Tag Archives: Travel

Postcard From The USA – Zion National Park

Zion

Zion National Park contains some of the most scenic canyon country in the United States and is characterised by high plateaus, a maze of narrow deep sandstone canyons and striking rock towers and mesas.  People have lived here for thousands of years but in modern times people only became aware of it when Mormon pioneers began to farm the canyon in the late nineteenth century.

In 1880 a geologist called Clarence Dutton visited the Canyon and he described it like this: ‘there is eloquence to their forms which stirs the imagination with a singular power and kindles in the mind. Nothing can exceed the wonderous beauty of Zion, in the nobility and beauty of the sculptures there is no comparison’.

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Many people refused to believe that it was possible for such a place to exist because until a hundred years ago Zion Canyon was practically inaccessible to outside visitors; and only a few had laid eyes on the majestic towering cliffs.  Zion Canyon was declared a National Park in 1909.  It was well thoughtfully named because Zion is an ancient Hebrew word meaning a place of refuge or sanctuary and it was in a temple on Mount Zion near Jerusalem where Jesus and the disciples had the last supper together.

Once through the one mile long entrance tunnel the road started to descend into the valley down a switchback road through six precarious hairpin bends, still following Pine Creek to Mount Carmel junction and arrival at the visitor centre.

There was a peaceful calm at the bottom of the valley and the air tasted of mountain air that cleared your head and filled your lungs with freshness.  A truly marvellous spectacle of colourful sandstone cliffs soaring into the sky above a flat-bottomed, thickly forested valley floor in brilliant red and gold autumn foliage that accentuated the colours of the cliffs. Being at the bottom of the canyon this provided a complete contrast to the  top down view that had been the feature of the Grand Canyon and the views looking up were spectacular and awe inspiring.

After a break we took the short drive into the heart of the canyon that terminated at the Temple of Sinawava (Sinawava was the Coyote God of the Paiute Indians) and here we left to follow the footpaths and trails around the North Fork Virgin River.  There was a lot of choice and certainly not enough time to see as much as we would have liked so we choose the riverside walk towards the Mountain of Mystery and a famous, much photographed, narrow gorge called the Zion Narrows.  Zion is a unique place with diverse wildlife for whom this place is a safe and bountiful refuge.  A little way along the trail we heard a rustling in the bushes and on examination came face to face with a wild deer.  Given its close proximity we were a bit startled by this and on account of its size left quickly so I am afraid that I am unable to identify exactly what species it was.  Thank goodness it wasn’t a bear!

The trail was quite steep because the headwaters of the Virgin River above are at about two thousand, seven hundred metres and it empties into Lake Mead two hundred miles southwest after flowing almost a mile downward.  This gives the Virgin River one of the steepest stream gradients in North America.  Naturally therefore we didn’t get as far as we had optimistically planned and soon it was time to return and leave the park, which was a real shame, I had really enjoyed my day in Paradise.

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Postcard From The USA – Bryce Canyon

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I quickly formed the view that this was probably the most amazing and scenic National Park that we had visited so far and looking out over the canyon the red, orange and white hues of the vertical rock formations tinted with other subtle variations of colour provided spectacular views that simply have to be seen to be believed.

From the visitor centre we walked along the Canyon Rim Trail and came across one marvellous spectacle after another. I couldn’t possibly describe them adequately here but the names give clues to their magnificent splendour, Fairyland Canyon, Rainbow Point, The Pink Cliffs, Sinking Ship and The Tropic Valley. We certainly didn’t have time to walk all of the eighteen mile trail but what we saw was enough to make me put it on my ‘to come back to someday‘ list and I sincerely hope that I will.

Bryce Canyon Cedar Breaks

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Postcard From The USA – Lake Powell and The Glen Canyon Dam

Lake Powell Post card

Lake Powell is a man-made reservoir on the Colorado River on the border between Utah and Arizona and is the second largest man made reservoir in the United States after Lake Mead, it stores thirty cubic kilometres of water when full.  It was created by the flooding of Glen Canyon by the construction of the controversial Glen Canyon Dam, which also led to the creation of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area which is a popular summer destination for tourists.

