A Grand Circle

1 11 2009

And so into the depths of the desert we went, barren dryness all around, first at Canyonlands N.P and then Capitol Reef N.P, which did actually have some nice yellow and orange trees to break up the views of rocks!

Here we broke the tent out of hibernation and were promptly frozen solid – 9000ft not the warmest re-introduction to life under canvas!

Our next National Park was Bryce Canyon where they have hundreds of big Orange Hoodoos in the rock amphitheaters. We went for a couple of good, albeit hot, walks around the park including the arrogantly titled ‘Best 3 mile hike in the world’! It was actually pretty nice with some really impressive views, even more so than the Grand Canyon we thought!

Bryce Canyon Hoodoos

Once we’d had a few days at Bryce Canyon we went over to Page, centre of the Grand Circle, the collective name for lots of desert, and checked back into a cheap motel for a few days to warm up.

Here we went Kayaking for a few hours around Lake Powell and down the Antelope River and also to Antelope Slot canyon in the Navajo parks.

Antelope Canyon

After spending most of the day down in the canyon taking photos we drove to the beach for the last few hours of sunshine. Unfortunately we tried to drive all the way down to the beach-front in our family saloon and managed to beach ourselves in the ‘European Sand Trap’! After 45 minutes of digging with our flip flops and with fading light we gave in and went to find a man with a truck and a rope!

Continuing the theme of silly mistakes I spent the evening trying to scissor-cut my hair, first into an 80’s mullett and then a cat-chewed version of a short, back and sides. By the end of the evening however we’d given up trying to repair the damage I’d done and Zoë had reduced me to a Travis Bickle – at least I’m not so hot in the desert sun now!

My attempt on the left, Zoe's on the right

After Page we went over to Zion N.P for a few days of strenuous hiking and camping and then back to Las Vegas to replenish ourselves on Cheesecake and Burgers! We went up to Downtown Vegas to check out the ‘Fremont Street Experience’ which I suspected might involve getting mugged after spotting the calibre of locals hanging about! All was OK though – Fremont street is lit up by all the old casino’s as well as a 460m long TV screen on the underside of the streets ‘roof’ – pretty impressive, especially to all the Americans who stood stock still staring at the ceiling for probably 10 minutes, mesmerized by the video playing to Don Mcleans American Pie!

Hiking to Angels Landing, Zion N.P

We’ve been in San Diego for the last few days before we fly out of Los Angeles tonight. Here we’ve been to the San Diego Zoo which was ok, lots of little animals, all running around on a school trip screaming and being obnoxious. There were more sedentary ones on show, polar bears, panda’s etc.. although the appeal of Zoo’s has faded considerably now that we’re increasingly seeing most of these animals in the wild.

Yesterday we spent the afternoon practicing sitting on the beach up at La Jolla in preparation for the tough month ahead in the South Pacific. Desert Island beaches tend to send people mental if the TV is to be believed, Castaway, Lost etc.. so we better make sure we’re able to cope!

The Cook Islands will be our new home after the weekend and then a return to Fiji in a couple of weeks. I think we better learn to like Coconuts!

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The Wild West

20 10 2009

Having left the desert we drove North for what seemed like weeks, but was actually only 2 days, boring! To be fair there was some grass in Idaho which was a nice change of scenery even if it was all dead. Zoë had developed a sore throat but we assumed this was because she’d crammed so much food down it in Vegas. The sniffles soon followed though and then full on bird / pig / human Flu-like symptoms as we arrived in West Yellowstone. As it was also snowing when we arrived we shelved any ideas of camping and booked ourselves into a motel for a few days.

Zoë phoned in sick on our first day at the park so had a duvet day while I went exploring, free to spend hours taking pictures and getting too close to big animals!

The snow clouds had vanished and any remains were thin on the ground due to the under-floor heating spread all over the park. The west section of the park is mainly spitting geysers and bubbling hot springs, made colourful by the resident bacteria feeding off the dissolved minerals. You really get an idea of how massive the pool of fire below must be – for miles in every direction there’s steaming vents and pools of superheated water bubbling out of the ground! Unverified tourist fact of the day: The biggest Yellowstone eruption spat out about 545 cubic miles of lava and ash. In comparison Krakatoa, the largest eruption in the last couple of centuries, dished out around 12!

The 'Nice One Geyser', Yellowstone N.P

So anyway, I spent the day exploring the wilderness, getting off the tourist boardwalks where I could, sneaking up on massive Bison and getting stuck in boggy meadows, ending the day at Old Faithful as the sun went down.

Zoë had benefitted from her day in bed so joined me for a similar route the next day, more geysers and hot springs as well as a couple of very close encounters with 2-ton bison!

