Birth of the Scenic Side Trip

A road trip is more than just a drive from Point A to Point B; it’s a journey of discovery and, in my opinion, it’s the best possible way to experience the world. Unlike buses, trains, or guided tours, you get to make your own choices, and set your own pace. If you see something that looks interesting, or a scenic viewpoint that appeals to you, you can simply pull over and stop, for as long and as often as you’d like. There are roads that can take you practically everywhere, so the possibilities are limitless—at least, theoretically.

Budget is obviously a factor, but for most people, the constraint that overrides all others is time. You only get just so many vacation days, so unless you’re retired or between jobs, there IS a limit to how long you can be gone, and that sets the limit on how far you can go. That being the inescapable truth, it’s best to have at least the outline of a plan.

Too much information found in some road trip guides!
Photo by Rick Quinn

Personally, I like to travel without a fixed itinerary, and without advance reservations that might limit my choices. I even take it a step further: I rarely, if ever, read about the places that I’m going until I get there. I prefer to leave room for serendipity, and the intense sense of wonder that comes along with any truly unexpected marvel. “Breath-taking” is an accurate description of Kluane Lake, a true gem of a scenic wonder in Canada’s Yukon Territory. I’d never heard of it until I came around a curve on the Alaska Highway and saw the incredible vista of Kluane Lake, seen at the top of this page. Now, after-the-fact, it’s one of my all-time favorite views!

Not reading the guide book until after you’ve been to a place might seem a bit backwards, and I’ll admit there have been times when I’ve regretted not knowing certain things in advance of traveling somewhere, but despite my best intentions, I keep using that same approach. My biggest problem is the guide books themselves. They tend to be so densely packed with information that my eyes glaze over; some are so bad you need a magnifying glass to read them.

I don’t want to know about every single hotel and restaurant in every city and town and every single thing there is to see and do over every hill and dale. It’s too hard for me to zero in on the details that might actually be of interest—to separate the wheat from the chaff. Most of those books read like they were written by a committee and assembled from a kit. Me, I’d rather have the informed opinion of an actual person, so I wait until I get to a place, and l find a visitor’s center, or a local diner, souvenir shop, or whatever’s there, and I talk to the local people. Most of the time, I’ll get the inside scoop, right out of the gate.

Derived from p. 38 in “RoadTrip America Arizona and New Mexico: 25 Scenic Side Trips” by Rick Quinn
Map designed by Chris Erichsen

What I’ve always wanted to see is a guide book that takes the best of both approaches, a book based on informed opinion that cuts right straight to the good stuff, with just enough background to put it in context. When I decided to write a book about road trips in Arizona and New Mexico, I structured the plan to create the kind of guide I had always sought.

I got out my maps, and I pinpointed all the good stuff. National Parks and Monuments, natural wonders, historic sites, and curiosities. Then I highlighted all the best driving roads, the named Scenic Byways along with the best-kept local secrets. At first it seemed an impossible task, connecting all that stuff together, much less holding the drives to a single day. Where should each day begin, and where should it end? As I pondered that question, and studied my maps, an idea came to me. What if each route began at an exit off one of the Interstate Highways? And what if, at the end of each route, the traveler was led back to the Interstate Highway, preferably somewhere near a town, where they can find lodging if they’re ready to stop for the night?

With that in mind, I started connecting the dots, and a pattern emerged: the end of one route could be the beginning of the next! Each route was essentially a detour off the Interstate: a Scenic Side Trip! I plotted all the possibilities, and over the summer and fall of 2016 I drove 11,000 miles though Arizona and New Mexico, taking nearly 7,000 photographs, along with detailed notes to supplement my preliminary research. I talked to the people on the ground as I went along, and I did a lot more research after-the-fact. When I was done with all of that, I wrote the book: RoadTrip America Arizona and New Mexico: 25 Scenic Side Trips, which will be published April 3rd of 2018 by Imbrifex Books.

It’s the kind of guide book that I’ve always wished for. And I couldn’t be more proud of the way it turned out.

Next up: North, to Alaska!

Rick Quinn

Rick Quinn

Rick Quinn was born and raised in Arizona, earned a degree in anthropology, then hit the road, indulging an admittedly peculiar whim by hitch-hiking to Tierra del Fuego. In one way or another, he’s been on the road ever since, living in a dozen diverse locales, from Paris to Peru, San Francisco to Washington D.C., working as a photographer, a coffee farmer, a magazine writer, a postman, a novelist, and, until his recent retirement, a corporate-level financial systems expert with the Postal Service. Rick is a veteran road tripper who has driven both the Alaska Highway and the Pan American. Rick's RoadTrip America, Arizona and New Mexico: 25 Scenic Side Trips was published in April, 2018 by Imbrifex Books,

One thought to “Birth of the Scenic Side Trip”

  1. The maps and the attractions identified by Rick Quinn in this book provide a glimpse into some of the lesser known places that road trippers appreciate and savor. We are very pleased to be promoting this work!

Comments are closed.