Saturday, 31 October 2009

TV dinner

Eating all three daily meals out can be expensive, time-consuming and unhealthy, so we needed a plan.
This morning, we enjoyed Motel 6’s complimentary coffee in Albany, Oregon before proceeding on to our first ever drive-thru coffee shack experience to get breakfast.
Then, for lunch, we had a sit-down experience: Guadalajara Mexican Family Restaurant in Woodland, Washington, which is apparently near the still active volcano of Mount Helens – we couldn’t see a thing, thanks to the heavy clouds covering everything but the brightest fast food signs.
Dinner, all Daniel’s idea, was the real treat: using the microwave at the Motel 6 on the northern outskirts of Seattle, he prepared frozen macaroni and cheese, and then steamed the squash and broccoli we rescued from the certain demise of our Airstream’s fridge.
I was in charge of condiments and cutlery, which were kindly provided by the neighboring Dairy Queen.


We have left our Airstream.
Not forever, just for a couple of days.
“It’s like being young, free and single!”, Daniel said, as we left our shiny home in the lot of an RV repairs place in Eugene, Oregon.
We needed to get the bumper looked at, the wheels greased, etc – just a couple of things.
It also made sense to leave the trailer somewhere safe since we had decided to make a quick trip to Canada so Daniel could renew his holiday visa.
So now we are hurtling up the Northwest coast on Interstate 5, getting far more miles to the gallon and able to make many a sharp turn.
It’s kind of like a mini-break, with guilt-free motel stays and more meals out.
The flipside is that we’re spending way more money, we forgot loads of stuff (we had gotten used to having everything with us), we have to rely on roadside food, and well, we miss our cute home.

Liability Spring

When Lulu was born, we couldn’t believe how calm, quiet and content she was. To get her to sleep, all you had to do was put her down. Even in utero, she was extremely chilled out.

Over the last few weeks, there has been a dramatic change.

Lest we worry she might be a wallflower, she has honed an un-ignorable raspy, growling cry that rises in pitch and volume when attention is needed.

Her interest in the world around her has gone from silent observation to smash-and-grab: a lightning-like speed in knocking over the hottest, messiest food; gnawing on the least kid-friendly non-food items (plastic, diapers, paper, cables); and banging on our few valuable belongings (laptop, glasses, camera).

And finally, she is returning Sophia’s King Kong-like affections.

We are starting to wonder what’s going to happen when she can sit up on her own – or worse still, crawl.

This might be what other parents of young children meant when they said we were very brave to embark on such a long trip.


Having finally reached California after seven or so weeks traversing Great Plains, Rocky Mountains, deserts, and canyons, we had a bit of a comedown. We had managed to catch friends and family in Chico and Nevada City before they left town and enjoyed happy catch-ups.
But now what?
Unsure of where to go or how we would spend the months stretching ahead of us, we started yearning after our Real House and wondering what exactly we were doing thousands upon thousands of miles from our bases in London and New York.
So we spent four nights at the Nevada County Fairgrounds RV Park in Grass Valley, California. We hung out with Daniel’s aunt Patricia – a well known immunologist who helped develop a glutathione based food supplement called Immunocal – and her husband Peter. We visited the duck pond. We enjoyed the fall colors, and the warm weather. We ate pancakes. We drank California wine.
We weighed our options: we could go early to Sonoma wine country, where we’d be spending a couple days with my childhood friend Dave McRobie in a week’s time; we could head down to San Francisco. Or we could go to Vancouver, Canada, to get Daniel’s visa renewed for another six months.
We decided on Canada. Daniel’s cousin Harald lives there. And it’s sort of close – just a quarter of California and two states away.

Olive harvest!

Friday, 30 October 2009


When we arrived in the former Gold Rush hotspot of Nevada City, California, Daniel’s aunt Patricia explained that she was a bit worn out. She had spent the last three days with friends from British Columbia, bicycling about 40 miles on each of those days.

Daniel calculated that we had done some 40 paces on each of the last three days.

Exercise is one thing that slips by the wayside when you’re on a road trip. At least, it does for us. I guess we could use having kids as an excuse, but it’s probably a combination of laziness, a sometimes desperate need for a sleep and the fact that many parts of the US are set up for being in your car.

So you really have to make an effort to get exercise, setting aside time each day for it. Not like in larger cities, where walking to tube stations, running to catch buses and carrying bags of groceries home can be enough to stay reasonably in shape.

Here, though, there is an amazing array of drive-thru options: drive-thru pharmacies, ATM machines, coffee shops…and – get this – national parks. If you have limited time or just don’t feel like hiking, The Badlands, Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks all have paved roads with signposted stops, from where you can get out of your car or even just lean out the window and take photos.

You do have to get out of the car to visit national monuments like Mount Rushmore and Devils Tower, though.

So in cities, we lose weight, while in the countryside, we gain. Comparably speaking, we got tons of exercise in Nevada City.

Patricia took us on a tour of the town, which is a good place for culture, thanks to its theatre, wineries, historical buildings and many preserved mining relics. We walked the whole thing, and got extra points for hills – of which there are many since the town is in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

Later in the day – after a healthy lunch – we walked even more when we visited Empire Mine State Historic Park, one of the area’s most successful gold mining businesses. Shut down in 1956 after over 100 years of use, the park includes well maintained original mine features including the main shaft, assay house and the scale model the company itself used for extending its reach further and further into the earth.

Empire Mine differed massively from the silver and gold mining towns we had visited in South Dakota and Nevada, in that it was an orderly place employing an impressive health and safety record -- as opposed to a lawless chaos where murder, prostitution and gambling were the order of the day.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Sophia Day, or how to crash a three-year old’s birthday party

We haven’t been that good at finding kids for Sophia to play with since we set off on September 2nd.
Mainly, this is because most families with young children are at home attending to things like school and work. Thus, we have mainly been meeting full-timer retirees, the occasional weekender and a few others who like to travel off-peak.
Also, we’ve been rushing towards California and away from winter.
So, we decided to celebrate Sophia and her patience with a special event, Sophia Day, which took place on Saturday October 24. In Grass Valley, California.
In honor of this, the whole day was dedicated to her pleasure. Kind of like a birthday, but maybe even better since it came totally out of the blue.

