New York, New York

It’s easy to see that Wikipedia is mostly edited by Americans. According to this unimpeachable source of information, New York is the largest metropolitan area in the world by urban area, situated on one of the world's largest natural harbours. It’s the cultural, financial, and media capital of the world, significantly influencing commerce, entertainment, research, technology, education, politics, tourism, dining, art, fashion, and sports. It’s also, they say, the most photographed city in the world.

New York Nicknames

New York also seems to have more nicknames than any other city.

Not only The City So Nice (from George Russell's album New York in 1959), but The Big Apple (something to do with horse racing, but I’m not sure what), The Capital of the World (apparently because the United Nations is based there) The Center of the Universe (particularly in reference to Times Square- but what?), The City That Never Sleeps (Scorsese film New York, New York), The Empire City (of the New World – from George Washington), The Five Boroughs (Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, the Bronx , and Staten Island), Fun City, (satirical title given by mayor John Lindsay at a tough time), Gotham:(the city at night, Washington Irving  and then Batman), The Greatest City in the World (yet again what?), Knickerbocker, (from Dutch), The Melting Pot ( Israel Zangwill), Metropolis, (Superman comics and the city in daytime),The Modern Gomorrah, (say no more), America's City and The City of Neon and Chrome (musical, Rent).

That’s not the end. New York was originally known as New Amsterdam: the name of the original Dutch colony) prior to the English capture and renaming of the colony after King Charles II’s brother, the Duke of York, in 1665. The Dutch reclaimed it for a year, when it was called New Orange.

New York - the Number One Tourist Destination in the USA

New York's still a great place to travel. The City So Nice I visited it - well - more than twice. At the end of my East Coast trip and a couple of visits to stay with friends working there. Not to mention a short stay with Hugh when I did my Fifty States Journey. It’s not the number one tourist destination in the USA for nothing. My source tells me that New York has three of the world's ten most visited attractions: No. 3 Times Square, No. 4 (tie) Central Park, No. 10 Grand Central Terminal. This is what I did:

Walking Through Manhattan

  • Strolling - Manhattan is surprisingly easy to walk: through Tribeca (Triangle Below Canal Street), Battery Park, Greenwich Village, Soho (little French restaurants) and up Broadway through Times Square (the brightly illuminated hub of the Broadway Theatre District and one of the world's busiest pedestrian intersections) and to Harlem and the edge of the Bronx. Once known for crime and poverty after the Great Depression of the 1930s and the deindustrialization of New York City, Harlem is still colourful, but now quiet and gentrified.
  • Window shopping in Saks, Barney’s, Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s department stores
  • Wandering in crowded Central Park - brunch at the café by the lake (terrible service). there's a Strawberry Fields monument to John Lennon. The Dakota Building, where he lived, is close by.
  • Ambling up the affluent Upper West Side of Central Park), taking in the grand brownstone apartments. Not forgetting to visit Zabar’s Delicatessen, stacked high with bagels, smoked fish, olives, and cheeses.
  • Sightseeing on the open top Big Apple bus - a circular route - so a great way to get round the city when you've had enough of walking
  • Sauntering across Brooklyn Bridge at night - the East River and amazing scraper views

Eating and Drinking in Manhattan

  • Eating enormous pastrami sandwiches in Katz’s Deli on East Houston Street. They pronounce it House-ton here. (And Soho is South of Houston.) There’s a sign to show where Harry met Sally in the film made here – ‘I’ll have what she’s having!’
  • Dinner in the elegant restaurants of the Meatpacking District, north of Greenwich Village, which went through a decline after the rise of supermarkets and arose again as a high end boutique area
  • Drinking cocktails on the roof of the Gansevoort Hotel, the first luxury hotel in the meat packing District, admiring the Hudson River view
  • Visiting the overflowing and tempting Dean and Deluca delis
  • Buying provisions in the feast for the eyes, as well as the stomach, organic Wholefoods Market - it's the biggest grocery store in New York
  • Eating steak on Colombus Circle
  • Devouring sticky ribs in Tony Roma's
  • Drinking margaritas in the iconic bar at Grand Central Station

