Our ‘M.A.P.’ grand tour of AMERICA
WOW what a trip it was! It had been SO long in the planning. It was my husband Roger’s dream trip so he was responsible for most of the arrangements! The leaving date crept up on us and suddenly it was time for the off!! woohoo! We travelled with lovely friends whose surname is Middleton, so together with my surname Andrew and Roger’s surname Powell it happily spelled ‘M.A.P.’…so this became our ‘MAP’ grand tour!
Our adventure began in Los Angeles. We had a little hiccup with the key to our apartment which we were supposed to pick up from a post office box. It was a complicated arrangement of codes and boxes which finished with an empty box!! Aaargh (we were tired after our 11 hour flight and were not enjoying the entertainment of what felt like a Crystal Maze game!) However there was an apartment key next to the empty box inside the Post Office box so we decided that the Universe had given us that apartment instead! And it all turned out just fine in the end!
We had just two days to explore the delights of L.A. which we did on the open top tour bus and by bike. To be honest I was a little underwhelmed by Hollywood and Beverley Hills, it may have been the overcast sky but everything seemed a little run down and not full of glitz and glamour as I had imagined! The beach front though, all along from Marina Del Rey, Venice Beach to Santa Monica is just beautiful! With miles of white sand and those crazy oh so tall palm trees!
L.A. was also bliss for me on my raw vegan regime, I was spoiled for choice with fantastic organic veg, salads, fruit, juices and smoothies! Yum!
Smoothie bar Venice Beach
On day three with picked up our super deluxe and very roomy hire car that was to be our wagon for our road trip! Getting out of L.A. was relatively easy (I was a bit nervous about the multiple lanes of traffic (very different from out little country lanes!), mind you I wasn’t driving! As we left the city behind us the hot dry arrid desert lands opened up before us and the temperature began to rise! I must have come from the hot dry dusty lands in a previous lifetime because it always feels like ‘coming home’ when I feel that heat and dryness..I LOVE it! We drove for miles and miles with the straight road stretching out in front of us as far as the eye could see and then the wonderful Joshua trees began to appear. Just one or two scattered thinly to start with and then more and more! We checked in to our motel in Yucca Valley and headed off for a sizzling hot walk though the stunningly beautiful Joshua Tree Park….with lizards and flowering cactus!
Onwards…. the next day gave us temperatures of 102 degrees Fahrenheit! We cooled off by swimming in the Colorado river! And spent that night in our most favourite motel of the trip…The Westward…owned and created by Rande and his wife Sande. Rande was involved in the music world and had back stage passes for many big name concerts hanging in the kitchen! I guess he decided to leave the wildness of show biz wild life and bought a run down place in the middle of nowhere and has re-made it in the most wonderful, quirky and unusual way. So full of character….you can sit on the terrace in old cinema seats or chill in a rocking chair…. lay out in the sun on an old hospital bed while watching the tiny exquisite humming birds feeding…everywhere you look there are fascinating curiosities from his travels…what a treat! I can highly recommend it if you happen to be passing through Salome, Arizona!
The next day’s travels took us up into the mountains leaving the dusty heat behind we stopped in Prescott…it felt like a real ‘cowboy’ town that hadn’t changed for years! and from there to Sedona. Wow! We were blown away by the stunningly beautiful red rocks.
I had expected to find a little town (somewhat like Glastonbury) but in fact the town didn’t seem to have a centre! There is shopping area (which is very pretty with squares and fountains all created in a Morrocan style) but that didn’t seem to have any connection with energy of the place! The next day we took a Vortex tour. At last we were able to connect with the power of the place! Apart from the stunning beauty of the land with its massive red rock formations, the vortex energies are tangible and very exciting! We really only dipped our toes into the wonder of Sedona this time..(I’m sure I’ll be going back)….Now it was time to climb aboard our wagon and hit the road again …driving through the beautiful canyon that takes you out of Sedona. We took a detour enroute to Kayenta through Wupatki and Sunset Crater Volcanic park. Amazing black mountains and lava flow fields that seemed like they had only just been created not 1000 years ago! We visited the remains of pueblos that were lived in by the ancestors of the Hopi, Zuni and Navajo people….the hot dry wind seemed to be blowing across the open plains carrying the voices of those people through the centuries…isn’t time a strange thing?!
