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stuckupmyownera
10-02-2009, 11:50 PM
My character, a disgraced actor, is planning on leaving Hollywood in his car, swinging by his tiny hometown to pick up his childhood sweetheart and whisking her off to that idyllic faraway place they used to dream they'd live. I want a large portion of his journey to be across lonely desert. You know; those roads where there's nothing but the occasional motel for hundreds of miles (or so the movies have me believing). His hometown should be a pretty isloated place too.

All my American geography knowledge comes from looking at Google maps. Can anyone help me out?

Sarpedon
10-03-2009, 12:01 AM
Well, the desert part of the united states is the west, mostly. That is the area comprising much of the states of Arizona, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico and parts of Texas, California and Wyoming. Other parts of the USA which are semi arid include much of Montana, and parts of Colorado.

There are plenty of places in the USA that are sparsely inhabited, but not desert. The Plains states: North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas and Oklahoma are the best examples of these.

Keep in mind, it takes many hours to drive accross these states: I have found that europeans frequently underestimate the size of the USA.

Kitty Pryde
10-03-2009, 12:11 AM
There's a whole lot of nothing on the way from LA to the Grand Canyon and the other big national parks. Or there's the 10 Freeway to Phoenix. The 8 Freeway is a bit shocking as you stand on the outskirts of the last town, next to a grocery store, and the road out of town drops into the desert and all you can see for a zillion miles is NOTHIN'! The 15 Freeway to Vegas is pretty desolate, other than places for people to eat on the way between Vegas/LA. Then if you carry on past Vegas, it's super desolate, a load of small towns till you get to Utah!

PeterL
10-03-2009, 12:41 AM
They are right. There is a lot of empty space in the U.S.A. If he leaves Hollywood, he could pick up his sweetheart in El Centro in the Desert then drive north through Nevada and end up in desert in eastern Washington state. That would be about 1000 miles of desert and semi-desert. By the time they get to green land, they will be sick of desert.

stuckupmyownera
10-03-2009, 12:52 AM
Wow, that's way more desert than I need!

This is awesome - between you and Google maps I'm finally getting somewhere. Thank you!

Still trying to figure out where they're heading for. Somewhere with an idyllic and romantic reputation. I'm thinking maybe the Garden State, the Colorado mountains, Florida... I heard Charleston on the east coast was pretty nice...

They're not going to get there so it doesn't really matter - it's all about the idea and connotations.

Kitty Pryde
10-03-2009, 12:58 AM
Wow, that's way more desert than I need!

This is awesome - between you and Google maps I'm finally getting somewhere. Thank you!

Still trying to figure out where they're heading for. Somewhere with an idyllic and romantic reputation. I'm thinking maybe the Garden State, the Colorado mountains, Florida... I heard Charleston on the east coast was pretty nice...

They're not going to get there so it doesn't really matter - it's all about the idea and connotations.

The idea that anywhere in New Jersey (the garden state) is an idyllic destination will get you laughed at anywhere in the US, honestly. New Jersey has a reputation for being skanky, ugly, and filled with people with displeasing accents (about as disliked as the Brummie accent in fact!) . The stereotypical New Jerseyite is not a flattering image. (Obviously there are plenty of wonderful people from new jersey, just pointing out that the rest of the country sees it somewhat as the unwashed buttock-crevice of New York City.)

Some really beautiful remote places: Glacier, Kalispell, Whistler, Victoria, Wind River Range, Yellowstone, River of No Return Wilderness, Hell's Canyon, and Crested Butte.

Sarpedon
10-03-2009, 01:23 AM
My advice: Don't write something set in Utah unless you have first hand knowledge of that place. The culture there is unique enough that assumptions based on mainstream american culture wouldn't ring true there.

Charleston is indeed idylic. Also try the Shenandoah valley, in Virginia (its a little rednecky, but doubtless beautiful.) Martha's Vineyard, Cape Cod, Maine, New Hampshire, are also well known for being gorgeous.

