Sunday, October 19, 2014

Rounding the Corner

Our tour of the Southwest is over and, when I turn north this morning to follow the California coastline from San Luis Obispo to Carmel, I'm sure the rental car  and I will begin to smell the barn. We are on the home stretch of what has already been  6,000 mile journey across America. It might be said that we've really seen the country, but that would be a mistake. Our wavy path on the map is like one strand of curly hair on a massive head. It covers so little. America is huge and, contrary to conventional description, except for a few spots, it is a land totally devoid of people and roads. Most of it still consists of open space covered by sagebrush, native grasses, rocky outcroppings, forests, or, over the former prairie, miles of corn or soybeans. Driving across these stretches, I am continuously struck by the country's beauty, including those areas what some people might refer to as wasteland, The scenery from these lonely, desolate places are serene, virtually undisturbed by the hubbub of human activity, and convey a vision of an earlier time in history. For those who appreciate the past intellectually or sense the magical aspect of nature aesthetically, seeing this vast emptiness brings a certain joy to the travel experience. It is much like the feeling a person has when he discovers a fossil in a long hidden rock. He has uncovered something special, ancient and seemingly timeless.

This sensation is revealed in the first photo showing two tabletop mesas from U.S. 199 just south of the Utah-Arizona border. The location is on the Navajo reservation and these monuments clearly served until recently as directional markers for indigenous people who wandered the countryside. Modern time  has altered the view dramatically as seen by the fence and telephone poles in the foreground, but these monoliths remain steadfast and stoic in spite of change.

The second picture comes from the trail leading to the base of Canyon de Chelly near Chenle, Arizona. It shows the red sandstone of the palisade walls that line the canyon and a peek of its verdant green floor which once was lined with fruit trees. Its stillness and the soothing beauty of its texture creates a healing potion which pervades the air. I have sensed this essence when visiting cemeteries or, in this case, battlefields, before. This place marks the site that saw the end of the powerful Navajo nation. In 1863, aided by the famous explorer Kit Carson, the cavalry attacked and decimated the terrified remnants of the tribe which had sought refuge in the canyon. The frightened survivors were then rounded up, removed, and marched three hundred miles to Bosque Redondo in New Mexico to be sequestered on a reservation.

The third shot demonstrates that it is hard to take a bad picture of the Grand Canyon. Undeterred by the fact that the South Rim is inundated by tourists every day of the year or that the roads from Williams or Flagstaff are clogged with traffic, the pilgramage to our country's Mecca is worth it. The place defines grandeur pure and simple. Although geologically a young phenomenon, scoured out by huge flooding of the Colorado River, the Grand Canyon feels permanent. Does that impression inspire a sense of security in its viewers that, in spite of everything harmful to the environment away from here, that this place will remain unaffected and preserve an aesthetically amazing world?

The last photo taken of the edge of a small lake near the entrance to Vernal, Utah, I saved for the end. I don't want to add words, Fill in your own description as you read this. Let the colors and shapes form your thoughts as a brief break from your daily routine. Become a traveler for just a moment.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Ramblings from the Road

Tonight we are in  Pinedale,Wyoming, below Yellowstone National Park and Jackson Hole. We have turned South and will soon cross Utah and hope to reach the Grand Canyon by mid-week. On Wednesday, it will be a month since we left Miami and, I have to admit, as I plotted this week's route through western states, I became anxious about the trip ending. There is a part of me that fears returning home and feeling restless with the familiar and the mundane.  I guess "I Was Born a Ramblin' Man." Sergio seems to have that "wind at your back" mentality as well. He has been taking in America fully. He has not slept or dozed in the car even once across the monotonous prairie, the vast stretches of farmland or through open plains. He snaps photos occasionally, asks a question once in a while, but is mainly silent. Like me, his eyes are fixed on the details of the passing towns and countryside which are magically drenched in soothing Autumn colors. There is little to say that can capture adequately the fullness of the experience. One enjoyable aspect of any road trip is to read the signs that pop up along the way that bring a smile. I have selected several for your review.

The first comes from outside a tavern at the edge of Interior South Dakota. It is a well meaning, good hearted message and implies that anyone is welcome at the Horseshoe. It also describes something about its clientele. I briefly considered stopping to buy a shirt and sit at the bar and have a Coors with some of the big boys, but then I decided that, after sitting on my butt driving all day, I needed exercise instead.

The second sign was placed adjacent a path in a rural park in Central Florida where we stopped to have lunch. Its purpose is to advise people of the dangers of large toothy reptiles and to protect the animals from human contact  as well, However, warning people to avoid molesting alligators seems, quite frankly, a little perverse. I shudder to think how some local deviant might plan to molest an innocent unsuspecting alligator. Lure it with small sweet frogs into his van?

Last of all, I was amazed to see this highway sign while entering Interstate 140 off of Union Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee. People often spell the way they talk. I can see how a Southern drawl might influence the misspelling of pedestrian.. But then again, in a state where edjacatn is hindured by maybe a little too much prain, shud I be sirprised?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Go West, Young Men!

Today marks three weeks since I picked up Sergio in Miami. Our route across America has followed the less traveled roads through the South and the Midwest with a layover in Chicago to visit my relatives and, mixed in between, to see a few important sights. For the past several days we have been crossing what was once the Great Prairie but now, from an ecologist's viewpoint, is sadly the corn and soybean belt We have completed over 3000 miles and are now at the western edge of the Central Time Zone in Pierre, South Dakota.

We are two fellas in a car travelling through towns that are off the interstate and on routes that once were major in the 1950's, These less well paved highways cover the gravel roads of the 40's and 30's, the mud paths of the 20's the wagon ruts made by pioneers almost two centuries earlier and the trading routes of Indians who rode horses or walked on them since the beginning. We look for any indications of  those earlier times in the scenery and are occasionally rewarded with remnants of that past. It is not clear to me exactly why we find the "old" charming or the seeing of a dilapidated barn "exciting" It is just that the newer standard architecture of America is common, uninspirational and can be found globally,

With no particular theme in mind I have selected four photos to share which provide some flavors of from the soup of our journey.

The first picture is of Sergio giving Sue, the Tyrannosaurus rex, at Chicago's Museum of Natural History, an amorous glance. Today we will drive through the Badlands where she roamed 110 million years ago and see some of her friends at the Rapid City Geology Museum.

The second photo is taken from the heights above Winona, Minnesota. Below is Winona Lake and the town. It was built on a sandbar of the Mississippi River (seen in the background) and is protected by dikes (usually) from floods. The Fall colors have just started to come out so we have been lucky in that regard.

Our route has been dotted with fruit and vegetable stands are filled with Halloween decorations and are selling local foods, including jams, jellies, jerkies and pies. This part of the country really does the holiday like no place I have ever experienced. I had to snap this picture of Indian corn and share with the feeling of the season it evokes.

Last of all, Huron, South Dakota, where I took this picture alleges it's the home of the largest pheasant ever shot. I don't know how reliable this is or the statistics. This curious statue has critical importance though. Pheasant hunting season starts this week in South Dakota and it is a giant economic boom for the state. People travel here from all over America to participate. Even I, who jumped the season, shot this one with a camera.

(Special thanks to all those people who have shown us terrific hospitality and opened up their houses to us these past days, including my cousins Ron and Toni Ellis, David and Bonnie Spangler, Stan and Anne Hollenbeck, my dear friends Paul Buscovik and Dave and Mardy Vosbeck.)