Viva Las Vegas

The drive to Las Vegas was crazy, firstly it took a lot longer than expected, as lots of people were travelling there for Independence Day celebrations, and secondly ‘the heat’ my god, you opened the window and it was like someone was wafting a hairdryer in your face – it was 45C – it’s a wonder our little car coped.

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Arriving in one piece we checked into our hotel and I showed Tom the sites and bright lights of Vegas.

Caesars Palace
Caesars Palace
Caesars Palace
Caesars Palace
The bright lights of Vegas
The bright lights of Vegas

Fourth of July celebrations consisted of hanging out round the pool party at the MGM Grand, sipping frozen margaritas. At night we headed to the strip to watch the fireworks go off at Caesars Palace – wow what a show, easily the best fireworks finale I’ve ever seen.

4th of July fireworks
4th of July fireworks

We decided to stay on in Vegas for a couple of day, purely because the hotels were really cheap, owing to it being in the heat of summer and the intense heat putting holidaymakers off.  One night we stayed at Trump International, a five star, and we managed to persuade the hotelier to bump us up to a room which had a view of the strip.

The gold tower - Trump towers
The gold tower – Trump towers
View of the strip from our  room
View of the strip from our room

On our last day in Vegas we took the 4 hour drive to the Grand Canyon, although I’ve been before, it’s well worth another trip, and this time I got to see if from the South Rim – such an amazing canyon. Whilst there we stayed to listen to a ranger talk about the geology behind this great formation, it was really interesting, and we wished we done a few more at the other national parks we frequented.

Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon

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Driving back we stopped at the Hoover Dam – so much concrete! In the picture you can see a furious storm brewing. This storm hit us whilst driving back to the hotel, subsequently I got a flash flood warning on my phone, both thinking, ‘nah Vegas can’t flood’, we carried on and pretty much drove into the tail of the flash flood. Cars stranded, fire engines whizzing passed – it was intense. Anyway we made it back in one piece  – the storm even made the headlines…..

Into the storm we go
Into the storm we go

Making our way back to L.A to pick up our flight to Mexico, we drove to Lake Isabella, Tom had visited before, however when we got there the lake had all dried up, owing to the drought that California is currently experiencing – it was sad to see. We found a place to camp overnight and pitched up, heading to the nearest brewery to sample some of the local beer.

The open road on our way from Nevada to California
The open road on our way from Nevada to California
Joshua Trees on our way from Nevada to California
Joshua Trees on our way from Nevada to California
We hit a sandstorm on our desert drive
We hit a sandstorm on our desert drive

From Lake Isabella, we stopped at Bakersfield for the night (pretty much in the middle of nowhere) and then carried on to Santa Monica where we stayed the night before our flight. If I was to live in L.A, I would definately live in Santa Monica, regardless of it being part of L.As giant urban sprawl, it felt quaint and had a town-like feel to the place. We hit the beach as there was a ‘Twilight festival’ on – live music on the pier, so we took our picnic blanket and snacks and a few beers and listened to the performances whilst soaking up atmosphere.

View from our spot at 'The Twilight Festival'
View from our spot at ‘The Twilight Festival’
View from our spot at 'The Twilight Festival'
View from our spot at ‘The Twilight Festival’

In the words of Ron Burgundy – Stay classy San Diego

Arriving in San Diego, our most southerly destination on our American road trip, we stayed with a couple, who mentioned there was a ‘restaurant walks’ on, on the day of our arrival, which we should get tickets for. Basically it’s an event, where we had a voucher with 30 numbers on, the numbers coincided with 30 different restaurants on Adams Avenue (a street in San Diego), at each restaurant we were given a sample of their cuisine and the number on the card was marked off. Now, I wasn’t even on number 8, and I was already feeling full – however we both managed painfully to get our cards marked to number 30 – it took a huge amount of effort believe me, however it was a really enjoyable day…

The next day we headed to the beach to catch the surf – called Mission Beach, the beach had the same look and feel as L.A’s Venice beach – people roller skating, muscle beach, street performers etc. We took a bike ride around Balboa Park, a huge park in the middle of the city.

One of the many beautiful buildings in Balboa
One of the many beautiful buildings in Balboa

And we visited Old town, which marks the site of the first Spanish settlement on the U.S. West Coast and features 12 acres of Mexican lore and historical sites – it was a tad on the touristy side, but informative nonetheless.

