Las Vegas to Zion & Bryce Canyon and back. Then Pacific Coast and Los Angeles
Onwards and Upwards
I really should have been more on-form - I was catching a flight to Vegas of all places, after all - but for whatever reason I really wasn't having a good morning. Maybe it was the 5am alarm call or maybe it was the pouring rain that drenched me as I made my way to the airport, maybe it was just the time of the month? I am not sure, but then, if I understood how the human mind worked, I guess I'd be a shrink. Thankfully Bellingham Airport was more reminiscent of Blackbushe than Heathrow so it took mere moments to check-in and clear security and I was soon sitting in the luxurious portakabin that the really-rather-classy Allegiant Air had kindly laid on as their waiting area. It reminded me more of a bus depot than an airport but I guess it did everything that it needed to do. I really do love the simplicity of these small airports.
Unfortunately Las Vegas Airport was anything but small and it certainly wasn't a simple process to reclaim my bag - something not helped when it was sent to the wrong carousel - and collect my rental car. For the first time in a month I found myself climbing back behind the wheel and hitting the highway again. Fortunately I didn't hit anything else and I was soon wobbling my way down the road to a nearby Walmart to resupply myself with camping supplies. I managed to pick up a new tent, kit to cook with and a cooler (along with food to fill the cooler) and had change from 100 bucks. People may knock Walmart - myself included - but you really can't knock their prices.
I'd planned to spend the night camping at the Red Rock Canyon State Park but, on arrival, discovered that the campground was closed due to the heat so instead spent some time exploring the place (and trying to reacclimatise to the 104 degrees temperature) before climbing back into the car and heading to the aptly named Valley of Fire State Park which was located 50 searingly-hot miles to the north of The Strip. I loved both parks, not to mention the improvement in weather since I'd left Bellingham, but I still had a downer on. I set myself up on the campground within the park - one of the most remarkable places that I've ever camped - and, whilst I watched the sun set over the red rocks, I had a quiet word with myself. By the time morning came around, I'd finally kicked the downer into touch: like I say, if I knew how the human mind worked...
Zion National Park was my next destination and, having taken a final, early-morning, look around Valley of Fire, I headed off on a leisurely drive up Interstate 15. I had been to Zion once previously and knew exactly where I wanted to stay - the Zion Canyon Campground in Springdale - so I was pleased to arrive and find they could accommodate me for a couple of nights. More than that they gave me a nice site on the riverbank so there was a cooling breeze. Once again the power of the Euro hit home as I introduced myself to the guys on neighbouring sites - of the four groups that I spoke to, two groups were French, one were Germans and another were Italians. I'm sure that someday the Dollar is gonna get stronger again but, for the time being, the tourist industry in the US is doing very well out of us, thank-you very much!
I'd decided to tackle the infamous Angels Landing Trail so I was, once again, awake far too early. It's not so much the (not inconsiderable) elevation gain which has gained it it's infamy; rather the narrow ledges you must clamber along and the huge drop-offs to each side. As the signs cheerfully point out as you start up the last ½ mile of the trail, ‘falls from this trail have resulted in death', so you best hold on tightly to the provided chains! I headed up as early as I could (a 530am alarm call was dictated by the time of the first shuttle bus into the canyon) to avoid as much of the direct sunlight as possible. It proved to be a wise decision, not so much for avoiding the sun, but for avoiding the crowds. It really is ‘one-at-a-time' near the end of the trail and, as I made my way back down, the crowds were getting heavier and heavier. It really would have been an absolute nightmare to get stuck behind a crowd of nervous hikers on that trail.
By the time that I made it back to the bottom of the trail it was still only 10am so I filled the morning with a couple of other hikes and then spent the rest of the day chilling out in the sun on the campground as a reward for my efforts! It had been a good day but, as two Trek America vans rolled onto the campground to join the two already there, I couldn't help but feel a little jealous of them. I went over for a chat but this made me feel even more jealous so I wandered into town for a change of scene - only to find another two Trek America vans checking-in at a motel! At this point I had to laugh and it slowly dawned on me that it wasn't Trek poking fun at me - it was just proof that I was back on the tourist trail. Those ‘glory days' of the solitude of The Dempster were now nothing but a fading memory.
