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Day 232/3, 28Feb/1Mar 09: US parking Part 3: Grand Canyons & Joshua Trees

March 2, 2009 by  
Filed under Arizona, California, Trip reports, USA

We had a nice breakfast with Fanny & Didier and then finally said goodbye for real (this was the 3rd time), as they would fly back to Switzerland that day.

We went to the edge and viewed down the Grand Canyon. It is one of the world’s most famous and visited tourist attractions, with more than 5 million visitors each year (most of them from the US). It is something that many people put on their ‘bucket list’, but after looking down into the void, we both thought the same. ‘Is that it?’

Grand Canyon (6)Don’t get me wrong, it is an amazing place. The gorge (with the Colorado River flowing through) is 1800m/6000ft deep and the other Rim (closed for winter) several miles away.

There are many beautiful rock formations everywhere, and different light creates different colours all the time.

But maybe because of the size we both felt like we were on a mountain looking down and towards another mountain. We both have climbed many –higher- mountains and 1800m drop was maybe therefore not so impressive.

Desert View Watchtower, Grand CanyonMaybe it was just the Grand name of the place, but we both agreed that Bryce canyon and the Horseshoe Bend were far more impressive places.

We headed to the visitor centre and then decided to simply see all the famous spots along the Canyon Rim. The Grand Canyon is most developed on this Southern side and a nice windy road curves along its edge, passing forests where elk roam free.

Photographers waiting for sunset, Grand CanyonWe spent some time in the old Watch tower, headed into the main lodges (where there was free Wi-Fi!) to Skype my mom for her b-day and then went to see the sunset that never really came in the western end of the route, the Hermit’s Rest.

Grand Canyon (2)
Grand Canyon (10)

Grand Canyon (8)
Grand Canyon (1)

Us in Grand CanyonWe decided not to stay another night in the park and took the main road out. It was still off-season, but there was a long row of cars, I can not imagine how busy these roads must be in summer…

After a few hours in the dark I had enough of driving and just off the ‘hysterical Route 66’ we asked the manager in a local Subway shop (we are still in the $5 footlong season :)) where we could pitch our tent. She said that we could drive down a dirt road and pitch our tent ‘anywhere after the 2nd cattle guard’.

Ivana, Grand CanyonWe headed into the dark middle of Nowhere, parked our car and pitched our tent next to the road in a grassy patch. In the middle of the night some cars passed which made us quite comfortable. It was weekend, the cars –all trucks- were doing at least 80 miles per hour and we were in the middle of Redneck country were, according to many people we had talked to, guns were more present than common sense…

1st march 2009: Wonderful desert in Joshua Tree

We made it through the night without any bullet holes, packed our tent and headed further west. Route 95 South was like a miniature rollercoaster, and only 2 lanes wide. We passed a cyclist heading our way, but due to heavy traffic, there was no place we could safely stop –let alone turn- to share some food and water, so we continued through the dry desert.

Joshua TreeWe arrived in a small town with the interesting name ‘Twentynine Palms’ (we spotted more) where we took the detour through Joshua Tree National park.

It basically is a high desert zone, named after the most common plant to be found here, the Yucca Brevifolia, better known as the Joshua Tree. Made famous by Anton Corbijn for the U2 album with the same name, it is an impressive plant. Not 2 are the same and it takes decades, centuries or even millennia to grow full size.

There are concerns about the future of the plant as climate change might make it too hot for the plant to grow, at least in most of the park.

I really enjoyed this place. Ivana liked it as well, but did not find it so special, but I could not get enough of walking around the desert sands, checking the different plants, scrambling up rocks, and watching rock climbers climbing the bigger ones. Not sure what, but something about the park is very peaceful and much more fulfilling than the Gran Canyon had been…

here is a photographic impression of the small park. As always (if you read this on the website and not in the newsletter): click for an automagically enlarged version on your screen. If you get bored by plants or trees (or photos in general), I suggest you scroll down a bit 😉

Joshua Tree NP (9) Joshua Tree NP (10) Joshua Tree NP (11) Joshua Tree NP (12) Curvy Trees ahead Joshua Tree NP reflectionJoshua Tree NP (2) Climbers in Joshua Tree NP Skull Rock, Joshua Tree Joshua Tree NP Joshua Tree NP (4) Joshua Tree NP (8)Joshua Tree NP (6)

One more night of luxury: Palm Springs

The Springs Hotel, Palm SpringsAs mentioned in a previous post: I had traded some writing and photography for hotel nights, and we still had one ‘left’. We had contacted the Springs hotel and we were all set for a nice night in the hotel in Palm Springs.

once we dropped down across the San Andres fracture -that is actually visible here- into Palm Springs, we were happy to see the desert filled with hundreds if not thousands of wind turbines harvesting the energy of the desert wind.

The place itself was a bit deserted, and many restaurants were closed, but the room was great and the pizza from around the corner tasty and spicy, a perfect ending to a great road trip.

On a bicycle alone we would never have seen all of these natural wonders, though it would make a great bike trip on its own. Hope you enjoyed the images and get to visit these places yourself one day.

