My Excellent American Adventure  -  USA Cities


If New York is the Big Apple then Chicago should be called the Big Onion, since that is what the city's Indian name means.   For some reason Chicagoans prefer the term "America's Second City", even though Los Angeles' growing population captured that honor some time ago.   Nevertheless, the Windy City does have a lot going for it, including interesting architecture, entertaining public events and a downtown beach over 1100 kilometers from the nearest ocean! women and children at downtown beach
Standing next to a buried car during Chicago's 1999 blizzard

Chicago's "continental climate" can quickly take you from the Arctic to the Tropics, and all without the inconvenience of changing location.

See what happened during and after Chicago's second heaviest snowstorm in history.

Watch out, lady, the dinosaur's gonna get your baby!  Quick, throw your book at it!

Chicago's venerable and interesting Field Museum jumps on the latest crowd-pleasing bandwagon, but I swear, if I visit any more world class museums with dinosaurs in their lobbies, I'll scream.

Field museum dinosaur threatening the Virgin and Child

Las Vegas

the Las Vegas Strip

Las Vegas, America's "Sin City" is definitely a city of the night.   Drab and depressing during the daytime, at night it dresses itself in its best neon-lit finery, beckoning the gullible and the merely curious.

If Las Vegas turns into "lost wages", or you're one of the sober few who just isn't interested in gambling, then you can enjoy the free public spectacles held outside the famous casinos and hotels which line the Strip.

Those who still have money can take in one of the many world-famous extravaganzas held inside the many expensive venues.

Mirage Hotel fire and water show
McDonald's sign

As the evening wears on the Strip becomes a bumper-to-bumper procession of cars, occupants staring at the crowds on the sidewalks, and vice-versa.

Here even the ordinary has to go out of its way to attract attention, or risk being lost in the sea of light and noise!

Los Angeles

Los Angeles the "City of Angels" is actually best known for crowded freeways and air pollution, but it also has natural delights, most notably its many beaches, upwind from the bad air and large enough to accomodate the large population without crowding.

The surrounding mountains and resort towns like Big Bear allow you to enjoy skiing in the afternoon after a morning of beachgoing, and the desert landscapes and mountains of the Coachella Valley and Joshua Tree National Park are only a day-trip away.

Venice Beach lifeguard
Hollywood sign

Los Angeles is also known as The Entertainment Capital of the World, home to Hollywood and a million starving and striving actors hoping to hit the Big Time.   Those who don't make it big in Hollywood can also find movie-making opportunities of a different type in the San Fernando Valley.

You can visit many who did make it in Hollywood, any time you want, now buried six feet under at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, together with musicians who are now playing the Big Gig in the Sky.

The cemetery has more than its fair share of quirky sights, including an Atlas Rocket gravestone and the burial place of Mel Blanc, Man of 100 Voices, proclaiming "That's All, Folks" for all eternity.

Across town you can see a 30 foot tall Ballerina Clown, sadly no longer waving his (yes, this ballerina is a he!) leg, and the excavated tar pits at La Brea, stuffed with dead mammoths, sloths, camels, lions and saber-toothed tigers.

La Brea

New York

Lower Manhattan at night from Brooklyn Heights

New York is the self-proclaimed "Capital of the World",  perhaps the most recognizable city on the planet.

It's the oldest major city in America, but always at the cutting edge.

New York isn't just a tourist attraction, it's a living and working city.

Ride the subway, walk through the parks and see the people as they go about their daily lives.

Traffic accident on Brooklyn Bridge.
Times Square New Year's Eve 2000

Times Square is the place to be for New Year's Eve in America, perhaps even the world.

It would be criminal to live within a hundred miles and not be in Times Square for New Year's Eve of a new millenium!

Palm Springs

the Palm Springs wind farm with Mt San Gorgonio in the background

Palm Springs, two hours' drive east of Los Angeles, is a desert resort town long associated with Hollywood movie stars.   Nowadays, balmy temperatures during winter bring out masses of snowbirds and retirees, and golf courses sprout like strange foreign weeds in the desert landscape.   What isn't advertised, however, are the constant winds blowing through a gap in the surrounding mountain ranges and the summertime temperatures which peak around 120 degrees Fahrenheit (almost 50 degrees celcius).

Before I escaped here from the Arctic wastes of Chicago, I pictured Palm Springs as being all gated communities and golf courses, and the only jobs being golf caddying and turning sheets on hotel beds.   What I didn't know was how many attractions there are within easy reach of the city.

For those so inclined there are those golf courses as well as Indian casinos dangling the prospect of glamor and easy wealth.   For nature lovers there are desert springs and palm trees in the Coachella Valley Preserve, surreal plants and rock formations in Joshua Tree National Park, the Salton Sea and, a little further distant, Anza-Borrego state park with desert wildflowers in Spring.

surreal landscape in Joshua Tree national park
McCallum Palm Grove in the Coachella Valley Preserve

There are also several places nearby to go when you've had enough of the desert.   The palm springs after which the city is named are only a few minutes from the outskirts of town, with oases and palm groves spread along the twin spurs of the San Andreas earthquake fault which run through the valley.   Another oasis with abundant wildlife is found in the Morongo valley, only 20 or 30 minutes out of town.

The snow-capped peaks of the highest mountains in southern California are nearby; Mt San Jacinto looms right over the city and the Aerial Tramway can whisk you straight from the oven-like desert floor to an altitude of 8,500 feet, where it's usually about 40 degrees cooler.

San Diego

San Diego has the best climate of any American city, a laid-back Californian attitude, a great harbor and uncrowded beaches.

San Diego skyline at night
San Diego skyline, harbor, naval ship and yachts

It's Nirvana for "boaties" and water lovers of all kinds, even if the locals at America's Cup Harbor are gnashing their teeth since losing the trophy to New Zealand!

For non-sailors there are attractions like Sea World, a world renowned zoo, Balboa Park and the Aerospace Museum.

Sunbird at San Diego zoo