Western USA

An uncomfortable night in a small and lumpy bed is a bit of a disappointment as the B&B is otherwise first rate. Breakfast is excellent and a lot of fun chatting to the other guests. Unfortunately the weather is low cloud and snow is forecast in the hills. A look around the webcams rules out Glacier National Park (fires) and Yellowstone (snow) as well as the scenic route south via the Salmon River (the pass is apparently “difficult” with “limited” surface friction). That leaves the interstate and yes there’s snow there too, luckily not on the road itself but all around and it’s actually snowing for much of the time too.
Basically our only option is to head south for better weather. Disappointing but we leave something for next time.
The Best Western Plus in Idaho Falls is very nice with a steak place opposite. The latter is heaving but after a short wait at the bar we get a table. The steak is excellent but the crab special is dry and a poor comparison to the one in Charleston. I shouldn't be surprised, we are a long way from the sea. The worst bit was the pushy waitress who must have said no pressure at least four times. She asked if we had chosen a dessert twice while we were still eating our mains! The bill was similar to the Pearl last night but there is no comparison.
Sadly Mary has left her iPad behind.

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A very comfortable night at the Yakima Comfort Suites this time marred by Hiram the Kenworth driver who decided that his truck needed warming up outside the window while he had breakfast. Thoughtful, everyone on the hotel surely wanted to get up early to the sound of the clattering diesel, a good job we did as it’s a very long way (nearly 400 miles today).
The drive is all freeway, dual or treble carriageway, 70 or 80 mph speed limit. Apart from stops to get coffee, fuel, a rather nasty Zip Burger, it was totally uneventful. The views however of the Columbia River, the vast wheat fields, harvesting machines, the road renewal crews at work with road laying machines, mountains, etc., etc. are just stunning. What a country.
Blossoms B&B is easy to find and Troy, the owner, welcoming. Dinner reservations as the upmarket Pearl in town is one of the best meals we’ve had and very reasonably priced. And so to bed.

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A good nights sleep at the Celilo marred by some plumbing difficulties with the WC in the morning. Oops.
On the plus side they turn out to have a washing machine and dryer and we make some use of this leaving just after 11 for Yakima. Another weeks worth of laundry bites the dust!
The views of the Colombia River are fabulous but the low cloud blocks the mountains which is a pity.
Yakima is the home of the Carbon Cub manufacturers, Cub Crafters and we are treated to a tour of the facility. Even Mary is impressed. I pay for this later however with a tour of Bed Bath and Beyond which is another mega store with more stuff that I have ever dreamt of. Who knew?
Tonight's stop is the Confort Inn, inconveniently located on the outskirts of town. The room is nice and for once we have a room the doesn't smell of disinfectant. A bonus.
We tried for dinner at the Yakima brewery over the road but while they have Ann excellent array of beverages dinner would have been a poor affair from a bench toaster. Then we thought lets drive into town to a nice restaurant but it’s miles, Yakima is a big place. Finally we settled on the Powerhouse Grill next door. Fine if you like your mash and burger cool otherwise not so good. My vegetables disappeared in the process of having the meal reheated and the burger didn't change. Hi hum.
We did stare a bit at the HUGE couple eating the full three courses including a massive slice of cake. We also discussed road trips with the man in the next booth.

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The motel would have been except for the firefighters in the spa outside and the yapping dogs in the next room(s). Breakfast was the usual sad affair at the Best Western and this one did not fail to disappoint.
Plans have had to change as the webcam at Crater Lake shows nothing, the smoke from the fires has obscured the whole thing, just grey sludge. Also the rain here appears to be snow there and there is snow on the ground in their car park. Looks like a bust.
Plan B, developed on the spur of the moment, is to go backtrack and go north to Portland and through the Colombia River Gorge.
There are some dry periods but when it rains on the freeway it’s impossible to see anything with the spray from the trucks, not that this stops the loonies who are driving at well over the limit. Scary and not a lot of scope for photos.
We have a couple of detours in mind for Portland, one to a fireplace showroom (we have some renovations in mind) and to the Walmart Superstore. Both of these turn out to be busts too, the first as it looks like a mail order warehouse and is firmly locked with no showroom, and the second as it’s another Mecca for the homeless. In all Portland is a disappointment.
The final straw is that highway I-85 East is closed because of the fires so we have to take the historic route 30 through the Columbia Gorge, no problem excerpt that too turns out to be closed and we are into backroads for the next several hours.
The locals are not keen on diversion signs - there aren't any.

