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Archive by category "America"


  • 12/Apr/2019 at 18:00

After a week in the Far West, landing in Chicago was like doing zapping on TV: from a Western movie to any urban movie in black and white. USA has always that effect on me: I am living in a movie. The train that connects the airport with downtown would qualify in an amusement park: high speed and abrupt movements and breaks, all this in the middle of the night, and with that variety of passengers that you can only see in the US.

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I soon arrived to Chinatown, as my accommodation during the first few days was there. Chinatown in any city is one of those neighbourhoods that make you think you are in an action movie. It was my third participation in a movie not that day.

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The next day, it was Sunday, I could devote it to walk the city. The first impression once I got closer to Lake Michigan was that it was a good place to live. It was a nice morning, sunny, hundreds of people runnning or walking (alone, in couples or with baby trolleys), and the boats ready to set sail for a day out in the lake. That day happened to take place one of the biggest airshows int he World, and everyone was out seizing that opportunity, in spite of the high temperature and humidity of the central hours of the day.

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From what they say, winter is not that nice here though. It is called the Windy City for a reason, and that wind in Winter is freezing. Parking signs in the city address the issue, banning parking in some areas where many centimeters of snow is expected from Autumn to Spring.

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Chicago is above all, the City of the Architecture. Its skyline has nothing to envy others like New York, and history of modern architecture can be studied in a walk in the city, or better, in one of the boat tours that take you around the canals, explaining the history of the city and the buildings.

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In one of those tours, I learned that the first settlers arrived in 1779 to Chicago, that there are 23 bridges that can be opened up, or that regulation played a major in the way the city is arranged today. I liked the fact that all buildings must leave free space for a boardwalk, making the river accessible to everyone.

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One of the things I like the most in a city is to learn about its history. Why are there canals in the city? Why so many skyscrapers? The reason for the canals seems to be a very practical one: due to the nearby industry, water could not be drunk, so they routed the industry dirty waters out to provide drinking water to the citizens. Skyscrapers have been built there due to the government policies too, although the Great Depression and the Wars provoked a break in construction between the 30’s and the 50’s.

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Among all skyscrapers, one has been known worldwide: the Sears Tower, now the Willis Tower (change of owner, change of name). Once the tallest building in the world, now just the fourth one, after the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, Taipei 101 in Taiwan, and the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur. Another key building is the Hancock Tower, which has a bar/restaurant from where you can observe the whole city.

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This city is more than buildings, though. Music is also a big thing: particularly live jazz and blues clubs. I visited Andy’s Jazz Club and Buddy Guy’s Legends, a blues club. I am not a big fan of neither of them, but I did enjoy the atmosphere in both places, and blues concert was extremely fun.

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Chicago is not complete without its Millenium Park, mainly because of The Bean, the famous sculpture by Anish Kapoor, and which is a must in the city. No one leaves this city without taking pictures of it, or selfies through its reflecting surface. This park completes its offer with a huge open-air auditorium, where people can enjoy a picnic while the culture offering is playing.

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The last “must” is the fireworks. They are known to be impressive, so we went to the best spot to see them in our last night: the Observation Deck: the show would take place just in front of us to the right, and the skyline full of lights were to its left. Fireworks were okay (disclaimer: I am originally from a place where fireworks are a really big thing, so it is tough to be impressed so easily abroad), but skyline was gorgeous, and a really nice way to say goodbye to Chicago. See you some other time.

Salt Lake City

Salt Lake City is the capital of the State of Utah, and best known for being home of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints headquarters, a.k.a. mormons. The city center hosts many Church buildings, and it is not strange to see several dozens of weddings on a given Saturday morning in their Main Church alone.

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One of the main characteristics of the mormon families is their size. It is common to see families with more than six kids, and that is also seen in the kind of huge cars you see. Also, seeing older brothers and sisters taking care of the younger ones become mandatory in these cases, as they were doing during the weddings times.

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As many other American cities, Salt Lake City does not have an ancient history. The mormons were looking for a distant and isolated area where to settle in order to develop their community, and when their leader Brigham Young saw the valley, he said: “This is the place”, and you can imagine the rest of the story…

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The main sights in the city are the Church facilities, including the Tabernacle with its huge organ, their Conference Center, their HQ building, being one of the tallest buildings in the city. Also, the Utah Capitol is impressive, as it is located on a hill, where its huge size makes it visible from a far distance.

