30 April 2012

The Wild West

Monument Valley, UT

It was a fair drive from the Grand Canyon to Monument Valley and the campground in the park was closed for an upgrade for the whole season, so we were forced to stay at the RV park. Definitely not value for money, it really affects how you view a place. $25 for a patch of dirt and sub standard rest rooms. It was really windy so we had to keep the doors closed or we would have had red sand over everything. Lindsay was tired, so we didn’t get down to the Monument for sunset and as it was six miles away, I couldn’t walk.

We set the alarm to be there at 6:30 the next morning to get some sunrise pictures. There is a drive around the park to take you passed all the buttes which we did in record time as Lindsay didn’t take any notice of the 10 mph sign! Unfortunately the main picture that everyone recognizes as Monument Valley is best shot at sunset, not sunrise.


Due to the fact we hated our campground, neither of us wanted to stay another night. This area is on Navajo land, so you can’t free camp anywhere even if you found a spot. Entrance into the park is $5pp per day, so make sure you check the opening and closing times of the park. It is also on Mountain time which observes DST which Arizona doesn’t, which can put you out by an hour. 

We need to go back here and get some better photos!

29 April 2012

Grand Canyon - take 2

Back up to the Grand Canyon and the weather was a lot better. For some reason entrance was free which meant that the camping grounds were full. We decided to try our luck anyway and they found a site which had an ‘a’ and a ‘b’ section, which means that you basically share a site and it has two entrances. I will be asking for another site next time. Our neighbours were from Frankston, Melbourne and New Zealand! Two guys travelling for a few months in an old Volvo with suspect steering before they went to find jobs in Canada.What a great thing to do.

Grand Canyon
We hiked one and a half miles (3 return) of the Bright Angel trail. And of course as far as you go down, you have to come up – at 7,000 feet! It really tests your lungs. There are lots of switchbacks and we had to stop every second one to catch our breath.The boys from Frankston did the 6 mile return, but they were half our age! It was well worth it. There were lots of people coming up from the canyon floor who had been rafting down the river, they were exhausted!

our first squirrel, when we thought they were cute!
The rest of the day was devoted to washing and showers. We had collected some wood on the way in so we were able to have a fire over the next two nights which was really nice. There is also a great movie on the Grand Canyon at the visitors centre. Car park 4 is a lot less crowded, you can drive around and around in car parks 1-3 and not find a spot, and it’s actually closer to walk to the visitor centre

so much better with the sun out

27 April 2012

Sedona, AZ

The next day we went into Sedona and it poured with rain as predicted. We just window shopped and did the coffee thing. Being a rainy day we decided to drive to a few other towns such as Cottonwood and Jerome.

Lindsay had heard that there was a nice bread shop in Cottonwood, while trying to find it we went into a wine and chocolate shop. We had lots to talk about as Dana loves Australia and actually wants to emigrate there.We didn't get out of there for quite some time, tasting both chocolates and wines at 9:30 in the morning! The next thing we know we were invited to dinner the following night to meet some of Dana's friends and her husband. We had a terrific night, it's these sort of moments that make travelling so great.

We had been speaking to a professional photographer at sunset the previous night who was taking a group to Page (Antelope Canyon) the next day and then onto Sedona the day after. I wondered why they were going to Sedona for photography. Now I know. There are some great rock formations and it is a very pretty town.

Cathedral Rock, Sedona at sunset
We found a road that would take us to a good vantage point outside the state park as it closed before sunset

25 April 2012

Grand Canyon, AZ

We camped at Mather campground which is very nice and has big pine trees which gives it a forest feel.

It wasn’t far to walk from our campsite to the entrance of the campground and there is a blue bus stop right outside which takes you to the visitor centre and links you up with the other two bus routes – the orange and red one. It would be chaos if everyone drove to all the lookouts. The first afternoon we decided to do the orange route. Lindsay hated to admit it, but he was impressed. We both were, it is truly amazing.

