On the road again: recap of our Southwest USA road trip

Hard to believe it has already been a year since we returned from our Southwest USA road trip, a trip that took a lot of planning (and saving) ahead and rewarded us with unerasable memories of magnificent landscapes and road adventures.

In the months after our return I managed to sort out the insane amount of photos taken and composed an old-school photo album with the highlights and ‘best of’ moments however somehow a blogpost on the entire trip seemed not feasible: so many stories, so many interesting places we’ve visited, so many angles…where to start?! Well, I guess at the beginning…

After a very long flight including stopover at Chicago airport we landed in                     San Francisco. We chose SF to be at the beginning of our tour for several personal practical reasons: doing a road trip is rather exhausting, positioning a citytrip at the end wouldn’t be wise. Exploring SF needed us still fit in body and mind! Then there is the issue of ‘Karl’, Karl the Fog that is…Summer weather in SF can be tricky and for me, it’s just not that much fun ending the holiday in chilly and cloudy weather after spending two weeks in the sun and heat…

Lombard Street SF
on top of Lombard Street

We spent four nights in SF and still wasn’t enough to explore all the city has to offer though we got an excellent taste of its variety: we did a cable car ride, explored Chinatown, Fisherman’s Wharf and North Beach, did a hop-on/hop-off tour, crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, walked Lombard street, did some shopping, joined an Alcatraz night tour,… more on that here Off to prison with a smile…only in San Francisco!

Time to say goodbye to SF and pick-up our rental car…adventure awaits with a drive along the Pacific Coast Highway leading us to Bixby Bridge, the wonderful scenic 17 mile drive and the historic coastal towns Carmel and Monterey where we spent the night.

Bixby Bridge, Pacific Coast Highway
Bixby Bridge

Strongly recommend, if you can, to spend more than one night here, wish we had too, however our next destination was already in mind and required quite a distance to cover, next stop…Yosemite NP!

Our hotel was located just outside the park, only a short drive to the Park’s entrance immediately rewarding us with jaw-dropping Tunnel View…

Tunnel View Yosemite NP

Lovely walks in Yosemite Valley, exploring the Falls, a ranger sunset talk at epic Glacier Point overlooking Half Dome…

Yosemite Valley

Yosemite Shuttle

Half Dome, Glacier Point, Yosemite NP
overlooking Half Dome at Glacier Point

Leaving Yosemite for our next destination came with a bonus as we had to cross Tioga Pass, with its lovely viewpoints and magical Tenaya lake.

Tenaya Lake, Tioga road, Yosemite NP
Capturing the beauty of Tenaya Lake

and bonus number two with enchanting Mono Lake being on our route!

Mono Lake
is it a dog?

Next stop…Death Valley NP!

Furnace Creek Ranch Death Valley

Death Valley

Devil's Golf Course Death Valley

Dante's View, Death Valley
Hunting high and low: perfect viewpoint at Dante’s Peak

We have only spent one afternoon, night and early morning here, (taking in mind the high temperatures it is best to plan your sightseeing late afternoons and early mornings) however did give us time to explore some of the highlights the park has to offer: the dunes upon entering, lovely Artists Drive, sunset at Zabriskie point, Badwater, Devil’s Golf Course and the wonderful overview you get from Dante’s View…

…off to thé city of lights…(and noise, every minute, night and day)…viva Las Vegas…though must admit, for us, looking back on the trip now, not really our thing: the contrast when coming from nature’s overwhelming power and beauty is huge and my senses went on overdrive with the combination of heat, noise, lights, hustle and bustle,…we stayed two nights, however one would have been better! Still would leave ample of time to visit some of the casinos of choice, shop and eat!

We did enjoy the tour with the High Roller ferris wheel and the Bellagio fountain show!

High Roller Las Vegas

As you can guess, we were glad to escape LV madness and submerge ourselves again into nature’s grandeur and boy, we were rewarded big time! Our route to Zion NP allowed us a little detour to Valley of Fire State Park…do not miss this one if you get the chance, you will not regret!

Valley of Fire State Park

Elephant Rock Valley of Fire State Park

Zion NP to me had it all: the easy walks for those taking it slow (that’s me) the challenging ones for daredevils, water, rocks, green, it is thé perfect combination, everywhere you look, nature plays its dominant and bewitching role…oh, and I got to celebrate my 45th birthday there!

Zion NP

Zion NP

We got some more of the same magic visiting our next destination Bryce NP…hoodoos in all shapes add to the enchanting vibe hiking here, trails for all fitness levels, luckily!

