Tues 16 Sept – Griffith Observatory and Driving inland

I was up and out relatively early today, and out to Griffith Observatory.   It’s an art deco (?) building high up on the hill in a park.

You get a  good view of the Hollywood sign from there, plus amazing views right out over LA.

The building itself doesn’t open till noon on Tuesdays, which I didn’t wait around for.  But I was mainly there for the architecture and the views, and to take some photos.

Stunning place, and I probably would have stayed longer and maybe had a look inside, but in the ridiculous heatwave that LA has had the last couple of days meant that according to the car thermometer it was already 107F (almost 42C) at 10:30am.  Despite the fact that I was wearing a hat, on Bertha and therefore not walking, and drinking heaps of water (over 1L in less than an hour) I quickly started feeling the early symptoms of heatstroke so I beat a retreat to the car aircon and got on my way inland!  Click for my route for today (ignore the grey lines, the blue one is the one I took)

 Thankfully the traffic wasn’t too bad and it didn’t take me long to get out of town (I was already on the right side of LA to start with, so that helped).  Unlike yesterday when I criss-crossed the place today’s itinerary was a little more efficient.  And the good roads here really do help – the maintenance often isn’t great, but they built them well, with plenty of capacity, good cambers, wide lanes, etc.

 I stopped for a break in Palmdale, which I thought was a little pipsqueak place but turned out to be pretty big, with multiple huge shopping malls.  I did the last of my shopping there – I needed a paper map (can’t rely on Google everywhere, much as coverage is pretty good these days) and a few other things.

After that I had to decide – do I go to Death Valley or not?  Given that I’d just nearly cooked myself in LA, and that it’d mean at least a 200 mile (320km) detour off my route, I decided against.  Most of my trip is pretty relaxed but I’ve got a deadline to meet in Yosemite on Friday – I’ve got a full day photography lesson booked.  So I headed on up the highway.

An hour or so later I came around the bend to see this:

The photo really doesn’t do it justice, this huge field of wind turbines just kept going left and right, and way up and over more hills to the left.  There must have been thousands of them. From some googling I think it’s Tehachapi Pass Wind Farm.

California geology is made up of a series of mountain ranges all running parallel to the coast – I’m guessing they’ve all been created by the Pacific tectonic plate diving under the America plate (ie the San Andreas fault and others).  But it means that as you go West to East you go over mountains, through valleys, then over the next set of mountains.  Each valley is a little dryer than the last, as each mountain range stops more rain from reaching inland.  The main one (Central Valley) is east of the Sierras and grows a majority of the USA’s fruit and veggies.  I’m passing that one by right now and heading for the one behind the Sierras, which is pretty dry (especially now with the drought they’ve got here).

So once I’d passed those turbines I turned North, going through a valley with mountains on either side.  At sunset I had this on the left (Appalachian hills with Sierra Mountains behind).

And this on my right (not sure what it’s called but it’s the next mountains over).

Believe it or not this place was called Lone Pine – a name with totally different connotations for us Australians.  And co-incidentally, as I pulled up to take some photos, I got an email from  Bill )my photography teacher for Friday) who was wondering how my trip was going, and that I should stop at Lone Pine to take some photos!

Pretty spectacular stuff!  Once past that I started thinking about where I was going to sleep.  My next objective tomorrow is Mono Lake and Bodie (a ghost town), just up the road a bit.  But I need to find somewhere to sleep first.  Mobile internet to the rescue again (once I found some wifi at a McDonalds) – hotel all booked at Mammoth Lakes.  Job (almost) done – another 90 mins up the road and I can get some sleep!

Mon 15 Sept – Mostly Chores

Oh dear.  Day two and I’m running behind on the blog already.  I’ll try to do better!

Lot of running around today, shopping, getting the rest of the van fitted out as a “campervan”.  I’m now the proud owner of a mattress, doona and sheets, a basic kitchen kit including a 12V esky, and some food. Plus some extra clothes and outlet shopping – I definitely didn’t pack for this ridiculous heat, it’s been in the high 30s. Funny how that feels like work to me when a lot of people would see that as a main feature of a US holiday. 

