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  1. Default Cross Country and Back- Leaving Virginia Beach mid-April for 6 weeks

    My wife and I will be making our first cross country trip leaving Virginia Beach, VA in mid-April. While we have targeted the trip for 6 weeks, we have the flexibility to adjust the time frame, if necessary. I am looking for advice on most everything, especially any special sites/events we should not miss, any events that we should be aware of in this time frame for lodging purposes, weather considerations, general traveling advice for an extended trip, etc. I have read the "Live Your Road Trip Dream" by the Whites.

    A little background to help with your advice. We have enjoyed motoring vacations in the past, but have always been limited to 2 weeks or so, normally requiring us to fly into an area, rent a car and take off. Those trips were generally in the summer and planned pretty closely with most lodging reservations made before leaving. We hope to make this trip much more free-style within a general route plan. We have a new Chevy Express conversion van (Explorer Van Co) that we will be using. We want to minimize time on the Interstates except where there are no compelling sights, landscape, etc. where we could make a little time. We mainly enjoy the amazing sights that nature provides, sampling good regional food, and experiencing local events such as fairs, celebrations, etc.

    Our general route includes the following, but we have not planned anything that can't be changed.

    - Virginia Beach south using the "Coastal East Coast" route in Jamie Jensen's "Road Trip USA" through the Outer Banks, Wilmington, Charleston, Savannah to somewhere around Jacksonville where we will head west.
    - Jacksonville west to the Florida Gulf Coast somewhere around Cedar Key (to experience the "old Florida. We've seen most of Florida and spend March, 2007 there.) North following the Gulf Coast to the Mobile area.
    - Continue following the Gulf Coast through Biloxi to New Orleans area and then south and west through the bayous.
    - West to Galveston, Austin, San Antonio and El Paso. (Haven't spent a lot of time on this segment, but want to experince the "Hill Country" and the wide expanses of West Texas.
    - West to Tucson, Phoenix area, and San Diego.
    - Generally follow "Coastal West Coast" route from Jensen book. North along the California Coast through Los Angeles area, Big Sur, San Francisco area, Mendocino, Redwood country. Continue north along Oregon and Washington Coast to Seattle/Olympic Mountains area.
    - East to Spokane, Kalispell, South to Boise, and East to Cody, Billings, Bad Lands, Mt. Rushmore, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Green Bay, Upper Peninsula of Michigan. (Again, haven't planned a lot of detail on this segment, so am wide open.)
    - From the Upper Peninsula, I haven't decided whether to 1) cut south through Michigan and follow Lake Erie to Buffalo, 2) cut across to Toronto and Montreal, or 3) cut south through Michigan and cross back over into Canada at Detroit to Niagra Falls.
    - Depending on the route we take in the item just above, we will determine how to head South, back toward Virginia. We would like to see some of New England again, but would also like to see some of central New York and Pennsylvania. I don't think we will be able to do both on this trip.

    We know we are not going to be able to see everything of interest with the general route plan even with ~6 weeks, but intend to come back later to those areas we don't get enough of for 2-3 week individual trips. We also plan to take whatever 1-2 day "timeouts" (no traveling) that are necessary to recharge.

    I've been impressed with the help this board has provided other travelers, and look forward to any suggestions you may have.

    Two quick technology questions. Has anyone found a good planner with maps, time projections, sight information that can be recommended for mapping specific roads, routes, etc.? I have been playing with a preview copy of Microsoft's Streets and Trips and it looks pretty good. Also, can anyone suggest a good resource/site where it is easy to upload digital pictures and write a daily (or so) summary in a "travel journal" format for others to see during the trip?


  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Tucson, AZ

    Default All Over The Place

    Welcome aboard the RoadTrip America Forums!

    This trip is literally all over the map - Congratulations! Your chosen general route will take you to some of the best America has to offer, and not just the big 'must see's that most people feel compelled to visit in order to make their drive worthwhile. You are obviously seasoned travelers and like to plan ahead, so let me tell you what I do to find those smaller, outside-the-guidebook, attractions that make travel so rewarding for me. All I do is start at the state level and do a web search on {statename tourism OR attraction} and just start browsing through those links looking for ideas. If I know I'm going to be in a particular area for a while, I'll do the same for there and for any cities I plan on visiting. I've found more ideas and great stops doing that than have ever been recommended by others I've asked for suggestions.

