Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The last cowboy

After seventeen days, 2000 miles (3220km), seven states, eight national parks and fifteen motels, our second USA road trip has come to an end. Inspired, and with new insights, we're leaving for Belgium in the morning.

Along the way, we documented our journey in these posts:

Thanks for reading! When I return, I'll get back to more technical writing.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The road goes on forever

We didn’t get to see a lot of Salt Lake City. Before heading to Idaho Falls, we hung around at the mall, feasted on Sushi, and bought new hiking shoes since ours literally fell apart.
Since Idaho Falls just served as a launching point to Yellowstone, we filled the hole in our schedule with a date night; we had BBQ and went to see WorldWar Z.

After another long drive the next day, we exchanged the dirt for greener scenery. We drove through Grand Teton, to get to of one our last and most anticipated destinations; Yellowstone National Park. We spent two days here, in which we drove across the extensive volcanic area, stopping at all popular attractions (geysers, pools, waterfalls…), spotting and stalking wildlife on the way. 
Instead of a motel, we slept in the wild - in bear country, in a Tipi. Although our host armed us with bear spray, we got a good night’s sleep. Today however, we did spot a baby Grizzly bear from afar!

Tomorrow will be our last day, which we will spend in Cody, Wyoming.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The long highway

We’re past halfway our trip and we need to make headway if we want to stay on schedule and reach Yellowstone by Sunday. Long, but pleasant drives; if you’re used to Belgian traffic.

Yesterday we visited Capitol Reef National Park. We originally planned on doing the Hickman Bridge Trail, but apparently there had recently been a big rock fall, blocking access at the trailhead. As an alternative we did the Narrows trail at Grand Wash Road, which was carved by a stream ages ago and is now still sometimes victim to flashfloods. Afterwards, we followed the scenic route, which made us zigzag between big boulders, on- and off-road.

In the evening we arrived at touristy Moab, going to dinner felt a lot like home, being surrounded by Dutch-speaking people. The temperature and the view gave away our true location though.

This morning, instead of hiking, we chose another means of transportation: we rented a UTV (Utility Vehicle). This allowed us to explore the Sand Flats Recreation Area, maneuvering over slick rocks and small desert dunes, following a trail of black skid marks. We completed the Hell’s Revenge Trail, which lives up to its name; it was frighteningly exciting.

Since this already took up a big chunk of our day and we still had a four hour drive to Salt Lake City ahead of us, we had to do the Arches National Park scenic drive in the fast lane.

The long highway

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Stairway to heaven

These last two days have been rather tiring. Yesterday we drove up to Bryce Canyon, where we did the Queen’s Garden and Navajo Loop hike, which was only 3 miles (5km) but was rather strenuous because the trail takes you all the way down and all the way up again.


Today we followed the advice of the kind lady at the visitor center and hiked along Calfs Creek. It was a 6 miles (10km) round trip through loose sand in over 100°F (38°C), but halfway you’re rewarded with a stunningly beautiful waterfall and a refreshing dip in the basin. Driving up there, we got to witness the grandeur of the Utah plateau. When we finally got back to the air conditioned car, we made a detour to see the Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument.


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

She said yes!

Since our stay in Vegas was rather short, we selected some things we failed to do last time. For me, shooting a gun was definitely on that list. Although I'm not that big on gun culture - seems to me that if you live by the gun, you're more likely to die by the gun - it's still a thrill holding such a powerful weapon. We headed to Vegas's most popular shooting range: The Gun Store. At the entrance, I got to pick a gun and a target to point it at. The heavy Desert Eagle became my weapon of choice to blow a zombie's head off. Being guided to the shooting range by a professional, he ensured that I didn't shoot my foot, and helped me land five headshots. 

In the evening we got a players card hoping Lady Luck would bend variance to our benefit for once - those hopes were in vain. It didn't take too long before we busted our 20$ gambling budget on virtual Poker. It earned us a free buffet though. We decided to drown our losses at the lounge with beer and cocktails.

