April/May 2004 | Volume 55, Issue 2
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than the ones you did do,” Mark Twain once instructed his readers. “So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream.”
In this eighteenth year of our special travel issue we feature explorers and dreamers, most notably the writer Rachel Snyder. Last spring, fresh from covering the war in Afghanistan, she wrote to the editor, Richard Snow, suggesting an article on America’s first highway, the Camino Real: “I’ve just come across something that I find absolutely fascinating…. a cultural system inscribed on the land itself.” Joined by Hal Jackson, a retired geologist, characterized by Snyder as “passionate about … dents and grooves in an old trail,” she set out from just north of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and wound up in Mexico City, a journey of some 1,800 miles taken during the dead of summer. They would be “driving the entire trail,” Snyder wrote, but “walking in the applicable areas where there is no pavement.” If that sunbaked detective hunt in the desert isn’t Twain’s sailing away from the safe harbor, what is?
Wayne Curtis also wrote to us, proposing an article based on his particular passion, the riches to be mined in Newell, West Virginia. There, at a bend of the Ohio River, lies the Homer Laughlin factory, an American institution long devoted to the manufacture of pottery. What intrigued Curtis enough to travel to Newell regularly from his home on an island off the Maine coast was the chance to snatch up a rainbow of Fiesta ware at bargain prices in Homer Laughlin’s seconds room. Speaking of a well-known East Coast chain store, he wrote to us, “Each time I stop by there I fight the urge to hold up a piece and announce to the shoppers that this very $9 plate can be had for $1 in West Virginia!”
Shopping—that is, for antiques—is also driving the latest incarnation of Hudson, New York, as Gene Smith explains in his article “America on the Hudson.” But I don’t believe spending is what fueled Smith’s passion for the place. Unlike the Camino Real or Newell, West Virginia, Hudson lies a little over 40 miles downriver from Smith’s home. Yet through its earliest days of Quaker prosperity, even luxury, its wild years of saloons and houses of ill fame, and its eventual and present taming, the place calls out to Smith, as alluring in its own way as the Camino Real is to Snyder. Even 25 years ago, during Hudson’s recent period of decline, Smith says, “You could walk along the main street and raise your eyes from the pizza parlor and the world of yesterday was there, untouched.”
As for Rachel Snyder, these days she’s filing stories from her new home in Cambodia.