West Coast USA – Day 10

As per, I woke well before dawn.

Tossed, turned, and then gave up. Donned a pair of shorts, brewed a coffee, and sat on the balcony, watching the sun rise, from my rocking chair, with a mug of coffee in hand, and occasionally, with camera (on tripod, now held together with elastic hair bands) clicking away.

Tough life, I know, but as they say, someone’s got to do it!

This nights accommodation has been a real highlight for me. I’ve been able to be “in the moment” throughout, no drifting off thinking about other things, just aware and appreciative of the humbling majesty of the nature that surrounds us.

Eventually, Jane and then even more eventually Charlie, woke. By which time I was showered, packed, and bags in car.

Finally we left the room for the last time, dumped the bags in the car and went across to the Lodge for breakfast. More pancakes and maple syrup for Charlie, Eggs Benedict for Jane and a Zion special omelette for me. All of which were huge, as expected. And bearing in mind we’re a captive audience, I think the prices are very reasonable, given none of the above cost more than $11.

From the Lodge we walked straight to the bus pickup and headed to Weeping Rock, Janes favourite place when we last came, as the rock wall beneath the waterfall was covered in butterflies. Off the bus at “Stop 7” and then a short but steep walk to the wall.

You end up standing under an overhang and behind the waterfall. It’s cool, tranquil (even with all the other folk around you) and through the “raindrops”, the views beyond are a superlative-sapping good!

After photos, and some time to soak it all in, it’s back on the bus to “Stop 9”, the Temple of Sinawava, or as we named it m, the Temple to Shinawatra (he did start the Man City revival, after all!).

A much longer hike of just over of 2 miles, but almost flat, as you follow the river back into The Narrows.

And an eventful one as well! Loads and loads of cheeky ground squirrels, who will stand and pose for photos. It’s just a pity that they clearly do this in the knowledge that they may get fed by some moron who ignores all of the warning signs.

We then rounded a rocky outcrop, only to realise that there was a deer stood on it, feeding, not 6ft from the path. It’s clearly very used to these oddball multicoloured bipeds who stop, gather and then squabble to get nearest.

The hike ends at the beginning of another trail, but one with a difference. The Narrows and its features such as Wall Street) are one of Zion’s more iconic images.

However, the main difference is that to hike through the Narrows, you hike along and in the river. Those that do this more frequently were easy to spot, wearing sturdy closed hiking books made of neoprene and neoprene socks. I had lightweight Nike running trainers on.

Having felt the temperature of the river, Jane and Charlie declined to come further, but I couldn’t resist the lure. I thought I’d be crafty, and after removing shoes and socks, traversed the first section of river in bare feet. Shedded soles and strained ankles later (its rocky underfoot and you can’t see anything below the surface), I began to reassess.

When I heard the 5th neoprene-wearer comment that the water levels were much higher on their return trip, and remembered that the sign I just read warned of flash floods being marked by the blowing of whistles, at which point you literally run for your life, the trainers were sacrificed and back on my feet.

This allowed me to carry on into deeper water(!) and further into the Narrows. Sadly, I didn’t have the time, nor the right equipment to reach Wall Street, so turned and headed back.

The water is not that idyllic, crystal clear, burbling stream that would make for great photos, it’s the colour that reminds you Zion is still being formed, with the water carrying huge quantities of silt and flints from its erosive work upstream. Most of which was now in my trainers!

I walked back to jane and Charlie without losing my balance and therefore iPhone and DSLR camera, and we headed back to the bus stop. Jane commented on the water level seeming higher than on our way in. I hope those non-neopreners know what they’re doing!

The bus dropped us off at the Lodge, and after grabbing drinks for the journey, we bid a final farewell to Zion The Beautiful, and began our 3hour drive to Vegas.

During the three hours of driving the Veterans Memorial Highway, we dropped around 5000ft in altitude, went from 22 to 44 degrees C, drove through the Virgin River Gorge, and through a mountain range with no discernible name.

The landscape changes time and time again. You can’t help but be interested in the geology over here! Well, I can’t.

After watching the US Airforce do their Top Gun impressions over north Vegas before landing, and after our first (but not our last) traffic jam, we arrived without incident at the Self-Park car park for the Mirage Hotel. Our home for the next three nights.

“Ugh! 3 nights in Vegas?! What a waste”. Those are some of the comments we received on a Facebook group we’re in for travellers to western USA.

As I’ve just said to friend of mine, it’s true, it’s 100% fake and is borderline tacky. Like Blackpool on steroids.

We’re here for a variety of reasons; it’s break within a holiday (two ‘pool’/retail therapy days), it’s a logical transit stop between Zion and Death Valley, Charlie wanted to come, we’ve been before but never explored to other hotels.

We checked in, and despite my charm, and repeated mention of Janes 50th and our 25th Wedding anniversary, and how special we felt the place was, other than a room with a pool- and strip-view, no free upgrades this time!

A chunky walk through the hotel lobby, casino and then retail area (they’re not daft with their social engineering) to the “elevators” and up to the 19th of 26 floors.

The room is really nice, large, and more than adequate. What isn’t so nice are the electronic sensors on pretty much anything consumable. “Touch it & you shall pay through the nose”. Tbf, the lady at check-in did stress not to touch as it’s such an exorbitant rip-off.

As I write this (at dawn), I just wish there was a coffee machine rather than a $15 box (?) of La Colombo Pacific Blend that I can order as room service. I don’t even like American or African beans – it’s all about the Java/Sumatra/Mandeeling for me!

