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Comprising Spagus (derived from Asparagus), or Cam. Previously rural banker and farmer that has decided to ditch his tie and gumboots in exchange for a backpack and shaved head. Partnered with Shroom (derived from Mushroom), or Cat. Formally a country/city/country girl that has left behind the world of policy consulting and has ditched her high heels for some comfortable (yet stylish) footwear to support a wee bit of globetrotting through 2010 and 2011. We hope you enjoy following the travels of SpaguShroom through Europe, North America and South America!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Wind Cave National Park, Crazy Horse Memorial and Mount Rushmore (August 23 – August 26)

Leaving early Monday morning we left Dallas heading northwards through Oklahoma and on through Kansas. We then headed East toward, Colorado. The roads were far quieter than what we had experienced the previous week and we made excellent time. The scenery was mainly vast areas of farm land with small towns between. Having covered 700 miles (1,120 km) for the day we pulled into a camping ground just east of the Colorado border for the night.
Day two we decided to take some back roads to get off the main interstate on our journey north through Nebraska to South Dakota. We had changed our plans slightly and were heading to Mount Rushmore before Yellowstone National Park. We were rewarded on our chosen route with continuous scenery of vast farmland. With fields far as the eye can see, practically no animals in sight, the biggest irrigators and the coolest John Deere machinery Cam has ever seen - this was nothing like home! Many farms were making hundreds of hay bales on the flats in preparation for a cold and snow-covered winter.
We pulled into Wind Cave National Park for the night, which is located in western South Dakota. After pitching our tent in the Park’s campground we then attended a tour of the Wind Cave. This cave is the fourth longest cave in the world covering 132 miles of passages with more being discovered on a regular basis. It is famous for its’ elaborate calcite boxwork formations and the wind that is produced at the Cave’s entrance.

After dinner that evening as the sun was setting we took a short drive up the road for a bit of wild life spotting. We quickly stumbled across a herd of Bison (Buffalo) grazing the road side so we pulled up and watched these magnificent beasts feast and play. They were happy to ignore us so we stayed put in our car and felt very privileged to get such a close-up view.

That evening we also attended a wildlife seminar by the Park Ranger; learning about the history of the Park and its’ wildlife.
Rising early the next morning we set off north driving the scenic route through Custer State Park. This drive provided us with more excellent views of vast plains with grazing bison, steep pine covered mountain ridges and stony bridges. During our drive we saw prairie dogs and white-tailed deer, and also came across a traffic jam involving a herd of approximately 50 bison that had decided to chill out in the middle of the road.

Unfortunately our car did not handle the stopping and starting, and began to overheat. With the needle fast encroaching into the red we began a u-turn in the road but decided this wasn’t a good idea when two male bison had locked heads in front of our car (it is currently mating season). Thank goodness they decided to clear in the nick of time and we were able to speed off to cool our engine. Phew.

Our next stop was the Crazy Horse Memorial. Neither Cam nor myself had heard of this monument prior to our visit to the States, but it is the largest monument in the world and has been a work in progress since 1948. Work originally begun by sculpture Korczak Ziolkowski, where he began to blast out the image of the Sioux leader (Crazy Horse) astride his horse pointing into the distance. The chiselling, sculpting and blasting of granite continues today by Ziolkowski’s family who purposefully receive no assistance from the government, it is uncertain when it will be completed. We were able to see what the monument will look like by a replica placed in the visitors centre. It will be absolutely astounding once complete, but something even our grandchildren may not likely see completed.

We then visited the very famous Mt Rushmore. This definitely did not seem as impressive after seeing Crazy Horse, (the area of Mt Rushmore can fit inside the head of Crazy Horse) but all the same it was fantastic to get right under the nostrils of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt.

From here we hit the road again heading west to get some miles under our belt for our journey to Yellowstone the next morning. Late that evening we pulled into a rather average campground located next to a construction site in the small town of Gillette, although it did have showers. We hit the hay early in anticipation of more wildlife spotting at Yellowstone National Park the next day.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Dallas Weekend (August 21 - August 22)

On Friday night we hit up Forth Worth with Courtney and David, for some rodeo and real-life cowboy action. Yee haw!
Forth Worth located near Dallas, is a city famous for cattle drives which passed through the middle of the city during the 1800s, heading North to the market. With a history of boom and bust, the town eventually grew steadily with the construction of a railway, this promoted a flourishing cattle trade industry. The infamous Forth Worth Stockyards were then created and operated until the 1960s. The stockyards are the last standing in the USA, part are left as they were with the other part turned into shops and restaurants.

