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Note: I deleted the other entry, because I'm about to post a bunch of other ones that are better. I'm a few days behind, so here is today's, but I have the other two days hand written waiting to be typed.

Today I set off on my big Yellowstone adventure, driving through half the state of Montana before reaching the depot of West Yellowstone. Before I left, I had grand plans of taking the scenic route to Yellowstone, over the mountains and through the valley where wildlife is said to abound. But weather and geography got in the way of my plans, as they are wont to do. My pictures of the area of the country known as Big Sky Country just look like Arizona in the rain, and I didn’t get to venture off the interstate, for fear of being struck by lightning or ending up arriving at my hotel after midnight. All of these thwarted attempts at experiencing the big wide wilderness got me thinking about geography, location, weather, and the relative importance of all of those things.



I often say that traveling, especially by car, clears my head and frees my soul. To me, there is nothing like an open road (and maybe a beach, but we’ll get to that in a couple of days) to convince me that I am truly free of all of my troubles. Mostly, though, it’s a form of procrastination, because as long as I’ve got my Civic, a stretch of highway, and an Indigo Girls CD, I don’t have to worry about anything until I come back. When I drive somewhere, it’s like a literal transition in my life – you can actually see how far you’ve traveled, and you can feel yourself embarking on a journey. All of those things are why I chose to do this trip at this point in my life.

Some will say, though, that traveling doesn’t help – “it’s just geography,” they will say. This may be true, but geography can influence my mood greatly.

Today, I started out my day in Dickinson, North Dakota, which I believe, is the closest thing to a tourist trap for miles. The town consists of one strip mall containing an Albertsons and every chain restaurant under the sun, and on the other side of the highway, a bunch of antique stores and coffee shops. Hotels in Dickinson are twice the price of hotels anywhere else in North Dakota. You could easily lose yourself in the strip mall, have dinner at Applebee’s, and convince yourself that you’re in Orange County. But then there are places like Taco John’s, a local chain that serves something they call “West-Mex.” This consists of things like tater tots with nacho toppings, and taco burgers. No, I don’t know what a taco burger is, and no, I don’t want to try it. I had the great fortune of eating dinner at Taco John’s, so I was always aware of my physical location (plus, it was the only thing open past 9 on a Sunday).

From Dickinson, I headed west, following the Lewis and Clark trail towards Montana. It was raining when I left Dickinson, and didn’t stop the whole day. When I entered Montana, I was surrounded only by clouds, canyons, grass, cows, and the anti-abortion signs that line the interstate. (Favorites include: “Smile! Your mother was pro-life,” “God’s first creation: a baby,” “Abortion: Lord, please forgive us” and, paraphrasing because I forget the exact quote, “Babies need a hand, not death abortion something like that.” That one had a picture of a naked toddler on it.) Sidebar for a second: what’s with all those signs? I mean, who are they trying to target? Do they think there’s some pregnant fifteen year old driving down the freeway in the middle of the night towards the nearest clinic, two hours away, who reads those signs and then turns back? I wonder if those signs sprung up before or after the election? Also, let’s not discuss the myriad of logic holes in all of those statements. Ahem. I’m back. Montana, right. Miles and miles of open road surrounded by lush valleys and canyons. I stopped at the visitor’s center, and found myself getting emotional when I read the guest book, and the guy who signed it before me, in the destination column, wrote “anywhere.” I must also note that he also had California plates. (I saw one other non-Montana car on the road, and it was from Massachusetts! With a Red Sox bumper sticker!)

I drove and drove and drove, and stopped in a town called Glendive for lunch. In Glendive, I drove down to Main Street, in the hopes of finding a local, non chain restaurant to eat at. Everything was closed, except for Subway, which was hopping. This got me back to wondering whether these towns actually have a viable Main Street, or if everybody everywhere just hangs out at the local strip mall. Everywhere I went in North Dakota and Montana, the only viable food options where chain restaurants – a fascinating phenomenon of American culture, where we like things that always look the same. After eating at a Subway and an Applebee’s, my theory about the influence of geography is about to go out the window. (You’ll have to excuse me, I’ve been reading Bill Bryson’s “I’m a Stranger Here Myself.”)

