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The hotel we stayed at in Flagstaff, AZ was directly across from a very busy train line and therefore the thing I remember most about it was the NOISE. It was utterly utilitarian, and that is the best thing I can say. It reminded me of somewhere Llewelyn Moss might have hidden out from Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men.

Regardless, we slept there just fine. The 25th of May was our day of adventure in Arizona. We woke late and meandered our way south of Flagstaff to Sedona where we were meeting up with our river guide from Sedona Adventures for our two-hour long kayak trip on The Verde River. The sun was high in the cloudless sky and it felt like about 100 degrees in the sun. I maintain that the Arizona sun is hotter than the sun anywhere else. I know this cannot possibly be true, but I feel like it should be.

By some manner of chance or coincidence, the morning tour down the river had about 13 people on it, but ours was just the two of us. Our guide’s name was Geoff (he never spelled it for me, but he seemed like Geoff rather than a Jeff) and he was … surprising. He might be the cheeriest stranger we met while on holiday. He was certainly enthusiastic about his job, that is for sure. Although neither S nor I had ever kayaked in inflatable kayaks before (or any other type of kayak, to be perfectly honest), Geoff was patient with us and a very concise instructor. He even told us, very enthusiastically and in the car on the way to the launch site, to “POUND THAT WATER!” so we wouldn’t dehydrate on our journey.

What can I say about the actual kayak trip? We LOVED it. It was so quiet and peaceful and serene and…perfect. And, I didn’t fall out of the kayak even once. There was a blue heron which followed us on our path down the river, which I found very comforting. I mentioned that in some depictions of Egyptian mythology the Heron brought the first sunrise to Earth and Geoff liked that very much.

Heron

The water of the river was a chalky-green white colour (hence the name – green river). In places the water ran fast over mini-rapids and at other times it snaked out over larger expanses and slowed to a crawl.

Kayaking

At one section we passed by a cliff face encrusted with swallows’ nests. There weren’t many birds visible, but it was a lovely place. Because there were only the two of us and Geoff didn’t have anything else to do that day, he let us take our time and ask as many questions as we wanted. He was very knowledgeable – and not just about kayaks. We talked books, too. Not TV, though, Geoff didn’t own a TV. He’s exactly the type of person you’d expect to not own a TV.

This kayak trip down the Verde River was my favourite “thing” we did on the whole holiday. I could have spent days there just floating. It was a beautiful place and a beautiful time.

River Verde

If you’re going to Arizona, and spending any time in the middle of the state, go see Sedona Adventures and look what they have to offer – if you have time then do the kayak trip – it really was incredible.

In the evening of 25th May we went to a wild west show at the Blazin M Ranch. This was tourism cheesiness at its best and brightest. The replica old west village was like something out of an amusement park – that over the top… The dinner show was predictable but enjoyable also. The dinner was fun. There were baked beans and biscuits – if you wanted a second biscuit then they’d throw it at you. Very funny!

Blazin M Ranch

They asked where everyone was from and, for some reason, S saying he was Scottish earned him nearly a standing ovation from the audience. Everyone wanted to talk to him or shake his hand. People from England or Ireland weren’t as well received, for some reason. S did not like this. He’s not the spotlight type.  🙂

We’d signed up for cheesy tourism and the Balzin M Ranch delivered. If that is the sort of place you’re looking for then that’s exactly the place you should go.

Afterwards we drove back to Flagstaff for our last night in Arizona. We needed our rest. the next day we were driving all the way to south-west Kansas (a LONG WAY!).

So, tomorrow – out of the Arizona desert and into the wheat fields of the midwest.

For now, sleep.

xo

A

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On the morning of the 19th of May we drove out of The City by the Bay headed towards Sacramento where we met up with my Uncle Jack & Aunt Diane for a late brunch. Needless to say, we had a wonderful time. They are two of my favourite people in the entire world and I hadn’t seen them in quite a few years.

After brunch we stopped and bought some supplies we were going to need for the next few weeks. We planned to spend a few nights camping out so we needed to buy… well, everything. It’s not as if we’d flown over with a tent in our luggage!! After we stocked-up we headed back on the road.

