The entire landscape of South Dakota looks like it is straight out of a Dr. Seuss book. I could almost see the Cat In The Hat tumbling in and out of the rolling hills like clouds on a stormy day. Respectable speed-limits and very few cops patrolling I90. Vast, but not so large that it seems ridiculous to navigate through. This state is as proud of Mount Rushmore as Texas is about being Texas. Every business’s name is a play on words around the monument and tourists get thick around Rapid City.
Mount Rushmore seems like a huge slap in the face to the natives who pepper the state in small, confined reservations. It’s akin to carving a sculpture of Adolf Hitler from the ruins of Auschwitz, and these people are forced to look at their former oppressors every single day. None of the white tourists take notice, though, and every single one of them has a point-and-shoot camera ready for the sight. We decided to drive on and avoid the thing altogether. It left a bad taste in my mouth in an otherwise beautiful state.
This state never fucking ends. Even at 80MPH, it took us nearly two days to traverse through it completely. Rolling hills turn into spiky mountains jetting up into the atmosphere almost as if it had a defined purpose. My ears turned into popcorn kernels at around 2,100 feet and didn’t stop popping until we hit Washington. The landscape is cold and unforgiving, but strangely haunting and surreal. There were hundreds of hidden creeks and pine forests; winding roads that gently arc through the mountains like fingers down the slope of a lover’s back. You could drive 300 miles without seeing a single exit or rest area, and there was a point where I felt like we could actually run out of gas before seeing another community with a service station.
Montana seems to be divided into two rather distinct sections. The south side, home to identical housing communities and thriving areas of commerce, beautiful black-top highways and exits toward new towns every ten or fifteen miles. That’s the Montana that gets published in their free tourism guides.
If you keep driving north, though, you find yourself in Native American country. These reservations are a haunting reminder of just how bad the pioneers fucked them. The houses were rotted, sometimes seemingly unlivable, and even the interstate was jagged and cracked. There were no businesses, sans the occasional McDonalds, and the people there looked miserable. Lots of homelessness, alcoholism, and poverty for hundreds upon hundreds of miles. All the billboards promised prosperity, but it was obvious that none of them quite delivered. There were also an abundance of Mount Rushmore signs, even several hundred miles away.
Yep, we fucked them pretty hard.
A whole lot of nothing. Snow. More snow. Farmland. A far view of icy mountains. The speed-limits are 80MPH on some stretches, something that only makes me believe that even the politicians know that Idaho is a state you just want to get through as fast as humanly possible.
The seasons rapidly change from winter to spring depending upon where you are. When we first entered northern Idaho, it was snowing and frost-bitten. By the time we hit the edge of the state, we were sweating profusely. It’s a strange sensation.
Nothing negative to mention that I hadn’t already been warned about. It’s soggy. I think it rained for the first two days we were there. Regardless, it’s a beautiful state with a lot of progressive thinkers. Seattle is, by far, the cleanest city I’ve ever been to, and I liked the strong smell of marijuana that seemed to blanket it entirely. I gave a homeless guy a Parliament cigarette and he acted as if it was the nicest thing anybody had ever done for him.
The forests of Washington aren’t commonly written about, but they were my favorite part of the state. Tall pine trees that seem as tall as the mountains as far as the eye can see. Once inside them, you get lost in their beauty. Lots of interesting wildlife, none of which seem interested in bothering you, and comfortable temperatures throughout.
We stayed at a Travelodge hotel in a small city called Edmonds, and it ended up being the worst decision of our entire trip. It seemed like the local drug den, and tweakers were yelling and slamming doors at all hours of the night. Ten minutes into our stay and we saw a drove of police cars enter the parking lot. The morning clean-up crew had discovered the corpse of a dead woman in the room right below us. Later on, I went to the front desk to retrieve soap and heard an investigator talking to the owner. The conversation went something like this.
“You can’t enter that room for any reason until we conclude our investigation.”
“Yes, sir. Absolutely, I understand.” A small Asian man spoke in a whisper, trying to shield his customers from hearing the news.
“It looks like they stole her Identification, her laptop, and any money she had in her purse. It’s going to be especially difficult trying to identify her if she isn’t already in our records, so the room may be unusable for a few weeks.”
“Yes, sir. Absolutely. I understand.”
The investigator walked outside and I asked the small Asian man what was happening. I asked if someone was murdered in the room below us. He lied through his teeth.
“No, sir. An old lady fell down and hit her head.” The small Asian man never looked me in the eyes.
“You’re not lying to me are you?” He was.
“I’m not.” He looked nervous, probably from the fear of God that the investigator had just left instilled within him, so I let it go and made sure to lock my doors before going to bed.
We left Edmonds down south on I83, an attempt to both avoid mountains and see more of the country.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF STATES DRIVING EAST BACK TO IOWA
The Illinois of the West. That’s the best way I can describe this state. The speed-limit was 65 MPH the entire way through it, and it seemed to drag on much longer because of this fact. Fines were maximized, an obvious attempt to spark revenue for a failing state, and something as small as littering could land you a $6,500 ticket. Cops were fervent and endless, seeing no fewer than twenty of them on our way through it.
