After the Oval Space gig , I got approached by The Commission Webzine - The online arts and culture journal - who were there to interview Max Cooper. They asked me for an exclusive mix and an interview, to which I obliged. It's taken a while to sort it all out and I've been very good at keeping it under wraps but today's the day I get to share it all with you The interview is here
Sorry for the lateness of the update - I've been very busy! Here's just one of the things I've been up to:
L'Autre Pied, Blandford Street, Marylebone, London.
Miko and I went off to L'Autre Pied for Lunch to celebrate her birthday and our 13th Wedding Anniversary.
We arrived at 1pm and after perusing the menu we plumped for the "tasting menu" which was a 7 course affair, at £55 per head. Miko asked for a vegetarian version.
After a delightfully light "amuse bouche", the first course arrived
Jerusalem Artichoke Velouté, Wild Mushrooms, Hazelnut Oil
What a way to start a meal! The jerusalem soup initially tasted far too salty but once we'd picked up the courage to dig deeper in to the plate, a fantastic layer of pasta and some beautiful beans (not too sure what type) underneath balanced the salty flavour and heaven was had in the mouth. A stunning and remarkable starter.
Line Caught Cornish Mackerel, Organic Ginger Carrots, Shaved Fennel Salad, Coriander Cress
An awesome dish. Though I'm no fan of fennel, it perfectly complimented the mackerel and carrot.
Pan Fried Cod, Roscoff Onions, Ragout of Sweetcorn, Chanterelle Mushrooms, Lightly Smoked Sabayon
A beautifully cooked piece of cod which was supported and complimented with the corn and enriched with the very lightly smoked sabayon. noms.
Roasted Breast of Gressingham Duck, Shallot Fondant, Fondant Potatoes, Roasted Fig, Pistachio Jus
This was a weird balance; my pallatte was confused by the duck, the fig and the pistaccio being on the same plate together. It wasn't bad, just confusing. My wife had a pumpkin taggiatelli that was outstanding. I note that on the menu now, the fig has gone and is replaced with a pear which might make all the difference.
Cheese course (unphotographed) we were presented with a selection of 6 or 7 cheeses including a goats cheese, some hard smooth english cheese, a stilton style and a couple of french camenbert style cheeses, we chose three of them but none really amazed us.
Vanilla Panacotta, Raspberry Purée and Pear
Ok. A slight mishap here as I'd finished the dessert before photographing it, but the photo does speak for itself. This was delicious. Smooth and slightly sweet with the sharpness of the raspberries cutting through the panacotta and then smoothed and sweetened by the pear. Absolute genius.
Caramel Parfait, Chocolate Streusel, Black Treacle Ice Cream
This is the second and last desert. Though we both enjoyed it, my wife and I disagreed on this course - she found the parfait too cold and I didn't. We both loved the treacle ice cream, though. However, the panacotta was the star of the desserts.
Petit fours (not photographed) were freshly baked micro cookies served very warm on a warm slate. Utterly beautiful.
The whole meal took just under 3 hours to be served. The service was warming, welcoming, informed, funny, friendly and well timed. The total bill including a glass of wine, an apple juice spritzer and water for the two of us was just under £150 (service included) and was worth every penny.
So it's been almost a month since you got a new show and it was really great to get behind the decks once again, fuelled with all the new music that I've picked up from the festivals. So what have I been up to? Well let's start where I left off...
Driving back from the Big Chill I noted that the van's brakes were beginning to grind so I got it booked into a ATS Euromaster to get them serviced - they ascertained that it was the callipers that had seized but despite having the van for a few days, they couldn't get the parts to repair it, so we decided to take it to Green Man and see if we could get it fixed between Green Man and Festinho. Most of the journey to Green Man is motorway so I doubted that it would be that problematic, though coming off the M4 towards Abergavenny/Y Fenni it became apparent that the brakes were getting worse and worse...
Still, we arrived on site at 9:30pm, which was a bit annoying as I was supposed to play records on the Radio at 9pm, but we set up in the pouring rain and bedded down for the start of Green Man.
Green Man is rapidly becoming the best source of new (albeit beardy) music for me. Twice I've looked at the line up and wrinkled my nose at it as nothing seems too familiar, but after some excellent dissection of the program (mostly by Miko, she's organised enough to read it) we came away with a plethora of many new artists - more than I've got from festivals before. On the Americana/folk tip I've learnt about Mountain Man, Mega Faun, The Tallest Man Alive and First Aid Kit, in the psyche rock genre I discovered The Besnard Lakes and on the electronic oeuvre I've picked up on Gold Panda and Bear in Heaven. I spent £80 in the Rough Trade pop up shop just getting cds of artists that I heard at the festival. :) I LOVE THIS! MORE NEW MUSIC PLZ!!! The weather was variable between pleasant British dappled sunshine to torrential down pours, but nothing stops this festival and it's punters enjoying the weekend and the artists. Saturday Night we were all thoroughly entertained by The Flaming Lips who's live show is so impressive (even more so in a field in Wales) - i wouldn't call myself a fan following it, but I would go and see them again, they really are a truly awesome live act. I did a bit of compering on Saturday afternoon on the Main Stage and I loved it. Again: MORE OF THIS, PLEASE!!
