What are the qualities of a road trip that make it memorable?
Since starting the US Route 89 project some ten years ago, Barbara and I have spent many hours and covered thousands of miles together. In reflecting on these trips, I have been trying to identify the qualities that make a trip stand out for me. Of course, as a photographer, the moments of sublime beauty when light and landscape come together are the highlight of every trip. But a few intangible qualities are what make it truly memorable.
I tend to plan a trip carefully. I usually know where I want to be when and for how long. Planning satisfies the control freak side of my nature. It means I’m often in the perfect spot for a sunset or in a campground near the best view for sunrise. However, it can also lead to tunnel vision that blinds me to places in between my planned destinations. I’ve learned over the years that when I relax and let go of the plan, good things happen. Taking a side road with an intriguing sign like “California Condor Viewing Site” or stopping at the Apple Hollow Artists Co-op undoubtedly enriches the road trip experience.
This is the flip side to serendipity. I’m not talking about the kind of life-threatening sorts of things like a serious car crash. I mean things like having the car break down and needing to be towed to some small town garage for repairs. More than once, that has happened and has necessitated an overnight stay in a town I never thought to explore which has turned out to have an interesting museum or a great little cafe. Or the time I picked a campsite that was the windiest spot on Earth and lead to a sleepless night hoping the tent wasn’t going to blow into the nearby lake with the whole family inside. It may seem horrible at the time, but believe me years later disasters will be the spice that makes the trip remarkable.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said to Barbara, “Remember the time…” which sets us off reminiscing about a trip we took years ago. Through these shared memories you strengthen the bonds with our spouse and children and friends. There is always the chance that sharing the space inside a vehicle for many hours will tax the strength of a relationship. There is nothing like a road trip to help sort out and come to appreciate those little quirks of personality and to get past the superficial. Years later they produce a laugh and a warm feeling for having worked through a rough spot.
This is the hardest quality to define but it is one of the best reasons to take a road trip. For me getting out in nature, especially some place I’ve never been before, produces a sense of wonder I can’t get any other way. I always feel like my life has expanded. I enjoy seeing a new landscape and learning about the geological forces that created it. For others, growth may come from visiting historic sites or testing their limits climbing a mountain or rafting a river. Whatever you choose, getting out on the road and experiencing new places and doing new things is bound to enrich your life and add to your storehouse of memories.
Summer is fast approaching. It will soon be road trip season. It’s time to start making plans for your driving vacation and I hope you’ll be heading for US Route 89. We’ve got plenty of information on our website and you can order the US Route 89 Road Trip Map Book to carry with you. Unless you live on or very near highway 89, you’ll be wanting to figure out the best way to get there. Here are nine suggestions for making your road trip more memorable.
1) Road Maps & Atlases
I start with a paper road map like the ones you get from AAA if you are a member. Get both regional and state maps. I like getting the kind of overview you only get from spreading a road map out on a table and staring at it for awhile. You will soon notice possible side trips and interesting alternate roads. You can also use is a good road atlas. (Tip: check with your car insurance agent for one of the company’s free atlases.)
2) Topographical Maps
One essential tool that I always take on a road trip is a book of topographic maps like the ones from DeLorme or Benchmark. These books give you fine grain detail such as roads through National Forests and places to camp. They also show the terrain and label the landmarks. Knowing the names of the mountains, lakes, rivers and valleys helps me recall the places visited and photographed along the way. And the names themselves reveal interesting or unusual facts when you find out their meaning or origin.
The one problem with printed maps is calculating driving distance and time. Sure, you can add up all the little numbers along your route and take a guess at how long it will take. But it is much easier to use online maps to do the calculations. Online maps also offer many bonus features which can make planning easier.
3) Online Maps
For straight forward and easy to use route mapping, you can’t beat Google maps. Use the search box to find your starting point, either a complete street address or just a town and state, and Google will zoom in on the location. Click on Get Directions, and enter your destination. Google will plot a route and give you turn by turn directions. If there are possible alternative routes, Google will show those, too. Roll over the alternate to see it on the map. Click it to get turn by turn. You can also plot your own alternative by dragging the route line to a new location. If you are true believer in taking the slow road, click on Show Options and check Avoid Highways. Presto, Google plots a non-interstate route. You can keep adding destinations until you have your entire trip planned.
