Surprises on the road

17 09 2010

We just got back from another epic journey in the American west. Jetlag has attacked with a vengeance (I am having more and more trouble with him as I get older, it seems), and I am up at all sorts of ungodly hours, writing. But I have to say that we had a grand time – as expected. It was also a learning experience, my second such educational tour in the western part of my own country. There is so much to discover out there and I am sure I haven’t learned nearly all I want to know.

So I decided to compile a list of things I didn’t know before I went, as well as vignettes and facts that surprised me during the 12 days we traveled through northern California, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Nevada. Maybe you were ignorant of these as well (but probably not).

If only I could put all my cool experiences in a box and take them with me everywhere, to open and enjoy whenever I want to.

Here is my list of interesting & fun stuff (in no particular order):

  • There is a lot of desert in Oregon.
  • There is a sign at the side of the road whenever you cross into a new time zone.
  • Old Faithful geyser in Yellowstone National Park blows every 93 minutes, like clockwork. Almost.
  • San Franciscans have thoroughly embraced the Smart car.
  • Bison can swim?

"Yes we can!"

  • Buffalo wings have nothing to do with these buffalo because they come from Buffalo, New York.
  • The LDS-church temple in downtown Salt Lake City (from which non-LDS-believers are banned) is pretty small. And downright insignificant when you compare it to many European cathedrals built 600 (or more) years ago.
  • A Jeep Grand Cherokee is also called a “Laredo.”
  • New quarters will be minted with motifs of the national parks, in the order in which they were established. Yellowstone (founded in 1872) is the first to be commemorated on the back of a quarter – and I have one.
  • Coast Redwoods can get to be 2,400 years old.
  • While looking for change in my wallet at a Starbucks in Bend, Oregon, the Barista told me, “Sorry, we don’t take Euros.”
  • There is actually a place called “Jackpot” in Nevada.
  • There are many onions in Idaho.
  • Sarah Palin was born in Idaho.
  • West Yellowstone, Montana is the self-declared “Snowmobile Capital of the World.”
  • It takes eight hours to drive from Salt Lake City to Reno, Nevada (520 miles / 800 km), across a whole lot of nothing.
  • If you come to live in San Francisco, you will never leave. As a friend put it so aptly: “How can you be miserable in such a beautiful place?”

She's right, you know.

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My Swiss Tour Guide in America

16 08 2010

So after writing about my job/workplace once I think its time I got back to some of the more interesting things in life. Like my next vacation, starting in exactly 17 days.

The summer has been a long haul and it’s about time for another break. On the one hand SOMEone’s got to hang around and hold the fort when everyone with kids decides to take off for Rimini, St. Tropez or Ibiza. On the other hand it’s been stressful trying not to die of boredom, while sitting in an office building watching the clock tick and paint dry, looking out the window at the sun-drenched scenery below and wishing one was out there and not in here. And when I did get out there I’ve been training my tush off for the marathon (in exactly 40 days).

But soon I’ll be getting on a pseudo-psychedelically-painted plane, headed for San Francisco…. You got it – with flowers in my hair.

Photoshopped here, but this airplane also really exists.

The West is still a bit of a mystery to me, I of Yankee Mid-Atlantic heritage. Before I met my husband, my first-hand experience of the U.S. was limited to the region enclosed by the following geographic perimeter: the Canadian border to the north, the Jersey Shore to the east, the Potomac to the south, and Pittsburgh to the west. I also kind of knew a bit about South Florida, where I was born and my father had retired, and oh yeah, when I was 12 I went to Toledo, Ohio once, for my sister’s college graduation. And I once had a boyfriend who dragged me to his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. (24 hours in Louisville were more than enough.)

So I had to meet this Swiss guy when I was 36 in order to discover some of the real treasures in my own country. In his former life, R. was an adventure tour guide based out of San Francisco – nice work if you can get it. He has traveled every highway, byway and dirt road left of the Rocky Mountains. Multiple times. He is, so to speak, my personal living, walking, breathing Rand McNally Atlas of the American West.

He introduced me to some of the most spectacular natural and man-made features my home has to offer, many of which I had previously been ignorantly, scandalously unaware of. Others I had seen only in National Geographic documentaries and my parents’ large-format coffee-table books. On that first trip out west together we covered all the relevant bases, and more: We hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back up again (The Classic), he taught me how to play craps in Las Vegas (The Reckless), and we feasted on 18oz ribeyes off the Swingin’ Steak Grill at the Mexican Hat Lodge (The “Kick-Me-If-I-Ever-Contemplate-Turning-Vegetarian-Again”).

The highlight was, of course, the City by the Bay. And we have spent the past three years since then trying to figure out how we can end up there. You know, for good. So far without success, but hope still springs eternal around here. We’re working on it.

Coming soon!

This next road trip out west in (in 17 days) will be more than just a visit and an homage to the place we know we’d love and thrive in. We’ll also be taking in another part of the country I’ve always romanticized but so far never actually met – the Northwest: the northern California coastline, Yellowstone, the Redwood forests and Grand Teton National Park. We’ll stop in wonderfully-named places like Bend Oregon, Jackpot Nevada, Boise Idaho and Jackson Hole Wyoming. And once again my Swiss sweetie will be my all-American tour guide extraordinaire. Can’t wait.