Thursday, 30 July 2009

Day 30 - headed for the Rocky Mountains

We continue our journey east. We're now in the pleasant town of Pocatello (I had to ask Mattias where we are now - I'm like one of those diva rock stars who go out on stage and yell "Good evening Norwaaaaay! What's that? Sweden? Same shit, different name..." - all these inns that look the same feel like we're living in Terry Pratchett's movable shop; you never know where you're going to wake up) where we're lazing in our bed after eating at yet another all-American diner. For your information it was about two weeks since I had any fries!

Not much to report. I won't bore you with the details of my quiet, controlled Swedish rage against the last motel we had (broken flush, broken A/C, batteries removed from remote, woken up at 7.30AM by people tearing up the carpet in the corridor, NO APOLOGY FROM MANAGEMENT!) because the one we're in now is sooo lush.

I want to share something though. America is truly wondrous in how climate, scenery and temperature changes dramatically from one hour to the next, and also from one state to the next. State lines are usually drawn by natural borders, like mountain ranges or rivers. This results in adjacent states usually having rather different atmospheres. Today, we definitely experienced some of those changes.

One day, three states, three pictures:

The dark, gray, dusty desert of Nevada:

The salt flats near the Great Salt Lake in Utah:

The green, rolling hills of Idaho:

Yellowstone national park tomorrow. It's huge, and we only have one day, and the road layout is a circle of which we'll only have time for half. Because we are such typical tourists, we're going to take the route past Old Faithful (they geyser that erupts every 90 minutes). Pics tomorrow, hopefully!

Until then.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

On the road update.

Nothing much to say today, we've been on the road for a long time today, suffering from the extensive roadwork between Anderson in California and Reno in Nevada. We're now back in the desert and after finding every single inn in Winnemucca filled to the brim with pensioners (not sure what they were doing, maybe some 65+ poker tournament?), we drove all the way to Battle Mountain, quite far into Nevada.

We've been a bit troubled regarding our Yellowstone accommodation. Our first problem was that any which way we tried to plan our nightly stops on the way there, we either had to drive not very much, or way too much each day. The second problem is that hotels in the Yellowstone area (anything within a couple of hour's drive) are extremely expensive on weekdays and horrendously, fantastically, can-not-believe-it expensive on weekends.

Well, our mammoth drive today made it possible to cut our nightly stops by one (if we drive quite far tomorrow as well), and also avoid staying in Yellowstone over the weekend. "Only" $185 for the night there... Three times as much as normal! Well, it's a one-off in Americas most popular park.

Our connection here is very bad, so no pictures today (they were only boring desert landscapes anyway), and don't be surprised if there's not much here until the weekend.

Until then!

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Day 28 - Redwood

The Redwoods are native only to northern California because of the particular climate there. Temperate with little variation between summer and winter, and nightly fogs during the summer which keeps the area humid. Millions of years ago, woods like these could be found all over the world, but with the gradual lowering (yes, lowering - despite the climate changes in modern day, it's still cooler now than when we had dinosaurs!) of the temperature, this is the only area in which they now grow.

That doesn't mean they all grow in one spot! The national park focuses on hikers, and not drivers, so some the really good spots (including the world's biggest tree) can only be reached by hiking quite far on foot. We opted for one of the shorter routes, a walk just under one hour where we saw some great scenery and of course, huge trees:

To give a little perspective, here's a shot of Mattias next to the biggest tree we saw today, and one of the biggest in the forest. It wasn't actually dramatically bigger than some of the others we saw!

This tree is about 100 meters high, 7 meters in diameter at the base, and 1500 years old!

We saw some elks, but having seen enough moose, deer and reindeer in Sweden, we weren't too impressed. They seemed mostly domesticated as well and grazed without a care right next to people taking pictures. No, I much prefer this little squirrel:

After leaving the national forest, we set off east and slowly homebound! In this rather remote part of the state, there were no big roads going east, so we took yet another mountainous route. And what mountains! Steep climbs and hillsides covered with lush fir trees as far as the eye could see. There was little to no traffic and we took our time as the road wound through the mountains. We went alongside the Trinity river for a long time, along the bottom of a great valley. It made us think of a mix of Twin Peaks, old gold rush movies and Stand By Me. Absolutely beautiful!

