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Holiday: USA 29 August - 13 September 2002

Day 1 - 4 San Francisco

(click on each snap for a larger version!!)

One long day!The Bay Bridge from Vallaejo stepsThe CanterburyThe Trans America Pyramid & Francis Ford Coppola Buildingmuni passportCalifornia Street

After a 7 hour flight from Manchester to Philadelphia and another 6 hour flight across America itself, on US Airways, we arrive at San Francisco; Day 1 was one looong day! The clock in the airport said it was 21:20 but my watch (and my head!) reckoned it was 05:20!! After a cab ride we arrive at our Hotel, The Canterbury, for the next 3 nights in room 512. Hope you don't mind a double the concierge said, as we checked in. Little did we know the bed was absolutely huge!! As we discovered most of the Hotels and Motels have twin beds but doubles (as we'd call em, they call em Queen beds)...OK if arguments arise I guess!

After unpacking we headed downtown and found an authentic 50's diner, Lori's, for a bite to eat, corner of Powel and Sutter St's. As it turned out this diner was only one of a small chain across SF which was decorated in the 50's style complete with lots of chrome seating and fluorescent lighting not to mention the real Cadillac!

Lisa and the Transam PyramidNo ParkingStockton TunnelCable Car ride up Powel St

The next day, day 2, after a fabulous breakfast at Lori's this time on Powel St we headed across town to pick up our rental car. We'd ordered a convertible and when it turned up we were presented with a red Pontiac Firebird! Driving it at first was a little strange with it being a left hand drive and an automatic which we were not used to but we soon got used to that! Driving back to the hotel through the streets of San Francisco in the Californian sun with the top down was rather special. In fact looking back on the whole holiday the car made it that extra special.

Outside the Vesuvio BarInside Lori's Diner

Once back at the Hotel we gave the car to the valet and got ourselves a municipal transport pass (Munipassport), jumped on a cable car and explored the city taking in the famous Fisherman's Warf. Lisa had organised a North Beach walking tour starting off from the Transamerica Pyramid in the financial district. We walked through the hot streets taking in the sites of the Francis Ford Copola Building, Coit Tower (The building of the Tower on Telegraph hill was completed in 1933. Lillie Hitchcock Coit, philanthropist and admirer of the fire fighters at the 1906 earthquake fire, left funds to The City for beautification of San Francisco. Those funds were used to construct the 210 ft. tall art deco Coit Tower at the top of Telegraph Hill. The tower’s design is reminiscent of a fire hose nozzle, as well as other things, and so was quite controversial at the time.),The Vesuveo Cafe and The City Lights Bookstore, the seedy neighbourhood along Broadway (including Big Als' adult bookstore) and the scenic views of the SF Bay and Bay bridge from the Vallejo steps. We got back to the hotel via a not too great a meal in the Sonato Mexican grill (Powell St at Bush).. good live music though, crashed out and didn't wake up till 2 the next morning... Talk about jet lag!

Inside the Vesuvio BarLisa in the Vesuvio

Day 3 and this meant our Helicopter flight round SF!! Couldn't wait as I hadn't been on a chopper before (oo er!). Thoroughly enjoyed it and got some great views of the city and Alcatraz . Flew under a foggy Golden Gate Bridge and over and under the Bay bridge before returning back to the airport over both the SF 49ers football and SF Giants baseball stadia.

San Franscisco SkylineSan Franscisco SkylineSan Franscisco Skyline

Chopper ride!Lombard Street/ Coit Tower

In the afternoon we used our Munipassport to ride the cable cars and took some time to explore other quarters such as China Town and paid a visit to the famous 'turny' Lombard Street. That evening Lisa had a gorgeous milk Shake in Lori's and I pigged out on a bowl of their delicious chilli.

