Once upon a time and not so long ago I was a much more adventurous spirit. On my first trip to the wonderful state of California I decided that instead of flying between San Francisco and San Diego we should hire a car and drive down. I say ‘we’ but in fact it is me as I am the only driver. Looking at a map I also decided that the fun way to do this would be to travel along the original Pacific Highway and not the new and quicker route the 101.
The PCH (Pacific Highway) is one of those iconic drives that should be done in a pink Cadillac convertible with the top down making the most of the azure blue skies and brilliant Californian sunshine with plenty of Beach Boys and Mamas and Papas CDs on board. In reality this was February and an open top car was not an option.
I planned several stopovers along the route so we didn’t have to rush down and could have the opportunity to stop along the way and visit places, admire views. I hadn’t really taken into account the February weather. Even in California the sun don’t shine all the time.
So, if you fancy a road trip then fasten your seatbelt and let’s get going to Carmel, where once Clint Eastwood was the mayor. San Francisco to Carmel
One thousand, nine hundred and seventy-five miles and I am finally back home in Cornwall. Not spent enough of this month at home to do a challenge post on the Cornish blog, so here is a summary of my September elsewhere in the UK.
Starting with a wedding in Colchester, Essex and then winding slowly northwards along the eastern side of the country to Edinburgh, where I met up with the delightful restless one – fellow blogger Jo who has now retreated to her home in the Algarve for a rest. Finishing with a relaxing week in the “Country of the Big Trees” – Perthshire and a brief stopover in Shrewsbury to visit the mother-in-law.
bird of paradise
The wedding went off fine, a lovely bright and sunny day after a couple of humid and grey ones so the ceremony and the buffet were held outdoors. A beautiful cake made up of dozens of flower-iced cupcakes, unfortunately I prefer my cake to have more cake than icing and this wasn’t the case. Looked incredible though. And neither the bride nor her father managed to trip over on the uneven flooring!
Weather-wise it was a pretty good month. Began with hot and humid in Essex, a wet day in Norwich, sunshine and clear skies in Lincolnshire, back to hot and humid in Durham followed by a couple of days in the murky fog and damp, before becoming sunny and bright once more in Scotland. Rained pretty much all the way home, but you can’t have it all!
I will write about each of the places we visited in turn, once I have sorted through the hundreds of photos and caught up with stuff back home – not least the garden which appears to have gone wild during my absence.
[the header image is of the skyline in Edinburgh – for some reason the skyline caught my eye there more than anything else – all those spires and chimneys]
The Cardinal is continuing his photo project throughout 2016 – a blogging event, a monthly photo challenge. Read his blog for the new rules this year (he is running two versions) and to view his interpretation and those of other participants.
It was August 2003. We were in what felt like the middle of nowhere in the thriving, spirited outback centre of Alice Springs.
Some of you may know Alice from the 1950 novel by Nevil Shute or the subsequent film ‘A Town Like Alice’. We were there to set off on an adventure into the deep centre – to the Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park about 463 kms direct by road from Alice in the Northern Territory of Australia.
It is one of those iconic places that you fear will not live up to the hype. That you will arrive and be disappointed. And it was a long drive to be disappointed at the end of it.
Setting out in our hired Toyota Land cruiser (a giant beast that was total overkill as there was only the two of us, but the smaller Rav4 was unavailable) we headed for our first stop in Kings Canyon.
Feeling adventurous I decided that we would travel west through the West MacDonnell Ranges to Glen Helen, along the Mereenie Loop Road which is unsealed most of the way but passes incredible places along the way like Standley Chasm, Palm Valley and the Glen Helen Outback resort (all of which we had explored during the two previous days.) Nowadays I believe you need to purchase a permit to travel along part of this route, but then it was not required. And it is now known as the Red Centre Way. You cannot travel on an unsealed road in Australia in an ordinary hire car so make sure if you want to follow this route that you book a 4WD. All you have to deal with are pretty bad corrugations in places which take some adjustment in finding the optimum speed where you are not shaking the teeth out of your head, nor going so slow that you feel every bump! It is a lovely drive through some beautiful desert country, certainly more appealing than the much longer detour along the sealed highway.
