Chicago, Colorado, Arches and more

A while back, I went on a great road trip with my fellow American cousins across the land of the free and the home of the brave, felt it was about time to blog about it! The fantastic thing about the US is the vast array of climates and landscapes it possesses – ranging from the permanent snow-capped mountains of Rocky Mountain National Park to the arid desert of Utah and the Sand dunes.

Journey to the Windy City

A few facts:

  • Located in northeastern Illinois at south-western tip of Lake Michigan
  • Sits on a continental divide
  • Founded in 1883
  • Largest city in the state of Illinois
  • 2.7 million residents
  • 27th most populous metropolitan area in the world

It all began with a gruelling flight from Heathrow to Chicago Midway. I spent the week in the fabulous Millennium Knickerbocker Hotel which is conveniently located near the shopping hotspot the ‘Magnificent Mile’ (Michigan Avenue). You’ll find all your standard American department stores to catch your fashion fix – Macys, Bloomindales and Nordstrom. Even better is the discounts! (10% for out-of-towners at Macys and Bloomingdales located in guest services).

As for touristy and sight-seeing activities, I highly recommend the Chicago Architecture boat tour along the Chicago river given by Chicago Line Cruises – used them twice and they’re fab – complete with knowledgable tour guides and plenty of cookies and coffee.

Bridge view of the Chicago River

Marina City complex – constructed 1964

And now for an arty interjection from British sculptor, Anish Kapoor…

Anish Kapoor’s Cloudgate (or known locally as ‘the bean’) displays a wonderful reflection of Chicago’s skyline in the centre of Millennium Park.

Chicago from the ground…

Michigan Avenue

For all those looking for an impressive skyscraper view and a bite to eat, the Signature Room at the John Hancock Centre on the 95th floor is the place to go. The Hancock building may not be tallest in Chicago, but its excellent location allows for spectacular 360 views of Chicago. We were there during the time of the filming of Transformers 3 and were lucky to get a glimpse of the action with fireworks and explosions visible from our dining table (a little unnerving at first).

Chicago from the John Hancock Centre

All lit up : )

For additional eats, Gino’s East (Lincoln Avenue) is the place to get one of Chicago’s famed delicacies – pizza, authentic. However, this place is popular and queues usually go round the block so prior booking is essential (they also do take outs!).

On to South Dakota…

I later met up with my cousins in South Dakota to let the fun and games begin. An early start got us on to the interstate in our new holiday van (complete with wrenches for door handles and several hundred dead dragon flies stuck in the grate). After a long drive through Wyoming and Nebraska we hit our first stop, Carhenge. Yes, you’re probably thinking the right thing, Stonehenge, but with cars (and may I just say, having seen the original, it was quite an accurate replica).

Epic holiday van


Dave, Amy, Me & Brita embracing Carhenge

We also checked out Chimney Rock and Scotts Bluff National Monument which both served as important landmarks in the Oregon trail during the mid 19th century.

Chimney Rock with a tip formation 325 feet above the base, composed of Brule Clay with interlayers of volcanic ash and Arickaree sandstone

Scotts Bluff

Chillin’ with Saddle Rock (Behind)

On to the Rockies…

Several arguments, card games and many hours later, we arrived, above the tree line at Fort Collins (the last place to receive mobile signal before the continued ascent to Rocky Mountain National Park). We were fortunate to get a space for the night and pitched up our eight man orange tent (yes, we’re that awesome). After a little intro from the camp rangers, with plenty of warning about potential bear and wolf attacks (fun) we ensured food was securely locked away in the van.

The view from our camping spot

I met a little friend along the way…

The dramatic landscape of Rocky Mountain Ntl Park formed by water in its various forms (including glacial processes)

Glaciers (the cool part!)

One of the awesome things about our friend Rocky here is that glaciers occur all year round (permafrost). Glaciers aren’t just lumps of compacted snow, they’re so much more. They can move for thousands of years through previously V-shaped valleys to carve out the U-shaped valleys of today. This is shown by complementary interlocking spurs which indicate a previously V-shaped valley. They also carry material which produces depositary features such as drumlins and morraines (terminal, lateral and hummocky). Additionally, they can melt to form tarn lakes.

So, how are they formed?

During extended periods of climate cooling and continued snowfall, an accumulation of snow occurs which turns into compacted ice (névé). From this compacted ice, increased pressure occurs which forms a ‘nirvation hollow.’ Eventually, the mass of ice becomes so large it begins to move downwards.

While they’re doing this fantastic slide down the mountainside, they carve out V-shaped valleys in to U-shaped ones, producing stunning effects (much like the landscape above). Additionally, they pick up various rocks (a process known as plucking) and by doing so embed them. This, in turn, allows for abrasion to occur – rocks which were picked up via plucking scrape other rocks along the way (forming striations). Note: this all happens over a very long period of time – think geologically, people!

Glacier at 11,000 ft elevation (Trail Ridge)

Feeling slightly on top of the world

On to Utah…

Welcome to Utah!

After yet another six-hour car journey, several attempts to learn Persian and ample debates over whether the UK or the US is better, we arrived in Utah. I was utterly flabbergasted by the terrain here, towering rocks which extended for miles and virtually no vegetation. Coming from Northern Europe, this was pretty mind-boggling for me. It looked like something from another planet.

Mesa & Butte

Mesas & Butte Formation:

  • Isolated & eroded (water)
  • Typical of areas with sedimentary rock with horizontal bedding planes & strata of varying resistances
  • Once eroded, leave a hard, resistant cap-rock
  • Mesa = table in Spanish, tend to have steep edges
  • Buttes = pillar like (taller than wide)
  • Lower sections of both usually covered in scree (from previous rock falls)

Look closely, and you’ll see my cousin Dave, he’s secretly spiderman…


  • Dry river bed of an ephemeral river
  • Thick deposits build up within them
  • Can range from a few metres to a complex system of hundreds of kilometres
  • Can cut across many different rock types and surfaces

Dry riverbed from an ephemeral river


The Three Gossips (an example of Buttes) 

A little lizard : )

Arches National Park

The most physically challenging part of the trip must have been the trip to Delicate Arch. I took my SLR, which proved to feel like the weight of a ton by the time I got there but I still managed to get some splendid snaps.

A Final Note…

We then continued our journey to Mesa Verde National Park, home to Cliff Palace, built by the Pueblo Indians built between 1190 CE and 1260 CE. One question we raised whilst driving to the cliff dwellings, which was pretty perilous even in a vehicle, was ‘how did the Indians get up here?’ The plausible conclusion David came to was ‘On their invisible mopeds, duh.’ Jokes aside, it is pretty impressive that people were able to climb such heights, let alone build up there!

Cliff Palace


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