 

Day 4 to Yosemite

Lower Vernal Falls, YosemiteEl Capitan, Yosemite

Day 4 sees us getting the car back from the valet and wondering where to put the cases. Despite the car being enormous the boot was a bit titchy but we managed to squeeze em in. Top down on the car and with a copy of the Doors greatest hits in the CD player we head out of SF through the financial district and across the Bay bridge heading towards Oakland/Hayward-Stockton.

Lisa at Vernal Falls$20 for a full tank!Yosemite View Lodge

Out of the city and boy California sure is hot. Heading along the CA-99 there was rows and rows of orange and fruit groves that were sooo big that they disappeared over the horizon. Lashings of sun cream was order of the day as the tops of our legs just got hit with the sun. We were determined to keep the top down on the car though!

Travelling through Mariposa, we started to follow the Merced river (CA140) which would take us into El Portal and the Yosemite View Lodge (the closet accommodation outside the park) for a nights stay in room 3331. After travelling 200 miles (and this being our first proper drive in the car) we relaxed in the spa pool watching the sun set on the fabulous scenery. Later on, we got some good advice from one of the Yosemite guides as to what we should see of the park in the time we had. As well as suggesting seeing the waterfalls, the guide told us that our drive through the park and over the Tioga Pass would give us some of the best views of the park (and how right she was!). We dine on pizza for ten and enjoy the much needed air conditioning in the room - California is certainly hot!. Have I mention this before?

Day 5 to Lone Pine

Double Bar, Lone Pine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next day we're up early to see as much of Yosemite National Park as possible! As we enter the gates we purchase a $50 yearly pass. As our holiday would take us into 5 National Parks this was a much cheaper option than paying individual entry fees (approx. $20 a time). We collect our map, sticker and entry card for the NPS and drive into the park, passing the awesome El Capitan mountain, a sheer rockface dominating the start of Yosemite Valley. Here's the science bit, Yosemite Valley may be the worlds best known example of a glacier-carved canyon, as its sheer walls and flat floor evolved as alpine glaciers lumbered through the canyon of the Merced River.

Heading towards Tenaya Lake and Tioga PassPontiac Firebird

We make our way to Curry village which, despite its name, has no hint of curry being made available! All the National Parks have excellent free shuttle buses to ferry visitors between the various attractions, so we park up and jump a ride to take us to the start of the Vernal Falls route.

FirebirdFirebirdFirebird

After scaling the falls route (which was quite busy, with visitors from all the world it seemed) we returned to the car later in the afternoon to start our journey to Lone Pine. With hindsight we would have stayed at Yosemite for longer as it is such a breathtaking location. The route through Yosemite park on the CA 120 is very winding and you seem to be climbing all the time. We passed through amazing scenery at Crane Flat, Tenaya Lake and Tulomne meadows before reaching the Tioga Pass entrance. The pass is closed between November and May and at 9945ft it was hardly surprising (we did see traces of snow at some points)!

Dropping down from Tioga Pass and joining the CA-395, the stark contrast between the green lushness of Yosemite and the beginnings of the desert like terrain of the Owens Valley is startling. We travel through small typical American towns like Bishop, Big Pine, Independence, before arriving at Lone Pine, which is a one night stop before braving the heat of Death Valley.

Lone Pine Main StDow VillaThe Dow Villa motel

For a motel booked over the internet, the Dow Villa Motel was perfect. Our room had a whirl pool bath and 24 hour swimming pool and coffee shop. Interestingly enough, John Wayne once stayed at the motel, whilst filming his last movie in the surrounding area. We eat and then walked the length of the town (which doesn't take long) to find the 'Double' bar - which Lisa was very dubious about frequenting! However, it is excellent and the barmaid gives us frosted glasses to drink our Bud out of, while I put ZZ Top on the juke-box (brave man!).

