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Vancouver to Whistler (and back) – 168 miles

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Last full day today and, with a good weather forecast, what better place to visit than the mountains which have been hiding themselves since we arrived. Surprisingly, at least to us, was to find constant notices as we climbed the mountains demanding that snow tyres should be used and snow chains carried from 1st October to 31st March.  Crikey, that’s next week!  We had been asked by the car rental people whether we intended driving in the Rockies, so clearly there might have been a concern to ensure we had the right kit.

 

Our first stop was Shannon Falls, the third highest waterfall in British Columbia.  What?  OK, it’s high and impressive and it made a nice stop, but I have no idea where to find the two higher ones. There were various hiking trails which took you through dense forestry, no thanks, as well as a trail to the gondolas which took you to the top of the mountain. I think there was snow up there but the morning cloud was still clinging steadfastly to the mountain and who knew when/if it might lift.  Even for seniors it was a $40 ride and with the risk of being unable to see anything, it was ‘no thanks’ again and we simply carried on up the fabulous Sea to Sky Highway.

 

We passed by Squamish, another small mountainside town, which helps to service the better known Whistler. You could see that the 2010 Winter Olympics had demanded service requirements to those going up the mountain, so many of the usual culprits were there, including McDonald’s, Subway, etc.  By this time the sun was breaking through, the views ahead were becoming increasingly spectacular and the prospect of coffee at Whistler provided the impetus to continue.

 

We knew we were nearing when the electricity pylons became almost as dense as the trees.  Somewhere a huge amount of electricity was being used.  Smart lodges and hotels, clearly ski related, were much in evidence and then we saw the ski lifts and the hillsides which will soon be pistes, deep with snow and full of brightly clad skiers.  We turned into Whistler, discovered the Tourist Information Centre, found loads of huge hotels, chalets, drop offs for the gondolas, but no coffee.  Come on, this is silly, there must be a village. Of course there was, and eventually we found everything we needed, all overlooked by the still proudly displayed Olympic Rings.  In fact we found a large slice of pizza each at a cafe quaintly named ‘Gnarlyroots’ and enjoyed the sun in the village square sitting in huge adirondacks.  The Fall is much in evidence in Whistler but the maples are already shedding their bright red leaves ready to reclothe their branches in thick snow. Were I ever tempted to slide down a mountain on cold white stuff, I would certainly come here.  Luxury and convenience are everywhere, but I confess that sliding onto a sunbed on a hot white beach is more to my liking, so perhaps not, Whistler. You did your best and I loved the visit, but……

 

The scenery was, of course, spectacular.  The high mountains already have snowy tops and the sea views during our descent were equally breathtaking.  Such a wonderful day for our last full day of the 2018 Road Trip. What entertainment can we come up with for the evening?  Cinema, music, a nice meal?  Something to sustain us for the packing!!

 

Carolyn’s Curios & Curiosities

A final full day of our Road Trip and we were… on the Road, again. (Apologies to Willy Nelson and Canned Heat as we sang both versions – albeit briefly!)

 

The Sea to Sky Highway (aka BC-99) took us through some of the most beautiful countryside with mountains (some snow capped) on one side and the Strait of Georgia on the other. The road wasn’t devoid of bends or hills so it was also interesting to drive. Signage was in English and Squamish which added another dimension. Researching led me to find out that, in 2014, there were only 7 native speakers but now there are University courses in it as they try to preserve that part of their First Nation heritage.

 

I found Shannon Falls quite impressive but resorted to one of my appalling attempts at humour by mentally singing “Oh, Shenandoah” when I saw a Shannon door! #trulysorry

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Onto Whistler. It wasn’t our first choice of destination for today but coming on as a substitute, it scored!

Again, looking at some research, Until the 1960s, this quiet area was without basic infrastructure; there were no sewage facilities, water, or electricity, and no road from Squamish or Vancouver. In 1962, four Vancouver businessmen began to explore the area with the intent of building a ski resort and bidding for the 1968 Winter Olympics. Garibaldi Lift Company was formed, shares were sold, and in 1966, Whistler Mountain opened to the public.

Later, the town, then still known as Alta Lake, was offered the 1976 Winter Olympics after the selected host city Denver declined the games due to funding issues. Alta Lake (Whistler) declined as well, after elections ushered in a local government less enthusiastic about the Olympics. The 1976 Winter Olympics were ultimately held in Innsbruck, Austria.

However, Whistler was the Host Mountain Resort of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympic Games, the first time the IOC has bestowed that designation on a community. Whistler hosted the alpine technical and speed events.

 

There is money about in the ‘resort’. Impressive, indeed. However, the Olympic Ring ‘statue’ is inaccurate, in my view, as the rings should show linking to form a chain of friendship between the continents. The colours are indicated on the ‘statue’ but not the chain, I suggest. Anyway,… the place was still impressive – as was the pizza slice!

