Editor’s note: This is the first in an ongoing series about Mudfoot’s Great American Road Trip.
SALINAS, Cali. Almost as soon as I looked over the edge of the Grand Canyon’s South Rim last week, tears came to my eyes. Staring out over what I can only describe as an immense physical wonder of time and geology, I was simply overcome by the sheer scale and beauty of it. I thought it was just an effect of seeing it for the first time in person.
But then the same thing happened again the next day at the North Rim. I now understand why President Theodore Roosevelt once said the Grand Canyon is a sight every American should see. It’s a sight the whole world should see.
From sea to shining sea America is full of natural wonders. I’ve seen and experienced many of them but there are plenty of others I’ve yet to explore.
Until last week, the Grand Canyon was the biggest icon on my list of American wonders I hadn’t yet seen. Alongside it were the giant ancient Sequoia and Redwood trees, the Painted Desert, Yosemite’s granite monolith El Capitan, and the Golden Gate Bridge to name a few.
My husband Carl also has a long list that had slowly been growing over his lifetime. His includes: the boiling springs of Yellowstone, Old Faithful, the peaks of Glacier National Park, the wild seashores of the western coast and Mount Rushmore.
Motivated by the desire to cross some of those places off our travel wish lists, we decided to undertake a Great American Road Trip. Neither of us have ever undertaken such a long journey across our own country and five weeks seemed like it would allow us time to visit the National Parks and landmarks, we wanted too while allowing time for a few stops to see old friends and relatives along the way. (Not to mention sample all the local specialty cuisines, craft brews and fresh produce we can consume!)
In mid-July we headed out of Ashland, first traveling across familiar states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Missouri. I had never seen the Gateway Arch in St. Louis so we a point to pass through the old Gateway to the West on our pilgrimage. We arrived at night to see the arch sparkling over the wide Mississippi River.
As we drove away to the West and South, I thought about the thousands of Americans who had passed through the city during our nation’s great westward expansion. Oh the excitement and anxiety they must have felt about the unknown ahead of them! I felt both emotions too.
Soon we picked up historic Rt. 66, which we traveled on or alongside through Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. Along the way we stopped to see both the wacky sights, like the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas and the breathtaking ones including New Mexico’s Petrified Forest. I understand now why the little two-lane road holds such a revered place in our collective history. It truly is the Mother Road, responsible for all the roads to follow and the uniquely American custom that is the Road Trip.
After leaving behind the majestic Grand Canyon we headed north into Utah’s Bryce Canyon to see the red rock hoodoos. Then again we turned west, driving “America’s Loneliest Highway,” U.S. 50, across scenic yet unpopulated Nevada bound for California, San Francisco and the Pacific Coast. Every mile along the way held its own treasurers, especially the long ones when we passed no one. We savored what must be the last wide open spaces left like the pioneers remember.
The road trip is a classic American tradition for a reason. It truly is a special kind of journey not only because of the time and distance but the vast landscapes it traverses and the array of cultures it exposes the traveler too all within their own country.
In just two short weeks we’ve traveled 3,500 miles across 12 states, but at times it feels like we have journeyed a million miles. I can’t wait to find out what surprises the miles ahead will hold and how they will transform my understanding, love and hopes for our great country.