4) Weather Maps
Wunderground’s trip planner uses Google Maps with one big difference—weather information. When you enter your starting point, you also enter the date and time you are going to start. When you then enter your destination, Wunderground plots the route and adds the weather forecast along the way. Of course this only works if your starting date is within the next seven days. Wunderground is a great tool to use just before you start or once your on the road. You can use it to anticipate weather conditions and alter your plans if necessary.
5) Scenic Drive Maps
As the name implies, My Scenic Drives has descriptions of scenic roads from many areas of the country. If you as planning to be in a specific location, you can search for a place to indulge your need to get off the interstate and drive through a beautiful place. The real gem on this site is the road trip planner. It has many features that take time to learn but once you get the hang of it you’ll be impressed. I suggest watching the introductory video before you start. When you enter your starting point and destination, the program calculates the total time and distance and then breaks up the trip into eight hour days. (You can change that in the options.) You can then show nearby attractions and scenic drives and select the ones you want to include. You can also add your own waypoints. Once you’re done, print it out or download it to your GPS. One thing I like about My Scenic Drives is that the advertising doesn’t get in the way. You can easily find accommodations at selected stops and book your stay, but it is an unobtrusive add on.
Once you have your trip mapped out, you will want to add details such as roadside attractions to visit and special places to eat. Check out these three websites to round out your trip.
6) Special Roads & Attractions
While Road Trip America does offer route planning based on Google Maps, its real strength is in its catalog of routes and attractions. Search under the Routes and Sights tab and you’ll find short drives and attractions that you never knew about. The descriptions are well-written and detailed enough so that you get a good sense of the drive. It is fun to just spend time reading through the site getting ideas for a trip. You can also sign up for an email newsletter and the trips will show up in your inbox.
7) Eating on the Road
Road Food is the creation of Jane and Michael Stern who travel the country looking for the best in regional and traditional food. These are not your five-star establishments which doesn’t mean the food isn’t good. For the most part they recommend places that have a history and a following and serve up well-prepared but unpretentious fare. You can search the website by location or by type of food and read reviews by the Sterns and others. They have also published five books which contain many more eateries than are listed on the website.
8) Offbeat, Unusual & Weird
If your tastes run to the offbeat and unusual, then Roadside America is for you. I have spend more time on this site than I care to admit looking for weird places to visit. Once you get started, it is hard to stop. If you are planning a trip you can create a map with all of the sights you want to see plotted on it. Here are few highlights from along US 89:
Great Falls, MT—The World’s Shortest River and the World’s Largest Model Airplane Collection
Afton, WY—World’s Largest Elk Horn Arch
Orderville, UT—Store Shaped Like a Rock
Florence, AZ—Tom Mix Death Site
There a quite a few road trip planning websites out there. Many of them seem to be designed only for the purpose of booking hotels and are not worth the time. One even forced me to download a browser toolbar in order to make a plan. It took me about ten seconds to realize that that was a mistake. I feel comfortable with the recommendations which I’ve made but I’d like to hear your feedback. If you use a road trip planning website, let us know about it in the comments below.
Bonus: Pocket Road Trip Booklet
Use it for planning or as a diary of your trip. Print it. Fold it. Put it in your pocket.
A little background—when the federal highway system came into existence in the late 1920s, US Route 89 connented Utah and Arizona from near Salt Lake City to Nogales. It was the most important road in Arizona because it was the best road between all of the major cities from Flagstaff to Prescott to Phoenix to Tucson to Nogales and all the smaller towns along the way. It was Arizona’s Main Street.
Construction of the new Interstate Highway system began in the late 1950s and by the end of the 1970s, the distance from Nogales to Flagstaff was covered by three Interstates—19, 10 & 17. US Route 89 lost its prominence and in 1992, the inevitable happened and it was decommissioned as a federal highway. In my opinion, it was a sad day in Arizona history. Even sadder is that only part of the route retained the number as AZ Route 89.
In any case, most of the pavement that was US 89 is still on the ground. So if you want to follow the original highway and experience Arizona’s Main Street, here’s how to do it.
