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In 1976, during America's bicetennial celebration, a family decided to travel to the American West instead of joining the majority of people that were celebrating on the East Coast. They wanted to follow the trails that the pioneers had made when they began to settle the West. The family was looking forward to making their own discoveries.
We began our trip out West on June 19, 1976, a time when millions of other American families were preparing to crowd into the Bicentennial shrines of the East. We sized up America's 200th birthday celebration a bit differently. Although the Republic may have been born in the East, it had spent most of its time and energies since then moving west. So we resolved to head in the same direction in 1976, following the old pioneer trails and the famous rivers. Concentrating primarily on Wyoming and Montana, we would explore such legendary mountain ranges as the Big Horns, the Bitterroots and the Swan.
There was one problem though, I was sure our four kids -- educated about the West through the movies -- would be disappointed. As an environmental editor, I knew that strip mining was tearing up many scenic areas and that clear-cutting was causing widespread damage in the mountains. I was well aware that draining and damming were making a mess of many rivers and wetlands. The grasslands were overgrazed and coal-burning power were befouling the air. Wildlife was on the run everywhere and tourists were burning the national parks into slums.
I was prepared for the worst. But how to prepare the kids?
The answer, we decided, was to undertake our journey not just as tourists on a holiday, but as reporters on the trail of "the real West." So all of us, from my kids to my wife, pledged to do our homework before we left and to record on the way everything we did, saw, hear, felt or thought.
Predictably, we did not uncover any new truths about the West in three short weeks. But there were plenty of surprises on that 5,200-mile journey and the biggest one was this: I had been wrong. Some of the troubles we saw were every bit as bad as I had dreaded. But by and large, the country was as glorious, as vast and as overwhelmingly spectacular as those know-nothing kids had expected!
Half the fun of going west is discovering, along the way, how much the past is still with us. Old wives’ tales. Little old farm towns shaded from the summer heat by enormous maple trees on streets. White-haired folks reading the paper on their farmhouse porches at sunset. Worn-out windmills standing alone in pasture… All in all, we did not see much evidence that small-town America is vanishing as we traveled through rural Wisconsin, Minnesota and South Dakota. It's true that many new homes are rising in many old cornfields. But for the most part, life in vast areas of the American heartland remains pretty much the same as it was 30 and 40 years ago.
In the hilly farmlands of southern Wisconsin and Minnesota, we found the fields and forests green and the creeks still flowing. The farms, with their "eggs for sale" signs and enormous "grandma's gardens" in the front yards, looked prosperous and secure. Not much further north, though, a drought was threatening the land.
In South Dakota, the situation was far worse. "Haven't seen anything like this since the dirty thirties," one farmer told us. Even in normal times, most of South Dakota is dry. Now it was being burned to a crisp. The water holes were dried up and we saw dead cattle lying here and there on the treeless, rolling range. Some farmers were hauling water out to their thirsty stock daily; others were trying to drill deep wells.
We saw two distinctly different Wyomings. We crossed the first Wyoming between the Black Hills and the Big Horns. Wide-open grassland, fenced and colorless, with red rocks and sweet-smelling shrubs scattered about, it was typical of a hard-used land. Cattle grazed on it. Oil rigs pumped on it and power lines zigzagged all over it. Freight trains labored across it, hauling coal from strip mine to power plant, hauling uranium and other minerals to refineries. This Wyoming, clearly, was booming.
The other Wyoming started some miles east of Buffalo, an unexpectedly graceful community in the foothills of the Big Horns. On one side of town, antelope abounded by fours and fives in the hills, and yellow wild flowers lined the roads. On the other side rose the Big Horns and nearly 10,000 feet up, Powder River Pass cut through them.
The Big Horn canons were incredible, with four and five distinct layers of pine trees somehow clinging to the steep, rocky walls. Far, far below, Ten Sleep Creek was a thin, white torrent on the rampage. In some of the less wild terrain, we saw deer on the high green hillsides and, as we climbed up toward our picnic spot, we flushed two does and two fawns. That night, we fell asleep with the roar of Ten Sleep in our ears.
We had picked by chance for our stopping place an area rich in western lore. At one time, Ten Sleep -- a small village at the western base of the Big Horns -- lay midway between two great Indian camps. In those days, the Indians measured distances by the number of sleeps and the halfway mark between those two camps was exactly ten sleeps.
We crossed the Continental Divide for the first time on a cool morning, cutting through the Rockies in northwestern Wyoming at a place called Togwatee Pass (at a height of 9,656 feet). Our van had just leveled off and we were rounding a downhill bend when, all at once, there they were, stretched out before us in a spectacular procession of massive white peaks: the Tetons. My wife gasped and, behind us, the kids began to yell. In truth, it was a startling sight—— a sight none of us will ever forget.