We had dinner at Joe T Garcias; a huge restaurant seating 1500 people, and serving only fajitas, enchiladas and margaritas. Our type of place for sure! After downing a huge feast we headed downtown to the rodeo.
Located next to the Stockyards in a large indoor arena, we could smell it from the street. The rodeo is held every Friday and Saturday nights, where competitors come from far and wide to compete and display their talents at the seated arena. Feeling slightly out of place without our Western get-up we were treated to a couple of hours of great entertainment.

We watched calf wrangling, barrel racing, and bull riding. All of which was very impressive; these stockmen and stockwomen of all ages are hugely talented. But perhaps our unexpected highlight was the half time entertainment known as a ‘scramble’ for those under-7 years old. As kids and toddlers ran out into the arena we expected lollies to be thrown by the clowns, instead a large rampaging ram was released and the kids had to ‘scramble’ to catch it. These children had no fear, and provided very hilarious entertainment. Only in Texas.

On Saturday night we headed out to dinner with friends of Courtney and David. Having a break from Mexican, we had a delicious Asian fusion meal. We then headed to the Goo Goo Dolls concert. This was excellent; playing a mixture of their classic hits with some music from their new album due out next month.

Sunday was spent planning and preparing for our trip north toward Yellowstone National Park. We cleaned and prepared the car, now known as Daisy after our wee pet friend.

Courtney cooked us a lovely dinner on Sunday evening. Our last night together until we return to Dallas around mid October. We plan to hit the road well before sun-rise to get some of the boring driving hours behind us and to soon see some of the scenery that we have heard so much about.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Nashville and Memphis (August 16 - August 20)

We set out Monday morning heading east across the country toward Nashville. At a distance of approximately 670 miles (1, 078 km) and crossing three states (Texas, Arkansas and Tennessee) we were ready for our first road trip and to put the Ford Focus to the test.
The roads were generally good and varied between three to six lanes the whole way. Our car was the smallest vehicle on the road by far. A car is not a common vehicle over here, the majority drive oversized trucks or pickups. This seems hugely unnecessary but big is better, I guess.
On day one we covered 445 miles. Feeling slightly jaded we pulled into a camp ground just west of Memphis. Our first experience of a US campground was great; the grounds were very well kept and sat alongside the mighty Mississippi river.

Refreshed after our first night in the wilderness; the next day we headed directly through to Nashville. We were greeted by heavy afternoon thunderstorms but continued our mission and pitched our tent at a campground west of the city. During the night we were able to test the durability of our tent with 6 hours of the most intense thunder, lightening and rain storms. Needless to say we didn’t get much sleep and were slightly soggy in the morning. Our cheap tent did stand the test well, but with the sheer quantity of rain that fell it would be enough to test any piece of fabric. After drying our gear the best we could, we spent the day in Nashville; a remarkable city also known as ‘Music City’.
Back in 1925 Nashville became famous for its’ live music radio station known as the Grand Ole Opry. The recording studio business then became very popular in the city and Nashville was soon known as the ‘country music capital of the world’, and still is!

With Patsy Cline, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, etc cranking from the shops, bars and even speakers on the traffic lights - we really were in Music City. Strolling Broadway we visited the many tacky but fantastic gift stores and just absorbed the atmosphere that was electric at 10 am on a Wednesday morning! With endless pubs and bars, Western clothing shops and flashing bright lights this place caters for the tourist. But at the same time the locals are ever present mooching the streets and happy to offer a friendly “how y’all doing?” to those obvious out-of-towners.
We visited the Museum of Tennessee and Capitol, both were good in their own right but rather difficult to get excited about after our DC trip. The real highlight though was our lunch at the very famous Toostie’s Wild Orchid Lounge. Open since the 1960s this dingy wee place is covered wall to wall in music memorabilia and signatures of famous people and anyone else that has visited.

The tiny wee stage at the front of the pub has hosted many a famous musician, and is still the place to play for those up and coming. We indulged in a lunch of Bud, burgers and nachos while enjoying excellent live country music. With two dudes playing any request thrown at them we stayed for a couple hours, such fun times I just wanted to leap from my seat and do the ‘two-step’, but held back.

