Into the mountains

It must be something to do with coming from a flat, barren topography that makes the mountains so majestic and beautiful in my mind. They are awe-inspiring and I gape with wonder.

As I neared the Great Smoky Mountains, I nearly exploded with wonder at their dense, green blanket and low wispy clouds. The steamy, jungly smell of the forest and the vivid green appealed so strongly to me.

That combination of green and mountain is completely fascinating to someone who lives on the edge of the desert and where there is only one place in town to practise handbrake starts.

I can tell I’m going to love this part of America.

Mammoth waste of my time

“I wonder if the rangers need to be accredited?” was a comment I head a young woman ask her partner as I was following a hundred Americans through Mammoth Cave in Kentucky.

I almost snorted out loud.

Maybe my attitude was tainted by the little sleep I’d had the night before and the subsequent drive, but this tour was interminably boring. Since you can only see the cave on a tour, I selected one that described the difficulty level as ‘moderate’ hoping it would weed out the old, feeble, very young and unadventurous. However we still had all of the above on the tour, as many people seem to overstate their abilities.

Perhaps my ‘tude also came from being told by the long-haired, red necked ranger that I couldn’t take my bottle of water even though I’d been told at the ticket booth that water was allowed. Apparently it had to be in a see-through bottle. Thanks for telling me earlier instead of in front of 100 waiting Americans.

On the bus to the cave entrance, an old yellow school bus that this time I was not excited to ride, I decided to close my eyes and take a little nap. I was interrupted by the small children in front of me saying “look Grandpa, she’s sleeping”. Grandpa replied “Oh no, she’s just pretending.” So when I did open my eyes to glare at them, I caught 3 pairs of little eyes watching me like I was a Wiggles DVD. Grandpa received my sleep status update with a whisper.

I probably should have cut my $12 loss on the ticket and walked back to the visitor centre from there instead of following a bunch of painful people through a largely unimpressive cave.

The last cave I was in was at Waitomo, New Zealand where I abseiled through two waterfalls and got to rock scramble. That was exciting. The cave before that in Margaret River, Western Australia was incredibly beautiful and full of formations.

This dry cavern wasn’t particularly interesting, even less so when you are traipsing behind oohing and aahing Americans in a conga line that’s enough to make someone claustrophobic.

Thankfully the last little bit of the tour took us through the only patch of stalagmites and stalactites in the 300 plus miles of Mammoth Cave, the biggest in the world. That was interesting, but sadly my enthusiasm had completely disappeared and I needed to get away from the herd.

Now I’m hellbent on avoiding anything that is “family friendly”. I need more excitement than those type of activities can muster up. Or maybe I just need to be more tolerant. A situation greatly aided with a good amount of sleep.

Fireflies are real

As dusk descended on my campsite on the outskirts of St Louis, Missouri, flickers of floating light caught my eye.

When one drew closer, I realised it was a firefly with a  flaming tail that switched on and off. I had never seen fireflies before and the novelty wasn’t lost on me as I scanned the growing darkness with eager eyes and childlike fascination.

The small twinkling lights looked like the stars had jumped from the sky and were now playing among the lush green carpet. I felt like I was at the centre of the universe in the warm evening air.

Don’t go chasing waterfalls

Because if they are cascades, they’ll only disappoint.

I am a fan of waterfalls. It took me a little while in life to realise this, I think it wasn’t until stopping to see every possible waterfall on a trip to New Zealand’s North Island that I discovered their hold over me and knew I would always be a waterfall tourist.

Of the world’s major waterfalls, I’ve been to Iguazu Falls on the Argentinian/Brazilian border twice and loved it both times for the diversity of spills and the ability to get up close and wet from them. On this trip I will also be getting to Niagara Falls, which hasn’t ever really appealed to me in the same way I want to go to Venezuela to see Angel Falls, but I’m sure it will be fun none-the-less.

At Rocky Mountain National Park I decided to do a couple of waterfall walks on the west side. Given that the snow is melting, they would surely be super impressive as they thundered along their course.

The first was Cascade Falls, which was thundering as I expected, but it was immersed in the trees and you couldn’t get a good, unobstructed view of them. After a long, but interesting enough hike, I was a bit disappointed. Next up was a short walk to Adams Falls, which carve their way through the rock like a theme-park waterslide. The torrent reminded me a little of Huka Falls in New Zealand, but smaller and a little less powerful.

So once again, I feel like a jaded traveller, where I fail to be awed by my amazing surroundings. I really hope there’s a cure for this. Does anyone know of one?

Blown away

Meteor CraterBattling gale force winds while sightseeing is fun when you don’t take it seriously.

While making a stop at Meteor Crater, apparently the best preserved meteor impact crater in the world, I had to hold on tight to stop from being swept off my feet and into the giant 167m deep hole.

The wind was so strong it picked up my handbag and made it flap like a flag on a flagpole, my shirt and those of everyone around me were flipped up to reveal our bellies and my sunglasses were pushed off my nose sideways. It was strong!

While they harp on about how the Meteor Crater is one of the most fascinating natural wonders, I didn’t think it was worth the $15 admission. $10 perhaps. Unfortunately you can’t walk around the rim, which would be super fun if it wasn’t windy, so you have to make do with the three viewing platforms.