Early the next morning (sense a trend developing here?), I packed away my tent and set off through the park towards the Mt Carmel Tunnel and out towards my next destination: Bryce Canyon National Park. It proved to be a beautiful drive through a very scenic area of the park but my memory from my last visit was of a long drive out to the park boundary, so I resisted the urge to stop for too many photos. It was with some surprise that I arrived quickly at Mt Carmel Junction - I guess we must have stopped more often than I remembered last time around!
Shortly after passing through Red Canyon, I pulled in to a gas station for a cold drink and got chatting to a Suntrek tour leader whilst I was there. He told me how, when they visit Bryce, they always stay on a campground just outside the park. Always happy to listen to the advice of someone who should know I took him up on his advice and followed him to the Rubys Inn Campground where I set up camp before heading down to the park. I decided to go for a big hike and it felt good to get the blood flowing again but, despite the initial feeling of awe towards the park, I soon found myself feeling that old desire to press on to the next destination. I stuck with it until sunset but, after a look around the nearby town area, I decided the next day would be a lazy day.
After a welcome lie-in, I headed off along the spectacular Route 12 towards Capitol Reef National Park where I found myself driving through some absolutely breathtaking scenery. I stopped numerous times for photos before I found myself instinctively turning off the main road and on to the Hell's Backbone Road. I'd heard that it was a fun detour to my destination but I knew little more than that. It sure was fun and, having got to the other end, I decided to turn round and do the return run! 60 miles later I was back where I had started but the time had allowed me to practice my rally driving skills once again. With dust and dirt covering the entire car I pulled in to a gas station... "Rental car?" enquired the clerk, "gotta love a rental car..." Indeed!
Capitol Reef, it turned out, didn't really ‘do' it for me and, having explored the park both in the car and on foot, I headed off around lunchtime the following day. I had no idea of where I was heading other than I was to be in Vegas in just over 24 hours. As I passed Cedar City I spotted a sign advertising rooms in a local Travelodge for $33.95 and, although it was only 3pm, I pulled-in and spent the rest of the day eating McDonalds, watching movies and updating the photos on my website. Just to make sure that I got my money's worth I didn't leave the following morning until 11am. It really was one of those perfectly-timed interludes.
I had one final stop before I returned to Las Vegas and that was at the Kolob Canyon area of Zion National Park, After the near-pandemonium around the main Zion Canyon area, it was a very pleasant surprise to discover how quiet it was at Kolob and I spent four very enjoyable hours out there checking out a couple of hikes. I really don't understand why it isn't more popular so, the next time that you find yourself driving along Interstate 15, make sure you find time to stop for a few hours!
I arrived at Mark and Megan's house in Vegas bang on 5pm as agreed and, as if to mark the occasion, the weather gods had laid on a summer storm to cool down the high temperatures a little. Mark had kindly been out and picked up a six-pack of Alaskan Amber which went down a treat and soon got me in the party spirit. Several bottles of wine later it was time for bed. Whilst it was fun, it probably wasn't the greatest idea I'd ever had as I had a long drive ahead of me the following morning.
I left Vegas, after a lovely breakfast, around 11am and headed off towards the Limekiln State Park on the Monterey Peninsula. The previous evening we'd devised a route which saw me head out through Death Valley before heading south to Bakersfield via Trona, Ridgecrest and the shores of Lake Isabelle; out to the coast on route 58 and then up the coast to the state park. We estimated it would take 8-9 hours but we were, unfortunately, a little cavalier in our estimates and, despite my best efforts to make up time on the challenging route 58 (including one memorable occasion where I pushed a little too much and very nearly put the car into a ditch when I crested a hill in a lurid four-wheel drift!), it wasn't until 10.30pm that I finally arrived at my destination... only to find the gate to the campground locked for the night! Unsure what to do, I resigned myself to sleeping in the car for the night but, just as I was unrolling my sleeping bag, another camper arrived armed with the code for the gate and let me in. I've never been so pleased to crawl into my tent as I was that evening.
