7,875 miles; 13 states; 13 national parks, forests, and monuments; 14 visits with friends and family; and many surprise detours on our most recent van trip.
Once again, we learned America is a stunning country. The diversity of prairies, mountains, coasts, deserts, forests, lakes, rivers, cities – all cheek by jowl – is the great gift of our American surroundings. Wildlife is up-close. The diversity of our ecology in such close proximity in America is an amazing thing.
We learned more about the sharply diverging economic paths of go-go cities like Denver and Seattle, and the struggles of deep rural communities, Indian reservations, and nomadic people.
We saw up-close the divides or our country. Perhaps the most chilling example we saw was the 4th of July parade in Sedro-Woolley, Washington. While the parade was attended by a diverse community, the “Make America Great Again” logging floats were chanting “Lock them up,” obviously directed at their Latina and Latino neighbors watching the parade on the sidewalks.
We saw versions of the “successful” communities that are tilting against exogenous economic forces and creating innovations, institutions, and economic attractions that are impressive and sometimes inspiring. Brush, Colorado, Lewistown, Montana and Alexandria, Minnesota, were complete standouts.
The Enchanted Highway, a 32-mile exhibit of massive scrap metal sculpture in North Dakota (led by artist Gary Greff), is a truly inspiring example of community effort to revitalize a rural region of the middle country and draw outsiders in.
The route we traced covered the huge landscape of cattle country in the U.S. – Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. The environmental load and public health consequences of this meat-economy was observable and extraordinary. So much so, one of us went vegetarian…..
In our conversations, we heard much worry about the demographic out-migration of young people in rural and exurban communities. The combination of economic and demographic demise of these communities is a national crisis, out-of-sight in the coastal political power concentrations.
We witnessed the further deterioration and neglect of our national and state parks. New fees are emerging in some places to try to capture some much-needed revenue, but the overall gap between the resources needed to respond to incredible popularity and demands placed on these parks and their available resources is appalling. The condition of some parks is truly disgusting (think overflowing vault toilets) and a national embarrassment to what Theodore Roosevelt called “America’s best idea.”
The surprise gems of this trip included a bank designed by Louis Sullivan in Grinnell, Iowa, the Dinosaur National Monument in Colorado, the Enchanted Highway in North Dakota, the Blue Moose restaurant in Washington, and When Pigs Fly Farm in Washington.
Thanks to all our friends and family – Bill and Carol Pollak, Bonnie Orkow and Bruce Blodgett, Casey Lawlor, Laura and Dan Shervin, Abby Lawlor and Josh Cohen, Carol Ann and Karl Barnickol, Matt Krueter and Charlene Caburnay, and Charlie Walkinshaw – who put up with us, gave us a place to park our van, and gave us such great love and connection in life on the road.