It never ceases to amaze me where people have settled in the US, constructing the briefest of towns that fade from existence within a lifetime. As I pass from Washington state, through Idaho, quickly dip into Utah and traverse Nevada, an often subtle history of civilization that has long moved on, continues to be eroded by the Sun and time.
Some cities with a small-town feel, defy reason to continue to thrive and do so with a window on the remarkable and stunningly diverse landscape of North America. Twin Falls, Idaho has such a feel and view, as you enter the town across Perrine Memorial bridge. Take the first right and an empty car park – in December at least – offers a change in focal length by straining to see the details of the magnificent Snake River Canyon. When you stare in confusion on a map and wonder who would decide on building a settlement at Twin Falls, ask the canyon; its complex and functional beauty will educate on the human conscience and magnetism of difference.
As somewhat of a stark contrast, Bonneville Speedway is an example of human nature to find material usefulness in things. Bleached salt flats as far as the eye can see should offer very little to settlers but nonetheless, it remains the home of land speed records and a Mexican restaurant with really great food.
Take the Lincoln Highway south from West Wendover and all traces of humanity dissolve into the browns of the surrounding world. Resembling an off-world image of lifeless craters, people have either avoided or expired in this place. This is the domain of hardened reptiles, corvids and insects; as advanced as humans appear to be, we haven’t survived here.
From an early start, it’s almost two hours before seeing recognizable structures at McGill and Ely. Don’t expect too much distraction; most of the stores are closed this early and the community at 8am seems to revolve through the gas pumps. From here there’s still another 250 miles to Las Vegas of the same cruel landscaping – beautiful in it’s own right but unequivocally unforgiving.
There’s a reason that Nevada is sparsely populated; you’d have to be a certain level of insanity to live alone here. One thing is certain, should you walk toward the horizon, you will become a ghost of the past, with no trace left behind.
Tomorrow afternoon I’ll be boarding the Amtrak in Seattle to spend 45 hours crawling to Chicago, hopefully involving some sleep and conversation with random travelers along the way. Having grown up in a country with a substantial train system, it’s been on my mind to attempt the same method of travel across states I’ve flown many times, and to see if the posters of yesteryear can still bully the senses with thunderous feelings of power, as iron and steel behemoths slice their way through never-ending landscapes.
I started my US travels in Chicago, on the 25th May 2007. It’s taken 3 years to cover the lower 48 states, after planning to do them all in a year. Things have changed a lot since those first days, especially when it comes to decisiveness and taking ownership. Even the downsides have been positively influential; the long path across this land becoming an incubator to thoughts and experiences that should have been realised 20 years ago. Getting a strong foothold and announcing your presence to the world doesn’t happen overnight. No matter how long it takes, once you’ve decided to make that announcement, you’re on your way – better late than never.