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USA Trip of a Lifetime Report - Days 9 & 10

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USA Trip of a Lifetime Report - Days 9 & 10

I have probably done this wrong – but I have been submitting my Trip Report Called “USA 2008 – Holiday of a Lifetime” on the main state forums of California, Arizona, Utah and Nevada. A Trip Advisor has asked me if I could post the relevant parts of the report on the forums that relate to the various locations visited – so this is my attempt to comply – apologies to anyone who has already read it

USA Trip 2008

The following is my “USA 2008 holiday of a life time” report. Our trip began on the 23rd August 2008 – lasted for 3 weeks and we returned home on the 13th September 2008. I am writing this report after the event and I shall write it a day at a time as if we were writing the report as it were happening.

First of all can I thank all of my Trip Advisor friends that provided me with such a lot of very useful help and guidance which served to provide us with the holiday that we will never forget and lived up to the billing of “a holiday of a lifetime.

Ok some background information – my name is Ray I am 57 remarried to my lovely wife Lyn who is 56. We have been married for two years and between us we have 7 children – only one still at home now, she is 18. We live in the South West of England on the border of Somerset and Dorset.

My wife was recently left a small inheritance by her mother and wanted to treat me to my “holiday of a lifetime”. It has always been a boyhood dream of mine to see the sunset over the Grand Canyon and so the preparations began.

Our itinerary evolved after much discussion with Trip Advisor members – goodness you provided us with a wealth of useful information some of which lead us to destinations that we will remember for as long as we live. Our trip was incredible and I’d like to take this opportunity to share some of it with you.

Ok the itinerary and some basic facts – I hope this may be useful to other that may consider this trip or one that may be similar.

The Itinerary

Flew out from London Gatwick with Virgin Atlantic £556 ($1,056 – conversion factor of 1.9) each

Day 1 & 2 - 23rd & 24th August – Las Vegas

The Luxor Hotel

2 nights

£71 ($135) per night

Pick up Dollar rental car from Luxor – Chrysler pt Cruiser 4 door – platinum package – 19 day rental period – including GPS - £275 ($524)

Day 3 & 4 - 25th & 26th August – The Grand Canyon

The Maswik Lodge

2 nights

£45 ($86) per night

Day 5 & 6 - 27th & 28th August – Lake Powell

The Lake Powell Resort

2 nights

£88 ($167) per night

Day 7 & 8 - 29th & 30th August – Bryce & Zion National Park

The Desert Pearl Inn

2 nights

£109 ($206) per night

Day 9 – 31st August – Death Valley

Stove Pipe Wells

1 night

£60 ($115) per night

Day 10 – 1st September – Mammoth Lakes

Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites

1 night

£80 ($151) per night

Day 11; 12 & 13 – 2nd; 3rd & 4th September – Yosemite National Park

Yosemite Lodge at the Falls

3 nights

£120 ($228) per night

Day 14; 15 & 16 – 5th; 6th & 7th September – San Francisco

Holiday Inn at Fisherman’s Wharf

3 nights

£112 ($213) per night

Day 17 & 18 – 8th & 9th September – Monterey

The Centrella - Bed and Breakfast

2 nights

£80 ($153) per night

Day 19 – 10th September – Cambria

The Fogcatcher Inn

1 night

£85 ($163) per night

Day 20 & 21 – 11th & 12th September – Los Angeles

The Four Seasons

2 nights

£325 ($620) per night (mates rates)

I make that a running total so far of £3,744 ($7,113) – that is the total cost of flights; car hire and accommodation (including taxes).

Day Minus 1 – 22nd August 2008

Ok here we go then – I’m starting this report the day before we fly out to the states for a very good reason, as you will see. Both Lyn and I worked the Friday before we flew out and arrived back home around 5:00pm to start “the pack”. Well packing was going well until I noticed a small patch of water on the carpet just outside the kitchen door – I thought maybe someone had spilled something and forgotten to clean it up – on closer inspection I discovered that water was oozing through the carpet – we had a leak – oh no not now the night before we were due to fly out to the states.

