The iconic American cross-country road trip has always been one that goes from east to west, said Heather Smith MacIsaac in Travel + Leisure. I wanted to experience the sweep of our nation from a different perspective, by driving north to south along “America’s spine.” I would trace the Continental Divide, the “mighty invisible line that runs along the top of the Rocky Mountains and determines whether water flows west to the Pacific or east to the Atlantic.” Beginning at the Canadian border and ending in New Mexico, I plotted out a 2,000-mile route “that followed it as closely as pavement would permit.”
Hours after I got off a plane in Kalispell, Mont., I was cruising down “one of the most celebrated highways in America.” Montana’s Going-to-the-Sun Road has spectacular panoramas of cedar forests, glacial lakes, and windswept alpine tundra. It weaves through Glacier National Park and passes the Divide at 6,646-foot-high Logan Pass. There, “at the crown of the continent,” I watched water flow in not two but three directions—toward the Atlantic, the Pacific, and the Arctic. The rest of Montana was a “honeypot” of forest and fertile plain, ending in the great national parks of Yellowstone and Grand Teton.
I stopped for a good night’s sleep in Wyoming—and some of the best single-malt whisky the state has to offer—at the Two-Bit Cowboy Saloon in Miner’s Delight. This old mining town sits just east of South Pass, where the Oregon, Mormon, and California Trails all converge with the old Pony Express route. “Coming off the open range of Wyoming, Colorado seemed constricted,” at least until I hit Independence Pass, the highest paved crossing of the Divide. As we descended from 12,095 feet, down through the cool Rockies, I welcomed New Mexico’s “warmer palette, higher temperatures, hotter food,” and ancient ruins. Driving through the “swirling volcanic terrain of El Malpais National Monument” and the Gila National Forest, I finally arrived in Silver City, the former Apache campsite that sits right atop the Divide.
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