In the Spring of 2017, my wife Sarah and I decided to relocate from Washington D.C to Denver, CO.
What followed next were two cross country road trips: one with her, for our relocation, and the second one by myself, to bring our second car. I was aware of the photographic opportunities that good road trips offer and tried my best to take advantage of all the new places, people and cultures I was about to encounter.
It all started with an open mind about what I would see but, slowly, the trips morphed into a personal quest for architectural surprises and lesser known places.
I logged about 4000 miles and visited 14 states, all in about 10 days on the American roads. From beautifully designed churches, funny looking roadside attractions, to popular cities and vast farmlands.
All in all it was an awesome, once in a lifetime experience; one that I had been dreaming about ever since I lived in West Africa.
Growing up there I would watch documentaries and movies about the West, the road trips where unexpected adventures happened and all the places that people knew about but never actually go to, the more rural America.
I used to dream about the time when I would drive the famous Route 66 by myself (though I saw myself on a Harley-Davidson, not a Kia Soul) and sleep in small motels. The legendary road, going from Chicago to Santa Monica, has always -for me- represented America more than cowboys and westerns. It symbolizes freedom, peace, adventure, The Great Unknown.
I expected -like everything in modern day USA- that it would be heavily commercialized, with gift shops every few miles and anything else they could think of. But it actually turned out that the people I met on the Route were way less interested in selling stuff to you.
My favourite stop on the Route 66 was “Gary’s Gay Parita”, a fully restored Sinclair Gas station from the past century. It was cared for by Gare Turner and his wife Lena, who restored it after it had burned down in 1955. Alas, they both passed away in 2015.
From all accounts, Gary was the friendliest individual as he would chat up anyone that stopped at his station, ensuring you became friends before you carried on your trip.
I know this because I was planning to spend around 20 minutes max there, but stayed for 3 hours!
Gary's daughter, Barb, now takes care of the place and intends to keep her father's legacy alive. She shared some stories with me, let me see her late father's office, gave me some watermelon, asked about my life and made sure we became friends before I left.
As I was looking through Gary's office, I found his guest book with loving messages from all over the world. Not only from visitors that stopped by to check one stop off their Route 66 map but also from friends that came back to say goodbye after his passing. His office was filled to the brim with gifts and notes from around the globe and each one of them mourned the departure of the nicest person they had met on the Route.
I was sad that I didn't get to meet him too, but I feel like I knew him a little more when I left that night.
These 3 hours were the sweetest delay I had on my trip!
I feel blessed to have been able to undertake such an epic trip and figure out for myself the great American roads.
Here are some pictures of my Americana, my Great American Road Trip.
A sure way to find great architecture is to look for interesting churches and cathedrals.
City skylines and landmarks were my starting and ending points on most days.
There were some architectural classics but also some odd constructions.
As always, I found beauty not only in museums, but vintage gas stations and parks, as well.
I experienced nature in a variety of ways, and saw how it feels to live in the great spaces and beautiful landscapes of America.
I’m grateful I have been able to experience all of this, and this trip will be forever a highlight of my life. From fulfilling my dream to drive the Route 66 to discovering so many places I never even thought would be out there, this trip made me a better person.
Marvin is a photographer originally from West Africa who studied in America and worked as a missionary in Asia. Life took him to many places. He is documenting the communities and spaces he discover in his travels.