Heading West

Karla and I have long wanted to hop on the interstate and drive to the west coast. Back in 2016, we took a two-week vacation, found someone to look after karla's farm and did just that. Here are the highlights

There's an old joke, 'Why is the wind so strong in Oklahoma?' Answer: 'Because Texas sucks.' I love Texas and Oklahoma, but there's not much to see on the I-40 part. It does seem like a good place for a wind farm though. Just past the Texas panhandle you start to see these plateaus in eastern New Mexico. Paul and Karla on top of Sandia Mountain. Albuquerque is down below. We are at about 10,000 feet and it started snowing minutes after this picture was taken. Paul is really digging his selfie stick. Western New Mexico is filled with terrain like this. Big sky, big rocks, mesas... This was the first sign I saw warning of danger. We would see others. This is at the rest area as we entered Arizona. Heading for the Petrified Forest National Park in easter Arizona. The Petrified Forest is part of the Painted Desert. Driving through the Petrified Forest. I particularly liked this formation. Petrified National Forest. Karla and Paul at the Petrified Forest. Paul and Karla at the Petrified Forest. And finally, some petrified wood. You don't see too much of this until you reach the end of the park. It is everywhere, though. There are small plaques to help explain the geology and history of the park. Turned to stone where it fell. It turns out that the wood didn't stop where the park did. We dropped a few hundred dollars in this shop.

The Grand Canyon

The original plan had been to drive I-40 to the Pacific Ocean but considering how rarely we would be coming out west, we opted to take in some landmarks. The first would be the Grand Canyon in northern Arizona. Karla had been here as a child. I had not. It would have been a sin to have missed it.

The Grand Canyon at last! This was our first view. Every view of the Grand Canyon is magnificent. Karla is included for scale. We only visited the South Rim. The North Rim looks to be straight across, but is in fact 1000 feet higher. It's also about 8 miles away. You have seen pictures of the Grand Canyon your whole life. After you spend some time gazing into it however, you realize that none of them have done it justice. Infinite variety! One mile to the bottom. You start to realize that your eyes can't really process the magnitude of what you are seeing. Consider this, the tallest building in the United States is well under 2000 feet. Now the Grand Canyon is 6000 feet to the bottom, more than three times the distance. Paul's pondering point. The park gets about 10,000 visitors a day, but you can still find plenty of opportunities for solitude. Keep alert though. There are many places with no guard rail and a serious drop. El Tovar. We stayed here our second night. These old hotels are fun to stay in but can be kind of funky since they've had modern conveniences like air conditioning, televisions, and bathrooms sort of shoe-horned into them. It was a little expensive, but well worth it. Grand Canyon mules. You can still ride mules down to Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. There is a 200 pound weight limit. I'm out.

Utah

Karla's aunt once said that Zion National Park was a beautiful place. Since it isn't far from the Grand Canyon, we thought we should at least do a drive by. It was worth the diversion. In the Grand Canyon you walk the rim and look down in the valley. In Zion National Park, you are in the valley and looking up at the mountain tops. It was amazing. We could have spent a week in Zion Park.

Entering Utah from Arizona. Southern Utah is covered with wind-sculptured mesas. Zion National Park in southern Utah. Zion is like an inverse of the Grand Canyon and you experience it from the valley. The Virgin River cuts through this park and along with the wind, it has fashioned an awesome terrain. The Court of the Patriarchs. From the left: Abraham Peak, Isaac Peak, and Jacob Peak. Karla in Zion National Park. It's getting late and we would be heading for the hotel soon. We stayed a place called Flanigan's Inn and it was the nicest hotel of the entire trip. The restaurant was good too.

Nevada

Driving out of Zion, we pass through St. George, Utah and down into Nevada. Neither of us had been to Las Vegas and so we decided it should be our next stop. We found our way to Caesar's Palace, got some lunch and spent about $40 bucks at the slot machines. We entertained the notion of staying the night, but Vegas wasn't our thing. After a couple of hours playing around we realized that neither one of us were having a good time. The Hoover Dam was close by however, and that was definitely on my list.

