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Letter 18 (page 2)

The Great American South-West

There is a lawNote 3 stating that before moving out of the South-West, it is mandatory to visit the national parks that define its character. Principally, this requires looking at a lot of rock. Accordingly, we drove to the bottom-left corner of Utah to see Zion National Park where the road at the bottom of the gorges is 600m/2000ft below the plateau at the top and uncomfortably hot even in May. The view, however, is spectacular.

On to Bryce Canyon where you look from the top down instead of the bottom up. A hundred million years ago, this area and much of central and western North America was under waterNote 4. Uplifts 70 million years ago creating the Rocky Mountains and then again 10-15 million years ago, when the Colorado Plateaus were lifted a further 1000m/3000ft, buckled the land and exposed it to erosion creating colored pylons or "hoodoos"Note 5.

Most exciting was our visit to the Grand Canyon with our best friends from Sydney. We were there in 1998 but arrived so late in the day we only saw where the canyon would be if the lights were turned on. This time we had two nights in a nice hotel just outside the park and a full day of sightseeing. To add to the celebration, Lan cooked a full turkey dinner in Denver which we brought with us, along with a microwave oven in which to heat it! Having children with us made me very conscious of the numerous places where an impetuous move could have tragic consequences.

Local sightseeing

Alexandria is just across the Potomac River from Washington so there is a vast array of things to see and do. Our neighbors from Denver came to visit and after touring the Whitehouse, they had this fortuitous encounter on the street as you can see in the first picture!

The four of us visited the site of the July 1863 Battle of Gettysburg, generally considered the turning point of the American Civil War and also its bloodiestNote 6. Its significance was recognized at the time and that November, President Lincoln delivered "a few appropriate remarks" at the dedication of a cemetery to the fallen. Those 272 words became known as the "Gettysburg Address" and the greatest speech in American historyNote 7. Referring the Declaration of Independence and its statement that "all men are created equal", Lincoln characterized the war as one to maintain a nation of free people. Those still living must now continue to strive so that "this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth".

For the moment, the Smithsonian Museums have beaten us but we particularly enjoyed the newly-renovated National Portrait Museum and three concerts at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts—the Air Force Big Band, a blues singer Marcia Ball and a Dixie Jazz band‐all the more so because it was Open Day so they were free!

O CanadaNote 9

We spent a fabulous week visiting French-speaking Montreal and Quebec City and English-speaking Ottawa, the nation's capitalNote 10. In practice though, just about everyone seemed to be comfortably bilingual.

The most interesting thing I learned was that the American Revolution had a major impact on the development of Canada. The Americans expected the French speakers to be eager to join with them against the British, a point they made forcefully by attempting to invade in 1775. It turned out that the French weren't interested and the Americans were sent home licking their woundsNote 11. However, those loyal to the British within America found life uncomfortable and many fled to Canada seeking refuge.

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  1. Or if there isn't, there should be.
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  2. Beach holidays would have been easier but driving from San Francisco to New York much more difficult.
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  3. For a really interesting explanation, see this article on the geology of the Bryce Canyon area.
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  4. Learn more about the Battle of Gettysburg
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  5. Learn more about the Gettysburg Address. Also see how to wreck it with PowerPoint. (However, the speaker's notes at the end are well worth reading!)
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  6. Learn more about the National Masonic Memorial. Also the view from the top.
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  7. O Canada is the nation's national anthem, though only since 1980.
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  8. No room here to show many pictures but we have lots more of this beautiful country.
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  9. For an excellent summary, see the Canadian War Museum. The Americans tried again in 1812 with President Jefferson believing that victory "will be a mere matter of marching" in. Some believed they would be greeted as liberators. Sound familiar?
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