USA – across

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(>Pictures at the bottom!)

From New Mexico northwards through the Great Plains to Detroit

New Mexico: In Alamogordo I received a somewhat devastating doctor’s note, and with a limp we set off northwards. But before we travelled to the vast plains east of the Rocky Mountains, which you should experience at least once in your life, we really wanted to experience some of the indigenous culture of the past. So we drove back into the mountainous hinterland, where the earth played with the elements and created a unique landscape before human settlement. The fires have calmed down in the meantime, but the many craters still bear witness to a fiery past. Where the rock once glowed, you can now descend into the lava caverns and marvel at frozen water.

The sandstone towers at El Morro are not only witnesses to the indigenous people, but all travellers passing through immortalised themselves here: The first Spanish missionaries scratched their names into the sandstone, as did all the others who later travelled west. After the construction of the railway line further north, the sandstone towers with their ability to supply people and animals with water were forgotten and the area was placed under national protection.

Further north are the Acoma Pueblo, who still live in their spectacular sky city. This settlement on a mesa high above the valley floor is considered one of the oldest permanently inhabited human settlements on North American soil. We wanted to visit this place and marvel at the ancient dwellings carved into the rock. Unfortunately, we once again planned completely wrong and stood at the wrong time at the entrance gate. We were kindly informed that the next guided tour would not take place for another three days and that we would have to wait that long. Well, that’s a shame; perhaps we should consult the website better next time.

Instead of waiting and devoting ourselves to indigenous culture, we headed for Roswell, where extraterrestrials paid a visit to our planet in 1947. For us, it was also a journey through the endlessness of the cosmos, as the vast fields in the eastern part of New Mexico seemed to go on forever. Roswell itself was a bit of a disappointment for us; apart from the museum and the many erected green men, the recent past must have brought many changes. The great shops we visited 5 years ago were no longer there and the ones that were still there offered cheap junk rather than good souvenirs from the outside world. 🙁

So, somewhat disappointed, we headed out towards Texas, where thousands and thousands of cattle were foraging in the endless fields to satisfy the human hunger for beef.

Texas: In Amarillo we wanted to catch up on a visit we missed 5 years ago. In this town, surrounded by cattle farms, where the best beef is said to come from, is the former importer of the Gazell camping kit. In the meantime, Glen Pratt from has broken away from the French manufacturer and produces the camping cabin himself; he makes it lighter and more stable and it has also been available for the successor model to the Jeep Wrangler for some time now.

We were warmly welcomed by Glen and spent the whole afternoon being quizzed by him. Coincidentally, there was a major Jeep event on the same day, where participants had to register at the exhibition site of his vehicles. We were right in the middle of it with our vehicle. The interest in such a vehicle is high, but probably very few people would buy it; it’s probably too spartan for the Americans. In any case, this afternoon was very eventful and challenging at the same time. We were glad to leave the big city in the early evening and enjoy the peace and quiet at the next camp.

Our route took us further northwards through vast farmland, where huge machines were used to cultivate the fields in order to satisfy the insatiable hunger of the thousands and thousands of cattle in the foodlots. The Texans optimised cattle breeding, mixed the optimum feed and warmed it up for the cattle. In this way, they have reduced the approximately three years on the pasture to four months of fattening time in some foodlot or other; in the end, the ground beef has to be offered at a bargain price in the supermarket. In any case, we lost our appetite for beef, where the cows are blown up with feed within a very short time and many regions have problems with the groundwater due to the manure produced.

Oklahoma/Colorado: After the national grasslands to the north-west, we said goodbye to Texas and scurried through the narrow western state of Oklahoma. No sooner had we got used to the slightly hillier landscape than we found ourselves at the tri-state point where the states of Oklahoma, Colorado and New Mexico meet.

The south-eastern corner of Colorado is not as mountainous as further west, but mostly flat. Crossing the Comache Grassland, we expected to see a herd of bison approaching behind every hill. Unfortunately, the herd didn’t turn up, but after visiting Picture Canyon we experienced our first thunderstorm with hail and squalls.

