Grand Canyon

The final destination on our road trip is the Grand Canyon. We arrive a few hours before sunset. We walk up to the southern rim and there it is, for real, no longer just an image on a screen or in a film. It is quite surreal, and incredibly immense. I walk for ages around the edge and only seem to get tiny fraction of the way around. Stopping to take photos on the way, along with many Asian tourists and their ‘selfie sticks’, I chat to an elderly couple from Canada who are seeing the Canyon for the first time. At one of the viewpoints I realise how hard it is to judge scale from up here. There are trees below which look like tiny specks from here. To my left a little way down I see a figure in a blue hoody sitting on the edge of the rock. That looks more like the viewpoint I would like, rather than stood here at the railing surrounded by so many tourists. Later on, further round I see the blue hoody wearer and we strike up a conversation. His name is Coleman. He has driven here all the way from Southern Carolina and is headed for LA where he is relocating, after 2 years in New York and 3 in Israel. It really is fascinating to hear other people’s travel tales. I find it really inspiring. His next trip will be East Africa. I would love to visit Africa one day too, but think India and New Zealand will be first.

I watch the colours of the canyon get even warmer, the red earth glowing in the sunset light. I am content as I walk alone, as I lost Emma and Sohel earlier on, and I am enjoying the experience of being at such a natural wonder. The crowds thin out as it gets dark. I head back to the car to wait for them. They are not there so I leave a note on the windscreen, having left my phone in the car. I walk around and come back to the car but they are not yet returned. I see a van opposite with the side door open and five women milling about chatting together and beginning to cook. After listening to them converse for a few minutes I decide to approach them as they seem like kindred hippy spirits. They welcome me into the van straight away to keep warm and I offer to help. Within minutes I am chopping garlic on a chopping board across my knee and drinking wine from the bottle. I even sing along with They are all headed for Mexico. It is lovely to see women travelling together like this. I even learn a new rainbow song, singing along with one of the women as she plays her ukulele. Another woman, Victoria, has her camera set up on a tripod taking long exposures of the ever-so-starry sky. I have intended to do this for years and we both discuss excitedly images we have seen of star trails and I tell her of pinhole photographer Dominique Stroobant who made insanely long exposures of 6 months, from winter to summer solstice. Emma and Sohel return and we are all invited to eat dinner – aubergine fritters and pasta tomato sauce – which is worth waiting for.

Checking in at Blue Angel lodge, which has a real fire in the reception hall, I am surprised to find that the manager is from Liverpool. Huyton to be precise. How random. It is bizarre hearing her Americanised accent which sounds increasingly more scattered with scouse the more I talk with her.

We wake to discover a thick fog has descended. We walk back to the Canyon and it is full of fog. Apparently this is quite a rare occurrence, only happening once or twice a year. There are tourists who arrived today who are disappointed as they cannot see the canyon, so we are definitely lucky to see both. Later on the fog clears and we hike down one of the two trails a short way into the canyon, passing an elderly couple of hikers who are on their way back up. It is great to see people still so active at their age. I can only hope I have a fraction of their energy when I am that age. Despite walking a total of three hours, we are only a short way down, as the path has to zig zag because the drop is so steep. It feels very special to be walking here. In the warmer season people are advised to be very cautious while hiking down here, as the lower one goes, the hotter it gets, and many people suffer heat exhaustion each year. Today the weather is cool though, which we are glad of when we are hiking back up. The sun is going down as we ascend, and by the time we reach the top it is quire dark. We are most certainly the last people in the Grand Canyon today.

The next morning, after I eat a small mountain of multigrain blueberry pancakes and syrup, we leave the Grand Canyon to return to California. Sohel suggests we stop in LA for the night to visit his Aunt and Grandma, to eat with them and stay the night before heading onto Santa Cruz for Emma’s painting gig the next day. It is windy when we leave and gets increasingly more stormy and wet as we progress. I see tumbleweeds blowing across the road for the first time ever. I can only recall seeing them in cartoons or in films before. There is one which rolls across a gas station we stop at which is almost the height of the car!

At a rest stop off the freeway I notice a handwritten notice and stop to read it. It is from an old guy in his seventies who is parked up in his chevy which he has been living out of for almost a year. It is a plea for help, coming up to Christmas time, he is alone and has no family and states that he would be grateful of any help offered. I see his vehicle and there is a truck driver talking to him through the window. I retrn to the car and tell emma and she immediately says she’ll give him one of her pictures which is of a heart. We go over and chat to him a while. He is friendly, if a little sad. I wonder what has happened in his life for him to end up here. He tells us how kind we are and says we are very welcome in America. He suggests we go and visit London Bridge from the next turn off. Crazy as this sounds at first, it starts to make sense as he tells us the story of how it was dismantled and shipped here and rebuilt over the Colorado river. This sounds vaguely familiar, and, sure enough, we pass a sign for London Bridge at the next exit, though we continue straight as we are hoping to get to LA for dinnertime.

We approach LA at rush hour. I am thankful to not be at the wheel. It is almost as insane as driving into Vegas. There is one lane on the far left of the freeway reserved for car pools only, meaning that only cars containing one or more passengers may drive in it. We are glad to be able to make use of this, with no cars cutting in and out, but are sad to see how many lonely drivers there are in near-empty cars.

