I actually like driving. Put me on the road, with a Classic Rock station the first day and then—after way too much Elton John and Jethro Tull—an audio book for subsequent days. Earlier a trip to Virginia; this time a trip to Utah to visit my son and his family.

I actually like driving. Put me on the road, with a Classic Rock station the first day and then—after way too much Elton John and Jethro Tull—an audio book for subsequent days. Earlier a trip to Virginia; this time a trip to Utah to visit my son and his family.

Why drive? Simple: You can take more stuff. Trying to thin down the stuff I have in the house, I had sent him pictures of various things, the fancy china for one. Do you want this? And this? Yes, sometimes reluctantly. Unfortunately, only one box of books.

Once again, experiences on America’s interstates and highways necessarily come in bits and pieces. One is never sure they will form a coherent or even interesting narrative. So you number them, assuming maybe there is a larger sense to be made of them. Maybe.

1. This trip is delayed by a stone cold battery. Used to mechanical lift tailgates, I left mine up for several days while I loaded boxes. Now I know that automatic tailgates draw on the battery. Before you cast verbs at me, have you read every page of your vehicle’s thick instruction book?

2. I have such faith in urbanspoon.com’s ability to direct me to better restaurants that I have started to select motels based on their proximity to those restaurants. In one case—Salina, Kansas—I even selected the town, based on restaurant recommendations. I could have driven further. (The restaurant was excellent.)

3. With adaptive cruise and accident avoidance controls, you can let someone else do the driving for you. You still have to steer. But if the driver-in-front is careful to obey different speed limits, your control will slow you down when he (or she) slows down, even to a stop, and keep a safe distance. It’s reassuring, especially in the ups and downs of Colorado mountain driving or the in-and-out of construction zones. I always pick local drivers, when possible, trusting they know where troopers might lurk.

4. Expect locking the cruise control on a car or truck might be too sleep inducing in the flats of Texas. If I turn sleepy, and don’t want to take a break, I click on the lane correction control, to keep me in the lane. It’s certainly reassuring to have these safety features. May they spread to all models. But I still want to steer my car.

5. Going down a two-lane, I encounter a big sign that announces, “Historical Marker Ahead.” I slow down. No visible marker on either side of the road. So I drive on, knowing I have missed something.

6. I do miss the Burma Shave signs. Spaced far enough apart, over a hill or around a curve, you had a few seconds to guess what was coming next. If you were a kid in my family and were tired of playing “Zip,” for the first one to spot a Texaco star, or “Pedillo,” for the first one to spot a car with only one working headlight, Burma Shave signs were very welcome.

7. Advice for Audio Book Narrators: Even if a character whispers, you don’t have to! I’m barely hearing you as it is, driving down this noisy road! It’s an Agatha Christie-style book, with way too many plausible solutions to the crime, all of which prove to be wrong. Nonetheless, it’s important we hear every word so we can arrive at the proper solution before the detective.

8. The land between the western slopes of the Rockies and the Utah lakes, along both sides of Interstate 15, is alive with graders and construction, much of it to be housing. Economic boom, intense traffic, malls, scads of kids in the parks, signs of population growth.

9. I’m in a newly created suburb south of Salt Lake City, recently given a town name. Big houses with the small spaces between them. In fact, the house behind ours has second story windows that look directly down on the yard. One feels surveilled. BUT—and this is big—every four blocks or so one finds a park with fields, swings, maybe a climbing net, a splash pad and even kid zip lines. So live inside your house, but you don’t have to create an elaborate playground in your backyard. The park offers better.

10. On the way back, the Southern route, I loop out in the four-corners area and encounter good roads, all things considered, if you don’t mind hills. One road had a sign announcing that the state would not clear the road of snow. Since it is on tribal land, I hope the tribe has plows. On those roads, particularly US 191, one is tempted to fly down the hills. Open land, harder for the police to conceal themselves. So one is tempted.