Having settled into the room, we freshened up went down to experience our first “Vegas Buffet”. The Mirage Buffet is one of the “middle of the road” price and quality-wise.

At $29/head you get a (totally unmanaged) maximum 3 hours of gorging on as much as you can eat from 11 different “stations”. A Station being a food theme; Italian, Eastern, Sushi, American, Latin, Carvery, Seafood, Dessert, Salad, Drinks and one I can’t remember.

The all-inclusive drinks are a variety of soft drinks or Bud Lite, Goose IPA, and a selection of red and white wines. I went with the Goose.

Whilst we did try a few different stations we only left what we tried and didn’t like. The eastern and sushi stations were by far the best, with the beef from the carvery a close third. The fish was over cooked, and the clam chowder not good apparently (Janes opinion). But otherwise good value, especially taking into account my repeated visits for another “Goose, please”!

It has to be said though, it really is shameful the way some folks use this. The lady in the turquoise top that piled her plate up about 5” high with prawns and crab, and then left half. The big American chap who seemed to have all 11 stations on one plate. Gluttony and greed seem to be temples here.

After our meal, we meandered out onto the strip and into the heat, and headed into Ceasars Palace and the shopping mall. All this way and I get dragged around a faux Trafford Centre! It even smells the same – of chlorinated fountain water!

It would be easy to suggest Vegas is a Marmite place – you love it or hate it. I have a different view because I love some of it, and feel really uncomfortable with some aspects as well.

Anyway. We’re here. We’ll experience Vegas for better or for worse, but it will be an experience, that’s for sure.

I just need to find Charlie, who is still somewhere in his king-sized pit!

Cheers, folks!

West Coast USA – Day 9

Let’s cut to the chase, today is all about our accommodation! The location, the suite, the food, the scenery, in no particular order.

Breathtaking!

It’s by far the most expensive nights accommodation on the trip, but as I said, in the main, you get what you pay for.

We’re at Zion Lodge. There are two ways to be here. Be a guest at the Lodge, or be a tourist, and be at the behest of the tourist buses, which finish bringing in people by now and only remove folk.

So at this time of the evening it’s very tranquil. I’m writing this sat on our balcony watching a wild deer feed on the lawn. Sorry, make that three wild deer.

Unlike the rest of the park earlier. It’s Sunday, and the weather has been great again, so it’s been exceptionally busy here. Almost to the detriment of our day, but not quite.

We drove the relatively short distance (42 miles) from Kanab after picking up a Subway sandwich to save for lunch (a lesson learned from yesterday) and got to the park entrance at about 11am.

You enter the park from the east along Zion Park Scenic Byway. Loads of stopping places, to get out and look around.

Unlike the other parks and canyons, I think the reason I love Zion is because you get to be “in it” rather than looking at it.

Everywhere you turn, there’s a hell of a view. Particularly one of the first. A short (but stupidly hot) hike up from the roadside and you wiggle your way across gang-plank bridges, look down into Pine Creek narrows, over sheer drops, look back across at the inverted Arch of Mount Carmel (where the road tunnel runs through), and under cave-like overhangs.

You eventually end up at the Canyon View which is an incredible panorama (another one!), looking down to the west side of the Mount Carmel Tunnel and into the valley below, all the time surrounded by cathedral-like towers over 1,000ft above.

A reverse hike back to the car, where I realised I’d stupidly left my mobile phone in direct sunlight. It was too hot to even pick up, so we threw it into the cool bag! Thankfully no damage done!

We then headed through the 1.1 mile long Mt. Carmel Tunnel and down to the valley floor. A right turn down the road that was signed “Permit holders only – Zion Lodge”.

We could only check in at 4pm, so we had an hour and a half to fit in a hike. It was an easy decision, and we walked from the Lodge across to the walk to Lower Emerald Pools.

0.6 miles later and we reached the waterfalls. You should have been able to carry on up to the Middle and Upper Emerald Pools but recent floods and a massive landslide have thrown huge boulders into the gorge, and it’s now unsafe to go further in.

Back to the Lodge, an easy & stress free check-in and we were given keys to the William Wallace Wylie Suite, in the upper floor of the lodge nearest the main reception.

Wow! It’s huge. And has a wonderful balcony with rocking chairs where you can while away the afternoon and evening with the most stunning view!

We crashed out for an hour, showered and then went for tea at the Lodge.

A veg soup to start and a big chargrilled sirloin (medium rare) for me. To accompany it, I had a pint of Zion Canyon Echo IPA (4%) which was very, very good. So good it disappeared, and I ended up ordering another pint. This time Inhad the Seasonal, which turned out to be a “Pomegranate Sour” Ale. An odd one, in that it was very drinkable, but tasted as much like a sweet cider, as an Ale.

Back to the room to write this, and as said earlier, sat here watching deer mooch around the lawn below our balcony.

Think I need to try and make sunrise tomorrow. If it’s clear, it should be a cracker.

Pity it’s just one night here, but next stop is something completely different – Vegas, baby!

Love it, or hate it, it’s unique! But that’s for tomorrow!

Night all!

West Coast USA – Day 8

Another early awake for me, so finished off yesterdays blog, downloaded GoPro Quik video editor, and created a couple of quick 30 second “mash-ups” of videos of our time at Horseshoe Bend and from our journey along Cottonwood Canyon Road.