I started in Venice and Santa Monica, where I had breakfast of a bagel with garlic cream cheese at a little place on Main Street.  And Ruth: the garlic had some real bite, just like we never see in Australia any more!  Yummy.  And for those of  you who are or were Californication fans – the place really does feel and look like that.  Tiny streets and lanes, high fences with what you sense are expensive houses behind.  And very cute little boutiques and shops.  And even numerous bald men with large cigars!!!

One thing I did enjoy was my first visit to a fabric store.  I promised myself I’d only buy what I could see myself making up and enjoying straight away – and I think I stuck to it pretty well.  This place was amazing – a massive range, mostly great quality, and good prices compared to what we pay in Sydney.  I’ll be doing more of these as I travel around, but since none of you are sewers I’ll keep my comments to a minimum 🙂  I was aiming for a second fabric store but lost my nerve when  drove into the neighbourhood.  The fashion district here is block upon block of what can best be described as chaos – what looks from the road like tiny jam packed shops, hundreds of people everywhere, and men with flags ready to wave you towards parking garages.  I declined and headed out – it just seemed too much to deal with.  I might come back before I fly out, I’ll see.

Although today was mostly driving, it did give me a good sense of L.A.   From Santa Monica I headed up Wilshire Boulevard, through Beverley Hills, downtown, the fashion district, and ended up in Burbank (where a lot of the actual filming of movies is done) for the night. Fascinating to see the variations, from hugely expensive (even though I didn’t head into the really rich areas) to very poor and lots of homeless.  Even the police cars show the difference – LA police have old basic cruisers, while Beverley Hills have nice new model SUVs.

Nice Art Deco and Spanish style architecture everywhere.

Sun 14 Sept – Venice Beach!

I’m here! I had a good flight, got to gate check Bertha (ie I kept her with me all the way to the door of the plane, where they then took her and put her in the hold). It’s a huge advantage, it meant I was mobile while hanging around at the airport, as opposed to someone pushing me in a manual chair straight from checkin to the gate.

The roads and keeping to the right felt familiar pretty much straight away – good going given the jetlag. After getting myself sorted out with the car (van?) and some basic shopping I decided to head straight for my hotel at Venice Beach rather than try to do too much else.

Apart from some hassles accessing the parking, the hotel’s great. Right on the boardwalk so you feel like you’re in the middle of all the action (tall building in picture below), I can distantly hear everything (including a drumming festival that’s been going since I got here) but soundproof enough that I had no trouble falling asleep even in the middle of the day.

Once I’d checked in and changed (it was 35C here today!) I had a wonderful walk (or should that be Bertha?) along the boardwalk. Very touristy but good fun! They seem to manage a very good mix of tourists, locals, and (unfortunately) lots of homeless people.

Cheap tourist shops, mixed with hawkers, buskers, and LOTS of people just out skateboarding, dancing, biking, walking the dog, whatever. And of course with that wonderful ocean, beach, palm trees etc in the background.

After a slice of greasy pepperoni pizza just before sunset I’ve retreated back to my room. The noise regulations are clearly strict – after sunset the place went dead quiet. I was in bed just after 7, and asleep not long after that!

Almost on my way!

So I’m almost off on a new adventure! Long Service Leave, and another USA road trip – taking in about 10 states this time, from LA to the Pacific Northwest, up to the Canadian border at Glacier National Park, then down via Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, and the spectacular desert country in Utah and Arizona to San Diego. A week in the office there, then back up to LA and home. This is roughly my route going north, and this is what I’m planning on my way south.  I’ll be all on my own most of the way – so please keep me company, I’d love to hear from you either in the comments here or by email.

Thurs Mar 5 – Home again

So, that’s it – If you’re not bored stupid yet, I’m planning to put some more photos up at www.mimwdv.net/family in the next few days.

The flight home was OK, and I guess it’s good to be back, although it’s going to be hard to get back into the swing of normal life – the travel bug has bitten again, and hard! It’s been truly spectacular. So many different places and sights, and unbelievably gorgeous scenery. And lots of good company on the way, and the many very friendly, helpful and generous people I met.

Thank you to all of you for your interest, and to those who’ve kept in touch, especially the last week when I was on my own. And especially to Ria, Ruth, Rob and Paul who’ve all been helping me adjust back to real life since I landed – your offers and suggestions have been duly noted, I’ll let you know if I decide to take you up on any of them!

Then there’s a very special thank you to the Colemans for having us for a week in Annapolis, when I know you’re doing it tough yourselves at the moment – I hope we managed to help more than hinder, and that you get home safe and well in the next few months – looking forward to catching up with you then.

