Simpson: Driving to the great outdoors

By Bob Simpson - correspondent August 22, 2012 

— The ancients believed that the Gods of old who guarded the sources of knowledge dwelt upon the highest of mountain peaks. Man still finds the high peaks inspiring; perhaps this is why the Rockies in all their snow-tipped glory remain a magnet, forever tugging at my soul.

Mike Swanson of Illinois, excellent company and driver, thought he would like to visit our kind of “West” volunteering to assist in driving, I, being the lazy kind, quickly logged another deckhand aboard.

Many ask, why drive? Aircraft are much faster. But the pleasure in traveling comes with the trip, not the arrival. A train would be fine, (steam propelled preferably), as in my childhood, but they, like aircraft, are now freight carriers without romance. A Mississippi paddle wheeler would prove ideal for romantic travel.

Furthermore, roadways represent the pathways of history, following ancient Indian trails, from “The Trail of Tears” to more modern “Route 66” and the “Lincoln Highway.” Today’s Superhighways, and their Interstate kin, with their four, six, eight or more lanes of pavement, tend to bypass all but select worlds of fuel, motel and mall. Boring racetracks, without time for romance, at best a rest stop, or so, every few hundred miles, where travelers can pause, but overnighting is limited to a privileged class of freight haulers. Travelers are expected to dutifully support local economies through renting hotel or motel rooms. However, some of the more adventurous wanderers prefer, as night falls, seeking a remote byway, where, hobo fashion, they might spread sleeping bags beneath the stars. Such offsite stops are possibly illegal trespass, but definitely offer potentially better views and more romance.

The U.S. contains four major time zones based on worldwide navigational measurements of 15 degrees, about 700 miles. The Eastern zone, distinguished by its blanket of greenery, extends from the Atlantic to the west facing slopes of the Appalachians. Here heavy forested mountains and coastal plains merge into America’s bread basket, corn country, fertile and rich, a mingling of farmlands and increasingly heavy industrial activities.

Central time wobbles from roughly the Indiana and Ohio borders to the Missouri river, where Mountain time marks the transformation from filling bread baskets to cattle country and wide open prairies. The Mississippi and Missouri’s muddy waters, marking our continental drainage, provided popular pathways for French traders long before Lewis and Clark sought an easy route to the western seas.

Mountain Time begins with these Missouri bottoms, rising out of ancient sea beds, fossil grounds, crisscrossed with arroyos and deep canyons, Big Sky country, buffalo jumps antelope, mule deer and prairie dogs, barbed wire fences amid grotesque badlands lifting into magnificent towering snow tipped mountain ranges, marking the transformation from Mountain to the Pacific drainages. Our point of no return found us parked alongside the Missouri River where the fading light of the moon was mirrored clear and bright between the dark shadows of cottonwoods on moving waters.

Our weather worn ranch house stood waiting, the gates open, fences repaired, irrigation pipes spraying, barn plum full of sweet smelling cured hay, chickens clucking and apples ripening. A home in the west is a dream, it was time to get out the new fly rod and see if there were any stray fish still around dumb ‘nuff to take an east coast style fly. Mike says he will be returning.

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