Traveling with a purpose is the latest buzz-phrase in the travel business, and I always get kind of a kick out of it, because I can’t imagine any other kind of travel. It is a fairly broad category which includes traveling to learn, to provide public service to underprivileged parts of the world, eco-tourism, stretching your personal comfort zone, and sometimes even adventure travel.
For me it has always meant learning about “what happened here”. It doesn’t have to be following a historic trail – although that is a particular favorite of mine. When I travel with fellow travel professionals on sightseeing tours at a convention, FAM (familiarization) trips to explore new destinations, or scouting trips on my own, I’m always full of questions: Why does this town exist? What was it’s original purpose, and is it still the same today? Or if the town didn’t survive, why not?
Often the answer is one of two things: the railroad or the river. During the 19th century the railroads had incredible power (and political subsidies) over where towns were built. For the record, designated townsites were placed approximately seven to ten miles apart, because that was the distance that railroad planners figured local farmers or ranchers (with a wagon loaded with produce or livestock) could travel from their homestead and back between dawn and dusk. One of the Black Hills’ most picturesque towns was dismantled and moved, stone by beautiful sandstone, when the railroad ultimately passed it by. The same could be said for interstate highways. Towns have been placed near water for millenia, and thrived in America during the riverboat heyday. But riverboats too, were replaced with other forms of transportation, and rivertowns that survived adapted to them or died out (literally).
Westward migration trails invariably followed rivers because of the need for drinking water for both people and livestock. Great hardships ensued when pioneers encountered vast stretches of desert further West (when it was too late to turn back).
Lewis & Clark of course, intended to navigate the Missouri River to the Columbia and thence to the Pacific. It didn’t turn out quite like that, and they ended up spending far more time afoot than they had ever imagined! But they were explorers, and explore they did! And mapped. And recorded their findings, including preserving seeds and plants, furs and specimens. They attempted to learn the languages of the Natives with disappointing results. (It had never really occurred to them that all of the many tribes occupying the lands they traversed didn’t speak the same language!)
In other words, they learned. And we can learn from their extraordinary journey as well. Or any of a whole catalog of excursions which follow the trails of American explorers and settlers.
Watch for announcements of these exciting new tour programs in our monthly newsletter and online in the months to come.