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  1. #1

    Default New Zealanders First Road Trip in the West

    Kiwis coming to the USA in September 08 for our first proper road trip....did one day from Vegas to Grand Canyon and back in 2006 and looking forward to much more!
    Our plans at this stage are...
    Arriving from UK at LA and spending 4 nights before getting car and down to San Diego for 3 nights. Then we have 24 days on the road.
    My plans are basically as follow...
    Leave San Diego to Palm Springs for one night (the impressive chairlift/gondola is out for servcing when we are there!)
    Then off through Joshua Tree National Park. After leaving the Park, it is either up to Barstow on 247 to baker and then to Death Valley or from Twenty Nine Pines up through the Majove Desert road to baker and then to Death Valley (is this desert road suitable for a standard sedan?)
    After Death Valley we head for Begas for a couple of nights before going up to Zion, Bryce and Grand Escalante. We are planning two nights on the North Rim (are the views, sunsets etc as good on the North Rim as the South?)
    From the Canyon we head est to Monment Valley and up to Moab where we will visit Arches and Canyonlands before heading to Mesa Verde.
    This is where my planning sort of stops....will 24 days on the road be OK for this or will we have time for a lot (or a little more). if there is time, will that allow us top go north as far as Yellowstone and then across to the coast and back down to LA (that is where we fly out from).
    Any and all suggestions re the timing and amount of travel plus extra thinsg to see and do will be absolutely gratefully received. I seem to have planned around the BIG features but feel certain that there will be a lot more to see in the areas where we are going. we definitely want to do the San Fransisco - LA drive down the coast.
    We may not get another chance to do a trip in the US so want the best time we can - seeing as much as possible but not being exhausted (my wifes comments!!)
    Many thanks for any comments that are given - they will be read with great interest

    Shaun and Jackie
    New Zealand
    Last edited by Midwest Michael; 11-26-2007 at 09:32 AM. Reason: Thread Moved to Summer

  2. Default

    Hello NZ Padre -- Sounds like a nice trip you've outlined, and from a first glance you haven't tried to squeeze too much stuff into the days.

    I'm going to add a couple of minor comments, and save detailed comments until you get a more detailed sense of your trip.
    > [ .. ] Leave San Diego to Palm Springs for one night (the impressive
    > chairlift/gondola is out for servcing when we are there!)
    An interesting alternative option is to take the "back road" from San Diego to Palms Springs. The primary route is I-15 to I-60 to I-5 which takes you into Palm Springs from the East and North. This is a fast, excellent route via superhighway.

    The alternative route is to head north and east from San Diego on California Route 79, or one of the east/ west California state highways to Julian or Warner Springs. Julian is an old mining town up in the mountains, now made into a tourist destination. From there you can head down the escarpment into the lower desert. My favorite route is to taks S2/ S22 east from CA 79 which does east of the tiny town of Ranchita and then seeminly drops off the edge of the world down into Borrego Springs and the Anza Borrego Desert State Park. A spectacular drive -- you drop several thousand feet of altitude down from the mountains into the desert in a couple of miles.

    Borrego Springs is a nice desert resort town which reminds me a lot of Palm Springs 20 years ago. The Palm Canyon day hike near there (in the Anza Borrego Desert State Park) is very nice -- about 4 miles round trip. You start out in the dry flat desert and after turning a corner up a canyon you find a wall of native Palm Trees and a desert oasis with pools of water. (Don't do this in the summer unless you do it very early in the morning -- temperature can be over 100 F) My experiece is that you see big horn mountain sheep in this area about 2/3rds of the time. From Borrego Springs its pretty much a fast straight shot up to Palm Springs/ Indio past the Salton Sea -- but obviously, this backroads trip will be slower than the superhighway I-15 route.
    > Then off through Joshua Tree National Park. After leaving the Park, it is
    >either up to Barstow on 247 to baker and then to Death Valley or from
    >Twenty Nine Pines up through the Majove Desert road to baker and then to
    >Death Valley (is this desert road suitable for a standard sedan?)
    The road from 29 Palms up through Amboy and onwards is in good shape, last time I drove it. 2 lanes, paved and in excellent condition -- I drove it in a SUV but lots of sedans and the like on it. From here you can continue cross the desert through Cima and the Mojave National Preserve. Again the roads will be 2 lane, paved in pretty good shape. Traffic will be sparse, but not absent (A car every 15 minutes or so, if memory serves). Just be careful, and plan ahead. There won't be many roadside services on this route, so you'll need at least a picnic lunch and extra food and water just in case. Also, avoid getting off the pavement if you can -- getting suck in the soft sand along side the road is probably the most common problem I've seen. If you do pull off just be careful -- eg, have someone get out and walk the path before you drive it to check to see if the sand is soft and loose, or hard pan. Most of the dirt roads are pretty good here, but you still need to be careful in places. Cell phone coverage will be spotty here, but you'll see coverage most of the route.
    Last edited by Mark Sedenquist; 11-26-2007 at 12:25 PM. Reason: added quotes for clarity