CEtchison
10-03-2009, 01:32 AM
I-40, formerly Route 66, would still be a good road to travel from California all the way to the east coast. Lots of long stretches of desolate road. Think about Forrest Gump when he was "running". LOL There are still stretches of highway where there are no radio stations, much less towns.

Now I'm not familiar much with what is west of Flagstaff (we usually headed north to Las Vegas at that point), but I'm quite familiar with what is between Flagstaff, AZ all the way to the Oklahoma/Arkansas border.

If I can be of any assistance with details, feel free to give me a shout.

CEtchison
10-03-2009, 01:38 AM
Mmm... yeah. I just flew into Newark the other week for the first time. I definitely wouldn't describe it as idyllic. LOL

stuckupmyownera
10-03-2009, 01:44 AM
I admit to chuckling myself. I'm sure there are some pretty places in New Jersey, but referring to the whole state as idyllic will cause most people to at least raise an eyebrow.

That's all right - please laugh away. I happily admit my total ignorance. I've set foot outside the UK for one week when I was 12 and went as far as France. I should be ashamed of myself really but what can I say? Travel is so expensive and hey - I like it here!

And we see plenty of places on television of course, but the states are so huge that figuring out how they relate to each other geographically is pretty hard!

Thanks everyone so much for your help - I think I've got what I need.

:)

Izunya
10-03-2009, 01:48 AM
Still trying to figure out where they're heading for. Somewhere with an idyllic and romantic reputation. I'm thinking maybe the Garden State, the Colorado mountains, Florida... I heard Charleston on the east coast was pretty nice...

They're not going to get there so it doesn't really matter - it's all about the idea and connotations.

State nicknames—"The Garden State" and so forth—are pure propaganda. IIRC, New Jersey bills itself as the Garden State, and it really isn't. It's fairly heavily industrialized, for starters, and the weather is a bit too harsh to be really gardenlike. I recall that Princeton University tried to put in some magnolia trees at one point—the kind that lose their leaves, not your true Southern magnolias—and the flowers would always get killed by late frosts. Then there's the New Jersey Turnpike, which is one of the more famously dreary stretches of road in the whole country. So, no, I wouldn't go for New Jersey.

Charleston is nice, at least in the tourist bits. It's also got a mild climate. You should know, even if they aren't going to get there, that a trip from California to South Carolina will take days of pretty constant driving, mostly on the interstate. Let's see, the map says . . . if they're coming from LA, which seems likely, they'd probably spend the vast majority of the trip on I-40, which does indeed go through Arizona and New Mexico, two of your best desert states. They would probably plan to stay on it all the way to Tennessee. If you're going for a long trip with periods of monotony (punctuated, in my experience, by realizing that you're going ninety mph because the road is so straight and empty you didn't notice your speed creeping up) then that's certainly a good one.

(Okay, I actually caught myself going ninety through South Dakota, which isn't desert, just deserted. But it's the same general principle.)

Florida is an even longer journey, but it's the same general deal: stay on I-40 across the majority of the country, then catch a southbound road in Tennessee—I-75, in this case. You should know that Florida is considered the place to retire to because of its near-tropical climate and beautiful scenery.

Colorado is mountainous, picturesque, and quite a bit harsher in climate. It's one of the places they might go if "away from everyone" is a major part of the dream. Maine might also work for the same reasons. The winters are very cold, but the scenery—especially the autumn colors—are supposed to be spectacular. (California to Maine, incidentally, is the longest drive yet.) It's also a good place to set an isolated hometown.

So, is that more information than you ever needed? :)

Izunya

Nivarion
10-03-2009, 01:50 AM
I've traveled the whole west of the US, and I have to say, make him drive the Nevada if you want him to drive through an empty desert. It may have been that the air conditioner was broken, it may have been that it really was that long of a drive. But we were in there forever.

alleycat
10-03-2009, 01:56 AM
Another idea, have him leave LA heading north on US 395, stopping by, say, Lone Pine to pick up the old sweetheart, with plans to then go on to Lake Tahoe (the place they'd always talked about living). Just one idea; that are hundred of others that would work equally well.