The next day was one of the high-lights of our trip! We drove to Monument Valley where we spent a completely magical morning horse riding with our Navajo guide Keevan. It was almost surreal to be there on the valley floor with the majestic rock formations towering above us and the horses kicking up the sand as we wove our way around the mouments, listened to Keevan’s stories about his life, the names of the mouments…the ‘Three Sisters’, the ‘Mitten, the Totem Pole’, the Tombstone’ and information about how his people have used and still use the various plants as medicine and food and soaked up the heat and magic of this land! My horse was a slow, gentle old lady called Blue who had walked this valley all her life! Under the deep azure blue sky we learned that the Navajo people were named as such by the Spanish and they don’t identify with this name as it means ‘knife’ indicating that they were a violent people…instead they call themselves the Dine simply meaning ‘the people’.
That afternoon our lovely guide (and now friend!) Keevan took us on a jeep tour of his beloved valley….showing us where he and his horse used to play, where the water would collect after the summer rains and he would swim, all the sacred places where the Dine people would create ceremonies, wonderful petraglyphs that seemed like they had only just been carved into the rocks! and a natural spring where in the midst of this barren valley there was a little green oasis and some beautiful Cottonwood trees. What a fabulous day it was…one that I will treasure the memory of always!
After a good night’s rest we were back in our trusty wagon and off to Page and Lake Powell. The sun was shining and we spent a relaxing afternoon swimming in the lake and Roger got to know some lovely people who had their RV parked up on the lake shore. They were taking a year out with their children, dog and cat! to explore America! This is certainly RV land, we passed so many huge RV parks on our travels! In the early evening we took a boat trip on the lake and went into the end of Antelope canyon….really beautiful! But that was just a taste of what Antelope canyon had to show us!
The next day we were up early and set off to explore some more of this incredible area….before the real heat of the day we trekked out to see our first real sight of the Grand Canyon, Horse Shoe Bend! WOW! It just took my breath away! The scale of this land compared to what I’m used to in little ol’ England is just staggering! The colours are so intense and spectacular!
From there we drove to Antelope Canyon X (a recently opened section of the canyon) All of the Canyon is owned and now run by the Dine people…and it seems that the ones in charge are nearly all women! We were driven about a mile along a dusty track to an opening where we could enter the canyon in both directions….Absolutely beautiful! Sweeping sensual shapes…the sand and air cool inside the canyon….colours of pink, mauve and yellow…the making of Mother Earth…Her powerful ancients marks on the land…formed by water swirling, air rushing and weight pushing over millions of years….the blink of an eye of Gaia!
And our journey continued….with a little pit stop for a car tyre puncture repair!…on to the Grand Canyon National Park
WOW! again…I know I keep saying it but really there are few other words that can describe the wonder that is the Grand Canyon! I did expect it to be big but I hadn’t even begun to imagine just how BIG and how utterly, breathtakingly beautiful it is!!!! Just WOW!!!! And also how constantly changing it is in different lights. We watched the sun setting and saw the colours change and the shadows darken intensifying the contrasts and heightening the majesty of the mountains!
Early the following morning we hit the trail! Bright Angel trail to be precise (what a beautiful name!) and what a beautiful trail…..down into the canyon. We didn’t even go half way down (its not advised that you go down and back in a day because of the huge change in altitude!) but what we did was challenge enough!!! Of course is all up on the way back!!!! The following day the weather had changed and it was cloudy and quite chilly as we walked the along the rim of the canyon…There’s a wonderful little shuttle bus that circles around at regular intervals so you can hop on and off and walk the bits that take your fancy! Well of course ideally that would be all of it but we only had the morning before setting off again! Saying farewell to the Grand Canyon we headed off for Kingman on Route 66!
