The map below of America shows how we have crossed the States from West to East in the South and returned to LA via the North.
Friday 5 July
A day of waiting for our 10.30pm flight back to Oz.
Thursday 4 July (US Independence Day)
Woke up at 6am and had early breakfast while I watched the two semi-finals of the Ladies at Wimbledon. The second match was great and we had to leave at five all in the third set as I wanted to have our rental vehicle back to Alamo at the airport by 11am. Collected the car from New York with 1964 miles on the speedo and after 3784 miles on the road we had pushed it past the regular service at 5000 by 748miles.
Wednesday 3 July
For our last day in SLC and close to going home, it is time to rationalise everything we have acquired over the last two months of travel, all this while John watched more of Wimbledon; this time a quarter-final match between Murray and Verdasco.
Manage to reduce much of the accumulation to what we could take on the plane with us to fly to Los Angeles tomorrow and Sydney on Friday.
Late morning we made another trip to the City Creek Shopping Centre for John to buy a map of the USA (not successful) as well as food for lunch. After lunch John headed out to have a haircut and find a Goodwill Store for the kitchen supplies we have used during our travels.
“While waiting for a 5.15 hair appointment, I drove up State Street to take a look at the local Council Chambers which was built in 1896 and used as the State Parliament until the Capital Building was completed in 1915. After taking some photos around the building I stepped inside and spoke to the security guard. He gave me a history of the building and invited me to go to third floor to view pictures of all the past Mayors. During our discussions he indicated that he would have to work until he was 70 (now 63) to be able to retire on a reasonable pension. He lost his entitlements with a previous company he had worked with for 20 years when it was taken over & broken up by so called Wall St. company. Our Superannuation system has to be better than that.”
Tuesday 2 July
Setting out east of SLC for the Wasatch Mountain, Alta ski-fields for a ride on the scenic tramway started with another slight re-direction that eventually ended successfully.
A really scenic drive up the mountain, several different rock types and colours, varying types of trees with diminishing vegetation the higher we drove. We were in time for the 12md ride on the aerial tram.
While John took the ride to the top and back, I sat in the square and watch the world go by with a nice breeze blowing that made the time pass pleasantly.
“The Snowbird Tram took about 10 minutes to reach top of Hidden Peak at 11,000 feet and would return at 12.30 which left me 20 minutes to appreciate the view and take some pictures. Some people were going to hike across the mountains and return to catch the last Tram by 8pm. Others could walk the four & a half miles to the bottom in around two hours. I took a number of photos and studied the many rock formations.”
After lunch at the centre we came back to the city; a great view out over the city as we drove back down the mountain.
We spent the rest of the day with John trying to up-load the edition of the newsletter but with the Wi-Fi in this hotel being next to useless, he ended up resorting to going to McDonalds.
First stop today was the Tourist Office, eventually; JR’s sense of direction is still a little off this morning so we were on the wrong side of the town centre. It turned out the Tourist Office is located in the City Creek Shopping Centre, which was where we were headed.
The last time we were here this shopping centre was a hole in the ground, adjacent to this site and now is a two-story air-conditioned delightful space of retail therapy. I started looking for Cold Water Creek, but they are not part of the new centre; so went looking through some of the shops available and did not walk out empty handed.
We even found a grocery store as part of the new centre, which is different from all the other shopping centres we have visited; clothes and food are usually two totally different centres and quite often miles apart. Harmon’s Groceries was full of fresh food so we had a lovely time selecting fruit and bread as well as meat and vegetables to cook for dinner.
Sunday 30 June
There were not many miles to cover traveling to Salt Lake City so we took a detour via the Fire Hole Canyon as well as the dam on Flaming Canyon; we headed south out of Rock Springs and drove through stark but spectacular countryside. It is hard to describe the colours that were on display throughout this trip; the rich orange / red of a brilliant sunset around the walls of some of the canyons any many softer colours greeted us at every turn. Driving over the Flaming Canyon dam wall we saw that the water was well utilised by water-craft of all descriptions as well as a few water skiers.
We stopped in at the Ranger Station and viewing area at the Canyon Rim Lookout and were advised to take a detour around Sheep Creek National Geological Area; another amazing drive through scenery that I cannot really describe well either, perhaps John’s photos can partly convey our journey.
Eventually back onto the i80 for the remainder of today’s journey, arriving at Slat Lake City at 5pm. This unit contains a fully equipped kitchen as well as a separate bedroom and the air conditioner was working very well (too well according to JR). It is great to be able to cook our own meals for a couple of days and rest a little before we head home at the end of the week.
Saturday 29 June
The trip from Cheyenne to Rock Springs was through a changing landscape; from some arable land in between rocks and increasing salt bush through to rocks, salt bush and not much more. However, the i80 had a 75mph speed limit (very few drivers seem to observe) so the 270 miles were covered in relatively short time.
The main traffic on the road is trucks, fully laden, travelling in both directions; add this to the trains we have seen there is certainly lots of goods on the move all over the country.
We arrived at out hotel about 2pm; thank heavens there was a room available for us so we could escape the heat; I rested, John went for a drive to check out the town and environs.
“Rock Springs brought back memories of our visits to Broken Hill, typical of mining town, rocks, old buildings and hot & dry. However this town was active, the Interstate Highway i80 runs through town with about 100 trucks per hour passing through and the railway with 50 trains per day.
There are two open cut coal mines just outside town and several gas extraction units. A series of pipe lines head off into the hills to the south. We stayed at a 100 bed motel and there would have been half a dozen in town. The local Ford agent had around fifty new F150 trucks for sale in his yard.
The local hospital had an emergency helicopter parked in the front yard & ready for rescue work.
Friday 28 June
A slight breeze blowing today stopped it from being quite so oppressive. We started our day going to the Quilt Corner – not open yet, walked to the Cowgirl Museum – not open yet, thank heavens the Wyoming State Museum was open when we arrived there, so we spent quite some time roaming through their displays of Wyoming history from pioneer days through to recent times. A great exhibition, well displayed with excellent information to add just enough relevant detail, in plain English, to make the whole experience worthwhile
By the time we had finished, the heat had increased significantly, so the walk back to the Cowgirl Museum was rather a challenge. This museum concentrated on the role of women in settling the west as well as a large focus on the women rodeo riders from the early days though to today.
Later in the afternoon we drove 40 miles back east to Pine Bluffs for the Friday Night Rodeo.
“Pine Bluffs as it says is a small town of about 1000 people and the end of a bluff that has pine trees on it. The i80 runs around the bluff on the high end of town and the old State 30 & railway line pass through the bottom of the town where the Rodeo grounds are located. The main events start at 7pm however we arrived for the full programme at 5pm. Paid $5.00 each and received a programme with all the events and entrants listed for the night.
The first two events were Goat Tying for the little tackers, all of 5 years & up mine you. The next eight event were team roping where the calf would be released and the rider on its left lassoes the calf while the rider on the right circles around to lassoes the back legs. There were around fifteen pairs in each of the classes, Century, Mixed x 3 & Open x 3. The best score was 7 & 1 meaning 7 seconds to rope the calf & 1 second for the legs to be lassoed
To prepare for the night events, a tractor was brought in dragging a scarifier to stir up the soil. There was only one entrant, Dylan Cathcart in the Calf Riding and he was followed by the Novice & Open breakaway, where the calf is released and the rider lassoes the calf in the shortest time. Around five seconds was the best.
While these events were being run, the bulls were being drafted for the Novice & Open Bull Riding. Hugh bulls with the points cut off their horns, but plenty of energy for the contestants.
Seven seconds was the required time for riding the bulls, not many made it. One bull refused to leave the ring and keep the clowns at bay for around 15 minutes. Eventually they had to let other bulls into the ring to encourage him out
The final event was the 3D Barrels with five divisions of 12 contestants. We stayed for a few rounds and then headed back to Cheyenne. A great night of Country Rodeo. On the way home we noticed a strange sky.
Thursday 27 June
Spent the night with a noisy air-conditioner running in our room, but the alternative was unthinkable as well as unbearable.
We started the day with a walk across the park and a visit to the Tourist Information Office in the old railway station. Cheyenne has commissioned a number of eight-foot painted boots that have been placed around town, half the fun is finding and examining the artwork, which is spectacular and quite different on each one.
Found another Boot Barn for Jil, but not nearly as good as Austin or Nashville so didn’t worry about taking any photos.
