I love a good excuse for a road trip. A couple weeks ago I had one, a friend’s wedding in Iowa.
To this point I’ve done all my exploring of this great nation by automobile. That probably won’t change unless I decide to visit Hawaii. (The Alaska-Canadian (ALCAN) Highway is a bucket list item.)
Each time I go on an extended road trip I am amazed by just how vast and varied this nation is. This time around we spent six days driving, covered thousands of miles and saw 10 states. It felt like a lot, but it was truly a limited portion of America, 10 states of 50. And we did not come near to seeing the whole of any one of those 10 states.
On the way to the wedding my friends and I had no time to sightsee, other than to gape in amazement at the totally empty horizons of the Great Plains.
It was otherworldly to us south westerners who grew up always perimetered by some mountain range or ocean.
After the wedding we headed south along the Mississippi River (also enormous) to Kansas City to visit the Negro Baseball Leagues Museum and try the barbecue. Along the way I had the chance to drive a section of Highway 61, also known as “the Blues Highway,” while listening to Bob Dylan’s landmark album “Highway 61 Revisited,” a favorite of mine.
We made a special point to see Monument Valley at the Utah-Arizona border, which once again impressed upon me the bigness of America.
Part of the Navajo reservation, the valley is a great desert floor periodically pierced by towering red buttes and spires. It’s a place I’ve always wanted to see for myself, having grown up on the John Ford-John Wayne western films that gave the world its first glimpses at the valley’s dramatic landscapes.
Throughout the driving tour that snaked us among the rock towers, I couldn’t help but think of the “The Searchers,” my favorite Ford-Wayne film. I consider it one of the most beautiful color films made. (I’m more a black-and-white buff.)
Director Ford used the valley’s vast and dramatic landscape to beautifully backdrop the tale of a tortured relative’s quest to rescue a kidnapped girl. The enormity of the landscape makes the task’s tremendous challenge felt at all times.
It’s a great look at Monument Valley as it is spectacularly filmed at all times of the day and during all the changing seasons, but to stand in the valley with it towering above me was a special experience.