Archive for the ‘USA’ Category

Florida

We spent two weeks in Florida in mid December. We started our road trip in Miami Beach on a sunny day…


Miami Beach


 

Miami Beach City Hall

We spent the first day walking along the beach, where I had fun taking photos of as many colourful art deco lifeguard huts as I could – they are so pretty!

The amazing art deco lifeguard huts at Miami Beach

A bird posed for me on the most American one…

Stars & Stripes & Bird

Of course we also admired the art deco buildings along Ocean Drive…

Art Deco hotels along Ocean Drive in Miami Beach

Enjoying a stroll along Ocean Drive

We walked on the beach until sunset. I found a group of Black Skimmers (Amerikaanse Schaarbek) on the beach that let me come very close – such funny creatures!

Black Skimmers (Amerikaanse Schaarbek) on Miami Beach - funny creatures! They let me come very close

At sunset we could see anticrepuscular rays over the sea – like rays of sunshine but on the opposite side of the sunset.

Anticrepuscular rays (opposite the sunset) on Miami Beach

In the evening we went for sushi at a fantastic little place called Sushi Song – highly recommended!

Fantastic sushi at Miami Beach

11th Street Diner is where we had breakfast both days. Great place and even better food!

The Diner in Miami Beach where we had two amazing breakfasts


The Florida Keys and Key West


 
We spent a day in Fort Lauderdale where we had dinner with friends I had met during my trip to Brazil. It was a windy and rainy day so I didn’t take a lot of photos. The next day we drove to Key West, which took about 5 hours. This drive gets more and more fun the closer you get to Key West, as the road basically becomes a bridge.

Driving along the Florida Keys - amazing road

Part of the times the old railroad bridge is visible

We stopped for lunch in Islamorada and explored around there…

A little break along the road to Key West

A white heron

We arrived in Key West in the afternoon, and immediately set out for a walk through the town. I loved the houses and the atmosphere of Key West!

Fantastic houses in Key West

Impressive big trees in some of the gardens…

I love those trees!

Duval Street, the main street in Key West.

Duval Street, the main street in Key West

Everyone gathers on Mallory Square for sunset and street performers. A bit tacky, we preferred to enjoy the sunset from a terrace a bit further from the crowds.

Everyone comes to Mallory Square for sunset...

No complaints about the sunset though, very pretty…

Pretty sunset

Cheers!

Everyone seemed to recommend us to visit Blue Heaven which indeed is a really nice restaurant. We enjoyed a very tasty meal, with live music just in front of us! They had a dessert called Banana Heaven which was just that – amazing!!

Enjoying an amazing dinner at Blue Heaven - with live music!

The next day we drove back along the Florida Keys, stopping a few places to explore. Our first stop was National Key Deer Refuge. We went for a short walk here.

Going for a walk in National Key Deer Refuge

And we spotted one of the tiny & cute Key Deer!

Where we actually met one of the tiny Key Deer

We also stopped in Long Key State Park and walked the Golden Orb Trail, which went over this pretty mangrove boardwalk…

On the mangrove boardwalk in Long Key State Park

We explored Duck Key and took photos of the many tacky mailboxes found on the Florida Keys… hehe!

The tacky mailboxes of Duck Key

We stayed in Key Largo that night, ready to explore the Everglades National Park the next day.


Everglades National Park


 
Our first stop in the Everglades was at Shark Valley. We rented bicycles here and cycled the 24 km tram road loop. This road is only used by cyclists, walkers and the occasional tourist tram.

Cycling at Shark Vally in Everglades National Park

The road is only used by bikes and the occasional tourist tram

The wildlife along the trail is so impressive! Right from the start you find alligators lying right next to the road. Sometimes you almost cycle over their tail, but they hardly even look at you. Besides alligators, there are SO many birds – most of them very big. I loved it!

The wildlife along the way was amazing - and you would almost cycle over the tails of alligators!!

Halfway through you read the Shark Valley Observation Tower, a very cool building!

The Shark Valley Observation Tower

With nice views back at the road.

