What It Means to See America in Person

Jul 16, 2022 · 676 comments
Mark Kropf (Long Island)
I can remember back to the 1950s and Dinah Shore singing "See the USA in your Chevrolet" {Don't believe me?: there is a You Tube Video of this!} The average American fantasized about the trip and it was perhaps more easily done by the cost of fuel, though maybe not to the extent of Route 66 or other roads available without much of the present Interstate Highways yet underway for the traffic. The U.S is extensive and much is interesting. Natural Parks are fine as are vistas on occasion in between and maybe a museum or an oddity such as the Corn Palace of Mitchell, SD or maybe the standing car monument of Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, TX. There is a good deal of the majestic and of the queer in the U.S. There is also a great deal of rather dreadful uniformity of flat and seemingly unending plains and of long stretches of redundant desert or especially of Interstate roadways. Before heading out on the trip, one must balance the benefits and the downside of the cost, the pollution and heat generation made and the degradation of the National Park by adding more foot traffic to the show places. Our Nation has areas that are dull that can bear traffic, but many of our National Parks are overly taxed by crowds seeking to take in the Natural wonders while possibly treading them into a largely degraded state. The most popular are frequently the most at risk by our exploration. A trip can be wonderful, but is it always sought to the best end?
BJT6 (Victoria, B.C.)
While I liked this column, I have to agree with the reader who suggests it reflects a privileged view. For another viewpoint, see this account by a Canadian couple who bicycled across the southern United States. It showed a very different aspect of the United States. https://www.timescolonist.com/opinion/comment-a-cycling-journey-uvalde-and-canadas-future-5565663
Mary (Utah)
Born and raised in Phila. Lived in area 60 years, then moved west. The major split in the US was characterized early on by the use of “flyover country”, generally spoken with disdain by my fellow east coast residents. Many years ago, those states were known as the “ Heartland” or the “Breadbasket” of America. Language has power, and there are repercussions for things as subtle as this seemingly harmless phrase which nevertheless concealed a particular mind set. If you think I’m overly sensitive, just consider the effects of Black Lives Matter or Gay Pride, terms that aided massive changes in our daily lives.
Canard (Eugene, OR)
Seven years ago, I realized that putting our 14-year-old daughter through 8th grade would be as pointless as 7th grade had been, so we hit the road - 21,000 miles through 36 states in a tiny trailer. There were a few agenda for our trip - seeing what life was like outside of our NW bubble, reconnecting with old friends and family, visiting as many national parks as possible, and traveling through a part of the country where the politics made be benighted, but the barbecue is actually good. The most important theme was Climate Change Farewell Tour; this continent is going to be very different by the end of her life, and I thought she needed a good baseline for comparison. It was the best year of my life, and I think getting out to see what the rest of the country is like is one of the best things you can do for a kid. Our blog about cities, food, architecture, the landscape, and how we pulled this all off is at https://peregrine-nation.com.
Teresa (Staten Island)
One of my career successes was a bus & truck national tour-spilt weeks mostly. I played in 45 of the lower 48 then flew to Alaska. It was an incredible experience; I am grateful. I slept ON THE FLOOR OF THE BUS. We played a lot of old vaudeville houses, no major cities (reserved for sit-downs & more recent Broadway shows) & boy howdy I saw ‘Murica. I grew up in MN, so I know America. This country blew my mind & scared me. The best? Gay bar in Wyoming, mountains in Idaho, Bend, Oregon, Las Cruces, NM, the black hills, sunsets in Kansas. Not so great included racism & poor people & lot lizards & missing NYC. I talked to locals everywhere we went. Stumbling off the bus for lunch, asking a fast food clerk where am I? And laughing at the southern accent saying, “Alabama, baby girl!” I learned so much bcuz…people make this country. People in small towns Elmira, NY & Opelika, AL, they all LOVE live theatre. Musical theatre. They deserve it. Ross, it does not seem from this narrative, that you engaged with locals. I am certain that your trip, gas included, cost less than a week in Disney. I have never been to Disney. Cannot afford it. You & yours are fortunate to have that much PTO to squander wandering across this great land. You took your kids to a water park in Minnesota. Land of lakes, 10,000 or so & Ross goes to a water park.
Gail (Fl)
Although TJ wouldn’t agree, the vastness of the non coastal parts of the country are exactly why most people would understand the “gun culture”. “Home on the range” means no close proximity to police. TJ is far more likely to be shot in his Bronx neighborhood than he would in Cody, Wyoming. And no, TJ, they aren’t taunting you…they could care less about what you think of them.
DC (Rhode Island)
Doing the great trek across the North is one thing. It's another thing entirely across the South. Hotter. Stickier. Dryer. Darker. Scarier. Much higher chance to encounter crime and violence – even on behalf of the state. And yes, Coeur d’Alene Idaho is scary, but nowhere near as scary as Killen, Alabama, and nowhere near as unsettling as the Jeff Davis homestead in Biloxi. There are places in the deep south that exude pure hate – places beyond which reporters fear to tread.
michjas (Phoenix)
Tour buses idle in the hundreds as tourists of the world spend the obligatory two hours at the Grand Canyon”. Paraphrasing Horace Greeley, “Go East, young man.” As for Glacier National Park, don’t go there looking for glaciers. It’s so named because the land was shaped by glaciers. And as Mr. Douthat found out, even in June, most of the park is snowed in and closed. If the park were more accessible and had glaciers, there’d be idling tour buses. Western tourists get a mixed reception back East. I’m a grumpy Westerner. And it is my pleasure to return the favor.
James K. Lowden (Camden, Maine)
Why does "seeing America give one hope for America"? Does America have beautiful places? Sure. Beautiful places surrounded and connected by thoughtless ugly ones. Every twin has its "strip" of car dealers and fast food, as ugly and destructive to the environment as they are to the soul. Access to national parks is by car, not rail, limiting who and how many can visit. Last year, the twin of Bar Harbor took in over $2 million in parking revenue. Bus service is scant and rail absent. It’s an odd reverie for nature that’s viewed by polluting it. These are choices. America doesn’t have to be ugly and thoughtless and destructive and exclusionary. But it is, and continues to be, and barely considers it. Why does seeing the manifest failure to act together and support each other give anyone hope?
Anonymous (USA)
I'm happy for you and your family taking time off and having a wonderful time visiting some of the most gorgeous sites and landmarks in the United States. Yes, the places you visited exemplifies America the beautiful but it shouldn't divorce you from the reality and the serious political, economic and social perils facing the country. Notably the country miraculously escaped from a coup de'dat by Trump and his cronies; millions are either underemployed or without health-care and thousands are homeless; neo-liberal economics carnage continues its ravages unabated and fully knows taxpayer bailouts are always available to reward them for their malfeasance and for the first time in contemporary America the highest court of the land has taken away a right from a section of its citizens.
Ed Haywood (Tampa)
To all the commenters saying some variation of "sure America is nice physically, but it is ugly politically." You have it exactly backwards. I just returned from a trip to Lebanon. Few more naturally scenic areas exist in the world. Imagine Pikes Peak situated directly on Mediterranean beaches. Lebanese love to brag their country is the only place you can swim in the ocean and snow ski the same day. What they don't love to brag about is the toxic mix of sectarian politics and corruption that renders their homeland a perennial semi-failed state. Their latest indignity is a complete collapse of the national banking system where most citizens lost their entire life savings. Turns out it was a giant Ponzi scheme. Nobody will ever be held accountable and nothing can be done to fix it. Like it or not, we live in the most free, accountable, stable, and resilient political system on earth. We may not be the best run country in all details, but we are the anchor of the free world and the oldest continuous Democracy in existence. Yes we have faults, but our history is one of continuous progress. What other society could go from segregation to electing a black President in one generation? We are literally the envy of the planet, and not for our parks.
MD (Washington)
Sounds like a nice a trip. I’m a westerner living in the east coast and have always thought the west was better than the east. But I’m also not white. While I might still attempt the same route I’d be a bit wary. Although white people are apparently tired of hearing it - summer vacations like this are not what many people of color feel they can attempt.
Antinatalist (Florida)
Drove coast to coast Route 66 on intersession after exams in the mid 1960s. A few universities have exams first so you had all that free time. No interstates. Only AM radio. Holiday Inns were springing up. The open road was wide open. Less trucks and they were much shorter. Beautiful places out west and places you hoped to pass through without getting pulled over in the south with bullet holed signs and depressing country music at each gas station. You, your buddies and the Mustang roaring down the two lane 66. All gone now except for a stretch near Flagstaff. Don't let opportunity pass you by. America the noisy, the crowded, money and fame obsessed and gun riddled is sinking fast. The boomers lived in the best of times and now realize it. When they are gone so will the country. Luck is everything.
Such a gorgeous, massive, open country. We have always had rural Americans, city folk, educated Americans, high school grad Americans, secular Americans, ultra-religious Anmericans, very rich Americans and very poor. And yes, some very sick, violent individuals on the margins. But for the most part, we held things together. We agreed to disagree. Now it becomes obvious how fragile that civility was. We destroyed it in two phases. First, by increasing people's anxiety through job destruction, wage, union and pension destruction. In short, we destroyed all comfort and security for many. But still, we hung by a thread. We all hung together as the saying goes. Then came Phase 2. Amoral politicians, amoral TV and radio broadcasters and white collar criminals of all types saw a once in a generation opportunity, not just to increase the misery and anger...but to profit from it. Recently, business has been great, and as we move towards a society of a few big winners and lots of big losers, things can only heat up. It takes a spectacularly evil person to seek profit from this, but such individuals exist and we even elevated one to the presidency. Even mother nature is fed up. I stil hold a sliver of hope we can put it back together, But Americans figure out we're being manipulated. To see the enemy is within and it's not your neighbor. Turn off the talk radio they listen to all day and it will be like a fever breaking. I've seen it happen.
AynRant (Northern Georgia)
You're not seeing America, Ross, you're just touring some faults in the earth's surface that happen to occur in the barely-inhabited Northwestern states! America can be experienced by following the arc of densely-populated Eastern and Coastal urban sprawls from Boston on to New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington DC, Richmond, Raleigh, Charlotte, Atlanta, New Orleans, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle. On this tour, you and your children will begin to comprehend the simple variety and soul-sapping complexity of American life. It's not pretty, or scenic, or safe, but it's reality. Hurry, before the rogue Supreme Court and the Republican Party hacks succeed in homogenizing us all!
oldBassGuy (mass)
“…particularly insouciant beaver in Glacier National Park…” Were there still glaciers in Glacier National Park? Well I guess you got there just in the nick of time. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glacier_National_Park_(U.S.) …estimate stated that the glaciers may be gone by 2030
USS Johnston (New Jersey)
The reason all these beautiful vistas still exist is thanks to the preservation of undeveloped areas including the State and National parks as well as federally protected wilderness areas. So this might be a good time to thank the Democrats who have fought against the ill of the Koch Brothers who would clear cut it all to make a buck if allowed to. I once made a trip across country and was taken aback by the pollution that I encountered traveling through the Midwestern states. But thanks to the EPA and the Clean Air Act we have been able to clean up much of the environment of the U.S. And we can all thank the federal government for the Interstate Federal Highway system that allows people like Douthat to travel cross country. Douthat made it a point to mention how snow closed roads in Glacier. That's interesting as from what has been reported the glaciers are almost gone there. Douthat also failed to mention how much of the Western states are in a severe drought with massive wildfires breaking out year after year. How the Great Salt Lake is drying up. The Democrats have pushed hard to combat climate change but Republicans have prevented any real action being done. Finally, the Supreme Court has just blocked Biden's attempts to enforce pollution controls in the states. So, forgive me if I am not as sanguine about the beautiful wild areas that remain in America. They're in danger and Douthat's children may see a very different and less beautiful country in their future.
Chris (Seattle)
Did you see many black people in Montana? I lived in Montana for a decade. I'd see a black person maybe two times a year. It's not anywhere near diverse enough a state to truly reflect the reality of America. And the governor of Montana punched a journalist. Ryan Zinke, too, is from Montana. Not the best folks.
george (coastline)
Been there did that coast to coast. Big country full of small minds. He's smart to keep driving
Chris (South Florida)
Geology and climate create the landscape of a country the humans living in the landscape create the country while America has some beautiful landscape it has some truly ugly humans living in the country.
Matthew (NJ)
I’d rather my subscription fees go to actual reporting. I’m seeing a lot of articles on road trips by Times reporters with little news value. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to take a beach vacation on my client’s dime so I can clear my head.
sheila (mpls)
I have no idea why this column was written or why the NYT printed it. To me it reads like a high school student's composition written on the theme of what I did on my summer vacation.
Maven3 (Los Angeles)
Good show, Mr. Douthat! In my younger days I drove across America (north-south and east-west) several times in a camper van and thus got to see and enjoy all that is to be seen and enjoyed in this magnificent country. To Mr. Douthat's list I would add a drive from San Luis Obispo to San Francisco along state Route One along the coast, through Big Sur. It's all breathtakingly magnificent. And once I left the East Coast I was struck by and enjoyed the friendliness of the people. I am amazed though by the negative tenor of so many comments by so many posters. What is wrong with these people? How they must hate America if they can't even appreciate the magnificence of the American West without dragging in their political agendas. Yes, America, like other places, has its share of warts and pimples and of historical events that we are not proud of in today's "politically correct" atmosphere. So what? Even so, do you know of any other place where you would rather live? And do ponder why all sorts of people from all over the world want to come here and join us, not the other way around. So thank you Mr. Douthat for reminding us how magnificent this country is.
Mauichuck (Maui)
@Maven3 "Even so, do you know of any other place where you would rather live?" Yes, yes I do. Provence, France. And note that I live in the most beautiful place in the US, Maui, Hawaii.
Katherine Cagle (Winston-Salem, NC)
In my childhood travels to visit my grandparents, I at least got to see the other side of the Mississippi, but as an adult my daughter and I traveled from North Carolina to Portland Oregon, through the Midwest, Colorado, and Utah. It was an amazing trip. I highly recommend the cross-continent road trip, even with high-priced gas.
Barbara (Coastal SC)
BC (before Covid), I drove annually to Ontario, usually on the interstates. But a happy error one year took me to the most picturesque (and clean) Quality Inn possible, in a tiny settlement in PA, where my room overlooked a valley and hills beyond for a beautiful sunset. I didn't realize that the next part of the trip was over 2 lane rolling roads, but it was gorgeous, both country and towns, all the way to the NY line. I liked it so much that I am considering doing it again, on purpose this time.
StanC (Texas)
The natural beauty of the west, the apparent friendliness of the "natives", and the ensuing political/social culture are three separate items, and they should not be confused. The first is indisputable, the second common, and the third often predictable as unswervingly ultra-right.
Tomas Fuller (Santa Monica)
Sounds like Mr. Deouthat is having a lovely trip discovery the treasurers of the American West with lovely scenery and beautiful people. Here is something he may want to ponder behind the mini-van’s wheel as he drives through that “other, wilder, freer American”— as two married men, we don’t feel safe there any more. In our younger years, my husband and I camped or stayed in motels in many parks. We are both professionals who “blend in” and never had a problem other than an occasional awkwardness in a small rural hotel over two men sharing a bed. People may have cared, but our national messaging of tolerance kept them in check. Now? With “religious freedom” (to discriminate) on the way in (he supports) and gay marriage on the way out (against) violent homophobia will become the acceptable norm. It’s no longer a free county for many of us. Enjoy your trip in your America.
John S. (Joshua Tree, CA)
By the time you get back, Trump will have pivoted and become presidential.
Elizabeth (Brooklyn, NY)
Dear Ross Douthat, Please, if you can, cite one law passed by an anti-abortion state, in anticipation of the ban on abortions, or since Dobbs, that directs care and funds to mothers and babies. I am not talking about propaganda and so called counseling. Policies, programs, and MONEY that help women giving birth and caring for infants and children.
Jzu (Port Angeles)
There is a cliche of people saying “I love my country”. 8 years ago I did a trip, the continental divide trail, by foot over 2,500 miles in 6 months. I felt: “I love this country, it’s geography and it’s people.” People were very nice, extremely nice to me - all through redneck land. Except for global warming, the geography I am still I love with. But people have changed, outwardly you see and feel hostility for the “other”. Can one really derive hope from the geography when the content is rotting?
Barbara (Coastal SC)
Well, that's optmistic, but while you are goggling at the West, please drive back through the South. Once again, Myrtle Beach, SC, has topped the list of cities with the largest growth. I wish they'd move to Montana or Wyoming, as homes for all these new people mean clearcut forests, constant building and frequent flooding in our marshy, swampy wetlands. These are woods that the Waccamaw (who are still trying to get federal recognition) and other Native Americans wandered freely amd maintained carefully. I actually found an arrowhead in my own yard (which was not entirely clearcut 20 years ago, thank goodness). The natural beauty just a few miles from the beach, which is now maintained by sand dredged up onto it every few years, is in danger of disappearing.
Alexis (Lee)
Lovely travelogue. Next time I suggest you take your kids outside of the U.S. and expose them to something other than American history and culture. Europe, Latin America, Africa all would be great educational experiences for your kids (Asia is still largely inaccessible due to COVID so maybe down the road for that one ...) You're clearly a wealthy, extremely privileged individual so I imagine you can afford it ...I urge you to take advantage and widen the perspectives of your family beyond just Murica.
Steve (Charlotte NC)
Did you meet some nice people? That's a major part of the joy of travel. A lot of the stuff that sells airtime on the news represents only a small minority. It's like if you watch the local evening news, you'd think we were all going to be shot or hurt in car crashes. People have a lot in common the world over.
Connie Schwedes (Morrisville, PA)
I loved your description of how beautiful the US is. But I’m disappointed that you didn’t even give a nod to another eye opening experience of driving cross country: the depth and breadth of poverty. My husband and I took two cross country trips by motorcycle in the past 10 years. Why we fell in love with the landscape and the openness of our country; we also saw so many people living in so many small towns just scrambling to stay above water. That too was breathtaking. I remarked to my husband that every candidate for President should be required to travel secondary roads in every state. What an insight into the needs of America’s citizens.
Mike S. (Eugene, OR)
When I was a teenager, I saw the country. Did it before I went overseas, much later, some courtesy of Uncle Sam. Been in all 50, more than 100 nights in 13 or so. Now do trail work volunteering in the wilderness areas. Hard work, but what beautiful places to do it in!
Son Of Liberty (nyc)
Having lived for years in the American West, the extraordinary natural beauty inspires awe, and the gentle smiles and friendliness of the people in much of this part of the country conceal the fact that most support the suppression of dark skinned people voting, oppose women's right to choose what to do with their own bodies in cases of rape and incest, and oppose equal rights for LGBTQ+ Americans, oppose using science to combat pandemics, environmental devastating and human-caused global warming. The natural beauty of the American West may be breathtaking, but the friendly smiles of Westerners hide their heartfelt values and who they send to Washington says volumes about their true beliefs.
Tim Barrus (Blue Ridge Mountains)
I live at the top of a mountain in the Blue Ridge. I ride a dirt bike. Street bikers think I'm nuts. But who needs a helmet anyway. I am thinking America in my hair. When I ride into a city, someone tries to steal my bike. I have caught two of those someones who did have fists, but my fists were bigger than their fists, and they have this tendency to run. I hit the road. I try to go around places where I would be shot on my way through town. I am autistic. Sometimes, I rock. I try not to. I try not to see the America I zip through in quantum analysis, looking for the small things like how many of these people around me, are packing. Guns. I have my own. I shoot signs that say: No motorcycles. I ride a dirt bike, not a motorcycle. Cops do not seem to care. I get the whole family thing. With kids (I avoid kids, they're trouble). The Have Van, Will Travel thing. But the motel thing is too comfy. Motel rooms cave in on me. Try explaining autism to kids. Today, I just tell them I can disappear. Then, I disappear. Americans hang out. I kinda like Homo sapiens for about five minutes. I have no idea what they are talking about so I smile and nod a lot. I ride right through riots. Joined Antifa. America is a fake country. Polite Americans inquire as to where I live. It's irrelevant. Please explain the meaning. Americans like it mentioned in books, too. Back cover. It’s like Nevada. I sleep on the roof of my cabin if I can in a sleeping bag so I can still feel America in my hair.
n1789 (savannah)
The real America is the one that elected Trump, the most ignoble American ever. Don't be pollyannish about our natural wonders, the unnatural wonders are more important.
Barton Palmer (Atlanta Georgia)
Check your privilege, Ross. Many Americans without a blue-chip education and job would love to take a trip to see the country in which they are suffering very hard times, not seeing grand canyons.
dave (pennsylvania)
Where to start? The "underpopulated" West has no water, and is a welfare state of subsidized highways, water projects, Federal dams and low-priced grazing and mining on Federal land. And of course it's original owner's have been relegated to the most barren and unloved land "reserved" for them, and their greatest triumph over their tormenters is commemorated as "Custer Park" (I don't think there will be any "Putin Park"'s in Ukraine). The most beautiful places, as you mention, are home to militia's and survivalists, people who hate wolves because they kill the elk that THEY want to kill, and politicians who get elected despite bludgeoning reporters. And then there's the fact that you decided this was the summer to burn hundreds of gallons of fossil fuel, as Ukrainians die for our addiction to burning carbon. I know there is no easy way to travel West with a family and see everything you've seen, but why is that? Manipulation of the American psyche by the slick firms hired by Big Oil, Big Tobacco, and Big Who-knows-what-else. Too bad you didn't get stuck in last years "Heat Dome" out in Washington. Maybe 108 degrees in a place that rarely sees 90 would have altered you view of the cost of the American lifestyle?
SCoon (Salt Lake City)
Travel is one of life's best educators. On the surface, we can all appreciate the beauty and stunning grandeur of not only the US but of the world in general. I live in the state with "The Mighty Five" National Parks. They are spectacular...but, they are grossly underfunded, continually under attack from the fossil fuel industry, and constant fodder for the "state's rights" fanatics. There is a thin layer of shiny veneer, but lurking barely below that veneer is the hateful history of America. The USA has been hijacked by so-called "patriots" who believe they have the only true rights to America and to American history, and they came close to overthrowing our republic on January 6; they're not finished. Ross would do well to teach his children ALL of American history. Our future depends on it.
ISHA5135 (Texas)
Beautiful column, don't let the naysayers get you down. Geez, people. I remember driving to Yellowstone as a child and waiting for Old Faithful to erupt. My first sight of t
michjas (Phoenix)
If you want to be overwhelmed as you drive out West, hit all the national parks. And if you want to hike spectacular hikes with other easterners it’s rim to rim in the Grand Canyon, Half Dome in Yosemite, and Angels Landing in Zion. But the west isn’t about by its high points. It’s not a series of tourist attractions. It’s the wide OPEN spaces. Custer State Park, as mentioned by Mr. Douthat, is way better an investment of your time than nearby Mt. Rushmore. On the drive to the Grand Canyon, stop and hike in Coconino National Forest. You’ll surely see beautiful scenery, mule deers and maybe not a single human being. And I recommend inflatable kayaks for one over raft trips with your 100 closest friends. Western Democrats are often conservative Democrats. All that talk about rugged individualism and all that fear of too much government borne of a life far from the madding crowd. Don’t knock it if you haven’t tried out.
No matter how far you travel there is no escaping reality: we live in a violent divided country where the rule of law is no longer observed by a large faction of a corrupt government controlled by corporations, a body where lies exceed statements of truth, a government that caters to corporate profits of the munitions industry over the repeated slaughter of families, a government that is descending into a proto-fascism, a corrupt supreme court that places corporate profits above saving life on earth and a body we the people cannot depend on as a bulwark against government taking away our rights and privileges.
Robert Kennedy (Richardson TX)
I wish we could all travel around the country and see other states, meet other people and understand that we are all just people with the same basic needs and desires. The people who are so strident, so hardened in their views and judgements are usually those who have not seen the country, let alone the world. Like that sailor in the piece, we should all try to see a different piece of the world. Life is too short to wait.
Andy (Salt Lake City, Utah)
Ahhhh! But have you ever seen dawn at Delicate Arch or Dusk on Angel's Landing? Just kidding but I noticed Utah is not on the itinerary so far. I will say experiencing the American West is something. Things are bigger here. Everything operates on a massive scale you struggle to wrap your head around. I'm from the Tri-State originally. I left in a romanticized desperation for fewer people. I certainly found it. After two cross-country trips though, one of them in a comically overloaded 1999 Nissan Centra, I will say this: Nebraska is not a very fun state to drive through. I highly recommend books on tape.
"...the billboard greeting visitors to Cody, Wyo., reading “Don’t California Our Cody.” So the red states can't even do tourism without insulting the blue states that subsidize them?
NYC lady (NYC)
@J exactly
RT (Texas)
@J More like a desperate plea.
Nyer (NYC)
Yeah, watch the glacier melt, the two-lane blacktop blacktop road buckle and soften, and see wildfires running rampant in these areas that Douthat elegyzies... All because politicos of his preferred stripe pretend that climate change isn't changing the face of nature and things aren't combusting before our eyes... "See the USA in your Chevrolet, it won't be around after today..."
Deep In The Heart (Dallas)
The key passages to me related to our screens — but left unspoken was the crux of the problem: The US is governed by the filthy ultra rich via largely unconstrained capitalism that gives us monopolies and other behemoths to which most of us are chained as slaves for life. The relentless greed known to US taxpayer-subsidized billionaires is fueled by the culture wars that they created to increasingly keep us at each others’ throats. That said, having taken a long road trip into the high desert mountains of West Texas this summer, I know well the physical beauty of this country — it only makes our likely collective fate as a nation (the American experiment) more tragic.
Tobias (Chicago)
He sure must have loved Grand Staircase Escalante or Bears Ears in Utah. Alas, his ‘conservative’ brethren try everything to take these pristine lands from We The People and donate them to their mining donors.
Mark (Co)
I am surprised, or maybe not, at how many commenters below use Ross' article as a jumping off point to dump on America. It is true that not everyone shares one vision, one set of politics, one set of values, one heritage. That diversity is what makes America great. Enjoy it, revel in it, experience it. There are countries which try to enforce a monoculture. That suppress differences and dissent. Trust me, you don't want to live there. China is one. Look at what they are doing in Hong Kong, look at the Tibetans, look at the Uighurs. Try dissenting to the "special military operation" in Russia, how many years will you get? I forget why people in India kill each other, is it a Hindu, Buddhist, Muslem thing? Then there is the Shia/Sunni thing. Arab Jewish, Christian Muslem. We have the liberal conservative thing, or the Republican Democrat thing, or the Pro-life Pro-choice thing, but we rarely kill each other over it. Lastly we have the waste of energy, don't drive, stay home and see it on the web to save the environment people. Our great National Park system was designed to get people out so that they would appreciate the environment. So that they would want to preserve it for future generations to enjoy. Don't cut the people off from the environment. You may not like the results, such as why preserve it if no one can go there, or its OK... we have the pictures...
chrishkh (Tulsa, OK)
Beautiful and thought-provoking. But geez Louise. A brilliant economist and political analyst — AND a brilliant, gifted writer? Seems a tad greedy…
Times Guy (Chicago)
Have often thought after reading your columns, Ross Douthat could sure use a road trip. Glad you finally took the plunge. Enjoy!
Eigoat (Phuket)
Don’t miss - Buffaloes Bill Center of the West museum in Cody Wyoming. It’s outstanding.
GerardM (New Jersey)
"Seeing America gives you hope for America. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have eight more hours in a crowded minivan ahead." It's not clear from Douhat's observations why "simply seeing America gives you hope for America", but it is a nice campaign slogan. What is clear is the realization of that hope is regularly crushed by the mind and body numbing prospect of days of "eight more hours in a crowded minivan" which is what traveling becomes once Route 80 takes one into Pennsylvania and beyond. And were that it all because then there is the big U-turn and the desperate trip home where the 2-year old's knowledge of the "inappropriate parts of “Hamilton”" is the least of the comments heard.
Ben (Reality)
Sure, seeing America gives you hope for America, but notice Ross doesn't mention anything about the people -- other than to mention than lack of them. Ross is supposedly a Catholic so he should really know better; a church is not the building, but the people.
David (CT)
The beauty of the landscape is a wonder to behold - it's only the people that have become ugly. The Great Sorting has concentrated the haters in these superb states and the Right double down on stoking that hatred because their power in the Senate rests on the (relatively) tiny populations of these states. The GOP hold on to power by division and fomenting hate: wrapped in the flag and holding the Cross high they are nonetheless as un-American and unpatriotic as it is possible to be.
Joe (Philadelphia)
I've always felt that I live in some sort of parallel universe from the virtual people. I find America to be a beautiful and inspiring place while the virtual people are angry and bitter.
Billy Kiefner (St. George)
This country is indeed a natural wonder, especially the West, where I live. There are wide open spaces here that will fill one with awe. But I'm not sure the people running the governments in these places share that awe. I think they see these places more as something to be tamed and exploited, vast areas where they can do whatever they want. Sadly, I think the writer Shirley Hazzard said it best: America is like a beautiful woman with a foul mouth.
Edd (Kentucky)
Reading this reminded me of the baffling geographic ignorance of my fellow Americans. I have lived and traveled all across the United states and I was always shocked when a well educated person from New Jersey would confuse all those "I" states..."Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Idaho...what's the difference" or a smart Iowa Hawkeye, who thought all of New York was just concrete and glass...have they never heard of the Adirondacks? People are people, all across the nation, but you have to actually talk to and spend time with them to find out that under that internet facade, they are flesh and blood.
tom (Oregon)
Ross, I think I love the natural beauty of the USA as much as anyone, Glacier, Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon are sacred to me. But it is so easy to avoid all the people as you travel. So easy to be superficial. Did you have any conversations with anyone about the separation of Church and State? about preserving The Land.? About the undemocratic nature of our "democracy"? Do you know what kind of welcome you get when you walk into businesses in Idaho and the Dakotas wearing a mask? I hope your kids can take a trip west on their own sometime. Was this your first trip West?
