American road trips rank among my favorite pastimes; there is so much to see in this country that I don’t think even a lifetime of road trips could capture everything. Traveling across the country, in any direction, makes it difficult for anyone not to appreciate the diverse landscape and culture. Granted, one may find the endless hours of the generally flat Kansas tiring, but I love looking at a map and paying attention for the next small town, which may appear to be just a few houses from the highway.
A cross country traveler is able to see the changing landscape and the affects of development, old and new. Strip malls and big box stores hover around the outskirts of a small town, leaving its downtown desolate. Railroad towns have long since faded, now bearing a mysterious look. State and National Parks capture beauty and solitude of this country, providing a haven for wildlife, plants, and human meditation and exploration.
If gas prices continue to rise, will road trips ever become a thing of past? That idea seems hard to believe, considering how much of American identity traces itself to a migration, whether by covered wagon or little tin can cars or the 1950s glory of cars and races. But, will people take fewer road trips? Will they fly instead?
And just as connected to the American identity, what will happen to the small, out of the way historic sites? How long will the visitors continue to trek to these hidden displays of history? Or maybe more locals will explore their regional history and become more reliant on nearby services. Driving still remains cheaper than flying, assuming you have at least two people and a one day drive. But, for those needing to go from New York to California, flying would be less expensive, regardless of the price of fuel.
Is the country really changing as rapidly as the media portrays? It is always hard to see through the sensationalism in the news as well as the popular topics and fads. Regardless of fact, it should always be a good time to prioritize and reassess aspects of our lifestyles. As preservationists, we need to impress the importance of heritage and supporting the smaller sites that may have the most trouble with funding. And as we are encouraging friends to visit these local sites or to visit a local site as tourists elsewhere, we must also actively practice what we preach. Maybe we can all make a promise to visit a small historic site or museum on our trips this summer. We cannot solve every problem, but every person makes a difference.
We are going to continue to drive because we have to, that is how the majority of America is constructed. Gas prices will continue to rise, as will everything else, yet we can consider how we are spending our money. So as we’re driving through the land that we love, we should remember and be grateful for our ancestors who have given us what we have. On a drive, consider a detour through a small town or stopping to read a historic marker on the road and gaze at the landscape. We just have to take small steps. Along with the environmental issues of the last post to the heritage issues touched upon here, it all ties together.
Long story short: if you’re taking a road trip, bring some friends and visit some historic sites on your journey (and share your adventures!)