Say Cheese...
Say Cheese…

During our stay in San Diego it was Tom’s birthday (it’s hard work organising birthday’s in a foreign land) however I succeeded. For his birthday breakfast I took him downtown to Donut Bar – the best donut shop in San Diego, and some even say America. I’d called ahead and got him a specially iced donut – they were yummy…

Special Happy Birthday Donut
Special Happy Birthday Donut

 

The size to scale
The size to scale

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The donut menu
The donut menu

Next on the cards was a walk up Potato Chip Rock – you’ll see from the pictures why it gets its name – essentially it’s a thin piece of rock that juts out from the cliff face. The walk was 8 miles in total, 4 miles uphill/4 miles down, and it’s safe to say I’d probably picked the worse day for it, ridiculously hot, and a heat advisory issued at the walks entrance, saying we must carry 2-litres of water per person, in addition to a rattle snake warning, oh and a mountain lion warning  – what a treat Tom had install for his birthday. Despite thinking I wasn’t going to make it, we made it to the top and got some great photos…

Many Advisories
Many Advisories
On top of Potato chip rock
On top of Potato chip rock
Potato chip rock - storm brewing in background
Potato chip rock – storm brewing in background

Just as we started our descent a thunderstorm started brewing, and 10 minutes in to our way down the storm was upon us, so severe we had to take shelter, as the wind would’ve knocked us off our feet – it was literally Bear Grylls style, crouching down from the wind, lightning and rain… Drenched, exhilarated and down right knackered we made it to the car park in one piece… Next on the list for his birthday was a tour around Green Flash brewing company – San Diego is renown for its craft breweries, so thought Tom would like a taster.

Green flash brewing company
Green flash brewing company
Green Flash
Green Flash

Oh and I almost forgot we got to try a Cronut – the latest donut craze which has only just hit England – it’s basically a crossiant donut, it was yummy!

Bacon and Maple donut
Bacon and Maple donut

Leaving San Diego, we had a few days to kill before we headed to Las Vegas to celebrate 4th July – owning to how hot it was, 36C we had to take a rain check on the activities we planned inland, as we’d planned to go to Sequoi national forest, or Inyo, instead we decided to stay on the coast to pick up the breeze, therefore we headed to Dana Point, North of San Diego, staying with a lovely couple Sam and Alex, who we felt right at home with and had lots in common…

Onwards to San Diego

Back on route one, leaving the urban sprawl behind, we passed through Newport and continued onto Laguna beach, priced out of any beachfront properties, we headed for the hills, where we stayed for a few nights, day tripping to the beach.

Tom had found some campsite online, that we’d reserved weeks in advance, near to San Clemente, and on San Onofre state beach… he had warned me that it was near to a freeway, but with easy access to the beach! The campsite was huge, and ran alongside the freeway and wait for it, a train track too, and to add more noise it was right near a navy base, where they was fighter planes going  past and test bombs exploding -my god it was loud… so loud it was laughable, lucky for us I always carry earplugs so we slept like logs. We camped for two nights, and had the company of a lovely couple, Tracey and Dave who lived in Santa Ana, CA – we put the worlds to rights around the campfire, and Tom picked up some tips on surfing, as Dave had surfed all his life.

The beach was lovely, a good beach for people learning to surf – Tom was out there surfing one morning and someone asked him, ‘you seen any sharks?’ Tom said, ‘No, well I’ve still got both legs’ thinking he was joking, however he wasn’t apparently someone had seen some earlier that morning!! Eek (that was me staying out of the water!)

Leaving our noisy campsite, we headed to Oceanside, where we had the pleasure of staying on a boat (courtesy of Airbnb), both me and Tom had never stayed on a boat – to summarise, it’s basically like a caravan on water – compact!!! It was fun, we didn’t cook on there – but being on the water was lovely, I could quite easily adjust to harbor life! In the morning, after having breakfast on deck, while the seals popped up to say hello, we took some canoes out onto the sea, allowing us to see the pelicans up close.

Our accommodation for the night..
Our accommodation for the night..
Tom's office for the morning
Tom’s office for the morning
Marine life - seal popping up to say hello
Marine life – seal popping up to say hello
Out on the sea
Out on the sea
Oceanside beachfront
Oceanside beachfront

From Oceanside we drove down to Encinitas, a really cool surfer town, with amazing food stores, restaurants and bars… the place had a lot going for it for such a small place. We both hit the surf, chilled on the beach and ate well.

Tom believes this is up there with one of the best sandwiches to he’s had to date – BBQ tri-tip on brioche bread, and wait for it – it’s freshly made to order from a supermarket – you don’t get that in the UK.

L.A..

