When I was a child, my family camped its way across the United States, from New York to the West, three times. Ostensibly, we were going to visit one of my uncles and his family, who lived in Montana, up near the Canadian border not too far from Glacier National Park. In reality, though, we were seeing the country, and in particular its National and State Parks. Every morning we would rise from our sleeping bags and break camp, folding the tents slowly, in stages, to allow the newly exposed parts of the bases to dry in the rising sun, before cramming ourselves and all our gear into the car and traveling toward our next destination.
One trip we drove across southern Canada – in my memory we spent days traveling along the northern shore of Lake Superior, although that’s probably because it blends in my mind with Lake Ontario and Lake Huron, which we also would have driven along. Another year we took a shorter trip to the coast of Maine before our longer trip which took us all the way to San Francisco so that we were able to touch the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans within one month.
By the time I graduated from high school I had visited Yellowstone National Park three times, but had never been to Florida and its theme parks. To a large extent this was indicative of the importance my parents placed on the natural world. It could be argued that it was also indicative of their finances and economic status – entrance fees to those theme parks were expensive for a family with multiple kids, even then. However, I think it is more accurately seen as a sign of their priorities – it can’t have been cheap to drive across the country, even using the cost-cutting measures they did (we seldom, if ever, ate at restaurants, and we stayed at tent campgrounds rather than motels). But those trips lasted three to four weeks, encompassed thousands of miles in gas, and involved entrance fees to many, many National and State Parks.
I loved how diverse the country was – the red rocks of Mesa Verde were like a different planet from the high peaks of the Tetons. Bar Harbor and San Francisco shared rocky coastlines and fog, but little else. Even the Great Plains states were each unique – the grasslands of North Dakota, the cornfields of Oklahoma, and the Badlands of South Dakota. And all of them were different from upstate New York, with its juxtaposition of mountains and small farms and factories.
That love of place is what I’m searching for in my book choices – books that don’t just take place in a particular state, but that could not take place anywhere else.