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Take the Road Less Traveled: Resources for Shunpikers

Travel Insider

Publications: A host of guidebooks, magazines and services available for those who prefer not to take the main route.

December 08, 1996|CHRISTOPHER REYNOLDS | TIMES TRAVEL WRITER

Attention, shunpikers.

And that probably means you. Shunpiker is a 19th century term for a traveler who avoids main routes in favor of side roads, the sort of less-traveled routes that contemporary writer William Least Heat Moon calls "Blue Highways."

All evidence suggests that there are millions of such people in America. After all, far more American vacations are conducted by car than by any other transportation. And this nation's shunpiker population would be even higher, I'm sure, if time limitations didn't make so many travelers into prisoners of the interstates.

Sensing that, several publishers and others in recent years have been taking aim at the road-tripper market. The most distinguished among them may be the National Geographic Society, but the popular guidebook publisher Moon Travel Handbooks is in on this trend too. And several far smaller publishers of quarterly magazines and newsletters have been on the scent for several years now.

Here, with holiday gift season upon us, is a sampling of road-trip resources. Keep in mind that especially on the subjects of Route 66 and RV travel, there's plenty more out there for anyone who cares to search.

Books: America's bookshelves are crowded with travel guidebooks these days, and many of them aim to cover long-distance drives. One new volume, and notable success, is "Road Trip USA: Cross-Country Adventures on America's Two-Lane Highways" (Moon Travel Publications, $22.50). The book, written by veteran guidebook author Jamie Jensen, is filled with maps and photos (color and black-and-white), and organized around 11 cross-country routes (six run north-south; the rest, including Route 66, run east-west). Graphically handsome, the book adroitly weaves together sightseeing advice with history and restaurant and lodging recommendations.

National Geographic focus on road-trippers began with "National Geographic's Guide to Crossing America: The Interstates" (March 1995, $21.95)--a colorful, map-filled paperback with the telltale Geo yellow border on its cover--and "National Geographic's Guide to Scenic Highways and Byways" (March 1996, $21.95). The first book is organized by interstate (I-5 gets 20 pages). The second breaks the nation into 10 regions and employs more than 500 color photos and maps. Neither has the quirky character or in-depth information of the Moon book, but the visuals can't be beat.

Those two books marked a new focus for National Geographic books. Pleased by their reception, the society is now about halfway through publishing a series of 12 books, "National Geographic's Driving Guides to America," each one keyed to a different geographic region and written in greater depth than either of the coast-to-coast volumes. The western U.S. will be covered in volumes on the Southwest (already out), and California and the Far West. Other volumes either published or scheduled include ones on the Rockies, New England, and Washington D.C. and Environs.

Periodicals: These publications offer far folksier views of America, views that depend heavily on the personalities and experiences of their publishers. Here are four:

Out West: The Newspaper That Roams (9792 Edmonds Way, Suite 265, Edmonds, WA 98020; telephone [800] 274-9378). A quarterly, tabloid-size, on newsprint. Covers the 11 western states, runs 24 to 28 pages, includes ads. Circulation: about 8,000. Publisher Chuck Woodbury, now 49, started the publication in 1987 and has built it into a full-time occupation. For about three months of every year, he bids his wife and daughter goodbye (or brings them along) and wanders in a 24-foot motor home. His Fall '96 issue features meanderings in Idaho and Montana, including a bull testicle festival east of Missoula and a flat tire in George, Wash. Subscriptions: $11.95 yearly.

Roadside Magazine (tel. [508] 791-1838; Coffee Cup Publishing, P.O. Box 652, Worcester, MA 01602). Quarterly, magazine-size, glossy cover. Six years old, usually about 40 pages. Circulation 2,000. Covers "the back roads and Main Streets of America" with a heavy emphasis on diner-style restaurants, including diner-for-sale ads in the back pages. Cover story of last issue focused on revival of Cleveland. Publisher Randy Garbin spends six weeks a year or more on the road in a Nissan Sentra. Subscriptions: $14 yearly.

Route 66 Magazine (tel. [702] 298-5703; P.O. Box 66, Laughlin, NV 89028-0066). Quarterly. Magazine format, glossy cover, usually about 64 pages with ads. Publisher Paul Taylor, going into his fourth year with a circulation of about 35,000, says he sometimes strays from the Mother Road to national parks and other attractions within 100 miles of the route, but otherwise, 66 is the subject. The Fall '96 issue includes pieces on the largest catsup bottle in the world (a factory display in Collinsville, Ill.) and the multiple reroutings of 66 through St. Louis over the decades. Taylor makes it a point to drive the entire highway at least once a year. Subscriptions: $14 a year.

The auto club: Maybe AAA membership sounds dull and grown-up, but there are good reasons why 4.3 million Californians--more than one-fourth of the state's drivers--have joined the auto club. Once you've spent the $40 yearly fee (plus a $20 enrollment fee for the first year), you're entitled to emergency road service, free guidebooks, customized "TripTik" maps plotting your vacation routes, car insurance and financing, discounts at hotels and other businesses. Members and nonmembers can use the auto club's travel agency services.

Reynolds travels anonymously at the newspaper's expense, accepting no special discounts or subsidized trips. He welcomes comments and suggestions, but cannot respond individually to letters and calls. Write Travel Insider, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053 or e-mail chris.reynolds@latimes.com.

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