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As I recall from casual reading, when Dwight Eisenhower was a young officer in the United States Army he was involved in a convoy across a good-sized chunk of the nation. I suppose that it was an inefficient and time-consuming journey which he never forgot.

Our present trip is something like that too. But of course ours is by choice, while Ike was following orders.

After the Korean War and following his election to the Presidency, Eisenhower captured the imagination the nation and set out to build the Interstate Highway System. The primary purpose of the Interstates was to make it possible to move troops and materiel within our borders rapidly in the event of attack. Previous administrations had paved the primary highway system to facilitate the movement of farm products to market but this monumental infrastructure project was accomplished in the name of Civil Defense. “Civil Defense” was the Homeland Security of those cold war times. I guess that both sorts of road are still assets to our economy and in the calculus of our generals, too.

And of course, they’re also an asset to you and me.

The military emphasis was on rapid deployment of troops and material and so the engineers flattened hills and filled valleys, straightening and banking curves as they went through rather than over hill and dale with the result that much of the Interstate Highway System looks much like most of the rest of the Interstate Highway System. It may be a quick trip from “A” to “B” along the Interstate, but it’s likely to be a relatively uninteresting one.

The Interstate project was substantially complete by the early 1970’s, and is the system that I’ve mostly done my long-distance driving on since in my early twenties. There have been only a few notable exceptions–this trip, for one example. I imagine that your experience is more similar to mine than not.

One could look at the Interstate Highway System as the single most durable artifact of the military-industrial complex that Eisenhower warned us about. (For my money, the most durable LEGACY of his administration would be the culture fostered by the “Duck-and-Cover” fear-mongering that has given rise to the whole psy-ops terror and insecurity industry that caters to the power brokers in today’s world.)

Maybe those Interstates are busy today in the middle distances between suburbs and maybe they carry traffic other than freight in trucks, I can’t say as yet. I’d like to make it across the country, and back, without personally finding the answer to that one.

But I can say that there aren’t many travelers on the old primary highway system right now, other than Boomers on motorcycles. Mind you, I’m not complaining. I’m just saying.

I’ll tell you where else there aren’t a lot of people: on the trails in the federal and state and county parks we’ve visited so far.

Even those few parks that do a comparatively good job of filling up their tent sites and regularly coupling their RV hook-ups to transient or semi-permanent vehicles don’t seem to have many folks out marching through the forests and fields.

Pity, because there’s some remarkable stuff to behold, for example the Cahokia Indian Mounds in Illinois (just outside of St. Louis Missouri) are the most incredible mounds I’ve ever seen. They cover a very large area and a well-developed economy including a population larger than that of London, England at the same time.

We went on to St. Louis and made it up into the Arch this year. Whooeee! If you ever find yourself in St. Louis with time to spare, do take in the Arch–and don’t neglect the old documentary film of its construction.

St. Louis also sports the City Museum constructed in an old shoe factory, which we visited last year. It’s got a six-storey slide and the stone and terra cotta decoration from numerous old St. Louis landmarks, but isn’t just for children and architecture buffs.

Now it’s back to Illinois and the Lincoln Museum in Springfield and then on to the Iowa State Fair before the vegetable displays wilt.

I’ll put a few photos on the El Otro WA website,


Empty Campground, Weekend

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