Sohel’s Aunt, who is Persian, living in Germany and visiting her mother, Sohel’s Grandma, in LA greets us as we pull up in front of the apartment building, which is occupied only by Persians. We are made to feel so very welcome and offered tea and persian biscuits. The dinner is delicious and even adjusted to suit our non-carnivorous preferences. We are spoilt rotten, and even offered the tiny apartment to sleep in while the Aunt and Grandma go to sleep nearby at a cousin’s place. Such incredible hospitality. One of the joys of travelling is the unexpected people you meet and the situations you find yourself in which one just cannot plan for. The random and wonderful experiences which I have been blessed with through travelling are some of my fondest memories. I also believe that such experiences can also occur in our familiar daily routine, in our local surroundings, so long as we remain open. Speaking to people instead of remaining closed off; taking a different route to work instead of doing the same old journey; listening to that impulse or gut feeling about something and following it. It is amazing to be able to come to visit such natural wonders and meet people from all over, but we must remember we can find special moments and people right were we are too, so long as we open up to it.


Disturbing ecocentric sensory overload anxiety inducing hell, yet bizarrely entertaining. This barely scratches the surface of how I can put into words my experience of Las Vegas last night. I am at the wheel as we approached the city from the desert. I couldn’t help but think of Hunter S Thompson and recall his journey here through ‘bat country’ in ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’. Sohel’s hat and Emma’s mirrored aviator shades add to this greatly. Later I wonder how Thompson could have spent time here in a mind-altered state, it is so surreal in itself, seeming to intoxicate even the most sober of people. On the other hand, the place is so extreme, maybe it is only bearable in such an altered state! The city exists in the middle of desert, completely unnatural and isolated. People come here to drink and gamble and some even choose it as a destination to tie the knot. Personally, I can’t think of anywhere I would least like to get married.

The road leading to the city is the straightest road I have ever driven on. It is dead straight for miles upon miles. We are travelling in the early evening, and as the sun sets at around 5 o’clock it is dark. The lights of approaching cars in the distance look as if they are up in the sky as the road sweeps uphill. As we reach the summit and start our descent see see the lights of Vegas like an incandescent sea below us. I feel calm and balanced from all the time we have spent in nature in its various forms; forests, lakes, waterfalls, mountains, valleys and desert. This is very good grounding for what we are about to experience. Tired of the same few CDs on the stereo, the radio is tuned to classical music. The relaxing symphonies of Bach and Beethoven have accompanied us thus far. I tune the station to find something more fitting for the drive into Vegas. I am glad to locate a rock station. Black Sabbath and the Beastie Boys blast out of the speakers and I sing along, excited and happy to be on this journey.

Into the city outskirts, at one point I am sure I count six lanes on the freeway. I follow my fellow traveller’s directions as best I can, getting into the right lane and avoiding the other drivers, some of whom I am sure must think they are in a virtual reality computer game judging by the way they drive. Amongst all this madness, heightened emotions and increased concentration I manage to navigate to downtown Las Vegas and find a multi-storey car park.

We set off on foot to see what we can see. We appear to be quite a distance from the main drag and all the familiar architecture one associates with Vegas, but I am reluctant to drive any longer and we settle for walking through a long indoor stretch of mall. We see a contortionist with such a flexible back he literally bends over backwards and walks with his head between his legs; an elderly bag lady sits amongst her possessions eating out of a can whilst drunken revellers pass her as if she is invisible; a street band perform, the saxophonist standing on the back of an open top truck; tourists pose for photographs with scantily clad chippendale men or groups of grown men dressed as superheroes; two young buskers play their cajon and guitar, drowned out by the brash music emanating from casinos and bars.

This is the city which never sleeps. Inside here it could be any time of day or night. Stages are set up at intervals with musicians playing accompanied by female dancers, further along one woman in dancing on top of a bar. I find this objectifying instant gratification culture of sex and money pretty vile, yet it is like a car crash mentality where one still has to look and experience it.

We stop to watch a young guy who has set up on the street doing live painting. He has an extractor fan set up leading from below the table he is spray painting on. He takes only about five or ten minutes to complete each picture. Working quickly and steadily, his movements flow and he seems at ease with the large crowd gathered around watching him. It is fascinating to watch his techniques with spray paint and stencils, holding card to mask some areas as he sprays others and using a paint scraper to remove paint from others. He creates scenes from nature, somewhat cliched – wolves howling on front of a full moon, a silhouetted horse rearing up in a red wild west setting – yet they are produced to a high standard and many seem to sell as soon as they are finished. He has another guy assisting him who takes each picture as it is completed and lays it them out to display for people to buy. He is only charging forty bucks apiece and they really are worth a lot more in my opinion. The sign below his table tells the audience he is creating and selling work to earn money to pay back his crushing student loan. This is the one redeeming feature from our short trip to Vegas. Well, that and the one dollar margaritas I discover inside a seedy casino. I drink only one, then we make our escape, feeling quite overwhelmed by the full-on craziness of this place.

As we drive away, Emma writes “Fuck Money you are Free” on a dollar bill and throws it out of the window as we pass the entrance to the mall we visited, in the hope that someone will pick it up. It is but a drop in the ocean, but it is at least a comment against the money hungry consumerist sickness we see in surrounding us.

We drive out of Vegas looking for a cheap motel on the outskirts. We pass an area dedicated to selling new and used automobiles. Vast carparks with only vehicles in them, lit up like Christmas with hundreds of bright floodlights despite there being no one there. This, along with the millions of lights in Vegas city where at times I walk under neon signs and can hear the electricity buzzing, makes me disgusted. Such an irresponsible waste of energy which as we know will not last much longer in it’s current manhood of production. I reflect on how my own use of energy saving light bulbs and habits of switching off appliances when they aren’t in use pales in comparison to this mass waste. I feel kind of helpless, but know that this cannot go on forever like this. I am curious to how this place will be in a hundred or more years time.

