Salt Lake City to Twin Falls (via Bonneville Flats) 316 miles

Another hot sunny day across the salt plains as we set off in search of the speedway at Bonneville Flats, home of past land speed records. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t quite what was there. For much of the journey from the city, salt was definitely the constant visual; sometimes in vast piles, sometimes in mini pyramids and sometimes like snow or permafrost on either side of the road. But as we turned off the main highway and neared the site, the road petered out into a vast and sparkling white wilderness. The glare was immense and suddenly we were on the actual racetrack going more slowly than at any point on this trip. Carolyn resisted all urges to do a donut spin or a hand break turn, probably because of the uncertainty of the surface. It was certainly like no other.  The sense of times past was immense and enthusiasts were plentiful, clearly set on enjoying the moment and the ability to say, “We were there”. 

From there we were off to Twin Falls. Interestingly, Nevada was having its final say just before the State Line, when up went the billboards advertising Casinos (Rainbow Casino no less), escort services, and some of less salubrious offerings of a casino based town. Over into Idaho we went and gained back the hour we lost earlier in the trip. Once again we were in wilderness country, so guess who needed a bathroom stop? I had relaxed over the frequent service offerings on this part of the i80 but going north was different.  The sat nav told me we were still 50 miles from a gas station but some 20 miles on we found a hillside rest stop. I only recount this rather tawdry tale because I was about to experience a loo like no other!  A shack which contained a very large pipe rising from the ground with a toilet seat perched on top, below which was a very long drop to the ground below. No plumbing, perfectly clean and no smell either.  The things I find!j

Eventually we found Shoshone Lake and Falls, billed as ‘the Niagara of the West’. Unfortunately, someone had turned off the tap (it is seriously dry here) and the erstwhile mighty Falls were a mere trickle.  The lake was beautiful, people swam and a pair of turkey vultures chased a flock of birds. It was still a beautiful spot and well worth the couple of miles detour from our hotel. 

It’s a huge day tomorrow and over 500 miles to complete. Early start we think!

Carolyn’s Curios & Curiosities

Another day, another few hundred miles!

However, as usual, it was punctuated with incredible sights and an awareness of how vast this country is.

We travelled from Utah, through Nevada and we’re now in Idaho with Oregon beckoning tomorrow.

So what of today. I posted on Facebook that my ‘choices’ were:

1. Attempt Land Speed Record at Bonneville Salt Flats

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2. Attempt to do the ‘jump’ which Evil Knievel attempted (and failed!) over Snake Canyon near the Shoshone Falls

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Or

3. Enjoy the views!

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Needless to say, the later won. Triumph of experience over imagination!

9E64B1B3-012A-4798-806B-CE3725D7F9B8On the way, we came across the most eye-catching (and rather crude) advert I’ve seen. I was driving but both Kath and I found it hard to believe it and then photograph it. However,… I found it online! Chuckle!

Interestingly, as we crossed State Lines we were nudged into remembering that States have different laws and, of course, in films like Smokey and The Bandit, State Police couldn’t cross State Lines. The different laws meant, as Kath said, Nevada could have more lax gambling laws etc. – and does. Frequent signs to Reno indicate past more lax laws on marriage as well.

It is a strange coincidence that Kath’s Facebook memory today was from two years ago and reminded us that, then, we were also in Utah.

Lake Bonneville was a massive lake in far gone history but is now a dried salt lake. It’s over 4000 feet above sea level and covers an enormous 40 square miles. No wonder Land Speed Records have been set here since 1935 when Sir Malcolm Campbell’s Bluebird reaches a staggering 301.129 mph. The first over 300 mph.

FF8A4566-26B9-444E-B111-D2CD9B52C7C6More recently, American Gary Gabelich, in October 1970, raised the record to over 600 mph. That was the last World Land Speed Record (overall) set at Bonneville but the Record returned to UK hands over in Black Rock Desert with Richard Noble and then in drives by Andy Green. The Record is now 760.343 mph – faster than the speed of sound.

Electric car speed records have also been set at Bonneville with the most recent achievement being 341.4 mph! Wow!

I did up to 45 mph as instructed by the official signs although Bonneville Speedway is still held for many types of vehicle with the World Finals in October. 

A couple of signs on the way. The first distressed me a little but the other said all that public services should be about. Well done, Twin Falls!

Onto Twin Falls, our next resting place, but via Shoshone Falls. Not as impressive a Falls as expected but, were the river to have been in full flood, it would have been! It was a beautiful place with few people and a very low ($3) entrance fee per car. Great value and the Hot Dog ($2) was only surpassed by adding Chilli and Cheese for an addition 25c!

I rounded off my day with a salad and a mouthful of Kath’s chosen Cherry Pie dessert at ‘Shari’s Cafe and Pies’. When in America…!

Footnote

This just popped into my head and I couldn’t resist posting it…

When we arrived at Shoshone – billed as the ‘Niagara of the West’, it was clear that the water level was so low that little, if any, would be flowing over the cliff side.

Question: Where’s the effin’ Falls?

Answer: At the beginning of the word!

#sorry 

 

Day 2 Salt Lake City – about 50 miles

It felt like a ‘tidy up’ day as there were a couple of things I was keen to do and also wanted to benefit from a good hotel laundry. Unlike on board cruise ships, there have been no facilities for sending washing to be done overnight and, equally, today there was no crush for the washing machines!

First things first. Apparently some people come to Salt Lake City and never visit the vast lake itself. Not us, but I have to confess it was something of a surreal experience. The visitors’ centre and the harbour were officially closed as they were without electricity, apparently because of a fire. You could drive through the barriers, you could walk along the lake shore, paddle and presumably swim, but you couldn’t get any information, buy a drink, or a souvenir, or use the rest rooms!  We walked the shore right up to the waters edge but the salt flats which make up the ‘beach’ were teeming with thousands of tiny flies. With each step clouds of them flew up, magnified by their shadows from the brilliant sunshine. Offputting? Definitely. There was no way I was going in that water and was keen to return to the concrete based car park. The flies are part of the appeal for wildlife. The lake is far too salty for fish, so there are none at all here, and the only organisms that can tolerate the environment are brine shrimp, brine flies and bacteria. The shrimp and flies eat the algae and keep the lake clean and in turn they are eaten by nesting and breeding birds. I just wasn’t up for being eaten by anything, so back to the City.

