After reviewing the article, "America's Scariest Drives", it turns out that I have had the opportunity to drive several of them; I haven't done Tail of the Dragon, Dalton Hwy or the Moki Dugway. Here's a rundown on my experiences on the rest:
Highway One/Big Sur (California):
San Diego to Crescent City once. San Diego to San Francisco at least a dozen (probably more) times.
Worst was in my old '61 Ranchero in about '75. 2nd best was in my girlfriend's (now wife) '71 Datsun 1200 (also in about '75). The car was basically a street licensed C sedan prep'd racer. SSS head, big valves, Iskederian cam, pop-up forged high compression pistons, cast aluminum deep sump (8 quart) oil pan with a high volume oil pump, headers & dual Hitachi Solex 2 bbl side draft carbs. It also was lowered with Koni adjustable shocks, a 5 speed, and 6" x 13" Minilight wheels w/ 205-60 BFG tires. Very agile, light & quick. Also it was the '70's. We have been up to the bay area 3 times in the last 12 months. ...But never in one of the Esprits, all in one or the other of our Volvo wagons (my son went to school at Berkeley. The trips were always primarily to visit and/or transport furniture.....). We always like to stop at the winery in Harmony, just before Cambria at the south end of the Big Sur coastline. Our favorite lodgings along the route: Ragged Point Inn near San Simeon and Rippletree cabins in the Big Sur valley.
The best trip is the one we took last weekend in an '84 Turbo. It deserves a post in its own right. Maybe after I have time to let the experience soak in a little bit.
The Saddle Road, Big Island (Hawaii):
We spent a month on the Big Island after graduation from university. We had neighbors who moved to Hilo to become caretakers for an old sugar plantation there. We stayed with them as a base and wandered all over the island. On another trip to visit them in the dead of winter in the mid '80's we took their old '70s vintage Datsun extra cab pick-up up on the Saddle Road and went snow skiing. Its something like 11k' or 12k' at the road summit and there is occasionally snow in the winter. We took a turn-off up an old hunting / astronomer's road that went pretty much to the summit of Mauna Kea. We would drive the truck as far up as we could, strap on our skis and boggie on down. We took turns driving the truck down to pick the others up at the bottom end of the snow. The "Pineapple Powder", as our friends called it, wasn't the best for skiing and I was glad that I wasn't using my own skis. But the panoramic views and the adventure made it a not-to-miss experience.
Aspen to Leadville via Independence Pass (Colorado):
I have traversed this route twice: My first was in my old 914 in 1971. It was my first trip by car from Michigan, where I grew up, out to the west coast. I was travelling solo and had virtually no money. I'd put the car in neutral and coast on the downhill sections of highway to conserve fuel. It became a mental contest to see how high I could get the fuel mileage. On one section of the trip, on the long descent from Aspen to Grand Junction, I got something like 70 mpg.
The second time was in '07 on the way to LOG in Aspen. I traveled with my friend Kurt:
The Kimini 2.2 car project.
The MidLana Project
We took 2 days to get to Colorado from San Diego (the last portion across Colorado on US Hwy 50). We spent the night in Salida and then on Friday morning transited to Aspen via northbound US285/US24 to turn left (west) onto Colorado 82, recrossing the Divide at Independence Pass. It was a beautiful early fall day with mostly clear skies and occaisonal light showers as we traversed the east side of the pass. We were wearing shorts, T-shirts and zorries. It was around freezing at the summit. The heater in the Esprit was a welcome plus. The Esprit never missed a beat. I don't know if it was the perfect car for the drive, but it had to be close. The blower still provided plenty of power at altitude and the road was awesome! We encountered several trucks and they were very good about letting us by.
Another great drive in this region is the entrance road into Mesa Verde National Park. It's about 25 or 30 miles of pristine asphalt through the mountains .... Litterally through the mountains with at least 2 tunnels. I've got a great little video of winding up the Esprit flat out through the gears from a dead stop through the longest of the tunnels. We put the windows down to enjoy the sound of the engine and BOV. You know, you never get to hear what your car really sounds like outside when you're inside it driving. Don't miss this side trip if you're in the area.