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Day 6 to Death Valley

Alabama Hills, Lone Pine

Day  6 and we breakfast at the totem pole restaurant, which is opposite the Lone Pine Chamber of commerce a weeny little office that has loads of information about the film industry that sprung up around the area. Over 300 films including Gungadin and Tremors were made in and around the Alabama Hills. When we were there they had a poster competition running. I had a guess at naming the film, Kalifonia, stuck my entry into the box and came second resulting in them sending me a poster book. Upon the suggestion of the very helpful ranger in the Lone pine tourist information center we spent some time in the Alabama Hills exploring the movie road and the plaques highlighting the films made there. Amazing to think of these films getting made under the brilliant sunshine and the stunning backdrop of the Sierra Nevada Mountains with Mount Whitney (at 14,497.61 feet is the highest mountain in contiguous USA) as its own star.

On the Owens Valley Floor there is a dried up lake. Story goes there was a lot of jiggery pokery in the 1900's when feeder streams were diverted into the Los Angeles viaduct and spookily enough the lake became all dried up! Strange that huh? Anyway there is an effort underway to refill the lake and irrigate the surrounding areas, quite the thing at the moment in the American deserts.

Whilst driving along the CA136 past Keeler and referencing the map we come across an uncharted area, (30 by 50 miles) entitled "China Lake Naval weapons centre". On the map of the area the roads entering into it just stop and there is no details shown at all . Over the State border, in neighbouring Nevada, there is more than one area like this (such as Area 51) and is an endless source of conspiracy theories and government cover up stories about ufo's. We kept expecting a fly past at any minute! Must admit though the Nevada desert is huge and hiding anything extraterrestrial wouldn't be as difficult as job as could be envisaged.

After joining the CA190, we took a well earned rest on the boiling hot Panamint springs bar terrace. It was 115oF in the shade and the ice cold coke we had tasted fantastic. On the way back to the car we got our fly past! Unfortunately a Jet...hmmm although you never know really do you? Continuing up and over the crest into the Valley itself, you have to turn off the AirCon as the incline is so severe and so long a cars engine would overheat and breaking down here is not really a good idea even though there is a good routine cruising of the highway patrol as advertised. So for the sake of the car we had to suffer the heat. My old 957 Fiesta would have died at just the thought of it!

Travelling on through Stove pipe wells on Highway CA190, it wasn't long before we reached the famous Sand Dunes (Sahara-like and rising nearly 100 feet) and the Devils corn field, a field of brush reminiscent of such. We stopped to take a picture and it was the quickest photo I had e ver taken as the Death Valley heat was up to 130oF. It was like standing in front of a hair dryer.

Alabama Hills/Mount WhitneyPanamint SpingsFurness Creek ranch

Despite the roasting we made it to the Furnace Creek Ranch , which has the worlds lowest golf course (at 214 feet below sea level) although why anybody would want to play in such heat is beyond me. After booking into room 733 we took a dip in the naturally heated, spring fed, swimming pool which was up to 82oF. A coyote was spotted outside the room so we played it safe by going to the bar (after being ID'd again, which meant a 10 minute trip back to the room to get the driving licences in the 100F heat - it was pitch black and 9 o'clock incidentally). We met up, had a meal and spent a pleasant evening with David and Corinne from Wigan. They were doing virtually the same holiday route as we were but in reverse.

Day 7 to Lake Havasu

Gunstore: stop and try?!?!

Next day, day 7, we headed out through Death Valley Junction on the longest drive of the holiday passing through the towns of Amagosa and Shoshone. Upon reaching Baker, after passing yet another Naval Weapons Centre, we met with the worlds biggest thermometer and Mad Greek's Diner where you could get anything you wanted (well to eat anyway). I just had to have beef patty and eggs (over easy of course) with fill ups of hot coffee. After breakfast we came across mini twisters in the desert, too small to damage anything but strong enough to pick up lots of dust giving the landscape an eerie feeling. We noticed a very thin endless line stretching across the horizon which, only when we drew closer we discovered was a huge train ambling along. Eventually we had to stop at a crossing after counting 150 carriages (goodness knows how many had passed already) we realised we had a life and just switched off the engine and waited. Even when this train had passed there was another one behind it going the other way of equal length. And who said truck drivers move the nation?

