Primary Highways: Wyoming

Even though we're already on to Mississippi today, I did not want to forget the state of Wyoming, which caucused this weekend.

Wyoming is the least populous state in the U.S. The capital and largest city, Cheyenne, is about the same size as my previous hometown, Santa Cruz, CA. The entire state is significantly smaller than my current hometown, San Francisco. But Wyoming is large, and open, something I experienced years ago when driving out from New York to California on I-80. We have gotten to visit a lot of states along I-80 that I remember as part of this series. But coming west, the almost desert-like conditions, wind and brush and emptiness, were a welcome change from largely flat farmland of the previous thousand miles.

We did actually take a detour from I-80 south on US 191 through the Flaming Gorge] area down to Dinosaur National Monument in Utah. The two highways split in a remote area, with mountains and canyons to the south:

One thing I remember quite strikingly was how 191 curled up into the hills heading south from the freeway. Unfortunately, I don't have any of the photographs from the trip available, but this photo from illustrates it quite well:

It turns out I had encounted US 191 in Wyoming on a previous trip as well, as it enters Yellostone National Park via the south entrance:

Yellowstone is of course spectacular, and quite a different experience from the starkness of southern Wyoming. It also is the oldest and one of the largest national parks. Although mostly in Wyoming it does extend into Montana and Idaho as well. I leave you with this image from the northern entrance to Yellowstone, in Montana:

The inscription reads “For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People,” with the dual purpose of preserving this natural land and making it accessible to “the people.” It seems like a sentiment that is sadly lost in contemporary politics, but that is a topic for another day…

More "Primary Highways": Texas, Austin, Hill Country, and San Antonio

Today we visit the state of Texas, on the day before its presidential primary (along with Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont).

We start with the capital city of Austin, probably the only place in Texas I could actually live. It is considered a liberal and cultural oasis, with the University, major high-tech companies, and a lively music scene:

[photo by Larry D Moore]

Austin is also quite a scenic town. It is at the edge of the “Texas Hill Country,” and contains several artificial lakes along the Colorado River (no, it's a different Colorado River). This includes the downtown:

and nearby Lake Austin:

The last photo is the Pennybacker Bridge, carrying “loop highway” 360 over Lake Austin. Texas has several so-called “Loop” highways that must use a different definition of the word “loop” than most of us. Another of these is Loop 1, the Mo Pac expressway.

I did visit the Austin area last year, though I did not get much of a chance to explore the music or scenery. Indeed, my experience with the city itself was decidedly un-scenic, as we attempted to get from the airport to I-35, and encountered this infamous interchange:

This interchange connects I-35, the area's only interstate highway, with state highway 71, still called Ben White Boulevard even though a large portion has been converted to a freeway. However, significant portions are still not freeway, and as I discovered there is no way to connect to or from I-35 south of the interchange without going through at least one traffic light and/or stop sign. You can read more about it in my article from Austin. I think this excerpt from the site

This intersection is the worst traffic disaster in Austin. The 290/71 freeway ends about 0.5 mile to the west of the interchange, dumping all the traffic into this substandard intersection with a traffic light. But relief is on the way. The 5 level stack is under construction. Texas 71 will be depressed below grade, and the feeders will be at grade.

Fortunately, we quickly left this disaster for the bucolic Texas Hill Country. T

This is another area that doesn't fit the stereotypes, with rolling hills, woods and meadows. And towns like Wimberly with a mixture of rustic and New Age character one associates with tourist areas here in northern California – they even have a small wine industry. We meet this skinny little follow while there:

And well-known ranch critters, like white peacocks:

Heading further south from the hill country on I-35 (which I did not do myself), one arrives in San Antonio:

The former is of course Texas' most famous monument, the Alamo. THe latter is a local sculpture, the “Torch of Friendship.” Frequent readers will know I like to balance the old with the new. Speaking of strange combinations of old and new, consider this view from one of San Antonio's major freeways, US 281:

The photo above is from, which states “The 281 freeway in San Antonio was one of the more controversial freeways in Texas, and possibly the most controversial.” As the photo suggests, it weaves its way around existing structures:

This is probably the most interesting and usual feature of the freeway. Although not visible in the photo, Sunken Gardens in on the right, and Alamo stadium is on the left.

It reminds me of the freeways in New York City, which narrowly wind between over a century of previous buildings. Other, larger, highways include something you see in New York, but almost never in California: double-deckers, such as this section of I-35:

As the signs suggest, we are looking back north on I-35, towards Austin. And thus we come full circle.

