October 21, 2006

Southwest Odyssey: Day 1

Dr. Dregs and I are off on an old-fashioned road trip. Over the next week and a half, we will pass through (or spend time in) seven states and drive over 4,000 miles. The goal is to get the barest sampling of the terrain and the culture of the Southwestern U.S., an area in which neither of us has ever really traveled. We have maps, guidebooks, our trusty little car, some camping gear, and a handful of hotel reservations, but our plans are flexible to a degree and may change depending on what we decide we would like to do.

Of course, any road trip to the Southwest from Minnesota involves an initial investment of lots of driving time. Today, our first day of the trip, is the only day that we traveled a familiar route: from Minneapolis to Holdrege, Nebraska, the small south-central Nebraska town where my mother lives. There are a couple of possible routes: the easiest but most boring follows I-35 south to Des Moines, Iowa, then follows I-80 west to central Nebraska. We take this route sometimes for efficiency's sake, but the natural beauty of neither Minnesota nor Iowa is on display along this route. Instead, we opted today to take US 169 southwest to Mankato, which is a lovely drive through the Minnesota River valley, and then MN 60 to the Iowa border. That highway is picked up at the border by IA 60, which takes us to Sioux City (around which the terrain is surprisingly hilly), where we pick up I-29. I-29 takes us to Omaha, where we join I-80 for the long trek across the Nebraska prairie. The total journey by either route takes around 9 or 10 hours, depending on how fast one drives and how many stops one makes.

Compared to what we will see over the next week, today's drive is not particularly scenic or memorable. But even though the drive along I-80 across Nebraska is much maligned for its length and lack of interest, I enjoy it, particularly on the occasions when we are traveling west toward the sunset. The gradual transition from the gentle hills of eastern Nebraska to the low plains, and then eventually to the high plains of the central and western parts of the state has its own kind of quiet, dignified beauty. The sky is as big here as it is in Montana, and nothing makes that clearer than driving into a prairie sunset.

My mother is graciously putting us up tonight, and tomorrow, we will strike forth into an area that is mostly terra incognita for us, as we cover 700 miles from Holdrege to Moab, Utah.

Let's go to Utah! Day 2

Posted by at October 21, 2006 8:04 PM