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August - 14 September 2009

Thursday 27 August - Arrival in San Francisco

Landed in San Francisco at 4pm and after checking into my hostel, set off to explore the area around the Golden Gate Bridge. I got a bus to the south side of the bridge, arriving shortly before sun down. I began my walk across the bridge and caught an amazing sunset but I was on the east side of the bridge and couldn't see it in its full glory. I continued to the other side and took some photos before walking back, before taking a taxi to the Ferry Building. It was nice and quiet here and there were fantastic views of the Bay Bridge lit up, as well as the buildings on Embarcadero. Back to the hostel at 11pm. I had been up for more than 24 hours and had no trouble getting to sleep that night.

Friday 28 August - San Francisco

Spent the morning walking around the Embarcadero shopping complexes before walking past the piers. It was another hot, cloudless day, unusual for San Francisco. After stopping briefly at the sea lions I got a bus up to Coit Tower because I wanted to get a good view of this amazing city. I hadn't been up there on previous visits and it was a worthwhile visit. Grabbed a quick dinner before going to the departure point for the Green Tortoise tour, and we set off around 9pm, heading east for our long drive into Nevada.

Saturday 29 August - Ruby Mountains

We had arrived early at HUMBOLDT-TOIYABE NATIONAL FOREST in the Ruby Mountains. We hiked for about an hour and a half through dry bush and then rich pine forest to a freezing cold lake surrounded by picturesque hills. Later that afternoon we drive to a hot spring on private land near a farm which we walked a couple of miles to get to. After dinner, cooked on the side of the road in Wells, we boarded the bus for the second overnight drive into Wyoming.

Sunday 30 August - Jackson

We woke in JACKSON, WYOMING and we made breakfast in the car park surrounded by hills and small brown wooden shops. Most of us had arranged to go rafting on the Snake River, 6,000 feet up. It was nice watching the scenery go by, but most of the rapids were quite tame this time of year. In the afternoon we drove towards GRAND TETONS NATIONAL PARK, stopping at the new visitors centre on the way. There had been a heavy rainstorm but it had cleared by the time we reached our campsite at the park. We cooked dinner and made our first campfire. It was too cold to sleep outside so a lot of us slept on the bus that night.

Monday 31 August - Grand Tetons National Park

We drove to Jenny Lake camp ground and we began our hikes from there. I decided to head off up along the shore of Jenny Lake, have a look at String Lake if possible before continuing back down the other side, detouring for Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point on the way. The scenery of the Tetons is one of my favourite in the US, with postcard scenery around almost every corner. The mountains and pine forests provided a perfect backdrop against mirror-like lakes. We met up five hours later and headed to our campsite. A few of us walked to the shore of Jackson Lake nearby before dinner.

Tuesday 1 September - Yellowstone National park

We set off in the morning for YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK. We reached West Thumb Geyser Basin before continuing north through Hayden Valley (known as the Serengeti of the US). Here, there were bison in the road and in the valley floor with scenic views in the distance. After midday we arrived at Canyon Village for the hike down Uncle Tom's trail for a view of Lower Falls before continuing along the south rim trail to Artist's Point. Another campout tonight.

Wednesday 2 September - Yellowstone National park

While preparing breakfast a large female elk was feeding near us. Walked over for a closer look prompted a charge. We drove to the Upper Geyser Basin site to see Old Faithfull and didn't have to wait long before an eruption. More impressive were the numerous geysers on route as we walk north towards Biscuit Basin. Next we drove to Grand Prismatic spring. After walking around close to this amazing spring I walked up the hill on the other side of the main road to get a different perspective of it. There was one more stop at to see some bubbling mud pools before stopping off at a river for a swim. That evening we stopped at West Yellowstone, a small town just across the border in Montana, and ate out for the first time. Boarded the bus at 9:30 for the long night drive into Utah.

Thursday 3 September - Salt Lake City, Monroe

We awoke in another world. We were on Antelope Island in the GREAT SALT LAKE. A few people went for a swim while I walked down to get closer to a lone bison which was feeding in the grass. Later we drove to SALT LAKE CITY for lunch where we had a couple of hours to kill before continuing our journey south to Monroe, the home of Mike's MYSTIC HOT SPRINGS. This was an interesting little town, with abandoned wooden barns and old rusting school buses. We went up to the springs, some people played table tennis before dinner.

Friday 4 September - Red Rock Canyon, Kodachrome Basin

In the morning we stopped briefly at RED ROCK CANYON where we went on short walks around rock formations that resembled those of Bryce Canyon, and then onto KODACHROME BASIN. After doing some short hikes we arrived at the campsite where I spent my first night sleeping under the stars.

Saturday 5 September - Zion National Park

We drove west to ZION NATIONAL PARK. I had done the Angel's Landing hike twice before but it had been a long time ago and I was keen to do it again. Being Labour Day weekend it was quite busy. We reached the top in about two hours under a very hot sun. The view at the top was as impressive as I remembered and it was well worth the effort. We made it back down in an hour and a half and headed to our campsite under the towering Watchman mountain. Slept outside.

Sunday 6 September - Bryce Canyon, Monroe

Leaving Zion after breakfast, we headed to BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK. We arrived shortly after midday and had four hours to explore what, for me, is one of the US's most incredible parks. I headed down to Queen's Garden, then through pine forests and up again to sunset point before making my way along the rim to Inspiration Point. It was quite a view from there. I stayed about half an hour waiting for the light to change, so I had to rush back to the bus. I'd taken more photos here than any other place on the tour. We went back to Monroe and the hot spring that evening, as it was on our way down south. We'd been told that the International Space Station would be visible this evening and sure enough it appeared racing through the sky for a few short minutes. After some table tennis and hula hoping we settled in the bus for another night drive.