The view back at the road from the Shark Valley Observation Tower

Unfortunately it was a very rainy day. It was warm, so you would dry up quickly after a shower, but we still got really soaked by a heavy shower at the end of our trip, with not enough cycling left to dry up before getting to the car…

Impressive shower - which unfortunately managed to catch up with us later!

Later in the afternoon we went for a kayak trip with Everglades Area Tours. We started out on a relatively wide and open area…

Kayak tour near Everglades National Park

But soon we were inside the Mangrove Tunnel. Very impressive! You could hardly use your paddles though, we found it easier to move forward by pulling ourselves forwards on the roots above us!

In the amazing mangrove tunnel

Looking at a rare orchid in the mangrove tunnel

We stayed in Everglades City that night, a fascinating but sleepy small town which feels a bit “end of the road”.

City Hall at Everglades City, most sleepy town ever ;)

The real end of the road is in Chocoloskee, a little further down the road. We had a great Cuban breakfast here, and explored the really quiet town… we only saw this crazy pelican!

Pelican showing off


Naples


 
We drove on to Naples that same day, and explored the city beach. Very pretty!

Naples City Beach

Cute sandpipers on Naples City Beach

Mansions on Naples City Beach - must be such a nice place to live!

We spent some time on the pier, eating ice cream and spotting a dolphin.

Panorama view from the pier at Naples

At night we had a relaxed evening on our hotel balcony, with this fantastic sunset view…

Sunset view from our hotel balcony at Naples


Lovers Key State Park


 
The next day we visited Lovers Key State Park, inspired by some photos in a magazine in our hotel room. We went for a very pretty walk in the park…

Cute creature in Lovers Key State Park

Pretty views from our walk in Lovers Key State Park

And afterwards we visited the really beautiful beach. We found lots of seashells here, and I spotted dolphins nearby while swimming. So much fun!

The beach at Lovers Key State Park

Such a pretty beach... I went swimming and saw dolphins nearby!

The Beach at Lovers Key State Park


Lee County Manatee Park


 
On our way to our hotel in Sarasota we stopped at Lee County Manatee Park. It’s a tiny park where you pay $2 to park your car, and then you can walk to a canal where warm water from a power plants attracts the manatees. It didn’t take long before we saw one! At first we only saw their back in the water, but later they came closer and we could see them very well. There seemed to be a mum with a baby, and their pet fish!

Manatees! And a fish

Spanish Moss on a tree at sunset


St Petersburg


 
From Sarasota we continued to St Petersburg over this impressive bridge…

The impressive bridge to St Petersburg

We spent most of our day in the amazing Dalí museum. It was a lot of fun learning about interpreting his paintings with the free audio guide. We were also lucky that there was a Frida Kahlo exhibition that had just opened – I love her work and it was a really good exhibition. Besides all this, the building itself is fantastic!

The Dalí museum

Very pretty building - the Dalí museum in St Petersburg

I loved the architecture of the Dalí museum in St Petersburg

We stayed in a B&B in the city centre and had a stroll through town in the evening. We went to a brewery pub, ate sushi and admired all the crazy Christmas decorations (including an ice rink!) in tropical Florida.

Sunset view in relaxed St Pete

Christmas decorations and even some sort of ice rink in St Pete


New Smyrna Beach


 
We spent two nights in a nice hotel in New Smyrna Beach (back on the east coast of Florida). A fun beach town with lots of nice little shops and restaurant. And great beaches. On our first night here, we went for a walk during a sunset which just turned prettier and prettier…

Sunset on the beach at New Smyrna Beach

Michiel on New Smyrna Beach

You’re actually allowed to drive your car on the beach (for $10, between sunrise and sunset) – the sand is hard enough for that. A bit crazy, but must be fun!

You can actually drive your car on the beach here!

Perhaps more fun with a bike…

Or your bike...

I couldn’t stop taking photos as the colours were so pretty.

Birds at sunset on New Smyrna Beach

Selfie on the beach…

Selfie on New Smyrna Beach - part of our suntan thanks to the iPhone HDR function ;)


Canaveral National Seashore


 
While staying in New Smyrna Beach we also visited Canaveral National Seashore. We first went for a walk through the forest, really nice – except for the mosquitos we met at the end of the trail!

