This Map Shows the Ultimate U.S. Road Trip

The concept of a road trip is as American as apple pie, and yet, devising the “best” U.S. driving route is a bit of a head scratcher. Much depends on time parameters, personal preference, and frankly, how long you want to spend behind the wheel.

Tracy Staedter at Discovery News decided to take on that challenge, enlisting Randy Olson—Michigan State University doctoral student and the man behind the famed (and super helpful) Where’s Waldo algorithm—to devise what you might call the platonic ideal of the United States road trip. The parameters were: It had to hit all of the 48 continental states, every stop had to be a National Natural Landmark, a National Historic Site, a National Park, or a National Monument, and of course, had to be confined to car travel and within U.S. borders.

With a stop in Washington D.C. and two in California, the result is 50 points of all American awesomenesss.

Here are the destinations:

1. Grand Canyon, AZ
2. Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
3. Craters of the Moon, ID
4. Yellowstone National Park, WY
5. Pikes Peak, CO
6. Carlsbad Caverns National Park, NM
7. The Alamo, TX
8. The Platt Historic District, OK
9. Toltec Mounds, AR
10. Elvis Presley’s Graceland, TN
11. Vicksburg National Military Park, MS
12. French Quarter, LA
13. USS Alabama, AL
14. Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL
15. Okefenokee Swamp Park, GA
16. Fort Sumter National Monument, SC
17. Lost World Caverns, WV
18. Wright Brothers National Memorial Visitor Center, NC
19. Mount Vernon, VA
20. White House, Washington, D.C.
21. Colonial Annapolis Historic District, MD
22. New Castle Historic District, DE
23. Cape May Historic District, NJ
24. Liberty Bell, PA
25. Statue of Liberty, NY
26. The Mark Twain House & Museum, CT
27. The Breakers, RI
28. USS Constitution, MA
29. Acadia National Park, ME
30. Mount Washington Hotel, NH
31. Shelburne Farms, VT
32. Fox Theater, MI
33. Spring Grove Cemetery, OH
34. Mammoth Cave National Park, KY
35. West Baden Springs Hotel, IN
36. Abraham Lincoln’s Home, IL
37. Gateway Arch, MO
38. C. W. Parker Carousel Museum, KS
39. Terrace Hill Governor’s Mansion, IA
40. Taliesin, WI
41. Fort Snelling, MN
42. Ashfall Fossil Bed, NE
43. Mount Rushmore, SD
44. Fort Union Trading Post, ND
45. Glacier National Park, MT
46. Hanford Site, WA
47. Columbia River Highway, OR
48. San Francisco Cable Cars, CA
49. San Andreas Fault, CA
50. Hoover Dam, NV

That list starts with the Grand Canyon, but you could theoretically begin anywhere as long as you drive in sequence after that. Staedter guesses it would take a little over nine days of driving straight through, but more realistically is a two- or three-month trip.

For the nitty gritty on how he came up with the route, check out Olson’s blog. After determining the stops, the main goal of the algorithm was to find the shortest distance between points.

Olson wrote to Staedter: "Instead of exhaustively looking at every possible solution, genetic algorithms start with a handful of random solutions and continually tinker with these solutions — always trying something slightly different from the current solution and keeping the best one — until they can’t find a better solution any more."

And whether or not you understand the specifics of how it was created, the map is truly a marvel and the kind of itinerary you'll probably spend all winter dreaming about. See the full, interactive map here, and for additional #travelgoals, check out Olson’s road trip maps for U.S. cities and Europe.

This Interactive Map Lets You Listen to the Sounds of Mysterious ‘Phantom Islands’

iStock
iStock

We like to think we’ve already discovered everything there is to discover on Earth, but have we really? Throughout the course of history, a number of islands have been spotted and documented by early explorers, only to never be seen again. These territories are known as “phantom islands,” but as artist Andrew Pekler notes, their existence has never been verified.

In exploring the legends surrounding these elusive—and perhaps imaginary—islands, Pekler created an online “sonic atlas” of what these places may very well sound like. His work was commissioned by French museum Jeu de Paume for the exhibition “Fourth Worlds: Imaginary Ethnography in Music and Sound.”

“Poised somewhere between cartographical fact and maritime fiction, they haunted seafarers’ maps for hundreds of years, inspiring legends, fantasies, and counterfactual histories,” Pekler says of the phantom islands in an online description of the project.

Viewers can use their computer's mouse to navigate the map and zoom in on any islands that seem particularly intriguing. You can also enter “cruise mode” to be taken on an audio tour of all the phantom islands documented by Pekler. A brief history is given for each island, and some of them are pretty spooky.

One phantom island in the Gulf of Mexico, Bermeja, first appeared on maps in the 1530s but wasn’t seen again after the 16th century, according to research by Pekler and his team. The Mexican government sent a survey vessel to try to find it in 1997, but when nothing was uncovered, a few Mexican senators claimed America’s CIA may have destroyed it in a bid to lay claim to the territory and secure control over offshore oil and gas fields. Not long after, one of the senators who demanded further investigation was driving in his car when he was run off the road and killed by an unknown assailant, which spawned a number of conspiracy theories.

These stories are only made more chilling by the haunting chimes, bizarre bird calls, and underwater sounds that accompany them. To see it for yourself, check out Pekler’s website.

This Website Allows You to See the Traditional Indigenous Territories and Languages in Your Region

Native Land
Native Land

Within North America and many other regions colonized by Europeans, the indigenous territorial borders that once divided the land have largely disappeared. Though non-Native people might learn about the particular groups that once lived in their immediate area in school, most of us aren’t aware of the exact geography of which areas were traditionally occupied by which groups across the U.S. and the world. A mapping project called Native Land is aiming to change that, as Atlas Obscura reports.

The interactive site was created by Canadian mapping specialist Victor Temprano, who grew up within the territory of the Okanagan people in British Columbia. It features several different ways to explore the boundaries of indigenous history: through territory, language, and historic treaties. Each of the colorful blobs that represent the approximate boundaries of each territory, language, or treaty contains a link that lets you further explore the area, linking out to tribes’ websites, government information about particular treaties, and more.

The map allows you to see the huge diversity of indigenous people whose history has often been erased and forgotten, and the overlaps between tribes and languages in different areas. While the map doesn't yet tackle the entire world, it has a wealth of information on Canada, the U.S., Mexico, New Zealand, and Australia, and some places in South America and Greenland.

Colored overlays showing territory and language boundaries in the western U.S. and Canada
Traditional territories and languages in the western U.S. and Canada
Native Land

A map of the Northeastern U.S. showing traditional territories and languages
Traditional territory and language boundaries in the northeastern U.S.
Native Land

Temprano doesn’t claim Native Land is a definitive guide—or even a complete one—and welcomes any community feedback on the content presented. He told Atlas Obscura that he has gotten thousands of emails over the past few years suggesting changes, and has worked to incorporate that information into the map.

“I’ve learned that the idea of ‘traditional territory’ is actually very slippery. It can mean a strongly defined official boundary (Squamish nation, for instance), a general sense of land familiarity or habitation (some Métis people), a historically inhabited area, or it can be shorthand for how people identify themselves,” he writes on the Native Land blog. “Above all, I’ve tried to make the territory layer about self-identification. Whenever people feel they or their peoples are not represented, I’ve attempted to add them … So approach the layer with caution, and don’t treat it as an academic set of truths—if you can help it. It’s a good place to get started, but it’s really about you taking the initiative to learn more and think carefully about these questions.”

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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