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BOOKS TO GO

In the Footsteps of America's Explorers

July 25, 1999|BOB SIPCHEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

AMERICA'S NATIONAL HISTORIC TRAILS by Kathleen Ann Cordes, photographs by Jane Lammers (University of Oklahoma Press, $19.95, paper).

Congress' passage of the National Trails System Act in 1968 spurred a process that has since created 12 national historic trails, eight national scenic trails and more than 800 national recreation trails. This book's focus is on that first set of pathways, preserved and honored because explorers or migrants or military forces used them to make history.

As portrayed in the book's color maps, the trails squiggle across much of the country. Three--the California National Historic Trail, the Pony Express National Historic Trail and the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail--poke into the Golden State.

The Anza trail enters the U.S. from Mexico out by Yuma, Ariz., then winds north to San Francisco, commemorating the route taken by its namesake on his exploratory expedition of 1775. It cuts through desert that looks much as it did in the 18th century and through modern cities, including Los Angeles, that those Spanish travelers couldn't have imagined.

Cordes' prose and Lammers' photographs capture the routes nicely, and Cordes' history lessons are worth reading even by folks who have no intention of hiking even a mile or two on one of these trails.

We learn, for instance, that the Mormons who followed Brigham Young with handcarts and wagons from Nauvoo, Ill., to Salt Lake City, Utah, were more disciplined than many immigrants. "The first thoughts of Young's pioneers were to improve the route for the Mormons who followed," Cordes writes. "Distances were measured, mileposts set up, and good locations for camping, wood, water and forage were noted."

The Indians for whom the Nez Perce National Historic Trail was named, on the other hand, were trying to evade capture by the U.S. Army. They traveled more than 1,100 miles from Wallowa Lake, Ore., to Bear's Paw, Mont., before the Army subdued them in a brutal fight.

"Hear me, my chief," Chief Joseph reportedly said. "I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever."

*

WORKING AT PLAY, A History of Vacations in the United States by Cindy S. Aron (Oxford University Press, $35, hardcover).

The Puritans who helped shape America weren't keen on fun. So it took awhile for the American middle class to warm up to the notion of taking trips away from home for the purposeless pursuit of pleasure.

By the middle of the 19th century, however, the word "vacation" was in common use, though journalists, ministers and doctors kept the culture embroiled in debate about whether such dalliances with leisure would create better health, productivity and virtue or lead the whole democratic institution into ruin. From White Sulphur Springs in West Virginia to Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada, resorts blossomed. Health resorts and religious resorts. Vacations where folks did nothing but stare at a stream, and those in which sports were played and races run seemingly nonstop.

As the 20th century dawned, minorities and the working class had joined the middle class and idle rich in embracing the vacation. Discrimination kept some from enjoying the hot spots, so African Americans created their own resorts in places such as West Baden, Ind., and Shell Island Beach, N.C., while Jews put down summer roots in the Catskills.

Aron, an associate professor of history at the University of Virginia, doesn't exactly make this academic history sing, but the material should prove fascinating to anyone who is thinking about ditching the work world for a spell this summer.

Quick trips

THE PENNY PINCHER'S PASSPORT TO LUXURY TRAVEL by Joel L. Widzer (Travelers' Tales Guides, $12.95, paper).

OK. Luxury can be a nice thing. And if you're filthy rich, constant pampering is pretty easy to come by. If you're not, this book shows you how to work the system in ways that land you in first-class seats and five-star hotels. All the strategizing, schedule contorting and toadying up that Widzer recommends may strike some as exhausting and undignified. But if you truly share his notions of travel--for instance, that sitting in a plane's first-class section offers "incomparable pleasures"--this book may be for you.

EUROPE ON A SHOESTRING edited by Scott McNeely (Lonely Planet, $24.95, paper).

With their grandparents splurging on one posh, gluttony-inspiring luxury cruise after another, it's a wonder today's college-age youth are still, like generations before them, backpacking around Europe, hostel to campground. If you need to ask which experience is more fun and better for making meaningful contact with other cultures, you've had one too many shipboard treatments.

Highlights of this plump and fact-filled guide include a "Lowlights" list. Sampling: "The Sound of Music" in Salzburg, and Denmark's Legoland.

SCOTLAND FOR BACKPACKERS, 1999 by Erica Brock (Reel Publishing, $14.95, paper).

In summer, at festival time, it's hard to decide whether the open-air madness on Edinburgh's Royal Mile has more backpackers per square foot or fire-eaters. Lighting out from that city leads to endless possibilities: Follow the whiskey distillery trail? Island hop through the Orkneys, which are said to have more ancient ruins than anywhere but the Nile Delta?

Books to Go appears the second and fourth week of every month.

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