Sequoia Country to Death Valley

California is home to the giant sequoias. John Muir commented that
“No other tree has looked down on so many centuries as the Sequoia”.
Some of them are over 2000 years old.

We are now entering King’s Canyon and the Sequoia National Parks. We visit the Grant tree, which is the biggest living tree by width, and later the Sherman tree, which is the biggest by volume. It is breathtaking to be in the presence of these natural giants. I find lying down is the only way to gain the perspective to fit one all in the frame when photographing them. Often once I am laying on the earth looking up I just stay where I am for a while, either gazing up at the canopy or closing my eyes and feeling myself sinking into the earth or putting down roots which go deep, mingling with the sequoia roots. These trees have a very high tannin content which helps protect them from fire. Some trees have survived around 80 fires in their lifetime. Hiking along the Congress trail – the name given to a walking route through the Sequoia forest – one can see these sequoias standing in groups. I notice also the tiny sequoia saplings sprouting from the forest floor. It is amazing to think that one day some of these may grow to be as old and majestic as their forefathers.



Later in the evening, after we have hiked to meet the trees, I return to the book I am reading ‘Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee’ by Dee Brown, a Native history of the American West. I read about General Sherman, an old war dog whose actions contributed greatly to the Native’s loss of land and genocide. This leaves a bitter taste in my mouth, to discover that these majestic trees which have been in existence for many centuries have been named after such individuals.

We watch the sun go down from atop a rock high up in the forest. The warm light illuminates the trees making the bark looks as if it is on fire. They truly live up to their name of Redwoods. We head back to our cabin, where the log burner was left burning low and the room is cosy and inviting. After dinner we wrap up warm and drive up a twisting road, then walk a path up to Panoramic Point. I am mindful that this is bear country and despite a slight fear of actually encountering one for real, there is a part of me which would actually like to see one. I know that if I do, I am supposed to make loud noises and wave my arms to make me seem bigger. I asked the receptionist at the lodge about this and she has done this on many occasions. I can’t help but think of Yogi Bear and his penchant for picnics. It feels like the top of the world at Panoramic Point. We can see for miles. There are snow capped mountains in the distance and we can see everything so well by the light of the full moon. Emma and I see a shooting star within minutes of arriving. There is a large boulder resting under a pine tree and someone has thoughtfully left a fallen tree trunk leaning up to it. I walk up the tree trunk and climb up onto the boulder using it’s rough surface as hand holds and the pine tree behind me for leverage. Now I really do feel at the top of the world. Climbing down, I join Emma and Sohel on the blanket and lie down to stargaze a little longer. I see yet another shooting star. When we are too cold we return to the cabin feeling blessed to have witnessed such a wonderful natural light show. On the way back, almost at the cabin, we stop to watch a young deer who crosses the road in front of us. She also stops and turns to watch us. We stay like this for over a minute. I can tell she is young as she is small and looks like she hasn’t yet grown into her ears they are so large. Eventually she wanders off. What a beautiful encounter to end our day.

The following day we hike though more forest, ending the day by climbing the several hundred steps up to Moro Rock, a huge granite boulder. This is an ideal place to watch the sun set. As the sky turns red in the west, the white snow covered mountain range behind us in the east turn a soft pink. The urban lights below start to twinkle and shimmer as the sun disappears. It is good to look down on the world from such a high viewpoint from time to time. It helps put everything into perspective somewhat, the same as gazing up at the stars. All those things we worry or stress about seem to shrink into insignificance. It is like a reality check, being reminded that we are but a very small part of something greater.

We meet two rangers as we are leaving the park the next day. They ask where we are from and are happy to chat awhile. Ray is Native American and an artist. He tells us he lives at Flagstaff, a reservation in Arizona. He gives each of us his card and tells us we would be welcome to visit Flagstaff. I tell him I am reading “Wounded Knee” and learning the Native’s history of the American West while I am here. He agrees it is important to know the truth of the genocide that happened. We discuss the disconnectedness of many people from nature and that it is this interconnectedness which is integral to the Native’s way of life, as in all Ancient and Shamanic cultures. We agree that there is a shift occurring as many people are returning to simpler ways of life more in harmony with and respectful of nature. The other ranger, Bret, runs a publishing company with his wife, and passes me his bookmark business card. I tell him I am blogging about my trip and he says they have published a blog as a book. He asks for the blog address and encourages me to stay in touch, just in case. They do say everyone has a book in them…



We stop at Hume lake, a man-made lake created in the late 1800s for the logging industry. The area was home to this booming business, home to 1000 loggers until the first world war, recession and a couple of fires ended it. Nature reclaimed the area, trees were replanted and now the lake is an area of natural beauty, surrounded by lush pine forest. It is unusually warm for a lake due to it’s shallowness and as we arrive the sun is shining and glinting off the surface and I am tempted to swim. I settle with paddling my feet in the water. Emma and Sohel head off to hike and I find a boulder a few feet from the water’s edge, lay my coat down on the sand and lie down. It is so serene here, I feel totally at peace. The sun is warms my skin and the breeze cools me from the left. The sound of ducks splashing and quacking, distant cries of a raven and the knocking of a woodpecker echoes from the trees. Dappled light plays across the course bark of the pine tree to my right; backlit pines stand tall and majestic beyond the lake; the light glints off the water’s surface in hundreds of tiny crystals in front of me; the wind gently rippling the water making the points of light dance; Wispy clouds in the blue sky above me look like candyfloss. Total tranquility. I feel connected, like nature is recharging me. So much gratitude for being here, for the opportunity to make this journey and experience these wild wonders of nature. It really is the best medicine. I was lucky enough to grow up in a quite rural area, spending time outside, exploring and climbing trees. So many people today, especially young people, do not have such opportunity to connect with nature. The Industrial Revolution brought people to cities, to work in factories etc. Now technology has taken the fore and so many people grow up in urban environments, spending time indoors and in front of screens, disconnected from nature, from what we are naturally a part of. It causes sickness. We need to balance. Not so long ago we lived so much closer to nature, in tune with it’s cycles and seasons. We slept when it was dark and awoke with the sun. We used to take what we needed and give thanks, respecting the plant and animals that nourished us. Now many are so far away from that. I hope that one day in the not-too distant future I have the means to grow some of my own food, to keep chickens for eggs and maybe even a goat for milk. Whether alone, in partnership or in community I believe I can make this dream a reality.