Culture in Manhattan

  • Wandering the Museum Mile district on the Upper East Side (of Central Park)
  • Appreciating the artworks in the spiral of the Guggenheim Museum, the Metropolitan Museum (the Met) and, my favourite, The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA)
  • Listening to rock music in a club on Houston Street

Landmarks of New York

  • Admiring the bull, on Wall Street, which marks the New York Stock Exchange (as well as the huge American flag) and the Financial District
  • Up the iconic Empire State Building, once the tallest building in the world and symbol of the Empire State, for the views
  • To the top of Rockefeller Tower (for the better views) and the glass walkway
  • Taking photos of my favourite scrapers - the Art Deco Chrysler and the Flat Iron
  • Popping inside mock Gothic St Patrick's Cathedral on Fifth Avenue
  • Sailing to wonderfully informative Ellis Island where immigrants landed.
  • Catching the no ticket ferry to Staten Island to get the free view of the Statue of Liberty and avoiding the horrendous queues to get inside. There's also the bonus skyline view of Manhattan. The Staten Island Ferry is the busiest ferry route in the United States and the world's busiest passenger-only ferry system (of course).

Brooklyn

  • Catching the train out to Brooklyn and Coney Island. Strictly, Coney Island is now a peninsula, connected to the rest of Long Island by land fill. But it was formerly the westernmost of the Outer Barrier islands on the southern shore of Long Island. We have  Brighton Beach to the east and Gravesend to the north, so it’s almost a homecoming. It’s famous, of course, for its amusement parks.  I'm singing Lou Reed.

Christmas in New York

  • Admiring the decorations in Macy's Department Store
  • Watching the skaters at the Rockefeller Centre
  • Wandering in Central Park - it snowed

Read more about the U.S.A. here.

We hire a car to make a circular tour of the mid West - Denver to Denver. This is some of the most spectacular scenery in America. The people are friendly, accommodation easy to find and the national parks are a revelation:

Denver, Capital of Colorado

Denver, the mile high city (there's a mark on the capitol steps), is the capital city of Colorado and setting for to the original TV Dynasty. It's also the gateway the the Rocky Mountain National Park. The park is situated directly on the Continental Divide, home to the headwaters of the Colorado River. It's very alpine, with mountain views (up to 4,000 metres), lakes, tundra, meadows and a wide variety of wildlife - deer, marmots, Bear (of course) and moose. One range of gentle peaks is known as The Mummies. When I'm hiking I'm always in two minds as to whether I actually want to see a bear or not. They're supposedly more aggressive if they are surprised, so we are instructed to sing loudly, as we march. No prizes for guessing what I'm singing - it is the Rocky Mountains. Needless to say, we don't see any bears.

Cheyenne, Wyoming

North with a slight wobble, to Cheyenne. Sadly, it's not at all as I imagined after watching all those westerns. It's a large and fairly unappealing town. Though there is plenty of sourdough on offer. and cowboys. A guy in a huge Stetson tips his hat ,as he walks past. 'Howdy Ma'am.' So some of it is just like the films.

The Badlands, South Dakota

Nipping through a corner of Nebraska to South Dakota and the Badlands. Badlands are defined as dry terrain, usually full of ravines, gullies, buttes, and hoodoos. The Needles Highway, wends scenically through the iconic granite formations of the Black Hills. Now this really is evocative Western Country. There are also herds of wandering bison. These are nowhere near as common as the movies would suggest. In the sixteenth century, 25–30 million buffalo roamed North America. The cowboys, explorers and commercial endeavours shot most of them. There were even buffalo hunting competitions. They took the fur and tongues and left the rotting carcasses behind. Fewer than 100 remained in the wild by the late 1880s.

