Sunday, 30 October 2011
OK - that's it! No more United States ((except for Hawaii)!! Once you've seen the traffic in the LA basin, you don't need anymore! This is the last of San Diego as we move out of the harbour. The only thing of note that we did here is spend 4 hours trying to buy toiletries! The picture below is our pilot boat standing off:
The Zaandam is pretty much like the Queen Mary II only a lot smaller. We have a cabin with a window on the lowest deck. You can kind of sit on the windowsill just above the waves and watch the sunset. Shortly after taking this photo I was sipping a glass of wine and watching dolphins play in the bow wave just below me. That's more like it!
Thursday, 27 October 2011
We made it to Las Vegas at sunset, and the first thing we learned is that the hotels here are very large and very filled with casinos. Well, actually, I guess Mike knew that already. It is a long, long way from where we parked the van to our room on the 35th floor, and we are supposed to be repacking! Everything here is set up to encourage you to spend lots of money in the Casino, so most other things are very inexpensive, but a lot of facilities like the pool and the fitness room shut down at 6pm, so people don't get distracted. Then they start serving very cheap alcohol so that you can lose your inhibitions.
|Fake New York|
The real reason for being here was to look at the architectural excesses of the strip. My favorite is the shopping mall that looks like Venice, though the model of New York complete with roller coaster is pretty cool too.
Wednesday, 26 October 2011
Zion is one of the places where I could easily have spent more time. It is at a pretty low altitude, and so warm that there were even mosquitoes in the campground. This is a very good time to visit: you get red rocks, blue sky, and yellow cottonwood trees that haven't quite lost their leaves yet. The shuttle had another four days to run, and private car traffic into the canyon is still banned, so it was not a madhouse. That snow that was forecast for Bryce started falling on us as rain just as soon as we got settled down for the night. The temperature had dropped by quite a lot of degrees by the morning but it was still kind of OK.
Tuesday, 25 October 2011
Unbelievably, Bryce Canyon is even higher up than the Grand Canyon. It was going to get very cold on Monday night and snow on Tuesday night. I forced poor Mike to check into a campsite where we could have an electric hookup and run our little electric heater. To make matters worse, we got use of tbe swimming pool and hot tub at the hotel next door thrown in. Poor, poor Mike... I spent a very pleasant night being clean and warm plus I was able to do the breakfast washing up indoors and using hot water!!!
But we were not there for these creature comforts. Bryce canyon is not a canyon at all, but an eroded plateau full of these things called hoodoos. We went to a geology talk where the lady explained how to make them. Start with some really impure, crumbly rock, subject it to stresses from two separate faults so that it cracks in a checkerboard pattern, then raise it to just the right altitude to get 200 freeze-thaw cycles per year. That means we had no chance of sleeping at temperatures above 0C in October.
We spent the day looking at the hoodoos from the top and the bottom. We left in the afternoon with just enough time to reach Zion national park before dark.
Monday, 24 October 2011
|Rafts below Glen Canyon dam on the Colorado River|
|The dam wall|
|Lake Powell behind the dam - it's very odd to see a blue lake in such and arid environment.|
Sunday, 23 October 2011
|A formation near Monument Valley|
|The famous mittens|
It was very nearly sunset by the time we finished so we decided to camp just over the road in Goulding. By the time we had the campsite paid for, we realised we were just over the border from Arizona, in Utah. It was 7.45, not 6.45 and we had better go find some dinner. So we didn't even choose a camping spot, we went straight to a restaurant, with the aim of trying Native American food. It seems like Indian taco is the real big thing in Indian territory. At the contemporary art museum in Santa Fe, they even had a whole movie dedicated to Indian taco. It is a taco shell, with beef chilli (usually), topped with cheese and chopped lettuce, onion and tomato. We had also discovered fried bread in Taos. This is where you take ordinary bread dough and deep fry it. It comes up as an enormous puffy disk that is delicious, and not very good for you. Combine these two things and you get what this restaurant was offering as Navaho taco. If you don't feel like deep-frying bread dough, you can get a similar effect with Yorkshire pudding, henceforth to be known as the Yorkshire taco.
|A hand looking for its mittens?|
|Sunset at Grand Canyon|
So why was the ranger's hiking advice bad? Basically, if someone asks them for hiking advice they assume that person has never hiked before, has just arrived at this altitude from sea level and that it is the middle of August. They have 5 million visitors a year and they have to rescue 250 of them, so they would like to reduce that statistic by encouraging everyone to 'look, don't touch'. They dissuaded us from going to Indian Gardens which would have been a good day hike for us, where we could have mooched around in the shade and taken our time. Instead they encouraged us into a poxy stroll along part of South Kaibab trail where you hardly even get into the canyon at all. In the end, my conclusion is, if you have to ask a ranger for hiking advice you shouldn't be hiking in the canyon! The National Parks are a bit ridiculous in what they choose to call day hikes at the best of times. I've noticed that if anything goes uphill at all, and if it's longer than 2 miles, they call it strenuous. I would call what I did strenuous, but not exhausting (see below).
