I spent my formative years in a small town in Yorkshire. In the North of England. It wasn’t a particularly remarkable childhood. No lurid skeletons in my family closet or anything of that nature.
One of the things that typified an upbringing in these relatively quiet backwaters in the 70′s was an expectation that this was pretty much “it”. It’s not that my school friends were in-bred or anything, but 40 odd years later, let’s just say many of them still have the same post-code! My grand-parents lived a whole 45 miles away in a coal mining town called South Elmsall, where both my parents were raised and met. My father became a policeman and was posted a galaxy away to Silsden… 45 miles West.
As a growing child I remember that a visit to my grandparents was a weekend affair. It took an hour and 20 minutes to drive the 45 miles, and there was no way one could contemplate the return trip on the same day! As I’ve grown older I’ve never really understood that barrier. Plainly roads and cars were a lot less capable than today, but I think it was more a mental obstacle.
So, there I was growing up no more malcontent than any other male youth in human history, and fully expecting to die within spitting distance of where I grew up, when two separate things happened. Firstly, an elderly lady (she must have been at least my age now!) that my mother used to keep an eye on went to visit her daughter in “Beautiful British Columbia”. I vaguely recall the daughter lived in Victoria on the Island, but I might be wrong. Anyway, this dear old lady (Mrs Berry was her name) knew I was a bit of a nerd, and on her return presented me with a huge armful of travel brochures and mementos of her trip. There were train brochures from the coast-to-coast trip she’d taken, photos of Niagara, and endless photos of the greenest trees I had ever seen. I was sold. Before I died I was DEFINITELY going to visit Canada.
I’m sure it’s no surprise that I have been an avid book reader since I figured out how to stop my lips moving. Another aspect of my willingness to consider broader horizons was that I earnt a scholarship to the “local” grammar school. It was a whole 15 miles away in Bradford, and my erstwhile schoolmates couldn’t believe I was going to catch 4 buses a day and spend 3 hours getting to and from school when the local comprehensive was just down the road. But that was 3 very useful hours. Many a French (or Latin) vocab. test was passed because it had been studied in the last 30 minutes of a bus ride and was still fresh as I wrote the test. And many a book was consumed on the back seat of a West Yorkshire Traction double-decker.
One such book was “Running Blind” by Desmond Bagley. This was the usual action book in the Hammond Innes, Jack Higgins, Alastair McLean mould. But it had a profound effect on me. It was set in Iceland, and the descriptions blew me away. I decided there and then that Iceland too would need to feel the tread of my step before I finally popped my clogs.
So there you have it. Two different but influential experiences on a growing lad that made me think that perhaps there was something more life could offer than even the grandest county in the land. Fast forward a year or two. Or 40. And I have visited every continent except Antarctica. I now live in BC, and have met some amazing people and shared some amazing experiences. Some uncomfortable, wet and very cold, though no less wonderful for all that. And this year I will turn 50. What more perfect an occasion to finally visit Iceland?
OK – so things don’t always work out the way we hope, and we actually spent a week of Spring Break visiting the States. I had a list of deserts I’d like to photograph, and we set off to bag as many as we could.
Meh – Iceland, Arizona… we were all equal in the end (Pink Floyd – Two Suns in the Sunset, Final Cut… don’t listen to it if you’re a manic depressive, despite its awesomeness).
We had decided to fly out of Bellingham on Allegiant. Cheap and not very cheerful. Mr & Mrs Elephant were accompanied by our youngest since we figured it was safer than leaving a 15 year old lad alone in the house for a week! The obliging parents of his girlfriend even offered to look after our devil-dog, so it all looked set for a relaxing week. Allegiant nickel and dime you for everything, so we opted to travel light and the three of us shared a single suitcase (they charge for carry-on too: $50!), and we pre-paid online to get a cheaper deal on the one case. Parking was easy, check-in smooth, and though we had had to allow plenty of time in case of issues driving across the border, we boarded the plane with no incident (except for an elderly gentleman’s cap being blown off as he climbed the exposed ramp to the plane).
The flight was short, uneventful (always a good thing where flying is concerned) and the air reasonably clear. I’m often fascinated by the sights I see from an aeroplane and struggle afterwards to identify where they were. The artificially irrigated farms with their circular fields are always amusing, and I’m not sure if the snow-covered mountain was Mt. Rainier in Washington.
As soon as we arrived in Las Vegas I felt like I needed a shower. I don’t know what it is about that place, but it instantly makes me feel grubby. We had the usual interminable wait for our hire car, and despite having pre-booked, they were completely out of compacts. We actually ended up with a Ford Focus, and though it had leather trim and lots of electronic goodies… it definitely lacked something in the “oomph” department. The afternoon was already well advanced and we’d booked a hotel just a little out of town in Henderson to ease us in to the whole road-trip phenomena. Once we’d booked in and sorted ourselves out, we toodled off for some tea at “The Cheesecake Factory”. This was on the recommendation of 2nd born who had visited their Palm Springs emporium. It was not an unpleasant experience, but a little over-sold I think. I don’t feel the need to revisit before I shuffle off this mortal coil. It was the first time I’d ever ordered a salad and not been able to finish it though. Because it was huge, not because it was bad. Au contraire… I was eager to have it boxed up for a second round the following day. A relatively early night and we were all set for the first full day “on the road”.
The forecast had been for cold, showery weather the entire week, and we were delighted that we had a sunny day instead. I hit the gym (it won) and Mrs E actually ran all the way to the Cheesecake Factory and back, just to make sure it was still there. We are a leisurely breakfast and headed off to Hoover Dam. No particular reason – when you’ve seen one hydro dam, you’ve seen them all – but it was along the way. The weather steadily improved and temperatures rose to almost 30°C. I know this because I’d fiddled with the car’s display and managed to get it to show the external temperature in Celsius since Fahrenheit meant nothing to me. (I did accidentally on purpose forget to set it back though, just to annoy the next renter who will almost certainly NOT be from Canada.) The waters behind the dam looked quite low and there was a telling white mark high up no the rocks showing where a more healthy level might be. The spillways were interesting and showed a mechanical barrier that could be lifted almost light an aeroplane’s wing flaps, to control flow over the spillway. I hadn’t really thought about it, but the dam crossed the state line and there were two clocks showing Nevada and Arizona time. Usually they’re an hour apart, one being Pacific, and the other Mountain time zones. But… Arizona has decided not to use Daylight Saving, so it didn’t advance its clocks for Summer, and they’re actually both at the same time for now. Except Navajo lands… they opted to use DST anyway, just for kicks. It was all too much for MrsE’s iPhone, but my BlackBerry seemed to figure it out just fine. My salad from the previous evening was a little tepid when we ate lunch, but still crisp and tasty. We were discussing Area 51 when we saw a custom painted van with an alien painted on the side. This van was nothing but a curiosity… until we noticed it in every town we stopped in all the way up to Moab!
After an amble around the gift shop and some photos of the Art Deco designs of the dam, we were off to Williams, South of the Grand Canyon. We chose to take the scenic route – literally – and took the old Route 66, for no other reason than it felt like a touristy thing to do!
There was a railway running parallel to the road for much of the way to Williams, and I was amused to see the same engines (BNSF) as sometimes run through White Rock, BC.
Williams is a sleepy little town, and after a nice barbecue dinner, we turned in for our first REALLY big desert day. Tomorrow we were off to see the Grand Canyon… on a train!
To be continued…