Blue Highways Revisited

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Media Kit

            In 1978, William Least Heat-Moon made a 14,000-mile journey on the back roads of America, visiting 38 states along the way. In 1982, the popular Blue Highways, which chronicled his adventures, was published. Three decades later, Edgar Ailor III and his son, Edgar IV, retraced and photographed Heat-Moon’s route, culminating in Blue Highways Revisited,...

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Media Kit

            In 1978, William Least Heat-Moon made a 14,000-mile journey on the back roads of America, visiting 38 states along the way. In 1982, the popular Blue Highways, which chronicled his adventures, was published. Three decades later, Edgar Ailor III and his son, Edgar IV, retraced and photographed Heat-Moon’s route, culminating in Blue Highways Revisited, released for publication on the thirtieth anniversary of Blue Highways. A foreword by Heat-Moon notes, “The photographs, often with amazing accuracy, capture my verbal images and the spirit of the book. Taking the journey again through these pictures, I have been intrigued and even somewhat reassured that America is changing not quite so fast as we often believe. The photographs, happily, reveal a recognizable continuity - but for how much longer who can say - and I'm glad the Ailors have recorded so many places and people from Blue Highways while they are yet with us.

            Through illustrative photography and text, Ailor and his son capture once more the local color and beauty of the back roads, cafes, taverns, and people of Heat-Moon’s original trek. Almost every photograph in Blue Highways Revisited is referenced to a page in the original work. With side-by-side photographic comparisons of eleven of Heat-Moon’s characters, this new volume reflects upon and develops the memoir of Heat-Moon’s cross-country study of American culture and spirit. Photographs of Heat-Moon’s logbook entries, original manuscript pages, Olympia typewriter, Ford van, and other artifacts also give readers insight into Heat-Moon’s approach to his trip. Discussions with Heat-Moon about these archival images provide the reader insight into the travels and the writing of Blue Highways that only the perspective of the author could provide.

            Blue Highways Revisited reaffirms that the "blue highway" serves as a romantic symbol of the free and restless American spirit, as the Ailors lose themselves to the open road as Heat-Moon did thirty years previously. This book reminds readers of the insatiable attraction of the “blue highway”—“But in those brevities just before dawn and a little after dusk—times neither day or 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 a beckoning, a strangeness, a place where a man can lose himself” (Introduction to Blue Highways).

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
         “For three decades, it has been our honor to publish William Least-Heat Moon's Blue Highways. The Ailors' Blue Highways Revisited is a spectacular companion piece to that American classic. Their photos are breathtaking, perfectly synchronized not just to Heat Moon's American odyssey, but our deepest need to see the world anew. I've read Blue Highways a dozen times, and yet it is now, thanks to this beautiful, heartfelt volume, that I feel I've most closely connected with it. Blue Highways Revisited is a magnificent celebration—and worthy of magnificent celebration itself.”—Geoff Shandler, Editor in Chief, Little, Brown and Company

            “Blue Highways evoked powerful images through words, and now we get to see the pictures. Like America, much has changed, and like America, much has not. Either way, these photos and commentary show the fragile beauty of our land, the unending cycles of life, the indomitable passage of time. This book is as richly revealing of America, today, as was William Least Heat-Moon’s spirited story three decades ago.”—Tim Palmer, award-winning author and photographer of Rivers of America and Trees and Forests of America

“Blue Highways evoked powerful images through words, and now we get to see the pictures. Like America, much has changed, and like America, much has not. Either way, these photos and commentary show the fragile beauty of our land, the unending cycles of life, the indomitable passage of time. This book is as richly revealing of America, today, as was William Least Heat-Moon’s spirited story three decades ago.”—Tim Palmer, award-winning author and photographer of Rivers of America and Trees and Forests of America

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780826219695
  • Publisher: University of Missouri Press
  • Publication date: 5/25/2012
  • Edition description: First Edition, 1st Edition
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 619,533
  • Product dimensions: 11.20 (w) x 8.70 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Edgar I. Ailor III began his photography career on a high school yearbook staff. With a camera always nearby, he honed his skills through several decades of practicing otolaryngology. On retirement in March of 2005 he started Ailor Fine Art Photography in Columbia, Missouri, with Edgar I. Ailor IV.

