15. Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, California

Days: Have completely lost track!

We left smoggy LA, delighted to be heading back to nature. Ed had booked a campsite for 6 nights in the Sequoia National Forest and we intended to use this as a base to visit both Sequoia and its neighbour, Kings Canyon National Park.

It was an easy 3 hour journey from LA and our campsite was lovely. Since it was in a forest it offered plenty of trees for hammock hanging. Plus a wonderful pine smell.

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This was our first experience of having to use a bear box. Bears are active in the area so it’s essential to store all foods, cooking equipment and scented products, like toothpaste, in the bear box. This is a large metal box with a special kind of latch that bears can’t open. If bears get used to human food and raid campsites they become a threat and must be destroyed….”a FED bear is a DEAD bear”. If there is no available food at the campsites it deters the bears from bothering to invade.

On the first day we hiked along a raging river and up to a stunning waterfall. We were surprised to see there was still a fair amount of snow in evidence….

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Next day we went to take a look at The General Sherman Tree (and saw the mileometer tip over the 4000 mile mark on the way!) The General Sherman is biggest tree in the world. Some Redwoods are taller but they are skinnier so the General wins on overall volume. It  is 275 feet tall and is said to be around 2,000 years old. Some other Sequoias are older – up to 3,200 years – but obviously the seed that became The General Sherman landed in a very fertile spot with just the right growing conditions – enabling it to grow to such a size relatively quickly!

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We took a walk around the Sequoia forest and admired the rest of these beautiful, giant trees.

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The next day we explored the Meadows area which were extraordinarily beautiful. The grass was incredibly green and lush.

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It’s a favourite area for bears so we were on the look out – sadly – or perhaps fortunately all we saw was what we thought was some bear poo!

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We loved the “log cabin” built by the first white settler in the area – it was quite literally a cabin IN a log!

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Our last challenge in Sequioa was the climb up Moro Rock. 400 steps.

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At an elevation of 6725, the views were stunning.

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It was only once we were actually in Sequoia that we realized that Kings Canyon was a 90+ minute drive away. But we heard from the park rangers that the far side of canyon was really beautiful and well worth a visit. So we decided, rather than just do a day trip, that we would pack up and depart Sequoia a day early to go to camp a few days in Kings Canyon.

The drive to the Canyon was stunning – a twisting, turning road down, down, down. There was a 12 mile section which was entirely downhill – I would loved to have jumped out of the car and onto my bike to speed down but sadly I had a flat tire!

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As we descended we were amazed by the power of the Kings River as it rushed through the canyon. The river was at its highest recorded level with a record flow rate of 14,000 cubic feet per second. Record breaking snow over the winter – 50% more than normal – has created an incredible amount of melt water this year.

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We planned for a lovely hike & picnic in the canyon floor. As we were setting out from the ranger station we saw a sign warning of huge numbers of rattle snakes currently in the area. In a flash, Ed, Izzy and JJ unanimously voted that I should be the one to lead this hike. What a surprise! Up until this point I have always ambled along at the back, taking a thousand photos! (hence my pics of everyone hiking are normally taken of their backs!!)

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Luckily I did not step on a snake.

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We found some rather large pine cones!

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And a deer crossed our path…

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We particularly enjoyed how few people there were in Kings Canyon. Because it’s a bit of an effort to get there it does not get very crowded. During our 2 hour walk we saw a sum total of 10 people. We felt like we had the place to ourselves – bliss!

What Ed Says: After numerous parks I still find it amazing that every National Park is so strikingly different and individual in their own right. I guess this is probably the reason why they were made National Parks in the first place! The trails around Sequoia and particularly the Meadows are stunning and offer the best chance of seeing bears…..however we did not! Kings Canyon is also so different and worthy of a few days. We did have one hiccup on the solar set up. Due to the camp site in Sequoia being very shady (those darn big trees) we were not generating enough power during the day. This meant that while out we would run the freezer on the car battery. This was all well and good – until we got to Kings Canyon. One morning I tried to start The Beast but the starter motor would not engage! I rapidly removed all devices from the charging sockets and shut the A/C down which gave enough to fire up The Beast. We are now a little more cautious when leaving the freezer running on the car battery…lesson learnt.
One great design feature I love with the Toyota is a master switch which turns off all the lights – so the battery can’t get drained – even if a door is left open by mistake or the kids  leave a light on!

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 Next Destination: Yosemite National Park, California.

 

14. Los Angeles, California

Days (not entirely sure – loosing track – not even sure what day of  the week it is!)

We took the coastal highway from San Diego to LA. This made for a slightly longer and more congested journey than shooting up the major highway, which is a little further inland, but we thought it would be interesting to see the coast of southern California. We were amazed at how built up it was. There was consistent development virtually all the way between the two cities – apart from small sections of state parks and a marine training base!