We spent the next couple of hours on a Trolley Tour; predominantly a history lesson by a local man who had prepared a number of folders so the tourists could follow his tour with photos and information available on the internet. The tour operator also supplied hand-held fans that came in very handy as the air-conditioner was having trouble coping.
After lunch in the railway square hotel, we spent a couple of hours in the Railway Museum looking through their great exhibition of local rail history. The museum also housed a newly acquired partly completed model railway that was being faithfully reconstructed to represent the winding narrow-gauge railway climbing from Idaho to Mt Pleasant through the Argo Tunnel. By that time I needed a rest, so I returned to the hotel while John walked up to the Capitol for a visit.
“Cheyenne is the capital of Wyoming and has a similar impressive capital building as I have seen in Austin & Salt Lake City. Steps up to the front door and a central dome with corridors leading left to the Senate Chamber and right to the House of Representatives Chamber.
Both corridors on the second floor leading to the public galleries had picture frames containing the photo of each member of that parliament back to the first in 1893.
The are 30 senators elected to four year terms, while there are 60 legislature has 60 representatives who serve for two year terms.
The Capital is very much open house to the public and on entry I was welcomed by a State Trooper and invited to look around the building. I wandered at ease and on the second floor I looked into an unattended committee room with state painting around the wall. When I returned to the ground floor the State Trooper invited me to walk into the Governors office and look around his chamber. I met his secretary who took a photo of me sitting in his chair in the meeting room and said that if the Governor was present he would have personally welcomed me to the Capital. With 9/11 and all that, these people are still doing it the old way.
When leaving Trooper John M Jerkins gave me his personal card and said that if I have any problems travelling on the roads west to ring the Highway Patrol and they would assist. The hospitality was wonderful and shows that the west is a great place to visit.”
At 6.00pm we went to the end of the rail-yard and watched a re-enactment of a Western Shootout by the Cheyenne Gunslingers.
Wednesday 26 June
The heat has not abated, already hot at 8.30 when we left North Platte on our journey to Cheyenne.
Headed WNW toward Chimney Rock travelling through gradually lessening land under crops and more of irrigated pasture. We saw hundreds of head of cattle in feed-lots as we went further west; no shade and in bare penned areas – by what stretch of the imagination is this an acceptable way to hold cattle?
Today’s trip was predominantly along the fertile North Platte River valley, all under irrigation otherwise it returns to its natural arid land. This was the track the pioneers followed on the Oregon, Mormon as well as the California Trails. Stopped at the Pioneer Trail Museum at Northport and looked through their various displays of early life in Nebraska spending some time talking to the Curator who had some strong ideas on the similarities between early US and Australian white settlement through to current day.
We visited the Chimney Rock Museum just past Bridgeport, which opened in 2009. The museum housed much geological data about the rock formation and drawings collected from many sources over the years. This was one of the landmarks used by the pioneers to show they were on the right track. Once again, reflecting on the lives and what was achieved leaves you admiring their faith and belief in a better life and what they were prepared to endure to achieve that dream – many never surviving the journey.
The heat had built to 108F by this time so we did not stop too long in the outdoors; the heat as well as the warnings of rattlesnakes in the area was enough to convince me to keep moving.
The next landmark used by the pioneers was Scotts Bluff, another 40 miles along. We stopped here long enough to have a look at the wagons and bullock teams set out on part of the trail and then drove up to the lookout; great views over the valley as well as more of the rock formation littered through this part of Nebraska.
Arrived at Cheyenne, Wyoming at 5.30pm and gained an hour as we were now on Mountain Time. Once again I needed a cold room and icepacks for the head by the time we arrived; the heat and I are not good travelling companions.
John spent the evening trying the use the Internet at the hotel; once again not much success.
Tuesday 25 June
The speed of the internet during our travels has been challenging at times, reminds me a the good old days of dial-up at home! Needless to say, the work I tried to do was only partly achieved.
John spent the morning at Buffalo Bill’s Ranch
“Drove about 6 miles out of town to Buffalo Bill’s Scout’s Rest Ranch which consists of 4000 acres of flat country leading up into the hills to the north. He had the house built in 1886 and the horse barn in 1887. Both the house and horse barn became a state historical park in 1965. The house & barn have been restored and a wealth of Cody memorabilia was acquired and placed on display. The remaining items are of the same period including extensive wall papering including some ceilings. The outhouses included a below ground cool room, and ice room and laundry/wood house. Tools in the ice house were used to cut blocks of ice from the lake in winter and store with straw between and would almost the whole summer.
A lady in her eighties was looking after the horse barn and offered me biscuits & candy on entry. There was a blacksmith shop in one corner, a display of all the types of barbed wire found on the farm and a number of saddles from the past. About 20 horse stalls were feed with shuts from the floor above where loose hay would have been stored. Another barn at the back had been burned down and I noted that a sprinkler system had been fitted throughout this barn.
Further down the yard there were four buffalo that I would consider in poor condition and no where as big as the buffalo I saw in Yellowstone Park in 2006.
Behind the barn there was a log cabin that Buffalo Bill used on another property and had been relocated to this park.”
After lunch we drove out to the Golden Spike Railway Observation Tower; a eight-storey tower that overlooks the largest train rail yard in the world, up to 1500 pieces of rolling-stock at one time. There were two observation floors, 7th open-air for photos and mainly overlooked the yard and windy enough to…. The 8th floor was enclosed and covered the full 360 vista and contained lots of information about the history of the North Platte railway as well as the current day use. There was a retired railway worker providing lots of anecdotes and day-to-day life of the workers from the early years through to today.
One hundred & fifty trains pass through this yard every day including 70 coal trains. Thirty five heading east with coal and 35 returning for another load. Each coal train had two locos at the front and one at the back with an average of 135 cars each carrying 120 tons of coal.
Trains coming from either the west or east would be broken and separated into 50 different destinations at these yards and new locos added before they proceeded.
The 180 service track employees process more than 8,500 engines per month. In an average day 300 locomotives are serviced. The shop can repair 18 to 20 cars per hour, with shifts running 24 hours. On average the workshop replaces 10,000 wheels each year. Union Pacific Fruit Express has a fleet of more than 5,500 mechanical refrigerator cars.
Every 24 hours, Bailey Yard handles 10,000 railroad cars. Of these 3000 are sorted each day. The yard employs 2,600 locals of the town population of 25,000.
Next stop was the Cody Trading Post that housed a miniature version of the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show; it is hard to imagine the logistics of moving that many people and their equipment all over the US as well as to Europe in the late 19th Century.
The North Platte Mall was next on the list of air-conditioned buildings to try and avoid the heat, but hardly worth the visit no more than half a dozen shops catering for the cheaper market. On returning to our hotel, the a/c was having difficulty coping with the heat as well so not a lot of respite there either.
Monday 24 June
Some rain overnight and continued for the beginning of our journey as well as an amazing wind that started as we left the city; thank heavens it didn’t last very long. The landscape continued similar to that of our drive to Sioux City, quality gradually diminishing now more corn than other grains as well as more and more cattle visible the further we drove. It must have been an excellent spring from the number of bales of good-looking hay in the paddocks.
Drove alongside the rail-line for most of the day, passing dozens of trains heading both east and west; only trains carrying cargo not passengers. About every ten miles there would be a number of silo’s grouped alongside the rail line, maybe all empty by now and waiting for the new seasons crop. More about this when we reach North Platte.
The rain stopped by lunchtime and once again the sun made its appearance, reaching 90F by 3pm and remained high the remainder of the time there (and since).
Sunday 23 June
Our hotel was close to the Missouri River and opposite an old paddle steamer that is now a casino; looked as though they had plenty of patrons.
Spent the morning driving around the town area as well as along the riverside to gain our bearings; then visited the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Centre, which was well worth spending time and trying to comprehend the enormity of the journeys they undertook and what was accomplished. America is good at portraying their history in such a way as to be accessible and well presented. Volunteers seem to be the backbone of much of the tourist trade; professional, welcoming and knowledgeable people who usually seem pleased to see us and don’t mind the chat – and you all know how much JR loves a chat.
Saturday 22 June
As we drove up out of the Mississippi River valley and further into Minnesota we drove through the most fertile land we have seen and it stayed that way all day; dark chocolate soil with lush green crops in various stages of growth. Farms were more concentrated with numerous silos and well kept; guess they are so productive, they don’t need as much land.
As we passed a small town called Hayward, I saw a sign for a quilt shop and decided to stop for a while. I was surprised to see a store containing this extensive range of fabrics and notions in a quite rural area; the variety of quilts was enough to astound. I could have spent hours just looking and imagining the beautiful quilts to be made but settled for the fabric for one project.
