Modern travelers circle the globe, cruise, and tour from China to Cuba. However, anyone seeking the ultimate adventure needs only to drive anywhere across our own grand country.
The open road stitches our country together. City dwellers clamoring about crowds can marvel at the vast open spaces. Children and teens will imbibe living history everywhere. Touring “at home” is the “wagons-ho” formula for discovering America’s greatness in the slow lane, a reminder of the USA’s beauty, hospitality, diversity, uniqueness, unsurpassed anywhere else in the world.
Travel old Route 66 of song and TV fame with its “old-timey” kitsch and kooky outposts from start—Chicago’s famed Art Institute, to finish—California’s fabled Santa Monica pier. In the ‘50s, I wound up the Atlantic coast featuring Key West’s Hemingway House, Florida orange groves, then north through the solemnity of civil war battlefields, and Kentucky horse country. No one should miss the grandeur and civics lesson of D.C., the bustle and bounty of New York, our beginnings in New England.
The thrill of the United States delights in all directions. My personal American odyssey was a drive From California to Chicago in 1961 then replicated in 2002—noting 40 years of change and revisiting the magic of cross-country America. The first trip, my husband’s sporty two-seater Triumph followed the rolling ribbon of two-lane highways through huge swathes of lush farmland, classic small towns, even July snow in the massive Rockies. We propped up our pup tent when the mood hit, the sun sank or we got hungry—no reservations necessary. Our goal was to hit all the national parks, and back then Yellowstone offered a few campsites for latecomers. Fortunately the bears and most tourists skipped the near-by Grand Tetons. In a near-empty landscape, we reveled in its majestic peaks, a leisurely horseback tour and lazing on Lake Jenny in solitary bliss.
Forty years later, the national park scene had changed and clogged. Expansive vistas gave way to snaking lines, ticket booths, gift shops and limited access. The concrete pavilion/cafe of Mount Rushmore distanced the impact of the presidential carvings. Cruising swiftly along a widened Interstate 80 sharply contrasted with our earlier route now weedy and cracked, with worn out towns and shuttered gas stations. However, in ’02 we watched an enormous Crazy Horse mosaic unfolding on a mountainside, gazed at the 1,000 pound pig at the Iowa State Fair and welcomed the wonderful Mormon Museum that straddles the wide highway, a true bridge to their historical flight.
If memory dims the differences of my two trips, it highlights their delights—much remains. The amazing corn palace constructed solely from cobs still beckons travelers to Mitchell, S. D.; the ‘49er’s wagon ruts survive as do the daily orders tacked up at an original Kansas fort. We again enjoyed a picnic on the banks of the Mississippi, joined a friendly coffee klatch of prosperous Iowa farmers at a far-off-road café and tucked into a farmhouse feast with sociable strangers.
A multitude of adventures also merge—car wheels stuck at a deserted Ogallala beach; an almost plunge into a reservoir in total blackness, a lightning storm across the open plains, eerie Jurassic terrain above Cody, Wyoming. Over two thousand miles, we grew bored, tired, hot, and then swiftly revived at a Las Vegas style, neon mecca rising like a mirage above the Bonneville Salt Flats.
It’s America—tempting byroads, famous landmarks, hidden gems, silos, skyscrapers—always, amazingly more. A few maps, lively curiosity and a loose schedule will cement one’s pride in our great country and rival any other route in the world.