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Pacific Northwest USA

USA: Midwest & Pacific Northwest 24th to 26th September and 12th to 31st October. CHICAGO: An uneventful flight from Heathrow saw us landing at Chicago's O'Hare airport on Wednesday evening just as the sun was setting - 24th Sept. [see pic above]. We were only 25 minutes late, despite flight BA299 battling against a 105mph headwind jet-stream. We found a very comfortable hotel in Chicago, popped into a convenient Swedish restaurant next door where we stuffed ourselves on Swedish meatballs, loin of pork, saurkraut, sweet potatoes and salad. Thursday dawned chilly but with clear blue skies. The day was spent exploring and touring Chicago's many sights - it is a very architectural city with fine examples from Mies van der Rohe. The city lies on the shores of Lake Michigan [which is enormous] and this gives it a seaside appearance! A trip up the 96 floors of the John Hancock building revealed the entire Chicago and surrounds sprawled beneath us. What a panorama! Another highlight was the Buckingham Fountain which makes the one in Trafalgar Square look like a garden sprinkler. Kingston Mines - one of Chicago's premier Blues clubs was our evening destination where we were entertained by Charles Love [Luuuurve] and his Silky Smooth Band and Harmonica Shaw and his band from Detroit. PACIFIC NORTHWEST: After a most enjoyable and interesting time in Canada’s British Columbia, we left Victoria on Vancouver Island [Br. Columbia] for Seattle. This was done in some style and at some speed on the 38-knot catamaran ferry “Victoria Clipper?. The journey took some 2.5 hours and we duly arrived in Seattle - the city of Starbucks, Boeing and Microsoft eager for the next part of our adventure.[pic below]. By this time the weather has settled down to a more recognizable “British-style mixture of sunshine and showers?. Gone are the balmy days of Alberta. But, as we will be steadily heading south over the next few weeks and months, we will be getting into Spring and Summer conditions and the Sun will return! Explored the incredibly laid-back, cool and relaxed city of Seattle on Elliott Bay - nothing much is done hurriedly here. You would have thought all those lattes would make people frenetic. Far from it. After a couple of lattes we were right in the groove and ready for Downtown Seattle. Visited the Space Needle using the monorail system - speedy and efficient; the Pike Place Market with all its esoteric stalls and traders. It is here that the art of salmon throwing by fish merchants has become a byword for street-theatre! Not forgetting Pioneer Square: the historic site of old Seattle. Went up Smith Tower to the 35th floor open observation deck for a bald eagle’s view of the city below and views across the Puget Sound to Mt Olympus [2389m] on the peninsula. Another highlight and well worth doing, was a visit to the impressively gigantic Boeing plant at Everett. This is where they put those big babies together. Everything is on a Jumbo scale - not just the aircraft. The assembly plant is the largest building in the world by volume. Visit to see for yourselves. As our tour-guide quipped at the end “If it ain’t Boeing, I ain’t going." USA - 2nd installment: After the strict discipline of our visit to the Boeing plant, we had a more relaxed visit to the town of North Bend a.k.a. Twin Peaks - that strange David Lynch cult TV show of a decade ago. Naturally we stopped at Twede's Cafe [aka the Double-R Diner in Twin Peaks] where we had breakfast and a "damn fine cup of coffee" as agent Dale Cooper would have done himself. Mount Si [the eponymous Twin Peaks] looms darkly over North Bend, which is littered with various locations used in the series. Mon 20th Oct: we drove out of Seattle in absolutely torrential rain with gales in attendance - this deluge seemed to go on forever: the I-5 freeway was awash with standing water and the spray from the heavy traffic was horrific. But we survived and left the freeway south of Tacoma [a bit drier by now]. {The TV news that night reported that Seattle and surrounds had received 4.8in of rain in one day - this was more than the usual October total!!!} We visited Mt St Helens Visitor Centre via the approach road which climbed to 3,800ft. Mt St Helens [8365ft] however was invisible - totally obscured by heavy cloud and a light drizzle [very Scottish]. The eruption on 18th May 1980 blew the top 1,300ft off this volcano. Everywhere there were still signs of destruction wrought then: rivers of ash and grey mud, previously afforested pine slopes totally denuded of all vegetation, piles of dead tree trunks scattered like matchwood along river courses. Then it was onwards toward the Pacific coast of North Oregon and the first stop at Cannon Beach - a very smart, arty-farty town right on the beach, dominated by the 235ft sea stack called Haystack and its attendant needles. This was to be the first of literally hundreds of these sea stacks liberally