A Travellerspoint blog

Happy 4th of July - NV

The day we crossed Nevada was Independence Day and it was great fun to see the few towns we passed through gearing up for the celebrations. Despite it being only breakfast time when we arrived in Eureka, the town was buzzing with a BBQ outside the saloon, decorations everywhere and people generally out and about.

We absorbed the buzz from the corner of a nice coffee shop where the owner's kids told us about the day's celebration, one of the cafe workers arrived dressed as a modern Lady Liberty, and they urged us to stay for the day's festivities. The only other town of any size we passed through, Austin, was also getting ready for their parade with people having picked out their parade-watching spot early, sitting in wait on the side of the road.
4th of July preparations in Austin

4th of July preparations in Austin


We were excited to spend the night of 4th of July in such an iconic, American summer holiday spot as Lake Tahoe. The approach south along the eastern lake edge was gorgeous, with the clear blue water framed by the Sierra Nevadas. We pitched up to our camp site in Zephyr Cove, just across the road from the beach and there was still enough afternoon left for a swim. Down at the beach, we felt propelled back about 15 years. There were thousands of college-age students packed onto a small stretch of the beach, burning to crisps, checking each other out and enjoying the holiday. We passed the security check point unharassed (I guess they figured that with a pushchair we were unlikely to smuggle booze in) and went further down the beach to escape the thickest part of the crowd but close enough to people watch. The lake water was cold with snow still visible on the mountains opposite, but the sun was warm so we spent a couple of hours lying on the beach, watching the drunk and sunburnt but mostly good-natured revellers. Tried to dip Arthur's toes in the lake but he was having none of it – too cold for his delicate constitution.
Lake_Tahoe.jpg4th_of_Jul..yr_Cove.jpg
Dinner back in Harrison and about 9pm we gentled the slumbering Arthur into the backpack and walked along to the next bay to watch the fireworks display. With someone having set up the complimentary music tracks on their speakers, we watched the red, white and blue explosions and listened to patriotic music,with another fireworks display on the opposite shore line a mirror to ours. It was a warm, still and beautiful night and we were happy to be at the lake, sitting on the sand, watching the fireworks and sharing the 4th of July celebrations with Americans. A really special moment of our trip so far.
Boys watching the fireworks

Boys watching the fireworks

Posted by heronee 07.07.2011 22:19 Archived in USA Tagged 4th Comments (0)

From Sin City to the Loneliest Road - AZ to NV

Driving to Las Vegas was a hot and dusty road, punctuated by the odd copper mine and finally the Hoover Dam, straddling the Arizona-Nevada border. The new highway bypasses the dam but we took a little detour just to cross it, which involved a search of the vehicle by two security guards. They've done well to keep it such a popular tourist destination; after all it is now just a dam and is hardly the largest man made structure, but it has simple beauty in its art deco lines.

Las Vegas beckoned; a three night break from Harrison staying at the Luxor. Oh where to begin? For starters our hotel room was in a giant, black, glass pyramid with a view over the Sphinx guarding the Nevada desert (or the airport for the unromantic). Feeling slightly queasy when taking the lift, we realised it is because the lift shaft goes up diagonally following the angled face of the pyramid.
The_Strip_by_day.jpg
Luxor - our room in the pyramid about where Sphinx's shoulder is

Luxor - our room in the pyramid about where Sphinx's shoulder is

After four weeks of dining modestly and simply in the RV, we went a bit nuts the first night and partook in the ubiquitous Vegas all-you-can-eat buffet dinner. Try as we might, we couldn't eat light for any meal and departed Vegas a bit more portly than on arrival.