Johaz (AZ)
Just this morning I came across this, which I wrote during a 6-week solo road trip, as a 70 year old woman, in 2016. Drove 350 miles on a 2-lane road to eastern Montana today. Lots of cows, sheep, "amber waves of grain," and John Deere combines. Very few homes, and even fewer towns. I stopped for gas and ice cream in Circle, Montana, whose claim to fame is: "Circle is 192 miles from the nearest Starbucks, making it the community furthest from the nearest Starbucks in the lower 48 United States."
zarathustra (VA)
I guess we see what we want to see. Ross should just enjoy time with his family and cease trying to wax poetic about a landscape that is under threat from all sides, not the least of which is the climate. I took a family trip like his back in the 60's and my family still talks about it. Wonderful, personal experience...and so it should remain...although I guess he gets to write off expenses as he keeps filing. (-:
Paul-A (St. Lawrence, NY)
A few years ago, Douthat's conservative-pundit-colleague David Brooks embarked on a cross-country trip to "see the real America" as a part of his midlife crisis. Guess what he discovered? That all of those social programs that the evil Democrats had been promoting all those years were actually the things that real Americans needed. Unfortunately, Brooks wrote about those things as if he himself had epiphanically come up with the ideas. Never once did he deign to acknowledge that, ahem, the evil Dems have been trying to do those things all along, and that it had been people like himself that had denounced and fought against them. I can just see it now: Douthat returns home epiphanically enlightened, and just like Brooks, he insufferably mugly pronounces that now he knows (even more so than before) exactly what America needs to do to solve all of our ills (which will ironically sound just like more evil Liberal ideas, but never acknowledged as such). Gosh, I can't wait....
Livingston (Kingston, NY)
Dog. Whistle. Politics.
irene (la calif)
My nephew and I drove from Minnesota across the Dakotas, Montana and down through Utah to LA taking only the blue highways , driving for hours seeing almost no cars, towns or people. What a glorious country.
Livingston (Kingston, NY)
Sir, you intentionally speak from a place or privilege. Otherwise, why write such an intentional piece. Is this not dog whistle politics? We're in dire straits, if one pays attention to them, and not admitting to see them does not amount to their nonexistence. It amounts to a succumbing to color blindness of the 50s, the good old days and seeing the Twilight Zone, as well as to a dangerous and fanciful ideology. Well done and ouch!
GordonW (Olympia, WA)
The problem isn't just the narrowness of the virtual view of the US vs. the hugeness of the reality of the US. An even narrower--and far, far more distorted focus--is produced by intellectuals and writers who live in New York City (and nearby) and who spend their entire professional lives looking at what goes on in Washington D. C. And whose profession is to always look for the failures of our society. Yes, that produces a pretty pessimistic view of things. But our country is far greater--far huger--and much better than just the bad stuff in Washington D C. 332 million people, state and local governments, businesses, farmers, churches, non-profits, etc. And mostly good things going on. Millions of them. There is more to our society than the presidency and congress. Thankfully. It is vast society and that is why it is strong.
J Peterman (New England)
@GordonW Exactly. Well put. If I could, I'd give two thumbs up.
Tessa (Staten Island)
I grew up in Minnesota. There are more than 10,000 freshwater lakes in Minnesota bigger than an acre. Ross took his kids to a water park. In Minnesota. It’s funny cuz it’s true.
Times Guy (Chicago)
I agree. Going to a water park in Minnesota is like eating cheese food in Wisconsin. Why?
Michael Johnston (Austin)
My thoughts after a fine visit to western South Dakota: Go visit Mt. Rushmore if you want to -- why not? -- although you'll find it looks exactly like every photo of the place you've already seen. But whatever you do, DO NOT miss Custer State Park!
Juan (Austin, Texas)
The West is an order of magnitude greater for hunters and fishers who wander into the wilderness occupying a predator's niche for a while.
JP (New York)
nice column. makes me want to visit these place, but i can't imagine spending weeks driving in a minivan. given the control of both parties by extremes, we here in the East are used to living under the woke mob, where crimes are to be deconstructed before they can be prosecuted. my version of going west used to be get onto the subway and go to a different part of the world for lunch. not such an easy calculus anymore. i can't imagine it's any more fun for those people to live under the neo fascists. maybe all of the space helps them to zone out. glad your family had that opportunity
Bender (Chicago, IL)
My German car got keyed while camping in a Tennessee State park. On the same trip, while running on a barely used road (there are no sidewalks in much of rural America) some guy in a truck passed me at 50mph+ within 30 inches or so. Anything that deviates from their norm, i.e. signals perhaps being a liberal, sets some of these people off now.
Steve (Charlotte NC)
@Bender You'd get a real kick out of Alabama...
Susan (Paris)
I visited Montana and several other states with national parks one summer thirty years ago with my young daughters and French husband and we were constantly blown away by the breathtaking landscapes and the kind of “big sky” one rarely sees in Europe. We have often talked of a return trip including Montana but I decided I would never give one red cent to a state whose voters saw fit to elect as governor the far-right odious Greg Gianforte- of body-slamming -a-reporter fame. The fact that during the recent devastating and historic floods in Yellowstone, Mr. Gianforte continued vacationing in Tuscany and tried his hardest to keep his location a secret only validated that decision. We’ll spend money elsewhere.
Steve (Charlotte NC)
@Susan I must agree with you. We will not be visiting any Fascist states. I only hope we can keep North Carolina's governor to firewall off the loonies in our legislature. Good incentive to be politically active.
Ken G (Salida, CO)
How ironic you write this article highlighting your ability to cross through many states as many of those states work to restrict more than half the populations ability to easily travel between states.
Jean (NJ)
I would love to visit the National Parks before they are gone to oil drilling or wildfires, but I am not going to spend my travel dollars in states that don't consider women to be people and where everyone carries a gun.
mrj (southeast CT)
With all due respect, reading this makes one marvel at the chutzpah he must have to grandly opine from a crowded east coast state (Hobbitland? Really?) on topics wide and far ranging in American politics and civic life...coming from, you know, such confined environs as Connecticut. Much like the column of months ago where it was only his own personal illness that opened his thinking to the precarious health conditions of others (and medical insurance inequities), this one shows reveals a scant understanding of perspectives that exist but he's only acknowledges having credibility when HE has an experience that informs those perspectives.
R. Anderson (South Carolina)
Yes, the purple mountains have majesty and there are amber waves of grain but the key to an enjoyable trip across the U.S. is driving safely by driving defensively and not driving when you are tired.
Nicholas Halfinger (2021, January)
I recall an observation about Argentina, something along the lines of how many blessings God bestowed on the country - and the He made up for it by peopling the land with Argentinians. I am beginning to feel that way about America.
Kate (Oregon)
I wonder if the experience would be one of carefree enjoyment for a non-white family traveling through some of the less populated areas of the US.
Orion Clemens (CS)
@Kate Exactly. Thank you for pointing out something that I doubt has ever occurred to Douthat.
Lisa Merullo-Boaz (San Diego)
One of the great freedoms of America is being able to drive state to state, no papers, just the road and us. Unless you are a pregnant woman or girl, live in a state that wants to ban abortion and control your life, and now wants to prevent you from enjoying the freedom you and your family just joyously experienced by keeping you from going to another state for your personal, private healthcare needs. This is serious. You have daughters? Think about it.
Myasara (Brooklyn)
I might venture out and enjoy all these places if I wasn't afraid of getting shot in any one of them. This country has a sickness, and beauty is only skin deep.
blkbry (portland, oregon)
don't miss crater lake
Ted (Forest Hills, Queens, NY, NY, USA)
Ross - Sincerely - Enjoy you trip. Enjoy your family trip!
Ben Kissinger (Carlisle Ma)
A country is only as good at what it doesn,t destroy
Maljoffre (Germany)
Like every country in the world and like the planet itself, America without people is a startling splendour to behold, and whoever comes next can marvel in that spectacle if they can clean up after us, our greed, our ignorance, our wars, our weapons that extinguish human existence in a flash.
xyx (ny)
you are able and enjoy this because you are a White straight man. it's not safe or welcoming if you are a Black person in these parts of the country. and let's not overlook the economic privilege while every day there is an article or two about high gas prices you decide to travel by car and pollute even more.
Patricia Maurice (Notre Dame IN)
Ross, do your kids a favor. Next time, just take your kids one place and spend the time camping, walking, fishing, playing ball, reading, cooking, and biking with them. The kids will have much more fun, you'll use less gas, it will be much less expensive, and you'll return home far more rested. As a geologist, I'm a big advocate for seeing the country; so it's good you did it once with your family. But, those long long car trips are much harder on kids than parents often realize.
Jacquie (Iowa)
I wonder what took Douthat so long to go see the real America? Getting out and discovering for yourself what our country has to offer is an education in itself. The amazing people you meet, the beautiful areas of our country, and of course, the racist attitudes and hate that is also present in many places.
John B. (NY)
Thank you, Teddy Roosevelt.
nestor potkine (paris)
A spectacularly boring and empty piece by Mr. Douthat. Didn't he already know that the USA are a large country with most people on the coasts and very few on the inside ? What will come next ? A piece on the inevitability of dying, one on the French love for wine, another on the German love for beer, and still a third on pasta and the Italians ?
Torry Watkins (Hightstown NJ)
Kudos to the brilliant print edition editor who juxtaposed Ross Douthat with Jamelle Bouie. When Ross implicitly extols freedom to travel for Americans, I wonder how he would address some of the issues raised by Jamelle.
John (N.C.)
Come on Russ, you know you can't write about anything pleasant, because 3/4 of commenters live in perpetual gloom. How very sad. Thank you for a look at the northern tier of our West.
Dasha Kasakova (Malibu CA)
For too many Americans the beauty of their surroundings has no impact on the ugliness of their nature. Happy to know the Douthat family is not in that number.
François (France)
I've come to skip reading the opinion piece itself, knowing its worth in advance, and just enjoy the comments.
Time To Get Practical (Washington)
A lovely column about a nice, simple family road trip and an awareness of the beauty that is still America. But how dismaying it is that so many small-minded, whiny commenters can’t set aside our divisive, identity based, hyper-political fetishes to simply savor a brief moment of something nice. Do we really have to express our outrage about everything at every turn? We are well and truly screwed.
Sara Fasy (San Miguel De Allende)
I liked this column a lot. I'd been in all fifty states by the time I was 25 (including living in both Hawaii and a year in an Alaska Pipeline pump station). I was glad to see Mr. Douthat extoll the virtues of the West and South Dakota. Traveling with my five siblings across country several times in my childhood left indelible memories and an expansive sense of place. Dad was in the Air Force and it was just a fact of life for us to settle in new parts of the country every few years. I still feel comfortable driving from Central Mexico to Austin, often alone or with my dog. I understand the criticism of contributing to global warming but wonder how many critics think nothing of flying (which also uses precious fossil fuels?). At a time when we are immersed in a tech reality, it's nice to hear of an old-fashioned road trip in this magnificent country which is full of under-explored national and state parks. It's a great bonding experience for a family too, in spite of squabbling and being out of one's comfort zone. As with all travel, adventure is discomfort in retrospect. And usually well worth the discomfort!
Debbie Lackowitz (New York)
Did that in 2018 (moved from NY to Oregon) to move closer to family. We actually did the Lewia and Clarke trail (to the end!). The open spaces are amazing and refreshing. We're grands so it was just the two of us. You are giving your kids important memories (not sure of the two-year-old though!). You will definitely need those pictures! Be safe, happy travels!
Livingston (Kingston, NY)
Sadly, the is article seems to intentionally speak from a place or privilege. Otherwise, why write such an intentional piece. Is this not dog whistle politics? We're in dire straits, if one pays attention to them, and not admitting to see them does not amount to their nonexistence. It amounts to a succumbing to color blindness of the 50s, the good old days and seeing the Twilight Zone, as well as to a dangerous and fanciful ideology. Well done and ouch!
Michel Forest (Montreal, QC)
I have long dreamed of making the same road trip. Fly to Seattle, rent a car, and drive to Colorado, passing through Montana, Wyoming, etc. Not anymore. As a Canadian, the current social and political situations in the USA make me very uneasy. The states I’d love to visit are all red states. (Colorado is the state where voters think its acceptable to elect someone like Lauren Boebert.) The multiple mass shootings, the willingness of right wingers to embrace conspiracy theories and outright lies from Fox News and the general feeling of political violence have convinced me to go somewhere else where it’s a bit safer.
Shingo (Ab, can)
Several years ago, I believe it was 1990, a friend of mine drove from our home in Alberta to San Diego, on a rather indirect route in order to see as much of the western U.S. as possible.It was a great trip! The natural beauty is outstanding. But I mostly enjoyed the people. Whether in cities or rural areas, people were friendly, anxious to share info about where they lived, and even buying us drinks to make us feel at home. Warm and hospitable people. I don’t think I could make this trip now. In all honesty, I fear the possibility of being shot and killed. I miss those days, when there wasn’t so much hate.
JoeD (NY)
Dear Fellow Travellers, if you really want to see America, or any country for that matter, get out on a bike for your next journey. You will meet people and see places that you never will in a car. Most people are friendly, curious, and hospitable. Some not. A heavy lady said to us on the way out of a backroads South Carolina diner, where everything was deep fried (including the menu..), "I used to bike as a kid, and loved it! Now I am old and fat. I should probably take up biking again." A Colombian bike shop owner took us to the most wonderful natural foods store, where he spent the entire meal asking us how we felt about Immigration/Trump, which made sense given the flood of Venezuelan immigrants in his town. In past decades you'd find thriving small towns in everywhere. Today those are fewer and farther between. As a lovely middle aged lady running a lovely small, but empty coffee shop in rural PA said "I wish there were more bikers like you. We could use the business." I have often thought about those who remained in dying small towns across the world because they couldn't leave, or wouldn't. I am grateful they remain, as biking necessitates shorter travel distances, and corresponding meal/sleeping accommodations than driving. I still ponder what it must feel like to have to remain in a place that is dying due to climate change or globalism. As I travel there are towns of hope amidst those of loss. They shine ever more brightly these days.
David (California)
That's a highly romanticized road trip that can likely only be told by a family donning skin that is white. This country is indeed all that was disclosed and so much more; however, the people in this country have twisted a quaint family road trip into a, "I wonder what's awaiting in that red state coming up?" If a trip includes traipsing through Indiana, be warned. Then Governor Mike Pence signed into law in Indiana legislation written to allow legal discrimination. Business owners are free to deny service based on their religious beliefs, regardless of how whimsical or shifting they may be. A minority, mixed or LGBT couple can legally be denied service - courtesy the people of the great state of Indiana. This country is indeed beautiful. I've driven over large swaths myself; however, it's not the beauty of the country but the ugliness of the people that can mar the journey for many who call this country their home.
David (Illinois)
Hogwash. My non-white family has traveled extensively for decades to 49 of our 50 states — places rural and urban, and east, west, north, and south — without encountering even a scintilla of the problems you mention. (Yes, even in Indiana.) Why? We have learned that a smile and the words “please” and “thank you” go a long long way, along with simply going with the flow. Granted, we’ve yet to make it to Alaska, so we will see if your theory proves true when we visit there next summer.
LaPine (Pacific Northwest)
We are no longer on a collision course with global warming, we have crashed. There is no effort to rein in our exploding world population (since I was born in 1953 it has increased by 5 billion), as of the Manchin decree, no effort to rein in CO2 pollution, our country is being taken over by religious zealots on the SCOTUS, and unless Republicans are rejected wholesale in November, we will lose our distorted democracy, to authoritarianism. I live in 2 scenic, lovely areas: Western Oregon (3 hrs from Crater Lake), and SE Utah (1-hr from Canyonlands, Natural Bridges, and Mesa Verde). The contrast is stark, yet both environments teach a great deal to anyone willing to learn. I have irrigation water rights in Oregon, haul water in Utah (where we use 225 gallons a month). I imagine coming from NY and CT, the west looks wide open. Most of what you see is either owned by the rich or inhospitable and barren unsettled land owned by the Feds; exploited by mining companies and gas drillers. 40 million people depend upon the Colorado River for water, and most communities cannot survive under current growth conditions; Moab came to that conclusion last year. The Great Salt Lake is evaporating faster than replenished, currently around 60%. Lake Mead and Lake Powell are at 35% and losing ground. This aridification of the southwest happened around a thousand years ago and appears to be happening again. Yet, no effort on conservation, population control, climate change.
Bella (the city different)
@LaPine It seems Ross is totally out of touch with the reality of climate change. Never a mention in his cross country adventure, but this is a common thread with the religious. I personally know many of them who do not consider it an issue at all....hard to fathom!
Ryan (Michigan)
Very nice piece, Ross. I'm in the minority here by the simple fact I can appreciate the perspective of somebody experiencing this great nation of ours through the timeless family road trip. Enjoy!
Ryan (Michigan)
Very nice piece, Ross. I'm in the minority here by the simple fact I can appreciate the perspective of somebody experiencing this great nation of ours through the timeless family road trip. Enjoy!
Ms. Pea (Seattle)
There might be Republican senators who would like to join the Dems on climate control. There are some willing to admit that the warming of the planet is alarming. But the problem is that there is not a Republican with the courage to step outside the pack. For all the vitriol directed at Manchin for his stance, I do admire that he's not afraid to not go along with his party. He's always condemned when he does it, but it's what we tell our kids to do, isn't it? Be true to themselves, even if it means facing condemnation? Be strong in the face of peer pressure? That's what we teach. And we criticize Republicans who won't. Then we criticize Manchin who does. I don't agree with Manchin. I think his decision is wrong and ill-informed. But I applaud his courage in doing it, no matter what his reasons are.
Pam (Hutchinson, KS)
@Ms. Pea No courage there. Just capitulation to his true masters.
Mimi (Ohio)
@Ms. Pea I would guess that his decisions are more often influenced by his wealthy campaign contributors.
Bella (the city different)
@Mimi ....and very much by his selfish personal investments in coal.
Carole O (Portland OR)
I'm taking a road trip with a friend this fall, going from Portland, OR to St. Louis via Hwy 2 and back though the southwest. I've driven some of this before, but this is the first time that I'll be taking the pro-choice sticker off the back window of my car.
Johaz (AZ)
I live in one of the reddest communities in one of the reddest states, but will not remove my “Abortion is health care” sticker.
znb731 (indiana)
maybe Douthat should take his children to Indianapolis, where a ten year old rape victim had to travel to get an abortion to save her life and dignity. this column reads like an attempt to distract the columnist's readers from his inhumane prolife politics and the horror it has already wrought. nice try. vacations are nice these days if you are a wealthy white male without a care in this world, but I'll keep my eye on the issues that matter and read the columns that tell the searing stories of the people who are paying the price of the success of conservative politics like Douthats.
Mike (Boston)
When did the NYT comment section go from being reactions, opinions and observations on the article to a ranting airing of grievances about all of society? Sad.
ADubs (Chicago)
We drove our children across the country just a few weeks ago, and it was beautiful indeed. Particularly in South Dakota, there are odes to many brave Americans who fought for the rights of regular people against “the criminal rich.” It was glorious to see public reminders of people who were brave enough to work for all Americans, not just those who have money. To get to these memorials, we drove past a sign or two disparaging President Biden (one word rhymed with duck). Just down the road from Mt. Rushmore, we visited native prairie lands and laughed at the antics of all the prairie dogs. We wondered why we had seen so few, but we learned at a national park that the cattle industry was able to get prairie dogs declared a nuisance. We wondered no longer. In Nebraska, we saw some gorgeous landscapes and signs reminding us to be on the lookout for bighorn sheep. The kids loved those! We also saw acre after acre of corn withering in the fields from lack of rain, and dairy factory farms where the cows baked in the sun and stood in feces up to their knees. Driving across the nation, the beauty is there, but so is the evidence of how badly we have failed in taking care of what we are so lucky to have in the first place, of how the obsession for money is costing us literally everything else.
Mimi (Ohio)
@ADubs More reason to be vegetarian/vegan.
Linda (Brooklyn)
If by "so lucky to have" you mean the lands we forcibly stole through generations of violence against indigenous peoples, then yes, I guess we are the lucky ones.
JoeG (Levittown, PA)
Challenge accepted Ross. Let’s start by expanding your American travel books. Then, your travel books to foreign countries or books about place. Perhaps, if you’re really interested in “seeing” America, you could start a NY Times book club – with some of the country’s best authors. Here are some suggestions. Hopefully, the readers can add more variety and adventure. • On the Road by Jack Kerouac • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig • Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles • Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer • The Lost Continent and A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson • The Cruise of the Rolling Junk by F. Scott Fitzgerald • Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson • Roads: Driving America’s Great Highways by Larry McMurtry • News of the World by Paulette Giles • Mrs. Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney • Of Men and Mountains by William O. Douglas • Almost Somewhere: Twenty-Eight Days on the John Muir Trail by Suzanne Roberts • Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino (they could be cities anywhere)
Blazing Don-Don (Colorado)
@JoeG - Desert Solitaire, by Edward Abbey OK, this is not a "road trip" book, per se. But it is perhaps the finest piece of writing in existence about America's desert Southwest. (Or, at least, America's desert Southwest as it existed 60 years ago.)
ISHA5135 (Texas)
@JoeG Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck. The best!
Roy (Tioga County, PA.)
William Least Heat-Moon's River Horse and Prairy Erth
Mark Kropf (Long Island)
Much of America is beautiful and novel, but a good deal more of it is rather dull and redundant. Long stretches of Interstate Highway are uninspiring as is much of a long stretch of the plains and of deserts. The novel sights may be odd as the Corn Palace of Mitchell,SD or the Cadillac Graveyard of Amarillo, TX. Perhaps these and museums are easy to see. Much of the natural wonder of National Park beauty is under assault from too much by the way of visitors. Trails get damaged and nature is injured by too many trying to see its wonders. This and the pollution of the travel needs to be taken into consideration. People can travel, but they have to weight the benefits gotten from perhaps 6 or 7 hours on the road for multiple days. Responsible husbanding of what we have requires reconsideration of the toll taken by tourism at times. I am not trying to be a spoil sport here, but do note the problem of too many trying to share the roads. We are no longer in the 1950s of 'See the USA in your Chevrolet".
SD (Dallas)
Nice column, Ross. These comments also provide a nice summary of why the Democrats are poised to lose Congress. “America sucks,” “Everything is terrible,” “We are all doomed” and “We need to forcibly change your entire lifestyle” may or may not be valid statements, but they are hardly a winning political message. Everyone needs to rethink that approach.
Mike (Boston)
Richard (Washington state)
@SD Dems want health care,. That is terrible. Dems want the environment cleaned up. That is terrible. The Dems want you to vote. That is terrible. The Dems want you to have a choice. That is terrible. The Dems want people to get a back ground check. That is terrible. Just a few terrible ideas. Later, Richard.
Moby (North Carolina)
Thank you, Ross. I wish you and your family safe travels. I have travelled by road and hiked throughout the magnificent West and the Pacific northwest. Everywhere I met gracious, friendly people eager to be hospitable to an immigrant, eager to portray a favorable image of America to a foreigner. It was touching. America, I love you.
Theodore Hooke (Manchester NH)
You can learn a lot about America, by driving out into it. My husband and I drove from New Hampshire to Texas twice during covid. On one trip, after entering Oklahoma, we stopped at a brand new state of the art welcome center. I picked up a beautiful glossy publication highlighting the experiences of native Americans and black people living in Oklahoma. It was good to know that despite historic problems, life goes on and communities thrive. Then, we stopped for a break at Steak and Shake. A bus load of cheerleaders on a field trip were taking a break too. They wore uniforms emblazoned with their teams name, “Savages”. My husband asked their coach, “what are the savages?”. She pointed at an emblem on the back of a jacket. Their was the proud profile of a native American chief. We were flabbergasted. Back in the car, we couldn’t help but wonder what other team name could be more insulting to those it professed to honor. Maybe the “sub-humans”. Funny thing, I googled what town the savages could have been from, and there were lots more teams in Oklahoma called the Savages.
BJ (Syracuse)
@Theodore Hooke YEP. That's America. But Ross will be blind to nuances like that since he has his GOP blinkers on.
Ladyrantsalot (Evanston)
And to think that Ross's Republican Party has resisted the federal government's efforts to protect the natural beauty of God's great planet. Ross, take your family to job-destroying, fully automated, strip-mining operations. Tell them that "THIS is the real America." And no, Theodore Roosevelt could not get elected dog-catcher in today's GOP and, anyway, he considered himself a progressive. On behalf of progressives across this great land, Ross, let me say "you're welcome." Enjoy your trip.
8 times more violent crime in the USA than in the European Union. Per capita. Rape, physical aggression with injury, and murder. 50 times more risks statistically to be killed while being robbed in the USA than in the EU. 8 times more people in jail in the USA than in the EU. The highest incarceration rate in the world by far. 750/ 100 k. France, Italy, Germany are at around 80/100 k. For one violent crime in the EU, 8 are committed in the USA. For one citizen in jail in the EU , 8 US citizens are in prison. For one prison in the EU, there are 8 prisons of same capacity in the USA, for same population.
Natalie (PA)
Ross, this was a nice column. Thanks for sharing.
Mike (Washington, DC)
I'm sure that for Mr. Douthat, a trip across the beautiful landscape of America is a welcome and well deserved escape from the nasty politics of our times that he spends his time observing and writing about. But when he returns, it will be interesting to see how this journey affects his perspective on the destruction that climate change will inflict on the continent and the planet. Today, Joe Manchin is getting his share of scorn and contempt, as well he should. But the fact is that not one Republican senator cares enough about the planet to join the 49 Democrats ready to act decisively. Not one. How much of Mr. Douthat's post-journey writings will address the contemptible actions of his fellow conservative in Congress? The answer -- if his eloquent writings about what he experienced on the trip are to be taken seriously -- should be "a lot."
Peg (Boston)
The vastness of this country and its beauty are worth seeing and can contribute mightily to one's understanding of the perspectives and needs of folks in other parts of the country. Eating breakfast in small rural towns and meeting friendly locals along the way are also necessary to getting a broad perspective and understanding that there are real people there. I traveled in the 1950's and 60's with my family, from NYS to Texas, NM, GA and beyond. Even as a child I understood there were big cultural gaps between us and our Southern and Western relatives. They teasingly called us "Yankees". They laughed at my long "hippie" hair. We enjoyed the deliciousness of Southern food and wondered that our relatives in NM could speak Spanish! When my Southern cousins visited us in upstate NY, they marveled that people they saw in their trip to Niagara Falls sported mustaches and beards. Why didn't my cousins didn't go to school with their Black neighbors.? The vastness of our country and the wideness of our experiences in it still give rise to differences in perspective that need to be seen. Kudos to you for getting your kids across the country for some first hand experience with real places and people, not stereotypes. And the scenery in some places is fantastic.
sailorken (canada(westcoast))
@Peg hope it was just the men with beards and mustaches.
William (Ohio)
Thanks for this. A lovely column.
Johnnypfromballantrae (Canada)
It's good you are seeing it while you can Ross because climate change will turn much of it into a desert.
Bob Woods (Salem, OR)
@Johnnypfromballantrae The vast majority of the American west is a desert, and we love it. But your point is well taken.
Guido (Cincinnati)
You're a good man with a good family, Mr. Douthat, and I applaud you for showing off your country's history and heritage in such a old fashioned yet refreshing way that will stay with you and yours forever. That said, while the natural beauty of this land will hopefully outlast the destructive nature of America with its greedy, corrupt lobbyists and legislators, it's the anger, rage and hatred that nearly destroyed us after Civil War 1.0 we now must endure for the 2.0 version with a much more dire consequence expected to destroy our imperfect nation into extinction.
Mark Cooper (Chicago)
Have a nice trip. The Douthats.
ZecaRioca (GB)
First, as someone who has lived in Minnesota for over 30 years I can say that Mr. Douthat wasted his time in Minnesota at a water park. With 10,000 lakes, and one of the most beautiful sceneries, Minnesota has much to offer for kids of all ages, so why waste time and money on a man-made water park? Second, now that Mr. Douthat has seen with his own eyes the emptiness of South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana, he can stop spreading the lie that America is too crowded and can’t take any more immigrants.
1515732 (Wales,wi)
Safe travels. Enjoy America!
Chris Kelsch (Chicago)
Great piece but Ross made no mention of America’s other great asset—it’s people. Once you “get off the small screen”, as he says, one might be surprised that Americans are generally kind and thoughtful and treat each other well, despite political differences.
MidTown Mack (Close Enough)
"...questions of migration, density and development loom large when you traverse the (arguably) underpeopled West..." The West, especially the Southwest, can only be viewed as under peopled if one ignores the lack of water, likely only to get more scarce in the coming decades.
RB (Cal)
If I could find some little Desert Water Bags for the kid's cell phones, I'd consider undertaking such a trip.
Jack be Quick (Albany)
What it "means" depends upon the person doing the seeing. Never forget, every square inch was stolen.
Sydney Kaye (Cape Town)
As a non American traveling to Vancouver who had to be rerouted in Europe my one request to the airline was " not through the USA please". That is how the nasty US is seen from afar.
famdoc (Lynchburg, VA)
@Syndey Yes, because Russia and China and India are just SO much better, aren't they? So you can return to that paragon of human rights that is South Africa.... There are plenty of things to criticize about this country, but blanket stupid statements just don't work for me. We have a lot of problems, but we have a great country, one that is worth saving.