sprinkled all the way down the Oregon coastline and into California. I could have sworn one of the stacks resembled the head of Arnie Schwarzenegger - both equally rock solid. By now the weather was, and would remain, nice and warm: 72-78F with cloudless, blue skies [except for the occasional bank of sea smoke over parts of the coastline]. This was very atmospheric with stacks and rocks gliding out of the mist like lost Spanish galleons. Further down the coast via Cape's Meares & Kiwanda to Newport [and the lovely Sylvia Beach Hotel, billed as an oceanfront B&B for booklovers - we had the Alice Walker-themed room. Then inland again - up on to the plateau at 4.817ft via Corvallis, Lebanon, Sweet Home, Sisters [a real Wild West town], Bend [passing extensive lava fields and cinder cones right next to the road and evidence of previous volcanic activity: a very alien landscape. Stopped at the tiny hamlet of Chemult: all the other motel customers were itinerant Asian mushroom pickers who sell their pickings to mushroom buyers encamped along the road in tents and big vans. Local economy in action! In the one [and only] local diner we got into conversation with a rather large trucker who had stopped for his customary 20oz steak & fries. He was full of good anecdotes unlike the dozy North Californian couple who could not understand why Chemult was not like San Francisco! The 23rd dawned very chilly with the car's windscreen iced over [we were at 4,800ft after all!], but cloudless, blue skies and a steadily warming sun rising higher and higher. Today was MOUNTAIN DAY: so we headed for the Crater Lake Nat. Park at 5,850ft, crossing the barren Pumice Desert a result of lava flows from when Mt Mazama erupted about 7,700 years ago. So no danger of a repeat performance today! We drove around the 33-mile circular Crater Rim Road, running around the huge caldera's edge, formed when Mt. Mazama blew its top and collapsed on itself. The views were stupendous: 1,000ft cliffs dropping straight down to the azure blue waters of the lake [1,943ft deep] in the crater - jagged peaks and weirdly contorted rock shapes everywhere. Sue and I walked up The Watchman - 8013ft] and after a picnic lunch I just HAD to climb up the highest point in the park: Mt Scott at 8,929ft. However, the elevation gain was only 1,500ft and all the way on an excellent, if sometimes exposed, trail. The summit had, as we say Scottish hillwalking parlance, "standing room only"! Good exercise for the day. Spent that night in the smaller hamlet of Prospect, boasting an excellent motel and diner [the latter full of hunters returned from a day's shooting elk and deer. The diner walls were adorned with the antlered heads of these creatures - there was even a stuffed cougar glowering down on us from his perch on a plinth. He had been shot in 1987. More Prospect oddities: the sheriff gave classes in "concealed firearms" - apparently in Oregon, you do not need a firearms license if you carry your weapon visible; but if you conceal it then you do need one! Also, all men wore big hats and bigger bears - neither of which was removed when they sat down to eat! Then it was back to the coast again - all in warm and glorious sunshine - driving further south via Brandon, Gold Beach & Brookings - all the time marveling at one cluster of sea stacks after another! Is there no end to them? Apparently not! Crossed into North California after Brookings - now it is really warm: between 88-90+F every day. Only another 350 miles to San Francisco now. In Crescent City, I was brave and had a local no 4 haircut [somewhat shorter than the Stirling no 4]. Dave Martez - strangely for a barber, sported a ponytail and beard!] Sue meanwhile went and played in a nearby Laundromat. Fortunately some local ladies were able to instruct her regarding the intricacies of how many quarters made the various appliances work. We also saw 2 Grey Whales from a viewpoint in the town - spouting away off the Californian coast - as you do if you are a grey whale! We were now in the Land of the Giant Redwoods [Sequoia]: continuous forests of these coniferous giants - some 300/400ft high with 20+ft diameters; and the oldest ones were well over a 1,000 years old. It was really cool in these forests of redwoods and ferns and creepers; but still well over 85F in the sunshine outside. There were many redwood carvings on sale - from the crass and mundane to quite unusual and esoteric designs. Giant Redwoods had also been converted to "Drive-Thru Trees", houses in the trees or gigantic 30ft carvings of lumberjacks! Still heading South: Trinidad where we found a cosy motel tucked amongst some ¨- yes, you've guessed it - giant Redwoods; drove along the Avenue of the Giants with the main road snaking its way thru the forest of giant trees, sometimes perilously close to the trees themselves; before embarking on a roller-coaster ride of a mountain pass brought us back down to the coast in Mendecino County with the Pacific rollers gently