The plan was to drive south a bit and then into Yosemite National Park. However, due to an overnight snowfall of 19 inches, a lot of the passes were closed, so we had to amend our itinerary. This was not a total loss – although we were very saddened to miss out on all Yosemite had to offer. And S is still quite upset that we never got to see the giant redwoods. I am surprisingly OK with this, because it means we have even more reasons to return to California in the future!

Driving south through California was a gorgeous journey. We stopped at a fruit stand located…somewhere… and bought the biggest, sweetest strawberries either of us had ever eaten.

Fruit Stand

Seriously, the strawberries were the size of your palm. I know that isn’t particularly significant – but it is a detail that has stuck with me. I wish we had more carefully documented exactly where we were, but I honestly have no idea of the route we took, the towns we passed or the roads we drove. For instance:

Unnamed Town

I have no idea where this picture was taken, but I do know that we turned around there at some point.

The most exciting part of the evening of the 19th was our dinner, but that is a story for another time. Suffice it to say it was quite a hilarious evening. 🙂

We were just entering Death Valley as the sun rose on the 20th of May. It was an utterly silent, desolate place. But the sunrise was beautiful – cresting the hills in the distance, burnishing everything with the golden gleam of morning.

Sunrise, Death Valley

Death Valley was all you would expect it to be – hot. Although it was bigger than I imagined, somehow. We were only there for a few hours, and I suppose we saw everything we were able to see. I would have liked to have seen the Sailing Stones, but we weren’t near enough to journey that way.

We saw the natural stone arch:

Natural Stone Arch

And, of course, we saw Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America:

Badwater Basin

It was very salty, which I never knew. There was also water there, which came as a surprise, considering what I know of Death Valley.

Salt Water

The fuel prices were exorbitantly high – over $5.00 a gallon! Which isn’t yet as high as we pay here in Scotland, but it’s high enough, thank you very much! Sadly, we did have to refuel there, although we were smart enough to only get what we absolutely needed to see us through.

We left on the Nevada side of Death Valley, and on the way past we stopped at an old abandoned mining town called Rhyolite. Settled in 1905 and heavily populated during the ensuing gold rush, at its peak in 1908 the town housed around 4,000 people. By 1920, however, the mine was exhausted and the population of Rhyolite drooped to nearly zero.

It is a haunting, eerie place. The first ever ghost town I’ve seen. There was a small museum of sorts at the entrance of the town, and there were pallets there with artefacts which had been unearthed in the area, as well as from the buildings themselves. I liked it there, although there wasn’t much to see except dust.

Pickaxes

The old mercantile store was setting there on blocks, which was kind of surreal.

Mercantile Store

Some of the other buildings were still standing as well, a few walls of the jail and the school moulder in the scorching sun. The train station was mostly intact. It is a beautiful building which highlights the fact that, although they may be ghost towns now, in their heyday these mining towns held an awful lot of money and importance. Hence, the expense laid out for schools, banks and, as below, railway stations.

Rhyolite Train Station

The era of the American gold rush is an interesting phenomenon. The amount of ghosts towns dotting the south west of America is staggering. Rhyolite is of little importance now, but if you had been there at its peak it probably would have astonished you.

Old Truck

The rest of the day we spent driving across Nevada. We weren’t sure where we wanted to stay for the night, but we had had an early start so we pressed on past Las Vegas and into the Valley of Fire where we set up camp for the night.

Camping, Vallye of Fire State Park

This was one of my favourite nights of our vacation. S and I spent the evening relaxing and watching the sun go down behind the fiery-red sandstone, eating hamburgers off the BBQ and toasting marshmallows over the open fire. It truly was spectacular. The Valley of fire is breath-taking. The weather we had while there was splendid. Camping out in nice weather in the warmth of early summer is an experience to be envied.

