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Home » Discover Rackham » Exploring the U.S. Through Road Trips

During the Spring Break most students at U-M would go home, go on ASB (alternative spring break), sit in the lab or go to Cancun – but the adventurous ones go on a road trip. On one Spring Break four zesty girls decided to explore America from a different perspective – rent a car and stop at places along the way, eat along the road, soak in new experiences as they come. We decided to drive to Nashville in Tennessee, the capital of country music, with stops at the Smoky Mountains (Tennessee) and Mammoth caves (Kentucky).

Our drive to the first destination, the Smoky Mountains, was long, peppered with frequent breaks at gas stations and detours into small towns. We decided to spend the night in Pigeon Forge, a town close to the Smoky Mountains and reminiscent of a section of the strip in Vegas. It had numerous amusement parks on either side of the roads, multiple pizza joints, chain restaurants with loads of mini resort-type lodges advertising rates for rooms and interesting architectural structures.

We had an early breakfast in the morning and decided to cover three different trails in the mountains ending the last with a view of the setting sun. Laurel Falls was the first warm up trail and less than a mile. The waterfall had frozen drapes along the sides and the swirling waters formed mini pools of frozen ice. The second trail took longer than two hours and went over the banks of a winding river, tree bridges, and narrow steps and pebbled paths. The third trail over the Appalachian Mountains was the most scenic of all the trails and we began with the lofty goal of getting back from the mountain before the night set in. After trekking for about two miles over an icy path and gorgeous views of the mountains we decided the view from the mountain top was not worth the treacherous return ‘ride’ down. That night we slept like logs and yet woke up in the morning with aching legs and backs.

We continued with the trip to Nashville, where we stopped to see the Parthenon; the only place in the world that has the exact replica of the original Greek structure, complete with the 42 feet statue of goddess Athena holding a 6 feet tall goddess Nike. We walked around the town, explored some of the stores, bought a pair of cowboy boots and decided on a place to dine at the Listening Room. One of the performing songwriters was nominated for the Grammys and the other had written songs for one of the American Idol contestants.

The next morning we drove down to our last destination, Mammoth Caves in Kentucky and got there just in time for the tours, thanks to the difference in time zones. Mammoth Caves are the longest caves in the world, with some of the most beautiful natural sights – bottomless pits in the depths of the caves, massive cathedral like domes, flat ceilings, tiny alcoves where one could easily lose one’s way. It is amazing to see how the water managed to form such a magnificent sight. At one point we saw the ‘frozen Niagara’ – deposition of white calcium salts, crystallized into a waterfall stretching several meters. The tour guide made us experience darkness by turning off all the light bulbs; the complete blackout and silence was a first time experience which made me felt trapped, helpless and scared.

This was the first of my many road trips that followed. I drove down to California with friend and her dog. I had this fantastic trip when I dropped my brother off to Maryland where he began school this fall. We took a detour and spent two nights at the Niagara Falls. This semester I drove up to the Upper Peninsula over an extended weekend to see the fall colors with my friend and his parents. That is one trip that I would recommend to every student at U-M. The beauty of the colors and the blue waters of the three large lakes are worth the drive! I feel road trips provide a nice opportunity to be with friends for continuous periods of time and to get them know better, learn a little more about tastes in music, food, opinions on matters of life and sometimes their sleeping habits. Driving down in the U.S. is easy with its extensive road system and planned rest stops. With a little bit of research one can plan an exciting break and this blog should help some of you with some ideas to start off.