Flora, Fauna and Fakery: Out West in the USA

It has been three weeks since we left the green hills of New Zealand, and since then we have had to swiftly leave our slow-paced rhythm of life behind us. With a mere five weeks in the USA, and endless possibilities of things to see and do, we are zipping around trying to cram in some of the top hot spots while we’ve got the chance. Our time on the west side has provided us with some fascinating juxtapositions of the beautiful and the bizarre!

Our Route

LA –> Joshua Tree National Park –> Grand Canyon –> Las Vegas –> Death Valley –> Eastern Sierra Mountains –> Yosemite National Park –> San Francisco

Flora and Fauna

After New Zealand, we (shamefully and naively) had low expectations for our explorations of the great outdoors in the USA. We thought we had seen the best that nature had to offer: big mistake.

provided dusty red canyon walks and beautiful beaches and warm California sun, and we walked and talked with my dear cousin, Rachel, and her husband, Marcel. The beauty was not only in the landscape: we are rarely able to see Rachel and Marcel, so the time we spent talking, jigsaw puzzling, wine drinking, walking the dogs and barbecuing together were precious.


Crystal Cove


Red Rock Canyon

Joshua Tree was described to us as ‘lunar’, and I can’t come up with a more accurate description myself. The landscape, although perhaps not as pleasing to the eye as lush, green, rolling hills or snowy mountains, was in its own way uniquely special in its barrenness. Joshua trees abounded, standing with their arms outstretched, as lizards scuttled across our path and we skipped across huge rocks to avoid the cacti.


James, Joshua trees and giant rock stacks

As we walked up from the visitor centre towards Grand Canyon, I was still prepared to be underwhelmed, for surely you couldn’t be truly impressed viewing from a distance, standing at the edge rather than being in the midst of it. How wrong I was. This is one of the most magnificent, awe-inspiring places we have ever been. The canyon is breathtakingly vast, to the point where the layers of landscape are hard to distinguish – your eyes just can’t take it all in. I was ill when we visited, and couldn’t join James on his hike down into the canyon, instead staying at the top and walking along the rim trail and sitting on outcrops of rock admiring the beauty. This mammoth freak of nature instilled such a sense of peace in us; you can’t stand alongside such enormity and not be calmed by a sense of how small you are.


Pretty grand

We were so fortunate to visit Yosemite in the spring, when the waterfalls are at their most raging. We hiked to the top of Nevada Falls and overlooked the splendour of the wooded hills, snow-capped Glacier Point, and got soaked in mist that thundered off the falls.




Much of our USA trip has been an overload on the senses. So much here is bigger, brighter, louder, faster – certainly compared to what we’ve been used to for the last six months. Here are a few highlights of things that have raised our eyebrows.

In La La Land we encountered body-building beach bods at Santa Monica, women in supermarkets with plastic surgery gone wrong, endless buses filled with celebrity-seeking tourists (literally a celebrity-stalking bus), and Donald Trump’s Walk of Fame star covered in urine…


Santa Monica madness

Las Vegas is one of the strangest places we have ever been: a bizarre Disneyland for adults. After more than a few hours staring at neon lights, being surrounded by the shiny, the glitzy, the tacky and the kitsch, hearing the ‘ding ding’ of slot machines, watching the seventh ‘Little White Chapel’ wedding party strolling down the boulevard, you feel as though you have entered another universe. Sprouting like some post-apocalyptic city out of the dust of the surrounding desert, a day in this bubble of entertainment was quite enough for this hiking boot-wearing couple.


New York New York (Las Vegas)

San Francisco‘s Mission and Castro regions provide a hub of homelessness and hipster-ism. Its main street is teeming with the struggling, the poor, markets stocked through theft, and people living in tents or on cardboard boxes. Take a detour through one side street, and you emerge through a politically-fuelled tunnel of street art and graffiti into a hipster’s heaven. Every other building is an independent coffee shop or a moustache grooming parlour and with each step you take closer to the Castro, the more you encounter the colourful and the kooky. What a strange contrast of lifestyles, just one street apart.


Street art admiration


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