I just made an incredible trip to the South western USA once again. I took 3 weeks off to escape the cold weather and the snow of Quebec and for a change of scenery. I also wanted to meet new people and see "old" friends again (no offense!:o)
I took off from Granby on Nov 18th. The first two days, I pretty much zoomed accross Ontario, Michigan, Indiana and Illinois. I stopped for a few hours in Utica, Illinois, a small town of barely 1000 souls. Father Marquette came to that area in 1673 and founded the first Christian mission for the Illiniwek tribe. I went to Starved Rock State Park, a beautiful park with tall trees facing the Illinois river. The ground was covered with golden, red and green leaves. I climbed up the staircase to the top of Starved Rock, a 125 foot high sandstone. The view of the Illinois river up there is magnificient. The rock derives its name from a Native American legend. Around 1760, Pontiac, the chief of the Ottawa tribe was murdered by an Illiniwek. The Potawatomi tribe (allies of the Ottawa) attacked a group of Illiniwek who were forced to climb the rock to seek refuge. The Ottawa and the Potawatomi tribes surrounded the rock and waited until each and every Illiniwek dies from starvation. Apparently, some of them killed themselves by jumping in the Illinois river below. Pretty morbid uh?
According to Jack Kerouac, "the prettiest girls in the world live in Des Moines" (On the Road). Well, I slept in Des Moines (which in French means The monks) but I didn't spend enough time there to really acknowledge that:o). In western Nebraska, I had the opportunity to see a shimmering sunset, spreading its colors on every building in Ogallala and blinding me as I drove west on I-80.
Driving over the majestic Rocky Mountains of Colorado on I-70, I was very anxious to be in the desert. A few miles passed the border of Utah, I took a little back road near the town of Cisco. There was no sign, I didn't even know if I was going the right way, but I knew I was going west. The golden light of the sun landed on the mountains in the horizon making them turn bright pink. I finally ended up where I wanted : on route 128, the Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway towards Moab. The landscape reminded me of certain scenes in the movie Thelma & Louise. Later that night, I met two friendly young ladies from Idaho in the hot tub of the motel where I was staying. We ended up chatting for more than a hour!
The next morning, I drove to the beautiful Arches National Park. I made my way to the Delicate Arch Trail and hiked up there. Totally awesome...and a little scary too when you walk to the arch and look down:o)) A truly unique experience and the hike is pretty easy. Back on I-70, I took the Salina exit and drove on US50 for the remaining part of Utah. Passed Delta, I took a dirt road that leads to Sevier Lake, a dry lake. Fascinating. A dry lake bed is like a mirage in the horizon because there always seems to be water but there is not. Driving at dark on US50, was not exactly the greatest idea because as you know, all the wild animals go out at night in the desert. I saw some antilopes and a lot of many jackrabbits and , whew, and I'm proud to say I didn't run over any of them!
The next day, I had only one idea in mind : I wanted to soak in those Spencer wild Hot Springs near Austin, NV. So I took a dirt road, and another, and another and ended up exactly where I wanted and there they were! Just the sight of them was divine, plus the really nice view on the Toyiabe Range. I quickly put my bikini on (there was a guy soaking in another basin nearby so I wasn't going to try the nude thing!:o) and put one foot in the water...Ouch! It was too hot, someone forgot to turn the hot water off. Bah no big deal! I had the most tasty avocado burger in Austin at the International Café and hit the road again. I passed Sand Mountain and a shoe tree and a few hours later I was on the Bay Bridge... San Francisco at last!
I spent 2 fun days with friends in SF, we had a great Thanksgiving dinner, visited North Beach, the City Lights bookstore, Chinatown, Union Square, Twin Peaks, went out in Castro, etc...But the road was calling again! I drove to L.A. on scenic US1. It is a twisty, winding road. To your right lies the blue Pacific ocean and to your left the majestic mountains and vegetation. It's kind of amazing I didn't have any accident on that day. I almost never looked at the road...scary!!
In L.A., I stayed at my friends' place in Van Nuys. In the morning, one of them helped me to pick up oranges in a tree in their back yard to make fresh juice. To some southerners, this may sound like routine, but for me, the northern chick, it was a unique experience!:o) During my stay in L.A., I went to Hollywood, walked on Hollywood blvd, visited West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, Venice, Long Beach. Many people told me bad things about L.A. and about its people, but I think this city really is something more than just a "thousand susburbs put together" and the people I met were all very nice.
Nov 28 : Have you ever seen the movie Bagdad Cafe? It is one of my favourite "road movie". It is a coproduction (germany-usa), kind of low-budget but with a very quirky story and the characters are charming. I visited the filming location in Newberry Springs, a few miles east of Barstow. I had lunch with the friendly owner who was talking with me and chatting over the phone at the same time (I don't know how she manages to do that!). I took a back road through the Mojave to get back to I-15. In Baker, I took route 127 towards Death Valley NP. I had to hurry up, the sun was going down, so I ignored the 45mph speed limit in the park and rushed to Badwater Basin, the "lowest point" (282 below sea level).
