All you Texas detractors can bite your tongues. Adam and I saw both Houston and Austin over the last couple of weeks, and we thought they were great. Sure, we mostly saw Texas from the inside of bars and restaurants, and we only visited two cities, but that’s how we’ve seen most places…
First, let me say that I love Austin’s airport. It’s been our most hassle-free experience of aviation in the USA to date, both arriving and departing. Quick check-in, quick security, quick rental car pick up (and cheap! Go Ace!) – makes me far less apprehensive about our remaining internal USA flights. Bravo, Austin! Unfortunately, our expeditious exit from the airport robbed us of our usual time to plan what we were going to do in Austin, so we were very disorganised and haphazard about the 4 days we had. Still had a good time though 🙂
We arrived on Sunday afternoon, so took advantage of the minimal traffic in downtown to visit the State Capitol. I know everything’s bigger in Texas, but this building is bigger than DC’s to the tune of 5 feet! From a distance, it looks a dusky pink – a bit feminine for such a ballsy state, but it turned out to be Red Sunset (sand? lime?) stone – it’s quite attractive up close. The building was testament to the money in Austin: the building is grand, pristine and actually quite classy.
We bunked at Ryan’s dad’s house (thank you again for having us, Mark!) for a couple of nights, so got some tips to check out Zilker Park (lovely), drive around the wine region and sample the local BBQ flavours. Most people seem willing to admit that Texas produces crap wine, so we didn’t bother sampling it – just admired the scenery and architecture, and ate ribs (drool).
We managed to catch up with some new friends for dinner on the famous 6th Street, followed by some jazz at one of the local spots – it certainly whet our appetite for what was to come in New Orleans! And we took a short drive to San Antonio to check out The Alamo and the river walk – very peaceful.
Austin was lovely and I look forward to seeing it again next year for SXSW 2012! Now onto the pre-honeymoon cruise…
With only a few weeks left in Farmington, we opted to revisit one of Adam’s favourites: Yellowstone. An added bonus was the opportunity to meet up with Adam’s brother, Simon, who was travelling with Jade (his girlfriend) and Travis (Jade’s brother). Not only was it lovely to have their company, it was a huge help to have another group with a car when arrived at Jackson Hole’s airport to find Thrifty (a) wasn’t based at the airport, and (b) closed at 9pm (we arrived at 9:05pm). Note to all: do not hire Thrifty cars from Jackson Hole! Also reminded us to use TripAdvisor to check these things before booking….
The drive up through the Grand Tetons was a striking prelude to our 3 days in the park. Even in the gloom of rain clouds, they are a phenomenal sight: massive craggy peaks rising from a flat plain. We took the shots below on the way home when the sun was shining. As you can imagine, it’s hard to keep your eyes on the road when you’re driving past such amazing scenery.
Yellowstone seems to be a one-stop-shop for all the interesting and beautiful parts of nature. Some areas of the park resemble a moonscape, others are thickly forested, and then there are the sweeping plains, the canyon, waterfalls and lakes. So much to see, so little time!
There are other places with so many attractions to recommend them, but the thing that sets Yellowstone apart is its volcanic activity. The ground is literally alive with geysers, mud pits and springs. Not knowing when or where steam may burst forth from the earth is a great incentive to stay on the paths! Some, like Old Faithful, are so predictable and impressive that there are stadiums built for watching their regular(ish) eruptions.
The pools and springs are perhaps the most visually stunning. The colouring comes from the heat tolerance of various bacteria present. In the most extreme examples, the cyanobacteria turn the middle of the pools glacier-blue, while the edges fade into various shades of rust and eventually green. The outlets for these pools are so small that all it takes is a coin to block them forever, hence there is a hefty fine for anyone silly enough to throw something into one. The Mammoth Springs are gobsmacking for their sheer size – the cascading terraces that have formed time look like infinity pools, albeit very smelly ones.
Yellowstone is also known to be crawling with wildlife, and we can verify that it has bison in spades. There are three to four thousand of them throughout the park, and they’re pretty comfortable around vehicles and walking on roads. We were stuck in mile-long car queues a few times for half an hour or more. Just as you’re thinking: ‘This queue better be for watching a bear attacking a moose’, you see an immense brown behind plodding slowly along. It’s amazing the first time, mildly amusing the second time, and a tad irritating from then on. However, it does remind you that we are merely visitors in their domain.
We saw a number of mule deer and elk sporting their impressive furry antlers, but by far the most exciting four-legged creature was the two moose (mooses?) we saw on the way to the airport at the appropriately named ‘Moose Junction’ – just when we thought we would miss out!
That’s our last national park on this trip to the USA, and what a way to finish up. Yellowstone is a must-see for USA visitors that enjoy the outdoors. Now, to the east, with its many and varied cities. First stop: Houston, Texas!
