Rebloggong a post from my 2019 trip to Rome earlier this year. Hope to have a new blog out later this week on the United Kingdom and then my road trip across the USA I’m slowly settling back into being back home, if you haven’t read this I hope you enjoy the blog
If you have been reading my website at endlessroaming.com
you would be aware that I have been blogging about previous adventures across
the USA, specifically 2012. Ill also write further about other experiences in
the USA and other countries I have been to. I am now in Lagos, Portugal
blogging about Rome. I’m not sure I can give much of a new perspective on one
of the most visited tourist destinations in the world but have a read and let
me know what you think?
It had been 20 years since Id visited the city of Rome, last time it was in 1999 when I was on what is called a Contiki tour. If you are not familiar with this its essentially a party bus with a group of drunken tourists in their teens and early 20s not necessarily taking in much history at all let alone…
It was time to head north through Nebraska to South Dakota to view a few national parks and historical landmarks located within the state. In South Dakota, I would learn a little North American history and stop off at a few towns along the way. It would be a beautiful, educational and seemingly endless road trip across the Great Plains of North America.
My first destination was the Badlands of South Dakota which is actually a national park and not the location of some dystopian nightmare movie. This involved driving for six hours or through the state of Nebraska, unfortunately, I didn’t have time to visit any locations to get an appreciation of the states so my take away was that it’s flat. I mostly passed farmland along highway 87 with little traffic or sites by the road, in comparison with my drive from New Mexico to Colorado I can honestly say I was decidedly bored, only my pumping stereo keeping me company.
The Badlands naming came from the Lakota/Sioux Indian nation that inhabited the area, “mako sica” translation “land bad. The extreme temperature’s in the area historically made region difficult to travel through but the naming reference is actually geological to describe the spirally sedimentary rock, gullies and ridges that are in the area. The unique nature of the park means that fossil remains of ancient horses, rhino’s and other animals can be found. The drive to and around the park gave me a sense of total isolation which I had not experienced in the USA previously, no matter where you are in America usually there is a town or traffic nearby but the Badlands area felt disconnected, more a sensation you get driving across Australia than my trip so far. The rocks were a mixture of red and white, there was little vegetation and I enjoyed my isolated experience.
I left the park and headed to the town of Wall, Wall is famous for two things, first its self titled as the “World’s Biggest Drugstore”, second is the road signs all over the United States directing people to visit. These road signs are not just located within the USA either but as far as London and Paris. When the town was built in 1907 it included this small chemist, but after a significant advertising campaign over many years, Wall has expanded into a fun park (and drug store) which employs most of the town’s population approximately 850. The drug store includes history on Wall’s development, western fashion theme shopping, carnival arcade games but most importantly a restaurant where I had a tasty burger and apple pie, I had not eaten all day. Wall was packed with tourists and provides a hub for those roaming long distance across the Great Plains. I purchased a cowboy hat, a checkered shirt and then back headed out.
My next stop was a short distance away, Rapid City, with a population of 75,000 it’s the second largest city in South Dakota and is ideally located to look at many of the attractions in the Black Hills area. After check in I asked the hotel reception how far the hotel was located from the downtown area to which he indicated a mile. I then asked time it would take to walk and he suggested I drive to which I said “I’ll be drinking” and he looked at me non-plussed and said, “So what”. I do find it odd how many Americans I’d met had this casual regard for drinking and driving, nevertheless, I decided to walk to the downtown area.
I had a surprisingly excellent night, downtown Rapid City is historical with a lot of refurbished 19th-century buildings and in these buildings, I met a lot of college students. My Aussie accent lead to me going on a pub crawl through the downtown area, a lot of shots, discussions on Australian movie stars and the origins of the band AC/DC (which is an Australian band, not American) and a lot of laughs. This eventuated in being invited to a college party at a house somewhere in the area and while this was very tempting, after my long-distance drive and limited timeframe I said thank you and goodnight. I walked back to my hotel, avoided being run over by a train heading into town (luckily I didn’t drive), and fell into a deep sleep.
The Black Hills is an isolated mountainous area and named by the Lakota Sioux as many of the mountains and rocks are black, the area is also covered in forest and a distinct contrast to the Badlands. My first stop was Custer State Park, a lush green location which is most famous for the approximate 1500 bison that live there. The park also includes a wide variety of other animals but I did not see these, only the bison (or buffalo) which included one that came up to the edge of the car. At 6 feet and weighing up to 900 kg they are quite an intimidating looking animal all covered in long length fur. The bison were almost hunted into extinction in the late 19th century by Plains Indians because of the demand and development of the expanding American West at thte time their furs were popular in the wild frontier.
