Road Tripping in the USA: From Montana to Las Vegas.

It’s a well established fact that road trips are the best vacation.  100% of the people I surveyed agreed. The sample size of one may mean the results are not that reliable but still I love road tripping!

America does scenery! America does scenery really, really well! Geologically speaking, the American continent is very young. Its mountains are still forming and they rise abruptly, almost rudely from the surrounding plains. Let’s not worry about foothills…let’s just put a big mountain right here!  Active earthquake zones, hot springs and geysers pepper the landscape. Wide rivers fed by snow, race and rage across the landscape falling to one side or the other of the Continental Divide.

In comparison, Australia is old. The worn down mountains are not as spectacular. The stable continental plate is peaceful and slow. Rarely a rumble disturbs the solid ground. The dry climate means our rivers are mostly small and a bare trickle compared to the wide rivers of the US. What we lack in mountains, we make up in colour. The rich red of the iron laden soil surpasses the grey and browns that predominate in the US.

This short photo essay does not do justice to the more than 2000 km travelled from Montana to Las Vegas via Bozeman, Yellowstone National Park, The Grand Tetons, Jackson, Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon.

The camera can never capture the grand scale of the mountains, plains and rivers. Well at least not my camera! Photos of the boiling springs in Yellowstone with their slimy microbial mats look uninspiring and not majestic. The burbling creeks and rushing waterfalls do not freeze well  in the snapshot of time.

These vistas must be experienced first hand. A slow southward meander through five states surveying the truly amazing geology of the young American continent should be on your bucket list. I’d do it again in a heartbeat!

This series of photos were taken with my first “serious” camera. Most are SOOC and becasue they are in JPG rather than RAW,  I can’t do much to “fix” them.

Maine: Closed for the Season?

a closed sign on a road

On the Maine Road

In April this year, I took a trip to the USA. I took two completely different routes: the Fast Lane and the Maine Road.  Three weeks in New York, a city that’s always open and humming, book-ended a five day road trip to Maine, which I discovered, was mostly “closed-for-the-season”.

My plan for Maine was to take in few hikes in Acadia National Park,  do some serious lighthouse spotting and sample authentic lobster rolls in their natural setting. I knew it would be a bit chilly but that didn’t matter after all, spring had sprung!

It should have twigged as I was tried to book accommodation. Most of the AirBnB listings said they were unavailable for the dates I was trying to book. I naively thought they must be just be very busy. I kept scrolling until I found someone taking bookings.  I ignored the small print; “We re-open on April 14th”  I would be there from April 7 – April 11th. A few days shouldn’t make that much difference? Should it?

some peeblesin the foreground and a small lighthouse in the background
Kittery Point – Whaleback Light

Being from the mild subtropics, I didn’t understand how comprehensively closed everything in Maine would be. The larger cities of Portsmouth and Portland were business as usual, but the small beach-side towns in between, were in fact, “closed” except for the local grocers and a few cafes. In the end, this only added to the appeal of an impossibly “Pinterest” worthy coastline which I enjoyed without crowds. My loves for quiet hiking, quaint architecture and lighthouses were well served.  The iconic lobster roll, on the other hand, was well and truly off the menu as a summer only delicacy.

Day 1: New York, New York to Kittery, Maine. (454 km)

Picking up the rental car from Laguardia Airport on a Saturday morning was a good idea. I missed the weekday traffic heading out of the city and I got a better deal compared to getting it in Manhattan. I caught the M60 bus  bus from Harlem and then the free shuttle bus from the airport concourse to the rental car office.

Once on the road, it was a compromise between the scenic coastal route and getting to Kittery before dark.  I headed east through Connecticut and Rhode Island, turned North on the I395 at New London up to Worcester, Massachusetts, then through New Hampshire and finally Kittery, Maine.

Six states in less than a day! Trying doing that in Australia!

My first attempt to photograph a lighthouse was foiled by a gated estate! I could see the Old Saybrook Breakwater Lighthouse on the headland, but couldn’t figure out how to get to it as it was surrounded by private homes and a large golf course with big warning signs!

