A Transportation Revolution in the American West

Discover how getting out of our cars is reclaiming America’s Frontier.

| November 2015

In Ways to the West (Utah State University Press, 2015), Tim Sullivan embarks on a car-less road trip through the Intermountain West, exploring how the region is taking on what may be its greatest challenge: sustainable transportation.

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I used to take road trips. On my sixteenth birthday, when I received my driver's license, I inherited my parents' 1988 red and white Isuzu Trooper, a garish, dangerously top-heavy vehicle that was quick to overheat. The Trooper always had a rugged demeanor. We had broken it in—and I emphasize broken—on a drive over Elephant Hill in Canyonlands National Park a week after buying it new. Elephant Hill was a mound of sandstone in the desert that a road pretended to go over, a foreboding barrier for four-wheelers, with steep grades and drop-offs. We banged the undercarriage and dented the tailpipe of our brand-new sport utility vehicle. It was just as well.

I could rally the Trooper a long way at a few hours' notice. I packed a sleeping bag and pad, a Coleman stove, a Gore-Tex coat, and some CDs and I was gone. Within five hours of my Salt Lake City house was enough public land to explore for five lifetimes. I drove the Trooper south to the desert and north to the mountains. My parents always worried that the Trooper wouldn't make it out of the city.

A few years later, after the Trooper died, I bought a silver Toyota pickup truck. I installed a lighted camper shell over its bed so I could sleep in it. A few days after I bought the pickup I drove it alone to Oregon—to the Cascades, the coast, then on to Portland. The next year I took my brother to the Olympic Peninsula. I drove the truck to British Columbia and Alberta, Baja and Chihuahua.

Spending time on the road led me to work as a reporter for various newspapers. A job that allowed me to travel the West's byways in search of good stories seemed too good to be true, and I loved chewing up miles in my truck between obscure western places. I camped in the truck a lot. One night my girlfriend and I slept in it to wait out a blizzard in Carbondale, Colorado. We froze in our sleeping bags as the blinking plows scraped up and down Main Street all night. I lived in western Colorado, southern Colorado, northern Arizona, and eastern Utah, but they were more like stops on one long road trip. I kept my stuff in the truck.