Road trips are an American passion.

Once upon a time when I worked for a German-owned company, my foreign colleagues were baffled at why I didn’t know what was going on in Nevada, Illinois, Texas…basically anywhere that wasn’t the east coast. I tried to explain the size of our nation to them, but what I should have done was send them on a road trip.

Decades ago, I drove from Pennsylvania to California, which was quite a journey. This summer, my husband and I drove from Pennsylvania to Montana—a trip I’ve made a number of times and in as little as three days. That’s a lotta drivin’.

What a road trip across America shows us is that this is one vast, diverse nation. Diverse in people, terrain, cultures, food.

Isn’t it wonderful? And isn’t it a reason why we can’t keep track of things going on everywhere? In the broadest view, continental Europe fits into the USA even if we leave Alaska out of the comparison.

We’re big.

There’s a lot to see in this country of mine and on this trip with Red Lodge, Montana as our two week destination, we managed to spend nights in:

Bloomington/Normal, Indiana

Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Wall, South Dakota (2 nights) – the Badlands

Estes Park, Colorado (2 nights) – Rocky Mountain National Park

Hays, Kansas (had my first Maker’s Mark Manhattan & liked it)

Kansas City, Missouri – The National WWI Memorial & Museum

Terre Haute, Indiana

Along the way, we could have detoured north or south, east or west on a side road and extended the drive by days in order to see even more.

The People:

The accents change in the mid-west and by the time you get to Montana, the speaking slows down. But you never hear a Texas-style drawl or a Georgian kind of twang. If you keep driving and wind up in California, west coast sounds east coast as long as you don’t run into any Valley Girls (are they still out there somewhere?).

The further west you go, the more relaxed the people become, seemingly less stressed. Is it the lessening of traffic? The widening of roads and highways? Is it that you are more impacted by the elements and so other things seem not to cause discomfort? It is fresher air? The mountains? What do you think?

Wide Montana roads, Beartooth Highway

Wide Montana roads

Geography:

The terrain changes from our mini piece of the Appalachian Mountains (in Pennsylvania, the highest point is Mt. Davis at 3,212 feet) to flat, but elevations stay under 2,000 feet until you get to our farthest stop on this trip, the Beartooth Mountains at Granite Peak’s 12,808 foot elevation—which we see in the distance—and Rocky Mountain National Park where Trail Ridge Road takes you to 12,183 feet.

Culture:

Our states vary in many ways.

I got a kick out of some of the road signs we spotted along the way, zooming by too fast for photos, but not too fast to jot a note in my handy Travel Journal (yes, that’s a blatant plug—check it out!).

On Route 70 in Pennsylvania, there was a sign: “Underground Boring.” I felt sad for the turf there.

In Ohio, “Drug Activity Impaired Drivers,” struck my funny bone. Don’t you wonder how you’d know if the driver next to you had taken drugs? Does Benadryl count? Was I to watch for someone smoking pot? I wouldn’t know which states it’s legal in, so I’m no good to the cops on that count.

In a South Dakota road construction area, they kindly inform you, “Two minute red signal, wait for green.” In the Badlands on Route 41, we read, “Asphalt Breakup Ahead,” causing us to have compassion for the road.

In Wyoming, a state I’d driven through many times, this was the first I noticed a sign with a J or upside L and dots in the vacant places on it. We couldn’t figure it out, but an online search taught us it had to do with where you could pass. Call me old fashioned, but I’ll stick to the lines on the road.

In Terre Haute we laughed at a “Turtle Crossing” sign, disappointed that we didn’t have to stop for any.

Cuisine:

On the return drive, husband had to go through Kansas City because he swears it is the best place for barbecued ribs. I don’t eat them, but the bonus for me was discovering the National World War I Memorial and Museum. For a pescatarian, that’s a perfect reason to stop in KC.

When I moved to Montana from California in the late eighties, I was a full fledged vegetarian and couldn’t believe how well I ate living in cattle country. The food movement that has, thankfully, enveloped Pittsburgh was already strong out west. This time finding a farm to table option from Cody to Red Lodge was as easy as stopping in The Local or The Wild Table, respectively.

In tiny Spearfish, South Dakota, we ate Italian at Roma that rivals what we just had in Rapallo, Italy in May.

Roma Restaurant in Spearfish, SD

Roma in Spearfish

 

Our rule is to always seek out the local. Starbucks is a beacon when you start an early morning drive, but we try to find the Babcock & Miles and get a scrumptious latte made by Willis.

America is truly The Beautiful. It is diverse and unique from the mountains to the prairies. And while it’s too big to keep track of everything going on from Massachusetts to California, most of us realize what a bountiful nation we live in and cherish it coast to coast.

When was your last road trip?

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