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  1. Default Seattle to Detroit

    In December, I'm going to have to drive from Seattle to Detroit. I've gone the other way in the summer, but I'm planning to try to go around the Rockies instead of through. I'm not the best driver in the world, little experience on snow, and I just don't feel safe.

    Planning my trip on Furkot, I'm looking to go south until around LA, then cut through Arizona and New Mexico before I start veering north. It's looking like I'll still hit some terrain, but I'm hoping it'll be far south enough that it'll at least be better.

    Any routing suggestions to make life easier?

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Tucson, AZ

    Default More Miles Just Mean More Problems

    Welcome aboard the RoadTrip America Forums!

    The most direct all-Interstate route from Seattle to Detroit is right around 2300 miles. To try to go "around the Rockies" by heading south to L.A. and then across through Arizona and New Mexico would raise that total to over 3500. That's roughly 50% farther, which means 50% more time on the road, which means more chance of an accident, greater cost, greater fatigue.... And no guarantee that you won't see winter weather. In particular both I-5 (e.g. Siskiyou Pass) and I-40 (e.g. over 7,300 feet in elevation in Arizona) see significant snowfalls as well as ice storms and sleet during the winter.

    Since driving all those extra miles would require you to be on the road for an additional two and a half days doesn't really make your trip any less prone to bad weather, you'd be better off using that time as a buffer to use IF you actually run into bad weather on the more direct route, basically I-90. Even if you were to see a snowstorm while driving that route and stayed off the road for a full day to let the storm pass, the road crews do their job, and the sun to come back out, you'd still be a full day and a half ahead of taking the far more circuitous route "around the Rockies".

    It is also worth noting that Interstate Highways are built to standards that severely limit how steep any grade can be (less than 6%) and how sharp any curves can be. If it weren't for the scenery, you probably wouldn't even know you were in the mountains. Remember, these roads were built to let the big rigs drive at constant speeds in the 65-70+ range. They are certainly not something to be feared. So, in short, just stick to I-90 and remain flexible.


  3. Default

    Fantastic. Thank you for your insight!

  4. #4

    Default This comes up often

    And for all of the reasons cited by AZ Buck, it's just not a good idea, particularly if you have the flexibility of schedule to watch weather forecasts carefully and hold back if early winter storms occur.

    Once you clear Snoqualmie Pass just outside of SEA, you're really in the clear until the ID-MT line at Lookout Pass (elevation around 4,500'). You there descend to below 3,000' to the Clark Fork River and begin a gradual ascent up its scenic valley, over a 125 mile distance, to Butte (elevation 5,500). On the east side of Butte you'll cross the Continental Divide at Homestake Pass (elevation 6,300'). There will be one more ascent east of Cardwell, then Bozeman Pass. After Bozeman Pass, you run the valley of the Yellowstone River all the way to Billings, and that segment remains below 4,000' all the way. The passes, from Lookout to Bozeman, are all short in distance, with grades generally in the 3-5 mile range on each side of the pass itself. Other than that, you remain at reasonably low elevations all the way from SEA to Rapid City, SD.

    I included the elevations in order to emphasize the general rule that elevation rules the weather in the Rockies, from New Mexico to Montana, much more than does mere latitude. The Interstates are commercial arteries of the first order, and both the number and the equipment of the various states DOT snow removal crews means they're usually clear by the time a normal snow event ends. At most, you may end up holding back for a few hours during the height of an average snow event.

    I would not dream of adding great distance purely to avoid a chance of snow, primarily because it just doesn't work, and also because snow rarely causes problems longer than briefly on the Interstates themselves.


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