My next stop and one I was not aware of prior to arriving in Rapid City is the Crazy Horse Monument. Crazy Horse was a Lakota / Sioux chief who led the combined Indian nations of Cheyenne, Lakota and Arapaho against General George Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn, Custer’s defeat earned Crazy Horse great reverence and respect. The monument is on privately owned land and owned by the Crazy Horse non for profit organisation, and is currently being carved out of Thunderhead, work has been ongoing since 1948. Once complete the dimensions will be 195m long and 172m high making it the world’s second largest sculpture. The centre at the park entrance details the history of the North American Indian and includes a museum as well as cafe and merchandise. I did not have time to do the bus tour but from the observation point I took, I was easily impressed at the scale and size.
My third and final stop before continuing my road trip is the most famous and popular reason that people visit the area, Mount Rushmore. Four famous presidents, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, are carved into the mountain and it was built as a tourist attraction. These presidents were selected for their historical significance in contributing to the founding, expansion and “unification” of the United States, construction was by 400 workers from 1927 to 1941.
The heads themselves are 18m in size which puts into perspective the endeavour and effort going into the Crazy Horse monument down the road. I headed up the Presidents Trail as rapidly as possible as there was a lot of cloud cover at the time and the president’s heads were clearly visible. It was a short run to the end of the trail and I looked at this epic and very detailed piece of work. I then headed back to the visitor centre, read up on some of the histories. If not rushing through Mount Rushmore like I was there are guided tours available and audio aids for those that want to take their time, the centre is also very detailed on the history of the construction.
Wow, South Dakota what an amazing state, I suppose people can fly and rent a car to check it out but like me, most of the tourist’s Id spoken to had roamed a great distance to get to this beautiful and historically significant state, it’s not just the destination but the journey. There was a lot of American history which I had only heard about in Western-themed Hollywood movies and it was fantastic to relate this area to those movies. More seriously I enjoyed learning a better understanding of the North American Indian and the expansion of the American West. The shame is I had only organised one night in Rapid City so my self-guided tour was rushed due to lack of planning and time constraints. Anyway, next would be a little more history in the city of Deadwood and then it would be onto Wyoming through Montana and my cabin in Yellowstone National Park, hope you enjoyed the read…
It was time to leave New Mexico and head north to Denver Colorado for July 4 Independence Day, a national holiday in the USA. If you haven’t read my previous blogs (and I highly recommend you do please 😊) you will know that I started in Miami, took a flight to Montreal then Toronto and from there another flight into Washington DC. From there I picked up the Ford Mustang Id been driving and roamed down the Blue Ridge Parkway to Ashville, Nashville, Memphis, Baton Rouge, Houston, Austin, Amarillo, Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Quite the distance and Denver would make it approximately halfway through this road trip, anyway back to it……..
Santa Fe to Durango is approximately 400km and roughly a 4-hour drive. This left me a lot of time to visit the Mesa Verde National Park, and wow. If you have not heard of this location (and I had only heard about it a few days before) this park was set up to persevere the archaeological heritage of the Ancestral Pueblo people. These people lived in this area for approximately 700 years from approximately 600 to 1300 AD. I won’t go into their history in much detail however 26 North American Indian tribes descend from the Pueblo including the Hopi, Ute and Navajo nations.
There are over 4000 archaeological remains within the park, the most famous being 600 cliff dwellings forming the Cliff palace which is carved into the side of a cliff, forming what to me appears like a citadel. The Pueblo built and lived in this citadel for their last 100 years living in the park, there is no conclusive understanding as to why the Pueblo abandoned their home that was constructed in the last 100 years they inhabited the area but its suspected crop failure. Now it’s a fascinating walking tour where guides take tourists through the rock cliff dwellings and answer questions. The park itself contains many canyons, a tourism centre and is regarded as the archaeological centre of the USA.
It was onto Durango for the evening, there was not much in the way of traffic and proved a quality drive as I ascended thousands of feet into the Rockies. Durango itself is 2000m above sea level and is the transition zone between the arid desert in the south and the mountainous greenery to the north. Durango is an old railroad city and was built because of the extensive silver mining that used to occur around the area. Nowadays its mostly adventure tourism but after my rather lengthy drive and archaeological discovery my attention was on some of the microbreweries located in town. I “sampled” several of these, chatted to some locals and was surprisingly drunk when I got back to my hotel, I blame the altitude, not the beer.
The following day I continued my journey, it was getting colder and colder due to the change in altitude so I ditched the boardshorts for jeans and a jacket was necessary. The desert progressively disappeared and was replaced by greenery and forests. I drove through a few of the towns including Silverton for some lovely breakfast and then took a self-guided tour of the Idarado Mine site which was located by the side of the road. The site itself included an old bridge, abandoned houses and the mine itself, I walked around the bridge and took a few photos, there were no tourists or park officials so I’m not sure if anything would have stopped me from going into one of the mines, however the area was dead quiet much like a ghost town so thought better of it and continued on my way to Denver.
