Join us as we take a photographic journey down our favorite roads in the country for our Top 5 Scenic Roads list. We hope you’ll enjoy a few peaceful moments traveling the open road with us and perhaps use these as suggestions for future trips of your own. Happy Virtual Travels!
Coming in at #5 is The Enchanted Highway, a 32-mile scenic road that runs through the rolling hills of North Dakota farm country between the towns of Regent and Gladstone and is home to the world’s largest collection of scrap metal sculptures. Spread along the highway are eight giant sculptures- The Tin Family, Teddy Rides Again, Pheasants on the Prairie, Grasshoppers in the Field, Geese in Flight, Deer Crossing, Fisherman’s Dream, and Spider Webs. The idea for the Enchanted Highway was developed by a local artist and former school principal in 1989 in hopes of bringing tourism to his hometown of Regent. Well, it definitely worked for us! The Enchanted Highway was much more fun that we’d anticipated and well worth the detour off of I-94.
The #4 Scenic Road on our Top 5 list is the High Road to Taos in New Mexico. To get from Taos to Santa Fe there are two options, the more direct Low Road, which follows US 84/285 to Espanola, then US 68 to Taos; or the beautiful and scenic High Road that winds 56 gorgeous miles through high desert, forest, mountains, and numerous small villages. Each of the historic villages are charming in their own way and if time permits, you should take the time to check them all out; but if that’s not possible, there are a few shouldn’t be missed. Not far from Santa Fe is Chimayo, a tiny town best known for El Santuario de Chimayó, a Catholic chapel built in 1816 and visited by more than 300,000 people each year. Further up the road, the village of Las Trampas, founded in 1751, is home to the San José de Gracia Church, one of the “least-altered examples of a Spanish Colonial Pueblo mission church”. The final town before reaching Taos is Talpa, home of the tiny Nuestra Señora de San Juan de los Lagos del Rio Chiquito church. Although Talpa wasn’t settled until the 1700s, Taos Pueblo ancestors made the area home in the mid-13th to mid-14th centuries. From end to end, the views are beautiful and the history bountiful!
The #3 scenic road on our Top 5 list is Nevada State Route 375, better known as the Extraterrestrial Highway. Starting just past the intersection of 375 and US 93, also the home of E-T- Fresh Jerky- a quirky gift shop providing a place for you to “drop your toxic waste in the cleanest restrooms in Area 51” and numerous fun photo ops, the highway runs for 98 miles through the harsh Nevada desert to the old mining town of Tonopah. The Extraterrestrial Highway gets its name due to the fact that it runs alongside the Nevada Test and Training Range, home to Area 51. While most of the road is empty with expansive views for miles and miles and miles, there are a few stops that you shouldn’t miss. The first is the Alien Research Center, which is really just another quirky gift shop. Frequently closed, luck was on our side and we found the shop open, where we signed the wall and picked up a small bottle of Alien Tequila- because, why not? Near the midway point is the “town” of Rachel, NV, home to 40 people and the Little A’Le’Inn, where you can grab a World Famous Alien Burger or a room for the night. Past Rachel, the best part of the drive (in our opinion) awaits you. Less than 200 cars per day travel the Extraterrestrial Highway, which means that you can – and should – lie down in the middle of the (potentially very hot, take it from us!) road and have your picture taken. We didn’t see any aliens on our trip, but there have many reports of UFO and other sightings over the years…maybe you’ll be one of the lucky ones!
Our Top 5 Scenic Road list is down to #2! U.S. Route 16A, also known as Iron Mountain Road, is a 17-mile stretch of narrow, windy road in the Black Hills of South Dakota. With 314 curves, more than a dozen switchbacks, three one-lane tunnels designed to perfectly frame Mount Rushmore (when traveling north), three wooden pigtail bridges (a bridge that loops over its own road), and tons of gorgeous views, it’s an experience that especially appealed to the North by Northwest fans in us. We drove south on our first visit to the Black Hills and thought it was beautiful, so imagine how excited we were to travel north the second time and experience the road in all of its glory. Any visit to Mount Rushmore should include a drive on Iron Mountain Road – headed north – even if it means turning around and driving it twice!
The longest on our list, at 122.863 miles, Scenic Byway 12 in Utah is #1 on our Top 5 Scenic Road list. Running from the junction with US 89 near Panguitch to State Route 24 near Torrey, Scenic Byway 12 offers beautiful view after beautiful view, passing through national parks and monuments, state parks, forests, slickrock canyons, and by red rock cliffs, hoodoos, and mountains. Traveling from west to east, the byway travels through Red Canyon (and your first glimpse of hoodoos), through the quaint towns of Tropic, Cannonville, Henrieville, Escalante, and Boulder, over the Hogback and its lunar-like landscapes, and eventually into Capital Reef National Park. Much of the route is within the massive and remote Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which holds the designation of being the last land to be mapped in the contiguous US. Give yourself plenty of time to take in the views, be sure visit one (or all) of the parks just off the byway for a hike (we did 3!), and a full camera battery- this is one drive you won’t forget!