Edgar I. Ailor IV was born to the flash of a camera and he quickly learned no milestone was complete without photographic documentation - so his love for photography began at an even younger age than his father’s. Edgar IV and his family settled in Schenectady, New York, where he worked for several years serving youth through not-for-profits before forming his own company, Ailor Photography New York.

          The Ailors’ portfolio of Blue Highways Revisited images was accepted in 2011 as one of a hundred worldwide photography projects for the Santa Fe Review, a prestigious juried review with participants from thirteen countries and twenty-three states.

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Read an Excerpt

Blue Highways Revisited

By Edgar I. Ailor III

University of Missouri Press

Copyright © 2012 The Curators of the University of Missouri
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8262-1969-5

Chapter One

The Seed Was Planted Early

My wife, Susie, purchased our hardback copy of Blue Highways the first week it hit the bookstores. I read the first few chapters on a winter evening in January 1983, and I was hooked. I proceeded to read much too late that night, and the alarm went off early the next morning. The thought of getting into a van and traveling the less-traveled roads of America—"the don't-blink-or-you'll-miss-it towns"—captured my imagination. I remember thinking, "Someday I'll make the trip ... someday." In January 1983, however, Susie and I were enjoying my otolaryngology practice and our two children—Angie, aged eight, and Gar (Edgar IV), aged five. Susie was in her second year of medical school. To travel fourteen thousand miles in a van on the back roads of America would have to remain a dream—for almost three decades.

One day Susie told me, "The author of this book sits just two seats from us at Hearnes [home of the Mizzou Basketball Tigers in 1983]. You have to get it autographed!" Our paths continued to cross, and our friendship grew. When Susie and I moved to a rural area southwest of Columbia, we lived only a couple of miles from Heat-Moon. We all shared a love of the solitude, the beauty of the rolling forested hills, and the abundant wildlife. I would occasionally see Heat-Moon as his physician.

Susie, knowing my dream to pursue landscape photography as a second profession, encouraged me to retire a few years early—"while I was still young enough" to climb mountains and hike streams. She also found advertised in Outdoor Photography a Sportsmobile, a Ford F-350 converted to a small four-wheel-drive RV, the vehicle I would use to travel the Blue Highways route. She knew of my hope to photograph the places along the way; and as my most persistent supporter, she told me to "go for it!" Over lunch in downtown Columbia, I pitched the idea of revisiting the route, photographically, to Heat-Moon. I showed him some photographs of the Oregon coast, part of his northwest route. He told me that one of the most common questions he receives from his readers is "When are you going to take the trip again to see how things have changed?" So he liked the idea, even though he thought it unlikely anyone, including me, would follow through with retracing the full route and set it into book form.

In spite of Susie's support, I knew I couldn't be gone for three consecutive months. I began with the first of thirteen trips on October 1, 2006, and completed the last large section—North Dakota to the east coast and back to Missouri—on August 5, 2008. We later made several other, shorter trips to track down "characters" from the book. I was working hard between trips to keep my small photography business afloat, which consists of capturing landscapes to create a warm, inviting atmosphere in hospitals, banks, and a variety of businesses, with wall hangings ranging in size from twelve by eighteen inches to panoramas measuring ten by thirty-four feet. Having a son who was working professionally in photography by that time helped a lot. Gar was able to photograph states near where he was living that had portions of the Blue Highways route—North Carolina and New York. His contributions were limited by the necessity to continue his regular full-time employment. Getting to work with him was for me one of the most enjoyable aspects of the project.

Driving the route in the Sportsmobile was probably similar to traveling in Heat-Moon's Ford van, but my van had a few amenities his didn't. The top pops up—so when I'm stopped I can stand upright. It has air conditioning, a built-in generator, a microwave, a refrigerator, a propane heater, running hot and cold water with a shower off the back, a rear seat that folds down to make a full-size bed, a sound system, a DVD player, and a small flat-screen TV. Heat-Moon had a radio, a cooler, and an endless supply of freezing cold streams for bathing. He had a road atlas with him and purchased books as he traveled. I was well stocked with gazetteers. I would leave town with the refrigerator filled with one-person packaged portions from two of my favorite restaurants, although I also ate peanut butter and jelly as did Heat-Moon. He frequently parked on a street overnight. I usually looked for a county, state, forest service, or national park campground, or a shopping center parking lot when no park was nearby. I never got used to the street sweeper that cleans the massive parking lots sometime between two and five a.m.