I arrived in Denver, checked into my hotel and then drove back out again, it was July 3 and I was off to Red Rock Canyon to go and see the band Foster the People. Red Rock Canyon is a park that includes walking trails and features many red rocks, the main feature of the park being the amphitheatre. The theatre can contain roughly 9500 seated people and is surrounded by red rocks to the left, right and a stage which is backdropped by another red rock. A lot of famous bands have played this venue including the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and Radiohead to name a few and are drawn to the location by the natural acoustics and picturesque setting. Foster the People were sensational, the crowd very friendly, the sound quality amazing and being Colorado so there was a lot of smoke in the air (not cigarrette smoke either). I had a fantastic time and after a long day and a lot of driving it was back to the hotel and a well-deserved sleep.
I was up early the following day, July 4, I figured it would be a good time to look at some of the local attractions before enjoying some of the festivities. My first destination was Mount Evans and Echo Lake, 14000 feet or 4.35 km above sea level and the highest paved road in the USA forming part of the Rockies. The drive-up Mount Evans is about 80km in distance and is a relentless series of spectacular views, sweeping bends in the road and photo opportunities, it’s another classic American drive. Despite it being summer and Denver having a fire ban the higher I ascended the colder I got, at the upper levels there was snow on sections of the mountain. A quality stop is Echo Lake which yet again makes for a spectacular setting with mountains in the backdrop. I made it to the peak of Mount Evans and looked around briefly. There were several mountain goats climbing over a stone ruin building, a vista of spectacular views and then I fell short of breath, felt dizzy so jumped in the car and headed back down.
I was hungry so drove to the Buffalo Bill Centre of the West and had some buffalo wings for lunch (who wouldn’t??). I decided to check out the museum, there are five separate museums (a mini Smithsonian) that detail the history of Buffalo Bill, another devoted to his guns, a museum for western art, the history of the Plains Indians and a natural history museum with various stuffed animals including bears, birds and wild cats. The tour is quite detailed and very interesting in particular about the North American Indians. For an American history buff this is a must do, I am not but nevertheless learning about Buffalo Bills Wild West Shows and its influence globally at the turn of the 20th century when Europe was obsessed with the Wild West of America is really interesting. Wild Bills grave is also located at the centre.
I headed back into Denver to celebrate July 4, unfortunately, due to the fire ban that I mentioned earlier, there were no fireworks in the evening. I walked passed a ceremony into the downtown area where there were a lot of American Veterans and family members spectating a ceremony by the army shooting a cannon and firing rifles in the air. Denver’s bars were a mix of modern and western themed, friendly and I met some interesting people. People were already mostly intoxicated by the time I spoke to them which lead to some funny conversations about my accent but on the whole, no fireworks and not that many people around the downtown area made for a typical night than something exceptional. I believe July 4 is more of a family day so this kind of made sense. Nevertheless, my second night in Denver was good fun. I headed back to my hotel as the following day I would be off and about again, headed for the Badlands of South Dakota….
It was time to leave Austin which was quite depressing as I love the city so much, my destination was Denver for the July 4 festivities. To get there I would be making a few stops offs along the way, Amarillo for an evening, New Mexico with a few nights in Albuquerque and Santa Fe before continuing my roam up north.
The drive to Amarillo through the state of Texas was interesting kinda, I was pulled over by a local police officer for driving 10 miles over the speed limit. I thought this was a little harsh as I had frequently been driving on average 20 miles over the limit and there was very little in the way of traffic on my route. After verbally indicating I should slow down, he handed me a written warning indicating you guessed, slow down. I asked what was the point of this to which he indicated best not to find out. As soon as I was out of his jurisdiction I sped back up. If you are not aware of this the USA has many different levels of police forces, Federal 5-0, State Troopers, County Mounties, National Parks etc and it’s quite confusing. The one thing they have in common is the look of confusion when pulling mwah, over looking at my Aussie driving license and warning me, I guess its difficult writing a ticket for a tourist. I continued my drive through a few sparsely populated towns with derelict boarded up buildings,, eventually making my way to Amarillo.
