Wednesday, 16 April 2014

The Great American Adventure - Part Six

Oh my gosh, have I really not posted an entry since last JULY?!  Almost three years behind, I think I may finally have to admit that this blog will never be fully updated.  However, I promised to finish our travel diaries at least.  And so, without further ado, I bring you another instalment of the Great American Adventure...

May 26th 2011

We had another early start...breakfast wasn't very good either with a cheap box of fake Weetabix and buns of some kind filled with raspberry jam being all that was on offer really.  The rest of the coach party were moaning too.  How were we supposed to keep up our energy with no breakfast?

All of these early mornings were really starting to take their toll on me and I was struggling to stay awake on the coach.  Mind you, David had kept me awake half the night by watching a very loud television, so it was hardly surprising.

We were late leaving anyway as Richard (one of the older men in our coach party) was nowhere to be found and Evan had to go and search the hotel for him.  Evan spent the rest of the day making sarcastic jokes about Richard.  I was glad that none of us had been very late for the coach!

We eventually set off and Evan began his never ending commentary.  As I listened to his fast voice in my semi-awake state, I wondered where he got his energy.  My confusion grew when a large cooking apple was handed back from the seats in front.

I know I was half asleep, but Evan certainly hadn't mentioned any apples in his commentary so I wasn't sure what was so special about this one.  Perhaps it was not Evan who had wanted it passed around the coach but was instead somebody trying to send a secret coded message to another member of the coach party sitting at the back of the vehicle?   Perhaps it was a poisoned apple and they hoped some hungry soul who had missed breakfast would eat it and liven things up a little?!  Who knows?  We'll never get to know either because when we went to pass it on to Sheila, the lady sitting behind us, we found that she and her husband were fast asleep and snoring, and so the mystery apple was sent back to the front of the coach instead!

Our first stop today would be Devils Tower.  It was quite a long drive so we had a quick restroom stop on the way, but it was very windy outside so Mum and I didn't even bother to get off of the coach.

Our trip to Devils Tower was not a very good experience really.  The one downfall of being part of an organised coach tour is not getting to decide where you spend your time.  On our way in, we saw beautiful prairie dogs and an authentic 1950s coin operated Bally "Champion" horse outside the Trading Post gift shop.  But we were dropped off in a car park a long way further up.  We were given one hour there which wasn't long enough for Mum to climb to the summit or for us to walk back down to where we had seen the prairie dogs and horse.  In fact, Mum spent most of the time in the restroom and I spent most of my time waiting for her outside.  We did have time for a short walk in the woods before we had to get back on the coach which I quite enjoyed, despite not seeing much in the way of parents don't look too happy here though!

As the icing on the cake, other people in our party who were faster walkers than my mum and HAD walked to the summit began telling us about the snakes they'd seen up there.  Just what we wanted to know!

We headed to Deadwood after that.

We wandered around the gift shops for a while and managed to get a South Dakota souvenir for my US states collection, before catching a half an hour tram tour around the city.

The commentary was great and we learnt a lot about the history of the city.  Unfortunately, I couldn't take very nice pictures from the tram and, as I decided to use the Pentax M50 to audio record the commentary, it was left to the newer "improved" camera to take what photos I did take.  These are horrendously fuzzy and not really worth posting, so you will just have to imagine our tour!

By the time the tour finished, it was almost time to get back on our own coach.  We were quite disappointed not to have more time in Deadwood.  Mum and I really wanted to go to the cemetery to see Calamity Jane's grave, but it wasn't to be.  That's the main problem with coach tours, you get to cover a lot of ground in a relatively short amount of time...but you have no choice over what you see and what you don't.

I snapped a quick photo of the TC Halloway statue and also of the horseshoe on the back of the information board.  I didn't photograph the front of the board though so I can't remember the significance of the horseshoe.  Ah, my intelligence knows no bounds!

As we were boarding the coach, Mum insisted I take one final photo...of a fire hydrant.  "That's the kind of thing that really makes you feel like you're in America.  Dogs are always peeing against those in American TV programmes." That's what she said.  Who am I to argue?!

We drove on to our hotel in Rapid City.  There was a MASSIVE thrift store just around the corner but it had already closed by the time we arrived, and wouldn't open until after we left in the morning.  You can guess how I felt about that.

