From the first moment I received my driver's license when I was a 16-year-old kid in Southern California, the back roads were calling me. Perhaps that was because of the city life, or perhaps I longed to be free from the congestion of L.A. traffic. One thing was sure, once I took off for my first exploration of the Mojave desert, I always tried to avoid Interstates and major highways.
Now, freeways do have a great purpose -- they get you from point A to point B in the fastest time possible, even if some of that time is spent in bumper-to-bumper traffic. On a long trip, to completely avoid Interstates may add days to the journey, maybe not a problem if you are retired but definitely a consideration if just on vacation. You can always count on gas stations, truck stops and fast food, not to mention bathrooms, along a freeway or highway, not so much on the less-traveled roads. However, on the freeways, what you miss!
Dictionary.com defines a back road as "a little-used secondary road, especially one through a rural or sparsely populated area." The "rural" part is what makes it fun. From forest roads of Colorado to country hamlets of Upstate New York, to Texas' narrow "farm-to-market" routes to Oregon's scenic coastal byways, the pure pleasure of seeing nature, wildlife, country living, farmland and quaint Main Streets is totally absent from a jaunt on I-70 or I-95.
Certainly half the fun of parking our fifth wheel in a new (for us) region of the country, even during the pandemic's "stay-in-place" orders, is exploring from our truck without any destination in mind (we often self-quarantine in the pickup), and our satellite navigation system almost completely insures we won't get lost. The quirky "World's Largest" items in rural towns, the awe-inspiring fields of kinetic sculptures, the pure majesty of a redwood forest or a rugged coastline, the jaw-dropping views of the tallest jagged peaks, or a thunderstorm you can see fifty miles away, all of these things are experiences most likely missed on an Interstate highway. I take most of my photos of landscapes, wildlife, wildflowers and interesting rural scenes on these expeditions on back roads.
Something interesting to do, which we plan on attempting in the future, is to take US Routes 66 and 20 from end to end. The famous Route 66 was one of the original highways in the U.S. Highway System and begins and ends in Santa Monica, CA, to the west and Chicago, IL, to the north. Most of us have been on parts of this historic highway already, but few have taken it from start to finish. Likewise, Route 20 is truly coast-to-coast, spanning 3,365 miles with endpoints in Boston, MA, and Newport, OR. Our living in Western New York gave us glimpses of this rural highway and we saw much of the western portion when we camped in Oregon last year. Both of these routes have been usurped in some sections by freeway, and it can be quite a task to try to stay on the original routes as much as possible, but even that can be fun (if you like maps and navigation).
I received several great comments about back roads and here are some of them (I've edited or paraphrased some):
Sonny and Linda- We drive on anything but Interstates. I am retired and I am in no hurry.
Denster- I like the back roads. So much to discover, explore and enjoy at a nice easy pace.
RicU- I used to ride motorcycles. Back roads are more fun for sure.
Nadyne H.- I really enjoy the backroads we've gone on. I admit that some of them have caused me some angst, but ultimately I'm happy that we've done it. There's certainly more to see, places we'd never have seen if we stuck only to the paved roads. I grew up with a father who always had a 4-wheel-drive vehicle and took great joy in the roads less traveled. He even enjoyed making his own backroads!
Ayub B.- Back Roads bring forth melancholous thoughts, a mysterious feeling of being in harmony with the surroundings, as if this is where we had originally come from!
David V.- I love to see what's there and where it takes you!
Canadian Hellie- I love riding the back roads for the nature, the slower pace, less traffic and more things to view and to discover. But, at this moment; it's to relocate a groundhog. This is the second one and we have also relocated a skunk. Critters; they love it here.
BLSMSS- Back roads were where I learned how to drive as well as teaching my kids to drive. No traffic, had to go slow due to dust. Also loved to find beautiful flowers like Blackeyed Susan’s. The smell of the trees, such as pines and nature in general. Just calm and relaxing.
Al G.- I love riding the back roads and 4X4 roads, especially in Colorado. My last off-roading was near Tin Cup, if I remember correctly.
Tom & Trish- Off the beaten path, dirt roads are a complicated mixed emotions for me. June 10th is my mother's birthday. She would have turned 90 this year. The reason I bring her up is because of an eight-mile stretch of well-graded dirt road we lived on in the Ozarks when I was growing up. One of 22 places we called home in 6 states by the time I turned 16. That dirt road cut through a 300-acre farm in Sheepskin Valley. Our nearest neighbors were an elderly couple a mile down the dirt road, back toward the blacktop, town and school. You could sit on the porch on a cool, calm evening and listen to the conversation they were having a mile away. We were the last house on the school bus route, the party line phone, and electric. I think of that 8-mile stretch as an impenetrable barrier to the outside world, often impassable after heavy rains or winter ice storms. It separated me from my friends. In turn that 8-mile batch of dirt brought me and my family to one of the most pristine places I've lived or visited. And I've visited most of the lower 48 states and Puerto Rico. So now when I see a dirt road leading off the blacktop I wonder where does that lead? Who lives down that road? What's down that dirt path to explore, discover, be amazed by? And happy birthday, Mom. I know you hated that unforgiving dirt road you wrecked the beautiful '57 Buick wagon on -- the one dad used to haul the little travel trailer behind -- to escape down that 8-mile stretch of dirt road, out to another world, a world I wished we explored more when I was growing up.
Pat M. S.- Your blog photos prove that you can't get "lost" when you have a full tank of gas. I adore driving on back roads. Nature and wildlife abound on back roads.
My ending quote for this topic comes from Down Under, where Australian writer Robyn Davidson said, "By taking to the road, we free ourselves of baggage, both physical and psychological. We walk back to our original condition, to our best selves."
Jack Huber is a writer, blogger, poet and photographer. Like many, he is concerned about the psyche of our planet's inhabitants and wants to try to improve his little corner of it.