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One Day in America

[ 270 ] August 9, 2017 |

I write from Helena, Montana, in a very brief return to civilization from days of camping and hiking in our nation’s most beautiful places, all of which are in the West, because let’s face it, everything in the eastern half of the nation is pretty lame, including what passes for the nice parts where people travel. Yes, I love being stuck in endless traffic to sit on mediocre Cape Cod or Outer Banks beaches with bazillions of other people, most of whom have annoying New England accents. At least there are lobster rolls in the former and BBQ in the latter. Anyway, I hope everyone in the nation’s humid zones is sweating accordingly; dry heat is a real thing.

A few days ago, I drove from Badlands National Park to Buffalo, Wyoming. What I saw on this day summed up much about this country.

Let’s start with the Badlands. This is an amazing place within an amazing system of national parks that helps define what is best about the United States. Enough said.

Or is it? Because the second place on the day’s adventures was a site just south of Badlands–Wounded Knee. Site of probably the most remembered of the hundreds of horrifying incidents in the genocidal campaign by the United States to exterminate Native Americans, Wounded Knee, on the Pine Ridge Reservation, itself a symbol of the long-lasting consequences of this genocide, there is a tremendous, shocking, and incredibly depressing power to this place. It’s even more depressing to me as a college professor who is trained the study of the U.S. West. That’s true because, first, college students will rush to take a Holocaust course but will avoid courses on Native American history or the history of the slavery like the plague. That’s especially true of politically conservative students, who can see the Holocaust as a per evil that the U.S. had only a positive effect on eventually ameliorating through defeating the Nazis and supporting Israel while studying Native Americans and slaves is PC history. Second, it’s depressing because even among many historians, race and its impact in this nation primarily means African-Americans and whites, often leaving stories about Native Americans, Asians, and Latinos to the backburner. Such is also the public discussion of race in the United States, with the conquest of Native Americans a historical inevitably that we shrug our shoulders at, all while also shrugging our shoulders at the suicide rates and unemployment on reservations.

Then I headed to the mother of American bizarreness–Mount Rushmore. What the hell is up with that place? Why did we need to blast the faces of our presidents into perfectly beautiful mountains? And why does this attract people today? Everyone loves it–liberals and conservatives. You know who really loves Mt. Rushmore? Bikers going to the Sturgis Rally with patches on their jackets reading things like “This is America. Speak English or Get the Fuck Out,” which I saw many of that day. That Mt. Rushmore is right smack dab in the middle of the land stolen from the Lakota after gold was discovered in the Black Hills made it extra special after visiting Wounded Knee.

After Mt. Rushmore, it was off through the wastelands of eastern Wyoming. There is one thing out there: fossil fuels. By total chance, we drove past the Thunder Basin coal mine, i.e., the largest strip mining operation in the United States. Let me tell you, it is large. I liked the road signs saying that if you see an orange cloud in front of you after an explosion, you should avoid it. Seems likely while driving down the highway.

Next, I took a detour to the site of Teapot Dome. The classic case of government oil corruption that sums up the terribleness of the Harding administration seemed particularly perfect for the Trump era.

Finally, I was at a really cool old bar in Buffalo, Wyoming, festooned with the dead animals of the American West. And a cheetah, an animal that will probably be extinct in the wild in 20 years. At least there was tasty beer and a surprisingly excellent singer.

All in all, it was a pretty perfect day for understanding the American experience: incredible beauty and the public ownership of that, genocide, grandiosity and ridiculousness, overt displays of exclusionary nationalism, climate change, ecological disaster, and corruption. Yay America!

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  • sibusisodan

    This sounds like a fascinating trip. Thanks for the summary. (That opening para may be peak Loomis.)

    • wjts

      I have family on Cape Cod. In the main, I enjoy trips back in the winter much more than the summer (though the food is excellent any time of the year).

    • applecor

      IMO the entire post is peak Loomis.

      • Howlin Wolfe

        I don’t know of any mesas in that area. Let’s just say Loomis’s post is a butte.

  • njorl

    That Mt. Rushmore is right smack dab in the middle of the land stolen
    from the Lakota after gold was discovered in the Black Hills made it
    extra special after visiting Wounded Knee.

    I always found it interesting that in “Civilization IV”, the pre-requisite for building Mt. Rushmore was discovering Fascism.

    • potsherds

      I laughed perhaps a bit too hard at this.

    • Mt Rushmore was easily the most underwhelming sight I’ve ever seen. Maybe it’s a pilgrimage thing? The religion of dum or something? I’d rather watch the central states endless horizons for days on end rather than waste time at Rushmore.

      • royko

        As a fan of North By Northwest, I’d like to see it someday.To me, that’s the main appeal.

  • Sean

    As a long-time resident of the West Coast but NE native, I wouldn’t complain that much abut cape beaches. They are just as nice as ours (and at least the water is comfortable compared to NorCal). And nothing wrong with the northern apps or ‘dacks either. Sure there is a lack of wide open spaces and not the same level of grandeur or terrain diversity, but you could be stuck in Iowa.

    • MikeG

      The eastern half of the country is lacking in spectacular scenery if you’re accustomed to the West. The Blue Ridge Parkway was a letdown. Vermont was cute, though.

      • wjts

        Pretty much. I rather like the countryside (or “countryside”) in the Northeast and the coastline can be nice, but I grew up in Denver and the Rockies are really something else.

      • Hogan

        Every sluggish turn of the great brown river brought new scenes. There
        were dark stretches hemmed in with deep forest, through which the barges
        travelled in the dead centre of the river with the men armed and the
        women below – except for Esk, who sat listening with interest to the
        snortings and sneezings that followed them through the bushes on the
        banks. There were stretches of farmland. There were several towns much
        larger than Ohulan. There were even some mountains, although they were
        old and flat and not young and frisky like her mountains.

      • Thirtyish

        Vermont is gorgeous. New Hampshire has areas that come close to resembling parts of the West’s wildness.

      • It’s really all relative/subjective. Some who’ve been to the Himalayas will say the West has nothing (maybe Denali?) even close. I think rolling hills have something to them. Hell, even the plains have a deslolate beauty to them. Here in WA I like the Palouse with its soft golden hills over the Olympics or Cascades.
        Out here some people have made a religion out of hiking. Fine for some people, not so much for me. Obligatory promo:
        https://www.itscomplicated.vet/the-divide-1/2017/5/12/my-hiking-soul

    • wjts

      The problem is that beaches all over just kind of suck. I’ve never understood the appeal of sitting on the hot sand in the hot sun. Walking on the shore in cooler weather can be fun, though.

      • The problem is that beaches all over just kind of suck. I’ve never understood the appeal of sitting on the hot sand in the hot sun.

        I am entirely in agreement.

        However, an ocean beach—indeed, even (or perhaps especially) a rocky, rather than sandy, ocean beach—perforce has ocean waves and tides, which can be pleasantly hypnotic. Freshwater beaches, from ponds to Great Lakes (North American style—the African ones seem to be rather different…), have neither (to speak of), and wind-driven waves just aren’t all that (except presumably in heavy weather).

        • Dr. Waffle

          Hot take: lakes are generally gross and boring.

          • wjts

            The Great Lakes are, in fact, pretty great.

            • Hogan

              Hence the name.

