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Back to America

It was bound to happen eventually. Yes, I went back to America for three weeks. Man, that was an adventure. 🙂


We began our journey in London, boarding on to a plane and sitting there for the next 10 hours. As it seems to be a tradition by this point, the significant otter had just gotten off night shift and wasn’t too fussed with the soon to be 7 hour time difference. I didn’t sleep quite so soundly.


However, we arrived in good spirits into Salt Lake City airport, collected our bags, and headed over to border control to enter the country. I’ve gotta say, it’s a pleasant moment to know that someone actually has to let me into a country for a change. My favourite person was a bit overwhelmed by the burly customs agent with his weaponry and questions about where we were going and who we were staying with, but I happily chirped the answers and he let us in with no trouble. I’m not sure why M seemed to think there’d be any trouble for an Englishman coming to visit America with his American wife. I suspect he just needs a baseline level of things to worry about.


We waltzed through the gates and back into the land of my birth, headed towards the car rentals. The doors opened and we were immediately hit with the dry, hot, oppressive air that is Salt Lake in late June. I thought it was glorious. The husband thought he had walked into an oven. Perhaps 97°F (36°C) was a bit much to introduce to the sweets straight from England, but we were going to be in a desert in some form for most of the trip, so I suppose it was best he learned then.


The hotel we crashed at for the evening was across the street from a Cracker Barrel. Of course we had to go in. He needed to witness the American-ness that is Cracker Barrel. And to see what a proper US biscuit was. He survived on a steak and I revelled in the fried chicken. It was a win for all. After dinner, we popped over to a Walmart for his second American experience and picked up some supplies for the next day. I have to say, I was disappointed he wasn’t particularly shocked by it.


The next morning we were both wide awake at 7:30 thanks to the jet lag, so we decided to go see the Salt Lake before the temperatures rose. I remember visiting the lake last in a cool March afternoon, and forgot some of the things about Salt Lake that are wise to remember.

  1. It is indeed salty, but doesn’t have the tides like the ocean. Therefore when hot, it smells quite strongly of fish and salt spray.

  2. It is really, really sunny in Utah.

  3. The midges like to take over the edges of the lake on nice warm days. Like Biblical swarms that you don’t see until you walk into their lair and they all start to fly away.

On the plus side though, it’s still a phenomenal thing to witness in the middle of a desert, surrounded by mountains. It’s also still beautiful, and the water was lovely to stick your feet into. 🙂 We explored the perimeter near the Salt Air building, then took the causeway over onto Antelope Island inside the lake. There are bison roaming the island! M took it as a mission to try and capture one on camera. I was content to just drive and enjoy the breeze.


We went back into the city when the afternoon arrived and had a wander around the area for the rest of the day before calling it an early night. When in Rome and all that meant that we had to go look at the Mormon temple. It’s honestly not as big as the photos all make it look, but it’s very distinctive in the centre of a bunch of modern city sky scrapers.


The next day I woke up sunburnt to a crisp, whilst the sensible husband was fine from his constant slathering of sunscreen the day before. Thankfully we had a bunch of water in the back of the car from the shopping before, and so we continued our journey out of Salt Lake City and down into southern Utah to see Zion National Park.


If M thought SLC was bad, he didn’t know what he was getting into. When we arrived into Zion it had reached 107°F (41.6°C) and the park rangers had put up warning signs everywhere to drink loads of water. Even the local wildlife was parched.


We started at the top of the canyon and drove inwards, then carried on through and explored through the Zion Canyon at 3,000 feet deep on foot. The top of the canyon is entirely desert, but in the basin where we were was forest and the North Fork Virgin River. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to go into the Narrows this trip, as we were just too hot to safely continue walking long distances. Zion never fails to feel like an otherworldly experience though. It really does feel like stepping back in time, and the photos never do justice to the actual sight. I cannot recommend the park highly enough.


As the sun slowly began to drop in the sky, we left Zion and headed to St. George, Utah to sleep for the night. We had found this really interesting place called Inn on the Cliff online and booked it because A) it had a beautiful view and a connected restaurant and B) it was next door to a private airport and M wanted to peep at any prop planes going through it. It turned out to be probably the best hotel we stayed in on the vacation, and I wish we’d had more than a night there!


