Why the West is still Wild

Most of us probably associate the term “wild” west” with a long past western genre movie of the 1950’s that our parents liked but that moves too slow for our taste. For full full disclosure I do and always have liked John Wayne westerns and appreciate the slowness factor of older movies. Still, and maybe it is today's culture ingrained into me, but even I can’t help myself from thinking, “why is this taking so long” when watching a movie like 2001 A Space Odyssey. Prior to a few days ago even I saw the term “wild west” as something from a bygone era. Something unlikely to spark interest or sell anything to those of my generation.

Recently I embarked on a road trip across the United States that took me across the plains of Oklahoma and Texas, to the southern tip of the Rocky Mountains before reaching the west coast. Although prior to this trip I had already been to forty-seven states this trip has given me a whole new meaning to the term “wild west.” Maybe it didn’t sink in previously because this is the first time that I am the driver rather than a passenger. The reshaping of my view of the west started when I crossed the border of Oklahoma into Texas and saw the speed limit listed at 75mph. Sure on the east coast and Midwest people go 75 all the time, but the actual speed limit still reflects the tameness of the Midwest and the landlocked nature of the east coast and is almost always invariably a max of 55 or 65 (even if rarely followed in practice). After a few minutes of letting this newfound freedom sink in I put the cruise control to eighty (police will almost always give 5mph leeway) and rolled down the windows on my way to Amarillo. This wasn’t my first time at this speed in a car/ on a roller coaster/ in a train/ or plane. The feeling of doing it in a car with the windows down knowing that it was more or less okay and acceptable gave me a feeling of exhilaration, freedom, and excitement that I want to think was similar to the feeling felt by those Americans who immigrated west to escape the aftermath and economic recession following the Civil War.

The 75mph speed limits continued all the way across the western states and I even heard that it is 80 on some very rural interstates. On a side note it is not the act of driving fast that is unsafe in itself. It is the combination of driving fast and being a disrespectful driver that is unsafe. Giving slower traffic and trucks ample room and the right to pass without rushing them is always important and part of being a respectful driver. Too many people confuse speed with being incompatible with being a respectful driver. Although not many people practice this speed can be combined with respect for others and safe driving. There is also a big difference between speeding in cities where all one can do is get to a red light faster as opposed to a highway where one can actually make up or cut down on drive time significantly. Enough about speed limits because it was surely not the speed limit alone that still makes the west wild!

About half way from the Texas border to Amarillo the entire night sky started to light up like something I had only ever seen before in movies. I want to say it was lightning but adding to the intrigue I never heard the sound of lightning or even saw the lightning itself. All I saw was the entire sky light up at night like a giant flare. It was an amazing and awe inspiring sight. I quite literally wasn’t in Kansas anymore. I was in the wild west, and it was very real.

From this point things only got more wild. Less than forty miles east of Albuquerque, NM I got stuck in a literal snow blizzard 6000 plus feet above sea level going 5mph with all traffic utilizing a single lane that was one-hundred percent unplowed. The only thing keeping the road visible and “arguably” drivable (where were all these cars going to pull off anyways?) was the tire marks in the road from the vehicle in front of you. I immediately started asking myself “didn’t I come out west to get away from these snow storms that I could just as easily experience on the Indiana Toll Road? But this was no Midwestern snow storm. A few hours later after trekking through twenty miles of mountain road covered with tons of snow I arrived in the city of Albuquerque, NM that was about 50 degrees and didn’t have a piece of snow to be seen. Even at the very southern tip I saw and experienced the power of the Rocky Mountains first hand. It was awe inspiring...after a few internal words not appropriate for print asking myself why in the world I drove 1,300 miles to drive through a snow storm! Not being from from this area I have no idea if what I experienced was par to the course or not. It certainly didn’t feel like it since I didn’t see a single snowplow or piece of salt. No matter what it doesn’t make what I experienced anything less than an example of why the west will never be tamed.

Even the blizzard seemed tame compared to what happened next! On Interstate 40 in northwestern Arizona on the way to Las Vegas/ Los Angeles a crash caused the interstate to be completely shutdown westbound. No problem I thought to myself as I pressed the detour button on the GPS unit. Not that I ended up needing the GPS unit since all traffic started following each other taillight to bumper on what apparently was Historic Route 66 according to the run down signs on the side of the road. Hello Radiator Springs from Cars, I was wondering if you were a real town! Within approximately thirty minutes of the traffic, most of which were semi-trucks, along with with a Ford Mustang from California and myself, were diverted we turned onto a...you guessed it...a very unkept dirt road that winded left and right along, under, and next to Interstate 40. Whomever caused that accident should have gotten a personalized knuckle sandwich, until I realized the novelty of seeing a line of semi-trucks and myself kicking up a mountain of dirt and dust navigating a road that an ATV or Jeep Wrangler would have had trouble with! At one point the column reached a overhead bridged which which we came to a stop at. Due to the curve in the road I could clearly see that the lead truck, rightfully so, wasn’t sure that they could clear the bridge. There was no going back now though with a line of about twenty trucks and a few cars lined up bumper to bumper on a road that could barely be classified as one-way. Although in some parts, minus the giant rocks that could better be classified as boulders I felt that two cars could barley squeeze by each other.

The lead truck did make it under the bridge, barely. The whole dirt road probably wasn’t very good for my low sitting sedan but there was something magical about going down this dirt road in pitch darkness with so much dirt and dust being kicked up that one could barely see the tail lights of the vehicle three feet in front of you. Something dare I say very reminiscent of the wild west. The next day my car was coated in so much Arizona orange dust that there can be no doubt it earned earned its off road wings just as well as any vehicle build specifically for such a purpose. I could continue but I feel that the point has been made that the west was not called the Wild West just to sell Buffalo Bill tickets at the turn of the century or to sell tickets to western movies in the 1950’s. The Wild West is called such because it was and ever will be beautiful, full of majesty, and forever untamed and wild. I hope that every American has the opportunity to experience the west at some point in their life.

Side Note: I wrote this adventure piece with paper and pen while in the rural west without cell coverage or WiFi.

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