As we started to climb into the mountain ranges of Utah, we could see evidence of the seasons changing before our eyes. The trees were golden, autumnal colours and there were patches of snow on the mountain peaks surrounding Salt Lake City.
We were surprised by Salt Lake City. We saw places of immense wealth and prosperity (such as a new $4billion shopping mall) but we saw also saw poverty and homelessness. Our time in the US really opened our eyes to these world financial problems affecting everyday people. Salt Lake City is a very religious city, being home to the Church of Latter-day Saints, and the Temple seems to be the center of city life.
When we made our way out of Salt Lake, we drove higher into the mountains to walk the Brighton Lakes Trail. Armed with waterbottles and muesli bars, we hiked through ice and mud to see a few of the high mountain lakes. We continued to Park City, a quaint and colourful town nestled in the mountains that holds many of the Sundance Film Festival’s events in January. There were loads of cafes, restaurants and quirky stores and it would become a very picturesque wonderland in the wintertime.
On our way to Aspen
The next destination was Aspen, the incredibly beautiful ski resort of the rich and famous. Even though the Ski season wasn’t due to begin until November, there was lots and lots of snow. The US government shutdown was still in place so we were not technically able to enter the National parks, but everyone we spoke to encouraged us to hike to the Maroon Bells Lake. We hiked in the snow, kitted out with beanies, thick jackets and thermal gear. Thank goodness Jez and I bought hiking boots back in Springdale! It was so beautiful walking amongst the rocks, birch trees and pine trees covered in snow, it was magical.
None of us thought that we’d be spending time in Apsen during our roadtrip, but we were certainly glad that we were able to visit! We had to make our way through the mountains, across Colorado to the city of Denver and we all agreed that it was an incredible drive. Leaving the mountains, the road was covered in fresh powdered snow, as were the trees and the rocks. There were so many beautiful photo opportunities that it was hard to not stop the car every few minutes!
Leaving Aspen for Denver
Timing is everything. We had scheduled our US roadtrip with our gallivanting traveler friends for October, the start of ‘Fall’ – otherwise know as the best time to see famous National parks. We had booked a car, mapped a route and we were so excited to hit the road.
As our luck would have it, the US Government shutdown began one day before we set out for our two and half week roadtrip, which meant that the National parks we had wanted to visit were closed. We had to rethink our route and research what we could see in the state parks. We hoped to bide our time and see if, by chance, the government shut down ended so we could see impressive places like the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley and Zion National park.
We met in Las Vegas and picked up a trusty full-size Chevvy Impala car that was full to bursting point once we were all in. We made our way through the Nevada desert to the state of Utah. Our first few nights we spent in Springdale, a very rustic town at the entrance to Zion National Park. Even though the park was closed to tourists, the highway running through the park remained open so we were able to see some spectacularly red rocks and sheer cliff faces.
Haunted grave yard in Springdale, Utah.
While we drove through the dry and dusty landscape, we thought about how strange and surreal the landscape might have been to the pioneers of America’s West. There were many times we looked out the window onto flat and desolate plains and felt lucky that we had a car and air conditioning but also the luxury of a GPS showing us the quickest way to civilisation.
We also visited some of Utah’s most stunning state parks, the Escalante Petrified Forest State Park and Red Rock Canyon. With all that driving we were bound to get hungry along the road so luckily we had great drivers who were not adverse to a coffee break and a slice of blueberry pie (or two)!
Red Rock Canyon
Our route took us North to a town called Provo, a few hours from Salt Lake City. We happened to be there on a Saturday night and we asked around to find the town’s hot spot. The local pub was the place to be that night with lots of dancing involved! We had read about a lovely walking trail to Stewart Falls, very close to Robert Redford’s Sundance Resort. We spent a few hours walking and admiring the change in climate – we had been in 30 degree weather in Springdale and it had dropped to about 14 degrees in Provo!
We hopped back across the US border to Chicago, a city that has a number of our friends singing it’s praises! It is easy to fall into the trap of having an expectation of a city – more often than not you are disappointed with it once you actually experience it for yourself.
Chicago skyline from the river
We were pleasantly surprised with our time in Chicago. With everything from the deep-dish pizza to the architecture, it definitely had that Chic-ahg-oh attitude: upfront and unapologetic.
It is certainly up there with America’s most impressive cities, in the sense that it has so much to offer both it’s people and the tourists! We had a fantastic time on an architectural cruise of the river where we learned about the great Chicago fire and how the city was so rapidly rebuilt. While I have always tried to appreciate buildings and their architectural style in all the cities we have visited, I found Chicago’s buildings to be not only beautiful but also striking. Each building we saw had such a clear architectural message. While this was pointed out to us in detail by the architect leading the tour, it was not difficult to be impressed by the buildings before we knew why they were built.
We also spent a day at the Museum of Science and Industry, an amazing museum just south of Chicago’s downtown. It had everything – a 747, a model of downtown Chicago complete with intricate train system, a hurricane and tsunami demonstration wing AND a chick hatchery! Believe it or not, I had never seen a chicken hatch from an egg. Have you?! I was embarrassed to find that I was more visibly alarmed by the process than the primary school kids also watching the baby chick tumble from it’s eggshell. I don’t know who was more shocked by the whole thing – the chicken or me? ANYWAY…if you are in Chicago, you MUST go to this museum.
We decided that instead of catching the bus back downtown, we would hire a bike from the stands dotted around the city. We spent about two hours cycling along the lake shore, admiring the water on our right and the city skyline on our left. I was so pleased that this bike ride passed without incident (take that Amsterdam!) and I thoroughly enjoyed taking in the view and the vibe of this grand city.
But the best part? Doing all of this with Jez.
Chicago on wheels