Primary Highways: Montana and South Dakota

Well, this long process is nearly at it’s end. And this time, we really mean it, there are only two states left, Montana and South Dakota. I had an opportunity to visit both as a kid in 1988. It was only as I prepared to write this article that I realized this was twenty years ago!

We came into Montana at night on I-94, which we previously mentioned in this series when we visited Indiana and Detroit. The night sky in Montana is an amazing experience, as is the complete darkness if one stops the car and turns out the lights. A little eerie, actually. I grew up the suburbs north of New York City, so such clear and dark nights were a new experience.

I-94 ends quietly at junction with I-90 near Billings, the largest city in Montana. I don’t remember much about it.

We did visit Yellowstone National park, which is mostly in Wyoming. But the northern entrance, featuring the Roosevelt Arch, is in Montana:

We discussed Yellowstone in more detail when we wrote about Wyoming. But I didn’t mention the fact that I was there during the massive fires of 1988, that burned about one third of the park. The smoke and the various closures certainly colored my visit. I do need to go back again and experience Yellowstone as an adult and without the fires.

From Yellowstone, we traveled north and east, stopping in the town of Butte. Though quite small, I recall it looking rather large as one approached from the east at night on I-90. We at CatSynth would not deign to make jokes about the town’s name.

Ultimately, we headed north on US 93 to reach Glacier National Park. This was an altogether different experience from Yellowstone. Not only were the skies clear, but landscape was more the standard forests and lakes and mountains one associates with Rockies:

Among the striking features of Glacier Park are its lakes, such as St. Mary Lake (pictured here) and Lake McDonald. Lake McDonald in particular is quite deep, as it is formed from a valley between mountains, though not as deep as Crater Lake in Oregon. The park does of course have Glaciers, but they have been retreating quite dramatically, victims of climate change.

Our trip back from Montana took us through South Dakota on I-90. The main feature of I-90 in South Dakota were the frequent billboards advertising Wall Drug, which we of course did have to stop at, after having fun with the concept for the preceding hours. We did of course visit the more monumental attractions, including the dueling carved mountains of Crazy Horse and Mount Rushmore.

We ultimately continued east on I-90 to Chicago, the hometown of the likely winner at the end of this long contest.

Primary Highways: Oregon

Our series returns to the west coast, and to a state I know from personal experience. I have traveled through the western part of Oregon multiple times. It is a state that at first glance has much in common with northern California, politically and geographically, but has its own unique characteristics.

Traveling north on I-5, one crosses an arbitrary line the separates the spectacular landscape of far-northern California from the spectacular landscape of southwestern Oregon. The highway weaves through the mountains and valleys of the Cascade Range, including numerous volcanic (or formerly volcanic) peaks.

At the town of Medford, one can continue north, or take a detour east on state highway 62 to Crater Lake. Crater Lake fills a caldera in the Cascade Range, and is the deepest lake the United States. It's circular shape is quite distinctive, as are its internal landmarks, including Wizard Island (the pointy island to one side of the lake), the “Old Man of the Lake“, and several volcanic formations. I had the opportunity to visit Crater Lake many years ago.

More recently, I traveled the other route from Medford, on I-5 north to Portland, while I was on tour last October.

We experienced Portland's famously variable weather. Fortunately, many of the city's attractions are indoors. This includes Powell's Books. I could have spent the whole day in the Pearl Room, which contained the art and architecture offerings, as well as their extensive rare book collection.

Portland also has abundant public art. Across from Powell's is this “brush,” a noted landmark:

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This building brings to mind the city's nickname, Rose City.

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These are only a few of the photos I took while on tour. Please visit the original article for more images, including the intriguing “recursive elephant” sculpture (and the hidden cat).

Portland is someplace I could see living, and indeed the idea crossed my mind during my period of unemployment last year. Ironically, it was en route to Portland that I took the fateful phone call that led to my current job and new life in San Francisco.

We also performed in the coastal town of Astoria, which can be reached by traversing the coast range or traveling along the Columbia River on US 30. This is actually the western end of US 30, which starts at a junction with our friend US 101.