U.S. Highway 50 (Utah/Nevada):
I've traversed Nevada and Utah 3 times on US 50. The most memorable was on our return from Teluride in August of '80. We stayed with a friend in Teluride for a couple of days after hiking and fishing in the area for a couple of weeks. Four of us were traveling in a '70 VW van. Our friend's room mate had recently moved back to San Diego and left his old Land Rover behind in the back yard. Abandoned is really the correct word here. Our friend in Teluride wanted it gone and asked me to help him get it running because he didn't want to pay to have it towed away. Upon inspection I learned that there were only 2 things keeping it from running: No gas and a dead battery. It also had no muffler. Our friends with the VW van wanted to continue the journey and Candy and I had to get back to San Diego to work. A brief negotiation with our host and $50.00 later we were the proud new owners of a Land Rover. It would transport us back home across Utah, Nevada and down Hwy 1 (and Big Sur). We decided to cross Utah and Nevada on Hwy 50 at night to minimize the effects of the desert heat. Did I mention that '69 Land Rovers have Lucas electrics with cloth insulation on the wires and natural rubber for the grommets? Somewhere in Utah on the first night the lights failed. One of the rubber grommets had disintegrated and the head light wire insulation was chafed against the firewall causing a short. There were no all night gas stations and we didn't have any tape with which to fashion a repair. It was a full moon and there was virtually no traffic after midnight. So we drove on through the night, without lights, pulling off the highway and onto the shoulder whenever we saw a car approaching (on-coming or overtaking). The din from no muffler was deafening. Forever after Candy referred to the Land Rover as "the cement mixer" because of the noise. It took us two nights to cross the desert, one night each in Utah and Nevada. The highway through Utah is gradually winding and the terrain varies from beautiful brown rocky desert mountains in the east to higher altitudes with evergreen conifer forests in the west. The relatively green mountains continue into eastern Nevada. As I recall the road is curvier in Nevada. The west flanks of the mountains in Nevada become increasingly barren as you descend to the desert floor. Its flat, hot and desolate crossing Nevada. Tailor made for flat out high speed cruising. In both states you want to keep track of your fuel level as gas stations are few and far between.
Texas State Hwy 170:
I have driven this road once, back in the mid '70's. This drive was really an excuse to visit Terlingua, a little south Texas berg made famous by Carroll Shelby in the 60's: His Trans Am racing team of bright yellow MUstang notch backs with black hoods in '67 was named the Terlingua Racing Team. I had returned to Michigan for Christmas with my '61 Ranchero to see my family and to pick up Fiberfab Avenger I built while in high school (a sort of Ford GT looking fiberglass body on a VW pan). I flat towed the car back to San Diego behind the Ranchero. I had installed a 260 V8 in the Ranchero and the Avenger only weighed about 1600 pounds so it towed pretty well. However the Ranchero's brakes left something to be desired
. On one downhill stretch of Hwy 170 I experienced some brake fade and came very close to going over the side of a cliff! Just before getting onto the 170 I had a U-joint in the Ranchero's drive shaft fail. I repaired it on the side of the road, I think in Terlingua. One nice thing about the Ranchero: Parts for Fords and Chevys are easy to come by, even in the middle of nowhere. The road is nice winding switchbacks with gorgeous views of the river valley. Some of the ranchos on the Mexico side of the river are fabulously beautiful. The verdant cultivation providing stark contrast to the desert rocks on the hill and mountain sides above the river plain. You definately want good air conditioning if you drive this road in the summer. And a good heater in the winter. The Ranchero had neither. As I made this trip in early January, I drove along in an old snowmobile suit to stay warm.