StephanieFox
10-03-2009, 09:51 AM
There's a lot of prairie between the Rocky Mountains and the Mississippi. You can drive for a couple of days (I've done it) on mostly flat, featureless landscape. The towns are few and far between and small. think NorDakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and parts of Texas.

As you move east, you'd notice the land greening up.

I'd highly recommend Bill Bryson's "The Lost Continent", to get an idea of a lot of America. It's a snarky, very funny book.

Bryson mentions that heading west, somewhere about a quarter of the way across these states I mentioned, the locals stop wearing farmer's caps and start wearing cowboy hats. It's a signal of a great cultural differences – farmers vs. ranchers, somewhat liberals vs. stanch conservatives, Midwest vs. West.

Also note that most Americans (the ones on the east and west coasts) haven't any idea of the geography of the middle of the USA any more than they do of the moon.

As a Midwesterner, I can give you a lot of stories. A women in Oregon who told me she couldn't ever live in Minnesota because "I could never live in a place that didn't have any trees." (Minnesota contains the Northwoods, a great tree and lake filled wilderness area.)

Or the friend in Florida who said "I know someone who live near you. He's in Indiana. (About 500 miles or 825 km).

I have a lot of stories. If your character is from the West Coast and travels anywhere in the middle except for, perhaps Las Vagas, he won't have a clue. You could add that into the story.

If you want to end up in an idillic, picket fence kind of a place, I'd recommend Iowa. Maybe Dubuque. http://www.dubuquechamber.com/

It's about as all-American as you can get, at least for literature.

If Dubuque is too big, there's a town in Minnesota called Nowthen. It's real and you can't get a better name than that. And the town is so small, their city hall is in another town.
http://www.nowthenmn.govoffice2.com/

DavidZahir
10-03-2009, 10:25 AM
There are some really idyllic places in Colorado according to my best friend (she grew up there and is eager to get back). Wooded mountains, ski resorts, etc.

blacbird
10-03-2009, 10:43 AM
Also note that most Americans (the ones on the east and west coasts) haven't any idea of the geography of the middle of the USA any more than they do of the moon.

It goes beyond geography. I grew up in Iowa, spent time in the Army, went back to Iowa to go to grad school. While there, I had an acquaintance from New York City ask me in all seriousness, with some embarrassment, if chickens actually died when they laid an egg.

Iowa, by the way, is somewhat more populated than you might want; about 3 million people, just evenly populated, with no big cities. If you want real desolation, get off the interstates and travel the "blue highways" through Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, the Dakotas, western Kansas and Nebraska.

caw

caw

backslashbaby
10-03-2009, 04:44 PM
I have no idea about the great middle of the US (I only lived in Chicago as a child).

None.

Charleston, I know, though. Charleston is very nice! Savannah probably has even more ambience, just as a thought. It has more Spanish Moss, at least :D

RJK
10-03-2009, 04:57 PM
If you want desert and long stretches of boring highway, Interstate 8 between San Diego and Phoenix has some areas where the road is so straight, you can drive for hours without moving the steering wheel. There's nothing but desert on both sides of the road. It's really easy to fall asleep on that road.

PeterL
10-03-2009, 06:04 PM
Wow, that's way more desert than I need!

This is awesome - between you and Google maps I'm finally getting somewhere. Thank you!

Still trying to figure out where they're heading for. Somewhere with an idyllic and romantic reputation. I'm thinking maybe the Garden State, the Colorado mountains, Florida... I heard Charleston on the east coast was pretty nice...

Don't be fooled by names. The Garden State was bucolic a hundred fifty years ago, but the northern half of New Jersey is solid suburbs.



They're not going to get there so it doesn't really matter - it's all about the idea and connotations.


If they are headed for a place where they can get away from things, then have them going to Montana, which has beautiful mountains, forests, and plains. They could even go through Yellowstone to get there.