On the way back to Vancouver, I had the enviable task of finding appropriate picturesque opportunities for our resident roving photo-journalist (aka Kath!). Looking for viewing points (which often didn’t have much of a view) and driving down ‘No thru roads’ (sic) to find the best shot of a mountain or water focussed my mind and enabled me to have a ‘task’. I like tasks! Genuinely, give me a task to do for someone and I’m like a dog with two tails! Chuckle! 

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I, also, like rocks. Having read Rudkin’s ‘Ethics of the Dust’ many years ago, the longevity, history, sight and feel of rock impresses and intrigues me. So, when I overheard that a rock close by was the biggest monolith on Earth, my ears pricked up.

If the rock (approx. 100 million years old) had been around for the equivalent of one day, I would have been around for 0.06 seconds of it! Wow!

Stawamus Chief (Mountain) is not the highest nor has the greatest volume despite standing some 2297 feet (700 metres) above the Howe Sound. Looking at World Rankings, The Chief came in 12th which is still impressive but has often been claimed to be the second largest GRANITE monolith in the World and I can’t dispute that claim. Hail to The Chief – Stawamus (not Trump). 

We’ve had Ribs and Baked Potato (not ‘Jacket’!) for dinner. Very North American and very tasty, too. 

Tomorrow is another day and our 2018 adventure is almost over. 

Vancouver – no miles driven!

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Yesterday was merely a travel day, a day for crossing the border once more and arriving back into British Columbia for the final leg of our tour.  We opted to have today as a general sightseeing day and to use one of our favourite resources to see Vancouver, the Hop-on-Hop-off bus tour.  But first the challenge of getting downtown to pick up said tour as we had opted to stay a little way out of the city.  No Uber cars here, apparently, so being worldly travellers we would take the bus. We checked on how much it would cost ($1.95 each for Seniors, no matter how long the journey) and found you needed the exact change.  Off we went to hotel reception and emerged with $15 in bits!! No matter, we were good to go.

Along came the bus in a matter of seconds and we were off for our 20 minute ride.  A few stops into the journey, the area began to look a little down at heel, as did the large number of passengers joining us.  I thought very little of it at the time as the minute we alighted we were only a couple of blocks from our tour bus. Our tour was a game of two halves, with the choices of a tour of the city, a tour of the parkland surrounding it, or both.  Well, we had all day, so why not both?!

The city was vaguely interesting, but not exactly enthralling.  An interesting fact is that the city’s oldest church is in the heart of the financial area. God and Mammon and all that. But I loved that church’s slogan, “Open  doors, open hearts, open minds”.

I really thought the best bit of the city was the Gastown area, Vancouver’s oldest area. It certainly had character, notably in the form of the statue of the man who had arrived with just his wife and a barrel of whisky. His name was John Deighton, nicknamed Gassy Jack, as his ambition was to brew alcohol in Gastown to quench the thirst of the thousands of immigrants who had come to build both the city and the railroad.  Or it might have been the steam clock that intrigued me when it blew a tune on the quarter hours and blew copious amounts of steam on the hour.  Whatever, but it certainly wasn’t my first introduction in that area to the distressing state of vast numbers of people that had me photographing madly. I have never come across anything quite like this anywhere in the world. An ambulance had stopped in the street and the queue snaked on for a fair distance with people looking for some sort of fix.  More of this to come.

Duly fortified with coffee and a sandwich, courtesy of Starbucks, we were off on the park part of the tour.  The morning bus had been rather uncomfortable when we sat at the back, where we thought we might get better photographs. The noise of the engine was ‘unusual’ and reminiscent of the old two-stroke, but the driver seemed to need to take a bit of a run at the hills and we found ourselves well and truly bounced around.  So, for the afternoon trip, it was seats at the front.

The outer part of the city features the really beautiful Stanley Park and as The Fall is arriving in Vancouver the constant variation in colour, to say nothing of the views of the city across the water, added immensely to our pleasure. The sun was slow to emerge today and low cloud hung tenaciously to the mighty Rockies beyond, but it was a mild, calm day and we were mostly pleased with what we saw.  That was until we walked the couple of blocks back to the point where we would get our bus back to the hotel.

I have already mentioned the problem in Gastown, but here the issue was everywhere we looked.  I have never seen so many distressed folks in one place, whether it be through drug abuse, alcohol, mental issues, abject poverty or a combination of all four.  People were selling their worldly goods on the pavements and begging for money.  They were in such a poor state I could not imagine how many might survive for many years.  I am sure they are not all homeless but here is a problem of some considerable magnitude.  We remained safe, but it is not a journey I would want to take either alone or at night.  Next time a city centre hotel might be the answer, or maybe not!

Carolyn’s Curios & Curiosities

In 2017, Vancouver was voted the third best city in the world to live! And, I could see why. But, I could also see ‘why not’ as well!

