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USA Holiday - 2004

South West USA

The Route

Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, Page, Monument Valley, Moab, Rocky Mountain NP, Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone NP, Grand Teton NP, Salt Lake City, Zion, Las Vegas

Our holiday started on 26 May 2004, when we drove to Crawley and stayed the night at the Copthorne Hotel, Effingham Park. We flew from Gatwick Airport to Las Vegas the following day and hired a rental car (Chrysler Jeep) and stayed at pre-booked hotels, mainly Great Western. Our total distance was a shade over 3,800 miles, and we returned home on Sunday 13 June.

Click on the days to see the pictures for each day.

Thursday 27th May

Casino, Las Vegas

Las Vegas

After a long 10 hour flight, we arrived at McLaren International Airport at 12.55 pm. A delay due to no dis-embarkation gate being available and a lengthy wait at US Customs, followed by the collection of our Dollar rental car resulted in our arrival at the Luxor Hotel (less than 1/2 mile from where we had landed) at 4 pm. It had taken 10 hours to cross the Atlantic and 3 hours to cross the Las Vegas Strip! We had a cold shower and a rest before setting out to see Las Vegas. Disaster struck by our camcorder not working and we were forced to find a camera shop and buy a new one, at a higher price than we could have purchased in the UK! We walked the Strip as far as the Venetian Hotel, where we marvelled at the canals inside the hotel. If you visit Vegas, make sure you go inside all the Hotels, as you are very welcome and it is all free. We caught a bus back along the Strip and fell into bed exhausted at 06.30 am British Summer Time.

Friday 28 May

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon

We awoke at 4.30 am and ate a hearty breakfast at the Hotel, before setting out for the Hoover Dam. Initially we took the wrong route out of Vegas, due to John ignoring Penny's directions, but soon all was well and we parked up on the Arizona side of the Hoover Dam for a scenic viewpoint. The route south on US93 was mainly over desert and not very interesting, all the way to Kingman, where we joined the Interstate 40 East, leaving it at Williams. Here we revisited Twisters Cafe, where two years previous we had stopped for a milk shake. The cafe is retro 1950's and 1960's and has a great atmosphere and great milk shakes. We then took US90 to Grand Canyon, where we first called in to Mather Point and Yavapai Point to get some great views on the Canyon. We parked the car at Yavapai Lodge and caught a (free) shuttle bus to the Village, where we then jumped onto another (free) shuttle bus to go along the West Rim Drive. There are five viewpoint stops en route, finishing at Hermit's Rest. We decided to get off at the first stop, Maricopa Point, and walked along the Rim paths to Hopi Point, then on to Mohavi Point, where we rejoined the bus for the remainder of the trip. Walking along the Rim is excellent, with hardly any other people around. In the evening we drove to nearby Tusayan, where we had a meal and watched native Navajo Indians sing and dance as entertainment. We returned to bed totally exhausted.

Saturday 29 May Upper Antelope Canyon, PagePage

Up early again and along the Desert View Drive, which is a 30 mile scenic road along the South Rim of the grand Canyon. Stops were plentiful to allow us to soak up some superb views of the continuing Grand Canyon. We stopped at the end of the road to visit the Watch Tower, which provides an excellent vantage point to gaze westwards along the Canyon. Then on to Cameron, where we took US89 north towards Page. The road splits later, with US89A turning off to the North Rim. Just past the turn off, there is a pull in overlook at Echo Cliffs, giving an 180 degree vista towards the Vermilion Cliffs, Marble Canyon and the Paria Plateau. Indian arts and crafts were for sale here and we bought a lovely bracelet for our grand-daughter Jessica. Having checked into the Best Western at Lake Powell Inn at Page, we made our way to Antelope Canyon, some 3 miles down the road. At the entrance to the Antelope Canyon turn off, we duly paid our $12 entry fee each, plus another $15 each for a guided tour if the Canyon. Expensive, but that is the rate. In 2002 we had visited the Lower Canyon, just across the road, and were impressed by the rock formations and wonderful colours of the rock in the light, with the slot canyon. The Upper Canyon was a couple of miles off the highway a we took a lift on a 4 wheel truck, which bounced and raced along a dirt track across the desert. A young Indian boy then escorted us into the slot canyon. The Upper Canyon was much easier to walk than the Lower Canyon as it was wider at the bottom. One thing that caught my eye (metaphorically) was an enormous cow pat half way up the canyon wall, (some 20 feet or so), and I was told that the cow responsible had been at the top of the canyon. Just as well that cows do not fly!!
Afterwards we drove back to Page, did a little shopping, then viewed the Glen Canyon Dam and Bridge. This is one of the most spectacular man made sights I have seen, and although viewing it for the third time, this did not diminish the achievement of its construction. In the evening we drove towards the Marina and noticed how the water level appeared to be vastly reduced over previous years.