The bison story is told at the Deadwood museums. Deadwood, in the Black Hills ( there's definitely a song there),was named by early settlers after the dead trees found in its gulch. It reached its height in the 1870s. during the Black Hills gold rush. Dakota was a territory then and the Black Hills sacred ground that had been promised to the Sioux Native Indians as part of their Reservation. The United States government soon reneged on the deal when the gold turned up and the territory was broken up.

At times, Wyatt Earp, Calamity Jane, and were numbered amongst the Deadwood population of 25,000. Wild Bill Hickok never got to leave. He was shot, by Jack McCall, an unsuccessful gambler whilst playing poker. The hand of cards which he supposedly held at the time of his death has become known as the dead man's hand: two pairs; black aces and eights.

Today, the population is about 1,200 and the entire town has been designated as a National Historic Landmark District, for its well-preserved Gold Rush-era architecture. This is more like it.

Mount Rushmore

The Mount Rushmore National Memorial is a highly controversial sculpture, not least because it's in the stolen Sioux Lands. The idea was to create a tourist attraction that people could visit in their new cars. The Needles were the original choice, but the sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, deemed the granite to be too soft. He chose Mount Rushmore, a particularly sacred Sioux site. The mountain was originally named Six Grandfathers by the Sioux. It was renamed Mount Rushmore after an attorney who struck a deal for a tin mine. The sculptor had Ku Klux Klan affiliations.

The original idea came from South Dakota historian Doane Robinson, who wanted to feature American West heroes, such as Lewis and Clark. Borglum believed that the sculpture should have broader appeal and chose four presidents. The sculpture was never properly finished - they ran out of money. Today, it features the eighteen metre heads of Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. They were chosen to represent the nation's birth, growth, development and preservation, respectively.

Yellowstone National Park

Northwest to the tip of Yellowstone National Park, which is in Montana, though most of the park is in Wyoming. Yellowstone was the first national park in the U.S. (1872) and is therefore probably the first national park in the world. It was made famous by Yogi Bear, who called it Jellystone. It's packed with slow moving RVs - everyone is trying to make a sighting. If one car stops everyone else does too. 'What have you seen?' Even if they've only pulled over for a pee break.

Yellowstone Park is the largest and most famous big animal location in the contiguous United States. Grizzly bears, wolves, and free-ranging herds of bison and elk live here. Confusingly, American elk is not the same as Eurasian elk, which is known as moose in America. American elk is also known as wapiti and it's a member of the deer family. The Yellowstone Park bison herd is the oldest and largest public bison herd in the United States And indeed, there are foxes, bison, elk (or wapiti or whatever you want to call them) and deer to be seen. from a distance. Still no bears.

Yellowstone is also known for its canyon, waterfalls and sub alpine scenery. But its probably most famous for its geothermal features, travertines, steam vents and geysers, especially Old Faithful. This geyser erupts regularly, so the rangers post expected times for the next performance on a board. You sit on benches and wait patiently. and when it finally spouts forth everyone stands up in front of you to take photographs and blocks your view.

Grand Teton

The next park, to the south is Grand Teton. These stunning mountains are said to be named after the French word for nipple, because of their shape. Grand Teton is the tallest mountain in the Teton Range.

The Devil's Tower

Sill in Wyoming - this state has a lot going for it. The 386 metre Devil's Tower is a butte made famous by the 1977 film Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It's an igneous intrusion left behind as the sedimentary rocks around it eroded. It was the first designated National Monument in the USA. The name is due to a misunderstanding - an interpreter reportedly misinterpreted a native name to mean 'Bad God's Tower'.

Utah

South to Utah where, again, there is a lot to see. first up, the capital, Salt Lake City, on the Great Salt Lake. Salt Lake City was founded in 1847 by Mormon pioneer settlers, led by Brigham Young, who were seeking to escape persecution they had experienced while living farther east. They built an extensive irrigation network to aid agriculture in this arid region. Immigration of international members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, mining booms, and the construction of the first transcontinental railroad brought economic growth, and the city was nicknamed "The Crossroads of the West". But this is only one area of the city. Salt Lake City is also known for its politically liberal and diverse culture and is home to a significant LGBT community.

