Michael Totten

The Drive Back

Well, I’m back home again. Sean and I drove 5,350 miles in eight days. I don’t want to go anywhere near my car right now, but the next time I do have to drive someplace it won’t seem far. Mexico’s Sea of Cortez is only one fifth that distance. Big deal, no sweat, I can cruise on down there any time.
I hardly know the first thing about photography. I’m happy with a few of my nature shots, but I can’t seem to figure out how to take decent pictures of cities. Minneapolis and Chicago are both beautiful cities and I took plenty of pictures of each, but somehow the pictures just aren’t working for me.
I really do wish my Chicago pictures turned out since that was our destination. And what a fantastic destination it was. I used to live within three-hours driving distance, so the city was not new to me. But I missed the place because I hadn’t seen it for years. Sean had never been there before. And since he’s a graduate student in University of Oregon’s architecture program, not having been to Chicago was a mistake that needed correcting.
I was afraid I wouldn’t like Chicago as much anymore because I’ve been to Europe and New York in the meantime. But I have to say I still think Chicago is one of the greatest cities on Earth. It really is an architectural masterpiece. If Europe had a towering vertical city it would look like Chicago, not like New York. And Chicago’s sophistication and cosmopolitanism (people from every country in the world live there, just as they do in New York and Los Angeles) easily rivals that of any other world class city.
I’d go so far to say that out of all the American cities only New York beats Chicago, and only just barely. Every time I visit that city I have a hard time understanding why most people on the coasts overlook it. What is the deal, anyway, with the coastal snobs sniffing at “flyover country?” Is it because the Midwest is flat? Because it grows corn and has cows?
If you think San Francisco, Los Angeles or New York is the center of the universe, you’ll be shocked by what you see in Chicago if you ever decide to visit. Chicago makes everywhere else — and I do mean everywhere — seem painfully, even brutally, provincial.
Some day I hope to figure out urban photography. In the meantime, here are some of the places we saw on the drive home.

Here is the the Iowa River just north of Iowa City. The Midwestern scenery may not be spectacular due to the lack of topography, but it is pretty and I won’t let anyone tell me otherwise.
One of the rolling green hills of Iowa, of which there are millions.
The Iowa prairie.
The trees of the Midwest vanish in Western Nebraska where the rain shadow of the Rockies casts an arid pall over the plains.
Nebraska has a different vibe from the lush Midwestern states around the Great Lakes. It feels slightly, but not quite, Western. And it’s a lot more conservative.
Look at the flatness! Some parts of Western Nebraska are just a gigantic featureless ground.
Eerie hills in Utah. It looks like God torched some sand dunes with a blow torch.
Arches National Park, north of Moab, Utah.
Utah is like another world. I enjoyed the drive through Colorado, but it looks so much like my Oregon I’m a little hard to impress. But I can’t tell you how many times I said “wow” while driving through Utah. I need to go back and spend some quality time in the desert.
Here is one of the arches in Arches National Park. This thing is enormous, much bigger than it looks in the picture.
And here is the view through the window of the arch to the desert beyond.
A sunset near Castle Valley, Utah.
The Great Salt Lake Desert. I heard distant thumping explosions from the military proving ground as I snapped this picture.
Nevada desolation.