The internet connection here is crap. I know we are in the boondogs but in a town like Kanab, the supply must be decent, so I suspect it’s just this hotel. It’s a real pain because, jumping ahead to now (10pm), I’ve realised it’s meant that some of my blog uploads have only partially worked with some missing photos that I added or amended, Day 4 in particular is one I have just redone from scratch. Good job I keep the text backed up elsewhere!

Anyway, a shower (its “OK”), and then breakfast. A “Days Inn” Special of a choice of toast. Ok, so there was a bit more, but it was just cereal, bagel or waffle. Not inspiring, is my point, but you get what you pay for of course.

I really wish that the Parry’s Lodge, where we stayed on Honeymoon had vacancies when we were booking. Now that was a great place! Its been here since the 1930’s, and was the heart of “Little Hollywood” in Kanab. Basically if you’ve watched any old or even relatively new Westerns, or some of the older TV series (such as Lassie & Lone Ranger), then you’ll have seen Kanab, its surrounding countryside, or even the inside of Parry’s Lodge if you’ve watched the ’50s who-dunnit “Girl In Black Stockings”.

Each room had a little history sheet with it, that listed which movie stars had stayed there. Even the original “Ratpack” stayed there. Nowadays, I’m reliably informed by my passengers that even the “Pokestops” and “Gyms” are named after visiting actors such as John Wayne, Clint Eastwood and Maureen O’Hara.

Threw a few things in the car, including our trusty cooler (which is doing really well given the heat it’s having to cope with), and then set off back up the road towards Bryce Canyon.

We went through a little town and I noticed that one of the “curio” shops had what looked like a Fallout 4 Power Armour suit on the site of the road, for those gamers out there. Trying to be “down with my kid”, I mentioned that to him. I got a shrug back and a “I doubt that” back. Oh well, I tried.

Its an hour and a half of all uphill from Kanab to Bryce. In fact it prompted a later conversation about what would be the highest point in our trip. I thought it would have been the Tioga Pass, when we cross from Mammoth to Yosemite, given the snow only cleared a few weeks ago. The answers are as follows:

  1. Mammoth Mountain, if we visit the top at around 11,000 feet
  2. Tioga Pass at 9,943 feet
  3. Rainbow Point at Bryce Canyon at just under 9,200 feet

I was surprised at how close it was between Tioga and Bryce, but once we got into the park and drove straight to Rainbow Point, it does become more obvious. You can tell the air is a tad thinner, the temperature dropped to a chilly 21deg C, and you were looking down on pretty much everything else around.

We decided for better or worse to go to Rainbow/Yovimpa Point, because it was the furthest point from the entrance, and then head back. That’s about 18 miles. Yep, miles!

Basically, we drove to a viewpoint, stopped, got out, took photos, back in the car and off to the next one.

Well, we did for the first few we stopped at. Rainbow Point, Yovimpa Point, Black Birch Canyon, Ponderosa Canyon, Agua Canyon, Natural Bridge. You get why our 12 year old is now sick of the word Canyon, especially if its full of red rock!

However, after those, we got out and walked part of each trail. Paria View was some view, but the main attraction is Bryce Point. What a view!

That said, as we arrived, it began to cloud over, and even threatened rain. I wandered down on my own, Nikon DSLR & GoPro in hand as usual. When you get to the viewing point, it’s a panarama of all panaramas! Although the sky was overcast and as such, it left the subject matter a tad ‘flat’, I took a few photos, and then switched to the GoPro.

Right. Let me set this straight. If you saw me with the GoPro you would say its on a selfie stick. Which it is. But only rarely do I ever point it back to the operator. I typically use it to lift the camera either above a crowd, or beyond fence lines, barriers, and ideally over big drops.

However, all of you that hate those with a passion, myself included in most situations, your wishes almost came true. I was doing my ususal of “wafting” the GoPro around on the end of a 4ft metal pole, when I noticed two things; I could now hear thunder, and secondly and most importantly, the metal railing I was near, was crackling with static, when you got near to it. I am not joking in the slightest. The air was electric. As such, I decided to retreat to the car and join the others, before justice was served on the selfie-stick wielding tosspot.

As it turned out, the weather became a big part of today. At Bryce Point, the rain abated after only a few minutes and the pavements were dry within what seemed seconds.

(Slight aside here, but it was whilst it was raining, that I was in a Facebook Messenger conversation with my sister. Just think about that. I’m 9,000ft up in the back of beyond and yet I’m getting 4G data, and conversing with someone over 5,000 miles away. Instantly. What a world we live in!)

As it was dry, sunny and warmer, this time, all three of us disembarked our Monster Vehicle and headed to the viewpoint. This time the weather was good enough for me to retake my photos and do some slightly safer wafting with the GoPro. You lot don’t realise the risks I take, in delivering these blogs! (Insert the crying-laughing emoji, here or if not imagine it was here).

The thunder inevitably became more visible in the form of lightning, but a safer “further off”. As such, I have some of it on camera somewhere in amongst todays 1000’s of photos/video clips. One day, I may even find them!

A few more stop-offs, and then we called at Sunset Point. Charlie had “had enough” of canyons, so abused the 4G, whilst Jane and I went for a wander. We took the trail up to Inspiration Point, and then headed back down to Sunset to follow the Navajo (Loop) Trail. We had overcast with intermittent sun, so we got some great opportunities to take photos, with the ever-changing light, as we headed down into the canyon.