Arrived in Sioux City about 4.30 after a long and tiring day of travel through beautiful rural vistas.
Friday 21 June
Following a storm during the night, the day started out a little cooler for our trip called the Historic La Crosse Trolley Tour; narrated by an older gentleman in a frock coat and top hat who spent the two hours giving us lots of interesting information about the city, its buildings, people and history.
The afternoon was spent going on the Apple Blossom Drive; unfortunately we must have taken a wrong turn, so no apple blossoms. Fortunately, we did find the Pickwick Mill and spent a couple of hours looking at the six floors of history of this country flour-mill driven by a 20ft water-wheel. The history of this small hamlet was enthralling; a lucky wrong turn.
Thursday 20 June
Another river cruise today, this time a paddle wheeler up the Mississippi to the i90 bridge where the next lock takes vessels up three feet. The breeze on the river was a pleasant respite from the heat. An interesting commentary provided by a young tour guide who pointed out several bald eagles, lots of tortoise sunning themselves on logs as well as three snapping turtles climbing a sand-bank to lay their eggs.
John spent the afternoon at the Dahl Motor Museum.
“I spotted on the town map that there was an Auto Museum seven blocks down on 3rd Street so headed off at 3pm to check it out. Built only two year ago by the local Ford dealership the Dahl family who have been involved as automotive dealers spanning over 100 years and five generations. Sam a local who went to school with the present Dahl owner was curator of the Museum which opened Fri, Sat & Sun from 2-7pm. He turned out to be a gem and knew the background of most of the vehicles and was very happy to engage as I made my way past these precious vehicles.
I noted a family history on the wall and Sam explained that the original Mr Dahl ran a dry goods store in La Crosse and started selling Model T Fords to the local farmers. In those days the car would come in several boxes from the manufacturer via train and they would assemble before delivering to the buyer. Word spread and they were getting orders from all over the state. He setup dealerships around the state and then franchised into another ten plus states. He was also taking orders from overseas. Some of the rail barons bought out his right to sell in Texas and he invested his profits in other business ventures.
The Model T Ford truck was sold to a local farmer and now been restored and takes pride of honour as you walk into the museum. The Model TT ton truck was a similar situation. Other vehicles range from a 1911 Model T ‘Mother in law’ Roadster, 1929 Model A Roadster, 1930 Model A Coupe, 1959 Fairlane Galaxie Skyliner, 1972 LTD Convertible and the one I liked 1955 Fairlane Crown Victoria Glasstop which a Mr Dahl had restored for his wedding
On one wall was a collection of automobile hood ornaments from around the world and reproductions of vintage gas globes. There was even an Indian Motor Bike on display that had been traded in on a new car.
Sam offered to take a photo of me sitting in one of the vintage cars. A most enjoyable three hours of boy time with cars.”
Tomorrow afternoon the vintage car race will stop over at La Crosse on their 2000 mile race down the Mississippi from Minneapolis to New Orleans, alas we are leaving town in the morning.
Wednesday 19 June
A leisurely drive today with not many miles to La Crosse; travelling through lovely, rich farming country that look quite prosperous and well-maintained.
A sign advertised Amish quilts as we drive toward Wautoma, but then no more signs, so had to give that a miss. At Necedah, we stopped to look at a Shrine, but the mosquitos were enough to make that a short visit. Saw a sister to dad’s first tractor, Alice Charmers Model C of 1949 vintage, mowing the grass on the area in front of the Shrine.
Arrived at La Crosse mid-afternoon and the hotel air-conditioning was a welcome respite from the heat that just kept building as we drove. Our room was on the 7th floor, overlooking Riverside Park and the Mississippi River, so a very pleasant view for a few days. After John’s siesta, we went for a walk in the park and noticed a sign for a free band concert in the park that night
The local band present free concerts in Riverside Park every Wednesday evening during summer; a great hour of music provided by accomplished musicians – a very pleasant way to spend a balmy evening by the river
Tuesday 18 June
Heading west again, this time on the Highway 28 toward Newberry, then south through Engadine, before turning west and south on State Highway 2 along the western side of Lake Michigan and into Wisconsin.
After a stop at the Menominee Tourist Office, Green Bay sounded like a reasonable option for an overnight stop; unfortunately the dirty, industrial areas did not impress us so we kept going until we reached Oshkosh on Lake Winnebago; we took the last bed available at the first place we spotted.
Back to Central Time, so clocks back one hour.
Monday 17 June
Time to move on to the far north of Michigan; it was a nice cool day for driving up the i75 through some open country as well as well-wooded areas to Sault Sainte Marie
From the Tourist Office we went to the Tower of History, a ten-story tower built to give a view of the lakes, river and locks as well as over most of the township. A wonderful panoramic photograph was provided which was labelled to give direction, detail and history from the viewing area.
We took the 1pm Soo Lock Cruise, which took us from the landing in the St Mary River, up through Poe Canal Lock to Lake Superior and then via the Canadian Channel Lock back to the St Mary River that joins Lake Superior with Lake Huron. I find locks are really fascinating, the ease by which such large vessels (now up to 1000 ft long) can be raised or lowered in a short time; the annual tonnage and number of vessels through these locks make it the busiest locks in the world and no fees are charged for any vessel passing through the Soo locks.
Next stop, John explored the Valley Camp Museum Ship
“The freighter ‘Valley Camp’ was commissioned around 1920 and served on Lake Superior for nearly 50 years. When retired the town dug a ditch out of the side of the river and dragged the freighter up into the car park. They cut a hold in the side for an entrance and have used the four holds for their Maritime Museum. You can walk into the engine room to check out the old triple expansion steam engines and coal feed hoppers, then take a walk up onto the deck and explore the pilot house at the front of the freighter.
The crews sleeping quarters and dining at the stern were all intact as they were 40 years ago.
More than 100 exhibits populate the ship’s cargo holds, what once held coal, iron ore, and limestone is now home to displays showcasing maritime memories, shipwrecks, lighthouses and local history.
The unexplained sinking of the freighter Edmund Fitzgerald remains a modern day maritime mystery and is a reminder of the intensity and unforgiving nature of the largest of the Great Lakes, Superior and the many lives it has taken. 29 sailors perished on that stormy November in 1975. Two lifeboats are the largest pieces of wreckage that were recovered.”
An “interesting” example of accessible hotel provided our accommodation for the night; to access our room from the lobby, we walked the entire length of the building to access the lift and then our room was back over the lobby! Climbing the stairs may well have been an easier option.
Sunday 16 June
A thunder and lighting storm during the night took some of the heat out and left a rather foggy day; couldn’t see Mackinac Island this morning but by lunchtime it cleared and John headed back over to the island for the Lilac Festival Street Parade.
“I took the 2pm boat back over to the Island to have a look around the main street and see the 4pm street march. The main street contains a number of restaurants, bicycle rent shops, fudge & ice creams outlets. Asked the locals where I could best view the march from and they all suggested along the park. Wandered over to the park and there was a Scottish band playing their bagpipes & one young lady dancing. Enjoyed the music for around half and hour before the next group stepped up for their session. The Clown Band as they were known & very good too and all dresses in costume.
Walked along the parade root past many of the old stately homes, now B & B’s etc. towards the 300 year old church and then back to the main street to try a local ice cream. Near 4pm so it was time to position myself in some shade with a good view of the road.
The local Indian group lead the march followed by the Mayor, the lilac beauty queens, the bands, schools and business house floats. The Clown Band were the last, so the crowd followed their music up the main street and from there I headed to the docks to catch the 5.30 boat home.”
Great pasta for dinner at Nona Luisa’s Restaurant; apparently the same person owns the pubs, several restaurants as well as some of the accommodation facilities.
Saturday 15 June
After yesterday’s outing, I took the day off while John spent the morning at the Icebreaker Museum and the afternoon at the Lighthouse.
“The Icebreaker Mackinaw was built during World War l l to meet the heavy demand of war materials and transportation during the winter months. The ship was retired in 2006 after 44 years of service and is now tied up at the Mackinaw Wharf and is on display as a maritime museum. The ship was based out of Sault Ste Marie to ensure shipping could travel west to Lake Superior from the Soo Locks. Shipping is due to start on March 25th each year after the winter closure and the Icebreaker would head west to break up the 3 to 5 feet ice packs and travel back & forth to create a channel for the 1000ft super ships to enter & leave Lake Superior.