Finally after what seems a very long time we arrive in the Celilo motel in The Dalles east of the gorge. A very quick turn around and drive back into town to the Baldwin saloon for a very welcome dinner. It’s still raining.

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A very comfortable night at the Table Rock in Bandon. Nice room, comfy bed and quiet.
Breakfast at one of the little coffee shops in the Old Town and then back up to the motel for a walk along the beach and back via the cliff top. All in all a very nice spot.
A detour to Charleston (Oregon) and Dungeness Crab for lunch - how Dungeness Crab came to be here is not explained but it’s very good all the same. A little bit further down the road is Cape Arago where there is a most unexpected view of hundreds of seals/sea lions on the offshore rocks.
Finally, as it’s getting late we have to travel some 120 miles to our night stop in mid Oregon at the tiny settlement of Oakridge. A highlight is spotting a herd of elk by the roadside and the views of the Oregon forest are splendid although there’s a lot of rain (the first we’ve experienced).
There’s very little open in Oakridge by way of dining establishments (it’s a Monday) and we are stuck with the rather grubby Mazatlan Mexican. The food is ok and the beer is fine but we’re back at the motel by 8:30. TV anyone?

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It seems Eureka and the surrounding Humboldt County have a considerable homeless population, opinions on the reason for this vary and the opinions on what to do about it vary still more. What is clear is that there are lots of them and it’s very intimidating, one wag on TripAdvisor suggests that they outnumber the tourists. Perhaps.
There have been considerable attempts to smarten the place up and some of the historic old town is very nice indeed but groups of people drinking at 8am on the streets is disturbing.
Breakfast is a rather stale muffin for me and a similar bagel for Mary. The coffee is good however but we struggle to make ourselves understood. There are seals in the rather nice marina which must be a good sign though.
The rangers at the Redwood Park are very helpful and provide a map and recommendations as to what to see. The major of these is the Lady Bird Johnston Grove (dedicated to LBJ’s wife) which turns out to be an hours walk through these magnificent trees. Just fabulous.
Onward passing through unprepossessing coastal towns that are little more than strip malls and RV parks to the Klamath River and a look out. We can hear the seals and a nice man from Michigan points out a bald eagle sitting on a rock in the sea. I’ve taken a photo.
The award for the worst lunch of the trip so far must go to the Crescent City Subway for having a sick person with a hacking cough making the sandwiches. In an unsurprising coup they also get the worst toilet award. Truly a magnificent effort.
Once you get away from the nasty towns the coast is magnificent and the old town of Bandon is actually very nice although there is a lot of new development. The Table Rock Motel is a welcome relief from the horror of Eureka Town House. There are clearly nice cafes and the Edgewater is one of them, fresh salmon for me and scampi for Mary washed down with an NZ sauvignon blanc. Excellent.

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An excellent and enormous breakfast at the Old Town Cafe. The pancake was hanging over the edges of the plate and a separate plate of eggs and bacon heads to be delivered. Awesome.
Mostly driving today getting to the Humboldt Redwood park off route 121. The trees are truely staggering again being up to 2000 years old but in this case just so tall that it beggars belief. So here'd in California they have the oldest, the largest and now the tallest living things on Earth. We are impressed.
A word on the car. Our Lincoln MKX is a pleasure to drive although it is huge. The electric everything including roof is great for touring and so much more comfortable than the Mustang we had thought of.
Our stop for the night is in Eureka but the motel which looked ok on the internet (Eureka Town House) is in a rough part of town although we have no evidence that there are any nicer parts. The room has a disinfectant type of smell and there are indeterminate stains on the carpets and furniture. Overall a dump.
First shot at dinner was an upmarket restaurant one block away but, Saturday night and no deal until 8pm (it was 6:30). Second a couple of blocks the other way the Lost Coast Brewery and Cafe another loud beer and burger joint. Entirely acceptable but hard to hear anything