Wind power, Palm Springs (2)Wind power, Palm Springs

Next report coming up soon:

Back in LA, time to pack the bikes and head down South again: From Los Angeles to San Diego, getting close to the border with Mexico…

Day 230/1, 26/27 Feb09: US parking part2: Bryce Canyon, Wire Pass Canyon, Horseshoe Bend

March 1, 2009 by  
Filed under Arizona, North America, Trip reports, USA, Utah

On our way we passed through Red Rocks, a quite nice place in itself.

We entered the Bryce Canyon road in the afternoon, and it was already getting chilly. There was a lot of snow near the road and on most of the hiking trails, but still the views were spectacular. Rows of hoodoos and other interesting geological phenomena were basking in the winter light, while crows were begging for food from the few visitors…

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon (4) Crow, Bryce Canyon

Red Canyon, Dixie National ForestBryce Canyon (5)

Red Canyon, Dixie National Forest (4) Bryce Canyon (2)

Us in Bryce Canyon Bryce Canyon  (3)

27th February: playing the Slots again: the Wire Pass Canyon and Buckskin Gulch

All the campsites in Bryce were closed and full of snow, so had headed out again. We had made it to back to the junction with Zion park when it got too dark and we had gotten too hungry. A salad bar called our name and the waitress (shouting loudly “You ok with the Dr Pepper over there” to some other customers :)) told us that we could not camp behind their restaurant, but that the old RV park across the street was abandoned.

It was freezing at night and quite chilly, the next morning we had to scratch the ice from the car before we could drive. We had planned to see the famous Antelope Canyon, a ‘Slot Canyon’ where some of the most wonderful images of the US have been taken.

Buckskin Gulch, UtahAs this and some other canyons are on Navajo land, our park pass did not apply and they charge additional fees for mandatory guided tours. Once we found out that this would cost $32 per person, for each of the two sections ($128 total!), we refused and decided to find some other canyons instead. It is the Navajos right to charge the fees, but in our view these are ridiculously high and there are several other places nearby.

Us in Wire Pass Canyon, UtahOne of these is the famous ‘Wave’, a curvy feature made famous in photos and books about the South West. To protect it only 20 permits are issued per day and nothing was available.

Nearby is the Buckskin Gulch, one of the longest and largest ‘Slot Canyons’. The first part is usually wet and not so interesting, but when entering sideways through the impressive Wire pass Canyon, you see the best of both parts.

We spent a few hours wandering around, scrambling over some rocks, stepping in soft mud and admiring the shapes and colours and even some petroglyphs.

As we had come in through one end, the walls wee steep and high and both other ends were impassable as well due to soft mud and deep water, I did wonder where that cougar was, whose tracks I had just seen…

Ivana in Wire Pass Canyon Ivana in Wire Pass Canyon (2) Ivana in Wire Pass Canyon (3)

Petroglyphs in Wire Pass Canyon Cougar print in Buckskin Gulch, Utah

Buckskin Gulch, Utah (2) Ivana in Wire Pass Canyon (4) Wire Pass Canyon, Utah

Save the best for last: The Horse Shoe Bend

We had talked with an elderly couple who actively hiked and photographed the South West. They told us about another place we should not miss, called the Horseshoe Bend, close to the city of Page.

Utah roadAs it was on our way, we made a note in our mind and on our map as well and headed out onto the desert roads again.

We were on the shores of the Glen Canyon Recreation area, a huge artificial lake created by the Glen Canyon Dam, which is as impressive as the Hoover Dam.

Glen Canyon recreation areaOne of the few benefits of the dam is that the Colorado River water is filtered, so when we reached the Horseshoe Bend an hour later, we saw almost clear blue-green water instead of the muddy slush running through the other canyons.

There was a small parking space and half a dozen cars were parked. A sandy track led about 800m over a small hill and then down to the edge of the canyon. You could see part of the U-shaped Horseshoe bend from above, but only when stepping right onto the edge we could literally feel the magnitude of the void in front of us.

Ivana above the Horseshoe Bend, Colorado River, ArizonaIt was the most impressive place we had seen so far on this road trip and we already had seen so much in such a short time.

The combination of the colours, the height, the grand scale and the peacefulness made us admire it in awe and we spent a lot of time walking on the edge, taking many shots, but it was impossible to catch the total scene.

The image below is a composite of 5 images (a poster can be bought here on ImageKind), as even my 16mm wide angle could not fully grab it…

Horseshoe Bend of the Colorado River

Rocks near Horseshoe Bend Desert Flora

Next and final part 3 coming up soon: Grand canyon & Joshua Tree National Park

We entered the Grand Canyon park after dark and the entrance was officially closed. As we had our yearly pass, we simply entered through the exit road and searched our way to the campsite. Lo and behold, we again stumbled upon Fanny & Didier :)

next report: images from a Grand Canyon and a desert forest of Joshua Trees….

Day 227-230, 23-26Feb09: US parking part1: Death Valley, Las Vegas & Zion

February 28, 2009 by  
Filed under California, North America, Trip reports, USA

We did not want to leave without seeing the marvellous natural wonders of the South-western US. It would take more than 6 weeks to visit all the places on a bicycle, which would probably ruin my knees and we would be in trouble as our visa was running out.

