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We woke super early on 24th May and hit the roulette wheel at Gamblin’ Bills one last time before leaving Vegas to fade into the dust in our rear-view mirror. In a very typical A & S moment, our last stop in Sin City was:

Welcome indeed!

From Las Vegas we headed north-east towards southern Utah. Our destination? Zion National Park. We had originally wanted to see both Zion and Bryce Canyon, but there was never going be enough time, so S cast the deciding vote and we went only to Zion. We were not disappointed. After what felt like an endless drive through seemingly featureless landscapes (although we did pas a rather large sand dune at one point, I think…) we finally reached our destination.

Having researched the park only enough to make our decision to visit, we weren’t really sure what to expect. Well, I can tell you one thing for certain – Zion National Park is a wonderful, beautiful place. The road that winds through the valley is no longer accessible by private vehicle, but the park runs an excellent bus which circles the route very frequently. It stops often which gives you a chance to hop-on-hop-off and explore the surrounding areas. An outdoorsy person would be seriously spoilt for choice at Zion. The hiking and rock -climbing opportunities are endless. We, well, we stayed on the bus until it reached its terminus and only then did we get off.

Zion National Park

I wasn’t too pleased with the idea of the bus at first – however, I now have to say that it is very, very good. There was a constant commentary explaining about the discovery of the canyons and the history behind the area. They explained some of the names of the individual features and why they’re called what they’re called. If I was able to remember any of it, I would share it with you now, but I don’t. (Thrilling story, right?)

Cliffs across the river.

At the end of the bus line there’s an extremely accessible and peaceful mile-long walk along the green waters of the Virgin River. We took our time wandering the path, which was quite crowded considering the early hour. For reasons known only to themselves there was a group of older tourists there who were obsessed with taking pictures of squirrels. Honestly. Here you are in a canyon of absolutely stunning natural beauty and you’re taking pictures of the…squirrels? Yeah, ok….

Beautiful, beautiful, wish you were here!

It really was phenomenally beautiful. Quiet and peaceful, despite the fact that it was quite busy. Again, it’s interesting to imagine the very first person who ever encountered these canyons…it would certainly fuel belief in a higher power, that’s all I’m saying.

When we returned to our car we headed straight back onto the road. This was one of the longest driving days of the entire trip – but there was no way I was going to come to Southern Utah and not go to Monument Valley. I mean, really, who does that?

So we drove and we drove and we drove. The scenery does not change much in this part of the world, I’m afraid. The view from the window was either the backside of an 18-wheeler (if I was driving) or the horizon stretched out interminably (if S was driving). It was the very essence of a Road Trip – and I enjoyed every single mile of the journey.

The Road.

Our plan was to arrive in Monument Valley in time to wander the monoliths in the settling dusk, then spend the night camped nearby. However, I am sorry to report that the only camping in the area was certainly not suitable for us. There was no running water or toilet facilities, no place to cook or anywhere to make a fire. If you add onto this the fact that there was a very, very strong wind that evening, you have all the information which fuelled our decision to power on through to Flagstaff, AZ after our brief, but no less wondrous visit.

Like I said, it was one of the heaviest driving days of the entire three week journey.

However, having said that, it was entirely worth every extra mile and every cent spent on the gasoline which took us there.

If there is only one place to ever see in the Southwest of America, I recommend this above all else that I have seen:

Monument Valley

It is a hushed, silent and scared place. Totally awe-inspiring. Iconic and unforgettable. We stayed for a very long time just looking.

Along the roadside.

Unfortunately, due to the reasons I mentioned above, we did not have long to linger. So we looked our fill and then headed back onto the road. The drive to Flagstaff was long and tiring, we did not arrive until early morning. Luckly, the 25th of May was a quieter day (more later), so we were able to sleep in a bit and get out from behind the wheel of the car. Although, with views like this:

In the mirror.

…it’s certainly easy to drive…

xo

A

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Stage One – San Francisco

After travelling for a very, very long time we spent only one full day and two nights in San Francisco. It was a welcome chance to get our bearings, to refresh and refuel. To say to ourselves; “Here is where it starts.”

It was raining when we got to The City by the Bay, and after settling in S and I travelled by local bus into the heart of the city. The bus ride was an adventure in and of itself. Two guys at the back of the bus got into a rather heated argument about whether the air vent on the roof of the bus should be open or closed – S and I found this quite amusing at first, a welcome diversion from the monotony of bus travel. Until the argument got much louder and more heated. And at some point it dawned on me that we weren’t in Scotland any more. That we were in America. Where everyone can carry a gun just about anywhere they want to. After that, I was less amused and more terrified. Eventually they settled down. And, a few stops later (after one of the guys had already left the bus) the bus driver finally asked, “What’s going on back there?” leading me to believe that he was quite aware of the threat of danger himself.