Monday rolled around and after an extended morning radio show on GM Radio (3 and a half hours, instead of 2) we packed up, arranged for the van to be seen a LDV specialist that afternoon in Frome (pronounced "Froom") which was sort of on the way between Wales and Weymouth, our destination. The journey was fraught. The brakes were getting worse and worse. We eventually got to the LDV depot and they immediately took the van on to the rack to check out the brakes. The news wasn't good. On both sides of the front axle the callipers were seized, the pads worn down to bare metal and the discs scorched and scratched like an old 78 (and probably just as fragile). The service manager ordered the parts, guaranteeing their delivery the next day at 9am and they rearranged their work schedule to fit us in as a priority job, to get us back on the road to enjoy the rest of our holiday.
In the meantime we needed to find somewhere else to stay - the LDV guys offered their car park, but I had spied a rather plush looking spa hotel between Bath and Frome on the drive down so I convinced Miko that this was the sensible option as the Travel Lodges and the like would be all booked up with company reps (and after ringing around, they were) and luckily for us the Spa Hotel had a room (£159 for two of us including breakfast and access to the spa) so we booked ourselves into the Homewood Park Hotel. We asked the LDV staff for a cab number, but they didn't seem to like that idea so one of their staff gave us a lift to the hotel instead. How nice is that?? :)
We weren't really packed for staying in such a posh palace, but after a bath and wrapping ourselves up in lush dressing gowns, swim suits and slippers we extensively hydrated ourselves in the jacuzzi (oh sorry "hydrotherapy pool") and in the heated swimming pool, and in the sauna, and in the steam room. All of these were included in the cost of the room. Awesome stuff. In the evening we decided to stay in and order room service however the quality of the food that was delivered to our very comfortable room was good good it surpassed what you'd expect from room service - placing most hotel restaurants to shame. One thing I did notice was that I still had the keys to the van, so I was all prepared to take a cab to take the keys back to the LDV place and sit in their rather sparse waiting room while they worked on the van.
In the morning, we rang the depot and told them about the keys, and they sent a parts van up to the hotel to pick them up, saving me another taxi journey. In the meantime we checked out and asked the reception to look after out luggage while we swanned about the very stately homely reception rooms waiting for the work to finish. At about midday we got a call with some bad news - one of the calliper bolts had seized and they would need to order another, but that meant we'd need to stay another night in the hotel. Oh Dear! What a calamity. :) So we booked ourselves back in to the luxury we were rapidly becoming accustomed to, this time booking ourselves into the restaurant for dinner.
Aaaanyway to cut a long story short (and yes I could go on and on about this, but I realise it's only Tuesday and we've still got two more festivals to cover!) we picked up the van on Wednesday morning, paid the bill (that was less than quoted) and set off on the road again. We'd cancelled the Weymouth Caravan park as one night wasn't really enough to justify the trip and booked ourselves in to a caravan park just outside of Woodstock in the lovely and familiar county of Oxfordshire.
We set up at Bladon Chains (pouring rain) and I set about grabbing my laptop so I could work on the video for the two Echaskech gigs at the weekend... only to find that I'd left the power supply at green man. I wasn't too happy. In fact I was in tears. The pressure of the van repair, the amount of money we'd just spent in two days (well over £1000 - the holiday was only supposed to cost us £60!) , the state of my very red bank balance were all weighing down on me, the dreadful weather and the cramped state of the van (i can't stand up in it - it's very frustrating) and to be let down by my own stupidity (even when I'd made a concerted effort to remember it, only not to) broke me and I wasn't a happy chappy. I wasn't in the best state.
