Travel Read: Road Trip USA

Avalon Travel writer Jamie Jensen traversed the nation several times, testing various two-lane highways in the process, to bring road trippers the best (really, it’s the BEST) road trip guidebook for the U.S. to date. Road Trip USA, released this month, features eleven unique cross-country road trips. I would not only recommend this guidebook, I would insist that you buy it if you’re embarking on a U.S. road trip of any sort — or if you’re one of those information junkies needing a good fill of fun facts and historical tidbits.

North to south, east to west, Jensen really covers it all, and he includes helpful information about nearly every interesting town along the way as well as detours or side trips that are worthy of some extra time. The great American byways have never sounded so enticing and intriguing. There is one mega-book that includes all 11 trips (retail $29.95) and two smaller books (each $9.95) for the countries two most charted journeys: the Pacific Coast and Route 66.
Here’s a brief overview of Jensen’s 11 road trips:

  1. Pacific Coast: Route 1, otherwise known as the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway), spans the whole western coastline from Washington’s Olympic National Park through California’s rugged Lost Coast to San Diego. Forks, Washington, of Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” fame, sits firmly along the PCH, so you can search high and low for vampires (or loggers) if you so please.
  2. Border to Border: Start way up north in Canada’s Jasper National Park and make your way through Banff, Sun Valley, and the Extraterrestrial Highway down to the Arizona-Mexico border. Little known fact: Hemingway wrote part of his famous For Whom the Bell Tolls in the Sun Valley Lodge.
  3. The Road to Nowhere: Follow the US-83 straight through the middle of the country from North Dakota to Texas. It’s all about the open road on this journey. Don’t know where the Chalk Pyramids or Monument Rocks are? Well, go and find them for yourself. Drinking is legal on the beach of one of the destinations on this route, too.
  4. The Great River Road: Follow the mighty Mississippi River to the deep south, and learn about some of America’s most iconic figures (Mark Twain or Elvis ring a bell?) You can find the world’s largest six-pack too, and I’m not talking about a hot guy, I’m talking about beer — a lot of it.
  5. Appalachian Trail: I considered maybe for a brief minute of hiking the whole Appalachian Trail, and while that would be an amazing feat, I think I’ll stick to pavement. Those who’ve accomplished the AT by foot talk about how grateful they were when they found “trail magic,” so you shouldn’t be surprised to find your own form of “road magic” — maybe in the form of food (diners aplenty), but more likely in the visual form (mountains beyond mountains).
  6. Atlantic Coast: Start at the Statue of Liberty and head along the the coast through eerie Savannah to the lively Florida Keys. Make sure you walk Jersey’s piers and try a night or two in one of the state’s many “Doo Wop”motels.
  7. The Great Northern: Something awfully mystical awaits you up north in places like Maine’s Acadia National Park and Montana’s Glacier National Park. If those don’t strike your fancy, there’s always the stunning Great Lakes in summer.
  8. The Oregon Trail: Niagara Falls, Yellowstone, the quintessential American cities of Boston and Chicago, Mt. Rushmore, the Great Plains, the Finger Lakes, Cape Cod. Yes, please.
  9. Loneliest Road: America’s backbone runs across such famed stretches as the Santa Fe Trail, Million Dollar Highway, and Pony Express Trail. You’ll be charting your own map, but journeying through some of the countries most gorgeous landscapes all by your lonesome. Don’t forget to bring your camara and don’t be afraid to get lost in the beauty of it all.
  10. Southern Pacific: This is the American south in all its glory. Deserts, swamps, spicy Tex-Mex food, and good old southern hospitality, where everything is biggest, sweeter, and just plain hot. You might want to brush up on your line dancing and donn that hat and those boots for some wild nights on the town.
  11. Route 66: John Steinbeck called it the “Mother Road.” Songs immortalized it as a place where you can “get your kicks.” Diners, roadside attractions, and motels are all just part of what gives it its character. From giant statues and Cadillac farms to barns and billboards, this most famous Route must be traveled at some point in your life. Why not let it be now?

