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Yosemite Insanity (Don’t Use The Busses)

Due to the popularity of Yosemite in the warmer months we were unable to bag a camping spot in the valley itself so we were half an hour drive away. After the freezing nights in Arizona and the sunsoaked sauna morning in Death Valley it was lovely to wake up in a shaded spot by the river. Figuring we would be awoken by some weather extreme we ended up sleeping in when it remained perfectly temperate. 

After our breakfast we sauntered in to Yosemite Valley, arriving just before lunchtime. It was already packed and we found ourselves driving around the whole valley to get to a parking spot.

Once parked we loaded up our bags with all of our food to stop the bears tearing open our little Nissan (it happens, there were pictures) and set off.

Our first stop was Yosemite Falls. They’re big and super pretty and they claim (well they don’t but the literature does) to be the tallest waterfall in the USA. However, as the name suggests, there’s more than one and they count all the parts together! So don’t believe the height hype. But the prettiness hype is justified.

Next up was a loop trail around the valley that took us past viewpoints of Half Dome, El Capitan and a bunch of waterfalls.

We had a snack under a bridge looking up at El Capitan and we heard a chap telling a bunch of tourists about the climbers on the face of El Capitan. Apparently they were on day 2 of 3 and had stopped for the night. (We discovered afterwards that this epic 1000m+ high vertical rockface was to be conquered in a matter of hours, with no ropes or safety equipment, by Alex Honnold, this absolute nutcase)

What turned out to be a relatively sane climber having a kip on a vertical rockface

At this point our exciting adventures took a turn. We had planned to get a bus from one end of the loop trail to the other side of the valley to see a beautiful reflective pond called mirror lake. We had seen a bus stop at our snackspot near El Capitan and considered it as a bus pulled up but had decided not to get it there in order to see some more falls.

After over an hour of walking through dense wood our feet were weary and our spirits were broken, so the half a mile to the falls seemed too much. We instead headed straight to the bus stop. However, despite the park being full to bursting, it was deemed out of season and this bus stop was not in service. It turned out our nearest stop was the one we had previously considered but thought better of.

So we trudged back the way we’d come and just missed two busses, waited 30 minutes and were delighted to find the bus that turned up could take us 2 and no-one else. So we squeezed our way on and trundled along through the chain of traffic to the other end of the park. We still had another 10 or so stops to our car (we’d abandoned the idea of any more walking at this point) when the driver informed everyone that if you were heading back the way you were better off waiting for the next bus across the road.

So we took him at his word and got off the bus to await one heading the other way. Another 20 minutes later and the same bus turned up. It didn’t stop though, it was full. Having seen no busses heading either direction we decided to suck it up and walk the 30 minutes back to the car park.

As we walked along the gridlocked road we overtook a couple of busses and felt better about our decision but cursing our 4 hour detour due to my ill informed decision to see some falls that we didn’t see.

As we drove out of the park we drove past the falls we’d tried to walk to. They were ok.

We made one small stop before we headed back to the campsite and by George, it eased the frustration a lot. The setting sun over the world famous Tunnel View lit up one side of the valley with a huge shadow cast by the enormous rockfaces on the other. It just looked incredible.

We started up the hill to a second viewpoint at the top of the same hill, but with the sun already setting we decided the 90 minute detour was not worth it, especially considering we had to cook some delicious camp site mac n cheese when we got back. Turns out cooking mac n cheese in tiny pans in the dark is an unpleasurable experience. A couple of beers later the frustrations of the day were eased and our exhaustion took hold, so we curled up in our tent.

The next day, due to the primitive nature of the campsite, I had a freezing cold shower in the river with our foldable camping bucket. It was lovely and refreshing and after I washed my mouth out with soap I felt almost clean. Kate skipped this character building experience. She is wise.