So, she got to choose what to have for breakfast: pancakes, a peanut butter blend, spiced up with fresh pomegranate.
Then, we cut shapes from colored construction paper: triangles, circles and hearts.
Following a quick shower, we ambled over to the duck pond, where we promptly met Two Kids – Hannah and Doug, ages almost 3 and almost 6, who with their parents have recently moved to the Nevada County area from Santa Cruz.
They had a grand old time, feeding a whole box of graham crackers to a pack of about 25 fearless ducks, riding bikes, sharing toys and comparing ages and heights.
Then, it was on to Cornish pasties – yes, Cornish pasties in California. The Cornish were brought here for their hard rock mining skills during the Gold Rush. Daniel, who grew up in Cornwall, said they tasted like the real thing.

On the suggestion of Hannah and Douglas’ mother Tracey, we then stopped by the Condon Park playground. She was right – it was perfect for the 2-5 age group, featuring slides, a mini fire engine, a built-in walkie-talkie like apparatus, swings and the like.
She ran around for ages, with plenty of kids to play with – even some who willingly played round after round of shopkeeper.

What we didn’t expect was to insinuate ourselves into a birthday party.
We think it was a group of firefighter parents, who had gathered with their kids to celebrate someone’s daughter’s third(?) birthday. Anyway, as soon as we saw that Sophia had joined the tug-of-war, we doubted there would be any getting out.
And when the Dora the Explorer piñata came out, there was definitely no escape.
We wondered whether the actual party participants noticed there was a small interloper, the one joining the chorus of “candy, candy, smash it, smash it”. She kept almost getting to the front of the line, as kid after kid took swings at the papier-mâché with a plastic bat.
So, Daniel and I sat innocently on the sidelines, trying to eye each other very, very quietly and suppress any and all giggles, lest anyone ruin Sophia Day.

Finally, we couldn’t take Sophia’s possible rejection any longer. I approached the very athletic lady in charge of blind batting and said something like “Um, we’re totally not supposed to be at this party, but could our daughter please-please-please take a whack at the piñata?” So she eventually did, and then someone managed to break Dora’s neck, and then all the candy came pouring out. The athletic lady gave a gleeful whoop and shook the rest out. All the kids came running and filled up their appointed decorative plastic bags, and all the parents cheered, forgetful for a moment about how bad all that sugar is for one’s teeth.
It was so exciting, almost as good as if it had actually been Sophia’s own birthday party, with her own friends.

Then, we all realized we were at someone else’s party in someone else’s town.

So we went for pizza, lemonade/beer and frozen yoghurt, completing a very successful Sophia Day.

This photo is from Wyoming - it's sunny and warm during the day here - our camera's gone fuzzy, so we have to use stock images.

Lake Tahoe

We couldn’t have been luckier with the weather at Lake Tahoe, a huge, 1,600-foot deep body of water straddling Nevada and California. Despite snow a few days previous and rain forecasted for the following day, we managed to strike a sunny, 75 degree Saturday.
Approaching the lake from sun-baked Carson City to the east, we climbed up and up the Alpine-like Sierra Nevada, cooled by tall pines and imposing granite.
Quickly, we caught our first glimpse of that pristine lake about which we had heard so much.
This place is totally worth a visit, and all the hyperboles are true. Everything is completely clear – the air, the views, the water.
Having chosen to go north and west around the lake, we thought that the Nevada side – which includes the Lake Tahoe State Park – was by far the superior, and the emptier.
So, having scouted out the California side as well, we raced back to Nevada and spent one glorious hour at Sand Harbor. There, we shared the long beach with fewer than ten other people.
Gazing out at perfect snow-topped mountains, inhaling the scent of Ponderosa pine trees, disbelieving the amazing non-stick sand, and admiring the artfully strewn boulders along the water’s edge, all we could scream (quietly) was “Splendid, splendid!”.
We even swam. The water was **absolutely freezing (59 degrees Fahrenheit)**, but we couldn’t even think of missing out on that opportunity.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Would you let alien-spotters look after your baby?

We did, and it was fine. Four or five of Rachel, Nevada’s 99 or so residents were gathered around a picnic bench at the town’s only business, the Little A-le-Inn, and asked whether they could play with Lulu.

The timing was ideal, since we were amidst the never-quick routine of packing up the Airstream for a day in the car. And if they tried to abduct her, there’d be nowhere to go, since Rachel is the only town within 50 miles in any direction.

So off she went in her stroller to the picnic table, in easy view of the trailer’s door.
Twenty minutes later, she was contentedly asleep in the arms of the proprietress’ daughter, having been passed around and cooed over the whole time.

Sophia also came away happy, having been given an stretchy purple and orange alien bracelet resembling a double octopus, as well as three heart-shaped rings containing lipgloss.

We were staying in a $12 per night RV park owned by the A-le-Inn, which also runs a bar, restaurant, motel and alien memorabilia business.

Rachel is a hotspot for alien watching, most likely thanks to its proximity to the US government’s top-secret Nellis Air Force Range Complex. It is unclear whether the reported activity is a result of extraterrestrial visits or government weapons testing, or a combination of the two. Sitting atop a mesa and concealed by various mountain ranged, Nellis measures hundreds of square miles and is accessible only by dirt roads angling upwards at rather scary grades.

The high desert town itself is at an altitude of 5,000 feet, surrounded by mountain ranges in all directions. We were told it gets a couple inches per year of precipitation, staying doggedly sunny and warm even when the adjacent mountains are covered in snow.

Tiny – with at least half the population seeming to live in the RV park where we slept - the town has no groceries, drugstore, gas station, fire brigade, medical services (a local girl had gone to a hospital well over 100 miles away in Las Vegas to have a baby) or police force. Asked whether townfolk had to resort to vigilante law enforcement, the response was that EVERYONE had guns, lots of them.

“We all have guns - this place is full of large antelope and deer, carnivorous jackrabbits, tarantulas, coyotes, mountain lions, bobcats, wild horses…” we lost track there.

So don’t mess with the people of Rachel.

That said, they seem to be law-abiding people. The previous night, the bartender wouldn’t let me have a much-needed drink until I showed her an ID (the local customers looked me up and down and decided I didn’t look old enough). With both girls in my arms and Daniel busy setting up the trailer for a night’s sleep, she eventually took pity on me, handing me an icy – and potent – ‘Area 51’ (named for the most secret of the government’s rumored testing areas). Daniel had an even more lethal ‘Beam Me Up, Scotty’, which had bourbon, scotch and Seven-Up.

