Saturday, March 5, 2011

Traveling the Backroads

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As I get older and enjoy a slower pace of travel more, I try to take backroads rather than interstate highways whenever I can.  The RV gets better mileage by slowing down, and I usually find many more interesting things to see and photograph along the way. 

“Interesting” usually means good.  Scenic. Sometimes even breathtaking vistas that have been preserved and protected away from the beaten path.

Interesting can also mean funny or unique— a small town’s way of luring tourists, and “Roadside America” at its quirky best.  When I took the backroads from Alamogordo, NM over to the west Texas panhandle on my way back home from snowbirding in the Southwest, I made Roswell, NM a quick stop, and it didn’t disappoint.   Roswell is known for it’s UFO-sightings and “Space Alien” theme--- these extraterrestrials are everywhere!


But “Interesting” also can also reveal the not-so-nice aspects of American life.  I’m not sure if it’s due to the additional stop signs and slower travel pace, but I seem to notice many poverty-stricken small towns when I travel the backroads.  The towns that didn’t get the Interstate and all of the chain stores, motels, and restaurants that go with it are often hanging by a thread, especially with the most recent economic downturn.  These towns never seem to get any of those Government handouts to repair their schools, sidewalks, streets and bridges.  So, is it any wonder that residents of these places predominantly vote for smaller taxes and government?

Backroads also hide some things that big agri-businesses don’t want most consumers to see—the infamous “feed lots” where most of our Happy Meal and Triple Whopper burgers originate.   Is it a mere coincidence that most cattle seen grazing on ranches along the Interstate highways look like this?

While the feed lots hidden away on backroads look like this?

I always thought of West Texas as being vast, wide-open space.  Plenty of room for cattle to roam, and indeed there is.  However, traveling through Hereford, Texas the self-proclaimed “Beef Capital of the World,” I failed to see even one single grass-fed cattle ranch!

Every last one of them was a large, corporate-run feed lot such as this:

(By the way, the chicken and poultry industry is not any better—I saw just as many closed-walled, zero-ventilation corporate chicken barns along the Arkansas backroads last Fall).

Seeing some of these things along the backroads has truly changed my daily life.  I now try to avoid meat with most meals, and since discovering Black Bean burgers and other vegetarian alternatives, I’ve not had any desire to eat a beef hamburger in over a year.  Imagine how better the environment (and our personal health) would be if every person skipped meat for even just one or two meals a week?!! 

The backroads provide a broader and more diverse picture of American life than the bland, homogenized scenes found at most Interstate exits from coast to coast.  While the scenes might not always be pleasant, traveling the backroads usually provide a rich and meaningful experience to the traveler.  And  frequenting these routes more often just might help revitalize these communities as well.

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