Checking out late, we set out for Cedar Breaks National Monument. We waited till the evening to drive up because we were hoping for a clear night sky to do some stargazing. When we drove off, it was pouring rain, so things weren't looking up. Reaching the top of the mountain, skies cleared up and a rainbow appeared. There we were, just the two of us, standing on top of the world. Finally, after an overcrowded observatory and barely making the 4th of July fireworks, I got to complete my quest and be freed of the one ring that had been burning in my backpack for over a week. I went down on one knee and asked my girlfriend of seven years to marry me. And she said yes!
We spent the rest of our evening looking at the impressive stellar sky as a happy newly engaged couple.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Fireworks, Tequila and Silvertown Blues

After a strenuous drive from Los Angeles to San Diego, we took advantage of the mild climate to unwind at San Diego’s Aquatica.

Being the 4th of July, we joined the festivities and watched the fireworks from the car. Sadly we didn’t get to see a redo of last year’s spectacle, when San Diego accidentally launched all its fireworks in 30 seconds.

Next we headed for Joshua Tree National Park. With temperatures flirting with 100°F (38°C), we took on one small hike and drove up to two viewpoints; Skull Rock and Key’s View. Driving through cities of the plain in the California desert, we stopped in Barstow for some Mexican food and Corona, to finally faceplant in our pillows. 

This morning we got up early to hunt down some ghosts in the silver town of Calico. Too bad they couldn’t keep the ghost town more authentic. 

Tonight: Sin City.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

To Live & Die in L.A.

After exploring the USA’s West Coast two years ago, we felt like we had to pay a second visit to fill in some blanks.

We left Antwerp Sunday 7AM to touch down 25 hours later in LAX, after an eight hour cross-Atlantic flight to Newark and a six hour overlay waiting for a connecting flight.

We were welcomed by a rental car salesman who strongly advised us to upgrade to a bigger SUV which would give us tinted windows since it’s gonna be hot, you know. After politely blowing him off, we drove off to our first hotel. Arriving at an airport motel, we got to check off the clich├ęs with a lost empty beer bottle in the room, and us playing ‘the stained carpet is lava’.

We started off our first day with a real American breakfast; eggs and steak. Saturated, we continued our path to the California Science Center, driving through LA’s colorful suburbs. Arriving there, we found the highly welcomed Space Shuttle named Endeavour in its retirement home. We also visited the IMAX theatre, which is always worth your while. This time we got to see Blue Planet. We followed this up with a small lunch at LA’s real farmer’s market.

Yesterday we took part in a Warner Bros VIP tour. With a group of only eleven, the guide did a great job making the tour a lot more intimate than the one Universal offers. Cruising through the outdoor sets, he emphasized once again how fake everything is. A small patch of grass serves as Central Park; outdoor stages can be stripped down and rebuilt to go from 18th century San Francisco to nowadays New York in a couple of days; leaves are plucked from trees to make it Winter and sewed back on to fast-forward to Spring; cracks are drilled into new pavements, and patches of tar are put on, to make them look worn out. Besides the outdoor stages we got a close look at the Big Bang Theory set and the retired Friends props, we even got to sit on the famous couch. Our final look behind the scenes went to the retired car museum, which was a real treat for me as a Batman fan, since it housed all Batmobiles, even the Tumbler.

After that, we drove up to Hollywood Boulevard, to be washed over by thousands of tourists walking around Hollywood’s two most famous theatres - the Dolby (former Kodak) theatre, and the Chinese theatre – just to stand where the stars once stood. 

After nightfall we drove up to the observatory, just to put the size of LA in perspective. We were also hoping for some romance, but so were hundreds of others apparently.

Today we left central LA for Santa Monica and Venice Beach. We started our boardwalk in Venice Beach, embracing beach culture: street performers, medical marihuana offices, hustlers and amateurs pumping iron at Muscle Beach.

Next up; San Diego.