Road trip delivers panoramic view of America

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Road trip delivers panoramic view of America

By: Karl Kramer

By: Karl Kramer

By: Karl Kramer

My wife, Jean, and I share a love of seeing the country using two-lane roads as much as possible. This past summer we embarked on a monthlong, 7,700-mile road trip that took us through 16 states.

The mode of transportation was our 1994 Alfa Romeo Spider. The Alfa Spider was the last in a breed of affordable rear-drive roadsters of the 20th century. Other than the requisite oil change, the Spider performed flawlessly.

As long as you haven't forgotten your sunscreen, there is nothing quite like taking in a panoramic view of nature's beauty with the top down. And if you're a car enthusiast like me, the curvy two-lane roads provide a thrill in the drive alone.

John Steinbeck opined about our interstates after his 10,000-mile sojourn through the U.S. back in 1960 as the highway system was being built: "These great roads are wonderful for moving goods but not for inspection of a countryside. You are bound to the wheel and your eyes to the car ahead and to the rear-view mirror for the car behind and the side mirror for the car or truck about to pass, and at the same time you must read all the signs for fear you may miss some instructions or orders. No roadside stands selling squash juice, no antique stores, no farm products or factory outlets. When we get these thruways across the whole country, as we will and must, it will be possible to drive from New York to California without seeing a single thing."

We would agree with Steinbeck – there is much to see when you take the road less traveled: scenic byways that take you into canyons and lush forests and to the tops of mountains, through small towns where the pace of life seems to slow down, and to quirky sights you would not ordinarily see.

Our purpose for heading west was to attend Veloce nel Verde, the national Alfa Romeo car convention, this year held in Portland, Ore. We also planned our route so that we could visit with family and friends.

Before reaching the West Coast, we experienced the subtle beauty of Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska. Later we enjoyed the Black Hills of South Dakota, the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone, and all the out-of-the-way places in between.

From Portland, we headed to Crater Lake and to the redwoods of coastal California and the Pacific Coast Highway. Of particular note is Piedras Blancas, a beach off the Pacific Coast Highway south of Big Sur. This beach is the only mainland beach that elephant seals use as a rookery. We were lucky to pass through at a time when many bull seals had come to molt.

From the Pacific Highway we went to West Hollywood, out of L.A. and into the hot deserts of California and Arizona. The final leg of the trip took us through New Mexico, Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky and back to Champaign.

Although some planning is involved in a trip like this, the fun comes with the unexpected and the places we stumble upon. One such place on this trip was the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary in Hot Springs, S.D., and another was the Northwest Passage Byway, 200 miles of twists and turns following the trail of Lewis and Clark.

Day-to-day details and photos of our entire trip are on our travel blog at www.spider2k.wordpress.com.

Karl Kramer is director of the School of Music at the University of Illinois.

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