As Gar and I photographed more and more of the route, Heat-Moon began to realize we were serious. In spite of his deadlines for his new book, Roads to Quoz, he took time to look at our images and make suggestions, contribute archival information and negatives of his original photographs, and provide insight about his trip. He even read and edited our text.

Conversation with Heat-Moon

Striking Out

How does an individual decide to strike out on a long circular trip on the back roads of the United States, through thirty-eight states, leading to towns like Nameless, Tennessee; Dime Box, Texas; Frenchman, Nevada; and Cape Porpoise, Maine? Perhaps it is an ingrained sense of wanderlust—Heat-Moon's is strong. Home had become intolerable. Separated from his wife for nine months, he got word that she had found a "friend." With enrollment down, his teaching position had been eliminated at Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri. It seemed an opportune moment to hit the road, to satisfy a longing found in so many Americans.

On March 20, 1978, with $26 in his wallet, $428 hidden under the dashboard of his green Ford Econoline van named Ghost Dancing, a small gray spider crawling the dash, and four gasoline-company credit cards, Heat-Moon headed east on Interstate 70. Of course, I-70 is not a blue highway, but it led him quickly to new territory. He hit the first back road as he turned south on Illinois 4 just east of St. Louis.

So why didn't he go west? Heat-Moon told me, "I was following spring. I wanted to get to warm weather. The journey began after a bitterly cold winter when we set record lows all over the country." He would follow spring into the southeast United States, and by the time he reached the Northwest the cold weather would be gone. "I didn't want to sleep in a hot truck in Georgia or an icy one in Montana." He also noted that "no fellow with some Osage in him would go counterclockwise—clockwise is the sacred direction."

He refitted the interior of Ghost Dancing to suit his plans. "When I bought the van, it was an empty metal box. I put carpet down, installed paneling and a ceiling—all of it insulated. A friend helped put a roof port in." The bed was a wooden platform. "I had a thick foam pad from the medical school to put under a pair of sleeping bags. I slept crosswise to the van and kept supplies under the bunk. I loved being in there. On the Blue Highways trip, some mornings I'd wake up—when I wasn't too depressed about what was happening to me—I'd lie there and think, 'I can't believe I'm really doing this.'" We experienced the same elation while retracing Heat-Moon's route.

The cost of the brand-new van was $3,647. "I spent 187 nights in the back. If you figure a modest motel room then cost about $20, it comes out to $3,740. I considered the van was practically free—I paid just for lodging. Of the eighty-two nights on the Blue Highways trip, I paid for a room on only three nights." He stayed in a motel in Deming, New Mexico (BH 154), a hotel in Rolla, North Dakota (BH 274), and a tourist home in Woodstock, Vermont (BH 325).

Ghost Dancing, Heat-Moon's 1975 Ford Econoline van.

"If you look at the photograph of the van with the doors open, you'll see two maps of the United States I put on the inside of the doors. I wanted the effect of a window. I wish now I had marked out the Blue Highways route on those maps; but, of course, I used this van for many other trips." His "wheel estate," as one mechanic called it (BH 8), is now housed in the Museum of Art and Archaeology Support Center on the University of Missouri campus in Columbia.

Ghost Dancing's interior.

Heat-Moon slept on the raised platform in the rear of the van. The two trunks and the cooler held his supplies on the trip.

Ghost Dancing's bill of sale.

Heat-Moon sold a four-cylinder Austin and applied that five hundred dollars to the cost of the van.

The first page of the Blue Highways logbook.

These notes give an idea of how Blue Highways began. Heat-Moon "logged in" at the end of each day or on the following morning. Compare this page with Blue Highways (BH 4) to see how one became the other.

"The first draft of Blue Highways was the logbook I kept on the trip," he told me during one of our conversations. "I had a handwritten copy of basic material before I started writing the manuscript in pencil, then to ink, and then to the typewriter. I get blocked if I try to do a first draft with a machine rather than a pencil."

The Olympia portable.

