Even today it is
easy to see why the Eastern stretch of the old National Road pushed across the
country the way it did. The Appalachian terrain, the Potomac River gorge, the
vegetative cover and roll of the land dictated the route. Along Route 40 and
other older highways there is usually the same strong sense of imperative
location. You look around at cliffs and defiles, heavy forests, swamps and deep
rivers or their remnants and know why the road is where it is, why it has more
or less always been there.
different when one rolls westward out of the wood- and wetlands and onto the
great flats and plains. Here, so far as travel was concerned, one place was
about as convenient as another to walk, ride or drive a wagon. Even in the
Rockies much the same situation prevailed. The Western mountains are much
higher than Eastern ones but they are pierced by broad, relatively easy passes.
South Pass, for one, the historic point where Oregon-bound emigrant trains
crossed the Rockies, is a rolling, grassy gap. Many of the early travelers,
accustomed to the difficult and precipitous gorges of the Appalachians,
remarked with surprise and pleasure on the gentleness of South Pass.
By the 1850s
there were a number of Western pathways suitable for use by wheeled vehicles.
They were generally called trails rather than roads, however, and they were not
built—they were simply found and marked. A trapper, trader or scout would ride
off in some direction; if the way he went seemed convenient (water, forage and
the mood of native tribesmen were usually the critical factors), others would
follow, erect a few markers and create a trail.
At times Route 40
follows some of the historic paths of the West that evolved in this free-form,
even capricious, way. Here and there driving west on Route 40, a motorist is
traveling over parts of such trails—Boone's, Santa Fe, Oregon, Fr�mont's, Joe
Walker's, Humboldt, Donner's—but in general the association is hazy and
tenuous. Again a comparison with the East comes to mind: Route 40, or the newer
interstate nearby, more or less has to follow the path of the old National Road
because of still prevailing topographical imperatives. But it is more or less
coincidence that as it leaves Kansas and heads toward Denver, 40 picks up a bit
of Fr�mont's Oregon trail. Across that plain, John Charles Fr�mont,
topographical engineer and U.S. pathfinder, could follow any straight line that
caught the fancy.
All of which
accounts in part for the fact that Western roads have a feeling of looseness.
Concrete and asphalt have hardened things a bit, but there is still a sense
that the particular route one follows is not all that important, that one could
just as well be someplace else under the horizon, traveling the same kind of
road in the same direction.
NATIONAL PARK, COLO.
parks serve as vacation sites and recreation centers for some 150 million
Americans each year—and working in the parks or for the National Forest Service
has long struck the young as the most desirable of all summer jobs.
Applications for seasonal work with these out-of-doors agencies always
outnumber available jobs by more than a hundred to one.
Maura Hennessy, a
college student from Eureka, Calif., is one of the lucky ones. After making 50
applications, she found a job at Rocky Mountain Park. However, now that she has
it, Maura is somewhat disillusioned. She had great expectations of working in
the wilderness, of communing with nature and making a little money while doing
so. She is making the money, but she is earning it by working in an information
booth at the west entrance to the Park. Since Rocky Mountain annually draws
more than 2� million visitors, this is somewhat similar to working at an
airlines ticket counter or a complaint desk at Macy's.
representing the wilderness here. I'm representing rules and the
bureaucracy," Hennessy says. "The questions are all the same. I feel
like putting up a board and just pointing to the answers. How do I get to
Denver? What is the highest mountain? Are there open campgrounds? Are there any
dangerous animals? How long does it take to get to Estes Park? A lot of them
think Estes [a ferociously commercial village near the eastern entrance] is the
turkeys are so hung up on facts and time and their travel schedules. Sometimes
I want to shake them and say, 'Hey, don't worry about the time, just enjoy