Hello again, this time from Oregon. Today we’ve been to Crater Lake, which was just beautiful, but more about that later. I’m going to start this blog on the day we left Las Vegas on June 2nd and headed into Arizona, to the Grand Canyon.
To sum up the Grand Canyon in one word would be huge. It’s a massive 10 miles wide and 1 mile deep and has 277 miles of Colorado River running through it. It’s also 2 billion years old. Impressive huh? Not as impressive as when you see it in the flesh. It’s sheer enormity completely knocks you back and the colours of the rocks and the sky are striking. Having said all that, it’s been our least favourite National Park or landmark that we’ve visited so far in the US. Although, I’m not sure whether that’s because other places have been better, or because the Grand Canyon is so famous that you see it in movies, on posters and in books so much that actually when you see it, it doesn’t seem so amazing. We also didn’t have much time to explore as much as we should have maybe, because we got there quite late in the day, so we took a quick drive around the rim, stopping to take lots of photos and headed to a motel for the night.
The next day we drove south to Sedona, famous for its beauty, vortexes and New Age lifestyle. We stopped to have a walk around some quaint shops and ended up both having our auras photographed and read. Sally is a big believer in all things weird and wacky, whereas, I on the other hand, barely believe in horoscopes, so I was far more skeptical. However, my curiosity got the better of me and there I was standing in front of a monitor and next to an electro-static reader watching my aura come alive on screen and be photographed. The whole thing took around half an hour and both our readings came out completely different to each other but spot on for our characters and traits. It was quite unbelievable and we’ve taken great joy in reading our reports.
After Sedona, we drove down to Tucson, stopped for the night and the next day visited the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and Old Tucson Movie Studios. The Desert Museum is a living museum set in the desert. They house many desert animals including snakes, bobcats, coyotes, javelinas and tons more, as well as preserving and showing lots of different types of cacti and other desert plants and flowers. It’s a lovely way of seeing all the wildlife and it was nice and quiet too.
After that we went next door to the Old Tucson Studios where movies such as Tombstone, Rio Bravo and lots of other old John Wayne movies were filmed. It’s much more of a kiddy park than for adults but we certainly enjoyed watching the cowboy re-enactments and panning for gold, as well as walking through the haunted mine (not quite as scary as Universal Studio’s House of Horrors but still made us scream a couple of times). A really nice day all in all, apart from the high 90° heat.
Next on the agenda was a long, long drive across Arizona to San Diego – we were in California again! I had been looking forward to San Diego since we first booked our trip as I love zoos, so I was very excitable that day. The evening before we took a walk around Seaport Village which is right on the sea front and has lots of cute little shops and restaurants, had a corndog and then took a look around the Gaslamp Quarter, which is very similar to Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade.
San Diego Zoo is pretty amazing. It’s enormous as well and actually took us the whole day to get around. The park is split into different continents with miles and miles of walkways between them, so it’s a pretty tiring day! But they also have a very impressive collection of animals, including around 20 different types of monkeys, grizzly bears, elephants, lions, hyenas, pandas, koalas, birds, reptiles, the list goes on and on. We just about managed to see them all and by the end of the day felt like we had ran a marathon, so it was straight to a motel for the night afterwards.
An hour or two further north is Disneyland, according to Sally “we couldn’t come all this way, be so close and not go!!” So she dragged me to my second Disney experience in 5 weeks! One of the main reasons she wanted to go was because of the brilliant Indiana Jones ride they have there. It’s actually the most popular ride in the park now. You sit in a big truck that goes around on a very bumpy track (indoors) on a quick adventure around Indiana Jones’s world. It’s done incredibly well, even down to the themeing while you’re queuing, and after riding that first thing, I would have been quite happy to leave the park. However, we didn’t, and went on other rides such as Space Mountain and the Matterhorn - both famous Disneyland rides. Before we left, we wanted to go on Indiana Jones one more time, but the queue was an hour long, so we decided to go in through the exit for the single riders line – we don’t mind riding on our own if it mean we don’t have to queue! We basically walked onto the ride in about 4 minutes and also managed to be sat together! How lucky is that? That’s our trick now, always take the single rider option!
The next day we went to Knotts Berry Farm, a themepark just down the road from Disney. The rides are pretty intense and really good fun. Even though it was a Sunday, the park was literally empty so we managed to walk onto every ride, some twice and were done by lunchtime. It’s weird, even though you get to go on the rides more than once, because you’re leaving early it feels like you’ve wasted all that money to get in!
