Saturday, June 23, 2012

Western Odyssey or Wet your whistle at the Mangy Moose...

If you think that The West is not the place for your cultural little self, then you need to unpick a few stitches and get your yee-haw on.

People ask me on our travels what attracts me to The West. What attracts me to anywhere is usually its history. In The West that vibrant history that made it The West is always just bubbling beneath the surface of every place you go and everyone you meet, whether they are aware of it it or not. If you think about what makes the iconic West, then those things are still here. Western folks are proud of their history and their lifestyle. They yee-haw without prejudice in establishments such as the Bear Trap and jingle jangle their spurs. The burger and fries and local ale served by heart of gold barmaids with western bling and don't mess with me attitude are to be found in not to be missed spades at the Mangy Moose. The cowboys and cowgirls are immortalised in the finest museums in small towns that you get to after driving across seemingly endless prairies of sagebrush and ancient bluffs that the dinosaurs used to wander.

The geological history of Wyoming is the icing on the cake for me - I can't get enough of it. Rawlins in Carbon County would have been a seaside resort in one of those ancient eras when the sea level loved to come and go. And thanks to all this activity, Wyoming in extremely rich in coal and oil. The State is a veritable dinosaur graveyard. Those ancient bluffs witnessed the coming and going of dinosaurs and prehistoric animals (mammoths!). They may have been there when the earth below them was creating the finest green jade in the world. They would have overseen the bison herds and marveled at the coming of the Native tribes. And they would have seen the struggle of those tribes to hang on to their lands as a new force from the East marched in, first to trap the beaver and then to make the crossing to the West coast or settle the land and make a fresh start. Forts rose up, filled with soldiers to protect the wagon trains and then the pioneers.

Then the railroad came, an irrepressible juggernaut. Cities sprang up on the ancient plains. Cities like Cheyenne - Magic City of the Plains; like Laramie - Gem of the Plains. Ranchers set up their ranches; homesteaders fenced their patch; miners plumbed their claims. Fortunes were made and lost; legends were created. Ingenuity and invention and determination carried the day.
Above the ancient bluffs, the mountain ranges reign supreme, lending their extraordinary natural beauty to raw magnificence of the prairies. This combination of natural history, dynamic human history and the interaction of both as all the players seek to tame or eradicate each other is what creates the uniqueness of The West. And like I said, it is always just bubbling beneath the surface. They say out here that their history is young - and they mean compared to the coming of the pilgrims and the revolution, or to European history. This is a rugged history of creating or carving a way of life from what nature offered and the best way to use it. It has iconic characteristics that hallmark its identity. A journey across south-eastern Wyoming is a profound western experience. 

I'm writing this in Denver, which is the end of our journey. We have been to Laramie, home of the University of Wyoming, her people so friendly and so proud of their colourful history - and when you're hanging folks (there were very bad people) in the street as late as 1893, that's pretty colourful! We took a drive to Rawlins and discovered its gem of a museum and those amazing bluffs and rugged sage-brush and alkali prairies, which sometimes resemble moguls and must look irresistable to mogul skiers in winter.

Our next stop was Centennial, which is a tiny town of 100 people at the foot of the awesome Snowy Range and very hard not to fall in love with. I would live there in a cabin with Tank and my dog in an instant if I could. Between it and Laramie are vast grass-covered prairies. An Overland Trail marker is there on the side of road.  From Centennial we crossed the magnificent Snowy Range, think I took about 500 pics of wildflowers at the top of the pass, and headed to Encampment and Riverside, two small towns that sit side by side on the Encampment River. If ever you go, you must stay at the Spirit West River Lodge with Lynne & RG Finney by the river. The towns nestle at the feet of the Sierra Madre mountains, which like all mountains in Wyoming are spectacular.

We came for the Woodcutters Jamboree and Rodeo like lots of other families and folks and what a great day we had watching the bull riding and bronc busting and calf roping and seeing that sawdust fly as the woodcutters try and beat the clock. The Mangy Moose was definitely a highlight. But the museum was too with Cowboy Bill to show us around. As was the Grand Encampment Opera House melodrama - a-booing and a-hissing and a-cheering, it was great.

We stopped in Cheyenne for a couple of days - we spent time here on our last trip, so getting reacquainted was fun and relaxing. Of course, Cheyenne is very significant to my series The Liberty & Property Legends, so my imagination tends to really run wild here.

And so here we are in Denver, the mile high city, which also has a rich and colourful history as it became Queen of the Rockies. It too occupies some significance space in The Liberty & Property Legends and today I'll be investigating some of that history and escaping the heat in Denver's public library and fabulous museums.

