A Transportation Revolution in the American West

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

| November 2015

  • The modern West was built by the automobile, but so much driving has jeopardized the West’s mystic hold on the American future.
    Photo by Fotolia/carloscastilla
  • Finding a West created, lost, and reclaimed, “Ways to the West” will be of great interest to anyone curious about sustainable transportation and the history, geography, and culture of the American West.
    Cover courtesy Utah State University Press

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.

David Holzman
5/6/2019 10:46:08 AM

What with all the smog, and widened roads, I think the author is conflating alleged ravages of the automobile with the fact that the US population has increased by more than 70 million (three and a half New York State equivalents) since he inherited the Isuzu. In 1970, when the population was around 200 million, at age 17, I drove across the country Cape Cod to Stanford California in an 8 year old Ford Falcon. I remember reaching the last pass before Salt Lake City. It was pouring, but I could see the entire Salt Lake Valley laid out before me. It was pouring in parts of the Valley, but in other parts the sun was shining. Salt Lake City was nestled in a corner that took up maybe a 20th of the area of the valley. 31 years later, when the US population had reached around 280 million, I once again viewed the Valley from that pass. 9/10s of it was suburban sprawl.

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