Category Archives: USA

Chapter 1 – She loved New York City


The door was covered in graffiti, I looked at the address again and read it out to the taxi driver.

“Well, this is the address”, he said gently raising his eyebrow.

“Okay, just let us out here”.

View from Central Park

View from Central Park

Next door to the anonymous and derelict looking brick building was a well planted colourful Tom thumb garden.  We gazed in to see a bunch of New Yorican ladies communing round a table – settled in for the evening.

We were told that the door would be unlocked so anxiously walked up to the door and gently pushed.  It opened to the reveal the smallest house in the East Village with painted white stone walls, a loft bed and ceiling windows neatly arranged in this compact house.  This was to be our home for a week in the East Village and it was just perfect.  We had our own little garden which was full of old gravestones left by the original owner -a grave stone cutters yard with the little house being the old shed.

The East Village is buzzing with people, cafes, shops, brownstones, urban gardens – more than enough to keep you occupied for much more than a week.  The story of the Green Thumb gardens itself is inspiring with people claiming back derelict spaces and looking after them as a grassroots way of dealing with social problems.  Manhattan is everything you ever dreamed it would be.  If you hate cities then you will likely hate Manhattan, but if you love cities then you will be swept off your feet by the melting pot of urban culture.

There was a sentiment that I heard a few times that the New Yorkers feel more connected to Europe than the states culturally and for me, being in a US city seeped in history did feel remarkably European.  The only real give away sign that we were in New York was the Woody Allen style ‘fashion’ of wearing the oddest combination of clothes.  God knows, anything goes.

Guggenheim Taxis

Guggenheim Taxis

Our mode of transport was bicycles and this is one of the easiest cities to get around on a bike.   Crossing 110th street on our bicycles past Marcus Garvey Park into Harlem to get a juice from a vegetarian cafe was entering another Manhattan.  Vibrant street culture and the place for buying the most bling trainers.

Smallest House in the East Village

Smallest House in the East Village

So if you are going to stay in New York – don’t stay in a hotel, go and find yourself an eclectic apartment to rent nestled in the East Village.  If you like to jog like the rest of New York then it is quick run down to the waterfront which is just packed with runners.

The thing to remember about New York is that looks can be deceiving as arriving in what looked like a derelict building we found a wonderful little apartment in the heart of New York in a street that I would have been more than happy to settle in for much more than a week.

There are a few places to look for an apartment to rent but I found my place through New York – Craigs List

Some Places to Eat

A small selection of the many places in which we expanded our waistlines for the day.

Holy Basil – A Thai Restaurant in the East Village the most amazing thai food and ambiance

Uptown Juice Bar – Vegetarian Soul Food in Harlem ‘ what more can I say

Caravan of Dreams – Organic Vegetarian Kosher restaurant with the most amazing conversations on life, the universe and relationships going on all around you.

New Films you must see before you go

Manhattan – For those heathens who have not yet seen Woody Allen’s 1979 classic – one of the most romantic films ever made, here is the opening 3 minutes…

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Misty Mornings in Harris Beach State Park, Oregon


I knew about the fog but I didn’t really KNOW about the fog.  Being an English person I pride myself and my nation on our national past time of talking about the weather.  In England the weather is generally damp and Heathrow grey with a splattering of sunshine at odd times of the year that excites the nation into a skin baring frenzy.  Occasionally we have fog too, but nothing beats the fog I witnessed over the 4 days spent at Harris Beach State Park. You always knew it was on it’s way even when the sky was a bold and cloudless blue.

Harris Beach

Harris Beach

And when it came it was just splendid, rearranging the view before your eyes, erasing some of the green rocky islands and creating a blinding whiteness and movement in the sky that was just dazzling, swirling around the handful of people brave enough to be in the water and making the crashing waves rising up the beach appear to be coming out of the void.

And then 20 minutes later the huge rocks jutting out the misty landscape start to re-appear again sometimes slowly and sometimes fast.  These small islands are home of all sorts of life including harbor seals who hang out on the rocks placing bets on how long it will take the fog to hurry away to the next beach.  There are other beachs too, drive about 4 miles up the road there are some really deserted beaches full of driftwood where you can roam to your hearts desire jumping from one beach to the next.

Harris Beach View

Harris Beach View

The campground here is great too.  We just about squeezed in with a booking on July 4th so it was max’ed out, but the sites were all roomy with hot showers and even an iceman delivering ice each evening.  There are also lots of trails, albeit short to keep you entertained and the hard packed sand on the beach proved a great running track.

