25. Tofino, Vancouver Island, Canada

Days: 81-85

We set off from sunny Victoria for the 4+ hour drive to Tofino, on the west coast of the island. The navigation was not going to be difficult – there is only one road!

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We had heard it would be a good idea to stop en route at The Old Country Market in Coombs. So we did. What a bizarre shop…it has grown from a small road side shack into a massive store which not only has goats who live on the roof….

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IMG_7427but sells the most bizarre array of goods….including Mexican wrestling masks!

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We got away from The Old Country Market relatively unscathed and continued the drive to Tofino. It’s a very cute, upmarket, seaside village where fishermen, surfer dudes and tourists mingle happily while drinking barista coffee. We were delighted with the view from our little apartment.

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Relaxing is the order of the day in Tofino…so thats what we did…a coastal walk…

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and the obligatory oyster happy Hour!

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But in among the relaxing fishing obviously had to feature!

We chartered a boat and captain and set off in search of Salmon!

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We were in luck.

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We caught 4 – two small and two big ones – we kept the big boys – delicious!

From the boat we also saw some fabulous wildlife. A Bald eagle flew by…

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The black bears are prevalent in the area and come down to the shore at low tide. They check under rocks for crabs. We were lucky enough to see two – but they took cover as soon as they spotted us!

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And on the way home we passed by a Humpback…

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What Ed Says: Tofino is a bit of a ‘hippy hang out’ but exploring that coastline is fabulous and, for me, it was all about the salmon and bears. You can avoid the drive to Tofino and fly in via sea plane which seemed a very popular way to arrive – judging by the number of sea planes that were buzzing past at regular intervals!
Fishing for salmon is always fun and they make it sporting as you are not allowed to use barbed hooks. This means landing them is not as easy as it sounds. That said we had more enough to take home and satisfy the veggie in the family!
One thing we did see in Tofino was a truck that I want to use the next time we do a long road trip! Not sure Justine is on board with the idea but it would be fabulous…..the Unimog….pictured below.

unimogGerman engineering, 4×4 and virtually bomb proof. Justine gets a comfortable bed and heating as well a loo and a shower…..what more could she ask for….?

 

Next Destination: Whistler, Canada

24. Victoria, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada

Days 77-81
We left Seattle by ferry – the quickest way to reach Port Angeles – where we were going to stay overnight before taking another ferry to Vancouver Island. (for any fans of Greys Anatomy – the green ferry often featured  on the show!)

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As we drove up to the checkpoint to buy our ferry ticket the attendant became extremely excited when he saw the pillow on my lap….because it had a Snoopy Pillowcase. Turns out that he had exactly the same pillowcase when he was young. He told us how much he loved that pillowcase and what great memories he had of it.
So obviously I offered to sell it to him.
He suggested $20 – but in the end I just loved how excited he was about the pillowcase, it meant so much more to him than it did to me so gave it to him as a gift! He was absolutely delighted!

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(and after all, I still have my Magic Roundabout pillowcase – not parting with that one!)

So, this was The Beast’s first amphibious adventure!

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En route to Port Angeles we had time to pay a quick visit to Olympic National Park. We drove the Hurricane Ridge which was stunning. Glorious views from the top.

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As we were driving up (and up, and up) I realized what a superb bike ride down it would be. This time I did not have a puncture. This was it – my chance for a  stunning, no pedal, 10 mile all downhill ride. Except that once I broached the idea of ‘one of us’ riding down – Ed jumped on it and agreed. Yup, he wanted to do it too.
So we flipped a coin…..
Here are the photos of Ed enjoying his 10 mile downhill ride down Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park.

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The dining options in Port Angeles are somewhat limited  – we chose to avoid this Chinese restaurant…

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and instead found wonderful gastro pub.

We were up bright and early the next morning to board the ferry to Canada.

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We docked in Victoria and were welcomed to Canada. The boarder guard had just one question – seeing our Texas plates he wanted to know if we had any guns. We did not so he let us in!

It was a beautiful sunny day in Victoria. We checked into our hotel and then set out on foot to explore downtown. We could not help but notice a lovely restaurant terrace offering Happy Hour Oysters. 24 oysters and a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc later we were very happy!

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The next day we hit The Galloping Goose which is a bike path that runs for 75 miles along the coast from Victoria. It was a fun ride – varied scenery and not too hilly. We did not do the 75 miles – more like 18.

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Turns out Victoria is good for Happy Hours – we found a rooftop bar with stunning views out to the sea. We were happy again.

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Whale watching was next in the agenda.
Wow – what a day.
We booked with a small company called BC Whale Watching which has a small fleet of made to order ridged inflatable boats. Our captain, Tom, was a marine biologist and was able to fill us in on everything we wanted to know about these incredible creatures…and he likes to drive FAST!!

We donned out survival suits….

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Within 30 minutes we’d found a Humpback. We watched him surface and disappear several times…

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DSC_0991then we headed off in search of Orcas. We speeded over the US boarder (no passports required) and found a very active pod. They were stunning – power and grace combined. We were incredibly lucky with the weather – beautiful sunshine and water like a millpond!

 

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After a morning out on the water we were ready for lunch – fish ‘n chips all round!

IMG_7400We loved Victoria. The people were friendly and helpful. So much so. that on our last night JJ was invited to help out in the Ramen Shack kitchen!

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What Ed says: We have been meaning to go to VI for a number of years. We have been skiing at nearby Whistler for at least 8 years but never really got round to it. This road trip provided the perfect opportunity. But first I had a 10 mile down hill cruise to complete…..oh yes she lost the toss! It was fabulous but Justine would have found it very cold…..if you are ever in the area don’t miss Hurricane Ridge we could have stayed longer.
So it was off to VI meaning another ferry ride for The Beast. Canadian customs are always friendly but Texas plates seems to immediately raise the gun issue!! I assured the gentlemen that all my guns were safely tucked up in Texas and he should not worry. Bear spay is cool and fine to bring over. What else can we say about Victoria…..great oysters and my other passion fast RIB’s….oh the Orcas are pretty cool too!

 

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0934.JPGTwin 350’s a tad bigger than I am planning on putting on my boat in Cape Town but Yamaha are the way to go! Thinking of settling on twin 200’s but have not really discussed this with the Boss yet!!

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Next Destination: Tofino, Vancouver Island

 

 

 

23. Seattle, Washington via Coeur D’alene, Idaho.

Days: 73-77

We left Glacier, destination Seattle. It was a 570 mile journey so we decided to break up the drive and stop over night in a town called Coeur D’alene, Idaho. We’d met some people in The Grand Tetons who told us it was a gorgeous place. I have to say it did not disappoint. The town was set around a huge lake and had a real holiday atmosphere. We arrived in time to take a bike ride around the side of the lake and enjoy the views.

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The beaches were packed and the water was teaming with boats and people having fun – probably because it was a blistering hot 100 degrees at 5pm!

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Since it’s such a bike friendly place we cycled to a restaurant made famous on the “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” TV show for dinner. We had a drink and an appetizer – Idaho Nachos – ie Nachos made with potatoes rather than corn chips! But I decided it was actually too much of a dive and we could do better. We cruised down to another restaurant I had spotted and this turned out to be much more of our kind of thing. A superb modern setting, sleek décor, 50 craft beers on tap and live music.