Sunday 30 May Monument ValleyMonument Valley

We started the day by returning to Glen Canyon Dam Visitor Center and joining a (free) guided tour of the Dam. We went inside the Dam , first by elevator to walk across the top of the dam, then down again to the bottom and to see the hydro electric generators. It was well worth the time and provided an enjoyable hour. Security was strict, whereas when we visited two years ago it was virtually non-existent. We then drove from Page to Monument Valley, first along the US98. The road was an easy ride, we travelled at 65 mph and did not overtake anyone, or see any other car going our way for over 3/4 hour. We then joined US160 eastbound and at Keyenta took the US133 to Golding's Trading Post at Monument Valley. The hotel room was excellent, with a panoramic view across the valley. We had previously visited Monument Valley and driven ourselves around the tourist circuit, but this time we took a 3.5 hour guided trip from Gouldings. We saw much more of the park and our Navajo Indian guide took us off the regular route and provided commentary on our travels. Overall a very pleasant day, which included visiting the Museum at Gouldings and attending a superb audio / visual slide presentation in their theatre in the evening.

Monday 31 May Fishers Towers, MoabMoab

Dawn arrived with a perfect sun-rise behind the classic silhouette of Monument Valley. As we left on the road to Moab, we had some great views behind us of the Valley, including the famous view of the long straight road. We passed Mexican Hat and stopped at Blanding where we visited the Information Center and Museum. We continued on our way and took a diversion to see Newspaper Rock, with it's petroglyphs.
On arrival at Moab we went straight to the Canyonlands by Night office, to book tickets for the evening excursion. We were greeted by Preston, who we remembered from our previous visit in 2002. We mentioned that we were about to take a trip along the Potash Road and he offered to accompany us and show us the points of interest. Along the road he showed us many things that we would have missed without his help. He then suggested a number of trips we could take by our car in the afternoon and we decided to take the La Sal Mountains Loop road. We started along the Colorado River on Highway 128 and then took a right turn towards Fisher's Towers and Castle Rock. Soon we were out of the red rocks and climbing towards the snow capped mountains. View back towards Fishers Towers were spectacular and some 3 hours later we returned to Moab.
The evening was spent with Canyonlands by Night, which started with a Dutch Oven dinner. The food was exceptional and we met up with other holiday makers over the meal. As evening came we boarded a jet boat and headed up river. I mentioned on our pervious trip that our guide Preston has a great sense of humour and we enjoyed his witty comments as we cruised along. As the final strands of daylight went, the boat engines cut and we drifted back with the current. An audio tape with music and commentary played and then the canyon walls erupted with light as the truck on the valley road turned on it's searchlight to reveal shapes and shadows on the cliffs. We slowly moved down the river, under a full moon, with the truck keeping up with the boat. Light was projected against both sides of the canyon and out trip back lasted some 30 minutes. This was an experience to savour for ever. If you visit Moab it is a must. www.canyonlandsbynight.com

Tuesday 1 June Interstate 70 viewtowards Granby

We took the highway to Interstate 70, which saved time as we had explored the scenic route along the Colorado River on the previous day. The interstate was a fairly boring journey through rocky terrain, but after Grand Junction it transformed into what must be the prettiest interstate in the USA. Following the Colorado River, the road twists through breath-taking scenery, for mile after mile. We stopped to view Vail, but it was closed! The mountain gondola was out of service for a couple of weeks and the Lionshead shopping area was deserted. We turned towards Granby and arrived for our lodgings at The Inn at Silver Creek.