Sydney Kaye (Cape Town)
The comparison you seek to make is flawed because we know what Russia and China are, whereas America purports to be the leader of Western democracy and instead is a hypocritical plutocracy on the verge of being a one party autocracy. And incidently the South African constitution is a paragon of human rights with an independent non politucal Supreme Court which interprets it on the basis of jurisprudence not crude partisanship.
Olnpvx (Chevy Chase)
It’s indeed a beautiful country on the wild west, down south and right in the middle. I suggest that the Douthat family paint themselves in blown, black and something in between to travel the same route next summer, then report to the readers how beautiful a country it is, or not.
HRF (Washington DC)
Our family chooses vacations based on the "get there before it's ruined" theory. We took our kids to Glacier while there are still a few glaciers left. Also tried to get to places like Yosemite and Yellowstone before large swaths burn. The Grand Canyon is mostly rock, thank heavens, so we can put that on the back "burner." Although it's unlikely we will ever be able to afford it (and because the travel itself contributes to climate change), we still dream of seeing the Great Barrier Reef before it's completely bleached, and maybe a threatened island nation before it disappears. And then a safari, since there are many threatened animals that will be extinct soon...
AM (Ireland)
@HRF but your going there directly contributes to the ruination of all of these places. Perhaps you think you and your family are special and worthy of a pass on travel, resource use etc. Attitudes like these from already privileged people who are not used to having their choices curtailed are a huge part of the problem
Joe (California)
Nope. Every country has scenery. Scenery doesn't give me hope. Democracy does.
Socrates (Downtown Verona, NJ)
Travel has always been tonic for the soul and a great natural mind and horizon expander. It's hard not to fall in love with the country's national parks, nature spots and endless charming monuments and downtowns across the fruited plains. Of course, the same thing generally happens when I visit Canada, Japan, Mexico, Europe or anyplace else. The problem with the USA is it's the only country in the world where you could specifically design a vacation to visit all of the country's most significant gun massacres, but you'd need a good year or more to do it. It's hard to put lipstick on a pig, Ross.
Mrs_I (Toronto, Canada)
@Socrates Thank you for this. All this rhapsodizing by the columnist and other commenters of a country in very serious decline with its omnipresent gun massacres (among other things) is just disgusting. If Douthat truly loved his country he would do much more about its decline than taking his family on a privileged self-serving road trip.
@Socrates ... but yet people keep on coming, legal and illegal; especially at the southern border. Maybe compared to places elsewhere, things are not so bad here.
Rob (Paris)
@BD It's relative to where you are coming from BD. People still come for jobs and many are fleeing unrest and persecution if not war. I've read about about Greek, Roman, Persian, Ottoman and other civilisations. At some point they collapse. Somehow at the peak, the sustaining vision and activities that got them there break down. It's a combination of bad military, economic and cultural choices. Choices. Is the US at this point? Inequality, illiberalism, gun violence, prescription drug addiction, the breakdown of the wall separating church and state, etc. seems to signal a turning backwards that leads to decline. Will people (and foreign investment) continue to go to Texas, Florida or the US for that matter in spite of its geographic splendour? No civilisation exists in a vacuum. When asked how he went bankrupt, Hemingway said, "Gradually, and then suddenly".
Richard Nichols (London, ON)
"...and so backward through the Midwest..." Taken out of context, one might think there was hope for Ross. A Canuckian viewpoint.
JDowdy (San Francisco)
We are being manipulated and controlled by politicians who stir up cultural wars. It’s time that ended. Think for yourselves people. Find differences of opinions. You might learn something about yourself.
Paul Bertorelli (Sarasota)
My wife and I have been touring by motorcycle together for more than 40 years. No air-conditioned comfort, no cup holders or ice chest, no stereo, just the open road, the wind and a fine exhaust note. Haven't made Montana yet, but we leave again for the mid-Atlantic in the morning. Ride 500 miles a day and you feel every one of them when settling into a dry and cool hotel bed. I can hardly wait to start again the next morning. As Robert Pirsig said, you don't see the sights, you're in the scene. Long distance motorcycling attracts the interest of the naturally curious and you find out just how many of them there are. You rode that all the way from Florida? Do you ride at night? How can you get by with so little stuff? What if it rains? We get wet. But we dry out and continue the adventure.
J Peterman (New England)
@Paul Bertorelli Anyone who mentions Pirsig has got to be an interesting human being. Safe travels my friend.
Frank (Canada)
Jack Kerouac…esque
Ann Holland (DC)
We took this same trip because we wanted our kids to understand that America isn't just what they see from our front porch. In Wyoming, our daughter asked, "Why is that man dressed up like a cowboy?" Our answer - Because he is a cowboy. Acknowledge and value diversity, respect the lives of others in this huge country of ours.
Mister Bill (South Carolina)
In 1990, Peter King, then with Sports Illustrated, interviewed the late, great John Madden as they traveled cross country on the custom "Maddencruiser" bus to the next weekend's NFL broadcast in New York. Madden had this observation about America: "If anything will impress you as you go across the country, it's how much space there is. This country, you'd think it was crowded, but you cross it, go for hours, and not see anything. You realize the only places that are truly congested are the big cities. Between congestions are just wide-open spaces. There's a hell of a lot more wide-open spaces than congested cities. "That's why I've always said that before someone can be a congressman or a senator or president or vice-president, the person should ride across this country. Not drive, because you can't see when you drive. You have to ride, either like this or on a train. If you fly into Washington from New York, or from San Francisco or L.A. or Chicago, how the hell do you know? If a person can't see the country, how the hell can he represent it?"
E (los angeles)
I wish I could feel safe traveling around remote parts of this great country of ours. I know some excuse this as something akin to reverse "virtue signalling" but every Confederate or Trump flag is an indication that this country does not belong to me, too.
MidTown Mack (Close Enough)
@E It is a distraction to view the visual reminders of the rampant, and sometimes dangerous, craziness that seems so...out there. I just completed a two week road trip to the Pacific Northwest and I also found many friendly, seemingly decent people out there as well. They're just a lot visually quieter than the Trump crowd.
Bruce Williams (Chicago)
@E This has never been and probably never will be a country where everyone has to agree, but there have always been bubblies, isolation chambers, and cults.
CC (San Francisco)
@E I came here to say this, but you said it perfectly. I used to feel this way, before I realized just how much irritational hate and bigotry exist. It must be very nice indeed to be a straight white male who owns the place, going where he pleases, indignant when encountering adversity rather than fearful of its hammer falling too close to the heart.
Mike (Tucson)
Meanwhile my wife and I have thoroughly enjoyed traveling in Europe on wonderful intercity, regional and local trains, seeing wonderful publicly funded parks and museums and the communitarian spirit of societies that are not obsessed with odd libertarian concepts. After three months I feel so sad for our poor lost country.
J Peterman (New England)
It's great that the author has taken the opportunity to see this great and vast nation. And especially for the kids. It is indeed a splendid country, in scale and grandeur, especially so in those remote settings we call the "Old West". But it's much more than that. To urbanites, distance is often measured in time, not miles. Eight hours east of Seattle, 45 minutes from Glacier Park. To a ruralite, distance is typically measured in miles ((or kilometers, if you're metric-minded). Why? Because you might find yourself afoot in these remote settings, and your average commute time is no way to judge how far it is to the nearest gas pump or mechanic shop. It's a different world. Yes, we live in different worlds, urban and rural. And we speak different languages at times. A problem? No, an opportunity to learn from each other and embrace that diversity. A different kind of custom and culture than we often recognize, yet another type of diversity that we might clumsily avoid discussing. But it's real. My suggestion: Embrace all these differences in our cultural landscape that we call America. Learn the languages of others (e.g., you say "pricey", while I say "spendy"). And get to know someone and someplace outside of your comfort zone. I'm trying, but I think we'll all come out ahead. Keep traveling.
Jack D (NC)
Learning how to travel safely, productively and efficiently I believe is more important for kids to learn from experience. Seeing stuff does not typically register beneficially unless the travel is on one's own initiative.
michaelm (Louisville, CO)
@Jack D Balderdash. 65 years after, the memories of sights and sounds from our annual family roadtrips remain crisp, fresh and joyful.
Cody McCall (tacoma)
I'd prefer to do such an adventure via passenger rail. And, good luck trying that.
OldWoodMay (Arlington VA)
I've driven across the country 4 or 5 times in my life. Sometimes sorta fast, other times slow meandering journeys. They have been some of the most memorable and rewarding events in my life. Anyone who hasn't done it, should.
TJ (Bronx)
I did a similar trip with my daughter several years ago…LOVED camping on the Laura Ingalls Wilder land and the Badlands. Sturgis was a bit weird, but we just stopped for something to eat and moved on. I must admit I’d be more worried about a woman and her young daughter traveling out that way alone now. With the ever increasing number of guns in this country, I wouldn’t feel safe, especially in places where men openly carry them as if taunting everyone. That’s not an America I would want my daughter to experience. Hopefully someday we’ll get rid of gun culture and EVERYONE will be able to feel safe traveling in this amazing country.
Dan (Alexandria)
Must be nice to be able to stay in a place you don't know without worrying that you'll be harassed or worse for the color of your skin or your accent or your sexual orientation or your gender expression or your bumper stickers. If you can afford to take your safety for granted, I'm sure America seems like a welcoming place, but its opposite isn't "online life" but real life as it is lived by its minorities, a life of confinement by invisible, but very real, boundaries and threats. You wrote this article from one of the whitest states in our nation. Go visit Compton and tell me how free it feels.
Edwin Cohen (Portland Or)
@Dan I just got back from a trip to Stanley Idaho from the Peoples Republic of Portland. Now you might argue that Portland is pretty white and it is, I'm just saying that people of color are all across any agricultural part of this country just turn on the radio. The people in the Red states do have an underlying hostility toward the urban outsider, but it is formed not so much in the local ignorance and isolation, but formed in the large Urban Cultural centers of New York (Fox News), Florida, Houston, and Los Angels. Did I leave anyone out I'm sure I did? I came across very little hostility, for my old hippie ways. When I did in Baker City Or I had to point out that all the well know the trouble we had in Portland was not homegrown, but that many of our lost and homeless came to Portland and were not created there Odd or Queer kids, of maybe Baker City. Portland did not create the Opioid, or Meth problems. Urban centers are designed to take in people's problems and all, and urban parts and good at forgetting some of the uglier facts, like who pays for the roads, schools, and hospitals and who provides the market for their agricultural, produce. In many cases the hard working cowboys who don't take welfare, know that they are guilty because they do take it. Don't even ask whose land they farm or who use to own it.
B Taylor (Omaha, NE)
Nice read; thanks Ross.
Rhporter (Virginia)
How nice to be paid for the obligatory essay about what I did on my summer vacation. Millions of school children are jealous.
BayArea101 (Midwest)
@Rhporter Yes, being stuck at home is never pleasant. I hated it.
K. OBrien (Kingston, Canada)
The year I left high school in the in the early 70's I traveled by train from Toronto to Vancouver at the cost of $42 -coach. Since then have visited every province in Canada except PEI. Even been north to see polar bears. Take the time to see your own country-you may be awarded by what you see.
DLB (Vancouver. Wa)
So many of these comments reflect how people are overcome by fear. Not only that, but they seek out problems and signs of division wherever they can find them. I've got news for them. They world has always been red in tooth and claw, and American society has always harbored hateful and extreme groups in out of the way places. But the majority of people in our country today are very accepting and welcoming. It's the extreme minority who are hateful and threatening. It may even be a good thing that the extremists feel free to advertise themselves as such these days - it's much easier to identify them. Get past your fear and look to the many wonderful positives in our people and country. It's very easy to avoid the blinkered extremists.
Matt (Sacramento)
I just took a road trip with a good longtime friend of mine. He leans red, I lean blue. He's from the South, I'm from the West. We had a great time, learned more about each other's points of view and came away the better for it. Maybe American polarization would be reduced if we could take more road trips together!
BayArea101 (Midwest)
@Matt Getting out more has always been a health-giving tonic. I know I need to do more of it.
J Peterman (New England)
@Matt Yes! We learn virtually nothing hanging out in our own echo chambers.
Madelyn (North Carolina)
Ross, I felt that way when I toured across the US, leaving from from the east coast, going as far north as Barrow, Alaska and as far west as the Washington state Pacific coast. I marveled at the beauty of America -- it's amber waves of grain and glorious land from sea to shining sea. I visited state fairs and marveled at the ingenuity of Americans in all works of life, especially in rural areas. Alas, that was 40 years ago. Americans are really different now? Or not? Our disgusting political wars of destructive obstruction are tearing us apart. Our "America the beautiful" feels like a dream of the past.
sailorken (canada(westcoast))
@Madelyn Barrow Alaska is west of Washington state
Allan (San Antonio)
One other aspect that you SHOULD get when driving all these miles across the country is an understanding for why there are different political views that make it so very hard to find compromise. It's a shame that diverse perspectives and political views cannot be respected and "harmonized" constructively, but instead become fodder for political party gamesmanship and pundit buffoonery. When you hail from the more densely populated parts of America and drive across the vast west, how could you possibly not see that the rural American necessarily will have different perspectives, goals, and fears. Similarly, for a rural American navigating the faster, more densely populated areas. Seeing is not necessarily understanding -- but give understanding a try. We would all be better off.
Kyler W (Kansas City)
During the period right after the lockdowns for covid ended, me and my then fiance drove from our home in kc to the grand canyon and back. For the first time in our lives we camper outside every nighy for 2 weeks. One of the more amazing trips we've ever had. It really is very empty out there, but full of beauty as well.
John Jabo (Georgia)
Excellent parenting move Ross. Not books, nor the internet, nor anything else can educate your kids like a cross-country trip with the family. America, with all its problems, is a wonderful country filled with wonderful, if sometimes flawed, people. I just hope you and your wife survive the journey with four kiddos in a minivan. I'm not sure that even the heartiest pioneers would have tried that.
Michael Rowley (San Diego)
My son and I went camping in Arizona. When we arrived we found that our campsite was occupied. It was late and neither we nor the two women in our spot had anywhere else to go. The campground was fully booked. We treated each other with respect and decided to share the spot. We got along and enjoyed each other’s company through the next day. We’re lefties. The women had Maga bumper stickers. We were camping. We all loved dogs. We didn’t talk politics. Face to face and outside, we experienced a shared humanity.
Barry Moskowitz (New York)
Yes, Mr. Douthat--your article does provide hope and uplift, reminding us that the cluttered existence most of us face does not tell the whole story of the United States, or even a large part of it. There is a nation, a land, geographic "empire," as you point out, that stretches farther than many of us--myself included--can readily imagine. I must confess that I have seen almost none of this. Yes, I've explored New York State, including areas that are as different from metropolitan New York as one can imagine. I have seen Cape Cod, Boston, Pennsylvania, some of the East Coast along I-95, on the way to Florida. But I realize that is nothing, really. In one of my favorite books, "Travels with Charlie," by John Steinbeck, the author described his need to see America again, to see its expanses, hear its varied dialects, and even "smell its sewage." Perhaps we all need to see that. And, perhaps, our media should do a better job depicting it, as you have begun to do. Thank you again.
PJ (Saratoga County, NY)
Back in the early 1990's husband and I took a trip to Kentucky via car trip. The only place we felt out of place and uncomfortable, (being white people with NYS license plates) was in a place about a mile off the highway in West Virginia. We stepped into a little spot for lunch. The looks we received upon our entrance were palpably unfriendly, and even threatening. This is America. Then and now.
BayArea101 (Midwest)
@PJ "This is America. Then and now." So people where you live would behave in similar fashion were residents of West Virginia to come into a local cafe? That's most unfortunate.
Wyl M (Lansing, MI)
Thanks for this reflection. My family made that trip (Michigan to Washington) last summer and drew similar conclusions. What is most memorable to me is my experience with people. There aren’t many out west and most likely hold political positions on the opposite end of mine, but we were treated with unparalleled kindness everywhere we went. It was a reminder that we’re all on the same team, even if we sometimes don’t get along. Meeting people across the breadth of this country gave me hope for our collective ability to solve problems. Even in moments of division.
Dennis (Oregon)
Nice to hear someone else loves driving through the West. A.B. Guthrie, the man who coined Montana's state motto, The Big Sky, as the title of his most popular novel and a great Kirk Douglas movie, said that the problem with such a glorious vista was that men loved it so much they ended up killing it. Thus, the stack of superfund sites in Montana is truly depressing. Not to mention the lack of effective politics since Mike Mansfield passed from the scene. Perhaps the richest and also the poorest places in the West to visit are the Indian reservations where the original residents live now. Next time, Russ, drop by Zuni New Mexico or Browning, Montana. That's where you can find the old West still.
Lolly (PA)
Glad to know that you are out of your comfy reading chair and hitting the road with your family, Ross. Brings back memories when the six of us did the same. We camped, big old tent, read in the evening by the Coleman lantern, breakfast bacon sizzling on the Coleman stove. I wish I could go back and spend a day with us. Savor it all.
Richard (Maryland)
We Americans need to do better at living up to our landscape. If you can't this minute hop in your EV and head west, then at least re-read Frost's "Gift Outright."
JB (Los Angeles)
I hope Douthat's trip takes him to California. He'll find a lot of it is just as vast as Montana and Idaho, and culturally a lot more diverse than his casual quips give credit.
Ajit (Sunnyvale, CA)
@JB This Fourth of July weekend, I took the family to camp in the Eastern Sierra -- not in the crowded campgrounds around Mammoth Lakes, but further north in the Toiyabee National Forest among the lodgepole pines next to Trumbull Lake at 9500 ft. It was cool, quiet, serene and beautiful. The campers come to relax, fish, canoe/kayak and hike. I've been multiple times to Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, and Utah. They are all beautiful states. But driving on Highway 395 and surveying the big sky with beautiful strato-cumulus clouds and the Sierra peaks still with patches of snow, I continue to thank my lucky stars that I can live in California.
J Peterman (New England)
@JB Yes, especially Northeastern California, where last names are so long you need an oversized mailbox to fit all the letters. Great country, friendly people, fine Basque food.
Eric R. (California)
As a Wyoming transplant to California, I find this “Don’t California Our…” stuff so infuriating.
Larry Darwin (Lancaster, PA)
@Eric R.I agree with this comment. But just for the record, I'd like to report that when I lived in Oregon for 6 years 1969-75, the unexpurgated bumper sticker version was "Don't Californicate Oregon."
TLC (Portland,OR)
When I lived in North Dakota, there were two bill boards at the Montana border: “Custer was healthy when he left North Dakota” and “You Are Entering Montana. Why?”
John (Southwest US)
Holy cow, so much hate for the US in the comments. Can't the author just travel and get new perspective, good or bad? Or does everything have to be tainted by the latest depressing headline you read on the NYT? Better yet, let's not even talk about a good meal we ate, or a nice coffee with a friend. I mean, after all, the US is the worst country in the world and Joe Manchin or whomever is coming for your dinner and coffee, right? (sarcasm) The author is advocating for getting out a bit, away from our doomscrolling on a smartphone, to get perspective on the world--good and bad. Any good psychologist would advocate for this. So let's knock it off with ruining everything with harping on the bad things, never allowing an ounce of good or balance in. Sheesh, the NYT comments can be just as bad and hateful as Fox News, just in different ways.
Larry Darwin (Lancaster, PA)
@John Ross Douthat is a paid conservative opinion columnist. That means he is paid nicely to write an informed and thought-provoking analysis about the important issued of the day from the intelligent right side of the political spectrum. (I recognize that is becoming an oxymoron, which makes Douthat all the more important.) "Phoning in" a travel column while he vacations with family is not what I expect when I read his column, and it is a weak way to fulfill his contractual commitment to the Times. How often he gets away with it is up to the Times editors, but readers are entitled to complain since we pay handsomely to subscribe.
Occams razor (Vancouver BC)
@John "Don't look up!"
Ryan (Michigan)
Well said, John.
MTP (Ohio)
Ross, there are few times when your ridiculous columns disgust me. Today is one. You are free to roam about the country because you are white, male, and rich. Take a note from your former colleague Nick Kristoff and go see the girls that are written about in the column about abortion care for adolescent girls. Embed yourself in the communities that hate liberals. You can't. You live free as a conservative in CT because liberals make sure that state is worth living in. You then pontificate mightly about America and all you reveal is your privileged ignorance
Richard Falice (Winter Garden, FL)
It's a beautiful country filled with ugly people.
Karen (FL)
@Richard Falice a minority of people. mob and cult mentality makes it appear worse than it really is.
Richard Falice (Winter Garden, FL)
@Karen I'm soon to be 69 and I remember when I was young we wanted to change the world and make it a better place, sadly so many of the people I knew then have become greedy, grasping adults and no longer care about anything else but money, the world be damned. We need a rebirth of the youth trying to make a change for the better.
Bill (Hudson)
"Don’t California Our Cody." Cute. The sign is not really welcoming, is it? I find that many folks out there in "real" America, re: the south and midwest, have a similar frame of mind. They have no problem telling me what's wrong with NY. How they visited once and that was enough, yada, yada. I never quite understood that. I was in Charleston, SC and I didn't say, "I've seen the south and it sucks". Or, "How do you people in Idaho put up with militias"? I love seeing the USA, but I'm happy to come home to my NY state and NYC.
Barry Henson (Sydney, Australia)
America is blessed with breathtaking beauty and while Ross can lyrical about the landscape and its majesty, we remain a country divided. Republicans cling to American myths that have the white Christian male as the focal point. The problem is these are just myths. The reality, which they denigrate as woke or critical race theory, is that our history was bloody and ugly, stained by slavery, genocide of the Indians, seizing land from Mexico, lynchings and Jim Crow laws. They want America to be the land of the free so long as the white, Christian male is at the top of the totem and the rest of the country know their place.
Reuben (Australia)
@Barry Henson Does that same logic apply to Australia? Do people in Australia who vote for the right-wing Coalition "cling to" Australian "myths that have the white" European "male as the focal point"? Is "[t]he reality... that our history" in Australia "was" also "bloody and ugly, stained by" the convict system, "genocide of" Aboriginal Australians, "seizing" their "land", the punitive expeditions against their people, as it is called in Australia, the Stolen Generation, etc. Is it the case that those who vote for the Coalition "want" Australia "to be the land of the free" in the sense of wanting it to be a democracy only for "so long as the white... male is at the top of the totem" pole "and the rest of the country know their place"? Or rather, is it the case that Australia is NOT politically polarized like the U.S., because we DON'T divide people into Us vs. Them based upon political allegiance. Instead, we embrace all citizens of our country as being Australian, no matter what their gender, ethnicity or political inclination? I think the latter, and as I have previously explained on numerous occasions, it seems to me that this difference is mostly because Australia has a Parliamentary System, in contrast to the Presidential System of the U.S. That is why I do advocate U.S. political reform.
NYer in WI (Waupaca WI)
Many of the states Ross visited are striving to be "open and free." These very conservative states and Ross need to remember their piggy bank is filled with money from the crowded costal blue states. Both coasts fund the lifestyle of the "flyover" states whether they believe it or not.
Redd Pharmer (Coming Out Of Turn 4)
Hitting the road in some part of America that you don’t live in can certainly be enlightening. Leaving the Deep South and motorcycling through the hinterlands of central Pennsylvania one is giving to wonder, “What makes the Confederate battle flag so attractive to these all these poor Yankees?” And they find an alleged 239-pound billionaire very stable genius from NYC attractive why? Beautiful farmland and countryside though nevertheless…
kateB (brewster ny)
How much have you spent on this foray into our great country? Are you staying at hotel/notells or are you staying at Embassy Suites? or Motel 8? Isn't is awesome that you can get the time a way from your 'job' to take your family on this trip of a lifetime. I don't see most middle class American's being able to do 16 days on the road in a van (watching movies obviously) while mumsey and pater are driving, really so out of touch with the real life of the average American.
Barbara Herbst (Aurora, CO)
When I was a child in the 50s, my parents packed up the car every summer and we went for month-long driving vacations. We visited every state (including pre-statehood Alaska and first-year-statehood Hawaii). As a result, I feel in my bones every idiosyncrasy of this amazing country and the people who live here. I know what it feels like to stand atop the 12,000 foot Trail Ridge Road, stand in the middle of Death Valley, wander the canyons of NYC, pear over the edge of the Grand Canyon, take a glass-bottom boat off the coast of Florida. I know what an Iowa corn farm looks like, a Kansas wheat field, a Wyoming cattle ranch, Canon Beach OR. I know what it must be like to live in a vast Nevada emptiness and on the streets of Chicago and the steel mills of Pennsylvania and the fishing villages of Maine. Just imagine what it would mean to inner city kids to have this same experience, to realize the vastness of possibility that is America. If I had a ton of money, if I were Bill Gates, I would invest in our children by making sure everyone of them goes on a school trip driving across our country at least once. Talk about mind blowing. WOW, the possibilities are exponential.
JD (Near the snake)
@Barbara Herbst might be an awesome proposal to pitch to mr gates… he might just take you up on it if you agree to coordinate the program.
Ribico (NYC)
The irony is not lost that this column was posted the same day as “Republicans Are Already Threatening the Right to Travel”
vishmael (madison, wi)
"… I roamed and rambled, I've followed my footsteps..."
Wyl M (Lansing, MI)
This seems a great space to remind people of the often edited verse: “As I was walking, I saw a sign there. One side said, ‘no trespassing.’ But on the other side, it didn’t say nothing. That side was made for you and me.”
Leora (Nashville)
The comments here are truly shocking in their obsessive negativity and contempt for their countrymen. I would humbly suggest that the people sneering at red America - as though it's a monolith, as though a majority of Black and Native Americans don't live in red states, as though Memphis and Taos and Austin don't exist - could perhaps do with some mind-opening travel as well.
Kristine (USA)
As a younger person i would travel anywhere at the drop of a hat. Now I avoid states where they think guns are a natural appendage on your body. Or where the state has decided they should emulate the Taliban. Who needs it. My most recent trip was to Canada. European country next.
John D (San Diego)
My wife and I split time between homes in southern California and southern Montana. She was the organizer of the local Democratic Party float in our Montana small town's July 4th parade this year. We're still California taxpayers, so with great concern I told her that the Democratic People's Republic of California has blacklisted Montana along with 21 other states, but she insisted on participating. Fortunately, it appears that Emperor Newsom sneaked into Montana a few weeks ago, got busted, but will probably survive politically. So I guess it's okay for Democrats to be there. Just don't tell the DNC.
Martin Sorenson (Arkansas Ozarks)
It means lots of pollution of all kinds. It means scads of extra green house gas tonnage. Just stay home and learn what is going on in the world. You don't to listen to this republican leaning gadfly.
paul adams (stony brook)
I've usually found, in America, that whenever I find a wild and quiet place, a truck soon shows up and the occupants start shooting the place up. And there are planes droning everywhere.
Someone (Mountain View, CA)
Enjoy your beautiful America while you still can. Senator Manchin just put another nail on its coffin.
Jim Oneill (Hillsboro Illinois)
"driving state to state with no papers" writes Ross. How long will it be before women of childbearing age in Texas need papers to leave Texas? Or receive mail from out of state?
Zoe (Wisconsin)
Recently took a long road trip. No one masking anywhere at rest areas or in the junk-food laden gas stations. People looking sick, tired, and hostile. America is in full don't-give-a-crap mode.
Blazing Don-Don (Colorado)
@Zoe It's also rather shocking how obese and out-of-shape so many Americans at these locations have become, including the young and the middle-aged. Look at family travel snapshots from 40, 60 years ago. America wasn't always this overweight and did not always eat such unhealthy processed food. Corn syrup, fried food and grossly oversized servings have replaced good eating.
JD (Near the snake)
@Zoe if you want to observe hostile travel thru Idaho and eastern Washington and put a mask on as you enter the gas station/ truck stop. I usually ask directions to a place that is the other way than I’m going just in case.
someone else (Maine)
me too.Did the back roads when I was in med school and camped We need to see each other
kgeographer (Overseas At The Moment)
I used to like road trips across America, and I've made many in my 71 years, starting at age 18. Casual conversations with people from all walks of life without regard to politics have been really enjoyable. You see I like variety and diversity of experience. My three long trips since 2016 have been very different. I'm very guarded now around fellow Americans I suspect are MAGAns, because I don't like conflict. I resent the fact I now have to assess whether people I meet may be MAGAns. You see I have a temper when it comes to politics, in particular when it comes to the attempted shredding of this "noble experiment."
Barb (Cincinnati)
I, too, have been on a cross-country trip across America this summer. I've been on a long, slow camping trip across the country since early June, taking the back roads and byways -- an immersion into American life at this moment in our history. It's been enlightening and mostly positive, unlike our online civic engagement. I've been documenting in words and pictures the sheer variety of the landscape and the places we've traveled through in our commitment to avoid interstates, and building lifelong memories in the process. How else could we have been escorted by a cowboy through a herd of cattle on a back country Idaho road? Pure serendipity.
JoeG (Levittown, PA)
Curious that there's no mention of the country's great museums, music halls, theaters, ballparks, independent bookstores, dance companies, and restaurants.
Centy (Oklahoma)
@JoeG My guess would be Ross has access to all of those things in his daily life, and what he’s seeing now is more unique and surprising for him. But I am with you on the museums, etc. Both natural beauty and the amazing work of creative humans have their place, they each inspire their own brand of awe.
I Am Here To Ask Hard Questios (Miami)
@JoeG have you ever traveled with four kids, including a 2-year-old?
JoeG (Levittown, PA)
@I Am Here To Ask Hard Questios Plenty of kids in Philadelphia go to the Franklin Institute and the Please Touch Museum. I’m pretty sure ballparks accept children – I think they even encourage children to attend. The Academy of Music has productions for all ages. There was a beautiful flower show last month in Philadelphia that children could enjoy. Many orchestras have children’s concerts. The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology has sleepover events specially designed for children. The Free Library of Philadelphia has reading events specially designed for children. What child with teeth doesn’t enjoy a pizza steak at a classic Philly venue. Many other great cities have similar events – just for children.
