Playing catch up! Monument Valley - Yosemite

Trip Start Jan 22, 2006
Trip End Aug 17, 2006

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Flag of United States  , California
Friday, February 24, 2006

You wouldn't believe how difficult it is to find somewhere to update this thing! The abundant wireless internet access here has put most of the cyber cafes out of business and unless you have your own laptop or are willing to pay $15/hour you're stuffed. We've now found somewhere cheap and decent so hopefully I can begin to play catch up! However, it may be brief after just losing 11 days (90 minutes of typing) worth of updates. I wasn't too happy.

After leaving Flagstaff (the scene of my last update), we drove to Marble Canyon which is just north of the Grand Canyon. My dad told us to go here as it was his favourite of the places we'd visited on our road trip around the west coast around 12 years ago. We drove for several hours to arrive and find... not very much really! We circled the area a few times to find something worth photographing and accidently came across Glen Canyon Recreational Area and was sure this is where Dad meant. Here boats and adventure-seekers launched themselves into the river rapids that run through the Grand Canyon. I remember dinghies full of smiling people hiding their panic zoom past as they eyed the torrents ahead. Unfortunately we didn't get to see any launches this time, I think we were too late in the day or maybe even too early in the year. The surroundings were beautiful though and the cool water very inviting in the 70 degree heat. I'd have had a paddle only the the park ranger stalked us in his jeep and watched our every move.

The hotel we stayed in - a brand new Best Western we'd found at a bargain rate on the internet - was near Lake Powell and was by far the nicest to date. We found ourselves oohing and ahhing at the curtains without holes and the beds with fitted sheets - I think things have gotten desperate! Unable to tear ourselves out of the comfy beds, we left very late the next day and arrived at Monument Valley just as it was closing for the night. Thankfully we managed to persuade the ranger to let us into the car park so that we could at least look at the view of the famous rocks. It's a shame we weren't able to take the 17 mile drive around the park but at least we could take some photos and look around. We left rather prematurely as it was freezing cold and missed a stunning sunset come down behind the monuments. Instead we watched it with our mouths open on the drive home. I've never seen colours so vivid.

The next day, we left our wonderful hotel reluctantly and drove to Cedar City. We accidently chose a scenic route climbing to 10,000 feet through mountains covered in snow. It was a big change from the 70+ degrees we'd had over the past few days and one I loved. The roads were surrounded with 3 feet of crisp white snow untouched by man nor beast. We stopped a few times to take in the view and found the locals revelled in it as much as we did. Cedar City itself to be a welcoming and quaint town although our hotel didn't quite live up to our expectations! It was a very run down Travelodge surrounded only by truck stops and a scrap yard. We found it rather hard to take following our last hotel and especially considering it was $10/night more expensive!

The next day we headed to Zion Canyon and drove a scenic route recommended to us by our Lonely Planet guide. It was a great move and took us through hairpin turns as we climbed the bright red mountains toward the canyon. A few miles into the national park we stopped to enjoy a hiking trail I had read about in the park guide called the 'Canyon Overlook'. It sounded wonderful and I hoped to enjoy it as much as I loved the walk through Joshua Tree. The guide warned us of the "long drop offs' but I didn't quite appreciate this meant sheer cliff drops lining the 8 inch wide paths! I knew the view at the end would be good but I wasn't sure I wanted to find out whether it was one worth dying for! Dan mocked my OTT care walking along the slippery rocks but only one of us was slipping and sliding around the place! We left happy to be alive and returned back to the hotel with beer and potato chips (getting into the lingo here!) to watch the Superbowl and be like real Americans!

We were on a roll, so the next day we tackled Bryce Canyon. We'd had a fresh downpour of snow the night before so we drove back up the road we arrived on and looked again at the miles of unspoilt white sheets of snow. The park was as magnificent as the rest and at points you could see Utah spread out below you. We stopped at several points to look at the view, see the Natural Bridge (apparently technically an arch - picky!) and drove 7 miles to see a pinnacle the locals thought looked like a poodle but actually just looked like a rock. There was so much to see here but I think we'd started to get canyon fatigue and rushed our way through it. I wish the parks had been broken up a bit so that we might have found them even more wonderful but instead we left ready for something a little different.

