Out the window, a photo essay – If you’ve always wanted to drive cross-country, but haven’t (yet)

I love driving.
Why I love driving.

I am well aware that I’m very lucky. Every time I mention that I’m about to set out on a cross-country drive, I hear, “I wish I could do that,” over and over. I’ve been privileged to complete the trip a dozen times or so. In exchange for occasional back soreness and the early demise of a few cars, I’ve had several lifetimes full of amazing experiences.

Through words and pictures I can only share a tiny glimpse of what I’ve seen and heard and felt. I’m going to try to share a little more with you today.  If you’ve ever wondered what it looks like, staring out the window, mile after mile, I hope this post gives you a bit of an idea. It’s a cascade of photographs that I took, literally, out the window from the side of the road.

If you or someone you know thinks the drive might be a little boring, I sure hope this post convinces you otherwise. And I hope I can share a little of my good fortune with you.

On this trip, as with every other trip I take as I get older, I vow to stop earlier in the day and not push it so hard.  I vow to never drive in the dark — with all these miles behind me I am a ferociously conservative driver. (You’ll see me cruising along at the speed limit in the right-hand lane, making sure I have plenty of following distance at all times, thank you very much. I know what the odds are).   But then, around the bend, there is always one more site to see. There’s always a coffee and a hello along the way that takes much longer than I plan for.  So, I’m always driving well after dinner. And that’s ok, because that’s the magic time.

It almost doesn't look real.
It almost doesn’t look real.

The magic time begins about 90 minutes before sunset, give or take the position of the mountains. That’s when summer light turns amber and everything turns beautiful. And I do mean everything. Drive during the magic time in Western Montana, or Colorado, or Missouri, it just feels like you are driving through a masterpiece painting. Aim a camera anywhere, and you’ll get a great picture.

I am lucky that, thanks to attending the University of Missouri, I’ve met many incredible photographers along the way, shooters I’d be lucky just to hold their equipment. When I’m driving during magic time, I often wish one of them were with me, and I try to channel my inner Tim Schoon as I think about what to do.

What I always do is pull off the highway and try to find a country road that somehow sort of heads in the direction I need to go. Magic time provides the canvas; it’s up to me to find something to put on that canvas.  On my first day west this trip, as I cleared a storm leaving Idaho, I knew conditions were perfect for a double-whammy — a sunset and a rainbow.  So I blew my schedule and pulled off 50 miles short of Missoula, winding my way through farms on random roads looking for bales of hay or cows that would pose for me.  Then, of course, I finished my drive in the dark.  But, as the tape always plays in my head: when will I ever be here again?

In case you never get a chance, here are probably far too many “out the window” pictures from my recent trip, in no particular order. Naturally, there are far more pictures I missed than I took.  That’s the worst part of a trip like this. So much beauty, so little time.  So don’t mistake this as a state-by-state look at driving across the U.S. I hesitate to call it a photo essay, but that’s what the kids call ’em.  It’s really just random photos out the car window, published here with a hope that it gives someone who’s never had the chance a small idea of what the trip is like.


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Hey, it’s a big country!

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About Bob Sullivan 1470 Articles
BOB SULLIVAN is a veteran journalist and the author of four books, including the 2008 New York Times Best-Seller, Gotcha Capitalism, and the 2010 New York Times Best Seller, Stop Getting Ripped Off! His latest, The Plateau Effect, was published in 2013, and as a paperback, called Getting Unstuck in 2014. He has won the Society of Professional Journalists prestigious Public Service award, a Peabody award, and The Consumer Federation of America Betty Furness award, and been given Consumer Action’s Consumer Excellence Award.

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