Bucket List 101.
Sunday – Los Angeles, by Wednesday 5 National Parks, 10,000 feet hotels, 1500 miles in a jeep, by myself with religious radio channels. ……..what’s not to like? …………by the end of the tour………..3947 miles, 19 tanks of petrol, still counting the number of National parks, one spectacular coastline and 18 roller coasters.
When you are wobbling between 8000 and 10,000 feet above sea level, bits of your body you’ve not heard from in a while begin to turn up…………such as your lungs! The stairs in the hotel suddenly feels like Everest (there are only 2 floors, so no lift required……breath……breath). Honestly, only the chart tells me I’m at over 8000 feet, I’d have no clue. This is a plateau as such…on the trek from Monument Valley to Bryce National Park. It’s not an alien planet. Although it does tell me why the Esso lorry has been stalking me for the last 2 days! On the way up I was bitching to myself …….note, if you talk in the car and there is no one else in it…….are your theories wrong? Anyways, the car for the last day sounded like my first driving lesson, revving the soul out of the engine and and you’ve no idea why! Then you discover the clutch. Well this is an automatic, so there is an auto clutch, but the poor jeep sounded like it was clutching at straws! Was this a defective jeep? NOPE Now it’s clear, bless it’s cotton socks …….it was climbing and dropping 8000 feet. Google’s map almost hides the altitude unless of course you get really intimate with it with the mapping! Other items you notice, if your engine calves, you are screwed, there’s no phone signal, at least not for the days around the canyons, and the car radio only seems to have religious channels, some sneaky with decent music, others more catholic than the pope……or mormon……..or…….but, if you’ve not brought C.D’s and your car is not fitted with ipod style unbiloical cords………be prepared for lots and lots of silence……..
So, edited highlights, since leaving Los Angeles, the route has been, Los Angeles, San Andreas Fault line (yea that the big scary earthquake epicentre which lives just outside Los Angeles, and a bit like other natural terrors, it does not go around with hazard lights. Unless you know where to look, you’ll drive right by)the Mojave desert, Death Valley, Las Vegas. Death Valley is a detour going between Los Angeles and Las Vegas..but you’d be mad to miss it! It’ opens into vistas …………I’ll interject here………this is a trip of a lifetime! We as a race can build towers and bridges etc, nobody, but nobody beats mother nature for true spectaularisation! Honestly, I could have sat for hours, looking into the valley before arriving over to the next valley – Death Valley. High mountains, dunes, rocky outcrops. You come in along US 190, passed the Panamint Springs Resort. I couldn’t but stop the car at one the viewing points. Stopping the car to look very touristy happens alot on this route! Looking in over the valley, and then out of no where……..below me popped two F16 fighter jets, shooting along the desert floor and zooming straight up alongside the canyon walls to some incredible height. Looking at them zoom out of sight my mind is meanwhile thinking……….I wonder is there a rattle snake looking at me going “I’ll open a take away if I bag this guy”……and the rattle snake would have home advantage! ……….God don’t let me die………I don’t want to be a take away dinner!
104Fahrenheit as I arrive at the Mesquite Flat Dunes.http://www.nps.gov/deva/learn/nature/sand-dunes.htm
This was a shock to the system! Irish people do heat to the same extent as bowling balls float. I’m not sure if I was just high on emotion, but I then set off across the Dunes. Tommy of Mesquite does not have the same aura to it as Lawrence of Arabia……..but suddenly I knew how the inside of his flip flop felt! Also of note, on google maps, Death Valley shows as green, green to Irish people is……Wicklow, or Kerry! Leitrim has a better chance of winning an all Ireland hurling medal than Death Valley has of been green! If ever a National park had the Ronseal effect ………does exactly what is says……..Death Valley is it! For human anyways. There are three superlatives to sum up Death Valley, driest, hottest, lowest! Do it.
From Death Valley, it’s a straight shot across the desert to Las Vegas! I’m not going to write about Las Vegas except to say …….Palazzo! FAN FLIPPING TASTIC! Class joint. …….I was booked in as everyone else, but boys did they make you feel like a king in a palance! The whole quality aspect was outstanding, google Palazzo and look at the superlatives, this is no wigwam! As I departed the hotel at 5.30am I was amused to see many roulette and blackjack tables……….going strong! You expect the little old lady with a plant pot on the slots………I don’t know which brand of Red Bull the guys on the roulette tablewere smoking…….but these guys were hardcore.
Following the 05.30 departure. My next stop was the Desert Rose Inn, Bluff, Utah! Utah ……….it does not trip off the tongue as a place to visit. Utah………name one thing you know about Utah…….other than religion? …….sod all! Utah hosts some of the key Superpower National Parks.. Bryce, Zion, Monument Valley! Starting with John Wayne in Stagecoach (1939), Utah has been infront of your eyes since your childhood! The movie list goes on…….How the West was Won, the greatest story ever told, Footloose, Indiana Jones and the last Crusade, Thelma and Louise, Forest Gump, Maverick, Con Air, Independence Day………to name but a few.
