This month, I drove from Rhode Island to California, helping a family member move. We drove 3000 miles in 3 days. Even in the relative comfort of a 21st century car, that’s a lot of traveling in a short time. It’s a trip that, before the completion of the transcontinental railroad, took months, by any possible route. What really struck me, though, is how the landscape we passed through both changed and didn’t change. In 72 hours, we drove from this:
Even the stone walls in Rhode Island can grow green stuff!
SoCal high desert – less green in 100 sq miles than in that one field in RI
Of course, the transition from RI meadows to high desert is much more gradual than these photos. Most of the time. For the first thousand miles, the changes in the landscapes are so subtle that you notice relatively little difference in the building styles or the types of trees and wildflowers growing along the road. Even the hills look much the same; there are just more and higher ones in some places.
Hills and farms in Tennessee look pretty much like hills and farms 1000 miles away in New England.
I’m speaking of rural landscapes, of course. Urban landscapes in the US are pretty much the same anywhere you go. Apart from any trees and plants bordering the parking lots, a strip mall in Yucca Valley, CA is almost identical to a strip mall in Warwick, RI. The analogy that comes to mind for me is the Roman Empire, where the temples, roads and fora in a town in Britain probably would have been perfectly familiar to a traveler from Roman Africa. Then and now, you have to look away from the centers of commerce and power to find the local differences.
After a thousand miles of mostly the same rural landscape, you come to places in the continental US where the land changes as sharply as a drawn border changes the color of a map. Read More…