The ships hull is made out of 1 and 5/8” plate steel which allowed it to ride up onto the ice and crash its way through. There are two rear propellers and a front propeller which helps to suck the ship forward. Six engines drive power generators to give flexibility in the delivery of energy to the propellers. Seventy five personnel are needed to man the ship and this cost lead to a new smaller, lighter vessel as a replacement. The new ship has rotating propellers which bite into the ice and assist to break a channel through the ice.”
The Old Mackinaw Lighthouse has been a guiding beacon since 1889 and helped passing ships navigate through the treacherous waters of the Straits of Mackinac. It was closed in 1957 when the new five mile bridge was opened with its own beacon lights. National Parks & donors have authentically restored quarters and exhibits make it the “Castle of the Straits”. In its 68 year history is has only had three lighthouse keepers.
A great day of taking in the local history.
Friday 14 June
Bight sunshine, cool breeze and a perfect day for our ferry ride to Machinac Island; to John’s delight there was also a slight detour to go under the Mackinaw Bridge before heading to the island.
Cars are banned from the island so you have the choice of horse-drawn carriages, bicycles or walking to move from one place to another; there are a couple of exception, but for emergencies only.
We began our exploration by taking the carriage ride around the island as recommended with the option of stopping at relevant places to spend time. This weekend is the Lilac Festival and the lilac trees and shrubs are flowering gloriously in every shade you can image, from white through to purple (35 different specimens in total).
The first stop was to see the Butterfly House; just sitting and watching a profusion of butterflies on the wing or resting. The range of colours and markings were amazing; it was hard to know where to look with the colour palette of the plants in the enclosure adding to the brilliance.
From the Butterfly House we took the next carriage to Arch Rock – a natural limestone formation, standing 150 feet above the Lake Huron.
From the viewing platform you could clearly see back to the mainland; the water here is crystal clear and looking down you can see to the floor of the lake until it is too deep to see clearly. As we rode through the State Park to and from this stop the abundance of wildflowers added to the experience” Forget-me-nots Lily of the Valley, Trillium and Lady’s Slippers all added to the myriad of lilacs.
This carriage stopped at the Fort, so we spent quite some time looking at the displays, watching a “Court Martial”, Drill and Musket Demonstrations. From the top of the stairs we looked down over the township and the Park – an idyllic setting bathed in bright sunshine and the lilac display was worth just standing and drinking in the beauty. The fort has been well preserved and maintained with well-organised setting to add relevant and insight to the life and times.
From the fort we walked to the Grand Hotel for lunch; it was well after 2pm so we had missed the buffet so chose to sit on the glassed-in verandah while we ate lunch at Carleton’s Teashop before catching a taxi (horse & carriage) back to the wharf and the 3.30 ferry back to Mackinaw City.
As this is quite a small town, we were intrigued by the name until we saw the Civic Buildings and the town’s sign says “Village of Mackinaw City” – apparently the founders hoped this would become a major centre in the north of the State. The permanent population is 5-6 hundred and swells to many thousands for the tourist season, predominantly July to September and closing down again in October with limited accommodation and businesses that operate all year.
Thursday 13 June
Bought fresh bread from the bakery before leaving town at 9am and headed north on the lesser roads through open farming country. The blades that came through town last night were still on their low-loaders parked in a field not far from town and adjacent to the area where they were to be installed; soon to be right across the State as described by a local. The whole area was previously used to grow and process sugar beet, now diversified for cropping and wind power generation.
Lunch at a rest stop and spent till early afternoon travelling, reaching Mackinaw City; a drive around town to see where things were to orient ourselves as well as purchase a few supplies. There was a profusion of lilac trees and shrubs of every shade flowing magnificently across the area. The Tourist Information Office gave us plenty of information and ideas on things to see and do; turned out to be the annual Lilac Festival on Mackinac Island this weekend.
Our room on right on the beach, overlooking the lake and across to the island; the gentle sounds of the water lapping the shore as well as the sea gulls made for a pleasant change, as did the cool breeze coming off the water.
We had looked at accommodation on the island, but that was outside the budget; the Grand Hotel was offering $495 per person, per night!
Wednesday 12 June
After a migraine, we had a slower start to the day and eventually on the road by 10am; a cooler day and not too hot for travelling. Morning tea on the road and reached Frankenmuth at midday, with the first stop at Bronner’s Christmas World; every Christmas ornament, decoration and tree you could think of plus quite a few more. We found several lovely items with which to continue our tradition of buying an ornament each year to add to the collection – many pleasant hours are spent reminiscing as we decorate our tree each Christmas.
Our next stop was look for something for lunch in the town centre, just as the glockenspiel struck 3pm, so has to stop and watch that for a few minutes. Didn’t take us long to decide to spend the night in this quaint Bavarian village and then proceeded to explore the town up and down both sides of the main street. There was plenty of accommodation to choose from and all in keeping with the theme of the area.
Some lovely shops with a diverse range of products; could have easily made quite a few purchases: patchwork quilts, woollen doonas, beautiful quality bed linens and a wonderful range of clothing difficult to resist; managed to limit the spending to a couple items in a shop called “Abby”.
Sat in the park for quite some time just savouring the atmosphere, listening to the music from the entertainment in the square, the fountain, the flowers and just watching the world go by. While sitting there, we watched six blades for wind turbines being driven through town; each low-loader had two escort vehicles and required the both lanes on their side of the road just to negotiate some of the bends. It was quite surprising to see how long each blade is up close as well as the amount of movement in generated over its length.
I had great veal for dinner in a pleasant olde-worlde restaurant that would have seated hundreds of diners at the same time. Rather pleased we are not here when the crowds are present.
Tuesday 11 June
Another hot and steamy day for John to go and explore the Ford Museum, Factory and Greenfields
“ I drove west out of Detroit towards Chicago on the i94 for about 10miles the reach the Ford complex. The Museum doors opened at 9am & I was one of the first to buy a ticket. Three things to see between 9 & 5, the Museum, the production plant & Greenfields park behind the Museum.
First bus to the production plant was at 9.20 so I decided to do it & then return to the Museum at lunchtime.
The bus took us over to the plant reception where we saw a 15 minute video on the life & early days of Henry Ford. The next 10 minute video showed the production process & there were 8 screens around the room & we had swivel chairs to check the picture on each screen.
From here I went up to the third floor where you could look over the whole plant and observe the green plant technology they had planted on the assembly plant room to keep it cool. Down to the second floor and over the bridge to the mezzanine around the assembly plant where F150 trucks were being put together.
I spent about 2 hours here just watching the workers put the cab & tub together. The vehicles come from the paint shop in another building and the doors are taken off and proceed along a separate line to have door fittings, windows, speakers and linings fitted while the cab goes in another direction to have dashboard, sun roofs, interior linings steering wheels and windscreens fitted.
The ute tubs come along another line to have tailgates, drain plugs & lights fitted before being joined with the cab and then head off to the next building to have the engine & chassis attached.
600 vehicles come off the assembly line in each 10 hour shift. Day shift work a four day week, as do the night shift and a third group of casual younger workers do the Friday, Saturday, Sunday & Monday night shift. Around 7200 units are produced each week which are a combination of single door, twin cab & one & a half door units.
Caught the 12.10 bus back to the Museum, a 12” Dagwood Dog & Coke for lunch and started with the old agriculture equipment first. Sample from the horse drawn plough through to the combine harvester & all in excellent condition.
Next were the steam plants used in industry & included one of the six huge generation plant that Henry Ford had installed to provide energy for his production plants. He had his own steel plant on the site and produced all the components to assemble the Model T Ford at Dearborn.
The air section housed a DC-3 along with a plane that Henry had developed and another that was the first to the North Pole.
Around the corner was a line of five Presidential Limousines from the carriage through to the last one used and included the Limousine that President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963.
Another section called Driving America had all sorts of cars from the Model T Ford through to the modern day Nascar and included a 1949 VW Beatle, an Orange Texaco Fuel Tanker & an old truck that was used in the Kris Kristofferson & Ali MacGraw movie “Convoy”.
The last span of the building contained some early trains through to the 600-ton Allegheny Locomotive which was said to be the most photographed item in the Museum.
3pm, time for an ice cream and over to the Greenfield Village, a creation of a Village in days gone by.
Through the entrance gate and first stop the railway station. A mere $5.00 for a ride on the train which ran around the perimeter of the village & gave me a good overview of the old cottages, church and early life America.
