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USA Trip of a Lifetime Report - Days 5,6 and 7

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USA Trip of a Lifetime Report - Days 5,6 and 7

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 5 – 27th August 2008 – Lake Powell

Today is our anniversary – Lyn is up before me (5:30am) and is already striding purposefully towards the rim for our last view of a Grand Canyon sunrise – I hold back so that I can write her card and find her present that I hid on present.

I can’t believe it day 5 already and we’re leaving the Grand Canyon – we have a 150 mile drive to Lake Powell which if we didn’t stop would take around 3 hours – well you can at least double that for us – we tend to do more stopping than driving. Right if you remember I explained earlier on that we intended looking at the east entrance viewpoints on the way out today – so that is what we did. We started with Yaki Point, then Grandview Point; followed by Moran Point, Zuni Point, Papago Point, Pinal Point, Lipan Point and finally Desert View. Well, I’m not sure that it was because these view points were now new to us but they looked even better than the viewpoints we had restricted ourselves to further west. These viewpoints seem to give you a better uninterrupted view of the Canyon and I sure they would have been even better (if that was possible) for sunset and sunrise pictures. I particularly liked Lipan and Desert View (and Grandview well all of them really). At Desert View you can visit and climb the watchtower to get an even better view of the Canyon as well as the Painted Desert.

Oh yes we also visited the Tusayan Ruins and Museum – these are the ruins of a small Anasazi village, dating back to the late 1100s - visitors receive a brief history lesson of how some of the early settlers in this area lived. The Tusayan site is the only one with easy access. Paved walking paths wind through the pueblo excavation and there is a small museum. Admission is free. Estimated walking time is about 30 minutes but be warned there are some very interesting Ranger programmes which provide you with a small tour and much more information – we had to miss this out because we just didn’t have the time – shame looked really good.

So my advice is regardless of the entrance that you use to come in to the Grand Canyon spend some time to begin with looking at all the view points from one end to the other – you can then decide which is your favourite which you can return to for photo opportunities or just a romantic evening starring at the stars – wish I had.

Ok we filled the car with petrol at Desert View $39 (£22) bid a sad farewell to the Grand Canyon; slip The Feeling – Twelve Stops from Home into the CD player; turn up the turbo boost on the Cruiser and continued on our way via Highway 89 which takes you all the way to Page.

This drive is in sharp contrast to the one which brings you into the Grand Canyon – we are now surrounded by stunning scenery.

This route takes us through the western edge of the Navajo Reservation, with views of the Painted Desert on our left and Marble Canyon on our right. It crosses the Little Colorado River at Cameron and passes under the Echo Cliffs north of The Gap.

I’m not qualified to speak on the native American debate but you can’t help thinking about their history – I would like to find out more about how they view their situation now – as a visitor it still looks as though they are living a very meagre existence which isn’t consistent with the lifestyle of the rest of America – I realise this is an area of debate which is fraught with controversy and I may be in danger of trying to impose lifestyle expectations on a group of people which are stereo typical of my own and so for the sake of this report I don’t think it is appropriate to peruse this line of thought – however, I can’t explain my sense of sadness for the native American population.

Right back to the trip – the scenery from the car is now fabulous – the sight of Marble Canyon continually draws your eye. Eventually the Echo Cliffs come into view and just pass the Trading Post called The Gap you climb to the right and pass through Antelope Pass – this would have been a fabulous photo opportunity but unfortunately road works had closed the pull in – would have been a great picture back along the Canyon.

Now, up until now I kept mentioning to Lyn that we must look out for Horse Bend – I didn’t have any details of this stop, I just remember a Trip Advisor mentioning that it was on the road and was worth a visit. We were now approaching Page and I thought we had missed it when, there it was, we managed to bring the Cruiser to a halt, turn around and drove into the car park. Goodness it was still very, very hot but still it looked as though Horseshoe bend was just on top of the big dune at the end of the car park and a sign confirmed that it was only .25 miles to Horseshoe Bend.

Well, that can’t be so bad then – collect camera and water and head off to the dune (those of you that have made this ‘small excursion will, I am sure, be having a secret smile now).