We did a bit of a tour and found ourselves wandering around the very grand Capitol buildings. You just wouldn’t have the freedom to wander around our public sites like that and the whole complex was truly magnificent, as was looking down on the city from overlooks amongst some very lovely (and luxurious) homes.

By this time we were very much in need of coffee, so took ourselves off to a truly beautiful shopping mall. Amazing…fountains that dance to music, water jet areas where children try to stop the water and water arches surrounded by flowers. All this and an Apple shop to boot!

Ah well, time for domestic endeavours.  We now have suitcases once again full of clean clothes but in exchange for our ‘working’ afternoon (hardly!), we took ourselves to an evening of live jazz and great food.  Back on the road tomorrow and off to Twin Falls. 

Carolyn’s Curios & Curiosities

Tomorrow is National Cheeseburger Day and, apparently, 50 billion cheeseburgers are eaten in the U.S. each year! Tonight I had one. Actually, it was a very tasty Wagyu Burger at Gracie’s. Washed down with a local beer, listening to live jazz and watching American Football (Seahawks @ Bears) – very American and a very pleasant evening. 

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Our day today was always planned – I like plans – to be a restful day but we, needless to say, did ‘stuff’. A leisurely breakfast followed by a drive to the Great Salt Lake where the Visitors’ Centre and Rest Rooms were closed because of a recent fire. That worked ok for us in that we could still go and the charges were waived. Free always works well for us!

At first, we were disappointed that the ‘tide had gone out’(there isn’t a tide!) as the water was quite some way from the shore. Moving further down the lakeside, we achieved our goal and got to the water’s edge. Fascinating. 

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Next? The Capitol Building which is very impressive but has steps. The climb reminded us that we are at the height of Ben Nevis above sea level with temperatures high and humidity low. We felt a little breathless but it was worth the journey. However, it wasn’t a high enough view for one of us! On and up we drove until the best ‘aerial’ view was achieved amidst very salubrious private roads and very expensive grand houses. 

Then,… coffee and shopping. The City Creek Center (sic) is the most attractive shopping centre I’ve seen. Greenery, musical water displays, outdoor and indoor spaces and even a retractable roof. Parking was free for two hours and moving around the area was easy with escalators and lifts – clean, well-serviced – big tick ✔️

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The Apple shop was the planned destination – both of us looking to take advantage of Apple’s selling policy of setting prices at the same numeric level for dollar and sterling purchases. Great value for us… and we took advantage of it.

Then back to the hotel where the plan changed. It was intended that we were going to have a swim in the pool here but late housekeeping for the room and Kath kindly supervising the washing whilst I idled updating my improved ‘phone changed that. Despite some problems, I know I had the best of deal! I did ensure that Kath was rewarded with a couple of fresh cookies, though!

And so, tomorrow appears on the spreadsheet as 293 miles but a detour is intended to Bonneville Salt Flats which was always the idea so the journey distance and time will be a little more. Onwards but now northwards towards Seattle and Vanvouver. 

Cheyenne to Salt Lake City – 440 miles

One of the first instructions we got from Sally Sat Nav was, “Stay on the i80 for the next 429 miles”.  From that instruction we hoped we were in for a reasonably fast run on a decent road, and, true to form, we completed the journey in slightly over 6 hours, including two petrol stops and a bathroom break. We left Cheyenne in hot sunshine and brilliant blue skies and nothing changed the whole way…lovely.

 

For much of the journey we were in Wyoming, so the long dusty plains and the soaring mountains came as no surprise. What was a bit of a surprise was the number of trucks on the road. Maybe Sunday is their day? They are very speedy on the down slopes and swing in and out to pass each other at about 70 mph (although the regulation is 65 for trucks) but much slower on the inclines. Our aim was always to get beyond a bunching group before the climb, and ensure we had squatters’ rights in the fast lane. Not that we could stay there for too long as, unbelievably, people wanted to exceed the speed limit!!  The other surprise was the distance between civilisation and services.  We passed one stopping place with a loo, which declared the next stopping point to be in another 102 miles. OMG…even if you didn’t need a bathroom at the first point, the thought of having to wait for another 102 miles was painful. And, no, there were no trees, no hiding places off the roadside just the pain of trying to focus on something else.

The scenery changed as we crossed into Utah. In addition to the sandstone cliffs, there were verdant valleys with occasional houses, which grew in numbers and size.  Before long we were doing a fast cruise down the mountains with the number of lanes on the highway growing quickly.  Lots of exits loomed and almost without us realising, we were nearing the end of our journey.  It was the first city we had really experienced since leaving Vancouver and although the traffic was plentiful, the hurried pace of city life was noticeably calmer on a Sunday afternoon.

Having booked into another nice hotel, we decided some exercise was on the cards and Temple Square was about a 30 minute walk.  The Mormon Tabernacles in Salt Lake City are world famous, so of course we went to look. The setting and the two temples are quite spectacular, but of course you can only enter if you are of the Mormon faith. There is a visitors centre and lots of kind and friendly members who want to share their “unusual” brand of the Christian faith.  It would not be appropriate for me to be critical in any way, but suffice to say I was uncomfortable and happy to leave Temple Square. Dinner in a restaurant where we were the only customers was our next surprise. No music, no alcohol, blimey that was the situation last time we visited the State of Utah. However, further down the street on our walk back we found bars selling alcohol and one with live music.  We know where to go next time!  

 

We now have the luxury of another full day here tomorrow. Perhaps a visit to the lake that gives the city its name?  Perhaps some exploration of the city, and perhaps even via the electric scooters you log into via an app, sign off when you are done, and leave by the roadside.  Cool!

 

 

 

Carolyn’s Curios & Curiosities

It is very tempting merely to write…

“Set Sat. Nav.

Left Cheyenne

Set Cruise Control 

Drove 440 miles on the I80 

Arrived Salt Lake City”

However, I am renowned for never using a word when a paragraph will do!

