The American Dream - take two
From the Blue Ridge Mountains of South Carolina to the Tampa Bay Ale Trail, Chris Leadbeater finds fresh ways to explore the US
It is a stretch to describe the US as “unsung“.
Here, after all, is one of the planet’s most famous countries. Stars and stripes. Skyscrapers and Superbowls. Land of the free.
But then, even iconic destinations have hidden corners. These 10 places – less known; hugely intriguing – are all deserving of the tourist gaze.
It can be tough being a second city. Pittsburgh (visitpittsburgh.com) understands this. It is not that Pennsylvania is a state no one has heard of; just that Philadelphia is usually first port of all. Its smaller sibling, in the west of the state near the border with Ohio, is surprisingly pleasing on the eye. It sits in the crook of the elbow formed by the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers, and is a huge fan base for American football and baseball. Art is never far away either – Pittsburgh was the childhood home of Andy Warhol and it salutes him via a seven-floor museum, awash with his work (warhol.org).
Cincinnati, Ohio (cincinnatiusa.com) deserves a broader profile. Its rich brewing heritage is still visible in its Over-the-Rhine (OTR) district. It also has a sober place in history as one of the key stops on the “underground railroad” that brought escaped slaves to freedom (dissected in detail at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Centre; freedomcenter.org). Cincinnati is also a gateway city, whether you want to head south to Kentucky and Tennessee, east to Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania, or north towards Detroit, Michigan and the Great Lakes.
Tampa (visittampabay.com) skulks on the west flank of Florida, semi-overlooked in a state that also offers Miami and Orlando – as well as the Keys.Florida’s Gulf Coast is arguably home to lovelier strips of sand than the Atlantic edge and Tampa is a convenient start-point for finding them. It also offers reasons to linger – not least the Tampa Bay Ale Trail, which links more than 60 craft breweries (tampabayaletrail.com).
Charleston, established by British settlers in 1670, is a staple of road trips in the South, but South Carolina (discoversouthcarolina.com) has much more to offer. Columbia, the state capital, is home to a thrilling restaurant scene in the Congaree Vista district. Other relatively unsung sights include the Blue Ridge Mountains in the north-west and Congaree National Park (nps.gov/cong), a protected slab of wetland where you hear little more than the squelch of your own feet.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
This national park (nps.gov/gumo) is a craggy enclave in southern Texas (traveltexas.com) – due east of El Paso, where the Chihuahuan Desert ebbs down to the Mexican border. It welcomed just 175,588 souls in 2017 (the last available figures). Each of them was able to enjoy, without having to fight for space, Guadalupe Peak, the highest mountain in the state, and El Capitan, an exposed bluff once used as a location marker by stagecoaches heading west. You’ll find the ruins of a stagecoach station near the Pine Springs Visitor Centre.
May 9 is the centenary of the Michigan State Park Commission, the body responsible for the area’s public lands. There are more than 100 such enclaves, ranging from Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park (michigan.org) on the north edge of the state, where the “Upper Peninsula” meets the waves of Lake Superior — to Milliken State Park and Harbor, a green lung in Detroit (michigan.org). The latter’s image as one of the US’s most damaged cities disguises a truth – that, quietly rustic in many places, Michigan (michigan.org) is an example of the US at its most unspoilt.
Squished between California and Washington, Oregon (traveloregon.com) is the west-coast state you haven’t thought of visiting. Aside from a growing awareness of its biggest city, Portland – which might be the country’s hipster capital (travelportland.com)– is the Pacific US’s little-known package. That it combines 476km of shoreline with the volcanic vistas of Cascade Mountains and Crater Lake National Park (nps.gov/crla only adds to its mystique.
This agricultural enclave at the heart of the country rarely features on must-visit lists.
Last October, Nebraska (visitnebraska.com) launched a campaign that laughed at its unflattering image. “Honestly, it’s not for everyone,” ran one self-deprecating slogan. “Famous for our flat, boring landscape,” said another. The adverts raised its profile and supplied a reminder that, in the likes of Scotts Bluff National Monument (nps.gov/scbl) and Chimney Rock National Historic Site (see national parks.org), Nebraska does have attractions that appeal to the camera.
Promontory Summit lies at the top end of Utah (visitutah.com), above the north edge of the Great Salt Lake. It is but a pinprick in perception compared with the state’s star attraction, Monument Valley. But it will have its moment on May 10 with the 150th anniversary of the Great Transcontinental Railroad. It was here that the first railway line to connect the east and west coasts of the US was finished a century and a half ago. The spot where the final nail was hammered in is now Golden Spike National Historic Site (nps.gov/gosp).
Colorado’s (colorado.com) cowboy folklore will receive a boost thanks to a twin anniversary. True Grit and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – classics of the Western film genre – turn 50 in 2019. Both were partly filmed in the state. The latter used the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge in the famous movie Railroad (durangotrain.com). – The Telegraph