Looking at a map we there is no direct route from the Sequoia National Park to Death Valley. We have to head south through Bakersfield, then back up, in a big loop. It is an estimated six hour drive. We set off at six pm, expecting to arrive around midnight. Initially we travel along the winding roads of the mountains, looking up to an increasing amount of stars in the sky. We pull over briefly and Emma and I lie on the floor in a lay-by and star gaze for a short time. It is so clear we can see the Milky Way. As I mention that I plan to attempt making some photographs of the moon through a friend’s telescope I see a shooting star in the periphery of my vision. I take it as a good sign and resolve to make this plan a reality.

We stop at a gas station we see along the way in a small ghetto-type town called Cutler. There is no gas here. We stop at the next one, which does have gas, and the attendant is an Indian guy living in Fresno. He comments in a friendly way that I look as if I am not from here. Everyone I see looks Mexican and the town certainly has a Mexican feel. We drive on, and as we reach the outskirts of town we see some sort of cattle farm where the cows are outside in fields but restricted inside a large network of metal pens. We are disgusted by this sight, then are hit by a stench of what can only be described as an overpowering meaty death smell. It is gross. We are amazed at how there are houses nearby. People actually live here inhaling this air. I can only imagine they have become immune to it. This puts the Macdonalds we saw a few miles earlier in an even worse light. It is such a contrast to the vast expanses of wild nature we were in a short time ago. We later learn that this is dairy farm country.

Fog descends a little further on. We can only see a few metres in front of us it is so thick. Thankfully we are now on a highway so it is more or less straight. The idea of more twisting turning mountain roads in the fog, like our journey to Lake Tahoe, really does not appeal.

I drift to sleep and as I awake in just after midnight we in the Mojave desert, arriving at a Western themed rustic lodge motel. It has a saloon bar, gift shop and even a pool, although at this hour all I want is a comfortable bed. The next day we drive into Death Valley, one of the hottest places on earth. Even in December it is near 20 degrees. It must be unbearable in the summer months. The hottest temperature ever recorded here was 57 degrees celsius in July 1913. We stop to walk across some sand dunes and I go barefoot, enjoying the feel of the sand between my toes. It is crazy to think that only a few days ago, in the very same state of California we experienced snow! We travel further along our route, driving up Badwater Road and stop to walk to Cathedral rocks. We clamber up high and are rewarded with stunning views for many miles.


Arcata – Lake Tahoe – Yosemite – Fresno

We left the town of Arcata several nights ago. I liked the place. Seemed as if it was stuck in the Seventies. A creative place with many people making art. We met some friendly characters, but also saw the darker side of things; the young stoner kids who, despite being friendly just seemed so lost, so gone. It’s like everything exists on such extreme ends of the spectrum in this place.

We drive to Lake Tahoe, setting off in the early evening. The weather turns into heavy snow, with deep drifts either side of the road, although the road itself was cleared. Thick fog drifts in and out of our vision making for a hair-raising journey. The twists and turns of the road add to the heart-in-mouth experience. David does well at the wheel and we are all relieved to make it in one piece, although by this time it is the early hours of the morning so we merely celebrate by curling up and sleeping right where we are.

Lake Tahoe is on the border of California and Nevada. The lake itself is stunning. Situated at 6225 feet in the Sierra Nevada range it is the largest Alpine lake in North America. Originally inhabited by the Washoe tribe of Native Americans, it was at the heart of Washoe territory. I am surprised to see waves coming onto the shore of the lake, making it seem like the sea meeting the shore. The backdrop of mountain peaks and pine forest makes the whole scene breathtaking. It is only the wet and windy weather which dampens the mood slightly. The town of Tahoe is also apparently stuck a couple of decades in the past. I notice there is a bear theme running through the whole town, with carved wooden bear statues, bear doorstops, there’s even a bear painted on the paper towel dispenser in the restroom at the coffee shop!

Our arrival is in the early hours of the morning so we sleep in the car until dawn, then set off to explore. It is cold but beautiful here. The pine trees dusted with snow and snow-capped mountains make me feel I like I am in a Christmas card. Our arrival is before the peak season, when I imagine this place is busy with tourists come to ski and snowboard on the slopes and do waterspouts on the lake. We go into Tahoe Dave’s ski shop – which has only been open a week – and chat to the guy there about renting snowboarding gear. His accent is awesome, proper ‘surf dude’. We decide against winter sports as the weather is looking wet and windy and even if we wait till the following day, we would rather explore further whilst we have the means. Checking into a cosy motel and hibernating for some of the day, come the evening, we all head to Las Panchitas, the Mexican restaurant over the road, for burritos and margaritas.