So,…

As we travelled, we listened to an odd playlist which had found its way, somehow, onto my iPhone. The tracks seemed to be a shuffle from albums I had purchased for some reason in the past. Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers, Ian Dury, The Hollies etc. rubbed segues with Snow Patrol, Adele and In The Night Garden Dance! Wot?! The best inner smile for me came with Kath’s facial reaction to hearing Barbie Girl by Aqua for the first time (No.1 in the UK for three weeks) and her falling off her seat almost laughing to ‘Dogging’ by the incredible Fascinating Aida! The Hollies brought a wry smile from me when the lyrics, “The road is long; with many a winding turn” seemed particularly inappropriate in one aspect. Long, it was; winding, it wasn’t!

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Another smile along the way was the sight of a three wheeled motorcycle. Not humorous in any way… usually. Ours today featured a guy in full leathers driving at variable speeds and blocking overtaking by changing lanes. Not funny, neither.

On the pillion, though, was a woman who was not a ‘Girl on a Motorcycle’ but one of older years who was wearing a pair of baggy cotton shorts and waved to us as we overtook them and then they accelerated past us at our cruise controlled steady speed. The speed was 75 mph and she must have had the wind blowing very hard in places the wind shouldn’t be blowing. 

Several curios occurred to me on the journey:

Imagine sending a letter before the telegraph arrived. Stagecoach? Pony Express? During the Pony Express’ “18 months of operation, it reduced the time for messages to travel between the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to about 10 days. From April 3, 1860 to October 1861, it became the West’s most direct means of east–west communication before the transcontinental telegraph was established (October 24, 1861), and was vital for tying the new state of California with the rest of the United States.”

The enormous distance required travelling across this country is mind blowing. Even crossing one State, Wyoming, is demanding even using modern means.

Talking of distances, today was the second longest distance we are travelling and you may ask, “Why?”. We did! The reason is that there are almost no staging posts on the journey. Mile after mile of countryside and… well, almost nothing else. Hints for tourists from these two travellers: go to the toilet before you set off, fully fill up with fuel whenever you can, carry water and the odd snack.

Oh, and be aware of ‘Semis’. (Stop chuckling!) Warning signs told us that Semis need the length of two football pitches to stop. As Kath indicated, they’re agile in changing lanes but not as agile climbing hills or accelerating. Seemingly, not as agile at stopping, either! Yes, this is a Semi!

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So, we arrived in Salt Lake City. As we walked to Temple Square in a very dry heat we felt a little breathless and checked to find we are 4226 feet above sea level. For comparison, the height of the highest mountain in the UK stands at 4413 feet. Only four mountains in Scotland are higher than we are and there are none as high in England or Wales! No wonder we felt a little breathless. 

Kath wanted to see the Mormon (Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints) temples but felt uncomfortable when we got there and I can understand why. Again, I had a couple of events from my past which resonated. The Mormon Church mission to the UK started in our home town of Preston which now (actually in Chorley) has a brand new temple.

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Of course, that was way before either of us was born but I remember going to a Mormon youth club as a teenager. Indeed, I played my drums on the stage which was above and hid the baptismal font – full body baptism – underneath. Adding to that, my dad had tiled the font! The young men who did their two year obligatory missionary service were polite, well-dressed and suited and… chewed gum. No alcohol; no tobacco. What’s not to like, we thought. What’s not to like is the hugely mistaken beliefs they have, in my view. I suggest, the premise and practice of their religion is deeply misguided and potentially dangerous in a number of ways. I don’t want to dissuade anyone from their personal belief unless it will do them harm. If their views don’t correspond to my own, that’s fine but I will object strongly if their beliefs interfere with my basic human rights. I’ll leave it there.

Tomorrow is another day. Planning is already underway with live jazz a possible for tomorrow evening.

Keystone (Mt Rushmore) to Cheyenne – 268 miles

I think today might be designated our official “be kind to ourselves” day.  Having created the plan to see all these wonderful places there is no doubt that we have been arriving at our various destinations ready to collapse in a heap after an evening meal. Today is something of a staging post (pardon the pun) as a mere 268 miles on open roads is now small fry to these intrepid travellers. Salt Lake City is the main event another 440 miles down the road.

It is difficult to say anything different about our journey, except for me it was particularly frustrating. My youngest grandson was 3 years old today and I wanted to FaceTime and wish him a happy birthday.  We couldn’t make it work from the hotel at Mt Rushmore so set off intending to stop off at somewhere with WiFi and catch him at what would have been his teatime.  So off we went and experienced the wilderness of South Dakota, which is very much like the wilderness of Wyoming…mile after mile of nothing.  No houses, no service areas, no gas stations, nothing.  Well, there were sporadic herds of cattle but no civilisation.  Not even a phone signal, never mind WiFi.  It makes you realise how much you rely on technology and how frustrating it is when it is not there.  Sorry Oliver, I will try tomorrow.  I did, eventually, manage to speak with his Mummy. 

The most exciting part of this particular journey (!) was coming face to face with the most abnormal load I have ever seen.  It needed various escorting vehicles, special flag wavers to slow down the traffic and most of the road.  Miles into the distance you could see this large object and wondered what it was.  I still don’t know. It was a huge truck carrying something twice its width and forcing cars going towards it onto the non-existent hard shoulder (a soft dusty track). 

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So here we are in Cheyenne, the capital city of Wyoming, wallowing in the luxury of a nice hotel, having had a very nice lunch and wondering whether to explore the place, have a swim (it is very hot and sunny but the pool is indoors), or whether to just sit and chill. Apparently, Cheyenne is home to the Cheyenne Frontier Days Old West Museum, with exhibits about early rodeos and artifacts like 19th-century passenger wagons. The landscaped Cheyenne Botanic Gardens includes a labyrinth. Collections at the Wyoming State Museum include dinosaur fossils. Wot?  I think not. It’s a long drive tomorrow!

Carolyn’s Curios & Curiosities

So, we checked out from Rushmore and decided that we wouldn’t visit the monument again. Partly, as we wanted to ‘hit the road’ but, mainly, because we couldn’t see it! We drove off through a cloud – literally!