We’d found a little AirBnB cottage in West Hollywood. Great location.

We explored LA by starting at the Griffith Observatory. This stunning building is set high on a hill over looking the city and offers superb views over the landscape and the HOLLYWOOD sign in the (very!) far distance.

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IMG_3293The interior of the observatory was a treat too – jam packed full of wonderful exhibits about space, planets, the sun, telescopes and much more. Well worth a visit – and it’s free!

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DSC_0581We spent the afternoon strolling the “Walk of Fame” and admiring the ‘stars’ in the pavement as well as the footprints at Chinese Theatre. I was pleased to see there are still a number of blank stars waiting in the pavement – where the famous of the future can have their names added – so obviously – once I write my best seller – which will get made into a block buster film – there will be a star for me!

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Of course we could not visit LA without a day at Universal Studios….

IMG_3297Our tickets (just the cheap ones, not the front of line – those were ridiculously expensive) allowed us to enter the park an hour before the official opening time. So for the second time we set the alarm and mangled to arrive at the park for 8 am. Thanks to the size of The Beast we were directed into the premium/oversized parking – which was right by the entrance gate! Harry Potter World opens at 8am, an hour before the rest of Upper Level attractions – so we were able to walk straight onto the ride.

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fullsizeoutput_2142It was an amazing experience. Such clever visual effects. We then headed to the rest of the Upper Lot rides – The Simpsons and The Minions. We were so lucky – we did not have to queue at all – just walked straight onto all of them!

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fullsizeoutput_2144….before we headed down to the Lower Lot (Universal is built on a steep hill – so the park is in two halves – the Upper and Lower sections – linked by 4 sets of long, steep escalators). The Lower Lot opened at 10 and again, incredibly, we walked straight onto The Mummy (which we rode twice) and The Transformers. We queued for around 20 minutes for the Jurassic Park ride – which I have to say was a bit of a lame ride.

Last on the list was the studio tour. I remember my folks bringing me to Universal tour when I was 13 so I was delighted history was being repeated and I was bringing Izzy and JJ. I was keen to see if it had changed!

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fullsizeoutput_2173The tour has certainly been updated in the last 35 years – it still has some of the old favourites like Jaws, but it now obviously includes many of the new movie sets and a number of sophisticated audio-visual special effects and experiences…

We finished off the day with the Water World show – lots of crazy stunts – on and off the water! Certainly more exciting than the movie!

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On our last day in LA we enjoyed a bike ride along the Santa Monica Beach bike path and along to Venice Beach with fun and games along the way. Lunch in a beach cafe was great.

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Later on in the afternoon Izzy and I then headed off for a tour to a ‘Hollywood Stars” homes – cruising around Beverly Hills etc spotting the homes of the rich and famous.

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Harrison Ford and Calsilda Flockhart’s home…

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Joey from Friends has a great pad…

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fullsizeoutput_20e9It was great fun to be cruising around and hearing all the celebrity gossip (and I was not navigating for once!!). I do have to say thought there are numerous tours companies – some more reputable than others. We arrived at Hollywood Boulevard and thinking that all the offering were basically the same, jumped on the first available tour. The bus was filthy and the driver was dreadful – impossible to understand and lacking in knowledge and enthusiasm. So I made a fuss and he brought us back to the office. My fellow passengers were equally unhappy and all got off. We were then given a new van and driver – Deno turned out to be great and we had a fun couple of hours. For anyone tempted to do this kind of tour in LA I would say its best to research the companies and book with one that has great reviews.

We had a lot of fun in LA but 3 days was enough. The traffic was ridiculous. The highways were packed whatever time of day you are driving on them.
Ed is now incredibly excited…looks like we are going to be camping for the next 50 days, with just 3 or so days in hotels… Wish us luck!

What Ed says: I had the lowest of expectations for LA and indeed it continues to disappoint! Traffic, Smog, very strange people. Quite frankly Hollywood Boulevard is plain grotty. The parking officials, even on a quiet back street, were officious, rude and “jobs worth”. We stayed in a delightful Air B&B cottage that had off road parking. However, when we were loading the truck to leave I had to pull it forward a little to access the roof box. This meant the front of The Beast was just hanging over the end of the driveway, onto the sidewalk, but just a little. Even though I explained to the parking numbty that it would be like this for 5 minutes at most he would not allow it and said he would give me a ticket immediately. Thankfully were were leaving LA so I thought better of getting into an argument! Roll on Sequoia and Kings Canyon.