Cathedral Gorge State Park

This stop, not a famous place at all, was our one of our best ones yet.
We read about Cathedral Gorge State Park, which is on the eastern edge of Nevada just over the border from Utah, in the excellent ‘Road Trip USA: Cross-Country Adventures on America’s Two-Lane Highways’, by Jamie Jensen.

When we arrived, the sky was cool, very overcast, moving quickly into evening and filled with Air Force jet fighters practicing their routes. Having driven around the campsite twice to check out the other inhabitants – about four of the twenty or so sites were occupied - we decided that the $14-with-shower price tag made it worth staying.
We invited our tent-residing neighbors – God bless those hardy souls! - over to the trailer for a beer and peanuts – our first night entertaining!
Pam and Phil from Arizona, and Dave from Sacramento, stopped by for a couple of hours, time to tell us a bit about themselves and share some tips on avoiding snow and cold over the winter months.
Happily, it didn’t feel too cramped in the trailer – they all had enough room to sit, Sophia had space for her games, and we were able to squeeze Lulu and her new travel highchair in as well.
Phil divvied out some smoked salmon he had bought in Oregon on to sturdy crackers, also bringing along some Samuel Smith - English beer, in honor of Daniel.

But back to the gorge.

Cathedral Gorge is the remains of a huge, mineral-heavy lake that dried up, leaving its sediment-laden floor exposed to erosion. Paleontologists must have a field day there, reading into the multicolored rings of silt and pebbles lining the formations.

Well within view of the campsite are hundreds of bunches of mudstone spires, all a faded coppery-taupe kind of color, rising up out of the ground and coming together to form caves. Against the backdrop of blonde grasses, papery corn-colored sagebrush flowers, beige sand-soil, and the campsite’s imported silvery Russian olive trees and neatly sienna-d gravel plots – all backlit by faraway tonal blue mountains and the following day’s flawless azure sky, the landscape was a veritable muted symphony.

Following twisting paths among the spire sets, we were led through narrower and narrower passageways terminating in cool, damp, exit-less spaces, from which the only view was a small, towering window straight up into the sky – making us feel like victims in a particularly scenic movie chase-scene. Noticing messes of feathers and droppings in the caves, we wondered whether these birds had been prey or predator.

Having accustomed ourselves to the desert and isolation, we ended up staying two nights, finally dragging ourselves away one mid-afternoon after a fresh-air lunch.

Zion National Park

Bryce Canyon

Star of the show at southeastern Utah’s Bryce Canyon is the hoodoo, a strange formation resembling a chunky finger. Thousands of these rise out of valleys, cliff sides and mountains, like an army of chess pieces.
We did the drive-through version of the park, stopping for a hike and picnic at Mossy Cave, a sweeping view over a 20-mile valley and an entertaining park ranger led hike and lesson in fleeing wild animals, identifying local trees and recognizing fossils.
Because temperatures were dropping to 20 degrees Fahrenheit, we treated ourselves to two nights at the Canyon Lodge in the nearby town of Panguich. The motel did us a nightly cash deal of $50, meaning that we still came up under budget – hurrah!
Photo montage by Daniel.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Tin Can Tamales

Later the same day, we came across two more inspired people – Reta and Michelle, who sell tamales out of a vintage Spartan trailer in a parking lot in Hurricane, Utah.
Instead of cooking tamales, a traditional corn dough-with-filling snack across much of the Americas, in cornhusks or banana leaves, they steam them in cans – the kind soup or beans come in.
These tamales, which weigh a pound apiece, are delicious, healthy and ingenious.
Daniel had the spicy pork one, Sophia the mild pork one, while I had the veggie one.
We all thought they were amazing, and sat on the curb next to our Airstream devouring our yummy lunch-in-cans with a side of avocado and tomatillo salsa.
We loved the ladies and their business, and enjoyed seeing new uses for a metal trailer.
With California-based investors already behind them, Reta and Michelle are hoping to move to mass production, with the aim of distributing their product wholesale and setting up franchises.
We think they are on to a winner…

Tea-tour 2009

We saw a lot of interesting RVs at Zion National Park – a teardrop (which is basically a tiny bed-mobile with an outdoor kitchen on the back), late 1990s Airstream, a ladder-accessible tent on a luggage trailer, vehicles emblazoned with the New Zealand and Swiss flags…and a Teapot Van!
This last vehicle was a van that had been fashioned into a teapot, complete with a spout, handle and lid. Yes, really.
So we had to meet those guys.

Nicole Gruter, a Madison, Wisconsin-based musician and performance artist whose current project, ‘Tea Tour 2009’, seeks to get members of the public to take time out of their insanely busy lives to sit down and have a cup of tea with her at vacation destinations across the USA.
Here’s her website:

The idea is to discover what stresses people out – whether it’s the outside world or everyone just making themselves crazy by trying to meet unreachable expectations – and whether they are willing to change their lives. Do people really want to have more time for leisure, friends, family, relaxation, etc?

The inspiration for the tour was a tea set inherited from her Dutch grandmother. In the midst of ridding herself of as many possessions as possible, Nicole came across the teaset – she couldn’t bear to throw it away but didn’t have any use for it…until it became the centerpiece of her current project.

Nicole is traveling with her friend Shane, who is himself a performance artist known as ‘Shane Shane’ on the road promoting his work, mainly musical. He’s taking some photos, helping with driving and providing additional fun. He gave us a promotional t-shirt and CD – we listened to it in the car, and our favorite track was ‘Boomedley’.

We missed Nicole and Shane’s official Zion tea party, but they were kind enough to throw us our own individual teatime, the morning we left the park for Nevada.
Shane kindly played tag, jump-in-the-tent and who knows what else with Sophia, while Daniel, Lulu and I chatted with Nicole.

Her themes are certainly pertinent for me – it took a new baby to unglue me from a Blackberry and ridiculous working hours. The main idea behind our trip is to enjoy our lovely daughters, and each other. Maybe that could be done without upping sticks, buying two vehicles and risking our careers…but maybe it’s actually all for the best.

Anyway, it’s fantastic that people like Nicole and Shane are out there to help the rest of us stop and think for a moment.

Best of luck on your tour!!

America, according to Sophia

I want to write a story about our trip on the computer.
I like being on this trip with Daddy, Mommy and Lulu.
So far, my favorite thing on our trip was our time at Grandma Sara and Grandaddy Stephen’s house in New York.
I’ve also liked swimming: in the really huge Lake Michigan with Donovan, in the paddling pool with my American cousins Patrick and Keira, and in the hot pools in Thermopolis, Wyoming.

