What is it about travel, of any kind (on foot, in a car, on a train, you name it, whatever it is), that rekindles so many basic emotions, thoughts, & ruminations?
I’ll take a stab at this one – our prehistoric ancestors were nomads. Times may have changed, but our basic roots haven’t. It’s that simple.
I grew up from age 5-10 in a small town in Maine, just south of the capital, Augusta… and took the train from there to Boston with my mom, bro’, and sis, to visit an old aunt ensconced on Beacon Hill, off Charles St.
It traveled past many whistle stops/towns, and followed the Kennebec river for a while.
One of my favorite books of all time is Bruce Chatwin’s “The Songlines”.
A brilliant book about travel… into the past, in Australia.
The first part of the book is about the travel itself…. the second half is about thoughts about travel… & what it really means.
Just one perfect quote (culled from centuries of literature, Bruce C. had an encyclopedic memory!)…
“Our nature lies in movement; complete calm is death.”
Pascal / Pensees
This picture was taken on Xmas day, 2008, on a trip to Las Vegas Nevada. It’s at the highest point in Red Rock Canyon just a few miles west of LV. It was a cold and stormy day, the last of a storm was blowing thru, it had snowed in downtown LV the day before.
No lack of visitors, was there? I heard at least 6 different languages being spoken.
A sight to see, and music to my ears.
How many different flavors of ‘road trip’ are there?
There’s the kind you took w/ your parents when you were a kid, and you didn’t have much say in where you went, what you did.
Then there’s the kind you took w/ your college buddies or girlfriends, too much booze and craziness, not interested in much else but the crazy part, having a wild time before you have to settle down and become this thing called ‘an adult’.
There’s the kind where you are the adult, w/ kids in the back seat who are always asking ‘are we there yet?’. I never did any of those.
Then there’s the kind of road trip when it’s just you, solo, no one else, that’s my kind of trip.
And it seems to be about… a recall of emotions, thoughts, & ruminations, running thru your mind, as the miles and the landscape pass by.
My best and most inspiring trip was the one I made in late 1991.
Dumping the east coast, moving west, the drive started on Dec 26, 1991.
I grew up in Maine & NH, spent 20+ years in/around Wash. DC, when my marriage and my photo business bit the dust in 1991, i remembered several visits to the west coast – to San Francisco, and to Reno NV.
One day I woke up on the 9th floor of a temporary apt in Arlington, VA,… and thought “I am outta here!” – as the intro to the Monty Python show goes, “Now it’s time for something *COMPLETELY* different.
And so it was.
I loaded up my Subaru hatchback w/ anything that would fit, and had an apt. sale for all the rest.
“Stuff”… i mean how much do you REALLY need?
I took all my photo-gear, & prints, a few clothes, and some cassette tapes. And a guitar.
A Subaru hatchback usually rides higher in the back than the front. Mine?… was lower in the back, it was loaded to the hilt.
I left Va. and drove to see my sister, for what will probably be the last time, in So. Carolina.
Next day, hit US 40, heading west… and drove as far as i could in a day.
US 40 is the best east to west drive during winter, the ‘southern’ route.
I don’t remember much of the first few days drive – it all looked like the east coast, i just drove like mad to get west, ‘pedal to the metal’, for a few days.
Oklahoma just looked like lots of oil wells, pumping day in and day out.
When I got to New Mexico, the land started to look different, definitely.
I took a short side trip north a few miles to see Santa Fe, since I’d heard so much about it.
In some ways it resembled eastern cities where the outskirts are all modern, 4 lane roads w/ lots of the usual chains/ fast food.. but the city center was laid out a long time ago, streets were two lanes, tight & close. I had what I thought was a rather expensive sandwich, and moved on.
When i got to Arizona? Even more different.
A big snowstorm stopped me in Holbrooke AZ for a day. My first taste of ‘west coast’ weather – just cause I am in AZ doesn’t mean it’s all palm trees and Phoenix-like heat, oh no. Even the long haul truckers pulled over for a day.
I stopped, parked myself in a motel for a day until it cleared. On my way out, I checked out the ‘Petrified Nat’l forest’ outside Holbrooke.
Whereupon I took in my first great view of western landscape, the ‘painted desert’ is what this view is called.
It blew me away, totally.
There’s the first photographic theme of my life in the west – landscapes. Kind of a no brainer, hunh?
But i really didn’t know what to expect, or what i might do w/ my new life.
Here’s a map of the place, and another photo, it’s definitely worth a visit.
And a bit more info:
The second stop i made was in Seligman AZ, pulling off I-40 for some lunch.
It was typical of many desert towns – at one point years ago the main road was also the ‘main street of town’. Since the advent of interstate hi ways, they have been bypassed, and the town sort of… withers on the vine.
A sad state of affairs.
This is the way many of these towns look:
But it made me aware of a theme that I, and many photographers, have worked on – the continuing decay of many places in the american west. Progress can be cruel, leave many eating it’s dust. And, yes, many places have grown.
It’s all a matter of …luck?
I’ve traveled thru a few towns that got forgotten, and I am glad for a few that have seen recent renaissance.
A case in point of ‘recent renaissance’? Mojave, California. The town has had a huge airplane graveyard for many years, and has now seen the era of ‘private space exploration’ give it a good boost.
Back to my trip…..the rest of which was pretty much just flat out driving.
I did come to one spot on US 40 west of Needles CA where the road brings you thru a mountain pass and then dumps you out into the vast landscape of the Mojave. Once again, color me ‘blown away’, wherever you can find that hue. Photoshop’s great, but i can’t find that color anywhere.
California’s central valley is a world unto itself – endless fields of produce, and of fruit orchards.. and of other grown commodities, including palm trees.
Finally, on New Year’s Day 1992, I arrive in SF.
And that’s another story altogether.
And now, the most recent batch of links:
Here’s another long a thoughtful road trip that i mentioned in the previous post, but bears repeating:
July 7, 2012
‘Blue Highways’ Revisited
By Larry Kaufmann
Even with record high gasoline prices and sweltering temperatures, millions of Americans will take to the road this summer to discover America. Before they do, they should also take the time to rediscover Blue Highways: A Journey into America, a classic American travelogue written by William Least Heat-Moon. Blue Highways will soon reach the 30th anniversary of its publication, and in honor of the occasion, two photographers recently retraced the author’s journey and took photos showing what the people and places described in Blue Highways look like today. Their work has been published in Blue Highways Revisited, a remarkable achievement in its own right.
Here’s a few more interesting links:
Get your kicks on Route 66!
Five places to do just that: April Orcutt Published 11:26 a.m., Friday, September 14, 2012
Authentic Old West Road Trip
From the May/June 2011 issue of National Geographic Traveler
Classic American West Road Trip Photos
by Andi Vollmer, March 12, 2012
That’s it for this month, hope you enjoyed the read.