The next stop was Las Vegas - you can't get much more different than that! It wasn't difficult to find our hotel as we spotted the several acre wide luminous pink circus tent from quite a distance away. We stayed in Circus Circus on the strip where my grandparents had stayed on their own road trip several decades before. I loved it immediately and felt in my element as soon as we arrived. I think it's the only hotel where I've had to use a map to find my room and had to take a shuttle to get from one end to the other.

It didn't take us long to shake hands with the one arm bandits and although we didn't win anything, we didn't lose too much either. Las Vegas seemed to be the city of static electricity and I quickly learnt that being able to electrocute people at will came in handy when Dan took control of the money! The downside was that everything in the hotels from the bannisters to the door handles to the elevator buttons were made of metal. I noticed a slight rivalry form as the both of us slowed more and more as we approached the doors, hoping the other would sacrifice themselves and push the knobs. It's surprising how long you're willing to stand in a lift not going anywhere just to avoid being the one to get shocked.

We only stayed in Circus Circus for two nights and moved to a Travelodge further down the strip on Thursday when the rates for the weekend went from $45 to $115 overnight and then doubled again the next. Vegas suddenly didn't seem as enchanting as we walked the strip at night climbing over piles of prostitute calling cards and around the latest purse discarded from a pickpocketing. We were told 3 days was enough in Vegas and it turned out to be spot on. The hotel was awful with holes in the room walls and a car being smashed within the first hour of our arrival. After spending the night driving up and down the strip to get photos of all the famous hotels and welcome sign, we were ready to leave.

The next day we gladly waved goodbye and drove to the Hoover Dam before doubling back on ourselves and stopping in Beatty for the night. The hotel was right next to a casino and as there was nothing else for miles around (unless you counted the surprisingly well advertised brothel around the corner) we decided to have dinner there. We were given vouchers for a free buck worth of 5 cent coins to use on the slots and as I saw mine disappear into oblivion my ears tuned into the "cha-ching" noise I'd been longing to hear. I turned around and was blinded by a chuffed grin as Dan's machine poured out money. It was only $17 but that really is quite a lot of nickels! I'd been wondering how many coins it would take to fill up the plastic cups and that night we found out. It may have been a small win for a proper gambler but it was a giant windfall for a man with a $40/day budget.

After all the excitement, we decided to stay an extra night so we could explore the area for a while and not have to rush around Death Valley National Park. After discovering the extent of Beatty was our hotel and the local brothel, we drove into the park. The road was long and uneven and took 20 minutes before we arrived at anything. It was getting late by this point so we headed to two of the main points we'd selected - Devil's Golf Course and Badwater Basin.

The Devil's Golf Course was a huge expanse of white lumps of salt left by a lake that had long since dried up. The scenery was stark and beautiful but I was rather distracted by the fear of falling which appeared very easy to do. Grazing myself here really would be putting salt in the wound (ba doom tish!). Dan decided it would be a good idea to taste some of the salt just as I was thinking to myself that there must be some fools willing to give it a try. Lets just say it was amusing and leave it at that.

Badwater Basin is the lowest point in the USA at 282 feet below sea level. This was another massive space of salt but this time flat and resembled an ice rink. We walked around for a while and took some pictures including a sign on a nearby mountain that signified where sea level was. It was strange to see how far below it we were. We didn't stay for too long and soon returned to our hotel to escape the 82 degree heat, despite it being relatively mild compared to the 130 heat they're not unknown to get here.

The next day we left Beatty and drove through Death Valley to get back to California. We stopped at Stovepipe Wells to look at the massive sand dunes that made the hottest place in America feel more like the desert it was. We then drove for 5 long hours until we reached Bakersfield, our home for the next 4 days. We didn't intend on staying so long but found ourselves liking the place so much we couldn't leave. We were a week or so ahead of schedule and so decided to relax and just enjoy being in a proper American town off the main tourist trail. Everything was green and lush, a stark contrast to the desert and red rock country where we'd spent the last week. One thing that stands out from our trip around America is how much the landscape and environment changes as you move around.