  3. #3

    Default Thanks for that - A question about timing

    Many thanks for that info. A couple of questions - would you recommend the through the Mojave Desert route from Palm Springs or the round the edge one via Barstow? The second question is re the timing - with the rough itinerary to Mesa Verde and 24 days, would you say we would also have tome for the northern drive to Yellowstone and back down the coast or just head back up to Yosemite and down from their along the Big Sur to LA.
    As many people say, this site is great and I really thank you for your thoughts and expertise

    regards Shaun

  4. Default The answer.... depends...

    Would I recommend the through the Mojave Desert route from Palm Springs or the round the edge one via Barstow? That answer depends upon your timing, and your comfort level in driving through the desert, and what you want to see. The main trip through Barstow is fast, the roads are excellent, and its a very safe route. It's a very good route, and one which I and others on this board have taken dozens of times.

    The other route is off the beaten track a bit, and takes you through parts of the desert not a lot of people have really seen. It's a more diverse route in geography and scenry, but its going to much slower (since you're not on a 110+kph superhighway) and on roads with much less roadside services and traffic.

    So... depends upon what you'd like to see, and how long you'd like to take in traveling.

    Now, I do have to note that the scale of some of these distances can be deceiving. While leads me to the next question..

    Is there time to drive up to Yellowstone and back down the coast in 24 days?

    Well, the answer is yes -- but that's doing to add in my opinion, more than a week's travel time minimum to your trip. From the Las Vegas area, it's about a 2 day drive to Yellowstone. Figure a day there, then a day (at least) back to the coast near Seattle or Portland. Going down the coast is slower -- starting at Seattle, and doing the Olympic National Park, Astoria (oregon border), then down the coast to LA is at least 4-5 days. You can easily take 2 weeks just on this leg of the trip. Add in maybe 2-3 more days for Yosemite sidetrip away from the coast.

    Given 24 days, its doable, but you'll be on the road pretty much every day and driving a goodly chunk of the days.

    If you want to also do LA, San Diego, Vegas, Bryce, Zion, Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Moab and other scenic wonders in the Arizona/ Utah area, you may be pushing too hard for this big loop.

    Sit down with a map, and estimate out your distances and time, figuring you really don't want to do more than 300-350 miles in a day and give some thought into how long you'd like to explore some of these places. Some of the places you're planning on are amazing natural sites, and worth a day of just exploring before moving on. It'd be really cool to spend a day looking around at the Grand Canyon and maybe hiking a bit down into the canyon to get a taste of it (just remember.. its 3x as long hiking back out....), or spending a day mountain biking in Moab, or checking out the night life in Vegas, or LA, or taking the trolley down to walk across to Tijuiana from San Diego, or trying to surf somewhere along the gold coast south of LA.

    Plus, you'll want to stop somewhere for about a day about every week to 10 days -- just to get out of the car and away from your traveling companions. While they're your best buds, you still need to give them some space and privacy -- to let them wander around somewhere by themselves, to go for a hike, and to just do laundry in a laundromat or the like.

    So.. give some thought into what's really important and do that next level of planning. I think doing Yellow stone would be pushing it. On the other hand, you might be able to come back west from Moab and to Tahoe or Crater Lake or Portland area/ Oregon coast... But that's going to depend upon your tastes and what you'd like to see and visit.

