We are hurtling across the country at 75 miles an hour (at least since Texas) in air-conditioned comfort, listening to music or ball games from a satellite, or music from a digital device. When we need to stop there are gas stations and flush toilets.
But at least since we left Tennessee, it’s hard not to feel a little part of what the westward pioneers of the 1800s must have felt, looking across the vast emptiness of the west and wondering what lay over the horizon or next range of mountains. Rolling along in wooden-wheeled carriages, hoping there’d be water for the humans and animals by the end of the day, that the water wouldn’t be running through an impassible river or gorge, that their wagons wouldn’t break down or mire in the mud or ruts of the pioneers before them, that they’d be able to get through the day and the next and the next without being attacked by men on horseback who appeared to be wild and uncivilized and unhappy about the march of what the wagoneers considered to be civilization. Just looking at the never ending flatness, changing unexpectedly to rocks and gorges and in the closing distance mountains higher and more forbidding than any ever seen in the east, you get an appreciation of the challenges these brave settlers faced every day.
I expected flatness as we crossed from Arkansas into Oklahoma and Texas. I was awed at the enormity of the space – my son noted that he could see 100-car freight trains front to back – and surprised as how abruptly the landscape changes. After miles of emptiness, suddenly there are piles of rocks and gorges; the roadside changes from forest to scrub with little or no transition. We easterners have so much to learn about the west.
Turn the AC up please, check our position on the GPS and pass me a bottle of water. Pioneering indeed.