Monday, August 11, 2008

2,800 miles of America

The holiday in America was rewarding and demanding. We (this means me and my son Timothy) drove 2,856 miles, in a Pontiac Grand Prix – a great lump of a car, but amazingly less spacious inside than my own Ford Focus. On ‘drive’, this would grind up the passes at 1,500 rpm, you had to select 3 or 2 to get any response from it – a basic incompatibility with my soft-footed driving style. On the freeways, it came into its own if you overtook past the speed limit, with a great throaty roar.

We 'did' the Rockies (over the highest paved road in America) – lots of marmots and pikas, and a breathless attempt at a walk. Then Mount Rushmore, the Black Hills, Devil’s Tower, Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, Dinosaur National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Arches National Park, and the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings.

Yellowstone is so big – you couldn’t fit it twice into the whole of Yorkshire. We had a day and a half. We saw Old Faithful and lots more of the geothermal stuff, and swam in the Firehole River. A wildfire prevented us from doing the full central loop, which was almost a relief.

I think that I enjoyed the Arches National Park the best. The hike up to Delicate Arch was phenomenal, but on the way to Landscape Arch subsequently, you just had to acknowledge that after this one, the heat and the altitude meant that this was your limit for the day. Instead of mountain bikes on the Slick Rock Trail, it was back to the motel for air-con and a pool.

The Mesa Verde made a thrilling visit, going up the ladders to Balcony House. I’d no idea that the people there were living so high up anyway – it’s at about 7,500 feet; or that their lasting legacy was for them a desperate expedient which they only lived in for 80-odd years before they had to abandon the Mesa completely.

On the final morning, we both loved a visit down the Mollie Kathleen gold mine at Cripple Creek (round the back of Pike's Peak). Geology is quite a theme in this holiday route. Dinosaur bones have been found all over the region, and sometimes the road will have signs naming the formations you are driving by: the drive up the Big Horn Mountains at the start of day 7 takes you through six major geological periods.

We saw humming birds, marmots, ground squirrels, a moose, prairie dogs, and a buffalo; but no bears.

My image is of Lewis Lake, going south out of Yellowstone towards the Grand Tetons. I shall now suffer from a lack of a daily overload of big scenery.

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