The great roadtrip of May 2011

As I write this, I’m standing at the kitchen counter in our new apartment in Phoenix. Since we don’t have any furniture yet (apart from a bed and one chair from Ikea, which we take turns sitting on) I now do everything from this spot: email, Skype, eat, lean, sob quietly. My legs ache from standing around all day but the end is in sight because I think we found a nice couch at the weekend, and a possible table and chairs. Hopefully, there will be lots of sitting in my not-so-distant future.

We’ve been here a week today, and despite the distinct air of emptiness in the house, I feel settled already. I’ve met some really nice people and am more than happy to grow old here and never move house ever again for the rest of my life. Plus, the fact that the weather has been in the 30 degree range since we arrived ain’t bad either.

Our roadtrip from Oregon took nine days, and thanks to my nerdy little schedule, we made good time and were able to relax along the way. We went whale watching in Depoe Bay on the Oregon coast, camped in the Redwoods State Park in Northern California, spent three days in San Francisco, drove on the Pacific Coast Highway and stayed in Pismo Beach, Huntington Beach and Palm Springs before we crossed the state line into Arizona. We mostly stayed in Motel 6s where we could as they’re very dog-friendly, as well as being cheap and clean. Milo was a little champ through all the travelling, apart from one or two days when he didn’t eat or got sick and the tick he picked up when we camped. So gross.

Here are some pictures from the trip for your delectation. Please enjoy.

This is where Milo spent most of our days without a peep out of him. Good dog.

Depoe Bay, where we saw (bits of) a grey whale (not pictured).

We also saw some big fat sea lions (pictured).

Local royal wedding humour. Fnar fnar.

One of the zillions of little towns we drove through on the 101. Can't remember the name.

Crossing the state line into California. Hide your fruit and veggies.

Our spot in Elk Prairie Campsite. We were a bit underprepared so we won't be doing that again for some time.

In case you didn't know, redwoods are quite tall.

Dinner. Giant marshmallows (me) and wieners (Eoin).

Like I said, redwoods are big. And old.

Our first glimpse of San Francisco. Such a pretty city. Stunning views from every street.

We arrived via the foggy Golden Gate Bridge. FYI there's a surprise $6 toll on the other side.

Gorgeous houses on Alamo Square. Wantsies one, please.

Alcatraz. One of the highlights of the trip for me. The audio tour is enthralling.

The beach at Carmel-by-the-Sea. Cutest little town ever. Clint Eastwood used to be mayor here, fact fans.

We stayed two nights in Huntington Beach, which has an off-leash dog beach. Milo couldn't believe his luck.

The only picture I have of Palm Springs. 'S okay though, cos I'm defo going back.

And that’s how we got here. Travelling in America so easy, with lots to see. Hopefully we’ll get to do more very soon.


On the road again

Ah Oregon it’s been real, but it’s time to move on.

Starting on May 1st, we are officially making our way back down to Arizona, where we’ll be living for the next two years or so. I have mixed feelings about it. On one hand, because we were there for the first three months of the assignment, and because I was always conscious we’d be going back, I felt more settled there and keep referring to it as “home.” But on the other, my heart belongs to Portland and I’ll miss it something fierce. It’s a shame that we didn’t get to do all the things we planned while we were here, but what with the poxy weather, new pup, and Eoin’s long hours, we were restricted. I’ve made my peace with it though. And hey, maybe we’ll come back for a holiday? Two years is a long time.

Anyway, this move is going to be a little different to the last two (from Ireland to AZ and from AZ to here) mostly because we’re going it alone. Previously, The Massive Multinational Company That Cannot Be Named had been our mammy and organised our apartment, cable, internet, phone, car and furniture – everything. This time, however, they’re only looking after the house, the rest is up to us. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem, but we’ve been so spoiled it seems a little scary, especially the part about arriving to an empty house with only an air bed to our names. Terror Town.

Still, I’m really looking forward to it, especially as everything is more fun now that we have Milo. Eoin has already purchased some new wheels (well, new to us) and we’ve decided that we’re going to drive down and make a holiday of it because he has some much-needed time off to take. This is the part I’ve been concentrating on and I’m so excited about it. Chandler is about 1,300 miles away and we’re giving ourselves ten days to get there, taking the scenic route.

It looks long, right? Basically we’re driving down almost the entire west coast of America. The weather should be nice, especially in Southern California, so we’re going to camp when we can and just spend time by the coast before we venture into the desert for the long haul. We plan on stopping in Depoe Bay on the Oregon coast for whale watching, staying in the Redwood State Park, tasting wine in Napa Valley, spending a couple of days in San Francisco and then hitting the beaches around Santa Cruz, Pismo Beach, Malibu and Huntington Beach before heading inland to Palm Springs, and then finally “home.”