Bev (Montana)
Excellently written. I have lived in many parts of the US in my 60-plus years and travelled everything west of Illinois extensively. Now I am in the land of pick-up trucks (Montana!) and it is here I will probably remain. This article is one I'm copying for my personal collection, thank you Ross Douthat for creating it.
ISHA5135 (Texas)
Thank you for your column, and don't let the naysayers get you down. I remember traveling as a child with my parents to see Yellowstone and waiting for Old Faithful to erupt. My first sight of the Pacific ocean. The High road between Taos and Sante Fe. Going back east with my Italian immigrant grandparents was a treat too. Travel expands our vision, feeds our soul and teaches us to appreciate other people. But the comments here are overwhelmingly negative. I dont' understand it. There's a great scene in Bottle Shock when the late, great Alan Rickman tastes guacamole for the first time, and smiles. Reminds me of eating 5-way chili in Cincinnati or poutine in Montreal. If you actually stop and talk to someone, share their culture, eat their food, look at their vistas, you might learn something.
Joseph (Rural West)
Enjoy the rest of your travels, Ross, but bless your heart. This country’s division can mostly be attributed to you and your tribe. But rest easy, for you and most white men will never have to suffer the ramifications of your party’s rule as they push to outlaw abortion and demonize the rest of us to the left of extreme right. Those of us who refuse to fall in line of an increasingly theocratic government. Your party seeks to punish us for being so extreme that we fight for the rights of all people regardless of our own personal beliefs. Hey, keep up the good work. You’re doing an excellent job fighting for the oppressors and the old power structures. We understand that imperialism is at the heart of your beliefs. Who knows? You might even be rewarded in heaven for defeating the least amongst us.
Julian (usa)
@Joseph good work! Let us remember: there are all kinds of beautiful landscapes and people everywhere. Once north americans feel free and secure enough to understand and lift their boot off the necks of others, most of all new world 'least among us", placed there on behalf of US corporations, they will enjoy a happier life, free of large scale violence and mayhem. Ross has chosen harmful distractions to spend his life, as finite as ours. Ross, we will see what your choice gives you.
dijit44 (Trail, B.C., Canada)
@Joseph Notice how he does not seem at all opposed to being subsumed in the fascist culture of bigotry, fact aversion and prepping for violence throughout the region in which he has just travelled. No mention of the fact that in or near many of the places he has travelled private landowners simply block access to millions of acres of public land, either. Ross simply refuses to see that reality bites for many Americans, or if he does see it, he ignores it, as his whiteness allows. Unreality based opinion is his only stock in trade.
William Park (LA)
As Ross enjoys federally supported parks with his brood, I hope he takes a moment to reflect that many of his "conservative" colleagues would gladly privatize beautiful public lands or degrade them with drilling, mining, pipelines, etc. I look forward to a subsequent column highlighting important conservation efforts that republicans support.
dijit44 (Trail, B.C., Canada)
@William Park In many of the areas he claims to have travelled through, private landowners block access to millions of acres of public land - maintaining them for their own private use. Funny he hasn't mentioned that, either.
Independent (Conejo Valley)
Thanks, Ross. I just drove cross-country from Connecticut to California two weeks ago, and I share a lot of the sentiments in this article. There is so much to love about this country — and for me personally the further you get from the eastern seaboard, the better. I also spent nearly two weeks not reading the newspaper while I drove. That helped too. It made me realize how myopic my views have gotten being bombarded with daily politics and opinion rants, much of which don’t reflect the majority of Americans who reside in the middle, politically. I saw and spoke with Americans from various states who I’m sure voted for different people than I did, but the conversations were pleasant … even fun. So different from the exchanges in comments sections. America isn’t perfect, but it is as beautiful and vast and wild. If people got out of their virtual bubbles more often, they’d see that for themselves.
Bill (California)
As one travels across and around America you will no shortage of strangers willing to offer help, advice, and directions or tips on local sights. They may even comment on your out-of-state license plate, but no bother. No matter the city; New York, Los Angeles, Boise, or Detroit, the willingness to help out a complete stranger is consistent. However, avoid any discussion of politics or religion. You’ll still receive help but with an unnecessary self-induced bit of stress.
Nils Montan (Curitiba, Brazil)
There is no hope for America. It is a broken country in continuous and inexorable decline. If its people actually saw this as a reality - then it might have a chance. But they won't.
John K (Bellingham, WA)
A nice article about a great family road trip in June and July, and for a good reason -- it was made early in the summer. The West now burns, especially in August, and the smoke blankets vast areas and moves across entire states and regions. Over the past decade, wildfire smoke has changed not just road trips across the West, but life in the West in every way. Hope? Yes, there is still hope, but we need to act now to preserve what is left for Ross's kids and their kids, and all our coming generations. It is vanishing fast, and we are doing almost nothing to save it.
Scott (Kansas)
@John K Come visit Yellowstone and learn how wildfires are an integral part of the ecosystem. Glacier NP is also significantly marked by wildfires, demonstrating their necessity. When humans actively prevent fire over a long period of time, then we run into problems.
John K (Bellingham, WA)
@Scott I have been there several times and have learned the lesson you mention. But you should also recognize that global warming is very much at the root of most of the huge back country wildfires we have been seeing -- due to increased storm activity, higher temperatures, drought and forests weakened by disease and pests.
Jon 'Not the Don' (Indianapolis, IN)
Who was it that said America was a thing of the mind? Dewey? Having traveled by road extensively since retirement, I am struck by the intense localization of American communities in the last decade. Perhaps the modern analog to what happened when Romans ceased be identify as "Roman" and became Raeitians, Galicians, Moesians, etc. A withdrawal of Empire. The sense of sharing Americaness has been retreating for some time, and ironically accelerating with the arrival of the Internet and social media. It's almost as if American have become just so many colonii mentally colonized by social media. Is there a relation? As the face-to-face communal life of small villages and towns waned in the Industrial Age, it confronted the need to create new forms of community life capable of sustaining democracy on urban and national scales. I wonder if we're not going into reverse now and if it's related to the collapse of globalization and the neoliberal order? Probably to big a leap to make but it still haunts.
Xenia (Florida)
Sorry Ross that it has taken you this long to make the trip out West. I wonder what your perspectives would be had you done it earlier. I am the same age as you and have criss-crossed the country about 3 times already, thanks to military service. I haven't always gotten to see the sights, but its been enlightening everytime. Like when my car This past year, in January I drove from Modesto, CA to West Palm Beach, FL. Talk about a culture change and traversing through some diversity. I brought a friend with me who had rarely left California and I wished we could have stopped for more of the sights, but having driven a few times on 1-40 across CA, NV and NM to the Panhandle of Texas, I am only awed by the amount of space. Also, green chili burritos are worth stopping for. The poverty and dilapidation of much of the country makes me sad, and if that makes me a doom-and-gloom liberal, apologies. And personally, knowing that drought is here and wildfires are burning, I long to be places where there are Trees!
Gus (Albuquerque)
I re-visited Yellowstone last year, and made a point to choose a low-traffic time of year. Yellowstone gets serious snow so there are limits to how far “off season” you can attempt. It was crowded. There were geyser basins I had to skip and return to later because the parking lot was full. I’m also surprised that Douthat doesn’t mention the flood damage this year, if he’s just now writing about his trip.
Scott (Kansas)
@Gus Just left Yellowstone after two weeks there. Only significant flooding damage is to the still closed north entrance as well as Lamar Valley. The complete Grand Loop was opened in very early July. We spent our time in Yellowstone hiking and the trails, as usual, are not crowded at all. Most visitors just want to visit the Instagram spots and take selfies in front of them. If you avoid these spots, Yellowstone is not crowded at all. One significant issue is Yellowstone’s superintendent’s decision to go a third year without any Ranger-led programs or evening programs. A generation of children are experiencing Yellowstone without the presence of interpretive rangers. Other parks can do it, but the crown jewel of the park system continues to fail in engaging with the public.
Ajit (Sunnyvale, CA)
@Scott I found that the best way to see Yellowstone is to camp in the Park, get up early and visit the Instagram attractions that are almost completely empty before the hordes descend from the four entrances starting around 8 am. Then return to campsite, have a leisurely brunch and then head out for a hike. Wildlife observing at Lamarr Valley, for example, is best early morning and around dusk.
Maria (New Jersey)
My husband and I took 2 road trips around America, camping and motel staying along the way. The change in landscape, culture, weather as we crossed those State lines was incredibly fascinating. But the best part was the people we met. It’s not the same when you fly to a destination. Those adventures were highlights of our lives.
Rupert Laumann (Sandpoint, Idaho)
I rode my bicycle across Wyoming (and back) last Summer, plus an excursion into the Black Hills of South Dakota. During stops at tourist destinations like Independence Rock, I overheard bits of conversation that revealed tourists hopping from one well-known tourist site to another, often traveling in hours what took me days, while checking off boxes. The contrast between my rate of travel and theirs struck me. There's a big difference between spending hours in the car, stopping at attractions, and spending hours on a bike experiencing the vastness of the plains in a different, deeper way.
michjas (Phoenix)
@Rupert Laumann My way or the highway (pun intended).
Richard (California)
Don't let the negative commenters distract from the wonder of your family bonding and exploring our exceptional country. I've traveled all 50 states. From hitchhiking with a $3 daily budget to the best hotels in the largest cities. We are one country. Have a sense of wonder about the busy sidewalks of New York, the hush of a rural sunset, and marvel at how our government is structured to prevent one form of lifestyle from dominating and dictating to the others.
nurse (new jersey)
@Richard Ah Richard. Government and media don't really respect diversity. One is evil if you are pro life, don't want to treat patients with profound existential sadness with prescribed psychedillics or love God as Jesus. If you are this American, you are " forcing" who you are on the Chosen NY liberal. Seems like we are judged as Red or Blue when we are neither. Prejudice is alive and strong in the United States.
leona (Raleigh)
Right now I'm flowing down the Mississippi River Wave as you go by. America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, I hope.
John (LINY)
I have toured the country and find most people are just wonderful to deal with. However in certain parts it’s not uncommon to come across the next two people. The man who upon introduction asked me “How do you live like that? And the gas station in Alabama who wouldn’t serve my “kind” (white male driving a Volvo wagon) I moved on to the next gas station… I hope you never meet these folks they ruin travel for everyone..
Usok (Houston)
I've seen enough America and knew what it is truly like in America. The bottom line is that no place or country is perfect. One just needs to pay a little bit more attention to know the reality. I've worked 30+ years and now retired. After I graduated, my wife and I drove from Michigan to Texas looking for work. After I settled down, I drove from Texas to California visiting relatives. After I retired, I drove from Texas to N. Carolina for family reunion. In between long trips, we took many shorter trips to visit national parks and friends around the country. Fortunately, we also had the opportunities to visit many countries in the world, including most European countries, many Middle Eastern countries, S. American countries, one African country, and numerous Asian countries. The bottom line is that people should travel, enjoy travel, and continue to travel.
Larry Darwin (Lancaster, PA)
@Usok What about the environmental cost of travel? Not a word about emissions, greenhouse gases, or climate change? Selfishly driving around to maximize one's "experiences" exacts a price paid by all.
John D (Queens, NY)
I can't wait to do this myself...!
Allen Bechky (Albany, CA)
You said it yourself, Mr Douthat. Banal, indeed. Though sounds like a fun trip. By the way, you can only consider those Western expanses as underpopulated it you don't look at all the many impacts of humans upon the lands.
Ed LaFreniere (Arizona)
Hope! Who knew?
Duke (Somewhere south)
Good article. Thanks, Ross.
jennifer (wilton, ct)
Minivan, water parks, red states - please pass the tequila.
Kerry (New Mexico)
Ah America! Where women are second-class citizens.
Keith (Montana)
Seems like the 3rd or 4th NYT essay in recent years I've read about Montana. Truth is this state is becoming uglier by the day and the locals, if not directly profiting from tourism, deeply resent you.
JDJ (Bozeman MT)
@Keith In this respect Montana has finally caught up to the rest of the nation.
David Weinhold (Berlin)
Amen to that.
Lotzapappa (Wayward City, NB)
Tip (you can thank me for it later!)" Take an immediate right turn and plunge south until you hit the Roy Orbison Museum in Wink, Texas. If you're feeling especially frisky, you can divert to Pietown, NM, on your way to Wink. Now that's livin' large!
Tricia (California)
See the country before it burns, floods, cooks…
John (Western New York State)
This was a Ross Douthat column that I really enjoyed. Safe travels.
MMC (Wisconsin)
A great read! Montana stories are always a joy to read.
Jorge (San Diego)
Geography aside, I am simply pleased at a story of being on the road with one's family. I am reminded of many trips through Baja California with my sons when they were younger (I live 20 miles from the border). The sad part this Summer is the price of gas is prohibitive for many, and a cross country trip costs thousands. I'm hoping that many are at least enjoying shorter trips into the countryside, leaving behind the cities and suburbs and setting out for the open road.
Ribico (NYC)
“The first is a sense of wonder at the uncrowded availability of sights and spectacles on the Western roads. And every place we stopped …was extraordinarily empty. “ Ross, I hope your wonderment extended to the realization these empty spaces contain as much political clout as those 100s or 1000s times more populated.
gcinnamon (Corvallis, OR)
It's great that the Douthat family can travel so freely from state to state. However, soon pregnant women in many states may not have that luxury, with restrictions and police enforcement brought to you by people like Mr. Douthat and his like-minded friends.
David Binko (Chelsea)
What It Means to See America In Person means using fossil fuel in some fashion to transport yourself and your things around thousands of miles creating emissions that create more of a global warming problem. You are literally turning up the thermostat on the world's climate for centuries to come so that you can create a scrapbook or Instagram page. Stay local, there is plenty to do around here.
Pam (Wilmington, DE)
We are a country which tolerates the violent mutilation of young children to protect the rights of disturbed 18 year olds to purchase weapons of war! We are a country where rising sea levels and increasing extreme weather events are ignored by politicians who accept vast sums from the fossil fuel industry! We are a country of obese people who allow their health to be ruined by a processed food conglomerates, fast food and fresh produce deserts. We are a country tragically damaged by people who profit from chaos, fear and inaction. Unless we become a country which can rally at the ballot box and take control away from the men and women who refuse to solve our problems and continue to foment divisions where there are none, our future is grim.
Girish Kotwal (Louisville, KY)
Interesting report on the cross country journey across America's west by road. Ross Douthat reminded me of the western states that I have yet to visit Wyoming, South Dakota and Oregon. My long distance driving days are over and I will just fly to these 3 out of the 12 states in the USA that I have still not yet visited. They are on bucket list of places to visit after I have visited Chile, Ecuador and Peru. Life is short and remaining time limited is what I was reminded after surviving ferocious battle with COVID in Nov. 2020 before COVID vaccines were offered to little guys and gals in Louisville. I remember the movie "The Hunt for Red October" but unlike Ross I don't think anyone should plan a potentially hazardous trip on a Hollywood movie. Live life in the real world. I have talked to owners of recreational vehicles and I remember asking one of them which was the most beautiful place you visited in your RV. The answer I got was Arizona and Utah. Most of my travel to 38 states in the USA has been for scientific conferences before the pandemic. After the pandemic I prefer speaking only by ZOOM. I find ZOOMING to London and Paris from my dining room desktop iMac, a lot more convenient, hassle free and affordable than flying. That said I may visit Arizona for a conference in November by flying and renting a car, which lately is as big an adventure as driving across.
Amy (Ann Arbor, MI)
Nice that Ross has the resources to do this. I doubt that 10% of the working age people can both take two weeks off to do this, and maybe a similar fraction of the retired have the resources and health. Oh well. The other 90% have handed everything over to this 10% so they are the only ones whose opinions count. I too have never been to Montana and am glad to hear it is still beautiful.
Charles Primm (Edmonds, WA)
Driving east out of Seattle means driving back in time. By the time you reach Montana you've gone back 80 years. It's incredible.
Bob (NJ)
I’m not a fan of many of Ross’s columns, but it’s discouraging to see all the negative comments here. Proof that the left can be every bit as nasty as the right. This is a nice, reflective piece that most people should be able to relate to, regardless of political party. United we stand, divided we fall.
Maria (New Jersey)
@Bob I fully agree with your sentiment. The left has fallen prey to the negativity that plagues this country. I’m tired of it!
M. Callahan (Moline, il)
Heard a discussion recently that it would take $10 trillion to bring the midwest/south up to the same prosperity as the coasts. That empty middle is poor in everything save space.
me (Pittsburgh)
What does that even mean? And even if can explain it, your fact basis is you heard it in some discussion?
Lou Sernoff (Delray Beach, FL)
Can't remember seeing so many reader picks published over one column. And they have one thing in common; disgust over the country they live in and hatred of about half of their fellow citizens. How have we come to a point where we have zero tolerance for each other?
James K. Lowden (Camden, Maine)
Disgust, yes, even despair. But not hatred. Those concerned for their rights — to not wear a mask, to carry a gun, to drive an SUV, to to decide what schools teach (and can’t) — show no concern for their opposites. We want protection from: infection, gunshot, pollution, and ignorance. Have we no right to those things? I don’t hate those who deny reality, those who, data notwithstanding, think climate change is a hoax, racism is history, and guns create safety. But I feel despair at their outsized effect on public policy, and fear where it’s taking us.
Ben Dorrigan (Bend, Oregon 🏔️)
"... an important American birthright: The westward migration via minivan, the great cross-country drive." For tens of millions of us, the great cross-country drive is eastward. Not everything is DC-centric.
Janet Reid (NY)
Yes, the geography is spectacular. It's nice to escape the "virtual world" for awhile. But the real world includes people. How about all the folks who run the cash registers, sell tickets, clean the bathrooms, design and maintain the beautiful highways and form all the communities in the "flyover states"? I realize you're not channeling the late beloved Charles Kuralt, but I hope you and your family are not passing up chances to pass the time of day with some of them.
Ben C (Atlanta)
I hope that I can travel the USA without papers, given that a road trip during which a companion chooses to get a legal abortion can find me jailed when I return home. Let's fund the Park Service appropriately, so it can care for our national treasures and the crowds that come to enjoy them. And let's resist efforts to despoil America's lands with logging and drilling, and to take them from America and put them in state or private hands.
Todd (Arizona)
I am lucky to live in the west and experience the natural splendor of America on a daily basis and especially on weekend jaunts and camping trips. There is so much impressive beauty from sea to shining sea. If we could learn to care for it as some of our ancestors like John Muir, Aldo Leopold and Teddy Roosevelt would have had us, it would be more comforting that this beauty will be here for future generations. The constant threat to our public lands and the failure to address climate change makes me pessimistic.
David Roy (Fort Collins CO)
.......for me, if someone wants to understand one of the birthrights of being an American, and what this land, and this country, is about, find Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land", and listen to it - this is either our country, or it isn't. Too many don't want it to be ours - they would prefer it to be 'theirs'.
Steve (Chicago)
@David Roy Try also Phil Ochs' Power and the Glory. Great song for our time.
Therese Stellato (Crest Hill IL)
America the beautiful! Now what are we going to do to protect our country from climate change? We are the only country doing NOTHING!!! Manchin is set up a wall to progress. We are tired of this. People are ready for a change.
Jake (Wisconsin)
I haven’t taken a cross-country trip in many years, but I’ve been going horseback riding out in the country once every summer. The scenery is beautiful, and the people are deluded. It always seems to me such a waste. In any case, America the geographical place isn’t something that Americans can take pride in. They didn’t make it; it was here. They don’t own it, nor does anyone else; it was here. It IS something they are ethically bound to try to preserve, and obviously they are failing. America the society is another matter entirely. Whether there’s still hope for that, I don’t know, but I do know that Ronald Reagan, Bush Ii, and Donald Trump and their followers and fellow conspirators have done incalculable damage to both America the society and America the geographical place.
James Addison (Marquette, Michigan)
I have driven across the US dozens of times. The first trip was with my family in 1956. These journeys have allowed me to see the awesome diversity of our natural environment. They have also allowed me to learn about the shortcomings of our society: the attempts to eradicate the native inhabitants of this land, the civil war, the decay of our urban infrastructure to name a few. My most recent trip was in November, 2021. Driving through Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Missouri took a strong stomach. There were thousands of banners, yard signs, hats and t-shirts displaying this message:TRUMP WON! The most disturbing was a banner on an overpass across the Interstate in Oklahoma with images of the Capitol under siege and the message: PATRIOTS AT WORK. I was not surprised, but it was horrifying nevertheless to see the level of ignorance that has overtaken so many otherwise good citizens…ready to sacrifice our history and future for the gratification of a childish emotionally inadequate loser who is unable to accept reality. It was a truly disturbing trip.
SD (Connecticut)
Not to mention the sad state of the roads.
Eigoat (Phuket)
From my observation, taking a road trip in ‘real life’ with scenery, history, food and attractions is pointless, frivolous and futile if one does not forego the smartphone distractions. Kids, nowadays, anyways (and ignorant adults too) put in ear phones and stare at screens while in transit and at venues regardless of the true experiences one faithfully exerts to offer.
Pamela (San Francisco, CA)
This is a lovely essay, Mr. Douthat. Thank you for writing so poetically about the good and the beautiful that you apprehend. We need this, especially when we are reminded nearly every moment of the ugly and the painful.
S2 (New Jersey)
Wow, I finally agree with something the columnist has written. When I visit national parks out West, I always think that if everyone just did the same, we’d chill out as a country. I also wonder why our natural landscape isn’t at the center of our national identity. Maybe a start would be to make “America the Beautiful” our national anthem.
Betsy S (Upstate NY)
We’ve made several trips across the US and seen the places Ross mentions. I’m afraid I don’t want to do it again. The Trump flags, the [expletive] Joe Biden signs and the other evidence of hatred deter me. If it’s “Don’t California My Cody” in Montana, there is the “Don’t New York My Florida” on the other side of the nation. There are the sort of secret symbols on the back of SUVs that say the owner is the member of a group that believes police has a right and, maybe, a duty to be violent and oppressive. And the chilling sight of men armed with guns in holsters in supermarkets. It’s the same in Upstate NY where I live, except for the guns threatening shopping for groceries, but there are people who want to change that. No, driving across the nation to visit national parks and witness the incredible beauty of this nation is not what it once was. Hate and fear win elections, but they destroy what is truly valuable in this nation.
Jonnie Ondaspot (Philadelphia)
47 states down, 3 to go. They all have beauty and blight, if only they could all still be one nation. Hope bleeds eternal
Gary Cohen (Great Neck)
I hope he has seen an United States co-opted by 5 reactionary Justices masquerading in Black Robes use their unique interpretation of the law to foist their own personal beliefs on the country with no thought to either precedent or public opinion. So as Nero burns wax poetic as the country cannot even agree on climate bill to help save this country.
David J. Krupp (Queens, NY)
Those beautiful western states are controled by a republican minority who have undemocratic control of our government because every state was given two Senator. The six states you visited have a population of about 18 million people while the 6 six states with the largest populations have about 137 million people. THIS IS NOT DEMOCRACY!
sarss (Northeast Texas)
Seeing America gives you no hope for America. You see a large beautiful continent that was destroyed by greed. This continent was a magnificent unspoiled place cared for by natives for thousands of years. Then in the late 1400's the destroyers arrived. The destruction continues today at a fast pace.
sherryl.campbell (Diamond Springs CA)
Oh I enjoyed this column! I’m from the gorgeous West and I’m glad the Douthat fam enjoyed it... it brought back memories of a family trip in 1984... my ex and I were living in Dayton Ohio on a job assignment from Sacramento... between us we had two 10 year old boys and a five year old daughter... my in-laws from CA flew to Ohio and we set out in a ten passenger van all over the Southeast...Gettysburg, Washington DC, Savannah GA, and the main event: Disneyworld! As California kids, all seven of us were entranced by the green beauty ( in summer, no less!), sweet tea, history galore, new foods and the exciting weather... seeing this country is important and the memories are still with my 40-something year old kids... Thanks, Ross for a terrific read...
Michael Kittle (Vaison la Romaine, France)
Whenever things turn particularly ugly, self anointed patriots come out of the woodwork armed with countless lipsticks and commence smearing it on the pigs lips in a futile effort to erase the ugly facade. Any country that will sit back and watch children be murdered in their classrooms and not take steps to remove the guns deserves no respect. Americas Supreme Court that abandons the humanity of helping raped and impregnated women with abortions deserves no respect. As an expatriate American in Europe I have nothing but shame for my citizenship!
American Refugee (Stockholm/Palermo)
Couldn’t agree more! As far as traveling goes, I’m quite happy traveling in Southern Europe on my motorcycle. Amazing. So much to experience.
Michael (In Real America)
@American Refugee What? No bitter "check your privilege" comment here?
Michael Kittle (Vaison la Romaine, France)
@American Refugee Thanks for your pleasant response. Public civility has become quite rare!
Pat (New York)
Ah, how refreshing! What we really need — “we” being metropolitan area New York Times readers — is to escape cruel blue America to commune with the kind folks in the heartland. They were super nice to Ross’s squeaky clean, wealthy, white family! I’m sure they’d treat you the same, even if you’re non-white or in a mixed marriage or outwardly Muslim or gay or gender non-conforming or down at the heels. There’s no reason to suspect a “good newspaperman” like Ross could have missed any hint of preferential treatment out there. But when he gets home, how about just stress-testing his go-out-there-with-an-open-mind attitude. No need for extended travel. Just hit the Jersey shore with a Black male colleague. Stop in towns along the way. Walk down the street holding hands. You’ll feel safe in Asbury Park or Long Branch or, surprisingly, Ocean Grove. But how about Lavalette? LBI? Still feel safe holding Black guy’s hand? How about in Wildwood? All of a sudden, you might realize that urban areas, with their lack of concern of the choices of strangers, are quite kind after all.
beaujames (Portland Oregon)
Being white, Christian, and in favor of prohibiting abortion makes this a pleasant trip for you. As some people with more insight than you say these days, check your privilege. And if you actually find it, own it.
A. Moursund (Kensington, MD)
Back in 1969, a former GF and I did a cross country trip by car that went from DC to Maine and then to Berkeley, via Montreal, Sous St. Marie, and then through the Badlands, Yellowstone and small towns like Ritzville, Washington, where a hotel on the main drag was all of $4.00 a night, and gas in Berkeley was 26.9 cents a gallon. We were put up by friends in a few places like Chicago, but mainly we stayed in clean but dirt cheap motels and hotels, and took in ball games in Fenway Park, Montreal's Jarry Park and Chicago's Wrigley Field back when general admission seats behind the plate were a buck and a half to two dollars. We started out with $500 cash, or about $4000 in today's dollars, and after 30 days we arrived in Berkeley with well over $100 left. It was glorious month, but I have to wonder whether such a leisurely and enlightening trip could be done today for only $3200.
Bikerman (Vermont)
Ross, enjoy the trip. It’s great and certainly something your kids will remember. America is scenic and worth every penny of the gas you out in the tank.
hey nineteen (usa)
I’m a solid old-school, circa-1960s liberal. I get that most readers of NYT deeply disdain Mr. Douhat. Heaven knows his columns almost always give me fits. Still, reading these comments, starting with Reader Picks, I’m struck by how many top comments are all about the wretched problems of America and how other countries are so much better. One of the great differences between liberals and our opponents is that the other side unabashedly loves our country and our side does nothing but “witch” and moan about America’s intractable and never-ending shortcomings. Folks, ours is not a message of hope nor a clarion call for unity. Mr. Douhat wrote an editorial that is charming and positive. Is it really necessary to blow the tubas of discontent? Must every enjoyable moment generate a countervailing reminder of some once-upon-a-time failure? Can’t a kid just enjoy a day spent searching for fossils without also being reminded Manchin voted against climate change and now we’re all going to die? Can’t the little ones marvel at the majesty of bison without being lectured on how evil, imperialist white men murdered benevolent native people? Mom and Dad are schlepping 4 children across America in a minivan and I’ll raise a toast to them; G-d knows they need a drink. I’m all about peace, love and understanding and it saddens me that “my party” are now all party poopers. Aren’t the other liberals ever happy? Don’t y’all ever have any fun?
Steve (Chicago)
@hey nineteen "the tubas of discontent". Love it.
D Thompson (San Diego)
@hey nineteen Douthat is an enabler of the forces of ill will in America. I am happy that Ross finds familial happiness in a mini-van trip, and yes Montana is open, empty and awesome. And yes, folks are still free in America to move and buy homes in other states. Yet Ross couldn't resist taking a swipe at the 5th largest economy in the world. California is Capitalism on steroids. Some folks can't afford to live there. Yet others keep rushing in to try their chance at success. Still more do well in California and buy homes in other states, raising the price of real estate in those areas, spreading the wealth to others located there. Americans like Ross are two-faced about the economy. They think that they are ok, yet resent California for being successful. I for one am tired of it. Hypocrisy is boring. So is Douthat.
CHCollins (Asheville NC)
A column that mistakes the land for the people who occupy it.
LB (Minneapolis)
Glad to see this from Ross, but it reads a little too much like an idiot’s guide to life outside the North-East US. Like, holy cow, the people in the middle of the country aren’t raving lunatics for living there — the landscapes far surpass New Jersey! I wish I could be more sympathetic, but it’s kind of, to use a Zoomer phrase, “cringe” to be like “OMG people you live in a beautiful country beyond your wildest imaginings and you’d see it too if you had the guts to leave the coasts for one hot minute…”
sterileneutrino (NM)
Welcome to life west of the Mississippi, where America is still new and empty.