I wasn't feeling very well full stop, to be honest.  I know we hadn't been eating very healthily for a few days, but nothing could have prepared me for what was about to happen.  I spent around half an hour in the hotel restroom in utter agony but then, uh, felt a lot better, shall we say.  Unfortunately, the toilet did not share in my relief.  It would appear that I had passed my ailment on to the poor thing...

Yes, the toilet was well and truly blocked and began overflowing terribly.  The restroom floor was soaked...

Seriously, I love most things about the USA, but what is it with your toilets?  Weak little things.  They have this strange way of flushing from the bottom so that bowl actually fills up and then empties with a SWOOSH, kind of sucking everything out of the bowl!  I almost felt like I'd be pulled into the sewers myself a couple of times!  Our toilets continue to flush from the top, replacing the water in a more consistent manner, which has a far more effective way of removing certain refuse from the bowl...  Sorry, maybe that's too much information.  To cut a long story short though, I have never heard of a British toilet being blocked by the kind of refuse that's SUPPOSED to go down the pan.

I'm curious to know if people in the USA genuinely do different "number twos" to us and never do anything on the large or hard side, or if you just always have a plumber on hand.  Plumbers must do a roaring trade unblocking lavatories over there, even if it's only for the tourists with our imperfect large poops!  Certainly two plumbers had to be called to our aid before the hotel room flooded.

"What was wrong?" said the female plumber, who I noticed stood WELL back during the entire operation.  Maybe she was just there in case of emergency where the toilet began spitting out the last twenty user's refuse!  The male plumber emerged with a small black bag...because the toilet obviously still couldn't cope even after a good bash with the plunger!  "Somebody had really USED the toilet.  They REALLY had to go.  Let's just put it that way..."  I pulled the blanket up over my head and pretended I wasn't there.  SURELY it's not just the English who have this problem...

Having emptied myself out, it was time to fill up again!  This hotel actually had fries (or chips as we Brits like to call them) on the menu.  They were very expensive though, so we only ordered two portions to go between the three of us...then they only brought one, so we got the second lot for free!

In the evening, we took the optional excursion to Mount Rushmore for the lighting up ceremony.  It was a bit silly to make it optional.  Who was going to opt out of seeing one of the main sights having got all that way?  I suppose it was a way for the tour company to get a bit more money out of us though!

Once again, Mum was disappointed.  This was one of the major tourist attractions of the USA.  It looked so big in pictures.  Why was it so SMALL in real life?  It didn't look small to me (I suppose Mum was used to seeing close-up photos so it looked small in proportion to those?), and I was thrilled to see it.  I can't say the ceremony itself did much for me though.  It was very cold, and we got upset to see the buffalo steaks on sale.  How can buffalo be a draw for tourists just up the road, and then be eaten at a different attraction?  And I suppose the ceremony was both annoying and hilarious to a non-American.  It's a bit sad, but we don't really have anything like that in the UK.  We're not patriotic enough.  Nobody would turn out to sing the anthem every night and talk about how much they love their country which is the "most advanced" in the world.  The few remaining British people aren't the sort to blow their own trumpets in that way.

Maybe I was just in a bad mood in general.  I'd seen two more coin operated Champion horses on the drive to Mount Rushmore.  I desperately wanted a photo of one for the website, so it was getting really frustrating to have to just look at them from afar through the coach window, but they were never anywhere near where we stopped.

It was bitterly cold as we waited for the ceremony to begin so I suppose that worsened our moods further!  I'm still not sure that seeing it "lit up" was really worth it to be honest...well, that's IF you could see it!

I audio recorded quite a bit of the ceremony and filmed a few bits (but, as I say, you can't see much!)  You should still get the gist of it from what you can see and hear though!

Despite all of our grumbles, it was definitely something to say we'd seen and I was certainly glad I went.  I was exhausted by the time we got back to the hotel though and David had decided to go on the optional excursion to Bear Country USA early the next morning (something Mum and I were not happy about as we don't approve of zoos and knew this to be a bad one) so I knew I wouldn't get much sleep that night.  Evan must have noticed how tired we looked and used it as another excuse to joke about our internet using habits.  "Now you girls don't go using the computers and get some rest!" he laughed.  As if we would.  The only thing I wanted to use right now was a bed! And I still had two camera batteries to charge yet in order to record the next day of our grand adventure!

