Laurel Kerr's 5 Favorite Road Trip Stops
Every summer my family and I used to pile into my grandparents’ Grand Marquis for a road trip. We particularly loved traveling west from our home near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The long days in the car encouraged my imagination, especially after we toured a museum or National Park. The true tales about people always fascinated me, and as the scenery passed by, I’d weave stories inspired by the landscape and the new facts I’d learned.
Here are some of the places where I’ve traveled that inspired me the most:
Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
My favorite place in the world is Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah. Although not nearly as deep or broad as the more famous Grand Canyon, Bryce has a more intimate feel—at least as intimate as a still-massive canyon can be. Ice and rain have carved the red, orange, pink, and white sandstone of Bryce into slender, knobby pinnacles called “hoodoos.” Some look like fairy castles, others like French poodles, and still more like goblins. One rock outcropping has the appearance of (and is named after) a sinking ship. When you hike the trails, you weave among these wonderful formations, lost in a world of brilliant sunset hues. Although the southwestern setting of the Where the Wild Hearts Are series does not include hoodoos, the cliffs surrounding the town of Sagebrush Flats do have the same wonderful, vibrant colors.
Capitol Reef National Park, UT
Named after a white-capped, dome-shaped cliff reminiscent of the US Capitol Building, Capitol Reef National Park is a stunning blend of colors. It also includes a wonderful oasis with an old orchard planted by early Mormon settlers. The green lushness provides an unexpected and delightful contrast to the surrounding arid land and bright orange cliffs. My first memory of the park is from when I traveled there as a nine-year-old child. I was helping my mother pick apricots to purchase when my mother saw a sign that said people could sample some on the premises. She turned to tell my older sister—the ultimate fruit-lover. Of course, my sister had already read the notice and had several in her mouth. I never eat an apricot that I don’t think of Capitol Reef and the peaceful grove. The Mormons who built the town of Fruita weren’t the first people to find the area a haven. Magnificent petroglyphs primarily attributed to the Freemont Culture are etched into the red sandstone. They are estimated to have been carved between 600 and 1300 AD.
Although Sagebrush Flats in my Where the Wild Hearts Are series is located in an arid region, there are pockets of greenery near sources of water. This will play a larger role in book three, which will be out next year.
Grand Tetons National Park, WY
When I first traveled to Grand Tetons as a nine-year-old, I was more impressed with the geysers, mudpots, and brilliantly-colored sulphur pools of nearby Yellowstone. Static mountains didn’t grasp my imagination back then. When I returned twenty years later, however, the beauty of the glacier-capped mountains towering over clear blue lakes fascinated me. We traveled there in early June and saw incredible wildlife, including a moose and her calf at the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve next to the park. One of my favorite memories was traveling away from the Grand Tetons on Interstate 28 and then turning back around and driving straight toward the majestic peaks. (We often would take drives like this in the afternoons since my grandparents could no longer hike like they used to do.) I remember being stunned by the ragged mountains rising from sheer flatness. As someone born and bred in the foothills of the ancient Alleghenies, I’m used to undulated landscapes, not the pure brute force of younger ranges.
Although Sagebrush Flats would be to the south of Wyoming, this contrast of cliffs rising from flatness appears in my novels. When I think of Sagebrush’s topography, I often think of this picture, but with redder, smaller rock formation jutting from the ground and more patchy vegetation.
Roads—Lombard Street, Highway 1, Moki Dugway, Route 20
A road trip story wouldn’t be complete without the mention of the roads themselves. I fell in love with my first road—well street—in San Francisco: Lombard. I was seven when I first traveled on what some consider to be the most twisty street in the world. I loved it so much, my grandfather indulged me, and we went up and down it several times.
During that same vacation, we drove on the picturesque (but windy) Highway 1, which hugs the California coast, offering wonderful views. Unfortunately, all the turns made my sister carsick. Ever since then, Highway 1 has been evoked many times by my family as the measuring stick for all other scenic but curvy roads.
