Best Spring Flowers Viewings

Spring Flowers make the heart soar. All over the US people are getting dirt on their hands and knees as they spruce up their gardens. Whether they are pots on an apartment balcony rail or a sculptured border along the sidewalk and under the trees, surrounding our little plot of America with color and beauty refreshes us after a long cold winter. But, if you really want to feel exhilarated, head out on the road and see how Mother Nature decorates!

 Top Three Spring Flower Places to See

spring flowersOne of the best known places to view wildflowers is in the Texas Hill Country west of San Antonio and Austin. Nicknamed the “Wildflower State”, Texas wildflowers are now cultivated by conservationists and the Highway department thanks campaigns by the late Lady Byrd Johnson. The Texan country roads lead to field blanketed in bluebonnets with splashes of red from Indian paint brushes and yellows from field daisies. Travel Blue Bonnet Trail, otherwise known as Highway 281 westward towards Fredericksburg and veer off onto some of the lesser known roads to get the best views.

The Great Smoky Mountains burst into color every spring. Songs have been written about them. Called the “Wildflower National Park”, the  mountainous preserve boasts over 1500 species of flowers that pop out each spring. Columbine, violets, bleeding hearts, lady slipper orchids and more decorate the landscape in splashes of beauty. The park rangers host a guided Wildflower Pilgrimage during the spring that is more than worth the trek.

Of course the nation’s capital is known for the cherry blossoms that grace the banks of the Potomac River. A gift from Japan in 1912, 3,000 trees were planted in and around the national monuments and reflection ponds of Washington D.C.  People from all over the world travel to take pictures and wander along the shaded paths decked out in shades of white and pink. Of course, the annual Cherry Blossom Festival, held in early April, tops off the season.

Other Spring Flower Places

Three other places that are popular are the tulips in Skagit Valley, Washington state. In April, tulip fests are held in honor of the ribbons of color that deck out the farms in the area.

Antelope Valley in California is known for its poppies that bloom between March and May. Not just red ones, but yellow and orange ones decorate the fields.

In Arizona, just east of Phoenix, Superstition Mountain explodes in wildflowers in the Spring. Mohave cacti and Mexican poppies are the most popular blooms.

 

California Beach Backroads

When the weather warms, it is time to hit the beach. What a perfect time to explore the California coastal backroads, towns and less populated sandy coves.

Beach Backroads in California

beach coastCalifornia almost seems synonymous with beaches. Some of the best beach backroads that veer off of I-5 also lead you into wine country and rolling hills as well as along the rocky shores, sandy beaches and artsy towns. Head south from San Francisco down Highway 101 to Monterey and Carmel past wineries, farms and historic sites. Highway 1 hugs the coast as it meanders past rocky shores crashed by  waves, past  sea coves, and near ocean vistas you will want to stop and enjoy. Head north of San Fran to discover giant redwood forests and the  craggy beaches of the Point Reyes National Seashore.  Local restaurants serve up Tomales Bay Oysters and good times, especially in the renowned Tudor styled Pelican Inn or at Murray Circle. Trek on through the Muir Woods and Stinson Beach area into the quaint town of Mill Valley. This is a great place to park and hike the ravines and canyons lined with ferns along Mount Tamalpais. If you get the chance, take the ferry over to Angel Island for breathtaking vista trails.

A Lesser Known California Wine Beach Backroad

There is a wonderful day or two route just north of Santa Barbara which leads into the Santa Ynez Valley, through the Ballard Canyon where broccoli and marigold fields stretch out for miles. Then follow along the coast to Jamaica Beach. The cute historic towns and rolling hills are perfect for cycling. In fact, some of the oldest vineyards in the state are in Santa Ynez, famous for its Chardonnay. Race horses are bred here as well. This area is nicknamed California’s fertile coast. Tucked away off the coast is the village of Solvang, where the Danish settled in the early 20th century. Travel a bit further inland to discover Los Olivos, a Victorian town that will warm your heart. On the way you will pass lavender fields and roadside farmer’s markets.