The next day we bid farewell to Lake Tahoe and head towards Yosemite. We are warned about the possibility of road closures due to the snow, and soon discover that this indeed is a reality. We drive through Gardnerville which, like so many places here, is laid out only for those who drive. Everything is situated so far apart, completely impractical for pedestrians. This country certainly promotes consumption of oil and use of vehicles that’s for sure. We drive through old frontier towns, passing signs for Reno. It’s so sad to see all the casinos, knowing that they were left as means for the Natives to generate income when the White Man took away their land and means of supporting themselves. We detour off the main road to visit Bodie, an old ‘ghost town’ which was established in the late 1800s for mining the Gold Rush. It is an eerie place frozen in time. We walk around the town, the snow crunching underfoot and our breath misting in the air. Through the window of what was once the schoolhouse there is a poster depicting the ‘Spirit of Education’ dated 1935 which appears so ahead of it’s time, showing children of all races and class together in harmony. There are two petrol pumps still standing with a Shell gas sign attached, rusted and aged with bulletholes through it. Bodie is renowned for it’s fast drawing gun slingers and the crime it harboured. There were …. mines in operation in the area, it peaked in the decade 1889 to 1899, then declined. A wooden town, it experienced two fires and never fully recovered.

We backtrack several miles to find a route to Yosemite which is open as several roads are closed due to snow. David is patient and upbeat despite the fact we have to return all the way to Tahoe to head to Yosemite from another direction. We stop in a lodge a few miles outside of the park, paying double what we would normally pay due to tourist prices. Heading into Yosemite the following day, we are blessed with the sight of the immense sheer rock face of El Capitan. Situated at 7573 feet elevation and standing at 3000 feet from the ground, this was first scaled by an outlaw rock climber called Warren Harding in 1958, and numerous times since. Emma astutely comments that it looks as if the Lake District and Norway had a baby! Emma and I trek to Vernal and Nevada waterfalls, walking up steep paths and over rough granite, and we sit, feeling the cold mist on our faces and the thundering sound of cascading water in our ears. The clean alpine air in our lungs and the natural surroundings feels cleansing. I feel content and connected.

I imagine what it would have been like to live here, close to the land, honouring the Great Mother Earth and Father Sky, in harmony with all animals, trees and plants. The original inhabitants of this area were the Miwok or Ahwaneechee tribe of Native Americans. They populated this area for 4000 years until the White man arrived and began to take over the land. The discovery of gold fuelled this further and Native people were killed or removed from their land, relocated to reservations where their way of life was destroyed, relying on supplies from the White Man and they became homesick. The Miwoks were relocated to a reservation near Fresno. Looking at a modern day map of California, I see several small areas of land designated as Indigenous Reservations. This is heartbreaking considering that Native Americans once had the freedom of the whole land to call their home. They understood the interconnectedness of all things and respected and honoured this land, existing in harmony. In contrast, the White Man has ravaged the land for what it could get; gold, coal, oil, gas, metals, and taken advantage of it for mass agriculture and continues to do so. I believe there is a shift occurring though, as many realise that this way cannot continue; mono-agriculture ands use of pesticides poisoning the land and ourselves; non-renewable means of making energy which are rapidly running out whilst also causing damage to the environment; the changes in climate caused by our pollution; the mass deforestation which is literally removing the lungs of this planet. There are more and more people rediscovering a simpler more sustainable way of life, in tune with nature instead of opposing it. Less materialism and consumerist culture, moving away from the ‘earn more, buy more, have more’ mindset. We may think the newer car / bigger TV / better house / more stylish shoes will make us happy. They won’t. That void which we attempt to fill with this stuff can be ‘filled’ by spending time in nature, healing our traumas and wounds, rediscovering these ancient ways of living in sync with the cycles and using nature’s foods and medicines wisely whilst also giving back to maintain equilibrium.

I am so happy to have made it here to Yosemite National Park. The absence of huge crowds of people makes up for the cold weather, although I would like to experience this place in a warmer season as it would enable one to hike for days and camp out comfortably. Here in Yosemite I am reminded of the documentary premier of ‘Valley Uprising’ I saw several weeks ago in Wales.

It told the history of climbing in Yosemite, from the original band of beatnik outlaws in the late fifties and early sixties, through to present day. Looking up at the sheer expanse of rock, I see tiny trees dotted along it’s surface and at the summit. Judging by this scale I realise that a person climbing would only be a tiny speck, barely visible from the ground. How amazing would it be to experience this place as a rock climber!

As night falls we drive away from Yosemite towards Fresno to drop off Mark, who we picked up in Aracata. Travelling is a good teacher, as well as all the relationships which are formed on the road. We learn a valuable lesson about trusting people to soon and too easily. Mark, a British Gibraltan guy we give a lift to from Arcata, seems pleasant and nice initially, but after a couple of days we see his true colours as someone who is sneaky and negative. He actually sat in the car absorbing in his laptop for the majority of the time we were at Yosemite, saying he had had enough time in nature recently…as if one could ever have enough, especially in such stunning surroundings! His presence causes friction, bad vibes and arguments. On the last night he even resorts to personal comments and insults to provoke a reaction. We learn that it is good and essential to have healthy boundaries, to remain open and in the heart, yet to have a better ‘filtering system’ with new people. We continue to see him as a good person, just with trauma and a low vibration which is causing his behaviour. Frisco is our next stop, where we leave Mark so he can head back to San Fran, we head in the opposite direction, destined for King’s Canyon. Returning to our initial grouping of three immediately feels good. We are liberated and lighter, plus the sun is now shining, which always helps. I take the wheel and adjust quickly to the automatic ‘no gears’ driving. Sun Ra is blasting from the sound system and all seems well with the world. Freakishly tall cartoon-like palm trees are dotted along the roadside and skyline, with fields upon fields of golden grapevines. I head east along route 180 towards Kings Canyon and Sequoia National parks. The scenery looks quite like the Peak or Lake District, all wild and mountainous but with more desert tones.