Kansas: Yes, what would we like to say about western Kansas? Flat and endless expanses, where the farmers drive around with huge behemoth tractors – there’s probably no more to tell – tilling the whole field in one go. Where there is enough groundwater, there are countless irrigation systems in the fields so that the farmers are not exposed to the vagaries of the weather.

In the middle of this nowhere, I had to see a doctor again, who extended the medication prescribed in Alamogordo by a further two weeks. The appointment was organised quickly and the visual check did not reveal any further negative findings. Nevertheless, the doctor wanted to carry out another ultrasound so that she would be on the safe side. As we have health insurance in Switzerland, but they couldn’t read our insurance card, as only our four national languages are on the card, we asked for cash or credit card payment. Although it was possible to pay for the other treatment in this way, the ultrasound examinations presented the hospital administration with an almost unsolvable problem. In the end, they demanded a four-figure sum, which we grudgingly refused; we did not feel responsible for the repair of any equipment. We simply asked for a new prescription for my medication. Perhaps it would be a little cheaper in the next state.

To continue our journey northwards, we searched for a long time for a more varied route through the western farmland of Kansas. We still don’t know whether it was worth all the effort. However, we once again drove many hundreds of kilometres in an easterly direction through wide and freshly cultivated fields, experienced valley cuts where the rivers can still follow their natural course and peacefully grazing cows.

We noticed the ever larger farms. Not only here in Kansas, but also further south, agribusinesses are displacing family farms more and more. Many former farms are falling into disrepair and in a few years even the last beam will have rotted away.

Nebraska: Somewhere in the middle of nowhere, we crossed from Kansas to Nebraska. The elevation between these two states brought a bit of variety, but in the plains further north the almost normal picture of the plains returned: farms with arable farming, where the fields stretch to the horizon.

According to our travel guide, you should drive west from Grand Island on the NE2 state road to experience the original Nebraska. So we followed this tip again in a westerly direction. Whether our guidebook was right or we had set our expectations too high, we don’t know. But the further west we travelled, the more varied it became. In addition to the many old farms and abandoned buildings, the increasingly hilly landscape through the Sand Hills brought a lot of visual variety and a leap back to earlier times.

In Alliance, an artist recreated the Stonehenge of England with scrap cars. For me (Tom), this was a successful experiment, but Chantal found this method of disposing of the metal car bodies completely unsuccessful. Well, sometimes tastes can be very different. But we found our mutual joy later in Nebraska N.F., where we were able to spend a wonderful night in a lonely valley before travelling further north to the next state.

South Dakota: After the Oglala Gab Grassland (NM), the Buffalo Grassland (NM) followed in South Dakota. Deep black clouds greeted us in the new state. Before we even saw the buffalo, the first heavy and wet snowflakes were already slapping on our windscreen. The higher we travelled in the Black Hills, the whiter it became around us. The thermometer for the outside temperature showed 0°C; clearly too cold to cook outside!

Despite the freezing temperatures, we wanted to take a quick look at the Grazy Horse monument. Five years ago, the stone carvers were quite confident that the monument to the great Indian chief would be finished in the next few years. When we looked at the mountain, we soon realised that it looked almost the same as on our first visit. What a pity, we would have liked to have seen it in a further stage of development.

So we drove back in an easterly direction, as we expected the weather to be a little milder on the eastern side of the Black Hills. We skipped the remaining sights due to the weather. Even when we tried to drive into the forest via a forest track near Mount Rushmore, we almost got stuck in the swamp and the forecast rain did not promise any improvement in driving conditions on the forest tracks. So we decided to drive further into deeper landscapes. At Badlands NP we discovered a simple campsite that actually fitted in with our route for the following day.

