Day Trippers

This week we took a day trip to Isla La Graciosa, a small island 2km from Lanzarote, separated from it by a strait called El Rio. This was in fact Jean de Béthencourt’s first landfall in the Canaries. La Graciosa’s geographic position at the far north of the Canaries archipelago, places it at the meeting points of the Atlantic and Mediterranean waters and directly opposite the Caribbean’s tropical currents. This results in waters which never fall below 18C and are exceedingly clear, however because of its open exposure none of La Graciosa’s beaches is safe for swimming.

The forty minute drive to Orzola for the ferry took us through the Malpais de la Corona, an area of badlands that stretches for 10km. The volcanic lava here flowed out of Mount Corona to the sea. Although the eruption took place about 6000 years ago, there is remarkably little vegetation on the surface of the black lava flow, apart from white lichens and a few clumps of spurges (euphorbia).

Orzola is the most northerly village in Lanzarote. It is a sleepy fishing settlement noted for its seafood restaurants and of course the ferry ‘port’. The boats run regularly and apart from passengers also carry supplies for the island.

Once out into the open sea it is very rough, you just have to keep your eyes on the horizon! Around the headland into the El Rio channel and it is immediately much calmer. Thirty minutes later and we arrive at the main settlement Caleta del Sebo.


There are only about 600 permanent residents on the island most of whom are involved in fishing. There are a few simple restaurants and limited accommodation. The scenery consists largely of deserted sandy beaches, sand dunes, barren plains and the cones of four extinct volcanoes. Montaña del Mojón, 188m, is the nearest to Caleta and has beautiful stratas.


 There are no roads on La Graciosa and therefore no cars, just a few jeeps for traversing the sand. We decided to walk to Playa Francesa, approximately a 3km walk along the coast. We opted to walk along the beach, the tide was out and we found pretty patterns left in the sand.


Where the tide had gone out we found whelks stranded on the lava flow. Hopefully they will be rescued when the tide comes in again.

After reaching Playa Francesa we decided to return by walking along the ‘road’ or sand track. 


Although this looks quite smooth further along it was like wading through treacle, the sand was so deep and we returned to walking along the beach again. Apparently the best way to get around the island is by bicycle which can be hired at the port. I have to say, the only cyclists we saw were pushing their bikes as it was too difficult to ride them though the shifting sand.

We had a very pleasant, leisurely lunch sat in the the sun of El Girasol. Squid, grilled fish, croquetas and sardines were all delicious.


As we sat on the restaurant terrace we spotted the local bakery with a constant stream of customers. We had to investigate! What a fantastic selection, I was so sad that I didn’t have any room for anything. (However I later found I could squeeze in a wonderful ice cream cornet!)


The whole time we were on La Graciosa we tried to spot the Mirador El Rio at the top of the facing escarpment on Lanzarote. We visited it when we were last here in November and had spectacular views of La Graciosa, in fact the first photo of this blog was taken then. But try as we might we were unable to spot it, which means we might have to return there to suss it out!

We thoroughly enjoyed our little sojourn to Isla La Graciosa.


Going Back Home

Our cases are packed, and we’re well within our weight allowance, much to Duncan’s surprise. Just the final trek to the airport and the long wait for our flight. We know it has been delayed coming out, so will have to wait patiently.

  
We have had such a great trip. We have listened to fantastic music, travelled through interesting (and boring!) countryside, seen wonderful wildlife and eaten amazing food, and some pretty awful food! All part of lifes rich tapestry. We have been blown away by meeting interesting people and the kindness of strangers. We have learnt so much and been impressed how the US and in particular the Parks Service is developing historical sites.

But most of all we are thankful for the friends who joined us along the way, enjoyed the experience and helped us make some great memories. Thank you so much Nancy and Rex, Buffie and Steve, Jane and Ralph, it would not have been the same without you. 

Going Back Home – Wilkoe Johnson and Roger Daltry

It’s all over now

What a difference a day makes! Today has been a beautiful dry and sunny day. The sky has been bright blue with not a cloud to be seen.

  
Today was our last day and we had left this for any shopping we wanted to do. Our destination was a huge outlet mall. We arrived a few minutes after 10am when it opened to find the car park already full. Despite the crowds we enjoyed making a few purchases!

  
Bet it’s not as much as you thought? 

We spent this afternoon with some old friends from our days in Venezuela. Cornelia and Perry have recently moved to the Chicago area. We really enjoyed catching up with each other’s lives and what our respective kids were all doing now.