Bill (NJ)
"Seeing wide open spaces of the United States gives me hope" is pretty tepid. Why are you working during this trip?
Juliana James (Portland, Oregon)
Oh you must see the Oregon Coast...Cape Foulweather....Astoria awaits and much more.
Sterling (South Slope)
Last time I checked the big cities on the east and west coasts are part of America too- just like the Red welfare states that Douhat is traveling through. This column is yet another reminder of how bad the Times is these days.
Kathleen (NH)
A few years ago, my husband and I visited Tuscany. The views were beautiful. Then we noticed that within those views, there were no strip malls, big shopping centers, or other evidence of civilization run amok. It turns out there are laws protecting the sweeping vistas from development, concetrating commercial activities into designated areas. These vistas are not national parks, just the countryside. Can you imagine trying to do that here? Why has the extraordinary beauty of the landmass that is the continental United States been limited to state and national parks, as if they are zoos? Why do we put up with ugly buildings, strip malls, graffiti, and sprawling suburbs where you are dependent on cars?
Todd (Arizona)
@Kathleen The most dismal place in America is Texas where they have no restrictions, and the entire state resembles one long stretch of strip malls, car dealers, and big box stores, or discarded remnants of the abandoned ones when they decided to despoil another greenfield. We place no value on the esthetic which is a huge problem in this country.
D Thompson (San Diego)
@Kathleen It's called "freedumb".
Xenia (Florida)
@Kathleen Amen. And when all the tenants of the strip move out or a business goes out of business, why is okay to let the builds just sit empty and disrepared?
RichPFromDC (Washington, DC)
The mythology of the cross-country drive is laughable, as if you can get any true sense of place or people speeding along highways, stopping in small roadside towns and staying 6 to a room in roadside motels. That’s the real America? What nonsense. At best, it's a poo-poo platter introduction for little kids. But it's infinitely more enriching to decamp for a week in one place and get to know it than to barrel through the attractions. Blech.
Todd (Arizona)
@RichPFromDC This is the age old question that I am surprised people are so dogmatic about. I have traveled the world and also lived many different places including overseas. It is better to hit a bunch of different places, and get a sense for them, that to sit in one place and explore around it for a week. You don't really know a place until you live there for a few months. A week gives you very little more than spending a day.
Robert Greer (Denver)
If only everyone could so escape. Including 10-year-olds forced to birth their rapists’ offspring.
Winston Smith 2020 (Staten Island, NY)
What freedom loving American would spend a hard earned dollar in some of those oppressive states? Yuck. No thanks.
Lisa Jones (South Carolina)
Seriously, you claim it as an American birthright to travel across the country. That land belonged to others before the American birthright was a cloying phrase that was little more than imperialism. Oh yeah, and as a woman do I have any birthright? Yeah, I can give birth to more humans, more Americans. In this America that is apparently my only responsibility. American incubator...
northlander (Michigan)
On your return, pause at the Wyoming border, open the car door, look around, listen to the wind, see the vastness, look east and remember that many of us do not live on the coasts.
Mark McIntyre (Los Angeles)
Experiencing the national parks does give you that nostalgic feeling of Americana. But right now, a wildfire is raging in Yosemite threatening an ancient Sequoia grove. Europe is experiencing record heat (117 in Portugal) and they're fighting fires throughout southern Europe. Better get out there and enjoy it while you still can because our world leadership has dropped the ball on a devastating warming climate. Maybe the new Webb Telescope will pinpoint other livable planets where we might go after we use this one up. Sorry, back to Americana...
Mother Of Three (Sydney)
America indeed has the most beautiful and varied landscapes, the most beautiful wide open spaces. The best natural resources. Everything from wonderful beaches, ski fields, mountains, deserts, wet lands. It truly should be the best country on earth. If only it’s government would function properly. I truly wish I could live there again, but with the current situation with health care, guns, and political polarisation I just can’t do it.
Pedter Goossens (Panama)
"Seeing America gives you hope for America". And hope is what we need!!
Bella (the city different)
It would be good if you would talk to your children about how climate change is going to affect this massive country in their lifetime. It's great to experience the expansiveness and the beauty of this country and especially the magnificance of the west. I always wonder how overly religious people like yourself don't see a connection between religion and being a custodian of our planet. Humans have always taken everything this planet has given us to the point we are now becoming a scurge. Science and just plain old common sense have been my religion for now the best part of my life. I think it might be a good topic of conversation for you to have with readers. If you don't revere the wonders and strive to protect the magnificance and health of this planet then there is definitely something missing in your religion.
AniR (France)
Having both lived and travelled in America it is without a doubt a beautiful and expansion country in which to be awed and humbled under big skies. But as for hope, that alas is something deeply lacking. There is no plan to save your beautiful country from the ravages of climate change afflicting it and all others. The great America of the 20th century is a shadow of its self, where blind adherence to the constitution means no change to gun laws, where the rights of women and their bodies are held hostage by people really no different from the fundamentalist religious fanatics found across the world. America is beautiful no doubt but false hope you get from looking at grand vistas will do nothing heal the damage being done to a once great nation. Stop burying your head in the sand of false optimism, our children deserve more than that.
Todd (Arizona)
@AniR You are absolutely right. While many claim to love the splendor of America, too many people can't connect their "drill baby drill" and their obsession with cheap, consumer garbage, and cheap oil, with the despoilment of the land that makes America special. It is really sad.
Linda (Vashon Island, WA)
@AniR Exactly. I have toured your country, too, AniR, and it's gorgeous as well. It's embarrassing to be American now, and as a woman, I can say it's life-threatening for many. Your France is one of the most peaceful and beautiful place I have ever visited. I appreciate your comments.
John L Laub (Lebanon TN USA)
As a former long haul truck driver, I can tell you that Ross forgot to mention the detritus from blown retreaded truck tires (called alligators) which lines our highways coast to coast. He also did not mention the fast food containers that line our roads. He also forgot to mention the daily carnage from accidents on the highways of America. One night in Maryland I was led (in a dump truck hauling asphalt) by first responders past an accident and saw a disemboweled young woman laying on the highway with her entrails on the road. One of those things that can't be forgotten. Fortunately, I was able to find other work before meeting my own demise...
Vince (NJ)
I’d love to see all the sites, but the middle of this country scares me beyond words. Hard pass and what a shame.
Todd (Arizona)
@Vince You need to get out and experience America. You will find that one on one, people are just people despite their crazy beliefs. You would find an America that is largely welcoming, and nobody would threaten you. I am a progressive liberal that lives in a very conservative area, and I'm fine.
PLombard (Ferndale, MI)
Ross, scenery ain’t politics or government.
Bob. Somewhere In Florida (A Southern State)
OK. For once his column is not interlaced with religious dogma. Religion and politics, is rearing it’s ugly head again in America and de-democratizing it. Religion and democracy cannot coexist. Religion must remain a choice, like abortion, open to all who deem to partake in it. Without choice we have no democracy. We have a theocracy with all of the evils this type of governance provides.
Lightness (California)
I am happy to hear that you got out of the echo chamber of the New York City area and experienced the beauty, "openness" and physical beauty and humanness of a different America. There is so much more to American and what actually keeps us together than the 24 X 7 schedules so called news factories in New York, Washington and Los Angeles areas. Bravo!
Me (Miami)
Still the best country in the world…. Hand down
D.J. Long (Wayland, Massachusetts)
Are you only visiting right wing, red states where you agree with their politics? Or are you being open minded? I think I know the answer.
Victor Prussack (Burlington, VT)
Did you actually read his column? I cannot stand his politics, but they drove from Connecticut, stopped in Chicago (blue), so that takes one through NY (blue), and PA (bluish) and they are going to Washington (blue). Regardless, it’s a ray of hope that Douthat and I share something about this country. The wilderness is like nowhere else and the more who see it, the more likely they will take actions to protect it. The wilderness of Washington, Montana, Idaho and Wyoming are my favorites.
bud carlos (Blaine WA)
Montana borders on three Canadian provinces, British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan. Ross missed the chance to slip across the border with his kids to show them, however briefly, a society which functions apolitically without the lefty Thems and the righteous Us. Of course it may be that he has a firearm in the vehicle. For that he would be refused entry into Canada.
Meg (NY)
Reading the comments is discouraging, and I say this as a liberal. A sizable minority of The NY Times mostly liberal readership can’t help but to criticize the United States at every turn. That people are so wedded to their negative narrative—whether racial, gender, climate—that the other side is always stupid and nothing positive about the country can be allowed to stand. I hate to say it, but I read those comments and think: what blow-hards.
Robert (Out West)
By the way, Ross, a lot of the stuff you’re ooohing and ahhhaing about—especially in Montana—may not be there by the time your kids wanna go with their kids. Because while you were playing around with small, beeping boxes, and lecturing about the Church, and boo-hooing endlessly about the Decline of the West, the economic fantasies and the politicians you espouse were destroying the living, gorgeous world we inhabit. And depend upon. Grow up.
MrC (Nc)
And despite all the natural beauty the GOP wants to dig it up for a few years cheap oil and refuses any attempt to stop climate change. Every year the wide open spaces erode to the relentless attacks of the GOP and Joe Manchin.
Pricella Alden (Oxford Ohio)
Ross so glad you and your family are doing this. But that was back in the sixties the average white middle class trip. One to go to the New York Worlds Fair to see the Pieta and marvel at the different companies and our tries pavilions and the other to travel out west. For the west trip where we stopped at the Air Force Academy my sister taped Harry Belefibte on a cassette tape player. When our car broke down we met a kind beet farmer who helped us out. Things have changed. Laura Ingalls Wilder books had issues. Her portrayal was bounded by our own colonization of of the peoples who lived centuries on this land. And a shot out to Jim Thorpe finally getting his gold Olympic medal justice. Did you talk to your children of thst and Custer and Sitting Bull? Did you read Little House in the Big Woods or By the Shores of Plum Lake chapter by chapter and discuss truths? Or are you going to stop in Indians and see Gene Peter ‘s home not just the highway stop named after her and discuss the history of the Limber Lost ? Or stop by so any artists homes and locations and discuss their American heritage and gifts they left us? I am thinking Willa Cather and her Death Comes for the Archbishop and My Antonia. Both books or comprised driving stories worth discussing. So what is really your familyM’s plan now thst you have been given the gift of travel? How will you use it to better Francis’s concept of peace and hood?
Ken (Ohio)
And, you’re making be nostalgic for the good old days, when the five of us in the family Studebaker Champion would take those two-lanes (the only roads) on the big trips and pull into a city or town, drive right into the middle of the downtown and Dad would check the (free) Texaco map and occasionally at a stop light roll down the window and ask for directions. Then on out of the town we’d go, toward the next. You really sensed a town in that way, its edges and center and unique solution to geography and terrain. There was mystery and challenge and surprise in all that, something interstates and GPS devices and by-passes have of course vaporized. And did I mention the mom and pop restaurants and independent motels, speaking of surprises…. Happy times.
sharksteve (Coastal California)
Thank you for sharing Ross. My wife and I did a four week road trip through California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, Alberta, Montana, North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah this past spring. Proudly displaying our California plates, sticking to small roads and small towns as much as possible. Not a hint of anti-California sentiment. Visiting the National Parks and Monuments. I want to give a shout out to people of the National Park Service for their dedication and patience. And I want to say that we owe a great deal of gratitude and thanks to President Theodore Roosevelt.
Joe (Virginia Beach)
Funny, I was left with a different takeaway on a similar trip. A rural America where much of the economy is dying and extremism is taking hold. Dying towns in the east, RV parks in the west, where personal pride has taken leave. We’re much closer to being a third world country than we care to believe or admit, under the illusion of American exceptionalism.
Stacy (Oxford, GA)
@Joe You and Douthat are both right. I doubled down on road-tripping during the pandemic and I love seeing this incredible country by car; but many parts of it are desperately poor. Not far from Bozeman we detoured through an entirely abandoned town, hollowed out homes and storefronts boarded over in plywood spray-painted with "METH KILLS." Bell County, Kentucky, stunningly beautiful and studded with billboards advertising $99 bankruptcy services. Oklahoma and Arkansas, two of the reddest states in the country, with dozens of medical cannabis dispensaries visible all along I-40. It's a vast and gorgeous country but the people are not doing well.
Joe (Virginia Beach)
@Stacy Agreed. Sure, there's lots of natural beauty to witness out there. But, while we dither and divide ourselves via culture wars, a lot of Americans are falling through the cracks. My wife and I, our four kids and my new grandson are blessed in comparison. I'm thankful, but uneasy. America's greatest legacy is its middle class.....and we've let steadily them down these past 40 years.
Karl G (Minneapolis, MN)
If you get a chance, drive the Beartooth Highway in Montana and Wyoming. Breathtaking scenery. Also: High Road to Taos, between Taos and Santa Fe. Beats a computer screen every time.
Ken (Ohio)
Wonderful essay. Thank you, and may you and your family happily and safely continue enjoy your trip. My addition to remarks would be that when and where possible, take the two-lane highways, ‘old route such-and-such’ whenever possible. US 50 is an absolute gem, coast-to-coast.
Max Collodi (New Jersey)
Agree with your description of our beautiful country but let’s not forget that it’s maintenance is only possible with the heavy lifting (taxes) by those of us living on the crowded coasts.
Vince (Washington)
The empty West? Hardly. Yes, you can find open stretches of highway, as I realized on a road trip similar to that of Mr. Douthat, in the opposite direction. But try to find a camp site these days, or a trailhead that is not clogged with cars, disgorging crowds to sneaker up to the first cool spot for a selfie. No, it doesn't look like it from, say, outside Casper, Wyoming, but population growth has seriously sullied many Western scapes. Does anyone really need to have four kids? That's why the minivan feels crowded.
Robert Dickerson (Abiquiu, NM)
Like you I recently completed a journey across part of this country, but unlike you I was alone on a 50 year-old motorcycle. I traveled 2,000 miles around a red state out west. For me the central mystery, for which I still don't have an answer, is this; everywhere I went people were invariably courteous, kind, and helpful, but at the same time everywhere I went there were the signs, billboards, bumper stickers, and graffiti that suggested many of those same people thought some folks are just less worthy than other folks. I don't understand this apparent split.
King (Houston)
@Robert Dickerson Robert, I assume you are white, straight, and weren't wearing a Biden t-shirt.
Sam Stall (Indianapolis)
@Robert Dickerson It's much easier to hate someone, or a group of someones, in the abstract.
Rick M. (Chicago)
A timely reminder of our great country. Well done.
l provo (st augustine)
I remember hearing a story about a couple from Denmark traveling through the mountains on the East Coast. This is the richest country in the world. This is how they spend their money. The message is that much of the u.s. is subpar and tacky.
Barbara Loutos (Phoenix)
People visiting your country doesn’t mean they want to live there.
Thank you for sharing this. Having grown up in the city, I am always taken aback by how large our country is, how much there is to see, how different a drive from Houston to Birmingham feels/looks compared to Philadelphia to Boston. And of course how decent and good most people we have encountered are. There is so much to see and experience beyond the popular parks and landmarks. Road tripping is a wonderful way to get a better understanding of our country.
LoisS (Michigan)
America is too big for a Democracy. That form of government works best in smaller places. But it was the blessing of our plentiful and varied natural resources that gave us the space and help to sustain our Democratic principles. Of course, now our form of democracy is crushing efforts to take care of our earth in the interest of good husbandry. Now instead of managing those freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution, we seek a leader like Xi, Orban or Putin. One who lies: Only I Can Fix It. Just like their populations, we should prepare to follow that leader into the abyss.
3R (Holland, PA)
This is why each state is a Democracy and the United States government is a federation of states constituted as a republic. I believe it has worked. And this idea of making the federal government a pure democracy is bound to fail us. This country is too big and diverse for that.
Mike (Republic Of Texas)
You didn't mention the words EV or charging station. Did you make this trip in a minivan that used an internal combustion engine? If you did, you probably drove through states where gas prices dipped below $4. Although feeding 6 would be expensive where ever you go, once you were a few hundred miles from any coast, food and lodging were quite affordable. Where is this Putin Price Hike, Biden speaks of? Kudos on the trip.
SCD (Upstate NY)
@Mike If Ross and his family were in an EV, it would take longer than 16 days just to get where he is now. Stopping to recharge for an hour with 4 kids in a minivan every 300 miles? No thanks. And what's your definition of "quite affordable"? Do you think prices of food and lodging are that different from the East or West Coast to South Dakota.e.g.--especially near tourist hot spots? Assuming he did pay less than the going rate for gas--which right now is $4.45 (and I live 8 miles from the Connecticut border)--that's still outrageous. I'm happy for Ross and his family--it's a trip that they'll all remember--but more Americans should be able to afford such a journey. With Biden Inflation, this is a vacation reserved for the upper middle class. Other Americans--even those living in the Midwest--are struggling to feed their families.
RichPFromDC (Washington, DC)
Yes, of course. The single most important issue in the nation, the world, the entire cosmos is ... the price of a gallon of gas for a minivan. $4.50 a gallon? Throw the bums out! Pump more oil! Destroy the world so that we can keep driving to the mall without paying the cost. Or maybe organize our priorites a little better, drive a little less, develop other energy sources even if it means -- horror of horrors! -- a little sacrifice today for the generations of the future, i.e., your kids and their kids. Most of all, fire all the TV editors and hire replacements who know that there's more to news than whether gas has gone up 4 cents a gallon. The selfishness and laziness of Americans is truly sickening. As for our Western landscapes, they truly are spectacular, wondrous and beautiful. So why do Repubs always want to mine, drill and develop them into oblivion? Bears Ears, anyone?
Barbara Loutos (Phoenix)
This is so ego-centric. It isn’t Biden inflation; the entire world is experiencing it.
PGLondon (London)
I suppose that if one is inclined to drive across America, sooner is better because it’s most likely that everything will change shortly, and not for the better. The idea of promoting such a trip as nostalgic is troublesome at best, if only because of its use of fossil fuels. But also because public transportation needs such attention — The Great American Train Ride. If only passenger trains had been supported over the last 75 years by our near sighted government it wouldn’t be in such an abysmal state of repair. And most likely more families would ride the rails instead of increasing fossil fuel use.
Diane M Glampers (Detroit)
We just drove through the Midwest down into northern Texas on a fast mission to get the grandkids. I think the quote is “the US highway system was designed for you to get from one end of the country to the other without seeing anything” and that seems to be true. MI, IN, IL, MO and Eastern OK look pretty similar on the major highways - except for a change in the number of corn and soybean fields. You have to take some secondary roads to really see America. Unfortunately, only being able to take a week off at a time doesn’t allow you much opportunity for a driving vacation. I flew out west for work a few times and it is beautiful place, so very different from the Eastern mid-west. I look forward to retirement some day - if I can afford it- to do some leisurely wandering across our beautiful country.
Vincent Amato (Jackson Heights, NY)
Americans cannot take credit for the natural wonders that exist between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Gift of God or gift of nature? Definitely. Many of those natural wonders have barely survived their exploitation by the people who hold deeds to the land. Yes, it is a beautiful country. No thanks to all but a handful of its current "caretakers."
susan (ann arbor mi)
@Vincent Amato its kind of wild. Ross writes an unusually politics-free column, which has a basically sunny tone, and the commentators seem to be triggered into showing how bad things are.
Vincent Amato (Jackson Heights, NY)
@susan There is no such thing as a politics-free column in this newspaper.
Donald Garner (United States)
Been there, done that starting with a massive 1974 Ford station wagon. I was fortunate to have gotten a wife from Oregon while living in Texas and Illinois. Then all the travels east to conferences etc. I always dragged my kids to all the states in our great Union. Summers off. My impression: this massive open space is not just the most lonely beautiful but that it draws people together even though they are spaced out well apart.
SRH RetiredDoc (Iowa)
I'm truly glad you are having a great trip with your family. Few items are more American than the great family road trip. The tenor of the comments is a bit displeasing, although I share many of the same concerns about climate and political attitude in the "heartland." I simply wish you could realize there are a lot of us out there who don't want to have to live by your religion rather than our own.
John (Canada)
Any country seen outside and away from humanity and its constructs can be beautiful and inspiring. It does indeed put you in touch with what is real, and if everyone had the luxury of being able to take that step 'outside' maybe some of that objectivity could be carried back into our dealings amongst each other. You've unfortunately already tainted your experience with counter productive constructs, as an experience of the real 'America' rather than of that world outside of any human social construct.
RichPFromDC (Washington, DC)
The obvious meaning of calling something "the real America" is that people everywhere don't count.
B (Westborough, MA)
Your children are lucky to receive this gift you and your wife have given them, Mr. Douthat. Our country is gorgeous and her people are wonderful. My cross-country trip included many hours of 85 mph speed limit highways past fields of corn, corn, soya, corn, soya, corn.... being passed by three (THREE!) cab semis on their way to deliver goods across America. Thank you, truckers. These long stretches were punctuated by silly, fascinating, and awe-inspiring sights. Conversations at coffee shops and restaurants, taking photos of families so each and every member could be in at least one photo together on their trip. Exchanging hugs and laughs with complete strangers on a similar journey. When can I go again?
Jan (Orleans MA)
Congratulations to Ross for not once using the word “liberal” or “liberalism” in this column.
Pat Baker (Boston)
I just returned from a week split between Calgary and Banff. Calgary is the cleanest city I have ever walked, not even a cigarette butt on the ground. Also very safe, we walked home late from the Stampede surrounded by thousands of people, no pushing or vulgar language. The land east of Calgary is rolling farm land while west takes you to the Rockies. Highly recommend.
Kim B (North Carolina)
Don't tell anyone in Montana that you are a reporter Ross. They assault reporters in Montana starting from the Governor on down.
David Shulman (Santa Fe, NM)
I would wish the entire editorial board of The New York Times takes this trip. It would be a real eye opener.
3R (Holland, PA)
I second that idea. And have them share motel rooms, according to their gender identification preference, of course. We the readers will benefit from their experience.
Eric (Bethesda)
Brilliant column.
L Owen (Florida)
Must be nice. Women will no longer be able to travel to see "America" in person. We might be pregnant and seeking an abortion -- or simply not to die from an ectopic pregnancy -- after all. What are you going to do when you must legally leave your daughter at home?
Natalie (PA)
This column is a lighthearted column about driving though America… can these comment sections ever please take a break from talking about racism and abortion?
Easterner In Oregon (Oregon)
Thank you.
mrfreeze6 (Italy's Green Heart)
@Natalie there's nothing "light-hearted" about Mr. Douthat. And, if you've ever traveled across the DUS (dis-united States), you would know that it's composed of an angry and resentful populace. Don't think for a moment that you're in "friendly territory" when traveling there.
Concerned Citizen (Evanston, IL)
While this column may read like a lighthearted one about travel, it’s not a lighthearted column by a random individual. It’s a column by a writer who has the regular opportunity to express his opinions in the New York Times. The opinions he regularly espouses are very specific ultra-conservative ones and it’s hard to read this column without placing it in the context of everything else he writes.
Phyllis Stein (Houston)
Ross if you’re trying to break into travel writing, I would reconsider.
Epaminondas Empirical Realist (Norman, OK)
I've lived throughout the country in my 66 years, and only have four states yet to visit (I've been to Puerto Rico too). America is a land of varied topography, but also of people. Most don't grasp the ethnic and cultural diversity of the country, which is far greater than with Yugoslavia prior to its breakup. It has been a megatrend for larger 'empires' to fracture into monocultures. We live in an age where the center cannot hold. The growing diversity not only ethnically, but of religion makes moot the idea of an American people; the ethnic and religious makeup is far different than what it was when this country gained its independence in 1783. Our government is also a weakening one, where it is increasingly difficult to get anything done. The system itself is leading toward paralysis. Canada has a more effective government, but it has to constantly strike a balance between its provinces. Quebec is always restive and may finally decide to break away, seeing their future as part of a 'francosphere.' The map of North America will probably look a lot different than it does now two decades hence.
Srini (Los Altos)
Enjoy your trip Ross!
J.P. Meyer (Neenah, WI)
Amen, brother!
Geoff (Kettering, Ohio)
I stopped reading at the admission of banality.
April (NYC)
Our columnist might try the same trip with an African American friend, openly L or G couple or someone who is Transgender. Then he can report back on lessons learned. I’d be happy if he surprised me.
Junewell (NY)
"Venture" is an interesting choice of words, tentative, as if Ross knows events have outstripped his ability to voice soft conservative pablum and sound condescendingly authoritative. Maybe just stay on vacation.
Andy. (New York, NY)
Finally, a Douthat opinion I understand.
joey8 (ny)
Wow, only one comment mentioning the evil of Republicans. I sense progress
Cathykent (Oregon)
A very adolescent article
JohnD (Virginia)
It never ceases to amaze how Mr. Douthat in his snarky, cynical "eloquence" always lays the blame for America's decline on coastal liberals - many of whom, like me, have grown up, lived in, traveled and ultimately fled the narrow-mindedness, violent bigotry and destructive corporate greed that is overwhelming the natural beauty of our heartland. No surprise, he has nothing to say about that, even though it's on display in the agri-business farm fields, rapacious extraction operations, pickup bumper stickers and countless billboards he passes on his road trip. You can have your country back, Ross, such as it is. Hope you don't encounter a fellow citizen exercising his Second Amendment rights.
FloriduhDude (Florida)
@JohnD - Douthat always makes my ponder why a highly educated man, who lives in the metro NYC portion of liberal Connecticut, is a columnist for the NY Times and receives the significantly above average salary and medical and retirement benefits that come with that, pretends he is not part of the group he is so quick to criticize for our nation's ills.
Victor Huff (Utah)
Glad you got to take such a fine trip with your kids to America the Beautiful Ross!! It's too easy to forget how unreal this place is, hitting the road and checking some of it out is always a refresher.
Sang Ze (Massachusetts)
All I saw as I crossed the quite pretty land were ignorant and stupid people shooting guns and spewing their hatred at every turn. Americans were far meaner and snide than I expected, either unable or unwilling to converse reasonable on any fair topic. I think I would sum up my impression by noting the garbage, especially plastic bags and similar stuff, tossed out the windows of cars. If the landscape was lovely, it was being defiled by uncaring. It's a nice place to visit, I guess, but not a place to live very long.
Vincent (Ct)
A great idea get and see nature’s bounty. Two things would help. A more liberal vaccination policy by American corporations and a 15 dollar minimum wage to help pay for it.
Sarah D. (Turners Falls MA)
I think you got autocorrected from "vacation' to "vaccination."
Edward (NY)
Beautiful country right Ross? How was the weather. Pretty toasty? It'll all be desert by the time your kids grow up. But then the right doesn't believe in climate change does it Ross? Scientists - all wrong! - thoughts and prayers.
Tricia (California)
Unfortunately, Ross no doubt still has blinders on. Ah well, it will ever be thus.
Daniel12 (Wash d.c.)
Driving across the heart of America and with politics on mind? I don't think there's much hope for the poor in America. Both major political parties claim to care for the poor, provide methods of lifting people out of poverty, but the right wing for decades and its corporate business interests has sought worldwide the cheapest labor which has hurt the lower class of America, and the left wing for all talk of socialism, eradicating poverty, is much more concerned with accusing the heartland of America of racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, etc. with total result that everybody of upper class has their reason to turn from the poor. It appears America for all superpower status, for all claims of great and always increasing economic efficiency, simply can't or won't get around the curve of eradicating poverty even within itself and providing a better life for all. Hard to tell how much the right wing has wealthy people who just hate the idea of more economic equality, socialism, how many people who simply can't have an identity unless it's bound up with being wealthier and lording it over many other people, and as for the left wing, they seem to have a clearly fixed ideological price set on the poor if the poor want to do better in life: The poor must not be racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, too religious, must not own guns, etc. etc.--ideological condition after condition piling up but no economic relief in sight. The poor are crushed by upper class America.
BAB (Madison)
Thank you for refreshing my memory of a wonderful family car trip to the Teton National Park from Wisconsin en route to taking our daughter to the Teton Science Camp. En route, we followed a similar path as Ross, listened to the unabridged audio book of “To Kill A Mockingbird” with our 12 year old; then tent camped and explored the Park for 12 days while she explored the lush wilderness with her peers and environmental instructors. It was the last time we slept on the ground, but such a grand American experience—one that remains memorable on many levels.
Rich D. (Tucson, AZ)
Making that entire trip without a single comment about our western megadrought and climate change means you must absolutely just be blind.
WakeUp (US)
Absolutely clueless.
skeptical1 (Massachusetts)
I am heartened by all the critical letters in response to this fuzzy headed self-centered exceedingly boring diary entry. New York Times editors, would you please remember that you have a thoughtful, highly educated readership. Please try to publish columnists who are up to the intellectual standard now nearly abandoned on your editorial, opinion, and news pages. I am not going to renew my annual subscription when it expires because all the news that's fit to print and all the opinions that are fit to read no longer characterize your paper.
Harry (Redstatistan)
From the film "Easy Rider:" George: You know, this used to be a helluva good country. I can't understand what's gone wrong with it. Billy: Huh. Man, everybody got chicken, that's what happened, man. Hey, we can't even get into like, uh, second-rate hotel, I mean, a second-rate motel. You dig? They think we're gonna cut their throat or something, man. They're scared, man. George: Oh, they're not scared of you. They're scared of what you represent to 'em. Billy: Hey man. All we represent to them, man, is somebody needs a haircut. George: Oh no. What you represent to them is freedom. Billy: What the hell's wrong with freedom, man? That's what it's all about. George: Oh yeah, that's right, that's what it's all about, all right. But talkin' about it and bein' it - that's two different things. I mean, it's real hard to be free when you are bought and sold in the marketplace. 'Course, don't ever tell anybody that they're not free 'cause then they're gonna get real busy killin' and maimin' to prove to you that they are. Oh yeah, they're gonna talk to you, and talk to you, and talk to you about individual freedom, but they see a free individual, it's gonna scare 'em. Billy: Mmmm, well, that don't make 'em runnin' scared. George: No, it makes 'em dangerous.
