Des & Sandie Nichols
WELCOME: LET'S START WITH OUR BUCKET LIST
Updated: Nov 27, 2022
(SIMPLY CLICK ON EACH CHAPTER HEADLINE TO READ IT). We offer you the biggest and warmest welcome. During two and a half years travelling from coast to coast, we uncovered some of the most truly exhilarating places on the continent and want to share that all the best moments with you. .
But from the very beginning, we did have one special mission. Above all else, we wanted to eke out some of the 'stubborn little corners' of America, hidden places that you don't find in the tourist guides. We are delighted that it has proved so popular and hope that you too will enjoy reading the tales of adventure.
If we awaken a scintilla of curiosity and adventure within you, we have succeeded beyond our wildest American dreams.
So here we go. And why not start with the conclusion? To give you a 'taster', here are some of our personal favourites. Then please read on. There is so, so much more to read and see about hundreds of different places. You can always scroll through and pick the destinations that interest you! Just click on the headline to read the chapter.
Thank you for joining us. Happy travels!
OUR BUCKET LIST -THE TOP TEN STUBBORN LITTLE CORNERS OF AMERICA
EVEL KNIEVEL'S SNAKE RIVER JUMP SITE, Twin Falls, Idaho
As you drive through the southern part of Idaho, it is worth seeking out the place where dare-devil Evel Knievel had his inglorious failure. Banned from the Grand Canyon, he chose this spot to make history. But his ‘chute opened early and he fell ignominiously into the river below - just as we had fallen for all the hype. Hook, line & rhinestone.
Tennessee and strong liquor go hand-in-hand so it is inevitable that you will get your grip on a glass of Moonshine at some point. Often referred to as ‘The Gateway To The Smoky Mountains’, Gatlinburg is a quaint, bustling Tylolean-style resort ...and a great place go on a Bavarian bar crawl. Cheers!
KENNEDY COMPOUND, Hyannisport, Cape Cod, Massachussetts
This is where Camelot was created, the home of the greatest of American dynasties. JFK based his successful 1960 Presidential campaign here. You won't get into the compound but you can get pretty damn close down a little lane. Ask for 50 Marchant Avenue. Check it out! Just don’t expect to be asked in for tea.
'THE SHINING' HOTEL, Mt Hood, Oregon
High up above the Columbia River valley is the Timberline ski lodge that gained immortality when Stanley Kubrick cast it as the Overlook Hotel as Jack Nicholson menaced his way through Stephen King‘s The Shining. Built by local artisans in the Great Depression with the unstinting support of President Franklin D Roosevelt, it has impressive wooden interiors. It also boasts the longest ski season in the US.
GRAND MARAIS, Minnesota
This former fur-trading settlement sits on Lake Superior and gets a mention because of its idyllic setting and its perfect sheltered harbor. It is the small (around 1000 inhabitants) hub of music, arts and crafts in the region and is only a few miles south of the Canadian border. The place to relax and ponder after months on the road.
GARNET GHOST TOWN, Missoula, Montana
1000 people once called this hillside village their home. It was a thriving mining community in the 1890s but was abandoned after 20 years - the gold ran out and so did the inhabitants. Today it is reached on the same dirt road and as you can walk amongst their old houses, shops and the hotel you can still feel their spooky presence.
THE BREWERY IN APALACHICOLA, Florida
This is one of our favorite towns, a small Bohemian, unpretentious hamlet on Florida's Panhandle. Don't miss hanging out with the locals at the town center Oyster City Brewery. And gorge yourself on the best and cheapest oysters in the US at the Hole In The Wall next door. Time stands still in Apalachicola. So good they named it once (after a couple of Oyster City beers it’s nigh impossible to spell it the same way twice).
CRAZY HORSE CARVING, Custer, South Dakota
Not to be outdone by the Presidents' heads at Mt Rushmore just down the road, here the American Indians are still working on their effort after 70 years of chipping away. Come back in another 70 and the old chief might have a neck. But don’t bet an arm and a leg on it.
