lørdag 5. september 2015

Coast to coast in the US - week 1

Tollef wanted to drive across the US, and we have been planning this trip more or less since the last time we were both here. It's never been one of my dreams, but it is undeniable that the trip will offer a huge variety of nature, culture, sights and experiences. Tollef went ahead to San Francisco to work there for a few days, while I came a few days later, having a couple of days to catch up with jetlag after the trip, before hitting the road. We have a rough plan of the route, with some time to make detours if we feel like it, and exactly four weeks to make it from San Francisco to Newark.

Day 1 - Yosemite, crossing the Sierra Nevada

Finally, our first day on the road, after a couple of quiet days in San Francisco. Still a bit jet-lagged, I got up as early at 7, and had a quick breakfast before we headed out to get the car.

The area around San Francisco and Oakland is extremely dry now, everything brown and dried up except for agricultural areas. Along rivers and dams we could see the markings of the normal waterlevel, so much higher up than the actual waterline. The trip to the mountains seemed to last forever through this dry landscape. Finally we headed up the long, winding road up to Yosemite. It can't quite compete with our Trollstigen in Norway, but whoever has been there will have an idea of the feeling of our ascent. Not far into the forest we sighted a lot of burned areas with black, deadened trees. Forest fires occur regularly, and there is a lot of information about current fires and what to do if you see one. Impressively enough the ash keeps a lot of nutrition for the earth, so the grass grows quite quickly back in these areas after a fire.

After a while we entered more rocky areas. We made a short stop at the visitor centre to eat a late lunch, and then headed to the Dog Lake parking area. From there we walked a rather steep path, first to the Lembert Dome and then on to Dog Lake, about 2700 metres above sea level. Everything was dry, but slightly greener than the burned out areas. On our way to the Dome we met a deer grazing along the track, and she didn't seem to mind us at all. On the walk we also saw some birds and some funny squirrels, quite different from the ones we have in Norway.

The nature was very pretty, but not all that different from certain areas at home. After a few hours we were back at the parking lot, and drove the last 30 minutes to Lee Vining, a small town about 2000 metres above sea level. With a population of 398 it's a rather small town by the Mono Lake, but still has several motels and eating places. We had dinner at a nearby diner called Nicely's, and it was just that, really nice. Good food, American portions.

Tomorrow we are heading up to ghost town Bodie to look around, before we head the long way south through Death Valley and to Las Vegas. Vegas, here we come!

Day 2 – Bodie – Death Valley – Las Vegas

This morning we headed north for Bodie, stopping for some scenic photos of Mono Lake on our way. The road to Bodie was also steep and winding, as the town lies about 2500 metres above sea level.

I am not sure what I expected, but I was a bit disappointed by the ghost town. It didn't feel quite real to me, like actual people had lived there. But there was a lot of interesting houses and a few stories. We walked around taking photos for about an hour, and then started on the long drive to Vegas through Death Valley.

The road south is lined with the Sierra Nevada on one side, and some parts have mountains on both sides of the road, everything surrounded by rock desert. On the road south of Yosemite the Sierras look incredibly high and impassable. Turning off towards Death Valley, we crossed a small mountain range and a smaller desert valley, before entering the real thing. Apart from the temperature, Death Valley is a lot of dry rock, mostly. We stopped for ice cream in Stovepipe Wells (which lies at sea level), and took some photos of the nice sand dunes there. The temperature was about 47 degrees Celsius. Really hot, but actually not too unbearable as long as there was a small breeze in the air and very dry. We continued on through rock desert and salt fields, through the lowest level of 87 metres below sea level. Crossing another mountain range, I will really enjoy a couple of days without any steep and winding roads!

Coming down the mountains towards Las Vegas was a huge contrast to the endless mountains and rock desert. Lights for miles in all direction, and the area of higher buildings and even more lights was easily detected from a distance. We made our way to the Monte Carlo hotel, and had a quick shower before heading out to look at the circus. Not unexpectedly, Las Vegas was an overwhelming amount of lights, noise and people. It is really not that unlike the party boats between Norway and Denmark, a lot of entertainment, alcohol and shopping, just a lot more of it, and a lot of casinos on the top. We skipped the casinos for the first night, and had a nice dinner before we went to see the fountain show at the Bellagio hotel. My expectations were probably a bit too high, it was not fantastic, but really nice watching in the night.