The reservoir is named after the explorer John Wesley Powell who explored the full length of the river in three small wooden boats in 1869.

Construction of the dam started in June 1960 and the last bucket of concrete was poured and smoothed over in September 1963.  Over four million cubic metres of cement were used to create  the dam which is two hundred and sixteen metres  high and cost a hundred and fifty five million dollars and eighteen lives to build, which was a lot less than the one hundred and four deaths that were caused by the construction of the Hoover Dam further down river thirty years earlier.

Glen Canyon Dam Postcard 02

The dam has always been controversial, many opposed its construction in the first place, some associated with the decision to build it now think that it was a mistake because it has spoilt the environment and the Glen Canyon Institute is an organisation which even today continues to advocate for decommissioning.

We visited the dam and walked from the visitor centre to the other side of the gorge and then we took the elevator down inside the dam to view the hyro-electric generators.

Back on top the sun was coming out now and we took the short journey into the town of Page for lunch.   Page is a new town that was created in 1957 to house workers and their families during the construction of dam and the site was obtained by the government in a land exchange with the Navajo Indian tribe.  I hope they had their wits about them during the negotiations and didn’t get fobbed off with somewhere useless!

Glen Canyon Dam Bridge

There was not a great deal to hang around for in Page and after lunch the coach took us over the Glen Canyon Dam bridge which is over a thousand feet long and about seven hundred and fifty feet above the Colorado River.  Before the bridge was built it was an almost two hundred mile drive drive to the other side of the canyon.  Over the bridge we followed a road along the western side of the water and stopped off soon after to take a cruise on the lake from the Wahweep Marina.

This is easily the  best way to see Lake Powell because most of the features that define the lake,  the sheer cliffs, intricate narrow gorges, twisting canyons and towering mountains are inaccessible from the road and the shoreline and can only be fully appreciated from the water.  It was only a short cruise but it was fabulous because the sun was shining and the water was a calm but vibrant cerulean blue and the boat took us close to the marbled rocky sides of the lake and into the narrow canyons beyond.

I am not sure about the debate over whether creating this lake was the correct thing to do or not but today I simply enjoyed the experience of cruising over the water bathed in sunshine under a big blue peaceful sky.

After returning to dry land we boarded the coach for the journey to the city of Kanab which was over the State border into Utah.  The scenery was as barren and empty as it had been all day and it was less dramatic than it had been earlier in the trip and we were looking forward to arriving at our destination and getting the beer out.

Lake Powell Boat

Postcard From The USA – The Grand Canyon

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After breakfast and check out from the motel we returned to the South Rim Visitor Centre to spend some more time at the Grand Canyon to see it in the daylight.  It was rather a disappointment therefore that the weather was slightly overcast and without the shimmering sunlight to create shifting shadows and continuous contrasts this seemed to leech the colours and the life from the rocks.

It might not have been colourful but it was still an awesome view as we stared down almost a mile deep to the bottom of the gorge, a hole so deep that can take two days to reach on foot by the official trails.  And it wasn’t so peaceful this morning either as there was a continuous buzz of helicopter activity taking trips out over the canyon.  The helicopters used to drop into the canyon for a closer look but after a number of accidents caused by rising thermal currents this had now been stopped.  It might be allowed again now, I don’t know.

Someone reminded me just recently that geologically the Canyon isn’t a canyon but a gorge but Grand Gorge doesn’t sound so – well, Grand.

The canyon/gorge is almost three hundred miles long, up to twenty miles wide and reaches a depth of over a mile and is one of the most magnificent natural wonders of the World.   This is a very big canyon/gorge indeed and it is almost impossible to get a true sense of scale as you stand and look down into the abyss below.

From the viewing platform we were looking over the fabulously named Granite Gorge and along Bright Angel Creek which led directly to the North Rim Visitor Centre on the other side which although only slightly less than ten miles to the north needs a journey of over two hundred miles to get there.  The view just went endlessly on and on and was so infinitely panoramic that it was almost impossible to fully comprehend the scale of the barren wilderness stretching out before us.