It was a strange sort of paradigm shift, let me tell you.

Exploring the city in the rain wasn’t much fun although we did our best. We first tackled some necessities (getting a USA phone number, for instance) and then got down to the business of Adventure.

Cable Cars in the Rain, San Francisco

We rode the Cable Cars. Obviously. They were as I remembered them. Charming. A much-needed reminder of bygone times when nobody really needed to be anywhere in all that much of a hurry. I loved them.

At Fisherman’s Wharf we were both over- and underwhelmed. There was a lot of neon, I’ll grant you that. And perhaps on a nicer day, or later in the day it would have been something to see. But we didn’t bother staying long.

We did visit the Musée Mécanique, which was equal parts fascinating and frightening. Again, I like harking back to an earlier age, but papier-mâché fortune tellers have always scared me.

For instance:

Fortune Teller

This guy is super creepy. As are his good buddies, the wooden dancing men:

Frank, Bob, Charlie and Sam

I’m sorry, but that’s just FREAKY!  Although, considering we did spend about an hour there wandering about and paying the odd nickel to watch some of the fascinating machines actually working, it was well worth the visit.

Knowing, as you do, my adoration for all things Amusement Park, consider the following:

Toothpick Fantasy

This one is made entirely out of toothpicks!!! How awesome is that??

After we had spent all of our dimes and nickels we wandered away down the Embarcadero towards the Ferry Building. We stopped in for something to eat at Johnny Rockets. Because S had never been to one. And because they sell milkshakes. And play excellent music. And you have a mini-jukebox at your table.

Milkshakes and Jukeboxes

See? There IS reason behind my madness, even if I am the only one who sees it!! 🙂

We saw many iconic images during our walk including Alcatraz (as seen in yesterday’s post), the Fog City Diner (of cookbook fame) and, of course, The Ferry Building itself.

The Ferry Building

When we returned to The Ferry Building the next morning the view had changed somewhat. See if you can spot it…

The Ferry Building, Again

Yes, folks, that’s right. The sun was shining. Glorious, warm, American sunshine. Nothing beats it, trust me. The Scottish sun, even at its highest and hottest, just can’t hold a candle (and yes, I am aware there is only one sun…).

We met up with a dear friend of mine, Jeremy, whom I hadn’t seen in years. He took us for coffee at Blue Bottle Coffee in the Ferry Marketplace which was, quite possibly, the best coffee I’ve ever had (And I’ve been to Italy. And the Italians know their coffee!). Oh, my! Can they ever brew a good cup of coffee. If you haven’t been and get the chance to go – do it. RIGHT NOW. that’s an order!!

After that we went for a short walk in the sunshine (see above) and then stopped for something to eat at The Plant Organic Cafe. Where the food, company and conversation were all extremely satisfying.

When we parted with Jeremy (with promises to meet up later that night) we headed straight to the Alcatraz Ferry. Even though our scheduled ferry didn’t leave until much later, the folks at the ticket office were very kind and let us take an earlier crossing (freeing up our afternoon for more frivolity).

On the Ferry

What can I say about Alcatraz that you don’t know or can’t guess? It is over-commercialised, yes, but even so it is an eerily silent place with whispering ghosts in every shadowy corner.

OK, so I may be employing a bit of poetic license there, but the fact is there’s a chill in the air on the cell blocks. Anyone with a modicum of imagination can picture what the place was like when it was actively being used as a prison and wish themselves elsewhere.

Cell Block

We learned a lot – the audio tour is very useful. We saw the scarce windows (above) and the solitary confinement cells just opposite. We saw the mess hall and the warden’s office. We saw the depressing visitor’s area. We looked through the plexiglass into the ventilation shaft where the only people to escape Alcatraz snaked their way to the roof.

We walked in the rec-yard where you have an exceptional view of the bay and of the city. A perfect means of punishment for some of the prisoners who were sentenced to be on The Rock for life.

View of the City

View of the Bay

Of course, the prison closed in 1963 and now it’s a tourist trap. But, like I said, if you can imagine them, the inmates are still there, whispering to each other through the closed bars…

Prison Cell

Anyway, I digress.

After we got back to the mainland we walked towards Fisherman’s Wharf. At some point it struck us that it might be a fine idea to rent bicycles and ride over the Golden Gate Bridge. No, I’m not joking. That was our actual thought process. Wouldn’t it be fun to ride bikes across the bridge? Well, yes, it would.

So we rented bikes.

And we rode.

And rode.

And rode.

Uphill.

A lot.

