On the old highway maps of America, the main routes were red and the back roads blue. Now even the colors are changing. But in those brevities just before dawn and a little after dusk — times neither day nor night — the old roads return to the sky some of its color. Then, in truth, they carry a mysterious cast of blue, and it’s that time when the pull of the blue highway is strongest, when the open road is beckoning, a strangeness, a place where a man can lose himself.
And so begins William Least Heat-Moon’s Blue Highways, published in 1982. I was a newly licensed teenager when I came across this book and for a kid who’d always lived in small towns just outside the bright lights of a big city, it was akin to discovering the Meaning of Life. Heat-Moon’s dedication to staying off the interstates in exploring the little-known pockets of Americana spurred a desire within to trace the blue highways of my own state — ultimately shaping themes of desolation and resilience that would later sneak up in my photography and writing.
Photographer Ed Ailer retraced Heat-Moon’s route last year in preparation for his own book, Blue Highways Revisited. You can view some of his photos here.