 

 

 

 

Alaska’s Scenic Byways

Alaska scenic bywayAlaska is not only the largest state but the one with the most virgin territory. There are several scenic byways that can be traveled, weather conditions permitting. The best time to travel is naturally during the summer months. Glaciers, tundra covered in wildflowers, polar bears and elk are just a few of the eye-candy along the way.

Popular Alaska Byways

Five scenic byways are the most popular in Alaska. The longest is the Marine Highway which is not on land, but on water. You can take a ferry along the 3,500 mile expanse, and spend the day whale watching. Accommodations range from private cabins to sleeping under the stars in sleeping bags on the upper deck.

The George Parks Highway is 230 miles long and takes a minimum of four hours to traverse. Sights along the way include Mount McKinley and the Denali National Park. It was first called the Anchorage-Fairbanks Highway because it runs between these two major cities. It is one of the best ways to see the untouched wilderness and the fauna and flora of this wonderful state.  Stop off at Healey to learn more about the coal mines or take a detour to whitewater raft with a guide down the Nenana River.

Glen Highway can be traveled in about two hours, making this a great day trip.  Many of course, take four or more hours because they have to stop and soak in the wonders along the way. Birders especially like this byway. Pack a meal and water. Trust us, traveling into the Alaska’s interior will be worth the 135 mile trek from Anchorage.

Head into the Yukon and into the Valley of the Eagles as you travel the Haines Highway.  Though it is only 44 miles in length, it is filled with history. This was a main road used by the military in WWII, but long before that, Klondike gold miners with Indian guides used it in the late 1800′s. Along the Chilkat River eagles feed on the salmon from October through February.

The Quintessential Alaska Scenic Byway

Perhaps the best byway is the Seward Highway which runs 127 miles from Anchorage to Seward. Along the way you can see Beluga whales, and alpine meadows beyond the icy fjords. You will be amazed at the different landscapes along the Way, giving you a great overview of this far north state.

Traveling Skyline Drive in the Shenandoah

shenandoah Shenandoah National Park in western Virginia inspires songs. From time the white settlers first stepped foot in this forested wonderland, their fiddles and guitars were singing of its beauty. From the valley below, you can watch as autumn creeps up the Shenandoah mountain edges.  It beckons you to come explore.

Shenandoah Back Roads

As you travel along the back bone of the Shenandoah known as Skyline Drive, you will pass through tunnels carved into the mountains. The road becomes canopied by trees as the sun filters through from above.  It runs only 105 miles in length and can be entered onto at four different locations.

The north entrance to the Shenandoah is in the Blue Ridge Mountains just outside of Front Royal, a great place with quaint eateries and shops. The southern entrance starts in Waynesboro at Rockfish Gap near the border with Tennessee.

Along the way, the Shenandoah National Forest officials have constructed lookout points for prime picture taking so onlookers will not block the winding roads. Though it only takes about three hours to travel Skyline Drive, you will want to at least spend one night at one of the lodgings. Skyland, Big Meadows and Lewis Mountains all have sites from rugged camping to heated and air conditioned cabins. At the Byrd Visitor Center is a nice family restaurant and a great gifts store filled with Virginia crafts, candies and nuts as well as prepackaged snacks. Be careful about bringing your own food, however. Mice and other creatures have been known to sneak in and help themselves.

Shenandoah Paths

Hike by foot or take a horseback ride through the forests. Paths are designed for all levels of activity. Some are steep and meander down to look out points into West Virginia and the verdant Massanutten mountain range. The eastern side paths will take you deep into the woods to trickling streams and waterfalls dripping through the cervices in the rocks. At Big Meadow, the land opens up to see grazing deer, wildflowers in the late spring and early summer, and an occasional bear.

The Shenandoah in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains will take your breath away and capture your heart no matter how many times you visit.

 

Montrose – Scenic Byways

Montrose, Colorado is your gateway to many scenic byways and backroads in Mts near Montrosethe southwestern part of the state.  There are several day trips you can take, just be sure to take your camera and take your time. The scenery will amaze you. Peaks, ancient glacier valleys, forested mountains and bubbling creeks flowing into the rivers will peak your interest. So will the abandoned mining towns of the late 1800′s just a short drive from Montrose cheap hotels.

