Thursday, 28 April 2011

Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks

It's Thursday now and I think it was Monday when we went to Bryce and Zion National Parks but the days are starting to blur... We're almost half way through the trip now - so we've got just over three weeks to go. Can't quite believe how much we've done and seen so far. And how many miles we've driven. I think we're near to 2,000 miles now.

So yes, we actually arrived at our motel in Tropic, Utah (just outside of the park) on Sunday early evening with plans to do a quick stop at a look-out over Bryce before dinner. But it was pretty much zero degrees when we arrived, we'd been driving for five and a half hours, and - actually - we couldn't be bothered.

We'd starting getting into the habit of squeezing as much into every day as possible, but burn-out was approaching. And it wasn't like our day had been uneventful. We had driven via Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell. Stunning.

So we had a well deserved 'night in', which included a crappy-but-good fast food dinner of battered shrimp and fries, hit the laundromat and watched Poirot on cable and played Gin Rummy, or some variant thereof. Super.

Less super was the washing machine breaking on our second load and not draining the water out, thus leaving us with a bundle of dripping, non-tumble-drier-able clothes. Lucy was not happy: "Travelling sucks. Why is there no spin setting?!"  Adam wrang out the clothes. Lucy was less angry. Especially after the satisfaction of setting up Stage One of the clever drying system.

Stage Two involved a chair on a bed near a hot-air fan heater. There is no photographic evidence of this but, believe me, it was awesome and our clothes were dry before we went to bed.

The next morning, refreshed, we woke to snow. SNOW! For the second time on our trip. We weren't expecting that, but we wrapped up and drove down the road to Bryce Canyon National Park. The Rough Guide: USA book said the best time to see Bryce was in the winter when the hoodoos (top-heavy columns) are covered in snow, so we were pretty lucky. This place was incredible. I'd love to have walked down into the basin but we were short of time (and breath: part of the canyon rim we walked up to was 7,777 feet above sea level).

It took us about two hours to drive west to Zion National Park. It's very different: to start with, you don't walk the rim; you drive straight down into the basin. Which was actually my favourite part of this park. The sceond pic is of the Great Arch that you see when you come out of a scary-ass long tunnel that goes through the rock face.

It's pretty lush (or "verdant" as Adam so proudly announced) down along the Virgin River. We did a short walk to the Lower Emerald Pools where the waterfall was doing its thing.

With Utah done, we headed west for something entirely different...

Las Vegas.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Grand Canyon

Saturday was Grand Canyon day. Things I'd heard about the canyon included: a) your photos just won't capture the size and grandeur of it; and b) it's so big that it looks like a cardboard cut-out.

Both true. When we pulled up at the visitor's centre and went to the easiest look-out, Mather Point, my first thought was: 'Is that it?' I know, I know... it's one of the seven natural wonders of the world and on every other person's bucket list. But it just didn't look like I'd thought it would. See?

Hmm. Looking at it now it's looks pretty ruddy impressive. But when you're there it's like your eyes just can't see enough - and there was a big rock face in the way. Ad felt the same. We needed some perspective! We'd seen that you could hike a fairly easy trail down into the canyon (the Bright Angel Trail), so we decided to do that. But not before we'd hopped on the shuttle bus to take a look from Hopi Point, one of the most famous viewpoints. That's more like it.

When Adam had taken about 100 photos (a slight change in the light alters your whole view of the canyon, it's amazing), we got the bus back to the start of the trail. 'We'll do the six-mile round trip easy,' we thought as we descended into the canyon.

FYI, that's a Blue Jay. And this is the view of (almost) the end of the Bright Angel Trail, about a 12-mile walk down into the canyon. And NOT, under any circumstances, to be attempted as a round trip in a day.

No more warning needed. We were more than convinced by the time we'd reached the one-and-a-half mile rest point on the trail and started contemplating the hike back up.

I didn't take any pictures on the way back up. But I can tell you that it was steep. And that the only thing you could hear - bar the 'ECHO echo echo...' yells of the odd teenager - was other people's strained breath. Even the most seasoned walkers seemed unable to get enough air into their lungs on the way back up. Perhaps it was because they'd already hiked to the bottom. Or perhaps it was because they - and we - were climbing 1,000 feet in the space of a mile and a half. Whatever the reason, we were glad and rather sweaty indeed by the time we got to the top.

Oh, and what I forgot to mention was that it was cold and blustery at the rim of the canyon, and it even rained for a time. Not into the basin of the canyon. Even in the short distance that we travelled down into the canyon the temperature rose by 10 or 15 degrees Celsius. It was HOT. So when we did get to the top, in our sweat-drenched t-shirts, we cooled down very quickly, so we rushed to the car for a change of clothes, did a quick grocery shop for dinner at the canyon's General Store and headed back to a look-out near the El Tovar hotel to watch the albeit very cloudy sunset.

Is that it? Yes, and it's a true spectacle.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

We're grand

That's right. We've hit the 1,000 mile mark. From LA to Flagstaff, Arizona to the Grand Canyon to Bryce Canyon, our rental car has delivered the grand on two and a half tanks of gas. And we're only a third of the way through the trip.

We left LA early doors (well, 8am) on Friday and, with the help of our road trip book, followed the historic Route 66 much of the way through California and into Arizona.