Aquilegia
10-04-2009, 12:16 AM
Hm. If you don’t care about where he leaves from, how about Eastern Oregon or Washington? It’s what’s referred as “high desert.” If you know anything about Eastern Turkey, it’s like that only less populated. It’s not sand, but sort of like hilly, dry grassland and boring as heck to drive through. Very hot in summer and very cold and snowy in winter. For real desert, I vote Arizona. It’s got a pretty good reputation for being idyllic as deserts go. Nevada would also be a good choice, though. Or maybe New Mexico...

I think most people would consider Washington and Colorado idyllic. On the east coast, maybe Vermont and Maine. Montana *is* beautiful, but personally I think it has it’s own sort of culture. Not bad, just unique (and I mean that in a nice way). It also has a reputation for, um, “survivalist” types. There are beautiful places in Idaho and North Dakota, too, but I don’t think people outside the area know much about them. Those are all mostly forested places, though, not desert.

After you finish The Lost Continent, you might want to read Lolita for some good and blunt description of US geography in the second half of the book.

Regards,
Aquilegia, who spent too much time on Greyhound buses in her youth.

SilverBirch
10-04-2009, 02:48 AM
You should know, even if they aren't going to get there, that a trip from California to South Carolina will take days of pretty constant driving, mostly on the interstate. Let's see, the map says . . . if they're coming from LA, which seems likely, they'd probably spend the vast majority of the trip on I-40, which does indeed go through Arizona and New Mexico, two of your best desert states. They would probably plan to stay on it all the way to Tennessee. If you're going for a long trip with periods of monotony (punctuated, in my experience, by realizing that you're going ninety mph because the road is so straight and empty you didn't notice your speed creeping up) then that's certainly a good one.

When I was twelve my mother, my brother and myself moved from Pennsylvania to Arizona. The drive time (in a mini-van loaded to the gills and with only one driver) was five days of driving. We could have made it in four probably, but would have arrived extremely late so we decided not to push it. There were several states (after fifteen years, I don't remember which ones) whose roads were in such crappy condition, with cracks and seams between the blocks of pavement that all you could hear while driving them was a rhythmic "KA-thunk KA-thunk KA-thunk KA-thunk." For hours. Argh! The funniest part was when you'd cross state lines into a state that actually maintained its roads - the KA-thunk would stop, just like that!

Arizona does indeed have long, empty stretches with absolutely nothing around for many many miles. The northern half of the state is mostly high desert: scrubbly trees and bushes, dirt and dust, cooler temps - though there are wooded, grassy parts around Flagstaff and the White Mountains. The southern half of the state is more what most people think of as 'desert': sand dunes, saguaro cactus and no water in sight. This is the Arizona you'll see in the movies. It is generally baking hot during the summer (all seven months of it ;) ) in southern AZ. If you should want your characters to be hot and miserable, or if you need their car to conveniently breakdown (so many cars overheat on the highways out here it's not even funny) then southern Arizona would be the place to do it.

Jersey Chick
10-04-2009, 03:00 AM
One misconception about NJ is that it's called the Garden State because of actual gardens. Nonsense. It IS called that because of the very strong agricultural base. The entire state is NOT Newark, Elizabeth, Trenton, or Jersey City. Go beyond those areas - go central or south or west - Open your mind to what's beyond the stereotypes and you will be surprised by what you find.

Central Jersey has farms and mountains and rivers.

South has farms and the shore.

Cape May has some of the most beautiful Victorian B & Bs you'll ever see.

Travel Route 78 west from Newark and see some really beautiful scenery.

Travel up into Sussex or Warren Counties - but watch out for the black bears. Don't feed them, no matter what. ;)

Go see Princeton in the Spring, when the cherry blossom trees bloom. Look at the old houses and think about the history behind this part of the state.

Oh, and the weather is no harsher than most of the East coast. It's not like it's a separate part of the world, either.

It's not perfect, but it isn't exactly Newark from east to west. It isn't Newark Airport, either. It isn't the Meadowlands or the Turnpike North. Those are only portions of the state.