Thursday was a new day with sunshine (mostly) so we packed up and drove to Milton Keynes to visit the Apple Store to pick up a new power supply (I'd tracked my old one down - it was experiencing a week in Edinburgh) and a new leisure battery from Halfords for the van as that had died on us, too. Then onto Festinho! I was already trying to ingratiate myself to somewhere (ANYWHERE!!) that could offer me a power socket so I could work on the set for Festinho but it wasn't going down to well - things were quite fraught with the production team - an appalling lack of volunteers and stewards had really piled on the pressure so the last thing they needed was little ol' me wanting to get in the way of it all. But with a huge amount of thanks to Simon, a corner of the desk was found on Friday afternoon and I set about preparing video for the evening's performance. Which went rather well. :)
Festinho is awesome - I could wax lyrical about how incredibly special, initimate, friendly, well organised, loving (and a million other superlatives) Festinho is, but seriously the only way is to experience it first hand. It's hard to find a more warm, smiling group of both punters and staff. Here's miko's photos of the weekend if you need some encouragement. :) I haven't felt this way about a festival experience since going to The Big Chill's Enchanted Garden Festivals. Yes, it's that magical. :)
Saturday afternoon I met up with Dom and Andy and we packed Dom's dad's car and drove to Silloth in Cumbria where Solfest was - we got there at about 8:30pm and bimbled about, catching a bit of The Wailers and Eat Static. I slept for about an hour and then we got about playing our set in the fantastic Dogs In Space tent, finishing at about 5am - Huge thanks to Michael Dog (yes, he of Planet Dog and MegaDog Fame) at which point we packed the car back up and drove immediately back to Festinho. We really didn't want to miss anymore of it, because Festinho was all full of friends and love and fun and good times and in agreeing to do this Solfest gig we were missing the best part of it - Saturday night! We got back at 10:30am, and I got into the swing of things and had a wonderful Sunday, managing to stay awake until the end of AGT Rave crew awesome set and then slept for 11hours. :) Home on Monday, back at work on Wednesday.
that's about it - (amazingly) there's quite a lot of detail I've left out, but you'd never know. ;)
Anyway I hope you like this weeks offering, here's the
Verulf - United in Two Variations
Origamibiro - Quad Time/Bloodpulse of the Hungry Fingertip
Beak - He Descended into his Memory
First Aid Kit - Ghost Town
Sam Amidon - Way Go Lilly
Moon in the Gutter - Jack Rose
Gillian Welch - Everything is Free
Sarah Jaffe - Even Born Again
Quadron - Far Cry
Bonobo (ft Andreya Triana) - Eyes Down
The XX - Night Time
The Arcade Fire - Modern Man
The Besnard Lakes - Chicago Train
Lost Idol - Wish I was there
School of Seven Bells - Dust Devil
Yoshinori Sunahara - The First Step
Lusine - Auto Pilot
Echaskech - Shatterproof
Portishead - Roads (Max Cooper rmx)
Future Sound of London - Max
So Festival number 2 is now done (in a series of 6) and what a weekend it was! This one was The Secret Garden Party in Cambridgeshire and I could not believe the transformation. I last went to SGP about 6 years ago when it was a rather rough, simple affair with 3 entertainment areas, about (rather posh) 1200 punters and an awful lot of rubbish - not my ideal weekend, it had to be said. Over the last few years friends have been increasingly speaking highly of the event, much to my skepticism so, riding on the coat tails of Echaskech (another day time gig so I happily took the role of roadie for the weekend again) I went with low expectations. At least this way, I figured I wouldn't be disappointed. Though to be honest, I would have had some pretty princessy expectations to come away from this feeling let down. The site has expanded to accomodate at least ten times the audience I'd seen previously, and comfortably at that, The weather turned out in spectacular fashion, as did the beautiful festival people who attended the weekend. The site crams in so much entertainment, blending stalls and stages next to each other interwoven with many pieces of site specific art. It's so difficult to describe the vibe of the place, but if you took Bestival and dragged it through the Green fields of Glastonbury you'd get close to what it's like there. A lot of organically grown fun. The musical line up might not jump off the page on first glance, but with so much going on round the site at any one time, it was pretty easy to find something of interest. Anyway, it comes highly recommended. Big thanks to CJ, Toby, Dave and Dave, Erin, Penny, Chris, Chris, Ginny, Sarah, Vera, Saul, Alex, Liz, Chloe, Jools, Roger, Rupert, Nick, Hugo (hope I got everyone) for helping make the weekend very special and special thanks to Dom and Andy for being the best techtronica band on the planet and playing an absolute blinder on Sunday. :) Anyway - as mentioned on the show below - it's Big Chill next weekend so, no show next week, but in the meantime here's this week's...
Stornoway - Watching Birds
Radiohead - 15 Step
Animal Collective - No More Running
Underdog (save me) - Turin Brakes
Beak - How a Hot Air Ballon Works
Tunng - it's because... we've got hair
The Long Lost - Amiss (Tunng rmx)
Shugo Tokumaru - Mushina
Cornelius - Watadori
The XX - Islands
LCD Soundsystem - One Touch
Hot Chip - Hand Me Down Your Love
Datassette - Humans
Jonsi - Animal Arithmatic
Dntel - In which our hero is decapitated by the evil king
Datassette - The Aviatrix
Sarah Jaffe - Under
The Village Orchestra - Love Theme from "Two Man Rumble"
Freescha - The Sun Is Still... Still
The Field - I have the moon... you have the internet
Well we're home now and still struggling with the change in time zones, but I did promise you one last blog post to try and sum up the whole trip, but first let me try and sum up San Francisco.