So we opted to rent a car instead. It was a tough trade-off: polluting the nature because we wanted to see the beauty of it… Let’s hope that my images can inspire some people to realize that these and other grand places still exist and that they need to be respected, preserved and protected for future generations.

23 February 2009: Death Valley

Often overlooked, yet so close to LA. I had been here before while working on the Dutch TV show the PlanetRace and I like it. It takes a while to get used to the place, but then the barren beauty will grip you. It is best to visit in winter as in summer it can get over 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees F) easily…

Cyclist in Death valleyZabriskie Point, Death Valley

Us in Death ValleyPainter's palette, Death Valley

Lone hiker, Death ValleyBadwater, Death Valley, lowest point in US

28 February – 1March 2009: Las Vegas

Dante's View, Death Valley We had stayed with Steven, a CouchSurfing host that works as a biologist in the park. After breakfast we went to see 2 more viewing points, Zabriskie Point (see pix above) and Dante’s View (left).

It is only a short ride through the desert from Death Valley to Las Vegas. Suddenly this huge city pops up, in the middle of dry mountains.

After meeting our new host, CouchSurfing Michael, we decided to drive to the famous Hoover Dam first. It was not so impressive, the new bridge they were building high in the sky (to take the loads of the dam road) was actually much more interesting.

Lake Mead, NevadaWe stopped for a moment to eat our lunch at Lake Mead, the artificial lake that was the result of the Hoover Dam, now a popular boating place. It was clear that the water level had been slowly falling, not sure if it will fill up again…

We headed back into Vegas and did a small tour of the casinos as Ivana had never seen anything like it. All places are kept dark (no windows) and the exit is the hardest thing to find. Everything is designed to keep you glued to your seat so you gamble and lose more.

We never gamble, but Ivana had saved up some quarters in change so we thought we’d give it a try. But though 5 years ago, you could hear the familiar (and stimulating!) sound of quarters in all slot machines, they had now all been changed. All machines only accepted paper money, credit card or paper vouchers. The latter was also the only thing you could win!

Ivana plays the horses, Las VegasWe checked several casinos, but no machine would accept our handful of quarters! Finally, in the MGM Grand we discovered that the small ‘Horseracing’ table would accept it and we spent an hour chasing plastic horses to the finish.

Every time we won, even for just 3 or 4 quarters, we paid out, so we could hear the ‘dink-cling-ting’ of the quarters. You could see from the faces of all the visitors that everybody thought this was much more fun than feeding credit cards underneath computer screens, but apparently Vegas is not about having fun.

Sad lion, MGM GrandIt turned out that the MGM Grand had a real live lion inside, though it looked so sad and drugged that ‘live’ maybe was an exaggeration, it was a pain to watch.

In the evening we went to visit Michael, as he works in a bar Downtown. He told us about the lightshow in the pedestrian zone, and it was great to see and hear.

A huge projection screen covering the entire street showed images of Queen and musical symbols, while ‘We are the Champions’ played from speakers everywhere.

We ended with viewing the famous light and fountain show at the Bellagio and headed back into the suburbs where Michael lives.

Here is a little overview of ‘Sin City’:

New York, New York, Las VegasIvana and New York, New York, Las Vegas

The Strip, Las VegasIvana and Excalibur, Las Vegas

Queen Light Show, Las Vegas (2)Fountains, Bellagio, Las Vegas (2)

25-26 February 2009: Las Vegas – Zion national Park

The next morning we visited the Venetian Hotel, which was beautiful in some ways, but –especially if you have been in the real Venice, and I do not mean LA- it was just grotesque and terrible..

Hikers in Zion NPWe managed to find our way out and entered the dry dusty desert again. It was already late and we were too late to buy our park permit for Zion National Park, so we decided to camp out and headed for the campsite. It was quite pricey, so we drove around to see if we could find some small tent, which we could share a place with. Just when I pointed out a small blue tent, Ivana said: Hey that are Fanny & Didier!

Weeping Rock, Zion NPShe was right, it was the cycling couple we had met a few weeks ago in Ano Nuevo.though they were supposed to be in Phoenix Arizona by now, they had been on such bad roads (the traffic was bad and there were no shoulders or other places to cycle), that they turned back and decided to rent a car instead…

However sad the reason, it was fun to see each other again and we made some nice pasta together before heading into our tent.

The next morning we bought our Annual National Park Permit pass. It costs about $80 but allows entrance into all parks and though it easy to dodge the entrance fees by arriving after dark, the money is well spent so we were happy to contribute a bit back.

Zion is a small park, but with a very nice quiet dead-end road, offering many routes for hiking or just to sit and watch the mountains. Due to my knee we could not do a longer hike, so we went out through a long tunnel and enjoyed a few stops on the East side of the park, admiring the orange and red rock formations.

Zion National Park (3)Zion National Park (8)

Zion National Park (14) Zion National Park (15)

Zion National Park (5) Zion National Park (7)

Next: Part 2: Bryce Canyon, Horseshoe Bend and Wire Pass Slot Canyon!

The next park was only a few hours away, Bryce Canyon was waiting for us, see the pix in the next report, coming up very soon…