We generally head off the beaten track and that resulted in us using some of America's and Canada's unmade roads where the scenery is spectacular and unspoiled. We have put a few ideas and thoughts on here along with other peoples contributions and ideas. Feel free to contribute if you have any back country routes in America or Canada you'd like to share. E-mail them to us and we'll be sure to post them.
1. In Clarksdale, Mississipi, stay at the Shack Up Inn. I know you all are camping, but here's the thing, at the Shack Up, you stay in former slave cabins on Hopson's plantation which have not been changed to be fancy. They are decorated with odds and ends that people have brought from all over the world, and if you like music it is a promised land. Everyone there is fun loving, and the only rule is that there are no rules. There is a bar - that is illegal - in the commissary, and it is on you honor. You just take what you want and put your money in the jar. Make sure to check their Website for available shacks... its ok to stay in a Cotton Gin Room, but what you REALLY want is a Shack.
The Shack Up Inn is kind of a secret place that most people stumble on. I hope you make it there and whatever you do, if you go, plan to stay several nights. Its not the kind of place you crash at for one night.
2. And since your in Clarksdale, you need to take in several locations while you are there. Ground Zero Blues Club - owned by actor Morgan Freeman and just simply amazing - heck you could stay a night there too. They have rooms with pallets on the floor like in the 1930s where you can pass out if you get too drunk. Then stroll up the Road to Madidi - Morgan's AMAZING restaurant - it is one of the finest I Have ever eaten in, and please know that I am a culinary instructor at UMass, so I take food kind of seriously. Visit the Delta Blues Museum while in Clarksdale and learn how you are standing at the ACTUAL cross roads where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil, and the birthplace of blues and rock and roll music world wide. Its a pretty incredible feeling.
3. Then, as you travel on, take a moment to head through Bandera, Texas. Bandera is the "Cowboy Capital of the World." Once again, the place you want to spend several nights. Just a really funky town that is in the middle of nowhere. The people are nice and the bars are a ton of fun. Real old fashioned, saw dust on the floor, that feel like you're pulling back the curtain on a culture you're not really supposed to be seeing.
We've literally just done the coast between Santa Barbara and San Francisco and are sure you'll love it. Alongside the beaches/waterfront and drive itself, other highlights (for us!) were Mission Santa Barbara and the Santa Barbara Court House, Hearst Castle and Carmel.
With regards to the bit from San Francisco to Colorado and back there are obviously many options including whether you wanted to see the Grand Canyon again or just give it a miss:
Here's a bit of a circular route for you to consider - I haven't driven all of it (yet!)
San Francisco (San Jose - Winchester House) King's Canyon NP - Sequoia NP - Sherman Pass Road - Death Valley (option Cerro Gordo Road/White Mountain Talc Rd/Saline Valley Alternate Rte back to 190) Furnace Creek - Beatty (Rhyolite Ghost Town) back into Death Valley via Titus Canyon then right to Scotty's Castle double back to finish with Badwater Basin and Dantes View - Las Vegas (via Indian Springs (where we work) or via Wheeler Pass from Pahrump - nice drive but you will scratch the truck!!). Hoover Dam (it is enroute if you choose to see the GC again but worth the 45min drive from Las Vegas if not).
Assuming not visiting the GC, Las Vegas - Zion NP (best walk Angel's Landing if you're okay with heights - start early) - Bryce Canyon (sunset and sunrise) - Burr Trail (Boulder - Bullfrog) - Charles Hall Ferry - Natural Bridges NM - Highway 261 to Mexican Hat (nice dirt switchback as you get closer to Mexican Hat) - Monument Valley ? (don't forget to take a picture of the road enroute which features on the Eagles album cover) - Four Corners NM (got to be done for the picture) then onto Dillon (not driven this yet) .
From Dillon - Arches NP - Highway 50 (America's loneliest road) - Yosemite (via the Tioga Pass Road) - Sonoma/Napa Valley (wine country - we like the Mumm 'factory') (Note from AT - Yes we totally agree Mrs T over did it at Mumm with three glasses of Sparkling Wine before mid-day).
CONTRIBUTION BY RICH ROWLAND
Here are a few of my favorite places and things to do in CO that might not be on your itinerary:
Mt. Evans: I-70 east to Idaho Springs and follow the signs. You can drive almost to summit of a 14,000 peak. If you leave Keystone by 6AM and go directly to the summit, you've got a great chance of getting up close and personal with mountain goats (you can see the other sights on the way down). When the crowds start to show up they disappear. Call 303-567-3000 to make sure it's open to the summit before going.
Argentine Pass: From Keystone, follow the signs for Montezuma. About halfway there's a parking area/gate on the left that goes up Peru Creek. If the gate's open drive on up the dirt road. Goes up to beautiful valley great views of Greys and Torreys peaks. It's a little early for wild flowers (AT - Early May time), but worth the short drive.
Boreas Pass: Between Breckenridge and Como, very scenic! At the summit hike out to the old mining camp called Dyersville. You'll see the trail across the road from the cabins
Great Sand Dunes Nat'l Monument: They don't really advertise it, but you can camp in the dunes. Inquire at the ranger station about a free permit. If it's a clear night, just take sleeping bags, water ( and/or wine) and something for breakfast. Don't worry there aren't any snakes, scorpions or anything else that bites. I promise you've never seen more stars!
Crested Butte: Very cool mountain town. Be sure to take Kebler Pass (smooth dirt) out of CB to Aspen. One of the most scenic passes in CO. Wait till the end of June and the wild flowers should be out in force. Also take Independence Pass between Aspen and Leadville.