Beauties in the Middle of Nowhere

After Grand Canyon we were heading north eastwards to Page, a small town near two famous sights called Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon. We used it as our base to do day trips and camped there at Walmart for the next two nights (we just didn’t see the point of spending 50usd a night for one of those cramped campgrounds offering facilities we don’t need. Though we met two funny Frenchies sleeping in their car and an American guy called Mat from the South of Arizona travelling in his self-made campervan for six weeks). Besides the two famous sights the manmade Lake Powell was also a sight worth seeing. It took the people a few years to build the dam, and 17 years for the water to fill at Glen Canyon Dam which forms the lake. On one hand a good thing to have clean energy, but one the other hand we also learnt that most of the water was used for agricultural purposes. To produce an egg, for example, needs shocking 140liters of water! We wonder how long the Earth’s resources can last (we are not good examples of course with our flying-around-the-world but at least aware of it trying to do our share by not washing our car weekly, showering longer than 5mins etc etc.).

As Antelope Canyon is only accessible with tours, we had to book a tour for the resized_IMG_6557following day, hoping that it is at a good time. Tours at noon with good lights shining through the canyon are more popular so they sell out faster (and are more expensive).  We had some trouble getting a tour at such short notice but luckily after an hour of calling we managed to book two seats. We went with a Native American owned company which also did a short dance performance before the tour. It is indeed one of the most beautiful places we have visited, but one of the worst tours we have had as well. It was crowded with 1’800 tourists visiting the place daily and the tour companies had a tight schedule to adhere resized_IMG_6562to so it was quite a rush. We were driven to the place was in an open 4WD truck, the ride over dirt road bumpy and very very dusty. We were not so lucky and got a really, really lousy tour guide. He was a middle aged Indian man who only knew exactly how to walk into your photos while you try to take photos without any person, or who shouted “come over here” a gazillion times throughout the 1.5hour tour. Despite the sad fact that this place is overly commercialized and overpriced, we still thought this place is insanely beautiful. Nature must be a good artist to be able to carve such patterns onto the rocks. See for yourself.

Another famous sight in the region is the horseshoe bend, which earned its name as the Colorado River carved a 180degrees turn around a big rock, looking like a horseshoe. It must be a truly huge horse to have that size of a horseshoe;) it is a nice place to visit if you are not afraid of heights, because there is no fence and you are basically standing at edge of cliffs. We survived it! Once again it was hot. Even the short 2miles hike at 5pm nearly grilled us. As we had sort of enough of this heat where not even the wind brings relief (the gusts are so hot and dry that it burns on your skin at resized_IMG_6762dries our eyes out) and the dusty air (Roman produced some nice allergic reactions to it) we planned to find some cool down in higher altitudes in the east: Monument Valley. We did, almost by coincidence, meet one of Romans study friends, Marco, for dinner. It was good fun and we were a bit envious about the agile muscle car he had for his trip.

As we faced the setting sun on our visit to the horseshoe bend the evening before we decided to go back there again before driving towards Monument Valley. The light was resized_IMG_6773much better and worth the extra move, which we definitely did not regret later as we sat in the car for a few hours later on. We expected to drive to Monument Valley to be a leisurely 1.5hrs ride. In the end it took us almost double the time. As we entered the valley shortly after Kayenta more and more towering rock formations opened up around us. The park itself lies within the Navajo State (a land area given to the local Indian tribes by contract) and was operated by their own people so unfortunately our National Park Pass was not valid and we had to pay entrance fee (not too bad we thought – support the locals). The first glance at the famous red rock piles standing emerald within the valley was breathtaking and instantly let you feel like in one of those epic western movies. The only RV campsite (a simple line up of parallel parking lots at the rim overlooking the valley with a table for each slot, nothing more) cost us another 45USD. It started to get suspicious. As we wanted to drive down the valley to discover the park resized_IMG_6826late afternoon we started to plan our itinerary. We got informed that RVs are not allowed to drive on the dirt road in the park but the park operates tours. Being told that 1.5hr guided drives to the valley on open 10-people trucks start at a bottom rate of 75USD per person we got a bit upset. It seemed like the Indians here wanted to make easy money out of their visitors without bothering much about what services they provide. It was the same for Antelope Canyon. We decided not to take any of these tours and to try our luck by stopping one of the cars (normal size cars are allowed to drive on the dirt road) entering the area and promptly got two friendly Dutch guys who took us with them. After driving around in the valley with Tom and Nik for almost tworesized_IMG_6864 hours it was time for sunset magic. We took our chairs and watched the rocks gluing and their shadows growing. Roman liked the place that much that he even set his alarm to 5:45 to go and watch the sunrise the other morning (which of course was a jaw dropper but sleeping Yin Ru said she finds it not very special according to the photos shown…whatever…).

