American Highlights and on to Hong Kong...

Trip Start Jul 31, 2010
Trip End Nov 01, 2010

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

This is a long one so brace yourselves. We're trying to fit the whole of the rest of the US and Hong Kong in to one update. Are you sitting comfortably....?!

We were to learn quite a lot from our camping experiences in the dust of the desert, but following our night by the freeway we were just about ready for some luxury before hitting the South hard.

Craig was tired and his face told me he was a man who needed a rest. We drove fifteen minutes up the road from Arches National Park and booked ourselves in to the wonderful, amazing, beautiful, words-cannot-describe Red Cliffs Lodge on the Colorado River just off Scenic Highway 128, East of Moab. Rated by National Geographic Traveler and various other publications, we knew it was going to be lovely. I practically loaded Craig in to the car mumbling and incoherent through tiredness and drove rather fast to our destination screeching to a halt outside the lodge, dumping him in to a sun lounger as I did. We paid the premium price and got ourselves a river front cabin with a fireplace, deck facing the rushing river and a kitchen as well as the luxury of a huge, blue swimming pool. I made peanut butter and jam sarnies and Heinz tomato soup for lunch and all was well with the world. Sometimes it's the small things.

The lodge houses the Moab Film Museum with costumes and scripts from all the great films made there and a wonderful river front restaurant where you can eat steak whilst watching the sunset over the  - you guessed it - red cliffs. After some sunbathing and sleeping, we had a candlelit dinner overlooking the Colorado River. The silence was only broken by the party being held in the barn by a huge group of vacationing Harley Davison riders who were also staying at the Red Cliffs. They had a Country and Western singer doing Johnny Cash covers and even a lassoing demonstration (thank you to Rachel for the right word to describe this!). We considered gate crashing but as we looked nothing like leather clad Harley riders at this point we thought getting busted was pretty much guaranteed. After twenty four hours here in luxury we were rested and ready to get back on the road for the final part of the trip. Here are some of the highs and lows, enjoy.

Monument Valley, Navajo Reservation Area or Tsť Biiʼ Ndzisgaii in Navajo meaning 'valley of the rocks'. Forming part of the Colorado Plateau, the red colour of the huge rock formations comes from Cutler Red siltstone and the iron oxide that becomes exposed as the siltstone is weathered.

Highs - seeing the jaw-dropping scenery coming out of nowhere on the road there from Moab. Craig doing an impression of Forrest Gump and me making him run again and again towards me in the middle of a main road for 'photographic purposes' - haha.

Visiting the Navajo Tribal Park at sunset and getting some lovely photos. Taking the Xterra (AKA Thelma) off-road on the seventeen-mile loop through the sandy and rocky dirt road towards the rock formations. Watching a crazy man try to do the same in his brand new Cadillac who had obviously not read the signs saying '4WD ONLY'. Oops. Cooking the best camping dinner so far of pork with garlic and sauteed with onions on the new griddle pan in the complete darkness and very cold desert night.

Lows - Getting out-camped by some European colleagues at Goulding's Campground with a nicer tent, head-torches and a much more organised schedule. They had already set up and had dinner by the time we arrived and by the time it got dark they were chilling out by the fire looking very smug while we stumbled around in the darkness, me shouting to Craig 'where is the bloody pepper grinder?!' By the time we woke up in the morning, groggy headed from vodka, they were packed up and gone whilst we loaded up in the searing heat and dust getting sunburned in the process.

Lake Powell National Recreation Area

On the border of Arizona and Utah, it is the second largest man made lake in the USA measuring three hundred kilometers long and forty wide. Constructed in the early nineteen sixties it was created by controversially flooding Glen Canyon with the Colorado River and took seventeen years to fill

Highs - seeing the electric blue waters of the lake against the red rocks. Bagging an excellent tent site overlooking the water. Using the swimming pool of the resort down the road by blagging a pass in. Craig building possibly the best campfire so far and actually getting to sit down for five minutes in the camping chairs. Watching a police car / ranger blue-light chase through the park - never found out why but it was pretty cool to watch from outside the tent with a cold beer in hand. Using the best washing machines seen so far on to the trip and Craig having to ask a little old lady if a pair of pants we found in our washer were hers. Genius.

Lows - having to wear a bikini whilst still covered in red lumps and scaring all the people at the pool in to thinking they were going to contract an incurable disease from me. Listening to the elderly couple next to us on the sun loungers discuss very loudly in great detail colonoscopies and bladder investigations. Making the fateful decision to go the the Mandarin Gourmet Chinese buffet for dinner in the local town when everyone knows that Chinese buffets in America are always a disgusting health hazard. We should know, the last time we had one was in Halifax, Nova Scotia on our honeymoon and we still haven't gotten over it. Getting beaten by the European campers again. They got there before us and even had a washing line up by the time we arrived. Who are these people?!