We make the ‘testing’ climb to the top of the dune and notice that a lot of the people coming back are not looking so good – oh well perhaps they’re not as fit as us – crack on! We make it to the top of the dune only to discover that Horseshoe Bend is still a long way off down the other side of the dune and across some very hot looking barren scrub. At this stage a German couple in the final stages of what can only be described as heat exhaustion manage to stagger back to our position at the top of the dune – the lady who was about our age (if not a bit younger) was in a very bad way – Lyn offered her a drink of water and she accepted gratefully – her husband did the same. Revived they eventually dragged their weary bodies back towards the car park. This concerned me, Lyn was much better by now but still not back to full strength. I was concerned that this may set her back but she was determined to carry on.

The walk was worth it – Horseshoe Bend was glorious – I found that it was difficult to capture the full effect of the Horseshoe standing on the rim and so I fully extended my tripod – stood out as far as I could on the precarious lip of the Bend put the camera on a 10 second delay pressed the button and hoisted the tripod into the air as far as I could whilst leaning out as far as I dare – hey it worked – now I don’t necessarily recommend this method of photographing Horseshoe Bend as you are just as likely to either loose your camera over the side or topple over and fall to your death – neither of which does anything to improve your holiday experience.

The walk back to the car was everything we expected – HOT and EXHAUSTING. We got back to the car – collapsed into our seats and put the air conditioning onto max. I’m sure Lyn gave me another one of those looks but I couldn’t see for the sweat in my eyes.

Two bottles of water later we had recovered sufficiently to continue on our way – we drove the short distance into Page – I have never seen so many houses of worship so close together - the folk of Page obviously take their religion very seriously.

The GPS didn’t recognise The Lake Powell Resort and so we had to try and find by traditional methods which involved driving around in circles for an hour or so until we get so lost that we ask someone the way – we eventually did and a very nice American gentleman at the Glen Canyon Dam pointed us in the right direction – thank you very much.

We arrive at The Lake Powell Resort and check in – we walk to our room stepped out onto our terrace and were greeted with a view that takes your breath away – If I had been asked to pick the ideal room on the whole resort we could not have done better – we were on the ground floor, just left of the swimming pool with a panoramic view of the lake – I thought I had died and gone to heaven – suddenly the Grand Canyon had a real contender for most fabulous location on this trip.

Lyn headed straight to the pool I headed for the camera – the most fabulous sunset was in progress.

Later in the evening we visited the pizzeria for a snack on the way back we saw the Milky Way in the sky clearer than we’ve ever seen it before – star gazed for a while and eventually turned in about 10:00pm – Lake Powell is just beautiful, beautiful, beautiful!!!

Day 6 – 28th August 2008 – Lake Powell

Up again at 5:30 a captured the most stunning sunrise. Today we had pre-booked a tour to Rainbow Bridge - Lake Powell Tours (http://www.LakePowellTours.net). Cost $290 (£150)

The tour providers describe this as:

“Quite likely the most photographed geological wonder in the American West, Rainbow Bridge is a must-see during your Lake Powell visit. The relaxing boat tour is approximately 7 1/2 hours, with 3 hours travel time to Rainbow Bridge, 1 1/2 hours exploring Rainbow Bridge, and 3 hours back to Wahweap Marina. You will enjoy the wonderful rock formations, beautiful painted walls, and travel through Forbidden Canyon on your way to Rainbow Bridge.

I can assure you that it does exactly what’s on the label.

The tour sets of at 8:00am and there are only 7 of us aboard – it’s as though we had chartered our own private boat – I’m amazed that they didn’t cancel but so glad they didn’t. The crew consisted of two Native American women who were just fabulous. The Pilot (who I have to say was controlled the boat with immense skill – no more jibes about women drivers then) also gave a running commentary throughout the tour – she was extremely informative and good fun.

We were provided with as much coffee, lemonade and water as we could drink and a packed lunch after our walk to Rainbow Bridge – which was more than sufficient.

There was a restroom on board and an upper and lower deck – the upper deck was open (hat and or sunscreen recommended) and a lower deck was enclosed with windows – ample seating on both decks.

