...images from planet Earth
Saturday 19th August - London - Chicago
Arrived at Chicago O'Hare airport at 10:30am and got a taxi to Wacker Hotel which was in a good central location downtown. Walked down Michigan Avenue then to Oak Street beach. It was packed because there was an airshow that weekend. In the evening went to Club 710 which I found in an old Bunac guide. Full of teenagers doing the salsa.
Sunday 20th August - Chicago
Visited the skydeck at the Sears tower, then walked towards the beach and stayed there for three hours. Walked along the lake towards Alder Planetarium to get a view of the Chicago skyline. Waited till the sun set and took some pictures. Walked back through Buckingham fountain and took some more pictures. At night we went to a bar on Division Street.
Monday 21st August - Chicago - San Francisco
Went to the Chicago Board of Trade via Wabash, a stylish looking street with good views of the green Chicago River. In the afternoon we left for San Francisco and landed at 8:30. Stayed with a friend of a friend's at Santa Clara, 45 miles south of San Francisco. Santa Clara is a trendy neighbourhood, home to a lot of people who work in nearby Silicon Valley.
Tuesday 22nd August - San Francisco
Got the 12:05 train to San Francisco. The trains were huge double deckers and were very slow, stopping at about 20 stations on the way. Walked around all afternoon and got back to Santa Clara at 8pm. We went for an (Asian) Indian buffet and back at the apartment, we made plans for the trip.
Wednesday 23rd August - San Francisco - Mohave
Originally planned to catch the 6:10 train to San Francisco so we could pick up the car at 7:30 as planned. We ended up catching the 11:05 train. There were only two vehicles at the Budget office - a pickup and a convertible, so we paid $100 a week extra for the convertible, a maroon Chrysler Sebring. We headed south over the Bay Bridge. At 8pm we arrived at Bakersfield. Bought some snacks, fruit and a sleeping bag and tent. We took 58 east to Mojave. Once there we considered driving on to Death Valley because we were scheduled to get there tonight but we settled for a motel there. The owner was friendly and gave us lots of advice about how to do the Grand Canyon and Death Valley.
Distance travelled: 365 miles
Thursday 24th August - Mohave - Death Valley - Las Vegas
We left about 10am and got to Furnace Creek in Death Valley about 2pm. It was unbearably hot. The reading on the car's dashboard went as high as 50 degrees. We drove to Badwater, the lowest point in the lower 48 states. It was very scenic there but it was difficult to stay out of the car for too long. Next, we drove to Dante's View via Artist's Point. A short walk took us to the viewpoint which was about 5,000 feet high. Nice views but the sky was hazy. We left the park for Vegas about 5:30, and stopped four times on the way to take pictures of the setting sun behind us. Arrived at 8:30, entering the Strip from the south. We parked in the Stardust car park. The hotel itself was full and they suggested the Frontier but that was too expensive at $110. We found a room at Circus Circus for $55. Rooms are cheap from Mondays to Thursdays. It was in an annex building but the room was nice. Had the best shower so far then went for a walk along the Strip till 1am.
Distance travelled: 401 miles
Friday 25th August - Las Vegas
Went for a swim at the hotel pool before checking out. We reserved a place at the Las Vegas Backpackers hostel and checked out at 11. I was looking forward to staying in a hostel again. It turned out to be excellent, probably the best I've been in. There was a pool and Jacuzzi and it was nice to be able to relax and do nothing for once. At 4pm, we left for the Valley of Fire state park. We took I93. The park was nice but it was cloudy so it was a bit of a letdown. Nice rock formations but it wasn't really what I had expected. We went for a short walk to see some petroglyphs and left at 7:30. We drove back with the roof down along highway 169. Cruising and in no hurry, it was one of the nicest drives of the trip. We got back to Vegas about an hour later and as we walked down, saw some shows and fountain displays (five at the Bellagio). We met an Italian guy there who had been there a couple of weeks and he told us about some clubs he'd been to and we realised there was more to Vegas than lights and casinos. We gambled at the Monte Carlo and got back at 3am.
Distance travelled: 130 miles
Saturday 26th August - Las Vegas - Grand Canyon
Went for a swim in the morning. Met an Austrian guy who gave me lots of advice about where to go in San Diego, Los Angeles, Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon. We left at 11am and took the 93 south to Kingman where we filled up. We then took the 40 east to Williams then the 64 and 180 north which was quite scenic - green and hilly then, as we approached the park, it became more foresty, with dear leaping across the road. We got there about 6:50 and as I was driving I caught a view of the canyon through the trees and stopped at the next view point. We were in time to watch the canyon reddened by the setting sun. I was just as amazed as I was when I saw it two years ago. We drove to the campsite, unsure as to whether we could find a space as this was peak season and a weekend. There was no one at the booth at the entrance but there was a sheet with some strips of paper which represented spaces. There were only a few left so we were lucky. We set up the tent in the light of the car's headlights.
