Several previous travelers have created solid websites with practical thoughts on how to walk across the United States (see the links page for direct connections to a few of these), and both for this reason and because my route didn’t involve the Atlantic coast, which most people aspiring to walk across America set as their starting point or destination, what follows isn’t a guide to walking across the country so much as a few personal opinions about specific places.
It’s hard to walk across the West in a way that ties together very many of its iconic vistas, because the famous landscapes of the West are widely scattered and difficult to reach on foot. I didn’t see many of them myself, and those that I did make detours to see, like the Tetons or Arches National Park, are famous enough that the real surprise in seeing them was the force of their grandeur despite all the hype and photographs beforehand. They were staggeringly impressive. I wouldn’t recommend visiting them by car. Arriving out of breath, with aching muscles and a real concern for the weather conditions and the remaining hours of daylight, is important – but then, that’s how I feel about most places, on most days, too.
By contrast, the Wallowa Mountains and the Idaho Rockies are relatively unsung among the wild areas of the United States, but they are spectacular, and being off the beaten path has allowed the people living there to stave off the dismal uniformity of most Western towns. I met some of the most interesting people I’ve ever met in the shadows of these mountains. If I were to revisit any of the places on this walk, northeastern Oregon and central Idaho is where I’d go.
I would have liked to have been able to see more of the Colorado Plateau, though, also. It was the most extreme environment I’ve been in, and I only glanced along its eastern edge, dissuaded from traveling deeper into the desert by the onset of winter and the Navajo Nation’s restrictions on camping. Bear in mind that, in addition to the constraints of climate and regulations, the Grand Canyon and other chasms on the Colorado River put some non-negotiable limits on route options around the Utah-Arizona border, too. The most scenically astounding options likely run northeast-southwest, or vice versa, which is perpendicular to the overall direction I was traveling – so I didn’t see the Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, the San Rafael Swell, Grand Staircase-Escalante, or a single slot canyon – it’s a list and a half. Probably the most beautiful, most austere stretch of desert I hit on my own walk was the country around Green River, Utah. I’d finally escaped the sagebrush, and I hadn’t yet hit the creosote and mesquite. Everything was mineral and sun-scorched.
For better or for worse, at least as far as I could see, some places don’t quite match their popular description. New Mexico, for example, bills itself as the Land of Enchantment, but aside from the hushed blue sunsets along the Rio Grande, enchantment doesn’t seem to be the prevailing mood. Even as a transient first-time visitor, I could tell that the situation was a lot more complicated, messy, and fragile than that. The Lone Star State, on the other hand, surprised me by measuring up to its outsized reputation without being insufferable. Hardly anywhere in Texas has anything to do with tourism, and this probably helped. It wasn’t until the eastern margin of the state that Confederate flags and guns flared up in a depressing way.
New Orleans is a good place to end four thousand miles of walking.