And last but in no way least, thanks to Bryan for a fantastic week touring CA – for your company, conversation, laughter, dinners, wine, photography, and of course the tour-guiding. It’s been fun, let’s do it again some time!

Tuesday Mar 2 – the Getty and LAX

I drove the rest of the way down into LA today, and went to the Getty Center before heading to the airport. It sits in a spectacular location with views over the entire LA basin and out to Catalina Island – and as you can see from the above (click on the picture to enlarge), I managed to catch it on a very clear day – which is another way of saying there’s a strong cold wind blowing today.Bryan and I had discussed going there last week, but it was closed both times we went past. Well, not today. A truly spectacular place and a great way to end my trip. A photography exhibition, impressionist paintings (including Monet and Van Gogh), a massive view over the LA basin, and fantastic architecture for me to make abstract photos, all with a sunny day and clear blue sky to give good backgrounds and interesting contrasts with the white buildings and all the shadows. And both Ruth and Bryan keeping me company via email. It doesn’t get much better than that!

I hung around so long that it got a bit late – my flight was at 8pm, and I wanted to be at the airport in plenty of time, but didn’t leave the Getty till after 4pm. And then, of course, I had to deal with LA peak hour traffic, and there was an accident on the interstate which slowed everything down to a crawl. I got to the airport – and then had to work out where the petrol station was! Well, Google’s been great but it let me down on that one. Wherever it thought that Chevron station was, I couldn’t find it. I did THREE laps of the airport, before finally venturing further out, finding a different one, and returning the car to Avis and heading to the check in.

VAustralia feels a bit like they’re camping out here, but their service is great, all very friendly staff, and they let me gate-check Bertha, which means I had her with me all the way to the door of the plane – and they returned her to me at the plane door at the Sydney end. The alternative is checking her with the suitcases, and one of their staff wheelchairs me to the gate, and from the gate to baggage claim, which is what happened coming over. That’s all good and well, but if you’re waiting for a flight for a couple of hours, it’s much better to be independently mobile and be able to wander around, have something to eat, etc, without inconveniencing someone else.

Monday March 1st – Heading for LA

I decided to take time in Vegas to do a bit of last-minute shopping (some ziplock bags to make sure nothing leaks on the way home, and another present or two), rather than try to negotiate all that in LA, and, again, I took it slowly and with a late start to save some spoons, so didn’t get much done today.

Not that I’ve been particularly unwell – in fact, I’ve been far better this entire month than I normally am in Sydney. I’m going to have to hassle the doctor to work out why. No idea whether it’s stress at home, that I’ve got some low level allergic reaction to something in the house, the Sydney climate, or what. But if I can be this well when I’m traveling, doing far more than average, and generally out of my element, why can’t I reproduce that when I’m largely in control of my environment at home? I’ve worked out that I’ve driven over 1200 mi (2000km) this week. Back home, just the drive to Canberra (300km, 190mi) is enough to put me in bed for two days. Why the big difference?

So I headed down towards LA. Again, a beautiful drive (mostly), but taking it pretty slow. I stopped in Victorville, about an hour and a half from LAX, found a hotel, wrote some more blog entries (which will get to you all eventually, I promise – I’m sorry they’ve been so delayed) and attempted to get everything packed into my bag. Not so easy – I’ve done too much shopping, even since I sent so much back with the boys. And because I need to negotiate the airports in Bertha, on my own, with suitcases and handluggage, I’m restricted in exactly what and how I can pack, how big the suitcase can be, etc. I got it all in there eventually, but my suitcase has gained 6kg in the last 2 weeks!

Sunday Feb 28 – Route 66, Hoover Dam and Vegas

I checked in at 3pm yesterday, and spent the rest of the day, and till midday today, in bed, mostly online, starting to get the blog caught up, and talking to Ria and Nikki (thank you both!). Once they kicked me out (after some confusion about checkout times because I was living in California time, but was actually in Arizona, an hour ahead) I headed off, aiming for some food, and then to drive a piece of Route 66.

Food proved to be difficult – Seligman is clearly suffering from the economy, and of course it’s still winter. Many places were closed – hard to say whether it’s permanent or just for the winter. Many houses on the main street were also either for sale or simply falling down – this place definitely isn’t prospering.