However, the Sun powered its way through, dried up all the rain and then dispersed the clouds as we sped across South Dakota back into Wyoming. Different roads but similar scenery and lack of both habitation and cultivation. Long, straight seemingly endless roads bereft of other vehicles for much of the time but a 70 mph limit which allowed great progress. Fortunately, we’d filled with fuel, taken some fruit from breakfast and had water and cola cans in the car. Fortunately? At one stage, we drove for an hour and a half (100 miles) without seeing a garage, café or human being. Strange. Wide, wild wilderness with new vistas appearing after each small crest you rise as the road stretches beyond the present, then towards every new, horizon. What a State!

Driving towards Cheyenne, we passed through a couple of ‘cowboy’ towns and Kath and I reminisced about TV and film Westerns: ‘Maverick’ (James Garner with an English cousin played by Roger Moore), ‘Wagon Train’ (Ward Bond and Robert Horton), ‘Rifleman’ (Chuck Connors), ‘Bonanza’… etc. and, of course, ‘Cheyenne’ itself with Clint Walker playing the eponymous Cheyenne Bodie. 

As we passed through Laramie, the TV (me) and Film (Kath) came up in song! As did Davy Crockett, Roy Roger’s Four legged Friend (aka Trigger) and others. I scored bragging points because I’d had a Davy Crockett hat (as a child!) and had had Roy’s record played for me on Uncle Mac’s Children’s Favourites (also, as a child!!!).

After driving over several ungated and unguarded level crossings, we, again, marvelled at the length of the trains as we overtook one. 

On Route 66, two years ago, I counted the number of wagons on a passing train. Today, it was Kath’s turn to count.

148 coal wagons with two engines at the front and three at the back. Doing some calculations,…

Each truck loaded weighs 286000 lbs

Each engine weighs approx 400000lbs

Therefore, the train weighed 44,679,936 lbs

Or,… 19946 tons (20266 tonnes)

Which is the equivalent of 199460 16 stone people. 

Wow!

So, we drove into Cheyenne. It’s bigger than I thought and, after lunch at Applebee’s, we checked into a very pleasant and inexpensive hotel… early for once!

We’d covered the 268 miles and got here by lunchtime. Yes!

Now relax. 

Cody to Mt Rushmore – 379 miles

When I put tonight’s hotel into the sat nav, it was somewhat disconcerting to note that the Roosevelt Inn was situated on Cemetery Road. I guess the neighbours will be a quiet bunch!  However, we left Cody under brilliant blue skies which stayed with us to the end of our journey. Having left the magnificent mountains of Montana, we set off into the wide wilderness of Wyoming.  It was impossible to photograph this relatively flat prairie and it was somewhat disconcerting to see almost nothing else on the road. I confess to checking my phone to make sure we had a signal and reassuring myself that on this trip we had a spare tyre.

After about 50 miles of this vast empty plain, with hardly another car on the road, we were back with the mountains which had loomed from beneath a heat haze. What mountains they were too!  We stopped for gas at Grey Bull (where there were signs to Little Big Horn) and just outside the town we began to climb. Our journey took us past various historic sites (Big Horn Basin, General Custer references, etc), such that you were looking to the tops of the stacks to see if there were smoke signals. The route was advertised as ‘scenic’ and that it was.  Granite cliffs, sandstone stacks, boulders which appeared on the point of tumbling down sheer rock faces, all added to the drama. Even the roadworks completed the picture. Mile after mile of work is happening on these passes. It doesn’t impede progress on the whole, although we were stopped briefly to wait for a pilot car to escort us through the construction.  That way the workers aren’t held up and nor are the road users. 

Eventually we began our long descent through the thickly wooded wilderness. There were dramatic run offs for lorries which couldn’t make the bends and regular instructions to test brakes. We had already begun our descent when I noticed that the elevation was over 9000 ft.  It took 7 miles of hairpin bends, travelling at 40 mph to finally descend to another vast plateau. The mountain rocks were declared to be over 300 million years old but we were too busy trying to unblock our ears to compare them with others that were merely 200 million years old. 

We had lunch in Buffalo (more memories of cowboy films) and took a very fast road for the next 200 miles to arrive at Mt Rushmore. This place had been on my personal bucket list for some time, so I was very pleased to see George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln looking down on me. 

I watched the information film with interest and learned why these Presidents were chosen, the man who had the original idea, the sculptor who brought the vision into being and the methods he used. Fascinating and worth seeing. Maybe we will even go back in the morning to see them in a different light….and then again, maybe Cheyenne, our next stop, will beckon. 

Carolyn’s Curios & Curiosities

Today was full of… well, roads! Our Road Trip this year is more road than trip and today’s 379 miles is only the third longest of our journey. It seems a long way but the miles went by quickly. The journey covered mile after mile with ever changing yet, in the main, similar features. The 360 degree vista varied from scrub to arable land, to mountains, passes, inclines and declines. Phew, what a journey.

I chose the short straw as Kath’s drive after lunch was her preferred 80 mph straight road with the cruise control set. It varied slightly as we neared our destination of Mount Rushmore with a few downward bends but a relatively easy drive. The morning? Well,…

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We, and by this I mean ‘me’, had a disappointing breakfast time with no waffles available. I don’t usually eat breakfast at home (I know I should) let alone waffles. But, when in America, waffles are my obligatory choice. Not this morning.

However, putting that behind me, I sat in the driver’s seat and the day’s ‘road’ trip began. Being blasé about ‘Whatever!’, I didn’t know what was to face us until we started climbing. Up and up. The hills became mountains and, as we wound round the bends ascending the mountain, enormous cliffs, stacks, buttes etc, reared before us. Onwards and upwards, we proceeded. The road was carved into the rocks but even that didn’t ease the gradient. Our ears started popping and we weren’t surprised to find that the height of the Pass – note: not the mountains – was over 9000 feet high! Fabulous views (Kath told me! And her photos show it) when I briefly glanced off the road ahead. Seriously, it was the scenery filmmakers would want so frequently. 

Added to the spectacle were the enormous trucks with their trailers coming down the mountain and facing us. What I also found interesting were the frequent roadworks on the narrow, almost vertiginous carriageways. Not merely the top surface was stripped but the whole tarmac/concrete structure. We were driving on dirt! Clouds of dust from oncoming traffic had to be negotiated addIng to our fun.

Were we downhearted? No, siree, Bob!

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We smile at difficulties and laugh at danger! (Yeah, right!)