We managed to time our arrival with the hottest day of 2011 for the US and where was the nation's high that day you ask? Las Vegas of course. With temperatures over 40 C on both days, this took hot to another level. You can negotiate much of the Strip by ducking in and out of casinos and taking covered walkways to minimise the time spent outside. But many things outside just have to be seen; the Flamingo sign, the Bellagio dancing fountain, buskers of every description, enthusiastic touts for “girls to your room in 20 minutes” and each casino more outrageous and OTT than the last. We were particularly taken with New York New York where you can stay in the Chrysler building for significantly cheaper than the real thing...and see Coney Island and the Statue of Liberty from your window. Not geographically accurate of course, but who cares?!
Too hot for Michaelangelo

Too hot for Michaelangelo

MGM_Grand_lion.jpgDancing_Be..untains.jpgBusker.jpg101_1729.jpg
Of course with Arthur in tow we were limited as to what we could do at night, so we stuck to our casino and took in a Criss Angel magic show one night. Was very entertaining, even more so his mega-fans in the audience who had his face and name tattooed all over themselves. We had to cover Arthur's delicate eyes passing back through the casino floor at night; not sure he is ready for girlie dancers over poker tables yet. While we were fine to walk through the casinos with Arthur, we were told to move on a couple of times for “loitering” with a minor, even when just waiting outside the loo.
So very illegal - we got told off for this one

So very illegal - we got told off for this one


Back to Harrison (and the stench of bananas we had accidentally left in the RV for three days of 40+ heat) and embarked on a couple of days to cross Nevada. First leg was north along the Extraterrestrial Highway – oh yes, there is such a thing. So called because the highest concentration of UFO sightings has been along this road and it is also the closest road to Nellis Air Force Base, home of Area 51. We stopped for lunch at the tiny town of Rachel – home of the Al'e'Inn – where you can have a cold drink and admire photos of UFO sightings while purchasing alien christmas ornaments and other useful UFO-related items, if you so choose.
The_A_le_Inn__Rachel.jpgResidents_of_Rachel.jpg
Extraterre..Highway.jpg
We didn't see any UFOs so we pushed on for the night to Ely, the starting point of The Loneliest Road, our campsite complete with a rattlesnake carcass. Set off very early the next morning – the 4th of July – as we had most of Nevada to cross. The Loneliest Road is pretty much as it says, long stretches of road with very little traffic. This stretch of highway 50 follows the route of the Pony Express, the overland railway and the first transcontinental telegraph so there is a lot of history wrapped up in it. We stopped for breakfast at the pretty and buzzing town of Eureka – a boom town in the late 19 century when silver was found here.
The_Loneliest_Road.jpgLoneliest_Road.jpgGiant_sand..ountain.jpg
Despite it being a six hour stretch of road the views were interesting, from flat plains to mountain passes to salt flats, the odd ground squirrel running under our wheels, a giant sand mountain seemingly out of place against scrubby foothills and finally the stunning snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains starting on the horizon and gradually looming large until we entered them to approach Lake Tahoe.

Posted by heronee 07.07.2011 22:12 Archived in USA Tagged nevada Comments (0)

Promised land, turned to sand and canyon grand - UT to AZ

It was a hot drive to Zion National Park, with the road dipping south into Arizona then north back into Utah, as a large part of the Navajo Nation area has no major through-roads.

Our Harrison soundtrack so far has consisted of classic kiwi music, country radio stations (our favourite country song so far: “I'm not as good as I once was, but I'm as good once as I ever was” has some great lyrics once you get your head around the chorus) and an album we downloaded before we left, American Anthems, which we have gotten a lot of mileage out of. Just outside Kanab we encountered a fighter jet doing manoeuvres overhead so that was our cue for a bit of Kenny Loggins, Danger Zone.

The approach to Zion from the east is a bit of a faff. There is a 1 mile long tunnel to pass through which is quite a feat of engineering but despite all those months of digging years ago, they didn't make it particularly wide so for any vehicles wider than 9 feet (that's most American pick-ups and certainly all Rvs), they have to stop the traffic coming the other way, let you through one direction at a time and charge you $15 (return) for the privilege.