Tomorrow Tank and I head on back to Australia. In a way we've walked the historical timeline. Boston for the blow for independence! New York for the... well... did I mentioned the windowcleaners outside our 22nd story apartment window? We headed West to St Louis and readied ourselves for the journey Westward. We set out from Denver in our covered wagon that resembles a Chevolet Impala and headed to Laramie, Centennial, the Grand Emcampment, Cheyenne and back to Denver again where this Western odyssey, our grand adventure, ends tomorrow.

This has been a most absorbing and joy-filled experience, full of history and culture and just the most wonderful, friendly people, who have really made this whole tour of the States so memorable. Thank you to everyone we met and befriended. Thank you for your wonderful hospitality and care. Our time with you and the stories you told and experiences we shared have become stories we will tell for years and years to come, remembering you with so much affection and appreciation. 

See you on the other side of the Pacific (or as they say, across the Pond)!!

Photography by Frank Sedmak at Woodcutters Jamboree & Rodeo, Grand Encampment, Wyoming.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Go West, Young Man... or Woman, as the case may be

In my last blog Tank and I were St Louis bound. We left New York early in the morning, gliding our cases along streets that were still waking in the calm before the noise storm that is Midtown. We caught the NJ Transit and AirTrain to Newark Airport and were in the air at about 9 am. That's pretty early for us - we were munching the last of our cereal at 5.45 am. [And excellent cereal it was too: heritage grains - sound familiar? If you've drawn a blank please feel free to see Blackbird Pie for relevant details].

After the usual shoe removal, body scan (the US authorities must know that I buy supermarket underwear by now) and the pad down at Newark, we took to the skies and two hours later landed in St Louis. As we circled to come in for landing I spied the great gateway arch glinting way off in the distance. The gateway to the West...

Setting romance aside, it was HOT! Genuinely hot, not that if you stand in the sun for ten minutes you get a little warm. More like back home in Australia on a summer day. As I said to Tank, if we were at home I wouldn't set foot outside in this kind of heat (have better things to do than sweat, shame on me), but as Tank replied, when you're a tourist you do what you need to do. Precisely.

The Gateway Arch beckoned. We stood beneath it, snapping pics and being rightfully awestruck by its 630 feet of grandness and soaring silv'riness. You can ride a tram to the viewing windows and have a magnificent view of the Mississippi and beyond, but I'm not good with heights and well, it's an arch, people, as tall as a skyscraper but with none of the building... less said about my chickenosity the better (shame on me again).

Tank and I arrived in St Louis on a very special day - a day 154 years in the making! The unveiling of the Dred & Harriet Scott Memorial beside the steps of the Old Courthouse in downtown St Louis. Excitedly, we joined the gathering for this historic occasion.

You may know of the Dred Scott case. Dred Scott was a slave who sued for his freedom in the years leading up to the American Civil War. The case arose at a time when America was expanding westward and debating the future of slavery as both a moral and political issue for the Union. The complexities of the Dred Scott case are probably rightfully left for a blog all of its very own, but when you experience St Louis today, you can only imagine what it was like for the African American slaves being sold on the steps of the Old Courthouse, which faces out towards the Mississippi and its famous levee, now with the Gateway Arch on its banks towering over both the old and the new. 

The immense joy and the pride of the citizens (and visitors) gathered was testament to the determination and courage of Dred Scott and his wife Harriett, and the influence they had on Abraham Lincoln, who took such interest in the case, and the significant effects of the case on the road to a war that would decide the fate of slavery and the Union forever. In the words of Abraham Lincoln: "a house divided against itself cannot stand".

We spent excellent time in the Old Courthouse, watching a doco on the Dred Scott case, admiring the impressive courthouse, restorations of the courtrooms of old, and absorbing the exhibits in the museum contained within. Just superb.

A great day to be in St Louis!!

Our second day in St Louis we spent researching for those upcoming chapters in Volume 3 and Volume  5 of The Legends that take place in St Louis, home of Jennifer Sullivan's brother, Frank Sullivan. 

St Louis describes itself as a city of neighbourhoods, and we certainly saw a number of them. We love all-day Metro tickets and tend to make the most of them, on and off trains like they are our own personal transportation. This we did in St Louis. Unfortunately, you can't get to all the neighbourhoods of the city by Metro, you have to wear out some shoe leather for that, and this we did (I still marvel at our walk from Union to LaFayette Square - thank heavens there was some perfect-just-what-I-was-looking- houses and streets to snap and a great Italian meal at the end, oh, and cab ride home, phew, don't you know!)