I’m sure everyone is aware of Lake Powell’s famous and controversial history but the headline facts are that it is a man-made reservoir on the Colorado River, straddling the border between Utah and Arizona. It is the second largest man-made reservoir in the United States behind Lake Mead - the lake's main body stretches up Glen Canyon, but has also filled many (over 90) side canyons – our trip to Rainbow Bridge would take us just a mere 50 mile up the lake.

Due to the lake level, a 1-mile walk/hike (each way) is required both to and from Rainbow Bridge and it is recommended that you wear tennis or hiking shoes for the trail.

On our trip out to Rainbow Bridge we are treated to stupendous views of the of original canyon walls – the rock formations are many and various including - Wingate Sandstone layers that are typically pale orange to red in color, the remnants of wind-born sand dunes deposited approximately 200 million years ago - Navajo Sandstone which often appears as massive rounded domes and bluffs that are generally white in colour and the Kayenta Formation which frequently appears as a thinner dark broken layer below Navajo Sandstone and above Wingate Sandstone (all three formations are in the same group). Together, these three formations can result in immense vertical cliffs of 2,000 feet (610 m) or more. (ref Wikipedia).

The first part of our journey is along open water and we manage a good speed – slowing down for the many other craft using the lake such as houseboats, jet boat and jet skis – our wake can cause them much discomfort and the rules of he lake are very strict – the jet skis however have great fun following our boat and using our wake to propel their vehicles into the air.

It was during one of the faster stretches of open water that my sunglasses flew off my head to begin their 500ft journey to the bottom of the lake – what is it with me and glasses – they were my best pair as well – oops. Ok squinting into the sun we continue.

Many of the side canyons are too small for our comparatively large craft but with considerable skill our pilot takes us through canyons that are so tight that it almost takes the paint of the boat on both sided. This tour has everything.

After 3 or 4 hours we make it to the landing station that will take us to Rainbow Bridge - the world's largest natural bridge – our crew explain that Rainbow Bridge used to be a Navajo sacred place of worship and asked us to respect this monument and not walk around or under the bridge. It is called "Nonnoshoshi" by the Navajo people, or "rainbow turned to stone." The Bridge is an arch with a span of 278 feet which rises more than 290 feet and is said to be the male and female holy beings who created clouds, rainbows, and moisture.

You don’t have to walk that far before you get your first tantalising glimpses of the Bridge – the walk in fact isn’t that far and it’s very pleasant. Before long the Bridge is in full view – a magnificent sight – more photos. A Ranger is at the Bridge to greet us and he provides us with lots of information about the Bridge and its history – he also explained that the Lake Powell level is controlled so that it doesn’t back up this canyon far enough to immerse and erode the legs of this fabulous monument.

We only have half an hour or so at the Bridge before we have to make our way back to the boat – it was everything we expected and more. The spectacular sights just go on and on.

Back at the boat we are given our pack lunches before we start our trip back. We stop off at Dangling Rope Marina. The marina is basically a fuel stop for boaters on their way up or down lake. In additional to fuel, there is a small marina store offering the best soft serve ice cream around, in addition to basic supplies. We have to make the stop as the crew have to make a delivery. This is an ideal opportunity for me to replace my sunglasses – which I did at the general store – pretty good they were as well.

We enjoy a leisurely trip back on our boat to the Wahweap Marina and arrive back around 3:00/4:00 pm. The sun is now high at we decide to go for a swim – I look for my swimmers – oh no I’ve forgotten to pack them – maybe they will have some at the sports shop – well they did but as normal not quite what I wanted - the only thing in my size were a pair with a rather garish floral design, which I’m sure would look good on a young bronzed body but on a 57 year old with grey hair I’m not so sure – still they would give Lyn a laugh.

So with my floral shorts – Dangling Rope sunglasses and my Grand Canyon reading glasses I head off to the pool to join Lyn – she tries to hide behind her book but I can tell she is trying to suppress her laughter – have you no thought for my feelings!! Still we manage to secure more than adequate space around us for sunbathing – mothers all around the pool try to prevent their children inadvertently wandering too near us. I try to explain that were British and hope they’ll understand (just kidding).

