Thursday 30 June 2011

USA Trip 2011 - Overview

In late May 2011 Ruby, Jeremy and I travelled to the USA to both see Ruby's parents and for Ruby to attend a conference in Denver in early June. We decided instead of flying from Seattle to Denver we would spend a week driving there and also visit Yellowstone national park, Devil's Tower and Mt Rushmore. For the full list of photos from the trip see the following photo album:

The full photo album is available via the following link: USA Trip 2011

The road trip days and Denver are detailed in the following blog posts:
Day 1: Where's the Roadkill?
Day 2: Roadworks and Rainbows
Day 3: Lens Envy
Day 4: Lots of Old Geysers
Day 5: Blowing in the Wind
Day 6: Smaller than Expected
Mammoths and Denver Days
USA Trip: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

The first 5 days of the road trip were blogged on the road when we had access to wifi (most days which was great). While the last couple of days did have wifi we did not have much time to post (let alone write a post).
I was originally planning to finish up organising the photos and the last bit of writing while we were in Denver. However, my time was mainly taken up taking care of Jeremy (see Mammoths and Denver Days) and the past couple of weeks in Sydney have simply flown by.

Note also the first 5 days have been edited to include a number of new bits (map links, more pictures, corrected distances).

Flights with Jeremy
Jeremy is definitely at an age where flying is difficult and he certainly let us know he was unhappy! Last time we travelled to the USA he slept most of the way and he is a bit young to be distracted by the entertainment system (though I suspect he is not far off being interested).

The flight to Los Angeles (on a Qantas A380 which was great!) was the hardest as Jeremy did not want to go to sleep sitting up. We were in a bulkhead row and could not move the armrests. Also the flight left just after lunch and he did not want to go to sleep mid afternoon. He slept better on the flight from Dallas to Brisbane (a new route for Qantas in 2011) as we left in the evening and he could lay out flat. Also both flights were long (at 12.5 and 15 hours) which did not help!

Blogging on the road
Blogging on the road was a good idea (yeah look how long it took me to blog once we got home!). However, I think it took too long to get a post done and these are some of the reasons:
  • I had not setup the plugin for iPhoto which uploads photos with all the metadata to Picasa (see this blog post from 2008 on why I use the plugin). This meant I had to use the crappy web interface and hand enter the data.
  • I should have worked out how the blog posts would look before leaving and set up a template. That way I could spend more time just writing and not fiddling about with how the post looks (which is one of the reasons why the first 5 days have been edited).
  • Sort out geotagging once and for all. Unfortunately the gps logger I bought on the last trip did not work properly on this one. I thought I was prepared as I did test it before leaving home and it worked ok, but it has not since. Last trip it really made geo-tagging the photos easy!
  • Some nights Jeremy went to sleep a bit late and it was hard to pull out the laptop and start writing / organising photos.

Mammoths and Denver Days

Hot Springs, South Dakota to Boulder and then to Denver, Colorado

Distance: 559 kms
Tantrums: lost count - but Jeremy is really sick of us driving!

This is part of a series of posts from our 2011 road trip. See the overview post for links to the other posts.

There was only 1 place to visit today and the rest was a lot of driving so we wanted to start early (and for a change did!). In Hot Springs there is a (still active) dig site for Mammoth bones (see Back in the 1970s the bones were discovered when the site was being excavated for a housing development. Ruby and I were fascinated with the site. Jeremy liked running around but he really did not want to listen to the tour guide…

The rest of the day was spent driving to Boulder. The driving was relatively easy as most of it was on I-25, but for Jeremy it was getting boring. He had truly had enough of the long drives and really needed entertaining and we had to make 2 unscheduled stops so he could get out of the car. Luckily at the end of the drive we were staying at a friends place and Jeremy immediately took a liking to their backyard!

The next day we had a short trip into Denver. Here Ruby was going to spend 4 1/2 days at a conference on mass spectrometry. Most days Ruby would leave at 8am and we would generally meet her again at 5.30 or 6. For me this time was a small taste of being a stay at home dad (ok in a hotel…where I did not have to cook or clean…well I said it was only a small taste!!).

Generally Jeremy and I would follow Ruby down to breakfast, but we would take a lot longer to eat than Ruby (Jeremy liked to go back for a 2nd or 3rd tub of yogurt). Then we would wander back to our room counting all the floors in the lift (Jeremy was fascinated by the lift and the floor numbers). Jeremy invented a new game to play in hotel, "Exit Signs", which involved pointing at the nearest exit sign and then running to the next one. As the hotel was square we ended up going around 4 or 5 times before getting to our room.

