We left Vegas after a great weekend there and it was superb to see one of the worlds most renowned destinations. We hopped back in the car heading north east for Zion national park. Luckily our trip coincided with the reopening of a large interstate. Interstate 15 had fallen victim to flash flooding earlier in the week which saw it collapse and close for a substantial section. We were okay though and although only one lane was open it didn't add too much time to our journey.
We stopped off in a town called St George on our way to Zion and that was a very odd experience as we were walking around the supermarket we couldn't help but notice the difference in the people. The way that they dressed and their mannerisms, only after we'd done some frantic googling did we realise that St George is a town inhabited mainly by Mormon people! We made it Zion and it was packed! Disaster, we ended up camping a good 25 miles away but it didn't matter we set up camp on a red sanded state park and hit the sack. We arose early morning to get to Zion, it turned out it was the perfect time of year to visit as the temperatures started to cool down and it was just before winter would start to set in.
Zion was amazing, the canyon was something different, the emerald pools were wicked and we went on a couple of small walks whilst hopping and off of the Zion bus, as no cars are allowed the scenic route. After a day at Zion we had to move on and we headed east. We originally planned to visit Bryce and Canyonlands national parks but we thought rather than have to be in a continuous rush and only visit to say that we visit rather than give it the time it deserved we gave them a miss but added to our list for next time! We went via page to see Betatakin, the Navajo (the largest population of native's in the USA) national monument. We weren't really sure what we were going to discover but after a short walk, we were overlooking some amazing cliff dwellings from a height that gave us a superb view. Through the binoculars you could make out some native paintings within the cliff dwellings which was pretty spectacular. From Betatakin we made monument valley our next stop. The drive between the two was pretty boring as a lot of the roads around are but when you arrive in monument valley you knew about it. Rocks jutting out of the ground in spectacular formations all around you.
It turned out low clearance cars weren't able to drive in the valley which put a spanner in the works for and the guided tour was stupid money. You had excellent views of the monuments from looking down the valley so although we feel as though we missed out it was only a small issue of not seeing the rocks up close. We cheered ourselves up by catching a glimpse of the 'Mexican Hat' about 30 miles down the road. Strangely a rock that looks like a man in a sombrero, isn't nature fascinating! There are a lot of rocks around and the different colours, manner in which they have been eroded and what's left can amaze you so you can't be too bored for too long!
We were still driving and determined and to get to Mesa Verde National Park. We made it and it was nice and quiet at MV during September so we didn't struggle for camping. We spent two nights in the park and it was great. Again, it was different to previous parks, this one was more focussed on the history of the people as opposed to rocks, trees etc. Mesa Verde was not the biggest but two days exploring we managed to see everything which was nice. From the chronological walk of how cliff dwellings and how the natives lived through time we took an in depth tour of a cliff dwelling which got us up close and some great information from the ranger leading the tour.
At the museum we learnt a lot more about the natives, their displacement and more importantly the translation of 'mesa'. We knew that 'verde' is Spanish for Green but we couldn't work it out. Turns out it means table, as the early spanish explorers looked up at today's MV and saw it as the green table. We also saw more exhibits on dendrochronoloy which pleased Ellie and outside, a car covered in mirrors, only in America.
After two nights camping and writing the previous blog post we packed up our tent and were drawing towards the end of our trip. We tried to forget about it as much as possible and to take our mind off of it we had a visit to the Grand Canyon lined up. Our route to the GC took us via the four corners national monument. According to the experts the monument is actually 2,000 feet out of place. We weren't quite sure how someone messed that up but still we're pretty sure that we managed to stand in 4 different states at one time. It was the furthest the two of us were away from eachother as Ellie stook in Colorado and I was in Utah. When we were leaving, in typical American fashion we saw a fully grown man place his chihuahua in the middle of the monument and asked her to strike a pose. She didn't disappoint!
It was good fun to mess around for a bit while we were running from state to state and we were never sure what time zone we were in either as it was all very confusing between Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona & New Mexico. We started the looooong drive down the 160 via Tuba City an area with a large Hopi Native population to the Grand Canyon National Park South Rim. After what felt like an age we arrived and set up camp. It was dusk and so we decided that we'd save our first views of the canyon for the morning in better light. The next day we woke up early and had managed to avoid being eaten by one of the many elks at the park despite it being very close to our camp and marking it's territory, I'm sure you can imagine how it managed that. The park is linked with some very useful bus routes and we stopped at the visitor centre to ask for a common but interesting itinerary. We took the red route bus to the first stop and decided we would walk the rest of the 5 miles or so along the rim and what a great choice that was. Some great views, small wildlife and one of the best spots for a drink and some lunch in the world! Our last stop was Hermit's rest just after lunchtime and we felt as though we had achieved something great. We took the bus all the way back to the visitor centre and then along Desert View Drive for some different views of the canyon. Unfortunately we weren't able to hike down to the colorado river for two reasons, time and we were ill prepared. It's a two day round trip and you are warned against doing it in one day due to the high temperatures and the constant altitude change. We will though go back and make sure we get down to the river and back up again of course.
