(C)  2002-2014 J. Watson       All rights reserved  
Travel Letters
A website to assist travelers who are planning extended trips
Armchair travelers ask…                                                                                        
    “So many places to go – how do you know where to start?”

You can’t see it all – just a slice.

Just what do you want to get out of the trip?  Do you have a special target
destination?  There are so many possibilities, so keep these in mind as you
review the geography and history.  Specific locations are described in the
section "
Places to see".

A brief overview of the history of the country will help to put the travel
possibilities in perspective.   The  geography and history are intertwined so we'll
start before there was a United States – though very, very briefly.    

C  You may see snow capped mountains in mid summer when you are in the
Rocky Mountain area.  Be prepared to slow down if bothered by the high
altitude.  The scenery is incredible and diverse.  Diversity is exemplified by the
national parks -- Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain, and more.

D  Between the Rocky Mountains and east of the Mississippi River are the
“Great Plains”, sometimes referred to as America’s bread basket as the wheat
fields extend for miles as do the corn fields.  These prairies are considered flat
but do have a gentle rolling, which along with cattle grazing, oil wells and wind
farms adds to the interest.  

E  This area includes the Ozarks Mountains and the area is generally covered
with forests.    

F  The Appalachian Mountain range extends from eastern Canada into Maine
and continues to northern Georgia. The mountains are essentially a north-south
wall that impeded early travel.  A trail extends the length of the US portion of the
range and each year a number of hikers attempt to go the entire distance (2,160
miles) and some complete it.  It is forested and much is reserved for recreational
use including the Great Smokies, etc.  The highest mountain peaks reach a bit
over 6,000 feet.

G  The coastal plain is generally level and quite heavily populated, especially
near the Gulf and Ocean.  There is substantial farming from about Virgina south
into Florida.  Crops include apples, oranges, cotton, as well as a variety of other
fruits and vegetables.  Smaller farms are in the north and produce diverse crops
as well as dairy, poultry, corn, and silage.  


Over a thousand years ago the Americas were honeycombed with native
populations.   The way these early people lived was heavily influenced by the
geography of the area.  Climate, availability of water, and characteristics of the
land determined the type of housing as well as the lifestyle. Some were nomadic
who survived by hunting and gathering food.  Others advanced to a more settled
communal lifestyle with irrigated farming.  It became a sophisticated society
with an extensive trading network, even though they had not learned of the
"wheel" nor use beasts of burden.  Visitors can visit these communities,
especially in the Southwest’s pueblos and cliff dwellings.  You may even see
their artwork that remains on the sides of caves.  

Cultural differences of the various parts of the nation can be explained, in part,
by the early exploration and exploitation of the area by outsiders.  Arrival of the
Europeans disrupted these societies by exposing them to lethal diseases, to
which they did not have natural immunity, plus aggressive actions.  In your
travels you may observe the Spanish influence that came from Mexico into the
Southwest (where Arizona, California New Mexico and Texas are now).  In the
late 1700s Catholic missionaries from Mexico established mission churches that
are now visited by tourists.  The French became established along the Gulf of
Mexico.  The English, Dutch and Spanish claimed control of significant
segments of the Atlantic coastline.  Each of these had commercial interests that
often exploited the native Indians.  As the Europeans took over, the English
became dominant and the British colonies were established as political units.  

In the late 1700s the colonists fought the Revolutionary War to gain
independence from Great Britain.  Today’s tourists visit landmarks from this era
throughout the Atlantic seaboard states, most notably the swath from Boston,
Massachusetts to Williamsburg, Virginia.  This includes the major commercial
and political centers of the period.  (Boston, New York and Philadelphia were
important then and Washington was post-Revolutionary War).  Significant
battles were fought throughout the colonies, however most were in the
northeast.  Time has been cruel and few battlefields are preserved.  Visitors who
are interested in this period of US history should consider visiting these areas
and allocating sufficient time to Colonial Williamsburg, which is a faithful
restoration of Williamsburg’s influential role as capitol of the Virginia colony.  
When in Williamsburg, take time to visit the nearby battlefield in Yorktown.  

The 1800s were a time of great change.  Industries used the available resources
– coal for power, lumber for construction, and metals for fabrication –diverse
resources seemed endless.  Canals were built, steam railroads straddled the
country, and telegraphs provided communication.  You can now visit early  
mines and oil wells.  Canals and railroads continue in commercial use – others
are used as tourist attractions or in formal exhibits.  