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Fun was had by all, especially JJ. He tried his best to earn a coffee and a puppy…

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Since he’d already had some potatoes the only thing he wanted on the menu was the deep fried Oreos – we were in a good mood so we let him order them for his main course!

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The next morning we set out for Seattle. We had booked a great little AirBnb house in a lovely neighbourhood for 4 nights. One of the neighbours told us about a Seafood Festival which was happening over the weekend were there. We were able to ride to it via the Burrard Locks. The locks were amazing – the longest I have ever seen.

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There was also a very cool fish ladder which numerous fish seem happy to use to get back to their spawning ground. I have no idea how they know what to do but they manage!

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The next day we explored Pike Place market. Wow – I have never seen seafood like it. Absolutely yummy!

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And there must have been 100 people waiting outside the first ever Starbucks, just to get in and buy a coffee!!

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Ridiculous since there are 142 other Starbuck branches they could go to in  Seattle!!!!

We had an Oyster lunch and then headed off for a “Duck Tour” of Seattle. This is a city tour in an amphibious vehicle.

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It was great fun – we drove on the roads and into the bay! Our tour guide gave us loads of interesting information about the city and entertained us with a whole host of songs and costume changes!

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The city was spectacular from the water.

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The fireboat was giving an impressive display.

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And we saw a young chap who has certainly mastered the flyboard.

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We ended the day at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

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They are from Seattle and still live here so this is where the foundation is based. The foundations’ welcome center is stunning and is incredibly well thought out. They have a number of interactive displays explaining the wide range of work the foundation is involved with, why and how. Some of the subject matter, like child sex slavery is very upsetting but it is covered in a very appropriate way.

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We left amazed and inspired and with a much deeper understanding of and respect for what the foundation is achieving.

Our last day in Seattle was spent at the hugely impressive Boeing Factory. It was quite weird to arrive at what is, to all intents and purposes an airport, but not to be flying anywhere!

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While we waited for the tour to start we looked around the display center, which like the Gates Foundation, was superbly designed. I learnt a great deal about Nano atoms! Turns out they are pretty cool and are changing our world!

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Then we headed off on the tour. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take photos. They said it was so as not to interfere with the sensitive plane electronic systems – but we think it’s to stop the spies from Airbus!! We were guided around 2 of the mega hangers.

These are the biggest buildings in the world. In the early days clouds used to form in the ceilings of the hangers and it would rain – but they have improved the ventilation system so precipitation is no longer a problem! Thousands of people are at work on the planes 24 hours a day – but we hardly saw a soul – everything is on such a massive scale people are spread out like ants on a football field! It was interesting to learn that Boeing realized they needed to speed up their production times and they called Toyota for help. By introducing some of Toyotas production methods they shaved 4 days off the manufacturing time of each plane. Whereas most of the planes are built from scratch in Seattle, the newest addition to the fleet, The Dreamliner, is a composite carbon fiber plane. As a result the different sections can be completed in different facilities around the world and then brought to Seattle for final assembly – which then only takes 4 days. Boeing had to create a new kind of plane – the Dream Lifter – to bring the various parts of the Dreamliner to Seattle. Six of these fly around the world collecting the various sections from where they are made!

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Once a plane is finished the Boeing test pilots will take it for a spin and check everything is working. Once they are satisfied that the new plane is perfect the pilots from the airline which is buying it come over and give it a test flight of their own. Once those pilots are happy they sign on the dotted line and fly the new plane back to home base! So, for anyone thinking of buying a Boeing do remember that they don’t deliver! And by the way, get your order in now – their order book is full until after 2020!

After the tour we headed down a couple of miles to the coast for a gorgeous seafood meal at one of Seattles iconic restaurants.

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We loved Seattle. Sadly I found out too late about The Chihuly Glass and Garden. It seems that Seattle has become the center of the Glass Blowing World. Apparently the The Chihuly has the most beautiful display of giant glass ‘sculptures’. I would love to have seen it – but we ran out of time. I guess we will just have to go back!

What Ed says: The drive from Montana to Idaho confirmed that the potato State is my second favourite state: great fishing rivers, perfect deer and elk hunting, but alas, the winters are still too long & cold for Justine!
However it does seem that the northern states of Montana, Idaho and Washington are leading the way when it comes to craft beer. I have never seen so many IPA’s! They have plenty of Cascade hops to use and are doing a truly amazing job.

Seattle was fun and the salmon ladder at the locks interesting. What was amazing is that the 1st nation people are allowed to net salmon right by the salmon ladder…..talk about shooting fish in a barrel!!!
The trip to Boeing is well worth it, just to see the scale of it. It is certainly a lesson in parts management and ‘just in time’ delivery. The undercarriage of the one of the planes comes finished from the UK however they arrive in Seattle 24hrs before the plane rolls off the line……no under carriage and it’s not rolling anywhere! You need to have faith in your supply chain………….
Oh favourite west coast oysters are ‘Fanny Bay’ first tasted in Seattle and to be re tasted in Victoria and Tofino……

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Next Destination: Victoria, Vancouver Island, Canada

22. Glacier National Park, Montana

Days: 68-73

So, as was the case with Grand Tetons and Yellowstone we had not been able to book a campsite at Glacier National Park. So we left Bozeman (Ed was in tears) and headed towards Glacier planning to find a motel for the night somewhere close to the edge of the park. That way we would be in a good position to head into the park and nab a walk in campsite first thing the next morning.
We stopped at a Starbucks 75 miles before the park for coffee and wifi signal. We started to surf the usual hotel booking sites for a motel and were somewhat dismayed to discover that there was virtually nothing available within 50 miles of the park. Finally we found a room (seemingly the last one within a 50 mile radius!) in a small town called East Glacier (yes, it’s to the east of Glacier Park!).
We were pleased to have a booking but a little nervous as the on line reviews of the motel were not at all complimentary. As it happens we need not have worried. The motel was under new management and had been completely refurbished. The massive room was spotless, the beds were comfortable and we even had a little terrace where we could enjoy a relaxing glass of wine as the sun set.

Once we were in East Glacier we realised that we could not be in a more ideal spot. The Two Medicine campsite (where we wanted to stay) was literally a ten minute drive away! Ed gallantly volunteered to get up early the next morning and drive into the campsite to try to get a site so the rest of us could snooze on in bed. He left at 6.30am and was back before 8am with the happy news that the campsite was gorgeous and he’d found us a great site.

After a slap up breakfast in East Glacier we all headed to Two Medicine. It is a lovely location – on the side of a lake (yes, you guessed it, great for fishing!) and surrounded by dramatic peaks. We spent the day setting up camp…

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and enjoying a walk around & splashing in the lake….

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Like Yellowstone, Glacier National Park has a number of different areas which have to be explored by car.

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Our first outing was to drive ‘The Road to the Sun’. This is an incredibly scenic drive right across the middle of the park and over the Logan Pass. You take in all the incredible vistas of the alpine scenery. It was quite spectacular.

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We drove the 50 miles all the way across to the west side of the park, stopping numerous times to take in and photograph the views.

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IMG_6367This is the weeping wall – where waterfalls cascade down onto the road – the perfect free car wash!!

