In grad school, whenever I needed to clear my head, I'd get in my car and drive. It was, as most lovers of the open road will agree, a sensual experience; the voluptuous curves of certain byways, the undulating, gut-rousing, ribbons of asphalt, the smells of farms and cities, exhaust fumes and manure. These forays added texture to a life already consumed by exploration and travel; seeing vast swatches of the country at ground level allowed a certain intimacy that train and certainly air transport could never match.
Thirty-five years later, I still prefer to get behind the wheel and see our country through the windshield.
So far, in these posts and on my own blog www.stayonroute6.blogspot.com, I've covered many of my favorite places to stop along the 3,652 miles of Historic US Route 6 that spans the USA from Provincetown, MA to Long Beach, CA.
But sometimes the drive itself is worthy of mention. Particular segments of the highway are spectacular attractions in and of themselves.
For your driving pleasure, I present the ten best scenery-stealing stretches of US Route 6.
1. Route 6A from Provincetown, MA to Sandwich, MA on Cape Cod; 60 miles.
Ocean and salt marsh views compete with charming cape-cod homes that double as antique and art galleries. Lush trees canopy the road, which at times crosses osprey nest studded inlets. This is a segment of Route 6 to savor. Drive slowly and soak in the bracing Atlantic Ocean air.
2. From Peekskill, NY to Harriman State Park over the Hudson River; 15 miles. Route 6 joins Route 202 as it follows the Eastern side of the Hudson River for a few miles, coiling and switch-backing up and down hills though rock cuts with river and Catskill Mountain views to your left. Locals call this the "Goat Trail" and it most likely was one before dynamite blasted out a wider path for cars. Route 6 crosses the Hudson River at the rustic and short Bear Mountain Bridge. The west side of the river is Harriman State Park - green park roads for nearly ten miles. Not one light. Not one store. Lovely.
3. Tuhkannock, PA to Wyalusing, PA; 25 Miles. This region of Pennsylvania known as the "Endless Mountains" is no hype. The mountain range does seem surreally endless; green and rolling, sculptural and shadowy, mostly following the course of the twisty Susquehanna River. It's quite a beautiful ride. But 25 miles west, in Wyalusing there's a change in the air. Distinctive drilling trucks and natural gas equipment start showing up in greater numbers on the road. The newly tapped Marcellus Shale is right beneath your tires here.
4. White Pole Road, Iowa; 26 miles. Iowa's first certified State Route and foundation for old Route 6, The White Pole Road (also known as The Great White Way), was part of the River To River Road. Flanked by whitewashed telephone poles the White Pole Road is now a 26-mile trip through the smallest of Iowa towns. Like most, they usually encompass only one downtown street that ends in a series of grain elevators. Though not blessed by natural beauty, these towns (Dexter, Stuart, Menlo, Casey, Adair) are rich in history, patriotism (see the Freedom Rock in Menlo), friendliness and excellent desserts (Menlo Café!).
5. McCook, NE to Wauneta, NE; 44 miles. Here, Route 6 is a fun-to-drive, windblown tar-streaked two-lane road. The landscape begins to swell, and the scenery is so stunning you might get lost in it. Grassy hills fold into each other like rumpled blankets, cows graze near brown streams - you are nearing Nebraska's Little Grand Canyon, which dispels the myth that Nebraska is boring flatland.
6. Clear Creek Canyon Rd. from Golden, CO to Idaho Springs, CO; 19 miles. This portion of US 6 is one of the most stunning stretches of the whole transcontinental highway. It's all about the scenery; the main attractions being rock, river and sky in ever unfolding manifestations. You may find yourself catching your breath at the wall of evergreens coming at you at 50MPH or at the white-water creek barreling alongside the car. It is truly overwhelming, geologically speaking.
7. Loveland Pass, CO; 22 miles. The switchbacks, hairpin turns and heart-stopping drop offs are all part of the fun as Route 6 winds up and over the Continental Divide in a 22-mile stretch called Loveland Pass, which bypasses the Eisenhower Tunnel down on I-70. The Tunnel prohibits tanker trucks from driving through, so those firetraps on wheels have to negotiate these hairpin turns and switchbacks along with you. The drive can feature pea-soup fog and icy precipitation, even in the middle of summer.
8. Gypsum, CO to Glenwood Springs, CO Through Glenwood Canyon; 24 miles. The word spellbinding falls way short in describing this portion of I-70/US Route 6. Craggy rock-faces, the Colorado River, and Union Pacific freight trains compete for your attention as you wend and twist through this muscular Rocky Mountain road - an engineering marvel of the first degree. In about 10 miles, the imposing Glenwood Canyon portion of I-70, completed less than 20 years ago, heaves into view. Part of the Glenwood Canyon roadway is cantilevered over the Colorado River, and follows its serpentine path like a 14-mile side-winding snake. If you're lucky, you'll see a long freight train hugging the canyon wall on the opposite side of the river; automobiles and train-cars mirroring each other in an almost impossibly graceful dance.
9. Helper, UT to Spanish Fork, UT; 60 miles. West on Route 6 out of Helper, the road constricts into a narrow canyon cut. It's an hour - 60 miles- to Spanish Fork with lots of truck and recreational traffic, and it is indeed a stunning drive; up and up to Soldier's Summit, elevation 7,477 ft. At the pinnacle, you'll see one gas station, snow-capped mountains and a prevalent elevation sign. Rolling down from the transcendent Spanish Fork Canyon into a vast valley, all of a sudden....it's Switzerland! Verdant hills surround you, a bit of a shock after all that sandstone and brown, brown, brown.
10. Delta, UT to Ely, NV; 151 miles. This part of US Route 6 runs through a succession of valleys and mountains (basins and ranges). On this relentless stretch of the highway, it can seem as if you're the only person on earth; that is until you see a pumpkin-orange garbage can near a gravel pullout. Up, around and down through the mountains - you can almost feel the volcanic energy responsible for much of the rock outcroppings here. Route 6 snakes around boulders and through chiseled road cuts; these are excellent spurts of driving. As soon as you crest the first hill, you'll view snowcapped mountains ahead. From this vantage point, it seems that the mountains go on to infinity.
Like these recommendations? Get this and so much more in the mile-by-mile guidebook to transcontinental US Route 6, Stay On Route 6. Click on here to order.