The history of this city stretches back to 1792 when Captain George Vancouver from his ship, HMS Discovery, spent time on the site. How long? A day! And yet, in 1886, it bore his name. Ironically, it was named because people in Montreal and Toronto knew the name of Vancouver Island but not the name of the town to where the new railroad was joining them. The old name was Granville (also called Gastown – an area still remaining). The Trans-Continental railroad arrived in 1887. That year, Vancouver’s population was 1,000, by 1891 it reached 14,000 and by 1901 it was 26,000. The population increased to 120,000 by 1911.

But, what of today?

The bustling, glass, steel, shiny, new parts of Vancouver match any city. These, together with parks like Stanley Park alongside the many expensive boats moored in the harbour emphasise affluence, style, sophistication etc. However, just a few blocks away, ‘Downtown East Side’ (DTES) says the opposite. Homelessness, drug abuse, sex workers are obvious on almost every corner and along the blocks between.

The growth of drug use with contamination is clear and the deaths caused by it makes a salutary read.

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The causes are many but include the reasons expressed by a local physician, “In my 12 years of work as a physician in the DTES, I never met a female patient who had not been sexually abused as a child or adolescent, nor a male who had not suffered some form of severe trauma… Addictions are attempts to escape pain.”

Mental health issues were obvious and the present reality was at variance with previous aspirations. “When we deinstitutionalized, we promised [mentally ill] people that we would put them into the community and give them the support they needed. But we lied. I think it’s one of the worst things we ever did.” Senator Larry Campbell, former Mayor of Vancouver. 

The population of DTES has a higher proportion of Canadian Aboriginals than other areas of the city. I had to check that ‘Aboriginals’ was the correct term as I had been pleased to hear several references on our tour bus to ‘First Nation’ people. However, First Nation people, together with Inuit and Métis, are referred to by that term. They are not the problem; they are the victims, in my view.

As we stood waiting at the bus stop, a stocky Black guy staggered towards us. We smelt the alcohol before we saw the bottle he was carrying. He spoke to us but other than “Hello, ladies” we understood very little else other than a casual invitation to have sex with him! My senses were on red alert but he turned away towards others close by. His speech, and that of others, was not merely punctuated by crude swear words; it was dominated by them. He spotted a woman being helped down the street who was wearing a surgical gown and, seemingly, little else. He propositioned her and, when he was rebuffed, his stock phrase was repeated ad nauseam. I’ve seen many towns and cities where I have inwardly cried at those unfortunate people who, for whatever reason, are addicted in some way and, through it, indicted to a life of hell.

Not all go down that road. The area has some strong community feeling and a lot of work is going on to try to turn the tide of misery. They deserve applause and help.

Would I come back to the city or recommend it to others? Yes, certainly, but the memory of DTES will stay with me. ‘Down’ town, at the moment but, hopefully, on the way up. 

Footnotes:

1. Lord Stanley, when he officially opened Stanley Park in September 1888, said it was dedicated “to the use and enjoyment of peoples of all colours, creeds, and customs, for all time.” It’s even engraved on his statue. So, why, 130 years on are we still needing this on the door of Starbucks. Why?!

2. There is a Jimi Hendrix Memorial in Vancouver (as well as the statute in his birth town of Seattle, our previous stop) – interesting coincidence. The reason is that young James spent time here with his grandmother. 

3. Our driver on the tour bus was, what my mum would have said, “a character”! The bus was a trolley car design (and age!) which she handled with some aplomb and strength. She was unerringly helpful and polite but sent useful (and firm) reminders about the fines she would have to pay by letting people on other than at the designated stopping point. We had two hours of her and wouldn’t have missed a minute!

4. Interesting sign outside Vancouver Library…

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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 

 

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. 😀

 

 

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!

Aloha from Honolulu…

Aloha from Honolulu…

When I discovered that our return journey was routing us via Los Angeles, it seemed like a good opportunity to take in 3 days’ worth of R&R in Honolulu; the place I first came to way back in 1990. My children were teenagers and for many reasons it was a special holiday. In the intervening years, Waikiki Beach has changed somewhat and ‘grown up’. The hotels have obviously multiplied and grown in size and when you find all the major chains in one place you know tourism is a massive business. Our choice this time was the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort. It is a huge village, more of a town, which is still growing, and on my third day there are large parts I have yet to discover. Similarly, every brand and fashion house is present too, and judging by the number of bags people carry, the dollars are pouring in. And yet……

 

Our days had “chilled and lazy” written all over them. Our first day was spent simply getting over an overnight flight and we were happy to laze by the pool in the hot sun (or, in Ann’s case, in the hot shade). By the second day, we were ready to step outside the complex and explore. First a beach walk (sand you sink right into), breakfast and a swim. The time just slips away, but plenty of time left for more of an expedition. Thanks to an unfortunate “loss” in Auckland, I needed to replace my missing iPad and research found that the cost here was the same in dollars as in pounds at home. That took us on a pleasant walk to an Apple shop, situated in a beautiful shopping mall. Job done (as well as a drink and early evening meal), so we wandered off to walk back but found a trolley bus service which, for $2 each, took customers to the major hotels on Waikiki Beach. Therefore, for a very small amount, we got a real Cook’s tour as well as a ride back.