On the road again….

Redwoods Roadtrip

So we bade farewell to fair San Francisco…or not so fair, as it was raining pretty heavily the morning we checked out of (my first ever) American motel and hit the road. Our pre-roadtrip breakfast was in the diner next door to the motel,  served by a waitress with a great sense of humour who was happy to photograph us, including her own selfie too.

David our German friend is driving, with Emma riding shotgun and me in the back. We cross the Golden Gate bridge and drive through Sauselito, a beautiful charming yet expensive looking area, then head north on Route 101, the freeway follows the coast up to Redwood country. The trip takes about 5 hours, allowing for stops, and one of these is at a drive-thru tree (cringe). We pay the five bucks and drive through this still alive redwood which has a hole wide enough for the average car to pass through. Judging by it’s width, this tree could have been standing for nearly 2,000 years. There are photographs from a hundred years ago of horse-drawn carriages full of people doing the same. Crazy humans. Nature has put up with so much from us…now is the time to shift our thinking, behaviour and actions and try to right the wrongs we’ve done and put back rather than taking away, don’t you think?

We drive along the Avenue of the Giants, majestic redwoods flanking either side, and an atmospheric fog hanging in the air. It has recently rained, and the road, ground, trees and air is moist, yet the sun is flooding through the foliage illuminating everything in stunning shades of greens and autumnal rusty reds, browns and yellow ochres. We stop early evening looking for accommodation and meet a French guy named Jean-Baptiste. He is preparing to sleep out for the night as the front light of his 650cc Kawasaki off-road motorcycle has blown and he can’t ride in the dark. Nor can he fix it himself, as all the bolts have been replaced by the mechanic with ones which are not compatible with his tools. Despite this, he remains upbeat and happily converses with us. He is heading north to Arcata too, and recommends places for us to see there.

We hit the road again and stop at a log cabin resort where all the roadside lodging are lit up like a Christmas tree. We stay in a cosy log cabin and fall asleep watching an Eddie Murphy movie, sleeping well until dawn.

The next day is the first of December. We mark the occasion by driving back along the Avenue of the Giants and stopping to hike into the woods. The smell is amazing. Earthy and fresh. Underfoot feels spongy and soft, as we are walking on so many layers of pinre needles and decaying leaves. The trees are breathtaking, both in height and in width. I notice many different types of mushrooms, including tiny delicate minuscule ones on the upright of the trees themselves. They are in such contrast to the trees who have been standing some of them for two thousand years. I sit against a huge tree and meditate for what seems like a long time. I connect to the sky above through my crown chakra, breathing the energy down to my heart, then connect to the earth through my root chakra, visualising a root piercing through the surface of the earth, delving deep underground, reaching into the hot magma centre of the planet, bringing the energy up into my heart. I merge with the tree and breathe deeply through my nose, drifting off to another place. When I come back to the here and now I feel very grounded and relaxed and at one with where I am.

We drive further north to the Redwood National Park which spreads out from the Pacific coast. I try my hand at driving and am pleasantly surprised at how easy it is. No need for changing gear, just accelerating or braking, along wide open roads. This certainly is driving country. The distance we drive from San Francisco to here would nearly take us the length of England I am sure (300 miles approx.) We stop at the national park and walk across the dunes through an area of beach scattered with lots of driftwood – this would be a prime location for a beach fire! – to where the Pacific ocean meet the land. It is wild and noisy, big waves crashing onto the shore and receding leaving a mesmerising shimmering on the surface of the sand. We walk to where a river meets the sea and are fascinated to be able to drink the freshwater only metres away from the sea. Nature is amazing.

Walking along the beach letting it sink in that I am actually in California… I believe it may not have fully hit me, even a week in to the trip.

Tonight’s stop is Arcata, a stoner town with a laid-back vibe. We are advised to be somewhat more on our guard here, as there is a higher crime rate, but as we drive through it looking for a motel we notice other travellers, hippies and chilled out people walking along in shorts and sandals eating ice cream in the early evening. So far so good. We find a motel which is really nice; comfy bed, good shower, free wifi and a tv. Soon we mission out for dinner…

Emma has just had some good news about an event down in Santa Cruz in ten days time. She has been asked to do some live painting there, at an event called The Human Experience hosted by Jonah Kai and the Heart Tribe. I will help with set-up and documenting with film and photographs. Emma has an artist friend in Santa Cruz we can stay with too. Thank you universe!

I was thinking in the car earlier how it is only really our own self-limiting beliefs which hold us back from doing or being what we really want. These beliefs can be formed because of what happened to us in childhood, our teens or twenties, or at any point really, but I believe it is the first few years of our lives that are the most important in shaping us. When we can change these beliefs, however we achieve this, is when we can start living our full potential, realising our truth and being who we really are, underneath all the layers of crap that have built up over the years. It is our responsibility(?) to shed these layers, dissolve them, see through them, to our true selves… We can choose to stay in our comfort zone of what is ‘safe’ and avoid challenging ourselves, and maybe this is okay for some, but certainly for myself, I feel that by putting myself out of my comfort zone and facing challenges and also believing I can do whatever I choose to, I am really growing as a person and doing myself justice.


