Road trip! Favorite US scenic drives for fall

Insubordinate militia teen at the Yorktown Victory Center, Virginia (photo by Sheila Scarborough)Fall is calling me to take a road trip, but my schedule isn’t opening up enough to allow many long stretches of highway blacktop bliss.

Well, I can either pout about it or blog about it, and we all know how that’s going to end….

Herewith, some of my favorite US scenic highways and byways, for those of you with a bit more automotive freedom than me:

  • Virginia – The Colonial Parkway connects historic Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown through lush, quiet woods and pretty views of the James and York Rivers. Unfortunately it’s closed right now between Williamsburg and Jamestown (a boater crunched the Powhatan Creek bridge) but other parts are open.  The annual Yorktown Victory Weekend celebration is this month (October 17 and 18, 2009) with special walking tours and musket demonstrations.
  • Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee – I wouldn’t take the Natchez Trace Parkway if you’re in any kind of a hurry; the speed limit is 50 mph for most of it, and the whole point is to gaze at scenery (along with a large number of waddling RVs who have the same idea) Native American mound-builders may have trod this path as long as 2,000 years ago, and you can still see part of that original trail at the Sunken Trace, milepost 41.5 in Mississippi. Let me tell you, that spot is kinda spooky at dusk, and the un-bug-sprayed will be chewed alive by voracious Southern mosquitoes.  You’ll swear you can hear them laughing derisively at your feeble use of DEET.
  • California – The Pacific Coast Highway. Like, duh, dude! Spectacular especially along Big Sur on California 1, near San Francisco (you’d better pay attention at the wheel, because for heaven’s sake, no one else is) but there are plenty of other gorgeous sections.  Don’t miss our detailed guest post about the PCH from Jamie Jensen, author of the Road Trip USA guidebook:  highlights of the Pacific Coast Highway.
  • New Mexico – Did you miss this year’s Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque? No matter; there’s still a good excuse to travel to this part of New Mexico, and that’s the Jemez Mountain Trail.  It goes very roughly in a circle through stunning mountain country between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, and if you start in Santa Fe, you can end the day in funky Jemez Springs, soaking in the town’s bathhouse or eating at one of the restaurants. I’ve written here on PT Blog about Valles Caldera and Bandelier National Monument, both on the Trail.
  • Florida – The Interstate running down the middle of Florida (I-75) is, of course, a crashing bore most of the way, but between Gainesville and Ocala you can travel the parallel Highway 441, the “Old Florida Heritage Highway” and actually have something to look at.  Check for gators and bison at Paynes Prairie State Preserve, stroll the shops of old town Micanopy and get literary at author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ Cracker home in Cross Creek (in town there’s a restaurant serving gator tail, frog legs, cooter/turtle and live blues music.)  In Florida, you go north to see the South.
  • Texas – Indulge me while I plug a local Austin area/Hill Country drive that starts a few blocks from where I live;  Ranch Road 1431.  Heading west from just north of Austin in Round Rock/Cedar Park, you escape the ‘burbs into open country with pretty views and quick detours for Flat Creek Estate Winery (I’m partial to their “Super Texan” Sangiovese,) birdwatching in the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge and Pie Happy Hour 3-5 pm at the Blue Bonnet Cafe in Marble Falls.  To head back towards Austin, take Highway 71 out of Marble Falls and work in a stop at Poodie’s Hilltop honky tonk in Spicewood, where there are “no bad days.”

If you pull up into my driveway real quick and don’t beep the horn, we can sneak off and get going before anyone notices, right?

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