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Astoria was cool and rainy and very green, as one would expect along the northern Pacific coast. The people we met there were also very welcoming to a group of Bay Area musicians playing weird experimental music. Again, you can read more about our visit at the original tour article.

I have never been to the eastern part of Oregon, which is a very different place altogether. I am quite intrigued by the descriptions of part of eastern Oregon as a desert landscape. But it seems like one has to be very motivated to visit, as it is far less populated and less accessible via major highways. The east-west divide also seems to extend to politics, with western Oregon being more liberal in the “northern California” sense, and eastern Oregon being more conservative. I wonder how this divide is going to play, at least in the media, given the patterns of this election…

Primary Highways: West Virginia

Well, this is probably the most difficult state we've had to write about since beginning this series. Even harder than Indiana last week.

I did travel through West Virginia a couple of times on family road trips in my youth. We definitely passed through the panhandle on I-81, an area that probably now identifies more with the DC and Baltimore metropolitan area than with the rest of the state. I do recall signs welcoming us to “Wild, Wonderful West Virginia.”

The capital and largest city, Charleston, has a population smaller than my former hometown, Santa Cruz. The state is synonymous with coal mining; and with some rather harsh stereotypes that have surfaced in the last weeks, especially with the demographic issues in the current campaign. We at CatSynth would prefer to consider the state's striking landscape and beauty as suggested by its iconic New River Gorge Bridge:

The New River Gorge Bridge carries U.S. Highway 19 over the New River. At a height of 876 feet (267 m), it is the highest vehicular bridge in the Americas, and the second highest in the world. This section of Highway 19 forms a rather spectacular bypass of Charleston and connects two of the states major highways, I-77 and I-79.

Situated in the Appalachian region, West Virginia is full of mountains and canyons, but altogether different from those one finds in the western U.S. The landscape isn't quite as “stark,” and its features are much older than the Sierra Nevada or the Rocky Mountains or the canyons of the southwest. Indeed, the Appalachians are one of the oldest mountain ranges that can still be considered “mountains.”

There is also Spruce Knob, the highest point in the state. And this cable-stayed bridge over the Ohio River introduces a more “industrial Midwestern” area altogether different from the New River Gorge.

Quite a geographical diversity for such a small state. And perhaps appropriate given its history as a border region and breakaway state during the American Civil War. West Virginia pulled off the trick of seceding from a secessionist state, Virginia. It was admitted in 1863 under somewhat controversial circumstances, but has managed to forge an identity of its own.

Primary Highways: Indiana

It has been a really busy week at CatSynth, but we're taking some time to continue our “primary highways” series with a visit to the state of Indiana. Appropriately for our series, Indiana is nicknamed the “Crossroads of America.” And that is how many of us know the state, passing from one place to another. It boasts eight major interstate highways: I-69, I-65, I-94, I-70, I-74, I-64, I-80, and I-90. These are indeed crossroads among major U.S. cities, New York, Baltimore, Washington, Boston, Chicago. Detroit, Seattle and are hometown San Francisco.

I have traveled through Indiana en route from New York to San Francisco multiple times on I-80, which is part of the Indiana Toll Road. (Anyone surprised that we are once again traveling along I-80 during this series?)This highway runs along the extreme northern section of the state, passing through farmland, old industrial cities, and the suburbs of Chicago to the west. One can imagine along this landscape the demographic divisions currently being portrayed in the media. One can also observe Indiana's well-known reputation for being flat, particularly in the north. Though in the south, towards Kentucky, the landscape becomes more hilly.

In the northwest, near Chicago, I-80 shares its path with I-94. To the west, I-94 splits off to become the major freeway in downtown Chicago; beyond that it heads towards Milwaukee, then Minneapolis and the northern plains. In Indiana, it hugs the coast of Lake Michigan “before heading east on the long road to Detroit“.

A bit of amusing highway trivia involves I-69, which extends from Indianapolis north to Michigan and eventually the Canadian border. There have been plans for a while to extend I-69 south all the way to Texas and the Mexican border, creating another north-south transcontinental route. Former representative John Hostettler from Indiana was a strong supporter of the extension of I-69, but he also led a campaign to change its designation. Apparently, some “religious conservatives believe 'I-69' sounds too risqu