Our fifth wheel and the truck

Saturday, July 23, 2011

What a way to end an amazing adventure!!

Well the end was looming rather gloomily by the time we left the Grand Tetons. And the last few weeks have just flown by so quickly that I am now sitting in a motel in Auckland, New Zealand to finish this last blog of our awesome adventures in America.

Who would have believed that a year could go by so quickly but… as the saying goes ‘Time flies when you are having fun’.

Before I let you in on what a great time we had in the last few weeks I want to say a huge, huge thank you. To all the amazing friends we have made along the way throughout this journey and to all the wonderful people we have met and who have touched our lives for a short time Norm and I say a heartfelt thank you. This trip would not have been anywhere nearly as successful and wondrous if not for all those folks who shared something of themselves with us as we traveled. We are truly blessed to have had this experience and met you all. Thank you.

Now before I get too maudlin - let me get back to the next stop after the Tetons - YELLOWSTONE!!! Geologically speaking, Yellowstone is probably the most diverse and active volcanic areas I have come across. One of the rangers in the park was explaining to us that if Yellowstone ever ‘went up’ it would destroy most of the North American continent. The thermal activity in the area is fantastic from mud volcanoes to the geysers to the thermal lakes that are so abundant.

The wildlife is beautiful and we were fortunate to see a red fox, a grizzly, a bald eagle, lots and lots of bison, a beaver, elk and mule deer amongst the many critters that abound in the park. Sue was desperate to see a moose however she missed out on that one - never mind Sue. (Norm and I did see one on the side of the road a few days later as we drove through Snoqualmie Pass on our way to Seattle - but I don’t like to brag! Hmmmm!)

We spent a fabulous couple of days driving around the park and of course went to see ‘Old Faithful’ erupt. Truly an amazing sight but even more amazing that it is so predictable in that it erupts every 94 minutes give or take 10 minutes.

Sue and John went back into the park on the third day and were rewarded by having a close encounter with a bear (from inside the car) as it crossed the road in front of them. Norm and I went to the Grizzly and Wolf Recovery Centre in West Yellowstone and thoroughly enjoyed watching the grizzlies. The purpose of the centre is to look after grizzlies that have been affected by man and our activities - animals that have been orphaned by hunters, those that have been raiding bins and campsites for food and have needed to be relocated amongst other reasons. Seems strange but I found them the most beautiful animals. Not that I would like to tangle with one but …….

From Yellowstone we hightailed it across country to Seattle where we were planning on catching up with Rick and Karen (we traveled with them way back in Texas and Louisiana) and Kelli and Don (who babysat the vehicles while we were in Alaska on the cruise).

We spent a day in Seattle and visited Pikes Market Place which was wonderful. I love the vibrancy of the place and while I love to window shop, Norm, like most men, gets bored. I have to say though he and Rick were very patient and allowed Karen and I to wander through the Market and sticky beak at everything. We also took a ride up the Space Needle and I must say the view from up there is breathtaking. Karen is a bit tentative about heights but did so well - as long as she didn’t try to look straight down she was okay.

The next day we all visited Olympic National Park. What a marathon day - I think we did something like 450miles. But was it oh so worth it!!!! We visited the rainforest on the Pacific coast side of the park and it was gorgeous. Majestic trees, beautiful lakes and streams and sunshine!

I must explain about the sunshine. We told everyone we had brought it with us as it was the first time they had had two consecutive days of sunshine for quite some time in Seattle. And by the time we left they had had four days.

After the rainforest we went to Rialto Beach which was so brilliant. There is a river (can’t remember the name) that flows out of the mountains, through the rainforest and into the Pacific Ocean at Rialto Beach and the beach is absolutely strewn with these huge tree trunks that have been washed down river and then dumped on the beach or have been taken out to sea and then washed back onto the shoreline by the tides.

There were several really craggy islands with pine trees sticking out the top of them just off the coast which added to the picturesque scenery.

You notice I haven’t mentioned sand? Well Rialto Beach is not known for its sandy beaches. In fact the whole beach consists of varying sizes of rocks, stones and pebbles. High up on the beach there are giant boulders that are caught among the tree trunks and as you move towards the water the boulders become rocks and then stones until you get very close to the waters edge and it is made up of small pebbles. And to make it even more interesting most of the rocks etc are dark grey and black in colour. It was blowing a gale on the day we visited so I didn’t get into the water although it actually wasn’t that cold.

The next day was the 4th of July so we all traipsed over to Kelli and Don’s and then went to watch the local parade which was really good fun. This was our first ever Independence Day in America and we really enjoyed it. After the parade a group of Kelli and Don’s friends had dinner back at their home and we all sat and watched the fireworks from the verandah and back yard. There were fireworks going off everywhere and at times you didn’t know where to look! Unlike Australia, anyone can purchase and let off fireworks. In fact we had been amazed throughout our travels at the fireworks shops that were just sitting on the side of the road all over the country. We had a wonderful evening.

