The end of Week 19 of our trip
25.07.2009 - 28.07.2009 40 °C
For those who haven't invested their travel savings in Timeshare, there are a couple of obvious routes out of Vegas. Whilst we intended to return to LA eventually, we spent our final few nights in the US in some of the places I'd been unable to get to on my previous trip to the West Coast. Visiting the Hoover Dam and Grand Canyon National Park took us from Nevada into Arizona, before the long drive back across the Mojave Desert to LA, finishing our time in the US.
The Hoover Dam
Sunset over the Grand Canyon
The Hoover Dam
About an hour's drive from Vegas, on the way to the Grand Canyon, is the Hoover Dam. Built with an array of purposes, it was completed in 1936 under the sponsorship of President Herbert Hoover. Often found in lists of Modern Wonders of the Engineering World, the dam provides electricity, a river crossing, controlled irrigation, a recreational lake, and one of the busiest tourist attractions we've seen. The official tour was overpriced (at $30 a head) so we wandered the length of the dam and admired the scale of the facility, as well as the views of the Colorado River.
Given the enormity of the dam, and the fact that the only pedestrian access is on top of the structure itself, it's not easy to get good photos. Instead – by way of a treat for our Civil Engineer readership – is a shot of the impressive road bypass bridge they are building adjacent to the dam.
Large road bridge, under construction
Grand Canyon National Park
Probably the best-known National Park in the world, Grand Canyon is invisible on the approach. Driving through hours of Arizonan desert with only the occasional blip on the flat horizon, the National Park kiosk is the only warning of the canyon's proximity. It wasn't until we parked and walked to the South Rim that we peered over and got our first glimpse of the canyon. The apparent size of the gap in the earth had us wondering if it was an illusion, a trick that our eyes were playing on us. Because the vista has remained completely untouched, it is difficult to get a sense of proportion or scale. We agreed that the only thing to do was to walk down it.
We were strongly advised not to attempt a trip to the river and back (the canyon's 1.5km deep and 40 °C at the bottom), but went about halfway down to Plateau Point. The trails are excellently equipped ,with regular water springs, so it is not necessary to estimate and carry enough water for the full walk, which took about 6 hours. Whilst lovely when we started around 6am, the temperature was oppressive by noon.
First half of the walk over, just the uphill part to go....
The geography of the area (the plummeting canyon in the middle of vast, flat plains) makes for beautiful sunrises and sunsets. Combined with the extreme heat and high air pressure, storms are often close, and we were lucky enough to witness (and just about photograph!) a fierce lightning storm at sunset.
The tail-end of a lightning strike
Joshua Tree National Park
Our final stop in the US was to be Joshua Tree National Park, which is a handy overnight stop between Grand Canyon and LA. Due to a malfunction with my navigator (who was busy penning a rather important speech), we missed the turning to Joshua Tree and ended up in the junction town of Barstow, where we spent our final night. Of course we considered returning to the overshot freeway exit, but given we'd missed it by a little over 150 miles, decided we could live without seeing the cactus-like trees.
And now we're preparing for our trip from LA up to British Columbia (Canada), for the final two weeks of Part 1 of our Round The World adventure. Not including the 33 hour bus ride on which we're about embark, we've clocked up well over 3,000 miles from San Diego to San Francisco, through the National Parks and back round to LA. This has given me plenty of time to reflect on our month in the US, and as I missed out on being able to report on Joshua Tree, I've used the space to share some thoughts.
The overwhelming thing that has struck me during this visit to the US is how well the National Parks system works. I'm not our party's expert on National Parks (she's currently trying to understand how the Joshua Tree turning got away from us), but the variety, accessibility and affordability of the Parks is astonishing. There are about as many Parks as there are States, with California being blessed with more than it's fair share. With the little time we had in the Parks we experienced the landscape and temperature contrasts of Yosemite and Death Valley, the iconic Sequoias and the immense views of the Grand Canyon. In each of these – and I'm sure it's the same in many of the other Parks – there is the potential for weeks or even months of exploration, camping and a dazzling offering of activities and Ranger's talks. As I consider that a family of six can access all the parks for a whole year for less than the price of an evening in Pizza Hut, I'm left in little doubt that this is the best example of large-scale recreation we're like to see during our year away.
In our attempts to see so much of California as possible (as well as a little of Nevada and Arizona), we've spent plenty of time in our car. Following the unfortunate reformatting of our iPod, we've been at the mercy of American radio stations, and a large proportion of the stations with the ability to reach beyond city limits are those who's objective is to ensure that the listening population have access to detailed information regarding current events in Washington DC. The majority of these are speaking in strong opposition of the current administration, and in particular voicing detailed concerns with the proposed Healthcare Plan, as well as the imminent confirmation of the first Hispanic US Supreme Court Justice. Whether I agree with the views being aired or not, I think that having the freedom to widely broadcast these opinions reassures me that 'minority' voices can be heard, and that this element of free speech is protected.
And finally... we've spent a relatively long time in America and had the opportunity to go beyond the veneer that we've experienced during previous visits. Behind the slick tourist machine that we saw at work in San Diego, San Francisco and Vegas, we shared Yosemite hiking trails with Californians, some local food recommendations on the coast and even a day at the home of our friends in Reedley. In each case, once we stopped being tourists and started to see glimpses of real Californian life, we were impressed with everything we encountered. I would certainly consider living in California, based on the new experiences I've had here.
ok, time to stock up on bus snacks. 33 hours without an iPod beckons. Hope we don't miss any turn offs...
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