Contemplating something major? Going through life changes or trying to figure yourself out? We all go through periods of crisis or confusion, those when a little soul searching is in order. Divorce, marriage, break-ups, career moves, or even just the glaring need for different scenery can press down upon us. Those are times when exploring the world can open doors by opening your heart and mind to change.
Below and on the following pages are Roulez Magazine’s favorite places of contemplation in the continental U.S. and Canada, those promising plenty of opportunities for exploration and re-energizing. Take one of these relaxing road trips to find peace and the answers sought. Simply breathe the air in deeply and listen to the quiet. The big decision-making will then happen on its own.
Northern Beaches of the Outer Banks
The Continental U.S.’ most isolated beaches will likely not continue being the most isolated for much longer. Here, the wild Spanish mustangs of Corolla run free and you can, too. No roads lead to the most northern areas and you will either need a four wheel drive or readiness for a beautiful walk.
There are two starting points for taking in the most beauty and isolation. Either choose to launch your 4×4 with permit from Corolla in the Outer Banks or go by foot from Sandbridge, Virginia’s Little Island State Park. Of course, you can also go by foot from North Carolina’s beaches, but 4x4s do not gain access from Virginia. Little Island provides great parking, a Visitor’s Center and great boardwalks around the marshes and to the beach.
From Virginia you will pass few people as you walk, particularly during the gorgeous weather of autumn, winter and spring. These beaches are breathtaking year round, but tourists have not yet fully realized the incredible beauty and elbow room of cooler weather. When walking the beach, you may run across sea life such as breaching whales, dolphins, seals and beached jellyfish. Crabs are everywhere and other little creatures and waterfowl dance around on the sands and sky. If you are really lucky and make it far enough into the more isolated areas, you might encounter some of North Carolina’s wild mustangs.
Colonial Parkway, Yorktown and Jamestown
During summer crowds are quite thick at Virginia’s Jamestown and Yorktown. But during autumn, winter and spring, exploring these areas is just glorious. Seasonal changes can be breathtaking and the beginnings of our country can be felt everywhere, here. Fall is perhaps the most beautiful season of rich colors and provides incredible dressing of trees for the Colonial Parkway drive between Jamestown and Yorktown.
While Yorktown is a bit more crowded, it is a peaceful setting of gorgeous views and wonderful period architecture. Jamestown Island provides plenty of opportunity to explore quietly on its single lane loop through woods and historic sites. This is a relaxing getaway and place of decompression for people in and around Washington DC. A great weekend or multi-day trip.
Pt. Reyes National Seashore, California
Television commercials tout the “happy cows of California.” We found them. Drive the lush green hills of Pt. Reyes among those cows and baying elk, as well as foxes, bobcats, mountain lions, porcupine and jackrabbits. Walk the gorgeous beaches of plunging cliffs and roaring waves to visually interact with whales, fur seals, sea lions, dolphin, and elephant seals. Venture to the lighthouse of 1870, walk the quiet cemeteries of seamen, explore the culture of indigenous peoples, or simply sit on the sand and breathe the salt air. Truly one of the most magnificent places on the U.S. coasts.
Highways of Colorado and Southeast Utah
For a trip of many colors, altitudes, cultures and seasons all at once, either embark by car from Denver, Grand Junction or Salt Lake City. Plan a looping route including Interstate 70 through Colorado from Denver to Grand Junction.
Dip down into Moab and Arches National Park, through your choice of Canyonlands, Glen Canyon, Natural Bridges, and Rainbow Bridge parks. Or head into Zion and take on an intense hike like Angel’s Landing. Some people make it to the top of this well known cliff without problem. Others of us cry from fear at certain points. Regardless of your fear or lack thereof, the view from the top is simply incredible.
To cool down, cross into Colorado at or near Four Corners and literally stand in four states at once. Get a culture fix at the peaceful, undeveloped park of Hovenweep, where you can explore Puebloan-era prehistoric villages. Make your way to Great Sand Dunes National Park for an odd oasis of sand, water and biological habitat in a place you just wouldn’t expect. From there, venture through Southern Colorado on any highway of choice and enjoy more of Colorful Colorado at a slow pace.
Yes, Nebraska. Not generally thought of as a tourist attraction, Nebraska makes this list precisely because of that lack of consideration. You never know what you will find there, as we discovered when tornadoes followed us down one highway in between scheduled stops and elk crowded around us only hours later. This is Middle America, the Great Plains. Weather and seasons vary from the goldest of golds to the whitest of whites, providing an easy illustration of the state’s underlying drama and potential for discovery.