The evening of 20th May this time last year was a welcome, relaxing break before we woke on the 21st and headed into the neon of the Las Vegas strip. Over the past two days we had driven a very, very long way and seen quite a lot of magnificent sights. The prevailing image I have from the 19th and 20th May, 2011 is the image I will end this post on. One which can’t be experienced here in the UK, because there simply isn’t the space here for a road so incredibly straight and long:

The Road

If you look close enough, you can still see the road straight ahead at the very base of the hills. Impressive, isn’t it? Just looking back at that photo makes my fingers itch to be curled around a steering wheel.

So tomorrow it’s onwards into Vegas. Wish us luck!

xo

A

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Hello again. Welcome to the first in a series of installments detailing the events of our trip to America. I know – you can hardly wait, right?

At 04:30 BST exactly one year ago today, S and I were checking in at Glasgow Airport for our flights to San Francisco.

This was the beginning of our three-week whirlwind adventure to cross the breadth of America in a rented car. It was amazing. One of the best things I have ever done.

I realise I never wrote about it. Never shared any anecdotes our photos or anything!

So, starting tomorrow, watch this space!

It will be thrilling. Almost indescribably so. Trust me.

In fact, here, have a teaser:

image

See? Thrilling.

But, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait until tomorrow for more!

xo
A

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I was driving home from the Counting Crows concert last night and I called my brother from the car.  It costs about a million £s for me to use my mobile to call The States, but I just had to do it. 

My brother and I both LOVE the Counting Crows.  Love may actually be a bit of an understatement.  I have seen them twice while my brother has never seen them live before.  When I saw them the last time I made sure to get an autograph from them for my brother and he assures me he still has it in a safe place.

But this is neither here nor there. 

 I told Eric about the gig last night and how good they sounded and how Adam Duritz is amazing. How he changed the lyrics to fit the situation and how he spent a good 5 minutes explaining to the audience what Goodnight Elisabeth is about.

 Adam said that he wrote the song when he first went away on tour and that he’d broken up with his girlfriend (presumably Elisabeth) because he knew it wouldn’t work with him being away.  So the song was about saying goodbye without actually saying goodbye.  Then he said, as time went on, he realized that the song wasn’t about that at all.  It was about saying goodnight to your loved ones at the end of the day and how, when you’re away on tour, the act of saying goodnight is the only way that time progresses.

So after I said all I had to say Eric and I wrapped up the conversation, said our goodbyes, etc.  Then Eric said he wished he had an appropriate Counting Crows quote to finalise the telephone call and I concurred, but we hung up anyway.

Two seconds later I knew exactly the quote that would finish our chat off perfectly, so I called him back.  Of course, the song I was thinking of was Raining in Baltimore, and of course, he was thinking of the same exact song.

Our conversation was rather brief.

So, this is for Eric.

Raining in Baltimore – Counting Crows

This circus is falling down on its knees
The big top is crumbling down
Its raining in Baltimore fifteen miles east
Where you should be, no ones around

I need a phone call
I need a raincoat
I need a big love
I need a phone call

These train conversations are passing me by
And I don’t have nothing to say
You get what you pay for
But I just had no intention of living this way

I need a phone call
I need a plane ride
I need a sunburn
I need a raincoat

And I get no answers
And I don’t get no change
Its raining in Baltimore, baby
But everything else is the same

There’s things I remember and things I forget
I miss you I guess that I should
Three thousand five hundred miles away
But what would you change if you could?

I need a phone call
Maybe I should buy a new car
I can always hear a freight train if I listen real hard
And I wish it was a small world
Because I’m lonely for the big towns
I’d like to hear a little guitar
I think its time to put the top down

I need a phone call
I need a raincoat

xo
A

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Finally…

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

 

In 1776 Thomas Jefferson wrote The Declaration of Independence.  The colonies of America were sick of paying unfair taxes to a king 3,000 miles away who did not represent them.  They were tired of being repressed and oppressed for their religious beliefs and practices.  They wanted freedom.  They wanted equal rights.  To an end.

 

The hypocrisy of the Declaration of Independence has been a stain on the fabric of America for the past 232 years.  Admittedly that stain has grown less obvious over the past half-century through the work of the Civil Rights Movement but not until November 4th, 2008, did it seem as though that stain was finally removed.

