Western USA

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 no 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.

The Inn at Sliver Creek, GranbyUp reasonably early what with the time change and excitement. We walked over to the station for breakfast at the Local(ish) cafe (that's its' name) 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 how to use it all.

Read more: Buena Vista

P1120354Breakfast 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 of abandond mines and the like 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.

P1120434A 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.

Read more: Cortez

P1120508Breakfast 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.

Read more: Maswik

P1120551The 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. The park Service have put together a 'time walk' where every metre (yard?) represents a million year period and thus 2,000 long paces repersents the age of the rocks in the Canyon. There are examples of the appropriate rocks as you move along and sights so you can see where in the Canyon they are located.

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.

Read more: Kingman

P1120712A 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.

Read more: Las Vegas

P1120835Mostly 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.

Read more: Death Valley

IMG 1373There’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. 

Read more: Tom's Place

P1120889A 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.

Read more: Yosemite

IMG 3286A 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.

Read more: Big Tree State Park

IMG 3290An 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.

Read more: Humboldt Redwood Park

P1130050It 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.

Read more: Redwood National Park

P1130121A 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).

Read more: Bandon on Sea

P1130181The 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.

Read more: Portland and the Colombia River Gorge

P1130208A 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 Comfort 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.

Read more: Yakima

P1130231A 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.

Read more: Missoula

P1130249An 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.

Read more: Idaho Falls

P1130291Another unhappy night, this time no blame on the bed which was very comfortable. Another plonker started his coach outside the window at 6am and the room quickly filled with diesel fumes. That’s one way to get moving in the morning.
Yes another Best Western breakfast but a) we beat the crowd and b) we are getting the hang of it.
Today is to be a low milage day (relatively that is) and finally we have clear skies but cold, there is frost on the car and that’s a first.
Our night stop plan is Twin Falls with a good explore of the Craters of the Moon National Monument. It takes longer to get there than expected as there is a thick bank of fog on the road for about an hour.

Read more: Twin Falls

P1130384A splendid night at the Best Western, not a move in the night from either of us. Breakfast sadly the usual dogs breakfast, they could do so much better.
Twin Falls has a major waterfall, Shoshone Falls which is running at 10% capacity and the Twin Falls has had a lobectomy with a power plant installed in one of them. The canyon however is stunning with an 18 hole golf course at the bottom.
Our next stop is the City of the Rocks on the original California Trail, the settlers even left graffiti of their names on the rocks written in axle grease on the rocks and it’s still there. Amazing.
The direct route seems to involve and hour or so of dirt road across endless plain following the original trail. It must have been so hard!

Read more: Salt Lake City

P1130451The car has started bleating that it needs an oil change. Today's mission will be to deal with Avis for a replacement. I’ve tried several approaches by phone but these have met with off shore so called ‘help’ desks and automated Q&A robots, all hopeless. The best of them was the clerk at the downtown Avis desk but he had no way to help either. Groan.
First off however is a guided tour of the Morman church facilities that Salt Lake City is known for. We are not allowed in the Temple but the old church and the tabernacle are open for the tour. Unsurprisingly the tour is more of a pitch for the Morman way but still it’s interesting and everything is impressively tidy and well kept.
Avis was busy and pretty much as anticipated. They were surprised that we had done so much mileage (it said unlimited what did they expect?). There’s no way we are getting a like for like replacement for the Lincoln that we have grown so fond of as they claim they don’t have such a thing. In the end we have to settle for a white Chevy 300 which behaves like a small boat in a modest sea.

Read more: Dinosaur National Park

P1130481Utah has strange laws about booze that we have discovered. First you can only have one drink at a time, i.e. You can't order a second until the first is gone and second rule is that beer is under 3% unless it’s heavy beer. Odd. Probably the Mormon influence.

Today's destination is the Dinosaur Quarry in the Dinosaur National Monument. This is an astounding collection of bones from 197m years ago preserved in a cliff that has been enclosed in a splendid display building. It’s one of those moments when you wonder if it can be real but yes it is. Fantastic. The ranger is very interesting on the subject too, who knew?

Further down the track is a set of cave paintings this time only(!) 1000 or so years old but like they had been painted yesterday.

Read more: Moab

P1130545A magic day, except perhaps breakfast and the HUGE thunderstorm that engulfed Moab. The thunder was deafening but luckily did not pursue us north to Dead Horse Point - no that’s not made up - and Canyonlands National Park. We spent the whole day staring in disbelief at the vast canyon that the Colorado and Green rivers have made over the past umpty million years. We didn’t even get to the Arches National Park and have had to hold that over until tomorrow morning.
We’ve taken a lot of photos and walked (for us) quite a way.

We did give a lift to a pair of german motorcycle riders who had walked all the way to Dead Horse Point and left their bikes at the visitor centre. Very nice people. 

Sadly the Twisted Sista cafe is closed on Wednesday but the Thai place was open (reversed from last night) and very busy. The queue was continuous - clearly the town is packed.

