Tuesday, 1 November 2016

National Parks of the United States of America

A country bigger than Europe, with States which are, on average, the size of Spain or Germany – with people who ask “How are ya?” but are not usually genuinely interested in the answer – where there are ridiculous heat waves in May, and snow in September – where food can be horribly unhealthy but in some places, surprisingly, very healthy, if you know where to look ((But horribly expensive either way unless it’s processed meat, a simple yoghurt costing around 5$ , a bar of chocolate 4$ , a coffee 4,5$, but a hotdog not even 1$.. ))—Where they have such horrible salaries they live off of tips that seem absurd to tourists and get indignant when said tourists don’t understand this – with ENDLESSLY beautiful nature : The United States of America.

I was there. I was there whilst dear Obama is still president (Thank God, the choice the country’s poor citizens have to make soon is an awful one), with the BEST local driver and guide I can imagine. The three of us were a proper team, though I felt useless half the time because they were so efficient. Britta, the guide, was a multi-lingual multi-functional multi-tasker  (quick, smart, friendly, albeit a bit bossy) who made my own efforts seem like child’s play, and Erin, our driver, was so damn flexible, friendly and funny (Triple F!) I was sending up grateful prayers at the end of every day.

Endlessly gorgeous, the 6 States we visited.  I couldn’t describe it in any other way. We have breathtaking views in Europe, mountains and lakes and cliffs in Switzerland, Croatia, or Italy.. But (West/Central) Europe is more “crowded”. A lot more to fit a far tinier space. A lot more houses, animals, roads, cars, but mainly, a lot more people. The States kept awing me with this feeling I couldn’t shake: Like I was at the end of the earth. That place you’re all alone, left to your own devices, the voices in your own head, and if you were to die, well, people would have to look really hard to find you.

It was for work, but I learned and saw so many new things that I really didn't feel like it was just work, if that makes any sense. 

We (Erin!) drove some 6000 km. I couldn't get bored though, because the views kept changing.
"Americans think 100 years is a long time. Europeans think 100 miles is a long distance."
Yep, that sounds about right. It was tiring but incredible. 

Here’s an impression, because words just fail to cover it. 
1. Yes, there are a lot of selfies. I can't help it, it's my nature. If I want pictures without me on them, I'll google the place. 
2. Yes, a lot of them are taken diagonally. To make it fit, more often than not. It's my photography style. 
3. Yes, there are a great many pictures. Take your time. ;) 

On the way there, you timetravel to your advantage.
After 14 hours, it's still the same day, only a few hours later. 

One of the first stops: Molly Brown's house.
And for those who don't know, she's Titanic's Rose. The real one. 

Denver State Capitol, inside and out. 
Quite impressive. We also had the loveliest of volunteer guides. 

Yup, already turning local. It fitted in with my hair!
Things are expensive in the States though, so after the picture I promptly returned the hat. 

National Park number one: The Rocky Mountains. 

First signs of wildlife were pretty cute. 
And tame. Though it says "no feeding", people still did so. 
And these little buggers knew it. 

Meet the local guide Britta (right) and our driver Erin (left).
Our first (of many)  dinner together.
They were both so scared of messing up their clothes I got paranoid and joined them with the napkins. It was funny anyway. 

See, it's views like these, endless, forever stretching, that made the trip to what it was. 

State border time - Welcome to Utah. 

Dead Horse State Point. 
One of the prettiest nature scenes. 

Arches National Park. Damn, that is one impressive place. 
The wind, the main reason for why the place looks like it does, is also the main reason of it's destruction. Isn't that ironic?

Tough climb, but got there in the end.
That's the delicate arch, right there, top centre of the picture. 
Nobody knows how long it will still be there, but it's the "mascotte" of the park. 

Driving again. 

Murals of native Americans on the walls on the way. 
There's a wolf, in the middle. Or a bear? 

Yay, visiting Salt Lake city was a highlight of this trip, my own town (literally translated to English) being Sweet Lake City. 

We also visited the Capitol Building in Salt Lake City. 
More impressive than the one in Denver, if you ask me. 

Having just seen the musical Wicked a few weeks before this, stumbling into this book in a random bookshop was like +SQUEAL!+ 

Oh, and I met up with dear friends (from Egypt) in Utah I hadn't seen for years. 
My group had free time they used to eat in one of the most fancy places out there. 
We had good times. 

Another State. Yay. 

You have to make your job fun for yourself, don't you?

Hello Montana! 

And hello, Yellowstone! National Park number.. 4?
We spent more than one day here, and still didn't see everything. 

This park has to be one of my favourites, despite the smell of sulphur (rotten eggs) in the air. 
The place has thousands of thermal springs and hundreds of geysers.

This is the Old Faithful, the most famous of geysers.
It's called that because of the reliability of its eruption times. :) 

Theodore Roosevelt Arch - one of the entrances /exits to the park.

This is why there are stereotypes of Americans out there.
Because of these people.
" Quick honey, take my picture, I'm holding the pyramid in my hand."

The youngest people in my group. (And the funniest) 

Lots of Nature violence. But oh so pretty. 