My family happened upon one of my favorite roads during a drive near Monument Valley, AZ. I noticed on the map an intriguing path over a tall ridge. It turned out to be a series of tight, dirt-road switchbacks called the Moki Dugway (located in the AZ/UT border on Route 261). My grandfather, the adventurous one, accepted the challenge over my grandmother’s protests. My sister and mother weren’t too thrilled either. I loved it, however. It was an amazing view as we traversed back and forth along the cliff face, the flat land getting further and further away as we climbed higher and higher. Did I mention there were no guardrails?
Unfortunately, I do not have a picture of the glorious Moki Dugway, so instead I included one from Route 20 in WY heading from Soshoni to Thermopolis. The road cuts through a beautiful canyon and twists along a river, but its proximity to an old railroad line really fascinated my family, especially my grandfather. He worked in the rail industry for over seventy years, and his father was a railcar builder.
As you can probably tell, my family embraced America’s love for recreational driving, and it was on these trips where my imagination was first exercised. Although I am from the east, it was these travels that prompted me to set my series in the west.
The Orkney Islands, Scotland
Yes, this last entry doesn’t quite fit with the others. When my grandfather passed away, I was already considering traveling to the Orkney Islands in Scotland to do research for Sweet Wild of Mine, since the hero of the book grew up there. My grandfather’s death cemented the decision since a trip in the United States would hold too many memories when I was still feeling raw from the loss. When my grandmother died a few months later, my mother, who had been her caretaker, decided to join my husband, our one-year-old, and me on our vacation.
Our journey to Orkney began at Jedburgh, the ancient seat of the Kerr Clan in the formerly rough and tumble Borders between Scotland and England. We traversed the Lowlands and spent the night at Stirling after touring its impressive castle. The next day we headed through the misty peaks of the Cairngorms then north past Inverness through the Highlands and then finally to the car ferry at Thurso at the northern tip of Great Britain. In contrast to the day’s rain and fog, when we arrived at Mainland (the primary isle of Orkney), the sun sh overhead despite the lateness of the hour due to the island’s position far north of the equator. The bright rays illuminated the vibrant green landscape and clear blue waters. A sense of ancientness greeted us. The rolling landscape offers peeks into our distant Neolithic and Iron Age past—a chamber tomb here, an ancient dwelling there, a lone standing stone on one stretch of land, an impressive ring of them in another, then behind a hill, a tall broch with the remnants of a surrounding village at its base. The landscape also offers a variety of wonders from sheer sea cliffs to peaceful pasture land gently turning into a sandy beach. It is no wonder that people chose to settle on these verdant islands in the North Sea despite the short winter days and often howling, brutal winds. There is a life-giving beauty in the harsh environment.
In Sweet Wild of Mine, I thought it would be interesting to take someone who grew up in a damp, misty, but fertile environment and place them in the southwestern United States. The hero of my novel who is an author himself describes the experience in a book he is writing as:
I didn’t expect the sharp cold…or her. I’ve always imagined the American desert to be insufferably hot with a dryness that causes a man’s very cells to wither. Yet when I arrived, I discovered a crispness to the air. It is a new chill, not as baltic as the Arctic Circle or as dreich as Orkney. The sun still blazes overhead, a harbinger of the sweltering days to come.
Sweet Wild of Mine - Where the Wild Hearts Are Book 2
Love runs wild at the Sagebrush Flats Zoo…
In a bid to revitalize his career, bestselling author Magnus Gray has come to Sagebrush Flats to write about the local zoo’s latest rescue—an orphaned baby polar bear. But Magnus dreads the drama of small towns and is bullishly determined to keep to himself.
June Winters is a people person, and delights in welcoming Magnus to Sagebrush Flats, though it seems unlikely she can get the handsome stranger to crack a smile. Then a mishap with an open gate forces Magnus and June to deal with a stampeding flock of fainting goats, an adorable but clingy polar bear cub, a cranky pregnant camel, and two star-crossed honey badgers. Never mind small town drama—the lively animals may just convince these two that opposites really do attract…
“Hilarious…a truly touching contemporary romance about the power of love and family.”—Night Owl Reviews Top Pick
This giveaway is now over. The lucky winner is: Linda Leonard