A friend recently posted a couple of pictures from where she was camping in Utah. You would be correct if you guessed it was beautiful. Serene and peaceful would also fit. I’ve seen a lot of that in my travels and prompted me to comment. After all, I’ve done a bit of traveling in the last 40 years.
Thanks to a couple of my previous lives, I’ve had the opportunity to see other lands. Canada (not so much other but still not the US), Europe (VERY other), New Zealand and part of Australia. Throw in a Caribbean island and an island in the Indian Ocean and I feel very lucky. I’ve also managed to see about 94% of the United States. Not the way I’d like to mind you. Usually from a hotel room and not always able to explore even the local area.
However, I feel justified in saying that I’ve seen enough to express this opinion.
I’ve often heard people, and friends, comment how they’d like to travel to (insert_destination_here). Whether it was Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, South America, everybody seems to want to see “somewhere else”. At which point I invariably ask, “Have you traveled the United States?”
I’m often rewarded with a look that says, “Why would I want to do that?” Before the mouth opens to say it, I begin my sales pitch. There is no single human part of this country that is as old as some of the other continents. Those that come close have been looted, pillaged or destroyed. Even places like the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, north of Silver City, New Mexico, while preserved, had been thoroughly scrounged long before it was preserved.
I wouldn’t give you two cents for New York City, nor northern New Jersey, but I’ve seen upstate New York. I’ve seen southern New Jersey. There are some beautiful places. Rhode Island, for as much as I hate the weather, is a beautiful little state, and so filled with spirits. Vermont and New Hampshire are gorgeous, especially if you can visit Mount Washington (NH).
Massachusetts is gorgeous, if you get away from the greater Boston area. Unless you’re looking for some of that American History stuff. I had always hated history in school, but gained a greater appreciation when I visited Boston. I had a found a great park in Connecticut. Not easy to traverse in winter, but the other three seasons were stunning.
Most people probably wouldn’t think of South Dakota as a vacation destination, but I would. I’ve been there in winter and summer. Both were harsh, but with a special beauty, too. Montana is like that. Hot and humid in the summer, brutally cold in the winter. And yet, you have Flathead Lake and Glacier National Park in the northwest and Yellowstone National Park to the south.
The Rocky Mountains provide some of the most stunning vistas on the continent. The Continental Divide runs through New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana. It forms part of the border between Idaho and Montana. Along the way you can make side trips to places like the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Bridger Wilderness, Gila National Forest, Four Corners, and so much more.
The Deep South is host to as many varieties of scenery as you can imagine as well. From the Blue Ridge Mountains and Appalachian Mountains (from Georgia to New York) to the Okefenokee Swamp (in Florida). From the Atchafalaya (in Louisiana), crossing which is one of the longest bridges in the world, to the Cave of the Ozarks (in Missouri).
The Great Plains of central North America encompass the heartland of the US. “Amber waves of grain,” as the song says permeate the land for hundreds of miles. It’s not the most exciting drive, but it will certainly give you more perspective on the work it takes to feed a nation.
Texas is, of course, a land unto itself. From the fertile lands of the Gulf to the near desert of the north, with lush lands in the east and the center (ish). The Hill Country, northwest of San Antonio is stark contrast to the open prairie land to the west of Dallas.
New Mexico and Arizona are largely high desert, since they’re situated so closely to the Continental Divide. Southern Arizona is deadly hot in the summer. Northern Arizona and New Mexico experience winter snowfall and have beautiful forests. Along the way between both you can find some of the most unusual land formations anywhere, including the White Sands and Canyon de Chelly.
Nevada is known mostly for its lack of water. It is without a doubt one of the least human-friendly places in America, and yet possessed of a special beauty, too. The western border of Nevada is the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Rising sharply from the desert floor, they are second only to the Rockies in both altitude and majesty.
The Sierra Nevadas are also home to Lake Tahoe. This gem of the west sits at 6200 feet and is surrounded by 8000 foot peaks. Blanketed in white during the winter, the area hosts several world renowned ski resorts. During the summer, the entire area is green and lush, drawing visitors from around the world. On the Nevada side, there are several casinos, offering world-class entertainment. The California side is rugged and suitable for camping trips. The lake itself is 1645 feet deep, second deepest in the country.
