Category Archives: North America

Cruising West to Vegas

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Western USA in an RV

After we had driven away from the Grand Canyon on our family RV holiday, I felt a sense of sadness about leaving the landscape that has always been such an iconic part of the Western United States. Yet, due to the variety of natural beauty in the west, the Grand Canyon receded into my memory and was replaced with other less revered but still spectacular views and experiences. Along the many highways that we cruised, the landscape seamlessly changed and never failed to capture my attention.

With the Grand Canyon behind us, we headed north to Zion National Park in Utah. Zion was one of the highlights of the holiday for me, because it was unexpectedly fun and enthralling. I highly recommend hiking in the Narrows, where you can wade through a river surrounded by cliffs on either side, which I found a refreshing experience, though the rocks can be slippery. It is sensible to wear suitable clothing and shoes and not rush, as my mum found out, when she nearly slid head-first into the river. The peak time to go into the Narrows is the summer and autumn when the water is refreshingly cool. It is possible to go in the winter and spring, but wearing wet or dry suits is recommended if you go then.

In Zion National Park, there are a variety of non-guided or guided hikes that range from easy, one-day excursions in the Narrows and on the rocks above the river, to longer, more challenging overnight trips. Alongside hiking, Zion offers a range of adventure activities from rock climbing, golf, and cycling, as well as helicopter and off-road tours. The Rocks Odyssey Guiding Co. offer rock climbing trips in Zion for £96 per person and Zion helicopter tours range from $45 to $299, depending on the length of the trip. There are also off-road tours from Zion ATV & UTV tours from $125, where more of the landscape is accessible.

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Make the World Great Again, Part One: Trump’s Isolationist Approach to the Climate

In the light of recent decisions on the part of the current U.S. government, it feels more than appropriate – more of a necessity – to focus on the issue of climate change in relation to the current social, economic and political discourse of the United States.

On the 7th June, President Trump announced that the United States are pulling out of the Paris Agreement in what he called a “reassertion of America’s sovereignty”. A reassertion indeed, but a selfish one which will have consequences for the entire world; a mistake, something that even the endless charm and charisma of Leonardo di Caprio could not prevent. Considering what’s at stake, should temperatures continue to rise and pollution levels remain as harmful as they are, it seems to be a relatively easy choice to abide by the rules of the Paris Agreement. Yet here we are looking at one of the world’s superpowers, and largest contributors to the effect of climate change, as they remove themselves from a historic and vital agreement on how to combat an international issue. Must the entire world face the consequences of the U.S. government’s ignorance and pride?

It is an action that embodies Trump’s isolationist approach to foreign policy. Believing the U.S. is better off alone under its own terms with the advantage of making decisions that best serve the country’s individual needs, may make sense for some aspects of American policies, but not this. Not only does it make more sense for the U.S. to remain close to its allies for economic and security purposes, it is also important to remember that the current climate crisis is a universal issue that should be approached in a unified way. All countries will face repercussions and so tackling the issue together is not only preferable, but necessary; all countries must abide by certain rules that the Paris Agreement lays out in order to have even a small chance of reversing the effects that are already in motion. Not only is Trump’s action selfish, it is a severe overestimation of the way the rest of the world views America. Trump’s belief that the U.S. can re-enter the agreement under more favourable terms suggests they are some kind of grand exception to everyone else. This is the wrong time to choose to be arrogant.

Pulling out of the agreement is also a major indication of Trump’s stance on climate change. Obviously he does not think it is as serious as scientists have extensively proven it to be. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but this is more than just a theory and there’s a strong difference between having an opinion and being ignorant. Claiming global warming is a hoax created by China not only shows his inability to be a leader of the free world, but is also a red flag that foreshadows how the current administration will tackle climate change over the next four years. During such a significant period in the effort to combat the rising temperatures, the world’s second largest contributor of carbon emissions is denying their own mistakes and its existence entirely. But this is not a solo endeavour on his part. Trump has appointed a number of key figures into positions of power who share his view of climate change. Alone, he may not have such an extensive influence upon the issue, but he has spread those in denial across his administration. Vice President Mike Pence has revealed that global warming is not a priority for the President and his cabinet. A stand out figure among the climate change deniers surrounding Trump is Scott Pruitt, who was appointed head of the Environmental Protection Agency, a move practically drowning in its own irony. Mazin Sidahmed, a reporter for the Guardian, states that Pruitt has close links to the fossil fuel industry, a major contributor to carbon emissions, although Pruitt himself does not believe that carbon dioxide “is a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”

