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The Road Not Taken

Apparently when I was in Iceland I should have gone whitewater rafting. Too bad. It's unquestionably true, however, that Iceland goes from cool to supercool when you get out of Reykjavik. I'm not really one to wax eloquent about natural beauty, but there's an awful lot of cool shit going down there. As someone or other suggested in comments, I should probably take the chance to visit some of America's national parks out west one of these days.

August 21, 2005 | Permalink


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Go west young man! I'd start with the mountains of the Pacific Northwest, but that's just me.

Posted by: fnook | Aug 21, 2005 1:17:40 PM

Yeah, shouldn't the title of this post be "Missing the boat," or something like that?

I recommend seeing Crater Lake. Preferably in winter. Very beautiful. It is, however, quite a bother to get there.

Posted by: TJ | Aug 21, 2005 6:48:16 PM

You haven't seen the National Parks of the West? And you blog about national affairs? Uh...Oh my.

Posted by: David Sucher | Aug 21, 2005 7:14:45 PM

This could be why you don't take environmentalism seriously. But there's hope for you!

Posted by: cafl | Aug 21, 2005 9:17:16 PM

That was me!

I'd recommend Glacier in Montana and Yellowstone (particularly since you once blogged about the supervolcano).

While not out west, Acadia in Maine is beautiful, and it's an utter travesty that you've lived here for more than two years and still not been to Shenandoah.

Posted by: flippantangel | Aug 21, 2005 10:01:59 PM

Banff and Jasper National Parks in Canada will take your breath away. You really should make it out west.

Posted by: DC Loser | Aug 21, 2005 10:22:08 PM

And Matt, it's not just the personal rush one gets from such incredible places -- Mount Rainier is still a shock after 35 years -- but it's a part, a very good and big part, of our national culture. And to understand America I think you have to have some immediate, visceral experience of our great natural places.

Posted by: David Sucher | Aug 21, 2005 11:29:52 PM

Glacier, Glacier, Glacier! From there Banff is a hop skip and a jump. If you go to Yellowstone spend a day in the Lamar Valley wolf watching. Patience will be rewarded. The Druid wolves and their descendents can be seen from the road on almost every day of the year. If you go to Yellowstone do not overlook Tetons, which IMHO too many people do. Oxbow Bend is the most beautiful place in the world. September is best, although you might have to be careful about the Glacier Park dates as they have a much shorter season.

Posted by: swissmiss | Aug 22, 2005 8:00:26 AM

That was me!

Ahem! :-)

I'd agree that Glacier is a great park, and I'd certainly recommend Matthew go see it (just the drive up 287 and 89 from Helena to East Glacier is worth it, IMO). I've been climbing in the mountains all over from Patagonia to Pakistan, and the northern Rockies of Glacier Park and Yellowstone -- along with the redrock country of Utah -- are my favorite places in the world.

Posted by: Al | Aug 22, 2005 11:40:51 AM

I'm not really one to wax eloquent about natural beauty

I thought you hated the environment with a fiery passion, Matt. Or at least ANWR. ;-)

TJ, I just did a side trip to Crater Lake (have wanted to see it ever since I was a little kid)--we were driving down 97 anyway, and it was only about a 40 mile detour. Fantastic, and I definitely want to go back in the winter.

Glacier is extraordinarily beautiful. Nobody's mentioned Yosemite, which is wonderful despite the crowds. My own favorite NP is Kings Canyon/Sequoia, though--mainly because of the backcountry.

Posted by: Tom Hilton | Aug 22, 2005 12:37:31 PM

Alaska, dammit!

Posted by: live | Aug 22, 2005 12:56:00 PM

I recommend the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, and Zion National Park trifecta -- you can circle the Grand Canyon counterclockwise and hit all three and end up in Vegas at the end of your trip to boot.

IMHO Zion is the most stunning of the three, like hiking along the surface of another planet...

Posted by: Jersey Exile | Aug 22, 2005 2:51:39 PM

Yeah there's definitely a long drive to Crater Lake if you're coming from anywhere. I lived about 100 miles from there (approximately the same distance from anywhere) and boy howdy did it take a long time to get there.