We spent the next couple of days just catching up with Kelli and Don and their amazing dogs. When we visited them last they had Greta (a St Bernard) and Guinness (a black Labrador) who they were training for the Guide Dogs for the Blind. This time they still have Greta, but now they have Faith (Greta’s daughter) who is nearly as big as Greta and also Kristy who is another puppy in training for the Guide Dogs. I have decided that St Bernards are too big for me!!!! You just have to love them - they are gorgeous but they just about knock me down and when they lean on you they push you over. And you don’t ever want one running through the house and treading on your feet as they go around corners lol !!!! Beautiful dogs but just oh so big and so heavy!!!

After a very sad farewell to all our friends we headed off on the last leg of our trip. We were meeting Bruce and Mary down at the Grand Canyon for six days. We arrived in Williams, Arizona ahead of schedule as we had driven 750 miles in one day. It is the furthest we have ever driven in one day but while it was still daylight we didn’t see much point in stopping. We managed to cover the 1400 miles in three days instead of the five that we had planned.

While we were waiting for Bruce and Mary we did some cleaning and sorting and I started to pack a bit of our stuff into suitcases so that there wouldn’t be a last minute panic when we got to Phoenix for the trip home.

Williams, AZ is the ‘Gateway to the Grand Canyon’ and when Mary and Bruce arrived we went to the Visitors Centre to decide how we were going to spend the next five days. Well they sent us off to a tour company and when we walked out we had the most amazing time planned out and the next few days were going to be amazing.

The first day we took a bus up to the Grand Canyon Airport where we boarded a helicopter for a 30 minute ride over the Canyon. Words fail me!!!! It was THAT good!!!! Talk about awe inspiring. The superlatives of the English language fall short in trying to describe this almighty hole in the ground!!!

From the airport we took the shuttle to the iMax theatre where we watched a movie of the Canyon and learned some of its history. From there we went to the Canyon edge. It is truly amazing. You are driving along and park the car and you can’t see much at all and then you walk to the edge of the Canyon and there before you is one of the most breathtaking sights you could ever witness. The colours and the rock formations and the incredible depth of the Canyon really do leave you stunned and at a loss for words.

The next day was the ‘piece de resistance’ of the trip. WE WENT WHITE WATER RAFTING!!!! We got a really early start as we had to be at the tour company office at 5.45am and they took us on a bus ride out to the Hualapai (pronounced Wol-u-pie) Indian area along the Canyon edge. From there we took a Jeep ride down into the Canyon and boarded inflatable boats for our 4 hour ride down the Colorado River. I have to admit to a little trepidation at the thought of the rafting, but oh boy did I love it! The water was really cold (about 47F) and took your breath away every time we hit a rapid but it was so exhilarating. And of course being in the Canyon and looking up at it from the bottom after flying over it and looking at it from the edge just provided another indescribable experience. It is just so majestic. We stopped and hiked part of a water fall and then had another stop where we had lunch on the river’s edge.

At the end of the rafting we were lifted out of the Canyon by helicopter which was another amazing experience. To fly so close to the walls of the Canyon was brilliant. And then a loooonng bus ride back to Williams but would I do it again? In a heartbeat!!! I want to go white water rafting again!

Our last day at the Canyon was to be a quiet visit at sunset. We had arranged a sunset tour so that we would be in the best spot as the sun went down. Carol, our guide, was wonderful and told some great stories as she took us the back way to the Canyon through the Kaibab National Forrest. We arrived at Grandview Point as the sun was setting and to watch the colours of the rocks walls of the Canyon change colour as the sun sank was truly a very moving experience. And while the photos are spectacular they could never do justice to this wonderful place.

A special thanks to Carol who found Bruce’s lost $50.00 in the back of the jeep in the dark.

The next day saw the four of us set off to Sedona, about 50 miles from Williams. What an amazingly beautiful place. The views and countryside are just spectacular and our visit to the river near Cathedral Rock was just beautiful. The town is very touristy with lots of galleries, restaurants and up market shops where you can spend lots of money, which can be a bit of a drawback for us but I guess that is what lots of other people like. To each his own.

Our last day in Williams was pretty quiet as we sat around chatting and preparing to leave not only Williams, but also America. Late in the day Bruce, Mary, Norm and I went down to watch the Cataract Creek Gang perform a historical shootout in the streets of Williams. What a hoot! A bunch of old guys (hence the Cataract Creek Gang) telling the newspaper version and the real version of the shootout. Sure had a good laugh at their antics.