18D4FE1C-4B4B-47EC-9E8F-04A97B63A34DWe are, after all, the modern day ‘Thelma and Louise’ albeit without the stealing… and shooting… oh, and without the driving off a cliff! Although there were no edge barriers today even on the downward hairpins which, at one time, ran for seven miles at a stretch!

So, we lunched at Buffalo (and ate a Buffalo steak for my evening meal!) and journeyed through Dayton which described itself as ‘A little piece of heaven’ onwards past Moorcroft; over Crazy Woman Creek (which resonated with us!) through Big Horn (signs to Little Bighorn), Sundance,  Custer and Crazy Horse. Those of us who were brought up on comics and cowboy films know the story of Custer’s Last Stand at Little Bighorn where Crazy Horse and the Native Americans inflicted a major defeat on the 7th Cavalry in 1876. We didn’t see any battles today and the only bloodshed was from the several roadkills which we passed by on the roadside. Talking of cowboys, we have entered South Dakota which is home to the Badlands and the Black Hills of Dakota.028EF86B-B481-4B07-B3D7-071AE0331630

Visions of the early settlers crossing the Pass we went over in makeshift wagons instead of our hired Nissan Rogue. Pushing their family goods (and their families) across unknown territory to who knew what. Fearful of attack from Native Americans or bandits. What a journey they must have endured.

Now we have a road, vegetation and… the occasional (rare!) industry.C64E9F6A-36AB-4EE1-89AF-C6291A699867

Kath and I decided that, had we been outlaws, we wouldn’t have chased after the stage coaches but would have lain in wait for them! Be assured these were idle thoughts not contemplations for a future career!

The Badlands were home to ‘The Hole in the Wall Gang’ (Jesse James et al.) and we saw the various caves where they could have hidden. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were also from these parts and didn’t ride a bicycle with ‘Raindrops keep falling on my head’ playing in the background. 

And, so, we dropped down into Rushmore View to visit Mount Rushmore. To be honest – as I always am – the carvings of Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln weren’t as impressive as I’d anticipated but watching a film about how and why they we carved added interest for me. It’s a very important monument for Americans and blends some commercialism with appropriate solemnity well. It also has regard for safety – should be used elsewhere!54F9BE5F-4F24-445B-B534-39C99D5E36FA

The United States’ history is nowhere near as long as Britain’s but they take it more seriously. Perhaps, because it’s shorter and the beginnings are more recent,

As we travelled in Wyoming we didn’t see many people. A house with two storeys was incongruous and the scattered homesteads were sometimes miles from their neighbours. Urban it is not! It has the second lowest population density (6 per square mile) of all the States with only Alaska below it. For comparison, England has a population density of 1023 per square mile!

Tonight, we are staying at the Roosevelt Hotel with Theodore’s (Teddy’s!) quotes on the walls and, of course, a stuffed Teddy Bear in every room. Americans, eh?! 

 

Gardiner to Cody – 131 plus heaven knows how many extra in Yellowstone

 

 

 

I didn’t mention our hotel for last night…it was actually an apartment in a fairly old clapboard house. Situated right on the Main Street in the middle of what you might expect from a ‘cowboy town’, it was very spacious but somewhat twee with hot water that came from the cold side (and for a shower that is tricky), a full range of kitchen equipment, a front porch with a rocking chair but no darned hairdryer!!  No breakfast either – DIY all the way – so wet hair and empty stomachs was the way to go!

 

I thought yesterday’s experience of Yellowstone was immense, so today I hadn’t necessarily bargained for practically being blown away by its sheer magnificence. We started with overcast skies but were viewing waterfalls, canyons and rivers which had carved their way through massive cliffs. The sun made its appearance as we moved on (fortified by sticky buns and hot chocolate and coffee – doesn’t everybody?) and we started to see the geo-thermal part of the park in earnest. Spectacular is a word that fails to do justice to the vast number of geysers, bubbling mud pools, calcified rocks, pools of many colours and the all pervading smell of sulphur. We found them stretching as far as the eye could see with boardwalks and platforms crossing the terrain for miles. We saw them by the roadside as we drove by, with steam wafting across the cars. We climbed hills to see more (no easy feat at this altitude) and we trekked across terrain you had to watch very carefully that you didn’t stray into somewhere that boiled beneath your feet. We marvelled at Old Faithful as we caught one of his ‘performances’ and saw the steam projected high into the air. We then followed the steaming eruptions of many other old geysers for miles to the huge lake, and still the lake shore was erupting. 

 

As for the wildlife en route…we saw no bears but found a bison ambling along the road towards us. It was a bit unnerving when he decided to cross the road about a foot from our car.  A pair of very fat crows hopped on and off cars at one of our stops, some deer skittered across the road as we left and a magnificent eagle soared above the huge cliffs enjoying the thermals in the late afternoon sun. We hadn’t gone to the part of the park where many wild animals roam, so we were very lucky. 

Our drive out of the park was no less breathtaking and I must have worn out my camera and phone trying to capture the various vistas. However, one particular sight which occurred in a number of places was of thousands of dead pine trees, some collapsed but many still standing and producing the sort of eerie effect you might imagine from a nuclear holocaust.  I have yet to find a cause. 

 

We motored on to our resting point for the night, Cody, which is another Wyoming town featuring a regular rodeo and a Buffalo Bill Center of the West. We had dinner in an all-American bar, just as they appear in the movies, and I encountered a toilet like no other. The ‘Ladies’ consisted of two cubicles without doors but with half curtains you simply pulled across. Why bother? You could probably see everything anyway. I confess here, I scarpered without availing myself of the facilities, simply crossed my legs and limited my intake of beer. Don’t ever let it be said we don’t have fun on our road trips!

Carolyn’s Curios & Curiosities

I had some apprehension about today’s scheduled visit to Yellowstone and, especially, the Old Faithful Geyser. What’s to like about a water spout which squirts into the air every 90 minutes or so? Particularly, when I’ve seen the Jet d’eau in Geneva which propels a water to 460 feet.

However, I was wrong. Yellowstone is almost four times the size of the Lake District National Park and is regarded as the first National Park in the world – established by Ulysses S. Grant in 1872. It spreads across parts of three States: Idaho, Montana and Wyoming – the State where we are spending tonight.