The Oregon coast is a place that I shall come back too as I know I have just tasted a little of the wildness that is on offer and no doubt coming back at different times of the year would bring an altogether different experience.

How to Get There

2 miles north of Brookings of highway 101

Where to Stay

You can’t beat Harris Beach Campground

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Humility in Humboldt Redwoods SP, California


The Avenue of the Giants off Highway 101 in Humboldt State Park is a ride not to miss if you can.  These tall, gnarly trees look beautiful from every angle whether standing or lying on the forest floor, roots on display to the world in a fantastic twisty show of earth, ferns and organic matter.  The road trails through the most stunning forest of redwoods you are ever likely to see along the side of the Eel River.  You will see open alluvial plains and meadows but it still a road so there is the hum of traffic .

Rockefeller Forest is the largest remaining old growth redwood forest in the world which is less than 17,000 acres with one of my top runs of my trip along the Bull Creek Flats South trail straight from the Albee Campground about a 11 mile round trip through a mesmerizing landscape of chunky trees that will hopefully outlive all of us.   The bumpy, narrow Mattole Road leading to the campground follows the flat through five miles of old growth and is one of the world’s best redwood drives. The largest trees in the park are found here; of the world’s ten tallest trees, three are on Bull Creek Flats, although their exact location is a secret.

Not only so you get to see some of the tallest in the world but you are also very close to the “Lost Coast”.

The Lost Coast was one of few areas along the California coast that the highways people thought they ought to leave alone and not build a road through it, subsequently it is a wild piece of coastline with a few access roads and lots of hiking trials.  The most famous is the Lost Coast Coastal Trail which is about 64 miles with camping and water along the way.  Unfortunately the amount of wild fires in the area made this a less than desirable hike for us!  You don’t have to hike all of this and can break it down into smaller hikes of course.  There are also mountain biking trails which are due to be ready by autumn 2008 too.

How to get there

This is 45 miles south of Eureka and 20 miles north of Garberville off of Highway 101.

Where to Stay

We loved No.33 in Albee Campground.  This campground is much more remote than the others in the park and has tonnes of trails straight from the campground.  This site looks out across a meadow which has a little apple orchard in it – a favourite of the local black bears in late season.

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Apocalypse Now – White Sands Monument, New Mexico


The senses are confused.  The day is very warm and the sky is overcast with a storm coming through.  You start driving down the road and the land is shimmering white.

But it is not just the whiteness that throws you, it is the texture and the way the sand sits on the sides of the road.  It looks like snow but a quick wind down of the windows and you know you are not in the snows of Canada.  You are in the largest Gypsum sand dunes in the world in the Tularosa basin in New Mexico.   With the winds blowing we had the joy of being on the dunes with not a soul around and new sculptures forming under our feet.  The winds were blowing all evidence of human activity off the pristine skin of the dune.  The parking area which has lots of neatly arranged shelters in the middle of the dunes looked very apocalyptic with the just the sand blowing hard in a deserted landscape that used to have humans roaming the land.   No, it is not that I have an over active imagination this area is right beside the White Sands Missile Range, home of the Trinity Site which on July 16, 1945 tested the first atomic bomb.  In fact you can even visit the site on bi-annual open days if you really feel the need.

White Sands Detail

White Sands Detail

The sands are majestic and looked different each day we visited.  There are plants and animals that adapt to living here with some of the bushes clinging on for dear life and the sands continually move beneath their roots.

Nearby is the town of Alamogordo which does have the New Mexico Museum of Space History where you can delight in the marvels of man in space but if that doesn’t take your fancy then you can go burn some Harry Potter books which is also a favourite pasttime of Chirst Community Church.  Go see the White Sands and then move swiftly on…

How to get there

U.S. Highway 70, 15 miles (24 km) southwest of Alamogordo and 52 miles east of Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Where to Stay

We stayed at the Alamogordo Roadrunner Campground which was friendly but the usual RV Ghetto setup which after travelling for a year send shivers down my spine.

