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USA - West

USA | Wednesday, 13 August 2008 | Views [752]

We are staying in Calgary extra day to organize flights to Los Angeles as there is no direct bus service going from Calgary south to USA. A little surprise I guess but we'll manage somehow. Short stopover in Seattle and few hours later we land in Los Angeles on Saturday afternoon. We realize a car hire will be our best option to get around the American outback. For some reason Greyhound bus coverage is very poor and would not take us to places we want to see. On Sunday morning we are driving a two months old Toyota Corolla to San Diego. Our 16 days wild west adventure has just started. First impressions are good - Jack Daniels costs $12 for 0.7l bottle and that is about a third what we pay in Ausie. Petrol at about $4 per gallon is very reasonable. Drivers are mad and no speed limit is followed. About 200km coastline drive from LA to San Diego fulfills our imaginations about California - sunny beaches, restaurants, resorts and lots of people everywhere.

On Monday we have 250 miles of north-east highway to cover before we reach our first great destination - Grand Canyon. And what a view!!! We just stand and look speechless. Its enormous size makes any spatial judgment impossible. Steep walls look small but in fact are hundreds of meters deep. Our desire to hike down from the South Rim to Colorado River dissolves as soon as we find out relevant distances - 12 miles down to Colorado River and 22 miles back up to the North Rim. Total elevation difference over 1500 meters in 42C effectively for the whole day!!! Maybe next time :-). Sightseeing from North Rim reveals even more beautiful panorama to what we saw yesterday. Afternoon sun is just a bonus while shooting pictures. Well, it is time to leave the largest canyon in the world and move on so we back on the road. Our crossing from Arizona to Utah coincided with very happy event - on Friday 1 August 2008 I became a grand-dad to a baby boy Liam Lukas.

We follow advice to visit Zion National Park and indeed this trip is worth every penny. Zion might not be the largest canyon but in our minds it is the most beautiful canyon we have ever seen. Mother nature carved unbelievable sculptures of all sorts of colors, shapes and rocks. Looking into valley from a sheer drop wall lookout makes us very dizzy. Vertigo is unpleasant feeling. Short fence is only symbolic because everyone runs around to get the best angle for picture. It would only take a little slip on sandy surface to plunge 200 meters. Few minutes later we drive windy road down to the bottom of canyon and views are truly breathtaking. We leave Toyota at the car park and spend whole day hiking short treks using a free hop-on-hop-off shuttle bus. To our surprise the shuttle bus runs until 11pm and there are no street light down there. There is only moonlight between 400m walls and you. Could be scary! It is here where climbers come from over the world to conquer one of the tallest verticals - it takes up to 3 days to climb one 500m wall. Tonight we sleep in an original Indian tipi with dream catchers hanging over our heads to ensure we would not have any vertical nightmares.

Our next destination is not tall at all. It is actually quite flat and its elevation is only 5 feet above sea level. The Death Valley is pretty hot. At 5pm we measured 46C and only 10% humidity. What an experience! Total driving time across valley did not take more then 2 hours and one would not want a car defect over there. Somewhat different environment compared to our previous day and night in Las Vegas. The exit from Death Valley opens up Sierra Nevada range in front of our eyes. We will follow this beautifully rugged mountain range over next 200km to the north on the No395 highway. White sharp peaks top over 4000m and we are keen to do some hiking up there. Next morning we witness young guy getting into a serious trouble climbing water falls below Mount Whitney. Mountains can be unforgiving and we must treat them with respect. On the way to Yosemite National Park we take 20 mile side trip to see 4000 years old ancient pine trees, allegedly the oldest trees in the world. These oldies look fresher then some young cousins and there we confirm the well know saying "the age does not matter". Another natural curiosity lies few miles further north in a form of Mono lake in which the water contains very high levels of salt and bicarbonate. This results in growing stalagmites from the water over time.

Yosemite National Park is quite different from the others we have seen so far. It is characterized by shallow valleys with lush green meadows sprinkled with torquise water lakes. At 2000m elevation one wonders how anything green can grow up here. Before descending to bottom of the canyon we have to see the tallest trees Sequoya. Very impressive fauna indeed. The bottom of canyon looks like a family holiday park filled up with hundreds of tents, cars, bikes and whatever people bring with them. We do not stay here for very long because it is getting late and we still have to cover about 150km to pre-booked motel. On Thursday we are heading for Lake Tahoe and from here we continue to San Francisco which is our last destination in North America. At 2000m above sea level Lake Tahoe shows off beautiful blue crystal clear water with 30m visibility.

Saturday afternoon San Francisco city welcomes us with a stretch of cloud or fog thinly spread above the western coastline. We have no idea what this might be or where it comes from. Next morning we are consumed by thick fog over the famous Golden Gate Bridge and whole thing is even more bizarre. While the Golden Gate Bridge is almost permanently covered with a thick fog constantly formed at the sea the rest of San Francisco is bathing in sunshine. Air temperatures jump up and down between 15 – 25C within 100´s of meters.  We have never seen anything like this before. Apparently this phenomena is caused by cold water currents flowing from north to south which in turn cools the water evaporated by hot sun to the point of fog formation. City of San Francisco looks exactly as we know it from Hollywood movies. Driving through roller coaster streets is great fun and we also enjoy walking alongside piers including the Pier 39 with sea lions. Unfortunately we miss out on a trip to Alcatraz as all tickets are sold until next Friday and we are not willing to pay triple price to scalpers. Tuesday we return the car and evening we leave for Lima.       




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