The next morning - early - we farewelled Mary and Bruce who are now thinking about visiting us in Australia in February. They are headed for Pahrump in Nevada to visit family before heading back to Wisconsin. Us - well we packed up and took ourselves off down to sunny (haha) Phoenix. The temperature during the day while we were there was up around the 110F and at night didn’t drop below 84F. Now I love the warmth and the sun but even this was getting close to where it was too hot even for me.

Monday evening we went out to grab a bite to eat. Clear skies, no wind and would you believe for the first time in our trip we left the awning up to keep some of the heat off the RV. On our way back to the RV we had decided that we would get ourselves organized first thing in the morning and put the RV in storage on the Tuesday - a day early. Long story short - a sudden storm blew up and when we got home our awning was wrecked. The struts and supports that held it up were destroyed to put it mildly and the struts had caused some damage to the rubber roof. The actual awning fabric was undamaged - thank goodness for small mercies!

I rang the insurance company who immediately organized a guy to come out and help us secure it for the night. (Thank you Doug - you are a wonderful person.) To cut a very long story short I contacted the insurance company claims department the next morning and we took the RV to the repairers. By Wednesday at 4.00pm the insurance company had paid the repairer to carry out the repairs (about $7000 worth and probably two weeks work) and Doug (bless his cotton socks), had volunteered to collect the RV and take it to the storage facility after the repairs were complete. We truly have been blessed in the people we have met in America. What could have been a nightmare experience to end a wonderful time in our lives turned out to be an affirmation of all the great things that have happened to us while we have been in America. To Sarah (insurance company - Explorer RV), to Adam (Orangewood RV) and Doug (Truck n Trailer Mobile Maintenance) a sincere and heartfelt thank you from two very grateful Aussies.

And then we caught a plane and left America bound for nine days in New Zealand!! So despite our departure do not think for one moment that these two travellers have ended their overseas adventures. There is much more to come!!!

Until my next epic blog (I promise the next one won’t be quite so long!) I say a fond ‘see ya’. Take care of you and yours and be happy. See ya somewhere on the road.

Hugs from us.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

A Mixed Bag - Nevada, California, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming!!

Wow!! I just looked at the title of this and phew what a busy time!!!!

I left you just after we made our hurried departure from Flaming Gorge and we still have a giggle about it when we retell the story. I think we established a record time - 20 minutes - for packing up and getting on the road. It had to be funny seeing Norm and I rushing around in the snow. Mind you all the other rv'ers were probably too busy doing the same to take much notice of us.

We were planning on going to north to Idaho from Flaming Gorge but as Interstate 80 was covered in snow a change of plans found us heading south west. We weren't sure what to do so we decided to head to Coarsegold in California which is just near Yosemite. We planned on staying there for two weeks until our friends Sue and John arrived from Australia for a holiday.

On our way we drove through Salt Lake City and with the benefit of hindsight I would have loved to have stayed for a few days and got a better look at the Great Salt Lake but we didn’t think about it at the time. Another spot to save for our next visit! Haha.

We stayed for a couple of days in Fernley, Nevada on our way to California and I have to say I love the warmth and terrain of Nevada. It was soooo nice to be able to wear shorts and tshirt and soak up some sun. The mountains and valleys and deserts are just beautiful however Nevada doesn’t like me, as I suffered from dreadful hay fever the whole time we were there. Even Norm had a few problems with his sinuses.

While we were in Nevada we took a drive down to Lake Tahoe. This is one of the few disappointments of our holiday. It is very commercial and access to the lake is very limited. Parking at one of the beaches is $7.00 while one spot where we thought we could drive down to the lake front (a boat ramp) to take some photos, the girl in the booth where boat owners have to pay to launch their boats wanted “$2.00 for a 15 minute photo opportunity”. The lake is really beautiful and although the day was lousy we did get out of the car and take a walk down there (we parked on the side of the road rather than pay $7.00 for a quick walk along the beach!!) It is also very, very expensive but I am sure that in the summer it would be absolutely stunning and it is apparently a very popular spot for summer holidaymakers as well as the skiers and snow bunnies in winter.

We also took a short trip into Reno which was (to us) just another city albeit a rather small one dominated by casinos. We really haven't spent much time in cities while we have been here except for Seattle, San Francisco and New Orleans and a day or two in a couple of others. We really enjoy the natural wonders and beauties of this country more than cities.

We left Nevada and had to pass over the Sierra Nevada mountains to get to California. Another exciting adventure of man and woman in truck with fifth wheel against the snow. Well, sort of!