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In the distance is a glacier. 100 years ago there were 125 in the park. Now there are just 25 – all the smallest they have ever been..

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We arrived at the west side of the park, at a village called Apgar. We were absolutely blown away by the views of MacDonald lake with the mountains in the distance.

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So on a whim I popped into the small Inn perched on the side of the lake to enquire if, by chance, they had any availability. And we were in luck – they had a room available 2 nights later. We booked it on the spot! We just wanted to be able to come back and be able to relax for 24 hours in this magnificent setting.

We returned to Two Medicine enjoying views from the Road to the Sun from the other direction.

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The next day we explored the Many Glacier area. It was a 90 minute drive north from our campsite but was most certainly worth it! The whole area was stunning with calm lakes and majestic alpine peaks in every direction. We chose to do the 10 mile hike to Iceberg Lake. It was a beautiful walk and we saw a moose and deer on the way.

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Iceberg Lake did not disappoint – it was fabulous –

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and the kids were so excited to be standing on real icebergs!

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I have no idea how they handled being in such cold water!

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The next day we packed up at Two Medicine and headed back to Apgar (the quick way around this time, around the southern perimeter of the park – it’s further but a far fast road than the Rod to the Sun!).
We were not disappointed. Our room had probably the best view we have ever had from a hotel room.

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We were quite literally 20 feet from the edge of the lake. We hired some paddle boards and had some fun!

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(Note – we have finally found something Ed can’t do – Paddle Boarding! He could not balance the board (blamed the badly twisted ankle he’s been suffering with for a few weeks) and quickly gave up trying!)
To add to how ideal the room was we even had our own little kitchen so we to cooked up a delicious dinner and enjoyed it with knock out views.

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We all had an amazing nights’ sleep in spite of the fact that we found out the next morning there had been a magnitude 5.8 earthquake during the night. Apparently the whole building had shook and there had been waves on the lake – family Guyton hadn’t felt a thing!

Then it was time to bid farewell to Glacier National Park – for me probably the most scenic of all the parks we have visited (so far).

What Ed says: There is no question that Glacier National Park has some of the most stunning scenery of all of the parks we have visited to date. The ‘Road to the Sun’ drive is a must: but as the driver, I did not necessarily get to appreciate the drive as much as the passengers, as I was concentrating on not hitting anyone else and staying on the twisting, narrow road!! We discovered too late that there is in fact a solution in the form of a RED Jammer bus. These busses run tours through the park and have been running for years. (They are called Red Jammers because when they first stated running, some 40 years ago, the gear boxes were terrible and would jam all the time! The gear boxes have now been replaced and the Jammers run smoothly!)  They stop in all the main places to take photos and with a roof that comes completely off it means passengers can stand up to take pictures. I believe you would also glean a lot of info from the driver (most of who look like they have been in the job since the Jammers the started running!) so would recommend this much more relaxing way to see and fully appreciate the Road the the Sun.
Two Medicine does have some nice trout fishing however when I was there, the best fishing spot was crowded with teenagers splashing around on lilos. This was kind of irritating but what can you expect in peak season?……ba humbug!….
Fabulous park and will be back….

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Next destination: The Drive to Seattle, via Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

21. Heading to Glacier via Bozeman, Montana.

Days: 66-68

Our next major stop after Yellowstone was scheduled to be Glacier National Park but we decided to stop for a few nights en route in a small town called Bozeman. The fact of the matter is that Ed had heard that there is excellent fly fishing on offer in Montana and Bozeman is at the centre of it. He wanted to go fly fishing!

In Yellowstone we had seen briefly seen the back of a grizzly bear, in the distance, from the road. On the way to Bozeman we were passing the Grizzly Bear Rescue Centre so we stopped in.

The stories of the cruelty some of these poor bears endured is unbelievable.  None of them now have the required skills to enable them to be released into the wild. So they now live in the Rescue Centre. They do seem to be incredibly well treated, loved and happy at this small sanctuary. The big boy, Brutus, is a bit of a celebrity – he’s been in various movies – if you see a Grizzly in a film it’s very likely to be him!

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We were very impressed with what a cute little town Bozeman is. This University town is amazingly clean, has an attractive main street, a selection of truly excellent restaurants (it’s fast becoming a gastro hub) and almost a dozen micro breweries and distilleries. (And by co incidence, just last weekI saw a Thrillist.com article detailing the best small towns in every state. Bozeman was their pick for Montana!)

The Montana landscapes around Bozeman were beautiful – rolling green hills. And I loved the absolutely stunning cloud formations in the ‘big sky’.

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Ed fell in love with the place. He thinks that it would be the perfect retirement destination. He was fantasising about hunting and fishing 360 days a year. As far as I am concerned this is obviously an utterly ridiculous idea – there is snow on the ground in Bozeman for 8 months of the year! Yes, apparently there is skiing but the hills are small! I have told Ed he’d be welcome to retire to Bozeman, but he’d be on his own!

So Izzy and I had a girls day – shopping and the movies (“The Book of Henry” – what an emotional roller coaster that was!) while Ed and JJ went fly fishing….

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What Ed says: Indeed, what Justine states is true! JJ and I took the time to spend a day on the Lower Maddison a beautiful trout river. We hired a guide and did a float trip. JJ learnt how to fly fish and we both got some great bites but did not manage to land any!! Regardless of this it was a fabulous day.

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One of the things that struck me about Bozeman was how wonderfully clean it is and yes. if you like hunting and fishing, nice restaurants and a selection of craft brewers then it’s a wonderful place…..who cares if they have snow 8 months of the year?!

Next Destination: Glacier National Park, Montana

20. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Days: 62-66

As with the Grand Tetons, all the bookable campsites in Yellowstone had been reserved months ahead. So we were banking on getting a walk in site in the park. Ed had actually managed to book a campsite site a few miles south of the southern park gate so our plan was to head there, spend the night and then get up early to nab a site in the park itself. We then discovered (to my utter horror!) from one of the park rangers, that we’d need to arrive at any of the ‘walk in’ campground before 7am (preferably by 6.30am!) to have any chance at all of getting a site. And since Yellowstone is such a massive park we were facing at least a 90 minute drive from the park entrance to any of the campsites!
So, in order to have a chance of making it to a Yellowstone campsite by 7am we decided to survive the night before with the absolute minimum so that we could pack up and be away as efficiently as possible the next morning. We did not get anything out of the truck apart from the tent, mattresses, sleeping bags & toothbrushes. We ate dinner at the restaurant next door to the campsite and slept in our clothes! We even put the tent up minus the fly sheet – one less thing to repack in the morning! This made the tent far colder than normal but made for an amazing experience – without the extra covering layer you can see right out of the roof of our tent. I happened to wake up at 2 am and looked up – without any light pollution the entire sky was filled with quite literally a million sparkling stars. I have never seen anything like it! Quite amazing and a sight I won’t ever forget.

We set the alarm for 4.30am and we were on the road at 5.15am. I had to forgo my morning cup of tea – but it was worth it – wow, what an experience, driving into Yellowstone before dawn. It’s a very, very busy park – and the roads gets jammed with traffic. But not at 5.30 in the morning! We hardly saw another car and felt like we had the place entirely to ourselves! The dawn light was amazing and mist was rising over the lakes – quite magical!