              • wjts

                Lake names can be misleading, though – Great Slave Lake is, in all relevant respects, a pretty lousy slave.

                • Unemployed_Northeastern

                  The ultimate lake name, of course, is Massachusetts’s own Lake *takes deep breath* Char­gogg­a­gogg­man­chaugg­a­gogg­chau­bun­a­gung­a­maugg.

                  See? It’s real!

                • wjts

                  But if people do fish in the middle, it’s another misleadingly named lake.

                • Unemployed_Northeastern

                  Given the basic rule that ponds are smaller than lakes but the four largest natural bodies of water in Massachusetts are Assawompset Pond, Long Pond, North Watuppa Pond, and South Watuppa Pond, all lakes in Massachusetts are misleadingly named.

                • wjts

                  Assawompset Pond

                  This joins Harwich’s Poonpit Lane on my list of Massachusetts names that make me snicker a little bit.

                • Unemployed_Northeastern
                • wjts

                  No Scituate?

                • Unemployed_Northeastern

                  No primer on the subtle differences between Lake Cochichewick and Lake Cochituate, for that matter.

                • Harry Rumbold
                • Unemployed_Northeastern

                  At least she got Exeter right.

                • BethR52

                  I had a great education in how to pronounce place names when I moved to Lowell, MA, with its neighboring towns of Chelmsford, Tyngsboro, Dracut, Tewksbury, & Billerica. And Haverhill, of course.

                • Unemployed_Northeastern

                  I’ve always said that the accurate pronunciation of Revere is just a guttural rolling “r.”

                • applecor

                  Obligatory help (starting at 2:00)
                  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rLwbzGyC6t4

                • Unemployed_Northeastern

                  I’ve put Boston Accent Movie in many a Disqus comment now. It is wonderful.

                • wjts

                  Can’t find a video, but I always liked this one.

                • Origami Isopod

                  “Mashpee.”

                • Loomis has actually been (or so he said here once) to a music venue named after, and originally (though not by the time he was there) situated at, the Narrows which separate North from South Watuppa Pond.

                • Unemployed_Northeastern

                  To the best of my knowledge, pretty much the only thing between North and South Watuppa Ponds that stretch of I-195 where Route 24 briefly merges into it.

                • First paragraph of (where else?) the Wikipedia article “Watuppa Ponds” declares that they were

                  (originally one lake), connected by a narrow rocky straight called “The Narrows” located on a thin strip of land between the two ponds which forms part boundary of [sic] between Fall River and Westport.

                  And the home page of the Narrows Arts Center (now in an old APC fabric printing mill near Battleship Cove) links to a brochure confirming my vague memory: “Almost 20 years ago, the Narrows Center started as a 1,500 sq. ft. exhibition space” in the Narrows. I was never quite sure of its street address then: but there are definitely parts of the Narrows off the highway that are served by local, possibly private, streets; in fact, one of them, to the south of the interchange, ends at a ramp where boats can be put into or removed from South Watuppa Pond—very suitable, given the claim cited by Wikipedia that “Watuppa is a native word meaning ‘place of boats’.” A shame that there’s no actual structure for mooring boats there ramp; if there were, it could be named Watuppa Dock.

                • Unemployed_Northeastern

                  Interesting. I'll have to spend some more time in Fall River.

            • M Lister

              Great as in large, but not as in good.

          • Hondo

            Kansas lakes are pretty gross. Especially in the summer when the algae blooms.

            • Thirtyish

              Clinton Lake’s not too bad.

              • Joseph Slater

                If you like neo-liberal lakes where Vince Foster’s body was sunk, ringed with pizza joints filled with child pornography.

          • Have you seen Lake Superior?

            • Dr. Waffle

              I haven’t. The Great Lakes seem amazing, I’ll give you that.

        • Elizabeth

          Some nice waves on Lake Superior…

        • The Lorax

          Pictured Rocks up on Superior is stunning. Google pics of it.

          This is a vast country full of gorgeous scenery. For sheer beauty I prefer the central CA coast. And for majesty a grove of Sequoia trees. But I’ve never been to NE and have been in LA for 20 years now; I know only the midwest and west coast (apart from big eastern cities).

      • SatanicPanic

        Whoa dude, what? Nevermind, more space on the beach for me.

      • Unemployed_Northeastern

        What?

        – written from the beach

        • wjts

          Enjoy the greenheads and the seagull shit.

          • Unemployed_Northeastern

            There is nowhere better to be than by or on the water. Fact.

        • SatanicPanic

          I’ll be heading there shortly myself!

          • Unemployed_Northeastern

            Nothing like a good night swim in the ocean...

      • Yeah the whole catching rays thing was odd to me. Swimming seems like fun, though.

      • M Lister

        You’re not to be “sitting on the hot sand in the sun”, you’re to be playing in the waves, and here the east has a significant advantage, unless you are a surfer, in that the water is warmer, unless you are in Maine. In large parts of the West, sitting on the beach is all you can do for any real stretch because the water is so cold. There may be a 5 day stretch when you can swim in Oregon and most of N. Cal, I guess. The beaches there are beautiful, but not very good for what you want to do, which is swim, because the water is so cold. The beaches on the west also tend to be narrower. They are generally better for surfing, though, or so it seems to me. On the east, it’s pleasant to go to the beach and swim well into September and sometimes even early October.

      • Thom

        There is no hot sand or hot sun on Northern California beaches. And very few people, with the exception of a few beaches that are within an hour of SF. And many of the beaches are stunningly beautiful, some of them miles long, others little coves.

        • M Lister

          All true – and also, the water is cold even most of the summer, which limits their pleasantness. They are pretty, but fail in one of the most important reasons to go to the beach – swimming in the ocean.

  • Dr. Waffle

    I’ve lived in the West (Colorado, specifically). I like the West. But you couldn’t pay me to leave New England and live there again.

    • Thirtyish

      Same. I also lived in colorado for a few years. I even visited a few weeks ago. As wonderful as it was, and as much as I missed the scenery, I was definitely ready to come back to NYC after a week.

      • wjts

        I lived in Denver from age 2 to age 12. I missed it enormously for a few years after I left, but have no real desire to go back.

        • Hogan

          I grew up in central Illinois. One of the advantages of that is that even rolling landscapes still amaze me. As a kid I’d see those cartoons with some animal being chased by another animal over hills and dales and think, “Does ground really do that?” Yes! Yes it does.

          • wjts

            Denver’s weird in that respect. The city itself is almost entirely flat, but turn around and you see great big mountains.

            • scott bates

              Different perspectives are always interesting. As an easterner working in Utah, there was a Native Utahn in our crew who never believed that he lived in the desert (Provo) until he visited Oregon’s Cascades.

            • postmodulator

              Fort Collins too. Fort Collins is flat as a board. Then, where I lived in Kansas was really hilly.

              • wjts

                After decades of hearing “Kansas is flatter than a pancake” jokes, I was pretty surprised when I drove through the eastern part of the state.

                • Thirtyish

                  Anyone who ever doubts that Kansas can be lovely needs to take a drive along Rural Highway 7 in the extreme northeast corner of the state.

                • Hondo

                  The Flint Hills can be beautiful in the spring when they are green. But, in August, it is a brutal place to be. For the Flint Hills Death Ride one year, it was 105 and windy.

              • Dr. Waffle

                I was just there. I miss the Fort Collins of old. Now it’s waaaay too overdeveloped and busy.

