Monday, November 23, 2009

Photographic journey through America's backroads

Today CNN.com featured a photo slide show by renowned photographer Ed Ailor. Ailor retraced the steps of William Least Heat-Moon as written in his book, "Blue Highways." Ailor's book, to be called "Blue Highways Revisited," will include pictures from all the places visited and written about by Heat-Moon in his book. For a beautiful slide show that previews several of the photos, click here.


The reporters interviewed Heat-Moon about his traveling adventures. During the interview, Heat-Moon described two positive changes and two negative changes that he'd perceived in rural America throughout his travels. First, he claims that everywhere he travels, he notices an increase in human congestion. Moreover, where towns had "limits" before, now they are beginning to bleed together like "an inoperable cancer." Additionally, he claims that rural food has taken a huge hit. What used to be his greatest joy in traveling (eating regional food) now has become more challenging as corporate franchises are rapidly taking over in rural areas. While it can be beneficial to know what you're getting with big franchises, it's an ultimate disappointment not to visit an area and "get a meal that you will remember for years to come."

On the brighter side, Heat-Moon notes that racial harmony has improved over the last 25 years. Moreover, accommodations have improved so that travelers can visit almost anywhere and be able to find a bed to buy for the night. And, despite the "urban sprawl," Heat-Moon assures readers that, "there are still miles and miles of two-lane roads to take a traveler into recesses of America, where delights and amazements await."

After flipping through Ailor's photographs, I decided to look up some of the towns where the photographs were taken. The areas are extremely beautiful, yet extremely rural, as American Factfinder did not even have statistics on many of the areas. Here are the areas depicted in CNN's slide show:

Bell City, Louisiana - This city was not on the Factfinder, but I googled it and apparently it's a small unincorporated area outside of Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana.
Dime Box, Texas - This city was not on the Factfinder either but I found out Dime Box is in Lee County, a population of 15,657.
Frenchman, Nevada - This city was also not on the Factfinder. I looked this town up and found that it's in Churchill County, Nevada, a population of 23,982.
Lincoln City, Oregon - Population 7,437.
Kremlin, Montana - Population 126 (pictured below).

Tuftonboro, New Hampshire - Population 2,148.
Cape Neddick, Maine - Population 2,997.

Despite the urban sprawl, these beautiful rural areas still exist. Heat-Moon promises there are still areas that are unexplored in the United States. He also talks about how people in "today's" world move too fast. That makes me think that maybe it's not just that urban sprawl has begun to chip away at smaller, rural towns, but that human mentality is so clearly shifting toward a faster-pace lifestyle that we miss these rural gems. Or, perhaps we think they are unimportant. However, it seems that some of the most basic, enjoyable treasures can be found in rural America - good food, independently owned Bed & Breakfasts, small museums, family owned hardware stores, and other "mom and pop" shops. To save these marvels, maybe we all just need to slow down. As Heat-Moon says, "Speed corrupts travel far more than bad Chinese food."

3 comments:

AL said...

This post made me so nostalgic for Montana that I immediately got on MapQuest to pick a route, and contemplated car and camping reservations for next May. I spent several wonderful years in Glacier County, MT. as a child, but I haven't been back since the last road trip that I took with my mom. I was a junior in high school, and she had less than a year to live. It was a fantastic trip. I have wanted to go back for many years now, and the pictures, especially of Kremlin, MT., made me yearn for open road, tiny towns, quirky tourist attractions, and the people who never left. Thanks for sending me on a miniature mental vacation, and when I finally take that road trip, I'll be sure to photograph every dilapidated barn and windmill I pass.

Slice of Pink said...

The photographs in the slideshow are beautiful! Thank you for sharing!

I particularly enjoyed the two slides that placed two photos side-by-side--one from the original book and a current photo in the same location. How neat is it that Ailor was able to track down the Chealander family, for instance, shown on slide six?

Speaking of rural photography, there are two great Flickr photo pools that are worth a look: Rural America and Rural Decay.

Shenandoah bed and breakfast said...

The influence of mega-corporations has changed the face of the country, both for better and too often for worse. Corporate-logo franchises have done in so many of what I call Bert and Betty eateries. Regional food has taken a real hit, and today I have to look harder to find a good and genuine cafe. On the other hand, a lot of so-called greasy spoons have been wiped off the map by franchises where a traveler can often depend on a chain to serve a similar whatever across the country. Yes, it's likely ordinary and undistinguished, but it'll be consistent. But why travel if consistency is all you want? I'm the kind of traveler, though, who would rather take chances -- to hell with consistency -- and hunt down a place that just might serve up a good original regional meal that I'll remember for years to come. Food like that is one of my motivations for traveling. Take away regional foods, and staying home can look like a smart decision.

Regards,