Although Trump claims that being part of the agreement is an economic disadvantage, Sweden has proved otherwise. Two spokespeople on these issues, Nina Ekelund and Isabella Lovin, demonstrate the link between climate action and economic growth by stating that more and more companies are seeing the potential profit in looking to reduce their environmental impact by turning supposed risks into opportunities. For example, Sweden has the world’s highest carbon tax and an extremely strict climate policy, yet Swedish companies have “retained and reinforced their international competitiveness.” More importantly, emissions have decreased by 25%, while GDP has increased by 69%. Ultimately, “companies with a focus on sustainability perform better and have a higher market value than other companies.” This is proof that a shift in focus to green energy can benefit the U.S. in terms of its economic growth and welfare. A further investment in renewables will also provide job opportunities as well as benefitting the environment.

Michael Greshko from National Geographic claims that the decision could make the U.S. an international pariah as it may also affect international cooperation in areas other than just climate change; U.S. foreign relations could be affected on a much broader scale. This is relatively understandable – why would the rest of the world want to align themselves with a nation who selfishly tried to determine the fate of the entire world based on their own preferences. The United States’ chief negotiator at the Paris Agreement, Todd Stern, emphasises that the exit reads “as a kind of ‘drop dead’ to the rest of the world”. Even current U.S. officials state that “ignorance and ideology won out over science and common sense”; which is pretty much the tagline for Trump’s presidential run thus far.

In spite of all this, it must be noted that the decision does not represent the U.S. as a whole and individual states are subsequently taking action in the form of what Nina Golgowski, a reporter at the Huffington Post, has called a ‘climate rebellion’. Hawaii has become the first state to take action by officially adopting the Paris Climate Accord. They have passed two bills which commit to expanding methods to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the state. Governor David Ige stated “climate change is real, regardless of what others say.” This speaks volumes about the extent to which the current government is successfully representing the beliefs of the United States as a whole, particularly within states who are now choosing to act on their own interests. This has led to the formation of the U.S. Climate Alliance, in which multiple states have committed to the same principles as Hawaii and the Paris Agreement, even if they are not officially a part of it.

Amidst an international crisis, the United States have chosen to distance themselves from the rest of the world. Whatever motivated this move, it was certainly not for the welfare of the environment as Trump emphasised when he claimed the agreement is “less about the climate and more about other countries gaining financial advantage over the U.S.” This entire situation is a drastic misinterpretation and underestimation of the severity of global warming. For an agreement that has stakes which transcend the infrastructures and political positions of any country, the U.S. has still taken it to be about politics and economic prowess rather than the future of the environment and the human race. As to whether a group of politicians, or businessmen, should have such a strong voice in the world of science calls into question how far their influence and control should stretch; in other words, should someone with no experience, training or even education within a very specialist field, be elected to make international-based decisions on behalf of said field? In the case of the U.S., it has already been proven that experience, credibility and occupation are of little concern in job allocations.

Once again, the U.S. becomes a mockery as Trump continues to tear the nation’s credibility to shreds. The rest of the world is not going to standby and wait for him to put his golf clubs down and see the light at the end of the tunnel. There just isn’t time. As for those willing to cooperate in the ‘do-or-die mission’ to save the world, it’s all about trying to #MaketheWorldGreatAgain in the hope we have not yet surpassed the point of no return. As Leo said:

“The world is watching. You will either be lauded by future generations, or vilified by them.”


Heading West in an RV

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Western USA in an RV

San Francisco had been a fantastic city in which to start our family RV holiday, but now I was excited to start our road trip travelling in the Western United States. For most of the 20th and 21st centuries, the automobile has been the dominant form of transportation in the United States. Equally, travelling on a road to the West has for a long time been synonymous for many with the American Dream: freedom; adventure; and diverse, enticing and grand landscapes. Therefore, the road and the car both hold a revered place in the American consciousness. It was our first time in the Western United States, and we looked forward to travelling across a variety of Western cities and landscapes.

Our RV trip didn’t start that well. In the first minute of the trip, plates fell from a cupboard and shattered on the floor. But that was soon forgotten after we left San Francisco and ventured further south. Continue reading


Sunshine in San Francisco

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Western USA in an RV

I was eagerly anticipating a visit to San Francisco, which was the first stop on a three week, West Coast family RV trip. I was attracted by the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco’s cable cars, the city’s seemingly laid back vibe and by the West Coast sunshine. This was also my first experience of a trans-Atlantic flight, so I was excited by the prospect of watching multiple movies and TV shows on the twelve-hour journey.