I seruptiously slip my reading glasses on and write my postcards for friends and family back home. After an hour or two we make our way back to our room to shower and change for our evening meal.

Dinner and cocktails in the Lakeview restaurant whilst watching another spectacular sunset - retire back to our room around 10:00pm ish. I loved Lake Powell – a lot more than I thought I would – better than the Grand Canyon? – not sure, very close call – Lake Powell may just have the edge.

Day 7 – 29th August 2008 – Bryce and Zion National Parks

Ok today is a very busy day – let me explain. When we were first putting this itinerary together, this part of the trip caused us a lot of concern. We wanted to visit both Bryce and Zion but we couldn’t seem to fit in the days to do it – so at one stage we were considering dropping Bryce (or even Zion) so that we could comfortably spend time at the other. Anyway I suggested this on trip advisor and the overwhelming opinion was that we should not cut either of these two parks – if possible make cuts elsewhere.

So as a form of compromise we decided that we would pay a fleeting visit to Bryce on the way to Zion – I know we couldn’t do it justice in an afternoon but at least it would allow us to see it and who could resist catching a glimpse of the Hoodoos.

So we’re up by 7:00am – fed, watered and packed by 8:00am and on our way - we hadn’t travelled more than 500 yards when I notice in my mirror that I have a Park Ranger behind me with his lights on wanting me to pull in. Oh no what have I done – I can’t have been speeding our RV needs at least a 3 mile run up to achieve it’s maximum cruising speed of 60mph. Anyway, I pull over and thinking that it would be polite, I get out of the car – I am greeted with the Ranger shouting at me from his vehicle “GET BACK IN THE CAR” – goodness I thought maybe he’s auditioning for a part in an American cop series or maybe I cut as an intimidating figure in my knee length shorts grey hair and pink t-shirt – I can see where he’s coming from – I quickly get back in the car before he has me spread eagled across the bonnet. The Ranger approaches the car an explains that he has pulled me over because I did not stop at the Stop sign – I slowed down but my wheels did not stop turning therefore I had committed a traffic violation – I have to admit he was correct – my wheels hadn’t stopped but in my ineffectual defence it was 8:00am in the morning and the road that I was crossing was not even a proper road (I think it was some sort of service road and I could see for miles both ways and there was not a single vehicle on the road). The Ranger then invites me out of the car and asks me to produce driving license and rental agreement (which is in one of the suitcases and requires that I empty our three cases, in the road, to find them). I figure that he is putting me through the maximum inconvenience in order to reinforce the fact that this is not something that I want to go through on a regular basis and may act as a deterrent to future misdemeanours. He returns to his vehicle and obviously starts checking my details or maybe he had started eating his lunch a little early – either way he seemed to be away for a long time. During my wait I try and convince Lyn that he looks a decent sort of chap and once he has made me suffer enough I’m sure he will just let me off with a warning – well nearly - we now have 30days to pay the $75 fine – maybe I’m not such a good judge of character as I thought!!

We are eventually released and spend the next couple of miles questioning the Ranger’s parentage but eventually put the whole incident behind us – after all he was only doing his job – if not a little enthusiastically.

Anyway the drive to Bryce produces more stunning scenery – the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is breath taking - the Staircase is a sequence of cliffs and plateaus rising in succession, one after another, reaching 5500 feet high in places all the way from Lake Powell to Bryce Canyon National Monument.

We stop in Kanab to refuel $32 (£17) – when paying for the gas I inadvertently place myself in front of a young man who I didn’t realise was waiting in the line – he suggested that it may be better for my health if I joined the line behind him – which of course I did – obviously he didn’t find me as intimidating as the Park Ranger. This is turning out to be one of those days that you would just like to start again.

Anyway, still in one piece we decide it’s a good time to eat so we stop at Nedra’s for breakfast – this was a great place to eat – far too much but really nice..

Back on the road we enjoy the stunning drive to Bryce. Now, I have to say that what we did at Bryce is not the best way to see it – to get the best from it you have to give it much more time than we did but for us it was either this or nothing.

