Into The Great Wide Open: Touring The American West (Part I)…
There’s something about wide open spaces with limitless horizons that draws in the soul. It pounds at the heart and leaves an inspiring breath to depart the body. At least this was the feeling as I drove into the great wide open embarking upon 15 days of touring the American West.
It’s difficult to comprehend such a feeling. One has to make the trek to the boundless skies and unhindered views to feel it. Pictures don’t do it justice. They don’t validate the sensation of being part and parcel of an unending American West landscape perched at one’s feet, with which the majesty of a warm breeze, while observing a blood red sunset, can only be left to the imagination.
American Indigenous author Navarre Scott Momaday (1934 to Present) describes it best with his words:
“The landscape of the American West has to be seen to be believed and has to be believed to be seen.”
The eyes may deceive, but in the case of the American West they’re not. And therein lays the incredulity and amazement of the entire spectacle lying west of the Mississippi River. It leaves one flat-footed wondering what next stunning vista waits beyond the horizon. It tugs at the pangs of curiosity wondering what it must have been like to have been the first settlers venturing westwards in this never-ending cascade of scenic, but yet deadly wilderness.
It’s not without reason that the first goal of my journey was to visit a small town named West Branch, Iowa, about 45 miles west of the Mississippi River. Set amidst farm fields and meadows, West Branch is the birthplace to Herbert Hoover, the 31st President of the United States and home to the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library & Museum.
Born August 10th, 1874 and living until October 20th, 1964, Herbert Hoover was the epitome of small-town boy making great (see Fortitude and the Wherewithal to Carry On…). His first years were spent in a two-room house, attending the single-room schoolhouse and playing in the nearby Wapsinonoc Creek. The ordeals of dealing with disease and death hit home early for Hoover. An orphan by age eleven, his uncle brought him to Oregon to live with him.
Demonstrating the ruggedness of growing up in a small plains town, this National Historic Site has the original two-room house of his birth and is also the place of his burial. Through the meadow and trees below, his tomb has a clear view of the house.
The museum does a wonderful job of covering his fascinating life and placing him in the context of his early years in Iowa and beyond. On departing, I couldn’t help notice a quote by Hoover on a wall, which lent thought to the American West and its reputation for self-reliance and individualism:
“My country owes me nothing. It gave me, as it gives every boy and girl, a chance. It gave me schooling, independence of action, opportunity for service and honor.”
An excellent precursor for the journey to come and the next stop of South Dakota…
Note: All photos are by the author.
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