As a child, in Cincinnati, I was always attracted to images of the West, whether they appeared on calendars, in Life Magazine or on our black and white TV. Since my family only vacationed on Lake Erie or along the Gulf Coast, I did not have a chance to visit the Western U.S. until I was twenty-five, the year that my wife and I took a road trip to interview at medical residency programs.
In that fall of 1975, we headed west on I-40 and finally escaped the humid air and greenery of the East in western Oklahoma. My first glimpse of western mountains came as we approached Albuquerque and, over the next week, we circled through the desert landscapes of New Mexico and Arizona. Turning northward, we climbed across the Mogollon Rim, passed the snow-capped summits of the San Francisco Peaks and visited the spectacular scenery of Grand Canyon, Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks. For me, the emotional zenith came as we rounded the north edge of the Mt. Nebo massif, in Utah, and the Wasatch Front unfolded, towering above the Salt Lake basin; John Denver was singing Calypso on the radio and I was suddenly sure that I belonged in the Mountain West.
Like most naturalists, I enjoy visiting the varied ecosystems of our home planet and I know that many humans prefer lush forests, rolling prairies, pristine beaches or vibrant wetlands. But I'll take the dry air, stark beauty, and magnificent landscape of the American West, far from the site of my birth but very near to my soul.