Montrose Top Four Byways

The Trail of the Ancients is one of the most popular scenic byways outside of Montrose. As you travel the Colorado plateau, you will be in the midst of Mesa Verde National Park and Monument Valley Tribal Park. Both are brimming with Native American Archeology. Watch for the Four Corners Monument.

Alpine Loop Back Country consists of 65 miles of glacial valleys, ghost towns and magnificent peaks. Parts of it can be accessed by cars and trucks, but some of the dirt paths are for mountain bikes or off road vehicles only. Super place to hike or fish.

Grand Mesa Byway has been called the “playground in the sky”. Start in the Plateau Canyon and head to the cooler temperatures of the forested mountains.  View wildflower blanketed meadows and sparkling alpine lakes within an hour or less of Montrose. Detour a few miles to the Lands End Outlook for panoramic valley views below.

West Elk Loop takes you past the twin summits of Mount Sopris and into the Black Canyon inside the Gunnison National Monument and National Forest. See where generations of Native American Ute hunted around the White River, and the historic communities of Hotchkiss, Carbondale, Crawford, Gunnison, and Crested Butte. Tour the coke ovens at Redstone.

Ohter Montrose Byways

Four other byways close to Montrose hotel deals are just waiting for you to explore. The Unaweep/Tabegauche Scenic and Historic Byway follows highways 141 and 145. They lead to sights such as the Driggs Mansion and the Hanging Flume along the San Miguel and Dolores Rivers. The Silver Thread Scenic Byway takes you to historic sites and natural beauty around Lake City and Creede, though some of the backroads are rugged. San Juan Skyway  takes you to vistas of the San Juan Mountains and ancient Indian pueblos and verdant valleys as well as Victorian influenced towns not far from Montrose. Bachelor Historic Loop follows Highway 149 into Creede and West Willow Creek for 17 miles as you explore where the silver mines once thrived near Montrose.

Backroads outside of Las Vegas

Las Vegas is filled with excitement, glam and sparkle. But head  east along I15 and then turn onto the Valley of Fire Highway to see nature glisten. The bright lights and neon marquees pale in comparison to the sun rising on the reddish sandstone mountains in the Valley of Fire. 

The Natural Las Vegas Backroads

The oldest state park in Nevada, this area has more than just glistening rocks. Newly paved paths make seeing the park easier than ever before. Dotted throughout the park are petrified logs as well as rock drawings, known as petroglyphs, estimated to be over 3,000 years old.  Many are reachable via stair paths. These drawings by the Anasazi Pueblos depict an amazing glimpse into their lives thousands of years before any one ever thought of establishing an oasis in the desert like Las Vegas.

During the winter months the temperatures around Las Vegas rarely dip below freezing and the highs climb into the low 70 degrees F. There is an abundance of wildlife amid the cacti and other flora. The prime time to come is in the spring when the varieties of cacti are in bloom, or during the late fall when the 100 degree temperatures wane.

The Valley of Fire Highway ends at Route 169, or the Northshore Road of gorgeous Lake Mead. The turquoise waters are outlined by white bands of rock stretching up into mountains. It is the largest reservoir in the nation and is fed by the mighty Colorado River just an hour east of Las Vegas. Fish in the coves for striped and large-mouth bass as well as bluegills and catfish. Go jet skiing or canoeing.

Another Backroad Worth Discovering is to the West and North of Las Vegas.

Head west on Highway 95 about twenty minutes outside of downtown Las Vegas and take Route 159 to Red Rock Canyon, another state park that has fabulous evidence of ancient Pueblo life and unusual red sandstone formations. The hiking trails range from easy to moderate. Head further on Highway 95 and turn onto wither 156 or Route 157 just about a half hour from Las Vegas to discover ski resorts open year round.

The backroads around Las Vegas lead to scenic sights you will not find anywhere else in the country. That is a sure bet.

Frontier Pathway

Frontier Pathway is one scenic byway you should traverse if you are in Colorado on vacation. The 103 mile stretch can be done in two hours, but you will want to take your time and spend at least a day or two on the Frontier Pathway to take in all the sights.