I checked into my hotel and headed out for the evening, after meatloaf at a local restaurant I headed to one of the bars nearby. At the bar were what I assume were Texan cowboys, wearing checkered shirts and cowboy hats. After taking a seat it was easy enough to engage in conversation, mainly consisting at their surprise meeting an Aussie, talking about guns and how “Austin isn’t the true Texas”. I also found out beside the local Cadillac Ranch there was plenty of other attractions in Amarillo so instead of a late night I decided to head back to the hotel and have a look at Amarillo the following day
My first stop was the Palo Duro Canyon which is the second largest canyon in North America forming part of the Texan Panhandle. Its 190km long and averages at about 10km wide, making it much smaller than the Grand Canyon. The canyon itself contained some interesting rock formations and wildlife, due to size it did not take long to drive through. So that completed next was the Panhandle Museum, the largest historical museum in Texas. The museum has many displays and was very informative on the American Civil war, cowboys and Comanche Indians, its also has a great collection of guns which reminded me of the cowboy’s Id met the night before. After finishing there I headed to the reason I’d come to Amarillo, the Cadillac Ranch on the edge of town.
The Cowboys had advised me to buy some cans of spray paint so I could decorate the Cadillacs while I was there. Located along the old Route 66 on the west side of town, it consists of 10 half-buried cars upright that have rusted away over time. The attraction was created in 1974 by a group of hippies that referred to themselves as the Ant Farm as an anti-corporate architectural message which must have resonated in the 1970s. Now its where you can take some interesting pictures and spraint paint your name onto a car which sure enough will be sprayed over, again and again, it was truly bizarre but pretty cool at the same time. It is one of the iconic stop-off points along Route 66 (which Ill write about in a future blog).
It was then onto Albuquerque, another 5-hour drive. I headed to an Irish bar and talked to Americans about the game of rugby union. I was in the local rugby bar, the game is popular in Australia and apparently also in this cool city. Being an Aussie was good enough reason to be taken out on a celebratory bar crawl by the locals, Americans are very friendly.
The following day I went to the Albuquerque Museum, this focused on various time periods focusing on New Mexican history, art and also several Mayan pieces. It was really impressive and the facilities new and modern though I may have appreciated it more if not hungover because of my rugby friends the evening before. I then went to the Nuclear Museum which details the evolution of nuclear technology from 1939 to what goes on currently. World War 2, Cuban Missile crisis, Cold War periods were all covered in depth. There was also an Intercontinental Ballistic missile on display as well as other missiles and planes such as a B52 bomber, there was also some pretty funny signage on display from 1950’s. That evening I spent the night in as wanted an early start to Santa Fe the next day.
I decided to drive along the Turquoise Trail which is known as one of the most scenic drives in the USA, a half day drive between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. I started with a hill climb drive of around 3000m up Sandia Crest for some expansive views of Albuquerque and the desert beyond. I then ascended and headed to one of the Trails famous attractions, the Tinkertown Museum. This was a very unique experience, the displays full of carved wooden miniature figurines inhabiting carved houses with mechanical parts moved the figurines around, it was essentially a museum made up of handcrafted doll houses and the overall theme was the theme was explaining the West. There is a yacht from when the owner sailed around the world and also carnival machines that read fortunes, played music, stamped quarters, in all an excellent tour.
Next I stopped off in the town of Madrid for some lunch at the Old Coal Town Musuem. Madrid is a re-energised former coal mining and ghost town, there are approximately 40 retail shops selling various artistic pieces and is quite a quirky little place. The Museum was part roadhouse so after finishing off a tasty steak I looked around the displays which includes historical pictures of the town, old vehicles, steam engines and a cinema which is still in use, it was a friendly little place
I arrived in Santa Fe, and was amazed by the stunning architecture. Most American cities have some uniqueness to them, typically a downtown area and some adjoining suburbs that have different architecture as those cities/towns have grown and changed over time. This was not downtown Santa Fe, the centre of town’s buildings were all a rendered and tan in colour designed to match the desert colours. The style is referred to as Pueblo Revival, the roofs of the buildings were flat and the walls rounded instead of sharp corners, the place kind of reminded me of the cartoon the Flintstones. There were many art museums and Native American shopping available.
That night I ended up hanging out with a barmaid I met at the local punk who took me on another pub crawl around the town where I met many of the locals, mainly punks, it was pretty hilarious. The following day involved visiting a local Flea Market which contained many Indian arts and crafts, I purchased a couple of rugs, ate lots of tacos and then watching the Euro Cup final with the barmaid from the night before. Football (soccer) is not hugely popular in the USA like it is in Australia and watching something that was not an American sport was refreshing for a change.
I then took a free cab home, if you don’t know this New Mexico provides free taxis. Well, there are a few rules to this, anyone who is out for the evening and decides they want to go home can hail a cab who will not charge you, instead the state government pays for the journey home, you should tip though. This is an initiative to stop drink driving, whilst America has many different police forces, few of them actually have random breathalyser technology which means the police resort to tests like walking a line or word trickery. This leads to a lot of drink driving so good on New Mexico for the taxi service, anyway that’s enough eduction, it was off ot bed and then onto the north….