Arizona SunsetThe London Bridge

After heading east on the I15 we take the NV164 past Nipton into Nevada, our first state change. At Searchlight we head south on the US95 back into California picking up the I40 at Needles, heading towards Kingsman. After crossing into yet another state, Arizona, we take a right on the AZ95 and making good time we finally arrive at Lake Havasu, passing the airport (every town even seems to have its own!), and out onto the Island, over London Bridge, yes the original one, to a very pink looking Hotel. Despite the odd colour, the Island Inn and our room 214, proved very relaxing, especially the spa pool. We even got a drink in the hotel bar without getting ID'd!

Island InnIsland Inn Hotel

Later that evening we took a look around the English village, which wasn't really and was a bit of a let down. I mean there was corny Big Ben sounds coming from somewhere and not a village green in site. Again we were having problems finding a place to eat, either too expensive or just fast food, nothing in between. After walking round for ages and getting some odd looks while we were doing so (hey who walks in America? just like Warrington) we really needed a drink. Again with no 'real' bars, and after deciding against going in some dodgy looking places, ended up in the bowling alley again getting ID'd. We only had one beer and then headed back towards our Hotel via Denny's (casual dining restaurant chain with moderately priced meals that's what they say, a sort of upmarket little chef) for some 'moons over my hammy'. yer weird but nice!

Typical Arizona landscape

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Day 8 - 9 Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon from the airTrail RidesGrand Canyon On the edge of the Grand CanyonOn the edge of the Grand Canyon

Heading towards the Grand Canyon we leave Lake Havasu past the airport and the Sheriffs Office with to the sounds of Saturday night fever blaring out from the CD.  We stopped at Williams on the I40 for a drink in Denny's and looked out for a town called two arrows on the map. In reality this town (as a lot marked on the map) was just a gas station. The place was actually derelict but there were two huge iron arrows still embedded into the ground.

 Cowboy looking over the Grand GanyonGrand CanyonGrand Canyon

Even though we knew about 'Meteor crater', after picking up a leaflet in the hotel the previous night advertising it, we hadn't realised we would be so close to it on this trip. Since Lisa used to be (and I reckon still is despite protestations that she isn't) a bit of an anorak when it comes to astronomy we decided to do a smallish detour (176 miles heading back eastwards just past Flagstaff on the I40) and go and see it. Apparently its the best preserved meteor crater on the earth, is 50,000 years old, 550 feet deep, 3 miles in circumference and 570 feet deep! or so the blurb goes. The rock that hit had the same explosive force as 20 million tonnes of TNT. Boom indeed!

Meteor Crater.. aka big holeMeteor Crater

Then back we headed towards the Grand Canyon and on the AZ64 the weather was pulling in and by the time we past yet another airport, hmmm and an idea brewing, we reached the Best Western Grand Canyon Squire Inn in the rain, staying in room 2222, to complete a 400 mile journey. We had a look at the canyon but was totally foggy and so couldn't see a thing. We made comment that where we were standing was probably right next to a huge drop, which as it turned out the next day, was the case. That night we spent an evening in an authentic 'Cowboy' restaurant with some 'rattlesnake' beer!

Lisa at Meteor CraterThe plane that flew over the Grand CanyonLisa at the Grand Canyon

Day 9 and after another 1 beer only night, the idea we had had the previous day materialised and Lisa booked a flight over the canyon. Since we'd been on a chopper already we decided to make the trip on a plane which turned out to be a 19 seater Vista Liner. Unlike a mountain range that gets bigger as you approach it, the weird thing about the Canyon is that because it is well a canyon, you cant really see it until your standing next to it; You cant see it from a distance at ground level. So the first time we saw it was from the air, flying along the North Canyon Confluence, and well we were just speechless, it was breathtaking. Ha as was the extremely turbulent flight as the weather was closing in again, an experience to remember!