I really liked it. It's got Big Town infrastructure and Small Town attitude. It's quirky and odd but also feels like some forgotten area of Manhattan where everything went right. With such little time to take a city in I didn't get to do all the touristy things I would've like to do: we didn't get to see Golden Gate Bridge or see the sea lions on the fisherman's wharf or visit the "painted ladies", though we did ride a trolly (and it went "clang clang") so it wasn't a total loss. I did manage to buy new trainers, jeans and socks and I'm very glad about that. Miko and I spent our last full day mostly walking around the city; partly as a method of exploration and partly on trying to find a trainer store that we'd lost the map to earlier, and in doing that you end up walking to places and finding things that you shouldn't (like the "heart of the city farmers' market' just off Market Street) and it also gives you a general "vibe" of a place that maybe you wouldn't get from an open topped bus, travelling from designated stop to designated stop. We did manage to catch a tiny bit of DF Tram's set at the Minna Street Gallery, but we had to rush back to our hotel complete our online check in so unfortunately our time with Dylan was quite short. Dinner was once again at Max's and, again, was very good indeed.
As our flight wasn't until 6:50pm we had some time to kill the next day so we started off at The Honey Honey Cafe and Creperie on the corner of Taylor and Polk for a mighty fine breakfast. We'd intended to go to the famous Dotties (on Dylan's recommendation) but after reading nightmare stories about long queues we decided to try the above instead as breakfast is not a meal you want to mess around with. I have to say I'm very glad we did - The Crepe House (as it seems to be in the process of rebranding) serves a great selection of breakfast fares: Miko plumped for her final pancakes of the trip with home fries and scrambled eggs and I went adventurous and opted for a crab benedict (a new brekkie option on me) and home fries. The food was lovely; slightly rustic in appearance and homely. I'm not too sure whether I'd chose the crab benedict again, but it wasn't unpleasant, quite the opposite in fact, but it was a bit odd however I'm still glad I ordered it. The home fries were delicious: fluffy, crisp and tinged with sage. Both our stomachs were happy.
Afterwards we decided to take in some culture and wandered down to SFMoma to see the Richard Avedon exhibition. The SFMoma is a great gallery and worth the visit. The standing collection is well presented and the gallery itself is quite a joy to walk round. We managed to cover about 2 floors of the 5 that were available and the Richard Avedon exhibit (which in itself was worth a visit) and that took us about 2 and a half hours. I could've easily come back and spend more time here.
After that we walked back to the hotel and waited for our shared taxi to the airport. And that was it. Holiday over. :)
So what can I say in summary? It's difficult to sum it up when you're still quite close to the event. What I would say is that we both feel relaxed after it and that's a remarkable feat. On the whole, everything went ok - we stuck to our rough schedule and (more or less) saw everything we wanted to see. We've both come back with tonnes of photos and video to sift through. Having two days at the end of the trip in San Fran (in a lovely hotel to boot) was a God send and allowed us to declimatise back into civilisation. If we were to do it again (not that we would) I don't think we'd start in Dallas, as that put a huge amount of miles on our journey, just to get going. I doubt I'd return to Las Vegas, without $3000 and a box of cigars to burn (and I wouldn't hestitate to stay at the fantastic Desert Rose Resort again, either). We would spend a lot more time just in Utah, which has a tremendous lot of incredibly awe inspiring nature to offer the senses. I could quite happily spend 3 weeks in Zion. I could easily spend a large portion of my life in San Francisco, too.
It does look like the holiday was a lot more expensive than we budgeted for - especially with the increase in petrol/gas prices that the USA is undergoing (cheapest fuel we saw was in Oklahoma at $2.16 a gallon, most expensive was $4.04 p.g. on the road to Yosemite) and us miscalculating the mpg of the vehicle. However, as a once in a lifetime journey, I can only recommend it. I'm really glad we've done it. :)
So I find myself awake once again at 5:30am, tappity tapping into my beloved mac book pro on the penultimate day of our trip. Yesterday we got up, packed everything, gave the RV one final paranoid clean and drove it to the El Monte depot in Dublin, California. It was sad to see "Minnie" go, into the parking lot of large, white box like vehicles but part we must (as the late fees were astronomical). The staff at the Dublin depot were surprisingly teutonic, but after reading the blow-up newspaper article on their show room wall, you can understand why. Back in the late 80s and 90s, sales of RVs were dwindling in the States, but the market was kept buoyant by the rentals and specifically El Monte (whom, in this article, had been singled out for praise by Winnebago, the name synomynous with US Motorhomes) who had concentrated on securing deals with European Travel agents to promote their services on the older side of the pond. And it looks like that decision is still reaping rewards. Our fellow "returnees" were all European: mostly German, one Dutch couple and us. The staff who checked our vehicles back in were also German, I also noted that the paperwork could be supplied in different languages if required by renters.