If you’re traveling anywhere in the U.S. by car, rest assured Jensen’s got your destination covered. In many senses, you can bypass expensive single-State guidebook purchases and just invest in in this one comprehensive national guidebook. Check it out, really.

Gadling’s hosting a Road Trip USA giveaway in the next few days, so stay tuned for that as well as a “Talking Travel” Q&A with the series’ intrepid writer, Jamie Jensen himself.

Art car in Texas under fire. Is it art or junk?

The issue of old cars becoming art is not a new one. A few years back, driving along Route 66 in Amarillo, Texas, I looked out for the 10 Cadillacs half-buried, nose first in a row off the highway. I saw them as funky and fun. The piece was titled Cadillac Ranch.

If you’ve ever driven through this part of Texas, you may understand how anything that breaks up the flat scenery is welcome. At least, that’s my opinion. Some have felt over the years that those cars are nothing but junk–an eyesore. Evidently, they’ve become more junky since I saw them. (see article)

There is another art car issue in Texas. This one is very recent. Another car, this one painted by Austin-based artists as a protest to pollution, is involved in a tug of war between the artists and those who say that a car that won’t run is junk. Those people want the car moved. The car, now a cactus planter, is art, the artists say and they want it to stay where it is on I-35 outside Planet K in San Marcos.

According to this article in the Austin News, a judge is to decide if the car should stay or go. Perhaps, the artists need to come up with a spiffy name and attractive signage similar to what one might see in a world class museum. It worked for Wilbur, the pig in Charlotte’s Web. He was saved from the chopping block by Charlotte’s web- weaving handiwork. “Super Pig” could be translated to “Super Car.” PR can work wonders. Even a weird funky item is enough to draw tourists into an area.

I have looked to see if I can find out the ruling, but came up with nothing.

The Dying Hotels of Route 66

Route 66, that famous icon of an American road, is nearly dead. The federal highway system either by-passed or paved over what was Route 66. And, along with it, gone are the small businesses that sprung up to service all those travelers living a piece of the American dream: the open highway.

An AP post had me reminiscing about a long motorcycle journey down Route 66. In the article, the writer notes that the 3,000-odd existing hotels are crumbling and in poor repair, and tells stories of some of the owners. With names like The Cotton Boll Hotel, The Westwinds Hotel, El Rancho, and the Pow-Wow Inn, they evoke lost years and a different era.

Once it stretched from Chicago to LA. Oklahoma has the longest remaining parts of any of the eight original states. Today, you can struggle just to find the few remaining stretches. But, where you do find them, boy, do they satisfy that open-road dream.

Websites to check out: and here.

The Rock Cafe – Stroud, Oklahoma

Alligator burger in Oklahoma?

My curiosity peaked when I saw it on the menu and for as long as I’ve lived in Florida you’d imagined I’d be a pro at sampling the scaly reptile, but the opportunity was never there. OK, well I didn’t exactly go looking for the opportunity either, but when I saw gator burger on the Rock Cafe menu I was willing to give it a go. The description under the burger was something to the effect of alligator meat prepped like an old fashioned salmon patty with regular burger toppings. You know – lettuce, tomato and pickles on the spicy side. Still a little untrusting of the meat, I ordered an additional hamburger in the event the gator didn’t agree with my belly.

Then it was there. It sat there right before me. I suppose I was looking for an alligator snout underneath the bun, but all I found was a patty that could have been a turkey burger for all I knew, but it was gator. Without thinking further I sunk my teeth into the juicy burger as if I had been nursed on the meat all my life and I liked it. I actually enjoyed it and I still had one more hamburger there waiting to wash down the first. Considering I also had a root beer float, I’m sure glad I didn’t get sick.

Should you find yourself cruising down the Historic Route 66 in Stroud, Oklahoma, make sure to stop at the Rock Cafe to create your own Oklahoma gator burger stories. The diner serves an assortment of burgers, po-boy’s, nachos, salads, and breakfast all for a highly reasonable price.

The Rock Cafe is located at 114 W. Main Street, Stroud, OK 74079. Ph. 918.968.3990.