More "Primary" Highways: Hawai'i

Well, another Tuesday, and another primary election here in the U.S. This time we visit the state Hawai'i, one of only six states I have not actually visited.

Even though it is disconnected from the U.S. mainland, it does have interstate highways, such as H-1 in the Honolulu area. Hawai'i uses a separate numbering system from the contiguous U.S. states, all prefixed with an “H”. Other than that they are pretty much like any other freeways around a major city:

wikimedia commons

Except of course for the cool Hawai'ian place names:

This last photo is from the site Both this site and are great resources for highways of Hawai'i, about which I knew very little before this project.

Of course, the part of Hawai'i I most want to visit is not Honolulu, but rather the “Big Island” of Hawai'i. In addition to being the largest, it is the youngest, and the one that is still volcanically active. Highway 11, which is part of the belt highway around the “Big Island”, passes through some of the most active areas including Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park.

In addition to their geological significance, these lava flows have a marvelous aesthetic quality. Indeed, the seem quite modern in their fluid geometry and texture, I could easily see a sculpture of similar qualities at the museums I frequent, or as something I would consider for my own collection.

Of course, one must not lose sight of the fact that we are talking about flowing molten rock, which is of a magnitude larger than ourselves or our highways:

Continuing on highway 11, one arrives at the Kaʻū Desert, a spectacularly lifeless landscape shaped by past eruptions, strong windows and “rain shadow” of the nearby volcanoes:

[Click to enlarge]
[Photo by Steve Young]

The Big Island is an amazing study in contrasts, active volcanoes, barren deserts, and also verdant tropical forests. I do need to find an excuse to visit the island some day.

As for the elections, Hawai'i is likely to support Barack Obama, who grew up there (yet another interesting aspect of his geographical and ethnic story). And it looks like he has one the other major contest today in Wisconsin. So he now takes the lead, but it is hard to know whether this contest is over or not. And so we will be back with at least one more installment of this series on March 4 with Texas and Ohio.

More "Primary" Highways: Chesapeake Bay and Washington, DC

Well, things were not exactly “decided” after last weeks elections. And they haven't been exactly “decided” by tonight's results, either. So our series traveling the highways of primary states continues.

We ended last week crossing the Bay Bridge into San Francisco. There is of course another “Bay Bridge”, back east across the Chesapeake Bay.

The Chesapeake Bay Bridge carries US highway 50 (and US 301) across the bay between Maryland's eastern and western shore regions. On the west side is Annapolis, the capital of Maryland, and an area I remember fondly from visits in 1999 and 2000. The 1999 visit was during a rather intense heat wave, which made it a great time for swimming, as I can't stand cold water. And the towns along the Chesapeake, including Annapolis, are definitely water-centric. At the same time, however, the bay has been the site of intense environmental degradation and its restoration is still very much a work in progress. Indeed, the friend who I was visiting worked on wetland restoration, both in the area and nationally. Sadly, we fell out of touch several years ago. I fear I must have done or said something offensive, but I don't know what, and I would love to reconnect.

On the eastern side of the bridge, US 50 connects to several tourist towns on the shore, including Ocean City. Ocean City is the eastern terminus of US 50, and listed as the final destination on this sign at the western terminus in Sacramento:

Apparently that sign has been stolen several times.

We have already visited highway 50 in the series as it heads east from California through Nevada. Like I-80, US 50 crosses the country and thus shows up again and again in these contests. It also crosses Washington, DC as Constitution Avenue, passing by the most prominent monuments and buildings of our capital city:

[Click to enlarge]

And in the great interconnectedness of things, highway 50 crosses I-95 on the eastern side of Washington, DC., connecting south to Miami, or north to New York across the George Washington Bridge, where one can again switch to I-80 and head west back to California.

Washington, DC has a great motto on its license plates: “Taxation without Representation,” a reference to one of the great slogans of the American Revolution. We all learn about it in our history classes here in the US. Its presence on the license plate has to do with the fact that our capital district is actually governed like a colony with no representation in the US Congress, but totally under its control and whim. So it has neither representation, nor full self-determination, things we usually associate with democracy. Making DC a state would easily solve this problem.

