Today’s mission was to get as much of LA in as possible in only 6hours. Think we did pretty well considering how long it took to drive from one bit to another. After a random drive to get to the Holywood sign, we eventually found the park with a good view, but again running dangerously low on fuel but easier to find a petrol station this time. On the way to the beach, we stumbled upon Hollywood Boulevard, site of the handprints and stars of stars in the pavement, along with Johnny Depp (see pic!).
Then, the final few hours in the US were spent wandering along Santa Monica beach, with Dolphins surfing in the waves! (yes Mum/Helen, I know you’ve swum with them before! 🙂 )
This update is being written from a Burger King in LA airport, one I think I’ve been to before with Rich, our total fast food meals probably account for half the meals we’ve eaten, when in the US… 🙂

Where the streets have no name…


Well, actually they all do, even the little dirt tracks off to the middle of nowhere, so I guess U2 got that one wrong. For the music fans out there, that means we’re heading to the Joshua Tree National Park, making the full use of the $80 pass we’ve bought, and breaking up a 250 mile driving day. It was another scorcher, so top up and air-con on again, but when you realise that the park is actually the boundary between two deserts, it explains the heat. Anyway, we cruised through the park, with U2 playing all the way through, the music actually fits well with the scenery, so either this is another Pink Floyd – Wizard of Oz link, or could just be me, as I think I’d find U2 music fitting anywhere…
The Joshua Tree portion of the park is actually quite small, and limited to the cooler (~35 Celsius!), higher Mohave desert, the park then drops down to the hotter Colorado desert, with the cacti you’d expect. Wildlife seemed to be quite abundant too, strange white lizards, little squirrel creatures, and a coyote have been added to the list.
We’re now reaching the end of the US part of our trip, tomorrow is LA but only for the day as we’re flying out to Rarotonga in the evening. I’m not sure what the internet access will be like for the next two weeks, so blog updates may be sporadic – I’ve added lots of photos to the link to the right – health warning: there’s an awful lot of them, but hopefully not too boring!

Living the high life


We decided to splash out this morning and book a helicopter ride to see the Grand Canyon. Thinking that we are only here for a very very short time and because we had been saving for over a year for this trip that we deserved the really expensive long flight (might as well go the whole hog! – you only do it once in a life time right? (ok 2nd time for Si))
Anyway it was amazing and worth every penny/cent! Our flight took us in a huge circle over a very vast area of the Canyon which isn’t even a fraction of the whole thing (Canyon trivia for you; the half owned by the National Park is about the size of Switzerland! Pretty big, huh!) It is so big that even when you are going at 150 miles an hour it doesn’t feel like your moving! We dipped down into the Canyon and caught some fantastic views of the Colarado river, then travelled along the dragon corridor and had some tummy flipping moments as we soared up and over the rim again. Anyway, as I said, it was worth every penny – there is no other way we could have seen as much of the Canyon, even if we had a week! Definitely something everyone should experience at least once in a lifetime. We are already planning our trip back!
Although it’s not even been a full day since we arrived in the Grand Canyon, it’s time to leave, as there is a very long road trip back to LA ahead. Lake Havasu was as far as we could make, new site of the old London Bridge, yes the world famous transaction in 1976 when America thought they were buying Tower Bridge (funnily, they didn’t mention that), at a cost of 2.5 million to buy, and 4.5 million to shift the thing. It is a bit surreal seeing a piece of London in the US, especially in 111F heat – yes, that’s hotter than Death Valley was…
Wildlife update for Helen: Turkey Vulture (it’s almost a condor :-)), and a skunk – luckily with no smell!

The long (but not so windy) road!