TITAN II MISSILE SITE, Green Valley, Arizona
This was the lead actor in the Cold War. A nuclear missile, many times more powerful than today's weapons, ready at the touch of a red button to be sent off across the North Pole to hit the USSR. The underground Control Room remains intact but is thankfully not plugged in.
... And the Winner is:
SLAB CITY, Salton Sea, California
An hour outside well-heeled Palm Springs lies the wacky and lawless desert world of Slab City, East Jesus and Salvation Rock.. "The law don't come here. We ARE the law" a local told us. No electricity. No water. No sewers. No trash pick-up. Just beaten up RVs, beaten up tents and beaten up old hippies. Don't miss the blog of this bizarre place. Go there at your own risk!
TOP 5 BEST NATURAL WONDERS
THE MAINE COASTLINE
There are few places on this planet more beautiful than the rugged Atlantic coastline of Maine in summer. And a diet of fresh lobster takes it into a celestial sphere.
GIANT REDWOODS, California
Ridiculous giants of nature with an age and height that commands respect. To walk amongst them as they tower over you is humbling and rather belittling.
GRAND CANYON, Arizona
This phenomenon has been carved by the Colorado River and is 277 miles long, up to 18 miles wide and at some points over a mile deep. Awesome.
NIAGARA FALLS, New York State
Six million cubic feet cascade over the Falls every minute. Its history of barrel-jumpers braving the 180ft drop adds even more color to this living story.
.... And the Winner is:
ANTELOPE CANYON, Arizona
A truly wondrous work of nature, a sensational work of art. This 400 yard underground slot canyon in Navajo territory defies adjectives. It is a surreal experience. And one that should not be missed. Make sure you book a day or so in advance though.
TOP 5 NATIONAL AND STATE PARKS
ACADIA NATIONAL PARK, Maine
Its Cadillac Mountain gives you a stunning Atlantic view over ever-popular Bar Harbor, the many rocky islands and the Maine Coastline and, if you get up early, it gives you the first sight of sunrise in the whole of America.
BRYCE NATIONAL PARK, Utah
This wondrous natural amphitheater just bewilders you with its statues and sculptures. You feel your eyes are deceiving you. For us, the jaw-dropping impact of the spectacle just edged it ahead of nearby Zion National Park.
GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS, Tennessee & North Carolina
The lush forest stretches into and beyond the horizon. The only thing is you have to watch out for Black Bears. We had an encounter of the very close kind.
CUSTER STATE PARK, South Dakota
This wonderful park is on the edge of Custer Town, a great stopping place to visit Mt Rushmore. We just loved the peace, space and marauding bison.
... And the Winner is:
YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyoming, Idaho & Montana
The star of the show Old Faithful performs every 45 -125 minutes. Half the world’s geysers bubble, gurgle and spurt here. The Grizzly Brown Bears are less predictable but you may well meet up with one. This one below completely ignored us as he strolled nonchalantly in front of our car. Yellowstone is the first and finest National Park. A treasure. https://www.catsacrossamerica.net/post/2019/05/30/yellowstone-bears-bison-bubbles
TOP 5 MAN-MADE WONDERS
George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln give you a cold stare as you admire the enormity of sculptor Gustav's Borglum's masterpiece.
TAOS PUEBLO, New Mexico
This is the only living Native American community designated as a World Heritage Site. The adobe buildings have been lived in for over 1000 years and the whole village has an almost Bethlehem biblical feel. A place you will never forget.
NEW YORK SKYLINE
A New York taxi driver once asked us "Do know what it takes to become a New Yorker?
- You just have to love New York". Count us in. The most iconic skyline in the world.
BILTMORE, North Carolina
Just outside the fabulous town of Asheville sits the hyper-impressive Chateauesque country home of the über-rich George Washington Vanderbilt II, the largest privately owned house in the US and still owned by the family. The American Downton Abbey.
... And the Winner is:
This place blew us away. It shows what you can do when money just doesn’t matter. Press baron William Randolph Hearst built the ultimate party house where he entertained all the luminaries of the time from Charlie Chaplin and Greta Garbo to Winston Churchill and Charles Lindbergh. His father bought the 40,000 acres overlooking the Pacific Ocean for a quiet family holiday ranch and WR inherited it and built the mother of all statement mansions on the top of the hill. Boy, it really helps if you are so rich you own the view.
