The US National Park System has 417 official units throughout the country including 59 National Parks, 87 National Monuments, 19 National Preserves, 51 National Historic Parks, 78 National Historic Sites, 4 National Battlefield Parks, 9 National Military Parks, 9 National Battlefields, 30 National Memorials and a number of other National sites including National Rivers, National Seashores, National Lakeshores, National Parkways and National Trails.
Officially, the National Park Service preserves unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations. The Park Service cooperates with partners to extend the benefits of natural and cultural resource conservation and outdoor recreation throughout this country and the world.
The NPS is a great blessing to the citizens of this country and all others that may visit. They have some amazing offerings and a road trip that passes by these is not a worthy roadtrip. These sites are the gems of our country!
Though I have visited all 50 states in the US, I have not been able to get to many of the sites. Of the 59 National Parks, for instance, I have only visited 28 of them and some of those were way before my travel blogging and photography days. Of all of the others, I have been to 77 of the nearly 350 sites. So, I still have a long way to go.
That said, I have thoroughly enjoyed my visits to many of the National Parks, Monuments and other NPS sites. My personal favorites are Glacier National Park (Montana), Grand Teton National Park (Wyoming) and Yellowstone National Park (WY) — OK…I love the mountains!!
Following are some photos of some of the other NPS Sites that I have visited over the years. More are sure to come soon!! (In fact, just this past weekend — Easter weekend 2017 — I drove the Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park and got photos of the Easter Sunrise!!)
The United States is a vast and diverse country. From sea to shining sea there are sweeping vistas and spectacular scenes of nature.
The grandeur of this country is not seen on the interstate highways, but on the back roads and the gravel roads that have woven the fiber of this country.
I am always awestruck by the superb landscapes that one can witness on the back roads. Some of these landscapes, such as the Grand Canyon and the Rocky Mountains, are known by everybody. But there are so many more spectacles to feast your eyes upon.
When speaking of grandeur, perhaps one of my most favorite locations is Monument Valley in the northwest corner of Arizona and the southwest corner of Utah. Located within the Navajo Indian reservation, this amazing natural wonder has been the backdrop for many movies and television commercials. And one can only stand in a location or another and must turn their head from left to right to catch the full glory of this spectacular wonder of nature.
Not too far from there and also on the Navajo Reservation is a much lesser known, but in another way very spectacular sight. Called Coal Mine Canyon, it is a hidden gem off of a two lane highway east of Tuba City, AZ.
Coal Mine Canyon is filled with a variety of HooDoos…ghost like rock formations that can form eerie shadows and spooky formations at night. The view goes on for miles into Blue Canyon. In any other state, this might be a National Park or Monument. It is just one more canyon in Arizona.
Head north into Colorado and take a ride up to Mount Evans north of Denver. Nearly 13,000 feet up, it offers up an amazing view of the mountains and lakes below.
Not to be outdone in the words of grandeur, is the scenic highway that traverses the Bear Tooth Range along the Montana and Wyoming border. I have only been there once and it was in the very early spring on the first day the road was open. There were still piles of snow on both sides of the road. But the expanse of the mountains left me in awe.
But grandeur is not just mountains or spectacular geologic formations. I can drive through the plains of North Dakota or South Dakota and experience miles and miles of grasslands.
I have driven through these great plains in North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming and Nebraska. To some, the drive through these vast grasslands might be considered boring. To me, the vast expanse of grasslands is stunning.
Then there is the grandeur of the oceans. I have been blessed to have been able to see the Pacific Ocean from the northern parts of Washington and Oregon all the way to the coast in Southern California. I have also seen the Atlantic Ocean from points in Maine all the way south to Florida. The amazing sunrises and sunsets over the water provide unspeakable grandeur and a glorious feeling.
Like the oceans, the Gulf of Mexico offers similar sights. Nothing like witnessing the spectacle flocks of pelicans flying in sync overhead.
The most gratifying part of experiencing grandeur for me is that every back road and numbered highway offers a peek at splendid views. One needs only crest to the top of a hill and laid out before your eyes are wonderful scenes like that of Hells Canyon in Oregon, or in Hell’s Half Acre in the middle of Wyoming. Drive along a two Lane highway in the eastern United States in the fall and you get to the top of the hill and see nothing but spectacular fall colors as far as the eye can see.
But the grandeur is not just in nature. From a different perspective, the views of the skyline of a big city offers its own brand you were. Whether enjoying the skyline of Manhattan from across the river in Hoboken, NJ to witnessing the scene of riverine cities such as Pittsburgh or Cincinnati from the top of a hill, one gets a sense of how small they really are.
I am grateful to live in these United States and my heart is filled with joy that I have been able to travel many a back road and experience the grandeur of this country.
With each new road comes a new experience. I still have yet to personally experience the special nature of Yosemite National Park or the giant sequoia trees of Northern California. But I have seen the vast expanses filled with volcanoes in Hawaii or the old volcano cones in New Mexico and Arizona.
I have driven the long highway over Lake Ponchatrain in Louisiana and over the amazing Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. These man-made spectacles still offer a sense of grandeur.
So, get out on the road and experience this country for yourself.
When I was young and living in Albuquerque, NM in the 1960s, there were not many Interstate Highways. Most of the country still relied on the U.S. Numbered Highway System.
Even to this day I can recall our family drives along the iconic Route 66 out of Albuquerque to Gallup, NM and then, eventually, when we moved to Dallas in 1968 we took it all the way to Amarillo, TX. Even at that young age I was already enamored by the maze of highways and the desire to see what lays along these long black roads with millions of white lines in the middle and endless telephone poles and wires along both sides. I too remember the many billboards advertising Stuckey’s roadside stops, gas station or unique tourist attractions.