I read that Hopi point was the most popular place for sunset and sunrise, they also suggested going somewhere else but we didn’t take any notice, so we decided to drive there. It’s a very confusing place to drive and we drove around in circles for a while before we worked out how to get to the orange route, only to find it is blocked off from cars. We had cooked our dinner in advance and thought we could eat it looking at the sunset over the canyon. Instead we had to find a parking spot which in itself was a challenge as this a very busy area as it’s full of lodges. We then had to grab everything we would need and be able to carry it, so no dinner! The sky had started to get overcast, so we knew there was a chance that I wouldn’t be getting any good photos, but we went anyway. Despite the weather, the colours in the photos turned out much better than the ones I took during the day.

a deer in the carpark
The next morning we got up early and drove to the orange bus again. Again we had horrible weather and it started to rain. The forecast was for rain today and thunderstorms the following day. We decided to leave and come back when the weather was better. Near our campground they have a laundry and showers. For $2 you can stand under the hot water for 8 minutes, a luxury after so many days without one.

On the way out we took the desert view road to the east and saw some great vistas which also included glimpses of the Colorado River.

Our mission today was to buy a gas bottle as the little disposable propane bottles that most people use only seem to last a few days. It took a few hours to find Camping World as the address is wrong, it says it’s in Flagstaff but it’s in Bellmont, which is about 28 miles down the road. We finally found it and got one but they don’t fill them. So we had to go back to Flagstaff to the U-Haul place to get it filled. So frustrating. We then tried to find a campsite that had been recommended to us, but failed. So it wasn’t a good day.

We ended up in a lovely state park that had a river running along the side. There were warnings that this was bear country, but we didn't see anything more than a squirrel.

Oak Creek Canyon

21 April 2012

Slab City, CA

Slab City is a community area out from the town of Niland. An alternative lifestyle, quirky and good for taking a photo, but please, would you really want to live there?

Slab City
We didn’t get to the mud pots as we couldn’t find them and didn’t try very hard as the person at the information centre said they weren’t working very much any more as the geothermal power station had reduced the pressure underground which in turn had stopped the pots from spurting everywhere.

too salty for the trees to survive
The wildlife refuge at the end of Sinclair road was closed probably due to the fact the wetlands had dried up, so therefore there was no birdlife.

The road to the Colorado River isn’t that far the Mexican border and we ended up going through a border check but because we didn’t think we would be going over any borders we didn’t have our passports. Apart from being told we should carry them all the time, the guy didn’t seem too worried about us.

Colorado River near Parker

We picked up a 12v personal fan for our van in Parker as it’s still in the high 30’s that feels like 40 as the heat is very dry - my nails are breaking off! We found a lovely campsite in the Parker Dam area called Crossroads which only had three other vehicles and the camp host. We have shade and water frontage and plenty of room. The water was freezing but we were so hot we just had to keep going in. Mid afternoon a burro (donkey) came out of the bushes so I grabbed my camera and he just kept coming towards me. It turns out he is a regular and the lady near us passed on some carrots, given to her by the previous people at her campsite, for us to feed the burro. The jet skiers and power boats go up and down the river late into the night. We don’t see any water skiers until the next day. One more day of oppressive heat and we moved on.

We decided we would go to the Grand Canyon via Oatman which is a wild west town but unfortunately we missed the gun shoot out. Oatman is on the old route 66 road which has some lovely scenery.

Some spectacular scenery along this route

20 April 2012

Salton Sea, CA

The Salton Sea is an inland sea which has 25% more salt than the ocean. Flood waters from the Colorado River created it in 1905. The campground is right on the sea and there is a table and bench where you can have breakfast and watch the Pelicans come into land. It smells a little bit because the fish die as the water evaporates and the water becomes more salty. The temperature has risen to 40C. This campground is closing in June due to lack of funds and the fact that the sea is dying, they have re-routed the water elsewhere...no surprise then why the sea is dying.

