Old Trails and Frontiers by William Croft – Book review

This travel guide by retired headmaster William Croft describes eight car journeys within the south-western states of the USA, hence its full title: Old Trails and Frontiers – Driving the American Southwest. Early in the book he admits: “I love wild and desolate places” and that sets the tone for these journeys.

Old Trails and Frontiers
Book cover

In each case the author provides copious details about the route taken (with a map) and places to visits. He also gives contact details for the various National and State Parks he travels through and for accommodation along the routes.

The eight journeys are:

    1. Coast, Volcano and Wine in Northern California – 750 miles passing the tallest tree in the world and through the Napa Valley vineyards.
    2. Missions and Parks in Central California – 1000 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles, then inland to the Yosemite National Park.
    3. Burning Deserts in Southern California – 1,100 miles through the Mojave and Colorado deserts and visiting the Joshua Tree National Park.
    4. Lonely Places in California, Nevada and Utah – 1,600 miles crossing the Sierra Nevada range to Salt Lake City.
    5. High Plateau in Southern Utah – 1,250 miles visiting five National Parks.
    6. Rim to Rim in Northern Arizona – 850 miles around the Grand Canyon.
    7. Indian Country, Four Corners, where Arizona, Utah, Nevada and New Mexico meet – 1,420 miles through Monument Valley and past the Four Corners marker plaque.
    8. Saguaro and Apache in Southern Arizona – 850 miles visiting the Saguaro National Park and Wyatt Earp country.

The author provides excellent descriptions of the scenery and the flora and fauna he comes across, complemented by 200 full colour photographs giving a real feel of, for example, the magnificence of the mountains and canyons and the stark beauty of the desert regions.

This is a well researched book with much historical detail about the Indian civilisations, the Spanish and Mormon colonisations and about the settlers and miners who trekked across the deserts and mountains to California.

The author estimates that he has driven 75,000 miles across the USA to date and hence his practical tips at the back of the book on hiring and driving cars in the USA is based on extensive experience.

Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park

Although a Senior, at no point in his journeys does the author let age hold him back from visiting some of the remotest points in the USA along some of the most hazardous roads. I have always found the USA to be Senior Traveller friendly and it would have been interesting to have known the author’s views on this and maybe to have had some tips for Seniors following his routes. Possibly his advice to tie a piece of ribbon to the steering wheel to remind you to drive on the right could be included in these tips!

There are two groups of readers to whom this book will appeal. As the author writes in the Introduction:
If you love to drive in foreign places and this book excites you to explore the American Southwest, then I will be thrilled. On the other hand, if you are an armchair traveller and enjoy reading this book, then that will please me too.”

I have driven along some of these routes myself, including from San Francisco to Los Angeles and along Route 66 in Arizona, and certainly believe my travels would have been much enhanced if I had read this book first, so I would strongly recommend this book to anyone contemplating a driving holiday in the USA.

I would also very much recommend this book to the armchair travellers who, providing they skip the travel details, will find much to fascinate them in the travel descriptions, historical backgrounds and photographs.

Published by Book Guild Publishing, Sussex, England, 2012 (ISBN 978 1 84624 655 5) and can be obtained from Waterstones with free UK delivery or from the Book Depository with free world-wide delivery.

PS Please see comment by the author in About Us.