by A. L. Westgard
Field Representative of the American Automobile Association, Vice-President and Director of Transcontinental Highways of the National Highways Association
― from The Independent, June 7 1919.
Everybody with any kind of car, be it of recent or ever so ancient vintage, is planning to enjoy this summer out-of-doors. Restriction of motor car production, the necessity of checking the consumption of gasoline for pleasure uses as well as the natural patriotic desire to economize on strictly pleasure expenditures during the stress of war times, all tended to reduce motor car touring to a minimum during the last two seasons. However, now that the war is over, a reaction has set in and to judge by present indications our citizens intend fully to make up for past restraint and to make this the banner touring year in the history of motordom.
One of the most remarkable features of this revival of pleasure motoring is the fact that such a large percentage of motorists plan long distance and consequently time-consuming tours. If all the cars that were put thru their paces on a trip across the continent for the last five years were lined up, the row would fall short of matching in length the line of cars that will this year form a regular procession on any one of the three or four main transcontinental motor routes. But of the owners of the more than five million passenger motor cars in the United States the greater number, of course, will have to content themselves with shorter trips of anywhere from a few days’ to a few weeks’ duration. It is safe to predict that some sort of an outing trip is being planned by 90 per cent of the total number. A painstaking statistician would be able to figure out the probable number of hundreds of millions of dollars this vast army of touring motorists will spend along its routes. I am not a painstaking statistician, but am guessing that it will be more than a billion dollars, and I believe this a safe and conservative estimate.
The people of the cities of the East will flock to the White Mountains and the lakes of New Hampshire, the Green Mountains of Vermont, the woods of Maine, the New England seashore, the Adirondacks or Lake Champlain country, the Catskills, the Sullivan County hills or the famous finger lake country of central New York, the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania, the Berkshires of Massachusetts, the Litchfield hills of Connecticut or probably to the New Jersey or Long Island shores. Indeed there are plenty of cool and charming places near at hand.
The people of the South and the eastern part of the Middle West will also head for some of these same places in order to escape the heat of the level regions, while the citizens of the prairie states, west of the Missouri River, will pack their families and camping equipment on flivvers or five thousand dollar cars, or cars of all grades between, and hie themselves to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado or northern New Mexico, or perchance join the long caravan of motor cars heading for our wonderful chain of national parks, the nation's choicest playgrounds.
There are seventeen of these vast public recreation grounds but the following eight offer the greatest attractions, each containing features quite different from the others:
Rocky Mountain National Park, seventy miles from Denver and the most accessible of all the national parks of the West, located in the heart of the Rockies, with fifty-one peaks more than ten thousand feet high and remarkable records of the glacial period.
Yellowstone National Park, with more geysers than all the rest of the world, mud volcanoes and petrified forests, wonderful lakes and waterfalls and the greatest wild bird and animal preserve in the world.
Glacier National Park, with lakes and ice glaciers, not surpast by the Alps of Europe; two hundred and fifty glacier-fed lakes and sixty glaciers; a sensational massing of extraordinary scenic elements.
Mount Rainier National Park, a splendid snow capped and flower bedecked mountain. The largest single peak glacier system with twenty-eight glaciers.
Crater Lake National Park, a blue gem like the rarest jewel. No visible inlet or outlet. Sides a thousand feet high. “A poem in grays and greens and unbelievable blues.”
Yosemite National Park, with the highest waterfall and the oldest and biggest trees in the world, and an indescribable charm all its own.
The Grand Canyon of Arizona, the most stupendous chasm on earth. “By far the most sublime of all earthly spectacles.” John Muir says: “A wildness so Godful, cosmic and primeval bestows a new sense of earth's beauty and size.”
Mesa Verde National Park, with well preserved ruins of a prehistoric civilization, probably ancient when the Pharaohs built the pyramids.
Besides the thousands of Easterners who will motor to these parks in the Rockies, the Cascades and the Sierra Nevadas of the West, a horde will flock there from the hot plains of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and the Dakotas on vacation trips of a few weeks’ length, the altitude of these mountain regions offering a welcome relief from the torrid heat of the corn and wheat belts where even the breezes often are as hot as blasts from a fiery furnace.
