Tag Archives: America

From East to West – The Road Trip Days, Part 2


Oklahoma to Mesa via Santa fe


The following morning seemed to drag also, due to various mishaps such as muffin mushed into carpet and painful splinters in feet requiring two man extraction. Plus the traffic around Oklahoma slowed down our pace. But our plan for the day was to drive… and drive we did. We detoured from the interstate at Elk City to drive across the Black Kettle National Grassland. Now these were country roads… Big skies, long empty roads and stunning views stretching for miles and miles.


Open views for miles and miles

By the afternoon the sky had interesting clouds though and we were mystified by the strange mists rolling around us blocking the views… Suddenly the “clouds” closed in and smelled of smoke… we were headed straight for a wild fire. The winds were picking up and an email arrived from a friend warning us of the tornadoes building in the area. Now quite honestly I’m all for a bit of excitement and extreme weather and were I not with my three small children and beloved husband I would be well up for sticking around in the thick of the action… but with our parental instincts kicking in with full force we were driving on adrenaline to get the hell out of there!


The smoke was closing in and getting thick

A sheriff come in the opposite direction and turned us around away from the fire. Following her directions to safety we relaxed until the moment the wind made a dramatic change in direction, the smoke thickened and we realised this way was even worse… so did everyone else and trucks, cars and bikes started turning around as three fire engines with gas masked men on the front wizzed past, lights flashing and sirens blaring.


The fire engines had wizzed past and we decided to head the other way

Detouring again down dirt tracks we managed to put some distance between us and the smoke and finally came across a small town with a Subway for some sandwiches, as our picnic plans were somewhat scuppered by the extreme weather. From the car to the door was treacherous with strong winds which nearly picked feather light Patrick off the floor. We ate and we drove… and we put as much distance as we could between our children and the dangers we simply aren’t accustomed to.


We put some distance between us and the fire as quick as we could!

A beautiful sunset and clear interstate got us to New Mexico and we stopped for the night at Santa Rosa, transferring sleeping babies straight to their beds. Far more efficiently we rose, had a quick breakfast and hit the road, making it to Santa fe by mid-morning for a fantastic brunch. Santa fe is an interesting place. It’s hard to remember you’re still in America feeling far more Spanish/Mexican. Stunning art and crafts line the streets and the wealth of the area seems to seep through the side walks adding glamour to your steps.


Santa fe is a beautiful city. Even the drive to get there is stunning with the snow capped mountains of New Mexico towering over the desert

A city for hippies and artists we didn’t spend long with the children but is definitely on my list of places to return to in the future with adult only company. It’s beautiful, romantic and exciting. After the delicious food we wandered back to the car peering into the pricey shop windows wowing at the cowboy boots and massive diamonds and set off again to reach Mesa by nightfall. It was a long drive but it was fun and we made another detour once we reached Arizona.


The Painted Desert within the Petrified Forest National Park. The colours are from various geological periods with gaps from erosion between vast time frames.

The Petrified Forest National Park, an incredible desert landscape with fascinating geology spanning almost unfathomable periods of time and littered with trees so old they have turned to stone. It’s hard to get your head around the process of wood being changed into stone and yet retaining it’s fine detail, character and appearance. More than just retaining such detail it is enhanced with vibrant crystal colours and a texture which is difficult to process when your eyes see trees but your fingers feel rocks. It’s hard to picture the forest that once was in this barren, Mars like landscape but the evidence is there, fossilised and palatable and so real to the naked eye and fingers.


The Petrified Forest National Park… fossils like you’ve never seen before.

The kids have been great, looking out and discussing the landscape. Although there have been plenty of rows over toy guns and catapults, goodness knows how many toilet stops and far more hours watching films then I would ever have thought I would allow. Rob and I have been listening to the audio-book of The Earth Abides, at the start of which he completes the same road trip in reverse – it’s passed many hours and complemented the landscape with apocalyptic loneliness we both love to imagine.


From East to West – The Road Trip Days, Part 1


Memphis to Oklahoma

From New Orleans in Louisiana to Mesa, Arizona with various detours has taken us about 2,500 miles across this vast continent. Very little time has been spare for such matters as blogging so I’ve got rather a lot to fill you in with now, from my room in Flagstaff while the other four members of Team Dean sleep quietly around me.

We bounced into Memphis and it was sooo cool! Sadly the Civil Rights Museum was just closing when we arrived but they have a fantastic interpretation display outside the incredibly persevered Lorraine Motel, where Dr Martin Luther King was assassinated. It’s a truly humbling experience and we used it as an opportunity to discuss race issues and inequality with Alfie… a little beyond him I know but good to introduce young in my view… lest we forget.


Standing in front of the Lorraine Motel is a humbling experience. An opportunity to reflect on our history, mistakes and hope for the future.