Continuing on route one, we arrived in LA. We stayed for two nights with a really nice Texan called Finley, he was a sommelier, so his main aim each night was to get us drunk… anyway he really looked after us, fed us well and had a number of really cute cats that instantly fell in love with Tom…

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We used his flat, based in West Hollywood as a base to explore the city – it’s a big city – 3 miles on the map, in a car, takes you about 45minutes – traffic is horendous. Now I am not for all the bright lights and stardom, so we kept our sight seeing to a minimum, taking in the walk of fame (we hardly new anyone on there apart from the two crooners below).

Walk of fame
Walk of fame
Frank Sinatra
Frank Sinatra

After taking in the walk of fame, we headed to Griffith Observatory – a place where you can get a view of the infamous Hollywood sign, whilst taking in the cityscapes…

View from observation point
View of L.A from Griffith observatory

 

The sign is supposed to be behind us, but it was so hazy you can't see it!
The Hollywood sign is supposed to be behind us, but it was so hazy you can’t see it in the photograph!

We ate at this amazing Jewish Deli that Finley had recommended as the wine was good and cheap, so we headed there and Tom ordered up a skillet beef sandwich, with the juice of the meat served in a bowl, to dunk your sandwich into – wow, it was a taste sensation, and the wine was equally as good!

Beverly hills sign
Beverly hills sign
Night after night of glorious sunsets at Sunset Boulevard
Night after night of glorious sunsets at Sunset Boulevard

Before we left L.A I had to get a glimpse of glamorous Rodeo Drive… the upmarket shopping street, known to me only from watching Pretty Woman repeatedly with my mum – a favourite of ours!

Rodeo Drive baby!!!
Rodeo Drive baby!!!
The Regent Beverly Wiltshire..
The Regent Beverly Wiltshire..

On one of the days we headed to Venice Beach – it quite literally is a huge beach, famous for it’s eccentric crowds, street performances and muscle beach…

Venice beach
Venice beach
Long Beach
Venice Beach
Sunset at Venice beach
Sunset at Venice beach
Amazing wall art
Amazing wall art
Campers on Long Beach
Campers on Venice Beach

Long beach in the house…… we took a trip to Long beach – a long beach, which has quite an industrial outlook out to sea – we found a spot on the golden sands and rested up for a few hours before leaving L.A and continuing South.

Malibu..

Continuing on route one, we headed to Malibu – priced out of staying on the coastline we headed to the hills where we stayed in an exotic tent in Agoura – using it as a base to day trip to the beach… (the lady we stayed with was a tantric sex instructor – pretty much sums up Malibu)

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Our exotic tend in Malibu HIlls
Our exotic tend in Agoura Hills
Malibu coastline - lined with million dollar condos and houses
Malibu coastline – lined with million dollar condos and houses

We went for a run one night, Tom went further than me and ended up stumbling upon, what once was the set of M.A.S.H…

 

The set of M.A.S.H
Truck from the set of M.A.S.H

 

California Love – surf’s up!!!!

Setting aside a month to explore this famous coastline, we headed back to where route one starts, just below San Francisco and started our descent. Heading South the infamous Pacific fog was rolling in, but through the mist we made our way into Santa Cruz. The home of the wetsuit and regarded as being one of the world’s top surf towns. While we would have loved to have stayed in Santa Cruz, our last minute planning didn’t allow it, as realistically priced accommodation was hard to come by. However we did spend a morning on the seafront, watching the surfers catch waves on the erie Pacific, before heading on to Cartmel by the Sea, a rich lovers paradise, with Bentley’s and Porsches lining the streets and people sipping mimosas, like they were going out of fashion.

Surf's up - Santa Cruz
Surf’s up – Santa Cruz

And so further South we headed and into the dramatic stretch of coastline, known as Big Sur, with the fog rolling in we meandered round the winding roads taking in this magnificent coastline..

Big Sur
Big Sur
Big Sur
Big Sur
Big Sur
Big Sur

Tom had read online about a breathtaking dispersed camping spot, about 14-miles off the road up in the Los Padros forest. In our trusty Nissan we headed up to claim our spot for the next couple of nights, after about 10-miles the road disappeared and turned into a dirt track, the car nearly bottomed out a number of times, but oh my when we reached the top it was well worth the stress and aggro – it was like we’d just entered heaven and we were standing above the clouds.

Our camp above the clouds
Our camp above the clouds

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One of the many fantastic sunsets we witnessed in sequence..
One of the many fantastic sunsets we witnessed in sequence..

