Thoughts From The Road

Been back a couple days from my road trip, and now that I’ve washed the dust off, a couple of salient observations have suggested themselves to me.

I hate, absolutely loathe interstate highway travel.

My trip was to Colorado, and I took the familiar route of US 380 west, US 287 north, and after a brief trip along I-40 west, US 87 north, and I-25 north to my eventual destination, Denver.

I was actually looking forward to the part of the trip from Raton NM to Pueblo because unlike most other interstates, that section of I-25 passes through some extraordinary scenery. Sadly, I spent a lot of time looking at said scenery because a rock fall had covered the northbound side of the highway and we were reduced to crawling along at walking pace in a single lane along the southbound road. Once clear of the construction area, I thought my problems were over, except that from Pueblo all the way to my destination, the traffic was the same density as rush-hour on the various Dallas interstates, i.e. parking-lot speed.

So coming back, I turned off at Castle Rock and after a short drive east, found my old friend US 287.

Unfortunately, US 287 outside northwest Texas is terrible: a two-lane road with only occasional (and too-short) overtaking lanes, and which was almost as bad as an interstate in terms of stressful driving. All the way through southern Colorado and the Oklahoma Panhandle was white-knuckle driving, which was only bearable because I had set myself no time deadlines for my return, and could spend long stretches behind 18-wheeler trucks without ever feeling the need to overtake them. And then I crossed the border into Texas.

I love US 287 in Texas.

If I could wave a magic wand, I would abolish all interstate highways and make them all like US 287 in Texas. Here’s why.

It’s a four-lane divided highway. This means that while the speed limit is 75mph, you have to be aware of the road and traffic because there are “turnarounds” from the left lane (with an added left-turn lane so traffic is not obstructed), and frequent intersections — even driveways — so once again, ya gotta pay attention.

Best of all, though, are the frequent signs which say “Left lane may only be used for overtaking”. And the Texas state troopers enforce this little rule with gusto, you betcha, which means that people (even truckers) actually drive like Germans, and only use the left lane for overtaking. After the horrorshow of a two-lane road and the earlier interstate highways, travel was not only easy but enjoyable. (A simple indicator of this is the fact that for hours, I had a spoken conversation with myself about various topics, in French — which means that I was completely relaxed.)

Another good thing about US 287 in Texas is that until you get closer to the DFW area, you don’t bypass the many little towns, you go through them. You know that you are approaching a town because there are speed-limit change warnings posted as the limit drops from 75 to 60 to 50 to 40 and finally to 35 within the city limits, and follow the reverse order once you leave town. Why is this a Good Thing? Because what happens is that you slow down figuratively as well as literally, and stopping for gas, food, or even just to stretch your legs is not the same ordeal as when hurtling along an interstate. Here’s one such town:

Dare I say this also gives one a chance to try local eateries such as K-Bob’s, instead of the same chain crap along interstates? (Yes, I did; an excellent steak, perfect baked potato and wonderful cole slaw, all for $12. I left an $8 tip for Sandy, which made her day.)

When I first arrived in the United States, I drove along many roads like these (usually with my friend Trevor), and trips like this made me fall hopelessly, helplessly in love with America. This last trip? It happened all over again, only more so.

I cannot express how good a thing this whole approach is when you’re driving long distances, and no doubt it added to the fact that I arrived home completely relaxed and at ease, and not with the frazzled thank-God-that’s-over! nerves of a typical road trip on interstate highways.

As my Loyal Readers know, at the end of the month I’m off to Britishland for an extended sabbatical which will deposit me back in the United States only in early January. As soon as winter is over, probably in April, I’m going to take another road trip, this time from Plano to Bar Harbor, Maine* and back (along a different route). I will only use the interstate highway to get me clear of Texas and Arkansas to my first stop in Memphis (because boring, done it many times). Thereafter there will be no interstate highways in the plan except for unavoidable things like mountain passes, and even then, I’ll try to find an alternate route. Five days up, five days driving along the Maine coast, five days back. Maybe more, I don’t care.

