The Iconic Road Trip

Ah, the road trip—a classic rite of passage.

No matter if it’s a haphazard first adventure with college buddies or a post-retirement planned escape onto the open road, there are few better and more liberating sensations than pointing your RV towards the horizon, putting your foot down, and seeing where the tarmac takes you.

Route 66 on the road to Oatman, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Route 66 on the road to Oatman, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And from all the road trips I’ve taken on four of the seven continents, I still firmly believe the US and Canada offers the best. From the vast open landscapes of Arizona and Texas to the white sands of the Alabama Gulf Coast to the Icefields Parkway, one of Canada’s national treasures, there’s a drive to suit every taste and timescale.

I have one strict rule on road trips though—no GPS and no satellite navigation—because that’s just cheating.

With that in mind, it’s time to reach for those AAA paper maps that have served countless generations and map out the next iconic road trips exploring America. So fuel up the tank, check the tires, pack the RV, and get that engine running, because there’s a new adventure out there and the open road beckons.

Route 66 marker near the Painted Desert, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Route 66 marker near the Painted Desert, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Route 66

Let’s kick things off with a classic—perhaps the most famous of them all. Route 66 runs from Chicago to Santa Monica and has been immortalized in American culture and history through endless films, songs, and books. With good reason too—its sights are among the most iconic in road trip lore. Heading southwest from Grant Park towards St. Louis, take in the Eisler Brothers General Store (Riverton, Kansas) and Amarillo’s Cadillas Ranch on your way to Santa Fe. From there the road takes you across Arizona to the old mining town of Oatman before you reach the famous ghost town of Calico. Then it’s a short hop to Santa Monica where you can wash the dust away with a dip in the Pacific. Perfect.

Valley of the Gods, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Valley of the Gods, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Four Corners

Travel through the archaeological heartland of America while crossing the beautiful and diverse landscapes of the Colorado Plateau. This drive kicks off in Flagstaff and heads east through the otherworldly solitude of Petrified Forest National Park. If you’re not impressed yet, I’m pretty sure Monument Valley and lesser-known Valley of the Gods will wow you—the sacred heart of the Navajo Nation and home to the Trail of the Ancients.

It’s also the intersection point for New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado, hence the road trip’s name.

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the Four Corners drive northeast to Ute Mountain Tribal Park and on to Mesa Verde National Park where fourteen centuries of history are displayed. Spectacular cliff dwellings and mesa-top villages were built between A.D. 450 and 1300, when the Ancestral Puebloans migrated from the area.

Blue Ridge Parkway

Spanning 469 miles through 29 counties, the Blue Ridge Parkway takes travelers along the Appalachian Mountains through Virginia and North Carolina providing a unique view of foliage and history.

Along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the most scenic roads in America, the parkway connects Shenandoah National Park with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It starts at Rockfish Gap, Virginia, intersecting Skyline Drive, and winds southwest through Virginia into mountainous western North Carolina. Drivers marvel at the picturesque views along the route of the Black Mountains, Great Craggies, Pisgahs, Great Balsams, and the Great Smokies.

Along the way, travelers will find campgrounds and hiking trails, glimpses of small-town Appalachian life. Like a living museum, the parkway is filled with the history of its unique, pioneering families. Mountain culture, music, and art is preserved throughout the region.

Along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Road trips have beginnings and ends, but it’s what’s in between that counts.

Leave a Reply