Many of the spires are named after what someone thought they looked like or a silhouette that they saw. To be honest, I think many of these were named by pot-smoking, high-as-a-kites, as some take a large leap of imagination to grasp. However some are actually pretty good. In one photo, we managed to capture three of the better ones; Thors Hammer, The Presidents (think Mount Rushmore, not Obama/Trump), and Queen Victoria, in her bustled pomp.

After which we saw the switchbacks down into the canyon, realised that meant there must be the equivalent going up, and so used Charlie being on his own as a convenient excuse to bottle it and go back up to the car!

Realising we hadn’t had anything to eat since our epic toast breakfast and that it was now getting on for 5pm, we decided it was going to have to be a “Subway” tea from the outfit about 5 miles down the road, as Charlie was “starving” apparently. The idea was, pick up a take-out Subway sandwich and then go back into the park to Sunrise (yep, not Sunset), and eat with a view.

Back at the car, we all nipped to the loo, and on our depart came out to a downpour. A “sprint” across the car park back to the Explorer, and off to Subway.  8 minutes later we parked up in front of the entrance. 20 minutes later we drove off back to Kanab without having had an opportunity to get out of the car!

As we pulled up, it began raining heavily. Then the wind picked up as well. Then there was lightning – very near by, given the thunder clap was almost instantaneous. Then we were bombarded by hailstones the size of a marble (just the normal sized ones, not the bigger tollies). Then it carried on raining heavily. After 20 minutes the executive decision was taken to “Bugger this! Lets go home!”.

So we did. Only to find that within 5 minutes of heading south the temperatures were up by 8/9deg and it was cracking the (very dry) flags. (Translation: The pavements were dry and warm).

We passed Fall Out Boy, and this time Charlie was on the lookout. I was delighted that I’d struck a chord. When we passed it, he actually guffawed, and told me it was nothing like a Power Armour Suit! Oh well. As I said, I did try.

We ended up having a McDonalds in Kanab, and then headed back to the hotel, via me calling at a “Gas Station” to buy a 2 pack of AAA batteries and a six-pack of weak (3.2%) ale.

The batteries are for a set of portable clippers I brought with me. Being a man of few follicles, I shave my head (a “Number One”) every two weeks. On a Friday. Or Saturday. I like to mix things up. But not too much. Anyway, I’m two weeks since my last cut, so decided it was time for a trim.

New batteries in, just to be sure of rapid oscillation of clippers, and in I went.

And then I had one of those moments when you realise you made a grave miscalculation. Three 1″-wide, totally “down to the scalp” tramlines later, and the clippers packed in. I sit here now having had to fully razor my hair off. It feels weird. It looks weird.

And the evening didn’t end there, because I nipped in to the shower to rid myself of itchy hair bits, and then came back to the desk to write this blog. You may not wish to know this, but I’m sat here typing this with just my boxers on (even with the aircon on, its still warm).

So, I pity the lad and his mam and dad, who somehow, just put a roomcard in the door, opened it (not exactly filling me with confidence, that bit), to walk in on some very, very bald, almost naked, fat bloke hunched over a laptop, typing frantically with an impassioned expression on his face. Goodness only knows what they think I was doing!

Hopefully one day, when his therapist declares his trauma over, he will read this blog and understand.

Night all!

West Coast USA – Day 7

A really easy day today. Not done a lot…

All of us got up fairly late at around 7am, after a series of long days, although I think the fact I’d had two amber ales, and then another of those Voodoo Ranger Imperial IPAs (9%), a Deschutes Hop Henge IPA (8.5%) and a Deschutes Mirror Pond Pale Ale (5%) probably assisted me!

Had a quirky breakfast of what looked like shish and shami kebabs, with a boiled egg, and a weird tiny omelette made of two egg ‘circles’ filled with some sort of runny cheese! Set me up for the day, that did!

After breakfast, I called Yosemite to discuss our booking, and long story short, they reckon the park will be fully back to normal by our arrival date. Call me a cynic, but at the cost of the accommodation each night, we weren’t prepared to gamble the 2-night cost. Instead we booked another night in Monterey (same hotel), and cancelled our second night at Yosemite.

This means we can travel over the Tioga Pass, into Tuolumne Meadows, and then down into Yosemite Valley, where we are staying, and then, if the weather is good and clear, spend most of the following day around what we hope will be a quieter Yosemite, and then head across to Monterey later on. If the weathers not so good, we set off early to Monterey and get more time around Cannery Row and the Aquarium!

Either way is fine by us, and even if they then close the park for that one night, as sad as it would be not to go, we can head north from Mammoth Mountain and go over the more northerly Highway 108 and book accommodation somewhere around Sonora.

Sorted! Now back to the holiday!

Today was a day where we could do what we wanted so long as we ended up in Kanab, for late afternoon. I had an idea, but didn’t want to force it on Charlie and Jane, unless they had no preferences anyway, Which they didn’t. So this is what we did…

Drove out of Page, stopping briefly at the impressive Glen Canyon Dam to take some photos. Basically this Dam has held back the Colorado River, and essentially flooded a major section of the Grand Canyon. Didn’t go down well at the time, but its here, and all you can do is admire the engineering and what it did create which was the incredible Lake Powell.

From there we headed towards Kanab, but with little between the two places, and only an hour long drive, I suggested a detour.

Here’s where my plan came in.

“How about we take a right onto that Cottonwood Canyon Road, I read about? Supposed to be some incredible views…”

After an affirmative, I turned off and headed down the road. Passing the first sign, my passengers expressed some concern. “Unpaved Road – Not Passable When Wet” read the sign.