/rant. Like I said, my state isn't perfect, but it's not the slum the stereotypes perpetuate, either, and it drives me nuts when people think Newark describes the entire state. That's like saying Detroit describes all of Michigan, or LA describes all of California...

However, it is an extremely long drive from CA to NJ. My father's a trucker, can make it to TX in 4 days- and that's excellent time, driving 18+ hours a day. Under normal circumstances, a regular person probably wouldn't be up to that.... But I bet it would be an AMAZING drive from west to east, no matter how long it took.

bylinebree
10-04-2009, 12:48 PM
And we see plenty of places on television of course, but the states are so huge that figuring out how they relate to each other geographically is pretty hard!

Thanks everyone so much for your help - I think I've got what I need.

:)

Which is exactly how I feel trying to write about England or France! (Having been inside the Mexican border for about five minutes, and in Canada for five days. Such vast world experience) But it was fun (and cute) to read your q's about deserts in America and so forth.

ideagirl
10-04-2009, 07:22 PM
Keep in mind, it takes many hours to drive accross these states: I have found that europeans frequently underestimate the size of the USA.

Oh, they have no clue, you're right.


You should know, even if they aren't going to get there, that a trip from California to South Carolina will take days of pretty constant driving, mostly on the interstate. Let's see, the map says . . . if they're coming from LA, which seems likely, they'd probably spend the vast majority of the trip on I-40, which does indeed go through Arizona and New Mexico, two of your best desert states. They would probably plan to stay on it all the way to Tennessee. If you're going for a long trip with periods of monotony (punctuated, in my experience, by realizing that you're going ninety mph because the road is so straight and empty you didn't notice your speed creeping up) then that's certainly a good one.

In my experience, the fastest you can drive 2/3 of the way across the US (e.g. San Francisco to Michigan), if you stop only to gas up, eat and pee and have two or three drivers alternating so you never have to stop to sleep, is about 42 hours. That's assuming you're driving normally in traffic, i.e., never going more than, say, 10-15 miles over the speed limit.

And that's just 2/3 of the way across. LA to Charleston is ALL THE WAY across. And for comparison, I've never done this but I've heard it takes at least ten hours just to cross Texas.

Half the challenge with the OP's story is going to be keeping things romantic and/or interesting between the couple for the entire drive. Seriously, if you're spending ten hours a day cruising down the interstate like a truck driver, it's hard to keep feeling romantic and giddy. If that's a problem for the OP, then I would make the idyllic place be somewhere on or near the west coast. New Mexico is neat, and I could see it being someone's idea of an idyllic place--it's one of the most "foreign"-feeling parts of the US, because of the demographics (heavily Spanish and Native American), it's just beautiful, and there are various enclaves of artists, spiritual seekers and other escapees from the workaday world there.

stuckupmyownera
10-05-2009, 05:28 PM
Which is exactly how I feel trying to write about England or France! (Having been inside the Mexican border for about five minutes, and in Canada for five days. Such vast world experience) But it was fun (and cute) to read your q's about deserts in America and so forth.

You need any help writing about England just let me know!

Thanks everyone, you've been such a great help :)

StephanieFox
10-05-2009, 08:22 PM
I drove from Washington, D.C. to Eugene, Oregon, 3005 miles door to door. I had to be somewhere on a deadline, so I took mostly interstate highways. There are nine Interstate highways, four lanes of concrete ribbon going east/west from the Atlantic to the Pacific. I-90 is in the north, I-80 a couple of hundred miles south of that, all the way down to I-10.

If I'd had the time I would have taken the smaller roads that show up blue on road maps. These go through towns instead of going around them like the Interstates. It's fun to stop in little hometown cafes and to see these smaller towns that reflect the culture of the local population.

When the Interstate Highway system was build in the 1950s, many small towns that depended on highway traffic and traveler's business dollars suffered economically. Some shrank and some went away. Interstates do not go through towns.

There are also some major north/south interstates. I-5 goes up the west coast states, I-95 goes down the east coast states. I-35 goes from northern Minnesota, heads southwest through Kansas City to Texas.