To get a sense of perspective it is worth remembering that you could fit Dartmoor National Park in Devon into the Grand Canyon National Park five times and still have a bit of spare left over.

It is a journey like this that makes you realise the immense scale of the USA.  Arizona is 115,000 square miles of emptiness and long stretches of never-ending road between towns, the UK is just less than 95,000 square miles and Arizona is bigger than forty of the fifty-one countries in Europe.

When it was time to go the coach took us out along a road that followed the line of the canyon with further viewing opportunities and then we parted company as our route took us first east and then north across the Painted Dessert passing Marble Canyon, which is the beginning of the Grand Canyon, and towards our next destination, Lake Powell and the Glen Canyon Dam.

I took some photographs but the grandeur of the Canyon is impossible to capture on a point and shoot camera and even the postcards are disappointing.

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On This Day – A Birthday Party

While the current travel restrictions are in place I have no new stories to post so what I thought that I would do is to go through my picture archives and see where I was on this day at any time in the last few travelling years.

With stored digital images this is quite straightforward because all picture files have a date but it is not so easy for scanned images of old photographs.  In this case however I can be absolutely certain and say that on Monday 15th June 1959 I was celebrating my fifth birthday with a cake and a party at our house in Chislehurst Avenue in Leicester.

fifth birthday

Here I am with my friends John and Michael Sparks and my little sister Lindsay.  I wrote a post about birthday parties some time ago.

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I also know exactly where I was on Sunday 15th June 2014, which also happened to be Fathers’ Day that year and my sixtieth birthday…

60th Birthday

On This Day – Kotor in Montenegro

While the current travel restrictions are in place I have no new stories to post so what I thought that I would do is to go through my picture archives and see where I was on this day at any time in the last few travelling years.

On 13th June 2010 I was visiting the city of Kotor in the Balkan country of Montenegro…

Kotor Postcard

The border crossing between Croatia and Montenegro is not without considerable difficulty and lengthy delays because these two are uneasy neighbours (Montenegran Troops were responsible for the siege of Dubrovnic) and it all a bit officious but once through in front of us we could see the black mountains and after we passed through the busy and rather untidy outskirts of the city of Herceg Novi the road reached the sea and started to follow the winding coast line of the picturesque Bay of Kotor.

Once in this new country the first stop came quite quickly at a lay-by with a good view both east and west and looking across to the Italianate town of Perast, once an important independent Venetian ship building town but now rapidly becoming a modern tourist trap.

There was a small market and a jewellery stall in one corner of the lay-by and while Kim looked at sparkly things on chains I examined an information board about the Bay.  In the middle were about twenty clear holes about the thickness of a pencil and on closer examination I realised that they were bullet holes.  The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end because whoever had been using the sign for target practice was clearly a very good shot and it occurred to me that I could be in the cross-hairs of someone’s rifle sights even as I stood there.

I was beginning to become aware that Montenegro might be rather different to anywhere else that I had been before and I wasn’t inclined to hang around any longer than necessary so I encouraged Kim to hurry up and leave without a purchase and we carried on  without further delay around the bay.

There are strict driving rules in Montenegro but these don’t seem to apply to local people and my use of the road was continuing to irritate people and several times I was tooted and invited to pull over by motorists using hand signals that you won’t find in the Highway Code but I didn’t let this intimidate me and I continued sedately on, pulling over whenever I could to let agitated motorists pass me by.

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Eventually we arrived in Kotor without further incident and I found it much bigger than I imagined it would be from the descriptions in the travel guides and there was a six deck, two thousand passenger cruise liner tied up at the dock which was so huge it dwarfed the town and looked sadly out of place.  I may have mentioned this before but I really do not like these cruise ships.

At 35º centigrade it was extremely hot so we were pleased to go through the main gate of the old town and into the shaded cooler streets inside, Kim because she was out of the sun and me because she had stopped complaining about it.

It was busy inside because Kotor old town is quite small with a population of about five and a half thousand and it was playing host to the holidaymakers from the cruise liner and hundreds of others as well which temporarily more than doubled the population.

