In 5th grade some made fun of me because I’d stare at a globe. They called me a “fat-ass nerd”. They called me other things.

But I was curious.

Where’s Australia? Where’s Texas? Where’s Dallas? To see political boundaries come together like a jigsaw puzzle was neat. So I kept doing it. The insults of the sons of 80’s yuppies didn’t douse my curiosity. It’s still part of me.

And I’m glad. This curiosity has brought countless hours of joy. Curiosity becomes wonder, then excitement, then motivation to travel. Travels born from curiosities of lines on maps have created some of the happiest memories in my life.

Like canoeing Dallas’ Trinity River from downtown to South Dallas for a warm odyssey in May that maybe 1 in 50,000 will ever experience

Like driving from Texas to San Francisco using a Rand McNally Road Atlas as my guide through some of the American Wests’ most iconic landscapes like Monument Valley and Grand Canyon…

Like taking a jeep through the Coconino National Forest north of Sedona and finding a road that led to an overlook of the West Fork Canyon that maybe 1 in 40,000 who spend any time in Northern Arizona see…

Many mornings have found me staring at topographic features of California, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, etc, etc, so as to ascertain the most scenic hikes or drives. Warm and colorful imaginings of landscapes fill me with anticipation to travel.

Then I go. Then I experience the reality. Sometimes it doesn’t live up to hype. But sometimes it’s far better. Observing changes in topography, flora and skies adds a richness you don’t get through flying. .

My California DeLorme is tattered. But DeLorme’s road atlases are the best. The pages are essentially topographic maps with roads and cities imposed upon them. You see where mountains hem in Los Angeles. You see the elevation of the desert you’re standing in as you look up to the Lower 48’s highest point west of Lone Pine at Mount Whitney. The lines and colors titilate the imagination and make you want to travel there… at least if you’re nerd.

Take the above Delorme Atlas. Years ago I was on US 395, in Eastern California, going up to Lone Pine. From there I’d so I’d go east to Death Valley National Park. Curious to see where else 395 goes, I went to the page North of Lone Pine, which features Bishop and Big Pine. East of Bishop I saw the Bristlecone Pine Forest labeled on a mountain range (circled in red).  Later looking up that forest’s significance made me see they were the oldest trees on Earth. This inspired another trip. This made more life-long memories.

This isn’t boasting. This isn’t saying look how cool I am. Not at all. I realize most couldn’t give a damn about what I’m saying.

But that’s not the point. The point is that my love of maps have taken me to amazing places. Some men would understand this perfectly. MAPS ARE FREAKIN’ NEAT!

But most don’t men don’t feel like this. That’s fine (I guess). But the below italicized words describing the motivating force behind the exploration of new continents in centuries past resonate with me. The purpose of those new men exploring new lands was to…

…to grasp the profound unity in nature – to be master of some overarching, transcendent, romantic secret about the whole earth and cosmos that seemed to give a final meaning and direction to those efforts that began in the eighteenth century to know the mind of God through knowledge of His every manifestation in nature.”  

Granted, as my fat ass is in the seat of an automobile eating a breakfast burrito, my thoughts are not always so celestial. But sometimes they’re inspired to try to be.

Regardless, the ability to cover so much terrain on America’s beautiful highways is one of the greatest treats in the history of mankind. To see the land evolve from scorching deserts to snowy mountains, and then back again, is a opportunity for observation that the great explorers of the past would have died for. But it can still be fascinating to us moderns. The beauty of landscapes still awaken the dormant artists and scientists within.

And why not fall in love with maps that light the way?

But most just plug their destinations into a computer. They do what the voice says. They don’t find the way themselves.

And I can’t tell you how many people have gotten in trouble because they rely on GPS, and lose their signal, and lose their way. Seriously, it is foolish to travel and have no knowledge of how to read a map. I can’t believe words like this even have to be said for adults. Knowing this should be as common as knowing to put your underwear on first.

Oh the sarcastic words that have gone through my mind as I see helplessness in adults who are lost because they don’t have a map or know how to read it!

Nothing replaces paper. The practical, beautiful and inspiring thing in your hands is the most perfect compliment to the thrill of the open road that every American men should appreciate.

And it could also save your life wilderness. This should be common sense. But that ain’t so common.