rbutr’s USA Trip – Part 1

After an epic one month trip, I am now back in the UK. Over the last month I have stayed at the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science headquarters, spoken on the main stage at The Amazing Meeting, attended the 33rd International Conference on Critical thinking, spoke at reason4reason in San Francisco, and visited 7 or 8 national parks.

The Plan

Shane and RDFRS - rbutr USA trip

DJ Grothe invited me to present a workshop at TAM2013 back in December 2012. I of course gratefully accepted the offer, and started organising our trip. We (my girlfriend and I) decided to make the most of the journey and started looking for other conferences and events happening in the area at the same time. We found the 33rd International Conference on Critical Thinking happening at Berkeley a week or so after TAM, so reached out to them and got me some discounted tickets by volunteering (all of this trip is self-funded – so $850 or so to attend this conference was well out of my budget!)

We also found the cheapest tickets we could get in to the states in the vicinity of Las Vegas was to Denver, so we formulated a plan to land there instead and drive to Vegas via some national parks. I reached out to some friends I had made at last year’s TAM who work for the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (who I knew lived in Colorado) and let them know we would be passing through – and was very happy when Elizabeth Cornwell offered to put us up for a few nights. We happily accepted the offer, and started organising our trip.

Add to that a serendipitous Josh Groban concert in red rocks (my girlfriend is a fan), a friend with a car driving us from Las Vegas to San Francisco via Yosemite, and an extended stop over in New York to visit a friend and attend a live taping of The Daily Show, and we had a plan!

We would arrive in the USA on the 2nd of July (just in time for the 4th!) and we would arrive back in the UK on the 2nd of August.

A whole month of having new friends taking care of us, camping, staying in hotels and travelling.

Stage 1 – Colorado

We flew in to Colorado late at night, and had to pick up our hire car and drive 1.5 hours south to get to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science HQ. The hire car was our biggest expense this trip aside from the flights, but gave us the freedom necessary to make it to the RDF HQ and then on to Vegas via the scenic route.

The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (USA) Headquarters

Deer and Squirrel - rbutr USA trip

The RDFRS HQ is actually a large beautiful house in the black forest near Colorado Springs, set on 5 acres of woodland, with innumerable squirrels, deer regularly wandering through the yard and 10 cats in residence. Not that we got to see any of that when we arrived at 1am that night, after no sleep for about 25 hours. We went straight to bed…
Pikes Peak Summit with Mike, Vanessa and Shane - rbutr USA tripOur plan was to stay with Mike for just a few nights, then camp up in the Rockies, but a few things all lined up and Mike and the entire RDFRS crew were so nice and helpful and generous that we ended up staying there for like 5 nights or something, and leaving the morning of the Josh Groban concert instead of a few days before it.

In that time I finalised my talks for TAM; a 40 min presentation for the Crowdsourcing Skepticism workshop, and a 15 min presentation for the Sunday morning papers section, and put together a handout which would be made available for all TAM attendees, which Mike helped out immensely with by printing 1100 copies and then shipping them to Las Vegas for us, so they would arrive before everything started. Seriously, I cannot overstate enough just how much Mike and the RDFRS took care of us. We are eternally grateful!

Garden of the Gods - rbutr USA trip

Blurry Big Foot - rbutr USA trip

We also made a day trip to the Garden of the Gods, and a second day trip with Mike up to Pikes Peak at 14,000+ ft. We got a photo of a Big Foot, but as you can see, the photo came out blurry for some reason. Damn those beasts!

I got work done, Vanessa luxuriated in the perfect weather amongst the deer, squirrels and cats, we had a few day trips to spectacular locations, and we had fantastic company with Mike, Suzy and Tyler – the trip was off to an incredible start.

Josh Groban

The Rockies; Kayaking and Rock Climbing - rbutr USA trip

The next stage of our trip had us driving up to the western edge of Denver, where we set up camp for a night near the Red Rocks Amphitheater where Josh Groban would be performing later that night. We spent the day driving up through the Rockies, stopping to watch white water kayakers pass by rock climbers, driving through crazy random casino towns in narrow canyon areas, and having lunch bought for us by strangers… Yep, we shared a table in a busy cafe in the mountains, and after chatting a while with the friendly pair, they paid their bill and left. After they left the waitress told us that they had also paid our bill…
This does not normally happen where I come from…

We made our way back to the campsite, then to the Josh Groban concert. The Red Rocks amphitheater is a spectacular venue. An incredible view over Denver, giant red cliffs either side of you, and the open night sky above you.

Josh Groban was funnier and much more engaging between songs than I thought he would be too. I guess his songs were pretty good too 😉

Red Rocks Amphitheatre - rbutr USA trip

Red Rocks Amphitheater at night - rbutr USA trip

Next: Stage 2 – The Rockies to the Dessert

In the next post I will describe our trip from the Rockies through the Dessert down to Las Vegas.

(Part 3 here)


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