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This building makes it clear that civil and clerical powers in Utah have historically been really close to each other. The Mormons were the first settlers, founded cities, and asked to join the Union. This request was initially rejected due to polygamy being part of their accepted practices. The Church leaders accepted removing that from their principles, after a “God call” to follow the Constitution principles. In fact, from that moment and still today, the the Church principles are bound expressly the Constitution ones.

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It has proven to be a correct strategy, if we look at numbers: more than 12 million Mormons worldwide, and a major company holding directly belonging to the Church, including their own bank.

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Apart from the city, we visited the nearby Antelope Island, which is a natural park surrounded by the Salt Lake. It has a desertic look, and it provides some spots with good views over the lake. The main interest here is spotting antelopes (we managed to do it twice), or bisons, which were artificially brought here in the 19th century and they are now around 200.

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Less than 24 hours to see Salt Lake City and surroundings is enough, and just because we were flying in and out from there. Otherwise, you can skip it without regretting.

Yellowstone National Park

  • 30/Mar/2019 at 16:00

After two days around it, we finally entered in Yellowstone National Park on our third day, the main destination and purpose of the trip.


We drove North through Highway 20, so early we rarely saw any car in the middle of the vast wheat plantations, each at a different harvesting stage, presumably to optimize the use of harvesting resources all-year round.

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When we arrived to West Yellowstone, we stopped to grab a coffee, in what became the second coffee successful discovery: Expresso West, just before heading towards the Park Gate, had real and good coffee.

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Entering into Yellowstone through the most popular gate meant the first traffic jam to us, provoked mainly because some animal is near the road and people stop the cars wherever they feel like. This happened with an eagle and some deers.

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Soon, the real Yellowstone appeared: the volcanic activity in the form of hot springs, geysers and fumaroles. The Park is on the Yellowstone caldera, a 50 km diameter area, which lies on a hotspot, that is the source of the whole activity that captivates the visitors. Giving a second thought to it, it is a bit scary to think what if that activity becomes, suddenly, more violent than average…

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When we arrived to Madison, we headed North-East, We stopped in Perry Pond, Gibbon Falls, Beryl Spring and at the Norris Geyser Basin. Springs are spectacular: the water has a very bright light blue colour, and the borders usually have a bigger variety of colours, from white to brown, red, orange, … The colour depends on the bacteria that is living in that area, which are different as temperature and pH conditions vary.

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At Norris, we could walk through a number of springs, geysers, and fumaroles for 3 km. There, we could see the famous Steamboat geyser, which, although unpredictable, is the highest geyser in the world. The white rocks in most of the landscape makes you think you are in the moon, while you are constantly reminded of the volcano under your feet with the strong sulfur smell. It is impressive to see where the heat gas and liquids arrive as life disappears: one tree dies from the roots and whiten dramatically, while another one just one meter apart is tall and green.

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After the walk among geysers and basins, we had lunch in the Canyon Village (nothing to highlight), and headed to the Yellowstone River Canyon. Although it was easy to imagine, seeing the canyon carved in yellowish stone made it evident where the naming came from. We only stayed in the North Rim, and did part of the trail, with the characteristic sound of a high flow of water falling a few hundreds of meters.

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Before leaving the Park through the West entrance, we explored the Firehole area a bit. Yet another area with geysers and painting pots (basins with mud). One of the fumaroles here was formed just a few years ago by an earthquake more than 100 km away (panic mode here!).

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After this, we took our way back to Ennis, in Montana, where we stayed in a movie-like road motel. I had time (and some energy left) to run in the surrounding residential area, and I was surprised by some deers who preferred to eat the shiny green grass of some gardens rather than anything else.

The next morning, apart from grabbing a coffee in our new favourite place in the area, we started where we ended the day before: Firehole area. We drove through the Firehole Canyon Drive to see the Firehole Falls, and start the day with nature, life (and less people), before heading the sulphur world. The colder temperatures in the morning drastically changed the views: the Grand Geyser had just erupted and the vapor cloud could be seen from several km away. This might be one of the best tips: go early to this area. It is worth it.

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This areas has not only the Grand Geyser, but a couple of other colourful basins, like the Grand Prismatic Spring, or the Turquoise Pool, that create small rivers that disembogue in the Firehole River, creating a beautiful effect, when boiling water from the springs, meets the river cold one.

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In any case, our planned goal was to see the most famous geyser in Yellowstone: Old Faithful. It is a big attraction, with thousands of people waiting for the well scheduled eruptions, which sometimes are bigger than others. Ours was not so impressive, especially considered the hour we spent waiting for it.