On the whole, our experience of renting an RV in the States has been a good one and I wouldn't hesitate in recommending El Monte to anyone. Given the opportunity to bore you with caveats, I would point out that needlessly noting any damage at all at the point of pick-up is always worth while (not that this was an issue at the return, but it's still good advice).
Anyway, the driving portion of our trip is over - a total mileage of 3,203 miles covered in just under three weeks - a quite impressive feat from someone who's home country is only 837 miles; that's just under driving from Lands End to John O' Groats (do I need to state that I do get that these landmarks are neither the most northern nor the most southern points on the UK Mainland? No? Good) and back again twice. I'm not to sure why you'd want to do that, but still.
We were rapidly chauffeured into San Francisco by another European El Monte employee, this time from Bulgaria, into our final destination - San Francisco. We're staying at the Hotel Adagio on Geary Street in Downtown SF. The room is pretty spacious, clean and beautifully decorated. The staff have been friendly and helpful and from our 12 floor vantage point we can pretty nice views of the city. A great choice of last port of call for us.
For lunch, we walked a couple of blocks to Max's, which can be described as a posh diner, if you will. I ordered the cheeseburger and Miko had a chicken steak sandwich and both were delicious and ample in size. Service was on the slow side but very friendly and, to be honest, we weren't in any rush. It was nice to see San Francisco's Bomb Squad also having a late lunch in there - after all, if they've got time to eat then the city is not in any immediate danger. Key lime pie was ordered to go and we slowly walked back up the hill to have an afternoon nap on our huge king sized bed. Lunch with tip was $55.
For dinner we opted to try somewhere Chinatown but we were late (by US standards) - 9pm - for dinner and by the time we'd taken the trolly, Chinatown was mostly closed, however, the restaurant we'd chosen - Chef Jia's - was just still open (they were sweeping up, but beckoned us in). Chef Jia's is a no frills restaurant: it's overly lit, has utilitarian serving dishes and cheap plates, offers no decor or delight at all in it's surroundings apart from a wall of reviews and accolades, praising its food. We ordered 5 spice duck (me), sesame chicken (miko), vegetable fried rice and broccoli in garlic sauce, accompanied with chinese tea. The food was tasty, fresh (ample, of course) and simple affair and initially the meat courses came across as slightly over seasoned, but as we chowed down we forgave and forgot this. The service was brisk and informative. The star of the choices was the broccoli, which was crisp and very flavoursome. I polished off the very fatty half duck that was coarsely cut up into bony chunks (and that's probably why I'm awake now) but our tummies were happy with the cuisine. A great find. Dinner was $50 (tip incl).
Today should see us do a bit of shopping (we also popped into Macy's for an extra bag for the flight home - now to fill it!) as I need new trainers, T shirts and socks and I hope we can catch DF Tram DJing at the Minna Street Gallery tonight. Then it's a leisurely day tomorrow before catching the BA flight to Heathrow at 18:50.
Before we headed off to Sequoia we popped into Visalia to cash some travellers cheques. One thing I haven't mentioned yet is the problems we've experienced paying for fuel over here with our Visa cards. America now is all about paying in advance for ones fuel and more often than not it's asked for your PIN number and every time it has, it's been declined. If I try to use a Credit Card it asked for my ZIP code and that's not going to work either. Therefore, getting access to cash dollars has been pretty important to us. If you're contemplating a similar trip, bear that in mind.
After we had got dollar'd up Miko spotted a small independent Mexican food place near the parking lot called "El Mejor" and as lunch was looming we popped over to grab some grub.
This was my lunch. One wet burrito filled with barbequed beef, some hot sauce and a lovely sharp lemon/lime soda. Miko had a chicken enchilada with strawberry soda, but once again we didn't finish our meals and the remainder went on to make up a large part of our dinner that night. Now we were full of very tasty mexican food we set off for Sequoia.
The road from Visalia to Sequoia is possibly one of the windiest and rapidly climbing roads I've ever driven on and tackling it in a heavy 12ft high, 25ft long RV wasn't the best way to experience it but onwards we went. A combination of mexican food, altitude and rapid turns didn't go too well down with Miko who was soon reaching for the motion sickness pills. Once we reached the top and gathered our breathe we took a short stroll round "The Big Trees walk" which was only about half a mile in length, but as we've learnt: we travel very, very slowly.
As big trees are, by their nature, really big, I've included a couple of people in this picture to give them a sense of scale. All you have to do is find them. ;)
We left Sequoia and drove back down the narrow, windy and steep road on to Midpines KOA (sadly this was the exception in our rule that all KOAs are staffed by helpful and friendly people! We won't be rushing back here) where we'd booked for two nights, giving us ample time to check out our final big natural wonder - Yosemite national park.
