Wednesday, October 28, 2009

28 October

San Diego, CA

Being this close to Mexico was just too much of a temptation. The City of San Diego has a great Light Rail/Trolley system that runs all the way to the Mexican border for the princely sum of $2.50. What else could we do?

Mexico, or at least this little corner of it, has the immediate feel of a booming third world economy, although the third world tag may not be relevant any longer for Mexico. It is a rapidly growing country with strong trade relations with the US. Still, the streets of the old city part of Tijuana have the unmistakeable third world feel. Dusty, more than a little shabby and, in the case of the tourist strip in Tijuana – major tacky! However, just a stroll away, in the newer part of town, shopping malls, flash new commercial buildings and clean, garden-lined streets predominate.

Beat-up old pickups ply the streets alongside Mercs and Lexus sedans. Street touts and be-suited business men and women share the sidewalks. Development with a capital 'D' is in full swing.

Despite all the vibrant feel of this small experience of Mexico , as we walked back to the border crossing, the dust blew in from the desert, the traffic at the vehicle crossings was beseiged by touts selling everything from prescription drugs to plastic chooks. “Illegals” (wet-backs) waited in the shadows for their chance at a new life just metres away over the US border. Amidst the noise and bustle, we were instantly transported back to the chaos of the Moroccan border crossing at Ceuta.

Where the First World meets the Third!

27 October

San Diego, CA

Route 66 was our 'mission' in coming to the US this time. We've had a few side trips and distractions along the way, but yesterday we finished the 2400 mile trip from Chicago to LA with a long hard haul through more than 140km of LA 'burbs from San Bernardino to the official end of old Route 66 at the corner of Olympic and Lincoln in Santa Monica. Not much of a spot this 'real end' of Old 66! A bit sad really. The more popular way to end the trip is at the corner of Santa Monica Blvd and Ocean Ave, near the Santa Monica Pier. So we did that too.

The trip from East to West across LA 'overland' (not on freeways) is an experience in itself. Not as difficult a drive as one might imagine, just a slow, 4 hour slog through hundreds of traffic lights, it was a bit like driving from the Valley in Brisbane to Chermside along Gympie Road, for 140kms. Or, for Sydney folk, imagine the same distance along the inner city parts of Paramatta Road!

With a few hours left in the day, we decided to head off towards San Diego, to visit the Wild Animal Park at Escondido - freeways this time and altogether another thing, with seven or eight lanes, packed with traffic, moving at anything from 0 kph to 140 kph! Given that we drove out from LAX north to Sacramento on our arrival, we have now traversed LA from East to West and North to South. Betcha not too many people can say that!

Tonight, we are in a dodgy area of inner San Diego just under the enormous bridge that spans the harbour. We began out day at the Wild Animal Park, a most worthwhile experience, like Dubbo, except we were able to get a bit closer to the animals by taking the guided “train” tour through the Park. Having ticked that, we arrived early afternoon in San Diego, so walked into the city, through an area occupied by homeless people. After a tour of the USS Midway (Aircraft Carrier) and a stroll through the Gaslamp area of Downtown, (Woo! Hoo! – an alive Downtown!) we ran the gauntlet of the rapidly darkening streets and the homeless, who now were setting up their tents, to reach the relative safety of our motel.....

Sunday, October 25, 2009

25 October

San Bernardino, CA

On the home stretch!

Tonight we are in a very different motel in San Bernardino, California - really an eastern suburb of LA. It is different because we are in a Teepee – yes - a teepee-shaped room in the Wigwam Motel, a Route 66 icon since 1949. So cool!

Lake Havasu City to LA along old 66 is, sadly, a bit like driving through a 200km long, desert rubbish dump. As the 'burbs' of LA loom in the distance, the highway-side environment becomes littered with wrecked cars, burnt-out shops and the ubiquitous trailer parks that are home to the enormous number of 'working poor'. These are people who will never lounge on their flash speedboats on the edge of Lake Havasu like the hundreds of well-heeled sun seekers we saw yesterday afternoon.