The place of Monument Valley marked the eastern most point of our loop. As we were unsure whether places like Arches-, Canyonlands or Capitol Reef National Park were worth the extra few hundred miles detour to the north east and there were not many roads to shortcut or get back in this area we decided to drive back the same way to reach our next bold agenda point: Bryce Canyon. Yin Ru did her share of driving for more than 2hrs that day which means that she drove more hours on this motorhome than on any other vehicles together on our round the world trip. The day was also father’s day with many family’s spending some time at Lake Powell to have fun with their dads. We found it interesting that the only fresh water source for ten thousands of acres was open for hundreds of boresized_IMG_6875ats to play. We also saw a huge coal power plant hidden behind the dam. We were wondering how honest these stories about the green way of this country is sold at the Dam’s visitor center we heard a few days before and how people are going to compensate the emissions caused by their play boats which easily burn 200 liters of diesel in an hour…

Since Bryce Canyon is an incredibly popular spot this time of the year and we didn’t reserve a campsite, our strategy was the same as the one we had for Grand Canyon: Drive as close to the Park as possible, stay the night before at a nice spot outside the park, get up early and grab one of the first come first served spots in the park in the morning. So we had a long driving day and ended up camping just 10miles out of Bryce at a neat place within Red Canyon Forest Park grilling steaks, corn and veggies on wood fire. Our strategy worked out well once again and we got to choose one of the better spots the next morning on Sunset Campground in Bryce Canyon National Park for the next two nights.

We then did the scenic drive in the park in the afternoon. And wow, wow, wow was the first reaction whenever we stopped at a lookout point. Simply amazing. Hundreds of thousands of “hoodoos” (the rock formations), each one unique. Halfway during the self-drive we got our own self-drive guided tour by following tour buses and listen to resized_IMG_7053their guide. At sunset we had a short walk into the canyon which was like an appetizer for our hike the next day. The main hike the next day was one of the best hikes ever: though not as strenuous as we imagined, the view was beyond imagination. We basically hiked through wonderland. We did not find Alice but hundreds of thousands of Hoodoos. We were amazed by how fast landscape changed and how wonderful it felt to walk through all the pillars: from deep red hoodoos with white toppings to orange colored cliffs and brown sands. It is a different sensation than just looking at it from the top (which was nice too) as you walk around them. We had wood fire BBQ again because with sun setting at 9pm, you have plenty of time to grill and spend time outside. During our stay at Bryce Canyon we had a funny young couple as neighbors in camp. We were pretty entertained by them: first eresized_IMG_7056vening we wondered why they were not talking to each other at all, and the second evening their car keys were locked IN the car so rangers had to come and rescue the keys. So now we know how to unlock a car without keys, watch out everyone! We left Bryce Canyon after a lovely 2night stay with beautiful memories.

Our initial plan was to visit the Zion National Park after the Bryce. As we realized we might have more time than we needed, we thought why not do something different? So we decided to do the scenic By-Way 12 before going to Zion. We knew nothing about it resized_IMG_7336before, but now we would definitely recommend it to everyone. It was a beautiful drive through Canyons, bushland, riverwashes and in the end a 11’000ft high mountain (beautiful view, but not beautiful for our elephant motorhome to climb uphill). We camped at a small campsite with 5 capacity called Pleasant Creek at over 9’000ft elevation where deer shouted goodnight around 9pm. We grilled (again!) some beef for dinner, and ironically we saw cows walking just 10meters away from us (we did say thank you to the cows for the meat though). The scenic drive continues all the way to the Capitol Reef National Park, a less renowned National Park compared to its cousins aka Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion etc. We were happy that we came here not knowing what to expect. It was less crowded (but hotter) and one could do a resized_IMG_7526scenic drive in the park itself. We also noticed that honestly we have been looking at rocks/soil/land since we started the road trip: Grand Canyon was like a big crack in the land, Bryce the Rock formations were popping out of earth (actually made of cliffs) and Capitol Reef again spectacular cliffs. We are not geologists so those were just our impressions. After Capitol Reef National Park we drove in the direction of Zion National Park and stayed somewhere at a rest area on highway. We were uncertain if we should stay overnight there but a truck driver told us it is totally fine and later an elderly pair came to join us at rest area to sleep overnight. Yinru slept really well despite the highway noise but poor Roman not.