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After a very joyful morning (in spite of this disappointment), we headed to the North Entrance to visit the Mammoth Hot Springs, which is a different and unique view in the park. Here, the hot water coming from the ground has limestone in it, which in contact with the air transforms into a solid mineral, travertine. Travertine forms impressive terraces of different colours (again bacterias having a word here), becoming white when they dry.

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We called it a day, and left the park through the North Entrance, heading back to Ennis. As a memory from this driving back, we crossed some mountains, and witnessed a persecution of a police car to a car the resembled the one at Knight Rider TV series. The police car appeared from nowhere, probably from behind an advertisement after a curve…

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The last day in Yellowstone was devoted to the non-caldera part. We entered through the North Entrance, and drove East towards the Lamar Valley. This is out from the caldera, so it is plainly a nature area. The main objective of this day was to spot some bisons.

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Before seeing any animal, we saw the Undine Falls, which did not impress us at all, after what we had seen the days before. Suddenly we saw first bison calm in a small meadow. We were happy, we had managed to see one, and we spent 15 minutes there, looking at it, and taking pictures. We thought there would be no more. After a few kilometres, we saw a group of around 20 bisons at certain distance, and we repeated the operation: park, pictures, … We were really fortunate… But that was just the beginning: after the Tower junction, where we had lunch, the bisons started to be common next to the road. We could see them grazing, mostly in pairs, and stirring on the floor. They seeed to be extremely pacific animals (although huge), and crossed the roads without any consideration, provoking traffic jams and some panic to the drivers.

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After having been more in contact with bisons, than we had ever figured out, we headed South, stopping at the Tower Falls, the Mud Volcano and the Sulphur Cauldron. Nothing new in essence, but with different shapes that give the naming.

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We briefly stopped at the Yellowstone Lake, as the fog and the sunset made it a ghost place, not the supposed beauty it should be. Then we continued our way to our accommodation near Dubois, in the middle of nowhere at the Shoshone National Forest.

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It was a long drive back, tired, but the next morning we were thankful, as there were several amazing spots in the Shoshone Park, like Wind River Lake. It was also an opportunity for us to learn about the Continental Divide, which is the geographical line that divides rivers than end in the Atlantic Ocean and in the Pacific Ocean. The Rockies are the main divide in North America, and this was already an important aspect for the native tribes that lived here before European arrives. That played an important role in the split of the lands.

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After enjoying this bonus in the Shoshone Park, we had our last views of the Teton Range, and started our way back to Salk Lake City, stopping for breakfast in the known place “The Bunnery”, in Jackson Hole, and had lunch at the Bear Lake, in Garden City. Their ads about the raspberry ice cream made us give it a try…and good that we did.

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Just before crossing to Utah state, we saw our last cowboys and cowgirls riding their horses and moving their herds os cows from one place to the other. Nice way to say goodbye to the Wild West.

Grand Teton National Park

  • 23/Mar/2019 at 10:00

The visit to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks started a bit far from the park entrance: in Salt Lake City (Utah). It is not that we wanted to cross several states to reach Yellowstone, but it was the closest main airport to fly to/from.


We drove North through he US-89, which soon took us to Bear Lake, a popular holiday destination for locals. Garden City is its capital, and we could see in the atmosphere that people were enjoying their free time: a big offering of nautical activities, and many families enjoying their last day before kids returned to school. Before crossing to Wyoming State, we were surprised with the names of the towns that we crossed or passed nearby: Paris, Montpellier or Geneva. That gave us an idea of where the first European settlers in this area came from.

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The first stop was in Alpine, where we had the idea of having an early lunch (bear in mind that when you travel West your days start really early, due to jet lag), but we had to accept a late brunch instead, as the place we stopped in was very strict with timings and offerings. We stopped in a place called Yankee Doodle, which is like a museum, overdoing the Americanism (as in “white male, loving the Army, and the weapons”) probably looking for tourists (as ourselves) and their pictures, but with a not very “clean” background.

We continued our trip to the North, following the beautiful road next to the Snake River bed, to reach the first real destination in the trip: the Grand Teton National Park. We only had some time left during that afternoon so we enjoyed the view of the three “Teton” from the distance. The three Teton are just three beautiful mountains with glaciers, that got their name from some French explorers that missed women too much after some months of exploration.

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In front of the Grand Teton, we visited the Mormon Row, a street outside the National Park with several buildings made by a mormon community in the early 20th Century. Some farms and houses, which had been used till 1950, and which combine with the Teton range on their back, made it a very pleasant first contact with the Natural Parks in this trip.