After an early (ish) swim we set off on the long long long road to the Grand Canyon (it’s almost 300 miles!) That’s ok though as Si is happy driving his automatic (it’s not really driving is it, just holding the wheel straight?!) and thanks to the wonders of Walmart (it really is a great place!) we can now listen to my ipod rather than the yee haw American country radio. We stopped at the Hoover Dam which didn’t have a lot of water in it (Nevada is in droubt conditions – probably in some part due to their water spraying out of every building cooling method!)
Shortly after that we had a worrying 23 miles or so where the car was so empty it was running on fumes. The A/C was off, and speed dropped to conserve fuel! (Thanks to Dad for years of fuel saving tips 🙂 – Si) Luckily we made it to the petrol station – a bit sweaty but still intact! It’s hard to believe in a country as dependant on fuel as the US you can go for 60 miles without a fuel pump and then you hit 10 within a mile! Anyway enough ranting, air con was then back on for the rest of the journey!
Fortuitously, we arrived at Grand Canyon just before sunset, the red and brown colours created by the setting sun were amazing, even more so as we will be gone before the next sunset, makes you realise what a whistlestop tour this is!

Viva Las Vegas


We’re all Vegased out! Seems like we’ve spent all day walking, feet are so tired! And that’s mostly just walking around huge maze like hotels trying to navigate our way around! To get to the monorail they direct you all the way around the casino, past the restaurants and shops, hoping that you might part with some more of your hard earned cash.
On that score we definitely left Vegas up- thanks in part to Si and his lucky cows but mostly as a result of a near escape with a time share salesman (the less said about that the better!) Our brief (I wish) daliance with said man gifted us with $50 and tickets for Mama Mia, which even Si enjoyed!
Excited to be leaving Vegas tomorrow and heading for the Grand Canyon.
P.S We stopped at a Walmart today and Si blew some of the cobwebs out of his wallet to buy a DS (as a result of such an extravagant expense his credit card was suspended! Hee hee)
P.P.S I wanted to joke that we had gotten drunk and ended up getting hitched in the hotel wedding chapel but for some reason Si didn’t think that was funny!

Death Valley and Vegas baby!


Today began with a cold swim at 7:30 am. Are you impressed? Si wasn’t!
After that we headed off to Vegas by driving through Death Valley. Some Death Valley trivia for you; it is America’s largest national park (except Alaska), and covers more than 3.3 million acres! The Badwater Basin salt pan is 282 feet below sea level, the lowest point in North America (quite staggering when you think we were at 9000 feet yesterday on the Tioga pass). But enough guidebook speil, the only thing I will remember is that it is hot! Hotter than hot. As we first drove in we had the top down on the car but we quickly put it up and turned the air conditioning on. The temperature then crept up from 85 ish to 109!! Needless to say we didn’t get out the car much, when we did it felt like hairdryers blowing at you from all directions, we certainly weren’t going to be doing any hiking today!
In the end we decided to head off early to maximise the Vegas fun, and fun it is! The whole place is like one giant theme park for adults, starting off with a map of the hotel attractions when you check in! Every hotel has a large portion of the ground floor set aside for gambling, surprisingly mostly slot machines, with some as low as 1c bets. There are other things to see, like the lions in the MGM Grand, and the Coyote Ugly bar – barmaids on the bar pouring drinks into people’s mouths (literally). Plenty more to explore tomorrow!

Bearing oneself…


So, a trip back to Yosemite, under the ruse of doing another walk to get a better look at some big rocks, but really to catch a glimpse of a big bear/other such dangerous wildlife. The first informaion sign was promising, warning of mountain lions, and how children should be kept close by, and if one attacks, attack back (We weren’t sure if that meant biting it, but we were prepared). Then turning the corner, crowd were all staring off to the side, it turned out to be a bear! Actually, it didn’t look that ferocious, it just ignored the people staring and just carried on foraging. The rest of the walk was pretty uneventful after that, no lions, just a lot of squirrels (frightening things making noises a lot like bears…), until the end where we saw another bear and cub. Interesting how they were all near the campsite we passed, glad I’m not camping there! Cat – does that beat your bear sightings? Yours seemed a bit closer though, not the bigfoot style picture we took!
Then to the Tioga pass, the back door to Yosemite. The 40 mile road is closed through the winter due to snow, hard to believe when you’re in the valley roasting at 90 degrees. It could be any other main road through a forest, but then you whizz past the sign that marks 9000 feet, that’s well over twice the height of Ben Nevis!
Andy – just had another Jack in the Box, mmm! 🙂