Going for a walk in Canaveral National Seashore

We saw two armadillo’s while in the park, so cool!

We saw an armadillo in Canaveral National Seashore!

Canaveral National Seashore has the longest stretch of undeveloped beach in Florida, nearly 40 km long and very pretty!

Beach views in Canaveral National Seashore

Panorama of Canaveral National Seashore - the longest stretch of undeveloped coastline in Florida, 40 km long

We stayed in the park until sunset, taking lots of photos…

Photographer at work ;)

Of another pretty sunset!

Beautiful sunset colours


Kennedy Space Center


 
On our last day in Florida we visited Kennedy Space Center – a dream come true for this nerd girl who once upon a time wanted to become an astronaut…

Kennedy Space Center

The highlight of our visit was the Atlanta exhibition which shows the actual Atlanta Space Shuttle. So impressive!

A dream come true for this nerd, especially the Atlantis exhibition

The Space Shuttle Atlantis

The next day we flew back from Orlando. We really enjoyed our trip to Florida, and wished we could have stayed longer!

USA Adventure Part 9: Bryce Canyon

We rented a cabin between Bryce and Zion for a couple of days, and on our first day there we decided to visit Bryce Canyon National Park. I hadn’t fully recovered yet from my cold, but thankfully this turned out to be a cloudy – and almost cool – day, which was perfect for me. It was quite busy in the national park, the car park near the visitor centre was so full we had to skip it. We decided to hike the Navajo / Queen’s Garden trail loop, which goes from Sunset Point to Sunrise Point. I was a bit worried the hiking up and down the canyon would be tough, but it was surprisingly gentle – partly because the trail is gentle and partly because it wasn’t very warm that day.

The view from Sunset Point, inviting you to explore the canyon below The zig-zag path down into the canyon, this is a (vertical) panorama of three images - it wouldn't fit otherwise!

I really loved Bryce Canyon, I think it was my favourite national park, even if it was busier than most other parks. The so-called “hoodoos” (the colourful rock spires that the park is famous for) are just fantastic!

Paul in the low tunnel A brave tree reaching for the sky

It was the cloudiest day of our trip, but we still saw some blue sky as well…

Some blue in the sky at times :) Beautiful trail

And even though the skies were threatening at times, we didn’t get rained on!

Another little tunnel Panorama of Bryce Canyon under threatening skies

The light kept changing, which made the rock appear different as well. Endlessly fascinating 🙂

The path winding between the hoodoos Another view of the hoodoods

After our hike, we drove further into the park. Along the road, we stopped at the viewpoint for Natural Bridge…

Natural Bridge, one of the viewpoints along the road

At the end of the road (Rainbow Point) we followed the short Bristlecone Loop Trail, less spectacular (no hoodoos here), but with fantastic views.

A very pretty cumulonimbus cloud - though it seems the anvil is all that's left here Paul took a panorama with the cloud and the view

And fantastic clouds, a paradise for a meteorologist 😀

Wide views and impressive clouds Viewpoint on the Brislecombe Loop Trail - another impressive cumulonimbus cloud in the distance!

On our way back, we stopped at Bryce Point around sunset. Bryce Point looks out over the whole amphitheater, a really impressive view! There were many showers in the distance, which made the sky look dramatic, and we took a few panorama shots…

The panoramic view from Bryce Point at sunset Even wider panorama from Bryce Point :)

We were very lucky that day, with all the showers surrounding us, we didn’t get a drop of rain. But as soon as we drove out of the National Park, we were hit by a strong thunderstorm 😀

We had a great day in Bryce Canyon, even though we didn’t venture far off the beaten track. There are some nice long distance paths under the rim, that would be great to explore if we ever visit again.

USA Adventure Part 8: Highway 12 – Scenic Byway

Highway 12 is called a Scenic Byway, and runs from Capitol Reef to Bryce Canyon National Park. We were planning to camp somewhere along the way after leaving Cathedral Valley. The road is claimed to be one of the most beautiful roads in the USA, and it’s clear to see why… the views are fantastic and the landscape changes a lot along the way.