“Don’t worry, its on the map, on TomTom and we are insured because of that. Trust me.” I replied, whist hiding my own nerves! I didn’t have the balls to tell them that this was over 40 miles of off-road. I buried that info for the time being.

Wow! It was amazing! First part was very sandy and the car was shifting around on it as I drove. The next section was very bumpy, with some very steep downhill sections (low gear stuff). The scenery however, was absolutely superb! And views not seen by many a “normal” traveller!

We got thrown about, we were tipped sideways, upwards, downwards. We skidded, we hit some big pot holes and crossed river gullies. We crept passed huge boulders that overhung the car, after warnings of rock falls. It was ACE!

At least I thought so. Passengers we’re approving of the views, but not so of the “adventurous driving”. Particularly when the sky went black and we watched rain, thunder and lightning. What did that first sign say again?

Must confess to having a few moments of doubt, and given over the 42 miles of unpaved road we passed 4 cars, all heading in the opposite direction, away from the storms.

Photos will give you an idea, but I have a lot of the journey on the GoPro, so at some point I’ll upload some of the best bits and blog it in a bit more detail.

Anyway, we finally hit tarmac near the Kodachrome Basin State Park, with no damage to anything at all! If we’d have had more time, it would have been good to take a look there as well, and the 50-odd huge monolithic red rock spires.  Although, I think I would have been the only enthusiastic visitor.

I think its fair to say that Charlie is getting to that point where he will never want to see a canyon, “some more red rock” or a pueblo ever again in his life. As I  reminded him, only two more to go (Bryce Canyon  & Zion National Park), unless you include Death Valley, and  Yosemite, of course! 😉

We then headed back towards Kanab, where our hotel is, and the road took us through Red Canyon Tunnels and past the entrance to Bryce Canyon. Charlie looking non-plussed in the back of the car!

Whilst driving, I was overtaken by a “cowboy” in a white pickup truck, who after overtaking, threw what looked like a beer can out of his passenger window, which I managed to swerve. This annoyed me and I accelerated to take a photo of his number plate, in case I had reason to report him. Having checked his plate, I decided it was unlikely, as I think this Cowboy was from Brokeback Mountain – his car reg was “BOYZ2MEN”! Seriously? I’m comfortable with anyone’s sexuality, but the juxtaposition of stereotyping isn’t lost on me.

On arriving in Kanab, we checked in to the hotel and immediately did some “dobeying” (translation: “we washed and dried our worn clothes”). Arthur would be proud – he loved a bit of dobeying whilst on his hols!

A few hours to chill out before tea (last proper meal of the day, remember).

A quick drive up and down the Main Street, passing the place we stayed in our honeymoon, and then into an American “home cooking restaurant.

Clam chowder, followed by BBQ Ribs, and we were all “full as a bull”!

I had a bottle of Utah’s Uinta Brewing Golden Spike unfiltered Hefeweizen (4%) and boy is it unfiltered! It makes my homebrew look crystal clear! Not just cloudy, but yeast clumps floating around! Can’t say it floated my boat!

That’s been it for today. Tomorrow we head an hour and a half back up the road to Bryce Canyon, but have another night here in Kanab, so another relaxing day.

Night all!

West Coast USA – Day 6

Thought I’d treat myself to a lie-in after only getting to bed at just before midnight (astrophotographers stay up late!).

So, not sure why 3 & a bit hours later, I was trying not to wake the others, with my failed attempt to sleep. By 4am, I’d had enough and decided it was time to make up for my tardiness the sunrise before.

I was out of the door for 4:30, for a 5:32am sunrise. It’s odd, actually getting up at the time I normally start waking up at home. (I’m not a good sleeper, btw).

Bag packed, battery chargers connected, tripod (which is genuinely on its last 3 legs) stowed, and a short drive back up to Yavapai Point, where I was less than 5 hours previous.

Out of the car, and up to the viewing point, where I was amazed at the number of people that had made the effort – not too many to spoil it, but enough to remind you how much of a privilege it is to see. And everyone “got it” – it was respectfully quiet, but good spirited as well. Except for a fella from Japan who was seemingly trying to “snot-snort” the Grand Canyon in a one’r.

Speaking of the Japanese, I forgot to mention yesterday, that whilst we had a butty up at Hermits Rest, an older couple and their son, sat next to us, and got their lunch out. We were inthralled!

Plastic box, branded, and in a sealed wrap. Once open, there’s a top tray that comes out. Noodle type things go in, then some other “stuff” from various sachets, except one that Son tells Dad not to open.

Son gets water, and the unopened sachet is opened to reveal what looked like a sanitary pad. This goes in the main container, water added, the top tray is put on top, and the lid is replaced on top and snapped closed.

A few minutes later the whole contraption whistles, emits steam from a vent, and then the lid popped off under pressure, making us jump and the Japanese family laugh at us (all in good taste). Hot food on the go!

Anyway, back to today, taking sunrise photos is a technical, logistical, and artistic challenge. The scene changes by the second, and there are two ”subjects” – the view east with the sun rising over the horizon and the view west where the sunlight starts to light up the red rocks in the canyon. Exposure is changing by the second as well! All good fun.

Sunrise was well and truly done by 7am, so I headed back to see if the others were up. They were, so we packed up the car and headed to Yavapai village for breakfast.

We checked out and headed up Highway 89 towards Page. It’s about 2 1/2 hours drive in to the town, and fairly uneventful (nothing to break the journey up).