In Las Vegas, I spend half of the night in a club and the other taking pictures of neon signs in the old downtown area! The next day, I strolled around the Strip for a while and met Mark, the Editor for dinner at "Mon Ami Gabi" a French restaurant inside the Paris Casino. I have to admit it seems kind of peculiar to go to a French restaurant in Las Vegas, but the food was really good, so was the wine and the coffee was delicious! The waiter who was probably Italian, desperatly tried to sound like he was speaking French. I was speaking French to him and he didn't understand a word, so we both looked at each other like we were from Mars. Hilarious!:o)
The next day, I drove over Hoover Dam and headed to Phoenix on US93. I made a little detour to visit Bagdad, AZ. I got back on US93 which, north of Wickenburg becomes the Joshua Tree Parkway. In Phoenix, I went out in a little nightlclub downtown and met some very friendly people. The next day, I met my friend Bob and we had lunch in a good restaurant called El Bravo. Later, I went to South Mountain Park. I didn't know there could be such a huge and beautiful park in a big city like Phoenix. It was almost deserted, I met very few people there. I drove up on one of the scenic drives in the mountains and at the end, you get a very nice view of the city. I went out again that night (hey I'm on vacation after all!:-). Bob and I had lunch with Brad the next day at a Mexican place near his office. Then we took a motorcycle ride to Tonopah Hot Springs. We soaked in "the Corral" for almost an hour, feeling like two lobsters and went back to Phoenix to have dinner at La Parilla Suiza, another Mexican restaurant. I guess I was about to have an overdose of Mexican food at that point!:o)) But it is sooo tasty!
The next day, I zoomed across south eastern AZ and NM to El Paso, TX. I love that city, it is so different from everything I know. At night, I went downtown to take a few pictures. I like the shady atmosphere along the border. Seems like everybody wants to be somewhere else here...and preferably on this side of the border! I went back in the downtown area the next day and just walked in the streets, the only white chick in a sea of Mexicans and spanish language.
My goal for that day was Big Bend National Park, one of the most secluded park in the US. I drove on US90 for a few hours, passed a Prada window display in the middle of the desert, a few semi-ghost towns, beautiful mountain scenery and then took TX118 south. I got in Big Bend relatively late so I had to make choices. I picked the Ross Maxwell Scenic drive hoping I could hike a bit into Santa Elena Canyon. The park was absolutely deserted, the sun was slowly going down on the mountains and on the red and green cactus. Somptuous. When I got to Castolon it was getting pretty dark and when I got to Santa Elena Canyon, the sun was only a pale light in the sky. I just walked to the bank of the Rio Grande, sat there and listened to the lap of the running water until it was dark. On my way to the north entrance of the park, I saw many road runners, wild pigs, antilopes, coyotes and jackrabbits.
Near Columbus, TX, my lighter plug fuse went out. Since my cooler was plugged in the lighter, I wanted to fix that right away. I located a Wal-Mart (I know, yuck), parked and started to look for the burned fuse. Two locals asked me if I needed some help and they showed me in details how to change a burned fuse and where are the spares and a lot of other things. They were so nice! Before I could even offer them something to thank them for their kindness, my good Samaritans were gone! Later, the fuse burned again, and I was able to fix it myself without any help. Even though most of the motel were full I finally found a relatively decent room in Lafayette, Louisiana.
Dec 6 : I drove to New Orleans. The water level is still very high there. The French Quarter (a.k.a. Vieux Carré) is relatively untouched but some parts of the town were not that lucky. It's devastating. There was trash in the middle of streets : broken glass, clothes and even microwaves and televisions! Lots of cars were still parked in the mud on the side of I-10. I zoomed accross Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. I looked for a motel room for a very long time that night in Miami. I got pulled over by a cop because I made an illegal u-turn. I pleaded the lost blonde tourist who can't find a motel room (well, not far from reality after all!:o) and he didn't give me a ticket. He even guided me to a nice hotel in South Beach.
Dec 7 : I spent one lazy day on the beach with sushis and a huge bottle of Florida orange juice. I spent the night strolling around SoBe, had a drink and took pictures. Many hotels and restaurants were still closed due to the damage caused by the recent hurricanes.
Dec 8 : It was supposed to rain all day, so I decided to head north. I slept in Florence, SC.
Dec 9 : Just for fun, I visited the very kitsch South of the Border and no, I didn't "fill my trunque with Pedro's junque". Then I drove to Richmond, VA, took I-64 west to avoid the 4 major cities (Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and NYC) and drove over the Appalachian mountains and Shenandoah Valley on I-81. In Scranton, PE, I took I-84 east and then I-87. It only snowed between Albany and Plattsburgh, NY. I arrived in Granby at 4:15 a.m., a little bit tired but glad to sleep in my own bed without any check-out time to consider!:o)
I had such a great time out there on the road. I can't help but thinking about my next road trip!:o)
Total km : ~ 16 000
Countries : 3
Provinces : 3
States : 24
Best burger : Avocado Cheeseburger, International Café, Austin, NV
Best coffee : Mon Ami Gabi, Paris Casino, Las Vegas, NV
Best Mexican food : El Bravo, Phoenix, AZ
Best pizza : Rocco's, Hollywood, FL
Best wine : Francis Ford Coppola's Cabernet, CA