The Accommodation

We stayed in the beautifully named Dry Gulch Campground (just a few miles upriver from the even more inspired ??? campground). Despite the images it conjurred it was gorgeous. It has a total of 5 sites and it’s facilities include (and are entirely limited to) bucket toilets and bins. Each site had a picnic table, fire pit and the worryingly necessary bear locker. Our site was at the bottom of the hill, a few steps from the river which lulled us to sleep as it roared doen the creek. Not luxurious but perfect for what it was.

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Posted in USA

Our Yosemite Journey Calamity (Car #2)

Our drive from Death Valley to Yosemite was a long one. It would have been fairly straightforward but the mountain road (Tioga Pass) was closed. It gets enormous snow drifts that take weeks to clear but it had opened in April for the past few years so I thought it’d be fine. However we needed to drive around the roadless expanse to drive in from the west.

We had just enough petrol to get us to the nearest town but the risk of getting stranded in the desert was enough to get a small amount from the campsite’s adjacent garage. As it was twice the price of everywhere else we did not overindulge.

As I turned the engine on the car informed me that the oil filters needed changing. This meant that we needed to find a Dollar rental office to get it sorted. The nearest one en route was at Fresno airport, which thankfully was not a huge diversion.

The previous night, a Bakersfield resident had advised us to take a route along the Kern river past Lake Isabella. It took a bit longer but was worth it to avoid the boring freeways. We took him at his word and it turned out to be pretty impressive!

The river gushing forth

After a long slog we made it to Fresno airport. After asking the staff what to do and going to the nearest gas station to fill up the tank, we once more made it to Fresno airport. Without checking the car the Dollar guy took our paperwork and gave us another set of keys to swap our luggage. With luggage swapped we had car number 2, a beautiful white Nissan Versa with reversing cameras and bluetooth and everything!

With our sparkly new wheels (the old ones looked a tad messy from all the deserty gravel driving…) we drove onwards and upwards, through the beginnings of Yosemite National Park to our lovely campground for the night.

Posted in USA

Was Almost The Death Valley Of Us

Our journey to Death Valley from Seligman involved no major stops (except that we didn’t realise you could go up on the bridge to see Hoover Dam the first time around, so we did that, but for blog purposes this never happened…) We arrived in Beatty, on the border of Death Valley, and checked in to our Area 51 themed motel. From there we took our first trip into Death Valley.

For a place with such an intimidating name, Death Valley is an incredibly beautiful place. We went to visit the Mesquite sand dunes that evening and got there just after sunset. The dunes umderneath the mountain backdrop turned out to be the perfect place for some kickass dune slides.

That evening we ended up in a Denny’s in a casino (Beatty is in Nevada) which was surprisingly nice! It was also our only option on a Monday night, out of season, at 9:30pm.

The next day we left early to get in as much Death Valley as we possibly could. Turns out Death Valley is a fantastic place to visit! The scenery changes completely within minutes of driving up the road and it has itself a few world records (hottest recorded temperature ever and driest place on Earth). Also the basin is a few hundred feet below sea level, which is a continental record.

Our day there was full of sights and we had a great day. But it didn’t start so well…

Our first big stop was Golden Canyon. It was still fairly early in the day but that famous heat was beginning to rise. We were heading to the cathedral rocks at the end of this network of canyons, via some great photo ops.

We came to a fork with no signs. According to the picture of the map we saw at the beginning it looked like the route to our desired destination was pretty much straight, so we hopped over a line of small rocks and headed the straight aheadest way.

After about 5 minutes we found another fork with the same lines of small rocks, but any doubts that we’d gone the wrong way were eased by a big stone arrow leading the way. After another 5 minutes of walking Kate decided it was not worth trekking through all these rocks to see more rocks, so had a seat in the shade. I carried on and said I’d meet her at that exact spot, figuring it couldn’t be far. 

I carried on further and found yet another fork but one way was a narrow climb and the other was wide and clear. After a couple of minutes up what appeared to be the main trail it turned out to be a dead end, with no cathedral rocks. I went back to the fork and went up the narrow path, which was a steep sandy climb to a viewpoint that was certainly not as accessible as the information board had promised but meant I could see some pretty rocks. Not quite a cathedral though.

