Malerie Yolen-Cohen is a newspaper and magazine feature travel writer with an “abiding affection for long road trips.” When her youngest son left home for college, she finally had time to take her dream-drive across country. She researched “longest road in the US” before beginning her journey of discovery on US Route 6.
Here are excerpts from my interview with Malerie about her new book:
Where does Route 6 begin, where does it end, and what are the most important stops along the way?
US Route 6, also known as the Grand Army of the Republic Highway, begins (or ends, depending on your orientation) in Provincetown, Massachusetts and stretches 3,205 miles later to Bishop, California. It used to go all the way down to Long Beach, at which point it was 3,652 miles, before California renumbered its roads in 1964.
My book covers both the current and historic parts of the highway. Route 6 is really a time-line of US History. It begins where the Pilgrims first set food on land in the New World (though they settled in Plymouth, they spent 5 weeks in what is now Provincetown), continues into Connecticut where Revolutionary War troops marched and camped, then through pioneer communities in the Plains states, goes through silver and gold mining camps in Colorado, Utah and Nevada, and ends at an epicenter of aerospace testing in the Mojave desert.
How did you conduct the research necessary to write the book?
No one had ever written a guide specific to US Route 6 in any great detail. I conducted a good 6 to 8 months of extensive research prior to the trip itself. Then, I actually did the drive over 1 1/2 months covering all 3,652 miles. I blogged daily with photos and video clips, with the intention of writing a guidebook.
What are some of the surprises a traveler might encounter on the road?
Route 6 is full of surprises, particularly in the middle of the country; there are CIA (Culinary Institute of America) trained chefs and gourmet bistros in the unlikeliest of places. There’s a 7-foot boulder in the middle of cornfield Iowa (Freedom Rock) painted every Memorial Day with the ashes of fallen vets. There’s a precision/trick riding youth group outside of Denver that conducts drills on summer eves as the sun sets over the Rocky Mountains and visitors are welcome to watch; a heart-stopping attraction for sure. There are so many others.
Are there any interesting historical facts you might be able to share about the road?
US Route 6 was never meant to be a coast-to-coast road. In 1926, when the newly established Highway Association created a US grid map, Route 6 was designed to span from Provincetown, Massachusetts to Brewster, New York only. But as roads improved to the West, other states wanted to be included and, 14 states later, US Route 6 became a transcontinental highway in 1937.
What are your favorite towns/cities along the way and why?
As a travel writer, I’ve always favored the “phoenix” towns; those that have risen from the ashes. In that respect, Cleveland, OH was one of my favorite cities because it was so disparaged, yet has so much vibrancy and culture. Yes, it’s got the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (one of the highlights of the whole route), but Cleveland also features the most concentrated area of museums in the country (University Circle), funky shops, revitalized neighborhoods and restaurant districts. Not for nothing does The Chew star, Michael Symon champion his hometown.
Other towns on Route 6? Iowa City enchanted me. An East Coast girl, I truly expected cornfields and instead got a very mod NY-style hotel (hotel vetro), and a newly designated UNESCO “City of Literature.” Such a cool place. Omaha, Nebraska, too, was a revelation to me. The “give back” aura of Warren Buffet’s hometown was palpable; most of the larger art and cultural institutions were gifts to the city from people who had made their fortunes there. No big surprise that Boys Town – a comfort for troubled kids – is also located there. I fell in love with Omaha.
Are there any interesting particular places to stay overnight?
Belfry Inn in Sandwich, Massachusetts was formerly a Catholic Church. It’s now a luxury B&B complete with a Zagat highly rated restaurant. And Route 6 travelers have to stay at the Nevada Hotel in Ely, Nevada. It was the tallest building in the state when the Hollywood glam set from the ’30’s and 40’s chose to stay there, as it was halfway between LA and the Sun Valley Ski resort. Now, it’s a biker and gambler magnet with cheap rooms and suites ($69 for a suite includes free drinks!)
Any places to eat that you would recommend?
Chillingsworth on Cape Cod (in Brewster, MA) was my top pic for restaurants on the route, though many more deserve mention. Too many to mention here!
Who might want to read this book?
Anyone with time and inclination to take a cross-country road trip and/or lovers of US History and motorcyclists will love to travel along US Route 6. Even people who can’t make the trip can be “armchair travelers.” It is that rare cross-country voyage where you don’t take various routes and road; you let one road take you. And it takes you to some of the friendliest cities and towns in the country where tourists wouldn’t ordinarily go.
Available from Amazon.