To be frank, if John Steinbeck's Joad family from “The Grapes of Wrath” saw what the edge of the Promised Land of California looks like today, they and hundreds of thousands of Depression dust-bowl migrants would have turned back and taken their chances back home.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

24 October

Lake Havasu City AZ

What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” is a quote attributed to the 'Rat Pack' - Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jnr. and Joey Bishop. We saw them at the Plaza in Downtown Las Vegas (or four guys who sounded and looked like them). A great show. Beyond that, we won a few and lost more than a few... that's what Vegas is all about.

We back-tracked a bit today to pick up some of Route 66 that we missed as a result of our detour to the Grand Canyon etc. As it turned out, we had seen this part of the Mother Road on a previous US trip, but it was still an interesting drive.

London Bridge is what drew us to Lake Havasu. You know, the one that was 'falling down' in the nursery rhyme. Some crazy, with more money than sense, packed it on a ship and hauled it all the way to the Arizona desert. It cost more to haul it and re-assemble it than it did to buy it! What the hell? It looks great here - probably better than it did in London.

We are almost back in LA, our starting point. On arrival, our first task was to purchase a new GPS system. Our old 'Navgirl' – read Navman - was getting a bit long in the tooth (in tech years!) and the price on these things is just crazy cheap in the US compared with Australia. 'Tomasina', our new TomTom GPS, has been great, BUT, every now and then she comes out with some show-stoppers. Our day was going well today until 'she' prophetically informed us, that ...

You can not avoid your final destination”.

That threw a grey cloud over our day!!

21 October

Las Vegas, Nevada

The fact that we are in Vegas cannot be blamed for the few days' gap in the Blog. We will probably blame Vegas for any future gap?

The gap is simply explained by the fact that the desert, mountain and canyon landscapes of New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Nevada defy description. Our 'short' deviation from Route 66 has been full of 'Omigod!' moments at almost every turn. Mesa Verde, Arches, Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks are relatively close together, but their landscapes are vastly different.

Mesa Verde is essentially a cultural experience. Its eroded canyon walls were occupied by Indians as far back as the 13th century, when nomadic Utes began to farm the Mesa top. The ruins of the stone villages they created beneath the Mesa remain today, some fairly well-preserved, as they were abandoned in a still not understood exodus about 1370. Once they abandoned the villages the Utes never returned. When they were discovered by ranchers in the latter part of the 19th Century, the Utes still lived on the plains near the Mesa, but they avoided the cliff villages, believing there were evil spirits on the mountain.

As the name implies, the main attractions in Arches NP are … the arches. Hundreds of spectacular arches have been carved out of the soft sandstone by wind and rain. The best known of these is Delicate Arch which appears on the number plates of all vehicles in Utah. Despite the long, 6 km plus, steep climb to the arch, this is a very popular hike. Hundreds of people trudged, wandered and struggled up the rough trail that is mostly marked only by rock cairns and includes narrow, cliff-side paths (with no guard-rails – no nanny-state here!). Some of these people are extremely adventurous. Or just plain crazy. We passed numerous young couples with small children in “kid-packs”. We had to push fairly hard to make the climb, particularly as we were unaccustomed to the thin air at 8000 ft. We could only sympathise with these young parents who were carrying an extra 6 – 15 kg dead weight!

Bryce Canyon was first discovered by the Paiutes whose legends describe the multi-coloured pillars that guard the canyon walls as Hoodoo - evil animals, that could take human form and were turned to stone by the Coyote God.

At Zion, we encountered the first bad weather we'd had for many weeks. A morning storm covered the ground near our motel in small hail that gave a wintery feel to what became, in fact, quite a warm day. Rain persisted on and off, so we had to limit our hike to one small expedition up a steep cliff side to the Emerald Pools. As it turned out, the pools themselves weren't that spectacular, but the views from the cliff side were well worth the climb.

On reflection, the gap in the Blog may well have been down to the fact that we were just a little weary!

BUT this is Vegas and we are at full throttle again!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

17 October

Moab, Utah

Probably not well known outside this part of the USA, the small town of Moab was jumpin' as we cruised into town this afternoon. Seems there is some sort of bike riding event on. Most of the dozens of motels in town were full, so we've had to pay big time to spend the night here.

