I like the road. But not all roads.
You can take Interstate 25 North from Santa Fe to Denver if you like. You’ll get there faster if the destination matters and the trip don’t. The interstate is like eating the same food in different cities. The Subway in Raton tastes just as bad as the Subway in Manhattan.
I’ll leave early and take the long way, hitting State Road 76 through parts of the Carson National Forest and making a stop in Taos. Find some greasy chorizo and egg tacos and wash them down with a Mexican Coke. If the tortillas aren’t fresh I don’t want any part of it. I better continue with the scenic route and head over to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, built back when we still made beautiful things with steel.
Continue on that road until I get to State Road 285, which can get me to Denver if I don’t take any detours. There might be detours. Perhaps I’ll take an eventual left to Breckenridge and head up Georgia Pass if there’s a day to kill. Take the rough trail up and stop at the Continental Divide. Take it all in. Split a bottle of wine, have a smoke, contemplate. Then take the easier road back down. The change of scenery is remarkable. Mountains and pines on one side, grasslands and cattle and aspens on the other. The roads on the other side aren’t perfect and that’s the allure.
In comparison, the interstates are newer and sterile. As if we don’t have enough of that already. Interstate 10 will never have the romance of the Pacific Coast Highway. I-80 won’t take you through Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming. But Highway 26 will. We protect our most beautiful places from the interstate. There’s an important lesson there.
That’s why road trips require the right roads. The roads where you can see ranches during the day, hear Katydids at dusk, and watch the stars at night. Those roads in southeastern U.S. where trees create a green vaulted ceiling over the asphalt, rays of sunlight dancing through the arced branches and leaves above. The places where you are compelled to roll down the window to breathe the air. The state highways that lead to dirt roads, taking you through sweeping vistas, jagged mountains, arid landscapes, and big blue skies like you’re in a western.
For as much as these roads show us passively, they also teach. Instructions on disappearing country. Only by these roads can you see parts of America that make up the rest of America. Communities that are forgotten. Towns that are hanging on. The places in-between, that moment in time where they’re a former home but not yet a distant memory. For all the time we spend describing what they are, or where they are, we forget who they are: the places that belong to our brothers and sisters. The right roads are silent movies, taking us on a trip to the past and present and future all at once.
Taking the long way might lead you to a town where the beautiful courthouse is closed because the once temporary, and now permanent, steel building is cheaper to maintain for all the custody hearings and divorce cases. Civic pride? Civic savings.
Not everyone gives up so easy.
The kids still break into the old courthouse and explore. The outsides spur the imagination and the insides inspire awe in youngsters, the deprived generation imprisoned by harsh lighting and low walls, never having looked up to a high ceiling or guided their hand down beautiful woodwork until they had to trespass to find it.
There’s still treasure to be discovered.