We got up early today so that we could get a campsite at Zion National Park. Being a RV Monster, we had to pay an extra 15 USD fee to be “escorted” through the tunnel in the Zion. As the tunnel was built in the 20s when large vehicles were less common, the tunnel was rather small and monster cars like ours need clearance to be able to go through. All the cars on the other side of traffic had to be stopped so that we could drive in the middle of the tunnel (two way traffic would not work). We put the blame on the RV that was in front of us anyways (we were ONLY 22ft and theirs was definitely like 35ft). resized_IMG_7533The drive into the park itself was already scenic enough. We went to both campgrounds only to our disappointment to be told that they were both fully booked. At 10am! We were like “but it is first come first served, and we are here at 10am when the other people are checking out!”. The ranger told us that people came here at 8am to get a spot…ok apparently we were not early enough. We have not encountered this problem in Grand Canyon or Bryce so it was a little bit surprising for us that Zion is so much more popular. We had to go to private campground nearby which charged 50 USD (!) for a night. We paid the 50bucks for the “parking” space (with water and electricity, but not more) because they were the only campground in the vicinity. Oh well….It was hot so it was our first time using our AC the whole afternoon! The AC was not even enough to cool us down so we went to cool ourselves down in the river. Oh gosh, we were thankful that we are not living here permanently or we would be grilled! Sun at 6pm still hurts your skin. Roman left his sandals outside of the motorhome for an hour and the edges MELTED. Melted sandals. Imagine that? We visited the park in the evening when it was less hot. We did realize why this park is popular: its breathtaking beauty. See for yourself.

Each National Park we have visited is unique so we would not say this is the best, but definitely one of the top 5 (we have only visited 5 to date anyways haha). The best way to explore the park was to hike it. We heard about the Angels Landing Hike a lot and decided to give it a try. This legendary yet scary hike is so difficult that only angels could land on it (some parts you need to hold onto the chain as there were cliffs on both side). We knew we were no angels and knowing our own limits being afraid of heights, we would be happy if we made it to the Scouts resized_IMG_7694landing, the lookout point before the scary cliff part. Due to the extreme heat during the day, the best time to do a hike would be early in the morning so we dragged ourselves out of bed at 630am. We started our hike at about 815am and there were already quite some people on the trail. As we hiked we realized that we have physically improved a bit and we were feeling fit even though it was going uphill all the time. The cool climate in the morning did help us a lot (worth it to get up so early). We made it to the overlook without much difficulties though we had to use the chain for the last 10minutes or so. The inner debate if we should attempt to hike to the top ended with a clear “No” after seeing the trail with our own eyes. Nope, we can’t be angels this time. There was so much traffic (human) as everyone holds on to the only chain making the two wayresized_IMG_7618 traffic a bit congested. And the sheer cliffs on both sides at 1400ft make your legs shake just by looking at it. So we enjoyed the view of the canyon (and the people climbing to the top) for some time before making our way down. Going downhill was easy as usual, we were also entertained by many different techniques people use to reduce impact on knees and toes: run, jog, and even backward walking. As we walked down at 1030am it was getting warm already and we saw many people hiking up. Some of them looked red already after the first 0.5mile (it is 5.4mile return) so we were glad that we got up early to hike. The Virgin River that shapes the Zion National Park is still working its magic in the park, and it also does wonder with cooling down. We bathed a bit in the cool 15 degrees river and felt alive again!