Next I took a walk down to Main Street and it wasn’t long before I spotted several Model T Fords taking people around the village. Another $5.00 investment & I joined the queue of about 20 visitors waiting. The lady drive explained that this vehicle was one of six that were specially made to the original specification to celebrate the 150th year of Henry Ford. Each cost $250,000 and the company had hoped to sell them off to the public, however the DOT (Department of Transport) would not allow them to be registered for use on public roads. Ford then donated four of the vehicles to the Greenfield Village to assist in their fund raising.
A walk over to the Roundhouse Railway Turntable for an inspection of some more trains and then hot foot it back to the car as it was 4.30.
As most enjoyable day and lots of photos to revisit.”
Monday 10 June
Today was raining and quite misty through rich farming country; miles of flat, freshly sown or early growth on the crops that appeared to be mainly wheat. Again we saw, on both sides of the road, large holdings through this area as well in good state of repair.
Into Detroit at lunchtime; room not ready, so spent the afternoon of a sightseeing trip in an eight-seater bus with only us and one other couple (Australian) as passengers. The two-hour tour was called “Show Me Detroit” and that is exactly what Pat did; from 2.30 till 6pm she showed us the new, the old, the well maintained, the abandoned and the derelict – you can buy the old Packard plant for $1m, but you would need a lot more than that to turn it into anything useful and the area around it was abandoned and derelict as well.
Lots of investment, activity and plans for the inner city area that use to have 2 million people now having just 700,000; however, the City has a debt of $15B and the newly appointed Administrator is talking a declaring the city bankrupt so that does not bode well for the future. The work that has been completed looks great and reportedly has begun to turn the tide of investment, employers and people returning to the area, hopefully they can recover.
Sunday 9 June
Up early to catch the 8.30am ferry across to Wolfe Island; however, believing they had no passengers it left early so we waited until the 9.30 ferry to the island. As this island is Canadian, we had to go through the border checkpoint before catching the 11am ferry across to Kingston, Ontario. Made the obligatory stop at the bakery on Wolfe Island for morning tea: sticky cinnamon bun and a blueberry tart for John while I enjoyed a raspberry scone
We took a short excursion in Kingston before finding the i401 and heading southwest; around Toronto and on toward Detroit; easy driving on twin roads & up to 7 lanes wide around Toronto through predominantly flat, cropping areas; some substantial farm buildings seen along the way, with everything looking well cared for and productive. We both felt the highway was amazingly busy for a Sunday and by the time we reached London decided that was far enough for the day.
Saturday 8 June
Still cloudy, but not raining and no fog on the river, so looked like a better day for the cruise. The morning was spent on paperwork and reading and into town for the 1.30pm cruise.
The first hour and a half of the 1000 Islands Cruise was up and across the river, weaving between the islands while listening to the history and folklore of the area as well as features and landmarks being identified; saw lots of Canada Geese as well as nesting Osprey. Under the 1000 Island Bridge and over the Canadian border, but did not land in Canada. Saw plenty of houses on the islands, some large, some small, close together or in splendid isolation; lots of public recreation and camping areas that were well utilised.
Our cruise stopped at Boldt Island for an hour for us to explore Boldt Castle; this turned into a charming interlude. The story was untold riches put into an expression of love for a wife who died just before the castle was finished; the grieving millionaire ordered all work to cease and he never returned to the island. The castle was left for 78 years to fall into disrepair and all but unsalvageable until the 1000 Island Bridge Trust was formed, bought the island and castle; they have since spent more than $35m, raised through the bridge toll, put into restoration to the original plans and specifications. The local tradesmen and craftsmen spend their winters continuing with the project. The craftsmanship is amazing; the quality of the work is beautiful in the attention to detail and history; understated elegance rather than just an expensive show of wealth. The locals artisans have reskilled themselves to complete all the work. In keeping with the story, there is agreement the castle will never be totally completed in honour of the original family.
Friday 7 June
Fog in the river this morning and still raining lightly so time for laundry and shopping to cover our stay by the river. Looked at the harbour cruise, but the fog rolled in heavier at lunchtime so decided to delay that until the following day.
John spent the afternoon exploring the Historical Boat Museum. “The site was originally a lumber yard but now is a series of very modern buildings housing everything boating. This privately funded not for profit organisation owns around 6000 craft of all types.
A staff member took a group of us on an inspection of their largest craft, a river boat owned by the wealthy Mr Boldt who had a castle on one of the islands. The boat had been sunk three times and was now in the hands of the Museum who have agreed to restore it to its original specifications.
Another building across the road housed everything about speed boats, with a chart on the wall showing the speed boat records from the 1908 record of 36.6 mph to our present day holder ‘Spirit of Australia’ driven by Ken Warby with a speed of 317.6 mph in 1978.
Another display showed outboard motors dating back to a 1922 Evenrude through to present day ski boats.
A Canoe section showed where a single person rowed from Quebec through the St Lawrence Seaway, to the Hudson River, down to coast to Florida, into the Gulf of Mexico and up the Mississippi to Pittsburgh in 1874-1876.
The old Lumber Yard boiler house has now being turned into a craftsman working area where volunteers can repair many of the donated craft.
The Museum is a great asset to this boating community and I enjoyed a good two & a half hours wandering around the exhibits.”
Good to have a kitchen to prepare our own meals – roast chicken, a range of vegetables and gravy followed by raspberry pie and homemade custard.
We spent another quiet evening watching the container shipping and pleasure craft on the river as well as the fishermen on the landing just below our house. There were a number of lighthouses visible from the verandah, along the riverbank as well as on many of the islands. This river area is described as having 1000 islands, but the locals tell us there is 1800 – lots anyway.
Thursday 6 June
Today we headed further west then north in New York State to Clayton on the banks of the St Laurence River driving through wooded country and lots of smaller lakes and swampland. Most of the villages and towns we saw along the way looked rather tired, as though there is little activity and money for infrastructure is scarce and the houses looked as though they were abandoned or their owners had no energy to care for them. Light to heavy rain falling most of the day over all the miles we covered. Once again, lots of motorbikes on the road and a welcome sign and preparations for lunch at one of the towns we passed through on the shores of Lake Saranac.
When we turned north at Cape Vincent to drive alongside the St Laurence River, we noticed the houses were looking more prosperous and cared for; lawns mown, flowers in garden beds, window boxes and handing baskets; as a visitor you feel welcomed. No litter around the towns or cities or along the roads; the volunteer program to clean alongside the roadways appears to work really well in the areas we have seen of America.
Arrived at our accommodation mid afternoon; a three story house right in the river and we had the top floor; we spent a quiet evening watching the river and the rain as well as dining “at home”. No wi-fi and it couldn’t be fixed until the next day so time to read after the light finally disappeared.
Wednesday 5 June
The afternoon was spent on a cruise around Lake Placid listening to the tour guide give the history of the area as well as looking at the houses (or camps as they are called) on the three islands as well as the mainland; all rather substantial looking buildings with the average rates at $45K and worth up to $12M. As the land is all a State Park (privately donated to the State to stop clear-felling from ever happening there again) you cannot use any of the resources around there in construction. Some of the houses have full-time caretakers and may only be used by their owners two weekends in the year. The owners fly their American flag on the front porch / yard when in residence, to let their neighbours know to call in for drinks; not too sure if that is a good thing, but the tour guide said the crime rate is very low.
Drove right around Mirror Lake (adjacent but not joined to Lake Placid) on the way back to our hotel; once again, houses right to the water’s edge, but probably not as many large “mansions” more everyday houses for the resident population (still not too shabby).
For dinner, we treated ourselves to the dining room at the Mirror Lake Inn; elegant charm and thoroughly pleasant way to spend our last evening at Lake Placid.
Tuesday 4 June
First stop today was the Olympic Skating Venue and spent time reading the history as well as the members of the Hall of Fame. Then to the Tourist Information Office for maps and ideas; from there we headed to Whiteface Mountain Lookout. A dreadful road, but the views were extensive out over the lakes, towns and forests. It was quite chilly at the top but the café had chicken and vegetable soup on the menu and that was delicious. John decided to go the very top for the 3600 vista, but purchased an extra jacket in the gift shop for the excursion.
Once again, lots of bikes around today and a few of them tried for the record to the top; I think they are mad given the condition of the road – maybe that was part of the challenge.
Lovely surprise driving back down, I glimpsed a patch of blue flowers on the side of the road and when we stopped to look, it was some patches of wild violets! Just beautiful; must admit I took a piece to put in water and it has been travelling with us since.