Richard (Los Angelis)
Sixty 'something' years ago I hitch-hiked from New Haven CT to Sacramento , Cal. with a back-pack, ten dollars and a stick of pepperoni. Now, at age 82 I can still summon the felling of awe that rippled thru me as I slept outdoors each summer night in magnificent open fields ,on mountains, next to rivers of seemingly endless beautiful water. And the diversity, the real , not political diversity , like meeting a farmer in Iowa who told me he had never seen a mountain or an ocean, or the couple who had never 'seen an Italian". Words cannot due justice to this stupendous land between the oceans, our politics may be twisted bit the universe did a hell of a job with this land, per se.
RB (Cal)
"Don't California our Cody"? Fair enough, for starters how about removing everything produced in California from Cody, and then also remove everything produced in Cody from California. Cody could then say goodbye to their computer processors, a third of all the items in their grocery stores, and nearly all of their no rodeo entertainments. No sure what California would miss by not having Cody around, but I'll let you know when I can't find it at my local market.
Anthony (Washington State)
@RB I understand your sentiment and pride in your state, RB. I feel exactly the same about mine. I suspect that the Cody billboard was referring to suburban sprawl which is spreading out from Cody. A lot of people are moving to the region. The sign could just as easily have said, "Don't Phoenix our Cody." I'm certain that neither of us is crazy about that sort of development. Sadly, California has become the codeword which certain political types have used as a fear tactic. . . as if red states don't struggle with their own or similar issues. If you'd ever like to have the three Pacific states secede from the union, and leave the red state madness behind, I'd wistfully, though unrealistically, want to join you, and leave the red state madness behind.
TS. (Hudson Valley)
@RB The sign in Cody reminds me of one that used to be in Oregon that said, "thank you for visitng but please don't move here". Our family used to laugh at that sign because it was so foolish to think that would deter migration to a beautiful place. 40 years later Wyoming residents (who probably weren't born there) are afraid of population growth, when they have the option of participating in local and state planning efforts and in addressing growth that might take advantage of a larger tax base.
Hooper (Virginia)
@RB The computer processors are made in Taiwan.
Paul Sutton (Morrison CO)
Our national parks are an invaluable asset- too bad we dont really value them. We spend $10 billion on Halloween stuff for one day of the year. Tha ANNUAL budget for our national parks is only $3 Billion. We are backlogged billions in infrastructure maintenance in the parks alone. We don’t pay for roads, teachers, or parks. We suck. Arizona is so cheap they are now letting folks without college degrees teach high school. We are a cheap, mean, ignorant, and racist country. Watch our parks get abused up.
David Wong (Hong Kong)
I've traveled to all 50 states, and surely the wide open space soothes the soul. But that itself isn't enough to give one hope. It's the system of governance that matters. Africa is three times the size of the US and that includes Alaska, or South America which is vast and has a lower population density than the US. The world doesn't lack natural beauty, it's just that countries everywhere keep screwing up on the governance issue and that makes it hard to keep our hopes up.
Cinclow20 (New York)
Much of what so many are saying in these comments is true, but what they neglect to mention is that the worst victims of where we are now happen also to be the majority of the misguided voters who put the politicians in office who enacted the policies that got us here: unmanaged free trade, eviscerated unions, tax cuts for the rich and their corporations, disinvestment in public infrastructure and services, etc. It started roughly a half century ago, when the white working class began abandoning the New Deal coalition that built the working class. And what was the weapon sundered that coalition? Prejudice and fear. FDR was right that Americans had nothing to fear but fear itself, but fear of “the other” proved to be enough when used by demagogues to cause so many Americans to forget the lessons of the Depression and WWII — that we are, indeed, not only stronger and better when we’re together, but also weaker and poorer when we allow ourselves to be divided. The only question is, when will we see the light and turn our righteous ire on the real culprits, those who are continuing to gain by dividing and exploiting us?
John (Omaha)
Jerry Ligon (Little Elm, Texas)
Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas use to say the way to see this country is to walk it. I’d settle for Ross’s cross country drive. Until last year I lived and worked in Chicagoland. Many friends and colleagues saw precious little of the United States. Some had cabins in Wisconsin or Michigan and they’ve been to many places in Europe. They knew that on the other side of O’Hare (the airport) out there somewhere was Iowa. They’ve flown to California. But, they’ve never seem the Rockies, the Grand Canyon, Glacier National Park. You don’t realize how big the country is until you’ve driven through Ohio or Kansas (who gets blamed for the first 100 miles of Colorado, which doesn’t begin until they drive into the mountains). Drive America folks.
Tracy Klinesteker (Kalamazoo, MI)
With an electric vehicle please.
Mike (Pittsburg, KS)
But what about glaciers? Did they, the kids, see any glaciers? It would be remiss to have not. That's because, thanks to climate change, we are in the final decade of glaciers actually existing in Glacier National Park. Soon they will be gone. Way to go, America.
Anitakey (CA)
My mother had a dream of traveling on Route 66 and I dropped everything to do it with her. What a fantastic trip. We then went on to TN, to DC, Gettysburg, and then back. What we remember the most is how kind everyone was. If politics aren’t discussed, everyone is helpful and of course; our country is beyond beautiful
Margaret Cardwell (Memphis, Tn)
We just returned from a trip to Montana with our 12 year old granddaughters. We boarded the train in Memphis, had a day in Chicago where one child got to experience a big city for the first time, back on the train to Glacier Park. It was spectacular! What a beautiful country. We, too, enjoyed the snow in June! I highly recommend train travel - all of the beautiful scenery; none of the sore shoulders and bickering of car travel!
Jo (Sligo Ireland)
Fell in love with Montana/Wyoming. Reminds me of Ireland in the 1980’s. Pure freedom.Nature and large open spaces.
Rick Spanier (Tucson)
We escaped the east coast (Philadelphia) 25 years ago in search of better weather, less crowding, and an affordable lifestyle. For most of that time, we've been happy with our choice but of late the west is losing its luster. We still look out our windows and see the Catalina Mountains a mile to the north, the Rincons a mile east, and the jagged Tucson Mountains further west. We bear the heat of the summer and enjoy 8 months of splendid weather but now there are catches. Those beautiful Catalinas nearly burned down threatening our home a year ago. Rivers and reservoirs north and west are drying up and the guarantee of the aquifer holding 100 years of reliable water delivery seems suspect. Air quality is iffy as our neighboring states battle their own massive fires. Yes, there are open spaces but an hour's drive away as developers continue to build their ugly crowded settlements wherever open land remains available. For all it offers, the west is suffering from the same overcrowding and rampant commercialization as the rest of the country. So sure, come visit, before it all looks and feels like New Jersey.
3R (Holland, PA)
Northwest New Jersey is very beautiful and sparsely populated.
Donald Johnson (Colorado)
Back in the 40s and 50s, Dad used his 2- and 3-week vacations to drive us from Illinois to CA, NYC, Quebec, Colorado, Michigan and back again. By the mid 50s, we'd seen most of the states and a lot of great restaurants and National Parks. It was great fun, especially when we sat in his lap and steered the 2-lane highways at 65 mph. Your kids will remember your car trips for the rest of their lives. And they will take their lovers and kids to revisit their favorite places. They'll tell stories about Mom and Dad and each other and love America. If they're lucky, after you retire, you'll buy some RVs (yes, several over time), and drive the gorgeous N. American continent up the Alaska highway to Alaska and spend a few summer months touring that great state. They'll know America and love it. And, of course, the travel bug will take them to other countries. But America and N. America will be their home.
@Donald Johnson -- For better or worse, today if you sat on your parents lap steering the car at 65 mph on a two lane highway you'd be locked up for child abuse.
Donald Johnson (Colorado)
@TWJ No kids. No pets. No problem. Thanks.
hawk (New England)
Anyone from New England looking for a road trip must head North, specifically Northeast. Past Boston, up through Maine into Bangor. Driving the "airline" is always an adventure, crossing into St. Stephens and the land of the Tories. Northeast through St. John, Moncton and then into Nova Scotia. Halifax is a lot like Boston, but much smaller. Cape Breton has been my go to place for QT's (quiet times) for years. I usually stay in a little town named Ingonish. There is only one gas station in town, and it's closed on Sundays. You will not find any fast food joints, or strip malls, only an occasional Tim Hortons. It doesn't take long before you realize you don't need them. It's a far different life style from the big cities of the Northeast. The views are spectacular, the people even more so. Sitting on the beach at Meat Cove looking out towards the North Atlantic is a bucket list item, so is the Skyline Trail. Breathtaking. Chances are pretty good you'll encounter a moose.
Eileen C (New York)
I just got back from a drive from Oregon to Minneapolis via Rte 20. This is a stunning country. One thing the article missed however was the people. Everyone along the route was so welcoming and very pleased that New Yorkers were interested in their small community. It gave me hope that perhaps our beautiful country is not as fractured as we read in the papers.
Jackie (Philly)
America is truly spectacular. Our first year of retirement (2018), we packed our car and headed west, traveled for 2 months, 10,000 miles, 15 National parks and monuments, a trip of a lifetime. We literally went from sea to shining sea, stopping briefly to visit family along the way. In Sequoia, we were almost alone. This belongs to all of us, my husband said, America is truly beautiful. Where is everyone, I wondered? Working, like we used to, my husband said. Worth the wait of 40 years of working? Oh, yes.
LisaJP (Los Angeles)
I have desperately wanted to take a long trip across what I know is this magnificently beautiful country. My country. The problem: I’m a black woman. The vast majority of people I’ve encountered on regional trips have been great, but not always. The stares my daughters and I got when we stopped in a small Oregon town on a NW US road trip were disconcerting, and stopped me from going deeper into that beautiful state. I honestly felt safer in Alabama or Mississippi despite my friends’ protestations. Why? Because there are a LOT of black people in those states so I’m not perceived as ‘out of place’. Not sure if feel that way in rural Idaho, Wyoming, Kansas or South Dakota. Although I too would’ve to experience them up close and slowly. For now I’ll just fly to what I want to see and skip the roads. Sadly, the trust is gone, even if the beauty is present.
1515732 (Wales,wi)
@LisaJP Too bad you feel that way. Where you harassed in any way of was it just perception? Was in Thailand once stood out like a sore thumb but the people were kind generous and just curious to se a "forerung" or westerner
mary (connecticut)
During the 1970's and 1980's I am fortunate that I had taken the opportunity to travel our beautiful country as well as many parts of Europe. The places I visited back then are a memory of a past. Mr. Ross far too many could not have extra paper nor coin to experience what I have nor your vacation via minivan. Enjoy your luxury.
Brian (Round Rock TX)
We have been very fortunate to take several cross-country drives. From central Texas, at different times, our termini have been California, Montana, Florida, Minnesota, Illinois, and the Outer Banks of North Carolina. From New York, we drove through Conn., Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. We've driven the entire lengths of the Natchez Trace and the Blue Ridge Parkway. As a family we have driven through 30 states. We've visited 40 national parks, monuments, seashores, etc. I'm absolutely convinced that the way I experience our present moment is shaped by the diversity of people and experiences we encountered driving nearly 40,000 miles around the country.
Kurt Pickard (Murfreesboro, TN)
As Muslims are required to make the pilgrimage to Mecca once in their lifetime, so should all Americans be tasked with making the trek across this great nation taking in all the natural wonders it has to offer. Too much of the American experience has been spoiled by the instantaneous nature of the internet. No effort is required to visit practically any place on earth by way of a screen. Experiencing this vast continent in person, its diverse biomes and people and the take aways you get from it cannot be otherwise matched or appreciated. The day to day pressures we feel and the compulsion to digest the latest political and media hype don't thrive in the wide open. Your family may scatter Ross, but they will always remember this time and this adventure until the time comes when they draw their last breath.
Steve (Barrington, NJ)
I second that. I just yesterday came home from a trip out west, were I stood under the Milky Way and saw the two cutest bear cubs ever, among other things. I was struck by central Idaho and Oregon, places with limited to no cell service. There isn't much going on there, more cattle than people. I held the door open for two dry dusty guys entering a poor excuse for a convenience store in the only gas station for 66 miles (according to a sign on the road). "Gentlemen..." I said and beckoned. "Is he talking to us?" A little banter, a few smiles, and nothing about Trump. Nothing going on in that town, so you might as well be pleasant and agreeable. There was native American kid there with a one-eyed dog. Probably a story...
R.F. (Shelburne Falls, MA)
I have driven cross country, in both directions multiple times, mostly alone but once with a very good friend. I have seen lovely sights from the subtle beauty of green fields of wheat in early June in Kansas to an eye popping sunrise over a deserted Grand Canyon in early March, alone with my thoughts. I have also seen desolate small towns, once thriving now almost abandoned, urban blight, and along i-40 in TX, visible from miles away, a giant steel cross with gnarled and frightening statues of the stations of the cross around it, which I took as an ode to blinded faith. If you take the trip, in addition to looking for our country's beauty, please look for it's scars too or you are missing the full picture.
tom (midwest)
Alas, what tourists and travelers miss is the difference from living there for an extended period of time. During our lifetime, we have lived or worked, usually for months at a time in small towns, in those same wide open spaces since the 1970's. The change from being open and friendly to being closed, hardened, divided, xenophobic and outright unfriendly has been dramatic. It is those areas where we despair for the future of America. Further, to Ross it may seem the parks and natural areas are uncrowded but without a sense of what it was like 50 years ago, it seems way overcrowded to us. Lastly, we are glad he and his family got to see those areas given the current conservative penchant to open them up to development of all kinds all to chase the almighty dollar. They might not be around in another 50 years.
DL (ct)
I still remember driving through the vast corn fields of Indiana when our children were young on a visit to the homeland where we group up, the Midwest. With no prompting from us the kids marveled at the vastness to the horizon (where's the trees?) and, when we turned on the radio, delighted in listening to the daily report on hog futures.
Donna (Maine)
In 1972 my family traveled the country for 6 months in a Dodge Travko and we hit almost every state and National Park. My parents played cribbage most nights and best 2 out of 3 got to write where we were staying on their side of the board. We picked up a stray dog we named "Denver" and brought home a thousand cool memories. The guys who house sat for us back home in Maine saved all the postcards we sent them and I love to reread them.
Gardener 1 (Southeastern PA)
There are truly gorgeous places here in the northeast states. I’ve backpacked in the White Mountains of NH, rented a little cottage for 20 years in the Berkshires, MA where I hiked Mt Race into neighboring CT, enjoyed lobster and crabs at an outdoor table covered with newspapers in ME, hiked Jay Peak in VT and swam in a mountain lake there. The best warm bread from a shop in Syracuse, NY that we slathered with jam bought in Skenatales and eating it in our car. Ithaca’s gorges, and ripe strawberries from a stand along the road that stained our fingers. Lunch on a blanket along the Erie Canal. Herds of white deer enclosed in what was a fenced-in, shutdown military base outside of Watertown. New Hope, PA day trips. These days—but for the eating!!— I’m too old to do the physical things. I never saw any reason to venture elsewhere. And certainly, I don’t want to cross the Mason-Dixon Line ever again. My husband and I have it all at our doorstep.
Kenneth nysson (grand rapids mi)
Travel is a great the equalizer for cosmopolitans .The fall of the year I take my annual combination fly fishing trip and bird hunting trip to Wyoming, the Dakota's and Montana. I am standard issue University of Michigan liberal ,with the modifier of being a marine. My griffons and I ( pointing dogs) ,elie and pepper sleep in cheap motels and eat in local saloon ,yes dogs are welcome and have interesting conversation . Grinnell Iowa great conversation with members of a Chicago inter city gun club competing in shooting competition. Multiple discussions about politics and Trump in Alcoa Wyoming, Pine Ridge Nebraska and small towns in the Dakota's The Platte river is great for browns in the fall on a steamer , leach or Matuca. For pheasants and sharptaile number five shot . There is nothing prettier than hunting behind to close working pointing dogs ,WPG on the prairie. The plus is a reminder of varying communities of America and landscapes With apologies to Joan Didion " we need stories in order to live "
robert Mac Neill (naples fl.)
The discovery of spaciousness is almost like the realization there is a nose on your face. What's missing is the discovery of the quality of the folks that inhabit the spaces. Self-reliant and generally open. Perhaps because they live in a greater space, there does not seem to be the obsessive focus on single topics. If these kind of trips were the rule, I submit, there would be less need to use violence/guns and steal from others.
Alan Jones (Chicago, Illinois)
One other observation or experience with the same travels my wife and I took with our kids across our nation (should add, my wife played cassette tapes of historical events--which I do not recommend Ross)...both of our children, now grown, are taking the same trips with their kids, and, both just love to travel and have a certain appreciation of both the expanse and diversity of our nation. Having been brought up in NYC, where my parents thought anything west of New Jersey was still unsettled territory. Having had both experiences now---strongly recommend that all parents hit the road---
One opinion (Boston)
We had the good fortune to recently travel to Barcelona and Lisbon. I don't want this to come off as a rant but more as a quiet reflection as I thought about how the citizens of these countries don't need to be concerned with gun violence, or their children being shot while at school -- what is that like? And, yes, I realize that just about every country has isolated incidents of gun violence. Also, in the past when travelling I would encourage everyone to visit the US -- visit Boston, go to Chicago, DC, NY, Colorado, New Mexico, wherever. I don't do that anymore. It was not a decision -- I just don't do it anymore.
Mostly_Bitter_Old_Man (Somewhere_on_the_Fringe)
I've been to and through all 50 states (not just their airports) and used to think of this as 'my' country. Today I'd literally steer clear of all Red States ... and I no longer think of this as my country.
JoeG (Houston)
If only they listened three hundred years ago we would be better off today. But there weren't Yogi's wandering the harsh lands of the American West. There were people like us trying to survive. They gave away the land almost to anyone and after a winter in the Dakota's picked up and left for a better life on the West coast. More stubborn ones stood and made something out of it. farms and ranches helped feed people here, Europe and beyond. That's the point isn't it contributing to the day to day survival of maybe not the entire human race but large chunks of Humanity at a time and now. Even if a few salamanders and smelt have to die. Compared to people like John Podesta and how one man single handedly spelled doom to humanity. You have to ask not if climate change is occurring but how it can be exploited by shady politicians for enormous profit. Travel out there in between the national monuments there isn't much out there. Besides farms and mineral wealth. So if it gets worse are you going to follow false prophets who are rich enough and want to become richer and able to insulate themselves from it's effects or find people for the people. We better start caring about ourselves because the planet doesn't. Neither do the likes of Podesta.
Barb (Connecticut)
My husband and I took to the road for our 50th anniversary and traveled to California and back. I have almost the exact same picture as this article on my phone but it is of the seemingly never-ending grasslands of eastern Colorado. The Hunt for Red October has been one of my favorite movies so I smiled when I read the quote. The immensity of our country is amazing and beautiful and you can see the stars! I love road trips and someday I hope to see Montana.
Dale Irwin (KC Mo)
I would add to this travelogue Big Bend National park, 800,000 acres of unparalleled, sublime beauty bordered by the Rio Grande in southwest Texas. It is a bit off the beaten path, but well worth the drive. I fell in love with it in the late 70s on a canoe trip down through Santa Elena and Mariscal canyons and have gone back many times to float those canyons, as well as the Lower Canyons, an 83 mile stretch of walls, placid pools, adrenaline-producing white water and star-packed sky that begins at the park’s eastern boundary. It is nearly impossible to put the emotional pull of the place into words.
Terry (California)
We should all enjoy it while we can. At the rate we seem to be evolving in the US, "papers" may be needed before we know it.
mvwerk (Philadelphia, PA)
@Terry Next year, ID papers will be required for interstate air travel (as well as designated federal buildings).
Anne (Australasia)
My husband and I loved our trip to the States in 2016. We started in New York but hired a car and drove north through Connecticut, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire etc. I was excited that we got to 60 miles from Canada’s border and that there were bears—- An image that stayed with me was stopping at a remote cafe in New Hampshire. The food and drinks were very inexpensive (just $1.50 for a coffee) and it was run by a number of elderly women, one of whom was quite disabled. It felt as if these women couldn’t retire. Just a perception, an observation of enormous prosperity (Connecticut) and poverty situated so closely.
John (Canada)
@Anne I'm from Canada, with every visit I've made to the States, from traveling by Greyhound with motel stop overs to staying in the most upscale communities and accommodations, there's been a cumulative awareness of an entire class of people kept in extreme poverty whose purpose is to feed and serve that "enormous prosperity". This is not a political observation but an experiential one, and only one aspect of a unique, complex, idiosyncratic society and culture that has taken an inevitable downward spiral to only have money at the heart of what used to be at least a more nuanced ethos.
JBC (Indianapolis)
Part of "seeing America" is seeing online America. While it is not necessarily representative of any specific locale, it does spotlight (and amplify of course) the range of opinions and viewpoints one may encounter in any physical locations.
@JBC Some viewpoints, you would agree, are repellent, bigoted and racist. I already know our country has racists, I know about Jim Crow, and our dark disgusting history of slavery. I know some states will force 10 year old rape victims to carry the child, and some states take pleasure in tormenting trans teens. Are there opinions and viewpoints that will make me comprehend the cruelty of these laws? Why on earth do I need to “encounter” such viewpoints online? And fwiw, opinions are like ... um ... noses.
Neil (California)
Not sure what point RD is making, aside from “it’s a big country” and I’m obliged to write a column this week.” Maybe, if he had more courage, he’d point out that this country has more than enough room for more immigrants. But that would put him at odds with GOP dogma. So…
Joe (Philadelphia)
It says a lot about someone who can't enjoy a column like this on a beautiful Sunday morning.
Dragonfly (Clovis,CA)
I can hold both thoughts at the same time - cant you? Maybe thats the problem- we live in a time of either/or and buts and we leave out the ands. We live in a beautiful country AND we are struggling mightily. individually and collectively. Please can we start finding the ANDS in the world???
Robert Roth (NYC)
Coming from Ross who has helped unleash a reign of terror, this feels like Nuclear Family Agitprop rather than one of many ways to experience the world with dignity and joy.
Groovygeek (CA)
Can we please keep signing the praises of the National Parks so that the herd can keep going there? There is no reason to publicize less known locations only to have the Instagram hordea descent mindlessly on them too. Enough with the lemmings who drive to GPS coordinates, get out of the car, snap a shot of 'the spot' and move on.
Garth Friedberg (Long Island)
Great read.
RL (Kew Gardens)
It was a good idea to travel now. Soon there will be checkpoints set up to make sure your wife is not traveling for the purpose of having an abortion. Thanks so much for making Atwood's novel a looming reality.
steve novick (portland, or)
Great column! Which, given that Mr. Douthat and I do not share political views, kind of proves his point!
Rex Nemorensis (Los Angeles)
Good article. And a healthy counterbalance to Maureen Dowd today wondering why our vast and diverse continent of a country can’t be more like itty bitty homogenous island Ireland.
Shelly (New York)
@Rex Nemorensis If it were that homogenous, they wouldn't have ever fought over religion.
folderoy (USA)
HA, the real America huh Ross ? Back in the 90s I used to travel a great deal to some remote flyover state locations Blackwell OK , Coffeytville KS, Lubuck TX etc. One morning in Oklahoma I had the most god awful headache and I went in search of painkillers. Upon driving down the highway I spotted a small town mall and shopping center. I stopped , and went into the main entrance. There sat on some trestle tables were 6 retired lady pensioners selling raffle tickets for charity. I quietly asked one of the ladies if there was pharmacy in the mall. Suddenly she spoke up "Are you ok" I said yes, I just needed pain killers or aspirin. On cue every lady grabbed her purse and emptied the contents on the tables . I was offered 4 varieties and chose 2 tylenol. I have never forgotten that because THAT was America. I am left of Karl Marx ,and I am sure those dear ladies had never voted leftwing in their lives, but they wanted to help me. That is America Ross.
Xavi (Florida)
Seeing America gives you hope for America: "See the Grand Canyon and die." I was born in Texas. Ft. Worth, on the Northside. In a plebian neighborhood out by the stockyards. A neighborhood which is now predominantly Mexican. And uncomfortable in white-Christian America. The Bible Belt. With good fortune, I never had to live there. My parents - in their wisdom - packed up their Ford Fairlane and beat it out to the Coast: San Francisco. (I won't bore you with the details from there.) But my family and extended family still live in Ft. Worth. It was 108 degrees there today. Flat. Dry. Big pickups and SUVs. Guns galore. Open carry for all. Mass murder. "Good guys" with guns who wait out in the hall. Well, the abortion thing. A patchwork power grid carved up by backroom deals with the big-hat guys. Where you fry in the summer and freeze in the winter. For a price. Uninhabitable. Good BBQ. I've had enough of stealth "America the beautiful" propaganda.
Finn (Boulder, CO)
Yes, the parks are fantastic, never mind that the GOP would rather privatize them, drill them, pave them over..... I've been to most of them, changed my life for the better. Glad you had a your Mayberry RFD experience Ross, but every time I go to the small towns of America, I hear and see the poison that the GOP has been stoking for years now. It's not pretty Ross. The wonder years are over, no matter how hard you squint Mr. Douthat.
Beryl (Nyc)
Maybe that’s why Mr Douthat liked it so much.
larkspur (dubuque)
I recall a guy named Charles Kurault who had little vignettes he filmed as he traveled across the country off the interstate. After his demise it turned out he had two wives and two families he kept strung out as he traveled. They never knew about each other and he never confessed his bigamy. A rather avuncular character, he presented a down home kinda gee America is swell and people are people everywhere. Except he was a scammer of the first order and liar of all liars because you never expected it. This is the guy who foretold the story of America today. No matter where you go or how people seem, scammers and sham family values among Dems and Reps alike. Careful on the road. Rage and ammo are abundant.
KCB (Saint Paul)
I like this piece, but the American west is certainly not "underpeopled". I'm sure most people there would agree.
AKS (nomad)
@KCB I'm a 68 year old westerner, born of westerners. The sleepy little mountain town in which I grew up is now an overpriced, overpopulated suburb of Denver. I don't like it, but that's life. What isn't a matter of individual feeling, however, is the undeniable fact that population centers in the west have grown beyond, or are fast growing beyond, the water available to support them.
JD (Near the snake)
@AKS and a state like Idaho sells its water company to a French conglomerate. Makes very little sense to me. Not sure if it’s still happening but when my dad lived on the eastern slope he said nestle was trying to buy the water from the Arkansas river and surrounding watershed. Again makes little sense to me.
Dan Minor (Seattle)
I would point out that the anti-choice crusade, and it IS a religious crusade, is going to break the wonderful papers free travel That Russian defector was so in awe of. I hope your happy.
Will. (NYCNYC)
Your fellow Republicans want to mine, drill, pave and pollute it all, Ross.
Chris Rasmussen (Highland Park, NJ)
No Iowa? Maybe on the drive home.
American Refugee (Stockholm/Palermo)
No thanks!
George (NYC👍)
“My native country, thee, Land of the noble free, Thy name I love; I love thy rocks and rills, Thy woods and templed hills; My heart with rapture thrills, Like that above.” My Country, 'Tis of Thee’
Tfredwells (London)
@George God Save the Queen
Me (here)
Greece Portugal Spain Alps Norway Ireland Scotland Amazing landscapes people and foods
Erik (Nyc)
Afghanistan has stunning natural beauty. As did Germany in 1933.
JoeG (Houston)
@Erik Would you be more comfortable with native Antarcticains?
Paul (Bellerose Terrace)
“…one of the defecting Soviet submarine officers, played by Sam Neill, rhapsodizes about his future as a free American — living in Montana with a pickup truck or ‘possibly even a ‘recreational vehicle,’ and driving ‘from state to state’ with ‘no papers.’” I hope Captain Borodin got to enjoy that freedom before Republicans in anti abortion states try to limit or eliminate travel out of state to obtain an abortion. This is what is before the legislature in Missouri, among other red states. Mr. Douthat, the denial from every corner of your party regarding the ten year old rape victim who had to be transported from Ohio to Indiana to get an abortion should appall even you. The Wall Street Journal termed it in an editorial “An Abortion Story Too Good to Confirm.” WSJ appended an editor’s note when it was, in fact, confirmed. Not so much the Indiana Attorney General who on Fox News promised to investigate the doctor who gave the girl treatment, even when the lawyer representing the doctor produced the required form, filed within the three day window required. Ohio officials told Fox News that there had been no arrest, calling the story into further question. Now that a 27 year old has been arrested for the rape, and DNA from the abortion could put him away for life, no retraction from Ohio officials. Ross, look at your daughters, and tell me that if you had a ten year old who was pregnant from a rape, you would compel her to carry that baby to term. Tell me you would do that.
Patricia M. (Montana)
I live in Bigfork. Hope you enjoyed beautiful Flathead Lake, the largest fresh water lake west of the Mississippi, along with our majestic mountains. And sorry you were not able to experience the stunning Going to the Sun Road in Glacier because of snow (I believe the Road has since been cleared). I have to take one exception to your piece, however. You refer to “the (arguably) under peopled West.” Water is scarce in the west and the area is unable to sustain a large population. I recommend Wallace Stegner’s “Beyond the 100th Meridian.” John Wesley Powell had it right. It is an enlightening read.
