“The best thing we have learned from nearly five hundred years of contact with the American wilderness is restraint, the willingness to hold our hand: to visit such places for our souls’ good, but leave no tracks.” — Wallace Stegner, Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs¹
Daybreak begins at Utah’s Great Salt Lake, right when the light spills over surrounding walls of tipped rocks and onto the vast blue water. There is no distinguishing between the horizon and the water’s edge; a thin fog has settled there, creating pleasant tricks and mirages on the eye. The salt-filled sand crunches beneath tentative feet. Everything is near silent aside from the lapping water.
Hustle into the car, hints of smiles lingering. The engine starts and the familiar rumble of asphalt hums underneath our bodies.
Up and onwards through Idaho, the vast land flattens and curves like clothespin sheets in breezy winds. The green of Utah lightens into a blend of gold, tan, and pastel prairie grass. Barbed-wire fences are leisurely strung across fields, lightly reminding the grazing cows of the lonely highway nearby.
Then the wide expanse gains courage and begins to reveal its secrets. An enclosed river flickers by, teasing the images of canoeing and wading the summer waters in orange shorts. Golden hills radiate under the fog of jutting mountain ranges. Handsome horses turn their gentle gazes towards the road, eyes thoughtful and distant. Aside from landlines and abandoned houses wrapped in vines, there is little sign of civilization — this wilderness is one of nature’s sacred time capsules, humble and immense.
When it comes to natural wonders, despite our centuries of burden and destruction, this world does not fail to impress with a diverse offering: the mighty Alps, the Sahara Desert, the Amazon rainforest, the Great Barrier Reef, the plains of Mongolia. If these wonders have anything in common, however, it’s that none can touch or compare to the raw, open beauty of the American West.
¹ Halfway through and I’m not hesitant to say that this is the perfect book for road tripping across the western states.