A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: TheNomadWay.com

USA - Bryce National Park, Utah

sunny 29 °C

A scenic drive east of Zion is Bryce Canyon. In contrast, Bryce is full of ‘Hoodos’ which are stone pillars shooting out of the ground, made from orange and white rock. These Hoodos were originally part of the seabed millions of years ago, and the soft sandstone has now been uplifted and eroded in a certain way, leaving the tentacle appearance. Watching the sunrise over Bryce Canyon really highlighted the orange and red colours, although it was a little bit of a struggle getting up especially with the hour time difference in Utah! We then hiked down into the canyon through the surreal landscape of Hoodos, which were great to see up close.



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USA - Zion National Park, Utah

Utah has the 'Big 5 National Parks' dotted throughout the south, the first one we visited was Zion, in southwestern Utah. A highlight of Zion National Park is its Canyon, which is 24 km long and up to 800 m deep. Zion gained it’s name from the early Mormon Settlers, who arrived and proclaimed the land was holy. It's now visited by 4 million people each year.


Zion Canyon is characterized by waterfalls, pools, narrow canyon passages and dramatic sheer red cliffs, which have been carved out over years by the Virgin River. The guided shuttle bus made the park easy to access, and we loved the weeping wall, where the water pressure builds up inside the rocks and seeps out creating a gentle waterfall we could stand behind!


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USA - Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah

The landscape between Page and Zion National Park only got more amazing, we felt like we were in the Wild West with red rocky formations protruding out of the desert floor. We stopped off to see ‘The Toadstools’ a short hike into a valley full of odd shaped rocks somehow balancing precariously.


Then we drove into the southern side of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument where the ghost town of Paria lies. Used as an old set for Country Western movies, it was such a beautiful place to see, with different shades of colour through the rocks ranging from purple, green and red.

After a year of busing through South America, we’re really enjoying the luxury of travelling with a car, being able to stop when and where we want.


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USA - Page, Arizona

sunny 34 °C

We left the Grand Canyon and headed northeast towards the Utah border. We have heard great things about the National Parks in Utah and are pretty keen to check them out! The expanse of red desert, rock formations and canyons continued and our next stop was Page on the border of Arizona and Utah.

Page turned out to be a gem of a place to visit with lots nearby to explore! Glen Canyon, which leads into the Grand Canyon, winds its way through the valley here and ‘Horseshoe bend’ gave us great views of the deep canyon chiseled out by the Colorado River below. Glen Canyon Dam further upriver, dams the Colorado River before it enters the Grand Canyon and generates power for the region. This has created Lake Powell, a large lake in amongst the red desert and rock, now a holiday spot for boaters and families!


The highlight of Page was Antelope Canyon. In order to see the canyon we had to take a guided tour as the area is prone to flash flooding. It was amazing, we spent an hour winding our way along the beautiful red rock canyon, just under the ground, with orange hues with bursts of sunlight pouring through.


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USA - The Grand Canyon, Arizona

sunny 25 °C

We drove out of Las Vegas and left the neon lights behind us. Altitude increased as we climbed onto the Colorado Plateau, a large area of land uplifted thousands of years ago which led us into the The Grand Canyon.

The Grand Canyon used to lie under the sea, and plate activity has gradually lifted it up 2,000-3,000 m above sea level. The Colorado river has then sliced it's way through the soft red rock, eventually creating the canyon. Walking up to the edge of the canyon is flat land, you wouldn't even know it existed until arriving at the edge, where the land just dropped away from our feet.

We learnt a lot from the super Park Ranger talks on offer, our favorite program was stargazing on the edge of the Grand Canyon at 10 pm. It was a beautiful sight to see so many stars in the dark sky, and a little scary to learn how much light pollution there is throughout the world.


The Grand Canyon is a beautiful sight, so large it's difficult to comprehend. The red colour of the rocks came alive during the two sunsets we watched. We did some walks along the rim, which are easy to access and gave great views! A close call after getting charged at by an Elk made sure we stayed to the path and became very cautious!