If you don’t make any stops along the route the drive to the Kings Canyon resort is around 3 1/2 hours. There you will find 300 metre sheer cliff faces and a palm-fringed swimming hole and you can take the Kings Canyon Rim Walk for breathtaking views over the red landscape. We stayed in a basic cabin and enjoyed a walk in the valley before heading to the restaurant for barbecued steaks and a live country music band who invited people to get up and dance. Of course things will have changed since this trip and you can now have an ‘Under a Desert Moon Fine Dining Experience‘ which will more than likely set you back a whole lot more than what we paid for the entire trip!
Leaving Kings Canyon the following day (though I would recommend spending two nights at the resort if you can as there is much to see) we continued south along the Luritja highway for 300km to Uluru which is a huge monolith created some 600 million years ago. As we reached the Lasseter Highway we could see the third largest monolith in the distance – Mount Connor – (located 100 kms east of Uluru) which never gets much of a mention, but is quite a sight, rising up in the middle of the desert. You can book a 4WD day trip from the Ayers Rock resort which includes dinner at the Curtin Springs Station’ homestead and provides you with a quintessential Aussie Outback experience.
So on to the main event – Uluru. If I had thought that Mount Connor looked impressive I was totally astounded by this rock which is accepted as the largest Monolith in Australia and claims to be the largest monolith in the world. After dropping off bags in our accommodation in the Outback Pioneer Hotel and Lodge, we set off for the base of the monolith to have a walk and then to get into position to see the sunset.
You don’t have to spend a fortune when visiting this part of the world (which is now rated to be the third most expensive resort to visit) as you can camp or stay in cabins and drive around yourself taking in the views and the park, and walk around the base (9 km) or in Kata-Tutja. Of course if you want 5* luxury spa hotels, flights over the rock, rides on camels or Harley Davidsons and dine outside under the stars with gourmet dining, then you can. But we didn’t.
The next day we got up early to watch the sun rise. The rock really does glow and there is something very magical about it. Its history, its significance in Aboriginal culture, its location, the peacefulness. Even with the crowds it still feels special. We carried on to the Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) which are further on into the park and where there are two walks open to everyone: The Valley of the Winds, a 7 km beauty that makes a loop to two spectacular lookout points, takes about three hours and is easy-going. Do it in the early morning to avoid the crowds and the Walpa Gorge Walk, an easier 2.6 km stroll that takes in a nice representative of the native wildlife and plants of the park.
I can’t recall which trail we followed, but walking between the steep walls of red sandstone, listening to flocks of finches, looking at the wild flora, and above all, the feeling of space and no crowds of people, was my favourite part of the trip. Like Ayers Rock, these rock formations are most spectacular at sunrise and sunset when the light seems to give them a magical red glow.
Returning to Alice along the Luritja Road we turned off onto Ernest Giles Road (unsealed for about 70 km) for a ride on a rich red and dusty road – take care though, as this is the one and only time that I literally took off! Driving too fast over a hidden dip, the land cruiser flew through the air before landing somewhat shakily on the other side, after that I took things a little more slowly.
A few kilometres before the road joins the Stuart Highway leading back to Alice we passed the Henbury Meteorite Conservation reserve where we stopped for a stretch of legs and a walk around this unusual site. Henbury Meteorites Conservation Reserve contains 12 craters which were formed when a meteor hit the earth’s surface 4,700 years ago. The Henbury Meteor, weighing several tonnes and accelerating to over 40,000 km per hour, disintegrated before impact and the fragments formed the craters.
Uluru was even better than I had imagined, despite the amount of tourism (and I suspect it has increased over the past 10 years) and unexpectedly the walk in Kata Tjuta and the drives on those mystical red dusty roads through the Outback were additional highlights for me.
Have you visited an iconic site? And if so did it live up to your expectations or were you left feeling a little bit cheated?
Wednesday and our last day. Our flight home was from Las Vegas airport at 17:35 so we had time for a last drive into Zion after a leisurely breakfast (as we also gained an hour crossing into Nevada).
Again we drove along the Valley Floor road where you can appreciate the wonderful views of the rock formations towering above you.
