A Kiwi couple's cruising adventures on America's Great Loop and around the coast of New Zealand

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

The Great Western Loop

Early last year Carolyn dropped a hint that she wanted to go back and visit the USA by buying this painting, and labelling it with a Post-it saying "Take me to the USA - your shout".

I left it a couple of months then figured that life was too short to worry about being afraid to travel without full insurance cover, so I gave it back in May with an amendment "OK how about August". Since it was my birthday on the 2nd, that's when we decided to leave (so I could have it twice, by crossing the dateline).

On my bucket list was the aircraft boneyard at Tucson, Meteor Crater just out of Winslow Arizona, and "Standing on the corner park" in Winslow itself. Winslow stands on part of old Route 66 and it was my 66th birthday too!. I also wanted to see some dinosaur stuff and another airplane museum we had gone past in a train going to Yosemite many years ago at a place called Attwater CA. Carolyn wanted to see the Desert zoo at Tucson and some real American indian stuff, so we planned this route, which was to take us approx 2800 miles over 3 weeks. (we actually finished up doing 3465 miles).

I decided not to use the blog to communicate (as explained in my last post) so I sent emails to interested parties as the trip unfolded. Rather than write a whole lot of new stuff, I will post up editted content of those emails.

4 August 2016

Arrived safely and are presently in Indio CA (just east of Palm Springs). It was a good flight - Carolyn didn't get an upgrade but the seat next to her was empty and so she could spread out. The food was superb and I watched 5 episodes of series 6 Game of Thrones. The lay-down bed was OK, but you still don't get a lot of sleep. It took and age to get through customs at LAX and by the time we got our rental car it was 3pm and we hit rush hour traffic. It took us 2 hours to do the first 30 miles and 3 to get to San Bernadino. We then found the drivers seat on the rental wouldn't adjust (POS Buick) so this morning I had to go back to Hertz and swap it. I ended up going to 3 different Hertz outlets before going to Ontario airport, before I could get a replacement. We finished up with a brand new Hyundai, but his took 2 hours and is why we were running late - so we went shopping at Walmart instead. We bought a couple of prepaid phones so we can communicate with each other and other places, if necessary.

We didn't go on the gondola as it was getting late by the time we arrived and we had to organise a hotel for the night as well. We got a Quality Inn next to a big resort/Casino and may go there for dinner tonight. It is 108 degrees here at the moment (6pm). Off to Phoenix tomorrow

7th August 2016

Yesterday Carolyn did something from her bucket list, we went to the Arizona - Sonora Desert Museum Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Tucson, AZ - Zoo, Botanical Garden and Art Galleryfabulous, magical, these tiny little humming birds whizing around, one of them put out her very long tiny tongue..... amazing.

Today was the first on my bucket list. I went to the PIMA air and space museum and airplane "boneyard" in Tucson and found that the  boneyard was closed to the public on the weekend! However, I could drive around the outside, and I also found out about another museum while I was there - the Titan Missile museum - so I went to that too. Its the last remaining underground ICBM silo in the world and still has a Titan missile in it (although the Russians come and check to make sure it doesn't work).

Carolyn went to the Tucson Mall half a block away from the motel, and did some laundry, and had a swim after the pool had cooled down a bit later in the day. Its 105 degrees F today (40.5C).

11th August 2016

After Tucson, we drove up to Meteor Crater AZ, a sombre thought after I had been told that the Titan missile that he had seen the day before would make a hole the same size. Still on my bucket list we then went to Winslow, so he could "stand on the corner" (like in the Eagles song "Take it easy"). Carolyn had more fun than I did fooling around with the statue of Jackson Brown, who actually wrote the song, and it was on route 66.

We then spent the night in the Navajo Nation Capital at Window Rock. The Museum there related how the Dine` (the real name for Navajo - pronounced "dineh") had struggled with the government, for their lands, from this we found out about Canyon de Chelly , where the Dine` went to hide and fight; first from the Spanish, then from the US soldiers. So we drove up the indian road instead of the main highway so we could get to see the canyon. There had been showers of rain every day around us, this made the bottom of this canyon breathtakingly green and lush. So far the best part of the trip has been travelling and learning about the history of this amazing people.

