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It’s Road Trip Season!

Americans love to travel. Immigration, Manifest Destiny, the Great Migration—the instinct to light out for Somewhere Else seems coded into our national DNA. In honor of that ancestral urge, the July/August issue of The Saturday Evening Post features road trips inspired by the pioneer routes and trails that opened up this country to expansion. Here are two bonus trips worth considering for your summer travels.

Riding with the Rail-Splitter

The Lincoln Highway, dedicated in 1913, originally ran from New York’s Times Square to San Francisco’s Lincoln Park. Once known as “America’s Main Street,” most of the original route has long since been decommissioned or assimilated into other, newer highways. But a stretch of the original alignment still runs through northern Illinois, from the Chicago metro area to the Mississippi River. Redesignated as a national scenic byway, the 179-mile Illinois Lincoln Highway now makes a perfect weekend jaunt.

Blackhawk Statue
© July 2002 Illinois Lincoln Highway Coalition

Along the Highway, wander the tree-lined streets of Geneva, still graced by Federal-era homes as well as quaint shops in the still-vibrant downtown section (www.genevadowntown.org). Prefer outdoor recreation? Play a few holes at one of the half-dozen golf courses scattered along the Highway, or enjoy hiking, fishing, or touring a historic grist mill at Franklin Creek Natural Area (www.franklingroveil.org). Take in sights such as the majestic Black Hawk statue towering above the Rock River, where paddle-wheeler riverboats still ply the waters (cruises run April through November: www.oregonil.com). Or learn about one of the iconic names in American industry at the John Deere Historic Site, where the great blacksmith perfected “the plow that broke the plains” (Grand Detour, Illinois, 815-652-4551).

Wherever you stop along the way, keep an eye out for the original mile markers. To prove the project’s viability—and the advantages of paved roads, at a time when the concept was still a novel one—the Lincoln Highway was first paved in short stretches called “seedling miles,” which are marked by commemorative signs (www.drivelincolnhighway.com).

Road to Ruins

Car travel is a great way to get from place to place. But an expedition on the Trail of the Ancients—which runs through parts of Colorado and Utah—is a trip back in time. That’s because the Trail is dotted with some of the oldest and best-preserved Native American archeological sites in the entire country. Take a week roaming the Trail’s 480 miles, and catch a glimpse of this corner of America as it was before the coming of Europeans. In Mesa Verde National Park alone, hundreds of cliff dwellings are little changed with the passage of centuries (www.visitmesaverde.com). At the nearby Anasazi Heritage Center in Dolores, Colorado, history comes alive with interactive exhibits, hands-on activities, and live demonstrations of tribal lifeways (970-882-5600). Walk in the footsteps of the Ancestral Puebloan people at Edge of the Cedars State Park and Museum in Blanding, Utah (closed Sundays: www.stateparks.utah.gov), exploring the ruins of an ancient settlement.

Mesa Verde dwellings
© 2006 John Mocko

Farther along the Trail, you’ll find some of the most stunning and iconic scenery in the Southwest. The soaring sandstone buttes of Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park (www.navajonationparks.org) are familiar from dozens of Hollywood Westerns; about 30 miles to the northeast, the lesser-known Valley of the Gods offers vistas less familiar but no less ravishing. Leave time for a rafting trip on the San Juan River, booked through Wild Rivers Expeditions (800-422-7654 or www.riversandruins.com). End your journey at Four Corners Monument, the only spot in the U.S. where you can stand in four states at once. (At press time, the park was scheduled to reopen in June, 928-871-6647.)

To plan a complete itinerary, explore the National Scenic Byways Project at www.byways.org.

For more inspiring trips, including the Historic National Road, the Natchez Trace Parkway, and the Great River Road National Scenic Byway, look for the Jul/Aug 2010 issue of The Saturday Evening Post (on newsstands the first week of July) or subscribe here.

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