I decided I’d been long enough so I rushed back to where I’d left Kate. I passed 2 out of 3 forks and thought I had walked past the shade I’d left her in but there was no Kate. So I carried on a bit more but when I came back to the first fork I let out a loud exclamation, unsuitable for children’s ears, and felt rather overcome with fear. We were in the desert, with no signal, no means of communication and you can shout as much as you like in a canyon but rocks don’t conduct sound at all.

I figured it was incredibly unlikely that I’d missed her on the way back as it was a fairly obvious route back to fork number 1. From that point there was really only one route back to the car, unless you turned back on yourself. For that reason I also figured it was unlikely Kate had gone looking for me and got lost. I postulated that Kate had waited long enough, panicked and gone back to the car park to get help.

I rushed back to the car, which was about a mile, and arrived at a car with no-one nearby. This really panicked me. I decided I would go back to the rock I left Kate with the hope she had wondered off briefly and gone back but I figured if that failed I would have to go back to the visitor centre to report Kate missing.

On the way back to the shade rock I saw someone in the distance that looked like Kate, walked like Kate and had a bright pink hat, like Kate. As I got closer to her, and her to me, I realised this majestic figure was in fact a not lost Kate!

It turned out when I’d climbed up the narrow trail at the last fork, Kate had set off to find me and the cathedral rocks but had found the dead end just as I was heading back. It also turned out that those small rocks that were placed across the path we chose were trying to tell us to avoid that path. So we didn’t even see the right bloodt rocks! But at that point neither of us cared.

We spent the rest of the day glued together.

Death Valley has a multitude of different geological phenomena and, after the shock of the morning events, we had a fantastic time seeing them all.

Devil’s Golf Course

Badwater Basin

Zabriskie Point

Dante’s View

Mosaic Canyon

With our time in this majestic place almost over, we headed west to our campsite for the night and some beers to help us comprehend the craziness of the day.

Accommodation

Our first bed was in a motel called Atomic Inn in a little town called Beatty on the Nevada side of the Californian border. It has an alien theme, most likely due to its proximity to Area 51, where all the aliens live, so when the alien families come to stay they have some home comforts.

Night 2 was spent in our tent in Panamint Springs, a remote resort on the west side of the park. Turns out when the sun comes up in a hot place with no shade, tents get hot… But the bar with a huge bottleshop across the road was lovely and it was super quiet. Apart from all the aliens flying by.

Grand Canyon Rocks

After having lots of cultured fun in Vegas we headed in the direction of Arizona. Our destination was a small town called Seligman where we were camping. Because of our visit to Old Mother Hubbard’s Walmart we needed to go again to get ourselves more camping supplies and some food and drink.

Our next stop was the slightly more fun Hoover Dam. As America’s biggest dam it turned out it was pretty bloody big. We drove across it to see the lake that was created behind it. Turns out when you’re on it you don’t get the best views though.

They built a bridge just in front of the dam in 2005-2010 because the dam used to be the main route across the Colorado river and it didn’t work very well. This freeway bridge now works very well as a viewing platform for the dam too.

After the dam we arrived at our campsite in a small town called Seligman. It is considered the home of the famous Route 66 and there are a number of cafés and gift shops to remind you. Unfortunately, after they built a great big freeway half a mile south, it’s lost a lot of passing trade.

We pulled up to our campsite, put up our tent and and set up our new stove ready for some mac n cheese. Unfortunately we forgot to get gas. Nowhere around us seemed to sell it either so we had to go to the pizza joint next door and share an 18″ pizza instead (plus chicken wings for me and cheesy fries for Kate). Got myself a photo with Elvis too!

Our reason for being in Seligman was to get ourselves within easy driving distance of the Grand Canyon. We unsuccessfully tried to book a pitch within the park and there’s not much else round there so we ended up a 1.5 hour drive away. 

Once we got going in the morning we got ourselves to the ram packed parking lots of the Grand Canyon South Rim. After circling all 4 car parks twice, a guy informed us he was heading off so we nabbed his space, ate our leftover pizza and headed off to see what all the fuss is about.