Bakersfield seemed a fairly wealthy town and was obviously quite big in oil with loads of rigs/pumps along most of the roads. There also seemed to be a permanent smog making the skies grey even when the sun was beaming. We spent Valentines Day here and took advantage of the heat, driving to Buena Vista Recreational Area a few miles away to picnic by the lake. We had the place almost to ourselves, save a few people boating on the lake hoping to catch some fish. We lay on the grass and had a little snooze before leaving and having dinner on the way home. Life is tough when you're a traveller!

Alas it was time to wave Bakersfield goodbye and it felt sad to leave a little bit of familiarity behind. We drove for 3 hours or so to Fresno and booked into another awful looking motel we'd booked online. We warmed to it slightly more when we met the motel cats who made us miss home and our own cats a little less (or perhaps more?).

The plan was to go to Sequoia National Park to see the world's largest trees and after a long drive we were told by the park ranger that we could only enter if we had snow chains to put on our tyres. We could have rented them but after hearing horror stories of them shredding tyres if not put on properly, we didn't want to take the risk. We drove back feeling pretty depressed and stopped on the way to have our packed lunch in our car overlooking a lake. We had the first rain shower of our trip which felt a bit like kicking a man when they're down, but we counted ourselves lucky that we'd lasted four weeks without a single drop.

We really didn't like Fresno that much so we moved on quickly and travelled an hour or so north to Merced. We didn't really do very much for the next few days out of necessity rather than choice. Presidents Day had been building up for a couple of weeks and it had finally arrived, giving the Americans a 3 day weekend and the hotel owners pockets lined with gold. A lot of places shut and the rest flooded with people on vacation, so we happily explored this lovely town and made it our home for 4 days. We went to the Visitor's Centre a few times to get information on Yosemite. A lovely old lady decided to take us under her wing and help us with whatever we needed. Despite already knowing everything we couldn't bring ourselves to disappoint her so she went into a leaflet frenzy showing us everything we should see. She had terribly shaky hands and watching her try to highlight the freeway we needed with her pen was nerve racking to say the least. There's an awkwardness in being English where you have to try and pretend that you don't notice that anything's wrong in situations like these and find yourself talking that little bit too much to cover it up. I know we shouldn't laugh in case it was actually a terrible affliction like Parkinsons or something, but the moment was so absurd that I can't help but think about it and grin.

Once Presidents Day was over and Dan and I recovered from a brief bout of sickness, we finally made it to Yosemite. Once we'd entered the park (hooray - snow chains weren't mandatory!) we pulled over to look at the Merced river which we'd driven along for much of the journey. The river was full of fallen rocks that acted at rapids and the fast moving water crashed against them. I love the roar of water and could listen to it for hours. I'd love to live somewhere near the sea so I could listen to it whenever I wanted.

The next stop was Bridalveil Falls, a 620 foot waterfall up in the mountains. We parked in the snow covered car park and tackled the "steep and icy" (as described by the signs) path to the bottom. Talk about treacherous! Thankfully we managed to make it there and back without falling, although many others weren't so lucky. I was kind though and only sniggered smugly internally... The viewpoint was nice and let you get close enough for the spray to hit you. We drove further along and looked at El Capitan, the huge pinnacle in the centre of the park, and then stopped by Yosemite Falls where we hiked through the lovely snow covered forest, somewhat weary of meeting groggy and hungry bears, to reach the bottom. The falls were impressive and made me want to see Niagara and the Victoria Falls where the water stretches as far as the eye could see. Sadly because it was Winter, most of the rest of the park was shut off due to the snow. We'll definitely have to come back here again some day. There's just so much more to see.

I'll leave you for now. Hopefully we'll have internet access again in LA so that we can update the last few weeks of our stop in America. I hope you're all well. I'm sorry I haven't had time to reply to all your emails and comments, there just hasn't been time yet. I will find time soon though, I promise. Check back to this entry next week when hopefully you can see some photos, we have some great ones to show you. Until then, look after yourselves, and each other. God I've watched too much American TV.

Edited to add: I've now added some photos - come check them out! None of Yosemite yet as we haven't uploaded them yet but hopefully I'll be able to add them next week in LA.
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lynnetempleton on

Re: Yay - SHeppie!
Believe me, the 'Sheppie At' photos are heavily filtered! Too much temptation to get him in every shot ;) He'll be back for his next installment in Fiji, hopefully not being eaten by the sharks.

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