 

America’s Founding Fathers began the United States Constitution with a fervour that is still admirable, to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”  With those words they set into motion a series of events to move their country towards a deeper understanding and practice of freedom then they could, at that time, imagine. 

 

Because, of course, they wanted freedom then, and liberty for America, but only so long as it was white, male America.

 

Almost 100 years later people finally caught on.  In 1863 a truly divided America was either fighting for or against a freedom which was only assumed possible because of the ideals of America – that all men really might just be created equal regardless of the color of their skin. 

 

In the Gettysburg Address Abraham Lincoln famously proposed the following:

 

“It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

 

The 13th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1865, put an end to legal slavery in the United States of America.  It would be almost another 100 years before equal rights were further achieved.

 

And still it is only all “men” who are created equal.

 

In 1893 the first states granted voting rights to women.  In 1919 the Federal Woman’s Suffrage Amendment,  originally written by Susan B Anthony in 1878, is passed in the House of Representatives.  On August 26th 1920 women are granted the right to vote via the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.  The road to equal rights is long and seemingly insurmountable.

 

In 1954, 89 years on from the abolishment of slavery, the Supreme Court rules that segregation in public schools is unconstitutional.  December 1st 1955 is the epic moment when Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat on the bus which ignites a fire underneath the oppressed African American community and their sympathisers. 

 

Riots and protests follow, both black and white hatred grows stronger.  Those voices advocating peace and unity are drowned out by the overwhelming melee.   On August 28th 1963 an unyielding Martin Luther King Jr delivers his infamous speech proclaiming “I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”   

 

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is signed by Johnson on July 2nd prohibiting discrimination in voting, education and the use of public facilities.  The federal government now had a way to enforce desegregation. 

 

In 1968 Martin Luther King Jr is shot dead for having the audacity to believe that when the Founding Fathers said equal rights, they meant it.

 

The Civil Rights Movement carried on strongly across the terms of 3 presidents, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Lyndon B Johnson.  To this day people are still being tried and accused of crimes committed against African Americans during these tumultuous years.

 

The road to equal rights is long and seemingly insurmountable.

 

And now it is 2008 and look where we are.  Look how far we’ve come.  A woman made it through to the primaries of a Presidential Election and an African American is going to be the next President of the United States.  It took only 232 years.

 

I know that race is not and never was a big issue for Obama during his campaign (which is astounding in and of itself). I know that equal rights for all peoples in the world are still a very long way off.  I know the economy is failing in countries all over the world and I know that no one is infallible. 

 

But.

 

We have seen many a politician stumble and fall under the unending pressures of Presidency, and I fully understand that I may yet be proven wrong, but I stand behind President-elect Barack Obama.  I stand up for what he believes in.  I stand up for change which is desperately needed and woefully overdue.  Let us persevere with the hope that now, 232 years later, the stain of hypocrisy and prejudice; the walls which have divided the country will fall and allow us to truly become The United States of America.

 

I am 27 years old.  I am a white girl from suburban Ohio who grew up far from the roughness of stricken cities, far from racism and bigotry and far from poverty, but these past 8 years have been a struggle to me.  I have struggled for my National Identity amidst worldwide growing scepticism about American politics and policies.  Now, once again and finally, after many long years I can look people in the eye and say that yes, I am an American.  I am an American.  And after January I can finally begin to feel that the American President represents me, my beliefs and what I stand for. 

 

Yes, we can.  We can change.  As one and as many.  We can change America.  We can change the world.

 

Yes we can.

 

We can change.

 

And now, again and finally, we can hope.

 

xoA

 

“If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.
 
It’s the answer told by lines that stretched around schools and churches in numbers this nation has never seen; by people who waited three hours and four hours, many for the very first time in their lives, because they believed that this time must be different; that their voice could be that difference.  
 
It’s the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled – Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America.
 
It’s the answer that led those who have been told for so long by so many to be cynical, and fearful, and doubtful of what we can achieve to put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day.
 
It’s been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America.” 