While we’re driving in the car, I like to play on my Winnie the Pooh computer - spelling words, doing math and singing songs. I also like to play with the paper dolls Grandma Sara gave me and the princess song book. Of course, I also like to play with my little sister Lulu. I hold her hand, check the sun is not shining on her, share my baby doll with her, show her the computer and make sure she has toys to play with.

We also listen to tapes and CDs in the car – Chris sent me a tape with some of my favorite songs and stories. I also like to listen to the Winnie the Pooh stories, songs called playtime and some others called Dream Time.

My new bike is blue, violet, red and white. It’s a bit too big, but I love it. I ride it at campsites.

I think that our Airstream is really cool because it’s shiny and it’s our little house. In it, I help Mommy and Daddy with jobs like sweeping, filling the car with gas, turning the dinette into a bed, hitching up the trailer and making sure Lulu’s OK.

This is some of my favorite food in America: peanuts, hotdogs, lemonade and string cheese.

I’ve learned a lot on this trip – using scissors, how to play the Candy Land board game and how to count on my fingers.

At some of the national parks, I’ve done the Junior Ranger program – answering questions about things I learn and then getting a special badge.

Here I am holding a bearded lizard at Zion National Park.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

24 hours in Salt Lake City

We thought we’d stop by Salt Lake City, the capital of both Utah and the Mormon Church, on our way from Wyoming to the Bonneville Flats World Finals racing event.
I’d spent a day in the city once before, when I was about eight, and had left feeling claustrophobic. So, what was it like 25 years later?
Well, negotiating the municipality’s street and numbering system confounded us, despite debuting our fancy GPS and managing to piggyback onto someone or other’s WiFi.
It was thanks to the Airstream that we got directions that made sense. A Salt Lake City resident, and fellow Airstream owner, stopped to admire the Caravel. Politely, he tried to explain how the grid worked – it all radiates out from the Mormon Temple, but that was as far as we got – until, seeing our lack of understanding, he very kindly drew a simple map.
That got us to the downtown KOA, a nationwide chain of campgrounds (well, Kampgrounds and Kabins, as they say).
Having arrived and set up shop, we took advantage of the free downtown shuttle service offered by the Mormon Church. A very sweet older couple, trainee in tow, picked us up at 4:10pm from the campsite and dropped us off at Temple Square, finding plenty of time along the short drive to enquire about our providence, admire our children and offer local tourism advice – all revolving around Church facilities.

When we arrived at the square, they handed us over to a group of Mormon Sisters hailing from all nations. Our guides were two converts: a former Jew from Canada and a former Muslim from Pakistan, both of whom had been selected to serve an 18-month stint at Salt Lake City.

The Church seems to have had a complete PR overhaul since my last visit, now embracing all things multimedia and multicultural.

The girls guided us through the Tabernacle and Visitors Center, explaining to us what was in the Temple (closed to non-Mormons, and pictured here thanks to an image plagiarized from camera's battery ran out) and politely and rather academically answering questions of all sorts about Church doctrine as well as their own beliefs and backgrounds.

Daniel, Sophia and I all found the whole thing kind of seductive. Lulu contentedly slept through the whole thing.

We learned that polygamy has been outlawed among mainstream Mormons since the 1890s, and that one of the central tenets of the religion is that marriage is eternal – so there’s no “to death do us part”. The same goes for family, meaning that you will meet your immediate family, as well as ancient ancestors, in the hereafter.

Another interesting aspect of the religion – which sees its Book of Mormon as the third tome naturally progressing from the Old and New Testaments – is that it is uniquely American. According to this doctrine, Jesus Christ visited an unspecified place in the Americas following his resurrection. Hundreds of years later, the group’s original prophet, Joseph Smith, was guided to a set of golden tablets upon which the Book was based when praying to God to figure out which branch of Christianity to join. After Smith was killed by a mob – the reason the Mormons moved West was to escape unrelenting persecution – the next prophet, Brigham Young, selected the virgin land of Salt Lake City as the religion’s headquarters.

The progression of rooms was all pleasantly scented, and volunteer after volunteer approached us sincerely and smilingly, enquiring about our providence and children. Daniel and I were impressed with how genuinely nice everyone was, while Sophia loved all the buttons they encouraged her to press, activating skits and ads that made Mormonism very enticing indeed. Daniel and I were only scared once, upon hearing a recorded excerpt from one of the current Prophet’s sermons, in which he basically says that our earthly sins will not be forgotten when we meet our day of reckoning,

Daniel noticed that a representational style of painting depicting nature and key people seemed to be everywhere. This was rather than photographs. Indeed, the Mormons appear to be very interested in art and architecture, and their ability to reflect their beliefs.

We spent hours being passed seamlessly among volunteers, shown around the Convention Center, which is massive, has loads of Mormon artwork, glass features and even a pine forest, prairie and stream on its rooftop, and then the Genealogy Museum. Because we will all meet our ancestors in heaven, the Mormon Church emphasizes genealogy and is happy to help everyone learn more about their own families. We went to a floor dedicated to the British Isles to learn more about Daniel’s English grandmother, Frances Ada, and my Welsh grandfather, David Handel.

Later, when we managed to leave that gleaming, friendly square, our kind chauffeurs were once again there to collect us, enquiring after our afternoon and our children.

We asked whether they’d mind if they dropped us off at the popular Mexican restaurant the Red Iguana, which was on the way back to the campground. After an uncomfortable pause, they said they’d make an exception this time since we were such a nice family.

There, we had an amazing meal…and margaritas…yum! Then we walked back to the campground, along a street that had definitely been bypassed by the Mormon fairy dust. By then unaccustomed to imperfection, we gingerly passed the hoodies, the power station, the meth-heads and the roadworks, eventually ending back up at the Airstream.

Wyoming, wide open skies

So, ten days after entering Wyoming from South Dakota’s Black Hills, we left it via the southwestern corner bordering Utah.
What a state. It’s a massive area (365 miles by 265 miles), holding a population of just 500,000. Pictured on its license plate is a bucking bronco, which does seem to sum up the state’s sentiment: wild, open and solitary.
A lot of the housing is trailer based, with the odd nonsensical, misplaced McMansion. But that’s not the point, you don’t go to Wyoming for the lodging, but for the ravishing, endless landscapes which form the background and foreground of life there. It certainly leaves you with a sense of your own smallness.