“ I have looked for this mountain all my life but never expected to see it in this world. This is the Great White Throne.“
After Fisher praised the striking presence of the Great White Throne he turned toward what would become Angels Landing and stated
“The Angels would never land on the throne, but would reverently pause at the foot [of Angels Landing].“
At the end of the Valley Floor road is the Temple of Sinawava with high sheer cliffs streaked black on the red iron oxide by waterfalls, many of which are dry in the winter months. A riverside walk runs alongside the North Fork of the Virgin River which leads in to the Narrows, named for the narrowest section of the canyon. This 16 mile narrow canyon is where hikers splash up or down the shallow waters. Parallel cliffs soar 2,000 feet overhead, only 30 feet apart in places.
Court of the Patriarchs was named for three towering figures of the Old Testament, these sandstone cliffs hold court over Birch Creek Canyon and this section of the Virgin River. In 1916 Fisher gave the religious names to the peaks; Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Finally we left the park and headed west out of Springdale along Highway 9 following the Virgin River to Virgin and Hurricane and on to the Interstate 15 to Las Vegas, Nevada. Our final state of the trip.
In Virgin there is a turn-off to hike down the left fork of North Creek which leads to a geological feature called the Subway. Over time water rushing through a hole in the rock has formed a rounded out tunnel.
Near Hurricane you find the Quail Creek reservoir and the ghost town of Grafton where scenes from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were filmed.
Nevada – almost at Las Vegas
We had no intention of spending any time in Las Vegas other than reaching the airport and dropping off the hire car. As we neared the city the air above was yellow with pollution and the Interstate became much busier, so much so that we missed our turn-off and had to circle round which was a bit worrying as the fuel gauge was getting close to empty. I always find driving in strange cities quite stressful and even more so after days of being out in the vast open spaces with hardly any vehicles on the road.
So “Goodbye Las Vegas”.
It has been the most wonderful road trip and despite the overnight snowfalls, we have experienced lovely weather, cold, but dry. The Canyon Circle is fascinating – so many geological features to gaze at in wonder. We have nothing like it here on such a scale. I only wish we’d made more time and incorporated Monument Valley, Four Corners Monument, Arches National Park and The Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada. Who knows whether we will ever come this way again?
When a man is away from Nature
His heart becomes hard
~ a Native American proverb
I have seen many sights on this road-trip to take my breath away, Sedona, the Red Rock Canyon, the Vermilion Cliffs, Balanced Rocks, Grand Canyon’s depths, Bryce’s hoodoos, Lake Powell’s stillness and Zion’s peace. A journey of over 1,000 miles in little over 6 days and every day even more amazing than the last.
After breakfast at Ruby’s we took a couple of hours to revisit Bryce canyon, this time stopping at different viewpoints within the Amphitheatre Region. In winter you cannot travel to the south of the park and because of the heavy snowfall over the weekend even some of the usually accessible points were only open to cross-country skiers, not vehicles, and the delightfully named Fairyland Point was closed. No matter. We got all the views we could hope to see from Inspiration Point, Sunset Point and Sunrise Point. It must be wonderful to be able to hike the trails among the hoodoos in the spring/summer months. Queen’s Garden Trail, Navajo Loop and Peekaboo Loop are just a few.
Bryce Amphitheatre is the largest natural amphitheatre in the park. Vast panoramas can be seen from Inspiration Point and Sunrise Point which feature the Black Mountains in the northeast and Navajo Mountain in the south.
Technically Bryce is not a canyon because canyons are primarily carved by flowing water – a stream or river. Naturally acidic rainwater dissolves limestone, making the rounded edges of hoodoos, but the freezing and thawing of water does most of the sculpting at Bryce.
Sunset Point – a good viewpoint
Back on the road we stopped again in Red Canyon, to get a few more photos. There are several trails here too: Hoodoo Trail, Pink Ledges trail and Bird’s Eye Trail all moderate terrain and where you can see the rare plant species of the region and perhaps some of the wildlife too (mule deer, bobcats, eagles).
We were not shod for the snow, but managed to wander around a little to read the useful information plaques dotted around (and which are the source of information for this post). The most interesting is the legend of Butch Cassidy. There is even a 9 mile Cassidy Trail close by, believed to have been used by the outlaw. North on Highway 89 towards Circleville is the cabin where Cassidy was raised, born Robert Leroy Parker, he was the oldest of 13 children of Mormon immigrants and formed a gang, the Wild Bunch, in his teens.