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A leisurely breakfast at Ground in Murphys taking in the local ambiance was first rate. It seems a very pleasant little town but probably a hot destination for weekenders? Lots of cafes and shops selling arty stuff, t-shirts and other stuff you didn't know you needed.
The mother of the barman last night (another Mary) put us on to the Big Tree State Park about 20 miles east. This turned out to be excellent with a two mile walk around the big trees. The Earth’s largest living things and can be some 2000 years old. Horrifyingly some early explorers(?) cut the largest down (1250 years old) so they could take the bark to display back east and make their fortunes. Pleasingly the display caught fire and they hopefully lost their shirts. Vandalism on an incomprehensible scale.
The afternoon was spent driving to Grass Valley (Friday night pre booking essential) via a bunch of tiny back roads and the little gold mining village of Volcano for an ice cream.
A pleasant walk downtown for an excellent dinner at a noisy bar Cirinos At Main Street. Great atmosphere and a hug for me by a random young woman, obviously and sadly sight impaired.

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A poor nights sleep at the Rainbow Tarn, mostly I suspect due to the altitude - 7,000+ feet - but the pillows had seen better days as well. Breakfast however was excellent, Brock and Diane made us feel most welcome.
The I395 took us North again to Lee Vining where Mary was able to buy a couple of books on water colours and we refilled with the most expensive petrol of the trip so far. (Last stop before the national park and all that).
The Yosemite is both magnificent and busy. We drove through the Tioga Pass (closed after the first snow, there was a little on the ground under the trees so quite soon then) and then up the Yosemite valley. Fantastic. The park ranger at the gate noted that we were from NZ with a “Go All Blacks” which started the trip well.
Finally we drove out to Mariposa for a quick snack (muffins) and coffee and then north through thousands of acres of fire blacked hills. Huge devastation.
Stopping at Murphys was a bit of a gamble but the motel is modern and clean, dinner at Alchemy Market and Cafe was excellent with a drink afterwards at the Lucky Penny Public House. An interesting chat about US politics. We’d promised not to do that but the bar man made us, luckily he agreed even introducing us to his mother.

Just before we got to bed we had a couple of texts about the alarm at home going off which is hard to deal with from here..... all seems to be under control fortunatly.

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There’s a laundry over the road from the Dow so that’s our morning activity! We’ve been here a week and the bags of dirty clothes are pretty full.
Breakfast next door is excellent and plentiful and what with that, fuel and the bank we don't get away until just before 12.
A brief stop an the Manzanar camp where Japanese Americans were interned during the war. Not the USAs finest hour and rather reminiscent of Trump’s disgraceful Muslim ban.
Most of the afternoon is spent getting to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine forest up over 10,000 feet. These trees are the oldest living things on the planet, some over 5,000 years old. They don’t look hugely impressive but hardy beyond words. The climb up and down is most worthwhile too with incredible views over the Sierra.
A short stop in Bishop for supplies at the Vos store is educational. These stores are big.
Our stop for the night is a B&B, Rainbow Tarn, near a village called Tom’s Place. Very comfortable and very rural - run by a couple (Diana and Brock). I gather it gets cold in the winter.
Finally dinner at Tom’s Place (the diner after which the 'town' is named) is basic but fun. Steak or shrimp pretty much but the service is good and the ambiance very rural America.

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Mostly we are keen to get outta town but we wait for the traffic to die down a bit and to work out a plan. Our initial plan, such as it was, stopped here.
Breakfast is at a Santa Fe out of town, this turned out to be a crummy casino with a Starbucks and more smoke. Nasty.
The first fuel stop was concerning as the machines would not take our cards but the next (50miles further) on did. We stopped for lunch at the Area 51 diner, Mary unwisely had the chilli.
These are long straight roads, beautifully surfaced with minimal traffic running through what seems to be entirely desert which the occasional habitation. You have to wonder what people do out here?
Beatty on the outskirts of the Death Valley park is clearly a dump.
The Valley itself is unsurprisingly hot. Hotter than the other bits of desert and deserted. We took one of the back roads, a bit rough and twisty but perfectly passable. Did’t see another car so we were somewhat reliant on the trusty Lincoln not crapping out, we would not survive long here with a half litre bottle of water.
Finally out of the desert we get to Lone Pine in California and I’ve booked into the Dow Motel where famous people stayed in days of yore. This was the back back lot for Hollywood Western's for the likes of the Lone Ranger, Hoppalong Cassidy, and John Wayne. The lobby is full of memorabilia and signed photos which makes it worth The rooms have seen better days but have a charm of a sort.
A very nice dinner at the TripAdvisor recommended Seasons Resturant, service was patchy but the Elk steak with cranberries and walnuts was fabulous.