Pretty sunset over the last of the hills before the country flattened out again.

Tomorrow we're going into Nevada again, and then on to Utah and Salt Lake City where we hope to get a glimpse of mormons.


Monday, 27 July 2009

Time for an update!

So, it's been a couple of days since last time guys! The night before last, we had problems getting a connection in our hotel, and yesterday we went to a late night showing of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince so we didn't come back to the inn until well after midnight and I was too tired to even look through the pictures.

A note on HP6... I'd give the film 4/10. Plus points for being quite truthful to the book in some respects, and for increasing that dark, ominous feeling that's been building up over the last couple of films. A HUGE minus for completely disregarding some vital stuff from the previous films. If you want to make a film adaptation that differs from the book, at least stick to the story throughout the films themselves!

Anyway, our experience was somewhere between hilarious and unbearable thanks to a man a couple of rows down who promptly fell asleep 5 minutes into the film and kept snoring extremely loudly through the whole show. Whenever there was a quiet (and therefore usually tense or emotional moment) bit in the film, the whole screen kept giggling and sighing at this guy. Several people went up to him (and his wife) and complained but nothing seemed to help. We'd heard that American audiences were a lot more noisy than Swedish ones, but this wasn't what we'd expected :)

Right, over the last couple of days, we've been travelling up the California coast. On Friday, we made our way slowly out of L.A. After an hour or two of suburbs, the country turned rather pleasant, this being the southern wine country of California. The road wound on through grape fields and sunny hills and we felt glad to be out of the city. We spent the night in the cute town of San Luis Obispo (the one without the internet connection). A few miles away lay the seaside town of Avila Beach, where we bought cheap, locally grown strawberries from a street market and watched the kids boogieboarding in the evening sun and surf. Avila had a long, lovely pier, and the walk to the end was well worth it, because we got to see some wild seals!

They were frolicking around the waves by the pier, no doubt hoping for food scraps from the people watching them. Unfortunately we didn't have any fish on us, but we got some good pictures all the same.

Yesterday morning we set off on Route 1 - the Pacific Coast Highway and the old main road before the inland interstate routes were built. One of the reputedly most scenic routes in the country, the road takes you right along the stretch of coast known as Big Sur. Through the early hours, the hills were covered with morning fog, and for a while we thought our entire drive would look something like this:

While the scenery was nice enough, foggy or not, we were very happy when it cleared up for the very best bits of the route. Here's a couple of pictures from a lookout point along the road. I think they give a pretty good idea of what most of the coast there is like:

The day was one of the nicest on the trip so far, and we have tons more pictures of this pretty area.

We arrived in San Francisco around 7PM, and because we were tired from all the driving, we just had dinner and went to the cinema.

Now, San Francisco... We really don't feel we did this place justice. It looks like a gorgeous city, and it had a cool feel to it, but we had too little time, and the wrong kind of time.

We'd read in the guide book about a 'scenic drive through the city' which sounded good. We've since come to the conclusion that the authors of these guide books don't actually travel anywhere themselves, they just sit on their fat arses and throw together some shit they found on the net along with some stock photography and laugh all the way to the bank.

This scenic route was supposedly 'well marked out' by some kind of sign with a bird on it. On our 1 hour drive, we saw a total of ONE of these signs. Secondly, there was some kind of sporting event going on, and half the streets were closed off and the traffic was horrendous. Also, you drive along the same roads as the trams, which added to the stress. While Mattias was completely absorbed in the traffic, I was doing my best to read the map, with the result that none of us saw any of the points of interest on the route. We did see the Opera House and something else that was big and white nearby, but the thought of stopping to take pictures, in the middle of all this traffic with absolutely no parking spots... No. Just no.

