USA West Coast - August 2004
Trip Start Aug 03, 2004
11Trip End Jan 27, 2005
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After staying up most the night trying to tie up all the loose ends before we left, we boarded the 1105 BMI flight from Manchester to San Francisco via Chicago. Both sets of parents were there to see us off and there were tears from the women as we said our good-byes. The flights were good and we were well fed by BMI. On landing in Chicago it was noticeable that we'd left the cold of England behind and Ig was amused by the revolving toilet seat covers (it doesn't take much!). We crashed out after arriving at our hotel in San Francisco in a bid to cure our jet lag and to refresh ourselves for the hectic programme ahead. We had pretty much mapped out tour of Western USA before we left, starting in San Francisco before heading down the coast to LA, then inland to see Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Zion National Park, Death Valley and Yosemite and ending back in San Francisco.
San Francisco was 'done' in two installments, at the beginning and the end of our US tour. Prior to picking up our hire car and heading down the coast to LA, we took the BART train into downtown San Francisco and then the ferry to Alcatraz for a close up look at the 'Rock.' The audio tour was excellent and it was eerie to step into prison cells once inhabited by America's most hardened criminals. The hire car was picked up from San Francisco airport and Mary was the first to drive the sporty blue Dodge Neon. Ig navigated and concentrated on getting the iTrip working to provide the soundtrack for our road trip. (For all those technophobes out there an iTrip is a device which plugs into an iPod and transmits the music by FM radio to the car stereo. We had treated ourselves to a new iPod mini before we left home to carry our music but bought the iTrip from the Apple store in San Francisco which while we're on the subject is a great place to spend a few hours - demos, free internet etc).
On returning to San Francisco at the end of our tour, we stayed at the excellent USA hostel near Union Square and spent three days exploring the rest of the sights of San Francisco. Highlights were the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art to see Warhol's soup cans and some 'Pollocks' and cycling round Golden Gate Park and across Golden Gate Bridge. Mary wasn't quite sure what she had let herself in for when setting out on the twenty mile ride up and down the streets of San Francisco, but managed to make it despite weary legs. San Francisco is a beautiful city and there's lots to do and see, although the presence of beggars on every street corner detracted from it slightly.
First impressions of LA are it is big, and cool (but not in terms of temperature!).
There was no room at the inn where we had booked in Venice as the room was 'flooded'. At least this is what we were told but we did wonder if they'd rented out our room to someone else due to the X-games being held at Venice that weekend. Instead we found some accommodation in Hollywood at a Travelodge - always reliable. We had a great time in LA seeing the sights of Rodeo Drive, the Hollywood sign, the Regent Beverley Wilshire (for all the Pretty woman fans), Venice Beach and a trip to Universal Studios with Simon and Jo - Mary's Uni friend from Chester who happened to be out in America at the same time.
The trip to Universal was great day out and is thoroughly recommended. Jo and Simon also joined us for a day hanging out at Venice beach where the basketball match with DJs, MCs and half time street dancing was one of the highlights. Ig didn't quite fit into the Baywatch image as he went A over T whilst trying to roller blade along the Boardwalk. A great time was had in L.A, a big place with loads to see and do and it's fascinating to see the places you see on TV or in the movies.
Vegas is mad. The hotels/casinos are huge and unbelievably extravagant. We arrived early evening at the Sahara Hotel (a bargain on Expedia at approx 22GBP/night). Ig was keen to get moving and get off for 'a quick gamble.' He had a win on the video poker machine but quickly lost it, whilst Mary used a dollar and saw it quickly go so gave up. After a few days we had figured out the best way to get the 'free' drinks so did just enough gambling to keep us in beer. The majority of our time was spent walking up and down the Strip marvelling at the casinos from inside and out. Amongst the amazing sights inside the casinos were real life tigers, roller coasters, circus artists, and gondolas to name but a few. The Venetian has to be the best inside - as the name would suggest it's a very believable mock up of the Italian city complete with St Mark's square, canals, singing gondolas and blue sky that looks like you are really outside.
The heat in Vegas was unbelievable (40+ deg C and very dry) as we found as we walked from casino to casino - the air con in each was a welcome relief. The pocket thermometer that Ig bought to keep track on the temperature on our travels gave up the ghost and exploded at 50 deg C after being left in the direct sun by the hotel pool! We both really liked Vegas with the view from the top of the Stratosphere, Bellagio Fountains (fountains to music) and the Manhattan Express (roller coaster in New York New York) amongst our personal highlights. Also memorable was the karaoke night at Golden Palm where a girl sang the worst rendition of EMINEMs 'Without Me' ever heard (so bad it was funny) accompanied by dancers from the audience which added to the entertainment.
Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam
There was a tinge of sadness to be 'Leaving Las Vegas' (see what we did there?) but this was quickly forgotten as we marvelled at the breathtaking sights of Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon. Hoover Dam was visited en route to Flagstaff, which would be our base for visiting the Grand Canyon. Security was tight as we approached the dam wall - one of a number of visible signs that the Americans are as concerned as ever about the threat of terrorism. We took a tour inside the dam and descended down to the generating room on the Nevada side for a look at the inner workings. An informative presentation and a walk over the dam wall added to our appreciation of the engineering feat. Ig wasn't too keen to be peering over the railings though! A reasonably priced motel with spa pool and free internet provided the base in Flagstaff - a real bargain.
