I {heart} Wyoming

Jun 22nd 2010: Travel

There’s a sentence I never thought I’d say. But it’s true. Finally equipped with more than just an iphone to write and with a little bit of time to kill, I finally have an opportunity to review the last few crazy busy days. If this seems a bit like a random rambling, well it is. I, too, am still wrapping my head around the last week. In the eternal, but rephrased, words of Blaise Pascal: sorry to write you a long blog post, but I didn’t have time to write a short one.

Montana

After leaving the National Parks in Canada and being told I was “weird” for having a cooler full of film by the US border guard, travel companion Angela and I proceeded into Montana. The goal was to drive as quickly as possible to West Yellowstone, a small town outside Yellowstone National Park. On the way we stopped in Whitefish, a cute little Montana town, which happened to have a big farmers market going on that day.  And boy, do they know how to have a farmers market. The whole town and then some was up and about, live music was playing, and everyone seemed to have a booth, even some kids doing magic tricks. We bought plenty of fresh travel provisions and I ended up having a great chat with the one and only photographer in the whole county (or more) who was still using film. After that we took off again, trying to get some asphalt under the tires and distance done.

Another ”highlight” from Montana was the town of Deer Lodge. We were looking for a motel and came across this place. The whole town resembled the nasty, crack-head back alley where I got my car broken into. The streets were empty, the hotel and other houses on Main Street were boarded up, a lonely bar had some shady characters hanging out in front of it. What put it over the top was a gigantic mural in the middle of town, showing the Scream horror movie ghosts flying around, above which was written in big, child like handwriting: “Dear mom and dad, Meth not even once, your kids.” We moved on. Quickly.

We ended up in Butte for the night, my favorite stop in Montana. Butte, as the name might suggest, is a big mining town. The mining towers, which are glowing red at night, are everywhere with the city having organically grown around them. The architecture was what you’d expect from such an industrious town: red brick stone and raw metal beams, run down and sad, telling a tale of better times when the mines were still producing massive amounts of copper. It was fascinating. If it hadn’t been raining buckets and if we hadn’t been on such a tight schedule I would have loved to stick around for a while.

After zooming through a few more towns, like Bozeman, we reached West Yellowstone and stayed in the cutest hotel of the trip to date. It was set up in a way that if it hadn’t been for the neon lights reflected outside the window and the occasional creaking of the wood indicating the neighbor following nature’s call, you almost felt like you were in a tiny cabin in the woods in middle of nowhere.

Wyoming


Spending the whole day in Yellowstone National Park was barely enough. We rushed from geysers to sulfur hot pools, stopping for families of bears and bison and elk along the way. We rushed in part because there was so much to see, but also because the weather decided to serve us freezing temperatures with snow falling all day. Those Subaru seat warmers came in real handy. The best part of Yellowstone was its diversity. From hot pools to grassy green pastures to lakes to rocky, snow covered mountain terrain to endless forests, Yellowstone has it all. And there is wild life everywhere. Besides the many bears and bison we even saw a wolf crossing the street right in front of us.

In the evening we headed out to Grand Teton National Park, named such by some horny French discovers. This is where I fell in love with Wyoming. Alphabetically the last state and probably the only one to be shaped as a perfect rectangle, I had absolutely no notion of this place. Teton blew me away. Yellowstone, also in Wyoming, was great, but the sheer and raw natural beauty of the fairly unknown Teton park is beyond descriptions. And then you drive further south, out of the park, and nothing changes! The landscape remains amazing and, unlike in Montana, man’s hand is still barely visible. We stayed a day in Jackson, went white water rafting on the freezing cold Snake river, which btw also produces a great Ale, and enjoyed the town’s Japanese festival that day. I only wish I had gotten to see Wyoming’s great plains on the other side of the mountains.

So not only is Wyoming stunningly beautiful, but it also has great beers, lots of tasty bison, and super friendly people. I hated leaving.

Utah


I was not impressed with northern Utah. The salt lakes disappointed and so did the really odd naming of the streets. We quickly moved on.

Driving south we headed for the last two National Parks, Bryce and Zion, before Angela had to catch her plane back from Las Vegas. We caught the last rays of the sun just as we got near Bryce, putting the red rock canyon on fire. The next day we hiked “the world’s best 3 mile hike” through Bryce. The rock formations are just unreal. How come in the whole world there is only one place like this? How come no other place has that combination of rock and weather to form them? Crazy.

With only eight hours left to get from Bryce to the Vegas airport we took a gamble and detoured through Zion as well. Now this was the Utah I had been looking for. Similarly to Teton, Zion surprised and amazed. Tall, unreal cliffs. Deep canyons. Amazing natural beauty. I wish we had time for a hike there, but we had to move on. Leaving the Utah mountains behind we finally hit the planes of Nevada.

Nevada

I hate Las Vegas. It’s just too artificial for me. It really annoys me. Fortunately, after dropping off Angela at the airport, I stayed with a friend who showed me another site of this city. Working for a tech start-up, he and his wife have lived there now for three years and I got to see the local’s version of Vegas. I guess it’s like everywhere: visiting is one thing, living there another. And the car got its overdue oil change and I my new netbook.

California


Home, sweet home. Driving through the desert at over 100 degrees not only did I get thirsty, but the Subaru started drinking a lot of coolant. Eventually we made it to Barstow and Caligo ghost town. Walking through a touristy ghost town after hours was quite creepy. Like a deserted Disneyland.

Finally I reached what I thought to be my final stop for the night: California City. I had heard about this ambitious project and with a name like this I just had to go and see it for myself. Located in what must be the flattest and most uninhabitable area of California, a crazy real estate developer and sociology professor decided to place “California’s next great city” here in the 60s. It was supposed to be a master-planned model city, a rival to LA and Vegas, with the grid laid out for miles and miles, ready to put houses on it. If you look at the Google satellite photos you can sort of see how much of it has been planned out with roads, etc. – and how little is actually used.

I seem to be pretty bad at predictions, because once again, when I got there it was not what I expected. I had this vision of a desolate desert town, run down buildings, tumble weeds. Instead imagine some big US city with sprawling suburbs. Now imagine it in the middle of the Mojave desert. Now imagine it without the city center, just the suburbs. That’s California City. A gigantic suburb with 12,000+ residents living in nice, new houses, with mowed front lawns and a pick-up truck or SUV in every driveway. But no motels or hotels. Nothing but residences, fast food joints, and a few mall like structures. Some baseball fields. And Mojave desert everywhere. Bizarre. The coolest part there is the Honda test driving site I ran across. Disappointed, but wiser, and with no place to stay in the self-proclaimed “Sun City,” I consulted the map and headed north to the Red Rock Canyon state park.

Reaching the campground after sunset I was almost alone, only sharing the place with an older couple from Arizona and some German tourists celebrating a birthday by touring the US. Sitting under the sparkling desert stars, drinking wine, and for the first time in quite a while holding a conversation in German ended this hot day wonderfully.

Photos: A last note on all the real, digital, non-iphone photos y’all itching to see: Angela and I (mostly her) took over 2,000 photos so far, so once I get to take my short break in San Diego I’ll look through them and post the good ones, bears and all. In the meanwhile you can always find my snapshots on my worldsplatter.tumblr.com blog.

Posted in Travel by Ernst Bruening on June 22nd, 2010 at 8:10 pm.

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