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‘America’s National Historic Trails’ Book Review

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America’s National Historic Trails: Walking the Trails of History, by Karen Berger, photography by Bart Smith, Rizzoli International Publications, New York, 2020, $55

Western history fans, armchair travelers, hikers, bicyclists, paddlers and, especially, landscape photography aficionados have a treat in store with this attractive 318-page offering. Of the 19 national historic trails that cover more than 33,000 miles through 42 states, 14 of them are in the Western United States or extend westward across the Mississippi River. The book is divided into five parts—Spanish Southwest (four trails), East Coast (four trails), Westward Expansion (seven trails), American Diversity (four trails) and “Other Voices” (a dozen other trails that “fill in the gaps in our history”).

The photos will first catch the eye and are worth more than one look. Photographer Bart Smith (whose text and images are featured in the April 2021 issue of Wild West) has walked on all these national historic trails, the 11 national scenic trails and many of the other 1,300 or so designated recreational trails that together make up the National Trails System). Author Karen Berger is a fellow relentless hiker and also wrote the award-winning America’s Hiking Trails. She notes that the national historic trails “connect people and cultures by recognizing some of the individuals, groups and cultures that changed the course of our history. And they connect us across time.”

The Westward Expansion section opens with the granddaddy of American pathways, the Lewis and Clark Trail, and includes those most familiar to Wild West readers and associated with Manifest Destiny—namely the Santa Fe Trail (which marks its 200th anniversary in 2021), Oregon Trail, Mormon Pioneer Trail, California Trail and Pony Express Trail. Rounding out the section is the Iditarod Trail, way up north in Alaskan gold rush country. Three of the four trails in the Spanish Southwest section predate Lewis and Clark. The American Diversity section includes the Trail of Tears, along which marched Cherokees on their forced exodus to the West, and the Nez Perce (Nee-Me-Poo) Trail, tracing the tribe’s 1,170-mile flight for freedom. The picturesque book not only provides good information about each historic trail’s route and significance but also various sites to visit for those who enjoy “living the history.” 

—Editor

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