Finished the sight-seeing by watching the future Olympic Aerial Skiers practicing each element of their discipline over and over; landing in the water, clambering out of the pool, climbing the slopes and doing it all over again with their coach giving feedback to each one.
Dinner was a really good pizza looking out over the lake.
Monday 3 June
Up early for John to drive Jil to Albany airport for her flight to LA via Detroit. I packed so when John returned we were able to be on the road by 10am. Secondary roads were the preference today; a slow trip alongside numerous lakes. There were plenty of motorbikes on the roads and at every stop along the way; turned out to be the annual “Americade” Bike Event at Lake George – 100,000 bikes expected to be there by the following weekend!
It was a cooler day and a lovely meandering trip to Lake Placid and our hotel overlooking Mirror Lake. We decided on dinner downstairs at “The Dancing Bears” and then a stroll up and down the street to window-shop for a while before John headed off on a longer exploration around town.
Sunday 2 June
First stop was the SPAC for Jil collect her ticket and “meet and greet” details for the evening. Spent the remainder of the day browsing the shops and having lunch at the “Boulanger”; time to wax lyrical about food again – the sandwich and baguette were fresh and most enjoyable; however, the desserts were amazing, a citrus tart with meringue and a raspberry, chocolate mousse cake.
Jil began her packing and was able to fit it all in without too much pressure needed to close the lid. Time for “meet and greet” was all rather confusing with mixed messages so Jil decided to just go and wait to ensure she didn’t miss it.
John and I had dinner down in the main street; sitting on a verandah overlooking the street eating and just watching people stroll by. Jil was back about 11.30pm, so another late night.
Saturday 1 June
John collected our hire car early, returning to the hotel for us to load-up ready for our trip to Saratoga Springs in the continuing heat. Although the boot is large, it is filling fast and not much room available for any additions.
Drove all the way up to 112th Street, just past Central Park to have a look at St John the Divine Cathedral, one of the oldest churches in NY. Beautiful stained glass windows that each “told a story” with the details; amazing solid wooden doors and magnificent stonework; the church decoration was quite austere and in the process of rebuilding since a fire in 2000.
On the highway 9 north for some time and then pulled off at Poughkeepsie to find some lunch; what a delightful break this turned out to be! We discovered Kathleen’s Tea Rooms,
with its collection of teapots set out in an older-style with cabbage roses on the tablecloth, linen serviettes, crazy tea-sets, real tea and food that added to the enjoyment of the experience; buttermilk scones, fresh raspberry jam and clotted cream and the plate decorated with the best fruit we have eaten in some time.
Our next stop was Hyde Park to have a look at FD & E Roosevelt’s house, rose garden, stables and library; a little late in the day to spend much time, but the walk around the outside gave us some great views of the entire property. It was interesting to see the accessibility features that were incorporated to accommodate President Roosevelt. The rose garden was just past its first flowering, but it must have been a brilliant show of colour; the Peony Roses were in full flower, the most magnificent blooms and vibrant colours I have seen anywhere.
Finally arrived at Saratoga Springs at 6.30pm; dinner and then shopping for an extra suitcase for Jil to accommodate her additional clothes and boots on the trip home. Our hotel did not a give very good first night impression; had to request a change of room at the beginning – the aroma of stale smoke in the room was unacceptable and then as we were about to go to bed the toilet overflowed all across the bathroom floor, apparently not an unusual occurrence!
Friday 31 May
Another really hot day, but on the river cruise the temperature wasn’t too bad as we made our way down to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty before heading up-river past Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges as well Wall Street to the United Nations Building and then back to Pier 67 on the Hudson River (adjacent to where the 747 landed). Another good commentary provided during the cruise that certainly added to the experience. As well as nearly a full complement of passengers on our cruise, there were lots of helicopters on joy flights as well; must be lots of tourists around at this time – but that is probably usual in New York.
We ended our New York sojourn with dinner at Bond 45, which was outstanding and then on to the theatre to see Bette Midler’s portrayal of Sue Menger. A brilliant evening of theatre and pure entertainment watching Bette become the agent to the stars.
Thursday 30 May
Finally had our visit to Tiffany on 5th Ave; rather a disappointment really. Not a thing that we decided we needed or just wanted – look at the money I saved!
Another maniac taxis ride to the Guggenheim Museum only to find they don’t open on Thursday, so we walked down to the Metropolitan Museum and spent hours going through several room and a number of different exhibits; all beautifully presented and fascinating to spend time there. It would take weeks to cover the whole museum.
Jil and I went for a pedicure and manicure while John walked to St John the Divine on the other side of Central Park – only to find it was closed when he arrived.
Dinner so good last night, we repeated the experience tonight.
Wednesday 29 May
“Jil & I caught a yellow cab for a 11am visit to the 9/11 Memorial. Much has progressed on the rebuilding phase since Gae & I were here in 2008. The two memorials over the footprint of the old buildings have been completed with a suitable surrounding park & oak trees. A 9/11 museum building is almost complete adjacent to the park. The major tower to the north is all but completed and stands as the tallest building in North America,
the second of the remaining four new structures is under way. When all building are completed the security fence and associated checking lines will be removed and the park will be open from all side.
We then up and over Broadway and down Wall Street to the East River for a view of the Brooklyn Bridge, walked along the shoreline, under the bridge and back up town. Jil went to Century 21 shopping for an hour while I visited Trinity Church & Cemetery on Broadway and the nearby St Paul’s Chapel just at the back of 9/11 which had become a resting place for many of the rescue groups attending 9/11 on the day and for weeks after.
Jil & I then took the underground to Grand Central Station on Fifth Avenue and walked along 42nd Street to our hotel. Probable the worst train service I have seen around the world but it does carry millions of passengers into Manhattan each year. It is dirty, all the overhead beams are exposed & you have to pack into the carriages. No lifts & few escalators and we saw one gentleman using his walking frame to come up the stairs. However Grand Central Station is the best I have seen, a huge oval roof structure with entrances to all the train lines. Small shops lined along the main tunnels and restaurants in the main building and leading onto Fifth Avenue.”
I spent the morning exploring Bryant Park – a wonderful oasis in the city, grass, flowers, a library / reading room, a carousel, a kindergarten corner, lots of food options with lots of tables and chair to just sit and relax / watch the world go buy.
The food stores surrounding the park sold a fantastic range of salads, rolls etc for people to buy and consume in the park; the crowds were building quickly as it approached midday. Bookwork for the afternoon while John slept and Jil shopped before going to another Irish Pub for dinner – great food, again.
Our evening was spent wandering n Times Square and discovering the delights of M&M World – quite easy to be entertained there for hours and see what can be manufactured using little discs of chocolate and imagination. Jil and I had a ball, John not so much.
“Jil & I decided to go to the Empire State building later in the evening to avoid the worst of the crowds.
That was the right decision as there was no queue at 11pm and it took us only 15 minutes to reach to top instead of the usual 2 hour wait. The best view in the city of course and it was great for Jil to experience it. After descending we continued along Fifth Avenue until it intersected with Broadway around 21st Street to view the Flat Iron building.
It was after 1am and the building was not lit up so we did not get to appreciate the architecture of the building. (Jil came back next day & took some photos.) We were legless by then & caught a cab back to our 45th Street hotel.”
Tuesday 28 May (Happy Birthday AJ)
Today began as a cooler, cloudy day with light rain falling by lunchtime. We walked down to 7th Ave to Macys for a browse and then lunch at the Stellar Trattoria on the 7th Floor which featured a view to the Empire State Building
– a rather pleasant place for lunch and well patronised.
Rain set in for the afternoon, but that kept the temperature down a little and we were able to open a window a little for some fresh air rather than just air-conditioning, even though that generated a cacophony of sounds from sirens, car horns and various street noises. Decided to take the subway to the baseball as 42nd Street had a direct line to the Mets Stadium; our trip to the baseball was a little wet and it poured as we arrived which delayed the match for a couple of hours; however, the match when it began was quite entertaining with the final innings thrilling – Mets 1:0, NYY scored to even the match with the Mets hitting the winning run off the final ball! Back to our hotel a little after 1am.