              • M Lister

                To its benefit, though, Fort Collins does have some excellent beer (esp. Odell, god how I miss that stuff in the beer wasteland that is Australia…), a couple of good restaurants (Choice City Butcher!) and the Devil’s Backbone is near there and pretty cool.

            • M Lister

              This is why Denver is good for biking. Flat, dry, fairly wide roads. The drivers are crazy ass-holes, but not more than most of the west. So, good for biking. When I lived there, I assumed that people crossing Kansas got closer and closer to the Rockies and said, “well, I guess this would be a good place to stop.”

      • Drew

        Ive always dreamed of moving out west, having only lived in Florida and New York. But the older I get, the less I want to leave. The thing that sort of blew my mind when I first spent an appreciable amount of time here was that there are in fact many pockets of quiet. First couple times I visited all I saw was Times Square and midtown. And then I thought I would never be able to live here. The only thing I miss is space/a yard, but the parks sort of make up for that.

        Of course this mornings 1/2/3 delays wrecked my commute, but traffic was always horrific when I had to drive in Florida.

    • CP

      I’ve only been to the Southwest (Arizona and New Mexico), but as an Easterner, I find the entire scenery amazing, and I most definitely don’t get tired of it after a week. When I spent the summer in Phoenix a few years back for one of ASU’s summer programs, the only regret I had was having to go back.

      It doesn’t hurt that I’ve spent most of the last seventeen years living in either Florida or Washington DC, both of which, for all the things I enjoy about them, are literal goddamn swamps. Compared with the oppressive humidity of their summers, the dry heat out west felt miraculous.

      • Dr. Waffle

        Yeah, I could see D.C. and Florida getting old. The Northeast, despite its humid summers, at least has relatively temperate springs and autumns.

      • Leisure Suit Lawyer

        I lived in D.C. while in law school. Absolutely hated the summers and the humidity (and that weird hazy color the sky turned on hot, humid days). Here in Northern New Mexico we get a few days each summer above 90 degrees but I’ve never felt the need for air conditioning even when it’s that hot.

        • Drew

          I remember walking to work one summer in D.C. when it was like 102. Buses were way too full. Completely sweated through my shirt- it was like I had jumped in a pool. 102 and humid. Worst feeling ever.

          • billcinsd

            I used to help run the National Adult Soccer Tournament and we held it one year in Virginia Beach when it was over 100. One of the referees passed out it was so hot and humid

      • M Lister

        When I spent the summer in Phoenix a few years back for one of ASU’s
        summer programs, the only regret I had was having to go back.

        The endless, repeating, deja vu inducing identical strip malls of that area didn’t get to you? After having lived in the Easter for a few years, and then going to the Phoenix area, that was my dominant impression of the immediate area. I guess if you go outside the city it’s okay, but the populated areas are gross.

  • corporatecake

    Pine Ridge Reservation is the most depressing place I’ve ever been. I was visiting my father’s aunt in Denver while reading Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee for my AP US History class, and she suggested we take the camper and visit. I was in tears by the time we drove away. The visit made the stop at Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse memorial we made later in the trip empty and weird. Everyone else seemed so happy, chattering and snapping pictures.

    • efgoldman

      Pine Ridge Reservation is the most depressing place I’ve ever been

      I’ve never been there, but I read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee when it was current. I think I should probably dig it out and read it again.

    • joel_hanes

      Red Lake in Minnesota is pretty grim too.

  • Karen

    Consider Nova Scotia for a beach holiday. The water at Inverness or Point Michaud is the same temp as Cape Cod — and often the same as it is at Long Island — and the crows are about a fifth as big. And the food is better.

    • twbb

      “The water at Inverness or Point Michaud is the same temp as Cape Cod — and often the same as it is at Long Island ”

      So way too cold?

      • Steve LaBonne

        The National Seashore on Assateague is the northernmost place on the Atlantic coast where I can stand the water temperature for more than a few seconds.

        • wjts

          Family vacations when I was a kid involved splashing around in the Atlantic off Cape Cod or New Jersey. In college, going to “the beach” meant Lake Michigan. The one time I visited San Diego, I was the only one in the water wearing swim trunks rather than a wetsuit. This was in mid-March.

          • Steve LaBonne

            I’m shivering just from reading that.

          • CHD

            San Diego water only gets warm(ish) in late summer. (September is our warmest summer month most years). In March? Brrrr. Wetsuit almost mandatory through most of June.

            • wjts

              It was fine. Kind of cold, but fine.

              • Hondo

                Shrinkage! Significant shrinkage!

        • CHD

          Wait, what? The water is often 75ish along the Jersey shore and not much lower further north (until the Cape kicks the current east to keep Britain from becoming an iceberg).
          (And if you don’t like cold water, don’t bother with Southern California…)

          • Drew

            I grew up in south Florida. Water colder than 80 is freezing.

      • Karen

        I’m a Texan. My blood is so thin I bleed pink, but in August I love the water in NS. It’s 75 degrees and as clear as can be, and Canada never has crowds anywhere but Toronto.

      • M Lister

        Water on Long Island isn’t very cold. It’s got the South to North flow there. I don’t know if Cape Cod gets that or not. But, the water on Long Island is totally different temperature wise than a bit further north because of the currents, and really very pleasant.

        • twbb

          I grew up on Long Island (well, Queens); the water is cold. It’s not as cold as further up, but the shape of the east coast makes it so the warmer gulf stream waters head northeast after they hit the outer banks of North Carolina. Outside of the summer, you have a good chance of hypothermia.

          • M Lister

            I swam on the beaches on Long Island (Long Beach more than anywhere else, but also Fire Island and Montauk) in September and October, and late May, and thought it was very nice, especially September and October, if the air was warm enough in October. May is colder, but still not close to as cold as August on a California beach.

            • twbb

              Oh, California water is far colder. But try tropical or semitropical waters; Long Island water will seem like liquid nitrogen in comparison.

    • Thom

      All true, but the biting flies are horrible. Beautiful province, though.

  • potsherds

    After that great opening paragraph, Erik, I want your promise that if the western states were to ever successfully leave the U.S., you’d come back to the clearly superior part of our (former) country. We’d need your fervent & biting defense of our beautiful western country.

  • Victor_Matheson

    Loomis and I disagree on a lot, but having also visited there, his description of the overwhelming sadness of Wounded Knee combined with the grinding poverty of Pine Ridge is spot on.

    My enduring memory of the Wounded Knee is the graveyard at the massacre site that was also featured in the old Val Kilmer movie “Thunderheart”. Many, many wooden grave markers and lots of deaths of people under 30 with not many 70+. And the young deaths are not just from the “prehistoric” days before penicillin and vaccines.

  • CHD

    Why in heaven’s name are you going to Cape Cod when you live in RI? RIers don’t go to Massachusetts! Misquamicut, Weekapaug, Roger Wheeler, Moonstone, etc. are all under 20 minutes from your campus and are much nicer. (Better than any SoCal beach too, since for the most part they don’t don’t have (multi million dollar ) houses right up to the water’s edge.) Oh, and the water is a hell of a lot warmer south of the Cape too. (Far warmer than anyplace on the West Coast too.)
    So enough on the East bashing! There are plenty of amazing places to visit. It’s different to be sure, perhaps less in your face beauty, but beautiful just the same. Rather like the difference between Philly pizza and Chicago pizza. Both technically pizza, but not really directly comparable.

