Yes, Interstate Highway 10 rather than Route 66 – and that’s for several reasons. Firstly Route 66 no longer exists and hasn’t since 1985. Some small sections still survive as museum pieces, such as between Flagstaff and Kingman in Arizona, but as a long distance highway, sadly, it is no more.
Secondly, Route 66 connected only a lake to an ocean, Chicago on Lake Michigan to Santa Monica in California on the Pacific, whereas Interstate Highway 10 (normally abbreviated to just I-10) connects two oceans, from Jacksonville in Florida on the Atlantic to Santa Monica.
A third, but less important reason, is that the I-10 at 2,460 miles in length is about 10 miles longer than Route 66 ever was, and is the fourth longest highway in the US after the more northerly Interstates 40, 80 and 90.
Now, 2,460 miles is a good long way, certainly to us English who see a trip from London to Glasgow as a major expedition. And I admit I haven’t travelled the whole length myself. However, I have driven the first 50 miles from Jacksonville, the middle 1,500 miles from New Orleans to Phoenix, and the final 250 miles from Quartzsite (an old mining town of course) to Santa Monica, so I think I’ve got a good feel of the road.
The I-10 itself is an uninteresting dual carriageway running almost directly east-west through eight states, with few twists and turns. When travelling on the road in Texas between San Antonio and El Paso, my sat nav indicated 533 miles to the next junction – must be some kind of record!
However, the places you pass through and near are some of the most scenic and interesting in the whole of the USA. Here are some of my highlights along the I-10, going from east to west.
Jacksonville – Although it is not on most visitors’ itineraries when visiting Florida, Jacksonville has many interesting places to visit, including the Kingsley Plantation with its original slave houses and grounds teeming with armadillos. The Budweiser Brewery is also worth a visit, but not when you are driving, as you can choose four sample beers to taste at the end of the free guided tour!
New Orleans – There are lots of festivals in New Orleans throughout the year, but the best is Mardi Gras. That doesn’t mean you have to visit on Mardi Gras Tuesday; the processions start a month before and then build up to a crescendo. I visited a week before Mardi Gras, a good decision; there were lots of processions to watch, the nightlife was great – even for a senior traveller like myself – and hotel rooms were available without breaking the bank. This is definitely the place to get your kicks on Route 10. The atmosphere draws you in and entices you to stay and enjoy the street music, the Creole food and sunsets over the bayous.
Houston – Visit the Space Center where so much drama has focused over the past 50 years, including Apollo 13’s ‘Houston we’ve had a problem here’ message to Mission Control. Maybe it doesn’t have as much hardware around as the Cape Kennedy Space Centre, but it’s the atmosphere that makes it unmissable.
San Antonio – The second largest city in Texas after Houston, is a surprisingly interesting place, with a five mile Riverside Walk one storey below street level. Restaurants and shops line the walkway, intermingled with trees and well-tended gardens. Back at surface level, the Alamo provides a good Texan history lesson (Davy Crockett and 1836) and the Tower of Americas gives panoramic city views.
El Paso – Not too much to see here, unless you fancy slipping over the border into Mexico, in which case your relatives may have to pay to get you back! The next section of the I-10 from El Paso through New Mexico is very much ‘Breaking Bad’ territory.
Tucson, Saguaro National Park – We all know the massive saguaro cacti, and have maybe seen the odd one or two in glasshouses in botanic gardens. But the Saguaro National Park has thousands and thousands of them – it’s almost a cactus forest.
Palm Springs, Joshua Tree National Park – Allow plenty of time to follow the 25 mile park road leading from the I-10, and back on to the I-10 near Palm Springs. In addition to the forest of strangely-shaped Joshua trees and ancient rock artwork, look out for the San Andreas Fault, dramatically visible from hills in the western part of the park.
Los Angeles – Where do you start with Los Angeles? I suppose a visit to the Griffiths Observatory is obligatory in order to see the iconic ‘Hollywood’ sign and take in the panoramic views over central Los Angeles. And I suppose Hollywood Boulevard with its Walk of Fame and more than 2,500 brass stars can’t be missed, along with a film studio visit. For a pleasant, peaceful escape from Tinseltown, I recommend the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden nestling in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains.
Santa Monica – And the Pacific Ocean. You can relax on the Santa Monica State Beach with its pier and aquarium or head a few miles south to the more racy and touristy Venice Beach.
These are just a few of my own particular highlights, there is much else to see and do close to the I-10 route. Also, because this is the southern-most transcontinental route, bad weather is not a problem – other than the odd hurricane of course! I travelled the middle part of the route in February and had sunshine and afternoon temperatures of 20-25 degrees C all the way.
Whether you get your kicks from big cities or wide open spaces, it’s definitely true to say that Route 10 has much to offer. You’ll need a couple of weeks minimum to drive the whole length, but it’s a journey you’ll most certainly never forget!
For more information about planning a road trip in the USA, including advice about car hire, accommodation, travel insurance and money, see: Memphis to Las Vegas via Houston.