Monday 27 May (Happy Birthday Gae)
Memorial Day holiday, so no shops open until 11 am, so a great opportunity for a slow start to the day. After a hair-raising taxi-ride down town, we spent the day at Bloomingdales; shopping, browsing an enjoying looking at what was available. Could have spent a great deal of money on Manchester, wonderful quality at great prices; decided it wouldn’t fit in the luggage. Lunch in their restaurant was an enjoyable way to end our expedition; Jil stayed on for more shopping while we caught another taxi back to the hotel. I’m not sure if there is a special god for NY taxi-drivers, but they drive like maniacs! Flying down the streets and rarely slowing at all; pedestrians take their life in their hands just to cross the road and that’s with the lights! I had my eyes either closed or averted because I couldn’t bear to watch.
Dinner was across the road at the Irish Pub before heading to the theatre to see “Newsies”. What a great show; no wonder it won so many accolades; it featured a great cast, fantastic choreography and amazing dancing by the entire cast – great evening’s entertainment.
Sunday 26 May
Packing all our gear into the cases for the plane trip to New York took some time to achieve; heaven help us by the time we finish in NYC.
Nashville airport checks international and domestic passengers in through the same counters and we were “lucky enough” to be in line behind a large group of men, women and children returning to the middle-east with laden suitcases they tried to rearrange to meet the weight restrictions.
Our flight left on time and had us landing in New York as scheduled; great views of the city including the Statue of Liberty as we flew into La Guardia Airport. Taxi to our hotel adjacent to Times Square. Unpacked and then walked around the block looking for a few groceries before dinner at the hotel. Our evening was spent walking and just watching the crowds at Times Square – an amazing place full of people and I don’t think the crowds ever diminished totally; even early mornings they were there in droves watching the broadcasting of the Good Morning America TV Show; their cheers could be heard through our closed windows.
Saturday 25 May
Spent the day going out to the Grand Old Opry; began with the back stage tour which took us to all areas giving lots of history and insights to the artists who have been invited to join as members of the Opry; a very high honour.
Then across the Opry Mills for lunch and a browser through the area – the largest shopping centre I have seen in a while. Finished with going to the movies with Jil to see Fast and Furious 6; the petrol heads thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing – as improbable as some of it might be, it added to the theatre of the film.
Dinner was across the road from our hotel where several local artist performed their own work; a recognised local venue for new artists / works; some of them were really easy to listen to while we enjoyed our meal.
Friday 24 May
First order of business was the laundry and then embark on our walking tour of Nashville. We walked to the Ryman Centre for a tour as well as Jil’s recording session and photographs;
her recording of “Amazing Grace” was beautiful – enough to bring tears to a mother’s eyes (nothing unusual in that).
After the Ryman Centre it was on to the Hall of Fame, but by the time we had a quick later lunch, there was only an hour and half to explore the exhibitions.
We made the most of the time we had available and just out the door as they were ready to push us out the door. The history of country music from the beginning through to the present day; quite a few names were unfamiliar to John and I, while others well known. The Hall of Fame gallery was a collection of bronze plaques outlining each inductee’s achievements in the CM field – made very interesting (although quick) reading.
Our last stop was to find the Boot Shop for Jil to make another purchase. Following that we walked down to the bus station at the railway to catch the bus back to our hotel.
Couldn’t ask for greater hospitality – the bus driver made a slight deviation on her route to deliver us to our hotel! Which was just as well because we were all ready to collapse.
Thursday 23 May
John and Jil spend the morning exploring “Graceland” while I used the time on work-related activities.
The remainder of the day was on the road to Nashville; not as many miles as yesterday but still sufficient to take us until 4pm – thank heavens for
rest areas (which had manned security posts).
Our hotel had live music in the lounge as an accompaniment for a beautiful dinner in a delightful atmosphere; good food, great music and pleasant company – what more could you ask? A walk around the block after dinner; “The Lion King” was on the Arts Centre which backed on to our hotel so our walk was through the arriving crowds that included lots of excited children.
Wednesday 22 May
We were on the road to Memphis nice and early to cover the 400+ miles of this journey. Once again lots of concrete bridges over swamps; the longest this time was 28 miles! The day started a little cooler but soon the temperature soared again and so it continued until we arrived in Memphis at 5pm all rather exhausted and pleased to arrive.
Dinner at a lovely restaurant around the corner and then a walk to Beale Street for some music; turned out to be bike night and the “music” was predominantly the sound of various exhaust notes delivered with gusto.
Wandered up and down the street for some time and then rode back to our hotel in a horse and carriage.
Tuesday 21 May
Began our day with the Red Bus Tour of New Orleans and for two hours saw much of the city and listened to history and stories by the tour guide. Drove past the above ground cemetery which is built that way because the water table is to high to dig a grave. The heat in New Orleans was overbearing; too hot to sit upstairs on the bus as there was no shade and the air-conditioning having difficulty coping downstairs; we were rather pleased when it finished and that was the early tour!
Spent time in the shopping centre just to cool down a little and then went on the river cruise; an original steam paddle-wheeler that carried some 1200 passengers and I think it must have had nearly that many for this cruise- bus load after bus load of tour groups poured onto the wharf. The Natchez Paddle Steamer waiting area was under the cover of a large marquee; shade and a breeze off the river kept the temperature at a tolerable level.
A Jazz Band provided entertainment until the Calliope (an organ-like instrument powered by the steam from the boilers) began playing and that lasted until we were all boarded and we began the cruise. We were on the water for 2 hours going downstream and then back up again, the whole time the tour guide gave us an uninterrupted supply of facts, history, anecdotes and amusing incidents.
Our evening was a much-anticipated visit to Bourbon Street; we were all a little disappointed in what we saw and heard. Some street music playing, but mainly cheap souvenir sellers as well as “hustlers” for most other types of entertainment as well.
The aroma and streetscape were both “interesting” and we decided that our plans to dine there needed to change; walked across town instead.
Monday 20 May
We were up early and packed up for our 440-mile trip to New Orleans; though Houston to Beaumont, Lake Charles, Lafayette and Baton Rouge. After Baton Rogue we crossed the Breaux Bridge, an 18.6-mile concrete bridge over swampland; several more of these bridges before we reached New Orleans; roadside signs reminding of the danger from alligators began to appear.
Our hotel was a welcome sight, right on the banks of the Mississippi River giving us spectacular views over the river and city.
Our room overlooked the French Quarter as well; that 12 blocks square section of the early city still has an old statute exclude building any structure taller than the spires of the cathedral. Plenty of 20 to 40 story buildings in the city centre but that section remains as it was.
Sunday 19 May
Off to the Laundromat before John and Jil headed to the racetrack for the final day.
“Jil & I took a later time to the racetrack and this time talked our way into the main parking area even though we did not have a pre booked ticket. Cough a bus around to turn 15, checked out the promotions and watched the two qualifiers. Jill headed back to hospitality for some cool air & I went up the 15 story tower to take some photos of the track.
At this viewing area you can see turns 13, 14 & 15 plus turn one in the distance. Whincup won three of the four 100mile races over the two days. A great track to view racing and some 67000 turned up over the three days. Someone commented that there was about 4000 Aussies over for the event and many were going over to Charleston for the Nascar or up to Indianapolis for the Indy car races.”
Lots of people out along the path again today with even more out on Ladybird Lake, rowing, peddling a range of crafts, standing on surf-boards paddling and small motorised craft.
There were also larger sightseeing vessels on the lake as well, predominately used in the evening for the bat spectacular nightly exodus. John, Jil and I also went along the path to watch the bats; an amazing sight, thousands of little silver flashes as they flew out of the bridge and headed off to forage. This spectacle lasted for a good 15 minutes, would be interesting to know just how many bats in total are roosting there.
Saturday 18 May
A cooler start to the day that soon burnt off to the same heat as every other day. Spent quite some walking along the riverbank either side of our hotel.
There are great walking tracks with lots of people out walking, running, riding and playing with their children. Also many lovely spots to sit and relax, or to just watch the world go by; running water, ponds with reeds and rocks, even tortoises sunny themselves in the rock-pool.
Also people out on the water in all sorts of craft.
“Jil & I were off to the track by 11am & parked in the P Area near the grand stands on the first corner. Many more people at the track today to see two qualifying sessions and then two rounds of the V8’s at 3 & 5 pm. After the qualifying session we walked to the inside of the track and upstairs over the pits for some hospitality and needed air conditioning. Watched a couple of the GT races from here before returning to our seats on the huge stand at turn one. Many of the Aussies got slack and stayed in the air conditioning but we had travelled to Texas to see the action and the atmosphere of the track. Very good viewing from our seats all the way down the straight and turns one to three.”