A bit further along I finally found a couple of places that were open – and hit a touristy, kitchy part of Route 66 – I hope it’s enough business to keep the town kicking along. I found the Roadkill Cafe that had just re-opened for the season, and had a beef and bean burrito for breakfast. It kept me going for most of the day, augmented by the never-ending supply of M&Ms and trailmix!

Back on the road the poverty continued – similar to some isolated parts of Australia, I guess. Lots of very run-down houses in tiny towns, especially on the Indian reservation that I drove through. But, once more, it was mixed in with gorgeous scenery, great light, lovely mountains and plains. And I had to dodge (or drive over) actual tumbleweeds! Especially after the kitch in Seligman, it made me feel like I was really in the Old West.

I’ve still got 3 days left (including today) and am not quite sure what to do with them. I didn’t do much planning for this week because I wasn’t sure what my body was going to be able to cope with – it seemed like after 3 busy weeks I might end up having to sit still in a motel somewhere, resting up. But I’ve been lucky and been able to do much more than I ever imagined.

Bryan suggested going to Catalina Island off the coast of LA for a day, but in the end on a whim I turned right and followed the signs to the Hoover Dam and Las Vegas. The dam was pretty spectacular – I guess I’ve got some engineering blood in me somewhere that makes me fascinated by all these big construction works, I had the same reaction to the Deltawerken in Holland. The security was pretty tight – there were checkpoints and police all over the place, and trucks, buses etc aren’t allowed to drive over the dam. I guess it’s a prime terrorism target.

According to Wikipedia all the current construction work you can see in the background is to build a bypass bridge over the Colorado River, which is due for completion later this year. When it’s opened, you won’t be able to drive over the dam any longer, but you will be able to see it from the lower side (which as far as I know you can’t do currently).

And then, once I’d passed the dam, the views over Lake Meade, and the light on the hills was spectacular, although my photos don’t seem to have captured it very well 🙁

The drive down into Vegas took longer than I thought – it’s a much bigger city than I imagined. I drove up and down the strip while attempting to work out where I was going to sleep, park the car, find a hotel and check in, etc. That also took much longer – from the time I got off the freeway at the end of the strip, until I actually got into my room took a good couple of hours. As I said to a couple of you – the hustle and bustle of the city (or this city) isn’t really for me. I’m feeling very much like a country mouse in the big smoke!

I ended up in the Excalibur Casino on the strip (for less than $100 per night, this was the view from my room, and yes, that moon and clouds is actually real!) and rested up in my room for a couple of hours – even the casino itself is big enough to give me pause. I just looked it up – it has 4000 rooms and 10,000 sqm of casino floor – and there are dozens the same size or bigger all the way along the strip. Mind boggling that there’s enough business to support all that. But new development isn’t doing so well – I drove past Jamie Packer’s project that he lost a bundle on, it’s still a building site with nothing happening.

I eventually headed out with Bertha to have a look at the strip. Loud, colourful, in your face, bright – what else is there to say? Even McDonalds gets in on the act with sparkling signage! And, of course, the fountains at the Bellagio were beautiful.

But I left it a bit late in the day to go exploring – when I first went out there were still plenty of families around but by the time I headed back it was feeling a lot more sleazy and menacing – mainly drunken young guys, no kids and few women. It’s really the first time I haven’t felt totally safe during the entire trip – even late nights on the streets of New York weren’t this nervous-making, and I was glad to get back to my room.

And all those elevators! Vegas has largely taken the pedestrians away from the traffic by building a series of sky bridges across the side roads along one side of the strip. It’s a good idea, but it meant I was forever having to find the elevator (often in an obscure corner), wait, go up, across and down again. And since elevators are always awkward in Bertha, it was tricky (especially the one that made my heart stop by closing on me when I was half in and half out, and for a moment not letting go!)

I got around OK and nowhere was impossible to reach, but they obviously didn’t consider disability issues properly when they last re-did this place. All the footpaths have huge dips between the slabs of concrete and large patterned texturing, and have a considerable sideways slope – fine for pedestrians, but I was pretty much rattled out of my socks by the time I got back, and was worried Bertha was going to tip over several times – good thing I’m agile enough to save myself should it happen, lots of other scooter users wouldn’t be. And the lips on the kerbs leave a lot to be desired. There always was one – but many are right ON the corner, so to get on and off the footpath I had to venture out into the (moving) traffic each time. Hair raising!