Flagstaff to Prescott
Starting in Flagstaff, turn right on West Route 66 just south of downtown from Milton Street. Yes, historically US 89 and US 66 occupied the same stretch of road from Flagstaff to Ash Fork, 50 miles to the west. In four miles, you will merge onto Interstate 40. If you are adventurous, you can still find remnants of the old road to explore. Be sure to follow the signs for old 66 through Williams.
From Ash Fork head south on AZ 89 through the Chino Valley to Prescott. In this 52 mile stretch, you will gradually descend from the Colorado Plateau to the central mountains that separate it from the southern deserts. From Ash Fork to Phoenix, the highway follows the same route as the Sante Fe, Prescott & Phoenix railline that came into service in the 1890s.
Prescott to Apache Junction
Continuing on AZ 89, the next sixteen miles is called the White Spar and was the first federally funded highway in Arizona. It was constructed to bring timber from the national forest to Prescott. At Wilhoit you enter the Peeples Valley. Driving across the valley is a step back in time to an era when the west was all about ranching. Take the time to wander through the shops and have a bite to eat in Yarnell at the south end of the valley.
Going down Yarnell Hill, you drop 2500 feet in four miles and enter the Sonoran Desert on your way to Wickenburg. AZ 89 ends six miles north of Wickenburg as it intersects with US 93. As you enter the town at the roundabout, take Tegner Street rather than the US 93 bypass to visit the historic downtown. On Frontier Street, stop at the Chamber of Commerce in the old train station for a walking tour guide to historic buildings. Also, check out the art in the Desert Caballeros Western Museum down the street.
Tegner and Center is the intersection with US 60 which you will follow all the way through Phoenix, Tempe, Mesa and Apache Junction. To stay on historic US 89 which was cosigned with US 60 take the following route: as you leave Wickenburg, Center becomes Grand Avenue past Surprise, Peoria and Glendale into Phoenix. At 7th Avenue, turn onto Van Buren through Phoenix to Mill Avenue in Tempe and around the curve at ASU onto Apache Boulevard. Apache becomes Main Street in Mesa and the Apache Trail in Apache Junction. Take the Old West Highway past the Superstition Mountains to the intersection with AZ 79.
Apache Junction to Nogales
Turn south on AZ 79 for sixteen miles to Florence. To see the historic downtown, take Butte to Main and follow Main back to AZ 79. The forty mile stretch of AZ 79 to the intersection with AZ 77 is called the Pinal Pioneer Parkway. It became Arizona’s first scenic byway when a 1000 foot wide right of way was set aside so that travelers could enjoy the Sonoran Desert scenery.
AZ 77 is Oracle Road through the towns of Catalina and Oro Valley into Tucson. To stay on the historic route, turn left at Drachman Street and go four blocks to Stone Avenue. Turn right and stay on Stone until it merges into 6th Avenue which becomes the Old Nogales Highway in South Tucson. Stay on the Nogales Highway until in merges with Continental Road near Sahuarita and intersects with I-19 at Green Valley.
From Green Valley to Nogales, the original road is overlaid by the Interstate. Be sure to get off I-19 at Tubac and follow the old road to Tumacåcori National Historic Park to visit an old Spanish mission. Reenter 1-19 toward Nogales and exit at Grand Avenue to the center of town and the Mexican border.
Flagstaff to Prescott on Scenic Arizona 89A
There is a historic alternate route from Flagstaff to Prescott. It is easy to follow because it is designated as AZ 89A and posted with signs for the 92 mile trip. Take 1-17 south from Flagstaff to the 89A exit at the Fort Tuthill Fairgrounds. Head south into Oak Creek Canyon to Sedona and across the Verde Valley to Cottonwood, Clarkdale and Jerome. From Jerome, AS 89A climbs over Mingus Mountain and down toward Prescott where in rejoins AZ 89.
You’ll find more detailed road descriptions, maps and notes on special attractions in the Road Trip Guides on the US Route 89 Appreciation Society website.
Learn Where and How to Photograph the Scenic Beauty of the American West
US Route 89 is called America’s most scenic highway for good reasons. National parks and monuments are just the beginning. Miles and miles of two-lane highway pass through landscapes ranging from lush desert to rocky plateaus and towering mountains.
My new guidebook introduces photographers to the wonders photographing along US Route 89. I have logged over 20,000 miles between Mexico and Canada to discover both well-known and off-the-beaten-path places to photograph. The book describes these locations, illustrated with photographs and captions that detail where, when and why the photos were shot. By looking over my shoulder the reader will gain insight into the making of landscape and nature photographs.
