Not your average travel blog
The deal was; I cooked, I cleaned, I made all navigational decisions, I made sure my driver was fuelled and watered regularly and had enough rest and sleep to cover each days distance. You might think this was a convenient deal, as my “chauffeur” was to drive me around the USA, but I was now responsible for a pensioners daily health, nutrition and sanity! My concern was that he may not react well to such an adventure. I also had to consider my budget, make sure I reached my check points on an appropriate time schedule and not take an easy option to speed past anything which I should be documenting. However, following a meeting of minds, a road trip was afoot.
My first decision was to avoid highways – a navigational decision my co-traveller had no say in. I decided not to drive consistently on dirt roads, that would be impossible in the USA. They have tarmac here, and they have been liberal in using it.
I will summarise now in case you want to avoid reading about “The Flyover States”. I know most people that I have met probably will…
There really isn’t a lot I can write about the Midwest. It’s flat. It’s farmland. It’s covered in corn. It takes ages to get across it!
…but here we go..
On leaving a rainy Indianapolis (state capital of Indiana), we drove west. From Cuyahoga National Park in Ohio, there really is very little in terms of natural and notable, national parks or conservation areas, until you have travelled over a thousand miles across three or four states. In the north, there are the Great Lakes and in Wisconsin and Michigan there are a few lakeshore and island national parks which are so close to the border, they are able to whisper to the Canadians about their beauty. Wolves introduced in Yellowstone (Wyoming), have also been seen getting their groove on in the northern state forests and protected areas of Minnesota. Wolves can holiday in Canada as often as they please and no doubt find the wilderness either side of the border a paradise to kick back in.
To the south of Indianapolis are warmer climates, again, little to note when it comes to renowned environmental landmarks (I might expecting a few watchdog style comments, reminding me of places of notorious beauty which I have overlooked).
As the city of Chicago was one of my biggest concerns, and largest of most dangerous, populated obstacles to navigate and afford my way around, my first decision was to bypass going there altogether. I’m sure Chicago is great, but try doing it on $6 a day with nowhere to stay.
The first natural checkpoint of notoriety (yet not a nationally protected park or monument), was the great muddy, Mississippi River. Stretching from the small, northern streams in Minnesota, running all the way to the Gulf of Mexico (ocean) at New Orleans in the south, the Mississippi is a national treasure and has carried the weight of America’s development many times over.
The Mississippi River Valley is one of the most fertile agricultural regions in the USA. She was a life source for so many tribes and native Indians. During the American Civil War, the river was captured by union forces which influenced a victory as it held such an important route for trade and travel. The river can be accountable for a huge boom in the steamboat industry and cities were able to grow substantially due to the access and energy that the Mississippi provided. She’s a pretty big deal.
I was to cross the watery beast into Iowa, and camp on her bulging banks just south of the tiny town of Muscatine. The last six of our eight hours on the road felt like we were navigating through, past and over corn field after corn field, after corn field, after corn field… Without exaggeration, we were.
Unfortunately, the mid west states don’t have the nickname, the “Flyover” states for no reason. If it was not for relatively well maintained (and some not quite so maintained) roads, we would have been travelling west of Indiana for days and days, past consistently flat, relatively uneventful, divided up by long straight roads, farm land. Even with a vehicle, and not much to stop for, it would still take us a week to reach some alternative-to-flat-cornfield landscape.
Don’t however, underestimate it’s beauty. It saddens me that the people who I met in the east, and no doubt people who I will meet in the west, have not or never will travel across this part of their country. I have met dozens of people that simply couldn’t tell me what was west of Ohio, except “flyover states”…and Chicago. Except farmland, they knew nothing of its endless, beautiful vistas, stunning sunsets, winding rivers and sleepy, quiet towns. This part of the country is the beginning of the great American plains. With delicious wetlands, endless miles of grassland, grazing land and home to an infinite number of creatures, many now extinct or on the brink, it was once home to some of the greatest wildlife scenes on the planet. If you go back a few more million years, some of infamous early dinosaurs were known to roam these lands, and plenty of evidence has been uncovered further into the west before the mountains begin to rise from the earth. Sadly, today, to the majority of people in the east and the west, there is now no point in going across the center of the USA.
In many respects, they have a point. The land is now its own massive country of simply, just flat farmland. However, this farmland keeps the country running, is the gigantic source for the nations export economy, produces enough corn to cover the British Isles dozens of times over, is home to some tiny, struggling towns and yet is the reason the USA is as dominant and as commercially viable as it is. The first settlers on these huge areas of agricultural farmlands (which had never been farmed using western techniques) were pioneers, were living the American dream and are a reliable reason why America was able to accelerate into the 20th century.
I feel lucky enough to have travelled across Indiana, Illinois and Iowa whilst all the corn was yet to grow above ankle height. Instead of travelling on roads, cutting through six foot high, green and yellow walls, the vast area offered views to the horizon, as far as the earths curvature allowed. The road seemed never ending, and if I hadn’t chosen to avoid the highways I would have missed some of the tiny, sleepy, agricultural villages and homesteads (usually with names they had “borrowed” from Europe) that were sporadically spread amongst the consistently flat farmland. It’s chessboard design was also notable and must have made dividing up the land for new farmers, a whole lot easier.
Coming from Britain, it was alarming how many boundaries farmers didn’t erect. Roads mainly outlined a farmer’s land and small fences were only used to keep pets in gardens. We’d drive for hundreds of miles and if I saw a fence, I would have to point to it out! The only breaks in the land were along small rivers or creeks, where there would be a clear line of trees and a darker skyline towards which, the road would often reach, cut through, and then continue on a perfectly straight, flat, farm surrounded route to the horizon.
(I have nabbed a couple of photos from google images so if its yours, let me know. I can either remove or credit. Thank you)