Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Just blew in from the windy city......

The windy city is mighty purrrdy, but its frigin freezin.....

Chicago has to be right up there as one of my favourite places so far. Its clean, classy, fun, eclectic, WINDY and beautiful.

So, ok, they dont call it the windy city for nothing but, HELLO......

Honestly though it was an awesome place. A bit strange, but in a good fun way. It has a series of rail lines called the "L", short for "elevated" criss crossing the city centre about two stories above your head. The trains all silver and shiny like a strange sifi metropolis movie from the 40s.  The streets are very clean and tidy with lovely fenced vegetation plots along the pavements playing music and narrating your journey as you pass historic venues. But its not ostentatious. The buildings are beautiful and well kept but nothing is in your face. You have to look hard to see the shops inside the buildings. There was no gaudy signage. It just let you explore at your own pace. And that was the kinda feeling you got from the whole place. Laid back. Relaxed. Sure there where loads of people on the streets doing their thing, but no one seemed to be rushing. Coffee houses had plenty of customers, and with a Starbucks on every other street corner (im not kidding) thats a lot of people not rushing...

One thing we had seen in the early stages of planning was a company that did Segway tours in different cities, and we decided Chicago would be a good place to do one.  We booked our tour for an afternoon starting at 2.  Dan, our instructor and tour guide was brill. very patient, lol.....

We watched our safety instruction video, collected our helmets and machines and walked them across the street to a convenient park for our basic lesson. Now i dont know if anyone has ever been on a Segway before but for me it was a little disorientating. The machine is all about balance but not how you think. It is designed to make it as hard as possible to fall off. What i mean is, if you lean forward you go forward but if you lean too far the machine will correct itself, and push back against you to stop you falling off.   Its hard to explain but its weird, fun, but weird.
Our tour took us all around the front part of the city, lake side parks, Megis field (the old airfield that was closed after 9/11) and past some of the wonderful old buildings housing Museums and Art Galleries. We zipped around at about 10mph for 3 hours. We saw so much. Plus, i didn't fall off... It was awesome.
We decided do go back the next day and do some more sightseeing, on foot this time and get a bit closer to the wonderful surroundings. We joined the coffee drinkers this time and watched the world go by.
We did find something to change the laid back tone though. An art installation by a british artist called Martin Creed. Basically it was a room half filled with red balloons. The idea was to make us aware of the one thing around us everyday we take for granted but never see...The Air...It was a really simple idea but it was so fun. Running blindly through a room filled, above my head, of red ballons. The child in me was most amused. In fact i think my incontinence featured in former thrilling blogs may have reared its ugly, moist head...Did i larrffff...!?

We had also decided to meet up with a friend of Adams who lives in Chicago. Greg and his family. We met up at a fundraising street fair where his daughter was working. Her boyfriends family run a pork produce business and are well know in the area. They had a food van at the fair selling slow roast pork sandwiches. I dont mean they took their time to serve you, i mean the pork was slow cooked...We had to try some, it would be rude not too....
We managed to meet up with them again for a sit down dinner this time. PIZZA.... well we where in Chicago...Its the law.....

Yup, thats a big shiny bean...

Look ma...its me not falling off...

Huge owls on top of the Chicago Library.

Slightly more than 99 red ballons...

Sprawling metropolis..or something like that...

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Close Encounters of the Plevin kind..

We had mash potato for tea the day before our visit to Devils Tower, in homage to one of, if not the best sifi movie ever made. If the location and the reference have eluded you as to which film i am referring then may i suggest you stop reading, turn off and unplug your computer and return to the dark depths of whichever vault you have been locked in for the last 35 years........

Close Encounters of the Third Kind, for me at least, encapsulates all that is sifi. Steven Spielbergs vision of our first extra terrestrial encounter and the lives of the people caught up in it was mind-blowing for me. Its images of Devils Tower portrayed in the movie, weather they be in mash potato, mud from Roy Nearys (Richard Dreyfuss character) garden or the mountain itself where forever imprinted on my mind. To visit it , well what can i say....i was so excited a little bit of pee krept out....

It is actually a very sacred place to the Native Americans that come from miles around to honour the legend of the mountain. Trees surrounding the rockface have prayers and cloths tied to them for just that reason. Its said that a great bear was accidentally conjured up by a young girl and her sister. It killed everyone in their village and chased the girls and their remaining brothers (who where off hunting) to a clearing. The Earth god tried to save them buy pushing the ground under their feet up high out of the reach of the beast. In his efforts to climb the huge barrier before him his claws shaped the unique rock face of the mountain.

