Thursday, August 24, 2006

Roads to Drive: September 2006

September may mark the end of summer, but for many it means peak season for road trips. Since schools are back in session there are fewer crowds and cars on the roads, while in most places the weather can be as nice as any time of year. Coastal areas often experience what used to be called (in pre-PC times...) "Indian Summer", while in the mountains the trees begin their famous "fall color" transformation from leafy green to fiery red and gold.

So now is the time to plan one last great trip for 2006, and here are a few ideas of where to go.

Drive of the Month: Olympic Peninsula
The end of summer is perhaps the best time to take a tour of the amazing region around Seattle. Not only are rains unlikely to dampen your day, September in Seattle means it's time for Bumbershoot, the unlikely-named Labor Day Weekend (September 1st-4th) festival of live music, art, and poetry that’s been a blast for 35 years. Bumbershoot is held at the Seattle Center, where the landmark Space Needle stands near the voluptuous curves of the Experience Music Project, dedicated to local guitar god Jimi Hendrix. Seattle itself is a fantastically fun place to visit, and makes a great base for exploring the mountains, islands, and volcanoes that surround the Puget Sound. Heading east, take US-2 over the Cascade Mountains to Lake Chelan, the Ohme Gardens, or Grand Coulee Dam. Heading west, hop a ferry past the magical San Juan Islands to the historic towns of Port Gamble and Port Townsend. Continuing along, loop around the rugged peaks of Olympic National Park, where glaciers and mountain lakes rise high above the mossy green foothill jungles of the Hoh River Rainforest. Hikers will have a field day--or longer--here, but you can also relax along the shores of fjord-like Lake Crescent or wander along the driftwood-strewn sands of Kalaloch Beach. Another attraction are the grand lodges at Lake Crescent and the forests of Lake Quinault.

And if fabulous festivals and stunning scenery aren't enough, you can also share in the celebrations of two very different Pacific Northwest cultures: At the northwest tip of the continent, the Makah Indians have established a wonderful museum at Neah Bay, while further south on the shores of Gray's Harbor, the rough-hewn town of Hoquiam hosts the "Loggers Playday," a September 9th showcase of chainsaw carving, log-rolling, and other lumberjacking skills.

Meanwhile, up in Maine:
Fall color peaks almost everywhere in October, but by the middle of the September leaves in northern New England have usually started to turn. There are many great "fall color" roads all over the eastern USA, but it's hard to beat a driving tour along the Appalachian Trail, which starts atop Mount Katahdin and makes its way south to Springer Mountain in northern Georgia. In September, some of the best "leaf-peeping" spots are found in northwestern Maine, between the prep school town of Bethel and the mill town of Rumford. Try Hwy-26 through Grafton Notch, Hwy-17 along the Swift River toward Rangeley Lakes, or Hwy-113 up to Evans Notch.

Out West:
Before the snows start to fall, enjoy a last taste of a Wild West summer by driving scenic US-93 in the 200-year-old footsteps of Lewis and Clark. Cruise through the ruggedly beautiful canyons and vallleys of Montana and Idaho. While you're here, meat-eaters might like to enjoy a taste of western hospitality: from noon on Saturday September 16th, the town of Mackay Idaho has a massive "Free BBQ," with all the beef you can eat.


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