We eventually left the route for some quiet side streets and did some fun/scary driving on those extremely steep streets that San Francisco is so famous for. We had to take it really slow to not literally scratch the front of the car when we crossed a street (obviously the streets are like steps, because the streets crossing them have to lie flat as well!), coming from that kind of angle. Sadly, I was too busy digging my heels into the carpet and holding on to my handle to get any good pics :)

Eventually, we ended up in a large park area overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, downtown and the Alcatraz prison island. It was calm and pleasant there, and we had lunch in a cozy little park café and watched the people of San Francisco being all recreational on their day off. At last, I could get my camera out!

Downtown S.F. Note the steep streets!

Alcatraz island:

Golden Gate Bridge:

Look at those low clouds! If that wasn't the Pacific Ocean underneath you might think this was high up.

We left the city behind, promising to return sometime and really spend some time there. However, the rest of the day wasn't bad either!

We hadn't booked a hotel, which was good because we ended up driving much further than we thought we would. Route 101 took us through Napa Valley and the real wine country, and into the mountains and a taste of the Redwoods. The road was so beautiful, smooth and empty it was pure joy driving. Most of the woods were pine and leafy, but here and there we saw some Redwood trees. Look at the car in this picture, and compare it to the tree next to it. We think this is probably a tiny example of a Redwood tree :)

Have a look at this:

You might ask yourself, what is that big SUV doing driving so close to that bus? Actually, this is something we see every day when driving. It's an RV (recreational vehicle, a camping truck, husbil) truck pulling the family car along. Yes, they actually tow their big fat cars so that they can use them for shorter trips while camping and sleeping in that big old camping truck. It's crazy! Also, they completely ignore any towing/truck rules on the freeway and speed along at 65mph/110kmh with the car bumping along behind it!

Just as the sun started to set, we reached the coastal areas again after driving through the inland forests all evening. Our first hint of that was once again those low clouds:

Now we're in a very comfortable inn in Eureka, and tomorrow we're off to the actual Redwood Forest National Park to have a look at the world's largest tree. We'll see if it fits in a picture at all :)

Until then.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Day 24 - Universal Studios, L.A., California

Today was devoted to exploring the Universal Studios theme park. Located just outside the city center of L.A., the park is nestled between Universal City (where all sorts of merchandise and food can be found) and the actual sets themselves.

What then would be more fittingly than to take a tour "behind the scenes" in Hollywood. The first ride we went on was a mix between a ride (with collapsing bridges and subway stations, and an immersion of the train into water), a sneak peek of active sets (Wisteria Lane from Desperate Housewives) and a tour of old sets. Here's a shot of Bates' Motel from Hitchcock's Pshyco :)

They had a Norman sneaking around, putting a body in the trunk of the car and threatening the crowd with a knife. Below is a part of the set of Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds:

As you can see, they destroyed an entire jumbo jet (not to mention many, many cars...) to make things extra realistic.

The park was just the right size and level of excitement for us. Less kids than at Disney, of course, and the rides were a bit scarier and more fun. We took the Jurassic Park flume ride and somehow managed to sit in the seats that took the entire splash of the 84ft (25m) plunge at the end. We weren't dry until hours afterwards!

The Mummy rollercoaster was an extremely thrilling and fast ride that left us breathless. Onward then to the less dramatic but still cool shows of pyrotechnics from the firefighter movie Backdraft, and a slightly silly tour of the special effects set.

After a surprisingly healthy and good meal, we queued up to watch the live show Waterworld, inspired by the movie. The film may not be Oscar material, but the show was certainly nothing short of awesome with a mix of big water splashes and explosions. The guy who was playing the part of Kevin Costner actually looked a lot like him too! Here's the bad guy falling burning off a tower:

Big bada boom at the grand finale:

We rounded off our 7 hour visit with Terminator 2: 3D and Shrek 4D (including moving seats, more water splashing and an uncanny illusion of spiders running over your feet!). While these shows were obviously made specifically to boast 3D effects, they left me thinking that the future of films is not in spectacles.