Paul and Karla at the Hoover Dam. We passed on Las Vegas for this. No regrets. The Power Plant inside the Hoover Dam. This plant server 1.3 million people in Nevada, Arizona, and California. It averages about 4 BILLION kilowatt-hours a year. Underground at the dam. Much of the dam tour is below ground. The Colorado River on its way to California. When we were leaving California on Interstate 10, I noticed this river divides California and Arizona.

Rhyolite Nevada, Death Valley

Not wanting to sleep in Las Vegas, we took a chance on a small town called Beatty in Nevada. Beatty is a small community that serves as a jumping off spot for Death Valley. It would be dark by the time we got there, but we found a room at the Death Valley Inn. This was an older motel looking like it was built in the 70s, but it was nice enough. We were exhausted and after a late dinner at Denny's we fell asleep watching Overboard - the Goldie Hawn / Kurt Russell version - with fuzzy reception.

Nevada Wild Ass. We encountered this flock of donkeys in Rhyolite Nevada, just before entering Death Valley. I've been told a group of donkeys is a 'drove'. I'm still going with 'flock'. Karla thought it was awsome! The ghost town of Rhyolite Nevada has an outdoor sculpture museum. The Goldwell Open Air Museum. It was actually pretty interesting. Ghost Rider by Albert Szukalski. Lady Desert: The Venus of Nevada by Hugo Heyrman. The Last Supper by Albert Szukalski. Rhyolite Rattlesnakes. Paul and Karla at Death Valley. We got out of the car and milled around as often as possible. The wind is strong in Death Valley. Karla checking out the dunes in Death Valley. I was surprised at the topographic diversity in Death Valley. I had imagined a large, flat basin but there is so much more. Driving straight through, elevation varied from 10 feet to over 6000 feet. The drive across was only a couple of hours. We saw a coyote in Death Valley. Despite all of the signs telling us to not feed the wild life, Karla actually started making this animal a sandwich. We didn't give it to her, but I think the RV in front of us did. She clearly had pups somewhere. Joshua Trees. The Sierra Nevada Mountains. You know from grade school that Mount Whitney is the highest point in the contiguous United States at 14,494 feet. You also know the lowest point is 279 feet below sea level in Death Valley's Badwater Basin. What occurs to you right here is that those points are only a couple of hours apart. The Sierra Nevada Mountains. Coming out of Death Valley and seeing these mountains, your first question is, 'How do you get over them?' Well, in early May, you don't. I had planned to cross over at the Lee Vining pass, but in May - and sometimes through June - it is closed.

San Francisco

My intention was to get across Death Valley, follow the Sierra Nevada Mountains north to Lee Vining, and take the Tioga Road Pass over to Yosemite National Park. This was early May and I clearly didn't know JACK about California. The Tioga Road doesn't normally open until mid-June (sometimes July.) With my initial plan scuttled, we continued north to the Sonora Pass... which was closed. So, we continued north to Carson City, Nevada and an OPEN mountain pass and got a room for the night. We would make San Francisco the next day.

Lake Tahoe. The consolation of having to sleep in Carson City instead of Yosemite was getting to see Lake Tahoe. This area is delightful. It did snow heavily driving over the Carson Pass, but the road over the mountain was made for it. The Nevada / California border at Lake Tahoe looks like you can have a lot of fun. We were just passing through. Karla, Paul, and Sky-Thug at Fisherman's Wharf. Driving in San Francisco was quite the challenge. I was naive and thought I could simply 'follow the signs' to Fishermans Wharf. We did get there thanks to the GPS on Karla's phone. The Golden Gate Bridge from the window of a restaurant. We were hungry and picked a restaurant at random. This was the view. The Golden Gate Bridge from the upper deck of a tour boat. We took a $60 boat tour of the bay. You go out to the Golden Gate Bridge and then swing around Alcatraz. The temperature outside is 59 degrees fahrenheit. The front side of Alcatraz. Alcatraz is a wildly popular tourist destination. I had looked into getting a walking tour a few days before our visit but all the slots were full. The back side of Alcatraz. An interesting bit of Alcatraz history: <a href='https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occupation_of_Alcatraz' target='_blank' style='color: #f6d8ac;'>Occupation of Alcatraz.</a> A group of 89 American Indians in November of 1969 occupied the island of Alcatraz claiming the Treaty of Fort Laramie gave them the right to do so. They held the island for nineteen months. The graffiti they sprayed on the back-side of the facility is still visable. The boat ride was windy and cold. As expected, Fisherman's Wharf was full of thugs. I know people cringe when you tell them you visited Fisherman's Wharf, much like New Orleans natives disparage the French Quarter (and the French Quarter and Fisherman's Wharf are <em>very much alike</em>) but for the entire vacation we had such a tight schedule, we had to pick carefully and we both like seagulls.

