September 18, 2005

Rocky Mountain High?

Alice has reached a new understanding during her travels: that high? Not drugs, not overcome-by-beauty. That high is from sheer oxygen deprivation. It makes the synapses slow down. In Jackson Hole, Wyoming, the human ones seem to have ground to a halt.

The "valley" is at an altitude of 6,500 feet. The Grand Tetons top out at about 14,000. The town, however, is enough. Dick Cheney has a pricey ranch out there, as do many others enamored of sage brush, rifles, and moose-crossing warnings. This should have been a clue. Alice will never be home, home on the range.

Alice is at home at sea level. Without deer, without antelope, without wildlife anywhere but on her plate or in a zoo. Where cashiers can make change of a $20. Where the transaction time on a cup of coffee is under 10 minutes, and the beverage received doesn't resemble watered-down mud.

Where she isn't charged close to $200 a night for a "cabin" attached to a lodge that has erratic running water and electricity so undependable that the establishment ought to have figured out a back-up generator is mandatory.

Spare her another business trip that entails a "sit-down" dinner at what we will politely call The Cowboy Hall of Hell. Dinner with 800 of Alice's not-so-nearest-and-dearest.

First, join your colleagues on an hour-long drive into "town" in a vintage 1966 bus. Then line up, take your tin plate, get your food doled out, take a tin cup of lemonade, and have a seat on a picnic bench. No alcohol, no cigarettes, just tin and paper.

If this is local color, you can keep it. Rustic replication has all the sincerity of Disneyland, not to be confused with Wonderland, where Alice lives.

Silly Alice, with her East Coast notion that a sit-down dinner is one at which the waiter brings the food and busses the table. Evidently her West Coast colleagues are not on the same page. (Her organizations' leaders, out from Chicago, shared Alice's notions, and promised her, never again.)

Alice was grateful to escape before the cowboy floor show started. She wondered why the only non-Caucasian men she saw in five days totaled three, each in a cowboy hat a la Blazing Saddles.

Yellowstone is certainly American in scope. Old Faithful and the other geothermal activities resemble those Alice has seen on White Island, off the coast of New Zealand. However, here, everything is on steroids -- mud pots and steaming sulfuric spews the diameter of truck tires, and geysers the height of a four-story building. It's seismic overload.

"The first thing to do was to make a grand survey of the country she was going to travel through," wrote Louis Carroll. Alice's report from the Rocky Mountains is, this is what fly-over country looks like, and how and why it got its name.

The next time she takes a trip involving more than six hours of flight time, she will leave her island off the coast of America for a country where rural doesn't rule. Or if it does, it's not for a back-to-the-land adventure, but one that is back-to-the-elegant-hotel, where she belongs.


Blogger The Misanthrope said...

I think not having to deal with the maddening pace of city life for a while might be very nice. I don't mind the outdoors as long as it stays outdoors. Good post, as always.

1:39 PM  
Anonymous catherine ryan said...

That's why I don't travel!
I'm stopping by to thank you for your somments and support during my son's surgery. I truly appreciate it and know it makes a difference.
I enjoyed reading your posts about the Supreme Court and Bush's response to Katrina.

11:08 PM  

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