Anyone who knows anything about film history will be familiar with the many failed attempts of adding extra dimensions to movies. There have been experiments with scented cinema (look up Smell-O-Vision if you don't believe me), super wide screens and of course 3D itself which first appeared in the 50's when movie creators would go to any lengths to win back their audience from the television sets. So far, 3D has always fallen flat after a couple of years every time it's resurfaced. I'm hoping that this time around won't be an exception.

To me, going to the cinema is viewing a good film in the setting it was intended to be seen in. To me, it's the difference between seeing a band live on stage, and hearing it on an old cassette tape. Bearing that in mind, I never wanted a band to jump down to me in the audience and start poking me with their instruments, and I don't want to smell their breath. I need the perfect blend of a dark, quiet room, a comfortable seat and a large screen to be able to reach that cinematic Nirvana where you're completely absorbed in the movie, whether it be with its story, the acting, or simply the pictures in front of me. With a 3D movie, it's all about the spectacle, and it becomes a sort of interruption with a pause where you're meant to 'ooh' and 'aah'.

Today was a fantastic, fun spectacle which is just what you need sometimes, but I'm certainly hoping that the future of cinema will honour other virtues of film :)

(Anyone need essays written on the topic of the future of cinema are welcome to send cheques, 50€/page is a reasonable price, no?)

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Day 23 - L.A., California

Another day mostly spent in the car.

Even though we waited until 11am to move onto the freeway, it took us far too long to get to our first stop of the day: the beach. The city of L.A. turns into the city of Santa Monica before reaching the ocean, and the Santa Monica beach is every bit as lovely as it looks in Baywatch. Unfortunately, Pammy seemed to be off duty and we had to make do with a slightly overweight, balding guy for a lifeguard. Have a look at this beach though:

Don't you wish you were here? It wasn't crowded at all, and the sea was soothingly cool and the air was warm with a breeze. Just below sweaty hot and one hundered per cent perfect.

We had the best hamburger so far (and we admit, we've had a few) at the lovely Mary's on Santa Monica blv. The place was gay friendly and really cool. Mattias reported disco balls and ABBA music in the men's room, and our check came in a silver stiletto shoe :D

From there on, the day started going slightly downhills. We took a little spin around the blocks trying to find a parking spot near the Hollywood walk of fame (the stars, you know) and just as we went over a crossing, a man who had parked right on the corner flung his door open and we slammed into it. Miraculously, his car was perfectly fine, and I think we were more worried about him making a fuss than what happened with our car. At least a life of lawsuits flashed before my eyes when I heard the horrible noise of car against car.

Anyway, our little darling now has her first beauty spot, a cute little dent just behind the right hand headlights. To be honest, with some of the city driving that goes on here, we're surprised it hadn't happened before. Nearly all cars have scratches and bumps here. And not to worry, we went for the extended insurance which covers this sort of damage.

A little shaken, we started off down the walk of fame, in what we realised 15 minutes later was the "wrong" direction. After many blocks of "who the hell is this, the most famous person we've seen so far is Drew Carey..." the stars ended and we had to walk back to where we started. Only about a block away in the other direction were the real stars, and the famous slabs of concrete with hand- and footprints on them. After comparing hand sizes with 50's movie stars ("my god my hands are massive!"), we stumbled across Michael Jackson's star:

People were crowding about it, taking pictures and putting down little tokens of love. Apparently it was completely mental there the days after his death.

Our final sight for the day was Mulholland drive. It's not only a pretty poor David Lynch movie, but a very attractive address housing people like Jack Nicholson and Paris Hilton. It's a long, windy road up in the Hollywood hills, streching over into Bel Air. There are lots of scenic views and surprisingly enough plenty of parking spaces. The views themselves were lovely, the driving was mad. People zoomed around in their huge SUVs that took up all of their lane and half of ours, at twice the speed limit, alongside sheer drops that made me feel faint and hold on tightly to my comfort handle.

Here's a view of downtown L.A. from Mulholland drive:

The famous Hollywood sign:

Sunset over Mulholland drive:

Tomorrow we're going to Universal Stuidos. I'm not sure how much of a photo opportunity it is, but if I see something cool, I'll snap away.