The e-book is for:
- Beginning to advanced travel photographers who want to improve their craft.
- Anyone looking for outstanding places to photograph in the American West.
- Photographers seeking little-known locations away from the crowds.
- Anyone planning a road trip on US Route 89.
- Those who enjoy landscape and nature photography.
You’ll learn insider tips about photographing along US Route 89 as you travel through these landscapes:
- The Basin and Range of Arizona filled with desert vegetation against a backdrop of jagged mountains. The journey here includes Spanish missions, Saguaro National Park and off the beaten path treks to the Tumacácori Highlands and the Red Rocks of Sedona.
- The Colorado Plateau of Arizona and Utah is a series of horizontal rock strata marked by colorful sheer cliffs. The rocks are shaped by wind and water into fantastical forms and enormous canyons giving the photographer an endless variety of places to shoot including Grand Canyon, Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks.
- The Rocky Mountains of Wyoming and Montana are an iconic landscape including Grand Teton, Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks. The challenge for a photographer is to find a unique vision of these often photographed places.
The e-book displays 30 photographs along with the story of where, when and why I made each one. Here’s a sample photo page:
The book is formatted for the computer screen. You can easily download and read it in any PDF reader.
Border to Border on US Route 89: A photographer’s guide to America’s most scenic highway is ready for you to download for just $7.
To secure your copy, simply click the Buy Now button below.
About the Author:
James Cowlin started his career as a photographer 40 years ago when he moved to Phoenix, Arizona, and opened a commercial studio. He began traveling around Arizona to photograph the landscape. His work was rewarded with an Arizona Artist’s Fellowship which he used to fund a month backpacking and documenting the length of the Verde River. Since then he has produced several portfolios of photographs from all corners of the state. For twelve years, he spent as much time as possible at the Grand Canyon and in 2006 was included in a book and exhibition celebrating 125 years of Grand Canyon photography entitled Lasting Light.
Ten years ago, Cowlin started working on his current project on US Route 89 between Mexico and Canada. In 2007 he closed his commercial business in order to work full-time on fine art nature and landscape photography. He has now logged over 20,000 miles on highway 89 photographing in well-known scenic locations and discovering many hidden gems along the way.
To view more of James Cowlin’s photographs visit the Road Trip Guides on the US Route 89 Appreciation Society website. To view galleries of his fine art photographs and purchase prints, go to James Cowlin Photographs.
If given a choice at the end of a day on the road, I prefer to visit a local brew pub to sample whatever is on tap and enjoy a meal. Fortunately, there are ample opportunities on US Route 89 for such simple pleasures. By my count, there are at least twenty-eight microbreweries and brew pubs along the way.
My quest for a better beer began at about the same time as my travels on 89. My enjoyment of mass produced American lagers had wained. Then on a trip to Flagstaff we had dinner with friends at Beaver Street Brewery where I had my first pint of R&R Oatmeal Stout. What a revelation that was. I didn’t know that beer could have such flavor and add so much to a meal.
Since then I have made a point of finding the local craft beer brewers during our trips on highway 89. Craft beer brewing in the United States has been on a steady growth curve for the last decade as the graphic from the Brewers Association shows. The blossoming of brewers on 89 is testament to that fact. Each one has there special brews, many of which have been awarded metals at craft beer competitions.
I have compiled a list of microbreweries and brew pubs along US Route 89. Having visited many of them, I can attest to the goodness of their beers. In future blog posts, I will provide details about the individual craft brewers and review my favorite ales and lagers. In the meantime, add any brewers that I have overlooked to the comments and let me know about your favorite brew.
