There are millions of great reasons to hit the road and see the USA this summer, but today (June 21st) is the summer solstice, so if you are going to get out there and have some fun, you better get busy or the summer of 2012 will quickly fade from future into the past. The summer solstice, marking the longest day (and shortest night) of the year, has traditionally been one of the most important days of the calendar, and cultures around the world have marked the day with a variety of celebrations and activities. Most famous of these is probably the 5000-year-old Neolithic monument at Stonehenge in England, where massive stones have been arranged to line up with the solstice sunrise and other significant dates, serving as super-sized calendar, astronomical observatory and pop culture icon (think “Spinal Tap!)
But you don’t need to cross the oceans to enjoy the solstice; there are all sorts of wonderfully memorable places, all over the USA, where you can make these sorts of cosmic connections (and have some fun, too!). One of my very favorite road trip sights stands almost forgotten on a forested volcanic plateau above the rolling landscape of rural southern Ohio: the enigmatic Serpent Mound , the first official archaeological site discovered and preserved anywhere in North America. Built some 500 years before Columbus landed in the New World, the sinuous Serpent Mound snakes for hundreds of feet from its coiled tail down to its toothed head, which faces the solstice sunset. This is the finest and among the largest of dozens of “mound cities” along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, many of which are included in Road Trip USA tours .
The Serpent Mound is especially worth a visit this summer, since it stands less than an hour from Cincinnati’s wonderful new American Sign Museum , which opens its fabulous new home this weekend.
And in case you’re miles away from Ohio, don’t despair; there are other solstice-worthy road trip destinations all around the USA. Perhaps even more impressive than Ohio’s Serpent Mound are the equally ancient remains at Chaco Canyon, north of Route 66 in western New Mexico. Along with beautiful architecture of the pre-Columbian pueblos , Chaco Canyon is also the location of the Sun Dagger, a narrow slit carved into sandstone caves so on the summer solstice, it casts a beam of light onto spiral-shaped petroglyphs. For more information, check out The Solstice Project .
At the other end of the country, up in New England the place to go is Cadillac Mountain, in Acadia National Park . The highest point on the New England coast, Cadillac Mountain is a place where the sunrise first lights upon American soil and people make their way to the summit to enjoy the unique experience and the gorgeous views. And perhaps best of all: you can drive to the top!
And finally, solstice is a great time for car-loving druids to make the pilgrimage to Carhenge —a faithful and fun recreation of England’s Stonehenge, but located in the Sand Hills of northwestern Nebraska. And instead of solid stone, this one is made entirely out of dozens of late-model American cars.
Jamie Jensen, author of Road Trip USA , grew up in Southern California and spent his early twenties bumming around the country. Since then, he’s traveled more than 400,000 miles in search of the perfect stretch of two-lane blacktop. For more road trip guides, check out Road Trip USA Atlantic Coast , Road Trip USA Pacific Coast Highway , and Road Trip USA Route 66.