I stop at Atlas Purveyors to grab a coffee and a peppermint hot chocolate. It’s just after 7am and I need fuel for the day. Stop lights, one way streets, and multiple-lane roadways soon turn into I70.
The mountains tower over me and my car. It’s reminiscent of the overwhelming presence that the buildings of Manhattan demand. I can’t help but look up; look around. Sometimes there is a creek that the highway mimics–the reason that this highway was able to be built. The public presidential inauguration is on on my radio. He has yet to arrive but the NPR commentators are speaking of the history that is associated with the presidential inauguration. Where it has taken place, past presidential traditions, the weather at the last inauguration, the fact that President Obama is one of a few presidents who has had to be sworn in publicly in addition to a private swearing in that is constitutionally mandated. Furthermore, it is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Just as historical, there are many ‘firsts’ that will be occurring at this inauguration… the first openly gay poet, the first Hispanic justice to swear in the vice president.
By the time President Obama has taken the oath and begun his speech, the towering rock walls of canyons have turned into plains. The temperature has dropped; it’s in the low twenties. Again, history is brought into conversation in the President’s speech, referring to events in Selma, Stonewall, and one other I’m unable to recall at the moment. I can’t help but think about history in the context of my present situation as I listen to the President’s words. Covered wagons come to mind, the ‘iron horse’, and iconic references such as The Donner Party.
I’ve crossed over the border now. Mountains are many miles away. As far as my eyes can see is a barren wasteland. There’s nothing. I look down at my gas gauge… Ah okay, I’m good on gas for a while. For the next couple of hours I am joined on this part of my journey, by the road, my car, other travelers on the highway, and a land that seems like it would support very little life at this moment in time. The car says it’s 11 degrees out.
I think for a moment. What was this land like two hundred years ago when it was beginning to be settled? How did people survive out here? Surely it wasn’t possible during the winter. Even in the summer, this is the desert, the environment would most likely not have shown mercy. I see a train in the distance… The era of the industrial revolution and the vast expansion that occurred during the second half of the 19th century pops into my mind. It’s as if I am looking at history, past and present, all in one right there. That’s how this region was settled, and that’s how it continues to be developed and nourished.
Folks, this is the West. The land of cowboys and cattle. Mountains and plains. Desert and rivers. Majestic vistas and harsh conditions.