Allison Reviews 9 States

Road Kitteh
This news is several weeks old now, and the 5-week span between then and now will have to be detailed in another post. But the 2500 mile (give or take a few) trek between Lacey, Washington and Miamisburg, Ohio began around 5pm on June 18th and ended around 4pm on June 22nd. The voyage boasted very little drama. The kids and the cat traveled like old pros with nary a "are we there yet?" to set my teeth on edge, which allowed me the chance to ponder a lot of things about this vast nation of ours along the way. Namely that between the coasts, there is a whole lot of open space in the U.S. of A. And if you happen to have the very dubious pleasure of being an AT&T subscriber and live in Eastern Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Iowa, and most of central Illinois, Indiana, and the outskirts of western Ohio, you probably don't know what 3G (and in some cases even Edge) means.

Still, I'm going to give my own personal opinions and highlights on every state we drove through, because for all of their undeveloped "ruralness," they were each unique and had their own unexpected surprises.

Sunset over the cascades
1. (Eastern) Washington -- I lived 10 1/2 years in Olympia, but had never ventured further over the Cascades than the tiny town of Cle Elum for a wedding 9 years ago. Of course, just getting to I-90 proved a nightmare in and of itself. The twists of highways around the Auburn area make for some of the worst driving one could experience outside of LA rush hour. It got so bad that the longer I was forced to remain in Western, WA, the more I couldn't wait to say goodbye to it permanently. Not a good way to leave what has otherwise been a fine region to live. But once we hit the mountains, we were home free. It wouldn't occur to me until much later just how very home free we were. Still, Eastern, WA is quite beautiful and there is a good bit to see and do, like wind farms and a petrified forest. Major Impression: I wish I ventured East over the Cascades sooner, but I'll be back.

2. Idaho -- Since we only drove through the tip of the state's panhandle, Idaho barely warrants an entry except to say that it had very pretty mountains. The only other memorable part of the drive was the sign for the small city of C'oeur D'Alene. That's because even long after we had crossed the border into Montana, that was the only major city posted on signs for hundreds of miles. And just so you know, C'oeur D'Alene could hardly be considered a "major" city. Major Impression: Beautiful scenery, but be especially grateful for any human contact you might make, because once you're in Montana, you won't be getting any.

The whole state's a prison...
3. Montana -- Or as I like to call it "Mon-Fucking-Tana." Or "Nowhere Land." Or "Will it Ever Fucking Endville." I could devote an entire blog entry on why and how Montana threatened to strip me of every last thread of my sanity and how of all the states I've been through in my life, this one was the happiest I was able to put permanently behind me.  Montana alone constituted about 16 or so hours worth of driving, which was almost half of the total drive time (just to give you a hint as to its sheer scale), and when we crossed into Wyoming, I felt like a vice around my neck had loosened. But let me preface all of this by saying that Montana is one of the most beautiful states in the country. Really, the landscapes are awe-inspiring. Almost every place you put your eyes as you barrel down the I-90 corridor could qualify as its own postcard. But see, that comparison is almost too accurate, because Montana is very much like a postcard in every way:  while it presents a gorgeous picture, it is every bit as animated and lively as a piece of paper. There are no people in Montana, and the few I encountered looked like they were either recovering from a massive hangover or were in the process of giving themselves one. That's because you'd have to stay drunk just to stay amused in this state. When we did encounter signs of civilization, it was likely a bait shop, a casino, or a cluster of fast food joints off the highway. We passed a few pieces of property that could easily have been separatist compounds. There were no real signs of tourism, either. No funny little billboards directing you to some place that would tell the state's newcomers something like, "Hey! We live in the fucking boonies, but at least we got a sense of humor about it!" When we did stumble upon such a billboard, it was for a prison. How very apt. In fact, it seemed Montana had no sense of humor at all, which dulled the impact of its beauty after the eighth hour or so of driving through it.

If you feel like you can't take any more Montana, you're halfway through it
Also, there were 10-mile stretches of highway where entire lanes were closed and we had to detour into the westbound lane and drive 40mph. This would happen every twenty miles or so. What was most interesting about these occurrences was that there was no evidence of any actual roadwork happening. No machines, no torn up shoulders, etc. The roads themselves didn't look any different than the rest of the highway. It was almost as if Montana had some sort of "set designer" that came out and put up those roadwork signs just to make it look like people actually lived and drove there. I also had the worst night of sleep in my life at a Billings Motel 6. The following day, I heard that a major tornado had ripped through the city. I reasoned that our exit from that place was so speedy, it had caused a major wind vortex to open up behind us.

