September 01, 2004

The Drive Back

Well, Iím back home again. Sean and I drove 5,350 miles in eight days. I donít want to go anywhere near my car right now, but the next time I do have to drive someplace it wonít seem far. Mexicoís 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. Iím happy with a few of my nature shots, but I canít 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 arenít 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 hadnít seen it for years. Sean had never been there before. And since heís a graduate student in University of Oregonís architecture program, not having been to Chicago was a mistake that needed correcting.

I was afraid I wouldnít like Chicago as much anymore because Iíve 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 Chicagoís 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.

Iíd 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 ďflyover country?Ē 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, youíll be shocked by what you see in Chicago if you ever decide to visit. Chicago makes everywhere else Ė and I do mean everywhere Ė 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 wonít 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 itís 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 Iím a little hard to impress. But I canít tell you how many times I said ďwowĒ 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.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at September 1, 2004 03:15 PM

Turn your cityscapes into grayscales and see if that helps. I learned to use black and white film and then switched to color. I think it may help to see the forms of the city.

Yo. Ob. Sv. VKS

Posted by: Virgil K. Saari at September 1, 2004 03:38 PM

I'd love to see your urban photographs, good or bad. Please.

Posted by: lolag at September 1, 2004 04:00 PM

"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?"

There are a fair number of Chicagoans in Austin and without exception all the ones I met were sane down-to-earth decent people. I have visited there a few times and always had a good feeling about the place. The only reason I didn't move to Chicago is the weather.

Posted by: Yehudit at September 1, 2004 04:01 PM

Man, you bring back memories...I'm 5 hours from Chicago in Ohio. Probably 8 times in 20 years we have used it as a getaway..Sometimes we have driven and sometimes for a change we have taken the amtrak...You don't even need to plan activities when you go there.There is so much going on all the time that you soon find many things to be a part of and to see..My favorite city by far and that includes NYC...

Posted by: Cathy at September 1, 2004 04:29 PM

Welcome back! Just did a big northwest trip myself this year. Your pics are very good.

Posted by: jdwill at September 1, 2004 04:42 PM

Doncha love the road trip for giving you a whole new respect for the SIZE of this chunk of geography! Great photos. I want a view camera for city scapes. I can dream.

Posted by: D'Loye at September 1, 2004 09:47 PM

Michael, did you pass thru Oklahoma at any point during your trip?

Posted by: Daniel at September 1, 2004 10:31 PM

Nice pictures....
but the republicans are imploding (at least I hope you see it this way) tonight. Have you checked out? I support the war but fear that only a cretin could vote for the party that started it. Overreaction? Sure, but Zell the Dixiecrat scored some points...which makes me want to move to Canada. Michael, what's your take on the convention?????

Posted by: chopperdave at September 1, 2004 11:40 PM

Michael, thanks from this Chicago native for your very kind words.

Posted by: Jim C. at September 2, 2004 12:13 AM

Colorado looked like Oregon?! I live in the former and like the latter (both the valley and the plateau)...but I can safely say you must not have seen very much of Colorado. Or maybe this year's above-average rainfall confused you by making things green that were meant to be brown ;)

Posted by: anony-mouse at September 2, 2004 12:35 AM

Really really enjoyed your road trip photos - always worth reminding what a heartbreakingly beautiful country the US is!
(makes my VISA card rattle in my wallet saying 'take Hazel to see the Big Country')

I can see why your forthfathers massacred the natives and stole their land.....(sorry couldn't resist)

Can't wait to see the urban photos!

Neil W

Posted by: Neil W at September 2, 2004 03:18 AM

I made my first trip to Chicago this summer. I have lived in NYC for 30 years and never even thought about visiting, now I can't wait to go back. Great town.

Posted by: Dave K at September 2, 2004 07:36 AM

Very clever of you, I noticed you slipped in some Mars rovers photography in there. Particularly the photo of western Nebraska.

Posted by: Bravo Romeo Delta at September 2, 2004 08:10 AM

anony-mouse: Colorado looked like Oregon?!

Compared to all the other states I drove through, yes. It was the most familiar scenery to me, but it wasn't as similar to home as, say, Washington state.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 2, 2004 09:10 AM

Chopperdave: but the republicans are imploding (at least I hope you see it this way) tonight.

