Scenic cross-country road trip

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of May 1-7, 1997
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Scenic cross-country road trip
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Scenic cross-country road trip
Question: This summer, after graduation, a friend and I are going to drive all the way from Cookeville, Tennessee, to San Francisco, California. We are foreigners and wish to see as much of the U.S. as possible along the way. We've got two to three weeks to spend on the road. Can you give us some suggestions on the places to see and advice on how to get well prepared? Your help is appreciated.

Xinyan Deng
Cookeville, Tennessee
[email protected]

Adventure Adviser: Since you have less than a month to cover more than 3,500 miles, my best advice is to buy a road map, along with plenty of junk food, and head toward the color green. I'd waste little time cruising cross country on I-40 through Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Texas. When you hit New Mexico, stop and soak up the historical and southwestern ambiance of Santa Fe, and then make a decision: Do you want to speed to California in order to spend maximum time exploring its beaches and parks, or do you want to lollygag and take in some of America's most spectacular natural beauty? I'd opt for the latter and head northwest of Santa Fe on Highway 84, which will take you through the southern arm of the Rockies and Durango to Mesa Verde National Park.

From there, make your way to Utah via Highway 666 and spend a day or two hiking at the almost adjacent Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. Unfortunately, these places aren't roadside rests along the same major highway. In fact, many times you might feel like you're traveling out of your way to take in a seemingly small chunk of beauty, but you won't be sorry.

After Arches and Canyonlands, follow the highway with the most green dots (a map code signifying extremely scenic driving) through Bryce and Zion National Parks and head southwest to the Grand Canyon. From there, forget scenery until you reach Yosemite National Park via highways 95, 6, and 395. After Yosemite, you'll feel the urge to take a shower and see the big city. Luckily, San Francisco is only a half day away.

The places I've mentioned are going to be jam-packed with summer visitors. To avoid some of the crowds, try to plan your national park visits at offbeat times of the week, such as Wednesday. Also, if you are planning to camp inside a national park, you'll need to make advance reservations (approximately $15 per night, for the Grand Canyon call 800-365-2267, for Yosemite call 800-436-7275. Arches has backcountry camping only). In parts of Utah, you can camp on Bureau of Land Management land without a permit.

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