Given enough time to travel leisurely, there is nothing that beats a road trip by car. When I was about 13 years old, my parents decided to set aside two weeks each summer and pack two adults, three children and lots of luggage into the family station wagon and take off on a cross-country adventure.
We explored most of the nation’s national parks; we ate dinner off a chuck wagon in North Dakota and sang with the cowboys under the stars. We were cave spelunkers so we explored caves of all sizes, some large enough to house a cafeteria (Mammoth Caves of Kentucky), and one we traveled through by boat (Lost River Cave) in Tennessee.
We gazed into the Grand Canyon, watched the divers dive for pearls in Mexico, attended the Calgary Stampede in Calgary, Canada, rode a trawler out on the Athabasca Glacier in Jasper, Alberta, Canada, and had a snowball fight in the Rocky Mountains on the fourth of July. (see photo)
We saw Old Faithful erupt, danced with Native Americans, and joined friends for a catfish fry in South Carolina. We experienced New Orléans, reached the top of Pike’s Peak and crossed the Mojave Desert into California.
My parents gambled a bit in Las Vegas, my father excelled at haggling with the craftsman in Mexico, acquiring us lace beach hats and cover-ups, alligator purses, pottery and jewelry. (see photo) We swam in both oceans, Lake Tahoe and the Great Salt Lake.
We encountered history at Monticello and Mount Vernon, at Custer’s Last Stand, and on the civil war battlefields of Manassas, Virginia. In between stopping to explore various attractions, we would love to stop at Stuckey’s restaurants and buy souvenirs. I collected charms of the states and places we visited.
I could go on forever about our vacations. It was a time my father shed his worries about his business and concentrated on family. The time together in the car lead to family sing- alongs (The Bear Went Over the Mountain was dad’s favorite). We played license plate Bingo and evenings found us swimming in the motel pool and sampling the local cuisine.
The advantage of a car road trip for us was the ability to set our own schedule, avoid missing things by flying over them or passing by so fast we couldn’t be sure what we’d seen. We were able to immerse ourselves in the local culture, talk to Native Americans, Mexican craftsmen, cowboys of Canada. We saw history through the eyes of others : the Civil War through the eyes of the southerners, living a simple life through the eyes of the Amish, traditions of the Native Americans, the lore of the cowboys, the songs of the prairie.
There is so much to discover in this diverse, yet united, nation of ours, as well as those of our neighbors to the north and south. It was always my dad’s dream to take the family to Alaska, but we ran out of time to do it together. We did, however, cover the lower 48 states in our travels.
The downside to traveling by car these days are traffic jams because of the number of people on the road. GPS can help here. A car trip can’t be beat for providing family time, for truly experiencing all the wonderful, diverse cultures that make up our country, exploring our neighbors and their cultures to the north and south.
I can still feel the excitement of that first day, the car packed, the open road and lots of time ours for the taking.. I can still hear the sound of the tires spinning as we headed down the highway, nothing weighing us down, nowhere we had to be, just enjoying the freedom and looking forward … to see what we could see.
If you haven’t read John Steinbeck’s classic, Travels with Charley, do so. It is the ultimate road trip story, recounted only as Steinbeck can do.
More on methods of travel next post.