Grand Canyon

California dreaming

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I’ve been a bit quiet on the blogging front lately. A three-week fly-drive holiday in the USA is mostly to blame. Now, friends and colleagues may recall a certain blog that my family created for a month-long European road trip we did back in 2011 – and those of you who do remember that were probably waiting for similar tales of chaos and mayhem, worries and woes from the United States. Well, I am pleased to say that we were able to leave you disappointed on that front. We had no disasters, no road accidents, no breakdowns, no over-flowing toilets, no sick children, no vomit-covered dogs without access to electricity or water. No, we had a good time. And there’s one main reason for that. WE WERE NOT IN A MOTORHOME!

No. Done that. Been there. NEVER again.

This time we booked ourselves a nice 4WD (turned out to be a Dodge Journey) complete with air-con, comfy seats and a very solid front axle, and we stayed in proper hotel rooms, with all the mod cons – comfy beds, hot and cold running water and electricity. Oh yes. We now know the secret of a happy holiday.

Seriously, this trip was a trip of a lifetime. Spent mostly in California, we flew to Los Angeles where we did all the cheesy things: Holywood tour, movie star homes bus tour, day at Universal (we managed to spend 12 hours there, honestly!) before picking up our wheels and heading up the coast. We had overnight stays at Santa Barbara (lovely) and Monterey (where we were incredibly lucky to see humpback whales and dolphins on a whale-watching trip), then reached the wonderful San Francisco, which was a big favourite of the whole family.

One of the highlights of our stay in San Francisco was an Alcatraz tour. There’s a brilliant audio tour that leads you around the old prison and includes commentary from former inmates and guards as well as from some of the people who grew up on the island, living there as the children of prison employees. The picture below shows the library and I would have loved to have known what books once populated those shelves.Alcatraz Library

 

One former prisoner, William G Baker, now in his 80s, has written a book about his time on Alcatraz and was there in the bookshop signing copies. Rather an odd moment … smiling and posing for photos with a convicted criminal, but he was so sweet and jovial that it was hard not to. The book, Alcatraz #1259, is a good read too, and offers some fascinating insights into prison life. For anyone interested in knowing more, there’s some background here.

From windy San Francisco we ventured north-east to Napa Valley, before heading across to the stunning Yosemite National Park. Yosemite is even more beautiful than it looks in all the pictures and we could have stayed there much, much longer. Three days was just not enough. Yosemite

 

From the lush green valleys and white, rocky mountain heights of Yosemite, we journeyed south, down to the lowest place in North America – Death Valley. I had expected these sections of the trip to be dull, flat, dry and boring; but far from it. The route was ever-changing and we drove through mountains, through abandoned mining towns, past salt flats and sand dunes and even had a friendly coyote stop by the car, sitting patiently as if expecting to be fed a tit-bit or two. (We didn’t give in.)coyote

 

Our destination in Death Valley was Furnace Creek, so I guess we shouldn’t have been suprised when we got out of our lovely air-conditioned car to be blasted in the face with 111 degree heat, even at 9 o’clock at night. What a place, though! And even more suprising: we woke the next morning to light rain. Apparently it rains in Furnace Creek once a year if they are lucky – and we got it. No complaints though, as it made the morning’s sight-seeing a lot more comfortable. Death Valley

 

After the desolation and relative peace and quiet, our next stop was a bit of a shock to the system. We hit the bright lights of Las Vegas. We walked the Strip, shrieked at the dancing fountains outside the Bellagio, ate and drank far too much, tried to limit ourselves to the 1 cent slots in the casinos (yes, really) and spoiled ourselves with a Fly, Drive, Cruise day at the Grand Canyon. This was a trip hightlight for us all as it involved a helicopter ride down into the canyon, followed by a boat trip along the Colorado, before being helicoptered back out again. Lots of ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhhs’ on that one. Now, I knew that my husband has never particularly liked heights – but I didn’t realise how much until we ventured out onto the Sky Walk. Nothing but glass separates you from the bottom of the canyon way, way down below, and while the kids and I shuffled our way out to the apex of the horseshoe-shaped walkway, Jon was clinging to the railing, his gaze fixed solidly on the horizon. But good for him, he made it round, and we tried not to laugh (much).

After Vegas we headed to Palm Springs, where my daughter and I finally did some shopping. Funny though: my daughter came away arms loaded down with bags of clothes; I bought a tissue dispenser shaped like an Easter Island head.

Our final few days were spent back on the coast in San Diego: a really pleasant suprise. We knew very little about the place beforehand, and to be honest I had chosen our hotel for it’s bay-side location, fancying a few days of sun and relaxation before our flight home. But San Diego has heaps to offer and we hardly scratched the surface. We managed a day at Sea World (sorry, just can’t keep a smile on my face seeing whales in captivity, as clever as they are), a tour of USS Midway and a morning’s hire of some segways (brilliant fun … I want one).segways

 

Then before we knew it we were watching our last American sunset on a paddleboat across Mission Bay, drinking one final Marguerita.

Ah well. My Mum always used to tell me that all good things have to come to an end. But wouldn’t it be nice if they didn’t … just once in a while?paddlesteamer

sunset

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