Kalliel (kalliel) wrote,
Kalliel
kalliel

"We need to go to the crappy town where I'm a hero."

Before I talk about how beautiful Montana is, I want to make note of how beautiful this article is: We promised to find the armpit of America. Turns out it's only about five inches from the heart. It is by journalist Gene Weingarten, and was published in The Washington Post in December 2001. It's about crappy towns in the middle of nowhere, bereft their charming romanticism--and there's a high possibility that makes them even more charming. It's about ass-backwards America. It's about what 9/11 meant, and what it didn't mean. If you have any interest in crappy towns, or in long-form journalism, or in Americana, you should read this one.

I've spoken in small tidbits throughout my trip on my Twitter, which I'll not repeat. It is not everything, will never be everything, but this post will focus primarily on the images that go with the words I already have.

Here is me, either on Avalanche Trail or Many Glaciers in Glacier National Park. I cannot for the life of me remember which!





Between coastal Southern California and northwestern Montana, there's about 1200 miles, four intervening states, and at least five different weather conditions. In Nevada and Arizona it was about 108, dry, and active with oven-wind:



At a Flying J just north of Parowan, Utah, there's a petting zoo and a rock that can tell the weather. You might not be able to read the sign in the photograph (it was quite weathered, lol), but if this rock is dry, it means it's sunny out. If it's wet, it's raining. If it's white, it's snowing. If it's swinging, it's windy. When we were there, the rock was dry and swinging.



This is one of the main intersections in downtown Whitefish, Montana. It's lovely, though a little too touristy for my taste. Montana has no sales tax, except in 'resort towns' like Whitefish, which have a resort tax of 2%. I hate tourism; I want to be in places where people actually live. Not that people don't live in touristy places (I live in a touristy place!) but the whole idea bothers me. XP



The house we built in Columbia Falls, Montana, which is about fifteen minutes away from downtown Whitefish. We hauled all of the walls to the build site and bolted them to the foundation in the right order. We also did the drywalling and the interior walls.

It's a townhouse duplex; the left side will go to a woman named Adriana--originally of Sacramento, California--and her two daughters Emerald and Jasmine, ages eight and five respectively. The right should go to a man named John, but he was wanted by the police while we were there. If he's guilty of anything, he's not going to get his house. ):



This is Avalanche Lake. The water is so cold that within seconds your hands fall off, no joke. In the ocean, the water is so cold that it hurts. Your bones ache and your skin burns like fire. In this lake, you skip that stage all together and feel nothing at all--you can't even tell that your hand is in a medium other than air, you get so numb. But the water is also so clear that even in some of the deeper portions of the lake, you can see to the bottom.



My new favorite place in the world is the Many Glaciers trail at Glacier National Park. Stunning, crisp, deserted, full of snow and water and green and rocks and sky sky sky. We looked behind us, and this is what we saw. What was probably the most breathtaking, however, was the idea that there was more. There was further. You could keep going and going, reaching higher and higher, into more and more snow--you could climb the highest mountain!--and there was still further yet to go. The hardest part was turning back.



I don't know if this is Montana's actual motto, but a lot of the license plates--and there are an incredible variety of these--call Montana "Big Sky Country." And there is, indeed, a lot of sky. The day we left, I finally understood what the difference was. It wasn't that the elevation was especially high, and therefore you overlooked everything from mountaintops. I'm pretty sure Colorado is higher, and I don't remember the expanse of their sky nearly as vividly. It was more that all the towns and cities and highways were built on land made flat, pieces cut out of mountainsides for the express purpose of living on them. Because of the cut, and because of the flatness, you can see the sky for miles.

In California, most places are just built on whatever ridiculous hill they landed on. (San Francisco, for instance.) There is not cutting, at least not to the extent of other places. You don't see the sky because you are perpetually in a valley, or on a hill crowned by higher hills. You can't look straight out toward the horizon because the straight does not exist. Not unless you're at the coastline--and even then, you don't see much sky or much horizon, because of the marine layer. (Or if you're in LA, the smog.)

So here is the big, big sky:



And of course, the trip would not have been what it was for me without this lovely group of people. Most of our number have graduated now, whether from their undergraduate studies or from doctoral ones, and if this was my last chance to spend time with them it was time absolutely well spent. (If you can't tell I'm on the far left. :P)



The full album (141 photos) can be found here. ♥

There is something I still wonder, though. All of the tourist brochures, billboards, and window fliers proclaim Montana the great western frontier. If that's true, then what, exactly, are we?
Tags: americana, hell on wheels, pics or it didn't happen, strange tales from the southern front, these things matter
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