William Least Heat-Moon once wrote a book, Blue Highways, about this kind of travel. Well, from now on, all my highways will be blue — because I intend to fall in love with America all over again, and again, and again.

*Why Bar Harbor? Why not?



  1. As fortune would have it, I’m reading blue highways at the moment. And he gets it right, mostly, though I wish he would concentrate more o the road and less on his agenda. I would have thought Travels with Charlie was enough preaching for two or three generations.

    As someone who travels more in a year, by car, than most do in a lifetime, I can honestly say, I love backroads. I love the small towns and the little restaurants, and you quickly learn to distinguish the good from the bad. As a serviceman, you get to know every clean cheap hotel room in your territory, every gas station with a clean bathroom, every good meal.

    I am on Ford Explorer #3. The first two totalled in excess of 800,000 miles. With the other vehicles I have driven my lifetime odometer is approaching the 1.8 million mile mark this year, and I should top two million miles by the time I turn 60. A lot of highway driving and a lot of long road trips, but when I can, I eschew the highways for what you describe- around here it’s called “Limited access”, where the speed limit is 65 but there are stoplights and intersections and yes, even driveways. And at least once a week, need it or not, I will find a gravel or dirt road to follow for a few miles.

    1. Yeah, I got LH-M’s main idea about two or three chapters into the book, and skimmed the rest because as you say, the preaching was boring.

  2. Bar Harbor is the location , but the destination is the Nationial Park and the rest of Mt Desert Island . I wouldn’t want you to be disappointed by the “tourist trap” that the town of Bar Harbor has become. It’s the rest of the main island that you need to see. The “old Maine” is still there in the towns of Bass Harbor , Somesville, and Southwest Harbor.
    Northeast Harbor is still home to Summer residents from the ” Main Line ” in Phili and NYC. and the “old money” is still in Seal Cove.
    Stay for a week . Hike the trails – explore the Rockefeller Carrige roads. Go on a Whale watch.
    But only June to October. — the rest of year we put it away for the winter ( and for us )

  3. When touristing, I far and away prefer the back roads, small towns and mom’n’pop cafes. When boogieing to a destination, Interstates are useful.

    Clayton to Raton? Go through Folsom. Once in Raton, take time to do some shooting at the NRA’s Whittington Center. The folks at the HQ are quite friendly.

    Pueblo? A good friend there has a wonderful social-gathering dove shoot every September 1st. And there are a couple of friendly gun shops and a couple of friendly pawn shops in town for visiting and browsing.

  4. Desertrat has it right. When trying to make time, the interstates can’t be beat. But they are not worth a hoot it you want to really see America the way it is. My wife hates the interstates, and is an expert at navigating different and unusual routes to take us on our trips, often when we are only taking a road trip for a few days here in Michigan. There are dozens of ways to go the same route, and all are different and let you see something equally new and unique about your home state. It is totally worth it, and often makes it the best part of the trip. Did I mention that I am crazy about my wife? 25 years this fall, and I appreciate her more every year. I have not told you this Kim, as you don’t know who the heck I am, but I want to send my condolences to you at your loss of your wife, as I know how hard it must have been. I am glad that you have many supportive friends and family to lean on, and wish you all the best in the days to come.

  5. side roads are good. I used to work for a farmer Co-Op so I have driven enough gravel and dirt roads for a lifetime. But two lane black top to the horizon can’t be beat.

  6. Oh yeah – I’ve made that run through the Texas Panhandle up to the Denver area a few times. Back before satellite radio there were long stretches where you couldn’t even find an AM station to listen to. The countryside is pretty interesting with extinct (I hope) volcano cones. Southeastern Colorado is covered with lines of wind turbines which look like something out of a science fiction movie. I know that the turbines are clean energy sources, but nothing should be that big. My preferred route from OKC to Denver is to cut across the northwest corner of Oklahoma into Dodge City Kansas and then take highway 50 into La Junta and then Pueblo. Its about as boring as any other way, but there are some places to stop for gas and a meal. Bent’s Fort is an interesting place – once. The really good parts of Colorado are all west of I-25.