Read more: Moab 2

IMG 2122Arches National Park could occupy several days, sadly we only have a half. You can see that in the summer or at the weekends it would be crazy busy, even mid week (Thursday) it’s pretty busy with most car parks near full. Not withstanding there’s plenty of room and you only have to walk a short way on the tracks to leave the multitude behind (even though they look set for an expedition to Everest base camp they have clearly just been to an outfitters and want to look the part).
One lowlight, we met a chap taking photographs and Mary commented about the people who, despite the copious notices, insist on wandering of the tracks and damaging the microscopic desert life. This guy was of the a) elk and deer do it so why shouldn’t we? And b) “it’s just dirt”. Another for whom facts are not necessarily immutable. He also gave us his opinion on acid rain, “it’s good for the pine forests”. We were left with little doubt about who he voted for in last years election, we didn’t need to ask.

Read more: Torrey, UT

IMG 2233A poor nights sleep as it was very warm in the room despite the cold outside, hard to deal with.
Breakfast at the Broken Spur is very good, which makes a nice change and we fill up with gas and get a brochure from the information cantre. All very civilized for what seems a pretty small village. 
Scenic Byway 12 is a magic road with lots of laybys, and fantastic views. Apparently one of the most beautiful in the world and we'd certainly agree.
We took an detour down the Burr Track as recommended by a lady in an RV and also very worthwhile. Otherwise we stuck to the car and took one short walk (1km?) to a waterfall. The worst thing is that we ran out of time to see the Bryce Canyon and many of the other things on the route, we’ll just have to come back.

Read more: Panguitch

IMG 2317Apart from getting our laundry done and the nice waitress who gave us a drink and dessert Panguitch is something of a bust. The motel sheets smelt of bleach and some of us had an uncomfortable night and were a tad grumpy.
An early departure, actually very early for us and we hit the road without breakfast so we stopped after an hour in nearby Kanab and had a fabulous meal at the Houston’s Trail’s End. A stonking heap of pancakes for me and a beautiful omelette with hash browns for Mary. Superb. We also got a preview of a horse tour they run through the canyons, now there's an idea! 
The rest of the day was taken up with driving through more and more astounding countryside. A brief stop at the Colorado River Dam at the head of Lake Powell then on to historic Prescott.

Read more: Prescott, AZ

IMG 2343We were woken at 2:45am by two women outside who were corresponding by shout over a final(?) beer of the night. Plainly both hard of hearing, a nasty impairment. Moved to close windows and turn on the very noisy air conditioning.
We passed on the Best Western breakfast and went back to Prescott Junction for fabulous waffles and a great omelette. Very reasonably priced and just so much better. BW take note.
Moving on with heavy tums we passed through Phoenix and on to Tombstone. First stop the restored Boot Hill cemetery. Not what we’d expected but very moving none the less. The guide for the cemetery tells some horrific stories and clearly life was pretty cheap. The town itself is still alive as a living history and was not completely overrun by tourists despite it being a Sunday.

Read more: Bisbee, AZ

IMG 2375A very nice - and small - breakfast in Bisbee after a good nights sleep in the very comfortable Canyon Rose hotel. We now have to get to Denver on Thursday morning for our flight home and it’s at least 12 hours drive away. This is a big country. On the way out of Bisbee we find out why it's there, it was acenter of copper production and they have the holes to prove it.
There are several Border Patrol cars and trucks about and we wonder about the enormous scale of Trumps wall and the terrain that will need to be covered. It would be interesting to see the cost/benefit analysis- $5-10m per person prevented for access to the USA? Anyway who will make the beds and clean the toilets if the can’t get in?
We stopped at the site where Geronimo surrendered and in latter days they have put up a monument. A sad end.

Read more: Truth Or Consequences

IMG 2420Today's journey starts with finding ourselves on the I-25 freeway without breakfast, a mistake but ToC comes to an abrupt end at the on ramp. We take the first off ramp which leads us to Elephant Butte (I couldn’t make this up) where there’s a diner and a first rate short stack breakfast, sadly I could get used to blueberry pancakes but I’d end up looking like some of the locals do <O>
Next stop is Chloride, a ghost town with a museum with a very interesting history. Don and Donna are fascinating hosts and we take a couple of hours (that we can ill afford) there.
Chloride is well out of the way and we are delighted to see several road runners and squirrels crossing the road, the road runners especially are a treat, “beep beep”.

Read more: Taos

IMG 2437A very comfortable night at El Pablo except for the WiFi being unserviceable in and around our room. Not the end of the world.
Our first stop is one of the local tourist shops for a couple of ceramic bowls and then on to Taos Pablo, a Native American village that is open to tourists (a fee applies). Unfortunately after some difficulties finding it it was closed for ‘ceremonies’ so that was a bust.
Abandoning Taos we drove and stopped for lunch at Fort Garland and took a tour of the fort. It’s not clear how much is original but clearly life in the Cavalry was pretty grim (a bath every month whether you needed one or not and two to a bed - sounds grim no?).

Read more: Limon

Little to report with an uneventful drive to the Airport and entertaining chats with the very helpful Avis returns man who agreed that our Chrysler 300 is not a patch on the Lincoln but they are both is the same Avis ‘luxury’ category. Obviously no one at Avis has driven both.
Avis also deserve an a serious slap for not providing phone assistance for customers except to the crappy robot answer phone attendant and a backup call center who cannot assist when a car needs a service.
United also have a mixed bag of staff, one woman too busy at the computer to assist customers check in and another who was a delight to talk to and couldn’t have been more helpful. The contrast could not have been more marked.