“America the Beautiful” may seem like the most outstandingly cheesy ode to this country, and it’s easy to read the lyrics and ask, “Purple mountains majesty? Really?” That is, until you actually see purple mountains and, for that matter, amber waves of grain.
Then you realize that it’s not cheesy at all; it’s heartfelt. The song was written in earnest and those places are real. They’re the places that take your breath away without warning, because they’re often not the destination … they’re somewhere along the way.
But they are exquisite in their own rights — and you can see them from behind the wheel, for free, without hordes of other people around. So where are they?
Montana: Oh beautiful, for spacious skies
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that Montana is home to 1,032,949 people – spread out over 147,000 square miles. That’s about seven people per square mile, making it the third least densely populated state.
It’s thanks to this excess of open space that the state earned the nickname “Big Sky Country,” and it’s not just any open space that you’ll find there, but magnificent landscapes of mind-boggling scale.
Idaho: For amber waves of grain
Idaho produces 100 million bushels of wheat each year — much of it in the picturesque rolling hills of the Palouse region, which have long fascinated geologists with their unusual sand dune-like formation.
The state also happens to be home to no fewer than 24 scenic byways that wind through everything from the above-pictured wheat fields to high deserts and pine forests.
Utah: For purple mountain majesties
The High Uintas Wilderness is the largest wilderness area in Utah and it boasts the state’s highest point, King’s Peak, which reaches 13,528 feet in elevation.
The area is popular for hiking, fishing, camping, climbing, and, of course, highpointing. It’s overseen by the National Forest Service, and technically, it belongs to you.
California: Above the fruited plain
According to the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture, California’s Central Valley is one of the most productive growing regions in the world, but that’s not the state’s only agricultural treasure.
California’s many arable regions grow just about every kind of fruit you can think of, from figs and mangoes to oranges and those famous grapes. Watching fruit grow is nothing at all like watching the grass grow: Not only are orchards and vineyards enchanting, there are usually pies (and wine) nearby.
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