United States of America. Or the US! A nation spread far and wide from the ‘bridge to nowhere’ in Alaska to the Caribbean isles of Puerto Rico, from the craggy coast of Maine to the volcanic islands of Hawaii in the South Pacific.
I have traveled extensively across this country but haven’t even skimmed the surface. America is much more than the Statue of Liberty or Los Angeles. And it perhaps has natural wonders other than the Niagara Falls.
The typical Indian tour of the US consists of a few places people want to check off their list, and due to time and money constraints, and maybe a fear of the unknown, the average traveler rarely ventures out to see places other than a laundry list.
My own parents exhibit this behavior. So, enough said!
Travel and #BloggerDreamTeam
When I first heard about the food/ travel theme for Vir Sanghvi’s Blogger Dream Team, I was overjoyed. This one is right up my alley, I thought. And that turned out to be a drawback. There is so much I want to write about, it turned out to be my downfall.
One of my travel dreams is to drive across all Interstates in America. The Interstate or highway network runs across the length and breadth of the country connecting different places. President Eisenhower was instrumental in promoting the creation of this highway system and it is one of the most awe inspiring man made aspects of the country, especially for a road tripper like me.
Interstate 40 – Through the Heart of America
The I-40 runs from East to West probably across the widest part of the country spanning eight states and 2478 miles. I have driven across this end to end but at different times. It intersects the historic Route 66 in several places.
Today I am going to write about some scenic places across this route. You may not see these places on a Cox&Kings travel itinerary, but they need to be part of any serious traveler’s bucket list.
We will start from the East Coast in North Carolina and head west. Not quite the Lewis and Clark route, but fun and adventurous nevertheless!
I will try to highlight at least one place from each state, and highlight popular National parks or Places I love.
Blue Ridge Mountains and Asheville, NC
Skyline Drive, another favorite drive of mine turns into the Blue Ridge Parkway which comes as far south as the eclectic town of Asheville, NC. Asheville is a small mountain town nestled in the Appalachians with winding streets and is famous for being the place to live in. Known for music festivals and mild summers, this high altitude town is a great place to stop for lunch as you are driving across the state.
We could not find parking here on a Saturday afternoon and had to actually give up on the lunch idea.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee
Smoky Mountain National Park or the Smokies are mist covered mountains that span much of the state of Tennesse on the I-40. You can drive into Gatlinburg, the essential small tourist town and get some souvenirs. But as you drive along the I-40, you will be driving across the cross section of the mountains anyway.
Get ready to encounter some curves for 3-4 hours and I am sure you will find your head reeling by the time you come out of these mountains. We had a gang of bikers on our tail and around us the whole time we were driving this section.
More Tennessee – Nashville, Memphis and Barbecue
I-40 offers the best of the huge state of Tennessee. Stopover in Nashville which is the seat of country music. Go in for some Tennessee style barbecue. Walk the line into the Johnny Cash museum. Then head over to Memphis for a dose of Elvis.
We reached Memphis late in the evening, checked into a local hotel and were about to crash into the room. Imagine my shock to run into a couple who were already lounging inside. Fortunately, they were not in any dishabille, and they understood it wasn’t my fault. The problem was soon sorted out after some talk with the ‘management’. Makes you long for real keys instead of plastic cards!
In case you didn’t know, and I didn’t until only recently, Memphis is named after the ancient Egyptian city on the banks of the Nile. Memphis, Tennessee sits on the banks of the Mississippi. I did not realize the connection until I read Night Train to Memphis, an archaeological adventure by the late Elizabeth Peters.
The Music Hall of Fame is a must visit, particularly if you like Elvis, Aretha Franklin, Roy Orbison, B. B. King and so one. Blues to Rock, you will find it all here.
