Outside magazine, August 1991
Because right about now you could use one
If you include the return trip, we drove 2,800 miles. Four days. Three friends. A shoe box full of cassette tapes. We got in the car, with a vague idea of where we wanted to end up, and we went.
We headed north from San Diego, and at Los Angeles pointed the car east into the Mojave Desert. Twelve hours later, fried to stupidity from the desert heat, we turned onto a gravel ranch road somewhere in central Nevada, followed it a few miles into the sagebrush, and stopped. That night, as we picked our way across the sand and rolled out our sleeping bags, the howls of coyotes rang in the wind. It was the clearest, most beautiful night any of us could remember.
The next day we kept on through Nevada, making our way across the Ruby Mountains, where we fished for trout and chatted with a man who told us where we might find wild mustangs. Then we beat it north.
Our destination was a spot in east-central Idaho, a hundred-square-mile patch of solidified lava called Craters of the Moon National Monument. Our friend Ed had found the place on a map a week before, and as we'd suddenly discovered that another summer was slipping past without our having marked it, only two words came to mind: road trip.
When we finally arrived at Craters of the Moon, it was late at night. We stood around for a while near the wooden Park Service sign, staring across the horizon of cold lava. There wasn't much to do--it was midnight, after all, at the edge of a desolate two-lane in Idaho--so we dug out our flashlights and wandered a few hundred yards onto the grassless, treeless expanse. We stood around there for a few minutes, too, until someone started talking about driving a couple hours north to the Sawtooth Range. Another of us knew of a cirque lake there, where on a previous trip bighorn sheep had been in evidence. We got back in the car.
Road trips. When they're explained like this, they seem a little impetuous, a little vain--even a little silly since, as we're all regularly reminded these days, burning gasoline is both financially and environmentally expensive. (We also remember that it was partly in the name of petroleum that thousands of lives were recently lost in Iraq and Kuwait.) Still, it's important to remember that road trips aren't just about racking up miles in the T-Bird. They're about freedom, about rekindling certain feelings, and about just drumming up a few new memories. Or, as our friend Ed puts it, "Driving around takes you places you can't get to in a car."
Of course, it's easier to find reasons to stay home. But ask yourself: When was the last time you made camp to the far-off sound of wild dogs in the night, or fished a new creek, or stood outside a general store near Wells, Nevada, eating an ice cream sandwich and learning where to find America's vanishing wild horses?
Nobody's making you go on a road trip. But then, anyone can stay at home.
Copyright 1991, Outside magazine