Archive for October, 2015

Jackson – gateway to Grand Teton
and Yellowstone National Parks.

Friday, October 30th, 2015

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We were on our way to visit Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks – Jackson was our starting point.

The drive to Jackson or Jackson Hole, as it is mistakenly known, was varied. The initial stage being warm and dry, with rocky outcrops and fields of wheat along the way. Then we hit the alpine regions with towering pine forests, raging rivers, log cabins and ski fields.

The temperature also dropped dramatically and by the time we reached Jackson we were ready to pull the long pants and jumpers out of our bags.

It rained all night and was still overcast the next morning.

Realising that there was far too much to see in the time we had allowed, we booked two extra nights, this time near the west entrance to Yellowstone. We then decided to spend our day near Jackson, exploring Grand Teton first.

Jackson is in the Jackson Hole Valley, Wyoming and attracts tourist in both summer and winter, with world class ski fields and the National Parks on its doorstep.

It looks a little like the old Wild West towns from the movies but behind the timber facades are restaurants, coffee shops and boutiques selling everything from T-Shirts to fine art.

One of the unique attractions ofJackson are the large arches, of shed elk antlers, at the entrance to the town park. Local scouts also collect these from the National Elk Refuge, which is close by, and sell them to the hordes tourists that visit the town.

Jackson was one of the few towns to embrace the role of women in west.

It was originally named by Margaret Simpson, after the mountain man David ‘Davie’ Jackson, in 1894 and at one stage even had a female sherif. In 1920 Jackson elected the first all-woman city council.

Grand Teton is only 16km south of Yellowstone and is dominated by the 64km long Teton Range.

The range was named by French trappers in the early 1800s and was originally called Les Trois Tétons or The Three Teats.

The female influence in the area continues.

We walked along the shore of Jenny Lake and discovered an elk grazing peacefully in a meadow. I am not sure who go the bigger shock.

Grand Teton National Park is one of the largest intact mid-latitude ecosystems in the world, with an abundance of wild life and wild flowers.

Established in 1872 by the US Congress and signed into law by Ulysses S Grant, Yellowstone was the the first National Park in the US and the world.

Yellowstone is inside a giant caldera and there’s thermal activity at every turn. Steam seems to rise from the most unlikely places.

It was at Mud Volcano that I learnt the difference between roiling and boiling. Although the thermal mud ponds seem to be boiling they only look like that because of the steam that is rising from the fissures below.

This simulated boiling is called roiling.

On our first day in the park we came up from Jackson and drove in a loop. Starting from West Thumb we travelled anti clockwise past Yellowstone Lake, through Hayden Valley to Canyon Village, then through Norris and Madison and back to West Yellowstone.

The weather fluctuated from overcast to rain.

The next day it rained less but the weather was still unreliable.

This time we came from West Yellowstone and made a clockwise loop, on the northern road, past Gibbon Falls to Mammoth Hot Springs, Tower-Roosevelt, past Mount Washburn to Canyon River and the Upper and Lower Falls. We then completed the trip back again through Norris and Madison.

Our circuit took a lot longer than expected, as we were held up with roadworks and an emergency involving a helicopter landing in a car park just in front of us.

From Yellowstone West we drove to Boise, the capitol of Idaho and then on to Portland in Oregon.

We had a coffee break in Idaho Falls a sleepy little place with the Snake River cascading through the centre of town.

The geography in this area of North America is stunning. Rivers raged and there seems to be an endless supply of spectacular scenery around every bend in the road.

Most people in the US seem to finish their meals in about 45 minutes – we take much longer.

This gives us a great opportunity to be spectators of more than one table.

Half the fun of being a traveller is observing life and living in different countries.

The US is a fascinating society and their food a conundrum. The serves are huge and stacked with carbs – fries are a staple. There is no subtlety in the flavors with fresh herbs and spices playing a fleeting role. Yet the choice of sides and extras goes on and on.

There are the Gastro Pubs and fine dining but the average person, when eating out, has a poor quality selection to chose from.

Then there’s what’s been done to Italian cuisine.

Italian has become the ‘World Food’ because it’s simple, easy to prepare, flavorsome and, when eaten properly, well balanced.

In the US these criteria have been abandoned. Their take on Italian has been complicated beyond belief.

The sauce has become so complex and so abundant that the pasta is overwhelmed. The basic Italian herbs of oregano, basil and thyme have all been forgotten – as has garlic and even olive oil.

I won’t even go into what has been done to pizza.

Every restaurant seems to try and out-maneuver the next with their toppings.

Comfort food, with high carbs, high sugar and mega serves seems to be the most acceptable.

Cheese seems to be the main additive on all sorts of food. We even had it on fries from Idaho, the home of potatoes in North America.

Yet try and find a cheese platter for desert and you’ll fail.

There are always the exceptions and we found some great ones. These were mainly associated with the craft brewery scene, where the food was as important as the beer and, surprisingly, the wine.

These establishments were frequented by a younger generation who seem to place quality above quantity.

In Boise, Idaho, I actually witnessed a guy leaving food on his plate.

While we might whinge about the food, most of the hotels and motels we stayed at were excellent. Toilets or ‘bathrooms’ were impeccable, especially compared to some places we have been.

Everything also works.

The water is hot, showers heads spray water on you, not the floor or ceiling, and nothing leaks.

There is soap, shampoo, towels and in most cases a hair dryer in the room. What wasn’t provided was readily available at reception.