Oh, by the way. As you go through some smaller towns, especially in the southern and western USA, you'll see signs and billboards that express strong local religious views. "Jesus Saves" is common.

padnar
10-06-2009, 04:22 PM
Fantastic information and I save it.
padma

PeterL
10-06-2009, 05:14 PM
In my experience, the fastest you can drive 2/3 of the way across the US (e.g. San Francisco to Michigan), if you stop only to gas up, eat and pee and have two or three drivers alternating so you never have to stop to sleep, is about 42 hours. That's assuming you're driving normally in traffic, i.e., never going more than, say, 10-15 miles over the speed limit.

And that's just 2/3 of the way across. LA to Charleston is ALL THE WAY across. And for comparison, I've never done this but I've heard it takes at least ten hours just to cross Texas.


The record is just under 30 hours.

MMcDonald64
10-10-2009, 09:53 PM
Oh, they have no clue, you're right.



In my experience, the fastest you can drive 2/3 of the way across the US (e.g. San Francisco to Michigan), if you stop only to gas up, eat and pee and have two or three drivers alternating so you never have to stop to sleep, is about 42 hours. That's assuming you're driving normally in traffic, i.e., never going more than, say, 10-15 miles over the speed limit.

And that's just 2/3 of the way across. LA to Charleston is ALL THE WAY across. And for comparison, I've never done this but I've heard it takes at least ten hours just to cross Texas.

Half the challenge with the OP's story is going to be keeping things romantic and/or interesting between the couple for the entire drive. Seriously, if you're spending ten hours a day cruising down the interstate like a truck driver, it's hard to keep feeling romantic and giddy. If that's a problem for the OP, then I would make the idyllic place be somewhere on or near the west coast. New Mexico is neat, and I could see it being someone's idea of an idyllic place--it's one of the most "foreign"-feeling parts of the US, because of the demographics (heavily Spanish and Native American), it's just beautiful, and there are various enclaves of artists, spiritual seekers and other escapees from the workaday world there.


We drove from an hour north of Chicago to San Antonio in 22 hours stopping only to eat, pee and get gas--which often happens all at the same time. ;) (Two meals the other meals/snacks we ate in the car) I think our average speed was about 75mph. That was 1200+ miles. People don't realize that even the states not considered big, like Illinois, can still take hours to traverse. It takes eight hours to drive from the top of the state to the bottom.

PeterL
10-10-2009, 10:15 PM
Apparently the record is 31 hours and 4 minutes coast to coast.
http://www.wired.com/cars/coolwheels/magazine/15-11/ff_cannonballrun?currentPage=all

StephanieFox
10-11-2009, 07:34 AM
I drove from Madison, WI to Eugene, OR in under three days. I was alone and had a couple of experiences driving across the desert that I'm still not sure were real or imaginary. (A hawk swooping down to swoop inches from my windshield is just one of those experiences.)

I went through rich farmland, rolling prairie, arid and flat as a board Great Plains*, high desert, and non-tropical rain forest.

It's a big, big country. I've lived on both coasts and in the middle, in the north and in the south. There are a lot of cultures, too. Most Americans, except for American Indians, came from somewhere else in the world, maybe last year or maybe 300 years ago. It takes a while, but all of these groups eventually become Americans, and the hyphen (as in Italian-American, African-Americans, Irish-Americans, Asian-Americans, Jewish-Americans – mostly from E. Europe) tend to come out in minor ways, such as foodways and holiday celebrations.

Unlike Europe, where immigrant groups stay separate long, long periods of time, most immigrant groups tend to fit in by the first or second generation. The new groups (such as Latin-Americans or Hmong) might stay separate for a while, but will eventually become Americans just like every other immigrant group did.


*Americans who haven't seen the middle of the USA have no idea that the prairie and the Great Plains are entirely different things.

Smiling Ted
10-11-2009, 10:04 PM
I have to say - I wouldn't set a story in England, with English protagonists, unless I'd spent a lot of time there.