11. Ah, The Movie West: Monument Valley is the most famous, after it was featured in a number of John Ford Westerns: “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon,” “Stagecoach,” on and on. Those sculptural buttes, mesas, rock columns under a blue sky that came to evoke the Western ethos, even when used in more modern films, such as “Easy Rider” or “Thelma and Louise.” The dream of being free, wandering wherever, on a Harley or in a Thunderbird.

12. So there I was, driving down US 163, adding at least 100 miles to my trip to Gallup. Saturated by films—“Once Upon A Time in the West” and “National Lampoon’s Vacation”—I became the ditsy tourist stopping at scenic pullouts when I spotted a familiar formation. Out came the Nikon for shots, out came the iPhone for “covering” shots, the latter more easily posted on Facebook.

13. Later I remembered a Frenchman, Jean Baudrillard, who embraced America as a land of the hyperreal. Not simply the simulated environments of Disney World and Las Vegas, but natural wonders like Monument Valley. Having seen the rock monuments over and over in films, when I actually got there, I was not seeing them for the first time. I desperately wanted to match my pictures to the famous film scenes. I skipped some very good scenic pullouts because the view didn’t seem quite right. Mr. Baudrillard would probably say I was taking pictures of pictures. Nonetheless, I enjoyed myself.

14. In Gallup, it seemed appropriate that I stay in the historic El Rancho Hotel, which hosted crews filming Westerns. Opened in 1937, it features the small rooms and older fixtures one expects in such an establishment. The shower was so narrow, I was soaping and being rinsed at the same time. But, I reasoned, unlike modern motel and hotel rooms, these are sleeping rooms, where you might write a letter, but certainly not “live” there. You go to the hotel restaurant to eat, you tour the town, you enjoy watching the Navajo weaver or the dancers hired by the hotel, you sit in the lobby to read or socialize.

15. And what a lobby: dark wood, animal heads, fire place, some chairs made with cow horns, woven rugs, two circular staircases leading to a balcony around the lobby, walls filled with photos of movie stars, many with dedications. It’s a museum, well worth the stay.

16. I had hoped to get a room that John Ford or Victor McLaglen stayed in. Reality: I got the room named for Jack Oakey. Sure I’ve seen him, just couldn’t bring his face to mind. I was right across the hall from the John Wayne room. I wonder if the Duke had room enough to turn around in his shower.

17. On the road to Amarillo, I stop at a popular restaurant in Santa Rosa for lunch. Road weary, I decide to close my eyes while waiting for my order. Two things occur to me: first, I feel very secure, with diners all around me. A noisy table of football players is comforting. (Would I feel so secure if I were female? Don’t know.). The second thing is that in shutting my eyes, my hearing seems more acute. I can tell where the sounds are coming from and in some cases, make out whole sentences that I would normally not hear. I hear someone say, “I hid out for awhile.” But the rest is lost. Mystery. Do the senses compete? Does seeing lessen hearing, or our attention to sounds? Seems so.

18. I am served. I open my eyes and notice an older Indian woman staring at me. In a stranger’s gaze, I am “othered.”

19. Amarillo: Should I eat at Big Tex, home of the 72-ounce steak? No, straight to the nearest Braum’s for a hamburger and milk shake. I want to feel welcomed back to Oklahoma, although I am not there yet.

20. Past the “largest cross in the Western Hemisphere” in Groom and the leaning water tower of Britton, almost home.

21. My cat missed me and would certainly fasten to my leg if I were wearing long pants. The lawn has not grown much, but is a bit ragged, since I refuse to commit vegecide against the faster growing species of grass. So I mow. But only about eight passes deep, next to the street. Passersby will see a foreground that looks trim and not notice the irregular background. I’ve learned a thing or two about perspective from this trip.

22. Can I derive more from these bits? Certainly not right now, so I will turn to my two favorite westward travel books: Kris Lackey’s excellent RoadFrames: The American Highway Narrative and Robert Murray Davis’ collection of essays, The Ornamental Hermit: People and Places of the New West. Maybe they can tell me what I missed, while driving too fast.