US Route 89 is closed between the intersection with US Route 89A at Bitter Springs and Highway 98 in Page. The closure is the result of damage to the roadway from sliding earth where the highway climbs the Echo Cliffs. Due to the extensive damage, the closure will be in effect for some time. If you are wanting to go to Page, turn east on US Route 160 through Tuba City and north on Highway 98 to Page. The added distance is 49 miles. To reach US Route 89 going north into Utah, take US Route 89A to Kanab. Be aware that 89A climbs to 8,000 feet at Jacob Lake and winter weather may make this route hazardous. Call 511 for current road conditions.[/colorbox]
Of all of the questions I am asked about traveling on US Route 89, one of the most frequent is about the two possible drives between Bitter Springs, Arizona and Kanab, Utah. Since both US 89 and 89A are about the same length and take the same time to drive, neither one has a clear advantage over the other. However, each road has unique features and possibilities for exploring this corner of the Colorado Plateau. I’ll describe what you can expect along each road so you can answer the question for yourself. For a map and more information, check out the road trip guides here Flagstaff to Page, here Page to Kanab and here Bitter Springs to Kanab.
Bitter Springs to Kanab on US 89A
US Route 89A is the original alignment of the highway when it came into existence along with the rest of the federal highway system in 1926. It became an alternative when 89 was rerouted to Page to facilitate the construction of Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River. From Bitter Springs it is 14 miles to the low point on this route at the crossing of the Colorado River in Marble Canyon. Navajo Bridge was completed in 1929 as the final connecting link in the border to border highway. A new vehicle bridge was built in 1992. Stop at the visitors’ center and take a walk out on the old bridge to view Marble Canyon and the Colorado River 470 feet below.
The road to Lee’s Ferry is on the west side of the river. River trips downstream through the Grand Canyon start here and some of the best trout fishing in Arizona is upstream toward Glen Canyon Dam. You can also visit Lonely Dell Ranch, the home of John D. Lee, now lovingly maintained by the Park Service.
For 28 miles through the House Rock Valley, 89A parallels the Vermillion Cliffs. California condors have been reintroduced to make their home here and can be seen along the cliffs and near Navajo Bridge. Stop at the Donimgues-Escalante Interpretive Site to learn about the history of Spanish exploration across the Colorado Plateau. At the west end of the valley, a dirt road goes north along Coyote Wash and eventually connects to US 89 in Utah.
Straight ahead is the Kaibab Plateau. For the next twelve miles the road climbs 2,500 feet to the top at Jacob Lake. From here, Arizona Route 67 runs south to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. This road is only open from the middle of May until the end of October depending on snow conditions. If you are traveling 89A in the off season, be sure to check ahead for current driving conditions.
From Jacob Lake, highway 89A descends the west side of the Kaibab Plateau to Fredonia. Pipe Springs National Monument is 13.5 miles west of Fredonia on highway 389. Continue on 89A for 7 miles to Kanab.
Bitter Springs to Kanab via Page on 89
From Bitter Springs, US 89 climbs 1,000 feet in 3 miles hugging the face of the Echo Cliffs through Antelope Pass onto the Kaibito Plateau. Near the top, there is a small parking area where Navajos set up tables to display and sell jewelry and other craft items.
The road slowly descends for 20 miles to Page. Three miles south of Page is short road on the west that leads to an overlook of the Colorado River at Horseshoe Bend. US 89 reaches its low point as it crosses the Colorado at Glen Canyon Dam. The visitors’ centers offers tours of the dam including descending inside the dam almost to river level to view the giant turbines that produce electricity for distant cities.
Views of Lake Powell and access to the lake at Wahweap are available along the highway to the west of Page. The road crosses the Paria River 29 miles from Page. A hike into the Narrows of the Paria is one of the highlights of this section of US 89. Check in at the BLM Ranger Station for a permit and for information on current weather conditions. Flash floods are common on the Paria in the summer rainy season, so proceed with caution.
Five miles west of the Paria is the intersection with House Rock Road. Take the road south to access the Coyote Buttes and eventually connect to US 89A. Permits are required to hike to the Wave and other spectacular rock features along this road and are available at the BLM Ranger Station.
US 89 continues west for 40 miles to Kanab.
What about recreational vehicles?
Several people who have asked this question have been driving larger RV’s and are concerned about steep grades. Be assured that both roads can be driven in larger vehicles. They are federal highways and conform to the national standards of construction. Since both roads connect Bryce Canyon, Zion and Grand Canyon National Parks, they are heavily traveled by tourists in all kinds of vehicles, especially in the summer months.
When we travel through this area on a round trip from our home near Tucson, we drive 89 in one direction and 89A the other. That way we can enjoy both roads and avoid having to choose one over the other. If you can only choose one, both are beautiful drives so you can’t go wrong either way.