Later, dudes.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009


Do I look like a hobbit? No! And neither does anyone else here. So why the hell the stuck-to-the-wall, midget height shower heads?! Do people here only wash their chest hair or what?

I've uttered too many four letter words over these f--n showers now, the thing I miss the most is our lousy, flooding, cramped shower that's always either way too hot or ice cold. I take back everything I ever said! I love you, crap shower!

Quick note from L.A.

We're checked in to our inn on the outskirts of L.A. It's hard to actually say where the city begins, because the suburbs are made up of lots of small cities that have grown together, but at least it says 'Los Angeles east' on the map where we live. It's about 10 miles (16 km) from downtown and Hollywood, and as we found out, that means an hour on the highway in rush hour...

The traffic here is truly terrible. Still, there's hardly any other option than to drive. The city is huge, and even though they have a subway system, a lot of people who LIVE here don't even know it exists. We've decided to give that a miss - we've heard it's not the safest of places.

"The L.A. tube can be very fatal
Somehow we forget to pray to the angels
And the angels make sure that our hearts are devoured
Make us jump from the Eiffel Tower"

(At least that's how I think the song goes)

We checked into the inn and almost immediately left for downtown and Santa Monica where I have a guitar case waiting to be picked up (especially ordered for dad - it's for a 3/4 size acoustic guitar which would be near enough impossible to find in Sweden). At 4.50PM we thought we had plenty of time to reach the shop. At exactly 6PM we rushed up to the store only to find it closed minutes earlier. It took us literally an hour! This was rush hour though, so we'll try to travel outside of those times tomorrow.

We're here for three nights, so we have two full days to explore the sights. One day will be spent at Universal Studios (they have a theme park) and the other we'll see the Hollywood sign, Santa Monica Beach, the Walk of Fame and all the other must-see stuff. Not sure what we'll do first though :)

We have free internet again though, yay!

I'm sure there'll be more here tomorrow, and pics too.

PS. The weather here is lovely! On the Nevada/California border and through the Mojave Desert it was once again around 42C, but down here by the coast the thermometer hovered around a pleasant 30C in the hottest hours, and what felt like around 22-25C once the sun had set. Perfect!

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Day 21 - Two sides of Las Vegas

Hey all,

Guess what - for all the luxury and lavishness of this hotel, there's one thing they don't have. Free internet. That's right, we have to pay by the hour to use the net, so that's why I didn't even post last night.

Here's a recap of the last couple of days.

In Flagstaff we had discovered two things. First of all, the old route 66 used to pass through there. Route 66 no longer exists as a US-wide road, but some stretches have been preserved, and obviously some of the new roads are built along or on top of it. For a fair few miles, we went along the I-40 much the same way that route 66 once went.

The second thing we discovered was (as I said earlier) that our route to Vegas would take us past and thus over the Hoover dam. Here's a shot of it. Notice how all the cars drive on top of it!

The queues going the opposite way over the dam were unbeliveable. They went on for miles after we passed and we were thinking maybe there had been some accident, or someone got stuck in the security check. We heard later on that these were the people leaving Las Vegas after the busy weekend!

So here we are in Las Vegas. It's a crazy place. Our room is on the 23rd floor which is about halfway up the building. We have a sweet view over Las Vegas boulevard - more commonly known as The Strip:

Yesterday we explored the city, and most importantly The Strip. All the hotels here have different themes. The Venitian is mimicking Venice, Caesar's Palace is set in Rome, Luxor is a big pyramid with a gigantic sphinx for an entrance, and New York New York is... Well, it's New York:

The Bellagio is one of the most famous and luxurious hotels in LV. The fountain is famous and can be seen in Ocean's 11. There are shows every 15 minutes where they operate the fountain to music. When we saw it the first time it was (fittingly enough) playing Viva Las Vegas by Elvis!

