July 16, 2009

America’s Amazing West - Part One

by Vickie McDonough

When you think of America’s western states, what comes to mind? Cowboys? Gold rushes? Fields of cattle or wild horses? Big cities? Well, let me tell you, there’s that and much more—more than I certainly ever imagined.

In June, my husband and I left on a long-anticipated trip. He had to work in Salt Lake City, Utah, for a week. Since I’m a writer and can work anywhere my laptop can go, I tagged along. We drove up to Salt Lake City, and I wrote in the hotel while my husband was at work. After that week, we took ten days seeing the West and working our way back home.

On our way up to Salt Lake City from Oklahoma, we drove through the plains of Kansas. It never hit me before why they were named the plains—but it’s because they are, well—plain. Flat grasslands and farmlands that seem to go on forever, but they eventually gave way to nice rolling hills that reminded me of home. Probably the most interesting thing we saw that day was a vast wind farm with giant windmills rising up like a metallic army.

Our first view of the Rockies came as we neared Denver, and they were just as awesome as I remembered. Many of the taller peaks still had snow on them. We passed through the city, enjoying the light Saturday afternoon traffic. That night we stayed in Dillon, CO, which has an elevation around 9,000 ft. and the view there took my breath away. Our room looked out onto a lake with snow-covered mountains on the far side. It had to be one of the prettiest places I’ve ever been. Being from Oklahoma, I don’t care for cold weather, but if I could live in Dillon and looked at that lovely sight everyday, I might be persuaded to move there.

The next day, we headed west through the Rocky Mountains and reached such high elevations that we were at the snow level. I’ve never seen snow in June before, and well, it felt odd and cool at the same time.

The mountains were such a pretty contrast of the dark green pines and the lighter aspen trees. Some of the roads were so steep that they had run-away truck ramps. But it was sooo cool and beautiful.

All too soon, we left the mountains for the high desert plains of western Colorado.

And talk about a difference. The land there was so barren in places that nothing grew there at all. Other places had high mesas with tiny shrubs growing everywhere, but no trees. It was hard to believe such a barren land could be just a few hours’ drive from the lovely Rockies.

That afternoon, we visited a place called The Arches National Park. The mountains there are deep orange to bright reddish orange and amazing.

The park had many unusual rock formations such as balanced rocks, where a huge boulder perched precariously on top of upright ones. There were also several places where arches were formed in the rocks, creating windows you could see through. Way cool!

Finally we made our way to Salt Lake City. I was surprised to discover the town much larger than I expected, and it’s a pretty town, located in a big valley surrounded on three sides by mountains. It is the Mormon mecca, and even the streets are numbered outward, starting from the temple, which looks somewhat like Cinderella’s castle at Walt Disney World.

The day after my husband finished work, we toured the town. We visited a pioneer village which is the first Mormon farm in Utah. When they traveled over the mountains, Joseph Smith saw the wide valley and said, “This is the place!” and that’s where they settled. We also went downtown and saw the temple and gardens and the 2002 Olympic cauldron.

On Saturday, we drove up to see the Great Salt Lake and visited Antelope Island.

As we drove onto the island, there looked to be smoke arising up in swirling pillars from some of the plants. We stopped so I could get a picture and realized that what we saw wasn’t smoke but swarms of mosquitoes! Millions of them. The second we stopped, they swarmed our car. I was never so happy for airtight windows and doors. Even though none got into our SUV, both my husband and I were scratching. Note the mosquitoes on our rearview mirror and me taking the picture. Those are dead mosquitoes the front of our car, not dirt.

Gladly leaving the mosquitoes behind, we drove around the island, catching various views of the Great Salt Lake. The water was different colors in places and there were salt rocks all along the beaches. I was a little disappointed that it didn’t look much different from most lakes, but it was still quite pretty, especially with the mountains behind it reflecting in the water.

We headed straight south that afternoon and left the mountains behind for the reddish peaks of southern Utah. Our first stop was Bryce Canyon, which had amazing views and rock formations called hoodoos. They are rounded stones that stand up straight, and there are hundreds of them standing in groups like hoards of fans waiting for a concert to begin. There were also some very beautiful rock formations that could be seen at numerous overlooks. The drive up the mountain was lovely, through forests of pines, aspens, and spruce. At one stop, two huge ravens were begging for handouts. I couldn’t believe the size of those birds. They were as tall as my knees and very aggressive. Look how big the raven is next to my husband, who was trying very hard to be brave.

And that’s just our first day of touring. There’s so much more I want to share about our amazing American west that I’ll do it in three parts. Watch for more next month. I still have 950 pictures you haven’t seen yet. J I hope if you get a chance to take a vacation that you’ll check out Utah. God made some amazing things for us to enjoy there.

What’s your favorite state to visit and why?

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brendalottakamaggiebrendan said...

Vickie, my favorite state is Colorado! I lived in the Denver burbs for almost 8 yrs. and the Rockies still have a special place in my heart. I'd live there in a heartbeat again if I could. I guess that's why my 1st book was set in Colorado. There's simply no place like it. Enjoyed your pictures!

Carmen7351 said...

I would agree, Colorado must be the most beautiful area with the mountains in the background. The splendor of watching them in the morning, as the sun shadows move as the sun moves. Fabulous!

Molly Noble Bull said...

Colorado is a beautiful state. But Texans are loyal. As a Texan, I have to vote for my home state of Texas.

Vickie McDonough said...

I'd have a hard time pinpointing my favorite state. Colorado is beautiful in many places, but having lived next door to Texas all my life, I'm rather partial to it, too. Each state has it's own places of beauty. I want to try to visit every state before I go home to heaven. I'll only have 12 or so more to go!


Wow - those pictures are excellent. Such wondrous country. I can't wait to get over there next year.

Mary said...

I was reading your tour of the west and loving it, being from Utah myself. I just wanted to correct some innacuracys. Joseph Smith died before the saints immagrated to Utah. Brigham Young was the one that said "this is the place." I hope that you enjoyed your tour of the West!