Witnessing the American Landscape through my Car Window

By Amber Heldreth-Miller

The United States is a large country in terms of physical size. Many countries throughout the world, especially in Europe, are small and you can drive from one side to another in a single day–but not America. Not only is it physically large, but there are many different cultures, ways of living, and people scattered across the land.

The summer before last, I drove cross country from the West Coast to the East Coast, an experience that gave me the opportunity to see the vast change in landscape throughout the country, visit small towns and large cities, and really see the country that I live in. It was a long drive that I did in five days, so I did not have much time to explore each place that I visited, but I got a glimpse of the country through my car window.

We started in Arizona where it is hot–hotter than LA most days–and where saguaros (tall green cacti) sprinkle the desert with their beauty. From there, we drove east towards New Mexico and then headed north to the city of Santa Fe. It was crazy how even this relatively small distance took us from a view of saguaros as far as the eye could see to their sudden disappearance as the land became more rocky. When we reached Santa Fe it was like being in a whole new world–even though we were technically still in the desert, we were now viewing evergreen covered mountains instead of cactus country. We then drove east again on small little roads that felt like we were in the middle of nowhere (that is how many of the roads in the middle of the country made me feel.)

We drove through northern Texas, where it was flat dirt and farms, and then into Oklahoma, where more flat dirt made way to flat grass. Then, all of a sudden, small hills and trees started to appear and, for the rest of the trip, there were big trees lining all the roads. In Oklahoma, we passed through many Indian Nations, which is another example of different cultures that make up this melting pot of the US.

East we drove on, through Arkansas and Tennessee. Since we were on the highway and we were not driving through towns–we were surrounded by wilderness for most of the way. Trees and trees filled my vision in the car.

My favorite part of the entire trip was driving from Tennessee to North Carolina through the beautiful Smoky Mountains, a subrange of the Appalachian Mountains. We literally drove through the mountains, with the road winding back and forth surrounded by the beauty of nature. We stopped in Ashville for the night, which is a beautiful, hilly, artistic town in North Carolina. I ate the most amazing shrimp and grits I have ever had in my life–actually it was the first time I have ever had it–but it is a specialty of many southern states. I highly recommend it!

We continued our journey through West Virginia and through Maryland and then Washington DC. For most of the country, there was wilderness surrounding the area. As soon as we drove to Washington DC, and through Delaware and New Jersey–the roads became much more crowded with cars and the trees and, just like that, the wilderness gave way to houses and supermarkets. New Jersey is the state in the US with the most population density, a fact made apparent from just driving through it.

Even though I was not able to spend a lot of time in each city that I passed through, driving across the country was an incredible experience where I was able to see all the terrain and diversity that the US has.

Amber is from southern Arizona but she spent the last year and a half in upstate New York. Even though Amber is from the desert, she loves the ocean and hopes to one day live on the beach. She is studying environmental science and hopes to minor in the dramatic arts, as she is interested in creating films, especially for social change. Amber love cats, eating food, swimming, sleeping and laying in the grass and staring at the clouds. She loves traveling and exploring the world– so far, she has traveled to Costa Rica, Canada, and all over Europe.