It feels like summer here in San Francisco. Unusually warm for almost December, the sun is shining, with just this morning demonstrating the cold wet fog San Fran is famous for.

We made a brief foray into Haight Ashbury before our karaoke evening a couple of nights ago. The place to be for hippies in the the Seventies, it is still a haven for tie-dyed stoners and alternative hipsters favouring the vintage fashions, Emma purchases a white fake fur coat from a vintage store, which, along with her blond-virtually-white hair, completes the polar bear albino chick look..

So far I have explored…

Fort Mason, the area where the Fisherman’s Wharf hostel is we were staying at initially, an old military base an hospital with views across to Alcatraz and the Golden Gate bridge; further west to the Marina where many private yachts are kept and where we stumbled across a film set in progress by the old military barracks; up near the Golden gate bridge, which contrary to it’s name is actually painted red…not it’s intended colour, it was kept the same colour red as it’s initial undercoat apparently; Cal Hollow; Embarcadero, North Beach, the Italian area where all streetlamp poles have the Italian flag colours painted in band around them, plus the best pizzerias in town and a garlic restaurant called the Stinking Rose, where ‘the garlic is seasoned with food’; Chinatown, the biggest Chinatown outside of China, a busy, bustling, colourful place.

I caught a bus yesterday further south beyond Chinatown, along the freeway then got off at Fulton, walked three blocks past a park to stay with Shannon, a hospitable native San Franciscan we met in the shuttle bus from the airport on our first day. We were lucky enough to hear about a sunrise ceremony taking place on Thanksgiving (or ‘Thankstaking’ as I heard a Native American refer to it). We (Emma, David and I) arose at 4:30 am Thanksgiving morning following a night’s sleep in a friend’s car. Slightly hungover from the previous night’s whisky fuelled karaoke antics, we revived ourselves with showers in the nearby hostel and leftover pasta for breakfast, then set out to pier 3 to catch a ferry to Alcatraz. There was quite a turnout queuing for the boat, and many people returning from earlier ceremonies too.

The atmosphere was joyous and convivial, a carnival feel in the air, despite the undeniable sombre serious undertones of the occasion. The solidarity and shared vision of the people was heartwarming. There were speeches and performances from musicians, singers and dancers as we disembarked, all supporting Indigenous people and their rights to return to the land. Proceedings were preceded by the honouring of the directions. The ceremony itself was a visual, auditory and olfactory delight; full ceremonial costumes, feathers, facepaint dancing along to a primal drumbeat around sacred fire, letting myself feel the rhythm and be moved by the powerful purpose of this event, the copal incense enveloping everything, mingling with the sweetgrass, sage and palo santo. As we wait in line for the ferry to leave, we are blessed with more musical performances, Capoeira dancers, and singers and rappers communicating the messages of Indigenous rights, anti-capitalism, anti-GMO and honouring our Mother Earth.


I shoot most of a roll of black and white film, making portraits of the Indigenous people, with permission, post ceremony. I guess-timated the aperture and shutter speed settings on the camera as the battery which powers the light meter has run out and not yet been replaced. I think my guesswork is pretty accurate though. Will find out when I get into the darkroom to process it back home… Funnily enough, Shannon has a darkroom in his garage. It was set up and used by his father who worked as a news cameraman. It is not currently in use, ie there are no in-date chemicals to use for processing, yet all the equipment is there; an enlarger where one can vary the hight of the tabletop underneath and therefore create large scale work, also a safe light which is bright enough to read a book by without fogging paper, along with an archive of negatives and shelves of rolls of 16mm film footage. I have been offered the opportunity to view some before I go…what a lucky serendipitous meeting this was!

I shed tears whilst witnessing this ceremony. It is all the more poignant as I am a third of the way into reading ‘Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee’, the account of the Native American’s plight written From their own perspective. I also experienced an overwhelming feeling of connectedness, unity, purpose and peace with a huge smile on my face. It feels like a remembering…we all used to live more communally like this, connected to the land and celebrating the turning wheel of the year, holding ceremonies to mark occasions, employing the universal language of music and dance. I enjoy catching snatches of Mexican Spanish and understanding a lot of what I hear, and later conversing with an elder, who took part in ceremony, in basic Spanish. Plenty more practice needed before Peru in the new year though! Mucho mass…

Back on the mainland we seek out sustenance in the shape of bread bowl clam chowder. This is clam chowder served in a bowl consisting entirely of a loaf of bread. Full-on stodgy nourishment right there. So far America has done my waistline zero favours. Oh no wait, that’s my lack of willpower. In some sort of balancing act I bought (diary free soy free) chocolate ice cream made from coconut milk…

We ate a hearty Thanksgiving dinner Thursday evening with our San Fran host Shannon and his partner Wendy. This morning’s fare was eggs, crispy bacon, pancakes and maple syrup. This afternoon saw us ordering veggie burritos in El Taco…I failed to manage it all. Portions here are huge. Bring on the raw vegan diet please!

After a stroll in a nearby pine woods park, walking the little shitzu who goes by the name of Roxie, we took an inspiring wander around Mission to view the murals (images to follow) and paid a fruitful visit to the community thrift store (one velvet green jacket and beige corduroy hat). Tonight we are chilling with the first two thirds of the Lord of the Rings trilogy viewed on a projector with surround sound. In all honesty I paid attention to the first one, but became distracted by typing this post throughout a lot of the second one! It’s good to have a cosy night in. We are saving ourselves for tomorrow’s Reggae gig. Shannon works as a sound guy for the band Native and is getting us in for free. We will be joined by Amy, a friend from Liverpool who also happens to be travelling at the moment, entirely coincidentally also in San Francisco! Great minds think alike so they say….