Two days earlier we had a new mixer tap fixed in the kitchen – unfortunately the plumber had not fitted it properly and for two days water had gradually been creeping underneath our new kitchen flooring and had now made its way into the living room – water was now coming up though the wooden flooring – looks as though we may need our swimmers earlier than we had anticipated.

Anyway, turned the water off – called the plumber out – fixed the fault – mopped up the excess water and finished off our packing – not really the start we wanted but there we are the kitchen will have to wait until we return – nothing we can do about it now.

Got to bed just after midnight ready for an early start in the morning – need to get up at 4:00am – so looking at probably just over 3 hours sleep – heck!

Day 9 – 31st August 2008 – Death Valley

Up at 8:00am – goodness it’s raining – we shower, dress, pack and load the car – we now have this down to a fine art.

Today I am particularly excited – not sure why but I am really looking forward to Death Valley – maybe it’s the history – maybe it’s the barren and arid nature of the environment or maybe it is just the name but it certainly has me eager to hit the road,

We fill up with gas just outside of Zion $26 (£14) – I am particularly aware today that we must keep the car topped up with petrol – don’t really fancy running out of petrol in the middle of Death Valley.

The drive today was a long one - 300 miles which, without stops, should take us about 5 hours.

So off we go what shall we listen to today lets give Jack Johnson a try – In Between Dreams – lovely album – good start to the day – go for it Jack.

We leave Zion via Springdale and drive through scenery which by now is almost expected – anything but spectacular is now some how disappointing. I thought that we may stop off at the Valley of Fire just before we skirt Vegas, where the Virgin River meets up with Lake Mead – but it just so happened that Lyn had taken a little nap when we were passing and so I decide to let her sleep.

Our GPS navigated us around the suburbs of Las Vegas and pointed us onto the US95 – it did well but I sometimes think that it doesn’t always take us by the most direct route but who am I to argue with this very efficient lady who is directing us – anyway it gets us onto the correct road and that’s what counts.

Now, before we left it was my intention that we should enter Death Valley by the CA178 after turning off at Shoshone – this way we could have taken in Willows Creek, Badwater, Devil’s Golf course, The Golden Canyon, Zabriskie’s Point, Artistic Point; Dantes Peak and Furnace Creek but our GPS was directing us to Beatty. We discussed which road to take and felt that it may be best to follow our GPS instructions and go to Beatty – I didn’t want to chance getting lost at this stage – and it would prevent our GPS from going through its ‘recalculating’ routine.

I’m sure there are many of you now saying – oh dear you missed a fabulous opportunity and I’m sure you’re right – but not being familiar with this area and given the reputation of Death Valley we decided to play it safe.

Sand devils are now being whipped up all around us and the scene is set for what is to come.

We make it to Beatty and fill up once again with petrol just to make sure that we don’t get caught short $26 (£14). We now make the turn into Death Valley – the excitement builds. We have been checking the temperature gauge all the way in the car and it was now rising above 40c (just over 100f). The landscape was now indeed barren and arid – everything you would expect when entering Death Valley.

We eventually reach Hell’s Gate (quaint little name I thought - I wonder why they called it that then?) and get our first view of the Valley – the wind is blowing hard now and vision is obscured by a mini sand storm. I pull in to read the information boards at Hell’s Gate – I step out of the car and into the searing heat of Death Valley. Now if I were the person responsible for naming this place what would I call it? Yes Hell’s Gate – can’t improve on that!! This is seriously hot – I read the information boards and notice that there are 4 lads emerging from a rental car identical to ours – I also notice that water is pouring from their radiator. They explain that during their visit to Death Valley their car has constantly overheated as it is doing now. I ask if they need help – they seem to feel that everything is ok and once it has cooled down it will be ok to drive again – they thank me and drift off into the desert. Maybe I was being over cautious but I was concerned about their disregard for their own safety – after all only the occasional vehicle uses these roads – still they were big lads and I’m sure they were capable of looking after themselves. I was also secretly concerned that as our rental was the same as theirs that we may yet develop similar overheating problems.