But Las Vegas isn't all about gambling, neon lights and oversized hotels. Less than an hour's drive away is the Valley of Fire state park (state parks are like national parks, only smaller obviously, and less well known). Even though the surrounding areas are grey and dusty desert, this particular area has been subject to some strange geological activity that has exposed an underlying area of red sandstone. It's gradually being washed, blown and worn down (over an immensely long period of time of course), giving the stone strange shapes. Here are some pictures of our trip there today:

We're just about to get into our wonderful, big, soft bed (I want to take it home!). By the way, we gambled but didn't lose much. No big sums, just tried a bit of slots and roulette (Mattias could have spent a long time at the table, but we'd agreed on a sum so we didn't spend more than that!) and watched as other people's money poured into the pockets of the casino.

Tomorrow we're off to Los Angeles and the west coast. Still lots of fun to be had!

Until then.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Day 19 - Grand Canyon, Arizona

We're exhausted after a full day excursion to the Grand Canyon National Park, but here's a quick recap + pictures.

There were both ups and downs with going to Grand Canyon this particular day. Our first pleasant surprise was that this was one of only three annual entrance fee free days at the park! It's usually $25 per vehicle, which isn't much, but nothing is even less of course. Secondly, Grand Canyon really IS amazing. The professional pictures you will have seen don't do it justice by far, and absolutely not my photos either. It was an incredible experience and the best day of the trip so far.

We'd been looking at different tours. There's anything from mule riding to helicopter rides, the usual bus tours, as well as white water rafting and guided Jeep tours. Everything was very expensive and nothing seemed to really suit us. Once again the park services came to our rescue. There were actually free shuttle buses transporting guests all over the scenic south rim! Friendly drivers, buses departing every 10-15 minutes, plus they went on trails that were only for the shuttle buses so we didn't have to elbow our way around all the people who don't believe in free buses and cling to their cars like a baby to the bottle. So all in all, our best day so far cost us nothing more than the petrol to drive there and back!

But yes, this is an outdoor area and you get the weather that you're served. Today, it was overcast most of the day (overcast = mulet) which meant pictures don't come out great. The Canyon was also hazy with pollution. This varies from day to day depending on where the wind is blowing from, and today the wind was unfortunately coming from the south California / L.A. direction. Last but not least, a rain storm which was actually miles and miles away blocked the sun at sunset, so unfortunately we didn't get to see the classical Grand Canyon blush that you get during sunrise and sunset on clear days.

Still, all of that was trivial. We'll have this day in our memories for the rest of our lives, and if the photos show us a fraction of the beauty, we'll at least be reminded when we look at them.

Tomorrow we're off to Las Vegas. We're booked in the Treasure Island hotel with a room with a view over the Strip! As a bonus, we noticed our road to Vegas actually goes over the Hoover Dam! We hear security is tight there since 9/11 but hopefully we'll get a pic or two :)

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Day 18 - Flagstaff, Arizona: "the Grand Canyon" (hrmm...)

Good evening!

No pictures today - I left the camera in the car and I didn't take any spectacular photos so no big loss. What, no spectacular photos from the Grand Canyon? I hear you say. Well, we'll get to that in a minute.

First I just have to say: I LOVE Arizona. At least I do now. We've been suffering with extreme temperatures for the last couple of weeks, and we thought Arizona was going to be the worst of the worst when it comes to heat. In part, that's true. When we drove through Phoenix today, we set a new heat record of 45C/112F and once again praised the lord for A/C.

Now, our road maps don't show differences in elevation above the sea level - in short, we don't know where the mountains are until we see them. Just after we left Phoenix, the road began climbing higher and higher. We saw trucks struggling along in the right hand lane, hazard lights on to warn others of their snail-like progress. We've seen mountains before, especially around the El Paso area, but then the road usually went through a pass and came out on the other side pretty quick. Here, we just kept climbing and climbing... We saw 2000, 3000, 4000 - all the way up to 7000 ft above sea level! That's over 2000 meters - the height of Kebnekajse for all you Swedes.

At that height, the ground leveled out onto a plateau of sorts, and the most amazing thing happened. All day we'd been driving through desert and mountainsides lined with dried up bushes, but now, a pine forest suddenly sprung out of the ground. There were fields of fresh, green grass! There were leafy trees here and there! But above all, the pine forest. Ah, the sweet smell of pine trees drifted in to soothe our heat blistered brains.