Michael (In Real America)
Ross, I hope you are not reading these comments on your vacation with your wife and children. It is hard to image a more self-centered, identity focused, negative, virtue signaling, victimhood seeking, America hating, "but my issue", group than is on display in so many of these comments. Enjoy your family time in our GREAT country. Unfortunately, these people will still be here when you get back. Whatever you are getting paid ...it is not enough.
wryawry (the foothills of the headlands)
@Michael “In Real America” … mmm-kay …
Mark H (Houston, TX)
Fun reading. But, I assume the headline in “The Onion” would be “Connecticut newspaper columnist discovers America”.
Roy (Tioga County, PA.)
Hey Douthat, try reading Langston Hughes Let America be America Again: Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed— Let it be that great strong land of love Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme That any man be crushed by one above. (It never was America to me.) O, let my land be a land where Liberty Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath, But opportunity is real, and life is free, Equality is in the air we breathe. (There’s never been equality for me, Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)
Charleston Yank (Charleston, SC)
A refreshing newly imaged Mr. Douthat I've just read. America, the land, unfortunately not all the people, is still a great and wonderful place. I did the go west route also from Connecticut in 1965 following Route 66. Lot of open land, lot of sad hotels, lots of police looking for speeder near towns, some places with unlimited speed limits but me with a car that would not go past 70 but with the land that was just beautiful.
Comment1 (Philadelphia)
I’m not sure it’s much consolidation to women angry about just losing the right to bodily autonomy in much of this country that at least we have some really nice national parks in Montana, Wyoming, and South Dakota . . . But I assume that is neither here nor there for Ross.
David N (Monterey, CA)
@Comment1 Not EVERYTHING in the entire world needs to be considered in the context of abortion or race or politics.
fischkopp (pfalz, germany)
Well, I've never dug for dinosaur bones in Thermopolis, but I've looked for fossils in the Green River Formation. Might consider it on your route back.
Marie (BOSTON)
“from state to state” "Yes" "No papers?" "No papers" Is one of my favorite moments and lines from the movie. When I first saw the movie it made me proud to be an American. As the years passed it seemed to be more and more an America that of the past. And most lately in the travel restrictions that states on putting on women where examination of papers is the brink of reality. That said I am happy to hear that Mr. Douthat's opinion is that the geographic real America is much better than the virtual. I have experienced the same in my business and personal travel. I've worried that meanness, and attacks on people, that been reported since the pandemic may have spoiled it. I am heartened that some that may still remain. However As a lone female traveler for business I hope the same for all and not just a family from Connecticut. P.S. With so many trees New England doesn't offer the spaciousness and expanse of the west, and I am sure his family has explored the other states of New England from Conn. as well, but I just want to say that we still have plenty of "boonies" to explore where "uncrowded availability of sights and spectacles" still exist.
cd (nyc)
I've crossed the country few times and was always surprised by the natural beauty everywhere. Lately my traveling has been confined to the Northeast, and there is no shortage of under. I've been living and working in the Finger lakes, specifically a small town on Lake Cayuga, which is 40 miles long and roughly 5 wide. Frozen in winter but a pleasure to swim in in the summer. Ocracoke Island in N. Carolina. The Appalachian trail. The Jersey shore. Camping in Maine, where the ocean stays cold all summer but being sweaty from hiking a refreshing experience. On and on. To those who cannot do the 3000 plus mile trek, please check out your local wonders. You will be pleasently surprised.
Binx Bolling (Palookaville)
Growing up in northern New Jersey, I was always fascinated by the fact that Route 80 stretched from the George Washington Bridge to the Golden Gate, and not long after I got my license got on that road and headed west, just to do it, just to see the country. Just having the freedom to do so was exhilarating, and the experience itself is wondrous. I've done that four times, round trip. This is a good country.
Connie (Glen Mills, PA)
Ross-you made us smile. We, too, have made this trek, having moved coast-to-coast three times in 37 months with four kids (and a collie the last 2 times!), not in a mini-van, but a station wagon with no AC. Add to that about 30 cross-country drives to visit relatives. We agree it is the best way to learn about 'the land between'-the beauty, but also the people who live there. Thanks for brightening our Sunday morning!
RES (Seattle and Delray Beach)
Driving across country while heterosexual must be nice. I would never attempt it nowadays as a gay person. Too dangerous.
David N (Monterey, CA)
@RES I'm a straight white cis male so I don't know and won't dispute your feelings and experiences, but I have LGBTQ friends and family who have recently toured great swaths of our nation and lived to tell about it, without any near death experiences. It is shameful for this country that something has made you feel the way you do.
Michael (Lancaster PA)
America "great set with poor casting"
mrfreeze6 (Italy's Green Heart)
@Michael never was there a better description of the DUS (dis-united States).
Haapi Job (NYC)
After reading the article, I’m still not sure “what it means”…
richard (the west)
For an unvarnished view of what's at issue here, evidently a bit too full-throated for the lily-livered, https://www.aplam.com/rants/west.pdf
vishmael (madison, wi)
Of "gathering strings for columns'" armchair-bound readers hope that Douthat tribe stops each Sunday morning at a Catholic Church service, and reports from his exchanges with flyover-country clergy and, more importantly, their parishioners.
SayCheese (New York City)
Doughdat loves the gorgeous US landscape while having no shame burning it down whit his extremist Christian anti abortion fanaticism. While Doughdat and his family enjoy traveling and crossing state lines without any problems they are fine with denying millions of women and children the same right if they need to get an abortion. What’s that called? Hypocrites.
David (Phoenix)
@SayCheese What an uncharitable set of comments. Not everything is political. Get a bigger lens. Try to enjoy life. Let others do the same.
Johnny (Puyallup WA)
It sounds like a great time Ross. Your kids will remember it fondly after aging a bit.
Robert Roth (NYC)
and driving “from state to state” with “no papers.” And now in Douthat's America someone going from a state of severe control and repression and misogynist/trans hatred to another state to get an abortion might soon be prosecuted in the state they live in.
Roy (Tioga County, PA.)
Ross has been indoctrinated. "...lean not on your own understanding; Proverbs 3:5-6
N8 (Chicago)
Nobody: Ross: Hey let’s take the kids on a road trip. We can visit all the states where the people live who actually believe the garbage I spew every week in my columns, I can bury my head in the sand while the world continues to burn, and craft a not-so-subtle plug for the highly profitable natural disaster that is the American auto industry, all at the same time! It’ll be great. Karma: Ok, so you will now be forever remembered as the Clark Griswold of MAGA.
Deirdre (New Jersey)
Visiting Quebec this week and the locals think Americans are insane. they cannot believe what we tolerate or encourage -they think we are barbaric and they are right.
Laura (Upstate NY)
@Deidre This was in one my social media feeds recently: "Canada must feel like they live in an apartment above a meth lab."
GC (Manhattan)
I visited the Twin Bridges Museum in Bentonville, Arkansas the year after it opened. A couple was marching around in matching “Lock Her Up” t shirts. And getting as many admiring comments as the artworks. A gay couple I know just did a road trip through Oregon, Idaho and Montana. These guys are “bears””. Husky gay fellows in jeans and flannel. And encountered anti gay slurs on a few occasions. So much for America the beautiful.
Dupont Circle (D.C.)
In today's American empire pregnant women can no longer take interstate travel for granted: https://www.npr.org/2022/02/28/1083536401/texas-abortion-law-6-months
Clearheaded (Philadelphia)
Okay, not a bad comparison. And there was nary a religious trope in sight. Without god, maybe all things really are possible.
John Thomas (California,)
>the billboard greeting visitors to Cody, Wyo., reading “Don’t California Our Cody.” That's super. It's such a welcoming American slogan. I can imagine California having a sign at the border some day. What's the message? We don't like you if you're from Wyoming? Blaming people for ....what, Cody Wyoming real estate agents' greed?
Joe (Philadelphia)
I feel for the people living in these states. Californians are fleeing their state and then they want to implement the same failed policies that caused them to flee on their new state. it's mind-boggling.
Newton Guy (Newton, MA)
I’m blown away by the negativity of so many commenters here: Too bad you had to go in a gasoline-powered car, unlike rail travelers in that earthly paradise Europe (where just one generation ago my uncle suffered extreme shell shock fighting inch by inch through Italy against the nazis). Too bad some of the most beautiful states are red. I’ll never go to them now. Too bad it’s way less beautiful now than when the Spanish conquistadors first saw it in the 1500s. Etc. etc. It’s like the Debbie Downer skit on SNL! “America’s so pretty…(zoom in on Debbie’s eyes)…Too bad it’s completely rotten in every nook and cranny”. May I suggest that getting out there will cause perhaps a bit of a lightening of the spirit? I think that was Ross’s point!
Shelly (New York)
@Newton Guy I'm guessing that you're at zero risk of dying from a pregnancy that went wrong since you're a guy.
Southamptoner (East End)
It never fails. When things get hot, change the subject. As the catastrophic results of the overturning of Roe become instantly apparent, the Times's most vocal abortion opponent decides to avoid the hard topics like the 10 year old in the news, and write a book report about America the Beautiful. Your side won. You're the dog that caught the car, Ross. When will you face up to the consequences, the aftermath?
Mr. Grammar (Massachusetts)
Ross writes "day after day of multihour drives spent trying to teach the kids the U.S. presidents (we’ve stalled after Lincoln, predictably)". I know there is a two year old, who is too young, but I do not know the ages of the other three children. I know a 7 year old who can name all the Presidents in order from Washington to Biden, and then from Biden to Washington, without hesitation. And she can tell you who the 13th or 23rd or 33rd or whatever President was. If she can do it, Ross's children can do it too, if any of them is 7 years old (or older). Go for it Ross and children.
David D (Central Mass)
I am shocked that I have nothing negative to say about one of your pieces. Thanks.
Robert (Ottawa Canada)
@David D OK. I'll say it just for fun. One little problem: "Continental empire." What? I thought Canada and Mexico also resided on this North American continent. Oh, well. We're used to that from our modest neighbours to the south. (note the spelling of neighbours!) Love you guys....most of the time. Be well.
GFE (New York)
"By the time you read this, assuming I’m not recruited into a survivalist group somewhere north of Coeur d’Alene, they will have seen Idaho and Washington as well." Having read your other columns, I wouldn't make that assumption.
mancuroc (rochester)
I drove across the United States the first summer after I arrived here and was duly impressed by the geography and the people. After 5-plus decades, I have come to understand the exaggerated power of the geography relative to the people. It's more one-acre-one-vote than one-person-one-vote. 21:25 EDT, 07/16
Wiley Cousins (Finland)
Sometimes what you don't see is as important as what you do see. I have travelled extensively throughout the western States. On one lonely trip, forty years ago, I was riding my motorcycle through the vast purple emptiness of a New Mexico dusk. As my mind drifted across the sights I had seen during the week, and of the people I had met, I suddenly realized that I hadn't seen a single Black family on the road. This thought then expanded to all the other trips I had taken to various national parks; not a single Black family.......anywhere. Later, as a travelling musician throughout Texas and Louisiana, the same thought returned. There were no Black bands playing any of the clubs on our circuit. Even though we played predominantly Black music - as did all our White contemporaries from Austin - there were no Blacks playing Black music on the road. I had grown up in the Bay Area of California. The idea that Black people lived in Oakland was "normal" for me as a child. It was unquestioned in the same way as "Water is wet". It wasn't until I travelled as a young adult that this segregation became jarring.
PE (Seattle)
Of all the articles you have written, Mr. Douthat, this will be the one your kids save, print out, frame and hang in their future homes. Well done!
FW (West Virginia)
Sounds like a nice trip. Of course if America had any sense and foresight you might have been able to avoid the minivan and travel by high speed rail. Also look at the side of any highway in this Country and you’ll see plastic garbage strewn everywhere. The only time you don’t is right after a clean up. Last, perhaps your forced birth allies could take down their sanctimonious Choose Life Billboards as in most of those states there isn’t a choice anymore.
Dochhoch (Southern Illinois)
Ross: Greetings from the prodigious White Mountains of New Hampshire. I have driven this country for 50+ years, Ross, having spent the night in every state of the union, including ALL of the places you mention in your column. This is a huge, beautiful, blessed country, loaded with natural wonders: mountains, forests, deserts, seashores, national and state parks ... we are truly blessed. But, Ross, when I lower my gaze to see what we have created in our precious land, I see rot. Here in NH in the last 4 days, I have seen a state chock-a-block with Trump and "If you voted for Biden, you owe me gas money" signs, hard by the endless gun stores. I talk with people in stores, restaurants, hotels who fear what America has become, fear for the futures of their children, fear the ramifications of the Congress and Supreme Court that you and the people you have supported for years have created. Hey, Ross, people who are working 2-3 jobs to make ends meet (with no benefits), don't really have the resources to take the trips both you and I have been taking. People who hear, and fear, gunfire in their neighborhoods, can't really spend too much time basking in the glorious hot tubs of Thermopolis, or Ojo Caliente, NM. A 10-year old pregnant rape victim in Ohio can't really appreciate the glories her state's parks have to offer. And those glorious western roads you extol won't be kept up while residents increasingly seek disappearing water resources. Have a nice trip. Thanks.
opus dei (Florida)
Growing up in Seattle the "East" began with the crossing of the Cascade Mountains. The John Birch Society's "Impeach Earl Warren" billboards competed with White Christian nationalist/"Better Dead than Red"/hate group signs. And it didn't get any better in Idaho, Montana, and the Dakotas. Small towns with boarded-up store fronts had no local newspapers and no bookstores. The people were wonderfully welcoming until you talked with them about something. Listening to local radio stations was an education in fire and sword Christianity. Alas.
Paul (Bellerose Terrace)
It’s hilarious that you cite the Sam Neill character from “The Hunt for Red October” waxing rhapsodic about the freedom to travel state to state “without papers.” In case you didn’t notice, members of the party with which you have identified for your entire adult life are busily ginning up ideas to keep women, or even a ten year old girl the victim of rape, from exercising the freedom you, or the Neill character, take for granted ,in order to stop women from traveling to states where abortion is legal from places where it is not. You appear, good sir, to have an immunity to irony.
Yes, the freedom to choose interstate travel is a wonder. Signed, a woman.
Bill (Upstate NY)
Good for you Ross. Anyone who refers to the vast middle of our country as a "fly-over zone" has no idea what they are missing. As you say: "Seeing America gives you hope for America".
Bruce B (New Mexico)
Many young women won’t be able to travel across the country while pregnant because of conservatives like Ross.
DJM-Consultant (USA)
There is little doubt that America offers a depth few understand. Around the world 3 time - few places compare. DJM
Me (here)
Beautiful it is Quite inhabitable right now Soon not inhabitable at all
R. Daumal (Honolulu)
Glad you and yours enjoyed the burst of serotonin, Mr. Douthat. And that you were in a position to do it. I wonder how many of us could afford to do the same? And feel safe and welcomed as we travelled across the land? Some of us have to consider these kinds of things.
Yes, the freedom of interstate travel is a wonder, isn’t it. Signed, a woman.
Jim S. (Cleveland)
" a free American — driving “from state to state” with “no papers.” Does that include a free woman driving from state to state to get an abortion which she ought to have been able to get in her own state?
Alice (NY)
Ross, Your children now see America at a crossroads; they may be the last generation that can see America before climate change trashes the idyllic picture you are painting. The party and the politicians you continue to support do not care for the American landscape, or for the future of the next generations. They care only for the profit they can make, and if that destroys the American landscape, they don't care. You are just like so many Republicans, walking forward with your head turned completely backwards, walking into an abyss which you deliberately deny.
Socrates (Downtown Verona, NJ)
The USA is physically gorgeous, no doubt about that. Lots of pretty land and nice people and a church on every other street corner. Watch out for Olive Gardens, though. You're not in Italy.
Eric V (Colorado)
Love Ross and all my fellow Americans, but I can’t help but shake my head in wonderment and a slight sense of pity every time a Coastie “discovers” the “real America.” Maybe if Ivy Leaguers in the Northeast and VC’s in Silicon Valley did a better job of building and maintaining connections with their countrymen in the Flyover States, the country as a whole wouldn’t feel so disconnected from itself.
cd (nyc)
@Eric V I agree, but the 'connections' need to be both ways - If you accuse one group of generalizing, you are in fact dong the same thing. Peace.
JB (Washington)
@Eric V Maybe if MAGAts in the Flyover States did a better job of building and maintaining connections with their countrymen on the coasts, the country as a whole wouldn’t feel so disconnected from itself. There, fixed it for you.
Koala (Australia)
Love this. I was fortunate to travel a fair bit while in America and the difference between online America and real America is preciously well made. Cheers Ross. Get off those freeways is the key, we discovered quickly. Otherwise you can travel the entire country up and down and sideways and see exactly the same thing, cars and the same tree, endlessly. (Though you do get to wonder how some of those cars are allowed on the road, and that they still are able to.) An aussie accent helped. Welcoming and warmth was overwhelming, tho I did get to feel what it's like to have ordered a meal in a small-town deep diversion, heard my own voice, and be met with sudden silence. Forks frozen in the air. Eyes glaring, with the words clear in them: "God just told me I gonna have to shoot you to protect my children." My spouse's accent saved me, I think. Never did an order of vegies with the steak mean so much. The spirit of assistance was, massively overall, incredible. America gets sold through a thousand different ways, politics and movies and docos and social media, all hurtling towards some overcast theme or another, some highlight, some potent revelation. But never the simple America, which is I think its human feature. Vastly different, highly locale specific, yet the gentle underlying energy is ever generous and decent. But the point of this comment is to add a view that what we see in the news is not America, but agitated elements of it. And I too want one day to visit Montana.
Hank (Montclair)
See the USA in your Chevrolet--while you can! Make sure you all take a lot of pictures, so your grandkids can contrast them with their world! This beautiful land isn't going to protect itself. Can you restate your views on climate change, Ross? I mean what do you think the US should be doing in terms of saving our tourist spots (and everything else)?
Mad Moderate (Cape Cod)
I fondly remember the smell of sulphur in Thermopolis!
Beth (New York)
Great column! This country is beautiful and the people are giving. For that matter so is NY state if you travel upstate out of this area. With all the divisiveness going on now, it is good to take a step back and remember this. It can give people some hope that we can make it through this awful time in our history.
Barbarossa (Longuyland)
Thanks for this beautiful article. Many years ago (60's), Notre Dame's golden dome used to be visible from the Indiana Toll Road (I-80/90), but the tress have now grown too tall to allow the view. It was a welcoming sight after the long and tiring drive from NY. Domer '69
Mark Solomon (Washington DC)
Brilliant! I don’t normally like a lot of what Ross writes, but he gets 10/10 for this piece. My wife & I just completed a 10- day motorcycle trip riding mostly backroads on our own bikes, escaping development to ride in VA, MD, PA, NY, VT, NH, & ME. On bikes you get the full menu of hot, cold, rain, wind, great aromas and the not so great smells along the way. You get to enjoy putting on a ton of protection gear on & off every day and moving from hotel to hotel. As Ross writes; it’s all worth it to enjoy the adventure and just escape the modern world, for us especially the roads & traffic around DC. Travel is the best medicine & taking the time to get from one place to another, talking to each other about the experiences is the whole point.
Marc (Vermont)
Perhaps you can make time to visit some other spectacular and likewise educational places. The Reservations in Montana might be a start. On your way back east, if you take the more southern route, the Pueblo's of Arizona and New Mexico, (Acona is certainly worth a visit), might call - along with the Grand Canyon, Canyon de Chelly and the Navajo Reservations. Too many places actually, but do visit a few. I agree it is a beautiful country - with lots of history to learn.
joe (eagan,mn)
This is such a cool column. We live in a spectacular country and relatively few of us get to see it. Ross and his family are making some long lasting memories and I'm glad he decided to tell us about them.
Rich (Connecticut)
Great column. Thank you Ross. Many years ago in the turbulent era know as ‘the sixties’, a friend and I set out to hitchhike across the country. We left Long Island and got as far as Colorado. A policeman threatened us with jail so we took a bus to our destination in San Francisco. Hard to think that we did something that is unimaginable in todays world.
Chris Edward (Nebraska)
When I was in my late teens and early 20's, we routinely filled a car with friends and headed someplace West, through the Great Plains, Rocky Mountains, the vast Southwestern deserts, Big Sky Montana to the shores of the Pacific Ocean. Our cars were anything but nice, but we didn't twice about driving them across country and back, which was part of the adventure. I am talking a 72 Nova with no air conditioning to the Grand Canyon and Vegas in August or an early 70's Grand Prix down Highway 1, all with poor gas mileage. The speed limit was 55 which made it take what seems like forever to get there. Now speed limits open up to 75 MPH West of the Missouri River and my Suburban can go over 500 miles on a tank of gas in relative comfort. There really are no speed limits on the interstate through Wyoming or Montana as long as you keep it reasonable. Nothing better than taking a driving vacation with family or friends. You get to know one another real well by spending days together in a confined space.
EFh (Louisville)
@Chris Edward The reason the speed limits were 55 is because Jimmy Carter was concerned about climate change in the 70s!!! Then Reagan was elected and he stripped Carter's solar collecters from the roof of the White House. Our children are already paying the price. Glacier National Park will have to change its name to Baldy Mountain National Park. Lake Mead, at Hoover Dam is running out of water and thousands of Pacific Islanders have become refugees due to the disappearance of their land. Meanwhile Europe burns and the GOP still refuses to admit that climate change even exists.
Jimmy (Michigan)
Nice. My appreciation for you has gone up. It still has a long way to go, but thanks for this article.
GP (Bloomfield Hills, Michigan)
We are not observers riding through life, we are participants. We are, as TR said a century ago, "in the Arena". "It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat." Teddy Roosevelt did more to conserve our natural wonders than any American president. A true conservationist, not a conservative.
joe (eagan,mn)
@GP What an inspiring quote. I love it!
brooklyn (nyc)
As a younger man I traveled all over America and recall its beauty, as so well described here. However, I now find, I can't separate the scenic spots from their inhabitants. I have no interest in spending money in states that elect a Cruz or Manchin or Hawley, the knowledge that most of the people who live in those places approve of these men and women is very off putting. So now our travel money is spent overseas where, at least, I don't know the languages and am not made upset by craven politicians.
Joe (Kansas)
@brooklyn I still like to visit NYC even though its the cradle of Donald, Rudy, Hannity and Tucker!
brooklyn (nyc)
@Joe Yes, but, of them, only Rudy was the favorite of the majority of New Yorkers. And now, I believe, he couldn't be elected to any office here.
theresa (ny)
@Joe If you knew anything about NYC you'd know Trump was always considered a crook and a laughingstock here. We didn't vote for him. Rudy had one good day after years of racist, antidemocratic actions that appealed to the worst in the outer boroughs. Neither of them represent the inclusivity that makes NYC great. A quick search shows that Hannity was born in NYC but grew up on Long Island. Tucker is from California.
Wyn Birkenthal (Brevard NC)
Most interesting facet of RD’s article is the range of comments it inspired from readers. For many commenters the beauty of the American West is tempered by political chasm, environmental degradation, personal cost constraints and foreboding about the land’s future. For others the grandeur of the scenery allows an escape from thinking about the above.
Jack (New York)
I have been in 47 states, most of them several times. Travel has helped me to appreciate where I live. Give me New England, don't give me Wyoming or Idaho or Indiana or Arizona or Florida or Georgia or Texas and on and on.
Phil (Peru, VT)
You got that right Jack!
jwgibbs (Cleveland, Ohio)
Great article! When I was 23, (1968), I set off for India as a Peace Corps volunteer. An incredible once-in-a-lifetime experience which I detailed in a book. During those two years I worked as an engineering consultant to small scale industries and actually helped an Indian start a roof coating company. But I was determined to see as much of India as possible knowing I would probably never return. So, at every opportunity to travel I wound up seeing Kashmir and the Himalayas, Goa, Madras (Chenai), Bombay (Mumbai) The Taj, of course! just about the entire country except for Calcutta and the east. I hardly traveled at all in the US but decided I had a lifetime to see the country. At age 70, still hadn't seen much of the west and hardly any of the National Parks, I took the next 5 years to do exactly that. I guess it's never too late to discover your own country. Another once-in-a-lifetime experience.
American Refugee (Stockholm/Palermo)
Yes, America has abundant beauty. But many people in the forbidden zone are outright hostile to anyone from the coasts. I’ve experienced it in traveling in Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky. I have no desire to see these places again except from 10000 meters!
Shelley Ashfield (Philadelphia, PA)
@American Refugee I am sorry for your loss. I'm originally from Western New York, whose inhabitants are treated by those in the Eastern half of the state as pariahs. This stung in my college years. Nevertheless, I learned to love Kentucky and Indiana, for that's where my ancestors were from. I learned to love Georgia and North Carolina, because that's where my sister settled and raised her family. And I learned to love three states on the East coast, for that is where my other sister and I settled, raised our families, and are welcoming grandchildren.
Johnny (New York)
@American Refugee I was going to write how nice it would be to take such a trip with my family. Helas, as a black man, I have to too many places in this beautiful land where my kind is not welcomed. It is a sad reality but that means I can only appreciate this beauty through the looking glass. I wish Mr. Douthat well and send pictures. ;-)
R (San Francisco)
@American Refugee Nonsense. It's the people on the coasts that are inhospitable. You probably tried to tell people how they were wrong in their views. Maybe they are, but a good guest doesn't criticize or proselytize the host.
risa mandell (ambler, pa)
point well-taken: spaciousness - nice; however, " a landscape filled with places that are made for travelers," no. see etymology of landscape. it's not made for us to view or to travel. it exists in its own right - regarding it as existing for our use is an axiomatic part of the problem that's contributed to climate change. no sense of relationship with the land in this well-meaning piece. rather what comes through is a sense of goal-driven, just driving through to get to our predestined destinations -
Shelley Ashfield (Philadelphia, PA)
@risa mandell nice catch of our author's Panglossian circular argument. But not every sentence ever written must be whipped into shape via the discipline of philosophical rigor. There's also room for poetry and mindless musing, especially on the long road trip.
Thick Brick (Glen Cove, NY)
I too have stood in open fields in western America and felt like I was the only person on the planet. In those moments this liberal knew what drives libertarians to their goal of each being the master of their own universe. Alone and in full control of even the smallest details of their lives. Total freedom. But to achieve that state of mind you have to forget about all the things that made your presence here possible. The interstate you road in on, the automobile factory and it’s workers, the clean bottle of water in your hand, and the electricity for that breakfast joint you ate in this morning. I could go on and on, but you get the point. It’s nice to visit and dream, but I always get back in my air conditioned rental car, and fly back to an imperfect NY, where life is real.
Thomas Renner (New York City)
I think Ross's observation about how different it really is as you travel from the costs into the heartland and back out again shows why our government is frozen in gridlock. We are a very different place with very different problems and wants however we try to fix our problems with one solution fits all because we have lost our will or ability to talk to and listen to people from different places, our ability to compromise.
Dave DiRoma (Baldwinsville)
As I type this, I’m sitting in a tent on Sunday morning getting ready to start the last day of an 8 day bicycle trip across New York State following the Erie Canal. Possibly the greatest gift my parents gave us was to travel across the U.S. when I was a kid. Dad was a city fireman and would aggregate his vacation every year so that we could load the family (2 adults, boys and occasionally the dog) in the station wagon, hook up the pop-up camper trailer and off we went. In 1966 we took an entire month and camped our way to California to see family. In 1969, we went to Yellowstone, just making it home a day or two before the moon landings. Dad was a depression kid who’s travel in early life had been various stops in the S. Pacific with the Marines during WW2. He wanted to see America and give us the opportunity to see it as well so to get the vacation days he would work double shifts, not take any vacation days except for the summer travel and always worked a past time job. We saw everything and, since interstate travel in the mid to late ‘60’s was less highland more by-way, we got a taste of American life that too few people get today. It’s truly a great country, once you turn off the screaming and bickering. Get out and see it.
I think the best way to see the U. S. Is to travel by train. Amtrak has some great scenic routes.
wkb (CaliforniaCoast)
I'll beg to differ. In the summer of 1989, my then girlfriend and I visited the national parks of southern Utah. Arches was my personal favorite. If you go the National Park Service web page for Arches, click on Plan Your Visit and scroll down just a bit, you'll see a great photo of the stunning Delicate Arch. You'll also see that there are about 50 people in the immediate vicinity. Quite a contrast to when we visited, when there was no one there at all. Now the NPS web page itself warns "Traffic congestion between March and October can quickly bring you back to reality. Bring your patience..." Get the enormous contrast to a place like NYC, but it and similarly the other national parks of the West ain't like they were. Oh and one other comment. You don't ever want to be close enough to a grizzly bear that you can see it ("...observed geysers and grizzlies in Yellowstone").
Carole (Virginia)
@wkb I was in Lake Tahoe several years ago . A friend and I took a short hike thru a wooded area near where we stayed on the south end of the lake. We saw some grizzlies across a stream full of salmon. I was a little concerned that they could easily bound across the stream and head toward us but she was not worried. They were intent on focusing on the salmon but I was happy to move on….
Joinery Piling Up (Charlottesville)
@Carole There are no grizzlies in Tahoe but there are black bears.
Liam (Lone Tree, CO)
@Carole Grizzlies have been extinct in Nevada and California for many decades. What you describe sounds a lot more like Alaska.