Pelicans flying over the Salton Sea

14 April 2012

Death Valley, CA

Not a park to go to in summer
Death Valley had not had any rain in six months, until we got there. We must be the rain gods. It rained all day and all night. We camped at the Sunset campground as the Furnace Creek campground was closed due to renovations. It was too windy and miserable to cook, so we went across to the Furnace Creek Inn and had a drink and pizza. I decided to try a death valley sunset drink which was sickly sweet.

The next day was overcast and Lindsay wanted a lay day, so we just moved campgrounds to Stovepipe Wells. We walked into the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes and then had a shower at the motel, for $4 you can have a shower in the pool area. The water was hot and strong which was a welcome relief since our last one. We set up camp at Stovepipe Wells and just vegged out for the rest of the day. The camping ground is just like Sunset camping ground, not very pleasant, just like a big car park. We met some new friends and all had drinks together and then continued on to dinner.

Mesquite Flat Sandunes
The next day we decided to go to Scotty’s Castle which is located at the top of the park. Along the way we had been advised to do a drive up to the Rhyolite ghost town and do the drive through Titus Canyon. Unfortunately the Titus Canyon one way drive was closed. If we had known that we wouldn’t have driven all that way. The ghost town alone wasn’t worth the drive. There was a house made of bottles there which was unusual. Back to the main road and 53km up to Scotty’s castle. This is a big park. We had lunch in the oasis of green grass and palm trees at the entrance. The National Parks service does tours and they were told if they dress up in costume, they can charge for tours and keep the money. Lindsay did the underground tour and I did the above ground tour of the house. Both were fantastic. It’s not so much about what you see, but the tale that the guides spin about Walter Scott and his friend Alfred Johnson. I loved it. The house

was very dark as they had the curtains closed in all the rooms and my new camera doesn’t have a built in flash. What? the more you pay the less you get! but I’ve had a look at the photos I did take and even though it was very low light and I was hand holding the camera, the pictures seem to be in focus. The power of a very good lens.

Scotty's Castle from the front 
The garage
the dining room

Unfortunately I forgot that the Ubehebe Crater was just near here and we missed it.

Friends had been to Wildrose to see the charcoal kilns two days previous and had said there was two feet of snow up there. We decided to go too. It was on the Stovepipe Wells road which goes from 100ft below sea level to 4100 feet above sea level, hence the snow. There is a nice little campground there which is free, but the toilets would put you off staying there. The kilns are very pretty; there are ten of them, in the shape of beehives. They were built to create the coal required to process the silver and lead ore, but were only used for three years.
Wildrose Kilns
Back on the road to Furnace Creek, which can get up to temperatures of 53C in the summer. We stopped off at the Harmony Borax Works, Golden Canyon (but we didn’t walk all the way through the twelve stop off points – it was too hot for walking) the Devils golf course (rock salt eroded by wind and rain into jagged spires), the Badwater Basin (vast salt flats), Artist’s drive (a nine mile one way scenic drive showing the coloured hills)

Badwater Basin
The Devil's golf course
Artist's Drive

11 April 2012

Red Rock Canyon, NV

This is a BLM (Bureau of Land Management) site. The visitor centre has a large shop and the help desk is very helpful. He suggested that we stop off at Calico I & Calico II, then at Sandstone Quarry take the Calico Tanks walk which was a medium grade walk over a lot of rocks and there were a few places that you had to scramble on your hands (4 km) – we could see Las Vegas in the distance at the end. The campground is a kilometre away from the park and it’s very basic, very open and when we were there, very windy. Not a nice place to be during the day – wind or no wind.

The road to see the sights is a one way loop, so you can't change your mind and go back to a trail you may have missed.