Sunday’s plan is to take it easy in Dolores park with a day of people watching and recharging ready for our departure for pastures new on Monday. America rocks!

San Francisco in Pictures

Day Onehostel light


DSCF6858 alcatrazDSCF6860 emma & pinesDSCF6862 meDSCF6864 emmaDSCF6865 keith haring exhbtDSCF6866 truckDSCF6867 semperviviumDSCF6868 DSCF6869 goldengate bridgeDSCF6871 ta-daDSCF6872 shackDSCF6873 bridge thru fenceDSCF6874 pacific oceanDSCF6875 passion flowerDSCF6876 fire truck!DSCF6877 ode to bressonDSCF6878 ahoyDSCF6879 a very american signDSCF6880 securityDSCF6882 DSCF6883 columnsDSCF6885 a fine artistDSCF6887 reclineDSCF6888 painter dude drewDSCF6889 shadows n lightDSCF6890 sketches n shadowsDSCF6891 drewDSCF6893 shoes n shadowDSCF6895 dog portrait paintDSCF6896 dancerDSCF6899 ceiling mandalaDSCF6902 DSCF6903 doc martinsDSCF6905 reflectionsDSCF6906 palaceDSCF6908 pineDSCF6910 flowerDSCF6911 willowDSCF6912 DSCF6914 willow & IDSCF6917 paintingDSCF6918 palaceDSCF6919 DSCF6920 travel buddiesDSCF6922 treesDSCF6924 herons?DSCF6925 wooden tile houseDSCF6926 hill!DSCF6929 flowersDSCF6930 shadowsDSCF6931 palace infoDSCF6932 house numberDSCF6934 blue & tiresDSCF6936 blue moonDSCF6937 arnold newman exhibitionDSCF6938 super 8DSCF6939 portraits on busDSCF6941 neonDSCF6943 sandwich shackDSCF6944 nomDSCF6946 fire escapeDSCF6947 loveDSCF6948 ducati 🙂DSCF6949 selfieDSCF6950 chicken?!DSCF6951 yesterday’s thaiDSCF6954 pensiveDSCF6955 greenDSCF6956 redDSCF6958 tie-dyeDSCF6961 painter decoratorDSCF6962 DSCF6963 DSCF6965 balconyDSCF6969 stop sign & flowersDSCF6970 DSCF6972 bayDSCF6974 stairsDSCF6975 goldengate bridgeDSCF6977 palmsDSCF6978 palms & hydrantDSCF6980 sculptureDSCF6982 mosaicDSCF6984 detailDSCF6985detail

In transit…

Monday 24/11/14

Strange sleep deprived state somewhere over the pacific ocean…
5 o’clock uk time. I have only managed snatches of near-sleep since my last full night saturday night.

I left my flat in a taxi at 2am, knowing that on my return Spring would be well on her way, the purple crocuses exploding though the lawn providing hope of warmth soon to come.

I photographed a friend’s wedding on saturday, as her official photographer. I intended to complete editing the images before leaving but was only halfway through when I realised that if I didn’t stop and actually pack my bags it would actually be too late. I put to good use the waiting time to check in at Manchester airport, the several hour wait for a connecting flight from Heathrow and also some of the flight time and can now declare the photographs fully edited. Done and dusted at 30,000 feet.

Looking out the window to my right i can see a warm haze at horizon level and what appears to be an expanse of frozen ice below, marked with rivulets, tributaries and texture. It is impossible to judge scale.

A slightly quirky synchronicity…the woman sitting on the other side of the empty seat to my left is returning home to California. She is reading ‘The Two Towers’ by J.R.R. Tolkien. I met Tolkien’s grandson at my friend’s wedding on Saturday. True story. He was standing in for his brother who was the best man yet too ill to make it on the the day. How bizarre. In a lovely gesture of kindness she asked for my contact details saying that there will definitely be people she knows from her church who would love to host Emma and I for Thanksgiving if we have no plans…bless.

I realise that when I land it will be mid-afternoon so I will have several more hours of awake time before I can right my body-clock with a nice long sleep. To be fair, I reckon the excitement of being in San Francisco alone will serve as a natural stimulant…

Happily, I got away with bungeeing my A3 Art folder to my smaller rucksack & checking them in as one piece of luggage. Meant I just carried on my little guitar in it’s rucksack case as hand luggage. Had to leave the Shamanic drum at home…there’s only so much one can carry! Make sense to have the guitar with me as it will encourage me to practice and learn.

I meet up with Emma – my travel partner for the foreseeable – at the airport. She is flying in today from Salt Lake CIty, Utah where she has been for a week painting a mural for a friend. It is somehow simultaneously surreal and amazing yet feels completely natural to see her here. When we first met at the end of summer last year I got an unusually vivid ‘knowing’ that we would travel together. I could just feel it, almost ‘see’ it…us road-tripping somewhere, the freedom of the open road and wide horizons. At the time I knew not where or when, but just that it was an indisputable fact that it would happen. Fourteen months later it is happening *grin*.

We travel on the airtrain at the airport, missing our stop so go around again in a loop. It gives a great perspective of the city. It’s so beautiful here. People are so friendly too. We are staying at the Fisherman’s Wharf hostel right on the harbour. It is surrounded by a large green area with trees, some large mature pines…one of which I climb on the return from our mission out for delicious Thai food. Now we are turning in after a long day of travelling….looking forward to seeing what tomorrow brings…waking up in San Francisco, yes!