Mary's first sight of the Grand Canyon was from a window of the helicopter tour we took from the airport. A luxurious way to appreciate the vastness of the place but it had to be done. This was followed by hike along part of the rim and a look from the various view points. The word 'grand' is perhaps not as appropriate a word for the canyon today as at the time it was named. The word 'awesome' is used with annoying frequency in America but its use to describe the canyon would seem appropriate and this would surely be the word of choice if it were renamed today. We were treated to a spectacular lightening show in the distance as we left the Canyon - one of the number of storms we experienced in Arizona and Utah.
We had planned to visit Monument Valley by making a bit of a detour in our route from Flagstaff to Page. We were up and off early as we hoped there would also be time to make it to the 'four corners' - the only place in the USA where you can be in four states at once due to the fact that the corners of Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico all meet at the same point. We stopped at the small town of Kayenta for gas and a sandwich before heading for Monument Valley in the Navajo Indian Reserve. On approach it looked exactly as it does in the films (e.g. Thelma and Louise and How the West was Won). We stopped for pictures along Highway 163 before entering the tribal park for a close up look at the 'buttes' and 'mesas' on the self guided 17 mile loop road. The road was unpaved and we made several stops to admire the views so it took us a while to make it round. The scenery was certainly impressive - some geomorphological classics! Artists View was amongst our favourite viewpoints. We decided it was too late to make it to four corners (approximately a 150 mile detour) so we headed straight for Page. In the evening we were entertained whilst doing our laundry at the local shopping Mall by a huge thunderstorm which turned the sky black and produced rain harder than we ever get in the UK.
The next day we went to Zion National Park en route from Page back to Vegas. On the way out of Page we stooped at Glen Canyon Dam and admired the views over Lake Powell from a viewpoint off the highway. After (another) Subway for lunch we headed into the park. The road in was not for those of a nervous disposition with alpine corners and a long narrow tunnel. After parking at the visitors centre we took the shuttle bus up the Canyon. First impressions were that it wasn't all that spectacular but a walk along the Emerald Pools Trail between Zion Lodge and the Grotto began to change that view. We also did the Riverside walk from the Temple of Sinawara to the head of the 'Narrows' which was also spectacular. The sky was looking dark and there had been warnings of flash floods so we made a hasty retreat. On the shuttle bus on the way back to the car we had to endure incredibly bad B.O. of a couple French blokes who had been out walking for the day, and to make matters worse, one of them was acting like a complete pillock. There were yet more thunderstorms as we drove south on the Interstate 15 - Vegas was calling us again!
Death Valley & Yosemite NP
After saying goodbye to Las Vegas for the second time we headed for Bishop via Death Valley. However, when we got to the intended entry point to Death Valley we were greeted by a 'road closed' sign. After trying two more entry points it became clear (we were told by a ranger) that the whole park was closed - due to flooding! What's the chances of that happening in a desert!? The silver lining was that the diversion route took us along Highway 168, with spectacular views as we dropped down the winding road into the Owens Valley. Mary was a bit disappointed not to be able to see Death Valley but pointed out that it gives us an excuse to come back to the US for a future holiday. After an overnight in Bishop we headed into Yosemite National Park, stopping at Tuolumne Meadows, and walking up to May Lake before arriving at Curry Village in Yosemite Valley. We quickly learned that we had to be 'bear aware' and lock all our food and toiletries in the locker provided. We had pre-booked a canvas cabin for our accommodation and whilst we knew what to expect, we were both less than impressed with the standard of the facilities considering the $70/night price. Regardless of this, the sights of Yosemite were very impressive and we packed as much as we could into our two days: Walking through the giant sequoias at Mariposa Grove, watching the sun set over Half Dome, admiring the views from Glacier Point and walking to the base of the Bridal Veil Falls and Mirror Lake. Ig's highlight was the view from Tunnel View whilst Mary preferred the view from Glacier Point. We left Yosemite around midday as we had to get the car back to by 5pm, and with timing of which John Baxter would be proud, we rolled into the Alamo depot in downtown San Francisco at 4.55pm.
USA round up
We had a fantastic three weeks in the US and despite a lot of driving (2800 Miles) and a hectic schedule it was long enough to see the vast majority of things we wanted to. We did spend a bit more cash than we wanted to without being overly extravagant, but then we are on our honeymoon after all! That three week trip alone would have been a great honeymoon in itself and it was fantastic to think that we still had five months travelling round the world yet to come.
- Filling up with petrol in America is a hard task for the uninitiated Brits
- San Francisco, Los Angeles and Las Vegas are all cool cities
- There are drive in ATMs - lazy buggers!
- It's not possible to drive very far without seeing a fast food outlet
- There are far too many options when ordering food or coffee - I just want a normal coffee!
- Many words are pronounced incorrectly e.g. Tomato, route, oregano
- Chips are called fries, toilets are called washrooms, courgette is called zucchini, peppers are called capsicum, gherkin is called pickle etc and they claim to speak English?
- They're a bit paranoid about security - we were surprised when asked to put our shoes through the x-ray machine at the airport.
- San Francisco and Alcatraz
- Los Angeles (especially Universal Studios and Venice)
- Las Vegas
- Grand Canyon
- Monument Valley
Soundtrack to our trip
- Californiaction by RHCP
- Drinking in LA by Bran Van 3000
- Kids in America by Kim Wilde
- Missing You by Puff Daddy and Faith Evans - reminds Ig of his last trip to LA