Today we did Yosemite. What an awesome place. Driving through with the top down and just looking up the view was amazing. Ranger Bob advised us to go for a short hike up to some water falls, 5 miles that can be done in 7 hours. Pah! said Simon, it’s a short hike, it’ll be easy! How wrong, I have never felt so tired in all my life!! (American miles are longer… 🙂 – Si) The first waterfall – Vernon Falls, although a mere trickle because of the summer, was pretty impressive, and that was from the bottom! From the top, it was just some water falling over the edge, but the view down the cliff made it worthwhile. Well, we’d made it that far, seemed silly not to carry on to the Nevada Falls. By the time we’d reached the bottom of those falls we were low on water, and only had a brownie between us (American size – so pretty much filled the rucksack) but we carried on like the couple of fool hardy souls we are. Everyone we met had proper walking poles,
with that hardened mountaineer look, this hill was only meant to be conquered by the best! Or so we thought, until the top, where there were 5 year old kids being dragged along by their parents… Anyway, in the picture you can see the second waterfall – did i mention that it was 2000ft up!? It was like sitting on top of the world and tempting to sit up there and watch the sun set over the mountain in front of us, however I was very worried about the bears and the fact that they might come out after dark and smell the orange peel that Si had in his backpack so we legged it down the other side of the mountain at a pretty swift trot, all the while looking over our shoulders for bears sneaking up on us. Luckily none were to be seen , although I’m pretty sure I heard one growling / snoring in the bushes next to the path. Bear or not we both trotted a little faster after that. Made it down to the bottom in record time, in the end it took 5 hours – but it
was worth it! (I was right, they over estimated! – Si)
Back at the hotel, I had a bath and Si went out to forage for food, he came back with burgers from Jack in the box, I think he is adjusting to the American lifestyle a bit too well – they were all he could get, honest!! Ah well, think we earned them today. Heading back to Yosemite again tomorrow, hopefully for a more leisurely stroll. Might pop down to Mirror lake – Ranger Bob reckons we might see a bear there and apparently that would be a good thing!!

Farewell to San Fran


Saturday and time to leave this cool city 🙁 Last breakfast in our hotel, sampled the waffles again and Si still managed to resist those burgers!)
We managed to pack in a lot of cool stuff before heading for the hills. Today was all about the Golden Gate.
First stop Golden Gate park and some mild pangs of guilt as I watched lots of people jogging past (too much nice food around here to try to stay slim – and the size of the portions!! Judith, you will be pleased to hear that yes I have put on weight! Must do something about that later!) We wandered around the Japanese tea garden (the Japanese know how to do good gardens!) and had a cup of oolong tea – very nice (thanks for tip Alison).
After the park we headed to the beach – didn’t expect it to be windier than Westport! (beach near Campbeltown) It doesn’t look this windy on the OC! Hopefully won’t be so windy when we head to south California and check out Newport beach etc.
We then drove over the Golden Gate bridge, with the roof down of course! And headed to Muir woods to check out lots of very old, very giant redwoods. It was early evening and quite quiet so I was a little wary of meeting mountain lions but all was fine, only animal we encountered was a cute little dear, even I can handle that!
Long drive ahead of us now as tomorrow we are heading for Yosemite (just a little worried about the bears,esp after Cat’s encounter, hope Si is up to the job of being my protector!)
Good night and god bless.
Simon’s addendum – Driving an automatic is so easy, just stop and go pedals! On motorways there’s also cruise control, so only need to steer. I liked it so much, I drove to the wrong motel, just to get some extra driving in! 😉

Some things that Si missed!


Right, I finally got my hands on the computer (only cos Si is driving!) so it’s my turn to post a blog! First of all, I agree Chris, there were lots of great photos of Alcatraz that could have been posted so here’s my choice.
Si also forgot to mention that we wandered around Pacific Heights and admired all the mansions – couldn’t quite work out which one was used in the film tho. We also tried chili in a sour dough bowl – was very nice but very difficult to eat, especially when wearing a white T-shirt! So Cat, I think we fulfilled all your recommendations- sour dough, ride a cable car, see the sea lions.Thanks for all your tips, it was a great city!