Elk, just across the street. 

And Bison grazing happily with their calves. 

Trails at your own risk. 

That darn wood beetle. 
And forest fires. 

Is that actual snow?
Yes, yes it is. 

Those colours! Where is my paintbrush when I need it!

Yes, Bisons were THAT close to the bus at times. 
And though they look peaceful, those suckers can run fast.
Especially when you're holding a selfie stick. 
They'll run and gut you. 
Your own fault for not asking permission first. 

Entirely different views, still same Yellowstone Park. 
Porcelain Springs, all milky and.. gorgeous. 

I'll save up for this. 
Or the Game of Thrones version I saw in Croatia. 
Some day. 

Yes yes yes! We did (because of all our positive energy and wishful thinking) actually see a grizzly bear! Two of them, a mum and her cub! Just as we were driving out of the park, too.  And it was awesome!


Hello Wyoming!

At some point we had to leave Yellowstone behind and head to Cody (we could've stayed there forever and I wouldn't have been bored). Cody had a very interesting museum (Buffalo Bill). 
Five museums under one roof, one of which was about the nature (and animals) of the park ( I sat down at this Be Safe Around Bears presentation, where they gave you tips and tricks of what to do when you run into a bear). It had a museum about the Natives, a museum on Western Arts, one about Buffalo Bill himself and his life, and another on Firearms (that's probably the only one I wasn't interested in). 

When I came into my room, I stumbled onto this brilliant piece of Marketing. 

We had a "Chuck wagon dinner" in Cody (all you can eat, they even made me two veggie burgers *.*) with this live music and Cowboy atmosphere. 
'twas coo'. 

Bighorn National Forest (number 5?) was wet. But cool. 

On the road again. 

In Sheridan, we went to the King's Saddlery (where they make artful .. everything?.. from leather) 

In memory of strong native american women. 

And we visited the oldest inn in town. (They made a great veggie wrap) 

Some clients were just like paparazzi.


You can't visit the States and not go to Starbucks. (Which, to be fair, is like, the best coffee they have at all, so you might as well.) 

Devil's Tower (they applied for a name change, because it's not a negative place for natives, but whoever had a say decided that would hurt tourism) had one of the most fascinating legends describing it. 
There was a group of native American kids playing, when a bear surprised them.
They ran, and of course the bear chased them. 
They ran up a hill, and pleaded with Mother Earth to help them. 
Mother Earth responded by pushing herself up. 
The bear tried clawing its way up, still trying to get to the children. 
The children survived and lived happily ever after. The bear moved on and did the same.
You can still see the bear's scratch marks in the earth. 

Welcome to Wyoming. 

I made a mood board in the visitor centre. 

Crazy Horse memorial - One of the men who worked at Mount Rushmore (Korczak Ziolkowski) was asked by a Lakota Elder, Henry Standing Bear, to make the biggest sculpture in granite stone in the Black hills to date. It should depict Crazy Horse, who took up arms against the US federal Gov. to fight against the encroachments of territories and way of life of the Lakota people. The statue (when finished) is pointing in the distance, symbolizing his saying "My lands are where my dead lie buried."

And seeing as it's a non-profit but anti-governmental organization, every donation helps.
You could even "buy"a piece of rock there. (I picked a really small rock, because of... well, airline regulations about weight, really.) 
Their plan is to have it finished (roughly) in 25 years. We'll see. I'd want to go there when it's ready. 

Mount Rushmore with the group. 

The highlight for one person in the group.
She actually only picked this trip because we were visiting these faces carved in stone..  

Welcome to national park number.. I lost count.. 

This was such a wonderfully cute ranger!
She was so bubbly and funny - 

Badlands definitely ranges in my top three National Parks! (Along with Arches and Yellowstone)

Because - well - this. 

And this.

A member of the group actually saw a rattle snake.
But it was more scared of us then we of them. 

Welcome to South Dakota. 

And Fort Laramie, a 19th century trading post. 
Where there were people dressed up for some photoshoot that gave us the impression we were really in the 19th century for a bit.

They used to sell things like bison fur. They even had the prices of back then. 
Cool open air museum, all in all. 

Welcome to Colorado! 

On our way back to Denver, we passed the Anheuser Busch Brewery. 
If it hadn't been for Britta's (We could have a small tour here) and Erin's ready "Okay, sure, no problem" we wouldn't have stopped there at all. 
We did though. And though it stank (I really dislike alcohol..) it was still interesting and unique.

Last evening, the group went to bed early.. 
Erin picked me up in her car and gave me a private Denver by night tour. 
I couldn't have been more grateful. 

Almost back in Belgium.

The first setback of the entire trip was when we got to Belgium. 
Something about a strike the day before, and the luggage racks being full with yesterday's things. 
And thus today's luggage couldn't be transported. And and and.. welcome back to Belgium.. /idiots.

We saw a lot more than our itinerary promised us, because of the readiness and flexibility and great ideas of both local guide and driver, who made my job a serious lot easier for me. 

Also, I lost weight x’D Who knew you could in the States, of all places.
I bet it was all the kale salads for lunch :)

The Gypsy

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