Landscape – Written May 2004:
It is extremely varied and quite beautiful. They have certainly been given
(or acquired by whatever means) a magnificent country. Even after driving
through the Southwest, it is still amazing to see the vastness of it roll by from
a plane window - desert, mountain and canyon - for hours on end - a good
chunk of the flight from LA to Orlando anyway.
The Australian ABC Radio reporter based in Washington, John Shovelan, is currently
riding a pushbike from San Diego to the Atlantic coast. (Our ABC is basically equivalent to NPR) You can read his travel diary on the ABC website, at
and we’ve been interested in following his progress every day or two. He
that he seriously questioned the wisdom of his plan after seeing what I have
described on his flight out to the West Coast from DC.
The South is very green and lush - Spanish moss hanging from the trees in many
places. The kids are interested to see a whole variety of different birds such as
Cardinals and others I cannot identify. Tennessee especially was a lovely place with
many forests still intact, and large mountains once you head east from the Mississippi
valley and Memphis. Of course, the trees are different - a lot of oaks and various
pines - different pines in the West than the South, I think. No wonder it’s so green – we encountered really heavy rainfall quite a few times on the highways and where we were staying.
In California we noticed the many eucalypts that remind us of home. We commented
on this to a local we were talking to, and he said something like ‘do you have them in
Australia too?! We didn’t bother to tell him that they were imported to Cali from
Australia many years ago, and that we have an animal that lives on nothing else but
We've seen sea lions, seals, bald eagles, condors as well as alligators, elk and
coyotes. Armadillos too, but they've all been 'roadkill' so far! Even at the Cape
Canaveral Kennedy Space Center they had gators lazing in the ditches and swamps
by the side of the road, which could be seen from our tour bus. On the drive down
to Cape Canaveral from Orlando we stopped to watch dolphins playing in the
intra-coastal waterway. Part of the NASA site there is a large nature reserve
Earlier in the trip, we were astonished to see dolphins and seal lions (or seals,
I always forget the difference) at the beaches in LA. It was not so surprising to see
sea-lions on the beaches during the drive up the Pacific Coast Highway from LA to SF, as there is quite a bit of relatively unspoiled territory in those parts. However we were surprised to see dozens of sea-lions hanging around the harbor in San Francisco
as we waited for our boat from the Fishermans’s Wharf area to Alcatraz.
In our view, one would be unlikely to see so much aquatic wildlife close to an
equivalently sized Australian city such as Sydney or Melbourne, although in a
place like Canberra it is not hard to see kangaroos within a few kilometers of the
I have talked to a few Australians over the years who’ve expressed no interest at
all in visiting the USA. Some say they’d like to see Canada, but not the US.
In many cases this is based on a quite incorrect perception that every square
inch of the US is paved over and basically the place is one big concrete jungle.
There is certainly plenty of Parramatta Road style ugliness around, but given the
huge population it is impressive how much wilderness of various degrees has
been preserved. And you don't have to go very far to see wide-open spaces, if
you have a car.
On the man-made side of things, America's engineering prowess, past and
present, is on display. Huge freeway interchanges with three or four levels;
thousands of miles of levees along the Mississippi, constructed by the Army
Corps of Engineers prior to the Civil War. Of course the Hoover Dam and
the space program. Multiple bridges many miles long over large lakes.
Long freight trains, now carrying two rows of shipping containers (stacked one
on top of the other) on each car. The bridges and track has been upgraded to
accommodate this. I guess Europe, also with a large population density, may
also have much of this…In many cases what is impressive is not that America
has these things now, but that they had
them well before anyone else did.
The housing is quite different. Terracotta roof tiles are rare – shingles are used
instead. Mainly the houses are stucco’d (called 'cement render' in Australia, I think),
rather than brick-veneer. The stucco generally being applied over some kind of
more modern fibro-cement, I gather. It's interesting to see them under construction,
as the materials are so different. Even the roof of a house under construction will be
covered in what looks like plywood. I believe they put some sort of
weatherproofing material over that and
then attach the shingles.
Inside the homes, the ovens and ranges here seem to always be much wider than
ours. Guess they have to fit a Thanksgiving turkey in!