 

All that remains now is for us to finish packing our cases and be on our way tomorrow. However we understand there is a risk of fog in England affecting our return flight, but there’s nothing we can do about that. 

It’s all over now – Rolling Stones

Feels like Rain

Happy Hallowe’en y’all. It’s been a very wet one over here, raining all day. Luckily we had a brief dry period when we visited the Farmers Market in Springfield. Held weekly between May and October, today was the last one of the year. Yesterday we walked past as the artist was finishing the mural.

   
It was lovely to see all the fresh vegetables, so sadly lacking in restaurant meals. I was blown away by all the pumpkins, different shapes, sizes and colours. I apologised to the vendors that I was unable to buy, but took lots of photos, which they were happy for me to do.

  
  
  
I was fascinated by the Indian Corn, which looks far too pretty to eat!

  
All too soon, it was time to get in the car for our last trek. Three hours to Aurora outside Chicago for our final stop. Three hours of rain, rain and more rain and a flat, very wet landscape. This was our constant view!

  
Feels like Rain – John Hiatt

Abraham, Martin and John

The sun has shone and we’ve enjoyed a day walking around Springfield, Illinois. We have learnt all about Abraham Lincoln. Although he was born in a one room log cabin in Kentucky, Lincoln considered Springfield to be his home. It was here he became a lawyer and politician, married, had three sons and was elected president. We didn’t know that by the age of 21 he had had less than one year of formal schooling. He taught himself to read by candlelight in that one room cabin and later qualified as a lawyer through his own endeavours. 

Despite being assassinated in 1865, it was only ten years ago that the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum opened. It does seem that it takes a long time to do anything here. But it is extremely impressive with excellent exhibitions of his life.

We toured his house, the only house he ever owned, which still has some of the Lincoln’s original furniture and possessions. Apparently their sons were over indulged and badly behaved, seventeen nannies in sixteen years speaks for itself!

  
We had a personal tour with Todd, of the old Capitol building. After years of neglect the interior has been faithfully reproduced  and while most of the furniture is either antique or reproduced, Lincoln’s personal desk is there. 

  
We’ve enjoyed our leisurely day learning about one of the great presidents, which also connected a lot of the dots on our travels, re slavery and the civil war.

Abraham, Martin and John – Marvin Gaye

Many Rivers to Cross

Today we left St Louis and zigzagged. First we crossed the Mississippi into Illinois to visit the Lewis and Clark Confluence Tower. This 180ft tower overlooks the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers and is where Meriwether Lewis and William Clark began their 1804 expedition to explore the west.

  

The tower was built only five years ago, thanks to donations by the residents of the local town, Hartford and is manned by volunteers. Charlie kindly whisked us to the top before a bus load of school kids arrived. It was a beautiful clear, sunny day and we could clearly make out the Arch in St Louis, twenty five miles away.
  Then it was back across the Mississippi into Missouri to visit Hannibal. This was where Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain spent his childhood. It’s a really pretty little town. We were able to visit his home and the tiny house where Tom Blakenship, aka Huckleberry Finn, lived. It has all been beautifully restored. 

  
 Clemens became a licensed steamboat pilot on the Mississippi, a career which was cut short by the Civil War and he subsequently began to write. He took the name Mark Twain from the river sounding which indicated 12 feet of water which was safe for navigation.

  
We crossed the Mississippi for the final time, as well as the Missouri and Illinois Rivers. Our final destination was Springfield, the capital of Illinois.

Guess what we found here? Not only a local craft brewery, but also a pub with the biggest selection of craft beers. I counted 185 bottled beers on offer, apart from the ones on tap. Reading all the names kept me amused for ages!

  

Many Rivers to Cross – Jimmy Cliff

St Louis Blues

Hooray! No rain today. It was a grey day but at least it has been dry.

We drove out to Lone Elk Park to find the missing Bison. We were in luck. There was a small group including a mother and baby who all crossed in front of us. It was a great photo opportunity, but we kept an eagle eye on them as they are known to be aggressive and can damage cars. Try explaining that to Avis!

  
  
Then it was back into the city. Today the Gateway Arch is  celebrating its 50th anniversary since the last piece was put in place. It’s 630 feet tall and the largest single stainless steel structure in the world.

  
 We had bought our tickets yesterday for the princely sum of $1 each, a special birthday price. Very small five seater tram capsules take you up to the top in four minutes. It’s a very snug fit, no good for those suffering from claustrophobia. 
  
At the top you can disembark and look at the view through small windows. I was surprised to feel a distinct swaying at the top which was quite unnerving.
  