May 27th 2011

As suspected, none of us got much sleep as we had to be up bright and early the next morning.  The hotel laid on a very nice breakfast (one of the nicest we'd had) and I took advantage, eating a banana, branflakes, sultanas and several buns of various types.  I had a particularly lovely chocolate muffin which still sticks in my mind to this day!  I do have an excuse for gauging myself though - we never knew when we might find more food that our delicate English stomachs could handle!

As already mentioned, our first stop of the day was Bear Country USA.  Mum and I really didn't want to go and were cross with David for supporting it by paying for the optional excursion.  His reasoning was that he "only booked to go there when he thought that Mum wasn't going to get to see a bear in the wild".  Well, knowing our opinion of zoos in general, he might know we wouldn't approve of seeing beautiful bears kept behind bars.  And why would seeing a bear in captivity have made us any happier anyway?  We could do that in our own country!  The whole point of seeing wildlife is exactly that - to see it living in the WILD!  He couldn't seem to grasp the concept of that though, and thought I should photograph a moose there...just so that I could say I had seen one in the USA...

Oh, it was a horrid place.  A cheerful young lady got on the coach to give us a commentary as we drove around the park and quite openly told us how the turkeys were there as live prey for the arctic foxes they had imported for the season.

Everybody oohed and aahed over the baby animals, turning a blind eye to the fact that they were all to be culled at the end of the tourist season, when they had outlived their usefulness.  We hadn't seen the rest of our coach party acting so enthusiastically before.  They were all standing up out of their seats in order to get the best photos of the imprisoned animals as possible.  Mum was getting angrier and I was trying to keep quiet, not wanting to look out of the window at the animals, or look around at the camera-bearing animals inside the coach.

Eventually Sheila, one of the other ladies on the tour, fell on Mum's lap.  "Perhaps we should all sit down before we fall down", Mum snapped at her.  I cringed.  Wendy (the lady who sat next to David) awkwardly sat in her seat, trying not to look like she was enjoying the zoo and yet ignoring what Mum was saying.  Were they really blind to the suffering of those animals?

The most heartbreaking sight to me was that of this poor bear, pacing up and down by the fence of his enclosure.  Poor, poor thing.  (You can hear Mum ranting in the background of the video, telling me off for joining in with everybody else and taking photos or something.  But my only purpose for filming was to show you all the distress of this poor bear and beg people not to visit this awful place).

Mum got louder and louder as the tour progressed.  Wendy was getting quite annoyed, I think.  In fact, she didn't speak to any of us for the rest of the day!  I had to feel sorry for David, having to sit next to her, even though he was the one who had stupidly paid to take Mum to a zoo.  Does he not know her feelings?

Our next stop was the Crazy Horse Memorial, which was a far more interesting tourist attraction with less cruelty involved.  It was very cold though and David seemed bored and distant (or maybe he was just embarrassed by Mum's earlier outburst!)  It was lovely to see the memorial (or what little has been completed).  I'm sure it won't be completed in my lifetime, but hopefully I can get back there in a few decades and see how much progress has been made!

Mum got me to photograph this big Coca Cola truck out in the car park because it was "one of the most American sights she'd seen"!  Good to know the famous landmarks make such an impression on her, isn't it?

We popped into the gift shop and were finally able to get some stamps for our postcards and also bought a souvenir rock for Mum's rock collection!  (Yes, she collects some strange things...)

We then returned to Mount Rushmore for a quick "souvenir stop".

We didn't know that this was going to be included in the tour, but I think the people who had chosen not to go to the lighting ceremony the previous night had complained that they wouldn't have a chance to see Mount Rushmore.  We were still pleased to have gone on the optional excursion though as we really didn't get any time on the "souvenir stop" to see anything more than the gift shop!

We got some small Beanie Baby-type pink bears with Mount Rushmore written on their chests for my nieces and also one for our own souvenir collection.  I kept falling in love with jewellery in all of the gift shops we stopped at but it was very expensive for what it was really.  And, with only $35 in my purse, I was determined to hold onto it in case I saw something that I wanted more.