If you’re going to visit Graceland then check into the Days Inn across the street. It’s cheap and totally what you would expect from a hotel next door to Elvis’ place. With a guitar shaped pool and tacky memorabilia everywhere you get the chance to meet all the other real life pilgrims making their way to this iconic, bordering on ironic, place.


The guitar pool at Days Inn, Memphis. It was freezing but Alfie braved it and jumped in.

Graceland is unexplainable and quite honestly I don’t want to attempt it as you need to visit this place for yourself. We aren’t particular fans of Elvis, which admittedly resulted in us feeling somewhat like frauds or fakes amongst the silver haired worshippers, who needed to don their reading glasses every time we changed the number on our audio tour gadgets. The children were under stricked instructions not to ask who Elvis was whilst there. We had tested them repeatedly with the various Elvis pictures in the hotel room the night before but alas, by the morning they had forgotten and we were nervous of being caught out as intruders.


Graceland, surprisingly understated and homely.

Graceland tickets

Tickets to Graceland… keepers for the scrap book!

It really didn’t matter though. That place is spectacular! The house is uber cool with it’s mirrored ceilinged TV room, the Jungle room and the humble kitchen and sitting room. It’s a home. And it’s a reflection of the man, undoubtedly an interesting character regardless of personal favour for his music. If you do find yourself making the journey one day then definitely get the ticket to the aeroplane and car museum too… They were so fun. His private jet, bigger than many a house with it’s bedroom, dinning room, bathrooms, sitting rooms, all complete with gold plated seat belt buckles is like a dream, it doesn’t seem real, except you can walk through it and touch it and it is real. The car museum is a super fun time machine housing the most spectacular vintage vehicles from pink Cadillacs to toy snow mobiles altered to run on grass, Ferrari’s to a John Deere tractor – That man enjoyed his toys!


Inside Graceland

Elvis cars and plane

Elvis’s toys. His plane, Lisa-Marie and a few of his cars

We had really hoped to visit the Sun Studios but sadly children under 6 aren’t allowed in so it was off the agenda for us and by lunchtime we were crossing the Mississippi into Arkansas. A quick flick through the Rough Guide I’m increasingly relying on these days and we were detouring off the interstate down to a town called Hot Springs to visit the Fordyce Bathhouse, a Victorian spa. It was pretty fascinating to see the old tubs and it’s been impressively persevered. The town was a quirky place, long past it’s hey day when the rich and famous flocked there for it’s waters. It reminded me very much of Matlock Baths in Derbyshire, in as much as it was a Victorian holiday town struggling to maintain it’s tourism, encouraging the motorcyclists and hippies who naturally came for it’s surrounding beauty… I liked it! I didn’t like the revolting meal we attempted to eat at a little café there, ergh… shudder. That’s the last time I order Gumbo outside of New Orleans!


The gym at the spa reminded me of my days at a convent school with much of the same Victorian equipment, probably still in use now!

We decided to press on after dinner and drive as far as we could. With a film on for the kids and full tummies we made it past Fort Smith and stopped further down interstate ready for an early start the next day.

The early start didn’t seem to happen quite right though. We got up early enough and realised that we had paid as much for a room with no wifi or breakfast as we had the night before for both plus board – a rookie mistake we won’t make again. I scouted out the gas station opposite for sustainable and to improve the mood of the children but alas it was poor pickings. We packed up and headed for the Interstate, hopeful that the next junction or so would offer more appealing options. It did. We found a fantastic little diner, kitted out in true Route 66 funky glory… and then waited for what seemed like forever for the chef to cook a couple of eggs and some slices of toast! Man it took ages… by the time we set off again it was mid morning and we felt frustrated, vowing only to stay places where breakfast can be swiftly dealt with in our own time frame.


No breakfast served here!

Pressing on to Wednesday’s detour we headed North of the interstate, now in the state of Oklahoma. This beautiful dive took us closer to the Great Plains and we arrived at Woolaroc after lunch. There was a fun play park for the kids to burn some energy and there was what must surely be the most impressive museum and art gallery in this region of the States. The paintings and sculptures were utterly captivating and despite Patrick’s best efforts to ruin this little excursion (I’m sure they have an organised rota for their turns at being utter monsters) Alfie, Rob and I learned lots about the Native American history in the region from the fascinating artefacts and accompanying interpretation. If you are even vaguely near this place then detour to it.

Artefacts from Woolaroc

From top left, An Indian headdress, Stone axes, a fire drill and shrunken heads – warrior trophies!

We left after ice lollies and pressed South again to the interstate, stopping my a creek to get the kids into pyjama’s and making a cup of tea on the stove so as to drive on later and make some miles up around Oklahoma City. We made it to the edge of the city to a room with Wifi and breakfast. I did a couple of hours of work and slept well.