Old Saybrook
Old Saybrook

The tiny town of Kittery, on the New Hampshire-Maine border is the oldest town in Maine. Already around 5 pm by the time I arrived, I just managed to snag photos of the sun setting behind a bridge that looked just like the Sydney Harbour Bridge (the Piscataqua River Bridge).  My accommodation for the night, a  stylish AirBnB was right on the banks of the Piscataqua River.  I chose to stay on the Kittery side because it was considerably cheaper than the Portsmouth side. An easy stroll across the Memorial Bridge took me into the commercial heart of Portsmouth within a few minutes so no harm done by saving money. I wandered around the quiet streets, looking for food and settled on Fat Belly’s Bar and Grill because it looked friendly and cosy. Turns out they make a mean veggie burger and serve nice cold wheat beer!

Day 2: Kittery to Mt Desert (360 km)

The next morning I headed out for the Whaleback Lighthouse on Kittery Point and  discovered it must be the chicken’s day off!

4 turkeys crossing a road
Chickens Day off?
Slow sign
Good advice – Kittery

My first attempt at a lobster roll was at Lobster Cove, York.

“No, honey” the waitress said, “NOT at this time of year!” Eyes rolling as if I should have known better. No lobster in Lobster Cove?

Empty car parks with massive capacity and tourist shops with boarded windows made it obvious that this town was used to big crowds. I was one of the few who braved the weak spring sunshine and the stiff wind that held squawking gulls in one spot, despite their flapping wings.

Meh…I am not much into shopping and the scenery was still open, so I was happy!

The Nubble Lighthouse at Cape Neddick was resplendent and Ogunquit quaint beyond belief with adirondack chairs chained to scenic spots. The main inconvenience? Closed shops = closed public toilets!

2 blue adirondack chairs near the ocean
Nice view!
a small white cottage and lighthouse
Nubble Light -Cape Neddick

As I headed further north the piles of deep snow became more frequent and I kept my jacket-gloves-scarf-hat combo at the ready.

Old Orchard Beach reminded me of an aging, overblown gigolo with its fairground, ferris wheel and tall-legged wooden pier. The temperature reminded me of Antarctica!

Once again – no lobster roll.

“No Ma’am” pffffft… “only in the summer!”

I made good with half a sandwich and soup. I’d been in America long enough to know a ½ sandwich would be enough!

I picked up groceries for my two night stay on Mt Desert Island and settled in for a frosty night in a old colonial cabin right on the edge of the Acadia National Park.

Day 3: Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor.

Another early start had  me crunching along the snow covered carriageway, past logs dripping in icicles and the rustling of turkeys hidden somewhere in the scrub. Acadia National Park had been described to me as one of the most beautiful parks in America but it was here that my (wilful) ignorance of the seasonal closures proved to be  the most inconvenient.

The Park has a loop road, the majority of  which was closed. I was restricted to a few limited sections. This did not deter me from a long walk around Eagle Lake after jumping a low fence. I had a lingering guilt  that I had not paid the entrance fee suspecting I should have, to someone,  somewhere, even though the booths were closed. I half expected to find my wheels clamped when I got back to the car.

It was sunny and  -6ºC. I was well dressed with thermals, fleecy hiking pants, a merino wool jumper, goose down jacket, woolly socks, two pairs of gloves, scarf, balaclava and beanie.

A woman in thick winter clothing sitting on a fence surrounded by snow
Rugged up in Acadia National Park

This Aussie knew there was no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes! I picked my way through the snow like the Michelin Man,  feeling a tad overdressed when some locals walked past in three less layers than me. After three hours walking around Eagle Lake, I headed into the town of Bar Harbor for lunch. This time I was determined to find the now elusive lobster roll. Haven’t they heard of a freezer up here? Five cafes and another hour later, I settled for – you guessed it – soup and ½ a sandwich.

Day Four: Bar Harbor to Portland. (260 km)

Today was the day for “THE lighthouse”. The Bass Point Light which perches on craggy, often snow covered rocks with frozen waterfalls bedecking the plinth on which it sits. On attempt No 1 I found the carpark alright, but couldn’t find a path down to the rocks below. I figured that you could only reach it by boat. The boat tours, were of course, “closed for the season”. Never mind, I thought,  next time I’m in Maine! I headed off to a nearby town for a warming coffee at Sips Cafe. I told the cafe owner about my predicament and she kindly explained where the path was:

“From the car park, look to your left.  Find the dirt path hidden behind the toilets and follow it down as far as you can go.”