Salt Lake City, contradictions at every corner.

Saturday, October 24th, 2015

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Salt Lake City is home to the Mormons or The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (LDS)

They own the city.

Founded in 1847 by Brigham Young and a devout group of farming Mormons, they extensively cultivated the once arid valley. Ever since then they have had a profound influence on the place, even though less than half the population of SLC are members of the LDS Church.

It’s a surprisingly modern and progressive city.

There is a tram, all be it on three limited routes, but it’s public transport that’s not powered by a Diesel engine. It’s a relatively new system with the first line being completed in 1999 and the Airport line commencing operations in 2013.

There are also public bikes to rent, again provided by the city.

In SLC you will come across more dark suits, white shirts and subdued ties than you’ll see in an episode of Mad Men.

Yet there is poverty, with street people on every corner of the CBD.

There is also a vast contrast in the architecture with the Mormon temples built in the 1800s to modern glass and steel skyscrapers that are common in the city area.

And there’s the Salt Lake City and County Building, constructed by the Free Masons between 1891 and 1894 and built in open defiance of the dominance of the Mormons. It was the one and only building designed by the architectural firm of Monheim, Bird and Proudfoot. It went grossly over budget and was deemed as an extravagance by the Mormon side of town.

The weather is also varied with blue sky’s one minute and torrential rain the next.

We even received a ‘flash flood’ warning on our US mobile phone.

Then there’s alcohol.

The Mormons abstain from anything that is in the least mind altering – tea, coffee and of course booze.

Yet SLC is full of bars, restaurants and at least three excellent craft breweries.

One very fine establishment was the Red Rock Brewing Company. This Brewpub, located downtown in an old dairy warehouse was full to overflowing. There were 10 craft beers on tap and an excellent menu to choose from.

Obviously the other half of SLC don’t mind a bit of a tipple.

When the Mormon pioneers arrived in the Salt Lake Valley, Brigham Young selected a plot of the desert ground and proclaimed, “Here we will build a temple to our God.”

It took 40 years to build Temple Square with construction starting in 1853. It is now the centre of the city and to many the world wide centre of genealogy.

The Family Search Centre has a number of professional genealogists but is mainly staffed by volunteers.

Elder Kent Nelson spent three hours helping Thea chase ghosts, searching for both her and my ancestors.

The service they offered is excellent and the facility is state-of-the-art, yet we were never pressured to join the faithful or even asked for money.

The cynic in me asks – why?

The answer is ‘Baptism for the Dead’

This is part of the Mormon doctrine and is the practice of baptising a living person on behalf of one who is dead.

This helps to build the number of church followers, even though they may have passed away centuries ago.

I am not sure how a distant relative, from a different faith, might feel about that.

Arches National Park, the Olgas on steroids.

Sunday, October 18th, 2015

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The drive from Cortez to Moab, on our way to Arches National Park, was an adventure in geography and weather.

The landscape varied from alpine to arid. We went through areas that were hot, with bright blue sky’s, while in the mountains there were monsoonal rains and the temperature plummeted.

Moab is the centre of adventure in this part of America. You can bush-bash, river raft, paddle board, mountain bike, go kayaking and that’s all in addition to visiting the Arches National Park.

In the late afternoon of our first night in Moab we made a quick run around a small section of the park. We were lucky as the light was perfect and only started to fade as we were on our way back to the hotel.

Moab is only 6 km from Arches, which is on the Colorado River in Utah. It was named as a National Monument in 1929 and made a National Park in 1971.

The next day we headed back into the park to experience more of its spectacular beauty.

Our $10 entrance fee was valid for 7 days so we could come and go as much as we liked.

Like the Grand Canyon, Arches National Park was very good value for money. The facilities were impeccable, the roads and tracks were well maintained and the staff knowledgable and extremely friendly.

They do seem to enjoy their job.

When we were in Mesa Verde we met a park ranger, working there for the summer season. Each year he went to a different park and enjoyed learning about the history, geography and geology of the areas he worked in.

It showed in the way he interacted with the park visitors.

The Arches National Park was a highlight and to my mind and far more spectacular than Monument Valley.

There are similarities with the Olgas in Central Australia, but in the Arches the sites and vistas just seem to keep on reinventing themselves at every turn.

We drove to the end of the park and then did a 9 km walk around the Devils Garden. Passing Tunnel Arch, Pine Tree Arch and Landscape Arch we ended up at Double O Arch.

There was a thunderstorm brewing to the north and it appeared to be coming our way – then it vanished.

It was only a relatively short walk by comparison to some we had done but it was hard going.

We took what’s called the ‘Primitive Trail’ which is only marked with rock cairns and described in the guide book as ‘strenuous’.

The rock formations in Arches National Park are natural sculptures in their most spectacular form. The geology of the formations is complicated with a history that goes back 300 million years, when the area was an ocean. A combination of hard rock, soft rock, pressure and erosion have all contributed to the creation of monoliths, spires, balanced rocks and the famous arches.

Seemingly at odds with the natural wonder of this region is the wastefulness of the tourist industry that supports it.

We very soon became conscious that Americas live with a seemingly bottomless supply of disposable items. Apart from the coffee chains, that serve everything in a paper cups, most breakfast venues, including hotels and motels, seem to only use disposable plates, cutlery and cups. This wastage is also carried through to the food. If you need some milk for your cereal you are forced to use a carton containing half a pint, when you really only need a small portion of that amount.

Nothing is recycled and everything seems destined for landfill.