Monday 7 September - Arches National Park

When we woke we were at ARCHES NATIONAL PARK. We'd parked at a picnic spot near some large domes of red sandstone, where we prepared breakfast. Most of us walked the trail to Double O Arch, stopping at Landscape Arch, Navajo Arch and Partition Arch on the way. Later that day we stopped to have a look at Park Avenue, a set of towering rock formations on the side of a small valley named for their resemblance to tower blocks along a street. We arrived at Moab in the late afternoon where we took advantage of facilities we rarely had access to. On route to our campsite we stopped at some native American petroglyphs by the side of the road. Our campsite was at a gorgeous spot on the Colorado River, at Gold Bar. This was BLM land (Bureau of Land Management) just outside Arches National Park. It was another exceptionally clear night, even more so as the moon was rising late. The stars and Milky Way were clearly visible, as well as satellites, shooting stars and the ISS made another appearance. We took advantage of the warmer climate and slept outside again.

Tuesday 8 September - Moab, Mexican Hat, Gooseneck State Park

We set off, stopping at a reservoir for a swim, and then at Sand Island on the San Juan river, near which were more petroglyphs. After a brief stop at Mexican Hat we drove to tonight's campsite at GOOSENECKS STATE PARK. I hadn't heard of this place before but it was an incredible spot and I was glad to be spending the night here. Peering over the rim of the canyon we could see several dramatic meandering gorges, the river a long way down beneath the sheer canyon walls. The numerous rock layers were clearly visible and glowing red in the late afternoon sun. A few of us just sat on the edge for some time, watching in awe as the sun sank below the horizon. It was so quiet and tranquil. There was more stargazing that night and this time, the space station had undocked, and we were now seeing two objects race across the sky.

Wednesday 9 September - Monument Valley, Lake Powell, Page

Woke this morning to an amazing sunrise and I quickly grabbed my camera to take a few shots. It was a fitting end to our time at Goosenecks. We set off for MONUMENT VALLEY where most of us did a jeep tour. We stopped at a few points of interest along the way, and saw that Monument Valley had more to offer than just its trademark buttes. There were several large arches and holes in rock walls and our guide told us the stories that accompanied each. That afternoon we stopped at a place on Lake Powell. This was a great swimming spot. The water was clean and warm, and even the sandstone rock formations were interesting. We spent that night in Page, where a bunch of us ended in a karaoke bar.

Thursday 10 September - Grand Canyon National Park

After a short night drive we woke up in GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK. Three of us got the shuttle to the South Kaibab trailhead and began our long descent down the trail. Although I've been here several times before I could never tire of the place. I could have spent a week here just sitting at a view point watching over the vast canyons below. This trail offered some fantastic views and we took our time at our destination half way down at Skeleton Point. Going back up was tough in the heat. Made our way back to Mather camp ground, where a large male elk was feeding nearby. Even the rim of the Grand Canyon was pretty, the smell of the ponderosa pines thick in the air. For sunset we all headed to Yavapai Point and sat there, watching as the colours changed from red to purple to black, as we stayed well after the sun had set, peering into the silent darkness below. We attended a ranger talk in the outdoor amphitheatre which was about the three different deserts in the national park and the wildlife within them. Another night sleeping out, though it was much cooler here.

Friday 11 September - Grand Canyon National Park, Williams

Arose early to make it to the viewpoint before sunrise. Ended up catching a bus to Yaki Point. There were only a few people there so it was nice and quiet. It was well worth it, the colours are very different this time of day to last night's sunset. That afternoon I decided to go on a helicopter ride so caught the shuttle to Tusayan airport. It was a great experience, offering unique views that I would never otherwise had seen. It was great approaching the rim of the canyon and seeing the earth open up before me. After that I had just enough time to visit the information centre and attend another talk on the geology of the canyon, before catching a final look from Yavapai Observation Point. This offers quite an amazing view through panoramic glass windows as there are no trees or rocks to obstruct the view. It was a short drive to the KOA campsite at Williams where we had our last camp out of the trip. Unfortunately it was a noisy one as we were close to a highway.

Saturday 12 September - Seligman, Las Vegas

We started our long journey back west, stopping at Seligman on Route 66 briefly. Here, old 1950s cars lined the street, with mannequins posing beside them, one with his head inside the bonnet. We drove on and arrived at LAS VEGAS in the late afternoon. We wondered around a couple of casinos, got a great buffet for $8.99 and walked part way along the Strip and back. At 11pm we set off for our final night drive of the trip.

Sunday 13 September - To San Francisco

Now back in California, stopped at Buttonwillow for breakfast before continuing to San Francisco. We arrived at 3:30pm. I checked into my hostel and had a very well deserved long hot shower. Had a nice filling pasta meal and spent the rest of the evening walking around the area of the hostel. Monday 14 September - San Francisco I had a few hours to kill before my flight and spent my time walking down the cable car route to Market street and then to Haight Street which I hadn't been to before. Seeing the pretty, intricately decorated houses and some of the nicer parts of the city, I realised that San Francisco was growing on me more and more, and I'll definitely be back here. And the national parks will be calling me back again before very long too.

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