Leaving Big Sur we stayed in San Simeon where we recharged and relaxed for a few nights in a motel before heading to Pismo beach – Pismo beach was hip and happening, a bonafide surfers paradise, we of course stayed here – Tom hired a board and wetsuit and hit the surf….

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Tom all set to hit the Surf - Pismo beach
Tom all set to hit the Surf – Pismo beach
Pismo Pier
Pismo Pier
Beautiful sunsets
Beautiful sunsets at Pismo beach
Surfers hitting the sunset surf
Surfers hitting the sunset surf

Heading inland we drove to Solvang, just outside Santa Barbara – a guy we got talking to in Yosemite recommended it so we thought we’d check it out. Solvang is a Danish inspired town (straight away you arrive, it feels like you are in a different country altogether) I’ll let the pictures do the talking. Anyway we stayed for one night and the next day sampled the many different danish pastries…

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Solvang
Solvang
Solvang
Solvang
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Famous Danish pastry shop
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Tom giving his best Blue Steel pose…

After Solvang we headed to Santa Monica, although we didn’t stay here we spent the day in the centre of the city – a quaint place, with red cobbled pavements and a nice selection of shops – unfortunately I could only window shop :( . We stayed in the Santa Monica hills, back in the Los Padros forest, here we camped for the night before moving on further south and inland to Ojai… in case you were wondering it’s pronounced Oh-Hi, not Oh-Jay as me and tom were calling it – we camped the night here up in the hills…

View just up the road from where we camped
View just up the road from where we camped
Breakfast at Ojai - French toast, scrambled eggs and sausage (this is one portion)
Breakfast at Ojai – French toast, scrambled eggs and sausage (this is all one portion)

Moving on we headed down the coast to Ventura, where we stayed for two nights – the town was really nice, lots of wall art (which my phone is full of)

The Great Wave off Kanagawa
The Great Wave off Kanagawa

We chilled out here – went to the cinema, sampled the breweries, chatted to the locals and hit the surf!

Art Deco cinema- so pretty at night
Art Deco cinema- so pretty at night
Ventura beach
Ventura beach
Me on the pier at Ventura
Me on the pier at Ventura

 

Sampled one of the food trucks - Famous Franks - here's a grilled cheese sandwich
Sampled one of the food trucks – Famous Franks – here’s a grilled cheese sandwich
Anacapa brewing company
Anacapa brewing company

 

 

Lake Tahoe and Napa Valley

Leaving the coast we headed inland to Lake Tahoe, a large freshwater lake in the Sierra Nevada, located along the border between California and Nevada – it was so big, it felt like you were at the seaside.

Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe – not our photo I am afraid!!

The lake is fed only by runoff from melting snow caps and rain water so it has this amazing cobalt blue colour and pure clarity. Whilst I soaked up the rays, Tom hired a mountai bike and ascended 3000ft to Star lake, which he was told is one of the most picturesque high Sierra lakes, and it didn’t disappoint.

Star Lake - the view at the top of Tom's bike ride
Star Lake – the view at the top of Tom’s bike ride – this is Tom’s photo!

After a few days of Sun and lake, we headed to Napa Valley – wine heaven!! Thanks to my dad’s immense wine knowledge and recommendation, we booked on a wine tour at Stags Leap Winery, who produce renowned Cabernet Sauvignn from its historic Stags Leap District.

Hiring some bikes, so we could have a few snifters, we cycled up the valley from Napa, taking in the vistas – it was simply stunning, and to me felt like I was in the South of France, not California.

Napa Valley
Napa Valley
Nappa - Tom on his bike!
Napa – Tom on his bike!

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Cycling up to Yountville, (which for those who don’t know is Thomas Keller land, the chef/founder of World renowned The French Laundry, who has varying spin offs and bakeries in the area). Here we stumbled upon a restaurant called R&D’s (we thought we best line the stomach before the tasting) – the food was amazing, we ordered the chicken burger, it is by far the best chicken burger we have ever had in our lives….

THE chicken burger
THE chicken burger

With our stomachs full we headed to stags leap, a truly hidden gem, and soaked up their beautiful grounds and historic estate – a nineteenth century stone winery and victorian-era house nestled against the Stags Leap Palisade off the Silverado Trail.