Here are a few of the characters we met:

Mikel, the horse-driving life coach born and bred in Powell, who told us, “we Wyoming people like lots of space with no one around”. Lest we think she might be lonely, she listed the tourist events she offered as well as the number of trips she has made to the UK (four).

The LA-born lady who had left London after some 40 years, in search of a new, exciting start. Her main job these days is tending to the Charles J Belden Museum in Meeteetse. This free museum, named after the eponymous photographer, documented the life and times of this Wild West town starting from its founding in the 1890s. It included a sampling from the town’s Mercantile Exchange of goods such as clothing, shoes, food and measurements, a photo-history documenting how the effort to save the much-hunted antelope not only revived herd numbers but also yielded an international pet antelope craze. Also on display were the requisite firearms, cowboy boots and animal taxidermy (the crown jewel of which is the largest grizzly bear caught in the mainland US), as well as Belden’s famous photographs, taken locally, of the original Marlboro man.

Rex, a Kansas native who chuckled wryly at the name of this blog, saying that he too had skipped town. He, like us, has been on the road as a full-time RVer for just over a month. A kind man, we last saw him on Wyoming Route 28, as his party and ours ascended the state’s South Pass over the Rockies.

Ron Foote, the owner of RV camp Fountain of Youth in hot springs town Thermopolis. A minister preaching love, acceptance, generosity and trust as part of his own brand of what he describes as multi-denominational faith, he and his guitar perform Sunday services before a swimsuit-clad congregation of hot spring bathers. On Friday and Saturdays, he entertains swimmers with country and cowboy songs – famous ones as well as those he’s penned himself.

We’ll miss Wyoming - its wide-open spaces, helpful people, bountiful wildlife and cowboy accessories.

Astride the divide

Having waited out snowstorms and ice, we finally managed to cross the Rockies at South Pass in Central Wyoming. The pass is also a point on the Continental Divide – east of this line, waters flow into the Atlantic, while west of it, they end up in the Pacific.

Relatively speaking, it’s a gentle crossing, at an altitude of some 7600 feet.

We climbed and climbed the steep and scenic Route 28, past the short-lived gold rush cities of Atlantic City and South Pass City, until we reached a long, broad, windy plain populated by cattle, roadworks and the occasional oil or gas rig.
It was here that the pioneers on the Oregon, Mormon, Pony Express and California Trails traversed the towering mountain range, before splitting off towards their various endpoints.

At South Pass itself, one can still faintly see the four tracks. We wondered whether any of the pioneers, who would have formed strong friendships along the journey, arrived here and changed their minds about which trail - and destiny - to follow.

We’ve been thinking a lot about the pioneers, trying to appreciate their bravery and steadfastness. Starting their trips at Independence, Missouri, they spent 5-6 months crossing the Great Plains, Rocky Mountains and Southwestern deserts in search of a better life – at a speed of some 12-15 miles a day.

Sophia has a book called something like ‘What if you were a pioneer’, which recounts the pioneer experience. In that, we learned that pioneers walked the majority of their trails – one, because the ride was so bumpy, and two, to conserve the energy of the oxen or horses. Life on that road sounds pretty dire, but they managed to have some fun as well – throwing Fourth of July parties, collecting prairie flowers and making friends along the way.

Sometimes the curved, white-lined Airstream reminds us of a covered wagon, albeit one with a kitchen, heater and bathroom.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Superglue: the answer to the healthcare controversy

While at Thermopolis, we met a nice guy named Rex who is able to bypass the healthcare reform debate raging in the US thanks to one surprising household helper: superglue!
Rex slipped and fell one night when sprinting through sleet to jump into the hot pools at RV park Fountain of Youth in Thermopolis, ending up with a pretty bad cut on his foot.
Did he go to the hospital? Hell, no!
“Why am I going to pay $1,000 per stitch when I can just use Superglue?!” he said.
A landscaper taking some time out to travel, Rex swears by the stuff – assuring us incredulous folk that the adhesive not only rebinds skin but also acts as a powerful antiseptic.
Send in some more tips, Rex!!

On marriage and mortality

Since we left New York, Sophia has developed an obsession with a pair of life’s key passages: marriage and mortality.
Probably due in part to her enviable cache of Disney princess gear and Barbies, Sophia is really interested in marriage – what it is, why people do it and what the ceremony entails. We’ve tried to answer those questions as best we can: two people promise to spend the rest of their lives together, because they love each other, and you get to have a fun party and wear a fancy clothes.
Due to her own family circumstances, Sophia thinks all brides have a baby in their tummy.
But she has plans of her own: when she grows up, she will marry Rocco, her first and best friend who lives across the street from us on London’s Columbia Road. She will wear the Snow White dress her godfather Chris gave her, and has not yet finalized Rocco’s outfit – although a Spiderman get-up is currently the frontrunner.
Please see this blog for further details.

Mortality – how do you explain that to your kids? Especially when you yourself are scared stiff of it. So far, Sophia’s encounters with it involve the flies that trespass on our mobile property and the children’s song that goes “Poor Roger was dead and lay under the ground – way-yo, under the ground”. She has a fanciful idea of what happens, but doesn’t yet understand that it’s final.

She is a loving soul who approaches life all cylinders blazing, but wants to kill stuff. I guess it’s a normal rite of passage for humans, once they realize their strength and power. She’s become quite deft at using the fly swatter, which is OK as long as the flies are in our space rather than outside.
More worryingly, she keeps saying she wants a gun. Her gun, though, would be part of a Wild West, Annie Oakley type revue in which she slayed rattlesnakes, protecting her parents and sister from untold harm.
It started the afternoon we visited Legend Rock, a dusty, empty place between Coy and Thermopolis, whose cliff side petroglyphs are tens of thousands of years old.
The four of us were alone in the sagebrush valley, sharing space only with oilrigs some ten miles in the distance. Signs warning of rattlesnakes far outnumbered any information on the petroglyphs. Sophia decided that if a rattlesnake were to appear, she would yell, “stand back!” to Daniel, Lulu and me, then shooting the slithery beast.
We’ve said maybe when she’s 18, and she hasn’t forgotten it.