After a short break we would head off for the indoor pool and swim for 30-40 mins (Jeremy had lots of fun in the pool even though I thought it was a bit cold). Following our swim I would give Jeremy a bath and got him dressed for the day. By the time I had a shower it was about lunchtime so we would head off to have lunch. In the afternoon Jeremy usually spent several hours sleeping after which we would walk over to the convention centre and meeting up with Ruby.

Sunday 26 June 2011

USA 2011 Trip: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Here are a couple of random thoughts from our recent trip to the USA. Nothing political, more just stuff we noticed or thought was cool / not cool. This is part of a series of posts from our 2011 road trip. See the overview post for links to the other posts.

The Good
  • Free wifi in most hotels - why is it in Australia the hotels charge a fortune for wifi, even for the same chain of hotels??
  • Free wifi at Wyoming rest stops - top marks for Wyoming!!
  • Mile markers on the freeway - much better than a letter or two for the next important town (and the guessing game for it)
  • Exit numbers based on the mile markers - you know how far it is to the exit - great!
  • 120 km/h on the interstate freeways yay! (ok 70 mph for those who have not joined the 21st century)
  • Free bus in downtown Denver
  • Moose Drool beer :D
  • Cross Walk countdowns - much better than just the flashing red symbol!
  • Auto paper towel dispensers in the toilets - just wave your hand past and you get more towel (as opposed to using Jedi mind powers!)
The Bad
  • Not including tax in the quote prices for items - How hard can it be? We do it in Australia and a couple of the places we went to did this (Mammoth site in Hot Springs for example)
  • No wifi 32GB iPad 2s in Montana - Boo!
  • Colder on the first part of the trip than Sydney - and it is supposed to be summer here!
  • Lack of any decent coffee in Yellowstone National Park - considering how good the coffee is in the US the bile provided in Yellowstone was just awful
  • Non dairy creamer - yuk, particularly the flavoured ones which were too sickly sweet
  • Scratchy towels at Ramada Inn, Bozeman
  • Americans complaining about petrol (ok gas) prices. The prices we saw were under $4 / gallon which translates under $1 in Australia. We are currently paying $1.30 or more here (which is about $5 / gallon).
The Ugly
  • Fox News - I feel the braincells dying just watching it (why do most hotels show this on their lobby screens??)
Update: added a link to the overview post

    Monday 13 June 2011

    Day 6: Smaller than expected

    Devils Tower to Hot Springs
    Distance: 305 kms
    Star Wars T-Shirts worn:

    This is part of a series of posts from our 2011 road trip. See the overview post for links to the other posts.

    As we were a bit late getting into Lytle Creek last night we left a bit late. Also the breakfast provided by the B&B was fantastic so we took our time eating that! The Lytle Creek B&B is definitely the place to stay if you are visiting Devils Tower! The room is great and the king size bed was very comfy.

    Originally we had intended to visit Devils Tower late on Day 5 (hey plans change!), but we had decide to have a bit of a morning off on Day 5 so the visit was moved to today. However, it was already late in the morning by the time we headed off and Jeremy had fallen asleep before we drove out the gate!

    Devils Tower was really amazing. The great part of the drive to the visitors centre is it is on the opposite site of Devils Tower so you get to see most of the tower on the drive in. They have even included a couple of places where you can pull over and take photos (which we took advantage of!). Luckily Jeremy woke up after we had been at the visitor centre for a few minutes so he was able to be in the photos!

    After Devils Tower we drove to Sundance (no not that Sundance) for lunch where we rejoined I-90. At Rapid City we left I-90 for the last time (I-90 continues east towards Boston) and headed south for Mt Rushmore. We arrived in good time to see Mt Rushmore in the afternoon sun. It was still quite windy so I had to be careful when setting up the tripod to take a few family pics. Jeremy's stroller even walked itself due to the wind! Ruby commented as we were leaving that the sculptures were smaller than she expected (the faces are about 18m high).

    By the time we had finished at Mt Rushmore it was getting late in the day. Originally we were going to visit the (currently unfinished) Crazy Horse monument. However, we decided to keep going for Hot Springs and have dinner. This was lucky as the hotel owner advised us when we got to Hot Springs that most places closed at 9pm. We chose a local pub for dinner. I had a bison burger (ok - but just tastes like beef) and an excellent dark ale called Moose Drool - great name!

    Note: I had originally intended to blog all of these days on the road. However, nearing the end of our trip I ran out of time so I am doing these now we are back in Australia.

    Update: added a link to the overview post

    Saturday 4 June 2011

    Day 5: Blowing in the Wind

    Billings to Devils Tower, Wyoming
    Distance: 481 kms
    Tantrums: 1 (for about 30 kms)

    This is part of a series of posts from our 2011 road trip. See the overview post for links to the other posts.

