Planning Cross-Country Roadtrip - Suggestions Wanted

Next month we’re going to visit Rhiannon8404’s brother and sister-in-law in Murfreesboro, TN (near Nashville). We’ve decided to make it a road-trip, so we can get 8 or 10 more check marks on our ‘states you’ve visited’ sheet (and see some of our country along the way)

Our planned route is along I-80 from Sacramento through Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, and Nebraska, then down to Kansas City, through Missouri to St. Louis. From there we may head more-or-less directly for Nashville, or we may head east to Lexington, KY to visit some friends before heading into Tennessee. On the way home, we plan to pretty much take I-40 all the way from Nashville back into California. We’re hoping to make the drive in 4 days each way, and we’ll spend probably 3 days with family.

So…what can’t we miss along the way? Where should we stop? What should we make sure we drive past and grab a snapshot from the car window? What should we under no circumstances fail to avoid?

And who’s just dying to put up a nice Doper family for the night? :wink:

I’ve made a couple of road trips on I-40 east-bound from LA to Oklahoma City; on return, experimented with a couple of more southern routes. …Actually visiting a friend’s vacation home in northern Arkansas, and turned off I-40 at OKC. From OKC west, I-40 is either on or close to historic Route US 66, as you won’t be allowed to forget. If you’re into that, check into it, and get off the interstate at a couple places that look interesting to you. …I’ve found them historic, sort of kitschy, and fairly run-down. If not kept up, historic places tend not to be what they used to be.

In Texas, there’s Amarillo; probably get a decent taste of Texas, if that interests you. Nothing much then until Albuquerque, New Mexico. New Mexico is pretty cool, but you’d probably get more of a sense of it in Santa Fe, not really far off your route. (The advertised “official state question” is “Red or green?”, which kind of chile sauce you prefer. I think the green sauce is spicier; me, I like both at times.)

In Arizona, there’s Meteor Crater and the Petrified Forest National Park, then Flagstaff. Me, I got a lot more out of the national park. Next, Flagstaff would be the jumping off point for Sedona and the Grand Canyon. If you haven’t been, the GC is definitely a must-see – it’s unbelievably huge, in a way that can’t be adequately described in any words I can find.

West of Flagstaff, there’s Needles, California, jumping off point for Lake Havasu and Laughlin, Nevada. Of course, if you’re into the gambling for it’s own sake, there will be many Indian casinos along the way, Laughlin is no Las Vegas - a much older crowd - but it’s a good look at the Colorado River.

West of Needles, there’s Barstow (leave US 66), Bakersfield, and the great California Central Valley, which you know so well. 'Nuff said on that.

I think you should reconsider going north in March–there could be problems with snow and ice:
http://www.currentresults.com/Weather/Wyoming/snowfall-march.php

I was wondering about possible weather issues, but hadn’t given a whole lot of thought to it thus far. We aren’t making any specific travel plans for the drive, so we’re free to change our route if need be. We don’t get a lot of snow here in Sacramento (I think it’s been going on 20 years), but the Sierras aren’t far off, so driving in snow isn’t a concern, and we’ve got AWD. We’ve got the choice of going I-80 or I-70, or even US-50, so as long as we can get over the Rockies somewhere, we’ll be OK.

With the way the weather has been lately, I figure it’ll be somewhere between blizzard conditions, and 90 degrees and sunny :slight_smile:

No specific advice–but just a general comment.
It should be obvious, but do make sure you schedule your drive time so that it’s during daylight hours.
It’s a big , beautiful country—don’t miss any of it!*

Leave enough time so that if you make a stop longer than planned along the way, you don’t have to drive half the night to make up for lost time.

*even the boring parts.
Driving all day through nothing but cornfields is boring.
Until you talk to somebody from, say, England, or Japan— and you realize just how wonderful it is to have a country big enough that you can drive all day through nothing but cornfields.

Wyoming can be iffy, weather wise, in March and April. They’ll close the highways if it’s bad. Last year, around April 26, we got a bad one. I-25 from Casper to Cheyenne was closed.

