U.S. Route 6 runs clear across the U.S. through some spectacular landscapes. It also touches areas, some remote, where brilliant and brave engineers and construction workers risked their lives to build a never-before-seen marvels. Here are the top eight natural and man-made wonders along the road.
Cape Cod National Seashore, Cape Cod, Mass.
A National Park established by President John F. Kennedy, the National Seashore takes up nearly 75% of the whole of Cape Cod. With endless Atlantic Ocean views, wide sandy beaches and spectacular dunes, visiting the National Seashore should be on everyone's bucket list.
Kinzua Bridge/Viaduct, Smethport, Penn.
About four miles off of Route 6 outside of Smethport, the remains of the Kinzua Bridge will take your breath away. In the "can do spirit of the Gilded Age," Octave Chinute (who went on to work with the Wright Brothers) designed the bridge in 1882 with no cross-braces. Built to transport newly discovered coal to southern locales, the Kinzua Bridge was the highest point on the profitable New York-Erie Railroad line.
Colossal and aerodynamically engineered 300 feet off the valley floor, the Kinzua Bridge was one of America's most popular tourist attractions when first built; swarms of long-skirted women and bowler-hatted men made the trek to see this miracle of engineering. Though in later years the bridge no longer supported freight trains, tourists could still make the harrowing crossing via popular and nostalgic steam train excursions. But astoundingly, in July 2003, a freak tornado barreled through the valley and demolished the bridge within seconds. Now, you can venture onto what left of the bridge -- that's been transformed into a skywalk -- and peer at the destruction in the valley below. The uncanny sight of these deformed and twisted steel bones on the valley floor rivals any Christo art installation.
Mississippi River Lock #15 Visitors Center, Rock Island, Ill.
Before the construction of the Rock Island Lock in 1932, this part of the river was rocky, rapid and hazardous to boating traffic. Now, not only can coal, grain and chemical barges pass safely through, but visitors can watch them do it though floor to ceiling windows or from an outside deck. Being able to witness one of these floating behemoths squeeze into a narrow lock is definitely worth the wait.
World's Largest Geodesic Dome, Henry Doorly Zoo, Omaha, Neb.
The"World's Largest Geodesic Dome" contains both the "World's Largest Indoor Desert" and beneath it "The World's Largest Indoor Swamp." Yes, the zoo has the skyride, a miniature steam train, a tram, lots of animals in lots of habitats. It's a zoo, for goodness' sake. But the enclosed deserts, caves and swamps in the dome set this place apart from all others. There are sand-dunes big enough for ATVing and lots of exotic birds (like the Kookabura), mini-deer, meercats, pumas, roadrunners, quails, teals, fox and rattlesnakes. Any animal that lives in the desert lives here. Staying on a concrete path, you can't get lost, which is helpful because downstairs in the nocturnal "Kingdom of Night" exhibit, it gets pretty dark as you descend to caves and then swampland where you're practically blind as a bat, but with lots of company; there are fruit bats in droves. It's like being in a haunted house, but with great, big-eyed animals and swimming beavers instead of ghosts.
Loveland Pass/Continental Divide, Colo.
The switchbacks, hairpin turns and heart-stopping drop offs are all part of the fun of Route 6 up and over the Continental Divide in a 22-mile stretch called Loveland Pass. Even in summer the drive might feature pea-soup fog and a bit of icy precipitation, but that won't stop hundreds of skiers from barreling down the still-operating Arapaho Basin, the highest skiable terrain in the United States. Loveland Pass skirts the Eisenhower Tunnel. The Tunnel prohibits tanker trucks, so those fire-traps on wheels have to negotiate the hairpin turns and switchbacks as well. Be prepared.
Glenwood Canyon, Colo. on I-70/U.S. 6
A triumph in road engineering, this portion of I-70 was completed just 20 years ago. Segments of the Glenwood Canyon roadway are cantilevered over the Colorado River, and I-70 follows the very curvy path of the river, like a 14-mile side-winding snake. In some instances east-bound lanes run above west-bound. While driving, you may see a very long freight train hugging the canyon wall as well -- on the opposite side of the river; cars and train mirroring each other -- a seemingly impossible and elegant dance.
Colorado National Monument, Grand Junction, Colo.
This is not a man-made sculpture or little ole plaque, but what should be (and what is in line to be) a new National Park. Columns of red and white Navajo sandstone and green shale have eroded to form otherworldly shapes in the 11 canyons among the striated and weathered sandstone, and you can take day hikes or drive on an incredible 26-mile paved road. Though National Parks in Utah and elsewhere grab much of the "splendor of nature" attention, the Colorado National Monument rivals Arches, Brice or Zion in magnificence.
Alabama Hills, Lone Pine, Calif.
Rock formations ready for their close-up. The reason that every single silent Western, singing cowboy movie and later the flicks that made John Wayne and Clint Eastwood household names all look the same is because they were all filmed in these strange, rounded sandstone formations called the Alabama Hills, just a couple of hours from Los Angeles.
For these recommendations and more, buy the mile by mile U.S. Route 6 Guidebook, Stay On Route 6; Your Guide to All 3,652 Miles of Transcontinental Route 6.