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I had enjoyed my trip on US 6 so much that the following summer I decided I would begin driving all of the US routes end to end. Since I lived in Vermont, it seemed to make sense to start in the northeast, and travel west or south, as I had done on US 6. Due to my lack of money, time, and an aging car, driving US 1 to Florida was a bit out of my reach. US 2 on the other hand went right through northern Vermont and seemed like it should only require a weekend to travel end to end. At this time I did not realize there was a western section of US 2.
In the summer of 1989 I set out on my journey across US 2. I awoke very early one morning, around 2:00, to begin my journey. I left Vermont, crossed the White Mountains of New Hampshire in the middle of the night, and was driving through Maine when the sun rose. I took I-95 up to the beginning of US 2 in Houlton. The ride north of Bangor in the early morning light was very different than I expected. It was mostly flat with the occasional mountain rising up out of the ground. I was also struck by how desolate the area was. I especially liked the town line signs on I-95 saying that I was entering towns with names such as T7-R1. Towns with grid locations rather than names were a sure sign that I was in a very sparsely populated area.
As I reached the Canadian border in Houlton, I exited I-95 and began my journey eastward on US 2. As US 2 left Houlton and the neighboring towns, it became especially desolate being that the through traffic was on I-95, and there wasn’t really anyplace else to go other than “through”. It was a beautiful ride though through miles and miles of forests, owned for the most part by various lumber and paper companies. I went through Bangor and was surprised to find that for the rest of the trip to New Hampshire, the areas US 2 went through were moderately populated. The road never seemed to be too far from a small town anymore.
In New Hampshire, although the White Mountains were visible nearby, US 2 stayed on relatively level ground, avoiding the large mountains I had traversed on my way to Maine a few hours earlier. By late afternoon I crossed the Connecticut River into Vermont and made my way to St. Johnsbury where I ended my journey for the day, taking I-91 back home to Strafford.
The next morning I took I-91 back north to St. Johnsbury and continued west on US 2. For a little while here in northeastern Vermont US 2 was relatively desolate again. I remember it also being a very bumpy stretch of road. I followed US 2 through the small state capital of Montpelier, then stayed on US 2 as it paralleled I-89 toward Burlington. For the most part US 2 maintained its own alignment separate from I-89, except for a short section through the mountains where the two routes multiplexed.
US 2 went through a large portion of Burlington and the surrounding towns. I thought Burlington was a very nice older city. After multiplexing with US 7 for a short while, US 2 continued west to the Champlain Islands. The highway then wandered through northeastern Lake Champlain, jumping from island to island via bridges and causeways. This ride through the Champlain Islands was especially beautiful. The deep blue water of Lake Champlain contrasted with the lush green of the islands and with the mountains off in the distance, making this a most memorable trip.
As I began seeing signs for towns in Quebec, I knew my journey would soon be at an end. I followed US 2 into the northeastern corner of New York State, and traveled the very short distance to the end of the route at US 11. I then headed back east across the Champlain Islands to I-89, and made my way back home, having completed my journey on the eastern segment of US 2.
After completing my cross-country trip on US 6, my short trips on the US routes in the northeast, and my trip down the east coast on US 1, I was ready for my second trip across the US, this time on US 2. One of my old housemates said she was interested in joining me on my US 2 trip, since she had always wanted to drive across the country, and figured if she didn’t do it pretty soon, she probably never would. We agreed that we would take her car, a new Honda del Sol, I would pay for the gas, and we’d split the room costs. This would certainly help reduce the cost of the trip, although we were both a little concerned about spending that much time together. But in June of 1994, we decided to take our trip.
I drove from my home outside New York City to her place in Vermont on Friday evening, leaving my car at her apartment while we took our trip. On Saturday morning we awoke and began our journey, heading north on I-89 to the Canadian border. We went through Montreal, headed west toward Ottawa, and then followed ON-17 northwest toward North Bay. Most of the trip was uneventful, just a quiet two-lane road traversing the gently rolling hills and endless forests. As we approached our destination for the night, Sudbury, the forest gave way to an eerie, barren, rocky landscape with only some scrub brush for trees. The scene looked otherworldly. We spent the night at the Travelodge near the science center, and knew that the next day we’d begin our journey on US 2.
