When traveling by road, you have far more opportunities to take in the wide variety of landscapes that stretch across this great country of ours and learn from all you see and experience. Each state we cross allows for different habitats to be on display. It’s fascinating to think those who came before us had the vision to plow through the elements to establish roads and interstates to connect us to the land. It was no easy feat. The accounts of lives lost to winter, disease, and war feel present in the shadows of the valleys we pass. There are small tributes to the loss of these brave men, women and children noted in the road signs honoring our veterans. Several more signs dot the states touched by the Trail of Tears where Native Americans were pushed out of the land they called home. We do some of our own searching and study this uncomfortable history of ours while driving comfortably to a cool 70 degrees of air conditioning. Because of the hard work put in before us, we get to choose where we might want to settle. We get to explore without the intense fears of how the West was conquered. We’ve crossed the windy flat lands of Kansas and felt the leftover lava rocks in New Mexico. We stood soaking in the layers of rock at the Petrified National Forest, contemplating the foundation we have built and if it is strong enough to hold up against time. We’ve wondered how anyone could walk through the miles of cacti scattered across Arizona. We’ve trekked over the rocky hills and made our way into the shifting desert sands of Nevada. We will land under the California cover of the forest trees that grow higher than any trees in the world.
Studying history is not only important, it can be uncomfortable. Pain and hardship seem to be recycled in the themes of the West. It was not easily won. The aftermath of all of the effort arguably left more lives to suffer than we had means to track, because not all lives mattered back in the days of old. Studying the landscapes help us understand just how much more to appreciate how far we have come. Like the layers of the Grand Canyon, we can build a story of what happened. Knowing what happens gives us a clearer understanding of what we can change going forward. We don’t have to repeat history, we can change the future. Einstein said, “Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.”
There is no shortage of learning on the road if one has the desire to access it. We take in the road signs and study the maps and stretch ourselves to discover more of what took place around us. It’s a classroom like no other. It’s 360 degrees of being exactly where we need to be while remembering to honor the paths of those who traveled before us.