The increasingly annoying Linda decided now was a good time to observe what t-shirt was wearing.  Slight problem - I was wearing a coat.  Never mind, she just told me to take it off!  Mum embarrassed me by joking, "One day she'll be naked under there!"  But seriously, what was that woman's obsession with what clothes we wore each day?

If Linda's comments weren't annoying enough, Evan was also starting to drive us crazy with his "jokes".  He kept asking David if he had a bomb in his computer bag, even when David (or rather, "the suspicious person lurking around") was actually holding MUM'S BAG for her while she used the restroom!  It was okay though, Evan was equally confused when David started talking to him about the kildeer we had seen at Yellowstone National Park.  "We saw them at the place where we walked and you wanted us to look at the thing at the end," David explained.  Well, that's my father for you!  God help you if you ever have to ask him for directions!

I spotted this bird as we were driving away from Mount Rushmore.  At the time, I was convinced it was a Mountain Bluebird.  Now I think it looks more like an Indigo Bunting?  What do you all think?

(Yes, I know it's hard to see in the photograph - if only I'd learnt how to use the zoom before we went to the US!)

We didn't have time to walk down to the other gift shops around Mount Rushmore, of course, so I had no chance to photograph the two Champion coin operated rides.  I attempted to film them as we drove past, hoping I might at least be able to salvage a fuzzy screen shot from the movie.  But, as I was getting towards the end of the 1gb SD card I had brought with me, I decided to try the black camera that we had bought in Chiswick which had the 8gb card we had bought at Walmart inside it.  It took AGES to switch on, by which time we had passed both rides.  I thought the issue must be with the card - did 8gb cards really take that much longer to load than 1gb cards?

We headed to Badlands National Park after that.  I saw two coyotes from the coach and Mum got upset because she missed both of them.  The reason for this was that she was stressing herself to death about a stomach pain, but she turned on ME for "going on about cameras which stopped her hearing David when he tried to tell her".  This was pretty unfair as I was completely silent (but was admittedly switching the SD cards, trying to fathom what the issue was), but I suppose she just snapped out of disappointment.

We stopped for a little while and had a walk around.  Once again, I was in awe of the natural beauty of the place.  Photographs cannot do it justice.

(I was also in awe of the man who managed to climb all the way up onto that rock in the distance in the short time we had there...was he an Olympic runner?!)

I was not so keen to walk around after seeing this sign...

But thankfully there was a boardwalk most of the way so we didn't have to walk through too much long grass!

On our way back to the coach, we spotted this adorable little bunny right next to the boardwalk.

He was so tame that he let me get near enough that I could have picked him up and cuddled him had I wanted to (obviously I wouldn't interfere with nature in that way, but you know what I mean!)  Evan cheerfully pointed out that he would soon end up as a snack for a rattlesnake or bird of prey.  Nice.

Our last stop of the day was Wall Drug, a curious little place in Wall, South Dakota.  It opened as an ordinary drug store in 1931, but has expanded into a range of different shops and attractions.  We could have easily spent a couple of hours just walking around there, but were only allocated thirty minutes.

Look what I spotted in the toy store - flocked G3 Styling Pony fakies!

I'll never know how I fitted her in my already bulging suitcase, but the little white pony you see hanging on the shelf here now resides in my bedroom. ;)

 Just as we were about to board the coach, I spotted some Cogan coin operated rides (including two I've never seen in the UK!) through a gap in a fence.  I was not too popular with my parents for embarrassing them by running off to hurriedly photograph the rides but, as this was our last stop of the day, Evan didn't seem too bothered.  Alas, the sunlight was so bright that my photos didn't come out very well anyway...but they were better than nothing, I suppose.

I also snatched a fuzzy photo of this beautiful photo prop as I ran back to the coach.  I so wish that we'd had longer at that place.  I've often wondered what else was there!

We had a lovely view of some prairie dogs as we drove back to our hotel for the night.  Alas, my camera zooming skills were still not up to scratch.  Ugh, to go back now and have another try!  A perfect filming opportunity missed!  They were so cute and near enough to the coach that we could see them clearly for once.