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The animals did not seem worried about how early it was and were up and about. We saw our first bison – in the meadows and then quite literally on the roads!

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We managed to arrive at the Norris Campground at 6.50am. There were already 11 people waiting in line hoping to get a site!

All we can say is the Norris campground coordinators really need some help with how they organise things. Their cruel & archaic system ensures that everyone hoping to get a campsite has to stand around in the freezing cold (yes, even in the middle of summer its pretty darn cold in Yellowstone at 7am) for far longer than necessary. It would take Ed 20 minutes to set up a completely new system which would process people in 60 seconds  – rather than the 8 minutes per person it currently takes. But we decided not to make a fuss (lest we were asked to leave!) and finally, after a 2 hour wait, we were allocated a site.

Yellowstone is an absolutely massive park with a hugely varied array of scenery. The Norris campground turned out to be perfectly positioned in the middle of everything so we  were able to explore a different region of the park each day.

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After pitching camp we set out to explore. We went to the visitor centre to gather maps and ideas for what we’d enjoy seeing.

Then we went to admire our first geysers – they not hard to find in Yellowstone – they are absolutely everywhere! They are magical and beautiful to look at but, boy oh boy, do they stink!

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The next day we headed to see the most famous Geyser of them all – Old Faithful. It was pretty cool!

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The Prismatic Spring and the surrounding area was stunning…such beautiful colours…

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After the excitement of all the thermal activity we decided to go wildlife spotting next. The Lamar Valley is meant to be one of the best places to see the animal who call Yellowstone home. It was a lush, green, rolling valley and it felt so different to the thermal areas.

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There were bison roaming freely as far as the eye could see.

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We went for a lovely hike around Lost Lake. We were carrying our bear spray as it’s a very popular area with bears – but we did not spot any – just some gorgeous wild flowers!

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As we were driving back out of the Lamar Vally we came across a number of cars & RV’s  stopped haphazardly in the road ahead of us – a sure sign that wild life had been spotted close by! Indeed… there was a mama black bear with her two cubs up on the ridge above us. We saw them climbing trees – it looked like the cubs were practising!

It was wonderful to see the bears doing their thing!

The next day we went to the ‘Grand Canyon of Yellowstone’ a deep canyon with the extremely powerful Yellowstone River coursing through it and two sets of waterfalls.

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IMG_5689First we hiked down to where the river falls over the edge…

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Then we went to Uncle Tom’s Point, a viewing area further down, along the canyon, to look back up at the falls from below. We had to descend 380+ steep steps – and then climb back up again!

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JJ said the rainbow was delicious!

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You may be able to see people in the picture – up on the right of the top of the falls – that’s where we had just come from…

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100 years ago brave tourists were making this decent on wooden ladders, wearing long skirts and hats.

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I am very glad the metal ladders were in place for us and I was not wearing a full length skirt!

We spent our last morning at Yellowstone at the Norris volcanic area, which was right by our campground. It was raining (virtually the first rain we’d had on the trip) which made it rather atmospheric (but the rain still did nothing to dampen the dreadful smell!)!

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We then headed out of the park via the North Gate, it was the one part of the park we’d not so far seen – the Mammoth Hot Springs area. Here we found some beautiful calcium terraces.

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and quite surreal formations…

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We also drove past the Roaring Mountain…

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And on this drive out we were also very lucky to come across some special wildlife very closeup….

A wolf and her cubs…

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and an otter…

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no…just joking with those last ones…they were taxidermied exhibits in the visitor centre!!

We bade farewell to Yellowstone as we drove through the gate which commemorates the inception of all Americas National Parks, which are now very much enjoyed by millions of people from all over the world, including us!

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What Ed says: It is easy to see why Yellowstone was chosen as the first National park. It has such a diversity of environments.
The best thing for me was the chance to break out the fly rod to fly fish for trout. The Norris campsite sits right on the Gibbon river which is a perfect trout stream and this allowed me opportunity to spend the evenings fishing.

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A had a few bites, one broke my leeder and nothing landed, but what fun. Normally to fish anywhere in the US you have to buy that states’ fishing licence but interestingly for Yellowstone you need a specific Yellowstone fishing license because Yellowstone was a national park before Wyoming was a State!!!
You can easily spend a week in Yellowstone but the trick is to get up early and visit the places before lunchtime, then go and chill in the afternoon. This way you are ahead of all the crowds coming in from outside the park each day.

The National Parks campsites are great but their management of the Norris Campsite needs an overhaul. Right now if you are on a site you have until 11am ON the day you were supposed to be leaving to let the managers know that you will in fact be staying that night. This is crazy as it means they don’t know until after 11am how many campsites will actually be available for new arrivals that night. It would be easy to change the ‘renewal’ deadline to 6pm the day before the campsite is meant to be vacated. This way the managers would know the night before exactly how many sites would be available for new arrivals the next day! Also utilising a T- card system for the sites would be far more efficient for the somewhat elderly camp hosts to manage……..not rocket science.
Loved the “Grand Canyon” but hikes from the Roosevelt lodge looking up the Lamar valley are a must.

Next Destination: Glacier National Park, Montana

 

 

19. Grand Tetons National Park, Wyoming

Days 58-62

We didn’t have a campsite reserved at Grand Tetons – all the ones you can book had been reserved months before we even decided to do this trip. We were hoping for a ‘walk in’ site – where you just arrive and hope there is space. We left Jackson Hole as early as we could and headed to the campsite at Colter Bay as it sounded like it was in a good location and we thought with 300 sites we would have a good chance of getting one.

It was a stunning drive…

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We arrived at noon and were in luck – we were allocated a site. It was a brilliantly designed campground – even though it accommodated so many campers there were so many trees that we felt quite private and secluded.

We were absolutely blown away by the beauty of the scenery at Colter Bay.

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Ed and JJ got up early and rented a little speed boat to go fishing. Izzy and I followed at a far more reasonable hour and rented a kayak.

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As we were paddling out we met Ed and JJ motoring back in. (best not to ask about how many fish they’d caught…!)

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We did a boat to boat transfer – Izzy and Jj swapped places – and then JJ and I paddled and Ed and Izzy drove back to shore.

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We all agreed using the motor was far more fun than the paddling (my shoulder is still sort from my fall back in San Diego). so we handed back the kayak, grabbed a picnic and motored back out to enjoy the views from the water together.

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One particular stretch along the lake front was closed to hikers due to bear activity – so we were hoping to see them from the water. We were however not in luck…

We spent the next day exploring Jenny Lake. We hiked 3 miles around the lake, took in a waterfall and then enjoyed a scenic boat ride back.

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Our campsite was lakeside offered some wonderful sundowner spots!

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Our next destination was Yellowstone, only about 40 minutes up the road from where we were. So we decided we had time for a final walk in Grand Tetons before getting in the car.

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But we did have to be very Bear Aware!

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Ed and JJ showed us excellent ballet skills at Swan Lake.

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We all loved the Grand Tetons – amazing scenery, great hiking and fun splashing about on the water!