Impressive views from Scenic Byway 12 Autumn leaves moving in the breeze

The autumn colours were fantastic, a lot of the birch trees were a bright yellow colour.

Paul and the fantastic autumn colours Such a diverse landscape!

We stopped at nearly every viewpoint along the way and took LOTS of pictures 🙂

This road is popular with motorbikes, I can see why! A small village along the way

The forest was so pretty…

Me in the autumn forest What a beautiful day!

Later on, the road goes over a narrow ridge, with steep drops to both sides. Unfortunately I didn’t get a good picture of that, but it was impressive. The landscape turned more desert-like again, and we saw a canyon from above.

Looking down into a canyon Panorama taken from one of the viewpoints near Escalante - if you look closely you can see the road winding through the landscape

Paul had been battling a cold for a couple of days now, and was tired after camping for the last 2 days. When I also started getting a cold, we decided we needed some more luxury that night, and we found a motel in Escalante. It turned out to be a very friendly town – full of outdoor shops, book shops and nice cafes – perfect!

The next day I wasn’t feeling well but Paul was lots better, so we decided he would hike to Calf Creek Falls, while I stayed in the shady picknick place next to the parking lot, reading a book.

Paul walked to a waterfall while I sat with my book in the parking lot. I was surrounded by birds and managed to take this photo with Pauls lens :) The path to the waterfall

Here are the photos Paul took of the waterfall… looks really nice, I think on a healthier day I would have liked to swim in the lake underneath 🙂

Calf Creek Falls Calf Creek Falls - beautiful! People were swimming in the lake underneath

Later that day we drove to the cabin we rented, between Bryce Canyon and Zion. Ready for more adventures 🙂

USA Adventure Part 7: Capitol Reef

After leaving Goblin Valley, we drove for about 2 hours, to Capitol Reef National Park. This is not such a well-known park, and it seems quite off the beaten track for some reason. This has its advantages, Capitol Reef is a lot more relaxed about permits and camping inside the park. In addition, we chose to visit an area called Cathedral Valley which is rarely visited, so we had a very solitary experience in this park. We stopped at the visitor centre for information and a backcountry permit, which they almost didn’t want to give us. You only need it for camping outside of the designated campgrounds, and they said we could camp outside the boundaries of the park without any permit – I think they were a bit lazy and didn’t want to deal with the paperwork 😉 Eventually, we got the permit and were ready to go.

We first had to cross a river which was quite an adventure – but the car handled it without any problems. The dirt road was a bit tiring to drive, but the landscape was beautiful and we made lots of stops, for example at this well with an abandoned truck…

On old truck at a drinking place for animals - looks like it's sinking in! Paul and the old truck. Behind him you can see the drinking trough, which actually had water in it

Soon we came to the Bentonite Hills, with very impressive colours… in the last photo you can see a good example of cryptobiotic soil, which is a crusty soil that is “alive” as it’s made of bacteria/fungi/algae/lichens etc. Everywhere in Utah, there were warnings about this soil, as one footstep can take a hundred years to recover from the damage. I called it macrobiotic soil for the entire trip, as I could never remember the real name 😛 we made lots of jokes about it, but we did try to stay off it as much as possible.

Bizarre landscape - the Bentonite Hills Very colourful layers in the Bentonite Hills Cryptobiotic soil - it's alive and very fragile!

And although we were driving through a desert landscape, we still found lots of flowers – including the impressive Desert Paintbrush 🙂

I was surprised how many flowers there are in the desert: this is a Desert Paintbrush And some pretty purple flowers

We kept climbing, and suddenly we had this view right from the road… impressive!

Suddenly this view opened up - spectacular!

Shortly afterwards, we took a turn towards a viewpoint over Cathedral Valley. We were getting a bit carsick, so we left the car next to the road and walked the last bit to the viewpoint. There was a parking place and some picknick tables there, and for the first time we saw other cars (and people!). They must have been a bit surprised to see us arrive on foot 😉 We got our first view over Cathedral Valley from here, and it was just SPECTACULAR… You look down on a green valley with several monoliths, it was so beautiful!