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A day of great contrasts. A comfortable night at the Best Western in Kingman complete with a printer so we could vote in the NZ elections (don't ask, they make the process very complicated) and off to the Grand Canyon Western Rim.
We’d booked a ride in a helicopter down to the bottom of the canyon for a short ride on a boat and lunch. This turned out to be excellent, except for the lunch which was a prepackaged sandwich of questionable vintage (it was Monday after all). Another tick on the bucket list.
Onward to Vegas the temperature climbed reaching 108F at one point. A brief stop at the impressive Hoover Dam for a photo was all we could manage and then a dice with the traffic in the cities rush hour. Terrifying.
The hotel (another Best Western) reception is hidden in a cavern of flashing fruit machines but has parking. The rooms are hidden at the back thankfully away from the ‘strip’ so apart from the very noisy air conditioning it’s quiet.
The ‘strip’ itself is an experience. Madly busy with extravagance everywhere, buildings, lights, bars and of course casinos. We struggle to see the appeal and although we had intended to have a ‘flutter’ ended up not doing so as we found it hard to see the point. Very few of the punters seemed to be having fun.
Dinner was very expensive but nice at Mon Ami Gabi, a French style bistro on the ‘strip’.
Overall we loved the Canyon but Vegas? Not so much. We’ll be leaving tomorrow.

Most memorable is the smoking everywhere (yes inside too), partly because it’s in our clothes and the smell is still with us.
Tick.

 

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The Maswik cafe had not improved overnight and we decided to bypass it and go to the Canyon Village market area where there’s a supermarket with a small deli cafe. Much better.
A walk around the Canyon rim to follow was quite breathtaking and we got away about 12. Just outside the park there are a bunch of cafes and hotels taking advantage of the poor quality of the ones inside the park. Shame we didn't know but there it is. The Canyon makes up for it all.
After refuelling and having a look at the heliport (now that’s impressive with at least six machines spinning) we set off to Flagstaff Arizona for a run along Route 66.
Turns out that most of the Route has gone and been overlaid by Route 40, a nondescript freeway. There is still the odd section left but in dire conditions, only a rental car such as ours is hardy enough for the task, you wouldn’t want to tackle it in your own vehicle.
After much effort I finally managed to download Chuck Berry’s version of the song and we sang at full volume on the way to Kingman!
The Best Western at Kingman is pretty nice and a pleasant change from the grotty Maswik. I won't mention it again.
Dinner at Oysters Mexican across the road was both plentiful and reasonably priced and we were back in the hotel by 8pm.

Good day

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Breakfast at the Retro is a simple affair of toast, bagel, English muffin, bread etc and jam, perfectly adequate.
Mostly driving today through the most spectacular countryside, the Valley of the Gods and Monumernt Valley are the most jaw dropping places and I lack the words to describe them. We made a lot of stops for photo opportunities. Despite the vistas nothing prepares you for the Grand Canyon.
Lunch at the microscopic Mexican Hat, so named for an odd shaped rock just out of town. We stopped for lunch at the motel there.
Our night stop is at Maswik, one of the National Park Lodges near the Canyon. They have a so called Pizza Pub which sounded just right for us but my word, what a wretched place. Saturday night and one poor woman at the till, serving drinks, getting the meals and making change. Unsurprisingly there was a lengthy (20 min) queue. The pizza was thin crust with a smear of topping and both small and pricy.
The rooms are old and tired as well with threadbare towels and holes in the sheets. Dimly lit so you cannot see the grime on the ancient carpet. The room needs gutting and would put a cut price doss house to shame let alone one of the most expensive motels we have stayed at.
Perhaps if the Park service valued service above the size of the kickback things might change but frankly this is disgusting and does no one any credit. Had we known we would have made a day trip to the park and moved on.

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A leisurely start to the day with breakfast at the Far View (good omelette made by an actual person). We gave it some thought and decided to book accomodation at nearby Cortez so we could spend the entire day in the park with note to far to go afterwards. This turned out tio be a very good decision.

