USA 2009

Photographs of my road trip to California, Arizona, Nevada and Utah in Feb/Mar 2009

John Purcell, John Monoghan and I arrived in San Fransisco on Wednesday 25th February at about 4.30 and hired a car - a Toyota Camry automatic. We made our way to Fremont, a suburb South East of San Francisco where we were well looked after by John Purcell's sister, Margaret and her husband Axel. We spent the following day touring around the city, visiting Pier 39, Coit Tower and finally taking a cable car ride to the main shopping area, Union Square. We spotted bikes for sale and decided that a cycle across the Golden Gate bridge should be added to the list of things to do.

Click here for pictures of San Francisco.

On Friday 27th February, we took a trip south through Monterey and on to Cannery Row, made famous by John Steinbeck where we dined in Buba Gump's shrimp restaurant (named after the movie Forrest Gump). We then made our way further south along the 17 Mile Dive, a private road through scenic coastal routes, through Pacific Grove and Pebble Beach (home of the Lone Cypress - the official symbol of Pebble Beach) and on to Carmel where Clint Eastwood was Mayor. We had our dinner in Carmel (Clint failed to show) and back home to Fremont.

Click here for photos of California

On Saturday 28th we loaded up with food, vittals and a couple of bottles of Axel's wine and set off on our big adventure. Almost immediately, we got lost in a car park which didn't augur well for the rest of the trip. We then aran into difficulties with a Petrol (Gas) pumps. A fellow came out after we had struggled for a while with it to tell us "You are torturing my pumps!". We probably should have turned back at that stage and come home. Undaunted we carried on northwards through the California countryside to Yosemite, and booked into a motel near the El Portal gate ready to start our exploration of Yesomete the following morning.


We spent the next two days trecking along various paths and routes in Yosemite Valley. The upper part of the park was still closed because the winter snows had not thawed. Although the weather was cold and sometimes wet, the scenery was tremendous. There were few tourists around so we had the park almost to ourselves and met hardly anyone else while we were there - absolutely wonderful. We left on the evening of 2nd March down a winding trail to the valley and on to Fresno where we stayed the night.

Click here for photos of Yosemite

On Tuesday 3rd, we left Fresno to head for Kings Canyon to look at the Giant Sequioas. The most famous of them all is the General Grant and largest of them all is the General Sherman. At one stage during the day we hit an elevation of 7,000 ft and in the evening took the longest steepest windiest decent I was ever on down into the valley and into Exeter where we stayed overnight in the Kawayeh Motel. We had planned on spending a day or two in Sequoia Park but the snow was very deep, over 4 ft in places and none of the trails had been cleared yet, so we decided to head south for the sun.

Click here for photos of King's Canyon

On Wednesday 4th March, we left Exeter and headed across the Mojave Desert (about a 4 hour drive at the speed limit) on the long haul to Death Valley. While this was barren landscape, it was interesting in that the landsacpe changed by the mile with curious peaks in the distant changing shape and colour depending on the light. We stopped in a place called Bob's Buns in a town called Barstow for a break. The most interesting thing about Barstow, from my point of view, is that Route 66 goes through it...ah if only I had a bike.
After a six hour drive we ended up in Death Valley and booked into the Furnace Inn for the night.

Click here for photos of the Mojave Desert

In Death Valley, we stayed the first night in the Furnace Inn. The lads broke open one of Axel's bottles of wine and sat on the balcony drinking it . The next morning after an early start we headed off on a walk to Zabriskie Point - the name of one of the first films I saw when I came to Dublin. After the snows of Yosemite and Kings Valley, Death valley was VERY different. Our first walk was almost 6 miles to the Point and back through Gower Gulch across very rough terrain - an excellent walk. We then headed down to Badwater Basin, the lowest point in the USA 282 ft below seawater. As the Furnace Inn was relatively expensive, we decided to move outside the Valley on the next night and stayed in Beatty, coming back into the valley to walk. Our second walk was through Mosiac Canyon and we finished off in Death Valley doing a long hike through Titus Canyon. Unfortunately we had to retrace our steps as this was not a looped walk.