Turning south onto the 89 the Sevier River winds it way alongside, like a black snake in all the snow. Around nearby Duck Creek modern ranches stand alongside decaying remains of ancient buildings. Horses’ breath steaming in the cold. At Hatch there were loads of antique shops, and any other time we’d have stopped for a browse, but we wanted to move on to the final destination on our itinerary. Pretty stands of Aspens lined the road, pink, white and yellow twiggy branches in the air.
If you turned north at the 89 / 12 junction you would reach the town of Panguitch – a name from a Native American word meaning big fish where there is year-round fishing. The most interesting story about the town though is the annual Panguitch Quilt Walk, celebrated in June every year when locally made quilts are on display.
The town was settled in 1864. The first winter was very tough. Frost killed all the crops before harvesting. A few men tried to get to a nearby town for supplies but they kept falling through the several feet of snow. They discovered that if they lay down a quilt, walked over it, lay down another in front and retrieved the last one, they could walk over the frozen landscape. This ‘Quilt Walking’ enabled them to get to the nearby town and back and helped the settlers of Panguitch to survive.
Back at Mount Carmel Junction we turned right onto Highway 9 the east highway that leads into Zion National Park via tunnels and a switchback to the canyon floor. It was created to allow tourists to make their way round the Grand Circle of parks (Zion, Bryce and the Grand Canyon).
On entering the park at the eastern end you notice two things – the road is red to blend in with nature around it and the geology is spectacular.
Found near the east entrance is the Checkerboard Mesa. The name stems from the cliff’s distinctive chequerboard pattern. The horizontal lines are caused by cross-bedding, a remnant of ancient sand-dunes. The vertical lines formed because of the contraction and expansion of the sandstone.
The road loops and winds alongside Pine Creek until the tunnels where we waited in a queue to get through – larger vehicles need to be accompanied which is why there is a waiting time.
Some people had parked up to walk out to the Canyon Overlook Trail. It is very steep and narrow though so not suitable for everyone and can be extremely icy in winter. I walked a little way, before turning back, but did get to see some bighorn sheep on the way.
The tunnels were blasted through 1,000 feet high sandstone cliffs, the second one being over a mile long. Exiting the tunnel you get a good view of the Canyon and some of its most famous formations including the Great White Throne. There is a steep, 10 mile drive down switchbacks to the valley floor.
We drove through to the park’s southwest entrance and in to Springdale where we had booked a night in the Zion Canyon B&B only 1/2 mile from the entrance and close to park shuttle buses (summer months only). A bit early to check in we found a lovely little deli and gift shop where we had good freshly made sandwiches and coffee for lunch. The best food so far.
The Canyon was once home to the Anasazi (a Native Indian word meaning Ancient Ones) whom historians believed lived here 2000 years ago and up to the 13th century. The Paiutes discovered the canyon next and were living here when the first white people (Spanish Padres Silvestre Vélez de Escalante and Francisco Dominguez and the fur trapper Jedediah Smith) came through in the 1700s.) The first Mormon settler was Isaac Behunin who is credited with giving the Canyon its biblical name of Zion. Meaning a place of rest and refuge (Ancient Hebrew = sanctuary). Many of the rock formations have biblical names too.
In the afternoon we returned to the park and drove along the Scenic Floor of the Valley Road stopping at various places along the route, including the Emerald Pools Loop, Angels Landing and Temple of Sinawava. The Emerald Pool was very disappointing, after following a rather icy trail I reached the first pool (puddle) which was a muddy brown. The trail continued underneath a dismal waterfall onto even more uneven ground at which point I turned back.
We were going to eat at the Whiptail Grill near the gas station on the edge of Springdale, but it closed at 7:30 p.m so we were too late. Most of Springdale’s restaurants were closed in March, but we finally found Blondies open where we had a decent burger and fries. Unfortunately much of Utah is dry so I opted for an ice-tea (thinking it would be one of those lemony sweet drinks) only to find it tasted just like bitter cold tea, and I do not like tea! Major fail. By now I was getting withdrawal symptoms for a good bottle of red wine.