    Since you list my hometown, Tucson, on you itinerary, I will tell you my two favorites hereabouts and they are Kartchner Caverns and the Arizona=Sonora Desert Museum. Another more general suggestion is that I think you'd like the drive along the north shore of Lake Huron, Toronto, Niagara Falls etc. far more than the drive down through Michigan. You do have your passports, don't you? They will soon be required if they're not already. And as for central NY and PA, look at US 15 down the Susquehanna valley.

    I personally use Streets and Trips® and find it quite helpful for planning purposes, but once on the road I am strictly a paper map user. I find that GPS and software in general simply don't give me the situational awareness I'm looking for on the road. I also make a point of writing to each state that I'll be driving through to get their tourist brochures and maps. Often their maps are far better for my purposes than the best commercial maps, and are usually free.


  3. Default Thanks AZBuck

    Really appreciate your suggestions and will follow-up with them. I was aware of the Desert Museum and had already put it on our preliminary list, but had not run across Kartchner Caverns. That is exactly the type of "find" we are looking for. The websites for both are great. Thanks for the suggestion on Lake Huron- we were leaning in that direction, but didn't have enough experience/knowledge to make the call yet.

    A quick question. When you do your web search do you most/all of it before a trip? I plan to take a laptop and thought we would do some of it in the evenings as we are within a few days of an area. Or has your experience been that it is too late to adjust 2-4 days before hitting an area? I do not intend to have the laptop out during the day and will also rely on paper maps and the GM gps system in the van. However, it appears that Streets and Trips will be good for some of that evening planning.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Tucson, AZ

    Default Months Before

    My web surfing for possible stops on any RoadTrip is done well in advance of the actual trip. It's just something I do as relaxation with my laptop while watching TV or listening to music. As I've noted elsewhere, I then put together a printed package with far more possibilities than I'll ever be able to get to and just play it by ear as the trip progresses. Really, when I'm on the road, I usually try to spend my time outdoors experiencing new people, places, sights, sounds, smells, etc. rather than on the computer.


  5. #5

    Default What a great trip you've got in the planning stages!

    Hello Neighbor,
    My family has a modest home on the Bay about a half-mile west of the Lesner Bridge, hence the "neighborly" salutation. I have a small handful of thoughts for your planning consideration:

    In West Texas, consider a dip southward into Big Bend Country. I have looked longlingly at visiting Terlingula, Marfa, and Alpine. Long ago and in another life I was accepted to geology grad school at Sul Ross State in Alpine, but marriage and the big money ($700/month) came first, so I didn't go. The three isolated burgs today are arts/crafts centers and if you like out of the way places, it's perfect!

    In California, consider a short hop inland of Ventura/Santa Barbara, over the Santa Ynez Mountains, to Carrizo Plain National Monument. It can be enjoyed as a drive-through. It's an easy hop back west on CA 46 through the Paso Robles wine country and the Coast Range to Cambria, an absolutely delightful Pacific ocean village right at the doorstep to San Simeon on the PCH.

    In Montana, a stopover in Missoula, where walking trails and bridges give downtown motel guests access to the University campus, the Clark Fork River, and a goodly number of kitchy restaurants and bars. Then, going south down US 93 brings you to the headwaters of the Bitterroot River to Lost Trail Pass. Take MT 43 east from there and enter the most spectacular valley in the US, the Big Hole. Visit Big Hole National Battlefield, have a soak in the Jackson Hot Springs, stop by Bannack (a genuine ghost town now a MT state park), and if the roads are dry enough, venture over through Horse Prarie and Grants to Lemhi Pass, where Lewis and Clark first reached the Continental Divide. Driving back into MT from Lemhi Pass gives you the opportunity to head over to I-15 at Clark Canyon Reservior, thence south to Boise, or hop over the Bitterroots at Bannock Pass, thence SE over to I-15 in ID.

    On the UP, I don't think any traverse is complete without L'Anse, Houghton, and especially Copper Harbor, all along the upper tier of UP counties along Lake Superior. You can see Pictured Rocks Nat Lakeshore near Munising, then bushwhack across Hemingway Country ("Big Two-Hearted River" is the Fox River in the middle section of the UP) back to St Ignatius at the northern end of the Mackinaw Bridge. From there, you can't go wrong with going east to the Soo or south down the Lower Peninsula.