Upon arrival, unsurprisingly, the United States Border Force at San Francisco took their job incredibly seriously, so our family had to collectively suppress our excitement about being on the West Coast. After we got through security, we took the subway downtown.

We emerged from the subway, and were greeted by sunshine in San Francisco. There were multiple street performers, a tram that had just gone past and an infectious excitement and atmosphere in the busy streets. After a fairly short walk, and having dropped our suitcases off at our hotel, we were famished. So we headed to the nearest restaurant, Lori’s Diner, which is a 1950s style diner and has multiple outlets throughout San Francisco. I really liked Lori’s as the service was quick, the red booths were comfortable, the burgers and chips were tasty and it was fairly cheap. After that we crashed in our hotel, exhausted from the jet lag, in very comfortable beds.

The cable cars epitomise San Fran for many. Photographer: Ali Leyland-Collins

The next morning we emerged from our slumbers into another hot and enticing day in San Francisco. Continue reading


Solo In Seattle (and Portland)

Travelling by yourself is a strange experience. On the one hand, you have the freedom to get up when you want, go where you want and complete control of the trip. But on the other hand, there’s a lot of downtime when minutes by yourself feel like hours. I found this out when I travelled to Portland; originally just to see the incredible band Fleet Foxes, but then I decided that while I was travelling up the West Coast, I should go to the highly-recommended Seattle too. This turned out to be a great decision, turning a two-day trip into a five-day exploration of these two fascinating cities. This was also my first solo voyage to a strange new place, which filled me with a mixture of excitement and nerves.

Portland was an interesting city but not really anything like I expected. When we touched down, the skies of Portland were overcast and grey, not too dissimilar to my home country of England. There weren’t any major touristy attractions per se: it felt like an ordinary city, so wandering around the place by myself I wondered what the draw was to this renowned destination. The first stop I made was Powell’s City of Books, which boasts of being the world’s largest independent bookstore, and it was so huge it felt like you could spend days absorbed in the copious amounts of literature.

Walking down the grey empty streets of Portland, the sudden reminder that I was travelling by myself struck me and I felt the most lost I’ve felt since initially wandering around San Francisco the day I arrived in America. After a quick bite to eat and a visit to my hostel I was feeling more confident, but sometimes this kind of travelling can overwhelm you when you realise how entirely alone you are.

While Portland is indeed a cool little city, one of the friends I met that day put it best when she said it’s more about the culture and food, and not so much the sights. In this regard, Portland is an extremely interesting place with great restaurants, a good music scene and some lovely spots to just chill. Some of my favourite spots to eat include: Sizzle Pie, Portland Penny Diner, Salt & Straw Ice Cream Place and Voodoo Doughnuts. There are also some beautiful spots like Washington Park with its beautiful Rose Garden and Mount Tabor.

Mt Tabor, ©

The difference in atmosphere, setting and even weather from Portland to Seattle is incredible. Seattle is the epitome of a tourist-friendly city — a big sprawling market, the Space Needle and plenty of other shops and sights to see. I got the extremely touristy City Pass which let me see the five big attractions in Seattle for $79, definitely worth it but maybe don’t cram it all into two days like I did. The Space Needle is obviously overpriced, even if you buy a single ticket for it, but it’s worth experiencing as it’s got an interesting history and a fantastic view of the whole of Seattle. The other four tourist destinations of the City Pass were the Chihuly Garden & Glass, a greenhouse filled with plants and sleek glass sculptures, and the Seattle Aquarium which was a step above any other I’ve been to. The ferry is another perk of the City Pass which takes you on a one-hour-long tour of the beautiful city with interesting trivia, and finally my personal favourite: the Museum of Popular Culture which boasts a Fantasy exhibition, a Horror exhibition and a new Star Trek exhibition.

The City Pass kept me busy during the day, along with my hostel’s location in Freemont, which is a fascinating area with bizarre art installations and a quirky neighbourhood. It was at night I feared that I’d be at a loose end, as it’s not necessarily safe to be wandering around an unfamiliar city during the dark but I didn’t want to be stuck inside the hostel for the duration of my evening. Luckily, the people at my hostel were very friendly and we travelled to Gas Works Park, which offered a beautiful view of Seattle and a chance to talk to others. So my advice to those travelling alone, something which I will experience properly when I travel from New York to San Francisco in 15 days, is talk to those surrounding you – whether that be the others at your hostel or people you meet at events. This will help you in the dark evenings and provide you with some company on the otherwise, at times, lonely trip. Everyone should travel alone at some point, it’s an experience I definitely recommend.