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After this first brief encounter, we returned back to Alpine, our base for that night, visiting Jackson on our way back. Jackson is a very popular destination in Winter, with its ski resort, and was a key place a couple of centuries ago. They still try to keep the spirit of a Western town, with its saloon, and a park whose entrance gates are made of 7500 elk antlers. Nevertheless, for me, it was just a tourist resort, where you can of course buy cowboy hats starting from $60.

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During the whole week, jet lag kept affecting us so hard, that we hit the road so early it made no sense to have breakfast near our accommodation. So we started driving and had breakfast in route, or near the destination of each day. That proved to be a good strategy as we discovered a couple of places to have breakfast that were better than the average. The one we discovered in Jackson on our way back to Grand Teton, The Bunnery, was a good example: nice people attending, decent coffee (Starbucks’) and a proper American breakfast to kick off the real day.

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This time, when we arrived to the Grand Teton National Park, we headed into the Park itself. The day was clearer than the day before, and views were breathtaking. We parked the car near Jenny Lake, took a boat to go closer to the mountains, where we wanted to do some hiking. That was not proper hiking, as there were too many people, of all ages, and of all kind of physical states, that blocked the well paved paths. Our intention was to climb to a place called “Point of Inspiration”, but we changed our mind short after enjoying the Hidden Falls… a family warned us of a black bear that was less than 50 metres from us, eating berries very calm. After assessing the situation for a few seconds, we started to walk back to the boat as fast as we could… No need to risk.

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The visit abruptly continue to Jackson Lake, where we did a picnic for lunch, and could see the first amish of the trip. We were surprised they were using the laundry, but after some reading on the Internet, we learned that there are different degrees of technology adoption/acceptance within the Ami community. Each community votes about their own rules, under the same general principles, and that leads to these differences. Apart from this knowledge, Jackson Lake provided us a nice walk around it, and we also saw some people at the beach, a nice marina (always a plus), and yet another sight of the Teton range from a different angle.

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That night our accommodation was in a different state: Idaho, in a small town called Driggs. We followed the indications of one our navigation apps, and that was probably the biggest mistake in the whole trip. We suffered two hours of sand & rocks mountain roads, crossing the Rockefeller Memorial Park and the Targhee National Forest. The first named after famous business man, as he both a vas amount of land, which he later on donated to expand the current Grand Teton National Park.

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Although those parks seemed to be interesting on the paper, the path was far from being a scenery one. We stopped in a lake, where there was only a suspicious man having a nap, we crossed a dam made our of stones, and two women in a big car asked us whether we were lost. We should have driven back to Jackson and then North-West through proper roads. It would have taken the same time more or less.

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The small town where we stayed happened to have a nice tavern with a terrace, where we enjoyed a nice dinner at sunset, recovering from the tough afternoon drive.

Yellowstone, Grand Teton & Salt Lake City

  • 16/Mar/2019 at 15:57

Yellowstone is a familiar name for anyone my age in Spain, as we had those famous cartoons of Yoggi Bear and his friend Bubu, who lived there, making the life impossible to the many campers, visitors and forest guards,… and that was one of the closest National Parks near Chicago, where I had to travel for other reasons. Moreover, reading this is a volcanic area, and having missed a trip to Iceland in the past, this was tailor-made opportunity to get to see some the particular landscapes and spots of such area. Decision was quite easy to made.


Trip organization came a bit too late, and that entailed some logistics issues when visiting a (very) popular destination in high season (August): there was no affordable accommodation in the park, and we could only find reasonable prices at 2-hour drive locations. This ended up being a bit tiring, but driving in these wide areas in the US is also a very enjoyable activity, as the landscapes in the huge valleys make it worth it.

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We drove through 3 of the 7 states with the highest rate cattle/person: Montana (#3), Wyoming (#5) and Idaho (#7). Driving forth and back, we saw many latifundia devoted to agriculture or ranching, and countless cows. We were in the West, where many of the movies were based, although instead of riding a horse, were driving a large Nissan through the endless straight roads, with only some scattered and isolated houses at the hills’ slopes. These places looked quite scary to live in (too many terror movies, maybe?), but even worse when we saw some active fires. We could count at least four different ones, so big that its smoke reached many hundreds of miles apart, ruining some views (and many pictures) in the park.

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One of the many cool things about these roadtrips is spotting different state license plates in the cars. For those who may not know it, each state has a different design, which is also part of their own branding, with slogans like “Scenic Idaho”, “Life Elevated” (Utah), or “Treasure State” (Montana).

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We visited two National Parks (Grand Teton and Yellowstone), two National Forests (Shoshone and Targhee), four states (Utah, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana), and many many kilometres… but it was really interesting. (more posts coming…)

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