California and Las Vegas

Trip Start Aug 29, 2012
Trip End Oct 06, 2012

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Flag of United States  , Nevada
Thursday, September 13, 2012

After NY and SF it is time to see some other things than cities. The formalities at Cruise America went quite smoothly and in the afternoon we were ready to hit the road in our 19ft RV. First stop of course is the supermarket to stock up on food and drinks for the next days. Our Tom-Tom (=GPS) plugged in and off we went to Dutcher Creek near Cloverdale in the Northern part of the Sonoma Valley. Sonoma is the lesser known and also less expensive Wine Valley compared to the popular Napa Valley. Luckily not a lot of traffic delays getting out of SF and in the late afternoon we arrived at our RV park, a cosy RV park on a hill. The next day (and according to our RV park owner it was quite a nippy morning :-) ) we explored the Sonoma Valley for some wine tastings. (Ton a few more tastings than Paul the driver ;-( ) Beautiful hilly scenery dotted with vineyards where we visited 3 wineries for tasting and to stock up a couple of nice bottles of Sonoma wines for later on the trip. Next stop is Yosemite National Park. Here we spent 3 nights on the Crane Flat campground just outside the Yosemite Valley. We had a great spot overlooking a small field surrounded by Pine trees. An ideal location for some birdwatching. Unfortunately the first morning hardly any birds but the next morning the Sibley bird guide came in handy as there were many birds to spot in the morning. But as a beginning birder it is still hard to determine what the bird is you're looking at. Pretty sure that we saw a Wilson Warbler, Yellow bellied Vermin and a white breasted Nuthatch and some more that I am not sure about. But we’re not here just for the birds but to do some hiking in the Yosemite Valley and surroundings. Yosemite is all about the Granite domes and rock formations that were formed here as the result of Glaciers that shaped the valley from about a million to one hundred thousand years ago. For us no big waterfalls as they dry up in summer but the hikes we did were none the less pretty awesome. First day we hiked to the Vernal and Nevada Falls that still had some water flowing. You get a good impression of the rock formations in the valley. The 2nd day we hiked near Glacier point to the top of the Sentinel Dome where you have  a 360 degrees view of the Yosemite Valley with spectacular vistas of the Half Dome and El Capitan among others. All in all two beautiful days with some great hikes. It was still very crowded in the park even though there were some lethal fatalities with the Hanta virus spread by rodents. But that was mainly in the campgrounds where they had permanent tents set up, that actually looked more like refugee camps than a campground. We also finally discovered what these Chinese like roadsigns that were painted on the roads mean. PED XING or XING PED…….. ahhh of course PEDestrian CROSS-ing.
Then we headed south to the Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park. In Kings Canyon we visited the 3rd largest (In Volume!) tree in the world the Grant Sequoia.We also did the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway drive through with some amazing views of the Kings Canyon. We stayed in a quiet campground near Hume lake where we had a whole"loop” to ourselves.  Next day we went to do some hiking in Sequoia National Park. A nice morning stroll in the Giant Forest. Here you have the biggest tree ( General Sherman) in the world (again in volume and not in height as the Redwoods are the tallest trees). The General Sherman Sequoia is a pretty big tree indeed and not just big but also old, around 1700 years old. Sequoia Trees have an immature state in which they have a more Cone like shape and a Grey bark. Only after a couple of hundred years they really mature and get a red bark and the top changes into a more tree like shape. They also rely on Bush Fires as the burning of the tree makes the cones drop and open so they can sprout in a fertilized soil in an open space that was made by the fire. The trees usually encounter a couple of bush fires every hundred years but will usually survive the fire. In the Giant forest you have an amazing clusters of mature Sequoias and you feel really small when you are standing next to one. After this stroll we also climbed the Moro Rock for some more 360 degrees view. We realized  in the morning that we still had to do some driving to our next campsite as it wasn’t in the Sequoia National Park as we thought we had reserved but in the Sequoia National Forest  a couple of hundred kilometers to the south! A nice drive and we had a beautiful spot on a campground in Fairview Campground along side of the Kern River. In the morning another good birding moment with a Yellow Warbler, a Western Scrub Jay and a Silky-Flycatcher.  It turned out to be a good thing that we had to drive some extra miles the day before as we had quite some driving to and sightseeing in Death Valley to do. As soon as we passed the mountains we got into this flatland with a highway that didn’t seem to end. We stopped at a road stop for some coffee but the guy at Fresh Jerky only sold all kinds of nuts and dried sweetened fruits and meat jerky ( dried meat slivers). The dried mango tasted quite good actually. Then we got to the turnoff for Death Valley. The scenery became gradually like a moon landscape. We expected just a big flatland but beside the vast, desolate, desert flat lands with only some low bush scrubs we crossed some spectacular mountain scenery with all the shades of brown and Grey you can imagine and here and there some red iron and green copper shades. Nothing like we’ve seen before and really breathtaking. Oh and it was hot, very very hot, especially in the Death Valley itself. It the mountains it was still bearable but in the valley in was hotter than hot. Too hot to even think about doing any hiking. Just getting out of the car and walk a bit to take pictures was already too much. We decided to camp near Furnace Creek. Only one campsite was open and there were only a handful of other campers that decided to camp on this open air gravel campsite. Even at night the temperature didn’t drop but the starry night was awesome. Finally I could use my starwalk app on my Iphone and find some of the star constellations. In the morning we went to see the colorful and rugged shaped rock formations at Zabriskie point. Time to head down to Las Vegas. In the middle of these vast desert plains suddenly rises this overwhelming city. First, through some outer suburbs to arrive in the middle of the Strip (Las Vegas Boulevard) with its immense hotels and casinos. They even have an RV-site next to the Strip near Circus Circus Hotel/Casino. Nothing more than a parking lot to park our RV. The contrast between Las Vegas and Death Valley couldn’t be any bigger. From the desert plains where hardly anything grows to a place where everything is possible, From urinals that work without water to conserve water to a place where the water is spoiled in big fountains. We start walking down the Strip and have no idea where to look. Everything is so overwhelming but it also feels a bit superficial. The Hotel facades are spectacular from the Venetian with its replica of the bridge of Sighs, The Luxor built like a pyramid to New York, New York with the statue of Liberty, and a fašade with the Empire State building and the Chrysler building. Inside the hotels the Casinos are huge and every hotel has its own style and class but in the end they all have the same kind of slot machines and poker/roulette/blackjack tables. You’ll find all kinds of people in these casinos and you are never over or under dressed as you see people walking in shorts and singlets but also classy dressed women on high heels. The Casinos are I guess the only public place in the USA where you are still allowed to smoke! We spent a day and half walking along the Strip and going into several casinos. Played a bit on the slot machines and the last evening we spent at a bar in a casino where you get free cocktails if you play the poker machine that is placed in the bar. So you sip a bit on your margarita play a bit of poker and in the end we lost $5 and had our margaritas for free!

But 2 days of Vegas is more than enough for us and we can’t wait to get back into the nature again. Next stop is Zion National Park but more of that in the next blog.

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Ron Vlietstra on

The geography of the American West has a ruggedness, doesn't it? Very different from Europe and my home country of New Zealand. I hope your trip is going wonderfully.

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