John and I spent the evening at a the Long Centre – Austin Performing Arts Centre at “An Evening With Whoopi Goldberg”; very entertaining evening of stand-up comedy as a chat about everyday life in all its forms.
Friday 17 May
Next shopping expedition was to Allen’s Boots Store for Jil to make a purchase of some Texan boots; so much choice.
There were lots of “antique” shops in the area for us to roam through; all with plenty of stock, but not very interesting and over-priced.
After lunch, John and Jil set off to the racetrack for the warm-up sessions and pit walk, returning late evening after a really enjoyable afternoon.
“Settled in on the grand stands opposite the pits. Watched a couple of warm up heats to settle in the V8’s and then a session of the US GT class. After the practice session we crossed under the track to do the organised pit walk. Around the back they had the GT cars and then we were allowed to walk along the front & meet the drivers and crews. Jil posed with a tyre changing crew and gained many autographs & a chat with many of the drivers. We finished by walking across the track and taking a number of photos up the track. Home by 8pm and in need of a shower after a 90 degree day at the track.”
Thursday 16 May
Jil and I spent browsing the shops in the city while John went to the Laundromat and then to the Congress for a look as well as eat lunch in their dining room with the members.
Afternoon passed going out to the Renaissance Hotel to collect V8 Racers tickets and then to the Arboretum Shopping Centre and made a number of purchases to replenish my wardrobe.
Each evening people gather on the bridge to watch the bats leave their “cave”; a top Austin tourist attraction. The cave turned out to be the bridge superstructure was their hide.
Wednesday 15 May
Breakfast in the Menger Hotel dining room was with white damask linen and silver cutlery; John went across town to visit an early Christian church and return via the Riverwalk pathway. We both then crossed the street from our hotel to take a look at the Alamo Exhibition before a slow 76-mile journey to Austin for a four-day stopover as well as meet up again with Jil who arrived by train from Oklahoma City at 8.30pm – train running two hours later.
Tuesday 14 May
Covered the 440 miles to San Antonio by mid afternoon; posted speed on the highway 80MPH. The landscape improved with each mile, cattle now seen grazing on decent grass and several larger ranch buildings dotted along the miles.
A delightful “olde world” hotel that once must have been luxurious, now gentile charm that made us feel welcomed and slightly indulged.
We walked the short distance to the Riverwalk for a cruise along the canals around the city with lots of history and interesting information keeping everyone entertained.
Dinner was in an Italian Restaurant, eating lovely food overlooking the river and just watching the world go by.
Monday 13 May
Lost two hours as we crossed two time zones today & three states (Arizona, New Mexico & Texas). Weather remains hot and dry while the scenery has changed little – lots of sand, little vegetation comprising stunted bushes and a few cattle “grazing” or were they just wandering? The roadside signs mainly consisted of warnings about sand storms and zero visibility; saw quite a few sand spirals in the distance and it was easy to see how they could become more intense from the wind that swept across the vast plains.
In the built-up areas close to towns were massive feedlots housing hundreds of cattle; they were predominantly dairy cattle.
Very few signs of housing away from the built-up areas.
More checkpoints today, this time the officers checked our passports and had a good look into the car. They work in two pairs; the first pair standing in front, one with a sniffer dog checking each vehicle and watched over by the second officer holding a rather menacing looking firearm. The second pair back about 5 yards, one checking passengers / paperwork with the other one watching and also with a firearm – all rather intimidating when not use to these controls.
Finally stopped at Van Horn close on dusk, which turned out to be 7.30pm because of the changed time zones. To our great joy, we were able to eat a “proper dinner” John at last had a steak and a selection of fresh vegetable made a lovely change.
Sunday 12 May
The drive to Tucson was similar in scenery and temperature but not a long as the previous couple of days, arriving there at lunchtime.
Saturday 11 May
Weather continues hot and dry; a challenge as someone who doesn’t particularly care for heat at all.
The early part of the day was spent taking the tramway up Jacinto Mountain; the drive to the car park was quite spectacular as it climbed some 1000ft on hot-mix. The car used to transport all the passengers and freight is circular and revolves twice in the 10-minute journey up or down. The mountain was vertical rock walls, large boulders and with very little vegetation and no signs of wildlife except for several eagles soaring. The views over the valley were extraordinary; an oasis along the floor of the valley between harsh, dry barren land which extends to similar hills all around. The wind turbines we saw as we were driving in to Palm Springs were clearer from the height; too many to count as they disappeared into the heat hazed distance.
The afternoon was then spent driving through continuing dry, barren countryside on twin-lane highways to Yuma. Stopped at a checkpoint close to the Mexican border; apparently we did not fit the profile as we were sent on our way with just a quick look from the officers. The USA / Mexican border was marked by a black metal fence very similar to that used at our local schools, only higher. The whole area was so inhospitable that travelling through it was quite daunting.
Friday 10 May
Jil off to the airport to fly to Oklahoma for a few days while we packed up and loaded the car for our road trip to Austin; car is not as big as needed so went back to Alamo to swap for a larger car so there would be enough room for us as well as our luggage – changed to an Impala. East out of LA over the range and into harsh countryside, shale, rocks and very little vegetation; six lanes heading out of LA with lots of traffic heading in both directions until Pasadena where we turned south and the road eventually became two lanes all the way to Palm Springs.
The heat is oppressive, dry but really hot; thank heavens for air conditioning, looks as though it will be my constant companion. John off to tour Palm Springs & have a look at the Indian Wells tennis stadium.
Thursday 9 May
Washing and slow morning until John collected the hire car (Cadillac – midsize rather than large); headed off at lunchtime toward Bakersfield for tonight’s concert. Lots of traffic and road works as well as a few stops and finally reached our destination by 5pm ready for the Miranda Lambert concert to begin at 6pm.
The list of performers included: Johanna Smith, Randy Houser, Dirks Bentley, Miranda Lambert, the Pistol Annies and a special appearance by Blake Shelton to finish a great concert; then the long drive back to Anaheim arriving at 2am all rather weary.
Wednesday 8 May (Happy Birthday Barry)
We caught the bus to go to Universal Studios for the day, and hour’s drive to the north. Went on the tour first which turned out to be rather good, all over the studios with a few surprises thrown in e.g. being attacked by dinosaurs and saved by King Kong, parting of the water to drive through the lake as well as the Fast and Furious cars.
Then on to the Special Effects Studio to see how they create many of the illusions seen on screen.
Spent some time just wandering looking at all the sets and props as well as browsing souvenir shops before going out to the Universal City Walk to continue to browsing and waiting for our return bus.
Tuesday 7 May
Spent the day at Disneyland thoroughly enjoying our time riding in teacups, travelling through “It’s a Small World” by boat, exploring Toon Town and having photos taken with Mickey Mouse and then watching Mary Poppins and a group of children singing a “Spoonful of Sugar.
By the time we had eaten lunch, I’d had enough so headed back to the hotel while John and Jil went on to Disney Adventure Park to take as many of the rides as they could manage in the time – fast cars turned out to be the greatest attraction for them.
Monday 6 May
To the airport at 10.30am, checked in and then wandered through Duty Free to make a couple of purchases. Departed at 2.30 instead of 1.30pm. Everyone settled in and dinner was served fairly soon to allow people to sleep for the “night”. John slept well for several hours even through a severe storm with interesting turbulence; I watched some movies and tried to sleep – seats not the most comfortable. The plane was brought to activity two hours out of Los Angeles with breakfast and customs paperwork before we landed on time. All rather strange to think we arrived “before we left” as it is still Monday and we have travelled for 15 hours.
Through customs without any hold-up and then outside to catch the bus to our hotel at Anaheim, that turned out to be which a 40-minute drive. Lunch at the hotel, then to Walmart for supplies including a kettle, toaster and various crockery and cutlery. The taxi driver has decided all Australians are a little crazy, they all go shopping a soon as they arrive. Early night for everyone, ready to start the sightseeing tomorrow.
Sunday 5 May
Drove to Sydney with Rae and Betty so they could take to car home for us. Spent the night at the Holiday Inn near the airport ready for our flight tomorrow.
First full day here and it was Disneyland. Here’s a few pics:
Hi, it’s jil here. Mum and Dad are getting ready to hit the road and this time, I AM TOO! That’s right, we are all off to America. The itinerary includes LA (Disneyland & Universal Studios), Nashville, New York, Oklahoma, New Orleans, Memphis and Austin for the event that got us planning this trip: the V8 Supercars!
Stay tuned for updates…