We had booked a tour of Upper Antelope Slot Canyon back in April, and we were well aware that this was the only tour that had availability for today, and weren’t intending to leave any room to screw it up. As such, we decided to go straight to Chief Tsosie’s gaff and make sure we have the correct time, as we are right on a time border (Utah being an hour ahead, and Navajo regions acknowledge summertime and also are an hour ahead).

Major faux pas to start, having called in at Antelope Canyon Tours to check our booking, to be told to go over the road to Antelope Slot Canyon Tours. Doh!

With times confirmed (5pm Arizona time) we had a few hours to explore before we could check in, so drove by the hotel on the way out to Horseshoe Bend, which is only a mile or so out of town.

Parked up, and into >38deg heat, suncreme on, water bottles filled and a 3/4 mike hike through sand, over a hill and down to the bend. Loads of people to-ing and fro-ing, so was concerned that we may not see the Horseshoe without peering over someone’s shoulder.

Turns out that although it’s busy, we still got some great views. The “Darwin Awards” were also in full swing with some “brave” people walking out on a tiny outcrop over the +1000ft sheer drop. It’s surprising that only 3-4 people per year fall to their deaths here, tbh.

The walk back was a killer as well – a long slow drag up the hill through sand and towards the searing sun, but we made it back to the car, aircon on full, and more water drunk.

We then drove out over the Glen Canyon Dam, and on to Wahweap Marina for lunch, where we picnic’d with real Road Runners (“Beep! Beep!”). They’re smaller than I expected, and not blue. Disappointing.

As we ate, we watched two or three storms come in around us, with a background rumble and lots of lightning. Wonder if our canyon trip will be cancelled?

Back to the (really nice, brand new) hotel for 3pm to check in, where we crashed out, with the exception of Jane, who’s face had gone purple, and was now feeling sick and lightheaded. A cool shower and more to drink for her!

At Antelope SLOT Canyon Tours, we were allocated to Truck 7, where our driver and guide would look after us.

The trucks had two rows of bench seating in the modified flatbed, with a sun shade over the top, and after getting strapped in, we set off through Page and then off-road across the desert flood plain to the entrance to the Slot Canyon.

It’s a small entrance (it’s actually the exit for water) to a canyon formed by flooding, that still occurs today. It’s a canyon not a cave, as it’s open to the sky albeit through a very narrow slot. This means that light “beams down” to the canyon floor and lights up the multicoloured , water-carved rocks.

Our guide was amazing! He talked everyone through how to take great photos of all of the fantastic views, along with providing some history on the canyon, it’s occupancy and almost overnight fame. He even played his Navajo pan pipes for us at the end whilst in one of the larger caverns, which sounded fantastic.

Back on the trucks into town, and although covered in a dusting of red sand, we went straight for tea (that’s tea as in the evening meal – breakfast, dinner and tea, in that order!).

We ate at Stombollis, a family run Italian that’s been going since 1982. We know that, because Jane and I ate here on our honeymoon, 25 years ago, and again with Ann & Arthur in 2000!

The food was great, the cold Flagstaff Amber Ale even better, and then back to the hotel for some sleep – we are all “happy exhausted” again, as usual!

A more chilled-out day planned tomorrow, although I do need to speak to Yosemite Park and work out what we do about it being evacuated, due to the bush fires.

Night all – see you tomorrow!

West Coast USA – Day 5

Woke at 2:30am, so snook around the room, checking camera was charged, phone charged, tripod and connectors at the ready, in advance of a 5:29am sunrise.

It’s a 30 minute walk down the trail to Yavapai Point, and I really wanted to be there 30 minutes beforehand, so a half-four set off.

Next thing I knew, it was 4:50, I’d nodded off and I was behind schedule! Bugger. A quick round up of my gear, and out the door.

As I walked through the woods to the Canyon rim, a large brown fox-like thing stood and watched me hurry by. I presume it was a fox. And not a coyote. Either way, I was too slow to get a photo, as the moment I lifted the camera he legged it.

Once at the rim, I knew I’d missed the pre-dawn sky colours, but the pictures and views I wanted to see were going to evolve over an hour or so, as the sun starts to rise and the sunlight swings down into the canyon, slowly lighting up the different layers.

Well, I got a few nice pictures, but more importantly, I was so relaxed and enjoying the moment.

Back to the lodge, and then once Jane & Charlie we’re up, we packed our day gear, went for a quick breakfast (and an abuse of the WiFi, posting yesterday’s blog), and then a drive west to the Bright Angel Lodge.

Ditched the car, a quick bit of gift shop browsing. Charlie bought himself the least sharp “baby” pen knife, but I think it was the inscription that swung it for him.

“Whos that for?” I asked. “Me”, he replied. “So why does it say ‘SEXY’ on it?”, I asked. I got a shrug and no further answers.

(Btw, it’s still “hotter than a snakes ass in a wagon rut” here, and still in the high 30s).

The plan was to take the bus (no cars past certain points), to Hermits Rest, at the most westerly point and then work back. We got to the bus queue though and nearly turned back to home. I reckon at one bus (70 people) per 15 mins, you were looking at at least an hours wait. No thanks!

Despite Charlie not being full of beans about the plan, we decided to take the rim trail to the next bus stop (and viewpoint), just short of a mile on. Although hot and hilly, we took it easy and got there within

20 minutes plus stoppage time for those moments when Jane & Charlie realised they had 4G!