And then we rode some more. And then, when we eventually arrived at the base of the gigantic, monstrous, insurmountable (teeny, tiny) hill leading to the roadway across the bridge – we realised we didn’t have time to cross it and get the bikes back in time. So we took a few pictures and rode back.

I may be exaggerating a little, but I swear to you it felt like we rode for about 100 miles. All uphill.

The end result was worth it, though. I mean, look at these pictures:

So then we rode back to the city and dropped the bikes off. And walked around a while, and rode more cable cars. It was, of course, necessary for us to visit Lombard Street:

Having wrung all the fun we could out of one day in San Francisco, we returned to the hotel to freshen up a bit, then headed back to the airport to pick up our rental car.

This was not a simple task. This car would be our mobile home for the next 20 days! Somehow we snaffled an upgrade, and I sure am glad we did. Look how pretty he was:

Dodge Avenger 🙂

We then drove back to the city and met up with Jeremy and some other friends for a much-deserved and much-enjoyed night on the town. There were drinks and merriment and laughter. The perfect end to an excellent start to our vacation.

San Francisco was beautiful and warm and welcoming. We could have spent much more time there. Certainly one full day did not do it justice. However, our plane was leaving from New York City in a few short weeks and we had a lot of miles to cover.

So, we went to bed on the 18th of May full of excitement for the next morning when we would really and truly begin our Epic Road Trip Adventure and the next day we woke early and drove out of the city towards Sacramento.

With my longing for, and love of, the open road, with the sound of wheels on asphalt and the wind coming through the open window it’s not hard to understand how my mind barley lingered on the beautiful city we were leaving far too early. Somehow, though, I found time to regret our departure.

Perhaps this is why:

Sunshine on the Bay

Sunshine on the Bay

xo

A

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Red 14 Photography

Well, it’s finished. At long last. After months of deliberation, indecision and, above all else, trying to find a name for it, I have finally opened my Etsy shop.

I am very pleased indeed to present to you:

Red 14 Photography

There you can buy prints of some of my photographs. It’s a bit sparse at the moment but over time I will have more selection. It is a very time consuming process getting prints ready for sale. Nothing, in my mind, is good enough Straight Out of Camera and therefore I have become very good friends with Photoshop over the past few months.

Browse. Buy if you want. Tell your friends.

I may never sell a single print, but at least I’m out there trying.

xo
A

p.s. Red 14 is from the Roulette wheel. Apparently it’s my lucky number. Who knew?

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dear joel

Take all your chances while you can
You never know when they’ll pass you by.
~ “Chances”

Dear Joel (& Athlete),

Regarding our conversation outside the ABC in Glasgow last night

You may remember me as the American in the red jacket, or perhaps as the girl with the unmistakable air of lunacy about her. I can assure you that I am, most of the time, actually pretty sane. I am also, on occasion, able to form complete sentences and even string them together into what could be considered a conversation. I apologise, I don’t know what got into me – I think it may have been early stages of frostbite!

The point of all of this is that yes, I did wait in the snow and bitter cold for 1 ½ hours last night just for the opportunity to tell you my story. The way I figure, I’ve been waiting for over 4 years; a few extremely cold minutes weren’t going to stop me in the end. So, considering the wait and my determination you think I could have told you the story I’ve been wanting to tell. I fear I failed here, but I did try. I am very glad I waited to speak to you. I am very glad that I met you. You are as kind as I hoped; not to mention humble. The story, though, the story was lacking. To make up for that, this is how it should have gone:

In May of 2005 my friend and I made the 5-hour trip across from Cleveland to Chicago to see you play live. The finer details of the evening are mostly lost, having been eclipsed by what happened after, but I do remember that you were bang on form and I was very glad we’d come.

Sometime during your set (and I don’t know why, which makes the story even more compelling, perhaps the lack of a why is the real moral…) and completely out of the blue I was overcome with a need to call my grandmother. Something in your voice or in the lyrics to the songs… Whatever it was, whatever the why, the songs you were playing compelled me to action. Which song was it? I can’t say. Maybe “Wires”, although I like to think my subconscious mind is a little less obvious. My most likely guess is “Chances”. Either way, after you finished your set, off I went to the lobby to call my grandmother. The contents of our (quite lengthy) conversation are mostly personal, but we said we loved each other and to take care and, most importantly, we ended with goodbye.

Just come back for one day
‘Cause there’s so much I never got to say
Just come back for one day
So I can remember your face
~ “Lay Your Head”

This conversation would turn out to be the last time I ever spoke to my grandmother. Without you it never would have happened. There may not be many things in life I am certain of, but this is one of them. Who knows why? If I hadn’t been at your show, if I hadn’t been really listening to you guys that night, then I wouldn’t have had that last conversation.