  5. #5

    Default Accommodation, Mexico and Yosemite and down

    Hi again Larrison and your thoughts really appreciated and are helping us firm up some thinking. A coupel more questions if that is OK
    First - I take your point regarding the drive right up to Yellowstone after Mesa Verde but would our 24 days be OK to go across to Yosemite and then down to LA via the Big Sur? If it would, what route would you recommend to go across - the Durango - Silverton train looks like a must for one of our companions so I am thinking of driving up that far anyway. Would this help in the trip across or would a more direct route across to Vegas and up to Yosemite be better?
    Second - some people we have spoken to say Tijuana is not worth going to - would you agree or not?
    Third and this is a bit of a worry for me. I want our trip to be flexable so that we don't prebook every night months ahead (as we have with our other holidays in NZ and overseas) but are a bit worried about accommodation. In September, will we need to prebook/worry or will there be plenty of accommodation. Our travel agent has said we will be fine and that allowing about $80US per night per couple should be fine - you thoughts re this would be really helpful as it is an absolute unknown for us.
    In regards to what we want to see and do, we are all (the 4 of us) interested in the natural landscapes etc but also in seeing some of the towns and other attractions we encounter.
    Many thanks again - I hope you don't mind the questions each day

  6. Default Hmmm....

    Re: Would 24 days be OK to go across to Yosemite (after Mesa Verde) and then down to LA via the Big Sur?
    Defintely yes. Depending upon your specific schedule, you might be able to swing north of California and come back via Crater Lake/ Portland or thereabouts as well -- you need to sit down with a map and estimate distances and times and the like to figure out where you want to go and how long to spend there.
    Re: If it would, what route would you recommend to go across - the Durango - Silverton train looks like a must for one of our companions so I am thinking of driving up that far anyway. Would this help in the trip across or would a more direct route across to Vegas and up to Yosemite be better?
    I tend to like to like the mountains, so I would head north for personal preference. If you've got the energy and time, you might head up closer to Vail or Aspen and bag a "14" before heading back -- just to say you did. (A "14" is a 14,000' high peak. There are several in that area that are day hikes...

    Then I'd head West -- somewhere between the 70 and 80; depending upon if you want to hit Dinosaur National Monument. From there I'd at least take 80 through the Nevada Desert (if you're really crazy, check to see if Burning Man is going on), and then into Reno/ Tahoe. Depending upon your time and preference you might have time to swing up to Klamath Falls and Crater Lake, and then over to the coast to see the Redwoods National Park.
    Re: Second - some people we have spoken to say Tijuana is not worth going to - would you agree or not?
    That's an personal question. Tijuana is a bit touristy near the border. But its kind of funky, and the drinking age is 18 (compared to 21 in the US). People go over for the day for food, to collect souveiners and art, and do other things. Depends upon what you'd like to see or do... If you're pressed for time, I'd pass -- since you're talking probably at least a half day to just visit briefly.
    Re: Prebooking versus booking on the fly.
    Most schools are back in session at about the first Monday in September. That means the summer vacation period is over. My experience (and I think its echoed by most folks on the board) is that in this time, you don't have to prebook weeks in advance for places to stay -- with a couple of exceptions. Those exceptions are where you want to stay somewhere that is super desirable, or with limited accomodations. Staying at the lodge inside Yosemite National Park, for example, where there are a limited number of rooms in the middle of the Park. Or staying in a campground right on the beach.... For those, you'd probably want to look for a reservatation at least a couple of weeks ahead.

    Other places, like staying in a major metropolitan area, or where you have some flexibility about where to spend the night, you can probably call that afternoon and get a room reserved for the evening. When I travel without a really detailed schedule I have to meet, I bring a cell phone and a good tour book listing hotels and rough pricing for the local towns (I use a AAA tourbook). Then sometime after noon, I call ahead to a hotel or two and see if they have an opening, or call to a campground. I've had to drive a few extra miles to get a room once or twice, but I've never had to sleep in the car.

    Costs can vary -- My experience is that around $80 for a middle range class motel/ hotel is about right for a couple. Some places you can put 4 in a room (with 2 double beds) for around $100 -- this is the standard room for familes. Other places, like downtown San Francisco hotels, it will probably be more. Some places can be really nice for that price range, and others can be substandard. I typically camp at least part of the time to save costs -- I can camp for about $25 per night (or less). And fixing your own meals means you can save up to about $30 or more per day per person on food. At a minimum, get a cooler and hit up a supermarket to buy lunch makings and water and soft drinks. Gives you flexibility on where you want to eat lunch and saves you money.