We continued west on ON-17, much of it a four-lane divided highway with no traffic whatsoever, until we reached Sault Sainte Marie, and crossed a massive bridge back into the United States. At this time, some maps I had said that US 2 began here and multiplexed with I-75 down to St. Ignace, but in fact the route had already been truncated. We followed I-75 through the unexpectedly quiet Upper Peninsula, getting off the Interstate at one point to unsuccessfully find some gas. This part of Michigan was much less populated than we expected.
In St. Ignace we began our trip westward on US 2. Just west of St. Ignace we saw Lake Michigan for the first time, with its deep blue water. We then continued west, following the lake on and off until the lakeshore headed south and US 2 continued west, following the Wisconsin border. We eventually stopped for the night in western Michigan.
The next morning we left Michigan, stopping at a small local eatery in Wisconsin. For breakfast, Beth ordered biscuits and gravy, surprised to find such a southern dish that far north. I only remember this because I had never even heard of biscuits and gravy before, so the type of gravy was a bit of a shock. It seems kind of ironic that although I had driven US 1 through the south, my first introduction to biscuits and gravy was in northern Wisconsin. Another thing that we found really unusual in this area was all of the supper clubs. I’m still not exactly sure what these are since I’ve never stopped at one, but there sure were a lot of them.
As we passed through Duluth, we both remarked how everyone we’ve ever known from Minnesota, especially Duluth, thinks it is the greatest place in the world to live. To us it didn’t really seem all that different from a lot of other cities. I guess you have to live there to really appreciate it.
As we traveled across the rest of Minnesota, Beth was starting to feel kind of tired and so was determined to cover ground as quickly as possible. As we entered the wide-open prairie, we did stop for a picture of a large US 2 sign with the road and farmland stretching out in front of us.
Although we were ready to stop for the night in Devils Lake, North Dakota, every hotel was full. I don’t know what the big attraction was in Devils Lake that day, but apparently a lot of people came to see it. We continued westward to Minot, where we were able to get a room at the local Super 8. On our way there, we started encountering numerous thunderstorms. It was interesting to see all of the localized storms around us. We reached Minot around 8 pm, and upon checking in, the desk clerk reminded us that they were under a watch, and that if we heard the sirens, the safe area was the first floor hallway. We must have had a confused look on our faces because she then clarified that they were under a tornado watch. Unlike today where the National Weather Service seems to issue a watch every time the sky darkens, back then in the northeast watches were very rare (or at least not communicated) and we had never been in a tornado watch before, so the idea of a possible tornado made us a bit nervous. Thankfully a tornado never appeared and by 10:00 the sky cleared and to our amazement, the sun came out. This was definitely another first. At home the sun set by about 8:00 at the latest, but Minot was so far north and so far west in the time zone, and the horizon so low, that it was still light out well after 10:00.
The next morning we had breakfast at a local diner. The place was full of farmer getting a bite to eat and a cup of coffee, and chatting with their neighbors. It was yet another very different experience from what we had while growing up. As we left town we were struck by how hilly the landscape suddenly became. After hours of riding through flat farmland, the rolling hills were a real surprise. We hit a little more rain as we approached Williston, and discovered that there was a small leak in the seal around the car’s windshield. Since this was a brand new car, Beth was not very happy, and seeing a Honda dealer, stopped in to have them fix it.
As we reached the Montana border I saw a mile marker saying 666. Wow, I though, this is going to be a long state. I wonder if this is an omen of things to come. The ride across very sparsely populated eastern Montana we found really quite interesting. We stopped for a few minutes in Harlem, mostly to see just how different it was from the area of the same name back home. Although we reached Havre pretty early in the day, Beth was still feeling really tired so we stopped at the Super 8 for the night. This actually worked out pretty well since it gave use some time apart. While she stayed in the room to relax, I went for a walk back down into town. Aside from just walking around in the light drizzle that had started to fall, I also found an historical marker identifying a buffalo jump. This was basically just a small cliff. Up on top of the bluff, the Indians would chase the buffalo toward the cliff, and not being able to turn fast enough, the buffalo would jump/fall to their death. I thought it was a pretty ingenious hunting method.
