Is It Wyoming Yet?

Ah, the glorious experience of waking up in the backseat of my car at 5 in the morning, when the first blue haunt of sunlight is beginning to lighten the broad flatlands of Idaho's southwest. I crawl up into the driver's seat and pop open a bottle of Starbucks frappuccino, roll out of the dark and sleeping streets of the town which I came to, also in the darkness, and drive back to the freeway on-ramp. Now the horizon has turned pale, and... was that a sign for I-84 East I just passed? Is this... is this road going up and over the interstate? Is this road siphoning me onto I-84 West???

Getting onto the freeway in the wrong direction at 5 in the morning, when the next exit is 15 miles and 15 minutes away? That's a very special feeling.

But I finally got turned back towards the east and got to watch the sun rise over the most boring stretch between Oregon and Colorado (apologies to the competing boring stretches of Utah and Wyoming): the road between Boise and Twin Falls, Idaho. Bleh.

Day one of my two day drive is Oregon, all Oregon, with just a little piece of Idaho thrown in at the end for fun. If you look at the map, you can easily see that Oregon is not geographically as large as Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming put together, but the road is 55 mph all the way. It starts in the wet coastal forest, goes up and over the coastal range into the fertile Willamette Valley, and then climbs up again into the Cascades, where the forests are dry and peopled (treed?) by lodgepole pines. After dropping down the other side of the mountains, trees disappear and are replaced by sagebrush, and it is the sagebrush that continues to dominate the scenery until Colorado.

I used to think of Utah as being the most desolate place in the country, but I have changed my opinion substantially. It has mountains, at least, and although they are mostly the tough and jagged kind, all rock and no majesty, they fit in well to the rest of the stark landscape. The word for northern Utah is "salt." White salt flats stretching off in the distance, shimmering in the sun, the Great Salt Lake putting out fingers of bitter water towards the freeway, salt marshes prickling with sharp grass. The rocks are reds and browns and coppers - the plant life, too - and crop up in fantastic formations such as the Devil's Slide, a steep narrow chute that dives from a mountain to the road. (The exit for it always sneaks up on me around a sharp bend in the freeway, but it was closed this time for construction, so I did not have to veer to catch it.)

But by the Devil's Slide I feel like I've been driving...well...far longer than I should have been driving. Where the heck is Wyoming? Wyoming is the home stretch, welcomed this time of year but grueling in the winter, when black ice covers the road and powder snow is blown across it in a sideways blizzard so dense that you cannot tell the difference between the pavement and the sagebrush. Wyoming is beautiful in its own way. Fawn colors, khaki, beige, every shade of tan man ever thought up a name for, rolls away from the road, and the road itself turns into a sky-colored mirage. The freeway is marked by giant red gates every 100 miles or so that say "Road Closed - Return to..." fill in the blank to be the nearest town of any great size. This is so that when snow drifts close off the freeway in the wintertime, they can divert traffic before we go plowing into oblivion.

Wyoming is also the land of Little America. If you do not know what Little America is, you will by the time you get there. There are signs - "Little America, 200 miles. 50 cent Cones!" and "Little America, 175 miles. Kids stay for free!" and "Little America, 150 miles, Are We There Yet?" etcetera to the point where you, the driver, with nothing else to occupy your attention except the occasional fireworks stand, start to wonder, "What is this mysteriously wonderful Little America?!" (Answer: a tricked-up gas station.)

Wyoming at last breaks its hold just a little south of Laramie, where a big old timey wooden sign proclaims, "Welcome to Colorful Colorado!" and immediately stands of green bushy ponderosa pines spring up, and the deer frolic, and grand snow-capped peaks burst out of the ground. And there you are. The Rockies.

(Finally! And now maybe I can part ways with Bosco for longer than a day? Sorry Bosco!)


Monster Librarian said...

I love your car tripping thoughts!

-W- said...

I hope you rub Bosco down with a soft towel and give him a nice bag of oats!

Err, I mean, an oil change. =)

Lovely post!