There was free internet access at this hotel so we tried to check our emails.  Unfortunately, the one and only computer was right opposite the bar so it was noisy and unpleasant with drunken men staggering all around the lobby.  I had a couple of strange emails including one from my friend's brother entitled "Please read!!!"  I didn't want to linger around the bar though....I figured it was probably just some kind of virus/chain letter anyhow.  I was still left worrying about it though...and then David decided to use the computer to look at the news and football results anyway.  Mum wouldn't go back to the room without him and leave him with the rowdies, so we got stuck standing there!  I may as well have read my emails!

We had chips for dinner again - amazingly, despite David messing up the order, the hotel actually got it right for once!  Well, almost.  They forgot to provide him with a spoon for his soup...still, we couldn't expect everything to be right, could we?!

May 28th 2011

Despite being late to the breakfast room, David and I had another nice breakfast, and were able to take a big box of food back to our room for "Mum" (which would also serve as lunch for all of us!)  Because we were late, we had to sit at a table with the Australian family on our coach tour.  Of course, I embarrassed myself as ever by sitting on the tablecloth and nearly knocking everything on the floor!  I managed to grab it just in time, but not before moving all of their breakfast things about eight inches towards us!  "That could be your new job," joked Maureen, "A waitress who removes everything quickly."  I blushed and tried to enjoy my breakfast.  After all, who knew if we would be so lucky at the next hotel?

I wanted to check my emails and find out what those strange messages were.  Alas, another man had beaten me to it and was staring blankly at the Hotmail sign in screen.  I wondered if he had never used a computer before or if he had just crawled out of the bar after the excitement of the previous night and was struggling to remember his name!  I knew I didn't have much time before we had to board the coach so I just stood and patiently waited my turn while David returned to our room to fetch Mum.  Almost as soon as the man gave up on signing in (he never did succeed in doing so!) and I got my chance, Evan came along and started being rude to me.  I had just read a very traumatic email and was near to tears.  Apparently he couldn't notice this and joked that I was "addicted".  He told me that he "thought my parents were already on the bus".  (They weren't, of course, as I discovered as soon as I went out to look).  "Alder, get on the bus!" Evan urged me.

When my parents came downstairs and found that I had not stayed by the computer as I had been told to, they were angry with me for obeying Evan and not them.  Don't you know I could have been kidnapped anywhere between the hotel lobby and the coach outside the door?!

Oh, the traumatic email?  Well, my friend who had JUST moved to Los Angeles ten days earlier in a bid to find work had been in a terrible car accident.  A drunken teenage driver came through a red traffic light and smashed into the side of his car, crushing it against a wall.  He had been cut out of the vehicle and was in a critical condition in hospital.  All that his brother and cousin had told me was that he was having seizures and was partially paralysed.  They were both trying to get flights down to LA to see him but until then, there would be no more information.  And I didn't even know when I would next have internet access!

Somebody up there must have thought I was having too much fun for once and decided to ruin my time, I guess!

That day was probably the most boring of the entire tour.  That or I was just too stressed to enjoy it.  We had a long drive to Denver and didn't even have many stops on the way to break it up.

We stopped at "the world's fastest rest stop" first.  Mum and I didn't bother to get off of the coach as we had no need to...and were advised that the restrooms consisted of very smelly pit toilets anyway!

Our next stop was Wheatlands Country Store for lunch.  We stopped for 45 minutes.  God knows why as there was absolutely nothing there.  We walked for what seemed like miles but there was no sign of so much as a shop apart from the one country store.  So if you didn't want anything in there, tough luck!  Annoying after we'd passed so many retail parks with more variety.  Thank goodness we still had our stolen breakfast left to eat!

Okay, I admit I was in a bad mood that day...but I think anyone can agree this place had seen better days!  Lunch at dusty ol' Granny's Corner, anyone?  Oh sorry, you're out of luck.  Granny left a long time ago...

Our final stop was the Budweiser Brewery at Fort Collins.  Again, this was not of much use to Mum and I since we don't drink alcohol, but we did get to see the beautiful Budweiser clydesdales.