This "solid little machine" was the typewriter Heat-Moon used for the first several drafts of Blue Highways. The sheet of paper in the machine is an actual page from an early manuscript.

Look at the crack in the right plastic paper guide (top center). Heat-Moon was working at the county courthouse as a clerk by day and writing his book at night. After ten months of that schedule, he was burned out. One night when the words weren't going well he had a kind of mental blackout. "I came to, and I had a flip-flop in my hand, and I was whacking the typewriter—trying to beat the proper words onto the page."

Blue Highways manuscript, page 1, chapter 1 (BH 3).

This is an early draft. There were eight complete typed drafts. "Some individual pages I rewrote four to five times within a single draft," Heat-Moon said. "A page could frequently have thirty or forty changes. And the opening paragraph—it's only about a hundred words—I rewrote two dozen times."

Manuscript, page 33 (BH 18).

This early draft reveals the painstaking way HeatMoon's writing develops. Compare this version with the final text on page 18 of Blue Highways. Notice the shift from present to past tense, a significant change.

For the Accuracy Check.

This is the form that accompanied the text of each individual's story Heat-Moon sent to the people who appear in Blue Highways. "In every book I've written, I do an accuracy check with the people who appear. I don't do it with somebody who's mentioned for a sentence or two, but for someone appearing at length, I send a copy of my text. They're free to make any kind of comments or corrections whatsoever. In some cases, I've sat at a kitchen table with them and read aloud what I've written."

The two Nikon F-2 cameras HeatMoon carried on his journey.

He used two lenses primarily—a 55 mm Nikkor macro lens (right), which he used for most of the environmental portraits, and a 105 mm lens (left). His aluminum case had a Life sticker by the handle. When he was fourteen that was his aspiration—to be a photographer for Life magazine.

"I wonder what Blue Highways would have been like if I'd had digital equipment and could have taken endless photographs without having to develop my negatives on the road. I was always hunting for a light-tight bathroom where I could process. I was afraid if I kept the film until I got home there might be deterioration of the images from heat or humidity.

"Once I returned home, I organized the negatives in a notebook—safe and protected. My partner at that time became upset one night because I was out late with the boys. She got mad and figured she needed to teach me a lesson. So she considered putting my negatives into the kitchen oven and giving them a toasting. Had she done that, I don't know what would have happened. I think the photographs helped the publishers believe in the book. They saw the pictures were an asset. But even more, I wanted to show readers the 'characters' were not fictional. I thought their faces were a testament. Had I lost those negatives, maybe Blue Highways would have been published and maybe it wouldn't—but it certainly would have changed the book."

Photograph by Heat-Moon, 1983.

"This is an illustrative photograph—made after publication of Blue Highways—for an article in Ford Times. On that day, the only model available was my father. I put the camera on a tripod, set the self-timer, and ran back and forth to take several pictures. He's talking to me, waving his hand, pointing out something, much as people did occasionally on the Blue Highways trip."

Heat-Moon's Ancestry

I said to Heat-Moon, "We know from reading Blue Highways that you have Indian heritage, but in the book there isn't much detail about it."

He replied, "I don't consider myself an Indian, although it's part of my ancestry, which also includes English, Irish, Osage, and even a touch of German. Yet I don't call myself an Englishman or Irishman, so I'm not going to call myself an Indian; but that aspect of my background has been important to me. My Osage heritage—even though it was covered over for years—is important to me as a writer. In the last century any kind of Indian blood was frequently hidden away. I think that's somewhat changed today, but even years ago my father was proud to acknowledge all aspects of our family."

"Your dad's name was Heat-Moon, but yours is Least Heat-Moon."

