Wednesday, 4 January 2012

The Journey: A Tale of two "Cities"

Up close it's even cheesier
900 miles, 3 mountain passes over 3000 feet and sub zero temperatures; would our 18 year old Jeep make it to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming...?

Well, she did a magnificent job (aided by good weather) and so, slightly to our disappointment (but not my mum's) no hair-raising tales of nights spent on the road surviving only with the warmth of tea lights.  Instead, I thought I'd tell you the tale of two "cities" (anything in Canada or the States with at least one store, one diner and one bar seems to qualify as a city, see population figures below...) we passed through on our journey which neatly demonstrate the Old and New West...

Butte, Montana  Population: 34,000 and shrinking (but still Montana's 5th largest 'city')

Yes Mark, it really is closed now
A boom town in the 19th century for gold, silver and then copper in huge quantities, Butte was one of the largest cities in the American West for decades.  Our hotel was 40GBP and was an art deco masterpiece of chandeliers and original tiling and built by a 'Copper King' who made mints of money from the local mines (one of which is located just off downtown and is now the 'largest toxic lake in North America'.)

With none of the high-tech industries of further East, and not quite close enough to the mountains to be an outdoors centre, the future for Butte on a sleety December night certainly didn't seem pretty.  That said, they are trying to clean it up and as the whole of downtown could be instantly transformed into a Western shoot-em-up stage set, complete with original designed-for-purpose brothel (the longest in continuous operation in the States), saloons and intact mining machinery, couldn't someone just buy it and turn it into a giant theme park?  And the old vault turned restaurant did do great burgers. 

Moses Lake, Washington  Population 20,000 and growing

The roads are veeerrryyy straight
We weren't looking forward to our stay in Moses Lake, our Lonely Planet-esque guidebook only cited it as it was straight off the interstate highway.  Surrounded, unexpectedly for us in our ignorance of American geography, by miles of flat desert, the Lake part was only created when the huge Columbia River was damned to create a series of irrigation reservoirs in the mid 20th century.  

And, actually, it was quite nice; flocks of over wintering geese and resident herons on the lake and a brilliant 'pizza parlour' (okay, the book was right about the 'dense and unusual toppings' part but Mark didn't seem to mind the 4 types of meat on his).  The town doesn't have much of a history, but with investment from tech companies for data storage and a new factory producing solar panels, the future seemed pretty bright (tee hee) and the local paper was full of the new job opportunities and improving health and education facilities.  

The real Roslyn from Northern Exposure
With almost every town we drove through full of buildings with historic preservation orders slapped on them, the US is trying to preserve its (short, some might say) history and I really hope it succeeds.  Although the new West with its techy stuff and boxy malls looks more prosperous it definitely does not look as fun as frontier saloons.  

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