I’ll not bore on about each of the many vantage points we stopped at. Suffice to say it’s a big hole 5000 foot deep, with some 3000ft vertical drops from the rim. It’s incredible, but words and pictures won’t convey just how incredible it is.

We got back to the car after lunch, and drove to Yavapai Point, watched an IMAX film about the canyon formation and growth of tourism, and then came back for a rest!

After a massive pizza tea, Jane & Charlie caught up on Internetty things, and I buggered off on my own to photograph the sunset, dusk and then the night sky. Nerd alert!

First thing I saw however were a group of elk, just roughing down in the evening sun. Bless ’em.

Not my best photos, as I tried mucking about with a few setting and experimenting. Some worked, some didn’t.

Must find out about the huge fire that’s burning over on the North Rim. As the sun went down, it was incredible to see how big and bright it was, given its probably 15 miles wide at that point.

On the walk back, despite it being an almost full gibbous moon (which makes deep sky astrophotography more difficult, due to its brightness), so had to be a bit more “creative” and use that to my advantage.

A keen start tomorrow, as we’ve a fair drive, and would like to see some of Lake Powell before we go and meet Navajo Chief Tsosie, who’s taking us down into Antelope Slot Canyon.

Catch you later!

West Coast USA – Day 4

Disappointed with the hotel last night, albeit “budget”. The guy who checked us in was so “un-American” with his service. Made us wait while he took a series of calls on his own mobile, and was brusque even when he eventually deigned to check us in.

The room was shabby chic without the chic, the aircon wasn’t cold enough, and the breakfast was, well, basic. Aye well, it was just one night and we’ve moved on again.

We set off around 7:30am and had a well planned route up to “GC”.

Back along Route 66, and then a left onto the 86 North. All very casual for us now! After a half hour or so, we turned off and headed around the Sunset Crater Volcano loop.

Our first stop was at a short trail which took us around a basalt lava field, the product of the volcano, that overshadowed us.

We parked up in an empty lay-by, only for the next car to park immediately next to us, making it difficult to even open the doors. In fact the berk also walked off without closing his sliding door on the side. I had our door open to get the camera out, he pressed his remote door close and his hit our door, thankfully not marking or dinting, but bloody annoying all the same.

Anyway, the trail was really cool. A huge swathe of Black lava, that had ripped up trees before solidifying. If my memory of my O Level Geography and plate tectonics section serves me well, the high basalt content makes it flow, whereas lower basalt is more rocky. Or it may be the other way around. Anyway this was sharp, pumice-like rocks, that weigh very little. A’a lava, I think?

On from there we did another, longer trail, which started from a newly redeveloped car park and trail head. A bigger lava field and literally onto the side of the volcano.

Sated with volcanoey things for one day, we moved on down the road, stopping briefly to see the “Painted Desert Vista”, another pueblo (Charlie confessed he’s “pueblo’d out, so gave that a miss), and then back on the main road towards the Grand Canyon.

The road in is long, and we’ll be driving back down it in a couple of days when we head up to Lake Powell. To break it up, we stopped at the Little Colorado River Viewing point, and gave Charlie his first take of a big canyon and drop off.

A touch of vertigo later, and down the road to the main entrance, where the “America is Beautiful”

annual pass served us proud again and got us in for nowt. To be fair, it’s $35/vehicle which is a decent price to see such a wonder.

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First stop was at the Desert View Watchtower (which looks ancient, but is actually steel framed and then clad!). Charlie sat right on the edge and took it all in. Even the unflappable can be flapped at such an impressive view!

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To give an idea of scale, it’s a 23 mile drive from the entrance to the main “hub” at Yavapai, and there’s another 7/8 miles further west.

We stopped at a few more views and:

a) admired the view

b) questioned people who bring dogs to a very very hot, high altitudes desert

c) watched natural selection at work as all sorts of eejits, climbed beyond the guide ropes just to get that real “on the edge” selfie.

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Eventually we got to Yavapai and checked in to our family “lodge” – 2x queen beds plus a bunk bed. Done really well, and as you would expect, very ecologically/environmentally low impact where possible when catering for over 5 million visitors per year.

We had a quick meal in the restaurant (cantina, tbh), and then a mooch in the General Store. My purchase was a six pack selection of my own making of beers.

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I’m writing this as I just start on an orange and tangerine-peel infused New Belgium Brewing “Citradelic” IPA at 6%, but confess that I had previously had their Voodoo Ranger, which has a picture of a skeleton in a WW II flying suit on the front. He must have crashed, to inspire the “cut pine and citrus” flavours, but given its 9%(!) ABV, was probably the reason he crashed in the first place!

We’re knackered so going to skip tonight’s sunset, but I’m aiming for “sunrise on the rim” tomorrow. Is this a theme emerging here?

Night all!

West Coast USA – Day 3

Wow! What. A. Day!

So much done. So many fabulous experiences! We even ate in a McDonalds without Golden Arches, but that’s for later!

I’m not adjusting to the time shift as much as Jane & Charlie, so still waking at 2am local time. That’s when I write these ramblings, but that suits me, the Fam’ and my own objective – I basically want to see as many sunrises and sunsets as I can over this amazing land.

This morning, I snook out on my own at around 5am with my camera and walked from our hotel through a deserted West Sedona towards Downtown and watched the sun rise over the stunning geological marvels that surround us.

Arriving back, Charlie & Jane were awake and Charlie had his customary dip. He’s decided his target is to swim in every pool at our accommodation. (He’ll kill me for uploading the photo).

