Sunny today. And every day since our arrival in Bend two weeks ago. The high desert nights chilly, a brief respite from the bright, white heat of the day. The air finally clear of the smoky haze from distant wild-fires. Snow-capped mountains on the horizon, orange moon rising in the east at sunset. To get here, a drive west on a major interstate highway, with no time to detour for sights or visits with beloved, far-flung family and friends. A sweep of fast-flowing vistas. Broad brush impressions, blurry snapshots. Long, delicious, meditative stretches in the car, zooming through a changing landscape. About 3,000 miles, spread out over 5 days, across time zones and the Continental Divide. Travel through prairie-lands into the high desert plateau of Central Oregon.
From the green, lush, rain-washed hills of Vermont to I-90 – the northernmost and longest coast-to-coast interstate highway in the United States. Across New York’s east-west corridor, at times skirting the historic Erie Canal. Through a small north-west section of Pennsylvania and into northern Ohio, snippets of Lake Erie visible. Across Indiana and Illinois to I-80 – the second-longest interstate highway – along the same path as the first road across America, parts of the Oregon Trail and the first transcontinental railroad. Through Iowa and Nebraska and into southern Wyoming. A small dip into Utah and north again onto I-84 – a fork of I-80 to serve the Pacific Northwest. Across Idaho and finally into Oregon.
From eastern forests and hill-farms, to the flat and wide valleys of central states, to the rolling hills, mountains, buttes and canyons of the west. The landscape turning from shades of green to rusty-red and toasted brown. Layers of earth exposed and raw, wind carved rock formations like ribbons of pink and peach, high prairie dusted with sage-brush, hidden gorges and canyons. Power-lines cutting across meadows of closely cropped grasslands and upland desert. Fields of corn, rows following the contours of the land, straight and curvy. Endless expanses of golden wheat. Cattle yards, farms and ranches, horses grazing among oil derricks and refineries. Deer and antelope. Signs of drought, and black singed earth from wild fires. Wheel-line irrigation systems spraying verdant fields, water out of reach of scorched and parched earth. Windmills in formation, lazy arms spinning. Billboards protesting wind power. Round hay bales, giant rectangular bales of straw, stacked high. Sunflowers in bloom along road-banks. Barns, silos and grain elevators silhouetted against the sky. Freight trains and rail-yards. Highway cross-roads and small towns, ranches with their own exit ramps. A mostly rural stretch of northern, late-summer landscape, the highway bypassing urban centers, big American flags painted on the sides of barns. Signs for the only Danish windmill in the USA, a heritage museum, signs of Scandinavian immigration.
Long stretches of road broken only by highway rest areas and fuel plazas. After dark, the glaring artificial lights of highway construction illuminating and distorting the road. Truckers ruling the road – single, double and triple tandem trailers in tow. Giving us barely a glance before changing lanes, cutting in front of us, even as they slowed to climb hills. The litter of truck tire re-treads in their wake. Between long hours in the car, a few hours of sleep at cookie cutter hotels, surrounded by concrete parking lots and shopping centers, along strip highways. A picnic basket in the back of the car, for roadside and in-the-car meals. A thermos for tea. The weather clear and sunny except for a passing thunder and lightning storm, a brief shower of heavy rain, a few stretches of high winds buffeting the car. Early morning sunshine and pale pink skies, the sun setting directly in our eyes. The ride long, but over quickly. The land, by turns raw and barren, developed, cultivated, majestic. The sky big. The time together, precious. A fleeting moment, on the road, a trail west, well-traveled.