Based on 30 years of cross-country vacations and inspired by some of the best road-trip books ever written, we've developed some Road Rules that never let us down:
– Don't travel on interstate highways if you can help it.
– Eat locally grown food and drink locally brewed beer.
– Stay in historic hotels and quirky B&Bs.
– Always try at least one new thing along the way.
– Get as far away as you possibly can from other people for at least part of each day.
– Keep a journal.
– Never pass up a chance to visit friends and relatives.
The road-trip books? "Out West" by Dayton Duncan, "Travels with Charlie" by John Steinbeck, "Desert Solitaire" by Edward Abbey, and of course, "The Journals of Lewis and Clark" edited by Bernard DeVoto and Stephen Ambrose's "Undaunted Courage."
Last summer brought a few new twists. We left behind our now-grown children and the 10-year-old minivan of past family vacations. We didn't travel with a folder full of highway maps. Instead, we threw suitcases into the back of our Prius, bought a portable GPS named "Samantha," plugged the cell phone into the front dash, and headed west to Durango, Colo., via Missouri and Kansas.
We left Interstate 72 at Pittsfield, picked up Route 54 to avoid St. Louis, and emerged near Columbia, Mo. We left the interstates for good just west of Kansas City. Route 50/400 led us into eastern Colorado, where Samantha found us the last room at a Best Western in Walsenburg (exceptions to the "Historic Hotel" Road Rule can be made when it's late afternoon and pouring rain).
In Durango, we had reservations at the Strater Hotel, located at 7th and Main streets, two blocks from the Durango-Silverton narrow gauge railroad station. This is a charming restored Victorian-era hotel filled with walnut furniture, located on the historic main street of Durango, which made it easy to catch the 7:45 a.m. train the next day.
We got off the train half way to Silverton, at the Tall Timber Resort located on 160 acres along the Animas River. This was where we "Tried Something New": zip-lining among the ponderosa pines with a company called Soaring Tree Top Adventures. For four hours, we "soared" on cables through the aspen and pine trees and back and forth across the river, on spans up to 1,400 feet long and 100 feet above the ground. Under the watchful eyes of our guides and with high-quality equipment, it was perfectly safe, incredibly beautiful and a great way to spend my birthday. We enjoyed a gourmet lunch perched on a platform in the trees and caught the train on its way back to Durango in mid-afternoon.
From Durango, we made our way north to Ouray (pronounced You-ray, pop. 800). It's nestled in the bowl of an amphitheater which was carved out of the San Juan mountains by a glacier. At about 8,000 feet above sea level, Ouray bills itself as the "Switzerland of America"– the town is surrounded by towering peaks. The old saying, "It was uphill both ways" was true here! You could head in any direction out of town, find yourself on a trail and spend hours among the peaks, waterfalls and alpine meadows. Climbing switchbacks and hiking all morning made it easy to justify late lunches at Maggie's: gigantic buffalo burgers and homemade French fries ("fried in grease") followed by a tall glass of pale ale at the Ouray Brewing Company.
We stayed in Ouray's Beaumont Hotel at 5th and Main streets, another beautifully restored Victorian hotel which was built in 1887 and renovated in 2003. The original furnishings came from Marshall Field's in Chicago and the staff was trained by Potter Palmer when it first opened. Our room was large and comfortable, with a luxurious bathroom featuring a clawfoot tub perfect for soaking after a long day's hike. Each morning we woke up to see the tip of Hayden Peak glowing in the early morning sun.
From Ouray, we made our way through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, stocked up on fresh fruit and local wine in Paonia (home of High Country News), and wound our way through spectacular scenery on the way to Redstone, Carbondale, and Glenwood Springs. We visited college friends in Evergreen and relatives in Denver and Lincoln, Neb.
Our Prius, by the way, averaged 54 mpg in the mountains of Colorado and "Samantha," our GPS, now seems like one of the family.
Diane Wolfe Marlin represents Ward 7 on the Urbana City Council.