Visit the Agate Fossil Beds, Scotts Bluff, the Niobrara National Scenic River or Homestead National Monument. Just off Interstate 80 and Highway 26 – the Western Trails Historic and Scenic Byway – you can camp solo on the shores of Lake CW McConaughy feeling secure and at one with nature on the shoreline with the morning bringing a hot shower and some primping time, courtesy the lake’s fantastic park facilities.
Yellowstone in the Off Season
Not enough can be said about Yellowstone, particularly when visited slightly off-season when the crowds are gone but inclement weather has yet to take over. Truly one of the greatest examples of National Parks, Yellowstone provides so much opportunity for even the biggest greenhorns to convene with nature without straying too far from the car – if at all.
Our favorite starting point is from Salt Lake City, driving Interstate 80 and perhaps stopping for some Park City lunch and exploration or shopping there. Then head to Rock Springs, up to Jackson and the Grand Tetons. Take in the sights and energy of Harrison Ford’s Jackson Hole and enter Yellowstone through the Highway 191 gate. That highway will take you through to Idaho for a return to Salt Lake City, or you can venture deeper into Wyoming or Montana.
The East Coast is a hectic place. But Valley Forge, the encampment site of the Continental Army and thus a major hub for the beginnings of our country, offers a great peace and silence in the middle of so much modernity. Beautiful statues, historic cabins, and rolling fields enable quiet reflection upon the odds old George and his men were up against and provide natural settings for accumulation of strength against your own obstacles. Take your bike, running shoes, or roller blades to get the most out of the park. A great benefit of Valley Forge is its close proximity to the cities of Philadelphia and New York, so bright lights and the trappings of humanity are only a simple drive away.
The Yukon via the Alaska Highway
Canadian provinces, Alaska and the Alaska Highway are so laden with opportunities for isolation and introspection that they require more than a mere mention. However, one of the most striking places in the north has to be the Yukon. This is a difficult drive, often upon loose gravel. We blew three tires traversing this roadway – and that is two more tires than the typical car tends to have as “spare” – so really consider whether this is a route to be driven entirely alone. There was a period of two days during which we ran across only three or four other cars far into the Yukon, so waiting for someone else to come to your aid is likely not a good Plan B, depending upon the time of year. A smart, witty buddy makes this trip better, as does a padded wallet of cash in the event your tires must be special ordered from outside of Canada, too.
When driving the Alaska Highway, starting in Seattle and heading through Vancouver is a fantastic kickoff if you are up for the added hours. Regardless of how you get to the Yukon, try to do so during the season change into fall from late August to early September. Do not forget to factor in possible days of going only 20 or 30 miles per hour for miles upon end in the event of road construction. Upon arrival, the turquoise glacial streams, snow capped mountains, golden leaves, and crisp air will usher you in with open arms.
Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains
Idaho is second only to Alaska in terms of easy access to wilderness. There is so much wilderness, in fact, that we learned to follow the basic rules of leaving a trail of information in the event someone needs to find you, as well as to keep the gas tank as close to full as possible. Try to stay away from the touristy spots and get into the mountains. You will find magnificent colors, crystalline streams, natural hot springs, and the occasional Mom and Pop diner or grocery for great picnic fodder. We rounded one corner on the dirt and gravel roads deep in the Sawtooths and happened upon no less than a dozen nude men – presumably hunters or fishermen – smoking cigars and “hot tubbing” in a spring. Whatever happens in the Sawtooths stays in the Sawtooths.
A river does run through it. In fact, so many do that this is the greatest place to learn fly fishing or perfect your craft. Here, movement is all about the 10 o’clock-2 o’clock swishing of the fly rod and the science of which flies suit each river and time of day. Even for a novice fisherman or one raised with cane poles and bobbers, Montana is Heaven. One of the most interesting drives between fishing trips or mountain treks is that of Garnet Ghost Town. Garnet – a gold mining boom town from the 1860’s – exists just as it did as the last residents left in the early 20th century, primarily after a town fire of 1912. From December to April you can rent a Garnet cabin furnished to period authenticity. Because the road is gravel and off the beaten path, Garnet is a wonderful day-long side trip whether you are exploring Butte or Missoula.