Now I don’t normally like any amount of arrogance (and in that respect I think we probably picked the wrong country…) I don’t like it from individuals, or companies, or sports teams but I especially detest it coming from geological phenomena. So I wanted to see for myself why this canyon decided it was so grand. 

It turns out it is rather grand.

We spent the day gawping and walking along the Rim Trail stopping every 5 minutes to look at the next awesome view. We ventured down the Angel Trail a tiny bit which takes you down into the canyon but were not keen on the 12 mile round trip so swiftly turned ourselves around.

That evening, after having purchased some propane from the Grand Canyon market, we made some top quality mac n cheese and headed back to the bar next door for some well earned beers.

The next morning we packed up our tent and pointed ourselves in the direction of our next stop bur before we left Seligman we had to visit the Snow Cap Diner. Famous for its lighthearted attitude and practical jokes it was built from the ground up with scrap timber and a great dollop of fun. It is still owned by the same family and they hold on dearly to their traditions. Placing your order is like swimming through Christmas cracker jokes and the amount of trinkets on the walls and in the yards is unreal, but it’s good fun and pretty tasty. Just make sure you ask for the mustard and don’t use the wrong knob!

Accommodation

 As Arizona is largely desert we figured it would be lovely weather to camp. Unfortunately, Seligman is 5000 feet above sea level. This meant the temperature went down to 2°C in the night and the icicles on our noses were rather unpleasant. The railroad next to us with 2 mile long trains going past throughout the night didn’t help our moods either.

Posted in USA

What Happens In Vegas, Is Right Here In This Blog

To get from LA to Vegas we had to get to the airport to pick up our wheels! We got a Lyft from a great guy who was well into noughties pop-punk and we reminisced all the way to the airport.

Turns out that Dollar is not a popular car rental company. Everyone in the queue seemed upset and everyone behind the counter seemed super bummed to be there. Nevertheless we got it sorted and headed out to the parking lot to find our car. The way it works, in LA at least, is that you are given your category and you go pick whichever car you want from it. We had gone compact and we had a tiny Hyundai or a tinier Hyundai. We picked the marginally larger one and set off.

Because we had booked some campsites for our trip we stopped in a small town called Barstow between LA and Vegas to hit up the Walmart and get our camping supplies. We got a 6 person tent for $59 and browsed the shelves for the rest of our supplies but, like Mother Hubbard’s kitchen, the shelves were bare. Turned out they were moving to another site and depleting their stock. So we got what we could and headed off to Vegas!

We were staying in the Hard Rock Hotel which was off the strip but not much. We got there late and we stayed 2 nights and we left.

Maybe it really does stay in Vegas…

Accommodation

The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino is a huge complex of rooms, pools, shops, restaurants, live music spaces and a casino with ladies swinging from the ceiling. All it lacked was an all-you-can-eat buffet. So we got one elsewhere. But it turns out drinking in a pool in the desert is a lot of fun.

Posted in USA

LA-mazing

Our time in LA was mostly split between Hollywood and Burbank. Hollywood was where we slept and ate most of our meals, as well as a bit of sightseeing, whereas Burbank has the TV and film studios where we spent four of our days. We had two days at Universal Studios like big kids (one bigger than the other). Having been to the parks in Florida the California park is a mere baby. The rides are largely 3D simulator type rides and a lot were no different from the Florida counterparts but still buckets of fun. The big difference between the two is the parks are intertwined with the actual working studios and there’s a “tour” around the sound stages where we saw the crowd for American Idol queueing up.

One benefit of turning up on a weekday in May was that the queue times were tiny. We had queued for 3 hours to ride the Harry Potter ride in Florida but we went on twice in 20 minutes! 10 points to Gryffindor!