Next Destination: Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, California

 

 

13. San Diego, California

Days 33-38

We headed out of Joshua Tree National Park excited to be able to get away from the constant wind – except we didn’t! The truck was buffeted by strong gusts along the roads to Palm Springs. And as we approached we saw field after field full of wind turbines. This is obviously a very windy area!

We decided to stop for brunch in Palm Springs. Ed and Izzy are obsessed with bacon and we discovered there is a restaurant that offers ‘flights’ of bacon, i.e. a tasting selection – of 5 different types, so that’s obviously where we ate! It was wonderful – very chi chi!

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Palm Sprigs seemed immaculately clean, well organized and full of beautiful people, beautiful interiors shops and beautiful restaurants! We did not really fit in!

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As we drove towards San Diego we were somewhat disturbed to find ourselves driving on the I10. For those who are unfamiliar with Houston, the I10 is the major interstate highway that runs across the middle of Houston and which I used to use on a daily basis. To have driven over 3000 miles and be on the I10 again was somewhat of a surprise!

One of our main requirements during this trip is finding accommodation with space to park the truck! At 23 feet long and 8.5 feet high that’s not always easy! Ed had found a little cottage at Pacific Beach, one block from the sand, with a long private driveway and it turned out to be perfect. We could walk to the beach in 2 minutes, cycle directly onto the beach side cycle path and we had restaurants & shops on our doorstep.

Izzy’s BFF, Charlotte, flew over from Houston with her parents to spend a few days with us. It was great to be re united with all of them – over several cocktails!

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Our first day in San Diego we took a bike ride along the bike path from Pacific Beach, south, through Mission Beach and around the bay. They really do seem to love beach volleyball in San Diego – we must have seen over 500 courts on the sand! The whole area was beautiful, with families out enjoying every kind of beach and water sport imaginable. I had thought our ride would be around 8 miles – it actually turned out to be nearer to 20. Ed was navigating and I am not sure if he did a really bad job and took us on the wrong route or if he actually did it on purpose so that we’d all get more exercise!

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Pacific Beach was stunning. The sea was a little chilly but the sand was perfect for wave splashing and digging holes for trapping crabs!

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While in SD we were very excited to be reunited with a great friend from our days in Jakarta. It was wonderful to see Cristine, Cooper and Lolly. We’d been in Indonesia together for 2 years, 12 years ago and last seen them in Singapore 7 years ago!

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They took us for a wonderful hike in Torrey Pines State Reserve

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and for tacos at their favourite local Mexican hole in the wall.

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We topped off the day with seal spotting at la Jolla.

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They were very cute, if a little smelly!

Our next outing came in the form of Sea World.

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I was a little worried about going as I was concerned about animal cruelty – surely the orcas and dolphins should be swimming in the ocean – not performing tricks for humans? However the website was full of information about their animal welfare programs etc so we decided to risk it. It was Memorial Day and we expected the park to be jam packed so we paid extra for the tickets that get you to the front of the lines. Determined to arrive at the park ahead of the crowds, we set an alarm for the first time in 5 weeks – it was a bit of a shock to the system!

As it turned out, perhaps because the weather was a little overcast, or maybe since everyone was too busy playing volleyball, it was a very quiet day at the park! We were able to walk straight onto every ride and into every show with no waiting. By modern theme park standards SeaWorld is a small park – but there was certainly enough to keep us entertained for the day. We enjoyed the various thrill rides. I especially loved the Manta Roller Coaster. I found it scary enough without actually causing me to have a heart attack like the big coasters usually do! I rode it 5 times!

We enjoyed the Sealion show.

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At the Orca show we sat in the “splash zone” and boy did we get splashed!

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It was great to be at the front and be as close as possible to the magnificent creatures but the view of the show is not actually that great. My top tip is to sit above the splash zone or higher for the best overall view of all the action.

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Having learnt our wet lesson we sat at the back to watch the dolphins and pilot whales!

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I have to say during the shows they explained SeaWorlds’ extensive research and conservation programs. I believe most of the animals at SeaWorld have been rescued but can’t be returned to the ocean. I do hope this is true….

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Our final day in San Diego we bid a sad farewell to Charlotte and then headed to the USS Midway Aircraft Carrier.

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This was an absolutely amazing “museum”. You can tour the whole of the ship and the free personal audio tour gives and incredible amount of fascinating information. At one point Izzy asked me ‘What’s that?”

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It was the circular telephone dial we all grew up with – to my astonishment she had never seen one! I showed her and JJ how the dial worked!

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As we packed up to leave San Diego I was unlucky enough to fall off the back of the truck – onto a cactus. It’s fair to say in the battle between the cactus and I, I won – the cactus was essentially crushed – but I did walk away with various puncture wounds and a very sore shoulder!