We used to go to snow camping not far from there.

Posted by: TJ | Aug 23, 2005 12:04:13 AM

Actually, David S., Matt Y. blogged earlier this year that'd he'd never even been to a red state before some trip he was about to take to Southern Virginia. The exception was the one time he went to the Outer Banks in North Carolina.

Yes, he writes on national affairs for national magazines. "No actual knowledge required".

Posted by: Zeke | Aug 23, 2005 12:17:09 AM

Weird, I never thought of the Prospect as a "national" magazine. Regardless, I'd say his work ethic and earnestly intuitive mastery of the language more than make up for his less than well-travelled upbringing, and people tend to overrate the benefits of long range travel. Good writers find interesting things to write about.

Posted by: fnook | Aug 23, 2005 1:00:04 AM

fnook: it's called "The American Prospect". Note the word "American". National magazine.

Work ethic is nice, but firsthand knowledge of the subject is, you know, kind of important.

Posted by: Zeke | Aug 23, 2005 1:54:04 AM

Fair enough, I guess, but how does one go about gathering first hand knowledge of the nation writ large, as a whole? It's a hard thing to do. Aside from reading a lot of news and insinuating one's self amongst the powerful, what are the other options? Its a weird (yes, I like that word) sort of ageism that criticizes ambitious young folks for being young.

Posted by: fnook | Aug 23, 2005 2:27:13 AM


You gain firsthand knowledge of the nation by traveling through it. It's not hard at all. Millions of people, including young people, do it every year.

I'm not criticizing Matt Y. "for being young". I'm criticizing him because he's never been West of Pennsylvania or south of the Outer Banks and he portrays himself as an expert on the United States. It's absurd.

Matt Y. -- forget about Iceland -- go see your own country beyond the Northeast. You might learn something. For instance, your cheery views on mass illegal immigration might change once you see Los Angeles, Tucson, and El Paso.

Posted by: Zeke | Aug 23, 2005 2:34:26 AM


It is absurd to think that you have to go to a place to be know something about it. The miracles of, you know, speech.

While I personally agree that everybody should get around to the more neglected parts of the union, it is because they're fun to visit, not usually so crowded, and frequently they smell good.

Posted by: TJ | Aug 23, 2005 11:11:52 AM

Zeke -- for one thing, you're missing the full extent of my geographical ambit, I've been to California, Texas, Illinois, Florida, and North Carolina now. But more to the point, your critique would be legitimate if I, say, were busy writing articles about conditions in Ohio where I've never been. But I don't write about that. Instead, I write overwhelmingly about things of national importance that are happening in Washington, DC where I live in work. The main thing one could legitimately fault me for is that I've written quite a bit about Iraq and have never gone there. I've little doubt my understanding of the situation could be enhanced by a trip, but my employer lacks the means to establish a Baghdad office and I'm not too proud to admit that I'd just as soon not expose myself to a large degree of physical danger.

Posted by: Matthew Yglesias | Aug 23, 2005 11:46:32 PM

Matty -- sounds like you've had a busy year. Keep traveling! Try Mississippi next! The food is AWESOME.

TJ -- would you let a virgin tell you what sex is like?

Posted by: Zeke | Aug 24, 2005 12:49:28 AM

You must enjoy current events wayyy more than I do... because the news is nothing like sex to me.

I'm just kidding around; I take the point of your question. However, I think the question is more like: should historians only study events that occur during their lifetimes? Or should we accept that personal experience of events is not necessary or sufficient for expertise?

Posted by: TJ | Aug 24, 2005 11:17:53 AM


Historians value primary sources above all because they're written by people who were actually there. If you've got a choice between reading an article about Danish attitudes towards the Iraq War by a reporter who's lived in Copenhagen for the last eight months and a guy who's never left the States, the pick is clear.

Posted by: Zeke | Aug 24, 2005 12:59:30 PM


I disagree. The choice is most certainly not clear: personal experience of events is neither necessary nor sufficient for qualified commentary about those events.

Posted by: TJ | Aug 24, 2005 6:10:12 PM

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