Distance travelled: 282 miles
Sunday 27th August - Grand Canyon - Monument Valley - Mesa Verde
It was cold and uncomfortable so it was easy to wake at 5am. We quickly packed the tent and drove to one of the view points. Took loads of photos. We wanted to do the South Kaibab trail but it was not recommended because of the lightning, so we decided to return here after Mesa Verde. Drove to Desert View and stayed there for a while, then stopped again at the Little Colorado River Gorge and went for a walk to the rim. This was Navajo land and there were lots of stores along the way. The landscape was nice - red and rocky like a Mars landscape. We went through Cameron then up towards Kayenta on 160. As we approached Monument Valley there was some rain and thunder clouds in the distance. It cleared up a bit when we reached the amazing rock formations, but it was still a disappointment. We were there at a good time (just before sunset) but the sky was horrible. We drove on through to Bluff where we stopped at one of the worst restaurants we had been to. We waited ages for crap expensive food. On the way out, I got properly lost for the first time. Even the indicator on the dashboard which tells you which direction you're facing couldn't save me. Roads were not signposted and they had a tendency to end abruptly or lead you to a deserted power plant without warning. They were often occupied by herds of cattle. We went backwards and forwards a few times before we found any signs of life in the form of a petrol station. There, I asked the way to Cortez and we were on our way again. We drove into Colorado, right through Cortez and reached Mesa Verde about 10pm. It was pitch black and the road led us up steep winding roads to the park headquarters. When we reached the campsite, we were too tired to set up the tent, and it was raining so we stayed in the car and slept there. It was more comfortable than the previous night.
Distance travelled: 328 miles
Monday 28th August - Mesa Verde - Grand Canyon
We woke at 7:30. It was a nice morning and all the clouds had cleared. The hills all around had been blackened by the recent fires. We arranged a tour for 12:30 for Cliff Palace. It was an interesting tour and the guide had lots of facts about the 800 - 1000 year old ruins. The Pueblos settled there because of shelter and also because the water used to seep down through the rocks, providing them with an abundant supply. Their plantations would be at the cliff top and they would climb up and down the cliff every day. Later, we went to Spruce Tree House, another smaller dwelling, then went on the Mesa top loop drive, stopping off at several points. Some places were just shelters over underground homes whose roofs had collapsed. We left at 4ish, drove through Cortez and on towards Monument Valley. I wasn't sure whether I should go through Monument Valley in the hope of getting a better view than two days ago or go to Four Corners. The clouds looked pretty heavy again. In the end we went to Four Corners where we stopped briefly. You pay $2 for the pleasure of standing on four states at once. It was a pretty depressing drive back, apart from the first part of highway 160 through Red Mesa - red rocks and hills with green vegetation. It starting raining heavily and rain was seeping through the seals between the door and the roof. We stopped at Tuba City, then I drove on back to the Grand Canyon. This was one of the nicest drives of the trip. It was quiet, smooth and nice to be driving through forest, even in the dark. Once we got into the park, the fresh smell of mountain trees entered the car. It was a long drive from the entrance to the village and we arrived at the campsite at about 10pm. We slept in the car again.
Distance travelled: 336 miles
Tuesday 29th August - Grand Canyon - Flagstaff
We woke early again and drove to Mather Point. I took a few more pictures but it wasn't really that different to the other day. We then took the shuttle to the South Kaibab trailhead and started the trail at 11:30. I didn't think we were going to go all the way down, but we did. It was overcast for most of the time this made it easier for us and we got down in 3 hours. We rested for half an hour and when we started heading back it began to rain heavily and we got drenched. Eventually, the rain died down and we continued. Fast flowing streams had formed across the paths carryings large amounts of red mud down the canyon. I was worried that we might not make it back by sunset, but we made it back in 4 hours. Had a shower, ate and left by 8pm. It was a nice drive though Coconino national forest and I wished it was daytime so I could see it. We got to Flagstaff at 10pm and stayed in a scruffy motel, but it was nice to have a bed again.
Distance travelled: 92 miles
Wednesday 30th August - Flagstaff - Yuma
We left Flagstaff in the morning and headed south down highway 17 through more forest. It was about 5,000 feet high and the air was pleasantly cool. At 2pm we arrived at Phoenix where we walked around for a bit and went for a drink at a Cuban cafe. We drove on to Yuma via highway 10 then changed to highway 8. Saguaro cactuses, characteristic of southern Arizona, were abundant along the highway. We got to Yuma late and checked into a motel before watching The Cell, one of the worst films I have ever seen.
Distance travelled: 347 miles
Thursday 31st August - Yuma - San Diego
After a swim, we left the motel at 11am. The cactuses were replaced by sandy dunes as we drove west through southern California. We stopped at the Viejas factory outlet for some shopping. Its design was based on a native American village and was owned by a native American committee. We arrived at San Diego during the rush hour. We parked near the USA hostel we were planning to stay at. It was big with loads of activity. It was right in the middle of the Gaslamp district which was lively, lots of bars and clubs and the people seemed really friendly.
Distance travelled: 178 miles
Friday 1st September - San Diego
Went to San Diego zoo. I planned on spending a couple of hours there before going to the beach. It was OK but it was just a zoo at the end of the day. Left at 3ish for Mission Beach. Stayed till sunset. Went for pizza then headed back. At night we went for pool and some beers.
