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My husband and I recently returned from a vacation trip to Florida. No, we did not fly and we did not drive straight through for 20 hours. Our journey was a leisurely foray through some of our country’s most beautiful land.

I have come to appreciate these treks because I learn so much about our country and its people. Exiting the busy interstate and exploring out-of-the-way places with such names as the Town of Bland and Dismal Hollow reminds me that times were often difficult in our country’s early years. But our people survived and flourished with an inner strength, hope and a sense of humor, exemplified by the names of the towns, such as Hopeville and Harmony Hollow, and the streets of Lively, English Muffin Way and Apple Pie Spice.

Driving through the Blue Ridge Mountains made me wish that I was a skilled artist, capturing forever the beauty of the landscape. I was inspired by the undulating carpet of forest green, occasionally ripped by jagged rock outcroppings. I breathed in the freshly oxygenated air and silently thanked the trees. As we gazed down at the small towns growing into the valleys below, we wondered who first traveled into the glen and began the construction, and what they were seeking.

And the people! Oh, the wonderful people we’ve met. They were so gracious, caring and helpful wherever we went. All of the hotel clerks and waitresses we encountered were happy to share a brief conversation. We learned a bit of their own life stories, of interesting places to visit and of fabulous restaurants with down-home cookin’. “Oh, you’ve got to try 17 Bones.” “I eat at Victoria House all the time. Love it!”

More often than not, as we chatted, we would learn of a Western New York connection. We’d extol the virtues of the Buffalo area and make friends across the country. We often took their advice, enjoyed our adventure and shared our experiences with friends and family.

I love the small towns. Driving through almost any small town on a weekend in summer or early fall, you can discover celebrations of harvest, heritage and home. We’ve enjoyed panning for gold and watching toilet seat races, complete with plunger “oars.” We’ve eaten delicious barbecue, fresh-picked corn and fruit and heavenly baked goods. Did you know that there is even a National Banana Pudding Festival? People will take the time to enjoy and celebrate almost anything.

I am impatiently awaiting our next car trip. The colors, sounds and smells of autumn have me packing my bags already.

Maybe we will visit Dirty Gertie’s Beverage Center and find out who Dirty Gertie was. Maybe we will plan a trail walk in Hungry Mother State Park. Perhaps we’ll visit Muddlety or Indian Grave Run to discover the history of the name. Maybe I can talk my husband into stopping to appreciate or purchase carefully crafted Amish furniture or meticulously sewn quilts. I can begin my holiday shopping. We’ll stop at each scenic overlook and read the historic markers.

You can fly to your next vacation destination. We’ll drive through our glorious country, to explore the land and the people. We’ll learn about our country through the folks we meet, their traditions and celebrations, and discover the beauty of the landscape through our windshield.