On a trip to Yosemite National Park this spring, the driver of the park shuttle we took back from our day of hiking gave us passengers a political rant over the PA system expressing disgust with the Biden administration and telling the busload of us to vote Republican this fall. Even in one of the most beautiful places in America, we couldn't escape the toxic politics of our nation.
veloman (Zurich)
In 1976, I was one of about 1,750 people who cycled the length of the newly inaugurated TransAmerica Bicycle Trail from Reedsport, Oregon to Williamsburg, Virginia. (I rode from east to west.) And experienced the vast openness and splendour of the U.S., as the commentators say, "up close and personal." It was a memorable experience. Yellowstone, crossing the Rockies, the vastness of eastern Colorado/western Kansas, the steep climbs and descents in the Appalachians. And the people. Much kindness, e.g., the famous "cookie lady" in Colorado who set out hundreds of cookies for rides passing by her remote farm. Leavened with a fair amount of hostility, e.g., the waitress in Missouri who sneeringly told me to "get a haircut" (it was the 70s). Or the (striking) coal truck drivers in Hazard, Kentucky who looked at us like we were alien invaders. Would I do it again today? While the landscapes are wonderful, probably not. Too many guns, too much tension. In fact, this fall I'll take a longish tour in Italy. While the scenery isn't quite as spectacular, I'll feel safer and more relaxed. Plus, the food is better!
Marco (Pasadena)
@veloman "The scenery isn't quite as spectacular" I doubt you'll repeat that once you'v really seen Italy.
ZecaRioca (GB)
The best way to really get to know America by car, is to travel cross-country avoiding the Interstate system.
Elizabeth (Portland, Maine)
@ZecaRioca And to do so by armchair travel, read Steinbeck's Travels with Charley or William Least Heat Moon's Blue Highways.
MJ (Northern California)
It’s wonderful that Mr. Douthat and his family are enjoying their Westward travels. If only he could convince his “conservative” friends now to actually conserve our public lands for the enjoyment of everyone, rather than working to drill and mine every last acre for the enrichment of a few.
barbara (santa cruz ca)
@MJ i wonder what the trip experience would be like for black, obviously homosexual or trans people would be. and as the 10yr old in ohio shows, i would not want to be pregnant in the red states if complications arose and end up dead like the woman in ireland.
Mic Fleming (Agios Nikolaos)
It’s a little disheartening to think that this is not only his kids’ first trip to the West, but perhaps also Mr. Douthat’s. For someone so confident in speaking his views, he seems to be taking a trip to see the sites but not the sights. Beautiful as it is, the West is not an alternate Disneyland for the kids, travel writers and western novel buffs. From my travels through these states, I am struck by two anomalies. The first is that in wide open spaces, wide open gun laws make perfect sense. If you fire a gun in Arizona, the most you might hit is a cactus. If you fire a gun outside Bozeman, the most you will hit is…nothing. But if you randomly fire a gun in Brooklyn, the odds are high you will hit any one of your neighbors. It would benefit us all if we could craft laws to meet these different circumstances. And perhaps Mr. Douthat will come to see that too on this trip. The second is the idea of freedom. People moved to these states to be free, to work their own land, to live their lives as they wanted. And yet, here we are with some of the most strident voices and laws designed to ensure “others” are excluded or forced to conform. In the context of Mr. Douthat’s rhapsody, I only hear dissonance and disconnect.
M. (Flagstaff, Arizona)
@Mic Fleming Hate to surprise you but there are millions of people in Arizona and not all of the state is full of cactii. Maybe it's time for you to take a drive out West
Mic Fleming (Agios Nikolaos)
@M. Arizona is a beautiful state and its (dense) population centers are vibrant. But I’ve driven several times between Flagstaff and Phoenix, and I’m pretty sure that on that stretch saguaros far outnumber people. But your point about a cheeky generalization is taken.
F. Emerson (Seattle)
I was born and raised in Europe but somehow, even as a young child, always found myself drawn to America. Watching Westerns like Bonanza or Big Valley back in the Sixties was mesmerizing to my impressionable mind and made me want to visit as soon as possible. When I finally had the chance to study at UC Berkeley in my twenties, I didn’t plan to stay beyond the four years needed for getting my degree. But in between semesters I traveled extensively to other parts of the country, along both coasts, and also to the Heartland and most of the National Parks. It was the beginning of a great love affair with America that still endures undiminished today, more than forty years later. Unplanned as it initially was, I ended up spending my life here, first as a permanent resident and later a citizen, all of which I always considered a great privilege and good fortune. The great outdoors are still my favorite destinations, Alaska, Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, and, of course, California and the Pacific coast from where I started. All those sights still manage to take my breath away. As I said, a great love affair.
ASPruyn (California - Somewhere left of Center)
I used to take a week or two long motorcycle trips, by myself, each summer, usually with some big theme or destination, like from the SF Bay Area to Mount Rushmore, coming back via the Lewis and Clark trail, or exploring backroads in the Pacific Northwest, or getting as close as possible to the four corners of California, including riding every single mile of The Pacific Coast Highway. One trip I took, the theme was interesting physical areas (Yosemite, Death Valley, the Grand Canyon, the Great Meteor Crater, and White Sands). You get closer to the landscape on a motorcycle and the solitude on the road gives you lots of time to think. And, solo riding makes you appreciate the small human interactions that occur when you stop. I can recall hearing from one person that the US is about the size of Continental Europe, yet it has less than half the people, so there are a lot of open vistas and isolated towns to see, something I had never put together. But, with climate change and the increased heat in summer (and bad knees), those days are behind me. But they produced a lot of vivid memories.
michjas (Phoenix)
The cross country drive is a tradition for those back East, who make rookie mistakes. Glacier National Park is always pretty much closed until late June because it’s snowed in and the main park road hasn’t been plowed yet. Mr. Douthat apparently didn’t know that. He should have known better. Much less known are the cross country drives of us Westerners. I drove into Times Square. It was an honest mistake. I’ve been imprisoned for life, convicted of terrorism. I guess I should have known better.
Robert (Germany)
Nice piece, Ross. The United States, for all its flaws, is a vast land of beautiful and varied landscapes. Europeans marvel over its size and beauty, and romanticize about what your and your family are doing right now: a road trip. Travel and meeting different people of different cultures is the best way to expand a person's understanding of the world. There's plenty of information to be found online, and arm-chair travelling with a book is great way to beat the winter blues. But nothing beats seeing new things up close with your own eyes. When living in the United States and asked by my Facebook-fixated co-workers how I would be spending my vacation, I would jokingly answer, 'with reality reality.' Safe travels, Ross, and enjoy your summer.
Robert Berman (San Diego)
@Robert Nothing beats a hot coffee, clean windshield, a full tank of gas, and all week to get there. You said it so eloquently Ross Bob Berman San Diego
Larry Darwin (Lancaster, PA)
Ross, you have to be in denial about what is really happening in America to write such a fanciful column about the "wide open spaces" that are changing in front of our eyes. The people who dominate politics in those rural states are the ones responsible for the GOPs power, because they are the beneficiaries of our political system in which representation in the controlling Senate is unrelated to population. So it's ironic that the GOP is responsible for our inability to deal with the changes in those rural areas that climate change is causing - drought, fire, heat that withers crops, etc.
@Larry Darwin And vast regions of poverty, dead and dying towns, and fast food (and increasingly 3 or 4 brands sharing one faded pre-fab building). When my daughter sprained her ankle in western Nebraska, we had to drive 150 miles to find an urgent care with an x-ray. Since my 1st cross country road trip in 1989 to my most recent in 2019, the western and Midwestern states have become truly depressing. My kids and I kept off the Interstate and away from tourist traps (except for nat’l parks), as I have done three previous trips, and it was just stunning to see such huge swaths of blight and extinction. You know what we saw? Shuttered Walmarts and “Sam’s Clubs.” I remember in 1989 seeing them pop up all over, and as a native of a small Iowa farm town, the locals worried that Walmart was going to kill a lot of small businesses. Now the cycle is coming full circle. They sucked towns dry until there was nothing left. They didn’t even bother to pack up before they left — they just abandoned the buildings and added one more thing to decay. In northwest OK, we saw one parking full of battered RVs and tents, and it wasn’t for a local Burning Man festival. I think red states want people to move out. Because it’ll keep them red forever, and they have a permanent Senate majority. Sorry didn’t mean to hijack your comment, which cut right to the point. The Heartland is gone. Blue states ain’t perfect, but we saw the GOP’s vision for America, and it was awful.
Jared (Vt)
@Larry Darwin What a sour comment! Rather than share the celebration of a family road trip, the commenter can’t resist complaining about a feature of our Constitution that has existed for 250 years. It was designed that way for a reason and it isn’t going to change. And every time I read comments like this, I am glad it won’t.
@Jared It makes you happy to have 34% of the population overruling the will of the majority? You’re okay with 66% of Americans being taxed without entirely proportional representation? How on earth is that democracy? Good ideas in 1776 included legalized forced labor imposed upon people kidnapped from another continent, and then raped, tortured, and worked to death. Good idea? Did it ever occur to you that the white male landowners who created the Bill of Rights for white male landowners might have created a few other ideas that need updating?
Sally (WA)
I have always loved road trips and driving. After retirement I have had the pleasure and privilege of driving more than 40,000 miles through all 50 states. Admittedly, money was not an issue, but it was money I worked hard for and chose to spend in this way. There are all the "big" experiences and they have that tag for a reason. But the unexpected small adventures are the seasonings I treasure. I try to remember each time I set out how lucky I am to live in a country where one state flows into another and no one checks my papers at the border. Spectacular natural beauty abounds. Thanks to family members who tracked down our ancestors, I have been able to visit graves of many of them. They were an adventurous lot, from tallgrass prairie farmers to ranchers in Montana to sawmill operators in New Mexico to gold hunters in California. They were brave and, at age 80, an inspiration to me. I am busily planning another trip in September. COVID was another lesson-don't wait.
Rocket (Cupertino, CA)
I live in Silicon Valley, 2 mi from Apple's space ship campus. Within a 5 mi radius I have so many choices of wide open spaces preserved by my Californian predecessors that I have not yet explored them all in the 10 yrs I have lived here. It ranges from wide open slopes of Santa Cruz mountains to Redwood Groves to marshlands of San Francisco Bay. This belies the "crowded spaces on the coast" myth. I'm eternally grateful for their foresight and generosity. Protecting so much of the land from development does create tremendous pressure in housing, no doubt. I believe we are slowly tacking that too without losing our strong heritage of preservation. I was a California skeptic when I move here but I have come embrace it even though we face incredible challenges. When so many people take digs at you we must be doing something right. I'm not sorry say Cody cannot be "Californiaed". They can stay Cody in Cody.
Robert Greer (Denver)
@Rocket Legalizing height in already-developed neighborhoods can preserve those wild spaces while also creating the urban density that the IPCC says is necessary for low-carbon cities.
@Rocket It sounds like you have plenty to keep you busy, but if you ever have a chance to head south, check out the Channel Islands National Park. These islands used to be cattle ranches and military bases, they’re surrounded by oil platforms, and only 30 miles off SoCal’s “crowded” urban hellscape, but somehow they have reverted back to such incredible beauty it’s hard to believe they aren’t overrun with yoga retreats and golf courses. There isn’t even a gift shop! The Channel Islands National Park is SoCal’s best kept secret (and the least visited national park in the continental US, so no traffic jams to get in), but I don’t mind sharing with a Bay Area resident.
Kevin (Connecticut)
Was privileged to take a very similar trip last year. I've flown all over the country for years (and spent a lot of time on 5 continents)... but I fully relate to the sentiment that driving the miles and absorbing the cross-country US landscape is an unmatched experience. That said, I do not agree that online life is "quite real." In fact it is the anonymity of online life and utter lack of accountability to one's words, claims or convictions that has plundered all manner of respect, integrity, decency, morality, civility, and trust. It is this exact medium that created the enabling environment for our last President to spew and cultivate hatred, misogyny, sexism, racism and xenophobia whilst so many conservative Republicans sat idly by.... the online world allowing them to be complicit through their inaction. Online life is not real. But the consequences most certainly are. As a laboratory for propagating ignorance and fear to drive a conservative agenda that undermines democracy, public safety, climate response, inclusiveness, women's rights, public health and the future of the country, online life has rapidly driven the kind of damage that is seldom the product of America "in person."
Gary V (Oakland, CA)
Ross Douthat, this is great stuff! unless you avoid the locals and stick to your preconceived notions about the rest of the country beyond NYC and Washington. I drove with my sister and her children from Jackson, Wy to the Yellowstone Park but got waylaid by snowstorms. I had to make a loop via Idaho for the West entrance. We saw not one person the entire trip of maybe 2/3 hours. For a San Franciscan at that time and family from India with a teeming population it seemed as if a "bomb" had gone off and decimated the countryside. Inside the park we toyed with going to Gardiner, Montana on our northern loop and gave it up. Amateur conclusion, that entire area, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho from that trip to add to Utah and from later business trips to Nebraska and South Dakota are thinly populated country. Most likely never equaled anywhere except Russia. Why are these people complaining about overpopulation and get worked up over immigration, legal or otherwise?
PagingDrHoward (Boston)
Uh, racism?
Bob (Evanston, IL)
In the past 51 years, I have driven my five automobiles (got my sixth this year) over the entire country, except for the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Arkansas). Each trip fills me with awe as to the wonderful and beautiful country we have.
Weatherist (Neither Here Nor There)
The year I graduated high school in Connecticut we did the drive to Wyoming - first time I had seen Casper since I boarded a train east when I wasn't yet three years old. Growing up in New England I could travel to four states in one day. Driving across country past soybeans and corn, mile upon mile, brought a terrible realization that the faraway horizon beckoned with nothing between us. This flat lonely midlands stretched farther than my young mind could fathom. The flyover lands, so empty seeming. I have thrived on both coasts, more than twenty years on each. And now find myself mid-America in the land of flag waving and proseletizing. Lucky am I to have known more than this.
Ampleforth (Airstrip One)
I have had the blessing of sleeping in probably 46 out of the 50 states, and living in several for a year or more, including in the Deep South. You really get an appreciation for the vastness of our nation, all the compromises that had to be made to make a nation, and what a special mission we have to bring liberty to the world. Oddly, among those who can afford to travel, I would say that in general my conservative friends have traveled more in America as adults than my liberal ones.
Edward B. Blau (Wisconsin)
Ross, it amazes me how many people on the East coast who consider themselves learned and sophisticated have never taken a road trip West or South. When I was a toddler during WW2 until I was in the seventh grade my family drove every year from KY to FL where we spent a few weeks in housekeeping motels. When I was old enough to drive my friends and I drove from KY to FL, upstate NY, NYC, Montreal, Washington, DC and I drove my friend to start at West Point. I drove back and forth to St Louis, first to visit a girlfriend and then to medical school. The list goes on. We made multiple road trips to fly fish in MT, ID, WY, and Alberta. The point is to know a country and its people you have to actually drive there and spend time there. Go safely,
fritz (Morgantown, WV)
I have a problem with the wording of the words I do not want the words of California here. I am a usaf brat. I have lived all around the states. And I have lived in California for 30 years. And I loved living there. And I have traveled around the West for many years. I think we should all see the reason for us all to see the reason for us all to be in one government.
Gordon Drake (Chapel Hill, NC)
I have traveled our Nation many times East to West and North to South. I have often proudly stated that I have driven every major Interstate from coast to coast, many of them several times. I plan to keep on doing it for as long as I can manage it. That being said, the landscape has changed. There is a different feeling in a small midwest town when you pull into a local parking lot with an "old" Obama sticker on your bumper. It is a sad state of our Nation that the friendliness has diminished in this way. I will keep traveling the roads but without the bumper stickers.
Ann Onymous (The Untied Status of America)
"Seeing America gives you hope for America." That's just it, Mr. Douthat. Some of us Americans can't see America anymore. It's not safe for us. My partner and I had a grand time over 10 years ago, hitting many of the sites you mentioned. It was a different time. People weren't mean and ugly. We had many adventures and misadventures occasionally requiring the kind help of perfect strangers, and we met a lot of wonderful people from all corners of society. We could not take that same trip today. I'm transgender, and we're a same-sex couple. To get from here to the West Coast, we would have to cross some deeply red states, and we're not willing to do that in anything other than an airplane anymore. I guess I don't have the same sort of privilege that gives me hope for America. However, I wish you and your family a wonderful trip.
Notjustmary (Silver Spring MD)
My wife and I are two-fers -- a bi-racial same-sex couple. We'd looked forward to traveling the country in retirement, but a drive to Florida from WDC last December, passing Confederate flags, gun-racked pickups with Trump 2024 bumper stickers, and being glared at for wearing masks at gas stations -- we are now sadly resigned to staying at home -- or maybe traveling coast to coast in Canada.
Peter (Chicago)
The problem with Western nations, any nation anywhere, is rarely with the geography, but obviously the people. This always comes to mind when I read Italian, French, English, Scottish, Irish, Spanish history. Germany is supposedly one of the most beautiful of European nations. That is somehow fitting.
lamack (Kentucky)
When I was young we drove from Kentucky every summer to Richland WA. Illinois, Kansas, Wyoming, Montana, a tiny bit of Idaho. My father drove long and hard to get there - stops were infrequent and all I saw were clouds. As an adult in my 40s I took up road tripping, until the pandemic. summer of 2019 I did a few days in Cleveland, then a few days in Topeka, because I never really saw KS as a kid. Then I drove south along the KS MO border, found a small KS town with a small but amazing mining museum and the best chocolate chip cookies anywhere. Reports of hurricane remnants made me decide not to return home but turn tail and head to Tulsa, to the Woody Guthrie Center, to Pawhuska. I stayed in Catoosa. I found myself driving Rte 66 in both KS and OK. The previous summer I drove through Iowa, Cedar Rapids, Decorah, amazing Scandinavian culture museums, eastern SD, Sioux Falls with that amazing park, the incredible sight of a prairie storm at a distance, the little towns in SD and MN along 14, ending up in Minneapolis and the mill museum - the trail of wheat in the northern US, the demand for wheat, the destination of wheat. I have taken similar trips over the years. I enjoy the road, the driving, the freedom to stop, turn around, extend the trip, take an exit because there is a sign for a small history or special topics museum. Small museums tend to have limited hours, typically Th-Sat, sometimes Sun - but if you can catch them I strongly recommend them.
Michael H (Alameda, Ca)
I'm heading for Yosemite in the morning for a week of volunteer trail maintenance. There are good people throughout this country, many of them living vastly different lives. Lots of people own lots of guns in Mariposa and surrounding counties, but they rarely kill anyone. Mass shooters always seem to be young white men, with a horrible grudge. But all the mass shootings in this country add up to the same number of gun homicides in just Baltimore and Chicago so far this year, mostly not by white men. And more than half the gun deaths are suicides, mostly older white men. I love living in the Bay Area. I love backpacking and the people who live in rural areas. We want and need different things. It's hard to reconcile, but not everyone who disagrees with me is evil, or even wrong. We need to be more willing to discuss the nuance of many of our problems.
gw (usa)
@Michael H - thank you. I'm a hiker too, and often out in the rural areas of my red state. Wherever I've gone, rural people have been kind, warm, open, down-to-earth, friendly. I understand their attachment to the land, and admire their self-reliance, their ability to fix things, make things, grow things. They tend to be resourceful, frugal, not big consumers. They recycle but consider it just practicality. If the grid ever came down, these people would be the survivors. I think what rural people want most is just to feel heard and respected. Many years of missed opportunities have landed them in the clutches of Trump and his ilk. Even still, I don't hate them. I just wish urban and rural could switch places now and then, go see how each other lives. I think it could be edifying for both, and perhaps both would develop tolerance, understanding and empathy. But even Ross does not mention the people in the places inbetween. Without seeing them, I don't know if one has really seen America.
MAB (Virginia)
@Michael H lovely comment. While the Virginia Tech, Parkland and Uvalde mass shooters were not white men , they were typical of school shooters young men.
Someone (Somewhere)
@Michael H Hope the Washburn fire is under control. Yosemite is a treasure.
I love road trips. Growing up, my mom would put the three kids into our car drive from PA to TX, her home state, to visit family. (My dad had to work). Much of this was before the Interstate system was completed. I saw so much of the country and learned a lot. I always considered myself so lucky not to spend our two to three week vacations stuck at the Jersey Shore. That sense of travel and adventure has stuck with me through my life. I have been willing to pull up stakes and move to new opportunities. I am proud to have friends and family throughout the US and not all concentrated in large coastal cities. This summer we will be taking our grandson on the train from Minneapolis to Seattle (with a stop in Glacier). It will be different from a road trip, but will be an adventure and a way for him to see the wonderful vast landscapes of the American West.
Thomas (Galveston, Texas)
I agree. America is beautiful. But a lot of Americans can't go visit all these wonderful places you are enjoying Ross. They are scared they may not be able to "breathe" there.
American in London (London, UK)
I've crossed America twice, by bicycle, solo. The West is geographically awe-inspiring. And in my travels, the people in the rural West (and East for that matter) were uniformly kind and considerate. But I saw too many "Don't Tread on Me, Keep Your Hands Off My AK-47, White Power is OK" flags to suggest it's just a fringe. In many of the smaller towns, the major point of economic activity is a Dollar General store. In many of the farming communities, all I saw was an old white guy on a tractor because none of the kids want to go into farming - too hard. And Ross, why the jab at Californians? You conservatives love to complain about California and question why anyone would want to live there - then you complain when they move to your idyllic conservative states and demand those elitist things like funding for education, vaccinations, public services, etc. By the way, California has some of the most amazing National and State Parks in the country. But I'm glad you enjoyed your trip.
wryawry (the foothills of the headlands)
@American in London That’s what RD does. He jabs at things.
chris (louisiana)
On a road trip west through eastern California we saw, along with beautiful scenery and windmills, Owens Lake and the Salton Sea. Which could be future visions of what now should properly be called “The Very Good Salt Lake.”
K (Denver)
It sounds like his nice wife and none of his kids currently risk pregnancy complications in any of those states, because can you imagine ending up in a red-state hospital where you need emergency reproductive care? I grew up in one of those beautiful states and we left our vacation visiting family early a couple of weeks ago, because a trigger ban was signed and I am currently pregnant. It’s safer to stay home in case anything goes wrong.
Robert Roth (NYC)
@K Wishing you the very best.
A. Stanton (Dallas, TX)
I once lived in Massachusetts, close to a park where there is a small monument dedicated to the memory of a young Marine who dropped on a hand grenade at Iwo Jima to save the lives of his fellow Marines. He received a Congressional Medal of Honor for doing it. The dog in the picture here and I used to visit there on our walks, say the Shema prayer and a Kaddish and read some poem or passage from a book aloud that we thought he might like to hear. One passage that we read frequently was the famous one from the last page of "The Great Gatsby." “And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby's wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy's dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night. Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning — So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” The important service that dead heroes render to us is teaching us how we might act if we were heroes ourselves.
John Grillo (Edgewater, MD)
Yes, many of the places mentioned in this piece possess unique and absolutely spectacular natural beauty. It’s the dismal, dark nature of their extreme, exclusionary, and basically cruel politics, however, which is a complete turnoff to ever visiting them at ground level. Observing such beauty at 40,000 feet is quite sufficient, thank you.
Mensch (USA)
I’m deep into my sixties, but have vivid memories of our own family cross country trip when I was nine. I appreciate your observations, Ross, and also your insightful views on today’s America, both virtual and real. Good travels!
J Hagen (Sacramento)
Thanks for the story Ross. I did the same thing with my family as a child many years ago. Still remember the motels. Still remember the greasy diners all over the US. For me and my sister it was heaven. Hamburgers and ice cream on a daily basis, new places and an ever changing landscape. But ready Mary's comment below. She doesn't like "the space between" in America. She'd rather get on a jet and fly from New York to LA and walk around the city, oblivious to the thousands of miles of mountains, farmland, manufacturing plants, small towns, and oddities that make up this country. This is our challenge, Ross. People like Mary don't appreciate how great this country is today. They want to change it and make it a place where the middle of America just disappears. That's why we need you writing to speak for us all. All of us Republicans I mean. Keep up the good work!
Charles Becker (Politically nonbinary)
@J Hagen, Perfectly said, every word of it. There is something about moving through the landscape ... by every sebse being IN the landscape ... that resonates with the primitive human soul. Walking on concrete from building to building is not the same experience.
Ann Onymous (The Untied Status of America)
@J Hagen Or maybe we don't feel safe. Or maybe we don't want to support red states with our dollars. Red America used to be a great place to visit before the people and the laws got so mean and cruel.
Tristram Shandy (AZ)
I can’t figure out whether your penultimate paragraph was meant as a joke.
George S (Sunny Florida)
My high school assigned 'Travels with Charley' among many other books to read before we began our freshman year way back when. It was the beginning of so much including 4 cross country drives and 4 long freighter trips. There is no substitute for getting out there.
Maxine Vandate (USA)
My experience of travel in the US is that the landscape is can be very beautiful but that the food is uniformly awful. I formed the same impression of the landscape in Europe, but an entirely different opinion of the local food.
Mary (New Jersey)
I don’t like road trips. You spend too much time sitting in a car waiting to get some where. The driver has to be alert at all times and the passenger gets to look at a lot of highways. I would rather go to one place, preferably a city, drop my bags and walk all over and see the sights.
Steve Ziman (San Rafael California)
Yes, it's really an eye opener for those who live in the large metro areas to see the west, especially our national parks. But even more of an eye opener is to stop in the small towns and talk to the locals, especially if you are from the big blue metro areas. You can learn that you have lots in common, even if you voted for different candidates last election. And while you are at it, don't just do this in the US. Take your kids to Europe or Asia and let them experience different cultures, especially those which are not so center on the importance of the individual. That is an eye opener. Too bad many of our senators and representatives haven't done that, save perhaps for junkets. Might make them understand the world better
David L, Jr. (Jackson, MS)
@Steve Ziman The fact that these cultures don't center the individual is often a bad thing. When group-identity grows at the expensive of the particular person, he or she gets subsumed/erased. In a society like ours, with its diversity, centering the individual is necessary, even if it's sometimes a facade. Without it, we return to the primal pull within us to identify solely with those who look like us. In an attempt to open people to new ways, what is often learned is that other cultures have superiority complexes. The criticism of self-centeredness is perhaps least applicable to the neurotic West. No culture can be everything to everyone. Freud talks about this in "Civilization and its Discontents": "It is not easy for men to give up the inclination to aggression. They do not feel comfortable without it. The advantage which a comparatively small cultural group offers of allowing this instinct an outlet in the form of hostility against intruders is not to be despised. It is always possible to bind together a considerable number of people in love, so long as there are others left over to receive the manifestations of their aggressiveness." The Woke hold that liberal individualism is a mask for the perpetuation of white supremacy through the civil-rights status quo. In this framing, equality-before-the-law is a recipe for inequity and only equity (equal outcomes) is worthy of our effort. https://www.commentary.org/articles/tal-fortgang/equality-over-social-justice-equity/
poodlefree (Seattle)
I feel compelled to add my two cents. In 1976, at the age of 29, I packed my Volkswagen van and drove west, out of Ohio to Missoula, Montana, the one blue dot in the entire state. It was the the most important and potent move I have ever made. Almost instantaneously, I was engulfed in a new cathedral, a landscape that stamped out any residual contaminants from organized religion. Quickly, the carpenter became the writer, highly politicized. After a year, I moved to a 12x12 cabin on the Blackfoot River where I spent six years as a minimalist in paradise, fly-fishing on summer evenings, hiking in the Mission Range with friends, picking apples in central Washington. In Missoula, Montana, life became an adventure among like-minded, creative, politically engaged and courageous men and women who are lovers of the outdoors and lovers of the truth.
Claire (Boulder, CO)
It's funny but for a western native, I might be a little annoyed if there were 20 other visitors at Devil's Tower.
Neel Krishnan (Brooklyn, NY)
You can travel to quieter parts of the virtual America the same way you can travel to Montana.
Nancy B (Philadelphia)
The American West is breath-taking, that's true. But if you have observed firsthand how conditions in the West have changed in the last 40 or 50 years, it isn't a source of inspiration but of political depression. I grew up in Salt Lake City and spent all of my summers in northwestern Montana. But returning there now from the East is an exercise in heartbreak. My hometown of Salt Lake City faces an existential crisis because toxic minerals are being dispersed as the Great Salt Lake dries up. (See the recent NYT story on this emergency.) After decades of joyous outdoor living, my recent summers in the Flathead Lake area of Montana have meant coping with so much smoke from wildfires that we had to cancel many hikes and frequently stay indoors. As a young person I made yearly visits to see the glaciers in Montana's Glacier National Park. But because these glaciers are rapidly disappearing, when I brought my children to the Park there was an overwhelming elegiac feeling: witness this now because it won't be here in 10 or 15 years. I'd be very happy if these landscapes promised "reinvention" and a shared love of wildness. But mostly what I see are tragic and inevitable losses because America is so divided that it can no longer act to protect its own communities and wild beauty.
GBR (The Northeast)
It’s fun and exhilarating to explore our beautiful country and all it has to offer in terms of geography, geology, culture, food and .... diverse state laws! How freeing it is to hit the road and .....cross state lines! I wonder how much longer that ability will last for Americans of .... a specific demographic group ( i.e. reproductive age females)?
Rajashekhar Patre (Bangalore, India)
@GBR America is endowed with natural and geologic wonders which needs to be explored to get a sense what a large and diverse country America is. Luckily, some American presidents like Theodore Roosevelt who loved the outdoors recognised the beauty and uniqueness of the land and thereby created the National parks for the enjoyment for the generation of Americans. Most of these majestic parks are in the western parts of the United States and these can be accessed easily by great highways criss crossing the vast land. By taking road trips with families is a wonderful experience to be away from the daily grind of life in cities. These trips certainly cleanse the souls of travellers and uplift their spirits as they savour the beauty of nature and the wild places of the country..
Natalie (PA)
This article is about a road trip… give it a rest
MLG (California)
@GBR It's already happening. Witness the pregnant woman here who has commented that she cut her vacation short because the state she was visiting was a trigger state that pivoted as soon as Roe was overturned. "Better to be pregnant safely at home." Btw, I think only human females are affected by these new laws.
See also