We also visited one of the many record stores on Broadway which felt more like exploring your old man’s garage; with records dating way back but still as popular as ever. We purchased a Compact Disc; Willie Nelson's Greatest Hits. We hope to see him in concert when we head up North later in the trip.
To be honest I have never been a country music fan, but with Cam’s encouragement and the complete immersion of visiting the Southern States, I am certainly coming around. It grows on you, it just does.
Feeling full and content we hit the road heading back west toward Memphis, where we found another lovely campground to pitch our tent in the sun and dry out all our gear. RV, or Recreational Vehicle camping is huge over here. Many people rock around the country in these gigantic bus like vehicles (towing a 4WD behind) that are a home (or mansion) away from home. Some campgournds do not cater for tents but when they do we are always the only tent in the grounds. No AC or satellite for us!
Our next stop the following morning was Graceland, Memphis. We decided to pay the rather high ticket price and had our first audio tour of the trip through the Graceland Mansion.

The tour took us through the home which remains as it was when Elvis died in 1977, and continued through the grounds of Graceland which included amazing tribute rooms displaying all his achievements, costumes and stories over time.

The tour ended in the garden where Elvis and his parents are laid to rest. This area was decorated with wreaths and memorabilia made by people and fan clubs from all around the world who had made a pilgrimage to visit the King and his home.

We learnt how much of a legend this man truly was, especially without the internet or any performances done outside the USA; he sold over 1 billion records world-wide and stands as the best selling solo artist in history.
After Memphis we headed back to Dallas and broke the journey with a night’s stay in a campground west of Little Rock; a city famous for Bill Clinton and John Grisham’s birth place.
We arrived back safely in Dallas on Friday afternoon where we will recoup for the weekend before beginning our epic journey north.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Texas (August 9 - August 16)

We arrived into Dallas on a standard Summer evening with the temperature hovering around 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). This triple digit temperature seems only appropriate for the relentless and intense heat that is Dallas at this time of the year.
We were greeted at the airport by David, Cam’s cousin who we would be staying with along with his lovely girlfriend Courtney and 12 week old Boston Terrier, Daisy. It’s always so exciting to be met by someone familiar at the airport, but to then be greeted by a traditional home-cooked Texan meal and to be accommodated in a lovely home - we truly felt spoilt.
David and Courtney were fantastic hosts during our entire week’s stay, kindly playing tour guide on several occasions. We visited the football stadium of the Dallas Cowboys. This place is ridiculous; it seats 100,000, has the world’s largest LCD screen, multiple restaurants and bars, and to top it all a retractable roof.

We were there to watch the Cowboys’ pre-season training – though to be honest we spent far more time gawking at the magnificent interior of the Stadium.

This was followed by an awesome feed at a local Tex-Mex restaurant. With crazy Texan d├ęcor, a merry waitress with an accent so thick we could barely understand, and all you can eat corn chips and salsa - this place was definitely good times!
We spent the remainder of the week catching up on sleep, laundry, and planning our road trip which we would be doing over the next couple of months. In order to kit ourselves out for this adventure we visited the wonderful WalMart and purchased a bunch of stuff including tent, mattress, and other essential camping gear. All for a price about a third of what you would pay at home, the sad truth of a shop that has taken over the country and of course pushed out the little guy (but we loved it). We also purchased the most essential item of the trip, a car. A lovely 2001 Ford Focus, colour : champagne.

After a bit of TLC by the boys who changed the spark plugs, oil and filter, and gave her a good old lube she will hopefully see us through the many thousands of miles we intend to travel over this mighty country.
On the weekend we all took a trip south to Austin. On the drive down we got to see a bit more of the state; some farm land but mainly a continuum of gas stations, truck stops and fast food joints. Attending a party on Saturday evening we met a lovely bunch of Austin locals and enjoyed more good food.
On Sunday we took in the sights of this truly eclectic city. Our journey took us from the pristine waters of Barton Springs, to the quirky shops of Southern Congress (where we visited the biggest Western Boot store ever-jeepers!), to the Salt Lick- a traditional Texan BBQ restaurant where we tucked into a delicious assortment of smoky meat for lunch.
The restaurant proved very popular with a police officer required to direct traffic at the entrance and the helicopter of a patron parked in the neighbouring paddock.

We thoroughly enjoyed our taste of Austin, it really had a great feel to it and the people were super friendly. With a city that caters to musicians, hippies, cowboys , and the downtown professional in one space, it is hard to go wrong!
We will hit the road Monday morning for the week, heading east to Memphis and on to Nashville.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Canada (August 6 - August 9)

We boarded an early morning flight from Boston and headed north to Buffalo where we would travel to see the Niagara Falls. From Buffalo airport we took a shuttle to the bridge which extends between the two towns (and countries) of Niagara Falls, New York and Niagara Falls, Ontario. With backpacks on we walked across the bridge, from the United States to Canada - our first time walking into a country. With passports stamped we eagerly headed to our motel to dump our bags and explore Niagara town and the Falls.
Walking through the main streets of Niagara we were rather surprised at how tacky and tired everything looked! Big bright billboards, gaming arcades, amusement rides and chocolate gift shops were not quite what we had expected to see alongside an incredible natural wonder of the world. A far cry from how it would be done in NZ, with a DOC info centre and perhaps a tasteful tourist shop or two. But alas once we adjusted to our surroundings we enjoyed walking around the family packed streets soaking up the atmosphere and closely inspecting the Hersheys and candy stores.