By the way the weather is still glorious – not quite so hot as it had been but that was a blessing – it was now just very, very nice.

Ok what we decided to do was to drive all the way out to Rainbow Point and work our way back stopping at all the viewpoints as far as Swamp Canyon – others had obviously decided to do the same as we drove in a convoy of about 4 or 5 cars in and out of each viewpoint all the way back to Swamp Canyon – quite comical really. Now I know this is going to be controversial but I was a little disappointed with these view points – Natural Bridge was the best in my opinion but the rest were well… ok but not quite what I was expecting – at that stage I didn’t express my feelings to Lyn nor she to me but later she confessed that she felt the same.

Anyway undeterred we made our way to Inspiration Point – now that was what I was expecting – wow and wow again – I’m sorry Bryce I take it all back you are a swan a very fine swan indeed. We walked up to Upper Inspiration Point and then drove on to Bryce Point to take in the magnificence of the Bryce Amphitheatre – the Hoodoos in all their glory look fabulous. Lots more photos. We didn’t have time but it does seems criminal to come all this way and not at least walk the Queen Garden Trail and get closer to these monoliths – one of my big regrets on this trip – never mind something else for next time – sorry Bryce we didn’t have the time to do you justice but those hoodoos at Inspiration Point………..

Our schedule was really tight and so we really had to press on – we took in Fairyland Point on the way out and couldn’t drive pass Red Canyon without stopping for more photos.

Lyn wanted us to pull in and visit Bryce Old Town – a very clever reproduction of an old western town with all sorts of nic naks for sell. The ice cream was to die for and we are now the proud owners of our very own piece of Bryce rock formed into tiny natural bridges – really quaint – it now stands in pride of place on a shelf in our dinning room.

Right now we must get on if we are to make Zion before nightfall. Back on the road we load Newton Falkner - Hand Built by Robots onto the CD player and slip off back down the UT 63/12 – US 89.

We started to run out of day light on our way to Zion so I pulled over and took some more amazing sunset pictures – Lyn patiently waits for me to finish – she’s being very good about all these photo stops don’t you think – that was to change!! To this point the current photo count was about 800 – oops!

We are now loosing the light fast and I want to try and make Zion before dark – so no more stopping – I slip on Simon and Garfunkel’s greatest hits into the CD player and we drive of into the sunset singing our accompaniment to our favourite tunes - we enter the park by the east entrance whilst listening to the prophetic words of Paul Simon’s Old Friends “Time it was and what a time it was, a time of innocence, a time of confidences – long ago it must be I have a photograph, preserve your memories they’re all that’s left you”……………

We fall in love with Zion within the first few miles – surely Zion cannot push the Grand Canyon into 3rd place – this is ridiculous – the Grand Canyon is really why we came.

The light is now fading fast – Lyn is purring in the seat besides me – I am trying desperately to keep the car on the road and take an occasional glimpse of the scenery emerging around us – this place is more than beautiful – according to Webster’s Dictionary Zion is “a place regarded as devoted to God: a sacred city” if this is not God’s own country then I don’t know what is.

We continue through the 1 mile Zion – Mt Carmel Tunnel only to be greeted at the far side by a series of high level switchbacks – what scenery I can manage to catch is awesome.

Our GPS behaves and takes us to the door of The Desert Pearl Inn – this is another Inn and location to die for – I’m not just saying this – the Desert Pearl has won a number of awards and it is superb – We are on the ground floor and The Virgin River runs no more than 20yards past our patio doors. The Desert Pearl is one my favourite places so far – well besides the Lake Powell Resort – and the …ah they’ve all been great!

We check in – get unpacked and decide to walk into Springdale get a bite to eat. Basically we fall into the first place we come across – which was lucky as it was very nice – The Pioneer Restaurant – good food – good service and good prices – basic ambience but everything we were after.

We stopped at the Pioneer for a couple of drinks before making our way back to the Desert Pearl about 11:00pm – Lyn feeling much better now and almost back to full working order. Looking forward to tomorrow – to do the Narrows or not?

1. Re: USA Trip of a Lifetime Report - Days 5,6 and 7

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