Today we're in Moab, UT - about halfway around. Moab is quite a posh little town, a bit reminiscent of Queenstown. Off tomorrow to look at Dinosaur fossils

13th August 2016

I hadn't realised when we planned the trip that this part of the USA was so high - we were used to the low, flat country of the heartland and Great Lakes. On the map of the trip so far, I have added in the elevations above sea level in places we have been. Meteor crater was 5600ft above sea level and they warned us that we might get a bit puffed when we walked up the stairs to the lookouts, because of the thinner air. Which is what happened, but we didn't realise that from that time on we have been a mile above sea level pretty well ever since. The Navajo Nation is nearly all at almost 7000ft, and after Moab (which is in a Canyon at a mere 4000), we had to cross a mountain pass at 9141ft to get to Vernal. To get an idea, Mt Ruapehu is 9176ft high. Even our motel in Vernal is at 5328ft. Still beautiful weather - but a bit cooler in the mornings (65F this morning) but still gets into the high 80's in the afternoon.

We've spent all of today chasing round after dinosaurs. First we went to the Dinosaur National Monument (they call their National Parks "monuments, but their State Parks...."parks"), about 20 miles away, and visited the Carnegie Dinosaur Quarry. Dinosaur National Monument (U.S. National Park Service). This is a cliff face that has hundreds of dinosaur bones still embedded in it. They have covered about one fifth of it with a huge building so the public can see how the bones look "in situ" and, in fact, they are no longer digging the site so they can leave it intact in its natural surroundings for later scientific analysis. They are now excavating fossils from other dig sites within the Park, which they keep secret to stop poachers from removing fossils.

We then went to another Dino Museum in town, run by the Utah State Park Service, which was also pretty impressive. Utah Field House of Natural History State Park Museum | Utah State Parks. Hard to believe that the mountains we are now in that rise to 12000ft were once flat open plains at sea level - mind you, that was 135 million years ago, or so. Within an 80 mile radius of Vernal there are types of rock of every geological era, the oldest dating back to Precambrian times between 545 million and 4.5 billion years ago. And you think YOU feel old.

Off to Salt Lake City tomorrow - we have to climb to 7000ft again to get there.

17th August 2016

We got away from Vernal, suffering a little from what we suspect was altitude sickness - apparently you can get it if you go quickly to around 5000ft or more and stay there for more than a few days - we had been above that altitude for a week by then. The only cure is to get below it, which didn't happen for us until we reached Salt Lake City and the drive to there was at altitudes between 5000 and 7000ft. (I have discovered our GPS has a setting that gives continuous altitude readings).

Just before Salt Lake City (SLC), we stopped in for a look at Park City which is a huge mountain resort town where the 2002 Winter Olympics were held They also host the Sundance Film Festival. The place was packed and they use the Olympic venues for all sorts of fun things, both summer and winter.

There wasn't much at SLC to see, so after a reasonable nights sleep we headed off to a place called Elko, stopping in at the Bonneville Salt Flats, where "Speedweek" was happening (land speed records and all that). Its near a town called Wendover - half of the town is in Utah and the other half is in Nevada. They have a 1 hour time difference so you can straddle the state line and be half in one and the other at two different times. Spooky! Also Nevada has legal gambling, Utah does not and there are 2 Casinos right on the Nevada side of border, with their car parks in Utah.

Carolyn is in Utah, I am in Nevada and we are an hour apart

Elko is also in the high desert, over 5000ft, but the night in SLC had helped with the mountain sickness and we felt a lot better. We were basically following the old "California Trail" which the settlers used to travel West during the mid 1800's. Near Elko is a fascinating museum dedicated to those mad buggers and if you want to read what sort of thing they went through take a look at the "Donner Reed Party" at Donner Party - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. There is an audio-visual presentation about them at the centre that is fairly sobering.

We are now in Reno, having crossed the Sierra Nevada (7000ft again), and are staying at the Sands Casino. It is an older Casino and a bit tired, but we have a huge room and, as it was only $30 a night, we are staying 3 nights. As we left SLC early, we have a day up our sleeve, so we are going to do a day trip around Lake Tahoe tomorrow and head off for Sacremento the next day.

19 August 2016

Here we are still at Sands Casino in Reno. Despite it being a bit sleazy, it is cheap and there is plenty of places to eat close by. We don't have a fridge in the room but the icemaker is right outside the door and to keep the large room reasonably cool, the airflow out of the airconditioner is low enough to keep the beer at just the right temperature. Instead of staying in Carson City and circumnavigating Lake Tahoe as per our itinerary, we did this as a day trip - which has given us another day up our sleeve.