What Ed says: The Tetons have long been on my bucket list as a place to visit and although not a large national park they are truly stunning and iconic. I would have loved to do more of the trails into the mountains themselves but with the amount of snow still on the ground that was not an option.
We are now on the part of the trip where trout fishing really comes into its own with some of the best fishing in the US. For the record: we did not catch anything on Lake Jackson. However, both JJ and I were successful when we ventured just below the Lake Jackson Dam where I caught 2 lake trout and JJ caught a Chub. So pride was restored!

 

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It appears that it’s a bumper year for bear activity with sections of the park (relatively close to the campsite) being closed off to the public. Apparently some grizzlies had killed an elk and were dining. The rangers were very adamant that everyone should have bear spray with them at all times and that small children should walk in the middle of the group…….suddenly we had immaculately behaved children…….

Next Destination: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming 

18. 812 Miles East – California to Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Days: 56-58

We set out early (well, as early as we can ever be when we have to pack up the truck! It takes quite some time!) from Mammoth Lakes on what was to be our single longest journey of the trip. A 812 mile drive, from California, through Nevada and Idaho, final destination Grand Tetons National Park, Wyoming.

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We anticipated breaking up the journey and stopping overnight at least once, probably twice, en route.

We were unable to get any signal at Mammoth Lakes, so instead of being able to using trusty WAZE, I was in charge of navigation – not usually a great idea, according to Ed!…

However, I successfully used our road atlas (thanks to Dennis M for that!) and charted our route.

Before we left Mammoth a couple of the happy, friendly, locals had mentioned that Bodie State Historic Park aka Bodie Ghost Town, was well worth a visit. Since it was only 12 miles off route so we decided to check it out.

Bodie is an old mining town, which in its heyday, in 1912, was home to around 9000 people. It was the real wild-west where gun-toting men enjoyed bars, gambling and brothels! By the 1940’s the town was in drastic decline (thanks to the end of the mining industry). Everyone just appears to have left town…simply walking away & leaving behind many of their possessions: the houses still had furniture, the stores still had things in the windows!

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The old fire station…

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This was a hotel, apparently. I am delighted that we did not have to stay in this one!

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I am pleased with how this room in particular makes my own dusting skills seem entirely excellent…

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We left Bodie and traveled until we reached Elko where we stayed the night. It was nothing special, just a convenient pit stop, but some for some inexplicable reason the main street did have a selection of wonderful giant sized cowboy boot statues…

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At lunchtime on day 2 of the journey we reached Twin Falls, Idaho and were pleasantly surprised by how scenic it was. The Snake River runs along a stunning canyon. People were paddle boarding, kayaking and canoeing. We had a wonderful picnic in a park down by the side of the water.

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We loved the scenery along the whole route between California and Wyoming but the vistas approaching Jackson Holes were particularly spectacular. Lush green high mountain vistas, covering in pine trees. very reminiscent of Switzerland.

Jackson Hole was a wonderful little town – Cowboy town meets ski resort! And we found our idea of heaven – Bin 22 – a wine shop with a Tapas Bar attached. We could choose from a fabulous selection of wines, pay retail price for a bottle, and then drink it while enjoying some outstanding ‘gastro’ tapas!

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We would have been happy to stay longer in Jackson Hole but The Grand Tetons beckoned and we needed to hit the road….

This long drive was a great deal more beautiful, interesting & fun than I had anticipated.
The scenery was ever changing, we found some great stops and we tipped over the 5000 mile mark!

What Ed says: A few myths need to be busted: firstly it does not take long to pack the truck if everyone had less stuff and pulled in the right direction! Unfortunately neither is the case, so we tend to take and hour or two to pack up! Secondly WAZE is not fail proof as Justine would like to think and will sometimes take you on a less than ideal route. When you don’t have signal (which happens frequently where go) then your phone might as well be a brick. The good thing is we get to read a map, something quite alien to the rest of my family.
The Beast is running well but one thing I really don’t understand is why a smart Japanese Toyota engineer decided to put a 26 gallon tank in 5.7 V8!!!! Thankfully anyone buying a new TRD Pro now will get a 38 gallon tank…..must have been one of those metric/imperial mistakes.
If your passing Bodie stop by. It really is spooky to see that people just got up and left that old mining town. Hello Jackson Hole!

Next Destination: Grand Tetons National Park, Wyoming.

17. Mammoth Lakes, California

Days : 52-55

Our original idea of using the East-West pass through the middle of Yosemite to reach Mammoth Lakes had been foiled – yet again our plans were thwarted by snow!

The pass, which is at 9945 feet, is closed due to snow over the winter, is usually re opened by end of May. However, thanks to such high snowfall this winter, the pass still had 20+ feet of snow and is not lightly to be open until the end of July!….

So after driving back into Yosemite, (the long way around, thanks to the continued road closure that had effected bus the day before) to enjoy the photo opportunities at Glacier Point, we headed north. It was mid-afternoon before we actually left the park, to drive the 350 miles around the top of Yosemite, to get to Mammoth Lakes.

As it was a long drive and would involve the Sonora pass, which Ed did not want to do in the dark, we decided to make a random over night stop en route.  We decided on a small town called Sonora. It turned out to be a perfect choice. It had a cute main street which was home to a surprisingly wide selection of restaurants – Mexican, Thai, American, fondue, Chinese, an alehouse, amount others – we opted for sushi!

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And for the first time, we actually beat the snow – the East-West pass from Senora to Bridgeport  (which at 9628 is only 300 feet lower than the one through Yosemite) had been cleared of snow on the day we arrived in Senora – meaning we could use it the next day.  The snow was piled 15 feet high on the side of the road at some points. It made for a memorable drive, with a stop for snowballs!

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We arrived in Mammoth Lakes and checked into our cabin – yes, a cabin – not the tent! I had convinced Ed that Mammoth was too high (around 8000 feet), too cold and would have too much snow on the ground for us (i.e. me!) to be in a tent. I had managed to book a cute little “camping cabin” on a campsite for 3 nights. It was basic – but it had a roof & heating! It was totally the right move – there was still snow on the ground at the campsite.

We loved Mammoth the moment we arrived. The mountain scenery is beautiful, the town is totally unpretentious and the vibe is fun and relaxed. And I have never encountered a bunch of happier people! Everyone we met was friendly and utterly upbeat! I am not sure why – perhaps they put something special in the water – but it is certainly working!

Happy to get back on the bikes we had a wonderful ride around Twin Lakes and Mary’s Lake which were still partly frozen. We had to use the roads as the bike paths still had several feet of snow on them.

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We tried to get to Horseshoe Lake – but the snow defeated us!

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As soon as we had arrived in town it had become apparent that some of the ski slopes were still open! The resort has had the biggest snow season ever, the pistes were still covered and they were running 6 of the lifts.

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Never in my life had I anticipated being able to enjoy a days’ skiing on June 16th in the Northern hemisphere! Izzy and I decided a days’ skiing (or snow boarding in Izzy’s case) was a must do.

We gathered together all our warm clothes, hired some kit and headed up to the slopes. I was wearing Texas Gortex – i.e. demin and Izzy had borrowed Ed’s camo waterproofs. We looked like a pair of complete ragamuffins but we didn’t care – we had a fabulous time!

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For some bizarre reason Ed and JJ chose to go fishing instead!

We could have stayed longer but after two fun filled days in Mammoth Lakes it was time to move on. I’d love to head back to Mammoth in the winter ski season to check it out.