    And if you're budgeting don't forget to include things like costs to places like Universal Studios or Disneyland and the like. Paying entrance fees, parking, and buying the souviener t-shirt at places can add up, even if you stick to museums and National Parks. . You'll probably be best off buying a yearly "National Parks Pass" at the first National Park you visit for about $60 (if my memory serves) which gives you and a carload of people entrance to any national park or monument for a year. (Grand Canyon is $20 by itself...) Similarly going out in the cities to see the night life needs to be budgeted for... Drinks, meals, and cover changes can add up.
    Last edited by Mark Sedenquist; 11-28-2007 at 11:03 AM. Reason: added quote format for clarity

  7. #7


    Absolutely agree. I do not like prebooking and, every time that I do, I arrive in town and wonder why I did as there is invariably somewhere to stay. The uncertainty is what makes it all fun.
    Last edited by Mark Sedenquist; 11-28-2007 at 11:04 AM. Reason: format for continuity

  8. #8

    Default How about a Southern route then up and across?

    Thanks for all the thoughts and feedback - our ideas are coming together but others also come to mind....

    We know we want to see the Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion, monument Valley and Arches plus Mesa Verde. We now realsie that hopes of going up to Yellowstone in the 24 days we have is a bit much of an ask.
    So...your thoughts on the following would be really appreciated.
    Leave San Diego - Palm Springs - Joshua Tree NP - then head east towards Phoenix and Saguara NP with Carlsbad (where the bat flight is) beig furtherewst East before heading up to Mesa Verde and then working our way westward through the parks listed above before coming to Vegas, then to Death Valley, Yosemite and finally down the Big Sur to LA
    Not a lot of detail re which roads etc but your thoughts re distances, times, things to see in the southern areas etc and the route generally are looked forward to and are defintely helping us sort out our ideas.
    We want time to see what each area has to offer but I also want to see as much as we reasonably can in the time. You have a huge country which we want to explore and enjoy as much as possible...but not too much at too frantic a pace I can hear my wife saying in the distance!
    Many thanks in anticipation for your feedback...
    Regards Shaun

  9. #9

    Default Death Valley in Sept by New Zealanders

    I know there are lts of threads re Death Valley but I look forward to any feedback re my route and questions.We are going to be on the road for 24 days leaving LA and returning LA. I am working on various sections I want to see with Death valley being high on my list. My questions...
    My wife and I (both 50) will be travelling with my in-laws (in their 70's) and my first question is - will the mid-Sept temperatures in Death Valley make it near impossible or are they dropping a little. My plan is to leave Vegas and travel to Shoshone, across to Ashford Mill and up to Furnace Creek for the night - stopping late afternoon to see the lowest point and walk the Golden Canyon. Next day would see us up and on Zabriskie Point for sunrise then on up to Dante iew before tralling up to Stovepipe Wells and on to Lone Pine for the night before heading up the Owen valley.
    Is the above doable in the 2 days allowed?
    Will the temperatures stop us doing the things I really want to see?
    What is accommodation at the Furnace Creek like - do they have good air conditioning?
    Depending on the fedback I receive, I may drop the Death Valley part of our trip out as I have read all the warnings but it is one place I have wanted to see for a long time. We will be driving a sedan rental vehicle
    Many thanks for your help and feedback - the next part I am planning is the Owen Valley with its Bristlecone Pines, walks etc
    Kind regards
    Shaun (NZ Padre)

  10. Default

    The Death Valley extreme heat usually breaks and starts to lower Mid-October.

    In 2 days, simple putting about and stopping & taking in the sites before you head to Lone Pine is certainly do-able.
    But the temps are brutal in Sept., services at Furnace Creek are "abreviated" in the hotter months.
    Consider accomodations in Parump Nevada, full of cheap rooms at the hotel casinos, and no-so-cheap-rooms at the many legal brothels.

    (No joke, Best food in town is the Valley Inn owned by and located outside one of the brothels, and great menu and prices and very welcome for anyone over 21).

    Area names like the Funeral Mountains, Devils Anvil, Hells Bowling alley, Graveyard Flats are for obvious reasons you'll find when you travel in the summer months.

    Rent a Japan brand car.
    Takes lots of bottled water (avail at most any gas station) and use the roadside call boxes to better locate you if you break down if avail.

    A cell phone may help in case no call boxes are avail, but usually no cell service is avail (no signal) all over Death Valley.
    So eyes wide open.

    Hairpin corners and steep switchbacks can be murder on an car in the Hot months.

    Don't forget to visit Scotties Castle in Death Valley.

    Lone Pine is a fantastic old movie set location area. Improving every year.
    Be sure to buff up before taking that adventure.

    The locals are very helpfull and super welcoming to visitors.
    Last edited by Wake Bandits; 06-09-2008 at 06:14 AM.

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