    Today we slept in a bit and (as we had a late checkout of midday) we made use of the pool in the hotel. The pool was indoors and well catered to for kids. Jeremy had a great time splashing about and going on the slide. We then spent a short time in the shops to give Jeremy a bit more time to run around and also for me to (fruitlessly) look for an iPad 2 (no sales tax in Montana and with the current exchange rate it makes it over $100 cheaper than in Australia!).

    After lunch we headed off to the Devil's Tower in Wyoming. We really noticed the change in countryside from Billings, with the snow capped mountains to the flatter land in Wyoming. Today, also, there was lots of wind for most of the trip. I could see the grass rippling (not too many trees near the interstate) in the wind and we both could feel gusts on the car as we drove along.

    Jeremy was obviously getting a bit tired with travelling so we stopped in Gillette for dinner at a great Italian place called Adriano's Italian Restaurant. It had yummy pizza, spaghetti (which Jeremy did not want to eat - so we had it too!) and Tiramasu.

    After about an hour drive we arrived at our stay for the night, Lytle Creek B&B. So far we are impressed!

    Update: added a link to the overview post.

    Thursday 2 June 2011

    Day 4: Lots of old geysers

    Old Faithful Inn, Yellowstone National Park to Billings
    Distance: 362 kms
    Roadkill: 5
    167 (or thereabouts)

    This is part of a series of posts from our 2011 road trip. See the overview post for links to the other posts.

    Today was another sunny and clear morning and after breakfast set off to look at all the geysers around Old Faithful. We were lucky to be walking past when the castle geyser was erupting, this was very impressive. We walked around the geysers for about 1.5 hours and really enjoyed it, but by the end were getting a bit tired of seeing steam coming out of the ground.
    We took Jeremy in the stroller around the geyser walk. He was great almost all of the walk and only near the end was he getting a bit tired. At that point he was getting a bit annoyed when we stopped to take photos. Unfortunately Jeremy has reached the stage where he does not like having his photo taken so a number of the photos he is looking away!
    The next stop was the Midway Geyser Basin which includes the Grand Prismatic Spring (which all the promo photos are from the air). By this stage Jeremy was already asleep so we had to take turns to go and walk around the boardwalk. The colours in these geysers this were fantastic however there was a lot of steam to get through!
    By this stage it was mid afternoon and we needed to get to our hotel for the night (3 hours away), so we headed to Mammoth Springs for a late lunch and then the drove to Billings for our stay at Best Western Kelly Inn.

    Top Tip for Google Directions: Watch out for the exits Google Maps suggests. They are always the exit before the destination (for the end of the journey). In some cases (as for us with the Best Western Kelly Inn) the best / closest exit was the one after the hotel and not the one immediately before.

    Update: added the Top Tip, hotel info and Google Maps directions.
    Update 2: added more photos and a link to the overview post.

    Day 3: Lens Envy

    Bozeman to Old Faithful Inn, Yellowstone National Park
    Distance: 295 kms
    Wrong turns: 2

    This is part of a series of posts from our 2011 road trip. See the overview post for links to the other posts.

    We woke to a sunny and crisp day where no snow had fallen on Yellowstone (as predicted). It was still cold though! Jeremy had also slept through the night which was great.

    The drive to Yellowstone (west gate) was relatively quick. Unfortunately on the way I discovered my 17-85mm lens was playing up. Sometimes when I took a photo the camera would give an error message and the photo would be lost. Luckily I brought along my 50mm lens (which takes great photos) but is inconvenient in some circumstances when I cannot move to zoom (as I found out today).

    We drove from the west gate through to Canyon Village, with a quick stop for bison photos (along with everyone else), to have lunch. After lunch we drove along the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and took photos along a series of lookouts. There were some fantastic locations, but it was really testing Jeremy's patience along this part, stop/start and getting in and out of the car. Also I could not help but notice all the other people with their working zoom lenses...

    We continued through Yellowstone down past the very stinky Sulphur Caldron and Mud Volcano. As we drove on it was getting colder and the snow drifts were getting higher. We didn't bother stopping at Yellowstone Lake as most of it was frozen over. The last part of the drive across the Craig Pass was a bit hairy as the snow had melted across the road and it was a little slippery.

    We arrived at the Old Faithful Inn and checked into our room which was in the oldest part of the lodge (built in the early 1900s). The room looked great as all the walls / roof were made of logs (Jeremy was fascinated with the walls and kept on touching them). Before dinner we were able to catch Old Faithful erupting, though Jeremy really did not want to sit still waiting for it to erupt.

    Update: corrected distance; added Google Maps directions, a new photo and a link to the overview post.