We had a great few days on San Diego – would love to go back and explore the various areas we didn’t make it to this time.

What Ed says: San Diego was a real surprise and well worth a visit. The down town area has been rejuvenated and now boasts a huge array of restaurants and nightlife – we enjoyed dinner one night at the buzzing Gaslamp area. The beach options are numerous but the jewel in the crown is the USS Midway. This was the first of the super carriers and the former flag ship of the US Navy. It has been incredibly well set up as a museum and is run by former sailors and officers who served aboard. These men who served aboard (women were not allowed at sea during Midways’ time) are delighted to answer questions and share information.  The talks on launching and recovering aircraft which take place on the flight deck and the tour of the control tower are well worth it. The shear size of this city at sea and the logistics behind it are fascinating. I think you need to allow a full day to go around the whole of it – we found ourselves a little short on time having arrived a 12:30. They start to ask you to leave at 16:30 as it takes so long to find everyone and get them off by 17:30! If you are a fan of aircraft the decks are loaded not only with the aircraft that flew from the Midway but with an interesting selection of other planes and helicopters. I would like to go back to spend a full day on the Midway. Fabulous.

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We recommend:

821 Diamond Street – 2 bedroomed cottage booked through http://www.710beachrentals.com – great location.
Harry’s (a fabulous, family run, 50’s style diner) in La Jolla for breakfast.
Robertos (various branches around San Diego) for fast Mexican street food.

Next Stop : Los Angeles, California

12. Joshua Tree National Park, California

Days 30-33

While we were in Kanab I happened to pick up a magazine which included an article about The Seven Magic Mountains. These are an art installation on the edge of Vegas. They were on our route to Joshua Tree and we stopped by for a visit…

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We loved them but wow, at $3.5M they sure were expensive boulders!

After the Magic Mountains we headed to Joshua Tree National Park, which is in California (state no 7 for us). As we did so we passed the 3000 mile mark. It’s worth noting that I have yet to drive….apart from when I was at the wheel for exactly 1 mile in Moab – for a quick jaunt up the main street, while Ed was busy enjoying some beer…! Ed says he trusts me to drive – but he’s been very happy to drive so far… watch this space!

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The landscape was stunning – huge craggy boulders and the quirky Joshua Trees (so named as early settlers thought they looked like Joshua raising his arms to God)

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We set up camp but were told by the ranger not to hang anything from the trees or use hammocks. Joshua Trees, in spite of reaching heights of 20+ feet have roots that only go 18″ into the ground so they can be pulled over all too easily.

This was our first National Park campsite (as opposed to commercial sites, outside the park gates) and it was stunning. We loved the views, peace and quiet and the night time star gazing, which was excellent due to low light pollution. And it was amazing value at just $20 per night. The downside – and this is a big one for me – no showers. Joshua Tree NP is a desert so we had expected high temperatures but fortunately this did not turn out to be a problem.  It was so windy for virtually the whole of our visit we kept cool. Sadly the wind was too strong for our trusty sun shade…

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We took a walk into The Hidden Valley – which was beautiful and certainly was hidden – cattle rustlers used it to hide their stolen cattle.

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The kids loved climbing on the boulders.

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We paid a visit to Skull Rock.

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Different plants are found concentrated in different locations around the park – depending on altitude and rainfall. One section is home to a stunning Cactus “Garden”..

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And on our last night we were treated to a very memorable sunset – with just one giant cloud in the sky to reflect the colours of the setting sun..

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What Ed says: Joshua Tree, apart from being one of the best U2 albums, is a unique ecosystem and well worth a visit. We were visiting towards the end of the Parks’ busy season – in the summer temperatures become unbearable. While we were there the rangers were suggesting people hike no more than 4 mile as beyond that distance it’s not possible to carry enough water to stay hydrated! The sunny weather we had was perfect for generating solar power – so all our systems were fully charged and freezer was icy cold.  If visiting Joshua Tree again I would like to camp at Jumbo Rocks campsite. It’s deep inside the park, surrounding by huge boulders and would be very atmospheric.  It’s very primitive with drop loos only – no water, flushing loos or showers. The campsite we were on did have water and loos – but no showers – but fortunately we were able to pay to shower at a local store on the edge of the park.

The sun shade is now considered disposable item!!!!

Next Destination : San Diego, California.

11. Vegas, Baby!

Days 26-30

As we drove to Vegas (and crossed another state line – Nevada) the weather got warmer and I got happier!

En route we stopped to fill up with fuel at, in Ed’s opinion, the best ever fuel station, selling everything a man could possibly need!

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Once we were on the outskirts of the city we hit our first traffic jam in 4 weeks – it was a bit of a shock to the system and made us appreciate all the more how fabulous it is to be away from the big cities and off the beaten track in America.