Not a bad start to the next chapter, eh?

If anyone has advice or recommendations for things we should see and do along the way, please, help a sista out.

I ♥ Sedona

It’s true! I even bought one of those badges to prove it.

Background info: Sedona is a picturesque town in northern Arizona, set in about 300 acres of spectacular National Park. It’s famed for its amazing red rock sandstone formations and Native Americans used to live there back in the day. It’s one of those places that you apparently have to visit if you’re in Phoenix, especially if you’re into all that spiritual mumbo jumbo. Since Eoin had Friday off (another reason to love Thanksgiving) we decided to head up in that direction for a little cheap ‘n’ cheerful mini break.

Day 1: Phoenix to Cottonwood

After a slightly late start, we hit the road at 10am on Friday. Because accommodation in that area is mega-expensive, and we’re on a budget, we decided to stay in a place called Cottonwood, about 15 minutes this side of Sedona. Cottonwood. Who wouldn’t want to check out such a cute-sounding town?

So off we went, with the intention of stopping somewhere en route for brunch. (Sidenote: travelling in America is a breeze thanks to the amazing infrastructure and interstate freeways. However, if you want to stop for food your choices are pretty much limited to McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Denny’s and all the usual fast food suspects.) After about an hour and a half we spotted a sign for Byler’s Amish Kitchen in a place called Black Canyon City. Now I don’t know about you, but I’m really interested in the Amish, so we decided to take a short detour in the name of fodder and general nosiness.

Byler’s, a quaint and slightly tatty little diner, was jammers so while we waited for a table I read up on the family. Unfortunately (for me) the brothers who own the restaurant left the Amish years ago but apparently still like to stick to some of the traditions. The place was full of locals and the fare was all home-cooked and rustic. Oh and the pies! They looked divine.

I ordered fried fish in a bun with sweet potato fries and Eoin went for the “country special”, which seemed to be an open beef sandwich with mashed potatoes drenched in gravy. Look see!

Unfortunately I didn’t have room for dessert after all that, as much as I wanted a slice of pecan pie, so we got back on the road. At this point we were only about 40 minutes from Cottonwood, so we decided to check out Montezuma Castle on the way.

Background info: Montezuma Castle is a really well-preserved cliff dwelling where members of the Singua tribe lived in the 12th Century (thanks Wikipedia). It’s basically a house built into a cliff face, that would have been home to around 50 people when it was inhabited. Unfortunately the house itself has been closed to the public since the 1950s but it was cool to see it from the outside. Also, since Native Americans had a bit of cop on, it was built above a lovely river (called Beaver Creek – ha!) in a really scenic little spot. I had forgotten how nice it is to walk around under trees and see non deserty vegetation. The grounds were very pretty and autumnal, most un-Arizonalike.

See? Deciduous trees! Leaves! Shade! Montezuma Castle has it all going on. Now here’s a shot of the castle itself (below). Less a castle and more a gaff, I’d call it. It’s five stories tall though and has around 20 rooms. I like what they’ve done with the place, don’t you?

After hanging around for about an hour, we set off towards Cottonwood. As I mentioned earlier, we’re on a budget so we booked a motel for the night. Staying in a motel was on my list of Things I Want To Do In America and it didn’t disappoint, although I won’t be repeating the experience any time soon. Why? Well, for a start it was freezing. (I should mention that Cottonwood, Sedona et al are at a much higher elevation than Phoenix which is in the Sun Valley.) Freezing room aside, it also stank a bit and the walls were like paper. Still, it was only for one night and I’m glad I did it.

After checking in, and getting changed, we went off to find a bar in which to have a little pre-dinner tipple. We found one, called Kactus Kate’s, which looked exactly like Moe’s Tavern from the outside – and was fairly identical on the inside too. Not very cosy and needless to say there was no fire to side beside (I know, I know, that’s an Irish thing). Still, the pitchers of beer were an affordable $6 so one mustn’t complain. Isn’t Cottonwood cute?

Over our beers we decided to have dinner in a Mexican place called Concho’s which came highly recommended (well, had 16 reviews) on Off we went into the night, shivering away, but when we found it at 7.30pm it was closed with a sign outside that said  food finished at 8pm. At this point we were freezing over, and marvin’, so we legged it down the street to a place called The Tavern Grille, which looked damn cosy. Weirdly though, the sign outside said it closed at 9pm. I started to realise that Cottonwood was not a happenin’ town and after a cheesy and delicious broccoli alfredo, and a massive eclair, I was all tucked up and asleep by 10pm. Aw.