What Ed says: We were very fortunate that the Senora pass had just opened for the season. It was a blessing as the alternative route would have made for a very long drive. Driving the pass over to Mammoth and seeing how much snow there still was did make me capitulate on the camping cabin option. Mammoth is well known for its skiing but it also has some exceptional mountain biking which was the main driver to visit, however most of the trails were still snow bound! The upside of limited biking (and at an 8000ft elevation the mountain biking was a tad harder than expected!) was that the trout fishing season had started at Twin Lakes. With Justine and Izzy off sliding down the slopes, JJ and I headed for a peaceful day fishing with a late lunch at the Mammoth Brewery.

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No luck with the fish this time, but The Mammoth Brewery is well worth a visit. Their IPA’s are outstanding and, according to JJ, so is their non alcholic root beer! Top IPA was the 395.

Next Destination: 812 miles East – California to Wyoming

 

16. Yosemite National Park, California

Days: 50-52

From Kings Canyon we were scheduled to head back west, to the Californian coast to drive up the famous Highway 1 coast road, through Big Sur, and then to stay in Carmel for a few nights. But while we were in Sequoia we discovered that there had been a massive landslide at Big Sur. A ¼ mile stretch is meters deep in rocks, rubble and dirt and the road is impassable…..

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The road is currently closed and will be for some months to come (there is a rumour it may never be reopened). So we decided to change our plan, give up on returning to the coast and stay inland. We had not originally intended to visit Yosemite. Ed and I have both been before and when we were originally planning our trip we could not find any accommodation. But now we had time, the spirit of adventure and thought “well, why not try?”. We also assumed there would be the added bonus of using the high altitude pass through the middle of the park as a clever way to reach our next destination, Mammoth Lakes to the east.

I made some phone calls and managed to find a funky hotel, 30 minutes outside the park, which could accommodate us – but only for for 2 nights. It was originally a back packers  hostel (and still has bunk rooms and a communal kitchen and brought back memories of my back packing years!) but has now expanded to offer hotel rooms, a spa and an excellent restaurant.

Since we only had one day to explore the park on foot, we started early to make the most of it – we were parked in ‘the valley’ and raring to go by 9 am (we’d been told it gets impossible to find a parking spot after 9 am!). The car park had the same atmosphere as at Disneyland – with hordes of excited people unloading and rushing to get ‘through the gates’ and onto the trails first!
As we drove into the park we had seen that there was a dusting of snow on the peaks (yes, unbelievable! yet more bl**dy snow!).

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This had fallen over night and meant that one of the most scenic drives in the park – up to Glacier Point was closed – due to ice on the road. Nevertheless, the views of the valley and El Capitan were magnificent.

DSC_0695We hiked (OK, it was really more of a walk!) to Lower Yosemite Fallsfullsizeoutput_234cand then headed to Mirror Lake…DSC_0681

 

IMG_3895We walked the whole way around the lake, which turned out to be a little further than we thought….about 7 miles….but it was gorgeous.DSC_0731

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At 4.30, pleased we had seen at least some of Yosemite,

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we set off to drive back to the hotel. As were driving out of the Park we were confused to see a sign saying that Highway 140, the road we’d come in on, was closed. We later discovered that at lunchtime there had been a huge landslide, which had blocked the entire road. It was going to take around 24 hours to be cleared and the area made safe. There are only 4 roads into the park so this meant that we had a massive detour north out of the park to get back to our hotel on the west side. The 2.5 hour drive was long but at least it was scenic! And we knew we could look forward to a delicious dinner at the hotel!

The next day, we knew we had a long drive ahead of us – some 300 miles around the top of Yosemite to get to Mammoth Lakes – our plan of using the East-West pass through the middle of the park having been foiled by, you guessed it, “bl**dy” snow! This pass, which rises to an elevation of 9,950 feet, is normally free of snow and open to vehicles by the start of June – but the pass was still 20 feet deep in snow and not yet cleared. Ed was nevertheless determined, having been deprived of the views from Glacier Point the day before, to return to the park to try again. The weather had brightened so we were optimistic that the ice would have melted and road up would now be open. Highway 140 was still closed so we had to take the long way around back into the park – but once we got to Glacier Point we were rewarded with magnificent views.

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Then we pilled back into The Beast to head out of Yosemite to Mammoth Lakes…

We did enjoy our short visit to Yosemite – the scenery is quite incredible but it is, in a way, a victim of its own success. It is by far the most crowded of the parks we have visited (so far). For us the hordes of tourists take away from the natural feel of the place. Added to this is the fact that it seems to be the most poorly run of the parks. The shuttle system was, quite frankly, utterly inadequate. There are not enough shuttle buses to cater to the number of visitors – 8M visitors anticipated this year (yes, you guessed it, I am going to email the park and let them know what I think!). I think the way to enjoy Yosemite is to plan to visit out of high season, avoid the valley floor as much as possible and to hike the less popular trails. This would make it a magical experience.

What Ed says:
The change of plan was really a blessing in disguise as it was quite selfish of Justine and I to “miss out” Yosemite because we had already done it. Yosemite is such an iconic & historic park and it played a key part in the creation of Americas national parks. Yosemite was created thanks to a federal grant even before Yellowstone NP was formed. A scot called John Muir invited President Roosevelt to spend two days camping in Yosemite. The President was struck by the beauty of the valley and surrounding areas. He realised that they should remain unspoilt, protected from development and available for everyone to enjoy. This visit was therefore the catalyst for the Federal Grant which set aside Yosemite and the later creation of Yellowstone and the rest of the National Parks. Interestingly the Californians did not want to hand Yosemite over to the state but with the US army “protecting” it there was nothing they could do about it!

We were lucky, in a way, that the huge amount of meltwater meant that the parks’ waterfalls were in full force. They have not been in evidence during the last few years due the terrible drought in California. This meant that iconic photos were obtained!

The chaos of the valley floor does need to be sorted out but the visitor centre is well done. Interestingly, the climbing politics of Yosemite are still raging, just as they were when I was a student in the 80’s! If you have the time there is so much more to Yosemite than just the valley.

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Next Destination: Mammoth Lakes, California

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

15. Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, California

Days: Have completely lost track!

We left smoggy LA, delighted to be heading back to nature. Ed had booked a campsite for 6 nights in the Sequoia National Forest and we intended to use this as a base to visit both Sequoia and its neighbour, Kings Canyon National Park.

It was an easy 3 hour journey from LA and our campsite was lovely. Since it was in a forest it offered plenty of trees for hammock hanging. Plus a wonderful pine smell.

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This was our first experience of having to use a bear box. Bears are active in the area so it’s essential to store all foods, cooking equipment and scented products, like toothpaste, in the bear box. This is a large metal box with a special kind of latch that bears can’t open. If bears get used to human food and raid campsites they become a threat and must be destroyed….”a FED bear is a DEAD bear”. If there is no available food at the campsites it deters the bears from bothering to invade.

On the first day we hiked along a raging river and up to a stunning waterfall. We were surprised to see there was still a fair amount of snow in evidence….