Our first view over Cathedral Valley - wow! The monoliths at Upper Cathedral Valley - with the colours and the green grass, I'd almost expect giraffes here :D

After the viewpoint, the road went steeply down to the valley floor. We talked to several rangers at the visitor centre, and one of them had said the road was impassible in this area. We had a suspicion she was just trying to discourage us from going there, but we were a bit nervous here – around every bend and especially river crossing we thought the road might become impassible. And although the road was a bit tough at times, with soft sand and several river crossings, some of which actually had water in them – there really was no problem at all. It was getting quite late, so we drove on to our destination: the Temples of the Sun and Moon. Actually it was after seeing photos of these “temples” that I decided we needed to visit Cathedral Valley 🙂 And it was so worth the long journey, they are so impressive…

The Temple of the Moon (on the right) and the Temple of the Sun (on the left)

We took LOTS of photos, we arrived just before sunset so the light was soft and beautiful. We set up camp a little distance away from the Temple of the Moon.

The Temple of the Moon The Temple of the Moon seen from the other side Dinner at the foot of the Temple of the Moon, in fading daylight

We were all alone here, and far from anywhere – it was truly special. The night sky was incredible as well, this far from any light pollution. There were a lot of planes flying over though!

The stars (and Milky Way) over the Temple of the Moon. We were all alone here, and a long way from anywhere - it was very special Startrails over our tent :)

The next morning, I got up before sunrise and walked to the Temple of the Sun. It was so beautiful to watch the desert wake up, to see the colours change, to see a big red sun rising and to watch the changing light on the rocks. Magical!

The Temple of the Sun just before sunrise Here comes the sun... The Temple of the Sun just after sunrise... beautiful to see how the light was changing The Temple of the Moon just after sunrise

Meanwhile, Paul took these photos of the Temple of the Moon…

While I was taking photos at the Temple of the Sun, Paul took those of the Temple of the Moon just after sunrise Beautiful light painting the rock really orange Desert soil

In the morning there were lots of animal tracks in the sand. I was also amazed by all the plants that manage to live in the desert.

Animal tracks in the sand A tough plant braving the desert

After a beautiful sunrise, we took out tent down and made breakfast. We had to drive back the way we came, as the road became impassible just past the Temples. At least, according to the rangers at the Visitor Centre 😉 but this time we decided not to risk it. We stopped at the Gypsum Sinkhole, which formed after the collapse of something called a Gypsum Plug – a hill formed out of crystallized gypsum carried in groundwater. The hole is 15 m wide and 60 m deep – impressive! We also stopped at the monoliths for another view – they are so pretty.

One last photo of Hanneke and our tent The Gypsum Sinkhole, formed by groundwater dissolving a so-called gypsum plug (a hill formed of crystallized gypsum). The hole is 15 m wide and 60 m deep! Another stop at the monoliths of Cathedral Valley

We took a short side trip to Morrell cabin (also known as Les’s cabin), it was used by cowboys passing through the valley with cattle between 1930 and 1970. Beautiful and remote place, you feel like you’re stepping back in time, and wonder what it would have been like here back then…

Morrell Cabin, or also known as Les’s cabin, it was used by cowboys passing through the valley with cattle between 1930 and 1970 Rusty artifacts on the table inside the cabin

After driving the steep road up, we turned away from the road we travelled yesterday, and instead took the Thousand Lake Mountain Road. Here you exit the National Park, and enter the National Forest Area – we were joking about that there surely weren’t going to be trees in the desert, but look here… These sudden changes in the landscape are very impressive!

We took a different road out of the valley, and the landscape quite suddenly turned into a beautiful autumn forest... quite strange after coming straight from the desert!

Cathedral Valley was one of the highlights of our trip, and if we’d ever come back to Utah, I think we’d spend more time in Capitol Reef. We never even got to see the Waterpocket Fold that the park is famous for – but I think Cathedral Valley is a real gem that you shouldn’t miss out on 🙂