The image that comes to mind with the word ‘desert’ is of a desolate, dry place of sand dunes and little else. When you visit Saguaro (pronounced “sah WAH row”) National Park you will enter a lush world filled with plants and animals that have evolved to live in a dry, hot climate. Observing these creatures and learning their survival strategies is the most fascinating part of touring this park.
The park is divided into two districts thirty miles apart on the east and west sides of Tucson, Arizona. If your time is limited, you should concentrate on one district. They both offer ample opportunities to explore. And there is much to see—58 kinds of reptiles and amphibians, 74 different mammal, and 187 types of birds living among over 610 species of plants. Of course the most spectacular of these is the parks namesake, the giant saguaro cactus.
Saguaros grow slowly and may take fifty years to reach six feet in height. They do not begin producing arms for another twenty-five or thirty years. A mature saguaro can grow to fifty feet and weigh eight tons or more. Saguaro tissue is 85% water which it absorbs through a very shallow root system that spreads out from the plant as far as it is tall. This strategy allows the saguaro to survive on limited and widely spaced periods of rain.
Saguaros begin to produce waxy, white flowers in mid-April, reaching the peak of bloom on Mother’s Day. Flowers open at night and stay open until the following afternoon to facilitate pollination by long-nosed bats, birds and insects. The flowers ripen into a sweet red fruit that contains 2,000 seeds. Over a lifetime, a single saguaro will produce 40 million seeds only one of which will survive to maturity to replace its parent.
There is almost always some cactus, shrub or wildflower in bloom but the show is dependent on the amount and timing of rain over the park. This year the spring bloom was sparse due to low rainfall and a late season freeze.
Rincon Mountain District
The larger of the two districts is on the east side of Tucson. The mountains are higher here with a greater diversity of lifezones. There are 128 miles of hiking trails and six backcountry campsites for those seeking a true wilderness adventure.
Stop at the visitors center to view the exhibits and the informative slide show, A Home in the Desert, and pick up guide books. The eight-mile long Cactus Forest Scenic Loop features scenic vistas and pullouts where you can view the great variety of plants and animals that populate the park. Be sure to stop at the Desert Ecology Trail which offers an up close introduction to the Sonoran Desert. Interpretive signs along the quarter-mile trail detail the adaptations that allow plants and animals to thrive in this rugged environment.
My favorite spot for sunset viewing and photography is the Javelina picnic area. Take a short hike up toward Tanque Verde ridge. The hillside lights up with a golden glow as the sun sinks behind the distant mountains to the west. Saguaros and teddy bear chollas seem to glow with an inner light. Use a wide angle lens to capture the panoramic beauty and then switch to a telephoto to isolate details.
Tucson Mountain District
Begin a visit to the western half of Saguaro National Park at the Red Hills Visitors Center. Take the time to view the slide show called Voices of a Desert which describes the desert from the Native American perspective. There are also two short nature tails at the visitors center to introduce the habitat you are about to explore. Just down the road is the Desert Discovery Nature Trail which will familiarize you with the ecology of the Sonoran Desert.
For a closer look at the foothills of the Tucson Mountains, take the five-mile long Bajada Loop Drive. This unpaved road has a primitive feel to it although it can be easily navigated by passenger car. There are two picnic areas and a short overlook trail along the drive, all three of which are worth a stop. The Sus Picnic Area is surrounded by hills and and dense desert vegetation. Take a picnic lunch and relax for a while to soak in the beauty around you.
The Valley View Overlook Trail is less than a mile riundtrip, passing through two washes and ascending to a ridge where you have a view of the Avra Valley to the west of the park.
If you only have time for one stop, make it the Signal Hill Picnic Area, especially late in the afternoon. From the picnic area, a quarter of a mile trail will take you to a rocky hilltop where you will find dozens of ancient petroglyphs. These markings on the rocks where created over 800 years ago by ancestors of the Tohono O’odham people who still live in this area. Their true meaning has been lost to antiquity but it is fun to speculate on what was in the mind of their creators. Of particular note is the large spiral that may be an astronomical symbol to mark the passing of the seasons.