Click here for photos of Death Valley

As mentioned above, while in Death Valley we stayed in a small town called Beatty, a town with a population of just over 1,000, located on the Amargosa River in Nevada. It lies along U.S. Route 95 between Tonopah, about 90 miles (140 km) to the north, and Las Vegas, about 120 miles (190 km) to the southeast. State Route 374 connects Beatty to Death Valley National Park, about 8 miles (13 km) to the west. It was a very interesting place with the best restaurant of the trip, the Ensenada Grill, where we ate all of our meals while in Beatty. (We nearly had to, after JM went into the other restaurant the KC Grill, and asked if they could recommend a good restaurant.) Beatty has a lovely public library and three bars. We tried all three of them and it would be safe to say, I have experienced nothing like them ever before. Each had its own characteristics and they were definitely unique.

Click here for photos of Beatty

On Sunday 8th, I discovered that the nearest catholic Church was in Tonopah 90 miles away (or at least that's what the receptionist in the motel told me). We left Beatty after a last breakfast in the Ensenada Grill and headed for Vegas. We were told by American tourists in Death Valley that we must visit Vegas, just to see the worst that America has to offer. But I must say, I liked it, nothing pretentious but 100% brash artificialdom all the way. One interesting point; it was the only place in the States so far where I saw people drinking openly on the streets. We wandered around enjoying the sights. And we came back the second night after our hike to try to catch the sunset from the top of the Stratosphere, one of the tallest buildings in Downtown Vegas, but we missed it. However we did get a few good shots of the city lights from there. We stayed in a motel in downtown Vegas. This was one of the earliest parts of the city to be developed with the first lots sold in the early 1900s. It is now being redeveloped to rival the strip and knowing Vegas, it probably will

Click here for photos of Las Vegas

On Monday 9th March, we left the bright city lights and headed out to the Red Rock Canyon, about 15 miles west of downtown Vegas. 'Red Rock' gets its name from the red colored sandstone formation embedded in the mountains that form the western and northern margins of this small valley. The distinct red colored layers of sandstone streak horizontally across mountains known as the Wilson Cliffs and can be seen from almost anywhere in the Las Vegas valley. One of the interesting things was that there is a major rock climbing area just off the road. We spent a while looking at various climbing groups navigating fairly intricate routes up the rocks. After visiting the visitor centre, we headed off on a 6 mile hike over fairly rough terrain across the White Rock Trail. It was certainly a huge contrast to Vegas, but hey, we were there for the hikes and not the lights.

Click here for photos of Red Rock Canyon

On Tuesday 10th March, we were up and out of Las Vegas by 9.30. The plan was to have breakfast somewhere on the way and head for Hoover Dam and then on as far as possible before nightfall, getting a hike in along the way. As it happened, we dined in a little restaurant on a pontoon in Lake Meade, about 20 miles outside Vegas, an inspired accident. After a leisurely breakfast we headed on to Hoover Dam. Hoover Dam, originally known as Boulder Dam, is a concrete arch-gravity dam in the Black Canyon of the Colorado River, on the border between Arizona and Nevada. When completed in 1936, it was both the world's largest electric-power generating station and the world's largest concrete structure. However, time moves on and it is now only the world's 35th-largest hydroelectric generating station (hardly worth a visit).
To provide much more highway capacity and better safety on highway U.S. Route 93 which currently travels across the top of the Dam, the new Hoover Dam Bypass is scheduled to be completed in 2010. We spent more time watching the construction of this bridge than the actual Dam. This was mfascinating and actually took away from the impressive size of the Dam.
It went late so we had to change our plans, deciding to head on as far as possible so we could get to the Grand Canyon early the next day. We stayed in the Westerner Motel in a town called Williams. This was ealily the worst motel we stayed in. After probably the poorest dinner of the trip, meal in a Greek restaurant, we went to a local bar. When we arrived, there were three others in the bar but we were shortly joined by 4 ohers, two couples from Armagh who were doing a similar trip to us, only they were going in a clockwise direction. How about that? 7 Irish people among the 10 customers in a bar in Williams. Anywhere else maybe... but Williams..wierd..The only good thing about Williams (as far as I was concerned) was that I learned to play shuttleboard in there. I am sure that, if introduced here, it would take off in the bars in Ireland and could quickly replace pool as the bar game of choice.
(I discovered well after we came home that Williams is a historic town with many points of interest and that it also is on Route 66 but because we stayed out in the "burbs" we had no idea of what we missed at the time. I now think my judgment of Williams was a bit harsh.)