Zoe enjoying the Herd of Bison

Having had our fill of Geysers we drove through the park to Mammoth hot springs at the North entrance. There was a brief moment of panic when Zoë thought she was having an altitude induced brain aneurysm – turned out to be a trapped sneeze though, phew.

It was even colder up here, minus 12°C at night! So no more hikes for us, our last day at Yellowstone was spent in the car, driving through the Lamar valley looking for animals. We managed to add something new to our spotters list – Pronghorn, 5 of the 250 in the park! There were lots of other black blobs in the distance too, probably herds of wolf, mountain lions and bears although they were too far away for us to prove it with photos unfortunately.

Marche ou crève

We left Yellowstone the next day and drove down to Jackson, a nice Ski town on the outskirts of neighbouring Grand Teton National Park. All ski towns seem pretty nice so far, good art and photo galleries, coffee and cake dealers, taxidermy shops etc.. this one had a polar bear for $35K but it wouldn’t have fit in the car. Zoë considered getting the Jackalope until I told her it wasn’t a real animal – they’d just stuck horns on a rabbit, mental.

The live animal of choice here was Moose, and we managed to spot 3 on our first day near the river.

We saw several more in the next couple of days, as well as Osprey, cartoon Bluebirds from Bambi, and the highlight for me – a Bear and two cubs while out on one of my pre-dawn rally drives / photo shoots!

Bears!

Having tired of sub zero temperatures and nice scenery, we returned South in search of warmer climes and some nice desert. We popped into Salt Lake City en route as we wanted to check out the big Mormon temple we were shown pictures of when we were accosted in Hawaii a couple of years ago. However on finding it we were a bit disappointed, with Zoë exclaiming ‘is that it’ in front of all the disciples milling around! It was an educational experience for me too, I found out Mormons aren’t actually from Space, a fact Zoë claimed to know all along.

We continued South and arrived in Moab the next day and headed straight for Arches National Park.

Delicate Arch at Sunset, Arches N.PZoë joined me for the crowded hike up to Delicate arch in time for sunset, arriving to find about 60 other photographers all lined up with their tripods precariously balanced on the narrow ledge at the edge of the chasm. I found myself a perch and set up, glad of the company as our strength in numbers helped us heckle tourists out of the way! Inevitably several things got knocked down the 100ft cliff while we were sat there, bottles of water, lens caps and one guy’s iPhone! Hikers at the bottom retrieved it for him though and unbelievably it still worked!

 

We’ve done a little more hiking today after nearly 2 weeks off, a 6 mile trip through the desert in the midday heat to throw us back in the deep end! We saw a few more of the arches in the park and got some good views over the valleys with more of the same tomorrow in Canyonlands N.P.

 

Apologies for the delay in posting our news, the warm motels have developed a comfortable laziness in both of us!

To keep you thinking until our next edition consider a recent question Zoë posed:

Do English cats and Spanish cats speak the same cat language?

Who needs Karl Pilkington!

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Seattle to Jellystone

20 10 2009

Successfully surviving another coach journey without being beheaded, we arrived in Seattle late afternoon. We happened to arrive on the first Thursday of the month – Free Thursday in several city museums and galleries so spent the evening at the Experience Music Project. A Good museum, strangely combining Jimi Hendrix exhibitions and a Science Fiction Museum!

We had a few days in the city as we couldn’t get a cheap flight out until after the weekend. We found out first hand why Seattle is known as Rain City so spent a lot of time indoors – Pike Place market mooching around 2nd hand book shops, eating fish and ice cream but avoiding the evil Starbucks on every corner!

Zoe's ideal stall, Pike Place Market, Seattle

On Saturday I dragged Zoë out to Everett to visit the Boeing Factory for a tour of the Worlds Largest Building to see some fancy new planes being built – the first 747-8 and the first 787’s – Number 1 still parked up in the airstrip parking lot waiting for its first flight! I think Zoë secretly enjoyed it and now wants to learn to fly!

Zoë went on an Underground tour of the city while I satisfied my bookshop cravings. Most of Seattle was burnt to the ground in the Great Seattle Glue fire of 18-something and Zoë learnt all about the sewage, sawdust and sewing circles that made Seattle the city it is today!

On Monday we flew down to Las Vegas as this is where the cheap flights go! We picked up our hire car – another free upgrade this time thanks to my pernickety refusal to take the car we’d booked as it was only 11/12th’s full of petrol!

After about 3 hours of queueing for cars, hotel check-in etc.. we made it to our massive suite – probably 6 times bigger than our shared bunk-bed room in Seattle and half the price!

Of all the 7 deadly sins you could probably partake in while in Vegas, we chose Gluttony, having intentionally starved ourselves all day in anticipation of the Bellagio buffet! 2 litres of Ginger Ale, 4 coffees, 6 slices of pizza, roast turkey, sirloin steak, several pieces of baked salmon and Chilean sea bass, 5 spears of asparagus to satisfy my 5-a-day, sushi, king crab legs and lots of weird uncooked experimental stuff for Zoë, peanut butter brownies, apple pie and two belt holes later, we’d got our money’s worth and staggered home – now walking as slowly as all the waddling Americans who’d annoyed us so much in our rush to get to dinner earlier!