So we walked our feet off. My favourite pair of shoes should have been retired after they got soaked (I'm talking major squish and squelch) on the Freedom Trail in Boston, but they dried out somewhat miraculously and took me around NYC, where they got soaked again in a late afternoon thunderstorm. Again they came good and walked the streets of St Louis. What are these super shoes I bought in Target last year?! Sadly, I think they might have fought their last campaign. And they do smell a bit. They're coming West with me and then home. I told Tank I won't let them die in a foreign land. Such loyalty and steadfastness commands respect in equal measure.

See you in The West!!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Big Apple never falls far from the Tree Grows in Brooklyn

If you love Boston, then your final day there is a sad kind of a one. Even if it means walking the Freedom Trail in the rain! My shoes got soaked, but not my enthusiasm for this wonderful, historic city, where I have been blessed to make some wonderful friends whose generosity knows no bounds. My luggage is full of souvenirs and I still have so much left to do and see on the trip. Some things are just too hard to pass up. (And they aren't all  for me.)

Time to board the Amtrak and head south to New York City. Speeding through towns, flitting through woodlands, coming upon the Connecticut coast and beautiful Mystic. Things do go quite industrial in some parts, and when you get to New Haven you know Yale is just over the horizon. Then eventually you come upon New York and New York City and from the train window you espy some fascinating neighbourhoods you might not ever get to see. But once you cross the Hudson River you kinda feel like you've arrived. Nothing beats that view of Manhattan afforded by air, but the train is unique to be sure. 

The Penn Station cab line is thirty minutes long, but that gives you time to feel the manic pulse of the city. And you wonder if New York isn't a monster waiting to gobble you up. This is our second visit to this city, and I had a feeling it wasn't going to be quite like the first. Our main reason for being here is to experience Book Expo America, to check in with my publicist whose company has a booth at BEA and meet her face to face, attend the Bloggers Conference, and investigate what else might be of interest. We have set aside two days for BEA all up.

Day One was a little slow for us, and afterall this is a huge Expo and we've never been to something quite this big. Like people, I guess - sometimes you hit it off right away, and sometimes you warm up to them.

Day Two, however, now that we know our way around and sussed it all out, has been really rewarding; we've met some interesting people with great stuff to share. There are authors all over signing their books and meeting their fans. And then there are the celebs turned authors, who are swamped with fans. Jane Seymour (happy to admit Dr Quinn Medicine Woman is one of my fave TV shows) and Chris Colfer (Kurt from Glee - ditto on the fave TV shows). How star-struck lucky is that!

We've wandered back to our apartment to get ready for some serious shopping. Can I say this end of town is in major major gridlock. Nothing is moving except the pedestrians and the pigeons. And all you can hear is the sound of constant honking. The song of New York.

We hope to visit Ellis Island on Thursday. Whatever else we can cram in, we will, such as the 9/11 Memorial and a visit to Central Park and the American Museum of Natural History and... well, once you get into the rhythm of the city, get used to the noise and the constant bleating and braying of sirens, you keep thinking of more things to do.

We fly out early Friday morning for St Louis, Missouri. Never been there before and can't wait to see it. Gateway to the Old West. And you know what that means - if we're heading West then I'm a happy girl.

P.S. Lots of window action in Midtown NYC. Did I tell you about the window cleaners' morning ritual outside our apartment window and the nude guy on the phone standing in the window in the building across the vacant hole in the ground from our apartment building?

Friday, June 1, 2012

We're on our way... first things first, beautiful Boston! Or, my handbag is a perfect match for the Red Sox!

On my blog earlier this year I mentioned some of the plans Tank & Ferry Entertainment had for 2012. Among them was a research trip and a book fair. Well, we took to the road (air) last Thursday, heading for Book Expo America in New York City via Los Angeles and Boston. BEA (Book Expo America) starts next week. Tank and I will be at that and we'll keep you in the loop at it happens.

Meantime, Tank is attending a short course at Harvard, and I've been touring some fantastic places around Boston. History surrounds you here. From the Old North Bridge in Concord, where the 'shot that was heard around the world' was fired to begin the American Revolution, to Longfellow's Wayside Inn in Sudbury, which as you can imagine for a Longfellow fan such as myself was quite a 'pinch me am I really here' moment. From the Newport (Rhode Island) mansions, where the Vanderbilts of this world built their extraordinary Gilded Age seaside holiday homes, to the historic homes of authors such as Louisa May Alcott and Nathaniel Hawthorne, both of which I have been fortunate enough to visit on this trip. Still more to see and do before we Amtrak to New York on Sunday!

Fan day at Fenway Park

I recognise that fan... er, face. Run, buddy!

Stunning view from the Green Monster, rain notwithstanding (wot rain?)

Ben Franklin living statue
Living statue - batter up!

World Series family! Super day of just being a fan, yummy fried dough included. Aw, you can walk that off on the Freedom trail, and we did!
Cap's a winner, Tank!
Newport, Rhode Island