 

Storms were threatened for today but, although hot and overcast, there was no rain, as yet. Our trolley ride had inspired us to investigate the original Waikiki Beach where, in the early 20th century, legendary surfer, Olympic swimmer and Waikiki native, Duke Kahanamoku, introduced the sport to the world. There stands his monument, complete with fresh lei, and we filled our shoes with sand as we watched today’s surfers take to the waves.

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Just along the road is what last night’s fabulous trolley driver, Nina, described as “the concrete jungle”. Shops, galleries and everything to tempt the wealthy hedonists who come to Honolulu for things of a more materialistic kind than the mighty surf. We found the Maui Brewing Company just after marvelling at a rarely seen Tesla showroom. The beer we could afford….just!

I really believed it was heaven on earth the last time I came but now the visitors seem to swamp the lovely, smiley, warm-hearted local people. It really is the 50th State of America and the Polynesian Villages seem to be just places for the tourists. I have had a lovely time but find my memories perhaps a little flawed. Maybe I left it too long to return and missed the changes during the intervening years.

It’s been lovely to see you, Hawaii, but now we are homeward bound. 5 am departure from the hotel and then flights to Los Angeles, Heathrow and Manchester. It’s been an amazing adventure over the last month and I can’t believe it is coming to an end…..until the next time.

Carolyn’s Curios & Curiosities

Let’s get the jokes out of the way first… Hawai’i (note the apostrophe) makes me think of a Geordie asking, “How are yi?” Similarly, #sorry, Waikiki prompts me inwardly to ask, “Why not kiki?!”

Enough, we all cry.

We are towards the end of the longest holiday I’ve ever been on. Until last year but one, my longest holiday was a fortnight. However, when Ann and Kath mulled over this trip, I went along with it. Good decision? Yes, certainly!

This is our final holiday destination as we begin our flight back early tomorrow morning. The thrill of crossing the International Date Line masked the crossing of the Equator back into the Northern Hemisphere. To be honest, I only realised this when I suddenly recovered my sense of direction walking along the beach here. The position of the Sun is more important to me than I thought. Similarly, it’s a tick-off for me in that, when we get back to Manchester, we will have circumnavigated the globe!

So, what of Hawai’i…

I don’t think I had a clear expectation. Other than Hawaii Five-0 (the original!) and Elvis’ Blue Hawaii etc., I didn’t have much idea of what the place was like.

However, it’s somewhat akin to those memories except they’ve commercialised, gone bigger, brasher and, frankly, lost some of the tropical magic. Of course, we are greeted everywhere with, “Aloha!” but I wonder whether even that is just for the tourists. Waiters and waitresses alternate, after you’ve ordered with, “You got it!” or “My pleasure!” Talking of tourists, predominantly they are from the Far East – Japan, China and South Korea – with a much larger proportion of teenage girls than would be found in most resorts. Honolulu has a strong historical connection with those countries and, certainly, this U.S. State is very different from all 49 others.

Our ‘hotel’ is, genuinely, a village. Aptly called Hilton Hawaiian Village, it has more shops than St. Anne’s, I’m sure. It runs like clockwork and covers all 24 hours on the clock. So much to see and do without going off the campus. But, we did… on campus, we fo7nd Rainbow Tower (with the tallest mosaic in the world), Rainbow Lenai and Rainbow Bazaar with our own relatively tame Rainbow!

We walked along the beach, paddled in the Pacific, swam in one of the pools and indulged in laying in the sun. As we, also, needed to visit an Apple shop down the road, we found the most impressive Mall I’ve seen. The quality of the shops, eateries etc. was cosmopolitan and upmarket, indeed. We had spotted, whilst walking in the midday sun some quirky trolley buses and we decided to get one to return to the hotel. After missing the first call for our hotel, we stayed on board and had a great trip round nighttime Waikiki. Serendipity and worthwhile.

On the beach, we spotted an outrigger, Honolulu Police (without an Hawaii Five-0 sign and more. As we return to the UK, the memories will stay fresh for many years and these blog posts and photos will help. We, also, saw Diamond Head the name of the volcano and the hotel block we stayed in. Compare Elvis’ backdrop to my own photo.

Curiosity – the smell. We couldn’t place it. Possibly vegetable, flowers? Not floral, though. But, could be something else. Not sure.

Aloha!