    In upstate NY, I recently enjoyed a stopover at the site of the Woodstock festival in 1969, a site actually at Bethel, NY, some 75 miles from Woodstock,, NY. There's now a museum atop the hill where hundreds of thousands gathered. From Bethel, a bushwhack south takes you across the Delaware River into PA, where you can traverse the Poconos or follow the Delaware Valley to the Water Gap.

    As to navigation, I am 100% with AZBuck in use of good atlases. Out west, I'd look to acquire a Benchmark Atlas for any state I planned to spend a day or two exploring. I think they're available through links here at RTA.

    What a fine trip coming up. Enjoy the planning and the travel!


  6. Default Thanks Foy and AZBuck

    Thanks so much for the suggestions- they are the type of ideas that I had hoped for in this forum. Did you discover most of these finds from others in the planning for your trip, or while actually on the road? It sounds like you have a good bit of experience exploring and discovering the diversity of our country. We are really looking forward to the trip and I'm really enjoying this planning stage. I'm not familiar with Benchmark Atlas. How do they differ from AAA maps- more detailed?
    We live in the Little Neck area and while not directly on the water, could just about see where it sounds as if you live. I'll have to keep you posted as we proceed with the planning and the actual trip!

    Your point is well-taken about experiencing the totality of a new area instead of being holed up in a room somewhere on a laptop planning the next few days! We had hoped to do both, but after seeing your post and reflecting a bit, it probably isn't realistic. I just want to leave enough room for spontaneity. I think the answer is to have enough options to keep things interesting and then to blend /substitute "road discoveries" into the experience as they present themselves. Again, thanks for the help.

  7. #7

    Default Amalgamation

    Quote Originally Posted by CN D USA View Post
    Thanks so much for the suggestions- they are the type of ideas that I had hoped for in this forum. Did you discover most of these finds from others in the planning for your trip, or while actually on the road? It sounds like you have a good bit of experience exploring and discovering the diversity of our country. We are really looking forward to the trip and I'm really enjoying this planning stage. I'm not familiar with Benchmark Atlas. How do they differ from AAA maps- more detailed?
    We live in the Little Neck area and while not directly on the water, could just about see where it sounds as if you live. I'll have to keep you posted as we proceed with the planning and the actual trip!
    CD D USA,

    My experiences are gathered mostly from around 35 years of interstate travel in the US. I earned a geology degree from Appalachian State and we operated on the "4WD Suburban and a Texaco gas card" theory and as a result I participated in some epic road trips to the Mountain West.

    The CA information arose from a side-trip I took to Carrizo Plain NM in November 2007. MT suggestions go all the way back to my geology school days with supplemental discoveries on a number of vacation trips since then. I worked on Michigan's Upper Peninsula for two six month intervals in 1981 and 1982 so was able to see quite a bit of that territory then.

    The Benchmark Atlas is a sizable map book published on a state-by-state basis. While highways are shown, the map book excels in showing topography, recreation sites, and the like. They're a bit spendy at + $20 per state, but I would not consider spending even a couple or three days in a "Benchmark state" without one.

    Stay in touch and enjoy the planning!

    Last edited by Foy; 02-03-2009 at 07:45 AM. Reason: Forgot to add comments re Benchmark pubs.

  8. Default US-Mexico border trouble?

    We are leaving for a 6 week around the country trip next week and as part of the trip, have planned to roughly follow the US-Mexican border through parts of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and into San Diego.

    Does anyone have any current and accurate information about the safety of such a route at this time? The headlines suggest one thing, but I'm thinking the reality may be different. Thanks for your help!
    Last edited by Midwest Michael; 04-07-2009 at 08:57 AM. Reason: Merged with original thread about this trip

  9. #9
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin

    Default North

    If you are staying on the US side of the border you shouldn't have any problems. There have been some significant issues in Mexican border towns, and the safety of those towns is pretty questionable right now. Some of those problems have led to some spillover in the US, but those have been pretty specific and target cases. As a tourist, you should be fine traveling in the areas you are talking about.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Joplin MO


    Expect thorough scrutiny at Border Patrol checkpoints along the Interstates in that area, including a dog sniff.

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