A definite highlight was Oatman, a tiny old mining town in the Black Mountains. This place was unbelievable - and 33 degrees Celsius. Burros (donkeys) roamed Main Street and the young burros had stickers on their heads warning you not to feed them. We had a drink in the Oatman Hotel, where Clark Gable and Carole Lombard honeymooned and whose restaurant walls are covered in dollar bills.

From Oatman we carried on east through the desert for another couple of miles. The views were spectacularly desolate - but people obviously live here.

11 hours after we left LA, we arrived in Flagstaff and crashed ready for the Grand Canyon the next day (Saturday). No pictures can do it justice... but I'll try in another blog post soon. Ta ta for now.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

La La land

LA is one crazy place. We've been staying with a friend of Ad's on Venice Beach - whose apartment looks right out onto the beach. Sweet! The place is writhing with wackos: the beach wakes up at about 6am when the traders set up their stalls and then it's cleared and pretty much silent by 11pm. Needless to say it's quite like waking up at a music festival! But from the comfort of a real (air) bed.

One our first full day, Tuesday, we walked along Venice Beach to Santa Monica for a bit of shopping and some double scoop gelato (Banana Caramel and Almond Avalanche for me and Maple Mudslide and something chocolate for Ad, in case you were wondering).

Then in the afternoon we wandered to the canals of Venice. I've never been to the real thing in Italy, but I'm guessing there are fewer palm trees than this:

Then in the evening we headed to Dodger Stadium to see the LA Dodgers vs Atlanta Braves. I'm not a baseball expert, but the games are pretty long. Especially when no one scores... Luckily, I had a Super Dodger Dog to keep me occupied. It's super because it's 'ALL BEEF'. God knows what the un-supers have in them.

Wednesday was Disney day. Ad burst out laughing when he saw the castle. Apparently, it's about a fifth of the size of the one in Florida. Whatevs. It's the Disney castle!! We went on all the scary rides; Big Thunder Mountain was the best. And Adam has the slo-mo video of me screaming my way round (with my ruddy arms in the air) to prove it. We also encountered the most freakishly nice 'Cast Member' who sold us our caramel apples. Like a fully grown Child Of The Damned. *Shudder*

Today was our last full day. Randomly, some guys from work were in town for a shoot so we met them on Hollywood Boulevard and saw the stars. Only the ones of the pavement, though. Also saw some crazy get lairy with a poor tour seller. Time to leave...

Check out this sight from the car:

This is how they carry bikes on buses in LA, folks.

For lunch, we drove up to Griffith Park Observatory - a welcome respite from the madness at city level. Bloody brilliant. Hollywood sign, view of the sprawling LA County, cheese enchilada, fruit, chill.

We ended the day with two indulgences: a Whole Foods shop and laundry. Excellent.

Next stop: Flagstaff, Arizona for the Grand Canyon. Let the road tripping commence.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

From Mid-West to West Coast

Monday morning in Ann Arbor:

Tuesday afternoon in Venice Beach, LA:

Ann Arbor: a food tour

Welcome to our extensive food tour of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Prepare to feel hungry.

First night: falafel. For any Bristolians reading, the Jerusalem Garden beat Magic Roll. Oh yeah, seriously good.

I didn't get a photo of the actual wrap because we were walking and eating, but I did get hummus all over my jeans (which I didn't realise until we came out of the orchestra recital). A worthy souvenir.

The next morning we slept in, so we skipped breakfast and headed out to Zingermans. People, this place is SOMETHING ELSE. It's a Jewish deli-cum-restaurant, and they make pretty much everything inhouse - even the olive oil and cheeses. It was just as well the line was long to get in because we needed about 20 minutes so choose from the massive menu. Eventually, I narrowed it down to the pastrami on toasted rye. Ad and Allie had the fish and Mike went for a wonderful meat combo I think.

When we got to the front of the line, this was waiting for us.

The pimento cheese, made with olives, was incredible. And that was just the beginning of the experience.

Oh, pastrami sandwich. I love you. We also had some mac and cheese. Never again will we be able to eat m&c from a can. This was so tasty.

Unsurprisingly, we were full till dinner (when we went off to explore the musical realms of our MiNDs) so we packed a little picnic to eat in the university union. We're not going to New York on our mini American adventure, but this is one Big Apple.

On Sunday morning, after a hearty breakfast made by Mike...

...we wandered downtown to look in the shops - oh, and to eat even more. Micro breweries are pretty big over here, so Allie and Mike took us to one of their favourites, the Jolly Pumpkin, which has been brewing since 2004.

What you see here are two lots of nine samplers of beer between the four of us. The Siren Amber was a smooth, creamy, yummy beer. The Madruga Obscura was a beast of a poisonous stout. Uck!

It was about 1pm and we (well, me at least) were starting to get a bit tipsy. It was okay, though, 'cause we washed it all down with truffle fries (OMG, so good), a truffle pizza and a delicious margerita with succulent sun-dried tomatoes.

Just a few hours later, after adventures in the awesome record shop and a neverending book store called the Dawn Treader, we went to Blue Nile, an Ethopian restuarant where you use the pancake-like bread to pick up the spiced lentils, cooked cabbage and collard greens and other yummies.

You'd think we'd have collapsed if we so much as looked at any more food... but I couldn't resist dragging us to Cupcake Station on the way home for some treats to have later on.

Here's the Bumpalicious (the chocolate one on the right) and a delish caramel-y little guy whose name I can't remember. Both were hiding a gooey marshmallow filling.

Greedy? Absolutely. But after all...

A sweet end to a super sweet weekend.