I have to admit that I usually skip visitors centers and paved nature trails when I visit a national park. I’m anxious to head out to more remote areas to photograph. However, when I recently spent the day in Saguaro National Park, I decided to check out all of the areas most popular with travelers. I’m glad I did. Reading the interpretive signs while actually seeing what was being explained give me a new understanding and appreciation of the desert ecosystem. So my final piece of advice is to take a few minutes to view the slide show at the visitors center and hike one of the nature trails. It will make for a richer experience when you explore the rest of the park.
National Geographic selected US Route 89 as the #1 Drivers’ Drive in the world in its recently published book, Drives of a Lifetime: 500 of the World’s Most Spectacular Trips. Having driven over 20,000 miles on Highway 89, I couldn’t agree more. I have my favorite sections that I look forward to on our road trips and here is my list of the top five. I selected these places not only because they are fun to drive but also because they are outstanding examples of the variety of landscapes along US 89.
1) Pinal Pioneer Parkway, Arizona
From Oracle Junction north of Tucson to Florence, this 42-mile section of historic US 89 (now AZ 79) is known as the Pinal Pioneer Parkway. Crossing the high Sonoran desert, the road is lined with ancient many-armed saguaro cactus and forests of chain fruit cholla. Black Mountain dominates the view to the east and in the distance are the the Tortilla Mountains. To the south, the peaks of the Santa Catalina Mountains rise to over 9000 feet. Spring and fall are the best times for this drive when wildflowers and cactuses are in bloom. At the mid-point of the drive is a memorial to the cowboy actor, Tom Mix, who died in a car crash nearby in 1940.
See the Nogales to Tucson Road Trip Guide for more points of interest on this section of US Route 89.
2) Oak Creek Canyon, Arizona
Oak Creek flows south from the edge of the Colorado Plateau through Sedona to the Verde River. The 16-mile stretch of historic US 89A (now AZ 89A) from Sedona to the Oak Creek Vista Overlook takes the traveler through a wonderland of creek-side cottonwood and sycamore trees. Oak Creek has cut down through ancient layers of sandstone and limestone forming red and white cliffs that tower above the road. There are a number of parking areas and campgrounds that give access to the creek for hiking and picnicing. The switchbacks at the head of Oak Creek Canyon mark the transition from the lowland desert and the central mountains of Arizona on to the Colorado Plateau.
See the 89A-Prescott to Flagstaff Road Trip Guide for more points of interest on this section of US Route 89.
3) Logan Canyon National Scenic Byway, Utah
Logan Canyon is 40-mile stretch of US Route 89 between Logan in the Cache Valley and Garden City on the shore of Bear Lake. From the Wasatch-Cache National Forest boundary east of Logan, the road climbs steadily alongside the Logan River until it reaches the summit at the Bear Lake overlook. The forest-lined drive offers many places to stop for a picnic or to camp for an extended stay. The canyon is also renowned for its display of brightly colored fall foliage. From the summit, US 89 drops quickly to the shore of Bear Lake.
See the Brigham City to Montpelier Road Trip Guide for more points of interest on this section of US Route 89.
4) Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
For 45 miles US Route 89 lies inside Grand Teton National Park. Ten overlooks and picnic areas line the highway, providing spectacular views of the jagged eastern face of the Teton Range. Each is a photographer’s delight, with the Snake River in the foreground in the southern stretch, and Jackson Lake reflecting the mountains in the north. Although the road is open year-round, the most colorful time to drive it is in the fall when the leaves are turning and the air is crisp and clear.
See the Jackson to Gardiner Road Trip Guide for more points of interest on this section of US Route 89.
5) Kings Hill Scenic Byway, Montana
Passing through the Lewis and Clark National Forest, this 71-mile long section of US 89 winds its way along mountain streams through the Little Belt Mountains. Along the road are many outdoor recreation opportunities from fly fishing in the summer to snowmobiling in the winter. One of the highlights is a short hike to Memorial Falls located about a mile and a half south of the town of Neihart. Sluice Boxes State Park is near the northern end of the scenic byway. This primitive state park contains the remains of mines, a railroad and historic cabins lining Belt Creek through a beautiful canyon carved in limestone. A seven-mile long trail winds through the park giving access to its rich history and spectacular geologic features.
See the White Sulphur Springs to Great Falls Road Trip Guide for more points of interest on this section of US Route 89.
Do you have a favorite scenic drive on US Route 89? Tell your fellow travelers about in the comments section below.