Breakfast was followed by guided tours of the Cliff Palace and Balcony House. These took all morning and were very good indeed. Lunch in the park was relatively inexpensive and certainly very welcome as the day had warmed up. Only grip was the non availability of sun screen, I’m somewhat pink on the arms at the moment.

The afternoon was completed with a trip to the museum and a drive around the mesa loop road to see some of the archeological sites and the fantastic views.

Finally we depart after a first rate day to the Retro Motel (no 2 in Cortez) which by now has no vacancies and bookings was clearly a good thing!

Dinner over the road at the Destination Grill. The hardest part was crossing the six lane road outside to get there. An excellent dinner and we got talking to a party of six pensioners on a Harley trip. Rather too much lubricant was had by all.

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Breakfast at the Best Western is a sad affair. Yes, is has everything but in name only. Coffee in a squirt dispenser, scrambled egg in a gelatinous blob, orange juice that has never seen an orange and a pancake making machine.
Moving on we buy a couple of bottles of water at the supermarket and drive south through magnificent country stopping several times for major roadworks and lunch at a totally unmemorable town for a lunch at a Mexican restaurant. The first interesting stop was Ouray, a town at the bottom of a huge valley, most impressive. Mary bought some dog leads,
The road out is called the million dollar highway, presumably because of the cost of building it. It runs up across a more or less vertical cliff with no barrier to between the cars and the drop. We follow a huge truck laden with pipes which gives plenty of time to stop, take photos and catch him up again.
A coffee at Durango re invigorates us enough to get to the impressively located Far View Lodge at Mesa Verde park without driving off the road. It’s been a big day driving and the jet lag is still with us. The cabins are somewhat basic but comfortable and dinner (at the lodge) and drinks are most welcome.

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Up reasonably early what with the time change and excitement. We walked over to the station for breakfast at the Local(ish) cafe where we were greeted by a very enthusiastic young lady who explained the goods on offer and enquired where our accents came from.
Despite being what we would think of as rush hour the place was incredibly quiet, apparently this is normal.
Gathering our belongings we set out for the rental car company expecting to get an Uber or a taxi but the concierge said no, they have a 'town car' and would be happy to run us there.
More friendly people at Avis got us into a huge vehicle with electric everything including buttons for the automatic gear shift. We still haven't worked out Howson use it all.
Our first destination is Granby, west of Denver, where our daughter worked at the 'Inn at Sliver Creek' near 20 years ago. The onboard GPS gets us right there up a hair raising set of hairpin bends. The hotel is open but pretty deserted as this is clearly ski country and there's no snow to be seen.
A sandwich in Granby is adequate for lunch and we head south making for Mesa Verde, one place recommended by all the guide books. The road takes us over the continental divide to the town of Fairplay at almost 10,000 feet.
It's nearly 5pm and we've had enough but sadly, for us, there's an art festival or some such and the town is heaving. The lady at the Hand Hotel is more than helpful with advice, wifi, a phone, a guided tour and some rhubarb jam!
Some Googleing and TripAdvisor gets us into the Best Western at nearby Buena Vista. By the time we arrive there's no vacancy so clearly we are not alone in our travel plans.
Dinner is a great at the improbably named 'Simple Eatery and Spoon It Up' cafe. The beer is good and the wine not bad after the first glass. We get chatting to a Scottish mother and daughter engaged in a similar road trip and have much in common in our views of the wonders of Brexit Britain and the incumbent President.

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Not too bad a trip to Denver arriving at a huge airport, concourses, levels, just enormous. We waited quite a while for one of the bags, we just didn't recognize it on the carousel as it was upside down. The booked car was late as well.
Anyway the Kimpton Born hotel is brand new (three weeks) right next to the central railway station. The staff are enthusiastic and friendly and in all a very nice place to stay.
Dinner at the attached hotel restaurant was pretty good but we were astounded by the number of staff on duty. At least 15 which nearly outnumbered the patrons.
We spent a little time on the plane thinking about itineraries and may make the first port of call but reached o firm conclusion. The three guide books offer a lot of interesting options but we're not certain how far we will want to travel each day. The car is well different to the bikes.

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