Wednesday, July 04, 2007

A Dozen U.S. Destinations That Are Less Known

Written from San Carlos, California--

On this 231st birthday of the Great Republic, I thought I might list a dozen destinations within the United States that I've found inspiring and loved visiting, but which are less known than the glamor spots of San Francisco, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Washington, D.C., Boston or New York. So here goes:

LASSEN NATIONAL PARK -- This Northern California volcanic park has wonderful campsites, but there are no hotels within the park. From the high point of the highway that wends its way around 10.000-foot Lassen Peak, there is a trail to the top of the volcano that erupted from 1914-17. You can still catch a whiff of sulphur on top. The trail has a 1,900-foot climb, and I once hiked it with my then-five and a half year old son. The picture we had taken at the top remains, 27 years later, my favorite picture of the two of us. There are excellent fumaroles in the park, and the summer climate is perfect. But don't go too early. Snow still closed the highway in a recent mid-June.

ASHLAND, OREGON --The Shakespeare Festival here draws more than 300,000 visitors a year. At any given moment in the summer, they are putting on nine plays, of which four are Shakespearean, the rest classics by playwrights ranging from August Wilson to the great European masters. The town has very good bed-and-breakfasts, as well as many fine restaurants. It is close to the Rogue River Valley fruit orchards, and only about 80 miles from Crater Lake. Be Sure to visit the Harry and David's store in nearby Medford. The plays are top-rate. For 22 years, I've stayed several days every summer at the Cowslip's Belle, hosts Jon and Carmen Reinhardt.

CANYON DE CHELLY, ARIZONA -- Navajo guides in the heart of the Indian reservation in northeastern Arizona take visitors on half-day and full-day trips to this spectacular canyon, with its high cliffs featuring many Indian ruins. Even in a state with the Grand Canyon, this is a great wonder, but not at all crowded. The place to stay is the Holiday Inn right outside the park, which is a national monument outside the small town of Chinle.

OURAY, COLORADO -- Called the "little Switzerland of America," this town, with its wonderful hot springs, many hotels and fine restaurants, nestles high in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado. Jeep trips take visitors to old mines above 12,000 feet, and the Million Dollar Highway, reputedly paved in gold, takes tourists 20 miles to the exotic mining town of Silverton. I've gone to Ouray four times in the last 20 years and first went there with my parents as a boy of 14. It is a gem, where one can stay enjoyably for several days or longer.

BEARTOOTH PASS, MONTANA - WYOMING -- The highway leading from Red Lodge, Mont., to the northeastern entrance of Yellowstone National Park is one of the most thrilling drives in the United States. The highway rises to 11,000 feet and while well-engineered can be rather scary. Driving it is unforgettable. Take plenty of time. Red Lodge is a good place to stay before undertaking it, and the nearest sizable airport is Billings. This is the finest entrance to Yellowstone, even better scenically than passing by the Tetons.

LEMHI PASS, MONTANA - IDAHO - -- A well-graded dirt road leads to this still-wild location where Lewis and Clark crossed the Continental Divide on their way west in 1805. Near the top, there's a monument to Sacajawea, their teenage Indian guide, who walked across half the continent with a baby on her back. The road down into Idaho is as steep as any road can be. Watch out! But this is superb. And from the top, it looks like it did in 1805. The nearest towns with accommodations are Dillon, Mont., and Salmon, Idaho. But I think this is best driven from the east. I'm not sure the usual vehicle could make it up the grade from Idaho. Also, take a good map. On my first try, I took the wrong dirt road and had to backtrack.

KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI -- This is the city of barbeque, and Arthur Bryants is only one of its great restaurants, and may not be the best. Nearby is Independence, Mo., whre the Oregon Trail once began. Independence was the home of Harry Truman and now is the site of his presidential library. When you cross the wide Missouri, as has been said, you're in the wild and woolly West.

HANNIBAL, MISSOURI -- The boyhood home of Mark Twain, this Mississippi River town is a stop on Highway 36, the mostly two-lane but uncrowded highway that leads, straight as an arrow all the way from Indianapolis west to Denver. My father and I once stopped here for the night. The next night we feasted on huge steaks in the Kansas farm town of Belleville. Of course, that was 1953, so the steaks these days won't be $2 any more.

SPRINGFIELD, ILLINOIS -- This is the state capital, and it's the city where Abraham Lincoln built his career as a politician and country lawyer. It was here he delivered his farewell speech to the citizens before taking the train to Washington to assume the Presidency. Lincoln's tomb is here, as is a terrific new Lincoln Museum. The unsurpassed farewell speech is printed on the walls of Lincoln's tomb.

HARPERS FERRY, WEST VIRGINIA -- Here, abolitionist John Brown once launched an anti-slave rebellion. This historic river town, with its great exhibits, two hours drive from Washington, was the site of many battles of the civil war. Stonewall Jackson fought here, and it was Robert E. Lee who commanded the Virginia militia that crushed the Brown revolt in 1859. The house where Brown was captured still stands. His hanging site is in a town nearby.

HANOVER, NEW HAMPSHIRE -- I may be biased because I went to College here at Dartmouth and still return every fall for homecoming. But this is the quintessential college town. The place to stay here is the Hanover Inn, right across the Green from the Dartmouth campus. The first week in October is generally the high color point of the fall here, and Dartmouth's Winter Carnival in February is a college classic. A mile west of the town, the Connecticut
River divides New Hampshire from Vermont. Woodstock, Vt., and the Calvin Coolidge farm at Plymouth, Vt., where he was sworn in as President when Warren Harding died, are not far away.

CONCORD, MASSACHUSETTS --It was here that the greatest day, in my view, of American history, reached its culmination, when the American Minutemen turned back British troops that sallied forth from Boston on April 19, 1775, to capture colonial arms in Lexington and Concord. It was the beginning of the Revolutionary War. The Concord battle site is just outside town in a national historic park that stretches from Lexington. It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who in 1837 wrote the famous hymn that commemorated the rising of a monument to the gallant soldiers. I'll end this short travel essay by citing the hymn, an inspiration to millions of Americans:

"By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
their flag to April's breeze unfurled,
here once the embattled farmers stood,
and fired the shot heard round the world.

The foe long since in silence slept.
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps,
And time the ruined bridge has swept
down the dark stream which seaward creeps.

On this green bank, by this soft stream,
we set today a votive stone
That memory may their deed redeem,
when like our sires, our sons are gone.

Spirit that made those heroes dare,
to die and leave their children free
Bid time and nature gently spare,
this shaft we rise to them and thee. "

Happy Independence Day! Long live the American Republic!



Anonymous waiting to wander off said...

What a great list!

Thanks, Ken!

7/05/2007 1:05 AM  

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