marching ashore. [Met 2 German cyclists who were cycling from Alaska to Los Angeles - they had left Anchorage in August - encountering snow and dodging bears on the road. Consider how lucky we are in Scotland with only the odd Blackface to swerve around! After a night in Fort Bragg we push on to San Francisco. More from there when we arrive on 29th Oct. SAN FRANCISCO Having left the spa town of Calistoga and its Robert Louis Stevenson connection [he was here in pursuit of Fanny – his fancy woman]; we continued down Highway 101 – every mile nearer the great metropolis to the south. Then the 101 went through a tunnel and when we came out into the sunlight on the other side ... BADDA BADDA BOOM – there it was: the Golden Gate Bridge – that rust-coloured beauty with its 750ft towers at either end with its simple, but beautiful art deco design. It stretched before us across the Bay with the unparalleled skyline of San Francisco right there. This was one of those truly WOW moments and lived up to all expectations. The weather did help: cloudless blue skies and a temperature in the early nineties Fahrenheit! We booked into The Golden Gate Hotel in Bush Street [not named after the White House inhabitant I hasten to add] where we were welcomed by the owners and Captain Nemo the black cat, who acts as informal doorman! It is a very homely and comfortable B&B hotel about 10 minutes walk from Chinatown and other notable areas of the city. The many sights we managed to squeeze in during our 2 days in San Francisco were: Chinatown entered through the Chinatown Gate where 2 stone lions flank the base of the pagoda-topped gate: where pungent smells from restaurants, fish markets and produce stands assail the senses; banners of gold and crimson are everywhere amongst dragon-entwined lampposts, pagoda roofs and street signs in Chinese calligraphy. There are numerous shops disgorging millions of Chinese-goods onto the pavements; Union Square with its many fancy and big-name retail outlets; the Embarcadero Centre – an elaborate 5-block complex; the Hyatt Regency hotel with its ivory & gold glass elevators and crazy indoor plant boxes running up umpteen floors and levels tilted at crazy angles; the Yerba Buena Gardens – a real treat of greenery and complex architecture with a magnificent waterfall in memory of Martin Luther King Jr – powerful streams of water surging over large, jagged stone columns, mirroring the enduring force of King’s words that are carved on the stone walls and on glass blocks behind the waterfall; North Beach – the area that novelist Herbert Gold called “the longest-running, most glorious American bohemian operetta outside Greenwich village”; City Lights bookstore – the hangout of the Beat-era writers like Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac; famous Lombard Street which is the block-long “crookedest Street in the World” – it has eight switchbacks down the steep east face of Russian Hill – a test for power-steering and good brakes! Also took in a trip to Sauselito and Tiburon – two affluent and lovely residential areas across the bay from the city where we had a lovely lunch right on the waterfront with the San Francisco skyline shimmering thru the slight sea mist across the Bay. What an idyllic situation! Then there was Nob Hill [called the hill of many palaces by Robert Louis Stevenson, a hilltop area of very elegant residences]; the Golden Gate National park [a vast swathe of green-belt used for a variety of outdoor pursuits by health-conscious Californians]. Another area we visited was Fisherman’s Wharf although we thought this reflected the tacky end of the San Francisco – full of shops selling every conceivable type of touristy crass crap souvenirs. The area did, however, sport a good selection of panhandlers [vagrants and beggars], some of whom had novel and amusing ways of attracting attention or getting money. One had a placard which read “Doing Alcohol Research.” AT least he was honest. Another chap was ensconced in a trash can with only his head visible through the opening on top: he should “White Trash here, don’t miss your Kodak opportunity!” The highlight, however, was riding the cable-cars [street-cars or trams] – gingerly and stately going up those very steep streets and then rattling down the even steeper downhill sections – this was especially exhilarating when standing on the running boards and hanging on for dear life! Cresting every brow revealed new incredible sights of the city’s many aspects – over the Bay or views down those steep streets to buildings far, far below you. Anyone who remembers the famous Steve McQueen film BULLIT with its car chase, will know exactly where we are at here. So, San Francisco has been our final port of call before we leave North America on Friday 31st October, via Los Angeles for Santiago in Chile. Please follow our further adventures on the Chile page once we get there this weekend. (Yours truly at the famous Bridge)

Boeing Aircraft Corp
San Francisco