Welcome to American America

Here we go, the last chapter of this amazing trip: 6 weeks road trip in South Western US mainland. It’s going to be summer, hot, packed with tourists but big fun with lots of camping, beautiful national parks and thousands of miles on the road to discover – this is what we expected before we started. Our intention was to pick up (and later drop off) a motor home in Los Angeles to discover some of the world’s most famous national parks in the south west by driving a huge (about 4’000miles long) loop and then hire a car for the last two weeks to get all the way from Los Angeles to San Francisco from where we will be heading back home in the end of July.

LA didn’t welcome us with open arms. After touching down at LAX we waited 50mins in the airplane taxing for our gate, another hour for the luggage delivery and in the end again an hour for our complimentary shuttle service to the hotel that never arrived (we took at taxi at our expenses in the end). It got pretty late that night so we had a short 4hrs sleep before (and this time the shuttle arrived) our rental company picked us up to get the motorhome. One of the few things we pre-booked more than six months ago was our recreational vehicle (or simply called RV) for the first 4 weeks. What appeared to be ridiculously distant when we booked it last winter is now standing in front of us: an 8meter long, 5.6 tons heavy motorhome powered by a huge V8 5.6l Ford engine (which consumes approx.. 30l per 100km – 3-4 times more than our car back home) with all the amenities one could imagine: shower and toilet, electricity generator, AC, a wifi-hotspot and, the coolest thing ever: an expendable living room that slides sideways resized_IMG_5963out of the vehicle. After camping with campervans in Australia and New Zealand this vehicle comes with all the trimmings and feels more like a hotel on wheels than a motorhome…and guess what: this was the smallest available RV for rent. Appears more like a house on wheels than the smallest available camper but yeah: if in American do as the Americans right? We were actually told by our rental company that Americans don’t like this kind of small RVs…of course…

After shopping all the necessities to camp for the next few weeks (which was kind of a headache since catering for two seems to be really difficult here. They mainly sell one kilo+ packages of meat or 8 packs of breads) we hit LA’s freeways. It was ridiculous. 6, 7 oh wait this one’s got 8 lanes in one direction. Their streets are just massive…and…still way too busy. The avalanche of cars, trucks and buses came to a stop every now and then. No wonder it took us more than 2hrs to cover the first 50miles westbound (and we were not even driving through the city center and it was Saturday morning. We really don’t want to know how bad their weekday’s rush hours are). We just wanted to get out there. We parked our car at a Walmart parking lot in a suburb at the western end of LA to sleep. Temperatures were comfortable…yet… Walmart seems to be a good place to park overnight actually, as opposed to what we initially thought. This Walmart is open 24/7, so that means there is security all the time and we could use their restroom all the time if we wanted to.

After sleeping in our own comfy bed for the first night, we got up feeling refreshed and ready for the big road trip. Our schedule today was to go to Joshua Tree National Park. It is a desert-ish park with various types of plants and animals that have adapted to the hot, dry weather in the presized_IMG_5982ark. It is amazing to think of how the plants and animals could survive under these hard conditions. We arrived there at around noon time which shouts: hot hot hot! It was so hot that you would practically seek for shades every 5 seconds you’re walking somewhere…but too bad we are in the desert where there are not that many shaded places. Obviously there was no way that we could hike or do anything outdoor for a longer time at that time unless you want to be grilled. Temperatures were well above the 100 degrees (40degrees Celsius) line. We visited a few spots that offered beautiful views of rocks, Joshua Trees and the desert. The heat was worst here at 2.30pm as informed by the park ranger, so we did not do resized_IMG_6036much in the late afternoon. Roman was brave and went out of the car sometimes for photo shooting. 5minutes later he would come back looking like a cooked shrimp. We stayed for a night at a camp site in the park called Jumbo Rock. As the name suggests, the campsite was surrounded by huge rocks, each one unique. At sunset, the heat became more bearable and we could even walk around the park and enjoyed the sunset. Lights reflecting on rocks made them looked orangey and pretty. Eventually some rabbits, birds and lizards started to show up. As the sky got darker an endless blanket of stars opened up above us. Just lying on outdoor picnic table we could see uncountable stars and occasionally shooting stars. Simply the beauty of nature that one could see here…