Here we are now in Flagstaff, 2000 meters above the sea and the night air is COOL. The surroundings are lush and green and overlooking the town is the highest peak in Arizona: Humphreys Peak at 3850 meters (12600 ft) which is snow clad in winter!

While we of course enjoy this temporary change to the climate immensely, the most amazing thing is the contrasts here in Arizona. From baking hot desert to cool pine forests in just a couple of hours is truly wondrous.

So, what about the Grand Canyon? Unfortunately, we had a taste of a crack that definitely deserves the name "Grand Canyon" tonight at the restaurant. Call it what you will - builders bum, bum cleavage, bad-baggy-pants-day... You know what I'm talking about. Our table had a front row seat for the worst case of ass-crack display we have ever seen in our combined lives. Between the sagging shorts and the shirt that had snagged on the chair, there was a full 10-15cm of crack on display. The poor guy was even sitting right at the end of a long corridor of tables, so that everyone in that part of the restaurant could see straight down the "ravine". It was bad enough for us to not break down into giggles, but I truly admire the serving staff who managed to pull off his entire meal without flinching. Admittedly, every single person who worked this evening found some excuse to go into our section, take one horrified look and hurry back into the kitchens. Our waiter even apologized for the less than pleasant sneak preview of the "Grand Canyon" :)

Enough poking fun at innocent people! Tomorrow we head off to see the real thing, hopefully at least twice as big!


Friday, 17 July 2009

Day 17 - New Mexico, Arizona.

Greetings from Tucson, Arizona!

We seem to bring the weather with us wherever we go - we've probably seen more days with thunder than without. But here it's welcome; Arizona has been suffering from drought this summer. These thunderstorms seem to hit in the evenings here, rather than in the afternoon like in Florida.

We went to the cinema here in Tucson tonight to see Ice Age 3 (very funny - I enjoyed it more than the first one at least!) and when we came out, thunder was crackling all over the skies. Thunder in Sweden pales in comparison to what I've seen here. For one, the landscape is very flat and you can see the sky for miles and miles. Lightning usually forks off and lights up everything in that direction. I'm both scared and thrilled at the same time when the storms hit. It's the essence of nature: beautiful, powerful and frightening.

When we're in the car and I can't hold Mattias's hand, I hold on to a handle on the car door. It's like my comfort blanket :P

It's impossible to get good pictures of lightning, but we did see something pretty amazing earlier in the day...

Between Texas and Arizona lies New Mexico, and we decided to take a little detour to watch the White Sands National Monument. Some of you might be familiar with the White Sands Missile Range, where rocket and missile testing and launching goes on - it's a big stretch of desert, and in the middle of that lies the White Sands. I can't remember the exact story behind the geology, but this is basically an area rich in gypsum (gips). Whereas gypsum is normally watered down and carried out to sea with the rain, the White Sands lie in an enclosed basin with no outlets. When the rain water evaporates here, it leaves behind gypsum sand which forms itself into dunes with the wind.

It's a truly awesome place to visit, with miles of white sand dunes all around:

Here's Mattias looking like he's out in the Sahara somewhere:

A storm is brewing across the basin over the mountains:

So that was obviously the highlight of the day! Arizona has treated us to some new exciting cactus species, including the classical, stereotypical cactus - you know, the one with a couple of arms sticking out the sides :) No pictures of that yet though. Tomorrow we head up to Flagstaff, our base camp for Grand Canyon. I don't think we'll be able to see any of it tomorrow, but pictures should be up by the end of the weekend.

Until then!

Thursday, 16 July 2009

El Paso + pictures galore

Back at the hotel and we have mixed feelings about the day. But more about that later - here's a quick recap of yesterday.

