Late spring churns up oceans of roadside wildflowers, the smell of cut grass wafts into my convertible, and the sun glints off the acres of aging Detroit chromium. A springtime road trip, the kind where mere whim dictates the direction, makes the drive itself the destination.
Get Out of Town
The following drive takes place in Alabama. Why? Because I live here. For those of you who live nearby or travel through Alabama on the way to the beach, the following route will give you a great taste of the state. Otherwise, I believe the ideal road trip should be near where you live, so you can take it on a moment's notice.
If you live in a big city, you'll probably need to take a major road first. Here in Birmingham, I begin my automotive jaunt down what seems to be the most overdeveloped strip of concrete on Earth, U.S. 280 East. Just out of town, the Coosa River passes under the highway and shortly thereafter, in a charming village named Sylacauga, you'll want to turn onto State 148, headed east.
Lush groves of trees are preserved here in the southwest corner of Talladega National Forest. Though no cartographer has deemed it important enough to draw into a map, take a left here on the gorgeous Talladega Scenic Drive. The drive is rough, suitable only for SUVs or rental cars until you hit Mount Cheaha, Alabama's highest point at 2,407 feet. If you're on wheels you would like to keep, venture up a few more miles to County 7, which will provide a similar but smoother experience.
Shortcut to the Bend
If you want to skip the forest, take a right on County 7, and amble south until you get to the tiny town of Goodwater. From there this shortcut goes into uncharted countryside, so pay close attention. Go northeast on State 9 to Cleveland Crossings, and turn right on State 63. After 6 miles, turn onto Sanford Road. After 8.1 miles, turn left onto Cowpens Road. A right onto Cowpens Road West will put you back on the map at State 22; veer left. After 2 miles, take a right onto State 49 headed south. Travel 9.1 miles, and you'll see the left-hand turn to Horseshoe Bend National Military Park, the site where Andrew Jackson defeated 1,000 Upper Creek Indians in 1814.
Leaving Horseshoe Bend, take State 49 south for 8 miles to U.S. 280 into the town of Dadeville. Make a pit stop at Floyd's Feed & Seed, which brims with boots, bells, flax, fertilizer, tools, saddles, hats, and just about anything else. Another 7 miles on 49, and you will come upon Oskar's Cafe, serving the best beer-battered onion rings on the planet ($4.50). You can get a great meal for around $7.
College Town Stop
Take State 49 south for another 14.6 miles, and turn left onto State 14 east. Follow the gentle hills through Loachapoka (Fred's Feed and Seed is a great stop here), and roll straight into Auburn. My favorite rest stop sits on the corner--Toomer's Drugs, 100 North College Street. Sip their famous lemonade ($2.50), made the same way since 1896.
Press On, or Head Home
If you're tired, leave Auburn and take U.S. 280 home to complete the trip. If not, head east on 280 instead to Exit 60. There go south on State 51 to Hurtsboro, where a left turn will put you on State 26 East. Nine more miles takes you to my favorite town, Hatchechubbee, home to the Hatchechubbee United Methodist Church founded in 1876. Its white clapboard style looks like it popped out of a Norman Rockwell painting.
Continue on 26 for another 7 miles to U.S. 431. A right turn onto 431 will lead, after 33 miles, to the Old South city of Eufaula, a town that grew on the banks above the Chattahoochee River. Eufaula claims some of the most stunning mansions in Alabama. Start your tour with the Shorter Mansion on 340 North Eufaula Avenue, then mosey over to the Dakota Coffee Café for the strongest fresh-roasted brew in South Alabama.
It's only a few hours to the beach from Eufaula, which would be the choice I would make were the sun beginning to set on my road trip. If you need to head back to Birmingham, the fastest way is up U.S. 82 to Montgomery, and then I-65 into the Magic City. As you motor along, keep a sharp eye out--you may see a set of tail fins disappearing over the horizon.
"My Favorite Drive" is from the Southern Living Favorites spring 2004 issue. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.