What to See on the Frontier Pathway

The best time to travel the Frontier Pathway is in the latter part of spring when the wildflowers blanket the valleys. But anytime of year, the rugged mountain sides are breathtaking as are the golden aspens of the San Isabel National Forest reaching into the sky above the pinon pine cloaked foothills. As you travel into the Sangre de Cristo (Christ’s blood) Mountains, you will observe twenty-two peaks, most over 13,000 feet in height.

A great deal of famous people who have traveled the Frontier Pathway. Explorer Zebulon Pike and mega rancher Charles Goodnight did as they came through this area of Colorado. In the 1700′s  pioneer and Spanish governor Juan Bautista de Anza also followed the Frontier Pathway. Early settlers braved the Rockies to head westward to find gold and silver. Much of the Frontier Pathway looks the same today as it did when they came through. Along the way you can stop off and wander through ghost towns or stroll through exhibits at museums that tell their stories.

How to travel the frontier pathway

Start off in the city of Pueblo, Colorado. While you are there you may wish to take time to tour the El  Pueblo Museum before you head out onto CO-96 onto the Frontier Pathway. Stop in Wetmore the see how fur traders lived 150 years ago.  The pathway continues as you turn onto CR 395 and then Cr 341 into Rosita, another historic town. From there you will head into Colorado City.

The Frontier Pathway weaves northwest onto CR 323, then becomes  CR 31 again before merging into CO-96. Follow for about 8 more miles before turning onto the Greenhorn Highway (aka CO-165.) You will see the amazing Bishop Castle. In 1969 Jim Bishop began building his dream castle with nothing more than a wheel barrow and a shovel. He has done all the work himself.

Follow onto pristine Lake Isabel. Here you can rent a kayak, fish for a while, or just take a hike to enjoy the gorgeous views along this section that ends the Frontier Pathway.

The Best Biking Backroads – Nova Scotia

The best biking backroads can be found all over the globe. One of the favorites is in Nova Scotia. This picturesque part of Canada is like none other. The colorful houses along the docks, the rolling plains that end in steep cliffs overlooking the deep blue Atlantic waters, and the soft sea breezes will make this bike trip memorable. Not to mention the scrumptious seafood restaurants along the way serving up lobster, salmon and scallops. As you roll through quaint villages and fishing docks you will feel the city-life cares slip from your shoulder blades and whoosh off your handlebars. This makes biking backroads all worth it.

One of the best biking backroads is the Lighthouse Route.

As you travel these biking backroads, you will see the Bay of Fundy and the very first Canadian settlement along what is called the Lighthouse Route. Cycling on it, you can circumnavigate a good portion of the province.  Along the way you will spot seals, dolphins playing in the surf and whales surfacing in the bay to catch the tasty plankton left by the tides. The Bay of Fundy actually reverses with the tidal flow. It is an amazing site to see. But, that is at the end of the trip.

Allow yourself a good week to travel the whole biking backroads trail. It is well worth the time, and you will find cheap Nova Scotia lodgings along the way. Start out in the town of Lunenburg, with deep colonial charm. You will follow the route through the marvelous village of Gold River and along Mahone Bay, with stunning views. At the end of the first day of biking backroads you will rest in the quaint and friendly fishing community known as Blue Rocks.

Day Two of biking backroads through Nova Scotia

The biking backroads route will lead you through denser woodlands  past lighthouses, more fishing villages and scenic rugged cliffs where wildlife bask in the sea breezes. Then for the next two days you will bike through the Kejimkujik National Park and up to Annapolis Royal, founded in 1607 and known as the birthplace of Canada.

The last leg of the biking backroads trail known as the Lighthouse Route is heading for the Bay of Fundy itself. Allow several days. The roads turn to reddish clay as you head into the Annapolis Valley past orchards of apples and lush farmlands. Be sure to stop off at the wineries like the Domaine de Grand Pre. Shower and change into something nice for a mouth-watering gourmet meal. It is your reward for biking backroads around the province of Nova Scotia.

 

Road Less Traveled

When Robert Frost wrote his poem The Road Less Traveled, was he thinking of the many wonderful back roads in the US?  This country is filled with small towns and scenic byways that have been forgotten by interstate travelers. Yet those who take the road less traveled find many of a jewel along the way.