One of the most famous national parks in USA would probably be Yosemite and Grand Canyon, both of which we plan to visit. We were awaken as it started to get sauna-ish in the motorhome with sunlighresized_IMG_6090t (at 8am). After having breakfast in the shades outside of our motorhome we hit the road again in the direction of Grand Canyon. What seems close by on map can be deceiving, the distances between the parks are just huge. From Joshua Tree to Grand Canyon would take us at least 5-6hours. And as we were told there’s really nothing much that’s particularly worth seeing between this two places. Hence we ended up driving the whole day to get to Grand Canyon. As we drove, the landscape changed from desert (where it was 43 degrees and the wind hurt your skin and eyes) to savannah within the first two hours and then later dense needle tree forests at the higher altitude of the Colorado Plateau. Though driving can be tiring, driving on American highways was sort of entertaining too. We wonder where all the pick-ups are heading to as we saw them in the middle of the desert with their boats on the back trailers. Though passenger trains were not so common here, we did see many freight transportation trains. One of the trains that we saw was over 1.2miles long with four locomotives in front to pull it. Well even with that it did not move fast… one of the “sceneries” on the highway was how long certain vehicle (not trucks) can be: we saw a truck which was transporting three other trucks or a huge motorhome (length of a bus) towing another Jeep (which we assume is for day-tripping). We love the comfort of this spacious motorhome but driving such a vehicle also means that you become a more resized_IMG_6468and more welcomed investor at petrol stations. We got sort of a bad deal by refueling 2/3 of our gasoline for 160 USD shortly before crossing the California to Arizona state boarder. And then 15mins later, we realized that the gas price in Arizona was much cheaper, almost 50% lower (but yeah. We didn’t know about it and didn’t want to risk driving further in this almost abandoned area not knowing when the next service station is available). After having spent so much on gas, we decided that for this night we would not spend another 50 USD for a campsite in small touristy town of Williams. So we ended up camping for free in a forest about an hours’ drive away from Grand Canyon south rim. At an altitude of more than 2’000m it chilled fast in the evening (what a nice contrast to the sweat the last night).

Camping in America in this season is absolutely lovely, nice weather (though it can be real hot) almost guaranteed. And obviously we are not the only ones doing it, there are thousands of other tourists on the road at this time of the year visiting the famous Parks resized_IMG_6378and sights, which means: campsites might be booked out well in advance. We could not plan our stay at all the attractions months in advance to make campsite reservations as we have been “busy traveling” for more than 4 months. Grand Canyon is one of the spots that we were worried not getting any campsite for a night. So we set an alarm to get up early and started making phone calls to various campsites in the National Park itself: our worry was confirmed. None of the campsites in the park had vacancies. After an hour of effort, we finally found a reasonably priced campsite for the night, just outside of the town Tusayan in Kaibab National Forest. We got here at 10am and got our campsite for the night reserved. Yeay! In the afternoon, the big thing was up: Grand Canyon. The 80 USD annual National Park pass we purchased in Hawaii proved to be worthy as the entrance to Grand Canyon costs 30 USD. GRAND Canyon is indeed GRAND. 446km long, up to 29km wide, and 1.6km deep, this canyon was breathtakingly beautiful. After walking along the rim for some time we took a shuttle bus to enjoy the sunset a less touristy lookout. The shades of the setting sun playing with the rock formations was gorgeous.

As the campsite was so peaceful and convenient so we decided to extend another night here whilst we had the whole day to do some household and motorhome servicing. We have not had any campsite with full hook-ups (water, dump, electricity) since we received the car four days ago so it was time to get our motorhome cleaned up! It was our first time having a motorhome with a toilet so we were curios how it will be removing our own waste. Came prepared with rubber hand gloves, we disposed of the waste tanks at the National Park successfully. We realized that waste dumping was not as scary as we imagined. Luckily! Laundry, charging of laptop at McD, etc were also done. What an eventful day J Our day ended with a wonderful BBQ wood fire dinner (of course lighted the Swiss pathfinder style with only one newspaper and no chemicals) by sunset. Good company, food and wine, what more can one ask for in life!resized_IMG_6112