I thought of describing Yellowstone as the ‘Lake District on steroids’ but it’s much more than that. It is big… area, height, features, popularity, variety etc. But, it deserves its incredible reputation by tastefully allowing tourists to visit easily and productively. The road system and parking are superb around the Park despite the heavy usage. Speed limits on the roads help safety but also encourage viewing the natural beauty and ‘Awesome’ is not misplaced for the many elements. Odd facts like Yellowstone has between 1000 and 3000 earthquakes each year, and, it used to be one of the biggest volcanoes on the planet but had a cataclysmic explosion 640 000 years ago with the last lava flow being about 70000 years ago. Between fifty million and forty million years ago, multiple volcanoes continued erupting. (How do the fundamentalists square this with the earth only being – they say – 4000 years old?!) All that history with clear visible reminders.

So, some tremendous memories of a very special place. We can’t let you hear the sounds nor smell the aromas but you can see the photos.

 

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Other curios – we crossed another Continental Divide which, this time, was about a mile and a half above sea level. High!

Tonight we’re in Cody. Trying to impress Kath with my childhood cowboy knowledge, I said how strange us having seen a bison (buffalo) that we’re going to Cody. “Why strange?”, asked Kath in an oddly relatively disinterested way which typifies the usual reaction from others when I say, “Isn’t it interesting?!’ Anyway, the point I was making was that Buffalo Bill, of Wild West fame, was really called Colonel William Frederick Cody. QI, I thought. However, it transpires that the town was named after him as he helped found it! Even more QI, I reckon. 

Talking of bison and buffalo – (attempt at joke follows): 

Q. What’s the difference between a buffalo and a bison?

A. You can wash your hands in a bison but not a buffalo!

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Seriously, they’re the same animal but this one came close… within arm’s reach of the car but not near the speed limit indicated. Slow, steady and, somehow, menacing. I closed my window!

Fnally, I suppose I should repost my two Old Faithful(l)s from Facebook…

Two Old Faithful(l)s

I’m not being disparaging because Marianne is only 6 months older than I am – and spells her name with a double L. However, I couldn’t resist posting two photos of ‘Old Faithful(l)’. The reason being that her Top Ten record from 1964, ‘As Tears Go By’, was playing today in the Tourist Centre (along with Donovan and other 60s tracks)! I’ll also post a photo of her when she recorded it to make some amends. 😀

 

 

Missoula to Yellowstone – 280 miles plus a good few more in the Park

 

After yesterday’s long, long drive, today appeared shorter but given the very different scenarios along the route, it was like driving through different countries.  We started off in brilliant sunshine with temperatures in the 20s but 50 miles or so along the way, a peculiar haze covered the sun and the temperature began to fall. We were once again in agricultural country but mainly arable. A further 50 miles and we appeared to be driving through a very flat, very wide basin with mountains all around, albeit some considerable distance away. Was that cloud on the tops of one part of the range or was it snow?  That particular example was cloud but we did see bits of the white stuff amidst the crags.  The temperature was now only 10 degrees and falling. 

 

The sky had darkened a bit more, although there were no rainclouds, just a rather dark and ominous haze. Pollution? Certainly the last time I saw this sort of thing was in China, but although agriculture had given way to mining, there appeared to be no major industry.  It felt as though we were at altitude (blocked ears), but suddenly we were climbing fast and encountered a sign telling us we were crossing the Continental Divide.  Having looked it up since, we discover this is about 8,000 ft in Montana. Strangely, the temperature also began to climb, the sun broke through and we switched from the car heater back to air conditioning.  We followed a river for miles. Sometimes it meandered gently and people fished, but sometimes it was much more aggressive as it swept over boulders. 

 

 

 

Finally we arrived. Yellowstone Park beckoned us in and we duly paid for a 7 day pass for the princely sum of $35. Bargain – even if we only have 2 days. So on we went, encountering a pair of elks in the rutting season. The bull wasn’t having the cow stray anywhere he couldn’t see her and the rangers were doing their best to keep people away from them!  We moved on to Mammoth Springs to marvel at the hot springs and the burbling pools, the salt formations and the permanent smell of rotten eggs. Let the photographs provide a sample of the majesty here and we will crack on with our exploring tomorrow. 

Carolyn’s Curios & Curiosities

Ok, so I don’t have high culture. As a teenager, instead of reading books and listening to Classical Music, I played in a rock band, endlessly repeated pop 45s (and 78s!) on my Dansette record player and… watched cartoons on TV! And here, dear reader, is where this story begins.

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A long time ago, when summers were always sunny, my interest in nature – especially mountainous forests – began. At first, I thought that the place I was watching was referred to by its correct name but, as I grew older and wiser, I understood the error of my ways.

It was really called Yellowstone National Park and… here I am. We’ve seen real elks, stuffed eagles and beavers, mountain lions and coyotes, both post-taxidermy, but not my childhood idol. 

Where is Yogi?!

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Yogi Bear, created and anthropomorphised by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, was a smart-mouthed, lovable rogue who stole picnic baskets from tourists in the humorously named ‘Jellystone National Park’. The creators of Yogi Bear fought a law suit from famous baseball player, Yogi Berra, that my Yogi wasn’t named after him. I suspect Yellowstone/Jellystone didn’t have a connection either!!!

Anyway, back to the story…706B545E-3DAC-4DE2-89C4-C8C66B102285

Yogi was always playful and had a friend, Boo-Boo, who tried to keep Yogi on the straight and narrow. Albeit, without success.

The Park was patrolled, then and now, by Rangers and, of course, Ranger Smith (referred to by Yogi as ‘Mr Ranger, Sir’) chased after Yogi trying to protect the visitors from the ‘wild’ animals who may steal their “Pic-a-nic” baskets.

 

I liked Yogi. Self-deprecating, he wasn’t. His catchphrase still reverberates round my memory recalls… “Smarter than the av-er-age bear, Boo-Boo”.

No, not that I ‘liked’ Yogi (past tense); I still like Yogi!

Smart-mouthed? Lovable? Fun loving? What’s not to like?!

However, we’re not in Jellystone; we’re in Yellowstone. No Yogi or Boo-Boo or ‘Mr Ranger, Sir’; we’ve not even seen any pic-a-nic baskets but we have seen some incredible sights with more to see tomorrow.