Oh, and apparently I’m seriously not a gambler – I just don’t understand why people bother. Am I the only person to go to Vegas and not drink, not gamble, AND not see a show?

Saturday Feb 27 – Sun on the Canyon!

Well, I went out for sunset last night (and sunrise this morning). Got some reasonable photos, although the light was pretty ordinary. Had pizza and a glass of wine for dinner, and went to bed. I’m out of here soon, and planning to get back down off the plateau and into better weather, and then stop and take it easy for a day or so. I’m doing fine with getting back to LA in time for my flight, and need to slow down and get some spoons back. But it’s been spectacular!

(Later) OK, that didn’t quite go according to plan. I was heading out of the park when the sun started to break through the clouds, so I turned around and headed back to the rim. Another couple of hours, lots more photos (much better with better light), then in the early afternoon down to a little town called Seligman, where I stayed at the Stagecoach Inn – which the owner apologetically explained hadn’t been renovated since the 1950s. They laughed at me when I told them I needed a room with internet, but that a shower was a much lower priority. So I got internet, a bed, an original ’50s pink bathroom, and a heater that kept me warm after some coaxing from the owner, for the princely sum of $45. What more does a body need?

Friday Feb 26 – To the Grand Canyon

Well, the drive to the Canyon was almost as spectacular as yesterday’s driving. The only drawback was that most of it was along freeways, so there weren’t many opportunities to stop and take photos. Heading into Phoenix I drove through a huge flat valley, with mountains all around, cacti, you name it – and speed traps every few miles. I don’t know whether they had some special campaign going or whether this is normal for Arizona, but there was an unbelievable number of them. Hopefully I won’t have too many speeding tickets arriving in the mail the next few weeks!

But first I had a problem to solve. Last night I realised I’d miscalculated my Magnesium doses and wasn’t going to have enough to get me home. So job one this morning was to sort that out. How? Well, I pulled over into a rest area along the interstate with good phone signal. I Googled naturopaths in Phoenix, found one that had a pharmacy built in, and told Google maps to give me directions. I pulled up in front of their door and they sold me enough Mg to last me till I get home. It probably added a 20min detour to my day all up. Easy. Without the phone, I reckon it would have taken the best part of a day before I had it sorted out. As Nikki said, the phone just paid for itself!

From Phoenix I headed to Flagstaff – again, on freeways. I hadn’t researched it very much, and it turns out Flagstaff is at a lot higher elevation than Phoenix, so I was back climbing mountains. Bryan, thanks for encouraging me to get the more powerful car – it’s made a big difference. Again, a beautiful drive – with the classic Wiley Coyote and Road Runner cacti everywhere. They’re everywhere – but only on the south side of each hill, they obviously need the sun. Unfortunately I didn’t have the chance to stop and take photos because there was nowhere to pull off the interstate – but it was spectacular. In Flagstaff there was snow everywhere – I’m back in cold weather, which was a bit unexpected. I just kept moving, following signs to the Canyon – which took me up a back road that was just stunning. Over mountains with snow and trees – thankfully the road was dry and cleared, but the snow everywhere was very pretty.

I reached the Canyon about 2pm. Like on the drive up, there’s lots of snow on the ground, but the roads are clear and dry. It’s very overcast, and they’re forecasting rain and snow the next couple of days, so I’ll head off tomorrow, I don’t want to get stuck or have to drive through terrible weather. I bought some postcards, and took my first look at the canyon itself. Despite the weather, it’s still spectacular. Quite a bit of snow on the edges, and the air is very clear so you can see a very long way. Not much colour, though, which is a shame – but I guess with the overcast weather I can’t expect much more. You can walk for miles along the rim, great paths, depending on snow it’d be easy to take Bertha for huge distances. But I’ve pretty much just been driving to lookouts, walking a little way, and getting back in the car, because it’s hovering around freezing – Bertha might survive a serious hike bit I doubt I’d last ver long – and many of the paths are only partially cleared of snow which would make it hard going.

I got a room with a view of the Canyon (only $10 more than one without). The only drawback is that I’ve AGAIN not got internet – so I’m writing blog entries but can’t post them. I’m going to have to make sure I get a hotel with internet tomorrow so I can actually get this stuff out to you all!