Driving across this wide country on northern route 90, two things are clear:
1) This land is breathtakingly beautiful. Still.
2) This land is big. Big skies, big views, long, long unending roads.
First, the beauty. The forests of Oregon with Mt. Hood looming over it all, the windy roads of Idaho passing contoured hills, the extraordinary vistas of Montana, large valleys rimmed by mountains, rivers alongside roads with kayaks and rafts. And then the South Dakota Badlands, up there in my book with Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon as some of the most unique land formations on the planet. And then Wisconsin’s more intimate rolling hills and inviting lakes and rivers. And finally, to our familiar piece of heaven on the shores of Lake Michigan.
Despite the onslaught of strip malls that have ravaged the land, there is so much beauty still and not all of it in National Parks. Beauty comes in many forms, shapes and colors and in the West, it is mostly the endless open space and grandeur and crisp, clean air, the kind that inspired even sophisticated urbanites like Cole Porter to wax rhapsodic about the magnificent splendor of the American West, the kind of freedom it invites:
Oh give me land, lots of land, under starry skies above, don’t fence me in.
Let me ride in the wide open country that I love, don’t fence me in.
And that brings us to the enormity of that wide open country, those spacious views. Whenever I worry about overpopulation, I marvel at hundreds and hundreds of miles with barely a building or a human being in sight. Well, there are details like water sources, but still, there’s just so much room!And that also means long, long hours of driving on roads that just seem to stretch out forever. It’s a big, big country and it’s no casual thing to drive all the way across—well, to Michigan, still a day or two from the East Coast. Amazing that I used to do this hitchhiking. Twice.
So this my little report to assure all armchair travelers that in spite of real estate developers, industrial expansion, the proliferation of strip malls and overpopulation, beauty and open land are still a part of the United States of America. In spite of all the mindless uglification in the name of profit, there are still majestic purple mountains and waving amber waves of grain and spacious skies.
And it is beautiful.