– Barack Obama, the President-elect.

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I’ve done my civic duty.  I’ve voted.  It was exciting getting to cast my ballot almost two weeks before the official opening of the polls in The States.  My envelope and my vote may even have already been counted.  I won’t get to wear a small circular sticker boasting “I Voted Today!”, but I can feel a bit of pride because I know that I did.

 

This morning I happened to catch a bit of the BBC news before work and it all seems quite positive. I think the last really unofficial poll here stated that around 80% of UK residents would vote for Obama if they could.  Good news, I guess.  If only it was a World Election and not just a US one… Although I think the past 8 years would have been quite different if it had been a World Election at that time, but never mind.

 

I just thought it might be interesting for my US readers to see what the UK newspapers are saying about the US Election:

 

The Guardian – “America’s Moment of Truth – – Obama leads in all main surveys-Biggest ever US voter turnout likely-Fears key results may be delayed”

“The excitement generated by Obama’s candidacy is expected to see between 130million and 140million Americans vote… Although election officials expressed confidence that polling booths would cope, campaigners and analysts expressed fears that the strain could see long queues and stations having to extend opening hours into the night.  The effect would be a delay in declaring results in key states.  With all the major polls putting Obama well ahead, political analysts from right to left said they expected him to easily reach the 270 of 538 electoral votes needed to win the presidency and many predicted a landslide.”

 

The Scottish Daily Mirror – “Believe…We can change the world” Obama’s Rally Cry

“Surveys have put Obama on course to become America’s first black president.  But polls are tightening in battleground states of Florida, Indiana, Missouri, North Carolina, Nevada and Ohio and the contest was last night far from over.”  Then they have a map of the USA with the States all colored to show which way they are leaning.

 

The Independent – “America Votes – – Democratic and Republican candidates traverse US in final dash for presidential votes”

“… at least one million people are expected to converge on Grant Park in downtown Chicago tonight, hoping to witness Mr Obama taking the stage in the day’s dwindling hours to declare victory and to celebrate becoming the first African American to capture the land’s highest office.  While the polls continued to give the fuller wind to the Democrat, his Republican opponent stayed scrapping to the end…”

 

The Times – “America Decides – – After two years and a billion dollars, a tumultuous campaign comes down to the voting”

“New voters have propelled the expected turnout to a record high of 130 million, with 30 million already having cast their ballots.  Democrats appeared to have benefited the most, with a surge of enthusiasm by young and black voters.  Although some polls have tightened in the final days, Mr Obama – who has led in more than 250 national surveys conducted since September 25th – said he was ‘cautiously optimistic’.” “Mr Obama has already begun to look beyond today’s election towards the transition…he is bracing himself for one of the worst inheritances – including two unfinished wars and an economic crisis – of any modern president.”

 

The Daily Telegraph – “Fighting to the last in race for the White House”

“The race for the White House entered its final hours last nit with a start contrast in the moods of the two candidates.  John McCain criss-crossed the country with a frenetic tour of swing states while Barack Obama tried to maintain a more relaxed approach.  The polls gave the Democratic nominee a comfortable lead and he appeared calm and confident as he called o voters to seize ‘this defining moment in history’.”

 

The Herald has a two-page spread on the Election as well, but I haven’t had a chance to read it yet.  Their colorful map is similar to the one in the Scottish Daily Mirror with the same states red and blue.

 

It is all very exciting here, but not very tense as the UK is predicting a landslide in Obama’s favor.  The coverage on the BBC begins at 11:20 tonight and various international news channels are covering the results throughout the night.  Most of the newspapers have a schedule of when the results come in for the key states.

 

Me?  I plan on staying up most of the night because this may be the most exciting Presidential race of my lifetime and I’d rather not sleep through it.  I may be a bit sleepy tomorrow, but I have a feeling it will be worth it. 

 

Although, with some newspapers suggesting that a reliable result won’t come through until at least the end of the week, I’m not really sure if I should bother.

 

Vote.

 

Vote for Change. 

 

Vote Obama.

 

xo

A

 

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