Montana is like someone getting an expensive boob job only to become a nun. In other words, for all of its good looks, it just felt like a big bunch of unused space. And no, I'm not saying they should erect all sorts of chain stores and restaurants. That would be even more depressing. I'm just asking for a sign of life, people. Something that tells me that you're not all business and no pleasure. Major Impression: Unless I develop a fly fishing hobby or decide to become the next Unabomber, I think I'll stick to visiting the vistas of Montana in a coffee table book.

Follow the red clay road...
4. Wyoming -- Maybe it was just seeing all of the cool Little Big Horn attractions off the highway in Southeast Montana just prior to our exit from the state, but the second we crossed the border into Wyoming, my whole outlook was brighter. Maybe it also had something to do with the Wyoming roads themselves, which were blood red--something I had never seen before, but would make appearances in other states as we traveled eastward. The red highway cut through the rolling green landscape like a colorful ribbon on the most welcome gift of liberation from Montana's oppressive beauty. I hope to return someday to explore more of Wyoming before its Yellowstone volcano brings about global apocalypse. Major Impression: For some reason, I want to watch Brokeback Mountain again.

South Dakota: A Little Bit of Everything

See it only because it's there
5. South Dakota -- If South Dakota and Montana were the two leads in a buddy cop movie, Montana would be Tango and South Dakota would be Cash. And this is accurate in more ways than one, because the amount of cash South Dakota tries to drum up with its tourism industry has to dwarf that of any other state in the region. It's more than Mount Rushmore. There's Wall Drug, the Corn Palace, 1880 Town (featuring "Real Props from Dances with Wolves!!"), The World's Largest Tractor, and any other kitzchy attraction designed to get you off the highway to empty your wallet one tourist trap at a time. I have to admit, the state's charm really won me over after days of seeing absolutely nothing, but there were a few bum notes along the way. For every cute Wall Drug sign or billboard for an adult megastore posted on someone's farm, there was one reminding me of the evils of abortion and/or not accepting Jesus as my personal savior. We did stop by Mount Rushmore. Really, we just pulled a Clark Griswold on the place. We arrived at the visitor's center, snapped a few pictures, grabbed an ice cream cone, and zoomed on our way out of the park and back to the highway to avoid a storm. However, we did also make time for Wall Drug so the kids could ride a Jackalope. Major Impression: The state has the confused moral mentality of an old school marm in a leather garter belt. But I guess that's what makes it interesting.

6. Iowa -- I had just watched Food Inc and King Corn prior to our trip, and those movies featured Iowa's corn industry in a big way. If you've never passed through, you could probably imagine millions of flat acres of corn stretching on farther than the eye can see, the horizontal plane interrupted only by towering grain elevators stuffed full of inedible kernels. And really, you wouldn't be too wrong about that. The underbelly of Iowa's corn industry is indeed an ugly thing, but damn if they didn't put a pretty facade over it all. It wasn't nearly as flat as I'd expected it to be. The corn rolled along gentle hills, giving it depth and dimension you'd expect to see in an idealistic artist's rendering of what Iowa should be. The classic pastoral scenery was completed by pretty red barns and farm houses nestled in the clefts of those hills, but the most awe-inspiring part was the vast wind farms, whose expansive turbines provided a futuristic backdrop to what would otherwise have been a snapshot from any pre-20th century picture. Major Impression: There is much more to Iowa than meets the eye. The government subsidized corn flows like gold through this state, and it shows.

7/8. Illinois/Indiana  -- These states were similar enough that they can share the same slot. We entered Illinois under the cover of dark and severe thunderstorms, but suffice it to say there wasn't much to see. We hit our first real traffic jam since leaving Washington in Peoria, so that was saying something. The drab weather did nothing for the look of Peoria, but I can't use that as a judgment of the city alone. I could feel the population growing denser around me the further east we drove. That is until we hit the corn belt again. And let's just say that central, IL is every bit what you might have expected Iowa to be if you had never been to Iowa. Flat, featureless farmland, and if not for the lively lightning storm going on overhead as we drove, it would also have been dangerously soporific. Indiana went by in a blur. Well, except for the whole Indianapolis part. The entire city's freeway system was a mess of construction, and because of giant retainer walls keeping us trapped on the freeway like gerbils in a concrete maze, I saw nothing of Indy itself. Outside the city limits, however, it seemed RV dealers and fireworks factories were the main industries. I didn't care about any of that, however, because after four days of driving, all I had my sights set on was:

And let's face it, I'll be reviewing this state in various ways for quite some time.

1 comment:

  1. Great reviews and I hope your move went smoothly. It sounds like the kids and cat cooperated! We miss you over at MF :)