Wednesday 2 June Rocky Mountain NPRocky Mountain NP

From Granby we travelled northwards, past Lake Granby to the Rocky Mountain National Park. Just before the park entrance Penny saw a moose in the woods and then inside the park we immediately saw a herd of elk. The road followed the Colorado River, the source is near Lake Granby. Here the river was not much more than a stream. We stopped at the Coyote Valley Trailhead and walked the bank of the river, seeing Canadian geese and and elk. The view across the meadow, with the mountains behind was wonderful. We drove on, stopping at various pull-ins and trailheads, so made slow progress, but there was so much to see. We then drove higher and higher along the Trail Ridge Road until there was snow along the road, which got deeper as we drove higher. The scenic views were tremendous and exceeded expectations. We were over 12,000 feet (2 miles high) above sea level and for a couple of hours we drove high in the mountains, often above tree level. As we eventually descended we arrived at Sheep Lake, where bighorn sheep and more elk grazed the pastures. Then onto Estes Park, where smart houses and holiday homes clustered along the river side. We then followed the Big Thompson River for miles along a splendid river valley before joining Interstate 25 northwards at Loveland. Two hours driving at 80 mph took us to Highway 18/20 turn off and the road to Lusk, where we were to spend the night at the Pioneer Court Best Western Hotel. The railway track follows this road and we saw four trains with coal trucks. Penny counted one at over 125 trucks, powered by 3 locomotives, carrying coal from Gillette to the East.

Thursday 3 June Mount RushmoreCuster National Park

We got up early at 6 am and the road from Lusk was free of traffic. We drove across the grassland plains, with little sign of life apart from herds of beef cattle, plus the occasional elk on the side of the road. We arrived at Wind Caves NP around 9.30 am, Prairie dogs stood erect at the roadside and an eagle flew nearby. We did the Natural Entrance Tour of the caves, which involved walking down some 300 plus steps inside the cave, with an elevator ride back to the top. The caves were dry and we learnt that much of the caves complex had not yet been charted, even though they were developed in the 1920's.
We then took the Custer Scenic Byway and saw bison along the road. Then we drove into Custer State Park, taking the loop road around the park. Back on the scenic byway, we drove the beautiful Needles section, arriving at Sylvan Lake, We would have liked to have stayed longer at this point, but as usual the day was going too fast, so we made our way on to the Crazy Horse Memorial. This carving out of a mountain is still only half complete, after 50 years work and is an amazing story of one man and latterly his family, who have a mission to blast the monument out of the mountain.
Next we drove to one of the most famous landmarks in the USA - Mount Rushmore. After a stop to see the sights and a king sized ice cream, we travelled on to the scenic route into Spearfish, where we spent the night and the Best Western Black Hills Hotel.

Friday 4 June CodyDrive to Cody

We took Interstate 90 from Spearfish and drove 210 miles along the highway, then left at Route 14 towards Cody. The US14 soon becomes the Big Horn Mountain Scenic Byway, as it crosses the mountains from Drayton to Shell. Storm clouds covered the mountains and we heard thunder in the distance, but the weather stayed dry for us. We reached the snow line and the views were spectacular, along the 60 mile drive. Near the end of the scenic byway is Shell Falls and a self guided nature trail enables a number of vantage points to the falls. Another 30 miles or so driving got us to our destination of Cody. Named after Buffalo Bill Cody, the town has the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, which comprises of five museums. These buildings are superb and the museums are as fine as we have seen. Visit www.bbhc.org to read up about them. If you visit Cody, be sure to visit this center.

