July 2017
  • Day14

    Last night in Vegas

    July 28, 2017 in the United States ⋅ 🌙 34 °C

    After dropping off the car and dinner at Outback Steakhouse, we headed to New York, New York for Cirque du Soleil's burlesque show Zumanity. It was, predictably, brilliant, although the acrobat dangling by only his foot high above the stage was hard to watch.

    A taxi downtown took us to our hotel, 4 Queens, before a walk down Fremont Street to queue for our ziplining adventure. 45ft above the street and over four blocks, we ziplined superman-style at 35mph...and it was brilliant. After a brief go on the slots in our hotel, we retired in the early hours, for our final night in the USA.Read more

  • Day14

    Hoover Dam

    July 28, 2017 in the United States ⋅ ☀️ 42 °C

    Departing both Death Valley, and California, we headed for our final destination - a return to Las Vegas. Before we handed back our rental car, after nearly 3000 miles, we had one last stop for a tour of Hoover Dam.

    Due to traffic, we headed down the Lake Mead road instead of the freeway and were treated to wonderful views over this NPS-managed, man-made lake that was a result of the construction of the Hoover Dam.

    The Dam itself, whilst appearing miniscule from the air, is of huge proportions, over 700ft tall and needing more than 3 million tonnes of concrete to create. We toured some of the pipes which carry up to 96,000 gallons of water per second, and the turbines. Outside, walking over the Dam, the intense heat meant touching railings or even stone walls was a game of chicken!
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  • Day13

    Zabriskie Point

    July 27, 2017 in the United States ⋅ ☀️ 44 °C

    Heading back to the hotel, we took in a few more sights - a 9-mile road through the 'artist's palette', driving through the astonishing colours and hues of the mountains. Then a stop for views at Zabriskie Point, once again venturing into the heat for a short uphill trail (which is unbelievably tiring under such a hot sun), before stopping at the Harmony Borax Works, whose quarter-mile trail nearly finished us off. Despite the heat, the views were spectacular and far more varied and creative than the name 'Death Valley' suggests.

    In the evening, Ben took advantage of the extraordinary darkness to do some astrophotography...and even at nearly midnight, the temperature was well over 30°!
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  • Day13

    Badwater Basin

    July 27, 2017 in the United States ⋅ ☀️ 45 °C

    Further south from the visitors center we headed to Badwater Basin, the lowest point in the USA at 282ft below sea level. We ventured on the 1-mile round look to the salt flats and back, figuring we were here so we had to...what it was was bloody hot. The vastness of the flats and surrounding mountains again aren't done justice by the pictures.Read more

  • Day13

    Death Valley

    July 27, 2017 in the United States ⋅ ☀️ 45 °C

    From the lush surroundings of Mammoth Lakes and Yosemite, we headed for the desert wilderness of Death Valley. A three hour drive between the Sierra Nevada mountains stunningly and suddenly disappeared into a flat scrub land and blistering 50° heat.

    The road into the park was winding through the various basins of the desert and we descended from 8000ft in the morning to under sea level by the time we made it to our hotel in Stovepipe Walls, in the middle of the park.

    Just a mile or so down the road was the first sight to visit - the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. Venturing out of the car (against NPS advice!) for the first time, the hot, dry heat was unbelievable...this is the hottest, lowest and driest place in the lower 48 states.

    A few miles down the road, we stopped at Furnace Creek Visitors Centre to learn about the park, which despite the heat, is home to a surprising variety of wildlife and plants.
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  • Day12

    Mammoth Lakes

    July 26, 2017 in the United States ⋅ 🌙 16 °C

    Leaving the Yosemite Village look, we joined the Tioga Road to go nearly 10,000ft over the Tiago Pass. This is closed from about November to May for to weather conditions, and having seen the snow on the mountains as we passed in scorching mid-July sunshine, I can see why. The views were wonderful and ever-changing, from pine forests to deer-filled meadows to snow-capped mountains. The vastness of the park and the landscape is indescribable and the photos do not do it justice.

    Once through the pass, we headed to Mammoth Lakes, a ski resort where we were stopping a night. The hotel, Austria Hof, was brilliant. We overlooked the mountains and they even had a Jacuzzi outdoors on the deck which we took full advantage of after dinner. The $5 happy hour bratwurst and fries and $4 happy hour beer were just the job after a long day.
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  • Day12

    El Capitan and the River Merced

    July 26, 2017 in the United States ⋅ ☀️ 28 °C

    We carried on around the one way loop, enjoying views of El Capitan, Half Dome and Cathedral Spires amongst the beautiful trees and wildlife. After battling for a parking space, we popped into the Village Store to buy some sandwiches for lunch, before going to the Visitors Center, and learning about the managed wildfires necessary to the protection of this, the oldest, national park. We ate lunch in these beautiful surroundings before carrying on to the El Capitan turnout.

    From this short trail, we were afforded amazing views of the sheer granite face of El Capitan as well as access to the River Merced and views up the valley. From here, there was no sound of traffic or indeed other people, having this spectacular spot all to ourselves. The water was rather chilly but I still enjoyed a splodge around!

    Back through the tunnels out of the valley, we stopped to get a birds-eye view of the park, and found some more waterfalls on which we had a scramble. I would have loved more time here, a few nights at least rather than four hours. It definitely is one of my favourite national parks.
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  • Day12

    Bridalveil Falls, Yosemite NP

    July 26, 2017 in the United States ⋅ ☀️ 29 °C

    We departed for Yosemite during rush hour, and were grateful we stayed in Oakland and not San Francisco where the traffic would have been much worse.

    The drive itself required more focus than most out here. As we got within an hour or so of the park, the windy mountain roads and hair pin bends required slowing to under 20mph in some cases, or risk plummeting over the cliff edge. Beautiful nonetheless.

    As you come through the tunnels towards Yosemite Village, the view is spectacular - high granite cliffs covered in huge trees stretching out into the distance, with the Merced River bubbling through the canyon. Our first stop on the one-way look around the village was bridalveil falls, a beautiful waterfall from the top cliff's edge. We scrambled on some of the rocks underneath it before heading further into the park.
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  • Day11

    Whale watching

    July 25, 2017 in the United States ⋅ ☀️ 18 °C

    A quick dash from Pier 33 to 39 for a spot of whale watching in the late afternoon. Out under the Golden Gate Bridge and into the Pacific, we were treated to a number of humpback whales gracing us with their presence. The sea was rather choppy with the engines off...and the boat rather small! However the view was spectacular, as was the wildlife.

    En route home, we stopped for a coffee to warm up, before beers and clam chowder on the wharf. We made our way home, and rounded off the day, with a trip on the iconic cable car, before getting the BART back to Oakland. A hugely packed day, and San Francisco clearly has far more to offer than we had time for, but we definitely made the most of what time we did have.
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  • Day11

    Alcatraz

    July 25, 2017 in the United States ⋅ ☀️ 22 °C

    A reasonably timed start to today. Got the BART into town from Oakland and walked to Fisherman's Wharf for breakfast at Boudin, apparently famed for their sourdough. En route to Pier 33, we stopped to look at some military WWII ships but happened upon the Musee Mechanique - an array of old arcade games for 25 cents a go. It was outstanding fun!

    Eventually, at Pier 33, we boarded a boat to Alcatraz. The audio tour of cellblock was brilliant and fascinating, especially as it was narrated by former guards and inmates. The facility has been well maintained by the NPS and it was interesting to learn about the escape attempts and history beyond its time as a federal prison. We could easily have stopped longer here.
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