I get back into the car – nicely toasted. We enter the Valley! Its difficult to explain how I feel but it is certainly a mix of expectation and excitement – we read the signs that say – “to avoid overheating turn off you Air Conditioning” – oh that’s great the temperature is now 120f – we’re in one of the hottest places in the world and we are being told that we can’t use the air conditioning – we obediently turn off the air conditioning – at least we turn off when we’re climbing but switch it back on when we’re on the flat or going down hill – we had to – we would have melted otherwise.

Well that at least explains why the lad’s engine overheated anyway – can’t see that they were going to take any notice of the sign.

We stop at the Dunes to try and take some photographs but the sand storm makes it difficult to take anything recognisable – goodness this is hot – I’m not sure how much sight seeing we can manage in this heat – maybe it was fortuitous that we came in via Beatty after all.

We eventually arrive at Stove Pipe Wells 4:00pm ish– this is a super place to stay – exactly what you would expect in the middle of the Valley and with air conditioning – thank goodness. The accommodation is basic but more than adequate – we love it. The big thermometer at the entrance confirms that it is now 120f – locals tell us that they are grateful that it is at last starting to cool down – are you kidding me! Time for the pool and quickly.

There are only a couple of other guests using the pool and we spend a good couple of hours dipping in and out. It was the strangest thing but for about 5 minutes after you got out of the pool you would shiver with the cold – 120f and you were shivering – mind you I’ve never know swimmers dry so fast.

Lyn decides to read a little more of her book and I finish off my postcards – we spend the rest of the day just lazing around the pool – superb – playing in a pool in the middle of Death Valley, would you believe it.

You have to have a thought for those early pioneers that had to find a way through this Valley and those after that were involved in making it accessible – these were tough resilient people.

We make our way back to our room – even this was an effort – we try and keep to the shaded areas.

We get ready for dinner and discuss were to go for our evening meal – we could drive the 50 mile round trip to Furnace Creek or ……………………..we could eat here – yes that seems to have exhausted all of the options. I think we’ll eat here then – that will do fine.

The Stove Pipe Wells Dining Room turns out to be a very pleasant surprise. The food was great and so was the service – staff were very friendly and it wasn’t expensive – we were lead to believe before we arrived that Death Valley was going to be really expensive – not at all – I can thoroughly recommend dining at Stove Pipe Wells.

After dinner we moved into the saloon – drunk a few cocktails and played a form of pool with Lyn. Oh and their jukebox was first class.

Stove Pipe Wells was great – really enjoyed it – considering where it is located. The service was outstanding.

As for Death Valley it has a charm all of its own – its harsh and raw – you almost have to hide from it – the sun gives you no rest bite – the conditions provide a landscape that is uniquely Death Valley – I can’t imagine many other places on the earth that looks the same as Death Valley but it’s the harshness of the climate that provides it with its character – we loved it – those that can resist the heat better than us will enjoy the sights it has to offer from closer quarters – we were content to view them from the relative comfort of what shade we could find.

Day 10 – 1st September 2008 – Labor Day – Mammoth Lakes

Got ourselves up at 5:30am this morning – I am convinced today we will see a fabulous sunrise. Goodness it’s still as hot this morning as it was yesterday afternoon – this heat is relentless.

I was right the sunrise was to die for – ok the heat is not quite as blistering as it was yesterday afternoon so I decide that I will try and walk to the dunes to get a better photograph. Drive the car to the nearest point and start to walk over the parched earth, being very careful not to disturb anything that may be home to a rattlesnake or scorpion. I know this is not very masculine but I am petrified of snakes and I’m not that partial to scorpions either. The Dunes are further than I thought – everything in Death Valley is further than you think. I set up the camera some distance from the Dunes and take some reasonable pictures but the sand is still being blown about and prevents me photographing anything that will eventually make the album.

