Traveling around the north western corner of the North American continent these last weeks have bought me to an appreciation of what really is ‘Young America’. What I mean by this is that the North American continent is relatively young. It is very much a volcanic landscape here in Oregon, Montana, Utah, Wyoming even as far down as California and there abouts. Indeed everywhere we have visited.
Having grown up in Aus you are accustomed to the sights, sounds and smells of a truly ancient place. The Australian continent is an entity within itself due to its vast age. It is like a wise old Earth Mother that watches on no matter where you go. The Australian Aboriginies have survived on the continent for a mere 50,000 years, although longer than any other continuous civilization, this is a time speck in reality. The land, the Country is in its age beyond measure and like a treasured old ancestor it tolerates us.
The vastness of the land itself, the antiquity of the landscape is truly ancient in Aus. It is the oldest land to have remained above water down through time and it has weathered to a truly ancient and beautiful landscape. One that envelopes you and becomes part of your very being. I have realized more than anything this simple truth this last month. If there is a place where the ancient Dreaming Spirits of the land dwell, those that are the parents of creation, it is in Aus.
The American continent is in comparison a youthful volatile land as can been seen in the recent Mount Snt Helen’s volcanic eruption and the land still bends and stresses under the its birthing pains. It is this youthfullness that has fascinated us these last weeks. It has entertained us like an adventurous young teenager would and this has become more apparent as we toured the volcanic landscapes evident across the countryside.
It all began with marvelling over the Yellowstone geothermic region. This was complimented with our visit to ‘Crators of the Moon’ Reserve. As we toured the landscapes of Utah and Oregon, seeing the remnant of volcanic activities it became really evident to us that this landscape was something we are unfamiliar with as Aussies. It was an oddity to our eyes and senses and we came to recognize ash cones, spatter cones and the spill of volcanic flows all around us.
The high plateau regions of the Northern American continent are a fascination, but that they are rippled with pressures of a rift valley. The geothermic shuffling’s of young volcanoes and the movement of continental plates is apparent. I never expected to be bought to such and appreciation of the landscape in this manner by a visit to central Northern America.
Aus has volcanic landscapes but they are ancient, the craters weathered to more gentle lines such as in the Wolumbin caldera on the central east coast. We too have lava tubes, but they are from truly ancient volcanic activity and our more evident volcanoes like Mount Gambia in South Australia are now mysteries woven around ancient subterranean limestone caverns which link with the oceans and Great artesian basin.
The volcanic landscapes of North America though are young and still active. What also has been a revelation has been the snow, the cold summer weather bought on by the altitudes of these landscapes. This is summer for goodness sake and there are snow banks all about!
I never equated the USA with an alpine or snow covered region but it is this for sure. It seems that everywhere we toured was touched by cold prairie winds or snow covered banks, this in their summer. It is cold as our Australian winter and I thought we would be missing winter this year.
Though talking about the volcanic regions which we have passed through there is one truly stunning feature of this landscape that simply cannot pass without mention. We visited the Crater Lake of southern Oregon, barely a good drive from the Pacific coast. We were drawn by the reputed majesty and beauty of the lake. Majestic it was, undeniably so. It is simply a visually stunning place to visit, one that is breathtakingly iconic of the volcanic landscape and it didn’t disappoint us in any way.
I have also commented before about the massive mobile MacMansions on the roads here but it seems that towards the western coastline, the Pacific Ocean, that people are less MacMansion conscious. We are seeing the more practical caravans in tow, albeit large vans and we have debated the reasons. Concluding that the MacMansions are often of the rental variety and that public transport in the central region of the US is as wanting as it is in the central regions of Aus.
It was an interesting debate. It was a debate that highlighted the development of towns and infrastructure in timeline. It would seem that between the two nations, there is much in common. The cultures though are very different and the outlook of the normal people is also vastly separated in attitude, which I am sure has a lot to do with population pressures and political focus.
As the mobile MacMansions fall away to large caravans it is evident to us now why they call these monster vans, trailers. They are just that… large squarish trailers which more easily double for permanent on-site homes when they die a natural death. Everywhere there are long trailers… and I do mean loooonnng. They commonly have been built into the ground as would a portable home and they will never see a return to the roads for which they were intended. Whole communities of dead and dying trailers cluster in groups that no doubt double for trailer parks or RV parks. Though these monsters are never going to be a ‘Recreations Vehicle’ again, not a mobile one anyways. It is a demographic that it seems is a growing culture in the USA where so many things are massive, mobile and throwaway.
- Aussies just plain have trouble with US addresses. Eg.. for us it is 34 Murphy St, Where-ever. Faced with an address such as 46000 U.S. 97, Chiloquin, OR … Well that just looks like someone’s idea of a funny. Do you start at 1 and work up to 46000 and 97 just looks like half a postcode. Then there Is 21 N, 16th, 2nd Ave, Where ever <- has to be a puzzle, even the locals located it by landmark rather than addy. It took a while and we still get it dismally wrong but thank Goodness for the GPS but then she is prone to wrong as well We, more than once have just sat at the edge of the road puzzled and then decided to go for coffee instead.
- On the issue of coffee… brewed coffee is all the go over here. It was a disaster when we ran out of our own coffee from Aus! Took us 45 minutes to decide on a coffee and the ‘Mountain Blend’ is at least palatable to us. US coffee is brewed… stewed to bitter and often too sweet by far but at least its hot unless you go to a coffee-café’ joint. There they only serve coffee warm.
- Note to self: Never, ever add sugar… no matter how tempted. Test taste first!
- Americans have no idea what custard is and think scones are biscuits though they serve them as bread rolls <- confusing.
- I seek in vain for UHT vac’ packed milk… I really thought they would have that. They have never even heard of it.
- Deer are the common road kill over here, like roo’s in Aus.
Jan is an Australian author and writer. You can find our more about her publications at her official web site. Be sure to check out the reader discounts there.
Read the full travelogue of Jans adventures in the e-book ‘The Rockies and the Greater NW USA’ now available at Amazon for just $US1.99