Washington state is always regarded as a state of large rainfall. This isn’t true. Yes, it’s a very wet state but it comes mostly from consistent light rain! That also makes it one of the most beautiful. Many would be surprised to find that the eastern half of the state is home to some seriously high desert regions.
Oregon is much like Washington, thanks to similar geography. Lush and beautiful along the Pacific Coast and nearly desert to the east. Portland is also known as the rose capitol and hosts one of the largest varieties.
California. Some people will likely say I am biased saying California has the most to offer. I will gladly admit that’s true. However, just because I grew up there and have lived most of my life there, doesn’t mean it isn’t true! At the widest, California is about 370 miles across. The length from north to south though is about 700 miles, from Tijuana to Oregon. Of course, if you’re going to drive, it’s MUCH longer. From San Ysidro, at the southern border, to Hill, at the northern border is just over 800 miles, requiring eleven and a half hours. Roughly. That’s IF you can manage to stay on Interstate 5 and not visit ANYTHING that you’ll see out your window.
You’ll drive through San Diego, well known for the Zoo and Sea World. You’ll cross Camp Pendelton. Into Orange County, you’ll go past Disneyland, the original. Then through downtown Los Angeles, up through the Santa Clarita mountains, past Six Flags Magic Mountain, across the Grapevine. Following I-5 north you bypass Bakersfield, one of the oil rich parts of the state. You’ll drive through miles of farmland and, depending on the season, you’ll know where the cattle ranches are. Up through Sacramento, the state capitol, into the Napa Valley, home to many popular wineries. From there, it’s mostly forested highway to the Oregon state line.
What are you missing? State Route 1, the Pacific Coast Highway, which becomes US 101, travels along the Pacific Coast from San Juan Capistrano, yes, the one famous for the swallows, to Legget, just north of wine country.
The Imperial Valley, east of San Diego, is one of the lowest spots in the country. There’s a water tower in Brawley where you can look up to see sea level as you drive by. Continue north a couple hundred miles, still across a desert, and you reach the Mojave Desert. Death Valley is consistently one of the hottest places on earth and any visit during summer will convince you.
Jog west a bit from Death Valley and head north again. You’ll skirt the Sierra Nevadas along state highway 99. While I-5 takes you along the western edge of the San Joaquin Valley (popularized by the television show “The Big Valley”), 99 takes you right through the heart. The Big Valley grows over half the nations crops of vegetables and over a third of the fruit. The heart of the San Joaquin Valley is Fresno, where I was born. From Fresno, you have an easy drive (if you can handle mountain roads) to Sequoia National Park, Kings Canyon National Park and Yosemite National Park. (Follow this same mountain range north and you’ll reach Lake Tahoe.)
I admit there are parts of California that I have no need, nor desire, to revisit. Most of those are cities. Urban sprawl. Besides, there is a huge portion I haven’t seen yet (the north). I could easily spend a year traveling and camping, and I haven’t mentioned all the parts I have seen.
Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin are places I’ve visited and had the chance to explore. I would go back there, too, if for no other reason that document on film the natural beauty. I would love to have the chance to explore Florida more fully, too. I don’t want to live there though. I have an allergy to hurricanes. I won’t spend a lot of time in Oklahoma either. Tornado allergy. You understand. I know, I know, I should have an allergy to earthquakes, too. But I grew up with them. I was never in one of the devastating ones, but nearby. I thought of them as natural roller coasters.
There are plenty of places I’ve been that have been left off this list. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that they are any less spectacular. But I’m hoping that by now, you get my point. There’s PLENTY to see “from sea to shining sea” in THIS country.
International travel has its appeal, I know. I wouldn’t trade my experiences abroad for anything. But before getting a passport, possibly a visa and a very costly plane ticket, think about staying home. The plane ticket will usually cost less. You won’t have to worry about different traffic rules. Best of all, you can discover something you may not have known you had. A little bit of pride in this land we call home.
Blessings, Love and Peace,