But the district does get to vote for president and for party candidates, and tonight it looks like they went for Barack Obama, as did Maryland and Virginia. The race is nearly even. Things are of course very exciting, but I do worry that whoever wins the nomination will be weakened by the intense contest, and not necessarily able to win when it really counts. But the race goes on, and so will our series. We'll be traveling someplace else next week.

Super Tuesday Fun with Highways: I-80

So how to continue our “primary highway series” when so many states are voting at once? Well, we can't visit them all, but we touch several important places with a trip along Interstate 80. I-80 runs the entire width of United States connecting New York City to San Francisco, two cities to which I have connections. In between New York and California, it crosses three other states voting this Tuesday: New Jersey, Illinois and Utah. We have already visited two other states crossed by I-80, Iowa and Nevada, during earlier contests.

Actually, I-80 never enters New York. Rather, its eastern end is in Teaneck, a town on the New Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge:

It would have been cool if I-80 crossed the bridge along with I-95 into New York. Perhaps then splitting at the Bruckner Interchange in the Bronx (yes, I had to get the Bruckner Interchange into this article) before heading out to Long Island.

North of New York City is Chappaqua, “hometown of CatSynth and Hillary Clinton,” as I have mentioned a few times on this site. And while it is my hometown in that I grew up there, Hillary's original hometown is a little bit west of New York and New Jersey, in Chicago. But of course you can get there by heading west on I-80, which passes through Chicago's southern suburbs.

Chicago is all the home of Barack Obama. So we have two candidates with Chicago roots, either of whom I would be very happy to support.

What a strange position to be in, to have such a choice – and I admit I have had a hard time deciding. There are historic opportunities with each, connections to various aspects of my own life (geography, education, mixed heritage). I guess it's much better than 2004 when I was excited about no one.

Traveling further west along I-80, we eventually come to Utah, a place of striking natural beauty that I would love to visit again soon. In the south are canyons, stone formations and other wonders of the southwest. In the north, along I-80, are the Great Salt Lake and the Bonneville Salt Flats:

[Click to enlarge]

When they say salt flats they mean flat. It is an incredibly stark landscape, and that's part of what makes a great experience. And the silence. Longtime readers know how such things appeal to my personal and aesthetic sensibilities. Although I have been to the Great Salt Lake, I did not get to see Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty, which is considered a major work of modern American art, and which I have seen reproduced countless times.

Heading further west, we cross Nevada and then arrive in California, where I-80 crosses the Bay Bridge into San Francisco, my new hometown.

I-80 actually ends as the western approach of the Bay Bridge, although most people (and road signs) suggest that it continues into San Francisco to US 101. This section of freeway actually cuts through my South-of-Market (SOMA) neighborhood, contributing to its urban, industrial feel.

[Click to enlarge]

I did manage to find my polling place, and will soon have to make a choice as this election season reaches home. But it is great that those of us in California finally get to make a difference. Same for the folks in New York, New Jersey, Illinois and Utah. So many of us have had very little opportunity to actually have a say in the process, long dominated by Iowa and New Hampshire and the South. The rest of the country will finally have to listen to the people in our major urban centers and in the west. And I'll be satisfied with whomever we end up choosing (at least in one party).

Florida (Miami Beach)

We emerge from our brief hiatus to resume our campaign-highways series. Tonight we visit Florida, focusing in on Miami Beach:

Miami (which is a separate city from Miami Beach) is the southern terminus of I-95, the big north-south highway on the east coast of the US. It just sort of comes to an end at a ramp onto US 1. Much like the campaign of Rudy Giuliani. Somehow he figured he could cruise down I-95 and hang out in Florida while other actual contests were going on, and still win. I'd like to think his defeat wasn't just this rather dumb strategy, but also the rest of the country getting to know the real Giuliani that we knew in New York, without the 9-11 veneer. The man was a psycho and always needed someone to go after. That included things so integral to New York as pedestrians. Not to mention the racial tensions, the tabloid personal life. His concession speech after losing his first bid for mayor included “Ladies and gentlemen, will you please shut up!” Actually, I thought that was kinda cute. But I doubt the rest of the country would feel that way.

Interestingly, I was last in Miami during the 2004 election. Sitting in a pub and watching W get re-elected was a major downer for myself and my colleagues at the conference I was attending. But there was still plenty to do that well. A day later, we were heading downtown, over the I-395 causeway over to Miami Beach, and into the heart of the South Beach Art Deco district for an evening fun and entertainment.