Drinking a crisp class of Viogner, overlooking the grounds of Stags Leap
Drinking a crisp class of Viognier, overlooking the grounds of Stags Leap
Tom enjoying his vino
Tom enjoying his vino
Stags Leap - the tasting room
Stags Leap – the tasting room
Some of the many delicious reds we tasted
Some of the many delicious reds we tasted

The tour was fantastic, really informative, talking through not only the wines but also the uses of the house over the years and how prohibition impacted this. Whilst sampling nine fantastic wines we toured the grounds, with its huge Magnolia trees, Palm trees and abundance of colours it was a sight to see…

Some of its many grounds
Some of Stags Leaps’ many grounds
Me overlooking the vineyards
Me overlooking the vineyards

The next day we headed back up to Yountville, firstly to get a quick picture outside world renowned Opus One and secondly to sample some of Thomas Kellers food, on the lower end of the scale – Tom had read online there was a place where he sold his famous fried chicken, using the same recipe Tom has tried at home a few times, so we headed there. Wow it was fantastic, easily the best fried chicken we’ve had.

Thomas Keller's fried chicken with corn bread
Thomas Keller’s fried chicken with corn bread

 

If you’re going to San Francisco be sure to wear… some warm clothes

How stupid was I thinking the warm clothes were now permanently stowed away at the bottom of my rucksack, ready to be worn again in Patagonia – arriving in San Francisco we were greeted with cold winds and fog!! (to be expected at the this time of year – I am told!)

On arrival, we wrapped up warm and got our bearings, walking around the different districts, Japantown, SOMA, The Misson and China town – the hills are a killer… after grazing on dim sums from China town, which were delicious and ridiculously cheap, we headed for a few drinks and then onto Cat Heads, a BBQ place near to where we were staying!

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Cat Heads – Pulled Pork, Beef brisket, Corn cakes and Macaroni and Cheese, washed down with a few beers

 

The next day, we were greeted by a 5am alarm call – as we hadn’t booked tickets in advance for Alcatraz, the only hope of us getting one was to be the first in the queue for the 50 they keep aside for same day purchase – after hurrying down to the docks, we were 18th in line  – we just had to stand in line and wait for 2 hours for them to open! After purchasing our tickets, we were put on the first boat out to the island…

One of the cells
One of the cells – look how wrapped up I am!

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Al Capones Cell
Al Capones Cell

It was worth the 5am start, the audio tour was excellent. No one can tell the Alcatraz tale like the men who actually lived it. The captivating audio tour brought history alive through the actual voices of the correctional officers and inmates who lived on the island during the infamous Federal Penitentiary era.

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View of San Fran from Alcatraz

After the tour, we headed over to the waterfront, to sample to famous clam chowder served in a sourdough bread roll – it was delicious…

Clam Chowder
Clam Chowder

On the waterfront we were also lucky to see a whole host of seals – just casually whiling away their Saturday morning on the docks…

Seals galore
Seals galore

Walking along the front, and the Golden Gate bridge getting larger and coming into focus every step we took, we ended up on the bridge…  We walked to the middle of the bridge, right to where the suspension cables come to the their lowest point..

Golden Gate Bridge
Golden Gate Bridge
Getting closer
Getting closer

From here we walked to find a watering hole, in the shape of a wine bar, here we sampled some of the local wines, Cabernet Sauvignons and Zinfandel’s – delicious! After chatting to the barmaid (who happened to be from Poland), about our travels, where we’re from, where we’re going next etc – on getting the bill, she said they were on the house… well me and Tom were flabbergasted, we didn’t know what to say – thanks of course, $50 worth of wine for free!

We had plans to meet up with the son of a lady we stayed with in Salt Lake City, as he (Nathan) had recently moved to San Fran, so he could show us the sites, well the nightlife anyway! We headed to Japantown, to a place called Shabusen where we had read good reviews – it was a different dining experience than we’re used to – they brought all the ingredients to the table raw and then we cooked them ourselves in a boiling broth (like a ramen!) and added our own seasonings, chili and spices – washed down with Saki and a number of beers – it was delicious…

Beef and Prawns
Beef and Prawns

After here Nathan took us to a place renown for its rum cocktails, the name fails me, we ordered copious rounds of Navy Grog – strong cocktails with lots of navy rum in it – anyway after the free wine, the Saki, beers and Navy Grogs, combined with the 5am start, we had to call it a night… but it was a good one!

Needless to say it was hangovers all round on Sunday morning….

Bend, Mount Hood, Goodbye Van Damme and Crater lake..

Heading back to Oregon, we stopped off at Bend – a place renown for its mountain biking, breweries, oh and that it gets 300 days of sunshine a year! Of course, we sampled the beers and took some bikes out for the day to take in picturesque Deschutes river – reminiscent of a scene from Wind and the Willows..