  7. I’ve wanted to do a drive with open schedules, no hard times to be in any particular place, with time to stop when I see something interesting. That hasn’t happened because every trip was to go somewhere for some event and maximum time with the parents or family or… overrode having time to do anything but drive on the to and from sides of the trip.

    Alton Brown did a couple of special miniseries called “Feasting on Asphalt” where he traveled cross country; first east to west mostly on Route 66, then another time all the way up the Mississippi River. Major inspiration for me. I want to eat at the interesting places, stop at the interesting stores, hit the little museums, stop, peruse, and then (sadly) talk myself out of a military vehicle at the place we have passed every family visit trip for the last few years.

    Presuming we’re still in illannoy when a trip like this happens the only interstate usage will be to get us the hell away from chicago as quickly as possible. Then on to the real America off the freeways.

    I envy you that road trip far more than your British adventure, but hope both are as wonderful as they can be for you.

  8. The late wife and I always tried to stay off the Interstates on road trips. In 2012 we made a 5000 mile road trip from Little Rock out to Oregon, down through CA and back home through AZ, NM and TX. On this trip we did ride the Interstates to the eastern border of OR, but all the way back home, at least until we got to Dallas, the only significant bit of Interstate was I-10 from North Palm Springs to Phoenix. From there we took US 60 (did the “Route 66” thing many times earlier in my life) from Phoenix to Socorro, NM, and then US 380 through the rest of NM and east TX to the outskirts of Dallas.

    A couple of hours after crossing over into TX I’m cruising the two lane US 380 at just a tad over the 70 MPH speed limit when an oncoming Texas trooper passes by, does a u-turn, and comes up fast behind me and pulls me over. Approaches on the passenger side, and I pass my license and Arkansas CHL to my wife who hands them over to the trooper. On asking if I was carrying, I said “Yeah, holstered on my right hip where I can’t get to it if I keep my hands on the wheel and the seat belt locked.” He smiled and said “Good, just keep it there,” and then went back to his car and ran my DL for warrants or whatever. On coming back, and handing the DL and CHL back to my wife, he asked what I was carrying. I told him (Springfield XDM 9 mm) and we had a 2-3 minute chat about how I liked it. Then he said “Have a nice day, and watch your speed.” Unless there is some kind of radar technology I don’t know about, he didn’t pull me over for speeding. My guess is that he saw there was no front license plate (we only have rear plates in AR) and turned around to check me out for that reason. Whatever, he was pleasant about the whole thing, we had a nice, if short, talk about handguns, and the wife and I went on to finish the drive on US 380 into Irving, where son #1 lives, and after a night there finished the trip home the next day.

    Saw lots of great scenery on US 60 through the SW, and enjoyed the wide open spaces of US 380 too.

  9. Since you’re heading to the Northeast, take a look at the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome. They have a collection of pre WWII airplanes and put on air shows. The last and only time I was there I went on a biplane ride with my father in law. It was astounding!!! The biplane they had was a 1937 or so stearman I think with an open cockpit. It was so windy when we got to elevation that the plane stood still when facing into the wind. The view over the Hudson was remarkable.

    The Wright museum in Wolfsboro, NH is worth visiting. It’s a WWII museum that looks at the home front as well as the military side of the war. Many museums don’t discuss the home front.

    The strawberry Banke museum is facinating in Portsmouth NH. The neighborhood has a collection of buildings that span from 1700s or so on up to the 1950s. They show how neighborhoods evolved over time and have displays from various eras. Portsmouth can be filled with yuppies though.

    let me know if you’d like any other information around here. Lots of good restaurants especially if you like seafood.

    Niantic CT is home of the Book Barn with its four or five locations. paperbacks are a buck, hardcovers range from $4-7. Surprisingly I’ve found some conservative and libertarian books in this commie drenched region.

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