The horses were absolutely beautiful, but one in the stable seemed very nervous around people as though he may have had some bad experiences in his past.  I often think about that horse - the others were all so friendly, I do wonder what had happened to him.

David decided to take advantage of the free drink to "cleanse his stomach".  Unfortunately, he also "cleansed our time", meaning we didn't get into the gift shop.  They had lovely clydesdale t-shirts and jumpers there which Mum and I loved but we didn't have enough cash to buy them.

At last we arrived in Denver.  I think we all had a bit of a culture shock after so many days in the idyllic, scenic national parks observing nature!  The city seemed very run down, noisy and dirty in comparison.  There also happened to be a one day rock festival which had brought in crowds from far and wide - I suppose this didn't make things any easier!

Still we decided to battle the crowds and go for a little walk into the shopping mall.

David had heard that there was a Barnes and Noble book store out there and there was no way that he was going to miss out on seeing that!  Mum and I stood for ages while he browsed the books (it did give me a chance to buy a couple of postcards for people though), then he got annoyed that we wanted to go elsewhere.  Namely the very exotic...

TJ Maxx and Walgreens!  Yes, I sound like an idiotic tourist for sure now, but I did so love to see these stores that I heard so much about!

We couldn't find any nice Colorado souvenirs for my state collection though.  I don't know if anybody has noticed, but there really doesn't seem to be much in the way of souvenirs other than shot glasses and spoons!  Can't people just make some cheap and tacky ornaments with the names of the states written on them?!

David got lost on the way back to the hotel.  I told him which way to go but he wouldn't listen to me, of course.  (What was I saying about never asking my father for directions?!)  He actually led us into the wrong hotel and went all the way up to what should have been "our floor" (level eight, I think) before he would believe me that it was NOT our hotel.  This was the Hyatt, not the Grand Hyatt!  When he finally confessed to being lost, I took him to the correct hotel straight away.

Then he had the cheek to turn on me and tell me that I had "taken him the wrong way"!

There was no free internet access in the hotel, as you might guess in a place like Denver.

So, not only could I not find out how my friend was, I couldn't even acknowledge that I had received the emails telling me about the accident.  I was determined not to let it spoil my holiday, but I felt pretty rotten that evening, I have to admit.

May 29th 2011

Today we drove from Denver to Moab.  As usual, the scenery was beautiful - it was lovely driving through the Rockies.  I think you appreciated it even more after a night in the city.

David was growing famous within our coach party.  He even got a mention in Evan's morning commentary as the man who was "carrying gold plates in his bag"!  For the rest of the day, he insisted on making stupid jokes for getting "discounts for insults" which nobody understood.  Maybe tomorrow he would have been upgraded to "the man with the golden plates in his bag who made constant unfunny jokes"!

Our first stop was the very pretty Vail Ski Resort.

Of course we didn't have our skis with us (joke - I've never even been skiing.  Yet another thing on my list of "things to do that I'll probably never actually do"...), so we just had a little wander around the museum and village.  Alas, it was still pretty early in the morning and many of the shops - including a lovely little toy shop - weren't even open yet.

Mum saw some nice cheap jumpers ($10 each!) at the shop in that last photograph but David convinced her not to buy them for reasons best known to himself.  She has regretted it ever since.  And that, my friends, is why you should always listen to your own opinion and not other people's!

Well, maybe not in this case.  Mum also fell in love with this giant bear and wanted to bring him home!  I don't think airport security would have liked him very much, so she had to put up with a couple of photographs instead!

Before the rest of the shops had time to open, it was time to move on for lunch.  Once again, we stopped in the middle of nowhere, this time at a tiny Wendy's Restaurant and petrol station.  Why?!  We kept passing nice shopping outlets where we could have stopped for lunch just as was so frustrating!  Oh well, at least I managed to get a nice fruit smoothie and some milk to drink at the shop next to the petrol station.  It was a hot day and my apple juice was already running low!

The whiteboard got handed around after lunch, announcing that there would be no internet access at the hotel again that night.  I was really starting to worry about my friend now.  We never did go outside to the jacuzzi to see the "poo"!

Our next stop was Arches National Park.