    • Unemployed_Northeastern

      Yes, Misquamicut and Weekapaug don't have multi million dollar homes up to the water's edge. Oh look, Taylor Swift!

      The water in the coves of Buzzards Bay on the west side of Cape Cod are warmer than the south shore of Rhode Island.

      • CHD

        Well, yeah, there are multi million dollar homes *nearby*, but not right up to the beach cheek to jowl, like what I have to put up with here in San Diego (and pretty much all of SoCal). And at eg Matunuck the houses are actually cottages, tiny but affordable.

        Temp wise, it’s still warmer than the North Shore and *way* warmer than the Pacific is. This year is an exception, but most years we’re lucky if there are 5 days with the water over 70°.

        • Unemployed_Northeastern

          In my personal, unscientific estimation, summer water temps are as follows, from warmest to coldest:

          Buzzard’s Bay > Nantucket Sound ~ South Shore of RI > Cape Cod Bay > National Seashore > North Shore of MA > Arctic Ocean >>> Maine.

    • stepped pyramids

      Up here in Oregon all the coasts are state-owned and open to the public. Better than most of the public California beaches by far.

      • M Lister

        Except for the freezing cold water probably 358 days of the year. They are beautiful beaches. Growing up in Idaho, going to the Oregon Coast was one of my favorite things, and I still like it. But, for swimming, it’s not so great.

        • Thom

          When I was a kid growing up in Northern California, I thought that going numb after 3 minutes in the water was a normal thing. Now, when I visit those beaches, I do not go in above my knees (most are too dangerous for a mediocre swimmer anyway).

        • Just_Dropping_By

          Wait, there are days of the year when the water on the Oregon coast isn’t freezing cold?

        • stepped pyramids

          I’ve never seen the appeal of swimming in salt water anyway. Give me a nice reservoir lake or a river to swim in any day.

          • Bloix

            Perfect for sand castles and body surfing. Who needs a beach?

          • M Lister

            totally disagree (having swam mostly in rivers and lakes growing up) but to each his own. Playing in the waves, the extra boyency, I love the ocean.

      • btfjd

        Oregon beaches are the best. We try to get out there every few years for relief from the summer heat here in Texas. Best way to do it–fly into Portland, stock up on books at Powell’s and wine at Ponzi and some of the wineries in the Willamette Valley, then head for Newport/Waldport/Yachats and spend a week reading, walking on the beach in sweaters or windbreakers, eating Dungeness crab and drinking wine.

  • AlexSaltzberg

    Huh. This post made me realize I have a bit of nostalgia for South Dakota… except for the whole living there. And that I also don’t care about Mt. Rushmore.

    I’m surprised you didn’t make it to Wall Drug along the way — it’s near the Badlands and is one of the weirdest tourist stops I’ve been in.

    • Hypersphrericalcow

      Wall Drug is one of those places that is famous for being famous. I think Don Delillo parodied it in one of his novels – “White Noise”, maybe?

      • MikeG

        The founder realized people driving across the vast prairie were bored out of their skulls and would stop for anything.

        • billcinsd

          and then he got signposts all over the world saying how far from Wall Drug one happened to be.

          Also, some of the Wall Drug thing was related to the short distance one could travel without stopping back in the day. A nice cheap cup of coffee or glass of water was very welcome when your open air Stutz Bearcat needed refueling or more water in the radiator

      • postmodulator

        I think Don Delillo parodied it in one of his novels – “White Noise”, maybe?

        I believe you mean the “Most Photographed Barn In America” bit.

        • Hypersphrericalcow

          Yes! That’s what I was thinking of.

    • NicknotNick

      I HATE Wall Drug — that, and Little America in Wyoming are the two lousiest places in the entire West. My family drove back and forth between Kansas and Oregon multiple times, and Wall Drug and Little America are the most pathetic excuses for entertainment in the most boring parts of the country. I particularly remember one visit to the latter when the plumbing had burst, and dozens of people insisted on continuing to use the toilets . . .

      • Wall Drug and Little America are the most pathetic excuses for
        entertainment in the most boring parts of the country. I particularly
        remember one visit to the latter when the plumbing had burst, and dozens
        of people insisted on continuing to use the toilets . . .

        Then they all drove home and voted for Donald Trump.

        And now you know…the rest of the story.

  • Hypersphrericalcow

    The Badlands are also one of the most important areas in the world for paleontology.

    I remember reading about the Teapot Dome scandal in high school history class, and not being able to make hide nor hair of what exactly it was, but still getting the sense that it was deeply corrupt.

  • Lot_49
    • Gwai Lo, MD

      When you look down and see human bones sprouting from the dirt, it’s jaw dropping. They just let it flood during the rainy season and collect the bones as they emerge.

      That place feels haunted.

      • Karen

        Wow. I thought Dachau was bad.

        • Gwai Lo, MD

          I haven’t been to Dachau (or much of Europe) but I’m sure it’s eerily similar.

          You can look up Chankiri Tree if you want an even dimmer view of humanity. My stomach was in knots during the entire visit.

      • Lot_49

        Yes. Saw it myself couple of years ago. Unforgettable.

  • The 7th Marx Brother

    I love Montana and I recreate there as often as I can. I do find, however, that the state’s surfing leaves something to be desired… (yeah, the Tom McGuane reference was intentional).

    • M Lister

      I do find, however, that the state’s surfing leaves something to be desired

      Not as bad as you might think!

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qaCuNb4tDag

    • socraticsilence

      Brennan’s Wave is mild but fun in Missoula.

  • King Goat

    “Why did we need to blast the faces of our presidents into perfectly beautiful mountains? ”

    People are always going to be somewhat tribalistic and hero worshiping, as things go this is agreed stupid but mild.

    One of the things Trump has us on is a way to express national pride and prominence. There is a way to do this sans xenophobia and embracing the awful parts of our history, and we’d best learn to do it.

    • applecor

      I agree with your last sentence. I prefer the JFK method myself.

  • (((42)))

    On my 21st birthday I got wrecked in that bar on Rainier and Yukon Jack shots. With a bunch of Sturgis-bound bikers. Buffalo is a nicer town than it ought to be. And the Bighorns are way nicer. Check out Crazy Woman Canyon if you have time. Or visit Kaycee, hometown of Chris LeDoux.

    • Downpup E

      My NW trip to try & climb Grand Teton (We got sick & bailed) was epic for food, beer & The Night’s Too Long playing while we were stuck in traffic in the one small city in Wyoming.

      1993. Fuck, i’m old.

    • joel_hanes

      The Ten Sleeps valley in NE Wyoming, trending SW down to Thermopolis, is gorgeous and not heavily travelled. After I retire I’m going to spend a week fishing that river.

  • Gwai Lo, MD

    White Sands, New Mexico is my favorite. You have gypsum dunes to run up and slide down. The sand, as an insulator, always stays cool on your feet, so it’s perfect for a barefoot walk at sunset.

    It is also near the Trinity Site.

    Honorable mention goes to Bandelier. You can see relics of cave dwellers, visit Georgia O’Keefe’s house, visit the Taos Pueblo with a monument commemorating a Native American massacre, and visit Los Alamos.