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Into the trees – Sequoia and Kings Canyon NP, California


Sequoia

Sequoia

Trees hold a supernatural quality for me and the sequoia’s did nothing for my childish daydreams of magic forests carpeted in ferns and inhabited by goblins.  In the case of the sequoia’s the goblins do not have to be very small as some of the trees are as big as my old flat in England (but that’s not saying much).  This is really two national parks joined together by some national forest so sometimes it gets confusing as to what area you are in.   This park hosts Mt. Whitney which at14,496.811 feet is the tallest mountain in the “lower 48” states however, you cannot really see the mountain from the entrance to the park on the west side.  You can see it and access it from 0.7 mile (17.1 km) trail from Whitney Portal, 13 miles (21 km) west of the town of Lone Pine which has the great Diaz Lake Campground with about 200 sites including space for large RV’s down by the riverside.  It’s cheap at $10 a night and looks out at the eastside of the NP.   However, we were more interested in camping in the park and discovered that getting to Sequoia and Kings Canyon NP by vehicle was a little tricky as there are no roads running though the park.  If you are in the east side of the mountains then you have to drive around the park to get into the westerly entrance.   But getting there is worth it to see what little remains of these majestic groves of Sequoia trees and access to Kings Canyon.

The largest tree (in terms of volume) in the world is General Sherman which is located in this park and is a site to behold, but it is hard to really get the scale of these giants of the forest as you stand there staring up into the sky at them.   I can’t help but feel sadness too that we have hacked down so much of our old growth forests although there is still alot of campaigning with Campaign for Old Growth amongst others.

Due to the relative remoteness of the park it is easy to get away from the few people that are there who are mostly looking at the more famous trees on short hikes or driving through the park.

View into Kings Canyon

View into Kings Canyon

A beautiful trail for hiking or running is the Ridge trail, this was one of our top runs as it gently undulates up and down on single track and some forestry road.  Another stunning trail which you can get on direct from the Azalea Campground which was our favourite camping spot, is the Sunset Meadow trail but be ready for alot of downhill and then uphill.

How to get there

Nearest airport is Fresno

To enter Sequoia Park: From highways 65 or 99, go east on Highway 198 to the park entrance.

To enter Kings Canyon National Park:From Highway 99, go east on Highway 180 to the park entrance.

The main park road, the Generals Highway, connects these two entrances.

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By the time I make Albuquerque…it’ll be time to go to Sante Fe


For a place that has alot of songs about it Albuquerque is not much to shout home about. The town is a bit of a sprawl and I was unimpressed by the historic old town which was a handful of streets selling all that damn turquoise jewelry and bad clothes. However, the sunsets were pretty amazing and the full hook-up High Desert RV park we parked up at was cheap at $18 a night and backed onto desert scrub which made for some great sandy jogging. So after a minimal sampling of the town’s delights we hot the road to go and see the much more dramatic and beautiful Sante Fe.

Santa Fe

Sante Fe, nestled in the foothills of the Sangre Christie mountains seems to have everything, a stunning landscape, access to great hiking, biking and ski trails and endless sunny days. This is a city that looks like no other due to the zoning codes of 1958 that rules that all new structures are based on the pueblo style adobe structures which are essentially mud and straw. So the center of the city and the structures up into the mountains are for the most part beautiful organic, natural structures that just sit in the landscape beautifully. This is a green city with tree lined streets and a beautiful European style feel to it where people hangout having coffee, go to the museums and check out the endless art galleries lining the streets. We happened upon the Lisa Kristine Gallery with some of the most evocative photo’s I have ever seen of indigenous people from all over the world in dramatic landscapes and settings. Sante Fe still has it’s sprawl and speaking to one of the locals it seems that those that live in the zoned area boast about never ever going down to Cerrillos Road which is the pure americiana with mall after faceless mall. But having spent a week there I found it to be one of the few places in the US that I think I could live. We camped up in the pine forested mountains in Black Canyon Campground which is only 8 miles up the mountain from the plaza. It was a treat to be out of the RV parks and into the forest campgrounds where you have space to breathe, watch the light sparkle through the pine, make campfires and be a little closer to the wildlife. The campground is situated really close to the trails, in fact there is a great 1 mile loop out the back of the campground that served as a great jogging trail (if you did a few loops). The Chamisa trail which is a 5 mile round trip was a real treat too for either hiking, biking or jogging but unfortunately for us some cold weather weather came in for a few days. There is so much to do around Sante Fe, with Bandelier National Monument only an hour away if you want to see some pre-historic cliff dwellings that are some of the oldest remains found in the US today.

Ram's Head, White Hollyhock Hills

I can see why the iconic Georgia O’Keefe adopted New Mexico as her home and painted the landscapes, the bleached bones and the hearts of flowers for many years out at Ghost Ranch just north of Sante Fe. New Mexico with it’s history, the colour and shape of the land, the trees, the flowers, the light and the big starry nights do start to take a hold of you. And from the words of Georgia herself…

“It is not a country of light on things. It is a country of things in light.”