Zion National Park is truly impressive. It is a monument of sheer cliffs and canyons; you spend most of your time looking up. Vehicles are banned from most of the park so the NPS runs an excellent free shuttle service linking the town of Springdale (where we were camped) with the park with stops at all the trailheads. We spent three nights at Zion and walked the Emerald Pools, Kayenta, Grotto, Riverside Walk, Weeping Rock and Pa'rus trails. The trails are either gentle ambles alongside the Virgin River or steep climbs up into the canyon. We saw plenty of whiptail lizards, squirrels (including one trying to break into a pack), mule deer, turkey vultures and were fortunate to see a California Condor in flight. They became very rare and have only been recently re-introduced to the park. Our campsite was in a gorgeous location next to a bend in the river with a monstrous cliff looming over from the other bank. It was stinking hot all three days so we tried to finish hiking by mid-afternoon so we could chill in the pool late afternoon.
Zion_National_Park.jpgWeeping_Rock__Zion.jpgVirgin_River__Zion.jpgMule_deer__Zion.jpg
We next drove the couple of hours to Bryce Canyon National Park; another place we had never heard of and hadn't planned to visit until other travellers talked us into it. Bryce isn't technically a canyon, not having been formed by a river. Instead its bizarre pillars of stone have been worn by erosion caused by freezing/thawing and are known as 'hoodoos' (ammo to invent immature 'hoodoo' puns). The different rock and sand layers in each hoodoo create beautiful arrangements of colour. The Native American legend says that the hoodoos are animals and people frozen in sandstone by the coyote. Luckily for us as we couldn't stay, Bryce is a very 'drive through' park and we were able to leap out at each overlook for views and photos.
8Bryce_Cany..al_Park.jpg7Bryce_Canon_hoodoos.jpg7Boys_at_Bryce.jpg
We pushed on that same day to Arizona and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon for two nights. Despite the millions of visitors to the Grand Canyon National Park, only 10% visit the north rim. It is 1000 feet higher in elevation so is cooler (pleasantly so at this time of year) and the plateaux on the rims are thick pine forest punctuated by lush, green meadows. It is also much less crowded! We took the short trail out to Bright Angel Point for the first of many stunning Grand Canyon views. Then at a ranger's advice we hiked the 10 mile Widforss Trail. The trail winds in and out of forest, popping out at the canyon edge every now and then for incredible views and ending at Widforss Point. We saw plenty of mountain horned lizards; squat, round-bodied creatures with horns around their head and down their back. It was HOT again despite the shade and elevation and the last 40 minutes or so were pretty hard going (for me anyway!)
Widforss_Point.jpgMountain_h.._lizard.jpg
The south rim is only 10 miles away as the condor flies but to drive it is a 220 mile trip through the scorching Arizona desert, along the base of the Vermilion Cliffs and crossing the Colorado River at the much more sedate Marble Canyon. We approached the South Rim from the east, getting our first south rim glimpses from off the Desert View Road. The south is much more developed and commercialised and the campgrounds had been fully booked for months but due to a cancellation we were able to nab a shady spot for two nights at the last minute at a national park site.
Desert_Vie..uth_rim.jpgSouth_Rim.jpg
The south rim is serviced by a shuttle to keep the traffic down but the buses were packed and not as regular as they could be. We took the bus as far west as it goes, Hermit's Rest and walked the 7.5 mile trail back to the main village. We had the trail mostly to ourselves for a large part of the hike as most people bus between the viewpoints so it was great to enjoy many of the views on our own. We also saw our second snake, it crossed the path in front of us.
Grand_Canyon.jpg4Ben_at_the_South_Rim.jpg
On the day we left the Grand Canyon we packed up early and presented ourselves at the little airport 7 miles away for a special treat; our helicopter ride over the canyon. The helicopter went west along the rim, over the canyon to the north rim and then back again. It was my (and Arthur's) first time in a helicopter and it was really exhilarating; seeing down into the canyon from directly overhead on a perfect, still, blue morning. Arthur didn't think much of the experience, falling asleep in my arms just after takeoff and remaining so until we landed.
Helicopter..uth_rim.jpgCrossing_t.._Canyon.jpg1An_exhilar..or_some.jpg

Posted by heronee 05.07.2011 10:03 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Red Hot and Blue - WY to UT

Red, hot and blue (thank you Cole Porter) describes our surroundings over the last few days as we left the freezing temperatures of Yellowstone and headed south. Red for the rocks and sands of Utah (there is quite a pink dusting on my bare feet as I type), hot with 32 - 38 C being the range the past few days and blue for the magnificent cloudless skies that look so beautiful in contrast with the red.