Between the Rocky Mountains and the West-coast mountain ranges of the Cascades and Sierra Nevadas lies a relatively arid territory called the Intermountain region. This more or less desert-like section varies from two to six hundred miles in width and must be crost in order to reach the Pacific coast.
The good roads movement in the United States, which now has received such a tremendous impetus in unison with and as an inevitable consequence of the growth of the motor car industry, has brought about the building of good roads thru heretofore untravelable mountain passes and has caused the establishment of standard routes across the arid intermountain region with consequent improvements that make the transit thru it comparatively easy and free from danger.
Having made eighteen trips on rubber tires across the United States east and west and more than that, north and south, and having pioneered all of the present transcontinental standard routes, besides watching their later development, I give below a brief summary of the main features of some of the most important of them. Maps and digests of essential information of all the cross-country routes are prepared by the American Automobile Association and available at its national touring bureaus in Washington and New York.
The National Old Trails Road gets its name from following old historic trails, more or less closely, all the way across the continent. Thus it follows the National Pike, the first highway built by the nation, along a route reminiscent of the history of Washington, Braddock and of the French and Indian wars, from Washington or Baltimore to St. Louis via Cumberland, Wheeling, Columbus and Indianapolis. From St. Louis it follows the Boone Lick Road, named after the doughty Daniel Boone, to Kansas City. From Kansas City to Santa Fé it traces the famous Santa Fé trail, gory with the blood of the pioneer hunters, trappers and traders who between 1882 and 1872, when the completed railroad caused its abandonment, plodded their weary way across the plains and so often met death at the hands of marauding savages. From Santa Fé to California it trails the paths of Spanish conquistadores and the indomitable padres, who brought the gospel to the Pueblos. The length of this route is three thousand and thirty miles from Washington to Los Angeles. Everything considered, it is the most scenic and by far the most historic route, besides offering the flavor of a trip into a foreign land on account of the Mexican population and numerous interesting tribes of Indians who in New Mexico and Arizona dwell contiguous to the route. Hard-surfaced roads will be found as far as Terre Haute in a continuous ribbon. While most of the balance of the route is financed for improvement, it is, aside from occasional stretches of macadam, a dragged dirt road, good in dry weather. Substantial bridges and culverts are found along the entire route even in sparsely settled sections of the Southwest and it is well sign-posted. This route is provided with excellent hotel accommodations at most of the natural night stops. Tho open for traffic practically the entire year, except during January, February and March, the best time to travel this route is in the early autumn, leaving the East between September 1 and October 7.
The Lincoln Highway received its prominence principally thru the fact that it was conceived and developed by some of the big men in the motor car and motor accessories industry. Thru a live campaign of publicity propaganda it is thought by many people that this route is a paved boulevard thruout its length. This is, however, far from being the case. It is hard-surfaced from New York almost to the Mississippi River with various kinds of pavements and stretches of graveled road, but many rough miles occur even on this part of the route. Thru Iowa, Nebraska and Wyoming it is graded dirt and the going depends altogether on the weather. Extensive improvements are going on in Utah and Nevada and these improvements will rob the desert region of its dangers. The main handicap of the Lincoln Highway is the fact that it is closed for more than one-half of the year by snow in its crossing of the Sierra Nevada Mountains near Lake Tahoe. However, it carries a great percentage of the summer traffic. It is 3389 miles long and well sign-posted. It may be said of the Lincoln Highway that as regards improvements it does not surpass but merely averages well with the other routes, while scenically it is inferior to them. On the other hand, it offers the least physical resistance.
