We’re driving north on U.S. 89. On the left is the Bridger Range, and on the right are the Crazy Mountains. Being Montana, the sky is big.
This morning, we’re in the final day of a modest jaunt that will carry us from the Mexican border at Nogales, Arizona to the Canadian border at Babb, Montana, a distance of more than 1,700 miles.
We came to see what there was to see, and if you think choosing to drive all this way makes us a little nuts, well, you won’t be the first to think so.
What we found was a diversity of landscape and people that will make you proud of your country — and then worry about its capacity to bridge its differences.
A few blocks from the border wall at Nogales, a restaurant owner complained to us that the U. S. spends too much on “security” and too little on education.
A couple of days later in northern Arizona, a security guard explained that he loves living in Arizona because he can carry a gun. When we told him we were visiting from California, he said, “Welcome to America.”
Here were two people separated by more than a few hundred miles.
From Arizona to Montana, these are red states — as we were reminded when we saw the bumper stickers that declared “Hillary for Prison, 2018” and “Get Us Out of the United Nations.”
As best we could, we followed the historic route of U.S. 89, sometimes called the National Parks Highway. The highway passes near or through Saguaro, Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Grand Teton, Yellowstone and Glacier national parks — all magnificent examples of this country’s determination to preserve its most stunning natural resources. (Judging by the mob of people in Zion, we could use a few more national parks.)
You see authentic places when you drive these secondary highways. Forced to navigate the sprawl of Phoenix or Salt Lake City, you notice these urban and suburban locales all look alike — the same freeways, the same businesses, the same signs, the same architecture.
In contrast, the towns along the way rely on hometown businesses with signs bearing the names of real people. These hamlets look like they haven’t changed in 100 years.
These are not the best of times in rural America. There are fewer jobs and higher rates of poverty. But people persevere.
For the curious, each new location becomes its own reward. Why do people live here? How do they make a living? What is the name of that mountain and how high is it? Will the next generation find a reason to stay?
Forced to backtrack because the National Park Service hadn’t gotten around to re-opening the southern entrance to Yellowstone, we saw the stunning view from atop Teton Pass, and we learned more about the catastrophic 1976 failure of the Teton Dam, near Rexburg, Idaho. We saw miles of cultivated fields and learned the major crops in Fremont County, Idaho are barley, wheat, spring wheat, vegetables and potatoes.
In modern travel, Google (and adequate cell service) can be your friend.
We saw many things that aren’t like anything else, leaving us to wonder how many can there be. There can’t be any more spectacular vistas, we thought, and then we turned a corner and there was another. The word kept coming back — Wow!