Statistics show that a growing number of Americans have been choosing driving over flying in recent months and not just on business trips.
Melisse Gelula, of Fodor's Travel Publications, says the terrorist attacks of September 11 have had a major impact on vacations in the United States. "Since then we've found Americans are staying closer to home when they vacation. They are kind of exploring their own back yards. And some of the ways people are handling the rougher economy right now are by taking a road trip. It's a great way to spend time with your family and explore some of the sightseeing parts of the country you've always meant to see. It's really a wonderful thing to do."
And that gives an especially timely twist to Fodor's two new travel guides, "Great American Drives of the East" and its companion volume, "Great American Drives of the West."
Rosalie Gilliland lives in a rural area of southeastern Arizona, where she can trace her ancestry back more than a century. She says she and her family have always loved to take road trips: "We look for the ghost towns in Arizona, and we see the people who lived here so many years ago, and what they went through to make this a better place to live," she says. "We're connected to this area for generations, and it means a lot to us."
Whether they're exploring their roots or discovering someplace new, sightseers continue to veer off major highways and enjoy the history, scenery and local color to be found along America's backroads. With those meandering drivers in mind, Fodor's two new guides offer suggested road tours lasting a day or more in all 48 states on the American mainland.
The books also include maps, hotel and restaurant listings, and information on local traffic laws. Editor Melisse Gelula says researchers living across the United States helped compile the guides. Their aim was to go beyond the typical tourist attractions. "It does the research that otherwise takes a lot of time by putting together stops that might not be covered in other travel guides because they're smaller or less visited, or perhaps more well known to researchers and historians than tourists," she says.
As an example, Melisse Gelula points to one of her own favorite drives through southern Florida. "Miami is a popular destination in its own right, and likewise Key West attracts a tremendous amount of attention, but there are superb keys in between the two with wildlife and pristine beaches that you really won't see in Miami or Key West. Big Pine Key has a miniature deer reserve where they have little deer that are about two feet high. And then there are all sorts of outdoor activities there, from kayaking to lying on the beach."
Many of the great American drives are organized around themes. You can follow the trail of western outlaw Billy the Kid in the New Mexico tour. Go underground to explore the caves of Missouri. Or visit galleries and artists' colonies in the impressionist art tour of Connecticut. And on Cape Cod, off the coast of Massachusetts, you can relive early American history. "There's an incredible historic route there. It's known as the Kings Highway route and it has old libraries and the Hyannis whale watcher cruises leave from this area. And this is a drive you can easily do in a day, because it really doesn't stretch that far in distance. But you can slow it down by visiting the historical sites," says Ms. Gelula.
While the guidebooks are filled with sightseeing suggestions, Melisse Gelula says it's also important for travelers to be adventurous. "Detours are really important, and we recommend specific ones in the Great American Drives books. We say now make sure to get off the major route at this exit because behind the corner is the best fresh fruit market or a hidden waterfall if you're in the Pacific Northwest. Those are the undiscovered things that mean something all the more when you and your family discover them."
In fact, Melisse Gelula says part of the fun of a road trip is the element of surprise. She made some surprise discoveries of her own while editing the book. One was the north central state of South Dakota. "I had never really thought about a trip to South Dakota. I know Mount Rushmore is located there, and a lot of folks make it a point to go to that national memorial. But really there are a ton of national parks in South Dakota, the most popular being the Badlands and the Black Hills. And it's an amazing place. The landscape at the Badlands National Park is otherworldly. It's purple with gold tinges. They have bison that roam free. It feels like you're on another planet. I'm really taken with what South Dakota has to offer."
If there is one unchanging rule for a road trip, says Melisse Gelula, it's that you shouldn't worry about a destination: "The emphasis is not on what you will do once you get there, and the journey being arduous and unpleasant. It's what you see out the car window, it's the time you spend with your kids or partner on the way somewhere, it's the great little diner you stumble upon. Getting there when you're traveling by road is the whole point."
Melisse Gelula is the editor of two new guides from Fodor's Travel Publications Great American Drives of the East and the West. Great American Drives of the East and of the West are published by Fodor's Travel Publications, 280 Park Avenue, New York, New York 10017.