After a nights rest the weather turned on us and temperatures dropped about 20 farenheit. We had planned on taking the shuttle bus from the campsite up to the park but as it only ran every couple of hours and took an hour and a half to get there we drove up ourselves. It was another ascent up windy mountainous roads, but nothing compared to yesterdays drive. After eating our lunch we took a short mile and a half long walk around the meadow in the centre of the park (that's a three hour excursion for us), which should have offered us clear views of these towering majestic granite outcrops that this park is famous for, and it would've done, if it wasn't for the cloud cover that erased them from our view.
That's the famous Half Dome of Yosemite on the left. Yes, just behind all those lovely obscuring clouds. ;) It didn't stop us taking pictures as clouds help define scenes when photographing or filming them - an empty blue sky is the dullest sky of all. We also saw woodpeckers and dear in the glade that's at the bottom of the picture (something you'll see a lot more of when we've both edited our real pictures and video).
And after that, we left. Our last national park on "The Great South Western Road Trip". We stayed over night at Midpines and today drove to Stockton Delta KOA, where I'm now writing this blog post. The end of the road - 3, 137 miles from our starting point at McKinney, Dallas, Texas. Tomorrow, we'll return the RV and head into San Francisco for the last two nights of our trip. I'll probably write a blog from there and one when we get back to the UK, in way of summary, but I would like to say thanks to everyone whos commented on the postings to let me know you're reading them and to let me know how much you've enjoyed the updates.
It's one thing to write, it's a better thing to be read. :D
There's not a lot I can say about Las Vegas that you don't already know, except all I can add is it's all true. We pootled around the strip during the day, visiting the various casinos, more for the architecture than anything else - for example: within one stretch you can climb to the top of The Eiffel Tower, see the Empire State building & take a goldalier trip round Venice. At dusk we ventured north to the old strip on Fremont Street (home to the original casinos like "The Golden Nugget" and "The Four Queens") to witness The Fremont Street Experience which was pretty spectacular and goes to show what lengths the casino owners will go to just to get you in the area, let alone into a casino and actually gambling. I could go on, but to be honest the day was exhausting and left us both a little cold - we came to see Las Vegas and that's what we did, but in doing that we became removed from the experience and that was our problem. Unless you are willing to throw yourself into what Vegas can offer you - which is (as you know) 24 hour party time with gambling, show girls, glitz, glamour, salaciousness, music, booze, big cigars (this is the first time for a while I've seen smoking indoors - that was a bit weird) and much,mcuch more, then you're just going to end up wondering why the hell you are there. To it's credit It's one hell of a party town and long may it continue... just let it continue without me, please. ;)
This morning we checked out of the Desert Rose Resort (which was lovely, by the way; despite being next to the world's biggest Hooters and the Airport, our apartment was quiet, spacious, clean and very reasonably priced) and got on the road again. 400 miles later (via a very short stop over into the Mohave Desert National Park) sees us in Visalia, which is a small town near Fresno and only 60 miles outside our next stop: Sequoia National Park home to the giant "Redwood" trees.
After the two early mornings at Monument Valley and Grand Canyon, we took it nice and easy yesterday morning in the Cannonvile KOA site and did homely stuff like cleaning (our clothes and ourselves) and recharging batteries (our cameras and ourselves) and intended on catching the setting sun in the Kodachrome Basin which was 9 miles down the road from our campsite (a small note about KOA so far our experience of them is truly wonderful, they have all been clean, well maintained and staffed with really friendly, helpful people) however after picking up on a severe weather warning we changed our plans and decided to drive to Bryce Canyon instead.
(clicking on the piccie will take you through to the flickr page - sorry I didn't do this earlier for you, dear reader)
Bryce is stunning. The "hoodoos" that proliferate the park make Bryce a unique visiting spot. Remeniscent of gothic spires, it's easy to compare it's skylines to a manic organic version of the universities of Oxford, except it fills the horizon and then some.
We ate at the local restaurant Clark's in the small town of Tropic. The food was pretty good, service was friendly and, once again the portions were immense. Miko ordered (thinking that we were back in England) a 1/2 BBQ chicken, which the left overs have been steadily feeding us for the last couple of days - in fact there's still some left. I had a "New York steak" which was the smallest steak on the menu weighing in at 10oz and it came as rare as I requested it; can't complain about that. ;) They also have a selection of home made pies for dessert, that we took to go - along with the mutant chicken left overs that must've weighed in at about 3lbs.
After the non arrival of the storm (it sure was windy though), the next morning we visited the Kodachrome basin State Park which got it's name from the early visitors who were stuck by it's beauty and colour that they called it Kodachrome. When it became a state park with that name Kodak initially baulked at the idea and it was renamed to Chimney Rock State Park but after someone in Kodak's Marketing dept realised that this was free and positive advertising, they relented and granted permisson for the trade mark to be used. Sure is pretty and it's worth every cent of the $6 entrance fee. However our next stop would make us re-evaluate all superlatives we'd used so far.