It’s been over a month since posting on here and that’s because we haven’t been sitting around long enough to type this stuff down. Time has now arrived to give it a crack…
We sat in 1024 East for a few days whilst Mark eyeballed dream bikes and mused over cliffs rides and enchiladas (the Moab kind). Reality struck and a plan to at least ride Durango was made. As a warm up, a spin on the Road Apple in Farmington and the Alien Run in Aztec were conducted. Whilst some have blogged that these are just big BMX tracks, I love them for it, and after seeing Durango and Moab (below) I do prefer the fast flowing single track – must be missing the speed as I’d normally have with engine power!
Durango was next: time to get into the hills – well, let’s call them mountains – and do some riding. Surprisingly the 10,000ft elevation was not too difficult though as Murphy’s Law would have it, a flat occurred on the first ride. Turns out the Stan’s ‘no flats goo’ had expired after 3 months! Engineer Mountain trail and Molas section of the Colorado trail were ridden and are amazing. By far the most amazing bit was the Alice in Wonderland flowers that grow above head height with the trail weaving through them.
Moab also had to be tried and after the usual bike choice delays we hit the MOAB trails and then Slickrock. My lasting memory will be the first proper hill at Slickrock that is about 10m high with 40 degree off camber rock, turns out you can just ride down it but a few minutes were spent psyching up for it. The rest of the trail had similar hills to go down and up and is a great experience that all MTBikers need to complete. The other achievement for Moab was getting out to the delicate arch after missing it on my previous 4 tries. Even got some photos of it!
Vegas: The target was to get Lacey out to Zion Canyon and do both Angels Landing and the Narrows. Our hire car was the first experience, a Mercury Grand Marquis, apparently a 2009 model that looked like it was out of the 70’s and had a boot sufficient for at least 2 bodies. Whilst we can bemoan the fuel guzzling V8 power, it makes for a smooth ride and a car that can dispatch speed bumps that way has to be tried to be believed. We only made it to Angels after a travel distance miscalculation, but it did mean we were back in town for a Black Bear Diner feed and some hot tub relaxation.
California: It’s a busy place and needs a different approach as there are no quiet corners. We tried Sequoia Park – it has big trees (as you’d expect). We missed Kings Canyon due to delays and swung through Yosemite again. California has a bear on its flag – I was a bit skeptical about this choice, but whilst taking some photos in Yosemite Valley (where the camp sites and hotel are) a bear and its cub wandered past the bridge we were on and continued on down to the campground! Guess they can justify the flag.
The drive from Vegas west was to meet Lacey in the Napa Valley. She was flying over for Opening the Kimono, an entrepreneurs event held at the Meritage Resort. The resort worked well for me as I could spa, swim and laze around, which was what I needed after 10 weeks on the road. Unfortunately, the Meritage food met Americans standards of quality requiring trips into Napa to eat. Luckily some great food is available in town, look up the tapas on main if you are there. My Napa highlight was hearing a big block again: it has been a few years and there is no better sound than big pistons spewing fuel out truck pipes. See my favourite car of the show below.
As of Friday, the countdown started: nine weekends left while based in Farmington! With four weekends already accounted for, time was running out for me to see the famous Million Dollar Highway everyone raves about, so Mark, Adam and I hit the road to Ouray… with a little stop in Durango to party with some the Navajo work gang 🙂 I’d post some of the photos of our fantastic night out on the town, but there’s only two types of photos: ones in which I look smashed while everyone else looks perfectly normal, and ones where everyone else looks smashed and I’m the normal one. In the interest of keeping my newfound friends and a modicum of dignity, I won’t post any evidence here.
We rolled out of bed on Saturday morning hangoverless (ah, the joys of being young) and hit the road to Silverton and on to Ouray. No matter how much of this countryside I see, I continue to be stunned by it. I think Colorado may well be my second home. Possibly aided by the constant presence of mining in this part of the world…
Ouray, much like Silverton, is nestled into a valley and, at this time of year, is awash with green. We headed to the end of town to visit Box Canyon and falls, which tumbles through a narrow slot in the earth and rushes towards the town with incredible force. Mark spent a fair bit of time assessing the ground for faults and seeing us safely through some hazardous areas…
We had every intention of visiting the Ouray or Orvis hot springs, but alas it was not to be: torrential rain set in around 5pm so we headed to our accommodation in Telluride. Lucky for us, the place was kitted out with a 4′ deep hot tub, from which comfort we could admire the piles of hail accumulated from the day’s weather. Ah, such a tough life.
There is some debate about the naming of Telluride – it may be a derivative of an element (which, of course, is not found here), it may be the name of a now-defunct postal station. My favourite myth is that it’s an abbreviation of ‘To hell you ride’, apparently the impression most people got back riding there back in the days before cars and proper roads.
Ah, Colorado, what treasures you hold. I will be sad to leave you. However, in the next three weeks the boys are road trippin’ and I have Seattle, Vegas and Napa Valley to distract me from the pain of separation. I think we’ll survive 😉
The focus of the trip was definitely on the natural wonders, but we happened across a few funky cities along the way.
After a time consuming border crossing, Seattle was a welcome surprise. In the space of an afternoon, we managed to cram in:
- Pike Place Public Market – famous for the hustle and bustle of its seafood sellers and as the home to the original Starbucks (no, we didn’t partake – the queue was out the door and across the street!