The next day, continuing with our themepark fix, we went to Six Flags Magic Mountain. Six Flags is a themepark chain in the US and owns 20 parks across 11 states (plus ones in Canada, Mexico and Dubai). There parks are not for the faint hearted. They try to outdo the competition, and themselves, every time they open a new ride, and boy do they have a #1 ride on their hands right now!! We were in high spirits until we saw the amount of people already in there. We got there 20 minutes after it opened, on a Monday(!), and it was packed. The line for the new X2 ride was already 2 and a half hours long! But, ages ago we had bought season tickets online that cover all Six Flags parks in the US for the year. It doesn’t cost much more than a day’s ticket and seeing as we may go past quite a few of them on our trip we thought we’d save lots of money. So, once we saw how long the queues were we went back to the entrance and bought Flash Passes. It’s an amazing new system they’ve added to the parks where you get given a device that allows you to book your place on a ride at a particular time so that you don’t have to queue. So, after that we didn’t have to queue for anything. It was perfect, and we got to ride every ride in the park. But X2 was the best by far. This is hands down the best ride I have ever been on, anywhere, anytime, ever, and ever, in my life, and probably for the rest of my life. I’m not even going to try and describe it so if you’re interested try looking it up on the Six Flags website or on YouTube (although it doesn’t really do it justice). Better still, get yourself over here and try it out!! You won’t be disappointed. Sally and I would fly to California every month just to ride that again and again!
I must also add in quite a funny story at this point about Six Flags. Just before we were going to leave, we decided that we should ride X2 one more time as we will probably not do it again for a long time! Earlier in the day we had managed to use our Flash Pass to cut the queue and walk onto the ride, but this time we couldn’t (we only had 1 ride on the system). So, like everyone else we got into the queue, which we estimated would take around 45 minutes. Right behind us in the queue was a group of 5 American boys (late teens I’d say), who were very eager to get onto the ride. A few minutes later, one of them spotted a friend of his in the queue further up in front of us, and at a sneaky opportunity took his friends to join him. We all hate people who queue jump so Sally decided to do something about it. So, she called over a ride attendant and subtly told him what had just happened. Knowing full well that American themeparks take queue jumping very seriously, she innocently said to him “I’m not sure what your queue jumping policy is, but there’s a group of boys who have just managed to jump 3 lines in the queue to join their friends”. That was it we thought, a quiet word and all would be sorted. Nope, we should know by now that things just don’t happen the way you thought they would. This guy then went to get his superior who then came out, had a word with Sally and asked her what happened. She had to then subtly point out these guys, who totally saw her and realized what was going on and what trouble they could be in, and retell her story to him. Phew, all over now, we thought. Nope, wrong again. He then went and got someone else who came out to talk to Sally and ask some questions, as well as her name and date of birth – odd we thought! At this point the boys were looking incredibly worried and very guilty! Ha, we thought, got you now you b******s! Then Sally was found by another staff member and by now this whole thing was getting as subtle as a boob job on Kate Moss, everyone in the queue knew that the English girl was grassing up their fellow Americans and we were starting to regret what she had started! But finally, after about 15 minutes of talking to various people and having to point them out again and again, we got the result we wanted and they were asked to leave the queue and they were dealt with. I’m not quite sure what happened to them, whether they were just warned and sent to the back of the queue or whether they have now been banned, but whatever it was, in the end we were glad she did it. Some people just need to learn that you can’t just do what you want to do and sod everyone else. I hope they learned their lesson – don’t mess with Sally Cormack!
That was it for themeparks for a while; it was back to National Parks and educational sightseeing again! Up next was San Francisco. We arrived early afternoon, found a cheap motel on the outskirts and walked over to Presidio Park to go and see the Golden Gate Bridge. My first impression was the sheer size of it. I didn’t realize it was so big. I think it’s the same height but longer than the Sydney Harbour Bridge, but I may be wrong. We took some photos and then took a walk half way down and back again. We were going to tackle the whole thing but it was so cold and windy, and the fog was coming down quite fast, so we decided to make it a shorter trip than planned. We did see a seal splashing about down in the water though, proving just how cold that water really is! No wonder no one’s escaped Alcatraz and made it to the other side alive.
