Travel: My Continental Drift

No complaints, but even the good things in life often involve trade-offs. A step up might require leaving something behind.

So it was when I changed jobs from one that demanded a lot of North American travel to a better one that offered less frequent Asian travel. The good news was, I like a lot of Asia and I’ve learned a lot on my trips. The not-as-good news was, I now rarely go to the American west.

Joshua Tree National Park, not far from Palm Springs

Joshua Tree National Park, near Palm Springs

As everyone who grew up two to three hours behind New York knows, things change a little before Denver (sooner, depending who you talk to). Wonders that an eastern boy rarely sees lay out in a sensory smorgasbord. First and foremost: space, horizontal and vertical, with apparently not much happening in it. (The desert, however, is anything but a still place, said an Arizona friend who made a point once of sitting quietly on a rock and watching.) Your sense of eastern scale, baselined by buildings and highways and apartments and street corners, goes useless. I was once playing golf outside Las Vegas with a native when a trio of F-14 fighter jets flew by during exercises near their home at Nellis Air Force Base. They cleared a ridge very fast, and I said, “Wow; they covered that coupla miles quick.”

“What, that ridge?” my friend said. “That’s 17 miles away.”

During that same round, I saw a thunderstorm encased in a great vee of rock between two peaks, a veritable lightning ice cream cone 600 feet tall, while the sun shined all around. That sense of otherness, of life and nature going on without caring about Maria Bartiromo, subways, or pizza, is always what attracted me to the west.

Haunting and welcoming at once: Heceta Head Lighthouse, Oregon

Haunting and welcoming at once: Heceta Head Lighthouse, Oregon

Then there are smells we never get in the east, such as cedar and eucalyptus. I feel sorry for the locals; the aromas must fade as the nose becomes used to them being around. And little sights, such as castilleja, the plucky flower known as Indian paintbrush, that a golf partner showed me when we were looking for my ball on a mountain course near Portola, Calif.

Not all the curiosities are natural, either. Head east on Interstate 10 from Ontario (Calif.) Airport, as I used to do to get to the Palm Springs area, and you’ll pass through Bloomington and the Union Pacific Railroad’s Colton Yard. Hundreds and hundreds of yellow locomotives with the familiar red letters, parked on tracks parallel to the highway — you think they’re never going to end. For about three miles, they don’t.

But in the end, the natural world always won out when I had free time and the itch to drive. Television shooting schedules often left me with hours to kill at ends of days, or before planes. I couldn’t ever sit still; there was too much to see that was…other. And despite the magnificent things I saw, from Glen Canyon Dam to Anza Borrego Desert State Park to the massive dunes near Bandon, Oregon, I feel like I’ve just scratched the surface.

Can’t wait until my compass turns me back that way.♦


The beaches of San Diego County, such as Torrey Pines State Beach, are lovely any time of day.

The beaches of San Diego County, such as Torrey Pines State Beach, are lovely any time of day.

Castilleja, or Indian paintbrush

Castilleja, or Indian paintbrush










© 2013 Adam Barr

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One thought on “Travel: My Continental Drift

  1. SusanO says:

    This is one of my favourites. It makes me think about how the western landscape is my imagination baseline – it’s all normal, average, the starting point. The East Coast was The Other, strange, exotic, new and filled with possibility. All the old buildings, and the history – omg, I can get positively punchdrunk imagining the smell of the Mayflower reproduction!

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