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A Southern California native raised in the Bay Area and Northern Colorado, when I was growing up my family would frequently go camping and hiking in the mountains and deserts of the West. Those experiences instilled in me a love of travel, but I was also raised in the interstate era, when holiday trips to visit family in the Midwest consisted of 14 hour days  on featureless roads interspersed with chain motels and drive-thrus. 

The vast difference between trips to get there and trips to enjoy always seemed incongruous as it became clear how much was missed by traveling the Interstates — what's the point of driving if you don't stop anywhere or talk to anyone?  

I moved back to California to study industrial design and fell in love with visual storytelling. Inspired by the stretch of historic Route 66 that brought me back westward, I began traveling old highways as a way to find the character of the country. 

Off the freeways the roads encourage you to be engaged as they curve and jump with the land. They lead right to the center of town, where some of the storefronts are closed up but the people actually talk to you. The corner diner serves up local specialties made with care. The stars are visible at night. Even in the city, the old highways follow the main boulevards, lined with neon glowing and music pouring into the street when the door swings open. 

Thanks to the Interstates, the internet, and air travel we're more connected than ever before, but many of us feel more isolated than ever. I aim to provide a backdrop of perspective but not cynicism. 

The old roads aren't just about nostalgia. They're about creativity, honest work, investing in ourselves and our communities, and the notion that effort is rewarded.  

Ian Bowen is a photographer and cultural historian based in Los Angeles. When not traveling the southwest's highways and byways he can be found at 66-to-Cali, Santa Monica’s original Route 66 visitors center and gift shop.

Featured in

“We took the Great American Road Trip in electric cars” National Geographic Magazine, April 2020

“California’s Route 66: Hiding in Plain Sight”, Santa Monica History Museum, 2019

“The perfect Route 66 road trip for the Main Street of America's 90th birthday”Washington Post, September 8, 2016

"Abandoned" Route 66 season 1 episode 6 Viceland, 2016

"Route 66 Crossings: Historic Bridges of the Mother Road" by Jim Ross, University of Oklahoma Press, 2016

"America: Facts vs. Fiction" Roadside Stories season 1 episode 8, Military Channel, 2013

Author of

Map and Guide to Route 66 in Greater Los Angeles 

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