I love the mountains. I spent a good part of my life in the mountains – New Mexico, Montana, Utah, Colorado, Arizona. These are the BIG mountains.
Having lived in Kentucky for the past 25 years, I hear of people that live in “the mountains of Kentucky” or heading to “the mountains of West Virginia.” In my perspective these are more like hills. But, by the broader definition, there are mountains in states like Kentucky, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Maybe even Tennessee.
When I take trips to the Western US, I always try to make an effort to get to the REAL mountains….the kind over 10,000′ tall. I love the fresh air of these mountains. I long for the spectacular views…both from below and on top.
My first ventures into the mountains were as a young boy living in New Mexico. My Dad also loved the mountains and we often took rides up to the Sandias. We would hike, take picnics and my dad always took pictures. He always took slides because he thought they were better quality.
In 1968 we moved from Dallas to Denver. While in Denver, my Dad would take us on various drives up to Rocky Mountain National Park, Mt. Evans, Pikes Peak and other mountains. As a junior high school youth I went with him for the intense hike up Longs Peak, near Boulder. This mountain hike was a first for me. I never made it to the top (since we were bogged down by a massive hailstorm in the middle of summer). But my Dad left me at the stop station and continued up with a couple of friends.
Later in life I had the opportunity to take a trip up to the top of Mt. Evans (by car). It had changed over the years, but still had the mountain goats and the thin air.
Living in Bozeman, Montana in the mid 1970s was the final straw. We actually lived up in the mountains south of Bozeman. I was hooked and still am. My goals have always been to visit America’s great mountains, mountain ranges and parks. I have been blessed to have been able to do so.
Over the years I have been to Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Grand Tetons National Park, the Colorado Rockies, the Sawtooth Range in Idaho, the Beartooth Range and scenic drive in northern Wyoming and more. I have even been to the eastern mountains of Shenandoah, the Alleghany Highlands in Virginia (where I am as I write this!), the Ozarks in Arkansas and Missouri and the Adirondacks. They have their own wonderful scenery.
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.
During the month of April I am participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. The challenge has each blogger select a theme and then do a post thematically from A to Z during each day of April , except Sundays. My blog is number 1337 out of 1670 participating blogs. This year my A to Z posts will take you across the back roads of America to many unique what other bloggers will be posting about, check out the link: A to Z Theme Reveal List for 2016
The J Towns
Jamestown, North Dakota
One of my fun places to stop in North Dakota is Jamestown. It is known as the “Buffalo City” and one can find all kinds of Buffalo things, including “the World’s Largest Buffalo” statue and the National Buffalo Museum. It was commissioned in 1959 by local businessman Harold Newman, and built by art students from Jamestown College, under the supervision of art instructor and designer, Elmer Peterson. It is visible from Interstate 94, overlooking the city from above the James River valley. The statue is 26 feet tall, 46 feet long and weighs 60 tons. It was constructed with stucco and cement around a steel beam frame shaped with wire mesh and is one of the giants across the US. See more about my visit to Jamestown HERE.
Known as “The Little Switzerland” of the United States, Joseph, Oregon is a scenic town on the shores of the lovely Wallowa Lake. I visited this community in 2007 and was enthralled by the beauty. Like many towns, they have an art walk with many fine outdoor sculptures, including the intricate eagle sculpture “The Spirit of Joseph” by Steve Parks. Joseph was named after Chief Joseph of the Wallowa Band of the Nez Perce Tribe. Joseph is also about an hour away from the awe inspiring Hell’s Canyon. Despite the grandeur and wide expanses of the Grand Canyon in Arizona, Hell’s Canyon has been carved much deeper by the Snake River. The canyon is about 100 miles in length and there is one 40 mile section that is nearly 5500 feet deep. But the steepest point from river to rim is at Granite Creek. This is an amazing 7900 foot deep section of the canyon!! The widest expanse across the canyon is 10 miles. The Hell’s Canyon Scenic Byway is an awesome way to spend a day driving and taking in the wonderful views. See more about my NW Oregon and SW Washington roadtrip from 2007 HERE.
Just across the Ohio River from Louisville, KY is the river town of Jeffersonville, Indiana. Two different cities and a shared river and bridge. In September 2013 , with camera in hand, I drove around Louisville and then across the river to Jeffersonville. The town has a series of floodwall murals which are delightful to walk along and see. Turns out that the 12 murals depicting the history of Jeffersonville were painted by Robert Dafford and his crew. This project began in 2007 and was completed in 2012. Ironically, I had seen his mural works in previous visits to Point Pleasant, WV, Paducah, KY and Portsmouth, OH. (see Paducah work here and the Point Pleasant work here). Dafford apparently has his photorealistic mural art in over 200 locations around the world. Jeffersonville is also home to The Industrial Terrorplex, a massive haunted house and “horror complex” created using state of the art Hollywood effects, offered up some surprises as I rounded the corner. A couple of huge gargoyles were waiting on the fencepost to pounce down on me. See more about this unique Ohio River town in my 2013 post HERE.
One of the few places you cannot get to on a backroad by car is Juneau, Alaska. Only accessible via air or boat, we visited while on a cruise in June 2004 with other family members. Sitting along the Gastineau Channel, the town is picturesque and touristy. It is the gateway to Mendenhall Glacier as well. Mendenhall Glacier is about 13.6 miles long located in Mendenhall Valley, about 12 miles from downtown Juneau. We also took the Mount Roberts Tramway to the top of the mountain and enjoyed a spectacular view. The tramway’s cars rise 1,800 feet from the cruise ship dock in downtown Juneau through the rain forest to the Mountain House, offering expansive views of Juneau and Gastineau Channel. The Tramway is one of the most vertical tramways in the world. See the entire report of this trip HERE.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
One of my FAVORITE places in the US is Jackson Hole, Wyoming. It is the gateway to the Grand Tetons National Park and is a beautiful town nestled in a picturesque valley. See my full post from a 2013 visit HERE. It is one my “Heaven on Earth” places.
Janesville, Wisconsin (Honorable Mention)
Another of the interesting towns in Wisconsin, Janesville is not too far from Madison and north of Beloit. The town has big cows and cheese factories as well as a great history. Definitely worth a visit.
Jackson Center, Ohio (Honorable Mention)
Jackson Center, Ohio is the home of the Airstream Factory. Everyone has seen these iconic trailers on the roads. This is where they come from. They give tours!! Check out a report about my visit there in May 2008 right HERE.
Jamaica Beach, Texas (Honorable Mention)
On one end of Galveston Island in Texas is Jamaica Beach, with nice beaches, condos to stay in and wonderful views of the Gulf of Mexico. Brown pelicans are in the air everywhere. See my 2014 post with many pelican shots and lots of views of the beautiful gulf coast HERE.
Jamestown, New York (Honorable Mention)
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t include another Jamestown. (And yes, I have also been to Jamestown, VA to see the old Jamestown history!!) Jamestown, New York is the birthplace of iconic TV star Lucille Ball. There is Lucy and Desi stuff all over town. We didn’t have time to visit the Lucy-Desi Center, but I did at least get shots of the facilities and the murals. See my full report about my New York trip to Jamestown and other places nearby by clicking HERE.
Did You Miss My Other A to Z Challenge Posts? Click on a letter below to see the others.