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We checked into our little self catering suite which was a mile off The Strip. It was great – calm and peaceful, yet only a stones throw from the action.

It was fun to walk The Strip and see all the crazy people and what they were (or were not) wearing – people watching at its very best! Izzy’s eyes were on stalks.

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We explored the various famous hotels. Some had wonderful displays, sculptures and statues…

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Flower sculptures at the Belagio Conservatory

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A Kayak installation outside the Aria.
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The worlds largest chocolate fountain at The Belagio

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We fitted in some cocktails, of course…

We were actually quite shocked when we saw how crowded (and how smokey – amazing, smoking is still allowed in many!) the big, famous hotels were – many with lines literally 100 people long waiting for check in. We noticed that at one hotel (granted, one of the older, less expensive ones) people were waiting in a long line to get to the pool – it was so over crowded they had to wait for others to leave before they could get poolside. Certainly not the case where we were – we had the pools virtually to ourselves. At our hotel pool we made friends with a delightful kiwi family – who also happened to be traveling with a rugby ball – so the kids were able to have some throwing fun together.

Sunday was a busy day for us. We started with what was possibly the highlight of the stay – the Sunday Bruch at The Cosmopolitan. There was an incredible selection of anything and everything you could possibly want to eat – and more! Izzy and JJ had never seen anything like it and were in heaven! Both had about 6 courses – most of which were pastries and puddings! Ed enjoyed the Bloody Mary’s while I quaffed Champagne!

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Ed and I had planned that after brunch we would head to the indoor theme park (Americas largest, apparently) at Circus Circus. But to our surprise the kids begged to go back to the hotel – they were so full – they just wanted to nap! Lightweights!

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So we adjusted our timings, went home to rest and recover and then headed to the roller coasters later that afternoon..

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Then, since we’d had such a quiet day (!) we went to the Penn and Teller magic show.

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It was great fun. I really have no idea how they do some of those tricks!

Izzy and JJ are big fans of Carlos, aka “Cake Boss” from the TV show of the same name – so we took them to his Vegas bakery in The Venetian Hotel – which they loved!

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Of course no trip to Las Vegas would be complete without watching the fountain show outside the Belagio…

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We had a busy & fun filled few days in Vegas and I am pleased to report we managed to avoid any hangovers!

What Ed says:

Vegas is one of those places where it was great to arrive and great to leave. I think 3 days is about all I can take of the artificial madness that is The Strip and am now looking forward to the open space of the national parks. We did take advantage of the Toyota dealership in Vegas who was particularly helpful with providing and programming a spare key for the truck. I had initially thought it would be good to have a spare key hidden under the truck in case we lost a key while out walking or biking. So I had tie- wrapped the spare key to a section of the undercarriage with 3 tie wraps at different points on the key and felt it was pretty well secured! I expect the tie wraps failed somewhere where it was cold as I had noticed that the wraps get very brittle in sub zero temperatures!!!  Another lesson learn’t…..

Next Destination : Joshua Tree National Park, California

 

10. The Grand Canyon, Arizona

Days 23-26

We set out of Zion heading to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The South Rim is the more commercial and popular destination for those wanting to visit the Grand Canyon. We’d booked a little late (Top Tip: if you want to book accommodation anywhere at all near the Canyon do so well in advance – 12 months if possible!) and all we could get was a camp site 40 miles from the North Rim. We did not mind too much as we understood this side to be less crowded but equally beautiful.

It had been raining when we left Zion but as we drove towards the Canyon the skies turned grey and the temperature started to drop dramatically. And I began to loose my cool, just ever so slightly. By the time we arrived at our campsite it was snow was pouring down. Absolutely pouring! Ed, of course, was totally up for pitching the tent and staying the night at the campsite. I, however, could not face the prospect of erecting the tent and cooking a meal with frozen fingers and then simply huddling in our sleeping bags to keep warm. I very lovingly and calmly let Ed know that I would not be camping that night. I would be finding warm accommodation. Anyone else was very welcome join me.

To my immense surprise he gave in without a struggle and we headed away from the campsite to find shelter. Of course the closest lodge was full but they suggested we head 40 miles north to a small town called Kanab, in Utah. We’d actually driven through Kanab 10 days before on our way to Bryce and had remarked what a cute little town it seemed to be. To my delight, and that of the children, we managed to secure seemingly the last available room in Kanab, a 2 bedroomed suite at the Best Western, no less!