Arizonan here. Petrified Forest, yes. That’s a good half day, and nothing like it anywhere.

Skip Meteor Crater unless you are a geologist.

If you come through Kentucky, remember we’re really prettier in the spring. That said, you could visit some distilleries, which is always fun. Horse farms are visible from I-64 and once you head down I-75, visit Berea for some lovely genuine mountain crafts.

Watch the weather. March can come in like a lion, as the saying goes, and you’re crossing the Sierras and Rockies. Even with AWD, some bad storms will shut the interstates down. And that’s not just over the mountain passes — snow and ice can be an obstacle in the plains states during March. Just watch the weather, and be prepared to head south to I-40. Or, consider doing the southern route on the way there, then the northern route on the way back. Anyway, watch the weather. I got caught in the April, 1983 ice and snowstorm while crossing the country eastward on I-80. Not fun, and that was April.

A rule of thumb to perhaps consider is to plan more time for (or focus on) the places farther from where you live.

Among your route options, I have driven I-80, I-70, I-40 and I-10 across the country, and here are my recommendations.

Instead of I-80, drive US-50 through Nevada until it hits I-15 in Utah, and then pick up I-70 the rest of the way. US-50 through Nevada is a very good road, and you can drive 70+ MPH on most of it. I don’t recall its speed limit. It connects far-spaced towns, which you’ll have to slow down for. US-50 is unique for its “Loneliest Road” moniker (by Life magazine in 1986, although these days it’s well-traveled), and it is more scenic than I-80. In Colorado, I-70 takes you through beautiful Glenwood Canyon, and then past Vail and up and over the Eisenhower/Johnson Tunnels. At over 11,100 feet the tunnel pair is among the highest vehicular tunnels in the world. Hopefully it’ll be warming up and you’ll get the springtime wildflowers, and Glenwood Cyn will be even more pretty. I-70 was the first interstate project in the country, and its section through Glenwood Canyon was one of the last sections, of the original interstate plan, to be completed.

Places to see: a must-see is the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, including its ground floor Museum of Westward Expansion. In St. Louis, get some good BBQ at Pappy’s Smokehouse on Olive St. If you arrive by lunch time try the burnt ends, but they usually run out of that by early afternoon. There’s also the Gobble Stop Smokehouse a little west of the city, on Olive Blvd. at Fee Fee Rd. It’s BBQ turkey, and if you go, get the ribs. Both places are very casual, but eith great food. If you’re a fan of US History, there are two Presidential Museums along this route, Eisenhower’s in Abilene KS and Truman’s in Independence MO, and both are good.

Along the southern route, joint must-sees are Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon. From Albuquerque, swing northwest up to Farmington and Shiprock (and do swing over to Shiprock, the landmark) to Monument Valley on US-163. After Monument Valley, go via Tuba City and where Hwy 160 ends at Hwy 89 there’s a unique sign for the Grand Canyon: North Rim - turn right, and South Rim - turn left. The North Rim will be a longer trip but has far fewer visitors. Along this South Rim approach, Highway 64 offers several nice viewpoints with fewer people, and it avoids the main crowded stop at Grand Canyon Village.

Further east, in Arkansas, Clinton’s Presidential Library is in Little Rock. I haven’t been to that one yet, but have been to 7 of the 13 of them and they are quite good, so I expect Clinton’s to be good.

On your final approach to home take Highway 395 from the south and enjoy the breathtaking eastern side of the Sierra Nevada, and Mono Lake. These are right in your backyard but is so much nicer than I-5.

I’m sure there are other must-sees but of the ones I’ve experienced, these are them. Consider XM radio, too, for listening on such a long road trip.

Enjoy the trip, and let us know what you end up doing.

If you’re traveling in the second half of March on I-80, check out the Sandhill Crane migration between Kearney and Grand Island Nebraska.

Don’t go to Cairo Illinois. I remembered it from Huckleberry Finn and it was quite prominent on the route-planner page of my Rand McNally, but new next to nothing about the place. It is a hole with nothing to commend it, except you can stand on the point where the Ohio and Mississippi meet.

