California, Nevada and Arizona
Trip Start Jul 24, 2007
12Trip End Jan 18, 2008
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Location: Los Angeles
So into California and after walking amongst giants in Redwood National Park - home to the tallest tree on Earth, from the atlas in my head I always thought that San Francisco was at the top of California. Well, relatively speaking it is, but after several more hours of driving it became clear how vast this state was. The most populous in the US, the Californian economy broadly rivals the size of the UK's. Our first day in charming San Fran followed a tourist's itinerary to a tee, catching a cable car from Market Street to Fisherman's Wharf, followed by a sourdough bowl of clam chowder on Pier 39 as we watched the clouds roll in under Golden Gate bridge and over Alcatraz. The afternoon turned out to be more unpredictable as I was nearly abducted by recruiting Scientologists. I think I got off lightly as in wearing flip flops and t-shirt I probably wasn't seen as their prime target for recruitment. The next day I caught a lively England performance with Rob then explored the city's huge Golden Gate Park, stretching 50 blocks west to San Fran's fine Ocean Beach.
Leaving San Fran from a pleasant 70F in the Bay Area the temperature soon breached 100F as we headed inland to Yosemite N.P. It then plunged again to near freezing as we camped that night - the White Wolf Campsite living up to its name as I was awoken by a howling pack of them at 7am the next morning. Well hey, it beats my regular alarm clock. We spent our time in Yosemite hiking, picnicking and relaxing in the park's streams and pools, as well as taking in some of its grand Seqouia trees - this species taking the title of the largest in the world by volume. That night as our BBQ smoke wafted through the forest we were reminded by a park warden that we were in bear country. Upon returning to my neanderthal role of hunter gathering some firewood on the campsite fringe I was startled by some nearby rustling - to look up and be relieved to see three timid deer skip off into the woods.
Back on the Pacific Coast Highway we passed through the affluent towns of Monterey and Carmel, the elite Pebble Beach Golf Club, and countless cliff hugging dreamy homes. From here south the Santa Lucia Range plunges into the ocean, resulting in a dramatic drive and buena vistas. After a fantastic night out in smart Santa Barbara - an outdoor club straight out of a music video - it was back inland to another national park, Death Valley. First we had to skirt Los Angeles to get there and countless flashbacks from the TV entered my head from The O.C. soundtrack's "cruising down the 101" we passed "Mulholland Drive" and the highway lanes multiplied by the mile. After crossing the San Fernando Valley (I'm sure Bauer did a field op there once) it was into the desert and a rising mercury again - reaching 112F as we arrived in Death Valley at 6pm. I sensed there was more to come tomorrow. Back in a national park we were intending to camp again, until we discovered that the night time low was 88F! The following day we explored some interesting sights in the park and the temperature hit 115F at Badwater Basin, the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere at -282ft.
Liz rejoined us in Las Vegas, the Strip proving to be every bit as extravagent, indulgent and ridiculous as I'd imagined. After banking some Blackjack profits at the Bellagio (we were staying somewhere slightly less plush) we followed a tip from a waiter and found the real Las Vegas at a great locals bar in the old town, being treated to an impromptu hip hop show on America's "Fresh Coast".
From Vegas we crossed over the Hoover Dam into Arizona heading for the Grand Canyon. 1 mile deep, 10 miles wide and carved solely by the mighty Colorado River over 5 million years it certainly impressed. As we headed south to Phoenix, Arizona proved more wooded and mountainous then expected. In fact in descending one of these mountains on the highway I had my first encounter with the cops after being pulled over for speeding. Playing it polite and apologetic as I'd been advised I was lucky to get off with a warning. After passing Flagstaff and the beautiful forested red sandstone canyons of Sedona the temperature was back in the 110s as we reached Phoenix. With so much of the country experiencing these temperatures throughout the summer it's clear to see where America's air conditioned thirst for energy comes from. Well, that, and the excessive number of pick-up trucks. Staying with Liz's cousin Julie and her husband Hector, the American spontaneous hospitality and generosity shone through again. After turning up the spice in my mexican dishes in Phoenix to prepare for things to come we left for San Diego, a 5hr drive across the sandy desert. It was Labor Day weekend (public holiday) in San Diego so we joined the locals on the beaches soaking up the Californian surf culture around this fine city - the one with the best climate in the US they tell me.
On the road north to Los Angeles we stopped off for a dip in the huge surf at Laguna Beach, then took a scene out of The O.C. getting a milkshake in on the pier in Newport Beach. Arriving at Hermosa Beach we checked into some great rental apartments - thanks Becky and Bridget for lining us up with that, a treat to end our stay in the US with. In driving around LA we took in Beverly Hills, a tatty Hollywood, stylish Santa Monica and exclusive Malibu (alas no sign of Jessica Alba) - loitering outside the homes of a few of the stars along the way.
So that brings to an end a fantastic tour of some the US, just time to thank our hosts Jackie & Bob in Plymouth & Boston, Jason in Ann Arbor, Shelby & Pam in Omaha, Jed in Seattle, Julie & Hector in Phoenix and Becky in LA. As well as the american people for their friendliness and making us feel at ease throughout the trip - and that includes the highway patrol!
Now to LAX for our flight to Mexico City - hasta luego amigos!
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