Road tripping with Congress

The peak summer driving season is upon us, and Americans are hitting the highways. With more than 46,000 miles of Interstate and hundreds of thousands of state roads, four wheels and a tank of gas can get travelers to plenty of vacation destinations.

Getting there is half the fun, and tourists who take the time to see the sights along the way return home with a true picture of Americana. From scenic routes to local festivals, those on Capitol Hill have a long list of road-trip recommendations in their states for vacationers who want to travel off the beaten path.

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Anyone driving from Washington to Cleveland will pass through Rep. Steven LaTourette’s (R-Ohio) district, home to the largest annual festival for twins — as in identical or fraternal. During the first full weekend of August, Twinsburg, Ohio, hosts a Twins Days Festival that has everyone seeing double. Most events are open to the public, but some, such as the opening night wiener roast, are only for those who shared a womb.

Vermont also hosts its share of festivals. This year marks the quadricentennial celebration of Samuel de Champlain’s exploration of the lake that would come to bear his name. The Champlain International Waterfront Festival, July 2-14, will present the best of the region’s Franco-American and Native American history, music and art.

Mystery lovers can scour the lake for the legendary sea monster, “Champ.” Since the 19th century, locals and visitors alike have reported sightings of a serpent-like creature that lives in the lake.

Sightseers looking for an outdoor adventure can take in the 1,300 miles of bicycle trails that compose the Lake Champlain Bikeways. “Whether you bike, hike, canoe or kayak, Vermont’s trail networks are second to none,” said Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.). The 272-mile Long Trail and the 146-mile Vermont section of the Appalachian Trail offer the best hiking in New England, he added.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and his wife are avid hikers and spend time in the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Cardin also likes trails at the Oregon Ridge Nature Center and Gunpowder Falls State Park. “These trails are well-maintained and they’re not difficult to handle, even for beginning hikers or bikers,” said Susan Sullam, Cardin’s communications director.

Hiking is also popular among those traveling in Utah. Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) represents Utah’s 2nd district, home to five national parks. “If someone is passing through Utah and does not go to Zion National Park, they are missing out,” said Mike Empey, Matheson’s Southern Utah field representative.

Springdale, Utah, is the gateway community to Zion. “If you’re in Springdale, you have to go and have a slice of bumbleberry pie at the Bumbleberry Inn,” Empey said. The Smith family has owned the inn since 1972, and according to family legend, bumbleberries are burple- and binkelberries that grow on giggle bushes.

Pie aside, Empey urged drivers to be cautious when traveling between Utah’s parks on Highway 12. “One part called Hell’s Backbone is about 1,000 feet off the ground on one side and 800 or 900 feet off of the other. Pull over if you want to look at the view,” he said.

When it comes to scenic routes, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) suggests travelers drive Oregon’s Highway 101. “There are lots of great road trips in the 4th district, but everyone should see the Oregon coast,” he said.

In addition to gorgeous views, Highway 101 offers interesting stops, such as the Heceta Head Lightstation bed-and-breakfast. After a good night’s rest in the lighthouse, visitors can head to the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area to see sand dunes that tower 500 feet above sea level. When it’s time to stop for a snack, DeFazio recommends the homemade jams, honey and other treats at Misty Meadow’s in Bandon, Ore. The family-run store sits next to the original roadside stand.

In the Midwest, museum lovers won’t want to miss a 100-mile stretch of Missouri’s Highway 36 that’s home to four museums: the Walt Disney Hometown Museum, General of the Armies John J. Pershing’s boyhood home, the J.C. Penney Museum and the Jesse James Museum. “Gangsters, innovators and generals — we have it all in Missouri’s 6th district,” said Jason Klindt, a spokesman for Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.).

History buffs traveling in Virginia should see America’s Historic Triangle, which is made up of Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown. Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) said, “In Jamestown, you can see where English settlers struck out into the New World to build the first settlement in 1607.”

Williamsburg served as the colonial capital of Virginia and nurtured the movement that sparked the Revolutionary War. “In Yorktown, you can visit the battlefield where Washington’s forces defeated Lord Cornwallis to secure our independence and change the course of history,” Wittman said. Living history and gallery exhibits along with films allow visitors to take a step back in time.

In Texas, tourists can navigate the same stretch of ground as Davy Crockett on the El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) said the trail spans hundreds of miles and leads through pine forests in East Texas, Caddo Indian mounds in Alto and missions in San Antonio. “Davy Crockett used a section of the trail to reach the Alamo while Mexican Gen. Santa Anna sought a quick surprise assault on the Texans in San Antonio utilizing a linking trail,” she said.

Vacationers who prefer to take in sun and sand can head to Rehoboth Beach, Del. When at the beach, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) is known to buy salt-water taffy from Dolle’s. The candy shop has 12 flavors of taffy, caramel corn and fudge.

A sandwich in the South means barbecue, and Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) suggests Barry’s Barbecue in Fyffe, Ala. “It is one best barbecue places in our district,” he said. It is open only Thursday, Friday and Saturday, but it is a bargain with pork sandwiches for $2.95.

The South is also the home to the world’s largest basketball. The Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tenn., features a 10-ton ball perched on a glass staircase that resembles a basketball net. “After shooting hoops, head on to Litton’s for some of the best hamburgers in the entire world,” said Rep. John Duncan Jr. (R-Tenn.). Litton’s Market, Restaurant and Bakery in Knoxville opened in 1946 and is run by third- and fourth-generation Littons. In addition to Duncan, quarterback Peyton Manning and country singer Kenny Chesney are fans of the food.

All that food is apt to make travelers thirsty. Erica Woodward, a native of Kentucky and the executive assistant to Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Calif.), suggests beer connoisseurs traveling through her home state take time to visit the Lexington Brewing Co. in downtown Lexington.

Whether it is a breathtaking view or the world’s largest house of mud, every town has something to offer, so when in doubt, ask a local. Luckily for those on Capitol Hill, you don’t have to go very far to find people from all 50 states.