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John Hughes

Road-trip glimpses of America's true worth

Despite persistent joblessness and taxing wars overseas, a summer road trip shows that the American spirit is alive and well.

By John Hughes / July 21, 2010

Tenants Harbor, Maine

These are troubled times for Americans, as joblessness persists, the oil slick laps at the Gulf coastline, and Afghanistan takes a toll on the nation’s young soldiers.

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But lest we forget, this is a land of extraordinary grandeur and remarkable people.

Our summer travels began in the West, where a young grizzly bear in Glacier National Park ambled across our car’s path against a breathtaking backdrop of mountain peaks stretching to the horizon.

In the middle of America, we arrived at Mount Rushmore at a moment of dusk and drama.

This was not Cary Grant in Alfred Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest,” evading foreign spies atop the carved presidential heads. But there was the crack of thunder, and the flash of lightning across the presidential visages.

By day, the monument was a moving reminder of American values and freedoms.

About 300 miles away, the field of white headstones at Little Bighorn, scene of Custer’s last stand, was a reminder of history of another kind.

At Moosehead Lake in northern Maine, we were awed by a full moon’s light rippling across the waters, and early next morning by a crimson sun rising from them, a prelude to a wordless but amicable dialogue with a moose, warning us to let her timid baby hurry across the dirt track ahead of our halted car.

As lasting as these vignettes were, it is individual Americans you meet who remind you of human kindness and fortitude and emotion.

There was the gruff, bearded Idahoan who ended up in tears telling us of the Labrador retriever he had been grieving over for more than a year.

There was the giant, ponytailed, much-tattooed veteran at a fast-food establishment who made up our order, then added a hot dog “on the house,” for our dog in the car.

There was the motel receptionist in South Dakota who lives with his wife in an RV. They happily work various jobs in different states each summer.