Once again there was a distinct Italianate feel because the old Mediterranean port of Kotor is surrounded by an impressive city wall that was built by Republic of Venice and the Venetian influence remains dominant among the architectural styles around the main squares and up and down the tight twisting streets.

Kotor is a UNESCO World Heritage site and inside the walls the narrow sinuous streets took us past little picturesque shops, cafés, bars, antique monuments and cream stone buildings, balconies overflowing with billowing flowers, washing lines full of immaculate laundry and the overwhelming smell of laundry powder and fabric conditioner.

Kotor Washing Line

The old town of Kotor is wedged in between the rugged Bay and at the foot of the imposing Lovćen massif mountain range directly under overhanging limestone cliffs of the mountains Orjen and Lovćen.  At the back of the town there was an entrance to a demanding walk up the vertical mountain to visit the city walls but today it was too hot for us to even consider tackling it especially in flimsy sandals on slippery stones and paths with warnings of danger clearly signposted.  So we made do with admiring it all from sea level and then slipped back into the maze of streets and looked for a bar away from the blistering heat of the unrelenting sun which was reflecting off the buildings and radiating around the paved squares and open spaces.

Kotor wasn’t quite what we were expecting it has to be said and we found it untidy and scruffy, the cruise ship spoilt it in a way because the old town was overcrowded and the hulking mass of the ship destroyed the charm of the seafront and the harbour.  The cafés and bars were more expensive than I imagined they would be, certainly pricier than in Croatia, but I thought the old town was nice enough and we sat in the shade in a corner of one of the small squares and drank  a Montenegrin beer called Niksicko, which despite its rather unpromising name was really quite nice.

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Thursday Doors – Caminha in Northern Portugal

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In July 2008 we were visiting Galicia in Northern Spain and one day took a car ride south and crossed into Portugal and the Province of Minho named after the river that marks the border with Spain.

After a short while we came to Caminha, which is an ancient fortress town overlooking the river and is rich in historical and architectural importance. It didn’t look too promising down on the river but a short walk to the centre revealed a most appealing town with manorial houses and medieval defensive walls, a Gothic church, and a very attractive main square with cafés and a fifteenth century clock tower.

Especially interesting were the houses with colourful tiled walls in bright blues, greens and yellows.  There was one of those old fashioned hardware stores that you rarely see in Europe anymore and all of the houses had first floor doors that led out to rusting metal balconies that overlooked the sunny streets.

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For some reason which I can’t explain I bought a Tea Towel souvenir in the shop there…

Portugal Tea Towel

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favourite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

On This Day – Tower Of Terror in Trogir, Croatia

While the current travel restrictions are in place I have no new stories to post so what I thought that I would do is to go through my picture archives and see where I was on this day at any time in the last few travelling years.

On 8th June 2009 I was in Croatia visiting the medieval town of Trogir…

Trogir Waterfront

Trogir is about fifteen miles north of Split and is the best preserved Romanesque-Gothic complex not only in the Adriatic, but also in all of Central Europe and inevitably therefore a UNESCO World heritage site.   It was mid morning when we arrived and the town was already very busy.  The old city is built on a little island, only separated from the mainland by a few yards and with access to it over a small bridge.

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Postcard From The USA – Four Corners, Monument Valley and Grand Canyon

Our first stop today was at the Four Corners monument where four US States meet at one intersection and it is possible to be in all of them at the same time by standing in two and reaching down and touching the others.

Four Corners Postcard 01

From Four Corners we drove to Monument Valley which was everything that I expected it to be and there was a magnificent view from the visitor centre across the whole of the valley.

Monument Valley

What followed next was another highlight of the holiday when Richard and I left the coach to go on an optional small plane journey for a flight from Monument Valley all the way down the Grand Canyon.

Grand Canyon

 

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Postcard From The USA – Mesa Verde National Park

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Mesa Verde National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that features numerous ruins of homes and villages built by the ancient Pueblo people. It is best known for several spectacular cliff dwellings which are structures built within caves and under outcroppings in cliffs, including the Cliff Palace, which is thought to be the largest cliff dwelling in North America.

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