America, and cows (very, very long)

Or, How I Spent The First Few Weeks Of My Summer Vacation.

Last night, I got back from a two-week cross-country road trip: Colorado, up through Wyoming, then down to Arizona, then northeasterly all the way back to New Jersey. Quite a trip, let me tell you. A few things in particular struck me, such as the snow in Yellowstone (as in, coming down on us), the descriptionless immensity of the Grand Canyon, that both Tulsa and Oklahoma City are, in fact, very nice cities, and so on. The Oklahoma City federal building memorial was, in my opinion, suprisingly tasteful and well done: I found it very touching and the museum moreso. The St. Louis Arch was neat - generally, anything that is both over 600 feet tall and incredibly shiny will be neat. But perhaps what struck me the most was the cows.

Let me explain: I come from New Jersey. I grew up seeing (on clear days, at least) the Philly skyline from the treehouse in our backyard. My conception of a farm was [url=]Springdale Farms**, which takes up a whopping 100 acres in the middle of our 70,000-person suburb. Then I went away to college in New Mexico, and spent a year sharing my room with a girl from Indiana. I was at first afraid she’d be some sort of country hick. She’s not, we get along incredibly well, and she’s one of my very best friends now, but she, being from Indiana, knew a bit more about farming than I did. She once corrected me that farmers do not, in fact, ‘grow’ cattle, but ‘raise’ it. I saw nothing wrong with my original phrasing. In short, my knowledge of farms is pretty much: They grow things, and raise animals.

Man, there is a lot of this country that I don’t know much about. Again, I grew up in New Jersey, where you can’t drive more than ten minutes without hitting a town, and that’s out in the boonies. New Mexico seems impossibly sparse to me. Then, my sister and I drove through Wyoming. And drove, and drove, and drove, and were still in Wyoming. The sky is, true to the claim, very big. And there are lots of cows. You drive, and you pass a big bunch of cows. A bit later, you pass a fence. Then there are more cows. Eventually you get to Casper, where you stop at Subway for a quick lunch, and that’s pretty much it until Grand Teton National Park. We passed one town - village, really - and the sign announced the population as 10. Most towns we passed were at least half an hour away from each other, and the average population was somewhere in the low triple digits. For the vast majority of the drive, the only thing that breaks the dizzying view across the fields is the herds of cattle. There are, once again, a lot of these. I had no idea how many cows were in the United States; I know now that it’s “a lot”, and a huge number of them are in Wyoming. Seriously, let me repeat myself again. Wyoming is a Really Big State. Wyoming is also home to, by my count, eight bajillion cows. I counted, mostly because there’s not a whole lot else to look at while driving through Wyoming.

We stayed two nights at Yellowstone (it rained all afternoon, all night, then all day, then it stopped raining and started snowing our second night), then headed south, towards (eventually) the Grand Canyon. We passed, in far western Wyoming, a town by the name of Smoot, with a population of 100. I’m not making that up and when I get my film developed, I’ll have photographic evidence of Smoot. That, for some reason, made me happy. I didn’t like the bit of Idaho we drove through, mostly because it wasn’t just snowing at that point, it was blowing snow, hard, and was really really foggy, too. This was while driving through narrow, steep mountain roads, stuck in back of a truck that was spraying on us. That was no fun. I’m sure Idaho is lovely, though: they produce potatos, which I like, and a whole lot of lumber, and I like things made out of wood. That’s all I have to say about Idaho, really.
continued in next post, for the hamsters sake

Utah was fairly nice, even if only because it stopped snowing, the sun came out, and the temperature was actually above 40 degrees. Yay Utah! We just drove by the Great Salt Lake, which is indeed great. We stopped for the night in Ogden, just north of Salt Lake City, because my sister is Air Force, and there’s a base there. We were going to stay on base, but they had no room, but we got a huge discount at a hotel about five minutes away. So we stopped, finally got hot showers, and draped our tent over chairs in the room to dry. Did I mention how it snowed on us in Wyoming? Our tent was coated in ice when we broke it down. Anyway, not much to say about this stop, other than that we went and saw Episode III, since my sister hadn’t seen it. Also, Utah apparently has a strange way of number streets in the city. Some odd sort of numerical system. But, we didn’t get lost, so life was good.

Then, we drove down to Zion National Park. This is a fabulous park. I want to marry it, and perhaps bear its children. It wasn’t crowded, the weather was amazing, it wasn’t all built up and commercialized, and it was amazingly beautiful. I don’t often use the word lovely, but that really best describes Zion. It was fabulous. We only stayed one night there. If I’d known how great it was I would’ve given us at least two nights, but, alas.