Itinerary planning


It’s 2014 – the year the Deans take off!

Christmas was a very practical affair when it came to presents this year, consisting of items such as base layers, binoculars, a survival kit for Alfie, head torches, winter coats and stuff sacks! Without a TV we are relatively free from the bulk of the “but I wanted a super-spiderman-hi-fi-ds-wii-pod-thingy” and our children are easily pleased.

I got Adobe Photoshop Elements for Christmas which I am now beginning to find the time to play around with… as demonstrated above! Expect some fairly random photos for now though as I’m just enjoying taking them. They’ll be more topical once we are State side I promise.

Since Christmas our planning activity has revved up a notch and I now have a rough itinerary for the first few weeks of adventure.

Before we even leave the UK we are planning 12 days for visiting family and friends so on the 1st Feb we leave our lovely Cornish farm and head to Wales. From there we will visit Derby and Nottingham before a few days in London and the South East. We fly from Heathrow on 12th February and that’s where the adventure really begins!

After three days in New York we’ll be picking up our hire car and heading North West into Pennsylvania. Woodstock in the Catskill Mountains sounds like an interesting place so we may stop there for a night – unless anyone has other suggestions?

Pressing on through the Catskill Mountain Range we’ll then head towards Skaneatles by The Finger Lakes, which sound geologically interesting. The Finger Lakes are narrow channels gorged out by glaciers resulting in drumlins, waterfalls and deep gorges to admire.

By the middle of that week we’ll have made it to Buffalo where a life long friend of mine now lives. She also happens to be an archaeologist and currently works in conservation. From Buffalo we can make a day trip to Niagara Falls on the Wednesday and then press South to West Virginia via the Allegheny National Forest for a bit of bird and wildlife watching.

We are due at our first WWOOF placement on the Saturday in West Virgina. New Vrindaban, which I talked about in an earlier post.

A week or so settled at New Vrindaban will be a nice time to rest with the children, enjoy some physical work and catch up with the home schooling before we set off for Washington the following week.

This journey will take us through the Allegheny Mountains and onto the Shenandoah National Park, where we hope to explore the Luray Caves. Recommendations of places to visit on this leg are very welcome please!

We are visiting friends in Washington and I can’t wait to see them. While there we plan to visit the Capital and see the big sights. Our focus here will be on learning about American history and politics.

After that we’ll head to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and stay there a while to explore before heading way south to the Everglades in Florida.

That’s about as far as we’ve got with planning for now and takes us to about the end of March. We are trying to keep pretty flexible on the plan as we just don’t know how it will all go and how the kids will adapt to the long journeys. It may be that after 5 weeks of travel we want to stay put in the mountains for a while or we might be keen to get to the warmer southern climate to rest for a while.

Either way, we are open minded about how it will go and prepared for the inevitable exhaustion we’ll experience at times but we’re a pretty laid back family and our kids are easy going.


Base-Layer me up baby! My kids love the base layers from Muddy Puddles.

Excited? Just slightly!


We collected our passports complete with visa’s for 6 months in America today. We had to pick them up from a DX depot in Plymouth. The woman who returned our passports to us happened to have travelled extensively across America doing exactly the sorts of things we plan to do! She was so enthusiastic in her passion for the States and painted such an incredible picture of all the amazing experiences we will have that we were stood at her little window for quite some time. We listened to stories of up close encounters with killer whales on the West Coast and of bears in Yellow Stone, about how incredible witnessing Old Faithful will be for our children and how New York in winter is simply perfect. “Golden eagles are like starling there… simply everywhere!”. We left beaming and chattering excitedly about all she had said.

Plymouth beaconed for a bit of Christmas shopping which couldn’t be done online (and a trip to Yo Sushi without the kids of course). Our main ports of call were the various outdoor shops because, lets face it, our kids are getting travel related practical items almost exclusively this Christmas. Well the whole experience of buying head torches and base layers got us even more excited so to meet yet another America enthusiast was pushing us over the edge!

A sales chap in Cotswold Outdoor store happened to be from California and had a fairly full on passion for travel and adventure… he was soon describing the routes we should take to transverse the States to see all the things we want and must see. He was giving us tips on the local foods to try in various small towns we mustn’t miss and how much money we need to be allowing for entry to the various national parks. He went on with tips for crossing the Canadian border and making sure we have our itinerary planned well. He got out maps from books on sale in the store and showed us various options for fitting everything in… it was amazing!

On returning home in time for the school run we had it confirmed that we have a private buyer for our sheep – thus avoiding the horrific experience of a brutal livestock market again. And with Rob’s parents coming this weekend we can get some serious packing done.

It’s just 8 weeks until we leave Cornwall and boy are we excited!

Obtaining our Visa’s – And what sort of Alien are you Sir?