We left Yellowstone early afternoon after viewing wildlife on our last morning, so we chewed miles for an afternoon and stopped for the night in Rock Springs. Warmer weather and scorpion souvenirs on sale in the campsite reception tells me we're in an entirely new set of elements and makes for a more thorough torch sweep of the ground on the way to the bathroom in the night. The open range vistas of Wyoming gradually gave way to redder and redder earth and suddenly the rocky escarpments of Utah that we will see plenty of over the next few days. The road dipped briefly into Colorado through the town of Dinosaur and we rode the Stegosaurus Parkway back to Utah.

Camped next to the Colorado River on the outskirts of the town of Moab, UT for two nights to visit Arches National Park. These arches are instantly recognisable from millions of photos and Utah license plates but are just so impressive in person; particularly when you've completed a 146 m vertical climb with an 8kg baby on your back just to reach one of them! I write of Delicate Arch which we tackled first thing to avoid the heat of the day. The climb up there was ridiculously steep over red slick rock with no shade and a dodgy path but the arch at the top was very beautiful in the slanting morning sun. Final_step..te_Arch.jpgDelicate_A.._Arthur.jpgDelicate Arch

Delicate Arch

Anasazi petroglyphs, Arches

Anasazi petroglyphs, Arches


We walked the Devil's Garden Trail, seeing Tunnel Arch, Pine Tree Arch and then on to Landscape Arch. This last one was probably my favourite; the longest arch in the park and now very skinny thanks to large slabs snapping off onto bemused onlookers below. One chap had the presence of mind to take a photo just as a huge piece fell and this photo is displayed below the arch that - regrettably for those inclined to a game of rock arch chicken - you can no longer walk under.
Pine tree arch

Pine tree arch

Landscape Arch

Landscape Arch

Double Arch

Double Arch


We ended our day with a visit to the nearby Dead Horse Point State Park, a small but spectacular park. The legend goes that the scrubby plains, ending in sheer cliffs to the Colorado River below, were used as a natural corral for capturing mustang. The park is best known for being home to the cliff that Thelma and Louise drive themselves off. The corral part of the park thankfully has sturdily constructed walls but even peering over the edge gives you that squiffy feeling.
Dead Horse Point

Dead Horse Point

Dead Horse Point State Park

Dead Horse Point State Park

A Lion King moment, Dead Horse Point

A Lion King moment, Dead Horse Point


Our next destination was just over the border into Colorado; Mesa Verde National Park. Meaning 'green tableland', this is an elevated area of land with a flat top rising steeply from the plains. Mesa Verde was occupied for 700 years by Native American Puebloans who farmed the flat tops and built dwellings into the cliff faces in natural alcoves; some whole villages of more than 150 rooms. These dwellings remain largely intact as the Puebloans left the area abruptly (one of the mysteries of Mesa Verde) and we visited two different villages; Long House and Cliff Palace. Both involved steep scrambles up and down modern paths, ladders and steps cut into the rock, so it defies imagining how families young and old came and went on a daily basis using only hand and toe holds.
Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde

Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde

Long House, Mesa Verde

Long House, Mesa Verde


We camped up on the mesa and the next day wound back down to the plain and took a spur of the moment decision to visit Four Corners - an arbitrary dot on the map marking where the borders of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona meet. It is on Navajo Nation land and Navajo artisans sell art, jewellery and pottery in a square around the obligatory seal on the ground for photo opportunities.
Four_Corne.._NM__CO.jpg
Back on track we returned to Utah, back to our familiar red stone and entered Monument Valley. What followed was a game of traffic chess where cars battle to get 'that shot' from the road with no cars in front of them to ruin the photo. I'm happy to say that we won that particular game and at the iconic moment where we crested the hill with Highway 163 stretching away before us toward the famous sandstone formations, we had an empty road to enjoy.
That shot, Monument Valley

That shot, Monument Valley


We drove around the monuments and continued on a short while to our stop for the night, a campsite in a spectacular location in Rock Door Canyon that displayed Monument Valley through a v in the rock. With no light pollution the stars that night were amazing and as Arthur helpfully decided to wake at 5.15am the next morning, we got to enjoy a silent and beautiful sunrise over the red canyons too.
Sunrise over Monument Valley

Sunrise over Monument Valley

Someone happy to be up to watch the sunrise, Monument Valley

Someone happy to be up to watch the sunrise, Monument Valley


We head west from here to Zion National Park for more hot, red rocks. As Arizona and Nevada lie ahead of us, I'm sure there is hotter to come.