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USA - Las Vegas, Nevada

sunny 37 °C

We waved goodbye to the beautiful West Coast and drove inland towards the desert....

After several hours driving across the desert we crossed into Nevada, the home of giant casinos and the land of gambling (or 'gaming' as it's called here) and we were greeted with a casino on the boarder! We rolled into Las Vegas in the evening, and saw ‘the strip’ lit up in all its neon glory. Vegas really is a mirage in the middle of the desert, a hub that’s risen out of the sand, full of extravagant casino buildings, hotels, shopping strips, resorts. It’s pretty hard to imagine until you’ve been and despite our pre-conceptions we loved it!


This time of year accommodation with air conditioning (and a pool) is essential. We stayed at a great spot on the north end of 'The Strip' of Casinos. We rested during the hottest part of the day and spent the warm evenings exploring 'The Strip'. There are numerous large casinos each based on a different theme, with extravagant interiors and exteriors, such as The Venetian with canals and Gondolas running through the inside of the Casino! The Mirage, appropriately named as a mirage in the desert, has a light show every half hour in the evening. And the Bellagio has a water show also running frequently during the evening. 'The Strip' also features the Eiffel Tower, Egyptian Pyramid, and New York, New York Casinos (complete with a Statue of Liberty).

We aren't big fans of gambling, but found there was still plenty to see and do. There are large number of shows on offer, high end shopping, resorts and pools galore and being the happy go lucky man he is, Paul won a a suited black jack, scoring a free ride on the High Roller ferris wheel! The nights escaped us and we found ourselves walking home as the sun came up two nights in a row...


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USA - Los Angeles, California

sunny 28 °C

California is a pretty interesting state to visit as there is a large Latin American influence and many people speak in Spanish. California was originally colonized by Spain (who also colonized most of Latin America) and built a string of religious Missions along the coast in the 1500's. This was followed by Mexican rule until California became part of America in the mid 1800's. LA is a diverse city comprising of many contrasting suburbs, and it's hard to believe they are all part of the same city.

We stayed in an apartment we booked via Airbnb in West Hollywood, a short stroll away from Hollywood Boulevard and not so far from the infamous hilltop sign. This area has a retro, dated feel, and lots going on. After exploring the Hollywood Walk of Fame we had dinner in a fun 1960’s diner (they even had a veggie burger for Lucy).


Beverly Hills and Rodeo Drive are where the rich and famous live, Paul and I felt a little bit like impostors walking along here! Paul was pretty excited by all the supercars in a three block radius. And a trip to LA wouldn't be complete without going to see the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, we found the mansion but unfortunately Will Smith was out! There are so many extravagant mansions this side of LA, housing the stars of Hollywood.


Santa Monica Pier situated on the large and popular beach, was a beautiful spot to visit in the evening and a little more down to earth than the Beverly Hills side of town. The warm night air had lots of people out, wandering down and fishing off the pier and almost everyone speaking in Spanish. We almost felt like we were back in South America again. A stroll down third street promenade meant a giant martini was on the cards...strawberry and mango - very delicious!

A visit to Universal Studios was a great day, which comprised of a Studio Tour and theme park entry. The studio tour was great, we even saw some sets we recognised (!) The theme park incorporated recently released movies with state of the art rides and 4D technology. For people who aren't big theme park lovers, we loved it! Disneyland was our final stop in LA, known as the 'happiest place on earth,' after some more rides and beautiful weather, the evening water show and fireworks finished the day nicely!


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USA - Monterey Big Sur and the California Coast

overcast 25 °C

After picking up a new battery for the car (yes two jump starts in two weeks wasn't a good sign) we drove back out to the coast we arrived in Monterey, a holiday destination to many San Franciscans, and home to the famous Pebble Beach golf course situated on the edge of the ocean. Along with the golf course there is a scenic 17-mile drive with great views over the coastline and some Sea Lions, Cormorants and Elk along the way.