We had seen mountains before, but we had never experienced anything even remotely like that initial impact of the Tetons. It was exactly what we had in mind when we decided to take our first trip "out West."
a. happening once in 200 years; of a 200th anniversary
n. 200th anniversary
n. a building or place associated with sth. or sb. deeply respected 神殿，圣地
vt. make up one's mind (to do sth); decide 决心；决定
n. a path across rough country made by the passing of people or animals 小径，小道
a. of, like or told in a legend 传奇（似）的
a row of connected mountains 山脉
a. sad at not getting what was hoped for 失望的
a. having to do with environment 环境的
n. a mine which is operated from the surface by removing the overlying layers of earth 露天矿
vt. take (a mineral or ore) from a strip mine 露天开采（矿物）
a. of or having to do with natural scenery 天然风景的
vt. cut all the trees in (a given area or forest) 将……的树木砍伐光
vt. carry away the surface water of 排（水等）
n. a wall or bank built to keep back water 坝，水闸
vt. build a dam across
n. state of confusion, dirt or disorder 混乱、肮脏
n. land or areas containing much soil moisture; swamp 沼泽地
n. land covered with grass, esp. wild open land for cattle to feed on 草地；牧场
vt. allow animals to graze to the point of damaging the grass cover 在……上过度放牧
vt. make dirty 弄脏
n. animals and plants which live ad grow in natural conditions 野生动植物
n. a person making a tour for pleasure 游客
n. (often pl.) street, alley, or building in a crowded, run-down, dirty part of a city or town, where the poorest people live 贫民窟
vt. take up (a duty, etc.); start on (work) 承担；从事
vt. make a solemn promise or agreement 发誓，保证
ad. as one may predict
vt. remove a cover from; find out, discover 揭开……盖子；发现
vt. shelter from direct light or heat 荫蔽
folk (AmE folks)
a. used until no longer fit for use; very tired 破旧的；精疲力尽的
n. a mill operated by the action of the wind on sails which revolve 风车
n. grassland for cattle; grass on such land 牧场；牧草
a. of or relating to the country, country people or life, or agriculture 农村的
n. (AmE) 玉米田；(BrE)小麦田，谷物田
n. any area or region that is the center of, or vital to , a country 心脏地带，中心地带
a. full of hills
n. (informal) grandmother
a. safe; having no doubt, fear, or anxiety 安全的
n. a long period of dry weather, when there is not enough water干旱
a. dry; hard; easily broken 脆的；易碎的
n. something crisp
a. rising and falling in long gentle slopes 绵延起伏的
vt. pull or drag with force 拖曳
vt. farm animals, usu. cattle 牲畜
v. feed on growing grass (in) 吃（……的）草
vt. force (water, etc.) out by using a pump 泵
vi. go in a zigzag 弯弯曲曲地行走，蜿蜒曲折
n. a line shaped like a row of z's
n. the goods carried from place by water or by land 货物
n. (AmE) goods train
n. a building and apparatus for refining sth. (metals, oil, or sugar) 精炼厂，提炼厂
vi. grow rapidly; develop rapidly in population and importance 迅速发展，兴盛
a. (of shape or movement) pleasing to the eye 优雅的
n. a low hill at the foot of a mountain 山麓小丘
n. a deer-like, fast-running animal with thin legs 羚羊
vi. have or exist in great numbers or quantities （物产）丰富
n. a deep narrow steep-sided valley (usu. with a river flowing through) 峡谷
a. easily seen, heard, understood; plain; clearly different or separate 明显的；不同的
vi hold tightly; remain close 紧握着；粘着
a. rising or falling sharply or at a large angle 陡峭的
n. a violently rushing stream of water 激流
n. excited and violent behavior 横冲直撞，狂暴行径
n. a stretch of land, esp. when considered in relation to its nature 地带，地形
n. the sloping side of a hill 山腰
n. a deep loud sound as of a lion, or thunder, etc. 吼叫，轰鸣
a. of, in, from, characteristic of the west.
n. tradition and knowledge, esp. handed down from past times （口头）传说
a.& ad. in a middle position
a. (typical) of a very large mass of land; (AmE) of or in the North American continent 大陆（性）的；北美大陆的
n. a covered motor-vehicle for carrying goods and sometimes people 客货两用车
v. bring or come into a horizontal plane
a. (sloping or going) towards the bottom of a hill
v. (cause to) become wider or longer; spread out 伸延
n. a line of people, vehicles, etc. moving forward in an orderly way 行列，队伍
a. large, heavy and solid; huge 粗大的，巨大的
v. struggle for breath with open mouth, esp. because of surprise, chock, etc. 喘息
n. catching of the breath through surprise, pain, etc.
v. make a loud sharp cry or shout, as of pain, excitement, etc.; say or shout loudly
ad. to a very small degree; far away 很少地，极小地；遥远地
a. occurring at the beginning; first 最初的，开始的
n. a strong effect; the striking of one thing against another 影响；冲击
Phrases & Expressions
form an opinion or judgment about 估计；品评
to some degree; rather 有点儿，相当
destroy completely by tearing 撕毁，毁掉
make a mess of
disorder, spoil or ruin 把……弄脏；把……弄糟
on the run
running or hurrying from place to place; in flight 奔跑着；奔逃着
do one's homework
make necessary preparations before taking part in an important activity 作必要的准备
by and large
on the whole; in general
all in all
(informal) on the whole
here and there
scattered about; in various places 零星分散，在各处
burn to a crisp
burn black or dry 烤焦
keep a firm hold on 紧紧抓住
be/go on the / a rampage
go about in an excited, mad and violent manner 横冲直撞
unintentionally; by accident 偶然地；意外地
at one time
move horizontally (after climbing); remain steady (after a rise) （爬高后）水平移动；（上升后）达到平稳
extend prolong 延伸，延续
truly; really 的确
have in mind
be considering, intend 考虑，打算
the Big Horns
the Black Hills
Ten Sleep Creek