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Photo of bison crossing highway by Ethan Pines

A song of the open road.

By Ethan Pines

We needed to get out. July 2020, Year of the Pandemic, housebound and restless, our baby knowing only our living room, us about to turn 50, work slow, air travel off limits … we needed a road trip. We sketched a route with another virus-free family, scrounged up an RV and embarked on a 4,500-mile odyssey through Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Utah, and back to California.

Photo of deer at sawmill by Ethan Pines

If I wanted to generalize with light snark, I’d say we saw holstered pistols, Trump paraphernalia, and very little mask-wearing. And it would be true. But it wouldn’t be the whole truth. In fact, what we saw belied the stereotypes: No one begrudged us our masks. Lots of ATVs, but even more cyclists. People were welcoming. Americans like craft beer and crispy Brussels sprouts across the political spectrum. Deadwood, SD, honors its Jewish frontier history with placards around the city. This is an endlessly complex country. That’s what we really saw.

Photo of motorcyclist and goat on the highway by Ethan Pines

I shot my latest project, American Window, along the way. The images still don’t tell the whole truth, but I think they convey what it was like. When a bison crosses your path in Yellowstone, it’s like watching a slow-moving alien that might kill you. Rocky Mountain goats in Glacier loiter stoically as endless cars pass. Crazy Horse Memorial moved and awed us far more than nearby Rushmore, which is surprisingly small.

Photo of shopkeeper by Ethan Pines

Beyond all that, to me the juxtapositions feel bittersweet. The bison with asphalt. The deer between satellite dish and sawmill. The goat and the Harley, each encroaching on the other’s territory. The grizzled store owner among his treasures. The prehistoric bison and his prehistoric sauna, ignoring the tourists. Crazy Horse, only a fraction complete after 72 years.

Photo of Crazy Horse monument by Ethan Pines

And bittersweet is how the country feels to me now: flawed, yet I love her still. There’s majesty out there despite us.

Photo of bison by Ethan Pines

Ethan Pines C’92 is a photographer whose work can be found at

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