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The Hammonds go (farther) west

August 9, 2013

Until two weeks ago, the farthest west I had ever been was Manhattan, Kansas – not an ideal location for any Kansas Jayhawk. So in late July, my family decided after five years of living in Kansas, it was time to see the Rocky Mountains. We headed west, to Colorado, and saw two regions of the United States I believe every American should see.

Flyover States

With places such as New York City and Los Angeles gleaming at the coasts, it’s easy to forget the flyover states. But that’s where you’ll find the heart of America. Sure, seeing nothing but fields for endless miles is not as thrilling as city skylines (which I love) or oceans or monuments, but it is a pure form of America’s natural beauty. It’s what the first people to leave footprints on the Midwest saw, and it’s pretty epic in its own right, even with the interstate.

It’s a darn shame that many people only see the Midwest from thousands of miles away in an airplane. There’s something romantic about driving through small American towns and seeing how proud people are of where they come from.

In an episode of “The West Wing,” a handful of characters who work in the White House find themselves stuck in the Midwest for 20 hours, and in that episode, they reconnect with true American values, learn what’s important to the average American and vow to make changes. Perhaps all of us need to take a drive through the flyover states, witness a Midwestern sunset not obscured by buildings (only windmills) and remind ourselves what really matters.

Forest Canyon Overlook, Rocky Mountain National Park

Forest Canyon Overlook, Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountains

After driving through all that open space for hundreds of miles, my family finally saw those Rocky Mountains in the distance. We couldn’t point to the outline until we hit Denver because the sky was overcast, but we definitely saw them then.

And we definitely saw them the next day, when we made our way to Rocky Mountain National Park. Despite the rain and fog, we drove through the park, stopping and looking out at the landscape that has amazed onlookers since its discovery. The fog lifted for us, and we were able to see things I couldn’t accurately and satisfyingly describe.

The only adjective I could think of was breathtaking. For one, the mountains literally took my breath away when Jacob and I wandered up hundreds of steps to the top of the tundra. Plus, seeing and walking the mountains is just an incredible experience because it’s a true testament to the wonders of creation. The mountains aren’t simply picturesque, but they have also been sustaining ecosystems and life since the beginning of time. The Rocky Mountains are something not even the smartest inventor with unlimited resources could replicate and not even the most advanced camera with optimal settings could capture. The only word is breathtaking.

My new “farthest west”: Rocky Mountain National Park

When Lewis and Clark led the expedition across the United States hundreds of years ago, they had to step across every strand of grass, pile of dirt and Rocky Mountain standing in their path toward the Pacific Ocean. They couldn’t just take an airplane from one coast to the other and fly over the states in the middle. They took what can probably be considered the most challenging road trip ever.

The advantages of technology are wonderful. I love flying. But the feeling I get when flying over vast fields – or simply white nothingness – cannot be compared to the feeling of driving through the heart of America and seeing those mountains in the distance.

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