    New Mexico is incredible.

    • Karen

      I love New Mexico. We sent our son to college at UNM because we love the area so much. We’re going in September to hike in Taos with a guy training for an Everest attempt next summer. (We will meet in the evening and listen to him describe his training.)

    • Thirtyish

      White Sands is sublimely otherworldly, especially at night.

    • Hondo

      We did a 4 day backpack through Bandelier before the fire. Beautiful place. Same duration hike in the Gila, and a few others near Santa Fe. Lots of cool places to hike in NM.
      Wife does the annual Flamenco dance festival just about every year in Albuquerque.
      Santa Fe is expensive. Upscale and artsy. Like Boulder, Vail, Durango, Crested Butte, Aspen and others. All these places have been taken over by rich assholes and filled up with McMansions. Salida is better. Small town, no rich people. Colorado Brewers Guild Festival every year in the city park, but we haven’t been in a few. Estes Park is still cool but can be overrun due to RMNP. But, Sante Fe is still a cool place and worth the visit.
      Outer Banks? Too much traffic from over development. Basically one road in or out. Beach we were at in Duck wasn’t too crowded. Didn’t go back this year.
      Did anyone mention Montana yet? Went for first time for backpack and fishing trip in Beartooth Wilderness. Had a great time ate nothing but fresh trout all week.
      The east has nice places that are technically backcountry, but only in the west can you hike so far it would take 5 days to walk back to you car. That’s what we like about it.
      The Grand Canyon is also incredible. Even from the rim.
      I will miss is out here. Not sure I’ll ever get a chance to come back west after we leave.

      • Gwai Lo, MD

        Santa Fe is my wife’s happy place. We wanted to share the Southwest with some Maryland friends so we did a New Mexico road trip. Santa Fe was our base (though the rich artsy thing is a bit more up our alley than I’d like to admit).

        I also love traveling through the Navajo Reservation.

  • I grew up in rural Minnesota and now live in northern New Mexico. I wouldn’t live anywhere else now. It’s got everything I want. But yeah, Mount Rushmore is weird. I think Hitchcock set the action in North by Northwest there just for the surreal touch.

    • Karen

      What part?

      • rea

        Right toward the end of the movie

      • Santa Fe

        • Karen

          I love Santa Fe! We make it up there three or four times a year, mostly for ski season. My favorite restaurants in North America – Gabriel’s and Maria’s — are there.

    • Leisure Suit Lawyer

      Moved here from Minnesota as well. The only thing it doesn’t have that I want is a good Ethiopian restaurant. But I’ll trade that for a lack of mosquitos.

  • applecor

    “Mount Rushmore. What the hell is up with that place? Why did we need to
    blast the faces of our presidents into perfectly beautiful mountains”

    Well, otherwise where the hell was Hitchcock going to shoot North by Northwest?

    • Wojciech

      And judging by Erik’s comments, apparently the sequel to “Sons of Anarchy” as well.

  • DonnaK

    I grew up in Upstate NY, lived much my life in MA, and now I’m back in NY having bought my family home from my sisters. I’ve been to the spectacular West, but beauty is more than sheer grandeur. I love Maine, Vermont, the Adirondacks, the Finger Lakes, the Hudson Valley, the Ontario shore, and Cape Ann and I’m damn proud if it. I don’t feel I live in an aesthetically inferior world at all.

    • Dr. Waffle

      I think the East offers a more complete package than the West does. The latter’s natural beauty is second-to-none, but its cities are not nearly as unique or interesting, and it takes forever to get anywhere. Meanwhile, I can hop on the highway and be in Boston OR the White Mountains in about 1-1 1/2 hours.

      • Thirtyish

        Apart from San Francisco and arguably the PNW metropolitan areas, the West (which I’m broadly defining as west of Missouri/Minnesota) simply does not have good, memorable, distinctive cities.

        • wjts

          Disagree slightly. I liked visiting San Diego and living in Denver. I also enjoyed my (brief) visit to Lincoln, NE (population 280,364).

          • Thirtyish

            Yeah, I was tempted to include San Diego as well, if only for its visual beauty. And Denver has its areas (I especially enjoy the vibe around University). I haven’t been to Lincoln, but if it’s anything like Lawrence, KS, then it’s probably pretty cool.

            • wjts

              I passed through Lawrence and Lincoln on the same trip, driving from Chicago to Lubbock. They seemed pretty similar, but I liked Lawrence a little better.

        • CP

          Yeah, I was about to cite San Francisco. No diss on any of the cities back east, but that’s probably the prettiest city I’ve ever been to, at least in America. (Though my housemate assures me I’d change my mind if I visited the PNW).

          • M Lister

            Growing up in Idaho, I was impressed with Seattle and Portland – the “big cities”. Seattle has some nice views, and a few in Portland as well, but they are just not as good as the locals think. There are good things around there, and they are not awful – above average, at least – but really, not great, either. Once you get a more cosmopolitan view, it’s hard to see them as anything more than second tier, at best.

        • Leisure Suit Lawyer

          Boise is quite nice. I’m kind of fond of Salt Lake City too. I guess a big part is how you define memorable, distinctive cities. I’d take either of those cities over many similar-sized urban areas in the East, though perhaps part (certainly not all) of the appeal of those cities for me is how easy it is to get out of them and into the mountains nearby.

          • M Lister

            I am from Boise, and I’ll say that, for the most part, it is now okay, if you don’t live in the sprawlsville around it. It used to be a total culinary wasteland (except for the Basque restaurants.) Now it’s not, even if not great. If you like outdoor sports, it’s a fantastic place to live. The cost of living isn’t high. But, the city itself is merely now pretty okay, as opposed to sort of bad in the past.

      • Stella Barbone

        San Diego is very nice. Come visit us! Then go home.

    • HugeEuge

      “beauty is more than sheer grandeur”
      Lovely

    • nixnutz

      I always liked the Hudson Valley, and Ogunquit is probably my favorite beach but it’s tough to compete with some of those crazy desert and giant mountain vistas. What I really like is driving west to east on 80, but that’s about how it takes several days for Nevada to morph into Iowa, then it gets crowded and homogeneous in a hurry.

      • DonnaK

        The East isn’t trying to compete with the West. As I said above, beauty is about more than grand vistas and dizzying heights.

    • applecor

      I also grew up in upstate NY and have lived most of my life in scenery-starved Massachusetts.

      You know what we had in upstate NY? Niagara goddam Falls. That’s plenty o’ grandeur.

      • Unemployed_Northeastern

        Scenery-starved Massachusetts? Have you never been to Brockton?

        • wjts

          Visit beautiful historic Springfield!
          Visit beautiful historic Springfield!
          Visit beautiful historic Springfield.
          Visit beautiful historic Springfield.

          • Unemployed_Northeastern

            Visit the Basketball Hall of Fame. And then stay in Hartford.

            • SamChevre

              There’s lots of things better to do in Springfield than the Basketball Hall of Fame. Heck, my backyard is more interesting. But my actual recommendation is the “things made in Springfield” section of the Museum, and Springfield Armory.

              Also, you should definitely get Puerto Rican food.

              • Unemployed_Northeastern

                Wait, I thought the Armory was in Worcester?

                – Massachusetts goes past the I-90 / I-84 interchange?

