Westward Ho

I'm driving to the Southwest with my family this August, departing from central Pennsylvania. It's been 30 years since I spent summers in the West with my parents in an RV, driving cross-country from New Jersey. On this site I'll be writing about our travels in 2016 while remembering my 1970s and 1980s motorhome summers.

Carl's Baby

Carl's Baby

I have been to 49 of the 50 United States. My father was self-employed and my mother didn't work outside the home until my brother and I were ourselves outside the home, and so during nearly every summer of my youth and early adolescence we drove west from New Jersey and spent July or August traveling in our family's motorhome. We put so many miles on each RV that we replaced it every few years. The first motorhome we owned was a Coachman model that my dad called his "baby"; my mom commissioned a decorative cover for the spare tire that read "Carl's Baby" in looping magenta and silver script that matched the trim. My dad, however, confessed that he found this embarrassing--he thought of our motorhome's position on the road as more akin to that of a tractor trailer than a novelty vehicle. From that point on he referred to our various RVs as "the truck." 

We visited nearly every state--even driving to Alaska in 1986 on the 1500-mile unpaved Al-Can Highway--but spent most of our time in the West, between Wyoming and New Mexico. There were places we were drawn to again and again: southern Utah, with its concentration of superb national parks (Bryce, Zion, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands); the Badlands of the Dakotas, with their sere, inky reaches; Cody, Wyoming, where the Buffalo Bill Historical Center kept alive the myth of the "vanishing Indian"; the Oregon coast in its stoniness, memorably the seastack Battle Rock off Port Orford. We never went to cities and stayed in national parks wherever possible. That I am an Americanist now in my professional career (teaching US literature and culture) is because of these trips.

Like most childhood memories, my accounts of those times are shaped in part by the photos and recollections of others. But I still carry exceptionally durable impressions of specific incidents on those travels along the blue highways of the U.S., before Home Depot and Walmart and Cracker Barrel made every town in the country look the same from the road. Here are some fragments of memories of these trips that have accreted to form my consciousness of my place in America, my place in the world.

Grasshoppers and Kangaroo Rats

Grasshoppers and Kangaroo Rats