The next morning Beth was feeling much better after her extended rest. We continued west across Montana, expecting to see the Rocky Mountains at any moment. To our amazement the land stayed flat much longer than we expected. We were only a few miles from the continental divide when we finally saw the mountains rise in front of us. We stopped at a small museum and store in Browning for a quick look around, and then made our way into the hills and after a few more miles, into the mountains. As we reached the mountains the weather turned cloudy again. By the time we reached the continental divide at Marias Pass, it was snowing. It wasn’t sticking to the road, but it was snowing pretty hard. This was very unusual weather for June we thought. We stopped at Marias Pass to take some pictures of the snow and large monument, but because of the clouds and snow couldn’t see much else. As we made our way through the mountains along the edge of Glacier National Park, the snow, rain, and clouds continued. We stopped a few times to see as much as was visible with the weather. Although largely obscured, the landscape was still very interesting. The sight of the steep slopes rising out of the river valley, deep green forest, and railroad cut through the mountainside were definitely worth a few minutes of our time.
The weather cleared a little as we reached Kalispell. It was still overcast, but at least the rain had stopped. As we journeyed further west through the mountains we came to a huge area that had been completely logged. We found it really strange to see the completely barren hills stretching on for miles as we drove. Eventually we came to a sign that explained what had happened. A few years earlier there had been a huge forest fire in this valley. The fire burned all of the trees enough to kill them, but the wood under the bark was pretty much untouched by the flames. Since the trees were dead anyway, rather than let all of the wood go to waste, all of the burned trees had been harvested leaving the barren landscape we saw.
The mountains remained beautiful as we continued westward. It seemed like the deep green forests covering the steep slopes extended forever. We also stopped for a while at the Kootanei River, taking some time to look at the falls as the river coursed westward. As night approached we stopped in Sandpoint, Idaho to get a room at another Super 8. We went to the local Pizza Hut for dinner, where we had a very entertaining waitress. We then went for a walk downtown and were sad to see that although it was only about 6:00, all of the stores were already closed. One store in particular had a really interesting t-shirt with Sandpoint on it that I really wanted to buy, but that was not possible with the store being closed.
We left the hotel early the next morning so we would arrive in Seattle that night before it was too late. On our way out of Sandpoint, although it was very early, we decided to take a quick ride through town again to confirm that the store with the t-shirt I wanted was still closed. To our amazement, the lights were on and the staff was in the store vacuuming the floor and straightening the merchandise. We went inside and asked if they were open yet. As with most stores in small towns, they were accommodating and even if they weren’t really open, they invited us in to get what we wanted. We learned that this was a big fishing town, and that was one reason for places opening so early.
After the US 2 – US 95 multiplex ended, US 2 became a very narrow bumpy road, winding its way westward through the forest to Washington. Between Idaho and Spokane, the landscape was pretty much what we expected with some smaller hills and a lot of trees. As we headed west from Spokane though, the landscape changed dramatically. The ground flattened and the forest gave way to arid farm fields. This was not at all what we expected Washington to look like. We figured it was all mountains and deep green forests. These wide-open fields were a big surprise.
As we continued west, we found some even bigger surprises. The first was Dry Falls, an old riverbed that now had little more than a stream running through it but supposedly at one time held the Columbia River before a large earthquake shifted the river westward. I’ve also heard that massive floods at the end of the last ice age created Dry Falls and much of the natural landscape in the area. I don’t know which is really true.
Next the road dropped into Moses Coulee. This was really an amazing site, with huge stone cliffs on either side reminiscent of what one would expect to see in Arizona, not Washington. The base of the coulee was basically a desert landscape. I later learned that before irrigation most of eastern Washington looked like a desert rather than the miles of never-ending farms.
