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Thursday, February 28, 2008

When going backward means going forward

Rev your bike, strum a chord, hit that trail, says Sarah Barrell. There's a whole other country out there.

1 Roswell, New Mexico

Why go? Join the 150,000 Americans who travel across the country each year to Roswell's UFO Festival (1-4 July 2004). This cult community celebration of the supposed crash of a UFO near Roswell in 1947 knocks little green spots off Nevada's area 51. Expect alien costume parades and parties and earnest conferences on alienology. Extend the weekend with a trip to Santa Fe, arts hub and home to an opera festival (July-August).

2 Austin, Texas

Why go? A happening liberal college town with great nightlife and a thriving live music scene, Austin is in most respects as far from cowboy country as LA or New York. A southern refuge for artists, musicians and writers, the capital of Texas won't have tourists doing their frantic rounds but is simply a darn good place to hang out. Austin also hosts the unique South by Southwest Festival, which annually draws the biggest names in "alt-country" (alterative country/blues) and "borders" music - a hip hybrid of US alt-country and contemporary Mexican. This year's festival starts on Wednesday and runs to next Sunday. Little Richard headlines, along with The Thrills, The B-52s, Papa Roach, Athlete, and The Scissors Sisters.

3 The Presidentials, New Hampshire

Why go? Not for the election but the tallest and most impressive mountains in New England. The Presidentials stand at the heart of New Hampshire and represent the best leaf-peeping terrain. The Appalachian trail, through the heart of the range, is beloved of hikers but almost any road in this rugged region offers spectacular views. Mount Washington Auto Road and Kancamagus Highway afford jaw-clanging panoramas.

4 The Southern Rockies

Why go? Beyond the international flash of ski resorts such as Aspen and Vail, there are quiet, quirky little mountain towns. Try Redstone, Colorado, "the Ruby of the Rockies", or, just to the south, Dunton Hotsprings. This is a gold-rush town, renovated by an inspired hotelier into a rustic resort for well-heeled outdoor types. It's located in Telluride, a valley overlooking the Four Corners, where mountains of Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah meet.

5 Charlotte, North Carolina

Why go? A cool small city with southern charm and an artistic flair, non-stop flights from London make Charlotte easily accessible while leaving it its off-the-beaten-track atmosphere. The city is well within striking distance of the "real" Cold Mountain, partial setting of the recent film and great place for panoramic road trips. Follow the twisting Blue Ridge Mountain parkway to spot soaring views of the mountain itself with plenty of short hiking trails, and camp sites and lodges en route for the adventurous.

6 Paradise, Arizona

Why go? A road trip from Tucson to Tombstone on the Old Spanish Trail goes via the Saguaro National Park, a 100,000-acre reserve famous for its iconic wiggly cacti. Follow State Highway 80 for about 75 miles (along the route of the Old Spanish Trail, formerly the main highway across the southern US) and you'll pass some curious roadside attractions before ending up in Tombstone, the site of the OK Coral. Paradise, above Tombstone in the mountains of the Coronado National Forest, is an 1880s silver-mining town. Here you'll be confronted by Cave Creek Canyon's vast red-rock walls, as impressive as those in the parks of Zion or Yosemite, but with fewer tourists.

7 San Diego, California

Why go? If you've done LA, the Californian wineries and San Francisco, the next stop has to be San Diego. The most instantly likeable coastal spot in southern California, San Diego has almost constant sunshine, smog-free beaches, plus galleries and nightlife in its historical Little Italy district. And it's only 20 miles from Tijuana.

8 Memphis, Tennessee

Why go? The Stax Museum of American Soul Music opened last year in the dilapidated southern part of "America's music capital". It is named after the record label that produced so much talent in the 1960s that this part of town became known as Soulsville, USA. The "Stax sound" produced monster hits, including Sam and Dave's "Soul Man" and Otis Redding's "The Dock of the Bay". The museum looks set to revitalise Memphis, which, while known as the "home of the blues", "birthplace of rock'n'roll", and site of Elvis Presley's old home Graceland, may have seen better days.

9 Louisville, Kentucky

Why go? Better known for the Kentucky derby (16 April to 2 May), Louisville has gained more cult attention lately for Lebowskifest (18-20 June 2004), an annual celebration of all things Lebowski. This homage to "The Dude" (the off-beat American par excellence from the 1998 Coen Brothers' film, The Big Lebowski), includes costume contests, screenings, bowling competitions and far too many White Russians.

10 Sturgis, South Dakota

Why go? The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally started 60 years ago as a small road race and now attracts a quarter of a million bikers. Harley-riding chief executives from Milwaukee (where the Harley-Davidson was born) pull up beside teenagers from Iowa on second-hand Hondas for the biggest celebration of the open road in America. The festival (9-15 August, 2004) sends chapters of bikers on competitions and cruises to such hallowed American sights as Mount Rushmore and the spooky Badlands National Park.

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