I also hate the gasoline policy of Oregon. I don’t want you pumping my gas for me. I don’t want to tip you for something I’d rather do myself. It’s awkward, weird, and made gas stops a giant pain in the ass. I didn’t even know this was an Oregon policy until a gas clerk told me it was.
So far, it’s my least favorite state that we’re driven through. The only redeeming factor seemed to be Portland, and it was so isolated from the rest of the state that it almost seemed like a different place entirely.
Northern Idaho and Southern Idaho seem to be two radically different states. The north side is mountainous and nearly uninhabitable. It’s wet, icy, and leaves you with a strange sense of security once you’re beyond it. The side that IS habitable, the south side, is covered in so many farms that I wonder where the people there actually live. It seems as if the citizens there have to be collectively in the center somewhere near Boise because we drove for a few hours before seeing even a single community.
The only signs of life came from Boise, but we traveled beyond it without ever seeing the city itself. I saw my first tumbleweed here, and that takes precedence as the most noteworthy thing about this state. The farmlands are so immense that only the mountains are seen beyond them. They stretch throughout the entire state and reek of fertilizer almost the entire way across it.
We stayed at a Best Western hotel and woke up to strong winds crashing against the window.
This state is much more red than I pictured it being. For some reason, I always imagined this entire state was covered in snow-laden mountains, with bobcats and bears strolling freeway along the countryside. The truth, though, is that much of this state looks more of a desert than anything else. There are several mountain ranges, and some are even that picturesque envisioning I had of Utah to begin with, but most of them are red clay with dead, brown vegetation.
We ate lunch in a small town called Ogden, and it really reminded me of where I grew up. Much like Keokuk, Iowa, Ogden is a small town that was built with big plans. The layout caters to a large metropolis, but it was never quite fulfilled. At all. The result is a lot of abandoned malls, restaurants, and industrial factories that lay along the strip like dead bugs. I felt incredibly comfortable there.
The rest of Utah has been fairly vacant. I enjoy the 80 MPH speed-limit throughout, and it seems like we breezed through the entire state in no time. At 30 miles outside of Wyoming, Utah isn’t at all how I pictured it to be. I like it more that way.
This is the most desolate state I’ve ever driven through. Even the tourist signs at the rest stops make note of the landscape being “untrammeled by humanity” for hundreds of miles. It’s so strange to me how removed from nature most people actually are; I’m uncomfortable when I’m surrounded by it. I83 stretches for what seems an eternity, monotony only broken by the occasional hill or pack of Elks drinking from nearby creeks. If I hadn’t already been on the road for ten hours, all of this might seem strangely tranquil. As is, in the right now, though, I can’t wait until we escape it’s, isolating clutches.
I struggle to find anything noteworthy to mention about Wyoming. It’s barren as barren can be. If the United States were a class of students at a school dance, then Wyoming would certainly be the awkward kid that spends the entire night in the bathroom. Everybody wonders why he even showed up at all, and nobody has any explanation for it. He’s just there. Wyoming’s just here. That’s all there is to it.
The mountains settle behind us like the foam from a fountain drink. As we drive on, it looks as if it’s fizzing down completely. One can certainly hope.
This state is almost as desolate as Wyoming, but it’s certainly a different kind of desolation. Where Wyoming is cold, rocky, and desperate, there is a certain kind of hope in the vast fields of Nebraska. This particular stretch of road is rife with construction projects and old, cracking highways. There are warning signs for rattlesnakes every ten miles or so, and not much else. The small towns that form along the crest of the highway are quaint and they look nice, but I can only imagine how isolated these people feel. There are long stretches here where we can’t even get decent radio reception. It’s that far out of the way.
It seems like America has a long way to go before we’d be burdened by overpopulation. Most of the landscape for the last 1,500 miles has been devoid of human presence entirely. The argument about food shortages could plausibly be made, and many of them would be at least halfway correct, but a lot of this land isn’t even farmland. It’s just empty for hundreds upon hundreds of miles.
It makes me wonder what the world will look like a couple hundred years from now, when I’m long dead and new twenty-somethings are parading up and down the interstates. If the world continues to grow as it’s expected to, if our advances in medicine continue to innovate, I wonder what Buttfuck, Nebraska will look like.
I read somewhere that, at least historically speaking, the world is more peaceful than it’s ever been. With the advent of the internet, patriotic nincompoops all over the globe are slowly developing empathy for the people in different parts of the world. Even still, I fear that we’re just smart enough to build atomic bombs, but not yet smart enough to realize how bad of an idea they are. I hope the world exists with humanity in a couple hundred years. I really do, but long stretches of road will inevitably lead the brain to all kinds of ideas. I always end up in the same place, no matter how far I travel, equal parts hopeful and worried.