We then proceeded on to the Grand Canyon. The road through Arizona to get there is really, really long, and really, really empty. Wyoming is bustling compared to this part of Arizona. At one point, we tried to find a radio station: turn it on, push seek, and watch the numbers go around and around and around, over and over. There were two things I remember about this stretch of land, other than the bleakness. One was a gas station charging $2.52 per gallon, probably because they were very much the only gas station for at least a hundred miles, so if you needed gas, you’d pay whatever the asked. The other thing was, not far from the enterance to the National Park, there’s (one of many) a little roadside stand peddling Navajo trinkets. There were signs starting about a mile back: “Nice Indians ahead!” “Jewelry sold by Nice Indians!” Once you passed, the signs continued: “Chief Yellowrock says: Turn Around! Buy from Nice Indians!” etc. Probably not actually that funny, but when you haven’t seen much of anything other than empty desert for three hundred miles, the phrasing was pretty darn funny.
again, continued in next post

I’ll be very brief about the Grand Canyon, because words cannot even begin to hope to describe it. It is immense. It is very literally Grand. It is like nothing else in the world. You stand on the rim and look in either direction or down, and it just goes on forever. It gives a slight inkling of what infinity would look like. Go see it. Also, it rained for an entire day on us there. In Arizona. In June. I swear that I am not making that up.

Then, we went East. We drove through New Mexico, which is yet another very big state, and stopped in Gallup at a kitschy motel. We stopped because the motel was listed in my Route 66 book, and is - get this - an actual National Historical Landmark. How often do you get to actually sleep in one of them? Unfortunately, there were railroad running through our room (with a train every 30 minutes, around the clock), and the interstate was actually the roof, with a big truck every 3 minutes. It wasn’t the quietest hotel, but still: National Historical Landmark.

Then, we managed to make it to Oklahoma City in one day. New Mexico is a big state, the panhandle of Texas is sizable, and Oklahoma’s no shrimpy Eastern state, so it was a long day. We got a hotel outside the city, then in the morning, went to the memorial. As I said way up above, it was very well done, and if you should ever find yourself in Oklahoma City, I highly recommend it. Be prepared to fight back tears, though, as it definitely is done to pack a huge emotional punch.

Then, we went to St. Louis. Missouri is not as big as a typical Western state, and markedly greener. It also has many, many farms, and many, many cows. Some horses, some crops, but mostly cows. We went to the Arch in the morning, watched a semi-cheesy yet cool video about the construction of it, then went to the top. the windows are really tiny, but still give a nice view. The experience, while cool, is not for anyone who is timid about heights or enclosed spaces; the ride to the top takes place with five people crammed into a windowless car that’s about ten square feet total. It’s…cozy, but worth the view.

Driving through Illinois, we saw the largest cross in the Western Hemisphere. It’s a really, really big - really big - cross that some farmer put in his field. If I recall correctly, there were cows, too, but they were normal-sized. The cross was really big, and a nice diversion from counting cows as we drove. In Indiana, we got a bit lost in a town named Putnamville. We’d seen a billboard for a liquor store and my mother had asked if we could keep an eye out for a certain type of beer, only available in the midwest, that she likes. We hoped to find this liquore store, but quickly realized that Putnamville, at least this part of it, seemed to be nothing more than a bunch of farms - with cows, of course. It provided a slight diversion, mostly because we’d been driving for a very long time and Putnamville is, one must admit, a rather funny name for a town. Putnams ahoy!

Anyway, that was pretty much it. We stopped in Dayton to check out the base where my sister will be stationed starting in August, stayed a few nights with my grandmother in Canton, then hopped on the turnpike and drove home. We could see, as we moved East, starting around Oklahoma City, really, an increase in traffic, decrease in speed limit, and a generally more congested feeling. I mean, even most of Pennsylvania is pretty rural, but compared to Wyoming, it’s a total metropolis. We also got stuck in a massive jam up leaving the PA Turnpike (Philly Dopers may have heard about it on the radio - the Valley Forge exit was not a happy place to be), which actually made me wistful for the 80-mile-an-hour, cow-lined, wide-open-plains of Wyoming and Utah. There’s a lot of the US, and at the end of this trip, it’s really obvious that there are far more people per square mile here on the east coast than way out west.

Fewer cows here, though.

(final part, I swear!)

