Into the Wild Wild West, July 2009

Into the Wild Wild West, July 2009

We are leaving wonderful Chicago and continue our way westwards. The 6-lane highway is getting narrower by the hour and even before we reach Iowa we are the only car on the road, surrounded by corn- and soybean fields. On narrow country roads, which are much more interesting than boring interstate highways, we proceed very slowly – but that is exactly the idea, isn’t it!? We cross the Mississippi river in a slightly deserted town by the name of Dubuque and cannot resist a little detour to Luxemburg/Iowa! The landscape reminds us indeed of Luxembourg, but the Iowa incarnation is nothing more than a tiny junction village. Despite our best efforts to through a “Moien” at some locals, the streets are empty and we move on.

Moien!

On our way we pass large wind-, cattle- and pig farms. Apparently pigs outnumber human beings by 8:1. That would at least explain the ambient smell. The camping sites are fortunately well hidden in State parks and forests, far away from any odors. We’re usually are the only out-of-state, let alone non-American guests and therfore never sit alone for long. One evening an entire family shows up next to our campfire to find out about Archie. Another evening our neighbor brings us some of his catch of the day and shortly afterwards we join his family around his campfire. The weather is very much on the locals’ minds, and they tell frightening stories. We hear a lot about tornados that destroy small villages in this area. Inhabitants are warned by a siren signal about five minutes before the tornado arrives, which leaves them little time to go hide in their basements.

In Sioux City we cross the border to Nebraska. Signs on the road indicate that the discoverers Lewis & Clark took the same route. Launched by President Jefferson in 1803, their expedition set out to chart the Missouri River. Back then the region’s only inhabitants were (mostly friendly) Indians and about 60 million bison. Wild bison have disappeared a long time ago, and the remaining Indians live modestly if not miserably within their reservations. Sometimes we pass through a reservation on gravel roads and we ask ourselves why on earth there was not enough space for Indians, white settlers and bison. Instead we are surrounded by cornfields, cornfields and cornfields, some, as it seems, even genetically modified. Where are the activists when you need them!? When we take a break to visit a ‘county fair’ we observe the local beauties in pink cowboy boots, and begin to realize that in this region people don’t seem to care much about fashion trends nor sustainable agriculture…

Temperatures have constantly risen over the last days and it is now unbearably hot, a thunderstorm is approaching. We have learned not to underestimate the storms in this particular region and decide to escape. We find refuge near the ‘Calamus Reservoir’, an artificial water reservoir surrounded by sand dunes. In Nebraska, of all places, we go for a swim for the first time during our trip, and as it is so nice here we decide to stay a day longer!

The landscape has changed, instead of cornfields we pass through an endless prairie that looks actually like an immense golf course. But instead of humans playing golf we spot cattle on the meadows. As we  cross the border to South Dakota the prairie looks more and more barren, finally we arrive at the ‘Badlands’. The Badlands resemble pictures that we know from the moon, fantastic rock formations, embellished by vibrant earthen colors. We almost get arrested when we park our car in the National Park: in order to escape the non-stop blowing wind we parked Archie a little different than foreseen. It only takes the Ranger 10 minutes to show up and to complain. Since we do not seem to bother anyone else we decide not to move the car again. Only as the local sheriff appears we give in and park the car correctly – “you need to pick your battles”, says he.

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