All of this is a round about way of saying thank you. Really and truly, from the bottom of my heart, thank you. My grandmother was one of the most important people in my life and thanks to you, although I didn’t know it at the time, we got to say goodbye.

I’ve been racing the clock and I’ve run out of steam;
I am ready for my final symphony.
Oh, my body is weak, but my soul is still strong;
I am ready to rest in your arms.

And the rain beat down on the rooftops:
But there was no sound, there was no sound.
And all my friends and family carried me,
They carried me home, carried me home.
~ “Black Swan Song”

I’d also like to express my thanks to you for the comfort your songs provided me with over the crazy days that followed. Music means different things to different people at different times in their lives. What I needed that horrible May in 2005, was Tourist. I used that album to effectively drown out the worst of the grief and focus instead on memories, something I fear I would have been unable to do without your songs.

So, there you have it. My thank you. I hope you enjoyed the show last night in Glasgow. I can’t decide which I enjoyed most: your conversation with the fan who travelled THROUGH BIG SNOW TO SEE YAS or the part where the audience wouldn’t stop singing long enough to let you sing your own songs. It was an excellent set. It was the sixth time I’ve seen you live and every time gets better. So, thank you for that as well.

Thank you for stopping to talk to me. I really did enjoy our chat last night even though I bolloxed my story. Thanks for the hug, too, I hope you didn’t catch my frostbite! I’m looking forward to the next time you come to Glasgow, maybe by that time I’ll have mastered the art of conversation. Or maybe even just “hello”.

Very Sincerely,
Allison

p.s. I’m sorry there’s no photos of the others – they were all blurry and indecipherable, so I didn’t post them. I did take loads, though…

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Winter has well and truly set in around these parts. We’ve had a few weeks consistent below-zero temperatures and, at the weekend, we had snow.

I know, I know, snow in this part of the world in November is CRAZY TALK! BUT, I can prove it to you…

Snow on ivy! How pretty?!

See? Snow. And little kitty pawprints in said snow. How fantastic is that?!

Happy winter, folks!

xo
A

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We all know how much I adore the Pioneer Woman. Well she’s introduced a new photography competition on her site called Edit This! where you get to edit one of her SOOC (straight out of camera) shots however you want to. While this may read like a foreign language to some of you, the following visuals should help:

This is the photograph currently being used for the competition in its raw, SOOC form:

PW's SOOC shot

While we can all agree that this is a beautiful shot as it is, PW is asking us to edit to our heart’s content. So, for my first edit I am pleased to  present:

Painted Horses for PW Edit This!

Painted Horses for PW Edit This!

For the above shot I used my own “cartooning” action plus a few others to tweak. I am pleased with how it turned out, mostly the texture and colour balances.

Since we are only allowed to enter one edit per day this next one will have to wait until tomorrow. I have had a lot of fun with this and I hope people like it.

Stormy Horses for PW Edith This!

Stormy Horses for PW Edith This!

So, there you have it. Two entries for PW’s Edit This competition. I am excited to see who wins and, if they share, what  actions they used!

Go on over to her site and check out the competition. It’s fun!

xo
A

p.s. I triple dog dare you to try typing out “Edit This” a few times without anciently typing “Edith his”. Although I suppose it could just be me…

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more photoshop actions

I bet you’ve all been wondering what on Earth I’ve been doing with my time? Apart from squirrelling away the last of the hot chocolate marshmallows so I don’t need to share, that is.

Well, I’ve been messing about with Photoshop some more and I have to say I am pleased with the results. I took these Straight-Out-of-Camera (SOOC)shots on Thursday morning at my work. I park my car next to a dessicated hydrangea bush every morning yet for some reason had never snapped it before. This day was different.

I am going to post the SOOC shots first followed by the results of my photoshop tinkering (including the name of the action I used and where I got it from).

SOOC

Urban Acid & Rich Colour Landscape

For this shot I used two actions. First I applied the Urban Acid action found HERE (number 70) and followed with Shay’s Rich Colour Landscape (number 56 on the same page).

SOOC

Urban Acid

For this shot I stuck to just using the above mentioned Urban Acid action. I love this action for landscapes requiring a little roughing up. It doesn’t work very well for portraits in my limited use, however, if you’re looking to add that certain mystique and a bit of danger, then Urban Acid is for you.

SOOC

Lomo - no vignette

For this one I used my tried, true and absolute favourite action: Lomo. There are four options with this action depending on the size of the border you would like in the finished product. I chose to eliminate the border all together for this shot.

For fun I thought I would leave you with an example of my own action. I call it Allison’s Cartoon Action and it’s meant to turn a photograph into a handmade (painted/drawn) work. It’s crude, but fun. I hope you like it.

SOOC

Allison's Cartoon Action

So that’s what I’ve been up to. Enjoy!

xo
A

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