12 hours later we enjoyed an unnecessary breakfast and hit the road, next stop Yellowstone National Park..

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The New York Post and the Shake Shack Myth

26 08 2009

And so our adventures begin! Our flight to New York was fine, quite comfortable thanks to the exit seats and 10ft of leg room which made up for the lack of a proper honeymoon upgrade!

Once we’d landed we decided on the Long Island Railroad option into Manhattan to avoid being ripped off by cabbies like on our last visit. Pretty cool trains – I noticed you could get outside the carriage and climb onto the roof to shoot baddies just like in the movies. There were no baddies around however, plus the stifling heat and humidity had made me feel like I was about to have a nose aneurysm so I stayed indoors, standing very still directly under the Air-con for the entire journey. Lugging our bags the couple of blocks from Penn Station to our hotel was pretty hard work so I immediately started thinking of jettisoning some of the contents of my pack, either into the bin our into Zoë’s bag which somehow is several kilo’s lighter despite her bringing twice as much stuff as me!

After a good nights rest we were up early to go and meet our friends Amos, Beth and Esme who were staying near Central Park. We met them at their apartment and headed out for breakfast but as soon as we’d closed the door we realised both sets of keys were still inside! Luckily the neighbours were in doing some DIY so we explained the situation to the guy inside. He then explained he didn’t speak much English but we eventually got the number for the building owner thanks to some international sign language for ‘keys’, ‘phone’ and ‘the boss’. Made a call to the owner to arrange for the cleaner to come over in a couple of hours but when we left the building we found one of the Super Mario Brothers hosing down the pavement outside. He didn’t have keys but agreed to ‘have a go’ at the door to save us waiting and led Amos and I back upstairs for a lesson in breaking and entering. He had a good go with a couple of credit cards and then my subway card but failed miserably, which in a way was reassuring!

After the cleaning lady had come to our rescue we headed over to the park for a while and then over to the Met Museum in the afternoon for some statue action and air conditioning!

Sculpture, Met museum, New York

On Saturday we went over to the trendy Meatpacking / Art gallery district in the morning and walked up the High Line park – all very nice around the park and Chelsea Market etc.. and then took the subway down to Coney Island in the afternoon. Didn’t gamble with the rickety old rides so just took a walk along the boardwalk unsuccessfully looking for the Zoltar machine from Big. Stopped at Prospect Park in Brooklyn on the way back which is also very nice and returned to one of the restaurants we liked from our last trip – Nice place and some good food, but to be honest the main draw is the paper tablecloths and crayons on each table that keep our child-like minds entertained!

We met my Uncle Adrian on Sunday morning along with NY residents Auntie Carol and Uncle Adison who took us on a food tour of the city starting back at Chelsea market. Here we tucked into Oysters and then a whole lobster that was alive and wiggling 14 minutes previously! We ripped it to pieces and ate the flesh dipped in butter and I even had a go on Adison’s favourite – the green creamy brains! My culinary horizons are still expanding! Walked off the seafood and then back towards Koreatown for some more grub, again all very good!

Chelsea Market, New York

Once we’d said our good-byes I did a little shopping and had a run-in with a stroppy local in a camera shop who didn’t appreciate my ‘What?!! You’re joking aren’t you mate’ reaction at being told the camera battery I wanted was $90! I obviously wasn’t going to pay that – you can get 9 massive portions of cheesecake in Times Square for the same price!

Our last day was spent doing some final wandering after spending what seemed like the entire morning re-packing our bags! We’ve completely forgotten how to live out of a bag efficiently – seems to take forever to find things / pack things etc..at the moment but am sure it’ll come back to us soon enough! So on Monday we took the ferry over to Staten Island but then once there decided we couldn’t be bothered to walk up all the hills looking for a park and came back. We made our way up to Madison Square Park to try some fare from the Shake Shack – reputedly the best burger in New York!

Shake Shack, New York

A queue of around 30 people was encouraging but as alarm clock sporting nutter Flavor Flav would say – Da da Don’t believe the hype! Unfortunately there was nothing special about the burger at all and actually I’d struggle to distinguish it from some Burger King or McDonalds rubbish! However, what made up for the disappointment was the excellent ‘Concrete’ – some kind of ice-creamy whipped fudgy banana and peanut buttered cup of awesomeness that I can thoroughly recommend! My advice – Skip the burgers and the massive hot food queue and take the fast-track B-line queue straight to the counter and order a couple of Concretes. And then a couple more for pudding. Excellent!

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