Kodachrome Basin State Park and Bryce Canyon National Park

We stayed at this State Park because all the campsites were full in Bryce Canyon. We're so pleased we did. It is nine miles from the nearest settlement and set in a valley surrounded by huge sandstone spires in grey, orange and white. We loved it here, totally spectacular. We also loved how it got its name. From Wikipedia... 'In 1948 the National Geographic Society explored and photographed the area for a story that appeared in the September 1949 issue of the magazine.  They named the area Kodachrome Flat, after the then relatively new brand of Kodak film they used. In 1962 the area was designated a State Park. Fearing repercussions from the Kodak film company for using the name Kodachrome, the name was changed to Chimney Rock State Park, but renamed Kodachrome Basin a few years later with Kodak's permission.'

Highs - being lucky enough to get a site here and and see the most prolific star-scape we've ever seen. Because it's so far from the nearest town or city, there is no ambient light so the clear sky looks like something out of the Planetarium, there were so many stars it was almost blinding. There was total quiet, it was spellbinding. Amazing facilities - praise to the State Park for excellent tent sites, showers and washrooms - the sand for our tent site had actually been raked for our arrival and the bathrooms had mirror lights and even hairdryers. Luxury abound! Getting up at five am to get to Bryce Canyon for sunrise. Trying to stem fits of giggles as we tried to pack up an entire camp without making a sound. Because it was so quiet, even the smallest noise of folding up a tent which you would never normally hear seemed like the loudest. As we were doing it, we could hear that we were waking the whole site up so just loaded up Thelma really fast and drove off as quickly as possible so they wouldn't know who it was. Hilarious. Hiking the Rim Trail from Sunrise Point past Inspiration Point to Bryce Point at sunrise with just a few others for company.

Lows - Walking up to Sunrise Point just to see our European friends walking down. Even at five am they had still managed to beat us there.

Zion National Park

Highs -
hiking the Canyon Overlook trail seeing some amazing plants, flowers, canyons and overhanging rocks. The trails climbs for a couple of miles snaking up un-fenced cliffs and ending up a hundred and fifty feet up overlooking Zion and Pine Creek Canyons where the river, hidden beneath rocks, has carved it's route. It's mainly rocks and sand underfoot and one slip and you'd be gone.Meeting Sue and Jim at the stunning end view point. In their eighties, they have spent the last six months in their RV just traveling around the states to fulfill their photography passion. They use Flikr and Facebook to share their photos with everyone, they told us very proudly.  Meeting the lady who does traffic control at the roadworks currently underway in Zion. She literally stands for twelve hours a day in the same spot moving a stop sign from 'go' to 'stop' and back again. It's thirty degrees in the shade and the desert sun is fierce. She's got no water or sunscreen and she sleeps in her car to save driving home. She used to live in Florida and Colorado but she came to Utah to do this 'just because she wanted a change' and she was more than happy. Insane or serial killer on the run?!? (Note: Have you noticed that Craig now loves people? All this fresh air and he is a changed man.)

Lows - siting in the roadworks traffic jam with about fifty other cars baking in the heat.

Las Vegas

It doesn't really need an introduction, does it? Let's just say, it was excess to the max.

Highs - We stayed in the beautiful Green Valley Ranch Hotel & Casino for two nights before meeting Steve and Emma at The Bellagio for a night. The Green Valley was beautiful with a gigantic swimming pool that featured a real sand beach and loungers you could put in the pool to keep cool. The Bellagio was huge. It took twenty minutes just to get to our room and the view over the dancing fountains and the hotels of The Strip was cheesy, but very cool. We played roulette, drank and had a fab evening catching up with our buddies and meeting random people. We also went to the Las Vegas Gun Store and spent a whole morning shooting targets with a Glock 9MM, MP5 machine gun, 44 Magnum and Craig's favorite a massive Desert Eagle .50 caliber. We were both loving it all, apart from the scary instructor guy who's muscles were bigger than his actual body and had a red neck attitude to match. He was totally obsessed with guns and was way more tooled up than he needed to be, even working at a gun shop. We would post photos of our experience, but they look a little disturbing with us wielding machine guns with a massive grin on our faces!