The day was wrapped up with some views of the Milky Way, the stars and planets at Mather Point and some barbecued food. The next morning was slightly rushed as the showers didn't open until 7am and we had to be at the airport for our helicopter ride at 7.30am, 20 miles away. We made it despite some mild stress and a minor head loss and we soon chilled out before both of our first flights in a helicopter. We met our pilot, BJ, and were introduced to our chopper. The seating is based on weight distribution and there are 7 seats in the helicopter 4 in the rear and 3 in the front. It was floor to ceiling glass so no one really had a bad view but we all knew the best views were in the front and as luck would have it Ellie & I managed to bag 2 of the front seats!
We lifted off and over the Kaibab National Forest and after 7 minutes or so we were about to witness something amazing. We were asked if we liked heights or not and all of sudden the floor disappeared from underneath us and the view was spectacular. It was scintillating, completely different to the view you have on the ground and we spent the next 40 minutes just marvelling at what that small (not really) river at the bottom had managed to carve out and leave behind. It was something we'll never forget and arguably one of the best activites of the WHOLE trip.
We were buzzing and our day couldn't be topped so we decided not to try but we had to move on and find somewhere to rest our head for the night! We decided to hit up the petrified forest national park and go via Holbrook, the PF was slightly underwhelming. Although the process as to how petrified wood is made is pretty cool, once you've seen it, you've seen it. So we headed to the town of Holbrook nearby to our campsite and spent a couple of hours in a pool before cooking, a few beers and retiring to the tent. Our next stop was Flagstaff, what a great place and also the first city in the world to be awarded 'dark sky' status. I'm aware this blog post is taking up a lot of lines and words! We visited a micro brewery in Flagstaff and the Lowell Observatory which was where Pluto was discovered and we were taken in by the amazing stories of the night sky and just how cool an observatory can be. A drive along Route 66 led us to Joshua Tree National Park. The Joshua Trees were described as grotesque by those who wrote the park's newspaper but we couldn't have disagreed more. They were pretty cool and not bad looking for a tree! The park was hoooooot as it was in the desert and without showers so the next morning we stopped for a shower in the nearby town of Yucca Valley before heading to Palm Springs.
Palm Springs was cool and full of wind turbines! Coachella Valley is really just desert but proves what happen if you decide to irrigate part of the desert. We camped for one night before staying in a hotel for a second and we really got the vibe of the retired population of Palm Springs. It was really quiet but also really nice and very very hot! On our way out of Palm Springs we drove through Palm Desert, home to the rich and famous for a spot of shopping before arriving in San Diego.
We loved San Diego, despite it being very close to Mexico it was safe and clean. We stayed away from downtown for a change and our hostel was in a small neigbourhood near Ocean Beach where we spent our first night overlooking the sea eating fish tacos (a San Diego speciality), drinking wine, beer and chilling out, paradise. The second day in SD we visited the world famous zoo. We were kindly offered free entry by a man outside which saved us $92 and we took the guided tour of the zoo with him before exploring on our own. 7 hours later, yes 7 hours, the zoo was huge, we had finished and seen everything from Polar Bears to Giant Pandas and Baby Orangutans and were exhausted. For dinner that evening we visited Little Italy for some very different but still delicious lasagne and amazing Pizza.
The next morning we took a self guided tour around the Gaslamp Quarter and the Old Town which felt as though we were in the middle of a Western movie. San Diego was amazing and we were gutted to leave but we had a ball. Orange County stood in between us and LA and we spent our final two nights camping around Newport Beach which was lovely we actually watched the whole sunset as the sun dropped off over the horizon and the stars came out before indulging in one of Ellie's specialites, Spaghetti Bolognese and a bottle of red wine. A great way to round off our camping experience which was my first and with the help of Ellie and her headtorch I loved. We both loved camping, there's nothing better than crawling in to that little tent at the end of the night, and I'm not being sarcy! It was amazing.
Our last night was spent in a house in West Hollywood, LA's only safe neigbourhood, and after a long day at Universal Studios we had some chinese food before packing our bags for one last time. We awoke on our last day, took a drive around Beverly Hills and visited In n Out Burger before driving to the airport. It was sad to come to the end of our trip, one in which we've both had the best time ever.
We have seen the Taj Mahal, been to 8 different countries, seen the temples of Angkor, the Grand Canyon and so much more if we named them all we'd be here until Christmas. It's been great fun writing the blogs and we hope you have enjoyed them. Ellie was amazing to travel with and I'm sure she'd say the same about me! Until our next adventure...............