The rainy weather inspired us to try new things and at some point we had the idea of travelling to New Glarus/Wisconsin, where an active Swiss community still characterises the townscape. Although the new route was far removed from the general planning, you often do crazy things on a trip like this 😉

So we headed east again through wide open spaces and endless fields, where farmers were hard at work in their fields, across South Dakota to Minnesota. The wind map from the weather service was also constantly loaded on our mobile phones, as the spring storms often develop into tornadoes and have already caused devastation this year. We didn’t want to gain our experience in such a tornado.

Minnesota/Iowa: We were glad that these two states were finally behind us. Although the individual cities offered plenty of experiences and culture, we mainly travelled outside the large urban centres and on country roads with little traffic. In this region, too, there has been an extreme structural change in agriculture; family farms have been replaced by agribusinesses and the monocultures are much larger. Farms with livestock are pure factories for milk and meat.

Shortly before the Mississippi River (Iowa), the landscape changed and our route – after endless kilometres across endless fields – led us into a wonderful region where time has somehow stood still. Small farms in marvellous valley incisions, where the roads ran alongside the rivers. We enjoyed the new change of scenery almost in disbelief.

Wisconsin: After crossing the Mississippi River and continuing our journey, we soon realised why many Central Europeans settled in this region during the great waves of migration: Wonderful landscapes with vast forests and lovely river landscapes. Although intensive agriculture is also practised on the plateaus, the almost unusual proximity of the individual settlements gave us a certain feeling of home.

We have often visited places that are said to be strongly characterised by the former settlers, but New Glarus trumped everything we had experienced so far. In addition to the unusually large number of Swiss flags, we were able to read almost all the names on the gravestones in the cemetery. In the centre itself, we had the feeling that we were standing somewhere in a Swiss village and the slogans on the New Glarus Bank testify to the hard work of the former settlers from Glarus. The dot on the ‘i’ came in a souvenir shop, where we were addressed by the shop assistant in Glarus dialect as if we had been somewhere in Switzerland.

After so much Switzerland, we reset our compass and wanted to experience a piece of the USA again. Five years ago in Toledo/Ohio, where the Jeep Wrangler assembly plant is located, we were told that a Jeep museum would open in 2022, modelled on the Ford or Harley experience. We had two options for getting there: South via Chicago to Lake Huron or further north around Lake Michigan. We decided in favour of the longer route.

(Wisconsin)/Michigan: It was a long way, but we really enjoyed driving through these increasingly dense forests and the sections where the road followed Lake Michigan or smaller lakes were magical. We felt like we were already in Canada, but the thousands and thousands of US flags on the houses or properties clearly marked the place or country we were travelling along.

After the Mackinac Bridge, which spans the confluence of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, we followed the road through the vast national forests, bypassed the larger urban centres further south and soon reached the longed-for Toledo (Ohio), where our Jeep was also bolted together. But there was neither a museum nor any kind of adventure world for our vehicle to be found. Further research on the internet revealed only the promise of an opening in 2022, but no further information. A security guard at the factory site said dryly that there was nothing in that direction. There would be a big Jeep parade on 4 August and we could satisfy our interest in this vehicle there.

Somewhat disappointed, we returned to Michigan and Detroit. In recent city history, this metropolis had to file for bankruptcy as many companies left the city. Without such tax revenues, the city’s entire financial system collapsed. The city was left in chaos! Although the city was able to pick itself up again, the many empty buildings on the outskirts of the city still bear witness to a turbulent time. These abandoned industrial neighbourhoods made me (Tom) very keen to see them and drive through them. And indeed, many of the buildings have been left to decay and only a few are being demolished; new ones are simply being built on greenfield sites outside the city centre. In the centre, there was hardly any sign of these turbulent times and everything was almost perfect again. Even the super modern tram, which runs as a ring line in the centre, made a great impression on us.

It was also time for us to leave the USA. We could stay for a while longer, but our Jeep had to leave the country as it was almost a year duty-free in the USA and is not allowed to stay longer in its country of birth. On the Ambassador Bridge, we caught sight of the US flag once again before spotting the red Canadian maple leaf. We were directed to the correct customs box.
Welcome to Canada!

Chantal and Tom/May 2024

New Mexico





South Dakota




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