The Visitors centre was really interesting and explained the geological reason for the strange rock formation. I preferred the Indian stories myself....

We got to the mountain just before lunch. It had been quit cloudy and overcast where we where staying  but we reckoned as the mountain was over an hour away it would be ok.
Well it was pretty bleek when we arrived, and bloody cold, but we where not to be put off. The walk around the base of the mountain was only about 1.5 miles and paved and we had extra layers with us so we set off in high spirits....ok, we set off with me grinning like a cheshire cat and squealing periodically...(thats where the peeing bit came in to it). sorry.

The view didn't disappoint though. The pics dont do it justice. Its completely understandable that the Native Americans find this an amazing place. The tower has a twist to its base, an example of the exertion of force used to push the great rock out of the ground. Words cant do it justice either. It may sound silly but i felt very honoured to have been in its presence.

 The weather held good till we reached the far side of the mountain and then it decided to show us just what it was made of....The clouds dropped, the wind blew and the rain started to fall... and if im honest it made it even better, even more exciting to be there. In fact im grinning again while i type. Can you not see my grin floating in mid air just in front of you... no face, just my huge grinning smile?

Visible from miles away (squeal)

Closer (bigger squeal)

Closer (Squeal and loss of bladder control)

Close (oh dear)

Crazy Horse

For those of you that dont know Crazy Horse was the war chief of the Lakota Indians, and lead them into battle at the Litte Big Horn. He refused to sign any treaties or live on a reservation for his whole life evading capture until the clan master Red Cloud insisted he turn himself in when he signed a peace treaty. Crazy Horse did as instructed and was detained in a local jail to await transportation to a reservation. However he was tragically killed whilst in jail by a guard who stabbed him in the back while he was apparently trying to escape.
Crazy Horse was a legendary worrier for all Native Americans, not just for his battle skills but for his believes and the moral justice he wanted for his people.

He said:-    "The white man made many promises, but kept only one. They promised to take our land"

In 1948 Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear asked sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski, who was in-fact busy helping carve Mount Rushmore just down the road, if he would create a sculpture for the Native American Cultural Museum. He graciously agreed to take on the mammoth task and single handedly started work on the Crazy Horse carving. After spending 34 years on the project, and refusing to take any salary for his services Korczak died age 74. He is buried at the foot of the Crazy Horse Memorial. His wife now manages the continuing work on the sculpture which is solely funded by donations and visitor fees.

So what does it look like? Well its a very ambitious dream. A wonderful idea designed by the sculptor and Lakota indians, but as they have refused any government funding, wanting it to stay as genuine as possible it seems a very distant dream. As work started 50 years ago, and they have only finished his head, the huge sculpture of a Lakota War Chief pointing into the distance from the back of his trusted steed seems very, very far away.

But he is an awesome sight. His huge features bursting out of the rock face, strong and assertive in his expression. Very realistic. Which is pretty cool considering there are no pictures of Crazy Horse himself. All the sculptor had to go on was word of mouth from the last 5 remaining Lakota warriors that road with him...

It dont look it, but thats a pretty big head...

A poster showing the scale of the carving.

A scale model of how he is supposed to look finished.

I would just like to add that we visited Crazy Horse under the instruction of our neighbours Buddy and Dianna, who insisted it was not to be missed. Cheers guys. We are so glad we went. xxx

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Wild Bill, Calamity Jane and Deadwood.

A fun place to visit with a pretty cool history too.
Deadwood, famous gold mining town in the Black hills of South Dakota and resting place of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane.
The town was virtually rebuilt after being devastated by a fire in 1879, the wooden buildings finally  replaced by stone as it was the third major fire. Most of the buildings have been lovingly preserved and the main street takes you back in time. (Our second time traveling experience as you may recall).

The only thing missing where the cowboys. but if you imagined hard enough you could almost see the hustle and bustle of a thriving mining town. Other than the shootings and nearly being run over by the stage coach i bet it would have been cool.....

The main reason we got to see Deadwood was from the recommendation of our lovely neighbours, Buddy and Dianna, who actually took us to breakfast yesterday. Cheers guys.