Day 3 – Las Vegas

A day (almost) without driving, and certainly without crossing any mountains! Waking up to a Las Vegas in daytime was definitely a very different world from the night time city. The building noises that started about 8 o'clock certainly didn't help.
After breakfast we walked to the neighbour hotel, New York, New York, to check out the chocolate store. It was nice, but not great, and the M&M World store just across the road was a lot better!
Seeing the queue for buying show tickets, and not finding any shows that was really tempting, we decided to skip the show and spend our time on the Strip and by the pool instead.
After visiting the chocolate stores we dropped by a casino, and I lost my first few dollars at gambling. Then we had a light smoothie lunch, and walked back to the hotel to spend a couple of hours resting by the hotel pool.

For the evening we had decided to visit downtown and the well known Fremont Street Experience, a four block arcade with casinos, entertainment and eating places. Not that unlike the Strip really, just more old fashioned and downsized. We took the car, driving by the Welcome to Vegas-sign that we missed last night, and cruised down the Strip to have a look at the rest of it without walking our feet off. On Fremont Street you can find the quite controversial Heart Attack Grill, strip clubs, casinos, zip-lining just underneath the roof, and of course your share of souvenir shops and street artists. Quite similar to the Strip in some ways, it was a lot nicer, some because of the pedestrian road with no cars and traffic noise, and also a roof that took some of the heat away, which also meant that the indoors were not so heavily air-conditioned. Very nice, when even in night time the temperature lies between 35-40 degrees Celsius.

I tried my luck again in the casino, and this time I won a few dollars before I decided to quit while on a winning streak. Having decided to “waste” a certain amount of money on gambling I made another round as we came back to the Monte Carlo that evening, and won another few. Maybe not rich, but I have at least come out of a casino with more money than I had before going in!

Day 4 Las Vegas – Hoover Dam – R66 – Flagstaff

The first stop of the day was the Hoover dam. Although it is “just a dam”, it is very impressive to look at. From the dam we drove south to Kingman and from there we took off on to Route 66. The places along the route was very varying, from a couple of run down buildings, to all out route 66-themed villages. We stopped in Peach Springs and had a really good lunch, and then in Seligman for photos of some of the old parts of the town.

After the Route 66 joined the highway we also entered the Kaibab National Forest, and there was a lot more vegetation and large forest areas. A very nice contrast to the dry desert-like areas we have passed through so far. We easily found our motel in Flagstaff for the night. I was a bit disappointed though, as the pool appeared to be a very small one (hardly qualified for a pool) and placed in the middle of the parking lot. No relaxing swim before bedtime.

Day 5 Grand Canyon – Desert View – Grand Canyon Village

The main reason for going to Flagstaff was of course to visit the Grand Canyon. We took the scenic route, going up to Cameron and drove along the South Rim, stopping first at the Desert View Tower. The tower was designed in 1932 by Mary Colter, and gives a great view of parts of the canyon. We also got the mandatory postcards, and a puzzle for me.
We made another stop at a scenic viewpoint, and had our lunch, donuts included, before driving to the Grand Canyon Village. Apart from the Rim itself, there is a lot of activity on the plateau. You can bicycle, ride or walk along the rim, and there is of course a selection of gift shops. At the village there is also a Hopi house that sells a lot of native art and craft products that are really nice.

Tollef walked along the Rim from the village to the visitor centre further up, while I drove back to the visitor centre and took the short walk out to the viewpoint there. The view is fantastic, and really hard to catch with a camera, but of course you have to try.

We were back at the motel not too late, which suited us fine. Both a bit tired after eventful days on the road, it is very nice to spend a quiet relaxing evening.

Day 6-7 Flagstaff – Tucson

From Flagstaff we went to Tucson to see a friend of Tollef, and stopped only once for scenic photos on the way, and once for lunch. We really needed a non-sightseeing day without loads of impressions.
On Saturday morning, Tollef and our host went to see the Titan Missile Museum, while I stayed back at the house to get some rest. After lunch we are heading out for an evening visit to the Desert Museum, when hopefully all the desert animals are up and awake.

For the first week we have covered about 2250 km (various stops and in-town driving not counted), assuming about 24 hours of driving time. 

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