RoadTrip America

Routes, Planning, & Inspiration for Your North American Road Trip

Roadtripping USA: The Complete Coast-to-Coast Guide to America (Let's Go), by Emilie S. FitzMaurice (Editor)

Roadtripping USA

This is the second book in a year that we have reviewed that claims to be a complete road trip guide to the USA. The first one, United States: On the Road by Insight Guides, may better capture the wonder of roadtripping in America, but Let's Go's new Roadtripping USA: The Complete Coast-to-Coast Guide to America certainly makes a good stab at being an actual guidebook. Their approach in many ways is quite interesting, because they chose to examine the USA by undertaking eight separate cross-country road trip routes conducted over the period of January 2003 through August 2004. Two of these routes, "The Great North" and "The North American," include visits to Mexican and Canadian cities. Their inclusion makes this book more an "Americas" roadtrip guide, which is a good thing.

Like Let's Go's other guidebooks, the research for RoadTripping USA was conducted by students on a shoestring budget, and this has resulted in some excellent recommendations for low-cost lodging and dining across the continent. That said, I found the research and writing to be uneven. Some of the discoveries described in this book are outstanding and clearly reflected quality time spent "in situ" by the researcher-writers. Even just a few of these excellent recommendations would have made the purchase price of US$25 a good bargain, and the book includes three or four dozen. On the other hand, I have been fortunate enough to spend time in many of the cities profiled in the book and the recommendations for lodging in places like Barstow, California, Las Vegas, Nevada, and even Stowe, Vermont, seem to have been made without the writers' ever stepping foot into the establishments they mention. In addition, they missed well-known, easy-to-find good choices in a number of other cities. The book is still good as long as long as you remember to keep your eyes and ears open for other possibilities while you travel. Another thing to note is that at least a quarter of the 995 pages are duplicate listings because of the criss-crossing nature of the eight routes.

One excellent feature of Roadtripping USA is the funny and articulate commentary about the places covered. I also learned about a slew of fascinating places and events I knew nothing about, and I've added a number of them to my "must-see" list for future road trips. For example, Fager's Island's tradition of playing the 1812 Overture each night at sunset in Ocean City, Maryland sounds quite appealing, and it might be fun to meet "Utan", the largest crocodile on display in America. (He's in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.) The "Lineman's Rodeo" at the National Agricultural Hall of Fame in Missouri, where contestants climb utility poles and string electrical wire, sounds good, too. And who'd want to miss the Mermaid show at Weeki Wachee, Florida? Would-be mermaids have to spend a year in mermaid training school before they can flip their tails for the public. Info about roadside wonders and events like these make Roadtripping USA a great book to have along on any coast-to-coast drive.

The "Getting Around" section in each town and city description has tips for navigating the area. I laughed out loud when the writer described the bizarre street layout in Ogallala, Nebraska. East East Street and West East Street (if that isn't confusing enough right there) are ten blocks apart. Amazingly, the writer manages to make sense out of this counter-intuitive approach to the grid system.

The descriptions of various food treats found around the country are another nice feature. Three that stand out in my memory are the Devil's Tower ice cream cone (which costs $6.80!) available at the "Farson Merc" in Wyoming, the Road Kill Café on Route 66 in Seligman, Arizona, and Wall's Barbecue in Savannah, Georgia. The latter is located in a tiny alley with zero visibility that no one could find without this guide.

A couple of lodging choices that make my "must go there" list are the Riverbend Hot Springs Hostel in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, where guests stay in teepees on the banks of the Rio Grande River. At the other end of the spectrum, a stay at the posh McMenamins Edgefield in Troutdale, Oregon, sounds appealing. The property boasts its own vineyard, golf course, movie theatre, and brewery.

An aspect of this book that takes some getting used to is the orientation of the map routes included on nearly every page. The maps are turned so the route always reads from bottom to top, even if "north" is not the top of the page. Once you're accustomed to the system, the maps are easy and convenient to use.

The first 46 pages of Roadtripping USA comprise a chapter entitled "Essentials." Well worth reading, it is an excellent introduction to the phenomenon of roadtripping in America. The raft of information that follows, the sense of humor of the contributors, and the overall quality of the research and writing make this a reference that comes very, very close to actually being a "complete coast-to-coast guide to America."

Mark Sedenquist

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