Here we also had our first experience of overnight parking/camping in Walmart – slept like a log..

Leaving Bend we drove and camped in the meadows around Mount Hood – it isn’t a mountain, it’s an active volcano, and boy is it beautiful.. perfectly symmetrical and forever changing in the light, we could’ve stared at it for ages…

Mount Hood
Mount Hood

We said goodbye to our trusted stead and upgraded to a Nissan for our drive down to San Francisco, taking in Crater Lake en route – again just stunning! No place else on earth combines a deep, pure lake, so blue in colour; sheer surrounding cliffs, almost two thousand feet high; two picturesque islands; and a violent volcanic past.

Crate Lake, OR
Crate Lake, OR
Tom taking in the view
Tom taking in the view

Pit stop in Idaho

Leaving Yellowstone, we headed to Idaho (a state over from Oregon, which we are heading back to) we found a few nice spots and chilled out by the river for a couple of nights… here’s a pic from one of the hikes we did.

Redfish Lake - hiked up for this vista point
Redfish Lake – hiked up for this vista point

 

 

Yellowstone National Park

We’re now on our final leg of the grand Van Damm tour, having left SLC we dove up through Idaho into Wyoming, where we are currently residing in Jackson hole, our base before we head up to Yellowstone National Park (and where I am currently sat in a coffee shop writing this blog)…

So we hit Yellowstone National Park – or as some might call it Jellystone (well those who watched Yogi Bear!) Wow what a place, for those of you that do not know, it is one of the planet’s largest time bombs – as it’s an active supervolcano, and home to over 300 active geysers – the most famous being ‘Old Faithful’, mudpots, hot springs and fumaroles. These provided a canvas of colours and some rather potent smells…

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Hot springs

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Mud pots
Mud pots
Crystal clear hot springs
Crystal clear hot springs

I should also mention that Yellowstone is home to more than 200 species of animals – from grizzly bears, black bears, to beavers, bison, moose to bald eagles. Now it pains me to say this.. but we still haven’t seen a bear, me and Tom are beginning to think they don’t exist!

Whilst there, we did two nights backcountry camping, which involves reaching a remote destination for a one-of-a-kind camping experience away from civilisation and at nature with the wilderness (in my case absolutely petrified that the bears might come), carrying all our supplies, food, tent etc and setting off on a planned hike that would take us through the next few days…

Before we set off we had to get a wilderness permit from the ranger, and also watch an 18 minute video on ‘safety’ mainly learning what to do if you encounter a bear, how to cook and store food at your campsite, and other useful bear information. To be precise the following, for those who are interested:

  • Secure all scented items, food, toiletries, rubbish, clothes you’ve cooked in, by hanging at least 10 feet off ground and 5 feet from tree.
  • Restrict all cooking, eating, cleaning activities and food storage to 100 feet downwind from tents (this included any toilet activity)
  • Do not sleep outside of tent or with any “smellables” in your tent including empty food wrappers.
  • Never leave any food scraps or garbage out
  • Wash dishes and utensils immediately – dispose of waste water downwind, 100 feet from sleeping area
  • Always use flashlight and extra caution when moving around at night
Cascade Lake
Cascade Lake

Needless to say, I didn’t sleep too great for fear of the ‘old bear’ – however it was an amazing experience – I got to see a beaver, and be at one with nature – and I obviously lived to tell the tale…

 

 

Utah – Life elevated

Leaving Yosemite, we pulled an all-nighter and drove across Nevada and into Utah… A state with numerous national parks to be explored Zion with its deep canyons and steep cliffs, Bryce with its brilliant colored HooDoo’s and Canyonlands with the Colorado River meandering around sheer cliffs.

Utah – Life elevated

Our first stop was Zion.. where we camped for 2-nights in the park – here we scaled Angel’s Landing – a hike discovered in 1916, by Frederick Fisher who exclaimed it is so high he figured, “only an angel could land on it.” It has quite a reputation as being a dangerous walk – at least six people have fallen to their deaths, many of the deaths come from tragic accidents when people have slipped off the edge while crossing through exposed areas where it is necessary to hold onto cables.  Anyway, we manged to accomplish it alive and live to tell the tale, I’ll let the pictures do the talking…

Me sat at the top of Angel's landing ridge
Me sat at the top of Angel’s landing ridge
The cables and sheer drop offs
The cables and sheer drop offs
The cables and sheer drop off
The cables and sheer drop off
Me and Tom at the top
Me and Tom at the top
Near the edge!
Near the edge!