Ed was in a bit of a sulk about missing out on a precious nights camping…

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But for the rest of us things only got better! Izzy and I loved the very, very hot Hot Tub and swimming pool. And turns out Kanab is a bit of a foodie haven. We headed out for dinner at an asian inspired tapas restaurant called Sego. And what a treat it was – probably the best meal of the trip so far. If you ever find yourself in Kanab it’s totally worth splashing the cash to eat there!

Here I am, not in a tent, warm, dry, happy and enjoying the Sego signature Margarita with Pricky Pear foam – looked a bit odd but tasted outstanding!

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The next day, after a cosy and comfortable nights’ sleep in a king sized bed, we optimistically drove back to the North Rim to try to set up camp for a second time. The weather was better but we were amazed to see how much snow had settled over night…at least 4″. I was so thankful we had not camped the night!

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As we drove we happen to be listening to the audio book of ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ where the landscape in Narnia is coated in snow – now that’s what you call serendipity!

We headed to the Canyon rim to take a look and hike around a little. It was very, very cold but the skies were clear and views were spectacular. We discovered at the Park Visitor centre than the North rim is 2000 feet higher than the South rim and as a result experiences far higher snow fall and lower temperatures…kind of wish we’d known that sooner!

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By the afternoon much of the snow had melted and I was resigned to the fact that we’d be camping the night – but as we drove back to the campsite it suddenly started snowing again – heavily. We could not believe it! Once again we were facing the prospect of having to pitch the tent in the driving snow and enduring a freezing night. Ed knew the weather had beaten him again and conceded that we should find a hotel. We drove to the outskirts of the national park and tried the lodge where we’d not been able to stay the night before – and to our huge relief (Izzy and I actually danced with joy!) they had a little cabin available so we did not have to drive back to Kanab yet again! So for the second night in a row we abandoned the camping option and took shelter from the storm!

We enjoyed a snow ball fight and a hot meal and decided the best option would be to abandon the Grand Canyon and to head to our next stop, Las Vegas, a day early. We can plan a return visit to the Canyon in the future, when, with luck, the weather will cooperate!

What Ed says:

Bah humbug! My family are just too soft! They should be able to put up with a little bit of cold!  Justine gets to go to Vegas a day early but little does she know what’s in store after that – at Joshua Tree National Park – a little hardship…..hehe….

Next Stop : Vegas, Baby!

 

 

 

9. Zion National Park, Utah

Days 20-23

We left RubyTown (aka Bryce) and once we had descended in elevation I felt a great deal better – human, in fact. Apparently there is a short cut between Bryce and Zion – through a special tunnel but we decided to take ‘the long way round’ to Zion – via Cedar City – in the hope of finding a well stocked and reasonably priced supermarket & some wine and beer. This turned out to be a great idea as we enjoyed an unexpectedly stunning drive through some wonderful high altitude scenery.

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Even though we climbed to 10,000 feet it was only for a short time so my headache did not return. We saw a fair amount of snow on the ground and Ed would have dearly loved to have stopped for a night or two of cold camping and duck shooting on the plateau. Thankfully we had a booking at Zion that night meaning camping spontaneously on the plateau for a night or two was not an option. He is most welcome to return in the future…on his own!

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We found a supermarket in Cedar City but I was sorely disappointed not to be able to stock up on wine. After my three day headache I was more than ready for a drink – but Utah has some very strange drinking laws indeed. Supermarkets only sell weak (ie pointless, according to Ed) beer and no wine at all – you have to buy wine and liquor from liquor stores – which are closed on Sundays and you guessed it – it was Sunday…

We eventually made it to Springfield, the tiny town at the entrance to Zion National Park (at the very reasonable elevation of just 4000 feet) and loved cute little main street, lined with restaurants (not a franchise operation in sight) and adventure shops.

We had a lovely camp site, by the side of the river.

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Ed happily BBQ’d with a stunning backdrop.

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Zion felt the polar opposite to Bryce – with its gigantic, majestic towering sheer faced cliffs.

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The first day we opted to hike to the Emerald Pools. They were actually a muddy brown. They used to be emerald, apparently! Their colour is all to do with the algae. Right now the brown algae is in charge!

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IMG_1955And we also went to the start of the famous “Narrows” where the cliffs almost collide – and you can hike & wade along the river bed, through the narrow openings between the cliffs. The volume of water was too high while we were there, so the Narrows were closed – a lucky escape for me, I think – the water was freezing!

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The kids loved the very cute and rather too tame native squirrels!

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We also biked along the 8 mile scenic route through the valley.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs we biked along we saw some climbers scaling the cliff faces – Zion is a climbers mecca apparently – I could hardly bear to watch – it looked so precarious – like they could fall to their death any second! Very glad they didn’t! I had planned to include a photo of the climbers here – but have not as they are basically tiny virtually indistinguishable dots on a massive cliff!