At attempt No 2, THE lighthouse mission was accomplished. Tick!  Another photography subject off the bucket list!

a small light house high up on a rocky ledge
Bass Point Lighthouse

Next, another hike took me around Wonderland followed by the Jordan Pond Shore Trail (Acadia NP) before hightailing it back to Portland for the sunset. Low clouds and a pink sky gave a perfect backdrop for the Portland Head Light at Cape Elizabeth

a white lighthouse on a stony headland with pink sky
The Portland Head Light

My night’s lodging, an AirBnB in Preble Street, was a large, rambling early 20thC  Eastlake and Stick style home, with six bedrooms, several bathrooms,  a pool room, a music room, a huge kitchen and at least three cats. The owner had texted me from Mexico, with the code to open the door and insisted I make myself at home. So I did; by having  a good (but respectful) poke around looking at all the art and artifacts which covered nearly every surface. After a busy day walking and driving I was happy to snuggle up and read a book I had found on the shelf  eating Italian take away with one of the super friendly cats on my lap.   By this time, I had abandoned the idea of lobster entirely and was extolling the virtues of AirBnB via Facebook to my friends back in Oz.

Day 5: Portland to New York.

With a late flight out, I had all day to take in Portland and started off with a self-guided architectural walking tour around the Weston Boulevard neighbourhood before heading downtown to check out the Art Gallery.

Portland, Maine is a town full of beards and while apparently not as Hipster (with a capital H) as Portland, Oregon it certainly had a small h hipster feel to it. The Sisters Gourmet Deli, a case in point. Fabulous food with modern (retro) styling.

Three more lighthouses, the Bug Lighthouse, the Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse and the Ram Island Ledge Light finished things off nicely before I headed out to the airport for my flight back to New York.

You’ll be pleased to know, I finally got a lobster roll.  A mini one; as part of High Tea at the Plaza Hotel in New York. It was OK but I’m kinda glad it was only mini sized!

Over-rated; lobster, if you ask me…

As it turns out, the “season” re-opens mid-April, so perhaps it would have been better if I had gone a week later when the Park was fully open. But then I would have missed the ice and snow and the beaches which I shared with those squawking, stationary gulls.  

A large red carved wooden model of a lobster holds an ice cream
Closest I got to eating lobster – Bar Harbor

Magical Chanel

The last 5 mL of rich golden liquid had been lingering in the bottom of that “parfum” bottle for a few years now. Chanel No 5, one of the last gifts the ex had given me. He had always been good with gifts. Much more thoughtful than me. I tended to buy very inappropriate ones at the last minute. His gifts were always something I had wanted. Something I had mentioned in passing and forgotten about.

IMG_0493
Jordan, Montana. USA

I am not really a perfume sort of person so the Chanel, while lovely,  and no doubt expensive, was not in the usual caliber of gifts. Probably hastily bought from the inflight duty free. Still it was a nice thought. I tried to wear it everyday to make it become part of my routine but I’d often forget. I don’t like women who leave a cloud of strong perfume behind them like a invisible marker. Of course, I don’t want to smell bad, but I don’t think I should leave a lingering cloud of esters and alcohols behind.

But here is it was,  the last few squirts left. We’d been divorced close to 4 years and this wretched bottle still sat on my bathroom vanity like a beacon of the past. Why was I saving it? At first, when I was in the “we can fix this relationship stage”, I would wear it when he came around. Maybe he’d notice? Then it just stayed. I just let it sit and every time I’d use it there was a pang. A pang that got smaller and smaller and smaller. Mirroring the contents.

Somewhere along the line I bestowed magical properties on this elegant square glass bottle. It begun to represent my progress to an independent life. When the bottle was empty my life would be mine.

