Kristen, Julia and Mimi (friends of Mags) asked us to put a trip together for them visiting friends in New England then across to the West Coast for an adventure which took them from San Francisco through Yosemite and the Pacific Coast to Las Vegas and the national parks of the canyons around Arizona and Utah ... here is Kristen's story of their USA tour!
"It's a rock tour... you know... with Stones."
OK, a slightly misleading brief to Travel with Jules—the idea was to start in California and visit Arizona, Utah and Nevada, covering seven geological wonders across 3,100 miles in 19 days as well as squeezing in non-geological sights as we came across them. And did I mention that my 86 year old mother will be coming with us?
Unphased by the brief, Magsie and Jules immediately proved why you should not plan this kind of thing yourself—use people who know what they are doing! On the first day they cut our mileage by 800 miles without reducing the number of sights by clever routing of our flights... and the new flights cost us less into the bargain; They encouraged us to visit Death Valley—which we hadn't planned to (having lived in a desert for 3 years already) but it was arguably one of the highlights of the trip; They also persuaded us to visit Zion National Park, which we were going to miss in an effort to reduce the mileage but, having been there now, we wouldn't have missed it. They sorted the hotels—giving us their advice based on their personal experience of staying in many of the hotels along the route. The result: not a single bad hotel out of nine. They sorted the car—a SUV capable of handling the off-road sections in Death Valley, Monument Valley, and the Inyo National Forest as well as having the space for our luggage and us to travel in comfort. They even warned us of the American practice of paying for petrol before filling the tank. And, once we were into the trip, they solved the only problem that arose—one hotel had not received prepayment for our rooms. We sent an email to TWJ in the evening and before we got up for breakfast, everything was fixed. Try doing that... on a Sunday, with an 8-hour time difference, with a call centre in Spain and in your sleep… if you book yourself!
So how did the rock tour go? With Jules and Magsie's heroic efforts, the tour went like a dream - twice the number of sights, no disasters, no unexpected charges, no lost reservations, no ghastly hotel rooms—all we had to do was enjoy the tour. By the end of the trip we had chalked up a measly 2,280 miles and been astonished by each and every one of thirteen geological sights we had seen:
1. Half Dome in the Yosemite national park;
2. Tufa towers in Mono Lake;
3. 60 foot tall basalt columns at the Devil's Postpile;
4. 101 feet of the Rainbow Falls;
5. Volcanic cones in Death Valley's Ubehebe crater field;
6. Sailing Stones on the Racetrack Playa;
7. Awesome lightning storms over the Grand Canyon;
8. Mittens, Elephant Butte and the other red sandstone buttes in Monument Valley;
9. Horseshoe Bend, a symmetrical meander of the Colorado river;
10. The wildly coloured Square Butte in Coyote Buttes;
11. Thor's Hammer, the Sinking Ship, and the other hoodoos in Bryce Canyon;
12. Chequerboard Mesa, the Court of the Patriarchs, Kolob Canyons and all of the named peaks in Zion;
13. Burning red sandstone of the Valley of Fire... AKA (to some) as Viridian 3 (look it up!).
And it wasn't just about the rocks; along our path we...
• Rode on a cable car and crossed San Francisco in open-top buses;
• Ate lunch at the end of the 3 1/2 miles of Ocean Beach;
• Wore leopard-spot and zebra stripe bathrobes in the Argonaut;
• Walked through Alcatraz in the company of a policeman from Abu Dhabi;
• Listened to the roaring of sea lions reclining on pontoons in San Francisco bay;
• Visited ghost towns like Bodie, Harrisburg and Eureka Mine and wondered at the plates still sitting on the table, covered in dust;
• Found good coffee (once) in a coffee shop in Mammoth and tried their coffee-infused beer;
• Saw 4,700 year old Bristlecone pines 10,000 feet up in the White Mountains and relatively youthful giant redwoods, only 2,250 years old, in Yosemite;
• Walked in a Joshua Tree forest in the Mojave desert and thought (vaguely) about U2;
• Were told that standing on Route 66 didn't count unless you were on a Harley... by my 86 year old mother;
• Managed to eat a whole serving of steak (the smallest on the menu) in a cowboy grill in Kingman (complete with clients sitting at the bar in their Stetsons). and drank Outlaw Red cowboy wine in Utah;
• Stood and watched mule deer and American elk in the pine forest around the Grand Canyon, and walked through wild turkeys to get breakfast in Zion;
• Visited ancient Anasazi pueblo indian villages at Betatakin and Tusayan;
• Got nostalgic about the Golden Nugget, the Stardust, and the Horseshoe in the Neon Boneyard;
• Compared the Robocop-styled helmeted security guard on his armoured segue with the handcuff-twirling girls dressed in skimpy cop outfits on the Las Vegas strip.
So thanks, Jules and Magsie, for your thoughtful suggestions, for your hard work making all the bookings, for fixing our one problem while we slept, for finding us more time to do more, and for saving us money. It was truly a holiday of a lifetime. ... can we have more than one holiday of a lifetime?
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