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Next day we went to take a look at The General Sherman Tree (and saw the mileometer tip over the 4000 mile mark on the way!) The General Sherman is biggest tree in the world. Some Redwoods are taller but they are skinnier so the General wins on overall volume. It  is 275 feet tall and is said to be around 2,000 years old. Some other Sequoias are older – up to 3,200 years – but obviously the seed that became The General Sherman landed in a very fertile spot with just the right growing conditions – enabling it to grow to such a size relatively quickly!

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We took a walk around the Sequoia forest and admired the rest of these beautiful, giant trees.

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The next day we explored the Meadows area which were extraordinarily beautiful. The grass was incredibly green and lush.

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It’s a favourite area for bears so we were on the look out – sadly – or perhaps fortunately all we saw was what we thought was some bear poo!

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We loved the “log cabin” built by the first white settler in the area – it was quite literally a cabin IN a log!

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Our last challenge in Sequioa was the climb up Moro Rock. 400 steps.

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At an elevation of 6725, the views were stunning.

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It was only once we were actually in Sequoia that we realized that Kings Canyon was a 90+ minute drive away. But we heard from the park rangers that the far side of canyon was really beautiful and well worth a visit. So we decided, rather than just do a day trip, that we would pack up and depart Sequoia a day early to go to camp a few days in Kings Canyon.

The drive to the Canyon was stunning – a twisting, turning road down, down, down. There was a 12 mile section which was entirely downhill – I would loved to have jumped out of the car and onto my bike to speed down but sadly I had a flat tire!

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As we descended we were amazed by the power of the Kings River as it rushed through the canyon. The river was at its highest recorded level with a record flow rate of 14,000 cubic feet per second. Record breaking snow over the winter – 50% more than normal – has created an incredible amount of melt water this year.

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We planned for a lovely hike & picnic in the canyon floor. As we were setting out from the ranger station we saw a sign warning of huge numbers of rattle snakes currently in the area. In a flash, Ed, Izzy and JJ unanimously voted that I should be the one to lead this hike. What a surprise! Up until this point I have always ambled along at the back, taking a thousand photos! (hence my pics of everyone hiking are normally taken of their backs!!)

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Luckily I did not step on a snake.

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We found some rather large pine cones!

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And a deer crossed our path…

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We particularly enjoyed how few people there were in Kings Canyon. Because it’s a bit of an effort to get there it does not get very crowded. During our 2 hour walk we saw a sum total of 10 people. We felt like we had the place to ourselves – bliss!

What Ed Says: After numerous parks I still find it amazing that every National Park is so strikingly different and individual in their own right. I guess this is probably the reason why they were made National Parks in the first place! The trails around Sequoia and particularly the Meadows are stunning and offer the best chance of seeing bears…..however we did not! Kings Canyon is also so different and worthy of a few days. We did have one hiccup on the solar set up. Due to the camp site in Sequoia being very shady (those darn big trees) we were not generating enough power during the day. This meant that while out we would run the freezer on the car battery. This was all well and good – until we got to Kings Canyon. One morning I tried to start The Beast but the starter motor would not engage! I rapidly removed all devices from the charging sockets and shut the A/C down which gave enough to fire up The Beast. We are now a little more cautious when leaving the freezer running on the car battery…lesson learnt.
One great design feature I love with the Toyota is a master switch which turns off all the lights – so the battery can’t get drained – even if a door is left open by mistake or the kids  leave a light on!

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 Next Destination: Yosemite National Park, California.

 

14. Los Angeles, California

Days (not entirely sure – loosing track – not even sure what day of  the week it is!)

We took the coastal highway from San Diego to LA. This made for a slightly longer and more congested journey than shooting up the major highway, which is a little further inland, but we thought it would be interesting to see the coast of southern California. We were amazed at how built up it was. There was consistent development virtually all the way between the two cities – apart from small sections of state parks and a marine training base!

We’d found a little AirBnB cottage in West Hollywood. Great location.

We explored LA by starting at the Griffith Observatory. This stunning building is set high on a hill over looking the city and offers superb views over the landscape and the HOLLYWOOD sign in the (very!) far distance.

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IMG_3293The interior of the observatory was a treat too – jam packed full of wonderful exhibits about space, planets, the sun, telescopes and much more. Well worth a visit – and it’s free!

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DSC_0581We spent the afternoon strolling the “Walk of Fame” and admiring the ‘stars’ in the pavement as well as the footprints at Chinese Theatre. I was pleased to see there are still a number of blank stars waiting in the pavement – where the famous of the future can have their names added – so obviously – once I write my best seller – which will get made into a block buster film – there will be a star for me!

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Of course we could not visit LA without a day at Universal Studios….

IMG_3297Our tickets (just the cheap ones, not the front of line – those were ridiculously expensive) allowed us to enter the park an hour before the official opening time. So for the second time we set the alarm and mangled to arrive at the park for 8 am. Thanks to the size of The Beast we were directed into the premium/oversized parking – which was right by the entrance gate! Harry Potter World opens at 8am, an hour before the rest of Upper Level attractions – so we were able to walk straight onto the ride.

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fullsizeoutput_2142It was an amazing experience. Such clever visual effects. We then headed to the rest of the Upper Lot rides – The Simpsons and The Minions. We were so lucky – we did not have to queue at all – just walked straight onto all of them!

fullsizeoutput_2147Then time for a small (!) snack..

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fullsizeoutput_2144….before we headed down to the Lower Lot (Universal is built on a steep hill – so the park is in two halves – the Upper and Lower sections – linked by 4 sets of long, steep escalators). The Lower Lot opened at 10 and again, incredibly, we walked straight onto The Mummy (which we rode twice) and The Transformers. We queued for around 20 minutes for the Jurassic Park ride – which I have to say was a bit of a lame ride.

Last on the list was the studio tour. I remember my folks bringing me to Universal tour when I was 13 so I was delighted history was being repeated and I was bringing Izzy and JJ. I was keen to see if it had changed!

fullsizeoutput_214aFortunately we have not had to stay in The Bates Motel…yet!

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fullsizeoutput_2173The tour has certainly been updated in the last 35 years – it still has some of the old favourites like Jaws, but it now obviously includes many of the new movie sets and a number of sophisticated audio-visual special effects and experiences…

We finished off the day with the Water World show – lots of crazy stunts – on and off the water! Certainly more exciting than the movie!

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On our last day in LA we enjoyed a bike ride along the Santa Monica Beach bike path and along to Venice Beach with fun and games along the way. Lunch in a beach cafe was great.

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Later on in the afternoon Izzy and I then headed off for a tour to a ‘Hollywood Stars” homes – cruising around Beverly Hills etc spotting the homes of the rich and famous.

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Harrison Ford and Calsilda Flockhart’s home…

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Joey from Friends has a great pad…

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fullsizeoutput_20e9It was great fun to be cruising around and hearing all the celebrity gossip (and I was not navigating for once!!). I do have to say thought there are numerous tours companies – some more reputable than others. We arrived at Hollywood Boulevard and thinking that all the offering were basically the same, jumped on the first available tour. The bus was filthy and the driver was dreadful – impossible to understand and lacking in knowledge and enthusiasm. So I made a fuss and he brought us back to the office. My fellow passengers were equally unhappy and all got off. We were then given a new van and driver – Deno turned out to be great and we had a fun couple of hours. For anyone tempted to do this kind of tour in LA I would say its best to research the companies and book with one that has great reviews.