Salt Lake City has also developed a strong tourist industry based primarily on skiing and outdoor recreation. Further south are ski resorts like Sundance, founded by Robert Redford.

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Utah's Bryce Canyon National Park is perhaps my favourite. Thousands of cinnamon hoodoos arranged in circular lacy patterns around a giant amphitheatre. It's not really a canyon at all. A playground for the Gods maybe. Though it's searingly hot at the bottom.

Zion National Park, Utah

Zion National Park, down the road, is much bigger, more majestic and far less delicate with its marble like monoliths, mountains, canyons, buttes, mesas, monoliths, rivers, and natural arches. And here there really is a canyon, or two.

The Grand Canyon, Arizona

On to Arizona and north rim of The Grand Canyon, the granddaddy of them all. The park restaurant, we're hurrying for a late breakfast, is perched right on the edge of the canyon and it's falling away beneath my feet. An unforgettable first impression. The Grand Canyon is 277 miles long, up to 18 miles wide and over a mile deep . The many stripy yellow, red, orange, green and brown place like buttes were carved by the Colorado River. The South Rim is said to be even better. But we're staying here. It's a 200 mile drive to get to the view points on the other side.

Lake Powell, Utah

North east and back into Utah, just,to Page and Lake Powell. Lake Powell is a very blue artificial reservoir on the Colorado River, created by the flooding of Glen Canyon (by the Glen Canyon Dam). The result was the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, straddling Utah and Arizona, This is a major vacation spot visited by approximately two million people every year for watersports: boating, fishing, waterskiing, jet-skiing, and hiking. There are also a range of stunning buttes. It is the second largest artificial reservoir by maximum water capacity in the United States behind Lake Mead, storing 24,322,000 acre-feet (3.0001×1010 m3) of water when full. However, Lake Mead has fallen below Lake Powell in size several times during the 21st century in terms of volume of water, depth and surface area.

Monument Valley, Colorado

Also on the Arizona, Utah border is Monument Valley. This cluster of vast sandstone buttes, (the largest is 300 metres tall) above within the Navajo Nation Reservation. They charge admission to the epitome of western movie backdrops. Director John Ford used the location for a number of his best-known films and this scenery has now become synonymous with the American West.

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

The Four Corners region and just into Colorado once more, to Mesa Verde National Park. This one is also UNESCO World Heritage Site, less scenery and more archeology. .As with all the parks, there's masses more to see than we have time for. This is the largest archaeological preserve in the United States. Mesa Verde (Green Table in Spanish) has more than 5,000 Ancestral Puebloan archaeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings. including the Cliff Palace, thought to be the largest cliff dwelling in North America. They mainly date from the twelfth century.

Returning to Denver following the Colorado River and the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. The Gunnison is one of the larger tributaries of the Colorado. Its canyon is impressive enough to have its own national park. And it's called the Black Canyon because parts of the gorge only receive 33 minutes of sunlight a day. According to authorr Duane Vandenbusche, "Several canyons of the American West are longer and some are deeper, but none combines the depth, sheerness, narrowness, darkness, and dread of the Black Canyon.

Colorado's Ski Resorts

South and west of Denver are some of America's' fanciest and most expensive ski resorts,

Aspen and Vail are probably the most well known of the ski areas. Vail has just one very high mountain, (though it's huge one) whilst Aspen has four. Vail is much newer, modelled on Swiss resorts. Aspen developed from a silver mining town and has historic buildings. So have other well known names, Colorado Springs, Telluride, Breckinbridge, Steamboat. And there are even more historic towns that are lower down the slopes. Silverton is known for its back in the wild west main street and the Durango to Silverton Railway (Iron Horse).

Then it's back to Denver.

Read more about the U.S.A. here.

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