When it came time to let us off the coach, David suddenly got into a funny mood and announced he didn't feel like walking around and wanted to get back on the coach.  Mum, who was already tired, got bad tempered about this and yet another fighting match began.  This caused us to waste a lot of the time we had there and we didn't see as much of the park as we could have done.  Of course, David then did his usual and turned on ME, saying I had wanted to get back on the coach!  What the...?!

Well, we still had a nice little stroll.  Once again, I was taken aback by the change in scenery.  It seemed crazy how you could be driving through snowy mountains in the morning and walking through sand and red rock in the bright sunshine by the afternoon!  No wonder they tell you to bring lots of layers of clothing!

I fell in love with Balanced amazing that nature can form such a gravity-defying sight.

The only disappointment was that there didn't seem to be much in the way of wildlife there.  I suppose it was the wrong time of day really.  We only spotted one little critter scuttling away to its burrow (as seen below), but still have no idea what it was.

Just as it was time to board the coach, I found myself dying for a pee!  (Obviously all that smoothie and milk had worked their magic...)  Of course there were no real restrooms around in the middle of a National Park, just a very smelly pit toilet on the other side of the road.  Still, I was desperate enough to use it.  There was no lock on the door so Mum stood outside and barred the way for any would-be intruders!  I quickly discovered, however, that there was no paper.  Mum had kindly agreed to hold my bag for me outside so I didn't even have a tissue to hand.  Bladder fit to burst, I staggered to the door to try to retrieve my bag...only to find Mum talking to a lady who was waiting outside.  Of course, the lady jumped straight in before I had a chance to get anything out of my bag...and now Evan was hollering at us to get back on the coach.  I limped back to the bus and made my way to my seat.

It was no good.  Five minutes later, I couldn't sit still for the pain.  And so, much to Mum's horror ("you're not supposed to use it when the coach is moving - it's dangerous!"...weird, everybody else had been!), I had to battle to the back of the coach to use the tiny portaloo.  At least there was paper in this one...which I promptly put down the "no paper" toilet without thinking!

The hotel room at Moab was very spacious but full of some kind of allergens.  Pretty soon, we were all itching and my hand came up in bright red spots. o_0

To relieve ourselves of the dreadful itching, we decided to take a little stroll around Moab.  There was a nice shopping street full of gift shops and the like, and the weather was still nice so I was able to persuade Mum to come out of the hotel for once!

I actually managed to find a Utah souvenir - albeit an ugly, cheap and nasty red arch! - and found a coin operated donkey ride to photograph for the website.  (A Chinese ride this time seemed I was destined never to see an actual American ride close up!)

I had left the silver camera charging in the hotel room, so used the black camera to take these pictures.  As you can probably see, the problems I had experienced the previous day were nothing to do with the SD card, but were obviously the fault of the camera itself.  Grr...if only I'd tested it BEFORE going to the USA, I never would have used that darn camera for taking holiday photos!

David was getting in an increasingly bad mood and seemed very keen to get Mum and I back to the hotel.  Mum felt sorry for him, thinking that he was tired.  But, as soon as he had marched us back to the hotel of itches and scratches, he announced that he was going out again on his own!  He had seen a nice book shop and we "wouldn't let him go inside" (?!)  However, being back at the hotel, he decided to "just pop in the toilet".  His mood worsened when he discovered that the book shop closed at (shock-horror!) 9pm, which was the time he got there following his restroom activities.  Apparently that was our fault too!

May 30th 2011

David was still in a fowl mood the following morning.  This time his anger was aimed specifically at me.  It seemed whatever I did was wrong.  First he shouted at me for "writing hundreds of postcards before having a pointless bath" which had caused him to have to wait a whole hour before he could return to the loo with his book!  Well, I'm sorry that I wanted to make some BLOG NOTES (not postcards) so that I could write this blog entry three years later (!), and I apologise sincerely for wanting to do such basic things as soaking my feet and shaving my legs, but the bathroom is not solely yours!

It was a very hot day so I decided to wear my one and only dress...I was in need of a confidence boost after a couple of hours of his nastiness.  When I emerged from the bathroom wearing said dress, David decided to shout at me once again for being "stupid".  We were "going into the desert - I couldn't wear a dress!"  (?)  Mum looked at me equally angrily but said I "must learn from my own mistakes" (double ?)   I was almost in tears by this point and agreed to change back into my hot jeans just to shut them up.  Boy, I know I'm still a weakling where my parents are concerned, but that's downright ridiculous.  It makes you realise how much I have progressed in three years.