I can't recall the live music being all that great. But you can't go wrong with drinks and good company. And it's warm at night in November. And the water was warm enough to swim in. How cool is that? Here in California, it gets cold at night. And the water is always cold.

The main drag through Miami Beach is Collins Avenue, part of Florida Highway A1A. A1A actually spans the length of Florida's Atlantic coast, passing through towns and beaches. It would be interesting to compare to our own Highway 1 along the Pacific coast in California. The coasts are so different, not only in climate, but in culture and history and natural terrain. Less of the spectacular cliffs and pristine natural beaches, and more private development. But it's not without its charm, and the water is warm enough to swim. Add it to the growing list of road trips not yet taken.

Highway 50, Nevada

We at CatSynth continue our highway series following the US presidential campaign, and so we turn our attention to the neighboring state of Nevada.

It was great to see Nevada included so early this time around, it is such a different place from the traditional early states. There is of course Las Vegas and all that comes with it – and to be honest, that is a refreshing change from the folksy small-town character of the early compaign. But there is also the more desolate Nevada, the authentic high desert and Great Basin.

It is the latter that we consider today. US highway 50, which runs through the center of Nevada, has been dubbed “the loneliest road in America” and many of the small towns along this route received a fair amount of attention this past week. And several travelogues, such as as “US 50 Coast to Coast” document the character and sites, including small mining towns like Eureka and Great Basin National Park. For me, one of the attractions is simply the emptiness of the highway itself, as illustrated in the photo to the right (click to enlarge).

I have never actually driven highway 50 east past South Lake Tahoe. But the quiet, the emptiness and straight-line nature of this stretch of highway are all very appealing at the moment. I tend to gravitate towards the extremes, either quiet isolation of the desert, or the intensity of a big city. And now we're moving to the city, right into the downtown. So as things calm down and the weather warms up, a trip east along highway 50, or perhaps to the desert southwest, may be just the best thing to do.

Interestingly, highway 50 joins with US 6 in the town of Ely in eastern Nevada. US 6 is also a cross-country highway, which we also saw in Des Moines, Iowa. Similarly, I-80, which we also encountered in Iowa, crosses through Nevada westward towards our home in the Bay Area, and meets highway 50 at its western terminus in Sacramento. All things are connected.

Probably the next chance we will have at CatSynth to look in on the campaign is when it comes here to California in just a couple of weeks…


In keeping with our “road geek” tour of the US presidential primaries, we at CatSynth visit the city of Detroit, Michigan:

And the winners of today's Michigan primaries are…well, it doesn't really matter. This is really just an excuse to explore a place that I think is fascinating.

One would expect “motor city” to have quite a network of freeways. Well, it's not quite Los Angeles, but in the 1950s and 1960s it was quite impressive, and can be seen on this Detroit Freeways site. I am particularly fond of this photo of the interchange between I-75 (Fisher Freeway) and the Chrysler Freeway. It has the 1960s “futuristic” look, which some of us may look back upon fondly. (Click on the photo for larger version.)

So much from that era has fallen into decay, and that is perhaps no more visible than in Detroit. Indeed, a favorite site of mine is The Fabulous Ruins of Detroit. For whatever reason, these “ruins” from the 20th century fascinate me, especially those that we in their time “modern.” I highly recommend this site!

And I would also like to visit Detroit and its ruins some day.

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Fun with highways: Des Moines, Iowa

Like a lot of people, our attention today was focused on Iowa. And within Iowa, on its capital and largest city, Des Moines.

My only personal experience with Des Moines is traveling through on I-80, one of several major highways that meet here, including I-35, US 65 and US 6. The main highway through the city itself is I-235, which includes this cool pedestrian bridge overlooking the downtown. It actually reminds me a bit of the pedestrian bridge to the Marina in Berkeley, CA – which happens to span I-80, just a few miles to the west.

[click for photo info]

But this pedestrian bridge across Gray's Lake is even more interesting:

[click for photo info]
And yes, they hold this big event every four years in Iowa. And somebody gets to win it. This year, congratulations go to Barack Obama.

While we at CatSynth are not officially endorsing anyone (why would we do that?), we have enjoyed watching Obama's rise, along with the more youthful, energetic and sophisticated crowd that follows him – the same “college kids” that were sneered at in Iowa four year ago when they supported Howard Dean.

And of course we have no illusions about CatSynth's contribution, but it's a nice footnote if I he does go on to become President…