Click here for pictures of Lake Meade and Hoover Dam

Wednesday 13th was JPs birthday, but we had little time to celebrate, leaving Williams early on our onward journey to Grand Canyon. We had our first view from Mather point - stunning. We booked into the Yavapi Lodge in the Canyon and went for a hike along the rim. While waiting for the shuttle back the temperature dropped dramatically. After we warmed up, we celebrated JPs birthday in the El Tovar Restaurant
The following morning, we headed down the South Kaiba trail starting at Yaki point and heading down to Cedar Ridge via Ooh Aah point decending about 1800ft over fairly rough terrain. We finished the day in Bright Angel Lodge, all in all a wonderful day.
On Friday 13th, JM took a long hike down Bright Angel starting at 7.00 whie we took a helicopter ride into the Canyon. Having been blown away by the scenery over the previous two days, the helicopter ride was simply awesome. When we got back on the ground, we took a short walk to Hermits Point and headed back to our meeting place with JM in Bright Angel Hotel to find he had arrived back well ahead of schedule. We then headed off to Lipman Point to see our last sunset over the Grand Canyon. I took about 200 photos of the Canyon and gave up. I selected 30 almost at random for this page.

Click here for photos of the Grand Canyon

We left the Grand Canyon in the evening of Friday 13th March and stopped for the night at the Dine Inn Motel in Tuba City in the middle of the Navajo reservation. JP made an error in asking the receptionist in the motel if he could recommend a good bar, to be told that no drink was allowed on the reservation. Tuba City has a population of about 8,000 and is about 80 miles east of the Grand Canyon. Most of Tuba City's residents are Navajo, with a small Hopi minority and this is reflected in the character of the city e.g. the Trading Post, the Navajo Hogan and the Visitors Centre and indeed many of the houses around.

Click here for photos of Tuba City

On Saturday 14th we took a slight detour and headed into Monument Valley which is a generally flat valley interspersed with numerous sandstone buttes, some large and some like needles reaching into the sky, the more famous ones being the Three Sisters, the Mitten, the Thumb and of course the Totem Pole. The Valley should be familiar to anyone who watches Western movies, because it is a favourite location for many directors. John Ford (for whom an area of the Valley is named) made 7 westerns there. Scenes from many other movies such as Thelma and Louise, The Code Talkers and Back to the Future, to name a few were also shot in the Valley.

Click here for photos of Monument Valley

After Monument Valley, we stayed in Page on the evening of 14th. The entrance to Page was not very impressive passing by an electricity plant on the way in. However, the city grew upon us, especially as we had an unexpected second night there when JP developed a problem with an ingrown eyelash .We dined in Ken's Old West restaurant - the best dinner so far, great music and friendly staff and customers. After JP had been seen in the medical centre ("That will be $480.00 and sorry I can't do anything for you as my tweezers is too big") we headed off on a 7 hour treck along Lake Powell on the rim of the Colorado river, finishing up after sunset. We have noticed that sunset falls very quickly in this area.

Click here for photos around Page

On 16th, we had an early start to get JP to a doctor in Kanab to have his eye examined. On the way, we got a speeding ticket - we were kanabbed in Kanab. We hit Lake Bryce at about 3.00pm and booked into Ruby's Best Western in Bryce Canyon and headed off to walk the Navajo Loop, a fabulous walk. The hike started at about 8,000ft and descended about 500 ft into the canyon, at various times through snow, red muck, rock and dry red dust - wonderful. At one stage while trying to navigate a particularly mucky area, we met 4 Japanese women coming back against us, positively gliding across the terrain in slippers!!