The following morning I was awake early - too early - I'd forgotten about the time zone shift the previous day. The plan for the day was to head up to Laguna Seca Raceway which was about 50 miles to the north. I'd been looking forward to the drive as it took me along the spectacular Pacific Coast Highway, right through Big Sur, but the whole area was shrouded in fog. I was disappointed but maybe it was a good thing as it hid the damage from the recent fires even though the stench of charred forest still hung in the air. It also saw to it that, despite it being a Sunday, there was a total lack of Sunday Drivers to slow down my arrival at the circuit.
I arrived nice and early and took the opportunity to beat the crowds into the extensive paddock. After some time admiring the machinery and chatting with some of the drivers I decided it was time to head out to the track to check out what had drawn me to the venue in the first place: the infamous turn eight, otherwise known as The Corkscrew. Motorsport is a mix of spectacle and pantomime with the odd bit of tragedy thrown in. The Corkscrew has seen it all: Alex Zanardi's audacious last-lap pass on Bryan Herta for victory in the 1996 CART race - and the entertaining post-race drama from the American - being eclipsed by the tragic loss of Gonzalo Rodriguez three-years later. As I stood there, contemplating, I glanced sideways and did a double-take at the guy stood next to me. It was none other than Zanardi's former F1 teammate, Johnny Herbert. I think it is fair to say that Johnny had always been a bit of a hero to me whilst I was growing up so it was a pleasure to discover that he was exactly the same in person as he had always come across on TV: a real nice guy. Which is a lot more than can be said for Bobby Rahal and Michael Andretti who were hanging around the paddock and whose attitude couldn't have been any further removed.
At the end of the day I made my way south back to Limekiln State Park and was pleased to discover that the fog had cleared, allowing me to enjoy the scenery and get a few photos. I woke on Monday morning in the knowledge that, although I was still in the country for a couple more days, I'd now done everything that I'd planned to before I left home...it was now time to slow down and relax. I did some hiking in the park and then headed south, stopping often along the way, before calling it a day mid-afternoon when I reached the Quality Inn at Buelton. When I visited the western USA in 2006 we had spent the first evening of the trip there so it somehow seemed fitting that I should spend the last night of this trip there. And, besides, it was cheap!!
Tuesday morning came and, 111 days after it had begun, it was finally time to draw my North American odyssey to a close. I wanted to head down to the Home Depot Center - home of the LA Galaxy - in Los Angeles to pick myself up a team shirt but getting there turned in to a bit of a race against tome after I spent longer than planned checking out the truly terrible ‘Danish replica village' of Solvang.
I got my shirt and made my flight but, as I sat on the plane and watched the US disappear from sight beneath me, I couldn't help but smile. The last couple of days - national parks, far too much alcohol, a change from 120 degrees to 57 in a matter of hours, some motorsport, scenic drives, tacky tourist draws and, more than anything, that last-minute race against time - could have been a scale model of the previous 3½ months. It had been a fantastic experience but the time had definitely arrived to move on and experience something different - Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Dubai and Egypt will certainly offer that opportunity. Bring it on!
Originally published on - and Copyright retained by - Boogity, Boogity, Boogity
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Last edited by UKCraig; 05-18-2009 at 06:25 AM.
Thanks for the update, I have been looking forward to it. A great read and the pictures continue to be top notch as well.
It was like retracing some of our own steps, especially down through Trona to Isabella.
We didn't have time to do the Angels landing hike which I regretted [more so looking at the pics] but after reading your tales and the fact the wife is terrified of heights, it may not of been such a bad thing.
Having driven through the Corkscrew many times a few years ago, I can say it is a challenge to negotiate it, but when you get it right, oh boy !! They were great those PlayStation's ;-) LOL!
Have fun on the next part of your epic journey.
hehe I was sat here thinking... nooo, he didn't take the RV out on a trackday (that'd be worse than me!!), then I read the Playstation comment!! If I remember correctly Clarkson went over and tried to match his Playstation lap time to the real thing and made a total fool of himself!! A very funny show!
Can't believe my time is up in N America but over the moon to have finally made it to Australia now. It's somewhere I've been meaning to go for years but that flight always put me off. Click here for more updates!
Last edited by Mark Sedenquist; 08-30-2008 at 08:35 AM.
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