                • applecor

                  On the knockoff of the New Yorker cover for Boston, there would be dots for Amherst and Tanglewood.

                  Also BT’s Smokehouse, on Route 20 right off Exit 9.

                • Unemployed_Northeastern

                  That’s unfair… we would include Williamstown, too. Multiple cultural institutions and Williams grads are overrepresented in Boston’s professional classes. Deerfield too, for the same reasons.

  • Unemployed_Northeastern

    “Yes, I love being stuck in endless traffic to sit on mediocre Cape Cod ”

    I’m banning you to a lifetime of Skyline Chili for this one, Erik.

    • Dr. Waffle

      I just visited my father in Colorado. The traffic’s just as bad, possibly worse, in populated areas.

      • Unemployed_Northeastern

        Everyone says Colorado is a great place to live. Take a look at metro Denver on Google Maps or Earth; it’s like a fifty by fifty mile grid of suburban blocks. Blech.

        • rea

          Get out of Denver better go go
          Get out of Denver cause you look just like a commie
          And you might just be a member better
          Better Get out of Denver
          Better Get out of Denver

        • M Lister

          You have to pick your areas to live carefully. But, if you do, there are some pretty nice aspects to it.

        • Just_Dropping_By

          You may be surprised to learn that there are more places to live in Colorado than just Denver….

          • Unemployed_Northeastern

            There can't possibly be more to Colorado than Denver, Vail, and Aspen.

    • Jay B.

      There is nothing mediocre about the National Seashore.

    • stepped pyramids

      See? The East has Skyline Chili. That’s a deficit it can never hope to make up.

      • Unemployed_Northeastern

        The Midwest has Skyline Chili. If we have it here on the coast, I’m not aware of it.

        • stepped pyramids

          It’s east of the Mississip’, ain’t it? That’s the East to us covered wagon folk.

          • M Lister

            Ever time I’m reminded that Ohio is in the eastern time zone, by my friend who lives there, it shocks me, given that Ohio is so clearly mid-west.

          • Unemployed_Northeastern

            And Cincinnati is just a bit due south of the original Northwest to us Northeasterners.

  • billcinsd

    I can’t believe you didn’t cruise down to Alliance, NE and see Carhenge. Much further along on the scale of why did we need to make this than Mt. Rushmore and you were so close to this bit of kitsch, that is pseudo-historical

    • Bufflars

      They just had a story about Carhenge on NPR this morning. I guess it is expected to get swarmed for the upcoming eclipse. Strange Days.

      • billcinsd

        Alliance is right on the main line of the eclipse. I would go there myself for the eclipse, but my school starts that day and I probably shouldn’t cancel classes

  • Thirtyish

    I agree that the Western half of the country contains the most spectacular scenery and natural beauty. I used to live out there myself. But the cultural barrenness eventually bored me enough into heading to the East Coast, where I happily live now.

  • ForkyMcSpoon

    I feel tremendous apathy regarding Mount Rushmore. It sounds like there are other interesting things near it, so it’s not totally implausible that I might one day see it, but Mt Rushmore is probably not in my top 100 list of places I would like to visit (or visit again) in the US.

    • Thirtyish

      Skip the crowds at Mt. Rushmore and enjoy the scenery of the surrounding Badlands instead.

    • mattmcirvin

      I saw it once when I was a kid, and that was probably more than enough for one lifetime. What was more interesting was the guy giving helicopter rides nearby, in one of those Bell helicopters with the clear bubble cockpit. A wild and terrifying thrill ride.

      • M Lister

        If you could fly strapped to a stretcher, like in MASH, that would have been something I really would have gone for. (What a weird idea that was.)

  • tomstickler

    To really appreciate such trips, Cape Cod to Badlands, ya gotta do it on a motorcycle. And I have.

  • Harry Rumbold

    Obligatory can’t get a decent pastrami on rye or pizza west of 10th Avenue comment.

    • wjts

      There’s a pizza joint in Lubbock that I like a lot. Not enough to ever go back to Lubbock, mind.

    • nixnutz

      Can’t get a decent pork tenderloin outside of Indiana, despite what those lying Iowans will tell you.

      • wjts

        If you’re talking about the sandwich, I can’t say for certain having not tried the Iowa variety. But the one I had in Indianapolis was pretty great.

        • nixnutz

          I’ve never had either actually, I’m not sure whether or not I’ve been to Indiana. When I was in Iowa I went to a diner where you could add a breaded pork tenderloin to other sandwiches, which seemed excessive, I’m just taking an educated guess at other provincial food prejudices. Those things do look good. I think I’d like to spend about 4 years just traveling and eating regional road food.

          • wjts

            If you like pork, sandwiches, and fried things, I can say with some confidence that you’d like pork tenderloin sandwiches.

            • joel_hanes

              MUST have dill pickle slices, at least one full 1/4 inch slice of fresh onion, and sufficient mustard.
              Goldie’s Ice Cream Shop in Prairie City IA does a very good one, almost as big as your head, so it’s really two meals.
              The Suzie-Q Cafe in Mason City IA is even better, and almost as big, and unless the place has changed hands, the proprietor/cook will do pretty good amateur magic tricks for the customers at the counter while they wait for their food to come out.

              • wjts

                I skipped the mustard and maybe the pickle slices. Can’t leave off the onion, though.

            • Gwai Lo, MD

              Springfield, IL has variants of their horseshoe sandwich that include a pork tenderloin. It is the least healthy thing I’ve ever attempted to eat.

        • Hogan

          I’ve had it in Illinois, and oh my my.

      • postmodulator

        Finally, a reason to stop in Indiana that isn’t just “my car won’t get to Chicago on a single tank of gas.”

        • kvs

          The New Albanian in New Albany, IN. Good beer, decent deep dish pizza, and a Red Room dedicated to communists.

          • The New Albanian

            King Zog is dead! All hail Enver Hoxha!

            in New Albany, IN.

            Oh. Never mind.

    • DJ

      Can’t get a buttered roll, either.

    • nosmo king

      Best pastrami sandwich in America (and by extension, the world) is at Langer’s, hard by MacArthur Park in Los Angeles. To get really great pizza in NYC area, you have to go to New Haven, but at least it’s not a continent away. The local slop in NYC will have to do, and it’s pretty good, so you won’t be disappointed.

      On the other hand, try finding a decent street taco in NYC, especially one under two bucks. You poor bastards don’t know what you’re missing.

      • wjts

        Best pastrami sandwich in America (and by extension, the world) is at Langer’s, hard by MacArthur Park in Los Angeles.

        Bollocks. Rain-soaked pastrami is disgusting and, more importantly, sandwiches should not be covered in sweet green icing.

    • Hondo

      Wichita. Riverfest. FUNNEL CAKE.

    • stepped pyramids

      Those are really easy things to make. It’s just meat on bread and meat and cheese and sauce on bread. It’s basically the fingerpainting of food.

  • Bruce Vail

    I’m quite fond of you, Erik, so I’ll overlook your ignorance about the Outer Banks.

    Perhaps you didn’t realize that if you wanted to enjoy a beautiful isolated beach that you might have to drive down the beach road a bit from your hotel. That’s what the rest of us do.

    Try the beach just north of Ocracoke. It will take your breath away.

    • jmack

      Right. There are literally miles of beaches with nearly no one on them if that is what you want.