We are of the “grin like a dog and wander aimlessly” group of travelers and stop at the places most others will ignore. For this reason, our last road trip on I-80 had us stopping to admire things like Tree of Utah and Thunder Mountain Monument. If you guys enjoy the offbeat stops, check out Roadside America for a state by state listing.

We would love to host you guys but if you make it here then likely made a wrong turn somewhere. :eek:

Oh, I love road-tripping. I can’t wait until I have time to do another one with my family. Enjoy.

I’d recommend I-70 through Utah, Colorado and Kansas rather than I-80 through Utah, Wyoming and Nebraska. Definitely more to do. Take I-15 south at Salt Lake City (nearby Park City has a great mountain resort, not sure what its operations are like in March, though) and hook up with I-70, and then see Arches National Park a bit east, of all the National Parks I’ve visited, it’s my personal favorite. There’s plenty to do in Denver and the surrounding area, and Colorado Springs, with the Garden of the Gods and Pike’s Peak, is not a major detour off of it (again, can’t say for sure what the touring conditions are like in March - the one time I did Colorado and Utah, it was June). I think there are more towns to stop in and see things along I-70 in Kansas than along I-80 in Nebraska, but if you desperately want to drive through Nebraska, either the I-25 or the I-76 will take you from I-70 in Denver back up to I-80 in less distance than driving down (presumably the I-29) from Nebraska to Kansas City.

On the route back, the Grand Canyon is the big “must see” on the I-40 route. You might want to consider detouring to Crater of Diamonds State Park in Arkansas.

If you’ve never done a major long road trip before, one recommendation of mine for keeping awake on long drives is: have a Big Gulp of soda partially filled with ice, not only will the drink itself help keep you awake, but as the ice melts, you can touch your fingers to the condensation on the outside of the cup, and rub that into the corner of your eyes.

My advice… stay off the interstate.

Take Hwy 50 across NV and maybe US6 and or US40 across UT and CO. These lesser travelled roads pass through towns where every restaurant is not a McDonalds or Wendys.

We did a 4000 mile road trip from TX to NV and only 75 miles of it was on the interstate. Much better experience IMHO.

We made almost the same trip, from the Bay Area to Saint Louis. We did it Thanksgiving week and got lucky with the weather.

There ain’t a lot, the best thing we found is the Geology Museum at the University of Wyoming in Laramie. Vercy nice and very free.

There there is the Great Platte River Road Archway which you will pass under. We didn’t go to it, since we were not prepared and it was not obvious how to get to it. It is in financial trouble, according to an article in the Times, so lend your support.

As for lodging, we stayed at Comfort Inns all the way, making reservations for the next stop the night before. We got enough stays for a gas card. Very handy, because they were all nice except the one in St. Louis, so when we called to find a decent one in the chain nearby they were very nice. Relatively inexpensive also.

Bring plenty of entertainment - Nebraska and Wyoming get long.
We found real local restaurants to eat in each evening, which made it better also.

Hwy 50 is sort of twisty in spots going through Nevada, but the Basin and Range scenery is fantastic (if you’re in to Basin and Range scenery) Too bad they cut down the shoe tree outside of Middlegate–it was always good for a quick photo stop. The Eureka Opera House is pretty neat–if the manager is there, see if you can get a backstage tour and see the performer’s signatures on the walls.

Goblin Valley, where infamous hoodoo-vandals did their deed, isn’t too far off 1-70, and definitely worth a side trip if you have the time.

That’s around six hundred miles a day. I wouldn’t count on doing much more than looking out the windows and making an occasional potty stop.

I 80 from east of Tahoe all the way through Nebraska is the most deadly boring stretch of road imaginable. I 70 is far, far more scenic and interesting at least until you leave Denver.

Yep. I have yet to find a scenic route across Kansas.

My favorite westbound trip was I-90 from the Badlands to Sheridan, then west to Yellowstone, south to Grand Tetons and to pick up I-80 again. I would imagine I-25 north from Denver to I-90 is scenic, perhaps someone can speak to that.

Agreed. That was neat, and it was right next to the road, too.

(pic, not mine)