We had a lot of fun in LA but 3 days was enough. The traffic was ridiculous. The highways were packed whatever time of day you are driving on them.
Ed is now incredibly excited…looks like we are going to be camping for the next 50 days, with just 3 or so days in hotels… Wish us luck!

What Ed says: I had the lowest of expectations for LA and indeed it continues to disappoint! Traffic, Smog, very strange people. Quite frankly Hollywood Boulevard is plain grotty. The parking officials, even on a quiet back street, were officious, rude and “jobs worth”. We stayed in a delightful Air B&B cottage that had off road parking. However, when we were loading the truck to leave I had to pull it forward a little to access the roof box. This meant the front of The Beast was just hanging over the end of the driveway, onto the sidewalk, but just a little. Even though I explained to the parking numbty that it would be like this for 5 minutes at most he would not allow it and said he would give me a ticket immediately. Thankfully were were leaving LA so I thought better of getting into an argument! Roll on Sequoia and Kings Canyon.

Next Destination: Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, California

 

 

13. San Diego, California

Days 33-38

We headed out of Joshua Tree National Park excited to be able to get away from the constant wind – except we didn’t! The truck was buffeted by strong gusts along the roads to Palm Springs. And as we approached we saw field after field full of wind turbines. This is obviously a very windy area!

We decided to stop for brunch in Palm Springs. Ed and Izzy are obsessed with bacon and we discovered there is a restaurant that offers ‘flights’ of bacon, i.e. a tasting selection – of 5 different types, so that’s obviously where we ate! It was wonderful – very chi chi!

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Palm Sprigs seemed immaculately clean, well organized and full of beautiful people, beautiful interiors shops and beautiful restaurants! We did not really fit in!

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As we drove towards San Diego we were somewhat disturbed to find ourselves driving on the I10. For those who are unfamiliar with Houston, the I10 is the major interstate highway that runs across the middle of Houston and which I used to use on a daily basis. To have driven over 3000 miles and be on the I10 again was somewhat of a surprise!

One of our main requirements during this trip is finding accommodation with space to park the truck! At 23 feet long and 8.5 feet high that’s not always easy! Ed had found a little cottage at Pacific Beach, one block from the sand, with a long private driveway and it turned out to be perfect. We could walk to the beach in 2 minutes, cycle directly onto the beach side cycle path and we had restaurants & shops on our doorstep.

Izzy’s BFF, Charlotte, flew over from Houston with her parents to spend a few days with us. It was great to be re united with all of them – over several cocktails!

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Our first day in San Diego we took a bike ride along the bike path from Pacific Beach, south, through Mission Beach and around the bay. They really do seem to love beach volleyball in San Diego – we must have seen over 500 courts on the sand! The whole area was beautiful, with families out enjoying every kind of beach and water sport imaginable. I had thought our ride would be around 8 miles – it actually turned out to be nearer to 20. Ed was navigating and I am not sure if he did a really bad job and took us on the wrong route or if he actually did it on purpose so that we’d all get more exercise!

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Pacific Beach was stunning. The sea was a little chilly but the sand was perfect for wave splashing and digging holes for trapping crabs!

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While in SD we were very excited to be reunited with a great friend from our days in Jakarta. It was wonderful to see Cristine, Cooper and Lolly. We’d been in Indonesia together for 2 years, 12 years ago and last seen them in Singapore 7 years ago!

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They took us for a wonderful hike in Torrey Pines State Reserve

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and for tacos at their favourite local Mexican hole in the wall.

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We topped of the day with seal spotting at la Jolla.

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They were very cute, if a little smelly!

Our next outing came in the form of Sea World.

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I was a little worried about going as I was concerned about animal cruelty – surely the orcas and dolphins should be swimming in the ocean – not performing tricks for humans? However the website was full of information about their animal welfare programs etc so we decided to risk it. It was Memorial Day and we expected the park to be jam packed so we paid extra for the tickets that get you to the front of the lines. Determined to arrive at the park ahead of the crowds, we set an alarm for the first time in 5 weeks – it was a bit of a shock to the system!

As it turned out, perhaps because the weather was a little overcast, or maybe since everyone was too busy playing volleyball, it was a very quiet day at the park! We were able to walk straight onto every ride and into every show with no waiting. By modern theme park standards SeaWorld is a small park – but there was certainly enough to keep us entertained for the day. We enjoyed the various thrill rides. I especially loved the Manta Roller Coaster. I found it scary enough without actually causing me to have a heart attack like the big coasters usually do! I rode it 5 times!

We enjoyed the Sealion show.

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At the Orca show we sat in the “splash zone” and boy did we get splashed!

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It was great to be at the front and be as close as possible to the magnificent creatures but the view of the show is not actually that great. My top tip is to sit above the splash zone or higher for the best overall view of all the action.

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Having learnt our wet lesson we sat at the back to watch the dolphins and pilot whales!

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I have to say during the shows they explained SeaWorlds’ extensive research and conservation programs. I believe most of the animals at SeaWorld have been rescued but can’t be returned to the ocean. I do hope this is true….

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Our final day in San Diego we bid a sad farewell to Charlotte and then headed to the USS Midway Aircraft Carrier.

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This was an absolutely amazing “museum”. You can tour the whole of the ship and the free personal audio tour gives and incredible amount of fascinating information. At one point Izzy asked me ‘What’s that?”

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It was the circular telephone dial we all grew up with – to my astonishment she had never seen one! I showed her and JJ how the dial worked!

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As we packed up to leave San Diego I was unlucky enough to fall off the back of the truck – onto a cactus. It’s fair to say in the battle between the cactus and I, I won – the cactus was essentially crushed – but I did walk away with various puncture wounds and a very sore shoulder!

We had a great few days on San Diego – would love to go back and explore the various areas we didn’t make it to this time.

What Ed says: San Diego was a real surprise and well worth a visit. The down town area has been rejuvenated and now boasts a huge array of restaurants and nightlife – we enjoyed dinner one night at the buzzing Gaslamp area. The beach options are numerous but the jewel in the crown is the USS Midway. This was the first of the super carriers and the former flag ship of the US Navy. It has been incredibly well set up as a museum and is run by former sailors and officers who served aboard. These men who served aboard (women were not allowed at sea during Midways’ time) are delighted to answer questions and share information.  The talks on launching and recovering aircraft which take place on the flight deck and the tour of the control tower are well worth it. The shear size of this city at sea and the logistics behind it are fascinating. I think you need to allow a full day to go around the whole of it – we found ourselves a little short on time having arrived a 12:30. They start to ask you to leave at 16:30 as it takes so long to find everyone and get them off by 17:30! If you are a fan of aircraft the decks are loaded not only with the aircraft that flew from the Midway but with an interesting selection of other planes and helicopters. I would like to go back to spend a full day on the Midway. Fabulous.

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We recommend:

821 Diamond Street – 2 bedroomed cottage booked through http://www.710beachrentals.com – great location.
Harry’s (a fabulous, family run, 50’s style diner) in La Jolla for breakfast.
Robertos (various branches around San Diego) for fast Mexican street food.

Next Stop : Los Angeles, California