On our way to Lake Tahoe, we drove through Carson City which we expected to be a bit run down from what we had gathered online. However, it turned out to be quite an attractive place and there is a lot of beautification of the old downtown area going on, which will make it even prettier when finished. Lake Tahoe is quite spectacular and VERY popular. South Lake Tahoe (town) is another ski/summer resort which, again, straddles the state borders of Nevada and California. So all the Casinos are in NV, but there are still huge hotels on the CA side, many of which are at, or above Las Vegas quality. We had lunch at the marina on the Lake there - nice food, nice outlook....but at a resort you pay resort prices, and it was the most expensive meal we have had so far in the USA.

Further round the lake, the road winds around the mountains and is rather narrow in places but for the first 20 miles, there were cars parked in every possible space on the side of the road - we have no idea what all the people were doing, but there was a lot of them doing it. One section of road, about 500 metres long and at 6800ft elevation, was barely 2 cars wide on a knife-edge ridge dropping off 300ft one side into Cascade Lake and 500ft into Lake Tahoe on the other. Fortunately, there were no RV's or trucks coming at us at that time.

We went to a huge outlet centre in Reno a couple of days ago, but didn't take a camera and there was one store that really needed documenting. It is called Sheels and is a huge sports outfitter with a ferris wheel inside the store and enough guns to supply a small army - and they are soooo cheap! There is also a fake mountain covered in every wild animal that you are likely to see around here. I have attached some pix of the store, but it doesn't really portray the immensity of the place.

Last night was free Blues Band night by the pool, with a band "Jokers Wild" playing and other folk bringing along their instruments and jamming along with them. The main band weren't bad and the second lot that got up were great, so I went to get my video camera to record them. Mercifully, both the camcorder batteries were flat, because after I got back, the quality of the music deteriorated to a point where it became painful to listen to. In all the drunken hangi parties our family and friends have ever performed "Whimaweh (the lion sleeps tonight)" at, the worst would be 10 times better than this lot provided as we walked away at the end of the evening. Apparently it was the band leaders birthday and the deterioration seemed to be in direct proportion to the amount of grog he consumed.

Still 100F today. We have done a bit of Walmarting but are having a relax day before heading to Sacremento tomorrow.

23rd August 2016

Back at sea level and the breathing is easy (sing to the tune of "Summertime). From Reno we still stayed at high elevation and crossed the Sierras within 6 miles of those silly buggers that got themselves stuck for 5 months during the winter of 1846/7 while trying to get to California.

Then there was the big descent down to Sacremento where we visited Sutters Fort, the owner of which (Sutter) went to rescue them. On the drop down, an empty aluminium beer bottle in the pocket of the drivers door started making crunching noises and when we got to Sacramento, we found it made a good illustration or the difference in air pressure at 6000ft vs sea level (pic below).

As we were still a day ahead, we rearranged the itinerary to break the return through California in to 3 stops, rather than 2. Wed stayed in Sacramento near Folsom, made famous by Johnny Cash singing about (and in) the prison - which is still there and much bigger (but we didn't go and look)

Further down, I visited Castle Air Museum, which we had seen back in 1998 when we were travelling by train from San Francisco to Yosemite National Park, but couldn't get off the train. I always wanted to have a closer look and now I have.

We were going to stay in Merced, but it was booked out so we had to go another 20 miles to Madera (pronounced a bit like the cake).From Sacrameto, we had been coming down the San Joaquin Valley, which is the most productive agricultural area in the world. They grow more than 260 different crops here and are the world's largest supplier of canned tomatoes. Unfortunately also one of the most polluted parts of California, so the scenery ain't that great.

We spent last night in Bakersfield and are now at Stevensons Ranch - yet another resort area just North of LA with a theme park (6 Flags Magic Mountain) that covers 260 acres. Temperatures have remained around 100F.

A little over 3000 miles so far, and only a few more to go before heading home. Catch y'all then

....and that was pretty well it. A days shopping in LA then off home  - after spending the evening in the new Star Alliance lounge at LAX, which is just SUPERB

Our first trip back to the USA since bringing Loopy Kiwi home (but not the last!!!)

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