Santa Cruz, Sequoia National Park

There is something alluring about Pacific Coast Highway 1. When we left San Francisco, the parking attendant gave us directions how to get over to it. I wanted to drive as much of it as I could in the remaining hours of daylight I had left. I hope to someday get to drive the length of California on this road. Today I'd have to settle for Santa Cruz, which was cool.

A little north of Santa Cruz we stopped on Pacific Coast Highway 1 for this picture. There are lots of places on PCH1 where you get a view such as this. Japan is out there somewhere. Another picture from the side of the road on Highway 1. Like so many other places we've been, you could make an entire vacation out of this drive alone. This 2000 year old tree at the entrance of Sequoia National Park. Since our trip through Yosemite fell through, we decided to pack off to Sequoia National Park. Seeing BIG trees was a prime motivator and the park did not disappoint. Paul and Karla in Sequoia National Forest. You really can't see the tops of these trees from this angle. General Sherman - the largest tree in the world. There are some taller trees and there are some FATTER trees, but in terms of volume of wood, this one wins. It is difficult to comprehend the size of these trees. Focus on the people at the bottom.

Los Angeles, Saguaro Cactus

The drive out of Sequoia Forest was exhausting: switchbacks and low gears. We spent the night in Bakersfield and drove into Los Angeles the next morning. Regretfully, we gave LA a short shrift. We were tired and getting a little homesick. I had wanted to go to the Griffith Observatory, but it was Mothers Day and after three attempts, it just wasn't going to happen. We had a nice picnic in Griffith Park and drove the Santa Monica freeway to the coast. The beach was crazy busy so we drove the length of Sunset Strip (I had wanted to) and made our way over to Pasadena where we set out on foot to do some shopping and have dinner at the Cheesecake Factory.

Paul had to see the Burbank Fry's because of course he did. Interestingly enough, it looked just like the Fry's in Dallas. They did have a cool 'Earth vs. Flying Saucers' motif. I saw at least a dozen lamborghinis while driving around Los Angeles. The Pasadena Cheesecake Factory. Karla and I are fans of the Big Bang Theory and we don't have Cheesecake Factorys in Arkansas, so we ate dinner here. Since it was Mothers Day, the place was packed. Karla and I disregarded our diets and both had cheesecake. It was great! Driving along and the suddenly, Arizona! We started heading back home right after the Cheesecake Factory and spent the night a little east of San Bernardino. The cactus is called a Saguaro Cactus. I didn't notice any in California, but right after crossing the Colorado River into Arizona, I started seeing them everywhere. The Saguaro Cactus are prominent in southern Arizona. We are on our way to Saguaro National Park. I didn't catch on at the time, but these 30-50 feet tall, 2000 pound cactus were really weirding me out. Karla thought they were great! Karla frolicking in the Saguaro National Park.

Homeward Bound

After eating at the Cheesecake Factory, we started home. The sun was setting but we were missing the Farm and the prospect of the three-day drive ahead of us was a strong motivator to get started. We headed out west on I-40 and would return on I-10 driving across Southern California, Arizona (with its BIG cactus), New Mexico, and Texas. Texas is a wide state when you're driving across it. All together we drove 5,000 miles. It's good to be home.

Back in the attic

Back to the farm