One of the best way to wander the road less traveled is by car, or for those of you who love to camp in style, the RV.  But how do you choose where to travel? It is becoming so popular that there are websites, magazines and even travel guides to assist you whether you are taking the road less traveled only a few miles for a Saturday unwind or for a yearly two-week vacation.

Road Less Traveled Websites

Roadside America.com is a great site for information on places to see throughout the United States. There is a blog where you can talk with fellow travelers and read articles about places along the roads of America.

For cheap hotels and articles on many of the cities in and around the US, motel.com is a good resource for those traveling by car, or flying in and then renting a car to find that road less traveled.

Backroads.com is another great online resources that can help you plot out that road less traveled so you don’t get lost – unless of course that is your plan. It can be kind of fun just to head out in the direction of a compass point and see what you find along the way.

Then of course there is a website entitled The Road Less Traveled, which is really camping.com. If you prefer your road to lead into the wilderness where the only running water is the stream nearby, this site is for you.

Which Road Less Traveled?

How do you decide which road you should take? Think of alternative ways to reach your next vacation destination. Go over the river and through the woods to Grandma’s house instead of taking the crowded highway with all the18 wheelers.

Tip: Allow yourself plenty of time to stop and tour on this road less traveled, or to just slow down and enjoy the scenery. By the time you get there you will be less stressed and have made new memories and perhaps added a few favorites to your list of places to go.

photo through dreamstime.com membership

Kicks on Route 66 California

Route 66Traveling along Route 66, you can pass through eight states from Illinois to California.  Though the original Route 66 no longer appears on our maps or GPS, remnants of the old Mother Road still exists if you get onto the backroads and know where to look.

Route 66 in California

It begins in Needles and ends in Santa Monica just north of Los Angeles.  Be sure to top off the tank here because miles and miles of desert stretch out ahead of you. From Needles, which is on the border with Arizona  along I-40,  exit onto Park Moabi Road over the railroad tracks to National Old Trails Highway.  It’ll only lead to a dead end, but you are now at the place where the Route 66 used to enter the state before they built I-40. In Needles, Front  Street was once a part of the old route. Stop off at the Needles Regional Museum and see the Red Rock Bridge plaque. There is also a small dead-end street off Broadway called Route 66 Place.

Get back on I-40 and pass through Arrowhead Junction. In Goff you can pick up 11 more miles of the National Old Trails HIghway – part of the post 1931 Route 66. As you drive along this highway, you will be mirroring I-40 but pass through the almost ghostly towns of  Essex, Danby, Summit and Amboy. Stop off for lunch at Roy’s Cafe and see the Amboy crater on the left. The town was actually purchased on eBay in 2005 by a California restaurant giant! Continue on through Ludlow and Newberry Springs to Barstow.

Route 66 from Barstow to Santa Monica

In Barstow, check out the El Rancho Motel made from railroad ties and the funky neon sign. There is a Route 66 Museum at the Harvey House (Casa del Desierto) on North First. Head east for fifteen miles to a prehistoric archaeological dig site at I-15 and the Minneola Rd exit. You can pick up the National Old Trails Highway in Lenwood. In Oro Grande is a 1930′s steel truss bridge that crosses the Mojave River and an antique store worth browsing  for Route 66 memorabilia. In Victorville, 7th Street is the old  Route 66 but after that you have to get onto I-15 and continue towards San Bernandino, a great place to grab a cheap hotel for the night.  (The southbound lanes were once Route 66).

Just outside of San Bernadino, you can pick up Cajon Blvd, then Mount Vernon, then 5th  and then west on Foothill Blvd which is the old Route 66. Check out the Will Rogers mural at the California Theatre on W 4th. As you travel you will pass Rialto known for its lemon groves. In Rancho Cucamonga there is an 1920′s gas station and a Route 66 Visitors Center and Museum on Foothill Blvd.

The final stretch passes through Upland and Pasadena. You are now close enough to sense the ocean. Follow CA-110 and you are pretty close following the original Route 66  to the Santa Monica Pier.

For turn by turn directions, go to http://www.historic66.com/california/