Bryce NP

Bryce NP

Thor's Hammer Bryce NP
Thor’s Hammer Bryce Canyon

Upon entering state Arizona we had a bit of weather change, lots of clouds, not the best of timing or condition with Antelope Canyon being on the programme, however we were lucky to catch a little glimpse just upon leaving the canyon!

Upper Antelope Canyon

Rain and thunder clouds packing above Horseshoe Bend as if life on the edge isn’t drama enough!

Horseshoe Bend, Arizona

Unstable weather accompanied us the rest of our trip with blue sky one minute and dark thunder clouds and strong sudden winds approaching the next, having only one night to spend in Grand Canyon NP, we weren’t able to check off all the highlights marked on our list, however exploring the West Rim is already a treat for the eyes.
West Rim Grand Canyon

Last stop before flying home…Phoenix…no worries flight home was with a normal airplane!

Hot Air Expeditions
Phoenix Hot Air Expeditions

Hot Air Expeditions captain

Hot Air Expeditions

Well…it’s a wrap…time flies when you’re having fun!

First time we did an overseas road trip of this length in time and distance and overall feeling was more than ok. We did the planning ourselves and took our complete plan and budget to Eric of Inforeizen, who specialises in overseas travels to the US and Africa and tried to match our desires and route as much as possible. Made it easy for us as he handled all the bookings and we had therefore only one contact person in case of questions or problems.

Curious where we stayed? Will list up all the hotels at the end of this post.

Anything we would do differently looking back? Would spend an extra night in Monterey area, extra night in Yosemite, skip Las Vegas as a destination, though it might be interesting as an airport arrival or departure point, if more time and budget include Monument Valley, pack less bagage!

Hope you enjoyed this little tour…going through these photos again, am already planning and dreaming of future adventures, great and small!

 

Ingrid

xxx

‘ I take to the open road, healthy, free, the world before me’

 

Hotels:

San Francisco: Union Square Hotel

Monterey: Pacific Hotel

Yosemite: Yosemite View Lodge

Death Valley: Furnace Creek Ranch

Las Vegas: MGM Grand

Zion: Majestic View Lodge

Bryce: BW Plus Ruby’s Inn

Page: Courtyard by Mariott

Grand Canyon: BW Premium Squire Inn

Scottsdale: the Phoenician

travel agent Inforeizen

More:

Stay on these roads

Off to prison with a smile…only in San Francisco!

 

 

 

Off to prison with a smile…only in San Francisco!

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Not just any prison of course, talking about Alcatraz, the Rock, limitless source of inspiration for writers, moviemakers, travelers, etc…bottomless frustration for those who ended up there, most of them already serving a life-long sentence.

Alcatraz
The Rock, Alcatraz Island

Normally offenders couldn’t be sent off to Alcatraz directly by jurisdiction or court, they were transferred to this ‘super max’ institution from other prisons, due to bad behaviour, not complying with the prison life system or being a danger to other inmates, guards, themselves or escape risk. Needless to say some of America’s most notorious criminals called this place ‘home’ before it was shut down in 1963. After closing down the penitentiary this place stayed abandoned for several years as no one came up with an actual plan or great idea to re-use the facilities. In 1969, and this up to 1971 the island was occupied by American Indian activists. Each year, members of all different tribes still return to Alcatraz to remember this occupation. Many Indian people now consider the seizure of Alcatraz to have been a new beginning, a kind of reawakening of American Indian culture, their traditions, identity and spirituality.
Since 1973 Alcatraz falls under the National Park Service and the number of visitors just keeps growing year after year. Just to give you an idea, every year, more than 1.3 million visitors travel to Alcatraz Island!

Need I say that during the planning of our recent road trip and visit to SF this ranked top of the ‘must visit’ list?! On advice we decided to go for the night tour, adding just that extra mystery,  also the experience is more intimate due to lesser crowds, there are additional programs and guided tours and don’t forget the bonus skyline by night on the ferry ride back! Consider that ferry ride a treat on its own, if you’re a bit like me, nose and hairs in the wind!

Do make sure to book as soon as ticket sale starts, which is three months in advance, especially in high season! Do take the English narrated audio-tour and not your native tongue as otherwise the original voices of inmates, guards, etc will be overspoken and that spoils the fun, at least to my opinion! And do take a look in advance at the chalk board mentioning the theme presentations and programs that evening/day because some of them overlap. Wear comfy shoes and enjoy!  Choices will have to be made! In total, ferry ride, audio tour, personal time, taking photos, following one or more guided tours will give you about three hours of fun! Go to Alcatraz Cruises for all info and booking tickets.