Saturday 5 June Old FaithfulYellowstone NP

Soon after leaving Cody we came to the Buffalo Bill Dam, which is across the Shoshone River. We followed the river along a scenic byway for 50 miles of wooded valley, until we arrived at the eastern entrance of Yellowstone National Park. We then climbed into the mountains and through Sylvan Pass at over 8,500 feet above sea level, until we came upon Yellowstone Lake. At Lake Butte overlook we could see the vast lake beneath us. Then we dropped down to lake level, stopping at Fishing Bridge to see cut-throat trout in the river. We followed the shore line of the lake to West Thumb and then took the road to the Old Faithful geyser. We waited over an hour to see the geyser blow and it was worth it. Just down the road we then saw some amazing hot springs and geysers, with board walks to get amongst it all. Our journey was very slow, as we kept stopping to view herds of bison and elk and we saw a coyote right in front of us in the roadside. We booked two nights stay at Gardiner in the Best Western at Mammoth Springs, just outside the north entrance to the park.

Sunday 6 June Yellowstone River and FallsYellowstone NP

We spent the day exploring Yellowstone. We started in the north west sector, going across to Tower Falls. The road south to Canyon Village was closed for repairs, so we returned to Mammoth Hot Springs and then south to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. This canyon is spectacular with lots of stopping points to view the Yellowstone River and Falls. The Falls are the finest we have seen and gave wonderful rainbows to enhance the effects. We then returned around the loop back to Mammoth, the journey starting at 9 am and finishing at 8 pm! We saw many bison and elk and a stoat like creature that was probably a marmot. But best of all on the return journey from Old Faithful to Madison we saw a Grizzly bear in the woods across the meadow, some 200 years away. We also stopped at more geysers and bubbling mud holes, with sulphur clouds belching out. Overall we walked many miles and had a tiring day with many happy memories.

Monday 7 June Mammoth Hot Springsto Jackson Hole

We stopped at Mammoth Hot Springs and walked the terraces on the mountain, to see the hot steaming springs. Then further down the road a wolf (or was it a coyote?) ran across our highway and into the trees on the hillside, before we could capture the event on film. We stopped again at Old Faithful and waited to see it blow. This time it blew higher, but we were on the right hand side of the viewing area and lost sight of the water spouting for all the steam that blew across. We travelled southwards and left Yellowstone behind as we drove through road works at the John Rockefeller Memorial Parkway approaching Grand Teton National Park. Views of the Teton Mountains were spectacular (a word I keep using) and we progressed slowly as we stopped at each successive viewpoint. We stopped alongside a number of other parked cars to see a moose in the river, with its baby calf asleep on the river bank, between two trees. We waited for ten minutes or so and the calf woke up and joined its mother in the river. We were so lucky just to share the moment. Then on to Teton Village where we checked in to the Best Western Inn at Jackson Hole. In the evening we drove to Jackson, which is a very busy town catering for tourists.

Tuesday 8 June Grand TetonsGrand Teton NP

We had a quiet day exploring the Teton National Park, including a drive around the Jenny Lake area. Not a lot to say about it, but the scenery was terrific and speaks for itself. In the evening we drove into Jackson and then west across the mountains to just past the Idaho border and back.

Wednesday 9 June Mountain TopThe Tetons to Logan

Before we left Teton Village we went up the ski gondola to the top of the mountain. The trip was over two miles and we ended up over 10,000 feet above sea level. The ride was exciting and the views were fantastic. We stayed at the top about half an hour and Penny was delighted that her cell phone was able to contact home, so she sent everyone a text message. After an equally pleasant descent, we were on our way and followed the US89 along a wide and rich river plain, with snow capped mountains. There were ranches in the valley, with wild flowers in the fields. We reached Bear Lake and the weather was closing in around us and over the mountains, so we encountered a little rain. The scenic drive from Bear Lake to Logan follows the river and we saw canoes riding the rapids. Logan itself is a busy town and the traffic gave us some preparation for the following day in Salt Lake City!

