Impressions of The West, USA & Canada
2,300 kilometres separate San Diego on the Mexican border of the USA from Vancouver, just across the Canadian border. And in between, several worlds of difference, in language, culture, ambience, climate, people, historic background and anything else you can think of. Southern California has gone a long way since 1846, when it was no longer part of Mexico: dynamic, very solidly embedded in the 'American spirit', attractive for its climate and as the 'land of opportunity' it is by excellence depicted like. And yet, there is also this distinct Mediterranean touch to Southern California, not only climate-wise, and not only because most place names begin with 'San', but also because of the food, the way of life, the general atmosphere, and … the Spanish language spoken all over the place, … still or again?
Then, compared to that, the North of California and the States of Oregon and Washington are a different story, for sure. Here, 'European culture' did not come from the South, resulting from Spanish-Mexican pressure, it came straight from the Anglo-Saxon East Coast of the US, which had been explored and colonised already some 300 years earlier, in the 1500s. Occasionally, place names betray early exploration by French trappers and fortune-seekers, but the ink on this page of the past has faded away. Instead, unlocking these lands took caravans of covered wagons departing from the East and the Mississippi basin, and it took transcontinental railroads financed by American East Coast bankers, constructed by Chinese workers, and protected by the US Cavalry against Cheyenne, Shoshone, Sioux and Arapaho warriors who struggled for what should have been recognised as legitimately theirs. It took gold rushes and the appeal of Paradise in 'the Oregon'. Actually, to be paradise it rains far too much in the Pacific North-West of the US, but cities like Seattle are surely dynamic and doing well, there is no better dairy than in Oregon and no better salmon than in Washington. And the rain has its positive sides too, for without it, nature in these States would not be half as generous and exuberantly green and productive as it is, while the Cascade Range of volcanic mountains adds an extra grain of excitement and colour to the experience. Just like on the Canadian side of the border, in British Columbia. Just like? Not quite, Canada is a different country, not only because British Columbia is a Province and not a State, not only because Canadians also have dollar bills but different ones, and not only because Vancouver, Victoria and Seattle face the same ocean sound, but from a different shore. The atmosphere is for instance quite different on Vancouver Island, more British than any US city, more European than any US city, and yet in its own authentic way as American as any US city.
Finally, back across the border in the US, while we are in the West anyway, we cannot resist leaving the Pacific Coast to explore also the extraordinary nature parks in Wyoming, of Yellowstone and Grand Teton, and we search the traces of those caravans of covered wagons in the village of a legend of those days, Buffalo Bill. After all, even if Wyoming is not on the Pacific Ocean board, the world of Colonel William F. Cody was intrinsically part of the story of how the West was unlocked to become what it is today.
* Scanned Slides, 1988-1990
Before visiting the place of your choice:
The Sheridan region is to be considered as the traditional homeland of Sioux, Arapaho and Cheyenne Indians. Consequently, it has also been the scene of several violent confrontations in which the US Cavalry met major native American resistance. Lt Col Fetterman in 1866 and General Custer in 1876 did not survive their battles to tell us all about it. Distances are relative, not in the least in the US: from the past in Cody to the future at Devils Tower is a mere 500 kilometres, crossing Wyoming due East along Interstate I-90. In 1977 Devils Tower was the setting for Steven Spielberg's 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind', one of the most extraordinary SF-pictures ever made. The setting itself is extraordinary as well. Devils Tower is a 261 metre tall monolith of a very peculiar composition: as the outer layers of a volcanic crater eroded and disappeared, the harder volcanic materials inside the crater were fully exposed, in the shape they had taken while cooling down in their vertical upward flow. Hence the monolith's vertical tubes-like structure.