Lows - after camping and living in dirty shorts and t-shirts for a couple of months we were not prepared for dressing up nice and had nothing suitable to wear. We looked like a couple of homeless people roaming the corridors of the posh hotel with BBQ stains on our t-shirts and unkempt hair. We also found seeing the excess quite disturbing. Very elderly people on oxygen canisters feeding fruit machines for hours with their life savings, still looking unhappy. Extremely overweight people piling their plates high again and again at the unlimited buffets and looking pretty depressed as they fed their faces. It didn't seem as happy a place as I'd remembered it to be ten years ago, but the recession has hit the city so hard it's much quieter and more subdued. It's the top city in the US for house repossessions and bankruptcy. When people have no disposable income, people stop coming to gamble in Vegas, simple as that. Almost the whole economy of Vegas is built on gambling somehow so when people stop coming, it's like someone switched a tap off and the whole place is in trouble. That's why rooms are so cheap. Five star hotels are sixty bucks a night.

Southern California Coast

We did the nine hour drive to Cambria in one go. On the way we took in the Mojave Desert and saw planes from the Edwards Airforce Base. Eventually the desert gives way to rolling fields and vineyards. Then, all of a sudden, through the hills just as the orange sun is sinking beneath the horizon, there is the Pacific again. It's been three weeks since we saw Route 1 and it's ocean side by side. It's a beautiful sight and we can smell the salt in the air way before we actually hit the ocean.

We arrive in the quiet of Cambria in the dark after pulling some amazing overtaking moves on the single lane highway to get there in time for dinner. We would have got there earlier but we saw a huge accident caused by someone else overtaking on the same road and decided we'd better slow down a touch. We stayed at a tiny, gorgeous white clapboard bed and breakfast and ate dinner in the fairylight covered outside courtyard of Robin's Restaurant where we ate some of the best food, ever. Cambria is a tiny coastal Californian town with a couple of streets, some shops and a few bars but according to TripAdvisor it has forty three restaurants of note. If the food at Robin's was anything to go by you could spend a year there just trying all the amazing eateries. It's right slap bang in the middle of wonderful vineyards and Moonstone Beach is the focal point of the whole community. There are seals and sea otters and some beautiful beach front motels. It's not developed at all and it manages to combine a small-town feel and still be a good place for tourists. It's one of those places you could happily buy a beach front cabin and spend a long time there doing not much at all.

We spent the next few days driving North up the coast trying to stay at campsites but finding them all full and ending up in motels. We drive by Hearst Castle (opulent, eccentric, former home of William Randolph Hearst, publisher) and up the rocky, sheer-cliffed Big Sur. We saw Elephant Seals and ate grilled cheese sandwiches in the sunshine. We stopped at empty beaches and watched the waves. We stopped in Carmel and did the famous seventeen mile Pebble Beach Drive, at Pacific Grove we got up for sunrise and watched the sea otters play in the surf. We went antique shopping in Monterrey and bought some really cool old car adverts to frame at home and had poached eggs on toast in a tiny pavement cafe whilst reading the local paper and sunbathing.

Eventually we arrived back in San Francisco thirty five days after we'd left. It was ninety degrees and sunny. We ate dinner on Union St, had the famous Sourdough at Boudin's Bakery, walked Chinatown and just cruised around taking it all in. Craig made me cycle across the Golden Gate Bridge from Fisherman's Wharf. After the flat bit of the wharf and the piers It's mostly uphill (I'd somehow forgotten this from when I spent a month there ten years ago!) It goes via the Golden Gate Park, then Fort Mason and the Farmers Market, down Marina Boulevard to Crissy Field and the beach. People were out having beach barbecues and playing softball with their friends and family, it was gorgeous. At Fort Point, the path goes up a steep incline which ends at the entrance to the bridge. It's an awesome sight in the sun. Most of the time it's in the fog so it's important to appreciate it while you can. Beetroot red and sweating by this point I was not really feeling cycling all the way over the bridge and back, but Craig made me so I did, grudgingly. I'm so glad I did, it was breathtaking. Boats looked tiny below, yachts with their spinnakers out were flying along and the breeze meant it was much cooler on the bridge than below. We actually got told off by the 'pro' cyclists at one point for daring to not ride single file for a few seconds, so Craig ran him over with his mountain bike and then threw him over the side in to the sea with his bike not far behind, shouting 'single file, single schmile' as he went. Joke, Officer.

We met some fantastic people whilst watching the sunset from the Golden Gate Park later that day. They had come with wine and plastic beakers to toast the sun going down and feeling sorry for the Brits with no booze, decided they would share their wares with us. They were great fun and It transpired they were a combination of well-known artists and the President of the USA Porsche Owners Club. One of them was there to see his work being exhibited at the Ritz Carlton. A very cool way to end the trip indeed. It was  a perfect sunset, concluded with the onslaught of the hugest mosquitoes we had seen on the trip. We ran all the way from our viewing platform half way down the cliff up the cliff back to the car. I'm not sure if either of us had moved so fast in some time and we must have looked insane both whacking at our legs and arms as we were attacked by the giant insects. A perfect ending indeed.

And on to Hong Kong...clearly couldn't fit it all in one blog.
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