Classic NG Road Trip: Route 40 in 1961
[The Gray family’s] station wagon odyssey from sea to sea totaled 17,000 miles, counting side trips. Near the village of State Road, Delaware, the author’s family chats with a State trooper. From the July 1961 issue of National Geographic Magazine, by Ralph Gray/NGS.
Cross-country road trips are often seen as a rite of passage for young travelers. Since our September issue covers the shorter Drives of a Lifetime, we delved into the NG archives to see if an article had been written on the cross-country experience–and we struck gold. Back in 1961, Ralph Gray wrote a 60+ page article for National Geographic on his family’s road trip across the United States, from Atlantic City, New Jersey, to San Francisco, California, along Route 40. Here’s an excerpt from the article, titled “From Sea to Shining Sea”:
Ahead of us a continent of geography and an epic of mankind awaited exploration. U.S. 40, a concrete cummerbund girding America’s sleek midriff, would be our guide.
Driving from sea to shining sea, we would rub elbows and perhaps bumpers with people in four of the most populous states–California, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Ohio–and in the second smallest, Delaware.
We would relive history in Maryland, see steel mills in West Virginia, and visit fat farms in Indiana. Missouri’s cities would rise above her rivers, and horizontal Kansas would end in vertical Colorado. From the vast emptiness of Utah and Nevada we would plunge into the anthill activity of Pacific coast cities.
U.S. Route 40 was an extension of the first federally funded national road, which led from Cumberland over the Alleghenies to Ohio; at the time, it was the only road leading over the mountains. Congress appropriated money for the project in 1806, and the highway was completed in 1852, ending in Vandalia, Illinois. It traversed 609 miles and cost $7 million. According to Gray, “when the Bureau of Public Roads set up the Federal system of numbered highways in the mid-1920’s, the National Road became a part of U.S. 40. By coincidence, this coast-to-coast route now crosses and recrosses the 40th parallel.” Today, Route 40 ends near Park City, Utah, at Interstate 80.
Have you been on a cross-country road trip? What route did you take?
- Nat Geo Expeditions