Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Seven Wonders (Natural and Manmade) of US Route 6

US Route 6 runs clear across the United States through some spectacular landscapes.  It also touches areas, some remote, where brilliant and brave engineers and construction workers risked their lives to build a never-before-seen marvel.  Here are SEVEN WONDERS - both manmade and natural - to see on US Route 6.

Fort Hill
Cape Cod National Seashore, MA
1.  Cape Cod National Seashore, Cape Cod, MA: A National Park established by President John F. Kennedy, the National Seashore takes up nearly 75% of the whole of Cape Cod. With endless Atlantic Ocean views, wide sandy beaches and spectacular dunes, visiting the National Seashore should be on everyone's bucket list.

2. Kinzua Bridge/Viaduct, Smethport, PA;  - about 4 miles off of Route 6 outside of Smethport, the remains of the Kinzua Bridge took my breath away. It is difficult to fathom the extent of the destruction unless you actually see it in person.  In 1882, Octave Chinute (who also worked with the Wright Brothers) designed the bridge aerodynamically using no cross-braces. At 300 feet off the Valley Floor it was the highest bridge on the profitable New York - Erie Railroad line.  In 2003, a freak tornado tore it apart.  Now, visitors walk out onto the "Skywalk" and can stare into the valley and  the twisted remnants of the bridge - at no charge.

World's Largest Geodesic Dome
Henry Doorly Zoo
Omaha, NE
3. World's Largest Geodesic Dome, Henry Doorly Zoo, Omaha, NE: The“World’s Largest Geodesic Dome” contains both the “World’s Largest Indoor Desert” and beneath it “The World’s Largest Indoor Swamp.”  Yes, the zoo has the skyride, a miniature steam train, a tram, lots of animals in lots of habitats.  OK, it’s a ZOO, for goodness sakes.  But the enclosed deserts, caves and swamps in the dome set this place apart from all others I’ve seen.  There are sand-dunes big enough for ATVing inside!  And lots of exotic birds (like the Kookabura), mini-deer, meercats, pumas, roadrunners, quails, teals, fox, rattlesnake.  Any animal that lives in the desert lives here. Staying on a concrete path, you can’t get lost, which is helpful because downstairs in the nocturnal “Kingdom of Night” exhibit, it gets pretty dark as you descend to caves and then swampland where you’re practically blind as a bat, but with lots of company; there are fruit bats in droves. It’s like being in a haunted house, but with great, big-eyed animals and swimming beavers instead of ghosts.  Some little kids were screaming to get out.  I thought it was the coolest thing.

Continental Divide
Loveland Pass, Colorado

4. Loveland Pass/Continental Divide, ColoradoThe switchbacks, hairpin turns and heart-stopping drop offs are all part of the fun of Route 6 up and over the Continental Divide in a 22 mile stretch called Loveland Pass. Even in summer the drive might feature pea-soup fog and a bit of icy precipitation, but that won't stop hundreds of skiers from barreling down the still-operating Arapaho Basin, nicknamed A-Basin – the highest skiable terrain in the United States. 
Loveland Pass skirts the Eisenhower Tunnel.  The Tunnel prohibits tanker trucks, so those fire-traps on wheels have to negotiate the hairpin turns and switchbacks as well. Be prepared.

Glenwood Canyon on I70
Glenwood Springs, CO

5. Glenwood Canyon, CO on I70/US 6; A triumph in road engineering, this portion of I70 was completed just 20 years ago. Segments of the Glenwood Canyon roadway are cantilevered over the Colorado River, and I70 follows the very curvy path of the river, like a 14-mile side-winding snake.  In some instances Eastbound runs above Westbound lanes.    While driving, I saw a very long freight train hugging the canyon wall as well – on the opposite side of the river.  Cars and train were mirroring each other – a seemingly impossible and elegant dance. 

Colorado National Monument
Grand Junction, CO
6. Colorado National Monument, Grand Junction, CO:   This is not a man-made sculpture or little ole plaque, but what should be (and what is in line to be) a new National Park.  Columns of Red and white Navajo sandstone and Green Shale have eroded to form otherworldly shapes in the 11 canyons among the striated and weathered sandstone, and you can take day hikes or drive on an incredible 26-mile paved road. Though National Parks in Utah and elsewhere grab much of the "splendor of nature" attention, the Colorado National Monument rivals Arches, Brice or Zion in magnificence. 

Alabama Hills
Lone Pine, CA
7. Alabama Hills, Lone Pine, CA; Rock formations ready for their close-up.  Every single silent western, singing cowboy movie and later the movies that made John Wayne and Clint Eastwood household names all look the same – setwise.  That’s because they were all filmed in these strange, rounded sandstone formations called the Alabama Hills, just a couple of hours from Los Angeles.  

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