Saturday 2nd September - San Diego - Los Angeles
Left the hostel at 10:30. As we approached Los Angeles we could see the Hollywood hills in the distance. We had some problems finding the USA Hostel but after asking for directions we found it. The hostel was nice - the room was spotless because they had just been refurbished. It was in a good location, between Sunset Boulevard and Hollywood Boulevard. We walked along Hollywood and got the metro downtown. We walked from the financial district (which was eerily dead) to a Hispanic area which was full of market shops and quite run down. We had dinner at the hostel and arranged to visit the Griffith Observatory which the hostel organised. The views were nice from the top and we could see how large LA really was.
Distance travelled: 135 miles
Sunday 3rd September - Los Angeles
In the morning I took the hostel's shuttle to Venice Beach with the intention of maybe going to Universal Studios afterwards, but I wasn't really that keen. I wanted to relax. Before sunbathing I walked along the promenade. There were loads of tattoo places, people selling artwork, animals on show. At about 2pm people began to gather in a circle with a range of instruments, mainly drums. There were about 50 people playing at the same time yet somehow they all sounded good together. I ended up watching for hours. A guy in dreads danced in the middle for nearly the whole time looking completely spaced out. Some young bloke brought along a home percussion instrument made with metal strips. It was an amazing atmosphere and I was glad I came. At about 6ish I got the bus back. It was comedy night at the hostel so I watched that for a couple of hours.
Monday 4th September - Los Angeles - San Francisco
We left in the morning for San Francisco, driving through Beverly Hills on the way out of LA. We took scenic highway 1 where we could. Most of this was winding, coastal road and I just wanted to get to San Francisco as quickly as possible, so after passing through Buellton we took highway 248 to Lompoc, then we got back onto the 101. It was a bloody long drive to San Francisco (about 450 miles) and we got there about 9ish. I had reserved a hotel earlier that day and when we got there, we decided we really didn't want to stay there. That hotel was the only one I could find and I could see why - it was in a rough looking area far from downtown on 21st street. I phoned more hostels and the last one I tried - the Globe hostel had vacancies. It was between 7th and 8th street. After we checked in, we drove round for a while and got some food in Chinatown.
Distance travelled: 469 miles
Tuesday 5th September - San Francisco
We had breakfast at a Chinese cafe and walked down Market before going to the Coit tower which we went up to get a view of the city. We returned to the hostel then returned our car to Budget about 5ish. We caught the bus to the Golden Gate Bridge and walked across it. We stayed on the other side till dark. The weather was excellent and we had good views of the city as the lights came on. Didn't do much that night, just got a pizza and had an early night.
Distance travelled: 4 miles
Wednesday 6th September - San Francisco and around
We had a tour booked for today to the Muir Woods and Alcatraz. The guide was talking all the way there and he gave us loads of interesting information about San Francisco and the woods themselves. We went for a 45 minute walk in the woods then drove to Sausalito where we stayed for half an hour. Then on to Alcatraz which is one of the few things worth seeing in San Francisco. That night we went to Santa Clara again to have dinner at my friend's friend's place. It was a long journey back we returned exhausted.
Thursday 7th September - San Francisco - New York
Our flight to New York was at 9am and we were picked up at 7:30. Our shuttle collected another six people from all over San Francisco. There was also lots of traffic. So we missed our flight and were given the 12:30 flight. Arrived at JFK at about 9pm and got a cab to east (or Spanish) Harlem. We were going to stay with a friend of mine who I met on the Green Tortoise two years ago. We also did the Green Tortoise together last year, so we both shared a passion for travelling in America.
Friday 8th September - New York
I was supposed to meet a friend I met on the Internet at midday but, due to a misunderstanding, it didn't happen. I had a good time walking around Manhattan and I remembered how cool new York is. I definitely preferred it to the western cities. One thing I noticed was that the people in the shops didn't pretend to be nice. They ignored you as you walked in, which I actually preferred - it was less artificial. I walked down 5th Avenue, Broadway then continued down to Washington Square Park. There are some nice churches in Manhattan, like Trinity Church near Wall Street. I got the subway from Wall Street back up to Harlem. We went for a meal at Jackson Hole on the lower east side, a typical America diner which serves huge burgers that you need a knife and fork to eat.
Saturday 9th September - New York
Took the bus from Port Authority to Woodbury Commons to complete my shopping. I returned to Manhattan at 4:30. I walked down then across the Brooklyn Bridge to Brooklyn. I wanted to see another part of New York. As it began to rain, I caught the subway back to Harlem. That night, I just watched MTV and the Discovery Channel and got an early night. Sunday 10th September - New York - London Went to Central Park in the morning. We walked past lakes and gardens with fountains and ponds. There was lots of greenery and colour which I had completely missed last time I was here. We got back at 4pm and caught the shuttle to JFK airport. I was getting anxious about missing my flight again but in the end I had loads of time, and I even had time for a MacDonald's, which turned out to be my first and last meal in the States this year. How fitting!
Total distance travelled: 3,067 miles