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20 Great American Drives

A friend had suggested Red Sky, in Southwest Harbor, for dinner. I phoned. There was a single seat left—at the bar. (Triumph of the solo traveler!) I found everything endearing: the local artists' paintings on the faux-finish walls, and the owners, a husband maître d' and wife bartender, who chatted with me as I sat at the bar with my Philip Roth and house Pinot Grigio. After shrimp dumplings, lobster risotto, and Belgian bitter chocolate pudding, it didn't matter that I was alone—I was in heaven.

I'd discovered a pleasant comfort in traveling by myself. I'd gone at my own pace, hiked, swum, eaten when it suited me, pampered myself without guilt, interacted with only a little awkwardness. The next morning I drove south to pick up my girls, taking Routes 202 and 9, beautiful back roads through farmland and small towns. Outside Unity, a rock kicked up into my front right tire with a deafening noise, and a few yards later I had a flat and a cracked wheel. Driving carefully on the doughnut spare, I reached a fork in the road: a right turn would lead me to my daughters; to the left, a sign pointed to a town called Freedom. I didn't mind saving that particular byway for another trip.

12 Montana MILES 315. DRIVING TIME Two days. Even the interstate makes for a magnificent ride on this passage into Montana along the jagged Bitterroot Mountains. Take I-15 north from Idaho Falls, Idaho, go 145 miles to Dillon, Montana; then veer northwest on 278. After 48 miles, soak road-weary bones in the outdoor pool at Jackson Hot Springs Lodge (888/438-6938; $5). Continue to Wisdom, then take Montana 43 over Chief Joseph Pass to U.S. 93 and head north. At Darby, spend the night at the ultra-luxe Triple Creek Ranch (800/654-2943; www.triplecreekranch.com; cabins from $510, all-inclusive). From there, it's 65 miles to Missoula and I-90.

13 Massachusetts MILES 75. DRIVING TIME Half a day. An afternoon's drive from Boston encircles salty Cape Ann and recalls the state's seafaring history. Take U.S. 1A north from Boston, driving 22 miles to Beverly. From there, follow Massachusetts 127 east to the old port city of Gloucester. Stop here to browse the storefronts of the Rocky Neck Art Colony (www.cape-ann.com/rocky-neck), a neighborhood of winding streets lined with galleries and restaurants overlooking the inner harbor. Continue east on 127 and 127A, roads that hug the cape coast and offer miles of beaches, islands, and coves to explore.

14 Pennsylvania MILES 90. DRIVING TIME Half a day. Generations of Amish and Mennonite families have made Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, one of the country's richest—and most charming—agricultural areas. An hour west of Philadelphia via U.S. 30 are historic market towns such as Willow Street, Strasburg, and Bird-in-Hand. The back road to each typically measures less than 10 miles, but the drive will take a good part of your day, allowing for stops at antiques shops and historic sites—and horse-drawn-buggy traffic. Finish in Lancaster city's bustling Central Market (717/291-4739) for tasty baked goods and equally delicious people-watching.

15 Puerto Rico MILES 100. DRIVING TIME One day. The Panoramic Route network over Puerto Rico's mountain spine leads past waterfalls, forests of mahogany and bamboo, coffee plantations, and communities of houses set on stilts. At Cayey, 25 miles south of San Juan on Highway 52, head west, and up, on Highway 14. At Barranquitas, pick up Highway 143 to Adjuntas. From there, Highway 10 takes you south and down, to Ponce, on the coast. Give yourself the whole day for climbs, switchbacks, and snack breaks at roadside empanada stands.

16 Vermont MILES 125. DRIVING TIME One day. Take a lazy tour of several New England islands on a loop of Lake Champlain, starting in Burlington, Vermont. Follow I-89 north to U.S. 2 west, which crosses the lake via a chain of islands dotted with dairy farms and bucolic villages. On the western shore, head south on New York 9B and then U.S. 9, in the shadow of the Adirondack Mountains. Stop to walk or raft at breathtaking Ausable Chasm (518/834-7454; www.ausablechasm.com), a deep gorge known as the Grand Canyon of the East. From Port Kent, return to Burlington by Lake Champlain Ferries (802/864-9804; www.ferries.com).

17 Texas MILES 275. DRIVING TIME Two days. This route reveals the parched, mountainous terrain of the state's Big Bend region. From I-10, take 17 south to Fort Davis, then drive four miles on 118 to the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute (432/364-2499; www.cdri.org), for trails surrounded by native flora. Continue south on 170 west, a route with spectacular views along the Rio Grande. At U.S. 67, drive north for32 miles, and overnight in a historic fort on the highly civilized Cibolo Creek Ranch (866/496-9460; www.cibolocreekranch.com; doubles from $450, all-inclusive). The next day, return to I-10 at your leisure.

18 California: Green Acres

by Mary Tonetti Dorra

Visiting California gardens in the spring is like visiting Paradise. At least that's what financiers, industrialists, and railroad tycoons believed in the early 1900's. The Huntingtons, Blisses, Armours, and other wealthy families were totally sold on the Golden State once they'd viewed the Pacific Ocean below San Francisco, the rolling hills of San Luis Obispo County, the towering redwoods in Monterey County, the jagged mountain ranges along the outskirts of Santa Barbara and Los Angeles.

I, too, have always been impressed by the state's natural beauty. But in the 25 years I have been writing and lecturing about America's horticultural heritage—its diverse climates and topography, its love of planted areas embraced by the land's majesty—I have never spent much time in my own backyard. I recently decided to explore the gardens of California, from Los Angeles to San Francisco, to find out what made each one unique, yet all of them distinctly American.

My tour began just 20 minutes from downtown Los Angeles, and my travel companion was John Irving—or rather, the characters in the Books on Tape versions of his 158-Pound Marriage, The Water-Method Man, and, most appropriately, A Widow for One Year (that was my state at the time). My first stop was the 160-acre Descanso Gardens in the suburb of La Cañada Flintridge, where I found thousands of camellias growing in such healthy abundance it almost took my breath away. In 1948 E. Manchester Boddy, a newspaper publisher and camellia enthusiast, helped bring Camellia reticulata—enormous six-inch ruffled blooms from China's Yunnan province—to the West. In addition to the reticulata camellias, the sasanqua and japonica varieties complete Descanso's collection of more than 40,000 tree-sized specimens, which produce blooms from December to April. Unlike many walled European public gardens, fencing at Descanso is cleverly hidden by grass and plantings. This creates the illusion of an unplanned unlimited space, in keeping with the open-garden tradition exemplified by Jens Jensen and the Prairie School Movement.

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