Does this image help?
How about this?
They're all of Zion, but none of them can sum up the magnificent beauty of this place. It redefines the word "Awesome". Miko described it as "The most beautiful place she'd ever seen". We did four of the shorter suggested trails around the park (there are several trails in various levels of difficulty and length) and each one of them was completely rewarding - a simple 1 mile walk between two of the sites took us a good 2 hours to traverse, not because of the roughness of the terrain, but becausse we kept stopping to try and capture scene after vista after picture opportunity. I can only urge everyone to go to this incredibly stunning and awe inspiring place.
We're now resting up in the rather plush Desert Rose Resort in Las Vegas, Nevada (the fifth state and third time zone) as a little piece of luxury and respite before we take on our final leg of California and the Forests of Sequoia and Yosemite before finishing our trip in San Francisco. Tomorrow will be a driving day (400 miles) but today will be trying to make sense of one of the weirdest cities in America.
Ok, it's only been a few days since I last wrote but a lot has happened since then.
We left the charming Cottonwood Campground at about 10am and ascended up to the South Rim of Canyon de Chelly (pronounced "tSay") and started our tour of the various overlooks that let you look down into this magnificent canyon. Sadly our timing could've been better as the sunlight was mostly overhead making both our camera and video footage a tad flat, but the experience of looking into some America prehistory was worth every second. This canyon features ruins from the Ancient Pueblo People who lived in this Canyon over 3000 years ago and who manufactured impressive cliff carved dwellings as villages, often housing communities of 100 - 200 people. The valley floor is still occupied and farmed today by the Navaho, who own this land and hold the ruins and many of the rocks as sacred; therefore access to the canyon floor is heavily restricted unless accompanied by a guide.
It took us a good 5 to 6 hours to tour the south rim, so we set off for our next port of call at about 4pm, heading north, into our fifth state, Utah and into to Monument Valley.
We'd booked into Gouldings RV Campground the night before but upon our arrival, our booking hadn't made it through their system and there was no room for us when we turned up. All they could offer us was a dry site (no hookup), by the side of the road for a rather rich $27. However, after driving 170 miles and it being 7.30pm we weren't in a position to argue so begrudingly we paid our fee. The Gouldings complex is a sightin itself. Originally a trading post it now has it's own hotel, lodge, grocery store, gas station, medical centre, museum and campground as well as many other amenities. However, our lack of booking had put a dampeners on the whole Monument Valley experience and the general vibe of the place seemed all about wanting to get cash into Gouldings coffers at any cost so we decided to give the actual Monument Valley park a miss and drive on... but not until we'd got something out of the experience in return. So, at 5.55am (a small and odd note about time - Arizona doesn't observe Daylight Savings Time, but the Navaho Nation Indian Reservation within Arizona does) we got up and drove down the road to capture the sunrise on one of Nature's great achievements.
And it was well worth it. :D Have a look at the above images on my flickr page, and these are just the pictures from our little fuji camera.
After the sun had done it's glorious wonderment we set off in search of breakfast in the nearby town of Kayenta but all we could find open at this time was a Burger King, however this was no ordinary BK. This BK was (quite oddly) home to the Navaho code talkers exhibit. Breakfast was weird.
After a bit of shopping and cashing of travellers cheques (and securing our next campsite over the phone, rather than the internet) we set off down Highway 160, through Tuba City (it lacked Tubas) then north on Highway 89, past the beautiful Echo Cliffs and across the gorgeous Marble Canyon, up the impressive and aptly named Vermillion Cliffs up to Jacobs Lake, ready for our next Canyon: The Grand Canyon.
After such an impressive morning of both filming and photography we again decided to get up early and catch the sun rise, so at 4.45 am we got up and drove the 45 miles to the North Rim.
Once again, getting up early paid dividends. I was in two minds about seeing the Grand Canyon - after all we're seeing a number of canyons and, yes this is the biggest and most famous, but it's also the most viewed. However we opted for the less popular north rim just to try and see something more unique and to have a more personal experience. To put this into context, the south rim (which offers far better, wider and more colourful views) gets 5million visitors a year - it has it's own Imax cinema for chrissakes - while the north gets a more leisurely half a million. The drive to the north rim also is (once again) stunning - something we'd appreciate later - after a congratulatory and rewarding breakfast at The Grand Canyon Lodge.
We both ordered the same thing - buttermilk pancakes, two eggs (scrambled) and a side of hash browns and our jaws dropped when this arrived
That's 3 19 cm in diameter buttermilk pancakes in a stack about 5 cm high, so that's 1418 cubic cm of very delicious and fluffy pancake. Most of that jar of syrup disappeared into the stack, too. Please note the garnish of a wedge of strawberry and a slice of orange, making it a "healthy" breakfast and contributing to my 5 a day. ;) Though (those who care for our well being will be reassured to read) it did defeat us and we left half of the pancake mountain on the plate. Breakfast came to a costly but worth it $34 (including tip).
