I remember, just like anyone else who's been there, stopping through on some bigger trip or reaching their destination, the wind. It's ceaseless, strong, tearing from west to east. I was in my late 20's when I first felt it, on the cusp of leaving Utah and entering southern Idaho.
The northern Rockies are as much of an oddball as anywhere else in this country. Apart and left to themselves, most of the coastal nexuses of culture don't consider them much, if at all. There's an appeal to that, of course; being able to be within yourself and just out of the way from others is like catnip to a certain slice of Americans.
I was, and am, one of those people.
Getting Out There
I travel because I love to put myself into new situations. That feeling of hot, dry wind whipping through me and through the shrubs and dust in the high northern Rockies, that was exactly what I needed at that point in my life.
I think that the United States is so far beyond what any of the popular conceptions make it out to be. Reading "Desert Solitaire" years ago took that vague feeling and gave it something like a shape, attached it to a narrative. It was fascinating and a window into a United States I never knew – in terms of both time and physical location.
Then, years later, actually standing in that environment, I felt at home in a way that I hadn't felt for a very long time. It was all new, but familiar; it matched my ideas from the book perfectly, but somehow felt more modern and appropriate.
It was a major watershed moment in my life and, like many people who end up in that place, I came back different. It was a reflection of who I was before, but rippled, with a shimmer running through.