And it happened. Rather than using it less frequently I found I was wearing it everyday to get rid of it.  I was ready. I had been ready for a while. That last squirt in December last year was a milestone even if only metaphorically.

moon rising 4
Once in a pink moon

These photos have nothing to do with Chanel. They represent part of my journey to get to here. They were taken on in Montana in 2012. Some on a tripod and some by my travelling companion Bec! (Thanks Bec)

Making Adult Friends: Trusting your gut instincts

All my planning was complete, and I was stepping on the final flight from Incheon to JFK International and it came to me in a thunderbolt that I had committed to spend three weeks in New York, in the house of someone I didn’t know very well. I didn’t have a Plan B if things went sour and that was an oversight.

five star (6 of 15)
A common interest in photography

My intended host and I had met in a bar on a rainy afternoon in Jasper in October 2016. We spent the afternoon and evening together, drinking, eating and chatting to other hikers who were also trying to keep dry. Did I mention the drinking part? To tell you the truth, we all got smashed together and had a fabulous time. After that RJB and I stayed in touch via Facebook. We had a lot in common.

five star (7 of 15)
We both love Springsteen

It turned out that RJB lives near Central Park on 5th Avenue and she invited me to visit. Sensibly, I said yes and then we spent a few moths planning my visit.

Canada proc-658
We both love hiking
Canada proc-616
and road trips
Canada proc-514
and nature

My sudden concern arose from a fear that in the flesh and sober we might not be so compatible.  What happened if she turned out to have some strange and dark secrets? Could she be a member of a weird, radical religious cult and I was destined to become a captive?

five star (15 of 15)
and the same sort of food!

From her Facebook posts I knew our taste in music, politics and ethics aligned well. Still I had a niggle in the back of my mind. It still might be an elaborate hoax. My worries were of course in vain. RJB was a treasure and although a self-confessed crazy cat lady, everything went well. Her husband was a lovely fellow and we got on well too.

five star (4 of 15)

One of the downsides of being divorced is that your old friends find it hard to take sides and you tend to lose contact. I didn’t have many friends to start off with. The friends my ex and I did have, fell by the wayside as we spiralled down into a very unhealthy vortex of introspection as our marriage collapsed around us.

Since “getting my shit together” I have made a few really good friends. These friendships have in fact be an integral part of that renewal of my life.

As an adult it’s not that easy to make new friends. We are a little pickier and harder to please. We have much higher standards than we did as children.  Even though it is hard, I think we make it harder than it needs to be. I think we disguise fear as pickiness. We are just a bit scared to bare our souls.

This blog, Science of People [1] has some really good tips on how to make friends, but I remember reading somewhere else that how you make friends and them keep them boils down to a few basic things.

five star (11 of 15)

 

1: You meet by being in the same pace at the same time, so you are already involved in some common pursuit.

2: You spend an intensive period of time with them participating in that common activity

3: You commit to staying in touch and

4: You actually do stay in touch.

It’s not rocket science. Of course, the most important factor is you need to trust and be open.

 

I guess with RJB I should have just trusted my gut. If she was an axe murderer I think I would have guessed in that first meeting. Little bit crazy cat lady I can deal with! 🙂

five star (9 of 15)
High Tea at the Plaza

[1] https://www.scienceofpeople.com/how-to-make-friends/

Photographers at work

When I travel I like to develop a theme (and often a sub-theme) for my photos so that I can have a  unifying element in the photo books I make. It is an underlying thread that doesn’t direct my flow but,  if I see it and it catches my eye; I will take the shot. For example when I went to France for my 50th birthday I took photos of house numbers from 1 – 50. The 50 was the last page of the book. (BTW I missed number 26 and had to get one from the interwebs)  In Italy a couple of years before that I took, photos of doors. When I was in America in 2012,  I took photos on a red, white and blue theme. Incidentally, I only took red white and blue clothes with me so in selfies I would fit the theme. (I know I know….what can I say!)

P1730747-Edit-15

On my recent trip to New York I decided to take photos of photographers, professional and otherwise; taking photos. I had some fun, met some people when they caught me out and got a few good shots. Here are a few of the results.

I took the series above in Freeman Alley in the Bowery District. I went there to take some street graffiti pictures but found these fellows posing. I started chatting to the photographer and we had a bit of a laugh. You can find his work at @iamjustiniano on Instagram.

This series is on the Pebble Beach at DUMBO in Brooklyn. The engagement shoot was gate crashed by a photography tour who had set up for the sunset behind Brooklyn Bridge.

The photographer wanted her to hold that big wrench in a particular way and she just wasn’t getting it!

I am guessing these ones in fashionable SOHO were for Instagram.

Assorted selfies.

These final ones below aren’t great photos in their own right and were in the reject pile but these people were all taking photos of a red tail falcon which was eating a pigeon in a tree. It turned into a little community for a few minutes with people sharing their shots.

