Well, we’re at LAX. This is just a quick sign-off before we get on our plane back to London. Thanks for having us these last few days, California. San Francisco was fun, Carmel was quaint, Santa Barbara was beautiful and LA was, well, gone. We drove straight through it this morning. Done.
So the total for this trip is 7. 7 states. Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and California. Not bad for two weeks.
High points of the trip? We collectively agree storm chasing was a good day. Then there was the early morning Grand Canyon visit, and later the mountain detour that nearly killed Al (we off-hired him fine, by the way; the goodbye was businesslike, unemotional. We made it quick). Mat’s death valley sprint to retrieve a wind-blown polystyrene lid was a definite high point for most of us, but probably not him. Apparently the public car park toilets won’t be missed (somehow I managed to avoid those).
So that’s it then. Until next time, back to the real world. Over and out, America.
From big rocks to a big city
The next morning we finally got to Yosemite, from the other side. Presumably this road is a lot lower than the 120 and even the 108, there being no snow anywhere. It was still a windy son-of-a though but the brakes did fine. THIS TIME. My only guess is that Al the People Carrier is waiting for another opportune moment when we’re on our own at sundown, perhaps with no food or water. Maybe the tyres will go next.
I digress. Anyway we got into the park, which is GORGEOUS by the way, and we all took the obligatory Half Dome shot:
From there we pressed on towards the west coast of this fine continent, to San Francisco. The stupid GPS woman – who hasn’t been given a mention yet but frankly her antics could fill a blog all on their own – took us on a 60-mile detour around the bay for who knows what reason. She appears to be avoiding tolls, which is unfortunate given that most of the routes into the city are toll roads. Hence the 6-mile “scenic route”. What a farce.
But we finally got checked in to a hotel in time to catch a lovely sunset and have dinner at Fisherman’s Wharf. I’ve definitely reaffirmed my inkling that San Francisco is my favourite US city. If you haven’t been, go. Immediately. Turn off your computer, pocket your phone, and get yourself to an airport.
From here we’re heading south, to LA, via Carmel and Santa Barbara. I’ll try to post an update before we get there.
From -200 to +9,000 feet
Monday was a good day, of two very distinct halves.
After leaving Vegas in the morning we headed north west to Death Valley, which lies at its lowest point at just short of 300 feet below sea level. It’s the lowest and driest valley in North America and apparently holds the record for the highest recorded temperature on Earth (56.7°C, sometime in 1913). So… a pretty extreme environment. Weirdly it doesn’t feel too hot outside because you’re sweating so efficiently in the dry air – the relative humidity was something like 6% when we visited. That’s an odd number, coming from the rain-soaked UK.
The valley itself was amazing. In the space of an hour we went from bare rock…
…to sand dunes…
…to baked mud:
We did some science too – first, Mat did something to do with evaporation rate using a spilt bottle of water and then we went dust devil chasing (which is sadly the most chasing action we’ve had so far this holiday).
From Death Valley we headed north towards Yosemite, and the California 120 which runs straight through the national park. Full of retarded enthusiasm, we managed to get all the way to the road before we found out that it was still closed for the winter. Brilliant. The other entrance was on the other side of the park, to the west, so we headed round to the north of the park on the California 108 – and so began the epic second half of our day.
The landscape changed pretty rapidly as we approached a huge range of mountains, and it was soon clear that our route intended for us to go over them. A couple of hours after rolling sand dunes we were at 9,000 feet looking out the window at this:
Al – our car – didn’t fare too well. On our way back down, his little brakes gave up the ghost and caught fire – so we swiftly decided that the beautiful hairpin bend we found ourselves on was a great place for a pit stop. We took the opportunity to douse the brake pads with water… and (accidentally) douse ourselves with pee during an au naturel toilet break in the woods.
It was pretty slow going after that, but the mountain road was spectacular and we caught a wicked sunset over a valley, which my camera failed to do justice to:
Urgh. I’m not gonna lie. I hate Vegas. It’s where the worst of humanity comes to vegetate in its own sweaty 100°F juices. Somehow even if you don’t drink or gamble, you emerge from that place hating yourself just for having been there.
I’m being unfair. It is certainly beautiful if you look at the right bits. We have the Bellagio fountains:
And Caesars Palace, home of The Hangover:
I guess it does have some nice bits. And just like most sinister, predatory creatures, the best of Vegas comes out at night, when the entire strip lights up like a Christmas tree:
And on our last night – Sunday – we got to see the strip from the best seat in the house – the Stratosphere Tower. I’ll need to upload pictures later though as the rest of the team took those.
Status Update: heading west towards Death Valley.
Thursday – three holes in the ground
Alright, so the things you look at in Monument Valley aren’t exactly holes in the ground, rather a lack thereof. Whatever. I liked the title. So as promised we set off on Thursday after a kip in Cortez. We drove for what seemed like hours, out of Colorado and into Utah, in and out out of canyons and valleys cut out of the soft rock. To be honest we were starting to lose hope when we reached the top of a ridge and suddenly this view materialised:
From Monument Valley we headed south towards Flagstaff, Arizona, and to the cryptically named “Meteor Crater”. The crater itself is almost a mile wide, more than 550 feet deep and was made by an impactor about 50,000 years ago. Pretty cool.
The view of the desert from the crater rim is awesome too, and on Thursday there were convective showers as far as you could see. Their bottoms fell out of them as we watched, but it’s so dry that the rain evaporated before it reached the ground and left crisp streaks of virga. The cold air DID hit the ground though and kickied up huge clouds of dust in an otherwise quiet and undisturbed desert – needless to say we all had a meteorological nerd-gasm like the good little geeks we are.
From the crater we powered back up north to the southern rim of the Grand Canyon. The visibility was a lot better than when I was last here and this time I’d bought the polarising filter for my camera. Win. Matt and Laura haven’t been here before and the look on theor faces was simply priceless. We explored it late on Thursday…
…and again that night, with the canyon illuminated by the full moon:
I was so surprised at the colours you can see by the moonlight and a camera sensor – or rather, by the extent to which we human types have to abandon colour vision in order to see in low light conditions. Genuinely, the canyon looked perfectly black and white to us – crazy how much we’re missing.
Anyway – shut up about bloody eyes Kim – all up to date now. It’s friday morning and we’re in the car heading west towards VEGAS BABY!! I’ll probably update again when I’ve sobered up.