TOP 5 WEIRDEST PLACES
DUCKS AT PEABODY HOTEL, Memphis, Tennessee
If you want to go quackers, get down to the Peabody Hotel reception at 11 a.m. or 5 p.m. on any day and see the ducks waddle to and from their indoor spa. They've been doing it for nearly 90 years. Not the same ducks of course.
LOS ALAMOS, New Mexico
The secret world which fired the white hot technology of nuclear weapon science. The Manhattan Project rushed to create the uranium and plutonium bombs that finally ended World War II.
PIGEON FORGE, Tennessee
This is the home of Dollywood and many other crazy houses that attract millions of fun-loving families. Disney on steroids. It is all so incongruous sitting upside down in this Tennessee, hillside town. It's mad. There's even a Titanic.
TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES, New Mexico
This was a popular spa town called Hot Springs in the '30s but it faded into insignificance until it changed its name into that of a popular radio quiz show in 1950. It may have seemed a good idea at the time but perhaps no-one was listening. Truly weird. The place isn't finished and nor are the people.
... And Winner is (by an insane mile):
BOMBAY, Salton Sea, California
Where do you start? A lake, today the biggest lake in California, was created by mistake when a Colorado irrigation canal burst a hundred years ago. Nearby Palm Springs' illuminati built an upscale resort in the 40s and 50s. Fertilizer then polluted the water. Fish and plants died. The town died. Well - almost.
TOP 5 MOST ABSORBING TRAVELER'S INTEREST DESTINATIONS
The one and only Music City. The place lives on music and everyone plays or sings. The Grand Ole Opry never fails to pack 'em in, seven days a week, and the Gaylord Hotel next door is an unbelievable series of fountains, plants and restaurants in vast conservatories. A great pace, going the right way. (Below: with daughter Georgie)
NANTUCKET ISLAND, Massachusetts
You may not have to be a multi-millionaire to live here, but being a single millionaire won't get you far. This is a beautiful, relaxed, classy island, far superior to its neighbor Martha's Vineyard. A true gem.
There is just so much to see in the Capital. The White House, the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, Arlington Cemetery, the Capitol, the Ford Theater where President Lincoln was shot on April 15 1865. It's a real tourist mecca.
SAN FRANCISCO, California
The Bay City is a feast. A feast of spectacular sights from Alcatraz to Pier 39. It has the best Chinese Dim Sum restaurants in the country. Don't miss the ride on the iconic cable-cars. And mingle with a world of colorful people. We have visited many times since the sixties and it just keeps on amazing.
... And the Winner is:
MACKINAC ISLAND, Michigan
This stunning island (pronounced MackinAW) in Lake Huron surprised and captivated us. No wonder it has been voted the top Summer Tourist Destination in the US By TripAdvisor. No cars, just horse drawn carriages and two fascinating main streets that capture the mind and imagination.
TOP 5 CITIES
The self-acclaimed "Biggest Little City In The World" gets onto the list because it is one of our favorites. A drive around the magnificent Mt Rose will take you up to the incredibly beautiful Lake Tahoe. And Virginia City and cowboy country are nearby. Oh, and the best people.
SAN DIEGO, California
We stumbled on the Coronado Hotel (below), recognizing it from one of our all-time favorite movies, Some Like It Hot. This is just a wonderful town with a great climate.
CHARLESTON, North Carolina
History speaks to you from every wall. Hauntingly British but indisputably Southern, with some of the very best restaurants you will find anywhere. Our favorite is Husk in Queen Street with its farm-to-table fare, casual but exceptional service and one of the greatest chefs in America. Love this town.
SAN ANTONIO, Texas
Remember the Alamo? Well, in case you forgot (or didn't know) it is in the heart of this, our favorite Texan city. The pedestrian River Walk, lined with shops, bars and al fresco restaurants is about as good a way to have a walk as you can imagine. Fabulous. PS Don’t miss an excursion out to all the missions nearby and also to the historic old German town of Gruene to see, amongst much else, the oldest music hall in Texas (built in 1878).