After the flight we drove the short distance to the very edge of the Canyon itself and booked into Maswick lodge, room 6885, which is inside the Grand Canyon Nation Park and as such was the most expensive accommodation we had. We then had the afternoon to explore part of the Canyon's south rim but due to the heavy rain and fog didn't get to see that much. We started walking along the Bright Angel Trail but had to give up shortly after due to the thunderstorms, even the pack mules didn't venture out of their coral. When we got back to the lodge the normally shy mule deer were also taking shelter close to the buildings. However later that evening the fog cleared and the rain stopped in time for us to catch a park bus to Powel point and a walk to Hopi Point to see the sun set over the Canyon.

Day 10 - 11 Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon Amphitheatre

Day 10 and making a stop at the Little Colorado River Gorge we heading east on the AZ64 towards our next destination Bryce Canyon. At Cameron (Navajo country!) turned onto the US89 heading North. We travelled through a place called The Gap being met by some terrible driving conditions. The local radio station was warning of flash floods and soon enough the road become washed away with rain, hail and snow, which was rather scary. There was falling rocks strewn across the carved out roads too as we crossed into Utah State with our eyes peeled watching for any fresh falls.

Typical Utah LandscapeUtah landscape

Out from Big water and we came across the 'Chocolate Syrup Mountains' which gave the appearance of drizzled chocolate in both consistency and colour. Further on, halfway to Kanab we could see the Grand Stair Escalante so called as the layers of rock etc date back to millions of years. Passing through Kanab we continued on the US89 and passed the Coral Pink Sand dunes which although a distance away, are easy to spot as their colour looks strangely un-natural! We continued through the Dixie National Forest passing Mount Carmel, Glendale and Hatch.  We made a small detour to Panguitch before doubling back to join the UT12 through Red Canyon. The rock here was a very intense red colour and we pulled the car over to take some photo's while the sun was still out. 

Red CanyonRed CanyonMe and Lisa at Bryce Point

We passed the famous Ruby's Inn, which must be famous as it was on our map! However, we opted to stay at inside the National Park at Bryce Canyon Lodge which we eventually found as the road wound through the ponderosa pine forest. The 'western' style cabins and rooms surrounded the original lodge which was built in the 1920's and had the eerie feeling of the 'Overlook' Hotel from the film 'The Shining'!!. Our room (221) had a brilliant balcony made of whole tree trunks looking out in the forest.

During our dinner in the Lodge we came across the strange Utah law on alcohol and drinking! After polishing off a bottle of Bud each we tried to order another plus a brandy each. Our waiter was laughing with embarrassment when he told us that under Utah law we could only have one drink on the table at a time - yes really!! Anyway, the night went from bad to worse when we went back to room and we realised that the Lodge didn't allow TVs in the room! Now you know why the Mormons have so many children!

After breakfast at the Lodge, the next day brought a walk round Bryce Amphitheatre, with a fab view of the whole area from Bryce Point (8,500 elevation). This bizarre geological area is dominated by hoodoo's (tall pillars of rock). This canyon, which is not technically a canyon according to a talk (inc songs!) we heard by Park Ranger, Kevin Poe, has been created by freeze thaw action rather than erosion by a river.Either way the place is highly unique with many of the hoodoo's having their own names based on their appearance (e.g. Victoria which looks just like the queen herself). As Ebenezer Bryce, homesteader of the canyon, said...'its a hell of a place to loose a cow'.