As boring as it may be to discuss the weather, one must comment on “Fall” in Utah and Colorado. The colours are just glorious. Even though the reds are mostly missing in this part of the country, the yellows are staggering, ranging from citrus to gold and a brilliant contrast to the evergreens. (See Facebook pics for further evidence of our love affair with the trees of “Fall”). While cool in the mornings, around 0 C, by mid-morning it's warm and, with the deep blue skies and clear air, the days are just fantastic. The good visibility is also important for the other big event this weekend - the opening of the hunting season for elk, deer and a staggering array of other critters.

Hunting seems to have almost the same status as the constitutional right to bear arms! The 'good ole boys' are free to take to the beautiful Utah and Colorado hills, armed to the teeth in pursuit of the elk and deer mentioned already as well as, moose, mountain sheep, bear, pigeon, grouse, partridge, prairie chickens, crane, rail teal, and crow. Yes, even the annoying crows have to take particular care as they peck at road kill. They could be next!

Things are not all the hunters' way though. They had better be well-heeled if they want to hunt big game like bear or elk. The permits for these cost more than $500. More rare game like mountain goats, moose and bighorn sheep will set the gun-happy back around $1800. Plains turkeys, on the other hand, are a bargain at $21 - a bargain but not much of a challenge.

We saw a few elk yesterday. They seemed blissfully unaware of the fate that was about to befall them! Or maybe they were just teasing the hunters by showing themselves before they hid away for “The Season”!

16 October

Durango, Colorado

John Steinbeck wrote an essay some time in the 1940's called “America and Americans”. One day we'll buy it and compare views. On the whole, Americans at home, particularly away from big cities, are just fantastic - friendly, welcoming and extremely polite. Today, this notion was seriously tested as we took the Durango to Silverton Railroad day trip.

Those who know us will be aware of our strong aversion to group tours, cruises and the like. Even a day trip like this, confined with 'others' and on a schedule out of our control was bound to be a bit of a test of our patience. AND it was.

The trip was fantastic with the Colorado mountain scenery that inspired John Denver, an historic old railway, a steam train and an old mining town. What more could we ask? Answer. A lot fewer loud Red Necks.

Why are the noisy people on any trip like this seated near us? For almost 7 hours we silently, with gritted teeth, put up with constant LOUD comment on everything from river water to President Obama. To be fair we suffered in the company of 30-40 other Americans who just grinned and bore it.

Long live independent travel!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

14 October

Blanding, Utah

With a bit of time up our sleeves, we decided a couple of days ago to take a bit of a detour. Tonight, we are just outside the Navajo Nation which covers three states and is bigger than 10 of the states of the USA. The Navajo Reservation is mostly desert, but what a desert!

The Grand Canyon is probably one of the “wow!” locations on the planet. This was our second visit and it was still “WOW”. Words cannot describe it and the photographs that we are able to take cannot do it justice. Even professional pics you see of the Grand Canyon cannot convey the absolute awe this geological phenomenon inspires. Last time we were here, it had snowed and was more than a little cool. Yesterday was a beautiful, clear day and fairly hot, so the crowds were a bit of a shock to us. Parking was a problem and so, after circling the carpark, like vultures, four times, we scored a spot, then walked about 4 kms of the canyon rim before catching the free shuttle bus back.

Driving through the reservation areas is a bit of an eye opener! The towns are much like small outback Australian towns - a petrol station or two, lots of dirt streets and little else. The Native American settlements are very poor. Set in open, desert landscapes, they are less than attractive.

On the upside, the Native American tribes here, the Hopi and the Navajo, manage their own affairs very much as a state within a state, their independence being something they treasure.

Monument Valley in southern Utah was another 'WOW' event. As kids, we called this Mesa landscape 'Road Runner territory'. On a clear, sunny day, the desert demanded photos! Between us we took almost 100 shots!

Our 'little' detour will continue over the next week or so before we return to Route 66. It's a bit like driving from Brisbane to Sydney via Longreach, but what the... we will see some new sights and .. oh yes, hit Vegas again!