A bit further west after hours of driving across relatively flat land, mountains came into view miles in front of us. Then we saw an elevation marker indicating that we were currently at 2812 feet above sea level. This seemed like a very odd sign in the middle of the plains. Then we understood the reason for the sign. US 2 soon began its descent into the Columbia River valley. After a few minutes of winding our way down into the valley, we were only at a couple of hundred feet above sea level. Once in the valley US 2 multiplexed with US 97 for our journey south through the orchards along the banks of the river. At the lower altitude the temperature rose noticeably. Luckily we were only in the valley for a short time before we were climbing into the Cascades. We were now in the deep forest and mountains that we expected from Washington. Also as expected, as we climbed into the mountains the clouds gathered and the rain began to fall.
After crossing a cloudy Stevens Pass, we made our way back down the mountains and out to I-5, the western end of US 2. As we reached the end of US 2, we stopped for our celebratory photograph, and then began our trek down to Seattle on I-5.
We spent a couple of days with Beth’s friends just north of Seattle. They took us to all of the usual sites in and around Seattle, including the Underground, which I found really interesting. We also went to a few good pubs and the Red Hook brewery. It was an enjoyable few days. One thing I learned while there was that there was an annual bicycle race from Seattle to Spokane via US 2. It seemed like that would be a grueling ride on a bicycle.
On the last day we were there, the light rain actually stopped and we experienced a clear sunny day. On this clear day the view was spectacular. The Seattle skyline was visible off to the south, with Mount Rainier rising like a massive orange cone further off in the distance. It was an amazing sight.
For our return trip, we planned to take Interstate highways. We began by heading east over the Cascades on I-90. After crossing the mountains we decided to take a detour and see the Grand Coulee Dam. We drove up toward the dam through this incredibly beautiful desert valley. Once again, the landscape was nothing like what we expected for Washington. When we reached the dam, we thought it was something of a letdown. We were expecting something like the Hoover Dam, and although it is long, it did not strike us as spectacular. From an architectural point of view I much prefer the turn-of-the-century dams built by New York City. The drive to the dam was beautiful, but we felt that the destination wasn’t really worth the detour.
It was starting to get dark as we entered Idaho. In some areas I-90 in Idaho didn’t seem like it was really up to Interstate standards. The ride through the mountains was still lovely, although with the additional traffic and higher speeds, it was more difficult to enjoy the ride.
We spent the night in Missoula, arriving well after dark. The area was much more populated than we expected, and had an awful odor in the area around our hotel. My guess is there was a paper mill or some other industry nearby that caused the smell and the grey-brown air we observed the following morning. Luckily we were so tired that we fell asleep quickly in spite of the pollution.
The next day we seemed to hit construction zone after construction zone, with long slow traffic tie-ups at each one. After a particularly long stretch of sitting in traffic, Beth remarked, “so much for the Interstates being faster.” We continued on I-94 through eastern Montana on what turned in to an uncomfortably hot day. Whether to keep the top up or down became a very difficult choice. With the top up the car quickly became stifling. With the top down, the relentless sun gave us very painful sunburn.
As we crossed southwestern North Dakota, at one point we passed through an especially beautiful landscape of painted canyons. It was breathtaking and once again completely unexpected. We spent the night in Bismarck, and then drove the next day to St. Paul. As we crossed into Wisconsin, we felt like we were almost home, although there was still a very long way to go. After two more very long days of driving, arriving back in Vermont after midnight, our journey across the western section of US 2 had ended.
I photographed the eastern section of US 2 on a few different trips in the late 1990s.
I photographed the western section of US 2 after driving US 12 in 1996. I returned home from the west coast via US 2, photographing the route along the way.
At the western end of US 2, I looped a couple of times looking for an “END” sign, but did not find one, and since the last few thousand feet were on a bridge with no shoulders, I did not get any photographs of the end of the route. I did get a picture of the last westbound reassurance sign though. As I left the Puget Sound and headed into the Cascades, it was once again overcast and intermittently raining, so my pictures in the mountains were not especially stunning. As I entered the Columbia River valley, I stopped at a restaurant for breakfast. As I stood up from the table, about to continue on my journey, a muscle in my back seized, preventing me from moving my head from side to side. For the next three days, every time I had to move my head I was in intense pain, and essentially had to turn my whole body to look to the side. It made driving very difficult.