Since those days I have had the opportunity to travel many of these wonderful highways that ribbon across this glorious country. They highways have taken me through deserts, mountains, mosquito-infested lake areas, the high plains, through small towns and big cities. As I near 60 years old the fascination with these highways continues and I drive them every chance I get!!
The current system of United States Numbered Highways (also called U.S. Routes or U.S. Highways) is an integrated network of roads and highways numbered within a nationwide grid in the contiguous United States. The roadways have always been maintained by state or local governments since their initial designation in 1926.
According to an article entitled “From Names to Numbers: The Origins of the U.S. Numbered Highway System” by Richard F. Weingroff of the Federal Highway Administration, highway numbering didn’t get started until 1926. Prior to that time there were just a couple of cross country roads, known as trails back then. These would include the Lincoln Highway (a direct route from New York City to San Francisco) and the Victory Highway (New York City to San Francisco via Baltimore). The idea of the Lincoln Highway came from the fertile mind of Carl Fisher, the man also responsible for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Miami Beach. With help from fellow industrialists Frank Seiberling and Henry Joy, an improved, hard-surfaced road was envisioned that would stretch almost 3400 miles from coast to coast, New York to San Francisco, over the shortest practical route.
The trails were a product of the pioneer days of auto travel when government took little interest in interstate roads. Most long distance trips, even by the most avid advocate of the automobile, took place in the comfort of the Nation’s railroads. Although named trails can be traced to the 1890’s, the movement began in earnest in the early 1910’s, with the National Old Trails Road (Baltimore to Los Angeles) and the Lincoln Highway setting the pattern. Boosters selected a route over existing–often, just barely existing–roads, gave it a colorful name, formed an association to promote the trail, and collected dues from businesses and towns along the way. The associations published trail guides and newsletters, held annual conventions, and promoted the improvement and use of their route. The goals were to promote the road, the good roads cause, and economic opportunity for the cities and businesses along the way.
In March 1925, the American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO) started planning the federal highway system. Major east-west routes would be numbered in multiples of ten, from U.S. 10 across the north to U.S. 90 across the south. The major north-south routes would end in 1 or 5, from U.S. 1 between Maine and Florida to U.S. 101 between Washington and California. The Lincoln Highway was then broken up into U.S. 1, U.S. 30, U.S. 530, U.S. 40 and U.S. 50 (see above). The Lincoln Highway Association was created in 1913 to promote the Lincoln Highway using private and corporate donations. The public responded favorably, and many other named roads across the country followed.
Today the Lincoln Highway Association maintains an informative and history-filled website (see it here) about the first real cross country highway.
As I mentioned, the numbering of highways began in earnest in 1925. Generally, north-to-south highways are odd-numbered, with lowest numbers in the east, the area of the founding thirteen states of the United States, and highest in the west. Similarly, east-to-west highways are typically even-numbered, with the lowest numbers in the north, where roads were first improved most intensively, and highest in the south. Major north–south routes have numbers ending in “1” while major east–west routes have numbers ending in “0”. Expansion of the system continued until 1956, when the Interstate Highway System was formed. After construction was completed, many U.S. Routes were replaced by Interstate Highways for through traffic. Despite the Interstate system, U.S. Highways still form many important regional connections, and new routes are still being added.
Throughout my years of driving, I have been blessed to be able to traverse thousands of miles of these numbered US highways. In some instances, I have covered the entirety of the routes (over a number of trips). For instance, from the 1970s to as late as 2014, I covered the entire north/south path of US 89, from Canada to Mexico. I have been on most of US 66, US 61, US 20 and many others.
Some of the US Highways traverse the entire length of the country east to west or north to south. Some of the longest of these are listed below:
US Highway 20 from Boston, MA to Yellowstone NP to Newport, OR – 3,237 miles
US Highway 6 from Provincetown, MA to Bishop, CA – 3,207 miles
US Highway 30 from Atlantic City, NJ to Astoria, OR
US Highway 50 from Ocean City, MD to Sacramento, CA – 3,011 miles
US Highway 2 from Houlton, ME to Rouses Point, NY and then starts again at St. Ignace, MI and goes all the way to Everett, WA – 2,572 miles (combined)
US Highway 1 from Fort Kent, ME on the border with Canada to Key West, FL – 2,377 miles
US Highway 101 from Olympia, WA to Los Angeles, CA – 1,519 miles
US Highway 66 – the famed Route 66 – from Chicago, IL to Santa Monica, CA – 2,451 miles (though much has been replaced by I-10, I-15, I-40, I-44 and I-55)
US Highway 61 – the Great River Road along the Mississippi River and then the Blues Highway in Mississippi – from Wyoming, MN to New Orleans, LA – 1,400 miles
US Highway 89 – goes along many of the US National Parks including Glacier NP, Yellowstone NP, Bryce Canyon NP, Zion NP and the Grand Canyon – from just north of Babb, MT on the Canadian border to Flagstaff, AZ. Continues 89A south through Sedona and then onto Nogales (according to the US 89 Society website) – officially 1,247 miles, but the US 89 Society shows it as 1,800 miles)
Currently there are numbered highways from US 1 all the way to US 830 and a couple hundred in between. I have not been on a good number of these, but many of the cross country ones have felt the wheels of my cars and my footprints. I have been on US 1 along many parts of the Atlantic Coast and have traveled much of US 101 on the Pacific Coast. I have traveled the length of US 89 and have been on most of US 2 from Michigan to Montana.
Over the course of my next few posts, I will address my travels on the US Numbered Highways and note some of the wonderful places that can be seen along these routes.