The Roosevelt National Highway, “the great Midland Trail,” has recently acquired its name in memory of our late “foremost citizen” and was formerly called the Midland Trail. Stretching from Oyster Bay to California with two terminals, one at Los Angeles and the other at San Francisco, it is 4100 miles long. It is hard-surfaced practically all the way to Cincinnati, from which point thru Lexington and Louisville and on to St. Louis and Kansas City it is a mixture of graded dirt, gravel and macadam. Across the plains of Kansas and thru the Colorado Mountains it is graded or graveled dirt and quite rough with few improvements from western Colorado to Salt Lake City. It coincides with the Lincoln Highway from this point to Ely and crosses Nevada on a good, natural gravel road leading thru the mining towns of Tonopah and Goldfield. Its entrance into California is thru one of the most impressive gateways into the golden state, Westgard Pass, named after myself. Emerging from this pass, with the towering Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the United States, and the solid wall of the Sierra Nevadas dead ahead, it branches to the south for southern California and to the north for central California. It is the intention eventually to cross the Sierras thru Piute Pass and traverse the former Sequoia National Park, renamed the Roosevelt National Park, into San Joaquin Valley before branching to the south and north. At its eastern end as well as in Colorado and California this route has extraordinarily beautiful scenery.
The National Parks Highway and the Yellowstone Trail are really competing rivals thru practically the same country. They start at the same point and end at the same point. While deviating at various places they cross each other and coincide at many points. The country they traverse is of the same general character and they are both well marked along their respective alignments. Leading from Chicago to Seattle they both provide side spurs to Yellowstone Glacier and Mount Rainier national parks and cross the mountains thru the same passes. Also both follow graded dirt roads with substantial permanent improvements only near the large cities, a relatively small percentage of the whole. Their length from Chicago, which is 1050 miles from New York, to their terminus, is 2422 miles. They are strictly midsummer routes only, taking in charming lake regions in Wisconsin, traversing the wheat belt of Minnesota and the Dakotas and the Yellowstone River Valley in Montana. They are both very interesting and exceedingly scenic thru western Montana, Idaho and Washington.
The main cross connections between these routes are the Yellowstone Highway from Denver to Yellowstone Park, 638 miles, and the Old Oregon Trail from Salt Lake City to Portland, 908 miles, with extension to Seattle.
Of the routes further south, such as the Bankhead Highway, the Dixie Overland Trail, the Southern National Highway and the Old Spanish Trail it may be said that they are still in an embryonic state of development and while undoubtedly travelable cannot be characterized as standard until substantial improvements will have made them dependable for fall, winter and early spring routes.
All the transcontinental routes are tied together at their terminals by a north and south route, thus the Atlantic Highway serves as a main artery for Florida travel and the Pacific Highway as the standard route along the Pacific Coast. Besides these a half dozen north and south routes tie the Canadian and Mexican boundaries or Gulf points together. The most conspicuous in their claim for recognition among these are the Dixie Highway, the Jefferson Highway, the King of Trails, and the Meridian Highway. The Dixie Highway organization is very active and this route will eventually be the thorofare from the Middle West to Florida. However, all these routes are in their present stage of development mostly dirt roads and thus too much influenced by the varying climatic conditions prevailing between their terminals.
Truth compels me to say that as yet there is no route East and West or North and South across the United States that does not depend upon weather conditions. All indications point to rapid betterments on all the main routes and it is hoped that within five years we shall have a system of national highways so far along that at least these main arteries of traffic may be safely and comfortably traveled all the year around.
While hotel accommodations are improving along most routes in proportion to the increase of traffic it is a remarkable development connected with present day long distance touring that more than 50 per cent of the travelers equip themselves more or less elaborately for camping out. Tents, gasoline cook stoves, cots, stools and tables are now made light and compact especially for the use of motorists, and are obtainable in most of the larger cities. Trailers equipt for camping are frequently seen along Western roads. It has been my personal experience with trailers that they are an impediment to free locomotion, liable to breakages and that they require brakes to be in first class condition on the car going down hill while on up-grades they are a drag and require a further reduction of gearshift than would otherwise be called for. Personally I prefer a tent that can be erected speedily and the rest of the camp equipment snugged by in duffle bags, easily stowed away in any available space inside or outside the body of the car.
Repair shops and supply stations are everywhere at convenient intervals on all the standard routes, so that there is no need of carrying extra gasoline and spare parts. Every motorist into the West should, however, be equipt with a desert canvas water bag and fill it at every opportunity where the water is palatable and not too hard.