I don't know. Did they implode? I have paid no attention to the convention. I've been totally out of the news cycle. These conventions are absurd infomercials put on my hucksters.

I guess the polls will tell. Kerry got a negligible bounce from his convention. If Bush gets a bounce, I guess you're wrong. If he loses points, I guess you're right. We shall see.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 2, 2004 09:14 AM

Welcome back! Here is what you missed...

Arnold's dad is still a Nazi, he lied about hearing Nixon debate but really didn't; and he says he is a Republican but is really lying, even though he is a registered Republican speaking at the GOP convention. Also, the GOP is not really Centrist because they had centrist speakers and the Democrats really are centrist because they had leftist speakers.

Zell Miller is a Dixicrat racist and was a Dixiecrat racist when he supported Bill Clinton in 1992, he lied when he said he is a Democrat be really didn't since he is; he is spreading fear by talking about the non-issue of terrorism and digging up past by bringing into question John Kerry's records from this year. Plus he seemed pissed, and a Democrat pissed at his own party is proof that the Repugs are imploding. Oh yes, according to the liberal blogs (such as Atrios), Zell is also a Nazi.

In the streets there are thousands of anti-fascists demonstrating with banners supporting dictators. In support of free speech they are attempting to disturpt the convention and have attacked several pro-Bush demonstrators. Bush is still Hitler in their eyes, so all is right as rain.

Again, welcome back! Great pics by the way, thank you for the update on your trip.

Posted by: Toad at September 2, 2004 09:46 AM

What kind of a camera did you use?

Posted by: Niraj at September 2, 2004 10:07 AM


I used a totally outdated four-year old camera that needs replacing. The pics look good when they are small, but they're a bit off when enlarged to full size.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 2, 2004 11:35 AM

Ok, bit of trivia, how many incumbents with ratings similar to Bush's have won re-election? I can't find any, but then I don't have enough access to such numbers to tell for sure.

Perhaps, if Bush wins, there will be new meaning to 'Kerry'ing the Election?

(I know, it was a long post for such a bad pun...)

Posted by: Ratatosk at September 2, 2004 12:55 PM

Thanks for the pictures. The Iowa pics almost make me homesick. It is a pretty state.

Posted by: Eric Blair at September 2, 2004 01:15 PM

If Bush and his Dixicrat racist nazi friends wins, me and Ratatosk and the rest are committing mass suicide. So you better vote for the Non-Bush Guy or else we will die and it will be your fault.

Posted by: Mike at September 2, 2004 02:01 PM


I support the war but fear that only a cretin could vote for the party that started it.

So don't vote for Radical Islamists

Keith Johnson

Posted by: Keith Johnson at September 2, 2004 04:05 PM

I'm not committing suicide. Its bound to be funny to watch the poor sheep get herded about by whichever party wins.

After all, if Bush stays in power, there will be more wars, possibly pre-emptive, possibly on more dangerous targets than Iraq. Sounds like a great recipe for some good old fashioned Aries/Eris Chaos. Top that off with the number of whacko leftists who will likely riot in the streets, especially if the winning votes are tabulated on Diebold systems, and you get even more chaos. Whoo Hoo!

Count me in and don't forget the popcorn and Golden Apples!

On the other hand, John Kerry will probably bring his own special brand of Chaos. Who knows what exciting new messes he will find himself in. He'll not pull out of Iraq, so the Lefties might just revolt against him.

It will be a funny four years, from my bunker hidden in the Peruivian Jungles.

Ratatosk, Squirrel of Discord
Muncher of The ChaoAcorn
Chatterer of The Words of Eris
POEE of The Great Googlie Mooglie Cabal

PS - Has anyone noticed how much Kerry looks like the main zombie Professor from the movie "Re-Animator"? Put some bat wings on his head and he'd be a dead ringer!

Posted by: Ratatosk at September 3, 2004 07:50 AM

Thanks for the beautiful Iowa pictures. I'm from there, and have a hard time convincing people that it's not just flat land and cornfields. Iowa City's a great town too - something else a lot of people don't realize.

Posted by: Josh at September 3, 2004 08:03 AM

MJT: regarding Chicago making other cities look provincial, do tell... why?

Posted by: Bleeding heart conservative at September 4, 2004 12:41 PM
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