Lulu’s first swim

For one reason or another, we hadn’t been able to take Lulu for a swim – pools are chlorinated, lakes are often too cold and the midday sun too strong.
So we were delighted when we got to Thermopolis, Wyoming, which advertises itself as the ‘World’s Largest Hot Spring”.
Our RV park, the Fountain of Youth, had its own pools – three of them, each progressively hotter, with the last one ending in a orange glowing mini volcano-like mound (the spring). These pools were in fact larger than the town’s own facilities, two of which had slides and spas, with the third one offering a free 20-minute soak. This was because the chiefs of the Arapaho and Shoshone tribes sold the land including Thermopolis to the US government under the provision that baths would continue to be available free of charge to the public.
So, back to Fountain of Youth.
It was a freezing cold Saturday night, and we arrived just before complete darkness fell. We debated whether to jump straight into the pools, or to have a beer and snacks. Swimming won.
Lulu loved it – the first pool was at almost the same temperature as her (most) nightly bath, and once she adjusted, she was able to move to the second one. She kicked and cooed and smiled, possibly remembering the joys of the womb…albeit a sulfur-scented one.
We hung out with other RV park residents – some of whom drank light beer from insulated can holders - chatting through the steam rising up from the water about places of origin and also the oncoming snowstorm.
At home among strangers, we rejoiced as the full moon, Jupiter and a gigantic Big Dipper made themselves known in the clear Autumn sky. Then, relaxing further, we listened as the camp’s owner, Ron Foote, sang and strummed his evening songs.

So, we remained in Thermopolis for three days and three nights, waiting out the cold front before crossing the Rockies. Day and night, we ran shivering in the snow and sleet between electric heater in the Airstream towards the embrace of the hot pools. Not bad.

Devils Tower

Having spent the night in the rather unwelcoming town of Sundance in northeastern Wyoming – although, it has to be pointed out that our motel room-cum-kitchenette had an oven, meaning we were finally able to use up our pizza ingredients – we made the drive towards Devils Tower and figured out that the correct jumping off town is Hulett, not Sundance.
The national monument was a bit of a detour, so we were glad to see a shock of rock shooting out from the horizon, assuring us that a stop was merited.
Although there are several theories as to how Devils Tower came about, scientists agree that it is an igneous intrusion, meaning that it’s basically magma that formed below Earth’s surface, later becoming exposed when softer surrounding rock eroded. Hope that’s right.
Devils Tower will continue appear to grow in height, but only because the ground around it will erode further.

The Native American explanation for the formation, which they call Bear’s Lodge, is a bit more fun. There are lots of variations to the story, but the crux of it is that a bear chased a group of young people up a big tree, which then transformed into a rock rising higher and higher out of the earth, enabling their escape. The bear’s effort was futile but left deep claw marks. The young people then rose up to the skies, where they now make up the Big Dipper, which is known as Mato Tipi La Paha

For everyone else, it’s a really big rock (1,267 feet tall) composed of hundreds if not thousands of column-like structures.

There’s an easy, mile-long paved trail around the Tower, allowing visitors to see it from all angles, while appreciating the Ponderosa pine forest as well as the massive boulders that have crumbled off through the millennia. It’s also a great opportunity to watch birds, chipmunks and the kamikaze climbers mounting the tower.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

One month on the road

Having departed New York on September 2, we’ve now been on the road a full month. We’ve added some 4500 miles to our odometer, getting about 18-19 miles to the gallon when not towing the Airstream and 13-14 when we are.

So far, so good – apart from our $80 daily budget, which we have spectacularly exceeded on many an occasion. It’s not that we’ve been extravagant, but the odd motel and cheapish restaurant meal do add up.

The majority of our overspending, though, has been merited. A trailer is a home after all, so it needs to be stocked with food, kitchenware, eating utensils, bedding, towels, and the like. And vehicles need to be serviced to ensure safety.

In addition to the basics, a few added comforts make trailer life all the more enjoyable (and bearable). So on our last shopping trip, which encompassed a Super Wal-mart and a Big Kmart in Gillette, Wyoming, we bought an electric heater – which works if we sleep at a campground with electrical hook-up; a dish drainer – which makes washing dishes a far less expletive-peppered event; a foldable travel highchair for Lulu – feeding a baby without a highchair is a literal pain in the neck; and a fuschia, white and turquoise Huffy bike for Sophia – who finally has a pair of wheels of her own to ride around campsites.

Now – apart from an inability to get a decent night’s sleep in the trailer - we feel fully prepared. And following a serious reorganization of how we store our belongings in the car and trailer, we finally feel at home.

Two and a half hours in Yellowstone

Any guidebook will tell you to allow a couple of days to visit Yellowstone National Park, an area measuring 3472 square miles and lying across the states of Wyoming, Idaho and Montana.

We left the prosperous and friendly town of Cody – named for William “Buffalo Bill” Cody – which is the eastern jumping off point for the park, on a cool, partly sunny Thursday afternoon.

Timing our 50-mile drive to avoid road closures within the park and poor weather forecasted for the week ahead, we set off about 3pm, having stocked up on groceries, warm clothes and drinking water to arm ourselves against expected overnight lows of 21 degrees Fahrenheit. We have an extremely rare original Airstream furnace, but unfortunately it does not work.

Taking the Buffalo Bill Scenic Byway, which former US president Teddy Roosevelt dubbed the most beautiful 50 miles in the country, we saw a surprising number of landscapes all right next to each other: the gleaming blue Buffalo Bill Reservoir, those relentless grasslands that dominate the Great Plains, the pebbly Shoshone River, volcanic canyons, and of course, the towering, snowy Rocky Mountains.

Having commented on the reservoir’s waves, which rose into choppy white peaks, we watched the temperature (one of the nifty features of our GMC truck is the thermometer on the rearview mirror, which also has a compass!) drop every couple of minutes – 47, 45, 42, 37, 34 – as we climbed up and up. The rain soon mixed with snowflakes, which eventually took over completely.

Daniel and I both noticed that we were the only car going up, while vehicles going the other way passed at somewhat regular intervals. Most, but not all, of the lodges and campgrounds lining the road were closed for the winter, so we made mental notes of where to stop if we had to turn around.

We saw signs warning drivers of the dangers of grizzly bears, reminding me of the woman who that morning said that increasing populations of white pine trees had led to a relative explosion of bears in the park.

Having heard about forest fires in the area, we saw another sign indicating that fire danger was set to ‘high’. Then, we saw an actual fire, which burned, defying the snow and freezing temperatures.

When we finally reached Yellowstone’s East Entrance, we were greeted by a park ranger who explained which roads were closed and when they would reopen. She said that snow tires were recommended, but that we’d be fine. We should go straightaway to the visitor center to sort out our lodging, since some of the campgrounds were closed, she added.