I eventually accept defeat and return to our lodge. The cost of our accommodation includes breakfast, which we took after which we had got ready and re packed the car – I have to say again the food and service at Stove Pipe Wells was first class – could not be faulted.

After just one day in Death Valley it was time to be on our way – we both loved this place for it rawness and severity – it will certainly remain a long time in my memory and I will never forget the first time I walked out into its heat at Hell’s Gate – what a place.

We set off for Mammoth Lakes about 9:30am and make the superb drive through the Paramint Mountains – we had to turn off the air conditioning in the car for about 20 miles which made the drive extremely uncomfortable – but infinitely better than breaking down. We stop a couple of times on the way out of the Valley to take pictures of the salt flats and at the vista point at the Paramint Mountains but it was too hot to wander from the car to do any meaningful sightseeing.

We did have a bit of a moment when we were coming down the other side of the Paramint Mountains which I must share with you. We had made a stop on a fairly steep down hill section of the Mountain to take a picture from one of the many vista points. Now Lyn normally stays in the car if I am just popping out quickly to take a photograph but asks that I leave the music and the air conditioning on – as I have forgotten on a couple of occasions and when I’ve returned to the car I’ve had to throw a bucket of water over her and strap her to an oxygen mask in order to revive her. However, as the drivers amongst us know, when it comes to starting the car again you have to turn the keys in the ignition back to the ‘off’ position and only then will the car start when you turn the key back the other way. Well, I forgot this simple rule and didn’t turn the keys back to the off position and just turned them as I would normally to start the engine - what with the music on and the air conditioning on at full blast I couldn’t actually hear if the engine had started but had assumed that it had – which of course it hadn’t – when I released the hand brake I moved away as expected and for the first 20 yards or so still had brakes until all of the brake fluid drained from the brakes and they no longer worked. By this time we were hurtling down a steep mountainside studded with a series of extremely tight switchbacks and no brakes. Not a recommended way to travel down any mountainside no less the impressive Paramint Mountain.

I must admit to a mild form of panic when I first needed the brakes and they didn’t respond - luckily I had a good idea of the problem and yanked as hard as I dare on the handbrake to bring us to halt without executing a neat handbrake turn before we ran out of road. I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to the driver that was behind us at the time who must have been 1) confused and 2) irritated at this idiot in front who at one point was driving his car down this mountainside as if being chased by a park ranger and then for no apparent reason bringing it to a halt in the middle of the road – without using his brakes. I thought I would get out and explain that “I am British you know” but I’m not sure that he would have seen the funny side.

Ok were still alive aren’t we – what’s the problem – let’s crack on (flippin’ ‘eck). I avoid eye contact with Lyn for the next few miles.

We eventually reach Lone Pine and get our first glimpse of the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks framed by the Sierra Nevada Range – the landscapes just get better and better. We stop here for a comfort break and take some time to stretch our legs. Hopalong Cassidy fans will be interested to know that Lone Pines was the location for this series and many other western movies and TV series – just thought you might be interested. This is the start of Ansel Adams country and you can see why – it is gorgeous. Mount Whitney(15,000 feet) sits as a ghostly apparition as a backdrop to the town – must just have been the light that day – very special lighting effect.

Had we had the time we could have driven to the Mt Whitney Portal, which is a short distance off the 395 where you can experience a panoramic view of the valley. This is the actual location of many of your favourite westerns – including 3 of my favourite TV series - The Lone Ranger, Bonanza, and Wagon Train – ah they don’t make them like that anymore.

Ok, head ‘um up and move ‘em out (oh no that was Rawhide – where was that shot then). We drive onto Bishop and once more fill with gas $40 (£21) – have lunch at a very nice pavement type café and drive onto Mammoth Lakes – weather is now much cooler and just about perfect.