West Virginia State Route 16:
In '94 I had to visit D.C. on 2 separate occasions for for my job. The lab we were working in was only open 4 days a week. So we had long weekends to go exploring. So we toured the Smithsonian museums (almost all of them), civil war battlefields and a wonderful lap of Virginia, West Virginia and southern Pennsylvania. This tour provided a drive through Shennandoah National Park, Gettysburg and West Virginia Route 16. The region is rolling hills (what serve as mountains in that part of the country), covered with rich green forests. The road winds along through many little towns, and some of the locales look like settings right out of the movie Deliverance. Every now and then the lush green forrestation is scarred by giant coal strip mines in the hills off to the side of the road. I made this drive in a rental Taurus with the quad cam V6. Not a great car, but not a bad one either. I remember thinking at the time that it'd be a great summer drive in a Super 7.
Beartooth Highway (Wyoming/Montana):
We've driven his road twice. Both times on returning from Michigan with new (to us) cars. Back in '99 I had an extended time off from work after returning from deployment and took my oldest son back to Michigan with me for him to spend some time with his cousins. My brother has a buddy with a junk yard. He had a beautiful theft recovery '97 Land Cruiser for sale for cheap. I bought it and we drove back to California instead of flying. We decided to return via the northern route so that we could drive the unlimited speed roads of Montana one last time (they adopted the federal speed limits finally in 2000 IIRC). We turned south to visit Yellowstone and took the Beartooth through Cody to enter the park from the east. The road reminded me of the CCC Boys (Civilian Conservation Corps) work in Yosemite. It had the same 30's era hand hewn details in the masonry, hand hewn wood rails and stone water basuns at turnouts. The road is very high (about 10k' elevation IIRC). The mountains are covered with dense pine forests with trees easily reaching 50' or more in height. The drop offs on the south side of the road are steep and deep. A mistake here would surely be fatal. We made this drive in early May and it had snowed the day before we got there. We stayed over an extra day to avoid a potential road closure. This would be a great drive in almost any sports or touring car, but it would be best in a car with some kind of supercharging due to the altitude. A heater would be good too. The Land Cruiser's 4.5 litre six-cylinder mill and ~4500 pounds of road hugging weight did not make for spirited performance. However it was definitely a comfortable ride.
Hey, I drive this road at least twice a month, up to El Mirage dry lake and back for work. I've been doing this for like 14 years now. Over that time I've seen it go from cattle and pasture land just north of Norco (remember the smell in the old days?) to the freight and commerce rich logistical center that now centers around the I-15 / Hwy 60 / I-10 corridor. Traffic moves fast along I-15. Typically 80 - 90 mph except during rush hours. You don't want to go this way between 0600 and 0800 in the morning or 1400 to 1800 in the evening on weekdays or just about anytime during the day on Saturdays. Its nowhere near as congested as the I-405 near LAX, but it's still no fun. Also, the stretch from the I-15/I-10 intersection up to the I-15/I-215 split is pretty exciting in a high profile vehicle when the Santana winds are blowing in off of the desert. Tractor-trailer trucks blown over on their sides are a common sight. I once saw a semi tractor truck blown over on the northbound exit from I-15 onto the westbound I-10. It was hanging partially over the guard rail. I'll bet that truck driver was pretty freaked out. It would have been a wild ride if it had gone over the edge. The off-ramp is really a trestle / bridge, not a paved berm. I think its maybe 60 or 70 feet down from the top.
A drive from San Diego to Vegas and back on I-15 for a long weekend lead directly to purchasing our first Esprit. We had an '02 Focus ZTW at the time. Pretty nice for a compact, efficient, and fairly sporty with the 2.0L Zetec DOHC 4-valve engine ... for an American family wagon. But not exactly a GT car! When we pulled into the hotel to register we parked the Focus near the valet stand. We just sat in the car for a couple of minutes admiring the cars; Ferraris, Lambos, Bentleys, Porsches and a silver Stevens Esprit. Finally Candy said to me, " You know, the boys are grown. You could have a Lotus if you really wanted one." We bought the white '77 within about 6 months after coming home. I love this road as a result!