So on we pressed. The first oncoming traffic we passed was a lone, male buffalo, loping down the middle of the winding road. Later, five or so cars passed by, on their way out of the park.

Then came the ice, which suddenly filled the entire narrow road.

Having reassured each other that everything was fine for most of the drive, Daniel and I simultaneously decided that we had to turn around.

And then the car skidded. We realized that we couldn’t go forward, and that we couldn’t turn around either.

Daniel got out to flag down a passing car. And then our car started slipping slowly backwards down the hill. I screamed, and Daniel came running, slamming the emergency brake as far as it would go. With Sophia now crying, I feigned calm.

Daniel was worried about the truck and trailer slipping into the ditch on one side of the road, but I was much more concerned about him falling down the precipice on the other.

Daniel took charge, marshalling woman and children out of the car and into that of a kind couple who had stopped to help.
Another car, a large van, stopped to see what was going on. I begged the driver not to let Daniel drive the car. He said that he and his family had been praying the whole way down the hill.

So back towards the entrance went Sophia, Lulu and I, taken in by the very accommodating man and woman from South Dakota. By the time we got there, a sign reading ‘Snow tires or chains REQUIRED’ was displayed. A park ranger, not the one we had originally met, spent 10 minutes telling me off for not having adequate tires – also pausing to ask the first ranger whether she had informed us of tire requirements (yes, lied her colleague) - before radioing for help. Hearing back, she said that the wait would be a couple of hours.

Panicking, I asked the good samaritans who had taken the girls and me in if they could please take us back up the hill to check on Daniel.

Here’s the account of Daniel, from what we later found out was Yellowstone’s treacherous Sylvan Pass:

“The worst part was when I ran back to the rolling car and slammed on the brakes - both car and trailer had started to slide, the girls screaming as we skidded slowly towards the side of the road until we were about two feet from the edge, now we were really in trouble, the gradient was about 9% with a four-foot ditch on the inside and intermittent barrier on the precipice side, but the whole road was a sheet of ice for the next 2 or 3 miles ahead.
Then John stopped. This was the man who turned out to be our saviour. [It was one of life’s unforgettable moments] Can you help?’ Yes, I’m a professional driver experienced in towing’…’I can help, do you want’…Yes please!!!
We decided, after a brief survey, that the only thing was to go forward to where the ice was covered with a thin layer of dry snow as this would give some grip, straighten up and then reverse down until the vehicles were off the ice, maybe forty feet back.
There really was only going to be one chance at going forward and
John offered, knowing how to put the Yukon into low ratio four wheel drive he skillfully pulled forward and to the left side whilst oncoming vehicles kept coming slowly down the mountain, unable to stop, their wheels locking up - as they appeared, skidding towards us, I watched their horrified expressions as they slid by, each one carefully and uniquely negotiating around our car house and home like some nightmarish dance.
John reversed down and off the ice, from where I was able to turn and drive down the mountain and find the girls.
It really was down to his help and experience that we didn’t end up off the road at 9000 ft altitude off the road, in an icy ditch, or worse.”

Thanks very much to our rescuers, who are pictured above. We will always remember your goodwill.

So back down to Cody we went, the weather increasingly clearing up as we descended. We were welcomed back into the town by a calm sunset and glassy reservoir, like nothing had ever happened.

Lest we need say it, we’ve decided to give Yellowstone a miss this time.

The buffalo do roam

One of the things I didn’t know about the West is that the men there really do wear cowboy hats. In fact, as soon as we traversed the Missouri River in South Dakota, we started seeing them on big men, sometimes with flowing handlebar mustaches, who looked solitary, wistful and strong.

And people here also really say “howdy”!

During my time living abroad, I’ve heard America derided as a land with no culture, or at the very best, one with a homogenous culture. This couldn’t be further from the truth. As an East Coast native, I feel like a complete foreigner out here.

First of all, I am nowhere near as tough and self-reliant as the women, especially those of Wyoming. They drive monster trucks, ride horses, work in construction…and have the most amazing legs.

One lady we met, Mikel, told us that for a living she drives a team of horses, teaches horse riding, runs a business showing Conestoga wagons and hosting chuckwagon dinners, while also having time to provide life counseling using horse psychology. Not to mention that since last January, she has been living – alone - in a 23-foot trailer. She said she’s much happier since she lightened up on possessions, and that if she travels, she just parks in a truck stop and uses a candle for light AND heat.

It was Mikel who saved us when our GMC Yukon’s engine started smoking and making increasingly more distressing h-r-r-r-m sounds as we attempted to make our first climb, along a 7-mile stretch of road at a 10% gradient, into the Big Horn Mountains. Stopping to see why we had pulled over, she joined Daniel in having a look under the car’s hood (bonnet) and said we were fine, that all we needed to do was shift into third gear (duh). A nice lesson in automatic transmission.

Thanks, Mikel, for saving us a trip to the mechanic – and probably a lot of money. She was to be the first of our Wyoming guardian angels, who fell kindly from the sky.

[Responding to our email thanking her for her trouble, she recommended that we “Take the odd road, the road less traveled as they say and the Universe will surprise and delight you”. She also cited Cecil Beaton: "Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary."]

Second, as a city dweller, I have no appreciation for wild animals. Notwithstanding the odd fox or raccoon, my experience with serious, large wildlife is nil.

We are now coexisting with wildlife. Camping at the Badlands, a man told us we had gotten up too late to see the coyote outside our trailer. And we thought coyotes were only in the cartoons! Then, at Mount Rushmore, we encountered longhorn sheep. And in the Black Hills, the buffalo do indeed roam, echoing the lyrics of that old song ‘Home on the Range’ – which was performed by a band playing at Custer State Park’s annual Western Art Fair. These beasts are not scared of people, and graze nonchalantly along the roads. And of course at Yellowstone, one hears warning after warning about bears – both grizzly and black.

Third, I assume that everyone thinks New York City is the Best Place Ever. Not so.
And even the handful of people we’ve met who’ve approached us expectantly – having seen our New York State license plate - have walked away in disappointment after finding out we were not from upstate.

Finally, people here are really patriotic, with each stars-and-stripes flag larger than the last. They love America, and also fight for it, as evidenced by the large number of servicemen and servicewomen we’ve met. I saw a bumper sticker proclaiming, “Freedom is not free – thank a veteran”. It’s true, we don’t appreciate this enough.