To get up close and personal with the Falls we boarded the famous Maid of the Mist boat. This tour has been operating since 1854 and is a must-do when visiting the Falls.

The boat is loaded with lots of eager tourists donned in blue ponchos and cruises past the American Falls and then through the dramatic spray of the Horseshoe Falls.

This is just spectacular; the sheer power of 2,800 m3 per second of water over the Falls made for an exciting and soaking wet experience!

In peak summer season the Falls are lit up at night, which is quite pretty and a fireworks display is provided three times a week. We enjoyed our evening in Niagara, but one night here was definitely enough. Once you have seen the Falls from all angles and walked the main street there is not a lot left to do.
On Saturday morning we bussed a couple of hours up the road to Toronto. We stayed with Chris, a friend from NZ and Melissa in their lovely apartment in High Park, Toronto. On Saturday night we hit town with Brendan another kiwi mate living in Canada.

We had a blast and the following day enjoyed checking out Toronto city. Toronto has a similar feel to Auckland with the waterfront and the similar-looking CN Tower, though Toronto had many more beautiful trees and parks.

We had such a fun weekend, it’s always a highlight visiting some familiar faces from home and to see our friends settled in their life outside of NZ. Thanks so much to Abo, Mel and B for the great weekend! From the little time we have had in Canada it has made us very eager to return (of course) and explore the depths of this mighty country. With the stories we have heard of the beautiful trees in Fall and the crazy coldness in Winter, this place just demands to be travelled!! It seems the more places we visit the more places we want to go...
Early Monday morning we crossed back over the border into the States, though this time by bus where the customs process turned a two hour journey into four.
Next we fly to Dallas the big T. We are both very excited about this part of the trip, and are not quite sure what to expect!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Boston (August 3 - August 6)

After an extensive day of travel by bus from DC we arrived rather jaded, but excited to be in Boston city. To make for a cheaper stay we chose accommodation in the Greater Boston area, needless to say it was not the easiest of places to find and unfortunately the worst we have stayed in yet. We can only laugh but with thread-bare sheets, no air-conditioning or even fans in 35 degree and 100% humidity heat, and 5 communal-type showers to share between 50 odd people, we didn’t find it funny when we arrived. It appeared to be an old rest-home or institution of some sort, an odd place in a dodgy neighbourhood.
But alas, we sucked it up and turned our minds to the most important job assigned to our stay in Boston - to buy a car. However after several hours of research, phone calls, and advice from locals we soon discovered that due to Massachusetts State law on car ownership, this was not going to be possible. Our plan to purchase a car and drive the length of the States to Dallas Texas was no longer happening. This was disappointing but thankfully our plans are flexible. The plan now is to head to Canada for the weekend and then fly down to Texas where we will buy a car with the assistance of Cam’s cousin, David.
Once we had reached this conclusion we quickly set about booking accommodation and flights so we could enjoy our remaining day in Boston. We strolled through the city and ate our lunch in the beautiful Boston Common, America’s oldest public park.

We also walked the Freedom Trail which is a 2.5 mile walk around the city that covers Boston’s Colonial sites. This proved to be really interesting and deepened our understanding of the American history and why independence is celebrated to a great extent. The highlights included America’s fist public school which was built in 1635, a visit to the Boston Massacre site where victims lost their lives in the American Revolution, and the Granary Burial Ground where they are buried. We also visited the Cheers pub that the hit tv series was based on - ‘Where everybody knows your name’. We had planned to visit Harvard but unfortunately an afternoon of torrential rain prevented this.

We found that Boston people were very friendly and helpful, with strangers in the street going out of their way to help us on several occasions. Although our stay in Boston may have been tainted a little by both our accommodation and the admin involved in the car ordeal and then changing our travel plans, we still enjoyed our visit very much. We would like to return some day to explore the coastlines and wilderness of the greater Boston area and Massachusetts.
Next we board a plane heading north to Buffalo where we will then cross the border to Niagara Falls and Toronto, Canada.