Few tourists, at least foreign tourists, explore the high plains of the United States.
They’re missing something. At the very least, the vastness of the place is mind blowing.
I once drove for 12 hours in one madness inducing day. That encompassed just three states out of of the lower 48.
My epic journey through the plains in a rather underpowered Hyundai started in St Louis. For miles along the interstate through Missouri, Kansas and beyond I was struck by the number of motorbikes passing my embarrassing Korean tin can. It took me awhile to put two and two together.
Harley Davidsons. Leather.
Yikes! I was headed towards Sturgis, home of the annual biker festival.
I decided to stop short of Sturgis though I got to Rapid City, about 25 miles distant, even there grunting with “hogs”.
Despite the name, the plains are by no means dead flat. The word “high” gives you some indication. This area, which could swallow a good chunk of western Europe, is also the basin on a colossal river system, the Mississipi/Missouri. These two great watercourses are the two longest rivers in North America. Together they run nearly 5000 miles. Contrary to what I was taught at school, the Missouri is longer .
There are several things that cross your mind when travelling across the plains. Firstly, most of the land west of the Mississipi was once the home of the North American bison, the buffalo. Before the white man exterminated the breed, herds of buffalo would stretch as far as the eye could see. Today, depending upon location, it’s cattle pasture, wheat or other grain that fills the horizon.
Another thought as the mercury pushed through the 100° F barrier: how the hell did the pioneers survive summer without air conditioning?
America is nothing less than a landscape of extremes. That man has inexoracbly changed the landscape is both a tragedy and a marvel.
Physical geography aside, the plains contain some hidden touristy gems.
Tucked away in the wesern corner of Nebrasaka lies the non-descript locality of Alliance. It’s a collection of strip malls, grain silos and feed stores, bisected by the railroad rumbling 24/7 with freight trains a mile long in the colors of the Burlington Santa Fe. Just a thought: Burlington Santa Fe is a bit more enticing than Cross Country Trains.
In a rather quaint way, the city of Alliance is slightly embarassed by its one major attraction. They don’t shout about it and I don’t recall seeing postcards of it or drive-in restaurants named after it. But, it certainly attracted me.
About 5 miles north of Alliance on county road 59 sits the ultimate monument to the American way of life. Centuries from now, archaeologists will puzzle why twentieth century man hauled a couple of dozen 1950s saloon cars and rusting 70s runabouts into the middle of nowhere.
Vintage American monsters of the freeway arranged as a facisimilie of Stonehenge.
What sort of pagan rituals took place at this temple? Was it the ancient fertility rite of the drive-in movie? Or perhaps, it was a plea to the car god in the sky to produce a more energy efficient model?
Who cares why it’s there?
Maybe. Just maybe. it’s one of the few examples of American irony, playing on the American dream in the tamed wilds of the plains.