|We were down there somewhere!|
|The Colorado River from the Watchtower|
We spent the afternoon doing laundry, having showers (at great expense) and cooking a nice dinner, so at least we made good use of our time after our 'half-day hike'. Mike even made a nice campfire out of bits of old firewood he collected from all the empty fire pits. This was good, because it is freezing cold here at night. Despite the vegetation looking Mediterranean, we are at 2000m above sea level in October!! It is not getting down to freezing point, but it is well below 10C.
We left Grand Canyon park slowly on Sunday, stopping to take lots of pictures. The most enjoyable thing was the surprise discovery of the watchtower at the end of the desert view drive. This is really an architectural folly, built just to amuse visitors to the canyon, but it is beautiful. It was designed with reference to south-western Indian watchtowers and is painted all over inside with Indian inspired murals.
Thursday, 20 October 2011
|The pool by moonlight (at least that's what it looks like)|
Tuesday, 18 October 2011
Petrified forest is one of the best national parks even if they do close early to make sure that nobody steals a piece of 250 million year old tree during the night. It's really impressive to walk through the site of a huge forest that's been turned to stone, but the park has a lot of other things as well: a beautiful adobe inn that was constructed in the Depression and only used for a few years, the Painted Desert which is desert in more colours than a paintbox, ancient pueblos, including one made of petrified wood, and a fossil museum.
|This is pretty much all that's left of Route 66 around here.|
|...don't even think about it, or else...|
|...this might happen to you!|
|Of course, you'd need a truck to get that lot away.|
Sunday, 16 October 2011
Antonia had kiwi cakes for her birthday. They are eating larvae (jelly beans) because that's what kiwis eat. Strangely enough, the jelly beans in that container really did disappear somewhere and I didn't get a single one!
Actually, we did nothing much but eat today. We went for New Mexican breakfast at the Tecolote cafe at the end of our street. New Mexican breakfast is eggs and potatoes and stuff like that, but covered in red and green chilli sauce.
Then we did nothing but mooch all day.
Then we had artichoke petals, pizza and kiwi cakes for supper with the lady who owns the house we're staying in. We had a very nice evening, especially because it's the first time we've had someone over to dinner for a while!
Friday, 14 October 2011
First things first, yesterday was also a good day for adrenaline, because it is the day Antonia actually spotted a wild bear. As everyone knows by now, it's always Antonia... She said it was about 20 metres off the path, and that it looked towards us, then scrambled off into the woods. Apparently, it had big claws, brown fur, and would have been one and a half times the size of Mike if it stood up. She was incredibly excited, well she described herself as 'alarmed', which is very Antonia as vocabulary goes. I was alarmed too, and encouraged her to keep talking at the top of her voice all the way back to the car park. I was glad that a) she saw this bear towards the end of our walk and b) she saw it before it started to get really dark as it was when we got back to the car.
Apart from that the hike was fantastic, very, very beautiful and surprisingly autumnal. The higher up the mountain we got the more trees there were changing colour. We were climbing up over Albuquerque, with a kind of telepherique way off to one side, and an immense view in both directions once we got to the crest. So although it looks nothing like Grenoble, it's the same general layout.
Thursday, 13 October 2011
Today, Thursday, Daddy and I woke up at 5 AM and drove to Albuquerque to get on a hot air balloon. We watched the balloon become bigger and bigger. We made a few videos of it. When it was ready we got in and watched as the scenery got farther and farther away. We stayed on one side of a pretty river called the Rio Grande and then came to the other side. The balloon driver steered the balloon two feet away from the water. When we landed on a place near the road the crew which followed us did up the balloon. It was customary after a balloon flight to have champagne (I had orange juice). The crew drove us to the original take off spot and we drove home.
Actually, she forgot to mention that this was the second attempt at getting up at 5am and driving for one hour to try to get a balloon ride. The first day was just too windy for them to go up. I'm glad they made it at last because this was her tenth birthday treat. I think this is a pretty amazing thing to have done by ten years old. The whole family is now recovering from far too many late nights and early mornings chasing round after balloons!
Wednesday, 12 October 2011
|Indios, by Ray Martin Abeyta|
Anyway, this painting, obviously, is about the confusion of Christopher Columbus who wasn't quite sure where he had arrived when he started dishing out the name 'Indian', even though it seems to have stuck. What I really like about this painting, other than its extreme artifice is the optical effect of the two layers of eyes on the Indian on the left. My brain just didn't know what to do with it, and I'm so used to optical illusions these days, that not many of them phase me.