How to get there

You can fly to Albuquerque and hire a car to drive an hour north on the I-25

Where to Stay

We stayed at Black Canyon Campground however there is a bunch of camping and accommodation options to chose from from boondocking in Walmart to these campgrounds http://wow.gosantafe.com/campgrounds/

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Down the rabbit-hole to Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico


The entrance to Carlsbad Caverns was silent. No-one else around other than the cave swallows swooping over our heads to catch the bugs and hurry to the nestlings peeking out from the muddy holes in the cave walls. No-one mentioned the swallows, only the Mexican free-tailed bats, who had not yet arrived from the south to perform their evening shows of dramatically exiting the ultimate bat cave at dusk. “Curiouser and curiouser”!

The slow walk to the mouth of the cave is simply breathtaking as the sights and sounds take my imagination off into magical tales of underground kingdoms. The opening is large and not surprisingly…cavernous. I am not sure what I was expecting. Yes, I expected to be impressed but not to be totally gobsmacked before even getting down into the first cave. The opening is huge and as I drift into the darkness it takes a few minutes for my eyes to adjust. The lighting is particularly beautiful. Large features are lit from hidden sources and the rest is just visible but not in great detail. The cave entrance, the “Twilight Zone” has to be lit in the most minimal way so that animals are not tempted to enter and get lost and starved.

Carlsbad (2)

As I move deeper into the cave the sounds of the swallows around the entrance area start to subside and I start to notice a different kinds of sound; drip, drip, drip. It takes 8 months for the water to move into the cave and slowly drip through and anything above the surface will eventually make its way into these limestone caves and drip. Unfortunately this includes all of the fallout from the car park on top of the cave. The dripping starts to fade into the background as I begin to grasp the scale of the caverns. I make my way through the first cavern and after turning a corner look down and gasp at the next huge cavern that I am about to descend into. Let me remind you that Chris and I still have the entrance caves to ourselves. When you get to the caverns you have the self guided option of taking the lifts 750ft down into the main showcase caverns or you can walk down – WALK DOWN!

I don’t know what to do with myself, so I just stand there trying to take it all in. No matter which direction I look in it all looks wondrous. So I continue on and am presented with about 3 more caverns each more awe-inspiring that the one before because each one is not expected. By the time I make my way to the base of the cave I gather myself together and prepare for the aptly titled, “Big Room”. This is even more decorated that the caves I just floated down through, glistening white rock of many different shapes and textures hanging from the roof, jutting out of the ground, stalacmites and stalactites creating fairy grotto’s. This cave is busier with people now but all around me I can hear sharp intakes of breathe as the cave reveals it’s quiet glory to passers-by. The park wardens ask that you do not talk louder than a whisper so the cave is full of hushed “wows”, or “awesome”.

Carlsbad

Words cannot really explain how sublime the caverns are and the experience of being able to walk through them marvelling at the wonder of nature. I cannot think of any man-made structure that is more beautiful or human that this. Needless to say, the next day Alice went back for more but could only dream of the wonders to behold in Lechuguilla caves in Carlsbad, discovered in 1986 and known to be the longest cave in the world. It is still being explored and has yet to reveal all of the caves to it’s explorers.

Other Info

The caverns were explored the lost comprehensively by a 16 year old cowboy called Jimmy White who stumbled upon the opening in 1901. “I worked my way through the rocks and brush until I found myself gazing into the biggest and blackest hole I had ever seen, out of which the bats seemed literally to boil. … I couldn’t estimate the number, but I knew that it must run into millions.” He ultimately spent his life dedicated to exploring and preserving the caves for others to see.

Getting There

S Highway 62/180 from either Carlsbad, New Mexico (23 miles to the northeast) or El Paso, Texas (150 miles to the west). Carlsbad is served by Greyhound and TNM&O bus lines, or you can fly into Albuquerque, New Mexico, or Midland, Texas. Mesa Airlines flies between Albuquerque and Carlsbad.

Where to Stay

There are plenty of places to stay in Carlsbad or even White’s City which was a bit grimsville US for me. We stayed in the friendly family run Carlsbad RV Park which is about 20 miles from the caves. As for Carlsbad, there’s nothing much exiting going on other than stocking up on your groceries.

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