The other two days in Burbank were spent in the Warner Bros Studios down the road. The first was a tour of the studio lot including a drive around mock-ups of New York, Chicago and Midtown America, and poking our heads into a few famous sound stages. We saw the sets for the Ellen Show and Big Bang Theory as well as props and costumes from Suicide Squad and Fantastic Beasts. The tour finished with a visit to the Friends set and a photo on the Central Perk sofa.

Whilst driving us around our guide, Jose, recommended we see a taping of the Conan show because it’s funny and it’s free. In the gift shop I checked the website and there were tickets available for a day we were free so we came back a couple of days later to watch Mr O’Brien film that night’s show.

We turned up early because they can overbook and you get numbered on your way in. We had to wait in a cordoned off area of a car park with a huge Conan bobble head.

After a while a lady came round and gave us a star but told us nothing about what it did. We didn’t know if we’d been selected as the pretty faces for the audience shots, or perhaps we’d get Ellen esque prizes like a trip to the Bahamas. Turned out that they have a golf buggy for people who require special assistance and if no-one needs them they just put some random people in the buggy. But it did mean we got front row seats!

It was fantastic! We saw Conan interview Tom Middleditch and Eric Christian Olsen. I’d never heard of either of them either. But then he also did an extra interview with Kristen Schaal off of Flight of the Conchords for a future show, which was a great bonus. There was a musical performance by a tiny lady called LP who was dwarfed by Conan when we went over to say hi and then our Conan experience was over.

We went for breakfast at a place called The Waffle a couple of days later and there was a bit of a commotion. I had heard it is very easy to celebrity spot in LA and I was really excited to find out who it was! It was Conan. Well we’d already seen him hadn’t we…

Our one day sightseeing in Hollywood consisted largely of going around four different museums: Ripley’s, Guinness World Records, Hollywood museum and Hollywood Wax Museum. The first two are very similar with exhibits of unbelievable feats and achievements. The third was a large selection of largely old time Hollywood memorabilia in the old Max Factor factory. The fourth unsurprisingly contained loads of wax figures of Hollywood idols. Some of them were a bit inaccurate and I imagine the nearby Madame Tussauds would be better, but this one had costumes! We spent a while wandering the many streets of the Walk of Fame stars and tried to find links between them but just couldn’t find two together that had anything in common.

So that was our LA experience. We missed a lot, and would have liked to see downtown and the many beaches but we had plenty of fun without them. I am sure we will be back, just not for the green juice.

Accommodation

We spent our time in LA in Hollywood in a lovely AirBnB. Our hosts were a couple who both worked in the film industry. We got a curtained off area for our room and bathroom and it was walking distance to all the Hollywood sites.

My First (And Hopefully Last) Kale Smoothie

Today we went to Griffith Park, home of the Hollywood sign. Fuelled by some giant plates of waffles we headed up Beachwood Canyon to be greeted by our first overcast view of Hollywood’s big icon. Thankfully, as we climbed up the windy residential streets, we found ourselves almost directly underneath the world’s most famous real estate billboard.

We had a route planned around the hills of Griffith Park to the Griffith Observatory and suddenly it got sunny (and we got some good burn lines). As our trail veered around the many valleys below it was difficult to remember we were within the city boundaries of America’s 2nd most densely populated city.

We made it round to the observatory and had a snack break. The views across LA from the top would’ve been immense on a clear day but unfortunately the haze was still present. We had a mosey around inside the observatory and watched a tesla coil and a big time-telling pendulum but were a bit too worn out to be learning about physics. 

We carried ourselves back down the hill to a pharmacy to get after sun (thank you Americans for filling it with lidocaine). We were pushed in front of by a nasty lady who requested that we observe the queue that she had just decided to form only after we had gotten to the till before her. Having seemingly dealt with this lady previously the shop assistant directed us to a second till to serve us at the same time. He however took our money last to ensure nasty lady was out of earshot when he apologised for her grouchiness.

We then went to get ourselves into the LA spirit by getting a kale smoothie. Despite the pairing of the kale with spinach, celery, cucumber and lemon, it still just tasted like a wet, blended salad. But I drank it all like a big boy and now I’m really hungry.