When we descended we were given commemorative badges and certificates. Tonight the Arch has been lit so it appears golden.

  
St Louis Blues – Bessie Smith

Falling Rain Blues

Today has been a washout! It has rained all day, much to the delight of the locals who have not seen rain for a couple of months.

We started the day visiting the Old Courthouse just along the street. This historic building has exhibitions  describing how St Louis served as a hub for early settlers moving west. This is also where two slaves, Dred and Harriet Scott sued for, and were granted their freedom. After many appeals the Supreme Court ruled that slaves were property and as such had no right to sue. The Dred Scott Decision hastened the start of the Civil War.

The Old Courthouse is an important structure of both historical and architectural significance. It was the centre of activity for a developing city that became Americas “Gateway to the West”. In the centre is a beautiful rotunda with three galleries. Today, the National Park Sevice preserves its heritage for future generations.

  
We took the trolley bus, a bargain at $1 to ride all day, to the city museum to find it was closed today. Many of the attractions that locals told us about, the botanical gardens, zoo, park were not going to be suitable to visit in the pouring rain. Eventually we gave up and returned to our hotel room to dry off and research for our next few stops on the way back to Chicago.

Early evening and it appeared to have finally stopped raining so we ventured out to the Metro. A few stops to Laclède Landing, named after Pierre Laclède the founder of St Louis, and we found our goal, the Morgan Street Brewery. The brewery is one of the oldest buildings in this historic cobblestone street.

  
It was Happy Hour, so beer was only $3 a pint, much to someone’s delight. We enjoyed a very nice dinner there, finally I had my meatloaf, real comfort food on such a miserable day. We sat near this fellow, which might well be the only type of Bison we get to see!

  
We had planned to go on to listen to music but there was torrential rain yet again, so we admitted defeat and decided an early night was in order. Hopefully tomorrow will be a more successful day.  

    

Falling Rain Blues – Lonnie Johnson

Route 66

Today we travelled north into Missouri, our seventh and last state on our road trip. We crossed Old Route 66 so made a stop at the Route 66 Diner for lunch.

  
  
Our next stop was Lone Elk Park a few miles outside of St Louis. This is a free, drive through park with the opportunity to view Elk, Bison and White Tailed Deer. A lone young deer was very curious and came right up to the car to see us.

  
We had almost given up seeing anything else when we spotted a herd of Elk across the lake. We parked up and walked down to see them. It is mating season so the stag is very protective of the hinds and we had to be careful and keep our distance. I kept snapping away as long as possible, until he began to get a bit agitated.

  
  
As we drove around again, we met with another stag and a group of hinds and calves.

  
Unfortunately we were not able to see the bison, all roads to them were closed and we were not allowed to walk through. We shall investigate and hopefully return.

We reached our hotel in St Louis, a short walk from the Arch. Another tall structure to ascend in the next day or two. Just across the road is the St Louis Brewhouse. Duncan more than deserved a few beers after driving us nearly 300 miles today.

  
Route 66 – Nat King Cole/Rolling Stones

It’ll shine when it shines

Hot Springs was not living up to its name this morning. We found that temperatures had dropped and the rain was still plaguing us. We can’t complain, we’ve been very lucky with the weather for the last four weeks. As the Hot Springs Mountain Tower was wreathed in low cloud we decided it was not a good idea to ascend to the top, all we would see would be cotton wool! 

So we continued north along the Scenic Byway, climbing to the top of the Ouachita Mountains, enjoying the spectacular colours of the fall foliage. 

  
At the top is a plateau with pasturelands and dairy/beef farms. Then we reached the Ozark National Forest with fantastic views over the Ozark Mountains, still not as high as Scafell Pike!

 
Talking to a local it is apparent we timed our drive perfectly to see the beautiful colours. It has been very dry and was thought that the leaves would just fall without changing colour. As it is, they will not last much longer. We have been lucky.

  
As our journey was along twisting, winding hilly roads we had accepted that we would probably not be able to find a coffee stop, particularly as many places of interest are closed today, it is Sunday, and we are in the Bible Belt. But as we drove through the tiny town of Jasper, population 466, we were amazed to spot not one, but two cafes, both were open. We had a choice! We opted for the Blue Mountain Bakery and Cafe. It was delightful with the best blueberry muffin ever.

   
 
As we reached our destination of Harrison, we spotted blue sky, just a sliver but perhaps tomorrow will be better weather wise.

  
It’ll shine when it shines – Ozark Mountain Daredevils