Day three began and we got to watch the £ plummet in value. Oh yes, Brexit happened the first day we arrived. Yeah, that was only slightly traumatic.I don’t think any of the English family are still overly keen to discuss it at any get togethers. We felt a bit separate from the world at that point though, going from one desert wilderness to the next. Sighing at the news and packing our bags, we headed to Bryce Canyon National Park.


Just like Zion National Park, photos do not do justice to Bryce Canyon. Oddly enough, the area is not actually a canyon, but a massive collection of giant natural amphitheatres along the Paunsaugunt Plateau. These are filled with distinct geological structures called hoodoos, which have been formed over the years by the constant cycle of snow, rain, water and wind. Though only 70 miles away from Zion, Bryce is much higher in altitude with the rim varying from 8,000 to 9,000 feet. It doesn’t feel like it when you’ve driven up to near the top of the rim, but you certainly feel it when you start walking and gasp like you’ve been running.


After catching our breath and marvelling in the natural beauty, we got back into the car and started to drive towards Salt Lake City again. After dropping off the rental car, Mom and Dad came to rescue us from the airport and take us back to theirs’. (After a quick stop for lunch and a venture around the nearby Super Target of course.)


Man, going back to my parents’ house felt like no time had passed at all, but in the same vein I was coming back after a year gone and now with a husband in tow. Still, all changes were good changes, and it was fantastic to see everyone again! We passed on offerings of Percy Pigs and Jaffa cakes, and Dad made some delicious chicken enchiladas for dinner. We capped off the night by hanging out in the new pseudo-pub my parents have built in their basement. Seriously, it’s awesome.


The next afternoon M’s parents arrived in town to see the sights before we all came back to my parents’ for the big party in a few days time. When in the region, you absolutely have to go and see Yellowstone National Park, so that’s what we planned to do. Tuesday morning we all piled in a car and headed up to Wyoming/Montana.


The first day was a mosey about the western side of the park, following the river and the hot springs at the edge of the caldera. We ended the day by driving to Cooke City, Montana and having dinner on the Main Street before heading to our rental cabin for the evening to relax and play some card games. By the end of the night, you could start to see visible withdrawal symptoms from the internet and phone service from M.


The next morning we went in with more focus on what to see, only to be further stalled by the copious amount of bison on the roads. The attitude towards seeing bison in the wild changed vastly from the beginning to the end of this journey. They are majestic creatures though, even if they insist on standing in the middle of the road.


We continued our waterways trend, but this time went to the famed Yellowstone Canyon, for which the park is named. The walls of the canyon have a distinct yellow hue to them. M and I separated from the pack and wandered down a trail on the side of the canyon, which looking back on it now may not have actually been an official trail. It was nice enough though until we found the way barred by fallen trees. From there we turned around and had to get back to the vehicle in order to see our next point – Old Faithful!


Old Faithful is indeed pretty faithful, but its timing has changed due to earthquakes in the area over the years. Since 2000, it erupts about every 45 minutes to 2 hours. The nearby Old Faithful Inn has signs posted outdoors with approximate times for the day. The geyser isn’t the tallest in the park, but its eruptions can shoot 3,700-8,400 US gallons of hot water up to 106-185 feet in the air for about 2-5 minutes.


The Old Faithful Inn is an attraction unto itself once you’ve witnessed the geyser go off. It’s the largest log hotel in the world and has a massive stone fireplace in the main hall. It was originally constructed in 1903-1904 and was advertised for having electric lights and steam heat. It offers all that and paid wifi these days, which I witnessed M seriously considering at the time. We distracted him with ice cream cones from the shop off the lobby and headed back to the cabin. Slowly. Through a herd of bison. Dinner, you will be glad to hear, had free wifi included.


Thursday we popped into a Main Street cafe for breakfast and then drove into the Mammoth Hot Springs area. We admired the features of the massive buildup from slow geyser growth, as well as a moose roaming the village. Feeling quite enough outdoors for the time being and needing to get home to help Mom finish setting up for the party, we headed back after a quick lunch stop.


Back in town and blissfully back on wifi, we all began to rush around and get this party started. What party you might ask? Well, due to the nature of transatlantic weddings, my parents (read: Mom) didn’t get to do nearly as much for the wedding as they would have liked to do. To make up for it, we had a second reception in the US for everyone to either come party again or come celebrate if they missed the wedding.