I nearly always take photos of myself in reflections like this one. If I pass a mirror I can’t resist! A reflection and a mirror? Heaven!

P1760355-Edit-164
al la Vivian Maier!

New York, New York (oh and a tiny bit of Maine)

I spent most of April in the US of A and most of that time, I was in New York with about 5 days in coastal Maine. I took nearly 6000 photos and around 300 short videos. I used 11 SD cards. It has taken me over a week to sift through them. Some I deleted immediately. Too blurry, too grainy or just too nothing. What I saw with my eyes did not transfer to the digital sensor. I cut the 6000 back to 2500.

These 30 photos are my favourites. Over the next few weeks and months I will go through them again and perhaps I will see some things I did not see the first time through. But for now, these photos stand out to me. (I think I did pretty well to pick 30!) I have not added any titles. I hope they stand up as interesting images in their own right. Stories about the photos will follow over the next few months.

My friend, a real photographer, says I am a “documentary photographer”.

I am happy with that title.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Central Park, New York

New York is legendary. The thing of thousands of stories. Central Park is …well…central to many of these stories. Police dramas where unsuspecting joggers get murdered or raped on one of the winding pathways to romances like When Harry Met Sally. A quick search of the internet throws up several web pages that give you a list of movies made in Central Park. Have a look here for a start. http://www.centralparktoursnyc.com/central-park-movie/

Since being in New York I have visited the Park a lot. My lodging location helps, I’m just across the road. (Thanks again RJB!!) The pace of my morning jog has been slowed right down as I have stopped to take photos of early morning reflections in the ponds and the reservoir.

Yesterday, I enjoyed a picnic on Sheep’s Meadow and indulged in some serious people watching. On this, the first hot sunny day of spring, puffer jackets were replaced by bare chested men playing spike ball (see this video – I had never seen it before https://youtu.be/jdRKqguEbas)

The blossoms trees had blossomed and the bees were a-buzzing. Clusters of daffodils, jonquils and crocus had survived the previous week’s snow to brighten things up.

The less active, lay around on the grass reading or sleeping.

To think only five days ago the flowers were buried by snow.

I can see why this enormous Park is labelled New Yorker’s front yard. It’s a place to play and relax. A place to meet a place to zone out. A place to remember green.

Pintrest towns.

Coastal Maine is why they invented Pinterest. So the inhabitants could show off their impossibly gorgeous weatherboard homes with the cute (non-Christmas) wreaths on the doors and the American flags fluttering in the breeze. I have not stopped to take many photos because if I did, I would be here until Christmas (Christmas 2020 that is!!) Despite that I will always carry the images in my heart. The contrast shutters against the (usually) pastel boards with the occasional white on dark blue or black boards to spice things up.

On my journey from New York to Kittery and onwards to Bar Harbor, Google maps directed me to take the interstate highways, which while fast, did not give any interesting vistas so I chose the ‘avoid motorways and tollways’ options when asking for directions. A T-mobile SIM card gave me good GPS coverage all the way. A three hour sprint at 110 kph became a five hour stroll through towns that can only be described as quaint. White church steeples, 1880-style brick and tile shop fronts with the occasional verdigris copper detail.

Rugged, craggy beaches with moraine rocks are in stark contrast to the squeaky smooth sandy beaches of home. Layer on layer of whole shells rather than smashed, tiny pieces of mollusc homes confirm the more peaceful waves which wash up on the blackened gritty sand.

White gulls outweigh their Australian counterparts by at least 2 kilos and share the beach with ducks, geese and turns.

The humans are bundled up in coats and scarfs not bikinis and boardies and it’s hard to imagine that it could ever warm up enough to warrant the beach-wear in the now closed shop windows.

“Closed for the Season” rang out from nearly every establishment. I guess with snow still lying in dirty patches on the ground and while spring may have officially arrived on the calendar, there are still at least a few weeks till its warm enough to abandon the winter woolies.

Portsmouth, one of the oldest towns in the US is so far, the star. Ogunquit and Old Orchard Beach may perhaps be splendid holiday destinations in summer but they don’t show their best side in winter. At least not for someone who has golden sandy beaches in walking distance to home. Nonetheless, coastal landscapes and fishing towns will always lift my spirit, perhaps they will do the same for you,