I think I began to suffer from “Travel turrets syndrome”………”tree, canyon, rock, sky, road, pink, red”……..and that was just what was in front of me. Honestly words fail me in trying to describe the landscape. Monument Valley…….just blew me away. It’s another spot from which you could sit for hours just watching the sun’s glow beginning to fall away behind you, the colour dynamics continue to change with each change of degree as the sun moves torwards the horizon. As I left Monument Valley it was almost like leaving a girl you loved but would never get to see again! There is so much history, nostalgia here…..it’s simply incredible.
Bryce and Zion Canyons were the next stops. Along the way, it was Canyons to the left of me, canyons to the right of me. …….as I climbed, trees begun turning up which added a new green dimension to the whole show…….along with rivers, and streams..each gently flowing through the various canyons. Again, it was stop start driving, the GPS said it was 4 hours to Bryce………if I didn’t keep stopping…….6 hours later I arrived. Bryce at sunset, and Zion for sunrise. …….be prepared for early starts, but trust me, they’ll make you cry! Facebook, Xbox…anything you like, this pair just make you feel like you are alive and well and thankful for both.
Since setting off from Bryce Canyon, almost 1500 miles ago, I’ve nipped into Colorado, Wyoming, Nevada and now back into California. Last night before going to bed, In the weather forecast, there was a mention of “20% chance of snow”…….well for 3 hours solid that 20% stalked my car. Judging by the interstate (motorway) speeds, the locals are well used to it, judging by the number of 4X4’s stuck off the road having skidded, not all of them went to the same school of motoring!
Closing in on Salt Lake City, my home for the night was the Marriott Park City. Park City being a ski resort http://www.visitparkcity.com/. However ,it was also a very lovely little town, where everything fell to hand and was a change from the usual overnight stops some of the websites suggested. To be fair, Salt Lake City has some charms to it. But, as a stop with everything close to hand Park City was the shot. So far on my trip I’d dodged the usual suspect’s when it came to food. In a revelation to myself, I was happy not eating three times per day, one decent mean per day was spot on. I no longer drink the normal brands of beer, preferring instead to dig out micro brews etc purely from a taste perspective. And this trip did not let me down…….every town almost had a micro beer……all stunning. Likewise on hotels, I tried to stick to not the usual box room, in the same old crème coloured rooms, independent hotels, once they had a pool, air conditioning and a parking, my job was done! Obviously I didn’t choose hotels which needed cleaning up either. In the case of Park City, I had to go for a Marriott, but on the other hand I discovered a GEM of a restaurant. It was just lovely, to sit looking out the window onto what was a golf course…..they told me….but a snow covered golf course on my visit, into the mountains and the lovely little “town”. The vista from this little restaurant was more charming than a classic chocolate box cover, and I suspect as summer poured in, the greening would add more dimensions to the picture.
A virtual revolution has broken out in North America………..real food! It jumped at me on an earlier trip to Boston where the New Englanders were proud to advise – over 80% of Boston restaurants are non chain! Likewise since arriving, I’ve stayed away from the usual suspect restaurants…..and do you know I feel all the better for it. Microbrews are big business and when you taste the usual brands in comparison they are tasteless. Similar situation with food, when it hasn’t been injected with all sorts, I just think your body handles it so much better.
I left Park City at 05.00am in order to get to my first stop “The Bonneville Salt Flats”. http://www.utah.com/playgrounds/bonneville_salt.htm
Currently the UK holds the land speed record……..which was set at the second stop on my tour. However, Bonneville had the making of legends. It stretches back to a time when mankind almost weekly seemed to stretch it limits. An exciting time in history.
Black Rock Desert is host to two events……..one, the above land speed record and two “Burning Man”. http://burningman.org/
So for a spot, you’ve most likely never heard of. The Black Rock Desert has its place in history and is firmly on the map.
Now, after 15 hours in the saddle of my car, I thought I’d be sick of Priscilla Queen of the GPS, and Paddy the Patriot, my Jeep Patriot. However, I arrived in the Yosemite Park region with the excitement of a child on its second Ice-cream (the first one shows how nice ice creams really are).
“Our happiest moments as tourists happen when we discover something in the pursuit of something else”. Well, once you leave the Freeway, you break into route 120, the hills begin to gently roll, not just one or two, this continues for miles, the road gently rolls along with the hills and it’s gently fabulous! Then the trees around you grow taller, smaller towns bubble up along the way, you’ve almost left California or at least what we think is California. And you begin perhaps one of the most astounding drives in the world, the entranace to Yosemite National Park. I was back to being a tourist. The excitement took over, every ½ mile I had to jump from the car to photo…….something……trees, a river valley, a bridge, it is all a touch surreal. This is forestry on a grand scale; Yosemite is almost 1200 Sq miles! Approx 50 times bigger than Dublin. You are driving for maybe 30 miles, stepping from the initial rolling hills, to sheer cliff mountains landing 4000 ft above you. …………almost suddenly you arrive into Yosemite Village itself. I say suddenly because you’ve been too busy! Your brain, and eyes are optically challenged. This time I’ve chosen to go ……….camping! The hardest decision was “heated” or a“non heated” tent in the Curry Village. I chose heated (Mammies boy). It was sublime listening to the air falling almost 4000ft around you from the nearby mountain tops, to the valley floor. The sky above looked to be laminated by stars, and this amazing glow from the bright full moon. ………only the periodic staccato of snoring from the tent beside me broke the silence. Since entering Yosemite, my senses felt like they were being cleansed, the air was crisp, it felt like every hair on my skin was in touch, it was —6C outside my blanket so every molecule of cold air which tried to sneak under the blanket was quickly dealt with. I’ve never seen a sky so dark, so bright, so crystal clear. And the air matched the vision, this was living in 3D.