Lots of red rocks
$7 park pass per day, $15 camping per night

9 April 2012

Valley of Fire, NV

Valley of Fire is a State Park of Nevada, so it doesn’t come under the America the Beautiful Pass we bought. 
The camping grounds are fantastic with flushing loos and hot showers. There is an RV section where they pay double the normal fee but they get power and water connected as well as a concrete pad with lots of room around them. Their amenity block is very spacious but with only one shower which takes quarters.The tiny cubicles in our camp area are free. Each camp spot has it’s own shelter, table and benches as well as a tap. Little birds and squirrels dart in and about the bushes. It's April but this is a low desert, so it's quite hot already.

what you see as you drive towards the park
There are a number of sights to see and we went up to the White Domes on an early before breakfast drive and saw a herd of Big Horn Sheep which is the State’s animal. Lindsay thought the Arches campground was more protected and if you got a site to the right hand side of the campground you would have shade in the afternoon. The visitor centre is very informative.

I realised that I'd left my walking boots back in the hotel in Las Vegas! We managed to ring them by going up high, luckily the maid had taken them to lost property so we will have to go back!

Big Horn Sheep
Sunset is the most colourful time
Petroglyphs not far from our campground
Hoover Dam
We took the scenic route out of Valley of Fire which takes you passed Lake Mead through some pretty but rugged landscape down to the Hoover Dam.

8 April 2012

Las Vegas, NV

It was hard for us to work out where to stay in Las Vegas as we hadn’t been there before. If you stay along the strip you will be amongst everything, so we decided that is where we wanted to be. We booked a mystery hotel and ended up at the Tropicana which is right at the end of the strip. We found walking along the strip was hot during the day but cooler and more colourful at night. We saw many attractions along the way: including the fountain show outside Bellagio and the Pirate show outside Treasure Island. The Volcano outside Caesars Palace wasn’t going when we went past and we decided we wanted to see the pirates instead.

Water show outside Bellagio
great entertainment from the pirates
We walked back to our hotel which is at the far end of the strip which took an hour to get to as the crowds were in slow mode. Before buying tickets for shows, check what is available at the Tix4Tonight booths, there are lots of them around. They are cheaper and they will give you a good map of the area. You will need to go to your venue either an hour or more beforehand to get your seating allocated. We got the double decker bus as it stops at more places, and we got a transit map on the bus which was next to the driver. Tickets are for two hours, 24 hours or three days, so we got a 24 hour one so we didn’t have to walk again that night. There is a light show down at Fremont Street which is in the downtown end of the strip that we went to after our show. There are heaps of places to gamble, but we don’t, so we just walked through a few of the casinos, just to see what it was all about.

4 April 2012

Joshua Tree National Park , CA

We decided to wet our camping feet with a park close to where we were staying in case we forgot something. Joshua Tree NP is a pretty park. Lots of rocks for rock climbers and Joshua Trees which aren’t really trees, they are a type of Yucca. It is a high and low altitude desert, high in the north, low in the south. Which means it is colder in the high area.

It was warm the day we entered the park, so we thought we would be okay in the high area. Mmmm. By mid afternoon on the second day a cold wind built up. It turned a really pleasant camping experience into a freezing one. Even though we were invited to share a fire with our neighbours in the next campsite, it was too cold to sit by it. That night it got down to 0C and the water in our kettle froze. I couldn’t find my gloves anywhere even though I thought I had packed them. You can’t book any campsites, so it’s the luck of the draw. We arrived late in the day and a sign on the visitors centre said the park was full. So we skipped the first campsite as I knew it was popular and we tried the second, we got a spot at Ryan, so didn’t have to try any more. Sitting at our table we had a magnificent view of the rocks and Joshua Trees as well as the ruins of an old homestead. Unfortunately the next day was overcast at sunrise, so I wasn’t able to get any good morning pictures. I hadn’t really realized the significance of low and high altitude until that night as we don’t go camping in high altitude at home. So I sat down with the help of a friend to find out which were high and which were low.
Lots of rocks, it's a desert
We had planned to travel to Death Valley next as it is a low altitude desert and gets too hot in summer, but it is the spring holiday break which means there are a lot of people camping. So we decided to head off to Las Vegas first and the Valley of Fire as it is also a low desert before Death Valley. Plans are meant to be flexible.

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