Posted by heronee 24.06.2011 17:26 Archived in USA Tagged usa Comments (1)

Sloth and Obstinancy - Yellowstone, WY

Who switched off the heat?? I knew Yellowstone was in the Rockies but I didn't expect to get snowed on in summer! We've had four magical days in Yellowstone National Park which, having left the research up to Ben, was such a surprise to me in so many ways.
Summer_in_Yellowstone.jpg4Hayden_Valley.jpg5Lake_Jackson__Teton.jpg
We stayed in the Canyon area of Yellowstone; really central to get around to all the areas of the park. Our first full day we explored the Canyon area on foot. There is a superb trail along the north rim starting about 1 mile from our campsite so we headed straight for Inspiration Point high above the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and walked along the rim of the canyon as far as the Lower Falls. Most of the walk was at or near the canyon edge and there were some stunning but sheer, scary drops down to the Yellowstone River. There was 250% more snow this winter than last and it is still melting away (causing the flooding we came across back in Iowa) so the river was really raging.

large_Lower_Falls_Canyon.jpglarge_Grand_Cany..rainbow.jpg
The trail also cut into wooded areas and involved the occasional bit of snow stomping but it was a great walk and it was my first chance to stretch my legs under the weight of Arthur in his new backpack. The wind was fairly strong which made for some nervous moments when near the canyon edge. Ben had to say a sad farewell to his cowboy hat - a gift from his work colleagues prior to the trip - which flew off and landed in a tree overhanging the canyon. There was a valiant effort to rescue the hat with a long branch but without success.
1Hat_rescue.jpg
The sweet, eggy smell of home awaited us in the form of thermal springs, mud pools, geysers and other volcanic wonderments. We spent a day at the Steamboat and Old Faithful geyser basins. While there were plenty of similarities to Craters of the Moon in Taupo and the bubbling muds of Rotorua, here there was such a concentration of every colour you could imagine in a mineral spring, mud pools, huge explosive geysers and incredible formations in a relatively small area.
Steamboat_..r_Basin.jpgSteamboat_.._basin2.jpg8Prismatic_Spring.jpg0Old_Faithful.jpglarge_2Mineral_Spring.jpglarge_9Mammoth_Springs.jpg2Chipmunk_w..he_show.jpg
We got very lucky with our wildlife spotting and were privileged to see so many different animals in the wild. We had some kind of good bear karma and had six separate bear encounters, mainly black bears but we also got to see some grizzly bears. Once a bear is spotted, a 'bear jam' quickly develops as people in RVs and SUVs flock to look. But on three of the occasions, we were the first to spot the bears and had them to ourselves for a few minutes (at a distance of course). We also saw coyote, vole, elk (wapiti), bull snake, uinta ground squirrel, yellow-bellied marmot, snowshoe hare, pronghorn (type of deer), longhorn sheep, badger, mountain goats and hundreds more bison. Apart from the bears, our really special sighting was on a dawn trip we did with a guide, where we saw a male gray wolf. There are only around 120 of them in the whole park, having only been re-introduced in 1995. He was a beautiful animal. We only have a regular digital camera with no fancy features so our wildlife photos are very amateur and at times not even worth trying to take (the wolf for example). But here is a sample of our encounters.
Yellow-bellied marmot

Yellow-bellied marmot

large_River_swim..ck_bear.jpgElk

Elk

large_9Black_bear..f_three.jpgBison

Bison

Badger

Badger


Yellowstone really is an incredible, wild place and to see bears and a wolf in the wilderness were really special moments for us. It really is worth visiting for a few days...just take lots of winter woollies even in summer! And for anyone mystified by the title... a sloth is a group of bears and an obstinancy is a group of bison.
Old Rocky

Old Rocky

Posted by heronee 19.06.2011 20:01 Archived in USA Tagged usa Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 11) Page [1] 2 3 »