... And the Winner is:
SAN FRANCISCO, California
There is nowhere quite like it. Don't miss having a sundowner drink in the bar at the top of the Mark Hopkins Hotel, with spectacular 360-degree views over this fabulous city. Just wish it still had flowers in its hair. A perennial winner.
TOP 5 SMALL TOWNS YOU COULD CALL HOME
PASO ROBLES, California
Surrounded by excellent vineyards (who don't charge Napa Valley stupid prices - in fact some don't charge at all), this quiet town has a café society relaxed charm. It is definitely worth seeking out as it isn't an obvious Californian stop.
With the caveat that you should go in the Summer, this is our favorite town in our favorite state. Head for the idyllic harbor and pause a while, preferably in one of the welcoming bars, to draw breath before exploring the streets.
This is another great find. Founded in 1846 by mostly German residents, today it is an elegant town to visit and has a magnificent Main Street. Admiral Nimitz was born here and the National Museum of the Pacific War is well worth a visit.
OK. You may need to be as rich as Croesus to have a house here but we can all dream. Sitting on the edge of the Pacific, this fairy-tale village has a very special magic about it.
...And the Winner is:
ST AUGUSTINE, Florida
Our new home has drawn us back like a magnet. After over two years of exploring, this is without doubt our favorite place to settle. The oldest city in America has a unique Spanish charm and some of the most welcoming people we have met.
TOP 5 PLACES OF LIVING HISTORY
This historic little town was once called 'the most lawless town in the West' , where bloody battles took place between rival cattlemen. Today it is a demure step back in time.
OLD SAN DIEGO, California
Before the Gold Rush, this settlement was the only place to head for on the Pacific Coast and it has been preserved brilliantly. Don't miss the Whaley House with its own little theater. It's one of the most haunted places in the US.
An hour outside Tuscon you can re-enact the Wild West in this historic desert town which still echos with gunfire from the cowboys' Colt 22s.
VIRGINIA CITY, Nevada
This one-time Boomtown was where fortunes, as well as lives, were lost in the gambling taverns like The Bucket of Blood Saloon. Built in the rush that followed the discovery of silver, this hillside museum town is an exceptional place to visit.
... And the Winner is:
This was where the British established their capital of both the Commonwealth of Virginia and the Colony itself in the 17th century, with Jamestown and Yorktown nearby to complete the triumvirate. Today it is a living museum.
TOP 5 MOST MOVING MEMORIALS
This is where James Dean died and his legend took over. His demise playing perfectly into his celluloid myth as Rebel Without A Cause, America's original 'Angry Young Man'.
Kelly Ingram Park
This small Central Park commemorates the scene of some of the most obscene civil rights atrocities. In May, 1963 the police and firemen confronted student demonstrators, mostly black children and students, with dogs and firehoses. The kids‘ protests were not in vain. City leaders ended public segregation within months.
LINCOLN MEMORIAL, Washington DC
The Man. Born in Kentucky in 1809, America's greatest President led the nation through the bloody Civil War and oversaw the end of slavery. Tragically his life was cut short on Good Friday, 1865 when well-known actor John Wilkes Booth crept up behind him in his box at the Ford Theater and fired into the back of his head.
IWO JIMA MEMORIAL AND ARLINGTON CEMETERY, Washington DC
Lest We Forget.
...And the Winner is:
MEMPHIS CIVIL RIGHTS MUSEUM, Tennessee
The Lorraine Motel is the spot where visionary Martin Luther King was assassinated on April 4, 1968 (standing on the balcony above the car). MLK had a dream. American has a dream. They are still not always reconciled. Below is the view his assassin had from an apartment opposite; his rifle aimed through this very window. James Earl Ray was arrested in London's Heathrow Airport two months later.
TOP 10 OTHER PLACES YOU JUST SHOULDN'T MISS
A step back to Old Texas, restored to its former gun-toting glory.
Thomas Jefferson's home. Here his pen laid out the American Constitution and framed the new Republic and its political guidelines that are still revered today.
Frank Lloyd Wright's masterwork. A ridiculous but breath-taking indulgence that is better to photograph than to live in.