Rob wasn’t sure if I was joking about the phone being tapped before we arrived at the American Embassy for the visa interview and although I was joking I also had no idea what to expect. We had googled what to wear and were duly in our smart attire, not entirely necessary on reflection but certainly didn’t harm. Armed police surround the place as one would expect at the American Embassy but to my surprise a lot of the staff were English, or at least had English accents. It made me wonder if the British Embassy in Washington has bobbies with truncheons and staff with American accents? I doubt it.

I’ve never applied for a visa before or been though any similarly official processes and I’ve certainly never been to an Embassy before. Looking online there wasn’t a whole lot about how it works and what to expect so for those of you interested I thought I’d share the experience.

It started online… Lengthy application forms involving photos and a contact in the states, employment history and five pages of tick boxes declaring that you are not a terrorist, people trafficker, pimp, drug baron, drug user, money launderer, arms dealer, involved in genocide, communist, prostitute or any other untoward profession or hobbyist. Even our 18 month old had to declare she was none of the above.

The first application took a while but by the fifth I’d got it nailed to about 15 minutes. You need a printer to print out the confirmations but for the photos you need only a smart phone or camera and can do them yourself at home thus saving a trip to town for passport photos.

Then you make the appointment – I messed this bit up with confusion over a badly worded question and it wanted me to bring all the kids to London for the next step… the interview. Luckily a phone call to the helpline which was answered by a real person relatively quickly solved this thanks to the chap really persevering with trying to understand what I had done wrong and helpfully correcting it all for me there and then on the phone… I was impressed and we were spared the nightmare of traipsing the children to London.

Less impressive is having to pay a vast amount (£800 for the five of us!) and then the cost of Rob and myself attending an interview in London. From Cornwall the travel alone costs about £100 then we stayed in a hotel because it was -2 degrees that night so the bongo wasn’t very appealing. Plus food and taxis, and all the money we gave out to homeless people having lost our desensitisation from years in Cornwall. Oh and as we didn’t have the kids we had a few cocktails and £10 pints when we arrived in London at 11pm… The paracetamol the next morning was cheap though.

So what happens at a visa interview? Well, first you queue outside in the pouring rain to get through security. You are not allowed any thing electrical including phones, chargers, iPods or anything else which makes modern life so convenient. Bear in mind that without a phone you’ll need a map to find the place! You’ll also need somewhere to leave said items. We were lucky as we have a friend with an office just around the corner so we left our bag (not allowed to take anything bigger than a handbag in) there with our phones and so on. Otherwise train stations have lockers and cloakrooms where you can leave things. Once you’re through security you can replace your watch and belt (seriously!) and then you get a ticket with your number on. You hear people ask questions like “And what sort of alien are you sir?”. Then you go and sit in a massive waiting room with a screen pinging numbers to call people to windows numbered 1-1,000,000. Okay maybe not that many but there were a lot! We we number N195 and it was only 10am so you get the gist.

Once up they take your passports and scan your fingerprints and ask why you want to go to America for more than three months… be ready with a good answer! Then you sit down and wait again for your number to come up again with a new window number. We had been told it could take up to three hours but I guess because we were pretty straight forward we were done in just over an hour. So our number pinged and we walked about half a mile to the window we were summoned to and had our fingerprints scanned again. The woman here was lovely, as in fact were all of the staff from the queue outside through security and at the desks, the only grumpy sod was the café guy in the waiting room but the fact there was a café made up for that.

So here is the real point of the interview… You need to prove two things: 1. that your can fund your trip without working in the States and 2. that you will leave the States when you say you will because your links to home are strong. We took along a letter detailing our ongoing income steam from investments and my work which I can do remotely anywhere in the world and we had a letter from Rob’s work saying his job is being held open for him on his return. Our children are in school here and Patrick will be enrolled to start on return and all our family are in the UK so it was pretty straight forward for us. She did say that the income evidence made it easy for us and I suspect that if you couldn’t prove that you have sufficient funds you may have a bit more work to convince them.

Our excitement on our return trip to Cornwall, just 12 hours after arriving in London and still with lingering hangovers, was bursting at the seams – No longer do we have to choose between the Appalachian Mountains and the deep south, between Monument Valley and the Great Sequoias or between Yellowstone or the West Coast… We can do it all!

The final stages of the process hasn’t happened yet. They still have our passports and we will need to collect them from a depot in Plymouth next week. After that it will be up to the officer at New York airport who will have the final say as to how long we can stay, up to 6 months. So we’ve been advised to have a firmer plan for our route and schedule, which we can now work on having confirmed the visa’s and to take the letter proving our income with us.

I must admit, apart from the cost and the need to travel to London the whole process has been very straight forward. I had been apprehensive about what it would entail and the amount of work it would involved but apart from the cocktail hangover it was surprisingly painless!