After the audio tour we ourselves opted for the presentation on Robert Stroud, better known as Birdman, what a great tour guide we had, natural born story-teller! We got there ten minutes early and could chat with our guide a bit about our road trip, the itinerary, etc…Yosemite NP would be our next destination and guess which one happened to be his favourite Park? So we got a lot of tips on which hikes to do etc,…guess the sweet man just didn’t realise we where not that hardcore hikers and we didn’t have a whole week to spend there, but we loved him and were thankful for it nevertheless!

During the tour we walked from site to site but never long distances and always in the open air so we had perfect views on Golden Gate Bridge , SF skyline and Bay Bridge the whole time.

Alcatraz
How frustrating that must have been, from this point, the city and freedom doesn’t seem that far!

 

Definitely must rewatch that movie now that we have so many inside details on the intriguing person Stroud was!

He was imprisoned after committing a murder but due to several severe incidents with other inmates and afterwards stabbing a guard to death, he got sentenced to death by hanging. Later on this death sentence was changed into life long imprisonement in Leavenworth in a segregated unit, due to his violent character and outbursts. Apparantly Stroud had developed quite an interest in ornithology after finding a baby sparrow and inmates were allowed to have a canary as company in their cells, so that’s how the ‘Birdman’ story begins. He wrote several books on bird and diseases topics and even got the attention of J Edgar Hoover, …rings a bell? He was the director of the FBI…well he ordered a canary with Stroud…only it wasn’t a canary, Stroud had used a sparrow which he had painted! Ah well, make no mistake, this was no nice guy in the end…he was considered a psychopath with an IQ of 134 who manipulated and knew when to stay under the radar. He was transferred to Alcatraz in 1942, none of his birds allowed there, he spent his days in segregation and afterwards in the islands’s prison hospital. He later was moved to a medical prison centre in Springfield. Stroud never saw the movie that made him famous by the way, he died in hospital prison the day before JFK was murdered. This is just a short version of the little bits and anecdotes I remember the guide telling us, if you want to know more on the Birdman or other famous inmates of the Rock, just go to Alcatraz History and Alcatraz Cruises History.

San Francisco
Ferry ride with Alcatraz Cruises to the Rock

San Francisco Bay Alcatraz

No Visit to Alcatraz without the ferry ride, if you’re lucky to have clear skies, enjoy the wonderful views on the bay, SF skyline, the bridges, Angel Island and of course that thrill when approaching the Rock and on your way back, if you had the night tour like we had, well it’s enjoying with a Big Bonus ✨

Alcatraz
Day turns into night , final view on the Bay and Angel Island
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Waiting for the ferry
San Francisco Coit Tower
That view!

and let’s not forget the most important thing: the taste of freedom…we escaped!

Alcatraz Cruises
Alcatraz Cruises night tour experience with a smile!

Hope you enjoyed! More stories and pics of our trip to follow, so stay tuned and if you ever visit SF, hope this has inspired you to put Alcatraz on your ‘to visit’ list, you won’t regret it!

Ingrid

xxx

 

 

Stay on these roads

It’s like that quote “it’s not about the destination, it’s the journey”.
Some of you already know we just did an amazing three week road trip through southwest USA, starting in San Francisco and ending in Phoenix. Will definitely post some stories and pics of the wonderful places we’ve visited but today it’s all about hitting the road, literally!

As a chronic back-pain patient the miles to cover between each of our destinations had worried me a lot in advance…was not really looking forward to spending four, five and sometimes more hours in the car…but you know what, the driving part, or co-driving in my case, was so much more fun than I could have ever expected! We stopped a lot, we just had to, not only to stretch legs, back and neck, just too many jaw-dropping moments on our routes…many of those stunning views will be imprinted on my retina forever!

Here are some of my favourite road related pics of our trip, hope you enjoy the ride!

Ingrid

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State Route 1, Pacific Coast and Big Sur

 

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Our son Nick, Tioga Pass Road, Yosemite NP
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Artist’s Drive, Death Valley NP
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No roadtrip without wheels, right?!
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‘Straight roads do not make skillful drivers’ – Paulo Coelho
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Valley of Fire State Park
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Zion NP route to Checkerboard Mesa
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made my husband stop the car to shoot this one!
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we all need to refuel sometimes, even cowboys!
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must be wildhogs then if the sign says to watch out for animals!
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Could’t miss out on this one, right?!
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well, there may be something to tell about the balloon hanging here above the motorway in Sonoran Desert, Phoenix…another story 😉