Big Sur National Park was our next stop, a beautiful part of the Californian coast, where green hills drop down to cliffs with the open ocean below. We camped in a gorgeous National Campground in Big Sur and then made our way further south. This time of year there is often a haze over the coastline and we were lucky it lifted at times for us to enjoy the view and see the beautiful road we were travelling along. Piedras Blancas is a protected beach for Elephant Seals, which are slowly regaining their numbers after being close to extinction in the 1990’s. They are massive and the males usually grow up to 5 meters long weighing over 2 tonne!

We made our way further down the coast and camped on the beach that evening, it was a peaceful way to fall asleep listening to the waves.


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USA - Yosemite National Park, California

sunny 27 °C

Yosemite is a beautiful National Park, sitting like an oasis in the middle of dry, central California. Large granite boulders and cliffs characterize the park, which were formed by molten lava trapped beneath the earth’s crust thousands of years ago. During the ice age a glacier carved a deep path and exposed the smooth granite, leaving behind a beautifully sculpted valley.


We camped for three nights and explored different parts of the National Park. The valley has a river running through the base and one of the hikes involved walking up the valley side, for great views down. The north side of the park sits between 2,500-3,000 meters in altitude and has flat grasslands which has herds of Elk roaming through at sunset. We did a great hike into a place called Clouds Rest, which took us onto a large granite slab jutting out into the middle of the valley with 360 degree views, very rewarding after the tough climb at that altitude.

On the southern side of the park is another great viewpoint called Glacier Point, we took the easy way out and drove up to this one! Then on to Mariposa Grove which has the giant Sequoia trees, an offshoot of the Redwoods of Northern California. The Sequoia tree doesn’t get quite as tall but makes up for it by being even wider, making them the largest living thing on earth!

During our camping we learnt to be very bear cautious, leaving all our food in bear-proof lockers and not in the car as the bear’s sense of smell is so strong they can break into cars, completely ruining them in search of food. Franklin managed to survive the 3 nights, luckily as we were sleeping inside!


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USA - San Francisco, California

semi-overcast 25 °C

What an amazing city!! We felt as though we'd been transported into Europe or South America. The majority of the city was destroyed by an earthquake and resulting fire in 1906. But you wouldn't know looking at the city today. The city is defined by pockets of bohemian neighbourhoods, downtown business district, Chinatown, little Italy, sunny hilltops, trams (or 'cable cars' as they're called here), Colonial buildings mixed together on a peninsula being lapped at the the Pacific Ocean. We wore our feet out on a full day walking tour (from our guidebook) exploring the city - and I think it's the best way to see San Francisco!


On our second day we took our bikes in and rode along the foreshore lined with piers. The Ferry Building is a busy upscale market place, fun to walk through and we picked up a coffee from the popular Bluebottle cafe (well worth the line). Seafood Chowder was a must-do tourist stop at Pier 39, served in gigantic cob loaves! With our stomachs full we were ready to visit the infamous Alcatraz Island. A 15 minute ferry ride took us onto the island where we began our audio tours (All visits out to Alcatraz include ferry and audio tour, and tickets must be purchased a few days to a week in advance).

"The Rock" as it's known, began its days as a lighthouse, but is more widely known as it housed a high level security prison from 1933-1963. The audio tour was really interesting and a little spine-chilling with accounts from inmates and prison guards. Back on the mainland we rode further around the coast and across the Golden Gate Bridge - one of two gigantic bridges leading into San Fran, before watching the sun set over the city. That's when we realised we were 15kms away from home without any bike lights...


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USA - Silicon Valley, California

sunny 24 °C

Just south of San Francisco is an area known as Silicon valley due to the large number of computing enterprises in the area. Paul couldn't wait to see some of the large corporations- within about a 20km radius lie the Apple, Google, Facebook and Intel headquarters. We drove past the large offices, Google was the most interesting to see with rows of Google branded bikes lining the curb.

The Computer History Museum gave us a good insight into the evolution of technology and the computer, and we ended the trip seeing a self-driving Google car! Stanford University is also in this area, and we spent a few hours wandering through it's beautiful palm tree-lined campus. We have friends living in Redwood City who kindly invited us to stay, we had fun catching up and hanging out with their cat Brutus!