The GPS once more behaves impeccably and takes us to the door of the Holiday Inn. The Holiday Inn was as you would expect of all Holiday Inns – good clean standard rooms - nothing to get too excited about but nothing to complain about.

We explore the town of Mammoth Lakes –I buy myself a new pair of Reef shorts and flip flops – I needed something that wasn’t going to rub on my blisters – did I mention that I rubbed a few blister on my Narrows walk – yes ok I know - I’ll say no more about them….. for now (still looking for sympathy). In the shop we got talking to 2 American guys – we talked about all sorts of things and eventually explained that as from tomorrow we were off to Yosemite for 3 days – well that was it – they must have spent the next 45 minutes explaining to us every trail and viewpoint in Yosemite and what we must make sure we see – they we fantastic and so enthusiastic – we tried to remember as many references as we could but we probably forgot a lot more than we remembered – great guys – thanks for your advice.

We fancy a short walk and ask at Reception if they have any suggestions – they recommend Lake McLeod – we drive to Horseshoe Lake and park the car in the large parking lot. The car park is ringed by trees that look as though they have all simultaneously taken a lightening strike – very peculiar but striking in appearance.

The walk is no more than a mile but uphill most of the way – when you eventually arrive at the lake you are rewarded with the most prettiest of locations – the lake is fairly large (you could probably walk around it in less than an hour) – it is surrounded by trees and you have the crest of Mammoth Mountain as a backdrop.

All bar one other person we had the lake to ourselves – this was heaven! Lyn found a cosy log to lay back on and I of course went off snapping – the photo count by now was well over 1,000 – well it’s not my fault that every time I move there’s another photo opportunity!

The only other person at the Lake eventually makes his way over to where we are and we strike up a conversation – he was American and a lovely man – he saw that I was photographing the dead trees and asked if I had an interest in the Bristlecone Pines – In truth I had no idea that it was a Bristlecone Pine. Well this gentleman proceeded to provided us with a complete and detailed history of this tree – some of which I must share with you – apparently Bristlecone Pines are a small group of pine trees that are thought to reach an age far greater than that of any other single living organism known on the planet – some are thought to be up to nearly 5,000 years. Our new friend also suggest that if we want to see more Bristlecone Pine we could drive back down the 395 to Big Pine to the Ancient Bristle Pine Forest – however, as this was a 120 mile round trip we declined (Americans have a very different perception of distance than we Brits – I suppose its because we live on such a small island). Anyway, something for others to consider when making this drive.

We end up talking about all sorts of various topics – he was great fun and very interesting – but the Bristlecone Pines information was fascinating. Lovely person.

After completely de-stressing at McLeod Lake we make our way back down to the car park and drive back to The Holiday Inn – I discover that the arm on my new (but female) reading glasses have now broken. Lyn Uses the Pool and I sneak off into town to find a drug (chemist) store to see if I can buy yet another pair of reading glasses. Glasses are definitely becoming a theme of this holiday.

Anyway, they have a grand selection and this time I am able to buy a sensible pair designed for men – goodness I almost look sensible in these – I don’t immediately tell Lyn as I know she will give me one of those withering looks.

When I get back she is still in the pool – well the Jacuzzi actually – and having a great time. We eventually return to our room and Lyn thinks that this is a good opportunity to use the laundrette. Later we walk into town and eat a the local Italian Restaurant – very pleasant indeed. Amazing tonight we need a jumper as it is on the cool side.

We return back to the Holiday Inn about 9:30/10:00pm for an early night in preparation for tomorrow’s grand adventure – the start of Yosemite!!

Uden, The...
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1. Re: USA Trip of a Lifetime Report - Days 9 & 10

Well, now you have a good reason to come back. You need to spend a few days in Death Valley but not in summer. Try end of october. That's a great time of year. We always come back to Death Valley (but not before 2010). And it's Bristlecone Pine country all right. Try ca168 once. I couldn't help myself laughing about your adventures. "I'm British you know?" Reminded me of John Clees "Don't mention the war" Oh and before I forget. With a modern and good car you don't need to turn off the a/c. Just keep an eye on the temp. meter. And you'll find the eldest living organism in the world in Australia. Maybe read about the stromatolites in the Shark Bay area in Western Australia.