Tuesday, 11 October 2011
|Inside a cave dwelling|
|The circular village|
Monday, 10 October 2011
Friday, 7 October 2011
You can visit medieval villages in the United States and this one is even listed as a World Heritage site. It's called Taos Pueblo, the home of the Red Willow tribe. The village has two multi-story blocks of homes separated by a wide public space with the river running through it. The structure of the tallest blocks is at least a thousand years old, though, being adobe, it's been repaired on an ongoing basis. In the last four hundred years, contact with the Spaniards then the Americans brought a lot of changes. There is an old church, now ruined, and a new church which is still over 150 years old. Outdoor ovens called hornos are scattered around the village, and are also a Spanish borrowing, and they do look pretty familiar from Europe. They contrast with the large wooden drying racks, the system for which dates back to pre-Spanish times. The stacked houses now have front doors, often painted in bright colours, but originally, access was through the roof. It reminds me very much of Catal Hayuk in that respect, and a few other places. It's an interesting reminder that there isn't a single village model. The tribe keep their many aspects of their traditional spiritual and social life separate from outsiders, so while the churches are prominent, it isn't possible to see the kivas. These are underground rooms for religious and administrative meetings.
A relatively small number of people live in Taos Pueblo now, probably partly because of the decision to keep modern utilities out. There are more visitors here than Indians and a whole load of systems for keeping us under some semblance of control. Meanwhile the tribe has quite a lot of other land. Most people live in modern houses closer to Taos, and there is a very large wilderness area where only tribal members are allowed. The adobe houses in the pueblo can be lit by gas lamps and heated with wood burning open hearths. These facilities were quite important to us on our visit because it was dark, gloomy, and so cold it felt like it might snow. There are actually quite a lot of houses that are open to the public, selling crafts or food. We weren't in the market for crafts but we did buy some blueberry pie, and some of the famous fried bread. It is famous, because the craft shops are full of signs saying things like 'No fried bread in here!", "Keep your icky fried bread papers to yourself". With the fried bread lady's reputation preceding her like that, how could we resist when we eventually found her shop! I had never imagined that ordinary bread dough would expand quite the way this did when deep fried in oil. Then we covered it in sugar powder and cinnamon, and got all icky. Then we turned out noses up at the local dogs who suddenly decided we were interesting and went to visit the church. Haha, we didn't touch anything though.
Thursday, 6 October 2011
Now for a completely different museum, dedicated to Georgia O'Keefe. It's the first time I saw any of her paintings in real life. I just find them very visually appealing, especially when there are colours bleeding into whites or blacks as in the one above. It's the kind of art that I like to look at and don't find it easy to say much about. I have a feeling that O'Keefe was the same way, because although they have quotes from her all over the walls, they say things like "Colour is really important to me".
Wednesday, 5 October 2011
|The sculpture garden, with Antonia at the far right looking like a sculpture!|
Today we went to the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, which is contemporary art made by members of American Indian tribes (that explanation might be necessary for any non-Americans out there). We all really enjoyed the exhibitions which were extremely varied, with one installation, galleries of painting and photography, a small sculpture garden, and a series of films. I think we perhaps enjoyed these the most, though a lot of the rest was very good as well. A lot of the art on display is not only by Native Americans but addresses things that are central to the Native American experience. A large chunk of that has to do with the fact that, non only did the Indian tribes lose their battles and their land against the United States and European Americans, but they are expected to identify as US citizens. This unfortunately includes a presentation of US history and culture in which they're depicted to themselves as outsiders, and expected to celebrate their own defeat. America as a state, conversely has a need to celebrate its history that we don't see so much in Europe.
One of the most interesting movies was a documentary, about a really sad standoff between Native and Italian Americans over the Columbus day parade in Denver. Columbus day is a national holiday, but the whole figure of Columbus is symbolic of the start of the catastrophe to many Native Americans. They don't really think he's a reason to party (and I have to say that, all other considerations aside, his behaviour towards the people he found in the Caribbean was,... well, words fail me). On the other hand, the Italian Americans, at least in this film, seem to have taken Columbus to their hearts. The Columbus Day parade allows them to celebrate their rather difficult integration into US society, and to see their contributions as important right from the start, I guess. It means a lot to some of them. So, there is a big stand-off in the middle of the street. There are also, as you can imagine, people of mixed ancestry coming down on various sides, and people of non-mixed ancestry not being on the side of the majority of their group. Quite a mess.
I also like the huge painting that was like a map of the US with incidents from American history that aren't so worthy of celebration either. The installation was on a different theme and was a room with a central table piled high with donuts, cakes, etc. The whole thing was made to look like solid sugar and it was called the Last Supper. This is a reference to the dietary problems that seem to be affecting American society as a whole, but I guess each group has a slightly different take on it.