BOBBY MAGILL

Journalist • Photographer

Bobby Magill is a senior science writer for Climate Central in New York and a journalist who has covered fracking and the environment in Colorado and New Mexico since 2001. 

Cheap thrills for roadgeeks

The town where I was born, raised and schooled, Charleston, S.C., and its metro area serves as the end of the line.

The end of the line, that is, for a number of major highways: Interstate 26 and U.S. Highways 52, 78, 176 and, at one time, 701. Broaden the radius to 75 miles or so from my house where I grew up, there were more: U.S. 15 and 21 and Interstate 20, among others.

So, driving around the South Carolina Lowcountry, I became a bit of a roadgeek. I was fascinated with the idea that I could walk off of my driveway and onto my neighborhood street, drive along a few arterials, and within just a few minutes find myself on a major trans-continental highway, or a highway that connected to one.

I love highways, and I love driving across the continent just as much as anyone else whose idea of a good time involves a greenhouse gas-spewing internal combustion engine. I'm all for mass transit and reducing carbon footprints and such. But, man, I really love driving alone with the window rolled down... you get the picture. To further destroy any notion that I might be an enviro, I've put more than 250,000 on my car (two successive cars, actually) in the last seven years. Most of that was driving the highways of the West, roaming from county to county or shore to shore, or all 33 counties in New Mexico and 61 of the 64 counties in Colorado.

Now that I live in Colorado, I'm in roadgeek heaven. One of the great storied highways north of Route 66, U.S. 6, which today starts in Bishopville, California, and finds itself winding around Cape Cod to reach its eastern terminus,  decades and decades ago ended in nearby Greeley. In Fort Collins, I live only a mile away from the longest state highway in Colorado — Colo. 14 — and the same distance from U.S. 287, which stretches from Montana to the Gulf of Mexico via Yellowstone National Park, Denver and Amarillo.

I'm reminded of my latent roadgeekdom (I've been in the closet for years) by a trip last weekend to a scouting/surveying expedition to the chilly, desolate climes of Lamar, Colorado.

Lamar is way, way, way the hell out on the Eastern Plains, so deeply ensconced in Tornado Alley that its local NPR station, High Plains Public Radio, comes from Kansas and Amarillo (who knew?). Lamar, where the best food in town (no kidding) comes from the local truck stop and the biggest hotel in town as called the Cow Palace, is the home base of the Pierre Auger Cosmic Ray Observatory, for which my partner and I were driving rebar stakes into the ground to mark future sensor sites.

Lamar also sits at the crossroads of three very interesting highways: U.S. 50, the ostensible "Loneliest Road"; U.S. 287, which serves as the main drag through Fort Fun; and U.S. 385, the southern end of which was the primary destination of our Thanksgiving odyssey to Big Bend National Park. Its northern end is Deadwood, S.D., in the Black Hills, where I spent the last two Memorial Day weekends.

Highways are an obsession. So are roadsigns, old dilapidated shells of roadside motels, ancient highway easements and the configuration of urban intersections. I'm nuts, I know. If any of these things piques your interest, follow the links I've scattered throughout this blog entry. They're all like porn for roadgeeks.