Before breaking off, I should mention that Daniel is embracing the culture of the West – sporting not only a leather hat inspired by the region, but also a flashy new pair of beige and brown stitched leather cowboy boots.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Badlands sky

We arrived at the Badlands, a range of lonely mountainous buttes rising up out of protected grasslands in western South Dakota, on a cold, windy, overcast afternoon, tired from a long drive along Interstate 90.

Cheered by the spectacle of the irregular, stripy landscape – formed by millions of years of erosion and housing an incredible collection of fossils – we were in no way prepared for one of the flashiest sunsets we’d ever seen.

Boring a small hole at the western edge of the duvet-like cloud covering, the sun snuck into the sky. It looked like a light switch had been flipped on, illuminating the peaks surrounding our very basic campsite located inside the National Park.

But that wasn’t the end of it. Soon, we saw Virga, the scientific term for rain that evaporates before hitting the ground, streaking down from the sky. And then a rainbow – Sophia’s first ever, long awaited rainbow. And then, as if that weren’t enough, the rainbow became a double – full- rainbow.

The crowd – which in this off-season numbered about ten – went nuts, pointing up into the sky, exclaiming superlative after superlative, pausing only to snap photos.

That night, we huddled with our fellow campers at the park’s amphitheater, where which offers nightly lectures. The park ranger delivered a lesson on the astronomy of the Lakota, a Great Plains Indian tribe. She explained the legends of local landmarks corresponding to what we know today as Custer State Park, Wind Cave and Devils Tower, as well as how they are seen to be mirrored in the sky as constellations.

By the end of the talk, which Sophia and Lulu had managed to sit through very patiently, the clouds had politely vanished from the night sky, leaving us a clear view of Jupiter, just near the moon. With the aid of the available telescope, Daniel, Sophia and I were all able to see four of the planet’s moons.

Something out of nothing

South Dakotans seem to be very good at making something out of nothing. Whether it’s because they have a particular knack for advertising, or because the tourists need a break from the rather monotonous Interstate 90, which runs the length of this 380-mile state, I do not know.

Either way, they manage to lure relative hordes of tourists to towns that normally wouldn’t interest anyone.
All along the interstate are billboards – often hand painted and usually weather beaten, and sometimes adorned by old vehicles – heralding the glories of kitschy attractions.

As a tourist working West towards the Badlands and Black Hills, or East towards the Midwest, you know you shouldn’t fall into the trap. But you inevitably do, having seen it advertised for the last 150 miles at least.

We were first trapped by the (World’s Only) Corn Palace at Mitchell, which has declared itself a excellent stopping point. The city, aware of the cheese factor, did not hold back, beckoning motorists of ‘a-maize-ing sights’ and ‘can’t wait til you get ear’ type signs.
When you arrive, having been guided through most streets in the municipality’s business district, you are immediately disappointed at the sight of a structure built more of manmade materials than cornhusks. However, it has to be said, that once you stand back and take a look, an enormous number of hours has been put into creating a multicolored scene out of straw, 275,000 ears of corn plus straw and other agricultural materials. Once inside, the visitor is met with a wilting snack bar (though it has to be said that their prices are really low) and a walk through a high school basketball court (featuring a corn theme).
What later becomes interesting are the photos documenting Mitchell’s annual corn palace, which started out as a way to demonstrate that South Dakota had farm worthy soil and went on to commemorate harvest season, drawing crowds in the thousands – the town’s citizens prided themselves on selecting a local artist to invent decorative themes. The themes depicted often reflect current events, such as the building of Mount Rushmore or one of the World Wars. One scene, which includes a swastika, helpfully notes that the symbol is a Native American one.

The next big attraction is in the tiny town of Murdo: the Pioneer Auto Show, a higgledy-piggledy compendium of autos of all makes and years, which Daniel enjoyed. Funnily enough, over the free breakfast at the Super 8 Motel, we overheard a conversation between founder A.J. ‘Dick’ Geisler’s daughter and another motel guest, who by chance shared a table. We learned that they were both very distressed about the Lutheran Church’s narrow vote to allow the ordination of non-celibate gay pastors, so much so that each was considering whether to leave the Church. Desperate to learn more, Daniel and I ate waffle after waffle, allowing more time for eavesdropping.
Here’s an article on the crisis threatening to split the Lutheran Church.

Thirty miles down the road is 1880 Town, which is a mock-up of an old West town using actual buildings shipped in from all over the region as well as a real homestead that housed settlers desperate for a new chance in life. There, we enjoyed imagining ourselves as pioneers downing drinks at the saloon, mailing letters from the post office, working at the local newspaper, attending the one-room school, catching the train, and hopefully not getting jailed. Whipped around by the gale-force wind, we were glad not to live at that homestead – even if it did come free of charge – in South Dakota. As an aside, the state is described as the potential Saudi Arabia of wind energy.

Next up is Wall Drug, a drugstore founded in the Badlands bordering town of Wall, South Dakota in 1931. Distressed by the lack of business, owner Ted Hustead started advertising the store by offering free ice water to all customers. Inevitably, everyone was parched, having traveled through the hot, dry prairie, and many of these people ended up buying other things as well.
Today, Wall Drug brings in thousands of people in cars, tour buses and on bikes. They charge through the shop, hungrily buying up t-shirts and Wild West themed trinkets, stopping only to take photos at the allotted spots.
One day while we were camping in the Badlands, while Daniel was painting a picture of the stark, eroded mountains, Sophia, Lulu and I made the prescripted drive to Wall – because we actually needed a number of drug store items.
Wall Drug is no longer really about the drug store, so we eventually left the warren-like emporium rather disappointed. On a positive note, though, I would highly recommend the homemade ice cream – Sophia and I shared an extremely generous double scoop of strawberry.

Finally, the mother of all tourist creations: Mount Rushmore. Dreamt up by South Dakota State Historical Society head Doane Robinson in 1923 as a means to attract visitors to the fresh, green Black Hills, the monument featuring the faces of US presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt was carved into granite during the years of the Great Depression and eventually finished in 1941, shortly after sculptor Gutzon Borglum’s death.

Mount Rushmore is a fantastic half-day excursion, with stepped walks (don’t bring a stroller/pushchair!) around the monument, talks on its conception and construction in Borglum’s studio and views of mountain goats.
For more on the history of Mount Rushmore, see