Let’s face it, the United States of America have some of the most famous sights in the world. The Statue of Liberty and the yellow taxicabs of New York. The White House in Washington, that Hollywood sign and even, depending on which way you look at it, the golden arches of McDonalds.
But what about the rest? It’s a big old country after all, rich in landscapes, native and “imported” culture. So let’s brush up on our stars and stripes and have a look at some unusual things to do in the USA.
At first, the salt stretched out into pools of white, turning pink with a violet shadow and evaporating into the sky. The salt made sense, as did the lake, those two words giving rise to the name of the place where we’d landed.
But then the salt stopped shining, the earth reasserted its dark chocolate tones amid scrubs of green that flew past the road as the silhouettes of mountains rose up on the horizon.
Like many a US city, Salt Lake’s centre has a tight, taut grid upon which glass and cement malls are mounted. Unlike many other cities, the biggest, shiniest mall was paid for by the Mormon Church.
For, although only 50% of current residents remain true believers, the existence of Salt Lake City today is irrevocably intertwined with the existence of the Mormon Church.
And the heart of Salt Lake City is Temple Square, a ten acre stamp of greenery between City Creek that flows into the River Jordan, and the imposing Salt Lake Temple.
Related: Put Your Hands Up For Detroit!
At Chief Shakes’ House, some 1000 miles north of Seattle, totem poles teeter above our heads and the women close their eyes as they sing. In the fresh, wet grass, the girl’s sneakers peek out from beneath her robe.
That’s the paradox here in Wrangell: all-American freshness trying to revive a damaged past.
Colonial powers arrived here and through religion, industry, deliberate oppression or imported disease, decimated the Tlingit culture that had survived 5000 years. For once, with my British passport I’m not made to feel like the bad guy. Well, not entirely.
The beauty of Satchmo SummerFest: it offers layers for all. Music aficionados, New Orleans residents, and people like me: here to explore the city for the very first time.
And for all the muck of the past that I’ve raked up here (or rather, that the museum carefully presented within the heart of the festival) I think that, ultimately, we can all draw great inspiration from it. Despite the misery and inequalities of the past – and even the misery and inequalities of today – there are still places with sunshine, laughter and music. And that, despite the headlines, most people really do want the world to change for the better.
Yes, as the red beans and rice sizzle from the stand-up stalls nearby and those lyrical notes blend with scratched-out voices, I find myself agreeing with Louis.
Yes, I think to myself, what a wonderful world.
Since Detroit is the home of Ford cars and Ford cars practically represent American motoring history, I went to have a rummage beneath the hood of the Henry Ford Museum.
And cars barely featured.
Original posters depicted the suffragette movement in the States, along with manuscripts from the Declaration of Independence and historical memorabilia from the American Civil War. Ford stages a procession of Presidential Vehicles, all springing red, white and blue. Their stately rumps gleam in polished black but the signs beside them reveal hidden tragedies. One was the car involved during the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan, another where Kennedy took his final breath.
This isn’t so much the Henry Ford Museum: it’s one of modern American History.
At the Dolphin Research Center in Florida, you can pay to swim with dolphins. You can also, as I saw, learn to paint with them as well.
This is dolphin training at its most subtle. The trainer before us, sporting a hat and a trademark suntan, merely touches his fingers and thumbs together in the slightest of moves to exact the most intuitive of responses.
At a quiver of his fingers, the mother dolphin pauses from painting to swim by and pose. It’s impressive. Even breathtakingly, cliché-ridden, awesomely so.
This isn’t for extremists but neither is it for the faint hearted. We’re in the kayaks for six or seven hours at a time, paddling, working, breathing, laughing. And although we’re a small group, it turns out that we’re not alone.
The saucer eyes of a seal greet me and then another row of heads pop up. I want to scream, I want to dance, I want to find some better way of saying “Wow. Just. Wow!” The word “awesome” crosses my mind but I let it pass. I don’t want to break the spell.
Instead I hold my breath and hold still – and I thrill in the experience of kayaking through southeast Alaska.
Disclosure. As ever, as always, and in each of these places, I kept the right to write what I like. Some were hosted or sponsored, some were not. Not one had any say in featuring in this list. Life’s too short, otherwise. Let’s keep it real as they say in ‘Merica. Maybe. OK, I need to work on my accent…enjoy!
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