  • rea

    I am rather fond of some locations in Michigan, despite being a New Mexico boy.

    https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4089/5064926705_f82779140e_z.jpg

    • postmodulator

      I’ll be in the area around Holland again in a week.

      Still, I tend to agree with Erik that all the best parts of this country are west of the Rockies; lately I’ve come to ascribe this view to the fact that I lived out there between the ages of about five and ten. I took my ideal vacation this year: fly to Vegas, drive to Phoenix after a couple of days to check in with some family, drive to LA. I’d never made the Phoenix to LA drive and it has a lot to recommend it. I just plain like heat, that’s a big part of it.

    • Thirtyish

      That’s a beautiful photo, but I swear I had to grab a jacket right after viewing it.

      • rea

        The first time I went camping there (Bliss, on the Lake Michigan coast, just south of the northern tip of the lower peninsula) I ended up wearing every T shirt in my pack at once.

    • M Lister

      waves caused by the wind blowing goddamned hard are not really the same thing as ocean waves, though.

  • William Heaphy

    I’m guessing you’ve never seen Lake Superior. If you ever do (esp. in the fall or winter) it will take your breath away and you will retract your foolish statement. Or maybe you don’t consider it in “The East”?

    And also – nobody loves Mount Rushmore. I don’t know where you get that. It’s one of the most ridiculous things in the world. But it’s adjacent to Custer State Park – amazing – so that’s why we took a look.

    • billcinsd

      Needles Highway is quite good

    • postmodulator

      When I was a kid, I thought the Crazy Horse memorial was pretty staggering, and I vowed to come back when I was an adult and they had finished it.

      It’s sort of incredible how little they’ve gotten done in forty years.

      • billcinsd

        you should go for the Volksmarch, usually around Memorial Day. You get to go out on the arm, which is amazingly large. Also, they have done much more in the last 40 years than in the first 40 years. As they use private funding only, they are a little underfunded

  • CP

    college students will rush to take a Holocaust course but will avoid
    courses on Native American history or the history of the slavery like
    the plague. That’s especially true of politically conservative students,
    who can see the Holocaust as a per evil that the U.S. had only a
    positive effect on eventually ameliorating through defeating the Nazis
    and supporting Israel while studying Native Americans and slaves is PC
    history.

    Obligatory reference to my dual citizen background and my attendant observation that, based at least on my two countries, most people are very good at talking about other countries’ history of crimes, and phenomenally bad at facing up to their own.

  • spencer_e9876

    patches on their jackets reading things like “This is America. Speak English or Get the Fuck Out,”

    Which always amuses me because the target audience is, by definition, not getting the message.

    • Thirtyish

      Such messages seem to me to be not really be about sending a message to non English-speaking persons. Instead, the purpose of wearing/displaying such messages seems twofold: to signal to other white, bigoted dumbasses that you’re one of them; and to piss off libs who don’t care for such sentiments of aggressive defense of cultural and racial hegemony.

      • spencer_e9876

        Yeah, I do get how it works. I’m not entirely sure *they* know how it works, though – from my interactions with people like that in the south, at least some of them really do hope that some illegals will read their shirt and shit themselves in fear, or something. It’s all so stupid.

        • billcinsd

          These are likely the people who speak more slowly and louder when speaking to someone that doesn’t understand the language

      • CP

        You might call it “virtue signaling.”

        • GeoX

          Vice signaling.

  • Mojrim ibn Harb

    Erik: If you’re still in town let me know. We’ve got some pretty good restaurants and a fascinating art colony.

    • M Lister

      I read that at first as “ant colony” and was almost ready to make the trip the next time I’m in the US!

  • Marlowe

    I just looked out my window and saw the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building, which I think is just as beautiful as any sight in the West (the only arguable exception being John Ford directing in Monument Valley, preferably with cinematography by Winton Hoch). Quite seriously, I have no problem with you liking or preferring the West, but why do you have to be an asshole about it? (And since I’ve felt that same way about your nasty responses when writing about music, maybe you just are an asshole.)

    • stepped pyramids

      He’s making up lost time. Erik could spend every post disparaging the East and he’d barely make a dent in the decades of supercilious sneering sent the other direction.

      • The Republican Party called and it wanted to know why its exemplary sneering at everything east coastal isn’t getting due recognition.

        • stepped pyramids

          Well, a hell of a lot of them are in the East, aren’t they? Just because you call it the South doesn’t mean it’s not also the East.

    • Thirtyish

      Erik has this…tendency, to put it lightly. Whether you call it assholery or overly ostentatious pot-stirring, I mostly just ignore it anymore and focus on whatever interesting he has to say. 100% with you on the Chrysler building. Every time I see it, it takes my breath away (especially when it’s lit up after hours).

    • M Lister

      but why do you have to be an asshole about it?

      That’s his style. I don’t like it. Maybe he thinks it’s funny? It’s hard to say. But it really is his style.

  • Alworth

    This is really odd. I’m an Oregonian who today had a quintessential day on Cape Cod, summarized nicely in your first paragraph. We ate lobster and hiked from the center of the Cape through scraggly little forests, emerging into a tiny strip of beach on which very large white American humans lounged like seals. And I thought: this is completely ridiculous. Oregon is forty times more beautiful. And then I got distracted because the flies kept biting my exposed flesh.

    • hiked from the center of the Cape through scraggly little forests

      A college friend who’d grown up in Denver started graduate school at MIT at the same time as me. Shortly thereafter he and the woman he later married reported that they’d taken a day trip to the Plymouth State Thicket. (And she, for heaven’s sakes, grew up in New Jersey!)

    • Origami Isopod

      on which very large white American humans lounged like seals

      Oh, no, people with imperfect bodies displaying them in public. How terrible. They should just stay inside.

    • Bloix

      People who praise Oregon beaches are unclear on the concept. Yes indeed, they are lovely, also the water is 55 degrees and the air is 70. See how long your kids will play in the surf. Three seconds. Max. Also, it’s hard to get rays through your fleece.

  • Uncle_Ebeneezer

    New England in the fall still blows me away though I generally agree with West>East.

    • Bloix

      A lot of the 20th C version of natural beauty depends on paved roads and the automobile. (The train started the change but the car brought it to the masses.) In the 18th and most of the 19th C, natural beauty meant places like the English Lake District, the Shenandoahs, and the Hudson Valley – cozy places with scenic vistas, water, greenery, pretty wildlife etc. that you can get around on foot or horseback, and then back to your bed that evening. Open country with huge mountains might be awe-inspiring but it was too frightening to be beautiful. And walking for days with the same fucking mountain on your left was depressing. But from a train window or better yet your own car, you can zip through oodles of lovely scenery without worrying that you’re going to freeze to death or be eaten by a bear. And by contrast, cars and trains make eastern landscapes feel cramped.

      • M Lister

        . Open country with huge mountains might be awe-inspiring but it was too frightening to be beautiful
        there is a whole late 18th early 19th C. discussion of just this point, with the idea of the “sublime” applying to things like this, and holding them importantly distinct from the beautiful. (Kant’s book is the best know, but the later romantics go in for it, too. The first part is perhaps Kant’s most readable and enjoyable work, but then he veers off into crazy racism and sexism the later parts.)

  • randykhan

    1. I’m kind of sorry you didn’t stop in Mitchell, South Dakota to see the Corn Palace. It represents a different kind of American experience that is part of the whole.

