I've driven a lot of nice roads in my lifetime. My father instilled in all of us a love of driving by always taking "the long way home" and letting us see much of the country through the windshield. With deference to one of the funniest authors out there Bill Bryson, most of those tourist trap destination spots we visited as children I will prefer to keep as precious memories rather than re-visit their brash truths (overpriced hyped up caca).
Anyway, I've taken some really breathtaking drives. Some of my favorites include:
- Highway 1 up the west coast from San Diego to San Francisco "Pacific Coast Highway
- Ohio Rt 26 with its covered bridges
- West Virginia - anywhere outside the cities
- San Juan Skyway in Colorado
- Sunset Point on Rt 63 in Utah
- US Rt 1 Maine going south to Virginia
- Skyline Drive (DC)
- the Autobahn
- Lago di Garda (italy)
- northern scotland
But one of the most interesting, creepiest, and beautiful roads leads directly to my house: Vasco Road.
Many folks in the Bay Area know about Brentwood as the "fruit picking" destination and line up for miles on Vasco during the summer to pick strawberries and peaches and more. To get to Brentwood, you must brave either Vasco Road and its windy, beautiful hills and two close lanes, or Route 4, which is basically a parking lot during sunlight hours. Vasco Road is the way to go if you have a good driver.
In the summertime, Vasco Road is dry and hot. The hills are brown and look like the sides of fuzzy walnut shells. During the rainy season (aka "winter" in california), the hills are lush and green and looks like a golf course for the gods.
Vasco Road utilizes its hills for two things: cow pasturing and windmills. The windmills are just awesome. They look like tall, strong angels standing with their hands in the air saluting the heavens. Their long white, thin arms turn lazily in unison on windy days. The sun sets behind them, giving them power as they churn. You don't realize how huge they are until it dawns on you that the little white boxes at the bases of the windmills are actually sheds that can fit cars inside them. Cows stand at an angle on the hillsides and graze. If there is such a thing as happy california cows I would imagine its those guys.
They used to call it $100,000 road, with the insinuation that with every 10 miles you drove the house price dropped by 100K. This isn't so much true after Brentwood got the dubious distinction of being the fastest growing city in the United States. The schools are good, plenty of parks, shopping and big houses for cheap. (And no, it's not the OJ Simpson Brentwood down by LA).
Taking a quick jaunt down one of the few side streets you'll run into a huge, green lake. Los Vaqueros is the newest lake in Northern California, first filled in January 1999 in the valleys of the rolling foothills. Voters passed a bond in 1988 to create the lake in part because of the promise of a new opportunity for boating, which turned out to be a bait-and-switch. Special rules: No dogs. No private boats of any kind. No gas motors. No bikes at South Gate. No swimming or windsurfing. On trails, youths 12 to 17 must not hike alone, and children younger than 12 must be with adult. Bike riders from North Gate must wear helmets. No alcohol. Smoking permitted only is designated area behind marina.
Vasco Road is also very dangerous. Add a mix of 17 miles of windy roads, impatient SUV drivers, cement trucks going to the contruction sites and garbage trucks coming in and out of the landfill, many people have died on Vasco Road, almost all from someone in a rush trying to cut across or pass when they shouldn't be. Since I've lived out here 4 workers were killed coming into Brentwood when a young pickup driver decided to pass a car going to fast for his tastes and hit the other car head on; a young asian family was killed when they tried to pull out in front of cars going 50mph (they'd come to pick fruit); another woman (a friend of someone I know and a mother of 5) was killed while driving with her husband and child in the car when someone's trailer smashed their car.
Vasco Road because of this - the growing bodies of people in Brentwood, Antioch, Pittsburg who use Vasco Road as the quickest cut through to get to 580, insane house building, and lack of any real job base in the cities (Antoich is over 100,000 people now, Brentwood will reach 70K in a few years), increased traffic on the roads, impatience and frustrating commute times, all lead to politicians battling for funds to widen the road and increase safety. Nothing much ever actually gets done though.
But if you ever want a nice Sunday drive, I highly suggest Vasco Road. One piece of advice though: if you're taking in the scenery in a leisurely pace, have courtesy for those of us who live there and have kids and dogs and families waiting on us, and move to the side to allow passing for those who get impatient and make stupid moves.
HISTORY OF VASCO ROAD:
Built as a two-lane county road during World War II, Vasco Road, which runs from Livermore in Alameda County north to Brentwood in Contra Costa County, was relocated in the mid-1990s to accommodate the construction of the Los Vaqueros Reservoir. When the new Vasco Road opened in 1996, it carried 16,000 vehicles per day; it now carries more than 22,000.