Driving Cross-Country: One Family's Story

Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA. I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Shirley Griffith. This week: the story of a family that went for a drive. A very long drive.

The United States is a big country. Most people travel coast-to-coast by airplane. The flight from Washington, D.C., to Seattle, Washington, for example, is less than six hours.

The Beardsley family usually flew to Seattle. This year, however, they decided to drive.

You might recognize the family name. Frank Beardsley is a retired chief of Special English. Nancy Beardsley is VOA's book editor.

Their son, Tommy, is a student at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, south of Seattle. His parents decided to give him their car, then fly back to their home near Washington, D.C. They expected to do the trip in ten days. That would give them time to see some of the country along the way.

On the first day, the Beardsleys traveled through five states. They passed through the green mountains and hills of Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia and the flat farmlands of Ohio.

The high-speed road, Interstate Seventy, took them through cities and small towns. They spent the first night at a hotel in Springfield, Ohio.

From Ohio, they drove across other Midwestern states. They traveled through Indiana, then Illinois. That is where Abraham Lincoln lived until he became president.

The Beardsleys crossed the great Mississippi River at Saint Louis, Missouri. Near the river, the Gateway Arch welcomed them to the city. The arch rises almost two hundred meters. It was built as a monument to the spirit of the pioneers who traveled West. It was the place where the explorers Merriwether Lewis and William Clark began their trip across the western territories in eighteen-oh-four.

From Saint Louis, the Beardsleys drove on Interstate Forty into central Missouri. Interstate Forty replaced an earlier road across the country, Route Sixty-Six.

Many Americans remember stories, a television show and a song about Route Sixty-Six. In some places, the new interstate took a different path. Today, near Devil’s Elbow, Missouri, a part of the old road seemed small. It had many holes. Tall grass grew at the edges. It was hard to imagine how important this road once was.

The next day, the Beardsleys drove to Kansas City on the western border of Missouri. It was another stop for Lewis and Clark.

President Harry Truman grew up nearby, in the town of Independence. The home where he lived is open to visitors.

Kansas City is a famous place in the history of jazz music. It also has sister-city ties with Seville, in Spain. One part of Kansas City has buildings that look Spanish.

The Beardsleys turned north at Kansas City, onto Interstate Twenty-Nine, to Saint Joseph, Missouri. The Pony Express started there almost one hundred fifty years ago. A museum tells the story of this mail system that carried letters between Saint Joseph and San Francisco, California.

Riders carried the mail on horseback from one station to another, up to thirty-two kilometers apart. A letter from Saint Joseph could get to San Francisco in ten days.

Farther north, along the Missouri River in the state of Iowa, is the burial place of Sergeant Charles Floyd. He was the only man to die during the three-year trip by Lewis and Clark. A tall monument honors him in Sioux City, on a hill above the river. It is shaped like the Washington Monument, back in America’s capital city.

In Iowa, the land becomes flat, with many large cornfields. Drivers can see for long distances. The sky looks bigger, filled with clouds of different shapes and colors.

In South Dakota, the land looks even emptier and the sky larger. Along Interstate Ninety, there are fewer places to get fuel for the car or something to eat. Sometimes, places to stop are a half-hour or more apart. There are, however, many interesting places to visit. If the Beardsleys had more time, they would have liked to see where "Dances With Wolves" was filmed.

Travelers driving from the east also begin to see more and more casinos. Such gambling places are against the law in many parts of the United States. But American Indians can operate them on lands that belong to them. Casinos have become an important way for many tribes to earn money.

For hundreds of kilometers, travelers see signs for the Corn Palace, in Mitchell, South Dakota. It is a big museum built of concrete and covered with maize. The museum honors South Dakota agriculture, especially corn. The Beardsleys visit the Corn Palace. They, and a lot of other people. It was crowded.

But farther west, near Rapid City, South Dakota, is one of America’s most popular places for travelers, Mount Rushmore. The faces of four presidents have been cut into the rock on the side of the mountain. They are George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. The stone faces are eighteen [text is correct] meters high.

People can vote at Mount Rushmore for their favorite president. George Washington, America’s first president, still wins the most votes.

A few kilometers away, on another mountain, another statue is being made. This one will be more than one hundred seventy meters high. It will show Chief Crazy Horse, a Native American hero.

An American sculptor born in Poland began the statue in nineteen forty-five. He died in nineteen eighty-two, but his family continues the work. The statue will show the chief on his horse, pointing to the lands the Indians have lost.

When you cross the state line into Wyoming, you know you are in the American West. People wear cowboy hats and boots. There are buffalo and cows along the side of the road.

One of the best places to learn about the West is in Cody, Wyoming. The town is named for Buffalo Bill Cody, a cowboy and showman.

Cody is the home of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center. Its five museums are filled with objects that show the culture, history and older ways of life in the West.

Visitors can stay in the Irma Hotel, built by Buffalo Bill in nineteen-oh-two.

Cody, Wyoming, is also one of the four entrances to Yellowstone, the oldest national park in America. Visitors can spend many days exploring Yellowstone. It is home to bears, elk, antelope and other animals. It is also known for its geysers, holes in the ground that blow boiling water and steam into the air.

Many visitors to Yellowstone sleep in tents or cabins, or stay in hotels built many years ago.

Just south of Yellowstone is the Grand Teton National Park, known for its beautiful mountains topped by snow. Vice President Dick Cheney, actor Harrison Ford and other famous people have homes near the Grand Tetons.

Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park are both very popular. From June to August, during the summer months, the roads are filled with people. Visitors need to request a hotel room months before they arrive.

The Beardsleys were there in September. The crowds in the parks were not as large, but the weather was a lot colder. They went through a snowstorm as they drove farther north and west, through the mountains of Montana and Idaho.

On the tenth day of their trip, they crossed from Idaho into Washington State. The eastern part is flat and dry. But as they traveled west, they saw more mountains and trees that stay green all year. Washington, in the Pacific Northwest, is called "the Evergreen State."

They knew the trip was almost over when they saw Mount Rainer in the distance. Mount Ranier is four thousand four hundred meters high, and a popular place to camp, climb and take walks. It is southeast of Seattle.

Late that afternoon the Beardsleys arrived in Olympia, the state capital. The city is at the south end of Puget Sound, which flows into the Pacific Ocean. Frank and Nancy dropped off their son, and their car, at his college.

The Beardsleys had driven almost six thousand kilometers. It was a ten-day drive across a country that seemed a lot bigger than the one they crossed in five hours on the flight home.

We thank the Beardlseys for writing our story today. Our program was produced by Caty Weaver. And our studio engineer was Kelvin Fowler. This is Shirley Griffith. And this is Steve Ember. Before we go...our election report last week said thirteen states now have constitutional bans against same-sex marriage. Dexter Massoletti in San Francisco corrects us: the number is at least seventeen. And, he notes that most other states have also passed laws with a similar aim.

Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA, in VOA Special English.