Rising again before sun up, Curry village has “communal showers” etc………..so first up best dressed. Now, I’m a townie inside and out, none of this camping lark, so, IPHONE flash lamp, a pair of runners and I was off to find the “Half Dome” before sunup. It was amazing to sit in a walled river valley looking up at the stars being replaced by the faint whitewash of blue sky slowly being illuminated by the sun’s rays. The transformation was bliss, the sky transforming from black to dark blue, blue and a milky blue. All this whilst sitting on the edge of mirror lake following the transformation of night to day. I really felt upto this point, I wasn’t living. I wasn’t sure if it was air or scenery I was breathing. Sitting on my rock, meadows at my feet, just looking at this huge rock being illuminated in the beginning by the setting full moon, and then on the opposite side of this incredible landscape by the warmth of the morning sun. You could feel the air instantly beginning to warm up and lift.
In my pre planning, the only station I had settled which needed two nights was Yosemite…..who was I kidding………it needs alot longer. As a good friend Deccy McCann has said “Americans invented the word “”Awesome”” when they say Yosemite!.
As you’ll have gathered from the above………Yosemite is fantastic ……..but do your homework so you don’t miss it!
So from 103F to 20F……….nothing like some small extremes to get the heart started!
Yosemite to San Francisco, the Big Sur, Walley World and home!
Leaving Yosemite, heartbreaking! The National Park which just keeps giving. However, the last 10 miles of the exit were not as stunning going out as coming in! Going , you had the rolling hills building up to this fantastic buzz you developed without alcohol. On the way out, once you left Yosemite, the hills rolled away and flat vineyards took over. Now you could make another holiday from visiting vineyards and they all invited you in with “All day winetasting”…….heaven for some!
However, I did have a schedule to keep and the Golden Gate bridge was my next date. ……San Francisco is, everything is says, Alcatraz, Golden Gate, Fishermans wharf etc. If you are driving, do an advance check on parking charges. $50.00 the first car park wanted for overnight parking, the hotel wanted $50.00 for parking also. I found parking across the street for $36 dead……no taxes or fees. As for food in San Francisco, $30.00 for a pizza! However, I did find fresh, and I mean fresh fish and chips for $10.00 – job done! And real chips, again 100 yards from my hotel. San Francisco was a turnaround point, and the hotel had laundry and dryers, so it was a good time to bring the car ambiance back under control. All I can say here is “I was a tourist”.
The following morning, well, to be fair, the following morning was a big portion of the reason I did this trip in the first place. The Big Sur, California highway 1. I’ve been before, but, I felt time may have helped my appreciation of doing it. And indeed it did. You essentially begin Highway 1 in San Francisco and that’s how you do it. If you go out through San Jose and Culpertino – unless you want a photo outside Apples headquarters, then take the coast road to Monterey. Monterey is for those on a budget, you really want to stay in Carmel, but, it can be expensive. Monterey is a lovely town, you can stay in a coast hotel and take it from there.
Monterey to Carmel, I began thinking of the Dingle peninsula……….on drugs. I could meander like the roads, not getting lost, but each turn of the road was a journey in itself. For 3 hours I stopped and started the car almost every minute. One place not everyone spots in planning is http://hearstcastle.org/. Depending on if you begin in Los Angeles or San Francisco, it’s at the beginning of the drive or the end. It’s just beautiful. I’m being short in my notes today, I really don’t want to spoil the surprises along the way. This drive offers so much more than you really read about. But do allow time!
Now, I had planned on overnight in Monterey but the hotels were jammers, or at least the ones I wanted to stay in, so, I actually pushed right down to Ventura, just north of Los Angeles. Now, there was method in my madness. My hotel the Crowne Plaza was on the beach in Ventura, which was rather lovely. Yet again within in a short stroll I had a lovely brew pub to help me ponder my day. But within 45 minutes drive I had the little known theme park of “Six Flags – magic mountain” in Valencia, California. Now, for most, Universal and Disney are “theme parks”. But for those who know their roller coasters……..number 3 on the top 10 roller coasts globally is…….yes you can meet Bugs Bunny! Yes you can do the family rides………..but………..in six flags – this is hardcore!
For movie buffs, you’ll have seen Six Flags before……….“Walley World” in National Lampoons vacation. You can google it. However, I did think the music from the end titles fitted my journey really well! Along with Willie Nelson ……….”we’re on the road again”.
My final morning, involved a brief spin to the Premium Outlets just below Ventura, and then back to Los Angeles international for my flight back on British Airways fantastic A380…….and I might add, the simplest security I have ever been through. Los Angeles international is not the drama it used to be!