So whilst I was literally blown away, I wasn’t figuratively blown away. I guess I’ll save that up for something else.

Seeking something spiritual

Atop Bell Rock
Atop Bell Rock

Sedona is a kind of Mecca for New Agey types.

In the mid 80’s it was discovered that this red rock area deemed sacred by Native Americans, had a number of vortexes, where energy flow can be detected. I hadn’t actually heard about the vortexes until I was in Flagstaff, so I decided I’d like to find out for myself.

The Bell Rock trail is quite easy, a wide, flat, maintained path however under the midday sun I looked with an incredulous eye at the people setting off with half a bottle of water between two and no hats. It’s not an uncommon sight to see under-prepared people hiking trails.

Climbing to the Bell Rock vortex is not so easy. At first I didn’t think I would make it as it looked too taxing. After refuelling my energy tank I started the climb up, ascending a smooth, steep rock on all fours, negotiating a path across the rockface. I came across a woman coming down and asked if she’d felt the vortex and she described it as a spiralling tingle in her fingertips. I was excited and I wanted my fingertips to buzz too. This gave me the last bit of motivation I needed to get to the top.

I found a little place to rest towards the top, breathed in deeply and waited.

I waited while I listened to two guys talking about the climb.

I waited while watching a woman get her crystals  out and meditate.

I waited while absorbing the landscape around me.

I waited without reward.

I didn’t feel the vortex. Not even when I pressed my fingertips into the rock and closed my eyes. It was disappointing.

I continued to wonder about this as I climbed down, and as I was walking the trail back to the car, decided that I would go to see a psychic to have my tarot read in order to feel some kind of spiritual connection.

There are lots of psychics and the like in Sedona. I chose Madam Bonnie for the cute little location and walked in to have my palms and tarot read. I had never had my palms read before, so it was interesting to see what they had to say about me. There were some really accurate descriptions of things that have happened in the past and some curious predictions for the future.

Madam Bonnie could tell that I was restless as, apparently, my chakra was all over the place. She said she could do some chakra healing, and as I was in a “let’s just try things out” frame of mind, I took her up on this.

When you pay for a chakra healing, you are not paying for the time they spend doing this, rather for the process. It involved three stones being placed on or under my body and then having my body touched with a stone 10 times. Each time the stone would knock on a gong three times, kind of like cracking an egg, then a vibration would sound and Madam Bonnie would press the stone in each of the chakra places on my body.

I felt calmer and more relaxed when I got up, but as chakra healing isn’t instantaneous, I have to call Madam Bonnie in a week to talk to her about how I’m feeling. I’m curious to see whether there is any difference.

So whilst I didn’t get the free spiritual connection at the vortex, I did get a spiritual experience from Sedona.

A view of the Grand Canyon

It was third time lucky for me with the Grand Canyon.

First up, I was underwhelmed whilst on my rafting trip. Yes, so jaded etcetera, etcetera. But then I gave her a chance to show me her beauty from the North Rim, but was greeted with a wall of snow and the smallest glimpse of a canyon wall.

Finally, after a roundabout trip, I got the views and experience you would expect at the South Rim.

I was amazed. It was beautiful, the colours, the rock layers and the magnitude all added up to a massive WOW! You could spend some serious time sitting and pondering without getting bored.

I had a conversation recently about when to move on because you haven’t had the textbook experience that everyone else seems to have and that no matter how hard you look for it, it doesn’t appear. I had a similar experience with Buenos Aires at the end of a year of travel I was jaded, and didn’t find the fun that others did. Just like trying Buenos Aires for a third time and loving it, I’m glad I tried the Grand Canyon for a third time because it was finally the experience that people rave about.

Not so remote

Two planes side by side

Apparently southern Utah was the last place of the contiguous US states to be mapped due to its remoteness. However it doesn’t feel so remote when you always see a jetstream streak across the sky.

I had expected to find wide blue skies contrasting against the red rocks of the region, but many a photo will be marred by these aeroplane scars across the sky. I counted up to 10 at one time in Bryce Canyon. It makes it hard to believe you are in the middle of nowhere when you can see a criss-cross of jetstreams and it’s a continuous reminder of life going on back in the ‘real world’ and makes it difficult to truly escape.

Count the jetstreams above Bryce Canyon

Even in the quiet of the night, you still hear jets flying over in the wee hours of the morning.

It kind of spoils the nature experience.I miss the open expanse of blue sky in Australia. The type where it is rare to see a jetstream, where the jetstream is a novelty, not the norm.

CockRock State Park

Okay, so it’s really called Kodachrome Basin State Park, so named by a bunch of National Geographic boffins who thought it so captivatingly photogenic in 1949, but whatevs, it really is just a state park full of phallic rocks.

The Panorama Trail gives you plenty of opportunity to see these giant, erect formations that some giantess would probably get her rocks off on. Yes, this post is extremely vulgar, but if you want a giggle, check out the slideshow (although not the type filmed on Kodachrome, printed at the photo shop and shown with a white pull up screen and home slide projector, even though that’s probably how the Nat Geo guys showed the park off in the first place).

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