(But, I would like to see Yogi! I miss him. CTMQ.)

LATE NEWS: I found Jellystone Park but I think its not the real one! Seriously! Its address is 9900 Jellystone Avenue, Missoula, MT 598086

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“Smarter than the av-er-age bear!”

From Ellensburg to Missoula – 369 miles

It doesn’t sound far when you say it quickly but by the time we had crossed state lines (Washington/Idaho/Montana) and lost an hour into the bargain by crossing into a new time zone, you appreciate the vastness of this country.

 

It was a brilliant morning and we appreciated the ‘big skies’ we encountered. As you take in the 360 degree vista, you quickly recognise that there can be numerous weather patterns as you turn in each direction.  Once again we saw that the warm days will not be here for much longer when fresh signs are being erected with ice warnings, stopping places for snow chains and miles of snow poles.  I don’t usually like the white stuff but a log cabin in the woods with lots of deep snow might be appealing, well it might for about five minutes!

 

So what did we see on the journey?  Mile after mile of agricultural land with names of crops on the fences so you at least know what you are looking at, lots of mountains, beautiful lakes with resort areas for campers, and some incredible roads that appear endless.  I was very excited to drive up and down some of the mountains at 80 mph – seriously, that was the speed limit.  I don’t think I have ever seen road signs in America with such a high speed limit before, so it would be rude to disobey.

We are actually heading for Yellowstone National Park but today have passed loads of national parks, and the great outdoors is very much on offer here.  Sadly, in a way, we didn’t have time to stop and explore and, fortunately, we had pushed ourselves to arrive at the hotel in good time. Less fortunate was the discovery there was no room at the Inn and Booking.com had mucked up.  It took some time and some persistence but we got a decent alternative and went to celebrate with a hot dog and a frozen custard.  That was after introducing Carolyn to Denny’s at lunch time. My goodness we know how to live!

Carolyn’s Curios & Curiosities

Today, as Kath indicated, we began the road part of our Road Trip in earnest. So,… my part of our blog today will be about the roads.

There is a scale about North American roads which impresses and disturbs. ‘Round the corner’ could be several miles and ‘down the road’ could be a hundred or so!

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Sally, our Sat Nav, gave us our first instructions and, as it was my turn to drive, I listened carefully. She told me, “Continue on the I90 for 174 miles”. Nothing else for over two hours! Obediently, on this occasion, I set cruise control at the speed limit of 70 mph and… 172 miles later had touched the brake once and accelerator twice. The road was long, straight, low traffic, relatively high speed and totally trouble free.

After stopping for lunch at Denny’s, Kath and I swapped seats and Sally’s instruction for her changed to “Continue on the I90 for 185 miles”. Simple so far but… within two miles we hit a traffic jam! This was followed by someone’s breakdown, bend after bend, hill after hill, numerous road works and a five lorry pile-up with one trailer on its side. (I tried not to smile when I saw the third truck involved had ‘Jesus saves’ on the cab and was plastered with Biblical quotes. Denny’s was next to Victory Church, a fundamentalist organisation who still believe that Creation took place in 4004 BC. I make no apology for saying they’re wrong… and dangerously so!)

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Kath’s bonus for the afternoon came when the speed limits changed and she could legally do 80 mph for the first time. ‘Legally’ do it, note! Needless to say, every road works we encountered after that increased her frustration (and verbal outbursts as she blamed the world for stopping her driving at 80!). She’s a frustrated F1 driver deep down!

 

And, on the road, we passed signs to the Grand Coulee Dam, which brought back memories for me of the Woody Guthrie song; in Idaho signs for the Purple Heart Trail; Road signs warning of Abrupt Lane Edges; the beautiful Lake Coeur d’Alene and its eponymous feeder river. Snow poles and ice warnings reminded us that a pleasant Fall day heralded a much harsher winter to come. Idaho’s Panhandle National Forest echoed days gone by and the little town of Kellogg was named after a prospector not a Cornflakes salesman. Cristal Gold Mine in Silver Valley also mentioned something of the area’s history.

 

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I had one of my CTMQ (Chuckle To Myself Quietly) moments when a sign said, “Two Mile Road 1 Mile” which was followed some junctions later by the more confusing, “Nine Mile Road 1 Mile”. Regrettably, we passed both original signs at speed but I snapped the junction sign itself. 

 

 

 

Similarly, the “C’mon Inn” was a clever name for a business but I didn’t smile at the “Wildlife Crossing” sign in Montana which had been “Game Crossing” in Washington State. 

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And, when we arrived in Missoula, there was no room at the Inn!

The Road Trip begins…

Was it only yesterday that we packed up our belongings in Toronto and flew to Vancouver?  We got a real bucket shop flight at a low cost and reckoned it worked on quite a few levels. In the first instance our road trip is based more on the western side of the country which is over 2000 miles of driving, secondly the quote for the cost of hiring in one city and returning the car to the other side of the country was, on this occasion, $1500 CD, and finally we drove a lot of the Eastern seaboard side last year.  So, our time clocks took a hit (again) and we reached our very smart hotel in Vancouver at 11.30 or 2.30 by our body clocks left somewhere in Toronto.

That said, we were up and away in good time to go back to the airport and pick up the hire car. There are two parts to this story: the doorman at our posh hotel was helping to load our cases onto the courtesy shuttle, and being British we talked about the weather, the fact it was raining and there was a sharp fall in the temperature. He shrugged himself further into his cosy fleece and proclaimed that winter was on its way. Flappetty flippers, not yet!  But he did think we might avoid the first snow. Give me a break!  Second part of this story concerns picking up our hire car. We had already driven a monster truck this week, had booked a Jeep and wondered what was coming. Lovely guy said he had a nice SUV for us…promising. Turned out to be a very small Chevrolet SUV which would just about take one case but not both. Who was going to go without clothes?!  Carolyn declared this would not do, the man wanted to charge us for something bigger and Carolyn wasn’t having it!!  Who won?  Who do you think?  We now have a Nissan Rogue which takes all our stuff, no extra cost. Humph!