Mom did not mess around on this front. She completely transformed the back yard into a venue and rented some tables and decor for the event. Dad was helping with music and by cooking a metric ton of BBQ. I suspect a few of us may still have calluses from helping to shred all that meat. Oh, and there was a trip to Sam’s Club.


When it was all said and done though, my parents had pulled off one really awesome summer party! We had SO MANY people come from across the US to say hello and congrats, and it was amazing to catch up with everyone. I only wish the party was even longer, so I could have spent more time with so many wonderful people.


Sadly, everyone had to go home eventually. We managed to get the house back into a semblance of order relatively quickly and then tried to pass off all the leftovers in quesadilla form to all of our helpers. We also had to remove some of Mom’s twinned UK and US mini flags in the front of the house because some neighbours were threatening to deface the yard. Rude! I mean, the 4th of July was two days after the party, but c’mon – it’s been a few centuries now guys.


It’s tradition in my parents’ town to do a 4th of July parade through the streets, so we all woke up and walked over to the portion near the neighbourhood. It did not disappoint. Truly, they know how to do patriotic well. It seems they haven’t entirely banned the practice of throwing candy at small children on the sidelines, but they’ve had to really push the “please don’t run in front of the cars” rule to allow it. Oh yes, and the Idaho Potatoes truck threw out individual bowls of instant potato mix. I can tell you this because one of our group caught one. Ah, small towns.


After witnessing Americana in all it’s glory, we all headed back to the house to get ready for the Melaleuca Freedom Celebration on the river that evening. The company set off 30 minutes of non-stop professional fireworks accompanied with music to celebrate Independence Day completely for free. The only payment is if you want seats outside at the dinner they host. You get a guaranteed place, a meal, and don’t have to stake a claim to a section of the river, so it’s usually a pretty good deal.


Having been abroad for nearly a year at this point, listening to the general patriotic speeches given was interesting. You develop a bit of an outsider’s perspective of your own country when you live away from it, and it was really different to see it now. I suppose it’s one of those things you just have to experience personally to really understand what I’m talking about.


After all this non-stop activity, we finally began to slow down a bit. The day after the fireworks, M and I had a wander around town and then got hopelessly lost in the foothills driving amongst the giant windmill farm. The next day we sent the boys out to hang out and Mom and I had some bonding time out roaming the stores around town and generally catching up.


On 7 July, the four of us all piled into the car and drove out to see Craters of the Moon National Monument, as well as the nearby EBR-I reactor museum. Craters of the Moon is otherworldly indeed. It contains a vast section of three major lava fields. These all lie along the Great Rift of Idaho, which contains some of the best examples of open rift cracks in the world. One of the deepest on earth is located here, measuring 800 feet. In these fields you can see almost every variety of basaltic lava, as well as some cavities in the lava left by incinerated trees from one of the explosions around 2,000 years ago. There are also plenty of lava tube caves, though you need a permit from the front office to go in for safety reasons, and we didn’t get around to picking up one.


Needing some time out of the glaring sun, we then drove over to EBR-I. Also known as Experimental Breeder Reactor I, it is a decommissioned nuclear research reactor out in the middle of the desert. Its claim to fame comes from 1951 when it became one of the world’s first electricity generating nuclear power plants. Some of the original light bulbs lit up by this are still on display today, as well as a bit of wall in which all the employees working there at the time have signed for posterity. After this first test run, EBR-I continued to produce enough electricity to power its own building as well as the neighboring town of Arco. It was used for further experiments until it was finally decommissioned in 1964. It is now open to the public for tours and is a pretty fascinating place to visit – if you don’t mind the desert drive.


We eventually headed back as the afternoon wore on. The last few days we spent in town were just nice and local – spending time with my family and enjoying the beautiful summer days. Finally though, the day came that we had to head back to the UK. We all drove down to Salt Lake City together and enjoyed some cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory, then slowly wound our way through to the check in. Only minimal tears were had, but plenty of hugs and well wishes were traded instead.


The flight back was relatively uneventful (thankfully) and we safely returned to British soil. I also learned a fun new fact after standing by myself in the non-EU/UK customs line. Apparently if you’re flying together, you can go through the EU/UK customs line with your spouse and not have to spend a year and a day waiting to get through otherwise. A lesson that was handy later on in the year!


All in all, I had an amazing time going back to see everyone, and would love to do it again. However, I think it’s now time for some of my lovelies to come back this way! 😉


— Kate

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