The Great American Road Trip

Tracey Columns

I’ve long been in favor of the development of alternative energy sources. Anything  that can improve the environment, decrease our oil dependency,  and promote fiscal savings makes great sense to me. But I have another reason for fuel efficiency – preserving the Great American Road Trip!

Once again, my husband and I took to the back roads of this great country of ours. Cruising along in our car struck an all too familiar chord. There’s a certain freedom that comes with road trips – it’s a casual, relaxed way to explore, and the rewards are endless.

This time around, our adventure took us to the dry and sunny southwest. The vistas and surrounding scenery could not be more different from the lush  Pacific Northwest; the flora and fauna, or lack thereof, could not be more intriguing. So often throughout these last couple of weeks,  I was reminded of just how much fun it can be to load up the car and take off to parts unknown.

Many of us have childhood memories of road trips, though as kids we might not always have found them so enchanting. Howls from the back seat could be heard as siblings staked out their half of the seat. Endless miles rolled by, when it seemed as though dad would never stop the car. Pulling over for one more scenic view was painful. There were moments of sheer torture. Just what were our parents thinking, anyhow?

I know exactly what we were thinking during our child rearing years – a  road trip was a vacation we could enjoy and  afford. Granted, some of that time in the car was certainly less than relaxing – just how long can a five year old kick the back of your seat? But in the end, priceless memories were made.

However, I have come to realize that a road trip without the “monkeys” in the back seat is a very different kind of experience. At practically every place we stopped, I could see road trips were alive and well for many  of us in the second half. Some traveled in behemoths the size of a small train, while others had their tiny, economical cars packed to the gills with everything from kayaks to bicycles. There were picnic lunches spread out on old, weathered tables or day packs full of goodies ready for the best spot on the trail.

For me, that’s the fun of a road trip, there’s no one way to do it. It’s all up to the individual and his/her idea of fun. For us, this was a jeans and tee shirts, day hike kind of adventure. And while we had a rough idea of where we wanted to go – neither of us had ever seen Hoover Dam – the rest was up for grabs and grab we did.

After one wonderful day of exploring, we rolled into in Shoshone, California, just outside of Death Valley. I felt like we had dropped back into the 1940’s. The motel was plain and simple but here’s the interesting part. At the only diner in town, of the ten customers having dinner, we were the only two who spoke English as our first language. It was fascinating, and somehow reassuring, to find so many international travelers discovering the natural wonders of the country. Somehow, I feared they might never make it beyond Disneyland and Las Vegas. And my most favorite foreign travelers? The young British honeymooners at the Grand Canyon!

So here we are, some 2,600 hundred miles later, home again. As for what we spent on gas? I haven’t had the nerve to add it up. I can tell you that the highest we paid was $5.44 per gallon, where else but in Death Valley, while the lowest was $3.70 somewhere in Nevada. These are absolutely outlandish prices, but for those of us over fifty, it’s hard not to long for the $.25 per gallon prices of our youth!

I only hope that future generations are able to enjoy what all of us have probably taken for granted – the  joy and freedom of the open road. Let’s hope alternative energy sources continue to become the new normal.

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