- Space Needle – offers a brilliant view of the city, and all the more special when Mt Rainier looks like its floating!
- The Sculpture Park on the foreshore – pretty impressive, even to a bunch of heathens like us
I liked it so much, I’m going back in a few weeks to catch up with some ex-pats! Definitely worth a visit.
No trip along the west coast would be complete without a stop in San Francisco. China Town and the botanical gardens were high on the list, but most impressive was the Golden Gate Bridge:
You know you’re in the tree-hugging hippie state when leave the redwoods to discover they’ve been replaced with their metal brethren:
On the home stretch we stopped in Las Vegas as our launching pad (literally – Jeneen and Mario took a helicopter ride from there) to the Grand Canyon. From the Stratosphere and away from the noise, Las Vegas actually looks quite pretty:
And of course, admiring the Bellagio water fountains was a great excuse to partake of the Bellagio buffet… again 🙂
Travelling in June/July has distinct advantages – warmer weather, open roads, awake animals and the benefit of the melt: copiously flowing waterfalls and rivers. Then there’s the stuff that water carves in its path – canyons, valleys and other curious rock formations that need to be seen to be believed.
The goosenecks at Dead Horse State Park in Utah were the first insight into what the desert hides. These winding waterways carve a giant snake into the land.
Then there’s the rocks that get left behind, only to slowly weather away in the wind and heat.
Some of the structures are so extraordinary they seem man-made. The Double Arches do not seem like something that could be formed naturally. You can almost imagine a giant holding a chisel, shaping the rock into this spectacular formation.
Yellowstone was a direct contrast to the deserts we travelled – instead of cutting deeper and soaking into the ground, water here shoots up into the sky from the sheer pressure caused by heat.
St Mary Falls is at the end of a short walk in Glacier National Park. Not huge, but the area is so peaceful and so obviously natural that it was a special experience.
Marble Canyon is on the road through the Kootenays and carves a deep groove into the rock. This is the head of the canyon, where the water barely cuts a groove. Further down, the canyon is dozens of metres deep and funnels the water into a raging torrent.
Athabasca Glacier on the Icefields Parkway offers a chance to walk on ice. Buses on giant tyres traverse a 30% gradient (you should have seen Jeneen’s white knuckles on that leg!) to drop you in the middle of the flow. It’s a cold and awe-inspiring experience.
Slightly warmer, much smaller, but just as special was Tangle Creek. The map clearly states ‘Watch out for goats!’ – for once, the maps were right.
The Athabasca Falls are several miles from the Glacier, but the roar was loud enough I reckon it would carry to its origin.
Not sure of the name of this cute little falls, but was so impressed with Adam’s photography I just had to include it…
You can climb to the top of Yosemite Falls, but why would you when you can see the entire cascade from ground level?
And after the magnificence of Grand Canyon, we thought Bryce would be dull. No chance!
Ah, so many incredible sights! We could go on forever… but we won’t 🙂
As you might expect with any trip through the Rockies, we saw A LOT of mountains. Shock horror. Still, no matter how many you see, they continue to astound and amaze. Some of the places we visited were simply gob-smacking, especially considering the poor excuses we have for mountains in Australia.
The first big ‘uns were the Grand Tetons – all the more spectacular for seeming to rise from nowhere in the plains leading to Yellowstone.
The Kootenays were our first exposure to the Rockies north of the USA/Canada border.
Before launching ourselves onto the Icefields Parkway, we decided to stay at Lake Louise Hostel (great tip – thanks Sab!) to soak up the surroundings. Lake Louise was, of course, absolutely heaving with tourists of the most obnoxious kind. Adam and I left Jeneen and Mario to brave the mosquitoes around the edge of the lake and took the first path that didn’t look heavily laden with pushy people. We failed to read the signs that explained the route was 3.5 miles one way, and climbed steadily the entire time. We ascended 750 metres with aching calves, but were rewarded with this view of Lake Agnes and, thankfully, a far lower density of obnoxiousness.
The next day we started the Icefields Parkway. I say ‘started’ because we would drive some stretches of that road 5 times before we left the area. One of the highlights was undoubtedly Bow Lake lookout. Moraine Lake and Castle Mountain were close seconds.
After starting Canada Day in Jasper, we made our way to Kamloops via Mt Robson. Adam patiently waited an hour for the clouds to clear and expose the peak – as you can see, the clouds simply did not cooperate. Nonetheless, it was gorgeous.
We crossed the border, thinking we’d left behind the snow and cold. Then we came to Mt Rainier National Park, just outside Seattle. Yes, those crazy Australians wearing shorts and t-shirts in the snow belong to us…
After a reasonable detour from US5, we climbed up to Crater Lake and found it was well worth the effort. Snow covered ridges with still, sapphire blue water and cool enough that half the roads were closed due to snow… in July!
Last but not least, perhaps the most iconic location of all. This view is Yosemite Valley – Half Dome, El Capitan and Bridal Veil Falls all in one shot. Amazing.
Amidst these incredible mountains were canyons, waterfalls, glaciers… more about them in the next post!