We planned an 8 mile hike around the Fairyland Loop the next day, Tuesday. You might notice that in some photos we wore silly "Paddy" hats. We were just celebrating the 17th, so we wore the hats for the day and even to dinner that night!. Again, we started at the rim and descended around 2,400ft, again through deep snow, rocks and deep mud. The hike took aboutm 5.5 hours but was great. Best St. Patrick's day ever.

On March 18th, we were up and checked out by 7.30 and stocked up on apples and nuts to get a final hike in the Canyon before setting off across Nevada. This was a short hike about 2.5 miles through Queen's Garden before starting our journey along Highway 50.

Click here for photos of Bryce Canyon

Highway 50 was once described by Life Magazine as the loneliest highway in Anerica and after a couple of hours drive, I can see why. We brunched in Garrison at the start of our journey. The waitress who served us had neven been outside Nevada and expressed no wish to. The road consisted of long straight stretches, some over 10 miles long, across a seemingly desolate baisin, followed by a climb over a ridge and a descent into another basin, for another long straight stretch.We passed through some small towns like Austin, Ely, Eureka and Fallon. We stayed in Eureka - we found it! - the hub of the uiniverse with a total population of 650 , with Ely 77 miles east to the east and Austin 71 miles west. Actually Eureka had a number of interesting points the most interesting one being that the Pony Express used that route to deliver mail. While it took us about 10 hours driving, the Pony Express did it in 10 days. It must have been disheartening facing these long rides. As an aside, the Pony Express ran for about 18 months until the telegraph overtook it and in that time they lost one rider, (a broken neck from a fall off a horse) and one satchel of mail. How about that for a record?

Click here for Photos of Nevada

We struck it lucky in Lake Tahoe and hit the MontBleu Hotel and Casino - certainly the poshest and most luxurious accommodation since we left San Farancisco. The town is strange, half in California where there is no gambling and the other half in Nevada where there is. One literally crosses an invisible line on the road and the character of the town changes immediately. The lake and surrounds are truly beautiful - my favourite place on the tour!

Click here for photos of Lake Tahoe

On Saturday 21st, we left Lahe Tahoe early as there was a serious risk of snow. We had been told snow can come in quickly and deeply, so we were anxious to get down to lower ground before it hit. We headed south through Placerville, Coloma (where the first gold of the San Francisco goldrush was found at nearby Sutters creek) and on to Sacramento.
On Sunday 22nd, we took a leisurely stroll around old Sacramento, which still retains the old boardwalks but with more touristy and upmarket shops, boutiques and various eateries before heading back to San Francisco.

Click here for photos of Sacramento

Monday 23rd March saw us settled back in Fremont after our Odyssey. We headed into the city centre and hired bikes to cycle across the Golden Gate Bridge. The trip took about 2 and a half hours and was well worth the effort. Cycling across the bridge is a very noisy experience with the bridge rattling as large lorries pass. We missed a photo opportunity when a helicopter flew under the bridge - probably a standard feature of a helicopter ride. On my first day back at work I learned something - there is a world of difference between cycling across the Golden Gate Bridge and Butt Bridge!

Click here for photos of the Golden Gate Bridge.

On Tuesday 24th, our last day we decided to climb Mission Peak - just at the rear of Axel and Margaret's house. We were at the trailhead at 9.15am and set off for a climb of about 2,100 feet over a distance of just over three miles. It was one of the most challenging of the trip - maybe I was getting tired. There were a huge number of people on the trail, some walking, some jogging and a couple of cyclists who cycled to the top. On the hillside we saw many gophers but the highlight of the climb was a coyote we saw slinking by us down in a valley.

Clck here for photos of Mission Peak.

I have been known to read or watch the odd Western. In every one, you are warned to keep below the skyline. I wonder how long Jm would have lasted in the Wild West.

Click here to see what I mean

During our trip, there was hardly a day when we didn't have to retrace our steps at one time or another due sometimes to difficulty reading maps, sometimes sineage and more often than not a total inability to tell right from left. On our second day, we passed the same Traffic Cop four times, twice in each direction while trying to find our way home. We thought that on our last pass he probably said "There goes the Boomerang Three again". So to finish up .....

Click here to see the Boomerang Three

And now to plan for our next trip....