This was also a period of great expansion.  The population pushed further west
beyond the Appalachian Mountains and Mississippi River seeking farmland,
developing natural resources, and they discovered areas that were familiar to
earlier inhabitants.  These included areas that are now preserved in National
Parks and Monuments.  Some traveled to these areas by covered wagon and
many walked miles in the ruts left by those who preceded them.  Explorers,
often with the help of the resident Indians, mapped the rivers, deserts, and
mountains that defined the country.  They learned of the landmark canyons,
caves, and locations of the early civilizations that they replaced.  Some were
‘49ers who panned for gold.  Tourists are attracted to the remains of the mining
communities that are now "ghost towns".  Visitors today retrace the Lewis &
Clark expedition, which sought a water route to the Pacific Ocean; see the
remains of frontier forts; explore caves that sheltered early travelers.  

The Civil War (sometimes referred to as the War Between the States) threatened
to split the nation in the early 1860s on the underlying issue of slavery.  Battles
were fought primarily in the south and many battlefields are preserved and open
to the public.  The southern states were primarily agricultural with cotton as the
major commercial crop.  The northern states had strong manufacturing,
transportation, and communications facilities that enabled them to overwhelm
the South.  Numerous battlefields are open to tourists.

Growth during the past century has been accelerated by technological
advances.  Today’s travelers can travel on expansive highways to the sites that
were important to the development of the nation.  We can:
  • visit former “secret” cities known as the Manhattan Project where the
    atomic bomb was developed;
  • walk at the site of the Wright Brothers first flight or visit a missile launch
  • visit outstanding art collections in large metropolitan areas and small
  • enjoy theme parks and other entertainment;  
  • visit National Parks, Monuments, Forests, etc. that preserve vast
    expanses where visitors often observe wild animals and natural wonders;
  • learn of our leaders at presidential libraries and museums that describe
    their lives and accomplishments;
  • tour an airplane or auto assembly plant;
  • visit World War 2 warships;
  • dine in cities at the top of towering structures;
  • visit small villages that are so small they only have a gasoline station or
    diner at the crossroads.  
Possibilities seem endless.  They are endless
Consider your touring options as you plan your trip to "see America".  This basic overview includes
both the history and geography of the regions related to trip planning -- thus a short background of
the United States in just a few minutes for those who have been away from the classroom for a while.
Enjoy the adventure of exploring America.  As you plan, plan for the
unexpected.  Maybe as you travel you’ll want to spend additional time visiting a
place you overlooked as you made your plans; maybe you’ll stop to see a
neighborhood event and chat with the “locals”; or you may decide to alter your
route as you learn, first hand, more about an area.  

Most communities have displays/museums/events that highlight the heritage of
the area.  Many are geared to families with children.  Many of these are of high
quality and may enrich your travel experience.

Create your own list of target destinations.  As a springboard you might
consider the subjects outlined above in the geographic and historic section.  
Now, within the constraints of time and your goals…What interested you?  
What would you like to learn more about?  Okay, you have a starting point –
that was Step 1.   

Return to
Trip Planning for additional tips, places to see, and more resources
including valuable websites that we have found useful.  

B  Inland a bit, the land is mountainous
and dry – desert conditions mean that
artifacts of earlier times like cliff dwellings
and pueblos are preserved.  Many people
expect to see just sand dunes and are
surprised to see a variety of plants --
creosote, cacti, yucca, sagebrush and
more.  Take time to enjoy the desert.  

This region has numerous canyons, rock
formations and gorges that attract today’s
visitors.  Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon,
Zion are just three of the many.   Away
from population centers most of the land is
owned by the Federal government or are
Indian reservations.  

There are hundreds of volcano cones in the
western third of the nation.  Many have not
erupted in tens of thousands of years,
some let loose in the 1900s.  You may hike
in a caldera or in a lava field, or among
petrified trees.

A  As the land mass formed, the Pacific coast of America was lined with
mountains that seem to soar from the ocean, giving today’s tourists magnificent
coastal views and recreational opportunities.  Giant redwoods are concentrated in
coastal California, sequoias are inland.   
Map: Nationalatlas.gov