The other day, I picked up the latest issue of Motor Trend, and read the article 'Outback Through The Outback', where the author took a Subaru Outback from Adelaide to Darwin along the Stuart Highway (that's Highway 87 to you) right through the hot, dusty middle of Australia. Evidently he found several spots to detour off the paved road and go to some truly remote places in the center of the country, also providing an offroad test for his Subaru. His parents made the same trek back in the middle of the last century in an old Dodge-and this was when one evidently followed the wagon ruts to Alice Springs and points north.
It looks like there are several places along the Stuart Highway where the gas stations are few and far between and the authorities ask motorists to carry spare water, a first aid kit, and enough gear to camp in your car for a day or so. That's when you know you're heading for the middle of nowhere!
Of course, the article had some outstanding photographs. There are some truly awesome places to see in the Land of the Southern Cross.
Since the vast majority of you readers are from Oz, you'll probably read this and say 'Meh. It's a long boring drive with nothing to see-vastly overrated.' But I'd like to do that drive sometime, because there really isn't anything like it here in the lower 48 states. I would say that the closest thing we have in the US is the Alaska and Dalton Highways through the Yukon and central and northern Alaska. The climate is vastly different, especially in winter! but you have the same population density (roughly), sense of isolation, and scenic wonders. That's also a drive that would be worth doing someday.
I've been on a few of the routes that rank among the best America has to offer. The drives aren't of epic length, but there are some great things to see along the way. I have a few here that I'll talk up.
-Minnesota Route 61: The North Shore of Lake Superior.
61 runs along the north shore of the largest of the Great Lakes from Duluth, Minnesota, to Thunder Bay, Ontario. Lakeshore cliffs, the swaths of birch and pine of the boreal forest; access to the great iron mines of the Mesabi Range, the myriad lakes of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, and the tourist lodges and camps along the US/Canadian border. Truly breathtaking! The Arrowhead Country of Minnesota is very close culturally to our Canadian friends to the north. When you drive through a town and they have a rink for curling and hockey, you know you aren't in Kansas anymore (or Illinois, for that matter).
-US 1: The Florida Keys
Henry Flagler originally built a series of bridges along the chain of keys from south of Homestead, Florida, to Key West, some 125 miles, for his Florida East Coast Railroad. The 1935 hurricanes wrecked much of the line, but the bridges were rebuilt and opened to auto traffic as the Overseas Highway. This might be one of the most scenic drives anywhere in the world. The Keys are full of little tourist shops, motels, and fishing charters. The ocean around the Keys is a beautiful, clear azure, and I have to think that the fishing around the bridge piers would be fantastic! It was quite an experience for this Midwest flatlander to drive over essentially a 125 mile long bridge. A recommended experience for anyone going to south Florida. Oh, and pack your Jimmy Buffett music to listen to while driving-this IS what he's singing about, after all...
-US 61: the land of the Delta blues
I'd have to say that US 61 along the western border of the State of Mississippi hasn't got a lot of scenery-it's mostly flat with cotton fields and ramshackle, whistle stop hamlets whose best days never arrived. What it does have is history. US 61 and the parallel Illinois Central railroad were two of the main routes north for the blacks of the Deep South who were looking for opportunities in the great industrial cities like Chicago and Detroit during the first half of the 20th Century. It's the land where the blues were born, and one can see why-the area is one of the poorest in the nation. The city of Vicksburg is the main city in the area, as it was in 1863 when the Union won its great victory over the Confederates, cutting the South in two. The battlefields are still there as a memorial. One can still walk along the faint traces of trench lines, and it's an eerie place to visit. I remember seeing markers where the various US and CS units fought. At one spot, a Union regiment from Missouri was opposite a Confederate unit from the same state. One wonders if soldiers in those two units might been neighbors back home-or kinfolk. Very sad.
When driving along 61, going through Clarksdale and Tunica, perhaps you'd want some blues on the radio.
-The Great River Road
The Great River Road is actually a series of roads from New Orleans to Lake Itasca, Minnesota, following both shores of the Mississippi River. The Mississippi is sort of two rivers. Below Cairo, Illinois, the river meanders through a flat alluvial plain in a long series of oxbows and bends-a challenge for navigators and helmsmen and pilots on riverboats since Mr. Clemens was plying the trade 150 or so years ago, visiting places like Natchez, Memphis, and New Orleans.