Thursday 10 June Mormon Tabernacle ChoirLogan to Salt Lake City

We continued on Route 89 and drove up and over a mountain, with the weather turning to rain. We joined Interstate 15 and left it to turn off the visit Antelope Island, which is on the Great Salt Lake. To reach the Island, which is a State Park, we drove a seven mile causeway across the Lake. We ate a buffalo-burger for lunch and then drove along the coast of the Island to the Ranch, where we saw herds of bison in the distance. We had already seen several at close distance as we drove the road. The Ranch is a walk around barns and the ranch house and is set out as it would have been in the 1920's or 1930's, complete with old tractors and farm equipment and the house fully furnished, with washing on the line outside! We were right in the middle of the Salt Lake and the weather around seemed severe, but we were getting sun and generally good conditions. We stayed on the island for three or four hours and then moved on towards Salt Lake City, where we arrived at our hotel at 4 pm. We checked in and immediately went on a coach tour of the city, with the bus collecting us at 4.30 pm. We drove around Salt Lake City and saw the Olympic Village, the University, Fort Douglas, The State Capitol and stopped at This is The Place Park. We then journeyed to a restaurant for a meal, before arriving at the Mormon Tabernacle, to see their famous Tabernacle Choir practising, as they do every Thursday night. However, this was a very special night, as the audience included a number of US Army Reservists, who were attending a convention in Salt Lake City. After a half an hour of practice, the Choirmaster announced that in honour of the Reservists the Choir were giving a special concert. It was amazing luck that we attended this concert, as it was past 4 pm before we even considered going on the bus trip, which only runs on a Thursday evening!! We were really privileged to be able to share this experience and the concert music was mainly USA patriotic favourite songs, ending with the American Anthem. This was particularly poignant and appropriate, as it was the eve of the funeral day of ex President Ronald Reagan, who first labelled them as "America's Choir". A fabulous day.

Friday 11 June ZionSalt Lake to Zion NP

We left Salt Lake and the clouds behind us and raced down Interstate 15 for nearly 300 miles. We turned off for a quick detour to visit Kolob Canyon at Junction 40, and had excellent views of Zion from the top. Then back on the Intestate to turn off again at Mile 27, where as we approached Zion National Park we took a left turn down Kolob Road, towards the reservoir. This road has spectacular views, culminating at Larva Point, where we enjoyed a 180 degree vista of Zion and surrounding areas, from the highest point around. Then into Zion National Park, where we stayed at the Zion Lodge, inside the Park. We had to get a red permit at the Visitor Center, so we could take our car along the Zion Scenic Route to the Lodge, as only shuttle buses are allowed along this road. In the evening we attended a very interesting talk and slide show at the Lodge, about the effect of water on the Canyon, presented by a Park Ranger.

Saturday 12 June ZionZion National Park

This was the last full day of our holiday and we drove from Zion to nearby Springdale to look at the shops. We had a couple of milk shakes in a cafe and on our way back to Zion Lodge a wild turkey and it's tiny chick crossed the road in front of us. Off the road a male turkey was dusting himself in the ashes of a camp fire and there was another chick. We then walked from the Lodge to the Emerald Pool and then along the rim to the Grotto area. The views enabled us to see Zion Canyon from a new perspective, but the walk was fairly strenuous and gave us needed exercise! We caught a shuttle bus to Weeping Rock and climbed again along a path to see water seeping from rocks, having taken years to find a route to permeate through. Then to the end of Zion Canyon and a walk up to The Narrows. We returned to the Lodge and then drove back to Springdale where we watched elk at the farm by the roadside. We returned to the Lodge for a fine dinner and attended another Park Ranger slide-show, this time about fire and the forests. When we came out to return to our room, there were about a dozen or so elk on the lawns in front of the Lodge, only a few feet away in the darkness.

Next morning we drove to Las Vegas, where we boarded our plane for the overnight flight home. We were allocated two seats at the back of the aircraft, so did not have to sit with anyone else.

Overall an excellent holiday and one that went along without any problems.

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