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2. Re: USA Trip of a Lifetime Report - Days 9 & 10

Thank you for that very detailed and personal narrative! It’s always interesting to read people’s impressions of places we like. For most newcomers to Death Valley in the summer, the heat truly is the first impression. Sorry you hit a sandstorm; those are fairly common, although they vary in severity but tend to come up mostly in the afternoon.

Oh, nooooo! You missed out on Badwater, Artist’s Drive, Golden Canyon, Zabriskie Point, and Dante’s View :^( These are among Death Valley’s must-see natural marvels. I hope you got postcards to put in your scrapbook. Let this be a lesson to everyone (not picking on you personally), about relying on GPS, or a computer map program. There are times when their directions should be taken with a grain of salt. Computer programs and satellite positioning do not necessarily take into account the real-life conditions. They may direct you to what they “think” is the most direct route, which can turn out to be a boring freeway with no scenery or a dead-end dirt road that can get you in big trouble. I know you’ll come back eventually, so tie a bag over your GPS and rely instead on the gospel according to your friends at TA.

Eeek— * gives a sigh of relief * ; glad you survived the excitement coming down the west side of the Panamints! It’s deceptive in places, and on the wide sweeping downhill curves, a car can build up a lot of speed. With no brake fluid, it has to be infinitely worse (I don’t want to find out). Most Americans now drive automatic transmission and are not used to shifting for themselves, and many have come to believe that the only controls on a car are the steering wheel, gas pedal, and brake; as a result, I’ve seen (and smelled) many cars with brake problems on DV grades, especially in the Panamints. I used to work in the park, and I recall more than once pulling over with someone whose brake lights I had watched for a mile or more downhill, and they would ask, “What’s that smell?” They truly had no idea they were overheating their brakes.

Lone Pine is a great place—glad you got to enjoy it a bit. There is no town quite like it perhaps anywhere, with its location between the highest point in the continental U.S. and the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere. Next time you come, you’ll have to saddle up and ride off into the Alabama Hills to see where your favorite movies were filmed. You’ll also have to include a few hours for that side trip to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. It has a short visitor season due to the high elevation (over 10.000’), where conditions are so harsh that not much can survive all year. The phrase "hunkered down" has real meaning when you see the bristlecones. They are not stately and graceful like sequoias, but beautiful and remarkable because they show how tenacious life is. In your own way, because you came from maybe 15º of latitude farther north and survived Death Valley in August, so do you!

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3. Re: USA Trip of a Lifetime Report - Days 9 & 10

Hi Roadrunner

Thanks very much for your post - in many ways it makes me feel worse - we missed a lot on this part of our trip but to be fair we did only have one day at the heat did make it difficult to wander to far away from any shade - well it did for us anyway - I'm sure others that are better acclimatised would cope better than us.

Anyway as you say it does give us a very good reason for coming back and catching up on all the things we didn't manage to see on this trip.

By the way - I agree with your comments about the GPS - they can be a mixed blessing.

Take care


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4. Re: USA Trip of a Lifetime Report - Days 9 & 10

What a great report, thanks for taking the time to share your travels with us! :)

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5. Re: USA Trip of a Lifetime Report - Days 9 & 10

Sorry to hear about your braking struggles!

Anytime you are climing altitude, whether automatic or standard transmission, you put it in a higher gear. Of course when you are descending you drop that thing into 1st. It's less on your engine and gives your brakes a break. It also helps prevent situations that you faced.

In certain parks there will be stopage points where a ranger will check your brakes' temperature to see how they are holding up while decending down from some of the taller mountains.

6. Re: USA Trip of a Lifetime Report - Days 9 & 10

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