Prisons, Poverty, & Pickups: The Other West

So I’ve just driven 1720 miles from Colorado to Pennsylvania . . .

. . .  and the contrast between Western and Eastern U.S. is on my mind. One thing I notice is the discrepancy between the media myth of the West and the reality. When outsiders think of Colorado they (often, usually) think Aspen glitz, the playground of the rich, while most of southern Colorado seems noticeably poor yet hardly downtrodden. People make less money there, but they love the landscape, they love the hardbitten lifestyle. We were in Florence, Colorado, known for its tumbleweeds and vacant lots, piles of cinder blocks in the yard, trailers in various states of disrepair, when my wife jokingly said, “That’s what I like about Colorado. You know, the junk and the poverty.” She compared it nicely to the antiseptic consumer-whore atmosphere of suburban St. Louis, where we visit relatives to and from Colorado. Florence is also famous for its Supermax prison, which we drive by every time we visit, the highway signs warning us not to pick up hitchhikers. And virtually every other vehicle (besides the Subarus, which we drive) is a pickup. Welcome to the Other West. Real America for Real Americans, to play on the new Onion News Network catchphrase.
And here’s a photo of my beloved Custer County, east of my mountain house, out on the prairie:

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