We got back on the road and drove back through the Kaibab Plateau, now lit for us to see the glittering, golden leaves of the autumnal silver birch set against the deep greens of fir trees and then a real rare treat:
a small herd of Bison, grazing and wallowing beside the roadside. After a few tentative snaps we got back on the road, heading north up Highway 89, into Utah. We did stop off at the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park but it was a bit dissappointing so I had a nap, then on up passed Dixie National Forest, Red Canyon, onto Highway 12 and we're now in Cannonville for two days to check out the plethora of state parks here.
We left Santa Fe yesterday morning and headed south on I-25. On through Albuquerque (no signs of hot dogs, nor jumping frogs, though) and down to Socorro, only breifly stopping at the horrifying shopping experience that is Wall-Mart for supplies, subways and petro... oh sorry, I mean gas. At Socorro we took Highway 60 west towards our geeky goal - the Very Large Array. We'd noted on the map that on our route, next to small town called Magdelena, there was a Ghost Town and, picturing abandoned wooden frontier buildings we headed off the trail to find it. Sadly we were disappointed to find reinforced concrete foundations and brick walls so we soon left and carried on, heading west.
What can you say about the VLA apart from awesome. These huge radio dishes arranged in a Y formation on a vast empty plateau, all pointing at something interesting (or not) in remote space. If you're in the area I can only recommend it highly - there's a lovely little visitor centre and an unsupervised walking tour that gets you up nice and close to one of the dishes. We stayed a couple of hours and could've stayed longer, but now time wasn't our friend as our planned overnight stay - Lyman Lake State Park was still 90 miles away and the sun was beginning to get low in the sky and driving west into a setting sun on straight roads isn't ideal. We did drive through Cibola National Forest which was beautiful - the lime green grasses, covered in pom pom bushes and perfect fir trees made the whole thing look like a hornby model set - and some delighful tiny towns (including Pie Town!) that had seen better days. As the sun set on the incredibly straight Highway 60, we crossed into our forth state - Arizona.
We got to Lyman Lake after dark and found a RV spot and settled down for the night; another 370 odd miles covered and hopefully for a while our last long drive.
We (I say we, I mean I) awoke at 10:30 which was a blessing in itself. Lyman Lake was pretty and deserted. We had breakfast, took a stroll round a short hike to see some petroglyphs and got on the road at about lunchtime. We headed up to St. Johns, grabbed some subs and gas and took Highway 180 up to the Petrified Forest National Park.
The Petrified Forest is a geologists wet dream - a huge desert landscape surrounded by multicoloured strataficated rock formations (lending it's well deserved name The Painted Desert) who's ground is littered with thousands of fossilised trees. The landscape is epic and awe inspiring - this is the land of Koyaanisqatsi and it's vastness and scale is impossible to take in.
We're now in the (nicely free) Cottonwood campgrounds at the foot of the Canyon de Chelly national monument - tomorrow will see us take that in and then up to the home of the John Ford western - Monument Valley.
We're currently resting up in the Santa Fe KOA site after another 400+ mile day of driving. Along the way here, we stopped off at The Cadillac Ranch, so that's one thing ticked off the list. ;) It has to be said that New Mexico is stunning! The change in landscape from the flat, dusty lands of Oklahoma and North Texas, through the epic mesas into the greenrolling hills and mountains of the southern Rockies is a wonderful transformation to witness. We're now in America's Oldest State Capital, featuring the oldest house and church in the US. This afternoon will be spent pootling around the mexican influenced adobe buildings in the town.
Today was all about getting behind the wheel and driving. From Denton we took the I-35 up into Oklahoma (Oklahoma makes Norfolk look like the Alps) then, at Oklahoma City we took the I-40, back into Texas, all the way to Amarillo so that's about 470 miles done. We realised that we can't really hang around in Texas if we want to see all the things we want to see so we're going to save Texas for another holiday and get cracking on heading west. We learnt some things along the way but the most important thing is we've either grossly underestimated the mileage of our RV (it's doing about 7miles per gallon at the moment and we'd costed the trip on getting 15mpg) or we don't understand what the Overdrive button does. After a bit of googling it looks like we should actually have Overdrive on rather than off but we'll check it again tomorrow. It does feel good actually getting on the road and getting somewhere, though. I also learnt that I don't know how to pump gas. Tomorrow we're going to check out some photo ops and maybe Cadillac Ranch, then on to Santa Fe to meet up with one of Miko's old friends. Oh, because I'm using the "Side blog" tool in WordPress for this, I know the images are a bit small, but if you go through to my flickr page you'll see the full sized image there.