So that’s it, really. It took us over 4500 miles, a few hundred bucks (I think, didn’t count) in gas money, five packets of rice, pasta, or potato-based camping food, two large bags of trail mix, untold numbers of Hersheys Kisses, one ‘maintance required’ light, one visit to Jiffy Lube, and more than thirty collective pairs of socks. It was, one could say, a long, strange trip, with cows. I only checked my email twice, even, within a period of 16 days, which I think is a record for me.

Anyway. That’s it. My little slice of America. Praise for my summary, or kicks to the head for posting such a long abomination, perhaps an affront to God, are more than welcome.

Farmers grow food.
Rancher raise animals.
God, Gallup New Mexico. Isn’t that near the moon?

I thought the largest cross in the western hemisphere was in Groom, Texas? If you went through the panhandle, you probably saw it.

Either way, that one’s big too. I haven’t been to Illinois, so I don’t know about that one.

Nope. It’s nearly as empty though.

Ah, but you’re thinking of the second largest cross in the western hemisphere. We saw that one, too. Really, they look pretty near identical, but I guess there was a little game of one-upmanship.

I don’t know if it’s the biggest, though I did notice that, although the chapel isn’t open, the gift shop is.

Fabulous story. Absolutely!

I’ve driven by this landmark of which you speak (The Illinois one, not the Texas one). Scared the crap out of me, because I had been dozing whilst my good husband was driving the car. He woke me up, I opened my eyes and promptly exclaimed, “My GOD, WHAT is that THING?!”

It would have been way far cool if I had said, “My God, it’s full of stars!”
BTW, did you go by Effingham, Illinois, on your trip?

Effingham. Sounds like someone got pissed off at a pig or somesuch.



What a great trip! Thanks for writing it up.

Actually, until you’ve visited Kreidier Farms near Mannheim, PA, and seen the Cow Carousel in action, you have not had the truest cow experience available in our fine land.

Never mind the part where you get to drive through a giant barnful of cows who are all walking around, eating, lying down, eating, mooing, eating, swishing their (docked for the Carousel) tails, nuzzling each other’s necks like a bovine version of ‘The L Word’, and eating.

I’ve also driven through zillions of them in the Central Valley of California, but I understand most of those are actually cattle.

I’ve never, ever stopped. I don’t want to encourage that sort of thing. Plus it’s a giant cross. In Texas. That causes me fear.

Great story. Yes, you are absolutely correct, there are a LOT of cows in this country. In my youth, I even helped to “raise” quite a few.

BTW, you’re observation about East = more crowded, West = more empty reminded me of something my daughter related to me after our cross-country trip. We drove from Dallas to San Diego over Christmas break a few years ago. We took sid e trips to Carlsbad Caverns and the Grand Canyon (where it snowed!- really beautiful), but our main objective was to visit with family in California, so not as cool a trip as yours. Anyway, after driving through west Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and back, my daughter remarked “I used to be worried about the population explosion, but not so much anymore.”

West Texas - Miles and miles of nothing but miles and miles.

Trivia time.

The cross at Groom was built by the father of Miami Dolphins middle linebacker Zach Thomas.

Oh, and cows? Just 50 miles or so SW of Amarillo and I-40 are the towns of Hereford and Bovina. Hereford has a slogan “Home of 13 thousand people and 13 million cattle” or some such. Bovina is a smaller town, but probably has more cattle.

Bear in mind that you were only seeing the cows that happened to be standing next to the freeway…

Oh, just so you all know, that website? Has a live CowCam. This makes me inexplicably happy - I think I may have just found a new start page.

I for one bow to our bovine overlords.

I worked with Angus cattle for years, I was just going to jump in with a simple MOO, but Mehitabel beat me to it.

Coast to coast road trips are unforgettable, next for me is to do it on my motorcycle. Never would have went to Oklahoma City but am now interested in seeing the memorial.

What’s the beer that your mom wanted that’s only available in the Midwest?

Oh, and great story!

Yes, the Cow Cam alone makes that page a primo pick. I’m using Opera and couldn’t link directly to it. Another cool thing about that farm is the Calf Pasture. Soooo cute. The cows line up and herd themselves into the Carousel a few barns away via ramps two or three times a day depending on the time of year to get milked. It’s really cool. Some have to be pushed in a bit and try to play with the other cows but the staff knows how to handle them.

Mr. Goob, how come you don’t see more Angus milk cows? Are they better for beef or something? Too big, bad quality milk, or what? I stayed at a farm next to a herd of them and they seemed to behave like any other cows. Maybe I was in the wrong part of the country?