As I climbed out of the Columbia River valley I took a picture of the elevation sign in the valley and also the one on the plain that seemed so out of place when I had first seen it. I also grabbed pictures of Moses Coulee. In Idaho the US 2 – US 95 multiplex was being rebuilt, so finding a sign to photograph was difficult. The trailblazer I finally found was actually on the old roadway that was now closed. After leaving US 95, I stopped for a few minutes at an overlook of the new US 2 bridge near Moyie Springs and learned about how this bridge had greatly reduced the length of US 2 by spanning the canyon instead of going down into it.
Getting through western Montana took longer than I expected and by the time I reached Kalispell to find my hotel, it was very dark. I did manage to take a few pictures before nightfall, but the last hour or so of driving was in the dark.
The next morning I headed out to Glacier National Park to the east, taking many pictures of the mountains as I headed up to Marias Pass. Unfortunately the weather this time was not much better than the first time I came through. Although it was not raining this time, the mountains still often started to disappear into the clouds. As I reached Marias Pass though, the clouds lifted enough to reveal the awesome landscape to my north. It was definitely a sight worth stopping for again. My first time through Marias Pass was noteworthy because it was snowing in June. This time it was noteworthy for the stunning scenery surrounding me.
As I left the mountains, what I felt was a “reasonable and prudent” speed increased substantially. Since there was often no other traffic and I could see far ahead, much of the trip I made at over 80 mph. Even so, the trip across Montana was very long. I looked for the 666-mile marker near the North Dakota border, but apparently someone had removed it, so I took a picture of the 667-mile marker instead right at the border.
As I crossed North Dakota toward Minot, I once again endured nightfall before reaching my destination. This time I actually had someone to visit in Minot since my cousin had been stationed at the Air Force base there about a month before. I took County Route 6 over to the base, and spent a few hours visiting before making my way down to the Super 8 motel in town.
The next morning I continued east across North Dakota to Grand Forks and the Minnesota border. The construction on the US 2 bridge across the Red River had me tied up in traffic for a while, and made it difficult to find the Welcome to North Dakota sign. After crossing into Minnesota, I made my way south a bit to find another much less crowded bridge back into North Dakota. I rode through the downtown section of Grand Forks, admiring the historic architecture before making my way back up to the US 2 bridge to look for the welcome sign. After not finding the sign on the North Dakota side of the river, I went back to Minnesota and eventually found a road below the US 2 bridge. From here I hiked up a huge embankment, which I later realized was for flood control, and got a good view of the bridge with its Welcome to North Dakota sign. I was surprised by how high the dike was above the level of the river, and thought to myself that I never would have expected any kind of flooding around here. Sadly I was proven very wrong the following year when the Grand Forks area was severely flooded.
I then continued across Minnesota, getting caught in a few slow construction zones. Once again I didn’t make it to my destination, Duluth, until after night fell. I stopped at a very crowded Dairy Queen few blocks from the motel for an ice cream, and then settled in for the night. The next morning I ventured out to find the Welcome to Minnesota sign, and found it high atop the long bridge US 2 takes from Superior into Duluth. The bright side was that this bridge had a walkway. I parked on the Minnesota side of the bridge and made the long walk up to where I could get a good picture of the sign. There was a very nice view from up on the bridge, but it was still a long walk.
I continued pushing east across northern Wisconsin, stopping in a few places to look at Lake Superior off in the distance. As I made my way through the U.P. of Michigan, I stopped to take a picture of the first reassurance sign for US 8, since I had missed this when I originally drove US 8 a couple of years before. I also got a good picture of US 2 running along Lake Michigan. I was very happy to see a US 2 shield right across from the lake.
I reached St.Ignace just before dark, and crossed the Mackinaw Bridge for the first time. I then made my way down a very long, dark I-75 to Toledo, where I spent the night at the Motel 6 I had visited many times before. The following day I arrived back home, ending my US 12 and US 2 picture-taking trip.
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