I-17, Flagstaff to Phoenix, Arizona

Interstate 17 (I-17) is also known as Black Canyon Freeway.

Michael Turek

Think "interstate highway" and you're likely to conjure up hours of monotony punctuated by the occasional Stuckey's. But America's ribbons of open road tie together some truly dazzling roadside scenery. Here are eight stunning drives that don't require you to risk life and limb on hairpin turns.

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1. I-17, Flagstaff to Phoenix, Arizona

This isn't just a road, it's a movie: a narrative that winds, in a few hours, from the ponderosa pine–studded Colorado Plateau just south of the Grand Canyon, past grand valley vistas, through a red-rock wonderland, to the exclamation-pointed landscape of saguaro-cactus forests north of Phoenix.

Things to Do Along the Way

Look up

Before you leave Flagstaff, take a moment to drive up tree-lined West Mars Hill Road to the Lowell Observatory, where Pluto was discovered in 1930.

See red

The red-rock monoliths of Sedona, just six miles from the highway at Exit 298, change their hue as the sun moves across the impossibly blue sky.

Get the points

Most of those saguaro cacti that stretch to the horizon near Phoenix were around before your great-grandmother was born. A ten-year-old plant might only be a little over an inch tall; it can take 200 years to reach its full height of 40 to 60 feet.

Stretch Your Legs at: Exit 289

Although it was dubbed Montezuma Castle, the Aztec ruler never saw this 800-year-old cliff dwelling.