A Frippery Trope

A friend of ours recently noted her brief encounter with a photosirenthic* elk as she crossed the Continental Divide in Wyoming, one that tempted her to risk an unwanted run-in with the highway patrol (see “It’s the elk’s fault“). Her mention of the CD reminded me of the many times I crossed it somewhere around Butte, Montana, on my college-day trips back and forth between Missoula, where I attended the University of Montana, and Eau Claire, Wisconsin, my home town. In Wyoming, Kristian’s divide moment occurred at 6,930 feet. On my trips on I-90, it happened at almost the exact same elevation: 6,329 feet at Homestake Pass. (As a quick aside here, in the 1970s I-90 in Montana was a favorite of truckers and speed-freaks because there was no speed limit during the day and at night it was 80 mph. If you did happen to get pulled over—we did once going 90+—the ticket was $5 and the crime was “wasting a natural resource.” Thank you, Arab Oil Embargo.)

I never really thought much about the CD back then or now until Kristian mentioned it. Is it just the high point in the Rockies as you travel east and west? No, it’s so much more than that. The CD, officially the Continental Divide of the Americas (or the Great Divide or the Continental Gulf Divide), extends from the Bering Strait in the Arctic all the way down to the Strait of Magellan, just a long spit, if the wind is right, from Antarctica. Its highest point is Grays Peak in Colorado (14,278 feet) and its lowest is in Nicaragua at the Isthmus of Rivas (47 feet). The divide is a hydrological one, that is, the water drainage basin on the western side flows into the Pacific Ocean and the basin on the eastern side flows, eventually, into the Arctic Ocean or the Atlantic Ocean (some of it via the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea). Quite geopressive [geologically mind-boggling] I would say.

↑↑↑ Aimless Pseudoscience Babble Basin ↑↑↑

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↓↓↓ Shameless Padding Basin ↓↓↓

What’s not nearly as impressive is a movie you’ve never seen (most likely) called, naturally, Continental Divide. This 1981 romcom starred the unlikely pairing of John Belushi and Blair Brown—he a corruption-busting journalist named Ernie Souchak; she Dr. Nell Porter, a scientist doing research on bald eagles. I know, right? Along the never-run-smooth path of true love, Ernie “sprains his back in an accident, is mauled by a mountain lion, and meets an All-American football player who has left civilization and become a mountain man.” Even after they marry at the end, the CD keeps them apart—he returns to his drainage basin (Chicago), she to hers in Wyoming. Although the movie did okay with critics on Rotten Tomatoes (78%), it tanked with viewers (54%), this despite having some having heavy hitters involved like director Michael Apted (Gorky Park, Coal Miner’s Daughter) and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan (Body Heat, The Big Chill). Perhaps the tagline explains its failure: “When they met they heard bells. And that was just round one.” Thud. Double thud.

In case you didn’t notice (and in case you’re still with me), another form of continental divide previously undocumented just happened here. It’s where the thought line in a blog entry runs in one direction on one side and in a completely different one on the other and never the twain shall meet and nary a point shall be made. We’ll (I’ll) call this the Hydra-illogical Divide (HIDE) because it has way too many heads and makes absolutely no sense. And that, as someone should have said about four paragraphs earlier, is that.

* photosirenthic adjective \foe toe sigh ‘wren thick
1. Having the quality of luring unwary travelers into trouble by presenting an irresistible photo op at the most inopportune times and/or in the most inopportune places.