I love traveling. I want to travel full-time someday, at least for a few months. But until recently, my traveling had been limited to the Western half of the United States.
I grew up driving across Arizona and Utah, with excursions into California, Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming, and Idaho. I’ve seen the Grand Canyon and hiked Zion’s National park. For me, desert national parks and wild, alien landscapes are the norm.
The first thing that hit us when we got off the plane was how flat it was. The first few days it was actually unnerving. The only times in my life (that I can remember) where I wasn’t in sight of a mountain was when I was actually on a mountain. Like, how do you go hiking Midwest? Where do you go camping? And the trees they’re everywhere, and they’re beautiful, but when you come over a hill it looks like you’re in the middle of nowhere because the towns are buried in all those leaves.
But after I got used to the flatness, I was totally amazed by rolling hills and red barns, farms that stretched for miles, and wide, fast-flowing rivers (In case you didn’t know, we don’t really have those in Arizona).
But I was the most excited to just be on the Mississippi.
I mean, growing up, you always hear about West of the Mississippi this, East of the Mississippi that. Westward Expansion, Lewis and Clark, Manifest Destiny, the Trail of Tears, Fur Trapping, Trading, River boats, Mark Twain… Those all seemed so distant.
And then, all of a sudden, they didn’t.
It was like just being there deepened my understanding of American History. It increased my understanding of what American is.
It made me want to go find Smallville or that town from Footloose. Even Frontier land at Disneyland made a little more sense.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not unfamiliar with Western American history. I come from a family of ranchers, and have Pioneer ancestors up the wazoo. But there’s something distinctly different between “The Wild West” and all that cowboy pioneer stuff and “The Western Frontier” that I just never really got before.
So yeah, I may have totally jumped up and down with excitement when saw a bridge on the Mississippi turn around to let an old-timey paddleboat. No shame. No shame at all.