Leaving Zion we headed to Bryce Canyon – this one’s been on my list for a while and it didn’t disappoint.. with its amphitheater of brilliant colored HooDoo’s watching over you – I could have gazed out at them for hours…

Bryce Canyon
Bryce Canyon
Bryce Canyon
Bryce Canyon
Close up of the hoodoos
Close up of the hoodoos

Tearing ourselves away, we drove to Moab – a town surrounded by National Park’s, Dead Horse Point State Park, Canyonlands and Arches. Finding a nice spot, we camped for two nights on the Colorado river away from the hustle and bustle of the town.. A few things I need to mention, during our stay we saw a snake and one night, whilst we were sat around the camp fire, we saw a tarantula run across the floor – the size of my hand –  let me put it this way, after seeing that, I wasn’t particularly looking forward to getting into the tent!

Camping by the Colorado river!
Camping by the Colorado river!

Here’s a few pictures from the parks we visited..

Dead Horse Point State Park
Dead Horse Point State Park
Canyonlands
Canyonlands
Canyonlands
Canyonlands
Mesa Arches - Canyonlands
Mesa Arches – Canyonlands

Leaving the parks we headed up to Salt Lake City, where we treated ourselves to a few nights in an air bnb away from the van – our host(s) Celeste and Cori were incredible and by the time we left they felt like family…In SLC we recharged the batteries, visited the breweries sampled the craft beers and visited Crown Burgers, a burger joint which was on Man V Food, famous for its beef patties and pastrami stacked burgers – they were pretty darn good!

 

Highway 101 continued….

Leaving Oregon, we continued down the coastline entering California… albeit briefly, before heading inland (we’ll be doing the California coast in a couple of weeks) en route to Yosemite National Park.

First stop was ‘Avenue of the Giants’ a Redwood National State Park, which which has the largest remaining stand of virgin redwoods in the world.

One big ol'tree
One big ol’tree
Biggest tree in the Park - Ironically called BIG TREE
Biggest tree in the Park – Ironically called BIG TREE

 

Big Trees measurements
Big Trees measurements

Now history has it that ‘Big Tree’ was very nearly cut down in the early 1900’s as one chap wanted to make the stump into a dance-floor, which would fit 30 people – luckily campaigners pooled together to save the tree and many others for that matter..

Next stop Yosemite – wow what a place! Immersed in beautiful scenery everywhere you stand.. We camped here for four-nights, and threw ourselves into everything the park had to offer..

Day one: we drove upto Glacier point, where you can get a view of the whole park, El Capitan and Half-Dome, two of the most famous rock formations in Yosemite

View from Glacier Point
View from Glacier Point

Day two: we hiked to the top of Nevada Falls – a 181 metre high waterfall. The 6 mile trek saw us first hike to Vernal Fall and then trek another 2 miles to reach the top of Nevada falls..

Vernal falls
Vernal falls

Day 3: we leisurely strolled around the valley of Yosemite taking in the sites and the wildlife, whilst walking to the base of El Capitan – watching the climbers make there ascent..

Day 4: we hiked to the top of Yosemite falls – the highest waterfall in Yosemite National Park, dropping a total of 739 metres from the top of the upper fall to the base of the lower fall. It was quite a hike, providing some pretty scary drop offs.

Straight up West Coastin!

So we’ve hit the coast, and our road for the next week or so is Highway 101 – WOW – it’s spectacular – you need to see it to believe it! No picture, or me describing it will do it justice… j

First stop – Ecola State Park – I’ll let the pictures do the talking..

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Thousands of washed up jelly fish
Thousands of washed up jelly fish
One of the many amazing rockpools on the beach  - could look into them for hours, the colours are amazing!
One of the many amazing rock pools on the beach – could look into them for hours, the colours are amazing!

Onwards on our journey we called at Yachats – a quaint seaside town

Yachats beach
Yachats beach
Lilies growing wild on the side of the beach
Lilies growing wild on the side of the beach

We stayed just down the coast from Yachats, in a lay-by that over looked the ocean for two nights – whilst providing us with walking access to a beautiful beach, where we cooked tea and lit a fire and watched the sun go down.

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Messing around in the sun - throwing some shapes
Messing around in the sun – throwing some shapes

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On the road again, we headed on to Charleston – a quaint fishing town – having seen an abundance of mussels and clams on the beaches, we decided to buy a tourist shellfish licence (illegal to catch without one) it cost $11 and enables us to catch crab, clams and mussels for three days, so after a trip to Walmart to get kitted out with a knife (for mussels) crab pot, hook, gloves, bucket, bait and crab measurer we headed to the harbor, one of the top places to catch crab!