As we made our way into the heart of Texas, the landscape changed slowly. From the bushy, relatively green southeast and coastal areas, the ground turned more and more dry. The road from San Antonio to our destination for the night, Fort Stockton, took us across plateaus and arid semi-deserts:

There were very few towns along the way, but here and there you saw a farm, all with the classic windmill:

Some of the fields appeared to be rich in oil, and oil pumps were scattered across the plateaus:

Fort Stockton itself was pretty much a street with some shops, fast food restaurants and motels. It appeared to be there simply because people need to sleep somewhere between San Antonio and El Paso. We went to Wal-Mart for the first time and were shocked at the lack of fresh foods. There was no fresh fruit or vegetables, no freezer section, no meat... You get the idea. Some eggs and milk were stored in a fridge next to the exit, along with some soft drinks and beer. And this was the biggest supermarket they had, aisles and aisles of clothes, vacuum cleaners and tinned food...

So, today we reached El Paso and I think we might have just hit our first real disappointment. The first mistake we made was obviously trying to walk around in Mexico in 40C/105F. Still, we got a pretty good impression of the differences between the two countries. By now, we've learnt that all larger cities have areas where you can't walk around with a camera bag without getting pestered by people trying to sell you things. Mexico was no exception, and a lot worse as well. Like most Swedes, we're allergic to anyone trying to offer you anything ("what do you mean it's cheaper with a meal deal, I asked for a burger AND a drink AND fries... I don't care if it's a meal deal, I don't want it! This must be some kind of trick!") so we walked along in the heat, trying to find the Juárez market. Juárez is the city on the Mexican side of the border, by the way. The Mexican half of this strange twin city has a population of 1.6 million - more than twice as much as that of El Paso. By the time we realized that a taxi WOULD have been worth it, we felt too tired to even think about started haggling at some market place and headed back across the border.

Here's a typical example of a Juárez building - in total disrepair but still open for business in parts.

After what has become our daily siesta, we read about the night-life in El Paso and headed down into what we thought would be a sprawling, glittering downtown, full of music and dancing and cheap souvenir shops. Well, this is pretty much what downtown El Paso looks like after 6pm:

Only missing the tumbleweed...

We wouldn't have thought it possible after the last day's baking hot sun in a cloudless sky, but in a matter of minutes after this photo was taken, a thunderstorm hit the area, and I think it's still going now, some 4 or 5 hours later. The change in the weather happened so fast it was uncanny. What had been some white, fluffy clouds on the horizon turned into a dark blanket, covering the city. We saw some dramatic flashes from the safety of the car and were hit by a strange rain - single, huge drops of water that sounded almost like hail on the windshield. The temperature dropped from 41 to 22 in ten minutes!

So, we had not seen much of Mexico, El Paso was a disappointment and we hadn't eaten since breakfast. Our last flicker of hope was a restaurant near the hotel which was rumoured to be good. Luckily enough, this turned out to be true and pretty much saved the day from being a complete failure. In a cozy, Mexican-inspired atmosphere, we ate so much tacos, enchiladas, rice and beans that we're still wondering if breakfast tomorrow is even possible. So to anyone heading out to El Paso - sod downtown, go to the Bandidos - Carlos and Mikey's! It was so good, and so cheap. Here's the place, in the rain, dark and thunder:

As a bonus, I'd like to include a small section which I'll name "Only in America":

1. A drive-thru ATM (bankomat). I think the motto here is 'if you can't do it in the car, it ain't worth doing'. There are also drive-thru pharmacies and other weird drive-thrus, but I thought this one really took the money.

2. A horse motel. OK, so if you're not driving a pick-up the size of five normal cars, you're probably riding your horse to the motel. Yeah, that makes sense.

3. A guy on some educatuional channel teaching maths with a flamingo on his head. What!? This was on at around 10pm in the evening, so it's not really directed at kids. There was nothing else strange about the program, they had another presenter who looked perfectly normal. The flamingo was never mentioned.

Tomorrow we're off through the south end of New Mexico and into Arizona. If at all possible, it will get hotter there. I'm gonna get myself a hat tomorrow, and possibly a pair of cowboy boots, at Tony Lama's famous shop just outside town.

Until next time!