Breakfast was an unusual setup, and having asked Thor (who was pool cleaning) for guidance he said to check his office window. Sure enough through his little sliding window we clouds help ourselves to pastries, fruit, yoghurts etc. So we did, and decided to leave our keys, checkout and set off somewhere more “scenic” to eat it.

With bags packed in my new arrangement (which freed up more user friendly camera storage space – these things make a difference!), we headed in to Downtown and ended up parking on a rooftop car park. Which bearing in mind it was still not 7am, was unsurprisingly deserted.

More scenic?! A car park? Yep. The views were incredible. And basically the same as the posh hotel we stayed in when last here 18 years ago with Janes Mum and Dad. We had intended to stay at L’Auberge again until we saw the prices (which when we were looking to book were £450 a night!) Bloody hell, we must have got a deal of the century last time!

From there, given nothing was open I decided that we should check out Airport Mesa, as it was less than 10 minutes away, and blimey I’m glad we did.

The short rocky hike to the summit is well worth it. 360 degree views of the surrounding landscape, and with it still being early, still had a nice warm cast to the light. If you go, for us this is a “must do”.

I happened to be wearing my City shirt, and was asked by an American, if I was Scottish “based on my accent”. I explained we are from Manchester. An Aussie then chipped in and began telling the Yank that the Jocks shirt was a soccer shirt and that we had been playing in the US this last week. In fact “Manchester” had been playing in Phoenix down the road. Plastic Man U fans get everywhere.

Having avoided pushing him off the cliff edge, but sickened by the encounter, we headed back to Downtown for just after 9am so Jane & Charlie could have a mooch in the wonderfully eclectic shops. Sedona attracts certain types of folk who believe that the surrounding rocks emanate a transcendentally mind-altering “vortex” and some of the shops appeal to those people.

Even at 9am the temperature was around 34degC and Charlie seems to be struggling today with the heat, and combined with our light breakfast, I suggested McDonalds if for no other reason to be able to say we’ve eaten in a Blue Maccy Dees.

Apparently, town planning felt the yellow of the “Golden Arches” didn’t suit the adobe colouring of much of the Sedona architecture. So they went for blue.

That over with (it was fine, but the McMuffins were still just McMuffins), we started today’s proper adventure with the Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Drive up to Flagstaff. We had hoped to stop at Slide Rock State Park, but they were queueing in the highway to get it, so we bailed on that one. Glad we did, as we saw the canyon park just a bit down the road. All I can say is it looked remarkably similar to Bolton Abbey on a May Day Bank Holiday Monday.

After a series of switchbacks and more climbing, we stopped off to look back down the valley. We remember this from our trip with Ann & Arthur in the summer of 2000. It was that trip that, combined with our honeymoon, has inspired this itinerary. We loved that holiday, but as much for their company as the scenery. We do miss them.

Back in the car and a short drive up into Flagstaff, where we drove past our hotel and onto Historic Route 66! With Chuck Berry on Spotify we trundled through Historic Downtown, and headed out onto the I40 and towards Winslow.

When we set this trip up, we had always planned to visit Meteor Crater “again”. In fact, we had even considered scattering some of Arthur’s ashes here, because he had put it as a “must do” on the 2000 trip. Last time however, we arrived at the gates to be told that it was closing and got turned away! We were all gutted. None more so than Arthur. Legal and logistical reasons meant we didn’t scatter ashes, but we do think we’ve closed that loop for him.

We got there in plenty of time this trip! Enough time in fact for “Larry” to invite us on a “guided rim tour”!

Any photos we take won’t do it justice (as is the case for most of these “big views”). To give scale it’s as deep as a 66 storey building and if you look at the white patch in the centre that’s a mine shaft area the size of a football pitch. With a telescope, you can make out a 6’6” astronaut suit.

After our “rimming”, due to the intense heat, we headed inside to watch a short but interesting film on its formation, but mainly because of the air conditioning tbh.

We also got to stroke the largest remaining piece of the asteroid, that weighs over a tonne and is valued at $3-5mil.

As we watched on, storm clouds rolled in and we began to see downpours, thunder and lightning, and having seen and done everything at the Barringer, we headed back to Flagstaff. I had intended to drive the extra 50min round trip just to see who the girl in a flatbed Ford was looking at that was “standin’ on the corner in Winslow, Arizona”. But I didn’t.

Hotel. Rude reception. Bad mood. Chilled for an hour.

Then went to the Texas Chainsaw Whorehouse Grill (its not actually called that, that’s a nickname from our Florida hols), and despite missing our usual partners in crime, did “the usual” and had a great steak, left more food than we ate, paid, and came back to the hotel.

Must mention that when Jane ordered her Sangria Margarita, the waitress asked her for ID. Doesn’t surprise me, even though I know she’s quite a bit older than 21! Whilst I won’t reveal her age, the reasons for this big trip are the fact it’s our 25th wedding anniversary, and that Janes next birthday has a zero at the end.

Jane and Charlie crashed out, but I had another revisit to do, so back in the car and off up the big hill to Lowell Observatory. Had a fabulous geeky couple of hours up there, watching satellites go by, looking at Saturn, Jupiter, Pluto and the Moon.

Back down the hill, and crashed out with the rest of them. Grand Canyon tomorrow and a nice double stopover, so a driving break for me.

Oh, by the way, we love the car, it’s brilliant! We are quite glad fuel is relatively cheap here though!

Ouch!

See you at the big hole, tomorrow!