Day 2: Cottonwood to Sedona

Unable to wash the smell of cheap motel out of my hair, we left for Sedona at about 10am on Saturday. We got there within 30 minutes and after a quick wander around town found a cute place to get a massive pre-hike breakfast. The town itself was jammers with tourists and is quaint and adorable. The red rocks provide a pretty nice backdrop too, don’cha think?

After stopping at the tourist office to get a Red Rock Park pass and some maps, we decided to drive right up into the mountains before we got to grips with finding a hiking trail. As we climbed up it got colder and colder and by the time we got to Oak Creek Vista, at about 7,000 feet, we had found little bits of snow. The view was amazing, completely different to the red rock we had been seeing all morning. From here it was all about evergreen trees and it went on for miles.

A short drive down the mountain later we were at Cathedral Rock, the starting point for a hike Eoin had chosen. Being a boy, he’d gone for a “strenuous” one (not “easy” or “moderate”) despite the fact that neither of us is even slightly outdoorsy. So instead of a long, leisurely walk, which I would have enjoyed, he decided to squeeze any pleasure out of it and we basically climbed up a big red rock on our hands and knees. It was hell. THANKS, EOIN. Below is Cathedral Rock, and we got to the big flat green part about half way up. No easy feat.

The view from there was nice, I SUPPOSE.

After sliding back down on my arse (it was the safest way, trust me) it was my turn to choose a hike. I went for an “easy” one that, according to the map, was about one mile long. The perfect distance. Unfortunately, we took a wrong turn and ended up walking for five miles through, in my opinion, rough terrain. Thanks to a pair of punishing Converse my feet have been reduced to bloody stumps.

This is where we went wrong. Turning right was a bad idea. D’oh.

But we got back to the car well before the sun went down so it’s all good. And that concludes my trip to Sedona. Horrific mountain climb aside, I loved it. It’s not every day  you get to experience this kind of landscape, is it? Bring on the next place.

Road trippin’

Today Eoin and I went on our very first American road trip. Excitement!

I’ve been reading a blog called PostSecret for years now, and there is an exhibit running until December 12th in the University of Arizona Art Museum, which is in Tucson, about a two-hour drive away. If you’re not familiar with PostSecret, you’re missing out and you should basically remedy that sharpish. The blog was originally a project started in 2004 by a guy called Frank Warren. He gave 3,000 strangers a blank postcard each and asked them to write down a secret they’d never told anyone and send it back to him anonymously. After the original exhibition of postcards (which I think was in Washington) everyone wanted to get in on the act and the blog now has millions of readers and contributers from all over the world. Seriously, check it out. He puts up new secrets every Sunday. Some will make you laugh, some will make you shudder and the odd one will definitely make you cry.

So off we set. It was yet another blindingly beautiful day in Phoenix (shocker!) and the freeway was busy but fast-moving. We drove through miles of desert, saw some amazing cacti and basically spazzed out every time we copped anything “remarkable” like a trailer park or a sheriff’s car or a, um, train. Yes, I, in particular, am easily entertained.

Tucson, I was told, is your quintessential American college town. Like, if the college wasn’t there the place wouldn’t really exist. It’s very pretty: lots of cafes with people sitting outside enjoying the sunshine and what have you. Everyone walks around wearing their U of A T-shirts and there is Wildcats paraphernalia EVERYWHERE. American students are serious about school spirit and supporting their college football team. It’s equal parts adorable and OTT, if you ask me.

I loved the exhibit, which as you can tell from the stunning photo above, was basically God-themed. Unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to take pictures inside which means that I was only able to snap one while doing my best Sneakahontas impression. Out of the 300 odd postcards there, I chose the one that I think best sums up my thoughts on the subject. The quality is poor but you have to understand I was engaging in a highly illegal activity at the time. Forgive me, please.

After PostSecret we headed downtown to Johnny Rocket’s (Eddie‘s Stateside cousin?) where I had, without doubt, the most amazing malt that was ever created. Divine. Then we hit the road again, this time heading for Pima Air and Space Museum.

Pima was…cool. There were planes. Like, hundreds of them. My favourites were the Air Force One used by JFK and the one called City of Dublin. Don’t question my criteria.

After wandering around for a good hour, and the obligatory pitstop at the gift shop, it was time to return to the homestead. A fun day.