My Excellent American Adventure  -  USA States


Like much of America's southwest, Arizona is all about desert scenery.

As well as native American artifacts like the petroglyphs at Painted Rock, and dwellings at various locations, there are many natural wonders, such as the colorful fossilized trees of Petrified Forest National Park.

Petrified Forest National Park
Meteor Crater

There are pine-clad mountains in the north and west of Arizona, but most people come to see holes rather than hills.

One of the most amazing of these holes is Meteor Crater, a crater 570 feet deep and 4000 feet in diameter, created in a matter of seconds by a 150 foot wide meteor which hit the ground 50,000 years ago, while traveling at 28,500 miles per hour - 8 miles per second!

Of course, the most famous hole of all in Arizona is the Grand Canyon, easily one of the most spectacular sights in the world.

In terms of time it's at the opposite end of the scale to Meteor Crater, because the Colorado River took 17 million to carve the rock into its current state.

Grand Canyon


Golden Gate Bridge

California is home to some of America's most vibrant cities.   Located just over midway up the California coastline, San Francisco is the location of the Golden Gate Bridge, spanning the mouth of San Francisco Bay.   Los Angeles is a sprawling mess with over-crowded freeways and bad air, but home to Hollywood and even some natural wonders.   San Diego, just north of the Mexican border, has perhaps the best climate in the United States, as well as plenty of sandy beaches and a pleasant harbor .

Yosemite National Park is a three or four hour drive East from San Francisco, in the Western part of the Sierra Nevada mountains.   Carved by glaciers, the Yosemite Valley is home to many magnificent rock outcrops, such as Half Dome and El Capitan.   Yosemite Falls, North America's highest waterfall (and the world's fifth highest) is also in the valley, falling 2425 feet (740 meters) in three stages.  The first stage is 1430 feet high (435 meters), the same height as the tallest building in America, the Sears Tower in Chicago.

Yosemite Falls
El Capitan

Large parts of Southern California are occupied by genuine desert, with interesting wildlife and landscapes with colorful rock formations.   It's easy to visit places like Joshua Tree National Park, the Coachella Valley Preserve and Tahquitz Canyon, which is right next door to the city of Palm Springs.

Naturally there are plenty of lizards and snakes all over the desert, including lots of reptiles in the Coachella Valley.


a surfer jumps off a wave into the air

Hawaii is America's Island Paradise.   Stolen from the natives, it somehow still doesn't seem to be part of the USA, even if it is the fiftieth state.   The Americans even stole their recreations - surfing was invented in Hawaii long before Europeans arrived.

The scenery is magnificent, with blue skies, blue water and jagged volcanic landscapes.

There's even a good chance you'll be able to witness Pele the volcano goddess adding new land as you watch.

picture postcard view of Kualoa Point on the island of Oahu
turtle swimming through sun-dappled water

The waters around Hawaii are superb, with attractions for divers as well as surfers.

The water clarity in the best dive locations is as good as anywhere in the world, and the large number of fish species found nowhere else makes this a unique destination.


I was reluctant to live in Illinois, mostly because of the climate, which is tropical in summer and arctic in winter.

The heat I can cope with, but the cold is more difficult!   Severe wind chill can test anyone's endurance, and the "lake effect" snow can make commuting to work even more effort than usual.

me standing next to a car buried in snow

In spite of my reluctance to be here, I ended up spending two separate periods of time living in the area.

It wasn't until my second stretch of time here that I began to appreciate the natural possibilities of the place, from Lake Michigan and its beaches to bird and insect magnets like Moraine Hills Park and Volo Bog.

I was also living within easy access of Chicago, blessed with a pleasant location next to the lake, large parks, interesting architecture and attractions like the Field Museum, the Shedd Aquarium (complete with dolphins) and the Adler Planetarium.

a surfer jumps off a wave into the air


an arch in the Valley of Fire

If you're coming to Las Vegas, then do yourself a favour and drive out to the Valley of Fire about 50 miles out of town heading northeast on interstate 15.   Sin City is dead during the daytime anyway, but here you'll find rocks painted in crazy colors, as well as arches and strangely shaped formations.   You'll also see petrified trees and native American petroglyphs right by the roadside, and if you get really enthusiastic then you can even go for a short hike to check out the flowering cacti and the amazing assortment of lizards which live here.

It's hard to believe, but just on the other side of Las Vegas from the arid desert landscape in the Valley of Fire you'll find 12,000 foot high Mt Charleston, centerpiece of the Spring Mountain Range.

You can go straight from the desert to the snow, and take a short walk along one of the many trails.

the Spring Mountain Range
Hoover Dam

Fine, then - do it if you must, goodness knows that every year hundreds of thousands of other people with no special interest in electricity or flood control come to visit Hoover Dam at the south end of Lake Mead.   Quite what they expect to see beyond a large block of concrete is a mystery, but still they come.   And I came, too, but only to spare you, gentle reader, from the unnecessary torment of the journey, by documenting this large thing so you could enjoy it from the comfort of your easy chair and little rabbit slippers!

New Jersey

D and R canal towpath during a snowstorm

When I left Chicago and arrived in New Jersey I was lucky to find a very nice apartment in the quiet neighborhood of Bound Brook, right next to the beautiful tree lined D&R canal, running parallel to the Raritan River.

Four weeks later Hurricane Floyd arrived, dropping nearly 14 inches of water in the area, bringing the worst flooding in 200 years and turning my new hometown into a household name around the country.   All but one road out of South Bound Brook was cut off, hundreds of people were evacuated during the night, houses and cars went underwater, and a row of stores on Main St went up in flames while the Raritan river flowed around them, forty-five feet above its normal level.

Kid riding bike down main road of South Bound Brook.
baby raccoon at Great Swamp National Wildlife Reserve

In spite of its toxic reputation, it was in New Jersey that I first started making the most of America's parks and nature reserves, in fascinating but ill-sounding places like Great Swamp National Wildlife Reserve.

New York

Upstate New York is home to the Niagara Falls, one of the natural wonders of the world.   Anywhere else in the world the 180 foot high Bridal Falls with its appropriately named "hurricane deck" directly beneath would be a major attraction, but here it's literally a side-show right next to the American Falls, which stretch 1100 feet (340 meters) across.   And dwarfing them all are the semi-circular Horseshoe Falls, 2500 feet from end to end, and with 9 times the waterflow of the other two waterfalls combined.

people standing on the Canadian side of the Horseshoe Falls
Maid of the Mist and people standing on the Canadian side of the Falls

It's also one of the most accessible sights in the world, at least if you don't have trouble crossing the US and Canadian borders.  There are plenty of attractions, especially on the Canadian side, like trips behind and beside the Falls, the Maid of the Mist boat trip, which takes you right up to the Falls, a casino, the Spanish Gondola ride across a section of the river called "the whirlpool", and bird and butterfly houses.

Downstate New York is also home to many sights recognized around the world.

New York City has its own canyons and waterways, even if some of them are man-made.

World Trade Center towers