While ordering my lunch at Subway, I was quizzed mercilessly by the cashier about my travel plans, and when the teenager behind in me in line overheard, he jumped in too. Now, I know I’m supposed to talk to the locals to find out info and stuff, but I’m from New York. The way I was raised, you a) never talk to strangers, and b) definitely never tell strangers that you’re traveling alone or where you’re going. They could be killers. Again, with the geography. Telling someone where you’re going is sort of the point of getting out of the car in the first place, yet disclosing my location to strangers seems to not only freak me out, but ruin my false sense of wanderlust. (I say false because while I do enjoy escaping, I also am an avid map-reader and will not go near any road that is not on the map, or doesn’t lead in the direction of my ultimate destination… and I always have one.)

I drove and drove and drove some more, and could feel myself getting closer to West Coast. As the prairies slowly turned to hills and mountains, the ads for radio stations had a “K” in front of them, and I started seeing billboards for Del Taco, I knew I was headed in the right direction. My Midwestern displacement syndrome was starting to wane, and I was already dreaming of the beach. I ate dinner at an Applebee’s in Billings, even though I was very reluctant to even get out of the car. That’s the other thing about road trips – they are more about the journey than the destination, and they do inspire an urge to go and not stop. And let me tell you, that 75 mile and hour speed limit in North Dakota and Montana is FAST. Really, no one should ever need to drive that fast unless they’re being chased.

In Bozeman, a sleepy little Everwood-ian mountain town, I turned off the freeway and set off on US-191 to Yellowstone. The road was terrifying at first, because it was just above 40 degrees out, it was starting to rain harder, dusk was falling, and I was headed straight for those snow covered mountains. The road to Yellowstone follows the Gallatin River down its rapids, and I so wished I could have driven down it during sunset as I had planned. However, there is something to be said for driving up and down a mountain road and watching the rain hit the river while Brandi Carlile sings “Hallelujah” on the stereo. (If it hadn’t been raining, I probably would have been playing something else.) The road continues through the valley, and to my relief, since I wasn’t going skiing, I never encountered the snowy peaks, but instead saw herds of deer, including one suicidal one who sprinted across the street right in front of my car. By the time I hit the big “Yellowstone National Park” sign, I got out of the car, and realized that I’d been blasting the stereo all day. When I got out, it was so quiet. When I’m dirving by myseld, I can’t handle not having the radio on, or else I would have just opened the sunroof and enjoyed the quiet.

Tonight, I’m sleeping in what turned out to be a crappy hotel (I had to resort to bringing in my comforter, pillows, and a bottle of Febreeze from the car) just on the edge of Yellowstone National Park. West Yellowstone is an adorable little place, and the décor of the whole town fits right in with the surroundings. Even though it’s filled with tourists, the town still contains many local restaurants and bars, no doubt meant for tired hikers returning from their day. In my imagination, those local bars inspire a sense of community among the tourists here, who swap stories about where they’re from and talk about… geography. But then I look outside my hotel window, and those golden arches of McDonald’s bring me back to the reality of our culture, filled with strip malls and chain restaurants.

Please see my pictures here on Facebook:
http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=24418&id=1057033703&l=ebd23687cf

Comments

gabismom
Jun. 3rd, 2009 03:18 am (UTC)
I got home a couple of hours ago, and it was great to find this post from you to find out where you are and that you are OK.
I'm sorry about your hotel room, did you move yourself to somewhere betere for tonight?

Drive carefully and have a great time :)
chickflick1979
Jun. 3rd, 2009 04:22 am (UTC)
No, the hotel is not that bad, once I redo the bed with my own bedding! (Except for the fact that the TV doesn't get Comedy Central or MSNBC! How am I supposed to find out the news?)

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