We loved the quintessentially 50s America style of Kingman. From the burger bar with neon sign ‘Rickety Crickets’ to the bubble gum pink and pistachio green ‘Mr D’z Diner where we had breakfast (well not me…there wasn’t much raw vegan food on the menu! haha)…but I enjoyed the atmosphere and listening to the jukebox anyway!
Heading out of Kingman after watching one of those freight trains passing through that just go on for ever and ever! our route took us past a wacky little ex-mining town called Chloride! All the gardens were filled with quirky sculptures made of junk! The saloon was calling us and as we entered we were presented with a flower and offered a ‘Mimosa’ (Buck’s Fizz) for ‘Mother’s Day’ ! Everyone was so friendly and before long we had been offered a ride in a little jeep that a couple had just arrived in…I asked to be taken up the track a way to see some paintings that had been created on the rocks up by the mines…what fun!
So next on our itinerary…Hoover Dam… awe-inspiring to see the size of it and acknowledge the amazing feat of it’s creation!
And on to Las Vegas! We very sadly had to say good-bye to our trusty wagon….still with four wheels and happily rolling along! We grew very fond of it but had to let someone else enjoy it’s ride! And we arrived in the crazy, hedonistic, unreality that is Las Vegas! I am happy to have experienced it and seen the sights and enjoyed the nonsense of gondolas on a canal inside a building!… the Eiffel tower emerging from out of a casino!, New York streets created inside a building! and a pyramid hotel! but once in a lifetime I think will be enough for me!
So we hopped on a plane and flew to New Orleans! Leaving the airport was like stepping into a warm bath! So hot and humid! We had got used to dry air and this was so different! We climbed aboard our shuttle bus and our New Orleans experience began! Our driver launched into a friendly banter getting us all to guess his name and laughing and joking the whole way….this is the New Orleans way! (By the way his name was Elvis!)
Our hotel was a wonderful cranky old Colonial building so full of character and so very different from our swish but souless hotel in Las Vegas! (we only discovered after we left that it had a reputation of being haunted….sadly we didn’t ‘meet’ any of its older residents!) We loved New Orleans…..it has music ooozing from every crack in the wall and gap in the pavement! There’s a musician on every street corner, cafe and bar. So much to tell you about our stay in New Orleans but I’m running out of time and I’ve just realized how much I’ve written already! We had a trip on a paddle steam boat along the Mississippi, went on a swamp tour and got up close and personal to the alligators!, went to visit the cities of the dead and saw some of the areas worse hit by hurricane Katrina. Mostly houses have been re-built, (many on high stilts) but there are still a few derelict houses with the roughly painted marks on the front to say that they had been searched and if any bodies had been found! It was a shocking reminder of the tragedy and we heard of some pretty terrible things that went on in the aftermath too!
We experienced a wild thunder storm while we were there too….a taste of the ferocity of the weather in this area! But mostly our memories of New Orleans are of smiling faces and wonderful music!
And so our trip was nearly over….just one more stop off before our homeward flight….Orlando. Just two days here. The guys went to visit the Kennedy Space Centre and were full of excitement about it all on their return. Us girls were ready for a bit of chill-out time!!!! And to finish our holiday on the final day we all behaved like children in an aqua park!…screaming and laughing and having fun!!! Well, its important to behave like a child sometimes hey?!!!!
And so our amazing adventure was at an end!
It was time to return to the lush greenness that our tiny little Island does so well!
What an amazing trip we had! We visited California, Arizona, Utah, Navada, Louisiana and Florida! It’s only by looking at the photos that I am convinced that it really did happen and that it wasn’t just an incredible dream! We loved it and we loved the American people who gave us their warmth, smiles and friendship! Thank you America! We will be back!