Grumbling about the small bag of peanuts or mini-pretzels is something a pioneer would have rejoiced about if that was his only travel worry as he found himself digging his wagon out of yet another muddy rut in the road. His progress towards his destination was painstakingly slow and arduous. The speed and distance we travel today would be something beyond his wildest dreams and something most of us obviously take for granted as we fly through the air, cross the plains with ease, and nap or nibble on our downsized portions of snacks. At least these were this author's thoughts on a brief cross country trip to Salt Lake City for a wedding last weekend.
The geometric detail on a clear day from thousands of feet in the air in a plane is simply amazing. It is evident that farm fields, cities, neighborhoods and roads are plotted out with purpose. Color variations of green and brown with meandering waterways are seen during the day. Clusters of lights like a 'lite-bright' board are patterns viewed on a night flight. Seeing interstate roadways with seemingly no starting point and disappearing into the horizon shows the ease at which people can also travel on land; a far cry from bygone days of travel in the early days of our country, but some remaining the same routes or paths originally used, including our own Route 20.
The history of Route 20 is one of American nostalgia with old and overgrown buildings that were once filling stations, diners and motels from before the Thruway was completed in the 1950s, but is much older than that with its beginnings from pre-Revolutionary days. In fact, it began as an Iroquois trading path; part of a system of trails that zigzagged across the land connecting various Native American settlements. This path was discovered, widened, and used by settlers moving upstate and to lands in western New York. Known as the "Great Western Turnpike," the first part of the road in New York connected Albany to Cherry Valley. This may sound like an easier way to travel, but these early unpaved roads were full of ruts and in wet weather were nearly unusable. They were built by private companies in the early 1800s where an actual pole (pike) blocked the entrance. After the traveler paid the toll, the pike was turned to let the wagon pass through. Years later when cars were invented and made available to the middle class, Route 20 saw much growth in commercial development to accommodate the traveler as he not only traveled across the state, but was part of a long transcontinental highway from Massachusetts to Oregon of more than 3,000 miles.
Salt Lake City, Utah.
A bedroll, trunk of clothes, cast iron cookware and some sacks of flour, cornmeal, and coffee was the common baggage in the 1800s as the traveler traversed the early roads by horse and wagon. A road trip by automobile offered the convenience of places to eat and sleep with less worry about necessities. Today, this is the same with air travel as we soar to faraway destinations, but we find ourselves worrying about other things such as making our connections, how much liquid we can carry on the plane, where we will sit, and what we will do to occupy our time. A cross-country flight is made with such ease compared to that of pioneers as they suffered through all kinds of weather and terrains. The recent flight out west to Utah flew above it all; gazing out the window revealed how they had to negotiate through woods in the east, traverse over flat and windy plains in the Midwest, and cross over the Rocky Mountains. Lush greenness changes to arid topography; nearly all brown on the western yet majestic slopes of the Rockies. The Great Salt Lake seems very large from the air and if it were a fresh body of water there would certainly be all kinds of urban sprawl immediately around it. How disappointed the early pioneers must have been to have made the difficult migration across the continent with water in sight, but only to find out that it did not sustain any life. As clever and industrious as was the typical pioneer however, they found other ways to "make the desert bloom."
Unlike pioneers who most often traveled one way and settled, today we are able to journey back and forth with relative ease. The trip back east included traveling across even more arid land with the route through Las Vegas. Absolutely no form of life is evident in the brown mountains and desert until all of sudden the city appears in the middle of it all. The neighborhood developments are in perfect geometric groups, but ultimately someone's house is at the very edge of the city and the desert; certainly two very different views from the front of the house and the back. Over time while traveling back east, green begins to appear again with darkness over the Great Lakes. While relaxing and nibbling peanuts, it is a wonder to think about the diversity and beauty of our country. Like busy bees, thousands of people crisscross the nation everyday on their own personal missions. Instead of digging out a wagon in a muddy road, travelers can play the slots at the Las Vegas airport terminal.
Make it a good week and happy travels wherever you may go.