I did like Zion – and I know some other people absolutely love it – but somehow it reminded me of other scenery and cliffs I have seen elsewhere in the world. I preferred Bryce as to me it was so much more unique and to a certain extent quirky.

What Ed says:

I have the opposite opinion to Justine on this. I prefer Zion over Bryce but both are worth a visit. Zion is, to me, a classic canyon park not dissimilar to a mini Yosemite . The park shuttle system is very efficient and you could easily spend more time here with the number of hikes available. For the those who are pretty fit and not afraid of heights Angels Landing hike is a challenge! If you are camping outside of the park then try to get a site next to the river. The national park campsite looked good and you are very close to a store so no big deal. Zion is one of my favourite parks so far.

Next destination : The Grand Canyon, Arizona.

8. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Days 17-20.

We were all sad to leave Lake Powell and the houseboat but excited to set out on the next leg of our adventure – to Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks. We drove the 2.5 hours from Page to Bryce and enjoyed the scenery of red rocks and lush pine trees as we entered the Bryce area. As usual we had done virtually no research on the park – it was on the hit list because as well as being world famous, it had been recommended by several friends…so we were not sure what to expect…but hoped it would be cool!

It’s proving pretty hard even to keep track what day of the week it is but we weren’t fooled this time time-wise – crossing back into Utah from Arizona, this time we knew about the time change!

We had booked a camp site at the Rubys Campground, at Bryce Canyon City, about 3 miles from the Park Entrance. I’m telling you this town (well, hamlet, really) should be called RubyTown. Virtually every business, from the lodge, to the diner, to the grocery store was part of Ruby’s empire. And at the prices she’s charging Ruby is one rich lady!

The first day in the park we hiked 6 miles along the “Rim Trail” – which was gorgeous. We were able to look down on the unique “Hoodoo” formations from high above – they are stunning and very unique sandstone towers. Obviously the erosion that forms them is still happening so new ones are being formed (albeit very slowly!)

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The second day we tackled one of the trails down into the canyon. I found this even more impressive than seeing the Hoodoos from up top.

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We had understood that biking was not permitted in National Park – but in fact there is a tarmac ‘multi use’ track, for cyclists and walkers, which runs for some 30 miles leading up to the park entrance and another 8 miles into the park itself. We had a lovely ride!

Our campsite was lovely and we enjoyed some hanging out time….

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A massive thank you to those who contributed to our “cash collection” – the kids chose to buy hammocks – they are wonderful and much used !

We had loved the Hoodoo’s and hikes & bike ride at Bryce but I was actually delighted to be leaving. The park is at an elevation of between 8,500 and 9000 feet and I suffered from mild altitude sickness the whole time we were there. I had a permanent headache for the whole 3 days – somewhat annoying when I had not even touched a drop of alcohol!

What Ed says: Bryce is indeed very unique and although quite small in comparison to the other National Parks it is well worth a visit. The camp ground out side the park is convenient for supplies but the camp ground just in the park also looked good. We met another traveler and he stated that if God made Zion then Walt Disney made Bryce, which is a nice analogy. The park shuttle system works well and keeps the number of cars down as there is not much parking in the park. Another thing that we are finding out is just how helpful the visitor centre and rangers are. So far, at every park we have visited the Rangers have been extremely knowledgable and helpful, offering great suggestions and advice.

We have now started putting the solar panels on the roof of the tent to power the freezer and storage battery. The reason is two fold 1) it keeps them out of the way, 2) it also helps darken the tent in the mornings as generally it’s bright sunshine at 6am!!!

Next Destination : Zion National Park, Utah

 

 

 

 

7. Lake Powell, Arizona (60 miles in a white houseboat!)

Days 14-17

We were all very excited as we headed the 5 miles from Page to Waheap Marina, to pick up our home for the next 3 days – a houseboat!

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Our Mountain Man morphed into Captain Ed….

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We cruised around by day, (at the very leisurely and fuel efficient speed of 5mph)

then moored at different beaches each night.

fullsizeoutput_dfaWe enjoyed the magnificent scenery of Lake Powell and being able to swim, slide, kayak, fish and relax.

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The houseboat comes surprisingly well equipped with everything you need. The kitchen had a full size fridge and freezer (perfect, we found, for chilling our beer and wine and freezing the vodka), oven and microwave. This may seem normal for everyone else but after having a cool box for a fridge and cooking on a camping stove this feels like the height of luxury for us! The only thing missing was a dishwasher – bummer – but we just made the children do the washing up! There was a tiny “master” bedroom, two other double beds, a bathroom with a great shower and massive upstairs sun deck.