Ozark Mountains in Arkansas
The I-40 spans about a 250 mile patch in Arkansas, Bill Clinton’s state. Part of this is the historic Route 66. Even if you don’t get off the Interstate, you will be driving through lush greenery and some winding roads. The Ozark Mountains and the Ozark National Forest are a great detour or day trip. Take a scenic drive on the Pig Trail Scenic Byway that will take you across waterfalls and the Mulberry River, canoe your heart out or go fishing.
The Ozarks span the states of Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma, so as you drive across the I-40, you will still be in the Ozarks even in Oklahoma. But get ready for a drastic change in the terrain.
Oklahoma, with or without the song, is the center of my heart and the center of the US. The Interstate itself flattens out and runs in almost a straight line for a long stretch and you encounter the wide open plains as you hit Oklahoma City. A mean 330 miles of I-40 is to be traversed here.
The panhandle gets you into Amarillo, Texas. This area almost always has bad weather and I still remember being stuck in a shroud of mist that came out of nowhere while driving across this stretch once.
Oklahoma, Texas and Route 66
You can really experience the wide open plains here, and maybe a touch of agoraphobia. It is hard to explain. I actually have no words to explain. This is the hinterland of the US, maybe a place to experience some Texas style cooking, some blue bonnets and star studded skies far away from the cities.
New Mexico and the South West
As you enter New Mexico, the terrain starts changing again. Drive through Albuquerque, a bustling city and encounter the glorious South West and the South Western cuisine that Bobby Flay is famous for.
You will start seeing some mountains, even snow capped peaks and small stores selling Native American artifacts. The Sandia Mountains, glitzy Santa Fe, the continental divide, and canyons – you will encounter all of these in this border state, and also remnants of Route 66.
That cult sci-fi series Roswell is named after a place in New Mexico.
Arizona, the Grand Canyon State
The endless road stretches in front of you and you realize you have entered Arizona as the terrain becomes more barren and you start seeing cactuses along the road. The Grand Canyon is so awe inspiring I have not managed to write anything about it yet.
A stop in Williams, Arizona is a must. This small town is the gateway to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Drive into the park along the Desert View Trail and experience the wonder of Nature. For a deeper experience, you can trek along several walking trails in the Grand Canyon, or even trek from rim to rim.
Get in some skiing at Flagstaff, check out the Petrified Forest National Park or just enjoy the drive.
Nevada, Hoover Dam and the Mojave National Preserve
As your heart is full with the grand vistas of the canyon, take a detour into the super glamorous world of Las Vegas.
You will also encounter the Hoover Dam, an engineering marvel that has been featured famously in movies like The Fugitive, and more recently, Dhoom 3.
How Aamir Khan can be in Chicago one minute and jump down the wall of the Hoover Dam the next is a miracle best left to Bollywood.
The best kept secret here is the Mojave National Preserve, a vast untamed land with plenty of diversity. Wild flowers grow in the arid land, and snow covered mountains loom in the distance. Joshua trees offer a rare sight you will see only in one or two places in the world.
You can drive for miles on a nice paved road without encountering a single soul. Just don’t go offroading without proper planning because this is an unforgiving land for sure.
CA-LI-FOR-NIA and Journey’s end
Exit Nevada and enter California, the last state on this east-west journey. You can venture into the Mojave even here, or continue on to Los Angeles and Hollywood after leaving the I-40 at Barstow.
I haven’t driven this in a single stretch, even though it will be fun. The I-40 offers a glimpse into many different aspects of the US, because it takes you through every kind of terrain and culture.
I hope I have introduced you to some lesser known American wonders that are worth visiting. Of course, many of these places are easily accessible by flight or via a short drive from a nearby airport.
So are you ready to dig deeper and discover these portions of the US?
This post is written for the Food and Travel Carnival by Blogmint for Vir Sanghvi’s Blogger Dream Team. I am proud to be part of Harsha Bhogle’s Blogger Dream Team already. Hope to be chosen for this one too. Wish me luck! And I hope you enjoyed reading this.
Tennessee photos from my friend John Walker. New Mexico photo from Pixabay. All other photos are mine.