Next stop Ellensburg, but first we had to go and chat to the nice border people to cross from Canada into the USA. Now last year we queued at JFK for 3 hours to get in and I really thought that was a bit off. This time I hoped we might flash our passports and be waved on our way.  Don’t swear in print, don’t say it, don’t even think it!! We chatted to the nice lady at the kiosk (who had a very fine haircut) but smiles and compliments got us as far as something called “a secondary immigration check”, allegedly to put a stamp into our passports. A man with a gun and sunglasses (indoors on a cloudy day??) seemed impressed we had our ESTAs but he still made us queue for yet another Homeland Security Stamp in our passports. Blow me, we had to pay for the privilege too. $6 each!  So, an hour and a half later we were back on the road.

We had been asked where we were going. I said we were heading to Ellensburg, to which the quick response was, “Why?”.  It was the sort of comment which implied, “I wouldn’t if I were you”. Well, we had to stop somewhere as it is a lot further to Yellowstone Park.  Having arrived and driven around, it is OK. Turning off the southerly road at Seattle, we had headed east across some pretty impressive mountains. The rain and mist across the tops clung to the fir trees and mountain sides.  I swear the rain at the top was sleet and the temperature dropped to 10 degrees. Fortunately, once on the way down, the sun came out, the temperature climbed a bit and Ellensburg looked just fine, even the contrasting cheap and cheerful hotel is good enough without the joyful experience last night of sinking into the carpets!

Onwards tomorrow and another 300 miles to get nearer to Old Faithful – some geyser in Yellowstone!

Carolyn’s Curios & Curiosities

Yesterday was a strange day. We had planned that, instead of driving the 2700 or so miles from a Toronto to Vancouver, we would fly 2090 miles and begin our road miles in Vancouver allowing more time later in the trip.

From our pick up by Conroy, our quiet but capable Uber driver, the day dragged. We had to leave our hotel by 11 in the morning but our flight out was about 8 in the evening. We contemplated leaving our luggage at Union Station but, as our luck would have it, the whole service on that line was longer and less frequent that weekend. Never mind, we decided, we can leave our cases at Pearson Airport as the website indicated was possible. You’ve probably guessed that it wasn’t! So,… several hours with our cases and three more having gone through security guaranteed a somewhat potentially wasted day. However, we read, talked, had coffee and downright refused to be bored. It was, though, a strange day. 

Today was the 239 mile drive from Vancouver to Ellensburg which began in kilometres and ended in miles.

Now, here’s a thing, Canada measures distance and speed using kilometres, our car – hired in Canada – does the same. Our Sat Nav, nicknamed Sally for alliterative reasons, uses Imperial miles. Clash! Having recognised and adjusted my thinking to this quirk, crossing the border today into the U.S., the roads went back to Imperial but the car did not. Trying to adhere rigidly to speed limits from Sally Sat Nav on my car speedo in KPH was an interesting test of my mental arithmetic in conversion. Needless to say, it added to the interest! As did road signs: “Chain up parking only” and, one I’d seen before, “Keep off the median”. Place names littered with Native American derivations and Wild West references like ‘John Wayne Trail’ and ‘Custer’.

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So, another fun day ended with a Chinese meal and a local beer tonight after a Subway lunch. Well, when I say a beer, I didn’t drink half of it. Take a look at the ABV!

Goodbye Toronto

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We have really enjoyed this lovely city on the lake and tried to make the most of our few days here, but sadly the time has come to move on and begin the serious stuff. The open road beckons and we are off to Vancouver to pick up a car, apply ourselves to new discoveries, and to pit ourselves against the queues to cross the border into the USA. Please let it not take 3 hours like last year!! I might feel Mr Trump doesn’t want us. 

Although it is fair to say we were somewhat done in after the epic trip to Niagara, we set off on a boat trip, courtesy of the Big Red Bus tour we had done earlier in the week. We were not expecting it to be a big deal, just a quick trip out and around some of the islands nearby, and that is exactly what it was. Pleasant and mindless seemed appropriate on a number of levels. What we hadn’t accounted for was the huge drop in temperature, so playing out on the top deck may not have been the most sensible option. But it did enable me to get some nice photos of Toronto’s beautiful skyline. The islands teem with wildlife too so Carolyn and I felt quite at home!

We also happened upon a Vegan Food Festival along the waterfront with some good live music, such that we were even tempted back in the evening. The evening’s music came from a very good trio and the combination of swing and jazz was excellent, although it appeared slightly less popular with the young people, families, and the sort of folks who might better appreciate a music festival. But the kids ran around and played, the families enjoyed the food from the many stalls and we resisted sitting on the grass in case we couldn’t get up!!

So, goodbye Toronto, and I will now take more interest in baseball when I hear the Blue Jays are playing.

Carolyn’s Curios & Curiosities

We had always planned an easier day today. Recovering from a lengthy – time and distance – day with a late arrival back had taken something out of our relatively old bones and muscles. However, we weren’t going to waste it… nor the free boat trip!

Despite walking somewhat stiffly after the ‘marathon’ at Niagara, we set out with pace and lots of smiles. Chatting to ‘natives’ is always a bonus and the staff at the boat queue couldn’t have been nicer. Young and intelligent people who take service seriously is the norm here.

Even when we got back after my obligatory ribs with BarBQ sauce, planning for our flight onwards to Vancouver was a priority. As those who know me realise, ‘Planning’ is important to me! I can do improvisation and responding to circumstances but… ‘Planning’, I like! Although heights and underground are not my favourites (N.B. Kath – CN Tower and tunnels behind the Falls, albeit agreed to voluntarily took effort! Chuckle!). The warning was heeded!

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We haven’t done much listening to music yet but have managed a duo at Niagara and a jazz/blues trio this evening.

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The trio tonight – keyboard/vocalist, bass and drums were very professional and performed well. Actually, better to say played well. The performance would have been more appropriate for a jazz club rather than the open air bandstand despite the excellent sound system.

We were ‘tempted’ by another music venue but decided even the quirky name, ‘Bovine Sex Club’ wasn’t colourfully appealing enough for having to endure a punk venue!

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Kath mentioned the views from the boat – they really were the archetypal postcard photos. Such a pleasing vista as we scanned the skyline.

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My ribs and a couple of chilled Coors Light rounded off the day.

I had some apprehension about returning to a city which had had such a seminal impact on my life but… it was great seeing you again, Toronto. Thank you.