My journey along Route 66 is a strange mix of nostalgia, that part of our past that is remembered fondly as a time when things were good and better than today, and raw memory of the way things actually were. I remember seeing ‘Solder Blue’ at the cinema and being so traumatized by the film and Buffy St Marie’s rendition of the title song, that I couldn’t think of anything else for weeks and weeks afterwards. It prompted me to read Dee Brown’s book ‘Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee’ and I still can’t read that book without sobbing at the betrayals and destruction of a way of life in tune with nature.
In Missouri we came across a lot of references to the ‘Trail of Tears’, where thousands of First Nation Americans were forcibly marched from their homelands and settled on reservations. At Palo Duro there was a plaque that told of the surprise attack by the US Cavalry that ended in lots of lives lost and 1500 ponies being captured, 1000 of which were killed. This rendered the tribe unable to self-sustain and they were forced to live on the reservation just to survive, thus losing their not only their freedom but everything they held dear.
Last night we slept in Santa Rosa and today travelled to Santa Fe, making a slight detour to take in the Pecos National Historic Park. Here the story was of a people changed and eventually destroyed by Conquistadors and their missionaries. Pecos Pueblo is an amazingly intricate architectural housing structure that supported a thriving community of over 2000 people back in the C16th. After the Conquistadors landed in 1515 things started to change. Pecos was a trading town and traded with the Cheyenne and Apache tribes who camped on the plains below the mesa. Slowly Spanish towns were established nearby that took trade away from Pecos. Then epidemic diseases wiped out a lot of people. The church was a symbol of repression and eventually there was an uprising and the church, and lots of Christian converts, were put to the fire. The Spanish were driven out but later returned, building a second church over the ruins of the first. Little by little the community disintegrated, eventually collapsing when its people left. The last person to leave has descendants in a nearby town, and it struck me how the fate of Pecos is very similar to that of Route 66.
The interstate Highway has diverted traffic from the small towns along the Route that cannot compete with big malls and in lots of places we have come across ghost towns, derelict buildings and disused property for sale. Despite this, people are still drawn to travel the route and those who lovingly preserve or restore artefacts make the journey worthwhile. A life lived at a slower pace, with a sense of support and community, is nostalgic all right, and doesn’t take into account all the young people killed in motorbike accidents, in Vietnam or from drink and drugs. But in this world of speed and uncertainly I like to think that an escape from reality every once in a while gives you a chance to recharge your soul and helps you to keep going once reality kicks in again.