Mount Rushmore

Built as a fund raiser for the area and being named after a junior attorney is not the first couple of things that spring to mind when you think of Mount Rushmore, but they are just two of the fascinating facts we learned when we visited.
The area was in dire need of a boost and the locals decided a tourist attraction was needed. When the gold rush had died down the land was no longer of any value and the settlers there where finding it hard to make ends meet, a well known sculpter was asked if he would consider taking on the mammoth task. When the subjects where chosen for the sculpture by a child from a local school who submited his sugestion and the Us government found out they where to be huge likenesses of former presidents they gladly coughed up the $98 million it took to carve the huge piece.

The sculptor Gutzon Borglum and 400 men took 14 years to finish the faces and they aren't actually finished. Work only stopped when Gutzons health declined and when he went to hospital for minor surgery a freak complication resulted in his death. Although his son took over work on the sculpture he only did some minor touches, stating that his fathers work ethic was that a sculpture was forever a work in progress and would never really be "finished".

As for the attorney. Mr Charles E Rushmore.
Sent to the area to check land register papers, he asked a local what the rock formation to the north of his property was called, as all the ranges had names. "Never called it nothin, maybe from now on we should call it Rushmore!" was his reply...

For those that dont know the four presidents faces featured on Mount Rushmore are :-

George Washington, the first US President.
Thomas Jefferson, the man responsible for the first ice cream recipe.
Abraham Lincoln, well known Vampire killer,
and Davie Crocket......wait, no, sorry, Theodore Rooservelt, namesake of the Teddy Bear.
Well he looks like Davie Crocket to me...

Them guys...

How it was meant to look.

Thats us it is.

Gutzon Borglum

Hey Booboo!....

Did you know that Yellowstone was the first ever National Park? Me nether. In 1872 because of its geological significance, historical value and shear beauty it was declared the first ever National Park in the world. Housing the majority of the worlds geysers (over 300 of them) hot springs and mud pots Yellowstone is a geologists wet dream. Scientists come from all over the world to study over 10,000 thermal features. And they have over 2 million tourists, following hot on their heels....(do you like what i did there?)

We started at the North entrance to the park and headed straight for Mammoth Hot Springs. Its the sight of, well, a Mammoth Hot Spring. Water just emerges from the ground forming pools of hot, mineral rich liquid that then overflows to create another pool that then overflows to create another and so on...and then just disappears back in to the ground. The end result is huge cascade of steaming, brightly coloured waterfalls. They are hard to describe, but they are just beautiful, if a little smelly...

Its not actually the minerals that give it its wonderful colour though. Thousand of tiny organisms called Thermopiles thrive in the hot temperatures and good old photosynthesis is what gives them the wonderful colours making the rockface a huge living organism.

Where the magma mass is closer to the earths surface (the closest recorded is only 4 miles) it super heats the water to a record 400*F and builds pressure and steam. This is what forms the mud pots and geysers.

The most well know is of course "Old Faithful" which was brill to see.  Although not quite as faithful as he used to be after an earthquake in 1952 changed "the plumbing" in the park. Some geysers just stopped and others became more frequent, others that had dried up years ago started flowing again. Apparently a common practice in the park. The great pressure that is evident from the churning and groaning as he prepares to blow is breathtaking and a real crowd pleaser.

Another beauty in the park is the wildlife and seing my first Buffalo made me squeal.... or was it a Bison?    Whats the difference between a Buffalo and a Bison i hear you ask...
               Well you cant wash yr hands in a Buffalo..........parumpum......sorry

But seriously we saw more animals in one day at Yellowstone than we have in our whole time here. It was pretty cool...

Black Squirrels
Horned mountain Goats

Cool hu!?

On the road.

Well San Francisco was amazing if a bit tiring, so we decided to take a couple of days off. We took this time to plot our route across to Chicago . Theres a lot of ground to cover between here and there and its a bit scares for descent camping.
We have a trip to Yellowstone planned but the only way to get there is to drive straight through the National park itself. Now the rig is a pretty awesome vehicle and has done us proud but pushing it to drive through the landscapes of the national parks is, well, pushing it...
So, a few day trips are in the planning. Just as we did at the start of this trip, set up camp just outside the interesting area and drive in in the car.
A two night stop just north of Yellowstone for a day trip to the park to see "Old Faithful" geyser and Mammoth Hot Springs is on the cards, and another three night stop for Mount Rushmore and Devils Table.

just some of the views from the rig window.