    2. Good beaches are great for many things – walking, swimming, lounging, nature. I’m sorry you’re not a fan. (And New Jersey beaches generally are deep and clean, with nice sand and the most annoying wildlife is the occasional sea gull trying to steal your food.)

    • stepped pyramids

      Wildlife is the best part of beaches, though. You find a nice rock to sit in and you watch the big waves come in and watch the birds and other critters go to town. Maybe find a tidepool or two. Take your dog for a walk. Good stuff.

    • Thirtyish

      The one and only time I saw Corn Palace in the flesh, I was nine. My jaw hit the floor of the backseat of my parents’ sedan as we drove by. I was the type of kid who would fall deeply in love with such a bizarre, gaudy, inexplicable, so-ugly-it’s-beautiful edifice in the middle of nowhere.

      • Gwai Lo, MD

        I saw a segment about it on TV. I have no idea how the place defends itself from consumption by rogue chickens.

        • billcinsd

          Chickens can’t fly. Also, they use a variety of grains. I played basketball in High School at the Corn Palace

    • Drew

      So long as you avoid the trashier spots on the shore, yes.

  • mch2

    I began to notice over 30 years ago the curious provincialism of Northwesterners. For instance, my cousin’s daughter (born and raised in Spokane, then living in Portland) sneered at her recently deceased uncle’s Harvard coffee cup (he was born in MN 1913, raised in Montana, hiking, hunting, and fishing in Glacier when it had all its glaciers — as an adult, he hiked with Larry Gould, the explorer, his brother-in-law, including in Arizona) — Harvard is where this Montana boy got his Ph.D. in Music (he also studied in France — and was a Marine at Peleliu and Okinawa, two purple hearts), and she just sneered. Her boyfriend refused to believe that NYC had ever had anything like Nordstrom’s — Nordstrom’s invented the department store, didn’t I know? Nothing compared to it! At about the same time, there was the wife of a younger colleague — both from Seattle, but he was not such a naif, perhaps because he was born of Japanese parents — who informed me that Americans knew nothing of good coffee, specifically espresso, until Seattle introduced them to it. (This was in Starbucks’ early days of going national.) I pointed out to her that I had seen huge espresso machines in NYC restaurants in my 1950’s childhood, that my parents used Italian stove-top espresso makers in my NJ household of the same years, that coffee had a history beyond Seattle — and she was gobsmacked. Really, she asked? I could go on, to include more sophisticated (cloyingly so — what are they trying to prove?) colleagues (one in particular sticks in my craw — where did he get that strange accent, some sort of pseudo Boston Brahmin drawl?).

    Get over it, so you can enjoy life fully, Eric! The world is full of beautiful places, different kinds of beauty. I love the plains of wheat and corn. I love the Badlands. I love the Sacramento Mountains of New Mexico (I especially love them). I love the Jersey shore (and the Cape). And I most especially love the Berkshires of Massachusetts, where I have lived for over 40 years. Just today, my visiting son (who grew up in the Berkshires) and I went to get corn for dinner at a stand where the cashbox is just left out there — honor system. The farm is at a particularly lovely spot, with mountain views, undulating fields in the foreground, and the smell of manure. He took some pictures for his wife in NYC, who loves this spot (it reminds her of the mountains north of Tehran, of her youth; I am put in my of my Tazewell, VA-born grandmother’s love of the Catskills and Adirondacks — have you ever visited the Smokey Mountains?).

    My maternal NYC grandfather’s eldest (half-) brother went on his own to Tacoma as a 15-year-old in 1892. My paternal grandfather worked in Alaska in the early 1940’s. Just thought I’d throw that in. Easterners are provincial, too, of course. But not so defensive. Californians are not defensive the way Washingtonians and Oregonians are. Nor are people from Idaho and Wyoming. What it it about those two states, Washington and Oregon? A sincere question, for a historian like you, Eric, to consider.

    • mch2

      Oh, and I will soon be on the Great Northern to Seattle, stopping in Glacier for a couple of days. Along the way, either on the tracks outside of Great Falls or in Glacier I will spread my father’s ashes, which have been sitting in a closet since 2004. (What to do with them? Problem solved!) He worked as a gandy-dancer in the summers of college and grad school, outside of Great Falls, in the late ’30s and early 40’s. He also grew up on family trips to Glacier, camping, fishing, hunting. Important thing for all of us now: it was then aptly named GLACIER National Park.

      • mch2

        Oh and…. Eric, have you traveled outside of the U.S.? The world is such a beautiful place! Go anywhere! Just get outside! You think the Rockies or Olympics are impressive? Go to Greece! Go to Peru Go to Africa! (For some e.g.’s.) Or don’t go there. Look at some good pictures.

        • I’ve spent a combined total of about 2 years outside of the US, in 21 different nations.

          • mch2

            My apologies for presuming. I do love your posts, even if I sound like a carping old aunt a lot of the time!

    • wjts

      Her boyfriend refused to believe that NYC had ever had anything like Nordstrom’s — Nordstrom’s invented the department store, didn’t I know?

      Zut alors!

  • Taylor

    Re Denver: I have two words for you, son. Are you listening?

    Rockie Flats.

    Don’t drink the water.

    • Just_Dropping_By

      What the fuck are you smoking? Rocky Flats is downstream from Denver’s water supply.

  • agentS

    North Dakota west of Fargo and south of Minot is gorgeous at night.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Sag72IJbm8

    • M Lister

      Is that an oil field on fire in the distance? God knows it can’t be a city.

  • John F

    “Why did we need to blast the faces of our presidents into perfectly beautiful mountains? ”
    I think it was basically two guys, one wanted to create a tourist attraction and the other (the sculptor) was apparently a fanatical Teddy Roosevelt fan….

  • Bloix

    Not every mountain is beautiful. The Never Summers in Colorado are ugly and intimidating. They look like a place you could die, and they are.

    • Thirtyish

      I have no interest in defending Erik’s personal animus sniping here, but to me, landscapes that are so sublime and imposing that they could kill us mere humans are the very definition of natural beauty.

      • Kenneth Clark’s Landscape Into Art, which recently resurfaced among our books (after a 40 year submersion somewhere), but which I don’t have easily to hand at the moment, begins (as I remember) by pinning down fairly precisely the era and circumstances (sometime in the era of Grand Tours, I think) in which the Alps, in particular, were transformed (in high culture; not yet, I assume, among les crétins du Valais and other natives) from mere loci of hardscrabble life and death into Natural Beauty waiting to be Painted by Artists.

      • Bloix

        I have been in many places that are sublime and imposing. Yosemite first, then the Canadian Rockies between Banff and Jasper, I think. Yosemite is so sublime it’s exhausting. But some places are just bleak and ugly.

        • Thirtyish

          Depends what you want to get out of the landscape. Some of the “bleakest” landscapes are, to me, the most existentially beautiful. And any landscape that puts humanity in its place is going to be beautiful. But beauty exists everywhere. I have yet to see a natural environment that isn’t beautiful in some way, shape, or form–East or West.

  • BethR52

    Heat is hot, no matter the humidity. You either get baked or steamed.

  • thomas

    “Yes, I love being stuck in endless traffic”

    Just wait until the population of the US is in the 5-600 million range (as many advocate), then there won’t be anywhere to hide.