Wide open country

One of my “guilty pleasures” in life is reading cowboy books by authors like Zane Gray and Louius L’Amour, about a fictional and romanticized “old west”, and I have to admit that it makes for nice daydreams. Where I grew up in the rainy, green, fertile Willamette valley of western Oregon isn’t really “the west”, but still has plenty of lonely, empty places. Go to the east of the state, though, and vistas like this are common:

Fort Rock plains

For those interested in visiting Fort Rock, where this picture was taken, the following is a beautiful drive that takes you from the Paulina Lakes, which are worth visiting themselves, through the Ponderosa pine forests, and volcanic landscape, until all of a sudden you come out of the forest and see the high Oregon desert spread out in the distance, with Fort Rock looming above the plains:

Indeed, Oregon’s Harney County, has a population density less than 2 people per square mile, which was one definition of the “frontier”.

Living in Europe, sometimes I miss those kinds of places. Here, it’s hard to go anywhere without there being a lot of people and their constructions around. Even the tops of mountain passes high in the Alps almost always have a hotel/restaurant/store, which is nice in some ways: it’s possible to walk through the Alps from alpine hut to alpine hut, sleeping in comfort, and eating good, warm meals, instead of lugging everything around in a huge pack, as one might do on the Pacific Crest Trail. However, at times it’s also very awe-inspiring to visit a place like Steens Mountain, where there is truly nothing, but nothing around. From the summit, at 9000+ feet, looking to the east, you can see for vast distances, and yet see very little to indicate the presence of humans – a few roads, some antennas, and a ranch or two, but it is completely swallowed up in the immensity of the landscape.

On the other hand, I think Europe’s cities are way better: driving is necessary to get around someplace as big as eastern Oregon, but I’d much rather walk or take a bicycle when getting around town.

If I were putting together a perfect world, I’d be in a European city, with some real, “western” wilderness nearby, as well as some “civilized” European-style outdoors as well.

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