Day 12 to Zion

Sheer Cliffs in Zion National Park

After 'some of us'! witnessing the sunrise at Bryce Canyon we were 'all set' (as the Utahians say) to continue our journey to Zion NP. This was a short 85 mile trip retracing our steps to Mount Carmel junction and taking the US9 and the Zion-Mount Carmel highway into the National Park. This was a spectacular route into the park along a narrow twisting 1930s road containing 2 tunnels (one 1.1 miles long). We found our accommodation Cliffrose Lodge and gardens just outside the south entrance of the park in Springdale (which is a trendy little town). This motel was fabulous with 5 acres of lawns and flower gardens. There were humming birds in abundance as well as a large deer intent on eating pears off one of the trees. That night we enjoyed a pizza and pasta in the Zion Noodle and Pizza Co. Next day we made the short drive into the park and hopped on one of the shuttle buses to look around. We decided to take the 'Emerald Pools' trail which had some brilliant waterfalls and views of smooth, sheer rockfaces.

The West Temple and the Towers of the Virgin, Zion Canyon
Emerald Pools trail map

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Day 13 - 14 Las Vegas

The Eiffel Towerwe did Vegas and won!Inside the BellagioThe BellagioNew York, New York The Bellagio Fountains show

Day 13 and our last main journey of the holiday at 164 miles. Following the UT9 from Springdale we passed through Virgin, stopping at the Burger King at Hurricane missing out the Weinerschnitzel (apparently the largest hot dog retailer! hmmm I wonder why?)Then picking up the I15 to Washington St George, we pass through Arizona for 30 ish miles heading to Mesquite back in Nevada. Making a detour on the 169 we passed Longdale and Overton and skirted Lake Mead, crossing back to Arizona (an hours time zone difference) at the Hoover Dam.

The LuxorInside the Bellagio

Back into Nevada and we make our way through Boulder City onto the 582, and the start of the casinos, then onto Freemont Street with its older Motels, before turning left onto Las Vegas Boulevard (The Strip!). Travelling along it we took in the sites of the wedding chapels (cupid's and the say I do drive though), passed the Stratosphere, the The Stardust and other casinos to finally reach our hotel, The Luxor.

Las Vegas Denny'sNew York, New York

After dumping our stuff in room 12033 we travelled the inclined elevators that run along the inside each corner of the pyramid building of the hotel and explored what looked like a world from Tomb Raider. As with all the hotels in Vegas, the ground floor is taken up by the casino and the sound of slot machines can be heard everywhere. In the evening we took the monorail out of the hotel and made our way down the 'strip' to the Mirage and settled down with a cool beer to watch the fab pirates battle at Treasure Island from the back of the set. The burning English galleon gave off lots of heat as it sank to the bottom.

The Luxor, Room 12033Free Deck... but big queue to collect!

All the next day we did a tour of the main casinos visiting among others Caesars Palace, Aladdin, Barnaby Coast, Harrahs, The Bellagio, Paris and The Venetian. New York, New York, The MGM Grand, and the Excalibur. In the evening we revisited the Bellagio to see the floodlit water fountains, a show not to missed. after the gorgeous Mexican meal in La Salsa in the Luxor we decided to try our luck with the roulette. Lisa won $35 and so we left straight away taking our winnings and free drink to some funny looks from the croupier and other players... Apparently we're supposed to throw it all back on the table under the guise of entertainment?... yer right! Unfortunately our luck didn't stretch to winning the Ford Thunderbird at the Mandelay Bay.

The Bellagio FountainsLuxor SphinxExcaliburVeniceNar we never went in in the end

Day 15 Las Vegas - Home

Re-routed via Paris!

After dropping the car off at the depot, snif snif (it wouldn't fit in the suitcase unfortunately) we got the shuttle bus to McCarren International airport, which even had slot machines in the departure lounge so that the addicted gamblers could squeeze in that last flutter. Then, after a delayed flight, we got re-routed via Newark, Paris before getting to Manchester minus luggage! Still was good to get back for the rest!! Ha could do with a holiday to get over this one!

Top luggage Tip: If, after reading this you and your partner are inspired to do a similar trip, when packing take the following advice. Pack one case with stuff for both of you for the first week and then pack a second case for the second week. It saves carrying two cases at every Motel stop for the full two weeks. (Take a break eat your heart out!) Enjoy

 

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