The next day we caught the bus down to Pier 33 to take the boat over to Alcatraz. We were both very excited as, randomly, The Rock was on TV the other night so that had got us geared up to go. It was incredibly busy so we had to wait an hour or so before we could get on the boat, but after a 10 minute sail over we stepped foot onto the world’s most famous prison. This was a place that housed some of the most notorious criminals in history. People like Al Capone, “Machine Gun” Kelly and XXXX were just some of the former guests of this facility. We sat and watched the intro video first, then walked up to the cellhouse to pick up our audio tour equipment. The tour itself is really very interesting and is narrated by prison guards and actual in-mates. It takes you through what it was like as a prisoner, as a guard, how people escaped, how prisoners got killed trying to escape and the reasons why it got closed down. After the tour we took a drive around Golden Gate Park which is just lovely. It’s very similar to New York’s Central Park and houses various features such as a Japanese Tea Garden, a huge conservatory, a buffalo park, a museum, the Tutankhamun exhibition and lots of little lakes. Had the weather been a bit warmer and we’d had more time, it would have been lovely to have had a picnic and spent more time there.
That night we found a great diner just near our motel for dinner. I had never been to a proper diner so was thrilled. We even had our own juke box on our table which delighted me, so we spent ages deciding which 2 songs we would each put on for the whole place to listen to. Sally opted for Hey Paula (Paul and Paula), and Reet Petite (Jackie Wilson) and I went for Hey Jude (The Beatles) and Save the Last Dance (Ben E King).
I absolutely loved San Francisco, it beautiful and has real charm about it. The hilly roads and the trams really make this city stand out. So the next day it was sad to leave but on we went towards Yosemite National Park.
It’s a good thing that at the Grand Canyon we bought an annual pass as now we get in free to every National Park or Monument we go to. Yosemite was gorgeous and very different to Zion and the Grand Canyon. Zion was full of red, earthy rock and the Grand Canyon was a huge gorge, but Yosemite is full of lush green trees and fields of flowers and grass and stunning brown, tall rock. We drove through on the main parkway, stopping at various places to take a quick walk or some photos and then stopped at the visitor centre for me to stamp my National Park passport! We also spotted a couple of grizzly bears which was a bonus. I must say, I love all these National Parks way more than I thought I would. They are all kept beautifully, have wonderful hikes and trails and everyone has something very special and unique about it. We’ve got plenty more on our trip as well so I’m looking forward to all of them.
The day after (Saturday) we made it to the Oregon Caves National Monument. On that Friday we spent 8 hours driving up through Northern California, which by the way is gorgeous, to make it to Oregon. We’ve only got around 5 weeks left and we’re still on the Northwest so we need to make up some time along the way. Oregon, is actually one of my favourite states at the moment. Much like northern California, it is full of strikingly tall and blossoming pine trees, small lakes and what seems like an endless number of chipmunks! The drives we’ve done so far have been beautiful and actually reminds us a lot of New Zealand.
Yesterday we drove to Oregon Cave. Relying on our sat nav, we started following the route she had picked out for us. The first half was fine. We were driving through lovely little rural towns and roads, taking in the scenery with wild deer running by the side of the road, and then suddenly we found ourselves on a dirt track. From experience, we didn’t think this road could be very long and that it was probably just a short cut to take us to another rural road or highway. But unfortunately we were wrong. This road went on for 90 minutes up to an elevation of around 5000 feet and through what was basically a forest. The road, or track, in parts was only big enough for one car, which actually never posed us a problem seeing as no one else apparently dared venture down this road. Sally was holding onto anything she could grab, with white knuckles, because every time she looked out of her window all she could see was a long way down. I on the other hand had a vice-like grip on the wheel and was concentrating as hard as I could. If we had skidded or found ourselves on a path too small for the car we would have ended up down a very long slope to the bottom of the valley. But 3 hours later we were at Oregon Caves – it should have taken us 1 hour!
After all that, you would have thought that we would have made it worth the while, right? Well, unfortunately, after having to wait another 90 minutes to get on a tour, Sally took 3 steps in, burst into tears and had to be let out. You see, she has a bit of a fear of small spaces and this cave was totally different to the Carlsbad Cavern we’d been in before. This one was a lot smaller with small areas you had to bend down and walk through, and they even padlocked the gate you went through so that no bears or unguided people got into the caves, which totally freaked her out, so she had to leave. So we drove all that way, on a petrifying road for 3 hours, to turn around and go back again! But as I told her, at least she tried!
From Oregon Caves we drove north a couple of hours to Crater Lake. This lake was formed after an erupted volcano collapsed hundreds of years ago leaving a crater full of water. It’s breathtaking to see and is surrounded by snowy mountain peaks and green forest. The water is as blue as you can imagine and the views are awesome. But, it’s very very cold! There is still snow all around as you drive around the rim, in fact half of the drive is still closed due to the snow still there. This was one of the highlight of the trips so far for me and again if you are ever in this area this is a must.
We made our way to Eugene after Crater Lake for the night before heading off on some very scenic drives! But I’ll talk about that in my next blog.
So, bye for now.