Rants and Raves

Opinion, commentary, reviews of books, movies, cultural trends, and raising kids in this day and age.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sucks to be back

Note: I emailed this in last Thursday for the paper's weekend edition. Orgeon, Washington, and the northern coast of California are the states to be for those who have a taste for mountains, seacoasts and deserts. You can live on the slope of a mountain with forrest all around, and high desert at your back across the peaks.

I reminded myself of why the late Charles Kuralt had the best job ever.

On the road across America

By Steve Browne

Today I'm on the sixth day of a road trip across the north western states with my son, and preparing to return home tomorrow with the greatest reluctance.

We left Valley City on Saturday and headed west down I-94 to Billings, Montana and from there to Yellowstone National Park.

I last saw Yellowstone when I was about my son's age, so this was a real treat. He'd read about Old Faithful, so he had to see it. We were not disappointed.

Well, perhaps about one thing. We saw elk and buffalo close up, but no bears. When I was a boy bears were begging everywhere along the roads, fed by idiot tourists from their cars in spite of all the signs telling them not to. I was told that doesn't happen anymore. After a few tourists were killed, they really started enforcing regulations.

From there we took old U.S. 20 across the high desert country of Idaho to Boise, where we picked up I-84 to Portland, Oregon.

We've crossed the same territory it took the Lewis and Clark expedition a couple of years and tremendous effort. We've gone through different ecological zones, sometimes in a matter of minutes, and reset our clocks three times.

We've seen the truly breathtaking beauty of the high western mountains, the rugged volcanic landscape of Craters of the Moon National Monument, high plains, deserts, the mighty Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean.

When I think about it, I am astounded that we've done this in a matter of days. What a time to live in when such things are possible!

I find myself possessed of a longing for contradictory things. I want to keep on the road for... a lot longer. Maybe forever.

On the other hand, I've seen intriguing little communities I'd like to settle down for a while and get to know better.

There's a little town called Arco way out in the Idaho desert, population about 900. Yet it manages to have a thriving Main Street, and a nuclear submarine museum. Why does this little place seem to thrive when small towns are dying across the country? Could it have something to do with the top secret-looking energy laboratory in the desert.

Arco boasts it was the first town in America powered by nuclear energy.

Then there's Baker City, Oregon, population 9,000. A town of well-preserved historical buildings set between a steep mountain gorge and a fertile valley. We stayed in a motel there one night, because our tent needed fixing.

In the motel office the manager lady had turtles, a ferret, an iguana, and a bearded dragon lizard, literally running around loose.

"Are you a collector?" I asked.

"Not exactly," she replied. "I got the iguana from an animal rescue group. Then when word got around I had him, people started giving me other abandoned animals."

We saw people coping with the recession by starting small coffee and food kiosks. We encountered waitresses in diners who passed a word of encouragement to my son when I had him doing his homework on the table. We met Americans, a people of diverse origins scattered across an immense land, but all still recognizably my countrymen.

Travel writing is a thing of extremes. On the one hand you have John Steinbeck's 'Travels with Charlie,' and William Least Heat Moon's 'Blue Highways." But most is filler for tourist brochures.

It's difficult to describe what you see driving across America and the people you meet. But when you start to travel, it's difficult to stop. It's like a hunger, you want to eat the life of this country.

And that's when you have to remind yourself to slow down, stop and savor the place you're in before you move on.

Well, maybe next trip. We've got a lot to see yet.


  • At 5:00 AM, Blogger mhg said…

    There you go! My best Army buddy is from Baker, and he makes it sound like one of the few real American towns still left. When everything finally goes to hell, I'm going to Baker.

  • At 1:33 PM, Blogger Steve said…

    It seemed like a great place to me.

    And if you're the paranoid type, it seemed to me the town and a lot of agricultural land could be pretty effectively isolated by fortifying a couple of passes...

  • At 9:28 PM, Blogger Gerry said…

    I still haven't had a chance to visit Yellowstone. I am envious.

  • At 6:42 AM, Blogger Steve said…

    I smug.

    Seriously, it's worth the visit. I'm wondering what it takes to become a resident of the town at the north entrance.


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