The pass through the mountains had received heavy snow the night before our trip and everyone had had to use chains on their tires to use the pass and guess what we didn't have - yep you got it - chains for the tires. Lucky for us we arrived a bit later in the morning and the road had been cleared and the chain requirement had been lifted. It was still snowing lightly in places but by going very slowly and extremely carefully we once again made it through safely.

We arrived at Coarsegold and stayed in the most different and pleasant RV park. Most of the RV parks have the RV’s lined up like a parking area with a small grassed area in between each one where you can sit and have a picnic table, barbecue etc. The Park Sierra park is designed with each lot built into the hills and valleys so each one is different. The park is huge with lots of winding, up and down roads and loops that made walking really interesting and quite challenging. I really enjoyed my morning walks with so many of the rv’s hidden in among the trees and bushes.

We had a fairly quiet two weeks gathering our strength for the last minute whirlwind four weeks before we have to go home. We visited Fresno (just another city) to buy some stuff for our return to Aust. We had brought over our two huge suitcases but gave them to the Goodwill as we didn’t want to cart them all over America. We kept the two smaller ones but will need four when we go home (but Norm I haven't bought THAT much!!!) hence two new suitcases!

We also visited Bass Lake which was just stunning and while it wasn’t as big as Lake Tahoe it was possible to park along the shoreline and go and sit on a beach. Would I like to live there - absolutely! Gorgeous views and beautiful village but the real estate on one side of the lake is very expensive - at least a million dollars to have a lake front property and of course the other side is park so there goes that idea!

We did get involved in the social events of the park which was really lovely. The park is an Escapees Park and we are members of Escapees so they really do make you feel very welcome. We went to a couple of ‘pot luck’ suppers and a party at one rv. We used the gym in the club house and I went to a quilting day. I was able to get a quilt cut out and started to put it together however I don’t think I am going to get it finished as the last few weeks of our trip are pretty full on.

Our friends Sue and John arrived on June 19th so the next two days we spent in Yosemite National Park. Although we have been to the park before it was gorgeous to go back again. The last time we were only able to visit the Yosemite Valley as the pass was closed due to snow. Mind you the pass was only opened on June 18th!! Timing is wonderful!

The first day in Yosemite was just amazing! The waterfalls and river were just gorgeous with all the snow melting on the mountains there is just so much water cascading down the mountains. However the valley was very disappointing as there were just so many people and cars that it was impossible to find parking at any of the attractions. That is until we got to Glacier Point which was much better and would have to have been the highlight of the day! The views are absolutely stupendous and just left us speechless. It is not often that Norm is at a loss for words!!

The next day we headed up Tioga Pass which was much less crowded and had stunning views and vistas. We took a hike to a grove of Sequioa trees and you wouldn’t read about it -we met six other Australians on the path. It is so easy to pick the Aussies - the accent stands out and is so easy to pick up on. I must say it was a very challenging hike - easy on the way there (all downhill) but coming back had us all breathing a bit heavy! Good exercise!

We did manage to see some animals including mule-deer and a couple of marmots although Sue was disappointed that she wasn’t able to spot a bear. I have reassured her that she should be able to see one when we get to Yellowstone where we will be spending three days. I have my fingers crossed. Even if she doesn’t see a bear she will at least see lots of other animals in Yellowstone.

We left California and had a VERY long day driving as we head towards Yellowstone. It took us about 9 hours of driving the first day, 6 ½ hours of driving the next day and 4 hours the third day to reach the Grand Tetons National Park where we will spend two nights then up to Yellowstone National Park.

What can anyone say about the Grand Tetons? Once again it is a time when superlatives just don't do a place justice. I would love to spend more time exploring the valleys and the mountains of this place.

We started our day with a trip to the top of a mountain on a gondola where the views went forever and just took our breath away. There was still lots of snow on top of the mountain and it was very cold for those of us who had worn shorts, however it was just stunning. Another place that would be lovely to come back to and explore some more. Looks like we might be coming back again a few times at this rate!!!!

After the gondola and the mountain we took a boat ride and then hiked up to the gorgeous Hidden Falls. It was just so beautiful and peaceful despite the fact that there were quite a few people actually at the falls at the time. This country has so many waterfalls it is amazing!

From the falls we travelled through the park stopping to spot animals and take photos of the gorgeous views of snow covered mountains and verdant valleys. It was a beautiful day which ended with a lovely dinner - thanks Sue and John - and a stroll around the lovely, tourist town of Jackson Hole. (Interesting name!) And by the way Sue still hasn't got to see a bear yet! Fingers crossed!!!!

Our next stop will be Yellowstone and I am so looking forward to visiting there again. Norm and I stopped there when we were travelling in the US in 2007 and just fell in love with the place.

So until my next blog I will say fare-thee-well and hope that you all stay healthy and happy. Take care my dear family and friends.