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The kids learnt how to steer the boat, read the map, spot buoys, dig holes and bury the anchors on shore.

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They also made use of the stove – to make a cake – we didn’t have flour with us but pancake mix actually made a great alternative – and the Nutella icing was inspired!

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We did have one ‘incident’ when we ‘lost’ the gangplank. It had become trapped under the boat during the night when the wind moved our position (yup, I guess the anchors may not have been secured well enough after all…). It was a real life Crystal Maze challenge to retrieve it – it took 45 minutes, all 4 brains, various bits of rope and a kayak….we succeeded first try and amazingly no one lost their temper!

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We are travelling with two fishing rods and these came out for the first time on the trip. The boys used anchovies as bait and succeeded in catching several fish including an 18” stripy bass. Ed insisted on cooking it even though en route to the boat we’d spent a small fortune at Safeway and the fridge was already stuffed full of gourmet food!

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I had brought my blow up mattress and sleeping bag and had 3 brilliant nights’ sleep up on the top deck in the open air, with not a snore to be heard and the most incredible sunrise views.

Holidaying on a houseboat had been on my Bucket List for years, ever since I saw a travel show which featured Lake Powell. And obviously hurtling down the slide & splashing into the water was part of the deal. So I did it – I just hadn’t banked on the water being quite that cold – it wasn’t like that in the TV show!

Lake Powell is stunning and enjoying it from a houseboat makes for a fabulous, relaxed trip (as long as you don’t loose the gangplank). The kids say it’s the best thing we have done so far… It’s the certainly loads of fun, especially if several families were to go together!…When we docked on the last day we got the chance to look around one of the new, larger, 8 birth boats. It was actually quite incredible – like a luxurious, private, floating boutique hotel – with granite kitchen counter tops, flat screen TV’s and en suite marble bathrooms! Came with a pretty price tag too but just thought we’d mention it…in case anyone fancies a trip in the future?

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What Ed Says:

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Next Destination: Bryce and Zion National Parks, (back in Utah)

6. Page, Arizona

Days 12-14

We drove out of sunny Moab heading to our 4th state line, Arizona, destination Page.

DSC_0901Fortunately before we set out of Moab our delightful campsite neighbour enquired which route we would be taking to Page. We confessed we had yet to work that bit out (nothing like winging it!). He suggested that we could easily go via Monument Valley. Result!

The journey through Monument Valley was absolutely spectacular (and we tipped over the 2000 mile mark) !

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We were in Page for two reasons – to visit the stunning and highly photogenic Antelope Canyon and to take possession of the houseboat we had hired for 3 days.

Luckily Ed had pre booked our Antelope Canyon Tour as once we arrived we realised how popular it is. All the tours were sold out for days! There are two sections to Antelope Canyon – Upper and Lower. For no particular reason we had opted for the Upper tour. It was a bumpy but fun 20 minute ride on an open 4×4 truck along a sandy river bed to reach the Canyon.

IMG_0885We were then able to walk into the canyon to explore the interior and marvel at the beautiful rock formations. Our guide was great, showing us the best spots for taking cool photos. The most expensive photograph in the world was taken in Antelope Canyon. It’s called The Phantom (a shaft of light hit at exactly the right moment and a ghost like figure is captured in the image) and allegedly sold for $6.5M. Unfortunately I don’t think our shots are going to be quite as valuable – except to us! There are dedicated ‘Photographic’ Tours on offer which allow you to spend extra time in the Canyon – in the hope, I guess, of getting ‘the’ shot! Maybe next time!

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fullsizeoutput_d3cAfter the tour we hiked to another iconic photo spot – Horseshoe Bend. It was magnificent.

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One thing we had not realized is that Utah and Arizona are in different time zones – Arizona is one hour behind Utah. There is nothing to indicate this on any signage – I guess Americans just genetically ‘know’ these things! Fortunately Apple does too – our phones had adjusted automatically so we realized just in time (i.e. at 6 am) and we managed not to arrive an hour early for our 9.30 am canyon tour! We’ll know to check the local time as we enter new states from now on!

What Ed says: There seemed to be a sense of urgency to leave Moab which I later realised was due to the fact that the troops were overjoyed that we were headed to a hotel for a couple of nights – after 9 glorious days of camping.  And we now have a teenager travelling with us…..”Izzy the Teenager” has arrived! If you have not seen Harry Enfields sketch “Kevin the Teenager” then U tube it. It is just so accurate it’s scary. God help us when JJ gets to 13!

Charging devices is also becoming an issue. We have 2 USB ports in the front which is plenty for two adults but the Millennials in the back appear to require 4 each……I am now wondering if the Houseboat was going to be a good idea with such a motley crew!

Next destination: Lake Powell, Arizona