selling book, Blue Highways. That book, chronicling his three-month drive across the United States, was a New York Times bestseller and stayed on that list for 42 weeks. And no wonder too: Blue Highways describes a bygone America, one that was best visited by traversing back highways, those roadways colored in blue on old Rand McNally road atlases.
Blue Highways was not only a best seller, but it stimulated the driving interest of many Americans, people that tapped their inner vagabond in a bid to see their slice of the United States. If you have always wanted to make a trip that takes in much of the country’s scenery, the following phenomenal drives will want you to fire up your motorcycle, get behind the wheel of your coupe or sedan, or rent an RV and take to the road.
It was a 2006 animated film, Cars, that drew attention attention to Route 66, a system of highways that once began in Chicago and ended at the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica, Calif. That highway, formed in the 1920s, started to come apart in the 1960s when the interstate highway system expanded.
Though some of the road is gone, you can still find sections of the “mother road” in place. Notable landmarks include the Blue Whale in Oklahoma, the Historic Bridge Cross in Arizona and lots of folksy restaurants, shops and people can be seen along its roads. Not a quick trip, but just the sort of journey that can show you the western US in ways that no interstate can.
Pacific Coast Highway
If you want scenery, then the Pacific Coast Highway in California cannot be missed. Today, most of the highway represents California Star Route 1. Happily, you can still take it without interruption and enjoy many side roads that take you to quiet California towns.
There are too many scenes to name in one article, for this highway has no lack of breathtaking vistas. In some areas, such as Gorda, the highway runs along towering cliffs that overlook the Pacific Ocean. In San Francisco, the road goes through the city and passes by the rail station. Other areas of note with your trip can take you over the Santa Ana River in Orange County or through historic Malibu. This road is best taken at a deliberate pace for maximum driving enjoyment.
Mount Evans Scenic Byway
Colorado has the Mount Evans Scenic Byway, a 28-mile meandering mountain road that begins at Interstate 70 and ends at State Highway 5. Originally part of the Denver Mountains Park system, it was designated a Forest Service Byway in 1993.
Though the road is brief, the byway is not without its thrills. It provides access to Echo Lake Park and Summit Lake Park, but its most significant feature is the gains in height that it takes, climbing more than 7,000 feet to an elevation of 14,130 feet. The byway is the highest paved road in North America, coming just shy of the Mount Evans summit.
Delaware Water Gap
The northeast is the most congested area of the country, but it has no lack of scenic drives. The Delaware Water Gap, spanning New Jersey and Pennsylvania, can be approached from different roads with Interstate 80 the most popular one.
The Gap slices through the Appalachian Mountains and is also the site of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. Several bridges, public and private span the river including the Northampton Street Bridge between Easton and Phillipsburg, the Riverton-Belvidere Bridge, the Portland-Columbia Toll Bridge and the Milford-Montague Toll Bridge. The Dingman’s Ferry Bridge connecting Delaware Twp., Penn. and Sandyston Twp., NJ,. is the last privately owned bridge to span the river.
Highways and Byways
Beyond the four roadways mentioned here, there are other roads worth taking a ride on, even stopping over for a few days and enjoying the local color. The Blue Ridge Parkway that begins Virginia and goes through much of the North Carolina mountains is one such road. So is Cottonwood Pass, a road that crosses over the Continental Divide, and is closed most of the year. Plan your trip in summer, well after the snow melts and before winter makes its early return in late August.
Regardless of what route you take, you can bet that you will enjoy a slice of Americana, including finding yourself of roads that are truly blue, but only in map color. There is a lot to see — your only decision is whether to ride your motorcycle, drive your car or take the RV.
Keith Winters is a professional blogger that enjoys providing consumers with automotive advice. He writes for Butty Buddy, a leading manufacturer of motorcycle seats.