I worked a lot my freshman year of college. I saved every penny I made from my work study job in the library and I took on extra shifts in the tool department at our local Sears whenever I was back in my hometown. Similarly, my sister didn’t spend a dime of her megre ROTC stipend and stocked fruit at the grocery store down the street until she couldn’t look at another banana.
Eventually, all of our hard work paid off and by mid-spring, Jessi and I had socked away enough money for something we’d been dreaming about for ages: an epic European backpacking trip. Ignoring our parents’ protests (“You’ll be kidnapped!” exclaimed my father), we applied for passports and booked our plane tickets. This was exciting stuff for two New Hampshire kids that had never crossed the Mississippi River, nevermind the Atlantic.
Our parents dropped off their (technically) adult twin daughters at Logan with some trepidation and off we went for a grand adventure. Our Fodor's guide was our bible for the next few weeks. We got front row seats at Wimbledon by sleeping all night in the sidewalk queue, we hiked up the beautiful hills of Scotland to see what we could see, we visited anything that looked like a museum or cathedral, we drank beer and and made friends with strangers, when money ran low we ate bread and Nutella for dinner, and we actually used our high school German. In short, we had the time of our lives.
Since that time, my sister and I have traveled around the country and the world, although mostly separately. The army took her and her husband far away from me and to places she would never have otherwise traveled (and in some cases, places she hopes never to see again) while my husband and I spent the years touring the great natural wonders of the western hemisphere.
After life threw our family a huge curveball this spring, my sister decided to move home to New England. As we made plans to get her back East, she and I started talking about a road trip. Just the two of us. No kids, no dogs, no work, no commitments. So after more than a decade, my sister and I will be taking our first solo trip together. I could not be more excited. Seeking to find the places where the only incomprehensible tweeting we hear about is from the birds, we decided to drive from Lake Tahoe to St. Louis, stopping at every national park along the way.
While Google maps has been a lifesaver, this type of trip requires some real planning and a giant stack of books. As my sister and I started mapping our route, I started collecting titles relating to the stops we would make along the way. Of course, I picked up the tried-and-true staple of the thoughtful wanderer- a Fodor’s guidebook (“The Complete Guide to the National Parks of the West” in this case). I also grabbed Frommer’s “Zion & Bryce Canyon National Parks” and two Moon guides that cover Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. Now with the basics covered, I went in search of some titles that are a bit off the beaten path.
The first odd-ball I found was by an author you may recognize for his award winning historical epics, Thomas Keneally. “The Places Where Souls are Born” takes readers on a journey through some of the interesting characters and places that have shaped how the American southwest is perceived. While I thoroughly enjoyed this book, it certainly did not satisfy my need for information on the history of the area. In fact it did just the opposite.
Lusting for more information, I sought out books that would give a concise history of the geography and people of Utah in particular. While I wanted more information than the encyclopedia could provide, this girl doesn’t have time to study an exhaustive history of the native peoples, learn every tenant of the mormon faith, or become an expert on the geological forces that shaped the landscape, so I reached for “The Smithsonian Guide to Historic America: The Desert States” and “The Smithsonian Guides to Natural America: The Southern Rockies- Colorado, Utah.” These series are like “Sox in 2” for the curious, but time crunched traveler. It gave me just what I wanted to know, and not too much more.
Armed with a map, GPS, and a stack of books, I think we are prepared for a repeat of our college wanderings. We’re going to drink beer, make friends with strangers, and eat Nutella and bread when money gets low, but most importantly, we’ll get to spend time making the memories that will last a lifetime.