"My elder brother is Little Heat-Moon. My father took the name HeatMoon in the 1930s and used it exclusively in Boy Scouts. He was a scoutmaster and a member of the tribe of Mic-O-Say, a Scout organization in Kansas City, Missouri. The heart of the organization is in St. Clair County on the Osage River. The group draws upon the customs of the Osage. When my father had to choose a name, he took Heat-Moon for several reasons. Because there were twelve adult leaders being brought into the tribe that summer, somebody thought to use the twelve names of the moon translated from Plains Indian lore. My father choose July—the moon of heat—because that, as far as we know, was the month of the birth of our last full-blood Osage ancestor. What the grandfather's name was in Osage I have never been able to learn. Indians were not citizens of the United States until 1924, so records give only his Anglo name. Years later when my elder brother came along and became a member of the tribe, he chose Little Heat-Moon. When I turned thirteen, I wanted to continue the family tradition, and that made me Least Heat-Moon. I had no idea at the time I would put it on a book. We didn't spell it with a hyphen because we rarely wrote the name. When Blue Highways first appeared, there was no hyphen and people began calling me Moon. That's half a name. I added the punctuation so librarians would know how to alphabetize the book and people wouldn't call me Mister Moon. On the early editions of Blue Highways, my Anglo name, William Trogdon, also appeared."

Historic Wabash Theater marquee, Grayville, Illinois, on Route 130.

I made this photograph in a drizzle on a cold November night. Although the marquee was not lit, the street lamps provided enough illumination for a time exposure. I was peering through my camera mounted on a tripod with my head and camera draped under a black garbage bag to keep the camera dry when a voice startled me.

"What are you taking a picture of?" Pat Seil, owner and editor of Grayville's paper, the Navigator & Journal-Register, had been working late and found me on Main Street at 11:40 p.m. I explained my mission. He told me, "Grayville folks puffed up with pride for a while from the mention of their town in a best seller. And for a few years people would follow the route and stop by Grayville, stirring up a little tourism as well." He went on to explain that the building was preserved and is maintained by people in town and serves as the site for four or five plays a year.

Heat-Moon spent the first night of his long journey next to this marquee. As he lay on his bunk, wondering what he had undertaken and whether he could complete such a journey, he "fought desolation and wrestled memories of the Indian wars." Because of Heat-Moon's Osage ancestry, and his wife's Cherokee heritage, he called their battles the "Indian wars" (BH 7). After the night in Grayville, he crossed the Wabash into Indiana.

Ohio River adjacent to Indiana Route 66, Mano Point Recreation Site near Derby, Indiana.

State Route 66 follows the muddy banks of the Ohio, "sometimes not ten feet from the road" (BH 9).

Mail Pouch barn, Indiana Route 62.

Indiana Highways 66 and 62 took Heat-Moon "into the hilly fields of Chew Mail Pouch barns." The route was "so crooked it could run for the legislature" (BH 9).

William Tell "and his crossbow and nervous son," Tell City, Indiana, on State Route 66.

Heat-Moon followed 66 to Sulphur, then took Route 62 "through the old statehouse town of Corydon" and crossed the Ohio River into Kentucky at Louisville (BH 9).


Excerpted from Blue Highways Revisited by Edgar I. Ailor III Copyright © 2012 by The Curators of the University of Missouri. Excerpted by permission of University of Missouri Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


Foreword by William Least Heat-Moon....................ix
Preface—Retracing the Journey....................xi
Throughout My Life....................xii
For This Project....................xii
The Seed Was Planted Early....................2
Conversation with Heat-Moon....................4
Striking Out....................4
Heat-Moon's Ancestry....................15
Two—East by Southeast....................40
North Carolina....................40
South Carolina....................48
Three—South by Southeast....................61
Four—South by Southwest....................78
New Mexico....................88
Five—West by Southwest....................107
Six—West by Northwest....................141
Conversation with Heat-Moon....................166
Trip Expenses....................166
Seven—North by Northwest....................176
North Dakota....................187
Eight—North by Northeast....................206
New York....................208
New Hampshire....................236
Nine—East by Northeast....................245
Rhode Island....................256
New York....................264
New Jersey....................270
West Virginia....................297
Conversation with Heat-Moon....................312
Unofficial Editor....................313
On Deciding to Write a Book....................314
On Getting Published....................314
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 2.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 26, 2014

    For those who loved the original novel, this is a wonderful phot

    For those who loved the original novel, this is a wonderful photographic tour of Least-Heat's itinerary.
    Includes passage references to Blue Highways.Photography is superb.

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  • Posted August 2, 2013


    If you expect this book to be an update of the cult classic "Blue Highways," forget about it. This book consists only of photos of the places mentioned in the original, accompanied by unnecessary paragraphs describing it. Nothing about the people, their towns and what the residents love about their life styles. It didn't take much of an author to write it, and that is what you'll get.

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