We caught five – however they weren’t legally big enough, as they have to be of a certain size, otherwise it’s illegal – now you might think you can easily get away with crabbing without a licence – well you can’t, within an hour of us casting our pot, the Local State Trooper, popped down and asked to see our licence – smug as ever I pulled it out of my purse and placed it in his hand! Success! It pays to be organised…. :)

Tom looking all excited to commence crabbing
Tom looking all excited to commence crabbing
Piles and piles of empty oyster shells just stacked at the side of the road!
Piles and piles of empty oyster shells just stacked at the side of the road!

At Charleston we were lucky to stay right on the beach for two nights – pure bliss, sleeping listening to the tide ebbing and flowing! Fully adjusted to life in the Van now – even though I have to forego showers and instead wash in cafes, going into their toilets armed with my toiletries, towels and change of clothes – being able to sleep on views like the below more than makes up for it!!

Here's the view we were on about - sleeping right on the beach!
Here’s the view we were on about – sleeping right on the beach!

 

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A nice glass of Malbec on the beach

 

 

Picking up Van Damme

Today we picked up Van Damme (that’s what it’s called) our home for the next 35 nights, as we tour the West Coast of Oregon, as far down as San Francisco, before taking it inland through Yosemite National Park, Utah and finally Yellowstone National Park before dropping it back off in Portland.

Now it’s not all-singing all-dancing but it does the trick, has a bed, facilities to cook and Tom tells me it is OK to drive… anyway I’ll save you the anticipation, here he is in all its glory!

Tom checking out Van Damme
Tom checking out Van Damme

Fully stocked up, we headed off to the coast to start our Boon-docking adventures (basically camping/parking roadside or in parking lots for FREE – hopefully legally without getting moved on by police – they are very strict on overnight parking down the west coast)

First stop Astoria.. boondocking success 1-0 – taking advice from boondocking forums online we resided for the night in National Park – Fort Catslop National Historical Park – now I think we got the wrong place, and we probably would’ve been told to do one, had it been peak season, however we slept right through until dawn. NB – I was scared to death, and all eventualities went through my mind – probably not helped by the fact that earlier in the day, when we first picked up the van, we got pulled over by the highway sheriff for not coming to a complete stop at the stop sign – anyway our British charm must of paid off as he didn’t give us a fine just a warning!!

Wish us luck!

Down to Portland, OR

Arriving in Portland we noticed how industrial it was, yet with a trendy vibe – reminiscent to scenes of Manchester! We slowed the pace down a little here, spending our days in sampling the local breweries and food trucks – Portland is known for its funky food truck scene.

Foodcarts - Portland
Foodcarts – Portland
Sampling Deschutes brewery offerings
Sampling Deschutes brewery offerings
Smoked Pork Shoulder from The People's Pig
Smoked Pork Shoulder from The People’s Pig

 

 

 

Goodbye Canada – Hello United States of America

After taking a greyhound and crossing the border (a breeze, compared to some of the horror stories I’d read!) we started our decent down the west coast, with Seattle, WA being our first stop!

Perfect Seattle Skyline with Mount Rainer  in the distance
Perfect Seattle Skyline with Mount Rainer in the distance
The famous space needle
The famous space needle

 

We stayed in Fremont, one of the quirky arts districts, with craft beer and breweries on every corner, as well as great food joints – the place just had a great vibe about it, and at times, owing to its lush green trees you could forget you were in the city.

Fremont Bridge
Fremont Bridge

We walked a lot in Seattle (a lot being an understatement) however we also ate a lot! We gorged as we ambled around Pike Place a huge market, famous for its fish throwing fishermen and huge selection of fresh fish, yet also encompasses a vast range of cuisines from American to Mexican to Italian etc, all with their very own stalls, offering their very own delicacies – you could say me and tom were like kids in a sweet shop!

Pike Place Market is also home to to the first ever Starbucks, having opened its first store here in 1971 – we didn’t go in as it was so busy, however we poked our head around the door and took a photo…

First ever Starbucks
First ever Starbucks
Me and Tom outside first ever Starbucks
Me and Tom outside first ever Starbucks

Pike Place is also home to Post Alley Gum Wall – it truly sticks to your memory! It is quite literally a wall covered in chewed gum. Market officials recognised the wall as a tourist attraction around 1999 – so it’s here to stay and a must have place to get your photo taken..

Post Alley Gum Wall
Post Alley Gum Wall