David then screamed at me for changing my clothes as I was "delaying him going to breakfast"!  Nothing I did that day was right, it seems!  I snapped back that I had a sore throat anyway and didn't want any breakfast.  I did actually, I had obviously caught the cold that was going around the entire coach party and was starting to feel very ill indeed.  I then panicked that I had lost the compact mirror from my bag, but I had just put it in my suitcase in all the rush and bad temper.

Today was going to be another long, tiring day.  We would spend time in four states in total; Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico.

Much to Mum's dismay, our first stop was to look at "more red rock" - Wilson's Arch this time.

I know she was growing tired of what she considered the "same old thing", but you had to admit it was beautiful with the sun shining through the arch.

We drove on through Monticello to Mesa Verde National Park. We stopped at the site of the ancient Sun Temple.  There was a long, winding path to get down to the ruins of the temple and Mum couldn't manage it in the short time we had been allocated due to her arthritic knees.  David was nasty to Mum, and wanted to go on without her.  He cursed at her and marched back to the top of the slope in a huff.

I think we still got far enough down the path to see as much as there was to see anyhow though.

Yes, it might have been nice to walk around the ruins, but it was equally nice to take a slow walk back to the coach and see both lizards and...hummingbirds!

Once again, I curse myself for not having learnt how to use that camera  properly.  The lizard was so close, I could get such beautiful pictures of it if only I could step back in time now!  And my hands just wouldn't stop shaking at the sight of the ruby-throated hummingbird.  This was the first time I had ever seen a hummingbird, something I had wanted to see since I was a very little girl.

We found David sulking at the top of the hill, sitting on a wall.  He was obviously surprised to see Mum smiling for once over her wildlife sightings and then got jealous about missing those while he sulked.  Then HE struggled to get back up the rest of the path to the coach, proving that he couldn't have got down to the temple ruins himself!

Our next stop was the very exciting City Market Superstore.  Couldn't we just stop at a Target somewhere along the way?!

Well, I managed to get two more fruit smoothies on a BOGOF offer at least.  I saw a lot of ponies priced at $6.00 each too but managed to resist the temptation!

There was a thrift store just across the road...but of course it was closed for Memorial Day.  Typical of my luck.  I expect there was a Rapunzel and a Mimic lurking in the toy boxes in there!

The highlight of the day was a tour of the magnificent Monument Valley with a commentary by one of the native Navajo Indian tribe.

We climbed aboard this very dusty, bumpy old bus...

The road was awfully bumpy and, with the open sides to the bus, the wind was racing through the vehicle.  Mum was terrified and gripped onto the bar next to her seat for dear life, convinced that the vehicle would overturn at any minute!  Unfortunately, the wind meant that my camera didn't pick up much of our guide's commentary, but you can hopefully still get a feel for the place from this video.

We had a very interesting tour with our guide pointing out all the famous rock formations and telling us the history of how they earned their names.

He told us about the general history of the area and the Navajo tribe as well as interesting trivial facts (for instance, the names of many movies and TV shows which had been filmed in the area).  We stopped at a market stall selling traditional native American jewellery which was beautiful but far out of my price range.

To round up our tour, our charming guide sang us a traditional Native American song wishing us "good health for our families and good travel for ourselves".  Alas, once again, the wind cut out most of his song, but the scenery was still worth uploading.  You can still hear a little of his singing at times which adds to the atmosphere!  It's certainly taking me back there!

After our tour, we made our way to a nearby hotel...where the local plumber promptly had to be called out again due to another incident with a blocked toilet.  Seriously, guys, English dung cannot be any bigger than yours so you MUST be having issues with those flushing mechanisms too!  Own up to the problem and import our flushing mechanisms - otherwise your country will soon be flooded by overflowing lavatories!

And so, that finally brings us to the conclusion of part six.  Let's just hope the next and final part doesn't take me a further nine months to put together!

Best wishes,
Desirée  xxx

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