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A Southwestern Odyssey

Agriculture.com Staff 02/08/2016 @ 3:27pm

Seeing our great nation from a jet is one thing -- at 30,000 feet the land scrolls by like a ginormous grade-school geography project. To really get a feel for the country you need to experience it up close and personal.

My wife and I recently survived a 50-million-mile motorcar tour of the Southwest. And by "survive," I mean, "we somehow managed to avoid killing each other.”

The first objective of our odyssey was to install Vegas Boy safely in his digs at Sin City. Finding the nearest divorce attorney was a close second.

My wife and I weren't totally alone in our car. We were traveling with an electronic gizmo I called Mrs. Garmin. "Why do you refer to her as missus?" my wife asked.

"Because she is obviously a wife," I replied. "She's always telling what to do, she's quick to let me know when I make a mistake and she'll never admit it when she's wrong."

Mrs. Garmin proved to be a quirky traveling companion. She would do goofy things such as tell us to make a turn that would send us the wrong way down a one-way street. She would zigzag us around on a route which, in theory, was the shortest yet ignored traffic, construction and mountain passes that were closed due to encroaching glaciers and so on.

Possessed of a slight speech impediment, Mrs. Garmin has trouble pronouncing certain words such as "Laguna.” Nothing upsets her more than deviating from her path; a U-turn at a gas station causes her to panic and urgently repeat a word we learned to dread. "Recalculating!"

We drove past a lot of dramatic landscape, much of which was copied directly from the "Roadrunner and Coyote" cartoons. We saw enough buttes, mesas, plateaus, cliffs and tablelands to satisfy even the most wily coyote.

We also saw numerous motor homes motoring about. We soon learned that all motor homes drive ten miles an hour below the speed limit, thus boosting their gas mileage from roughly 2 miles per gallon to a whopping 3. The fact that they were also slowing us non-motor homers didn't bother them at all.

At one point, while driving past some epic scenery my wife asked, "What does the farmer in you think?"

Let's see. Zion National Park could probably be farmed were it not for its excessively stony soil. A few million tons of dynamite might do the job.

The Grand Canyon is The Mother Of All Erosion Control Problems, and Meteor Crater is a classic example of... well, a failure of meteor control. The Painted Desert is pretty, but who's going to pay for all that paint? And Hoover Dam is really cool, but why was it named for a vacuum cleaner?

Speaking of the Grand Canyon, while we were there my wife and I did something kinky that probably saved our marriage.

Nearing the park entrance, I noticed that helicopters were available for rides to the canyon. I promptly announced that I wanted a helicopter ride. My wife countered that helicopter rides make her ill and that she wanted to go shopping. But shopping makes me nauseous. So we split the difference: my wife went shopping while I took a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon.

No, I didn't take Mrs. Garmin along. A helicopter ride might have driven her insane, leaving her only capable of muttering. "Recalculating!" She would then need to be fitted for a tiny electronic straightjacket.

After driving past millions of miles of striking scenery and seeing countless pretty rocks -- oh, look! Yet another humongous red boulder! I was ready to get back to the boring old prairie. My heart leaped when I saw my first grain elevator somewhere in Texas and I nearly whimpered with joy when I saw my first barn-and-silo combination in Kansas.

As we passed fields of ripe wheat that were the color of toasted bread, I ruminated upon what draws one home. I think it was best summed up by a conversation I had with a Navajo man at an Arizona gift shop.

Learning that we were from South Dakota, the Navajo man commented, "I hear it gets pretty cold there."

"It can hit 30 below without the wind, and the wind blows almost all the time. I hear it gets pretty hot here," I said.

The Navajo replied, "It can hit a 110 in the shade, and there's almost no shade. So, why do you live there?"

"I guess it's because my Norwegian great-grandfather got to eastern South Dakota and said 'I'll settle for this' and became a settler."

The Navajo man nodded in agreement. "Home," he said, "is where your ancestors' bones are buried."

True enough. Odysseus himself would have agreed: it's fun to ramble and have adventures, but the best leg of the voyage is the one that brings you home.

Seeing our great nation from a jet is one thing -- at 30,000 feet the land scrolls by like a ginormous grade-school geography project. To really get a feel for the country you need to experience it up close and personal.

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