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USA - Napa Valley, California

sunny 30 °C

Time for some Vino! Just an hour north of San Francisco Napa is nestled into a dry inland valley, perfect wine growing county. It was a fun day trip to visit some of the extravagant wineries in the area, but beautiful weather coupled with the weekend made it a busy day! The Napa Valley floor stretches for 50 kms with hundreds of wineries dotted along. Limos and convertibles flew by and tastings were $25 and up. The tasting rooms ranged from farmhouse style, to Spanishesque open plazas. We found a nice market for lunch - located in Napa town itself called ..... it was bustling and full of deli lunch options, perfect to pair with some tasty wine.


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USA - Redwoods, California

semi-overcast 20 °C

The Redwoods are amazing trees. They grow up to 100m tall, can live 1-2 thousand years and are the tallest trees on earth. Some of these trees were alive dating back to 500 AD and have seen the face of the earth change. Unfortunately 98% of the Redwood trees were logged by settlers, with three pockets still preserved on the northwestern Californian coast which we visited. These areas are Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park, Del Norte Coast Redwood National State Park and Humboldt Redwoods State Park.


There are lots of hikes through the forest, we enjoyed visiting some of the groves where clusters of the largest trees lie untouched. Another nice surprise were the elk roaming through the meadows between the forests. The drive down the 'Avenue of the Giants' was pretty spectacular, the old highway weaves its way around the gigantic trees for 50 kms. We stopped and camped along this avenue, and it was such an experience to sleep in amongst the majestic trees, we felt like miniature people, as though we'd stumbled into the land of the giants!


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USA - Crater Lake, Oregon

sunny 8 °C

It was hard to leave the rugged and beautiful Oregon coast, however after a few hours drive inland we arrived at Crater Lake, and wow what a sight! The crater is situated at 2,000 meters of altitude, and was created when a large volcanic eruption caused the mountain to collapsed in on itself. Slowly, over thousands of years the crater filled with rainwater and melting snow which created the lake.

The water is extremely pure as there are no rivers leading in or out of the lake, which gives the lake a beautiful deep blue colour. Even in May, the last month of Spring here, there are several meters of snow lining the edge road, as the high altitude causes a cool climate. We camped at Union Creek Campground, just outside the Crater Lake National Park and met a great American couple from Michigan who we toasted marshmallows (or ‘mallows’) with over a roaring fire, before spending another cosy night in our van.


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USA - Oregon Coast!

semi-overcast 21 °C

We had planned to spend one day driving down the Oregon coast. Google maps told us it would take about 3 hours. How wrong we were... It is one of the most spectacular coastlines we’ve ever seen and we couldn’t possibly rush it!

Our first stop was Haystack Rock, a large rock protruding out of the ocean at Canon Beach, with a green mossy top covered with birds. Along this part of the coast there are many rocks eroded away from the shoreline jutting out, wide sandy beaches and lush pine tree covered banks makes it spectacular scenery all the way along. Fish and chips for dinner – yum yum!


We camped in our van and second time around it was a lot more comfortable, and a little less cold helped too! We made our way south, checking out the views in lots of places along the way. On advice from the Tourist Info Centre we visited the Tillamook Cheese Factory – a great spot to view a cheese factory and sample some tasty cheeses for free! We couldn't leave empty handed and once we’d decided if we were getting the pepper jack, garlic or smoked pepper cheese we kept moving to the Blue Herron. This was a sweet barn-style store just so happened to be hosting their ladies night when we stopped by. We enjoyed some wine and (more) cheese tasting, along with some cute farm animals roaming about the property. Cape Lookout National Park was a super spot to camp in that evening, right on the edge of a very beautiful, wide beach with great campground facilities.

Our final day along the coast brought us through whale watching at Depot Bay, along with fish filleting on the peer, done by some very skilled fishmongers. More breathtaking views along the coast, and some rocky walks before setting up camp in Jessie Honeyman National Park just south of Florence, located on the edge of a vast 60km stretch of coastal sand dunes!


The Oregon coast has been amazing, and the Oregon State Parks have been great for camping, well equipped and economical, especially if you enjoy waking up surrounded by nature.

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