Friday, 16 February 2018

US trip: Aspen and 'the middle bit'

From Moab we continued to drive east... our next overnight accommodation was booked at Denver, Colorado. We had decided to do the drive via Aspen and we couldn't have picked a better time of year to do so! And what a contrast in scenery in just one day...

From hot Utah with it's orange and red hues, we couldn't believe how quickly we started to see snow dusted mountains appearing in the distance. We were amazed but also excited to be entering yet another picturesque part of the world which we had both heard so much about. Once we arrived at Aspen (and after Al purchased a ski helmet to bring back with us!) we discovered that we could drive all the way to Maroon Bells... a road that apparently during the summer is so busy they stop cars from driving up and you need to ride a shuttle to get there, and in the winter the snow prevents vehicles. We were there in the few weeks per year that they let cars through!

Maroon Bells, Aspen, Colorado
We spent awhile walking around Maroon Bells and taking in the beauty of mountains and region in general. There was something magical... and after some adrenalin-pumped days, the calmness of the waterfalls and backdrop just made us want to stop, relax, and take in our captivating surrounds.

Time was quickly ticking past so we soon headed back into Aspen proper for a quick walk around the John Denver Memorial Garden before we continued on our journey.

John Denver Memorial Garden
From Aspen we went via Independence Pass which would take us via Twin Lakes to get to Denver. We had been warned that the road was incredibly narrow in parts across the Pass, but Al did an amazing job driving us safely through the area and in the end it wasn't as bad as I had imagined. It started to snow as we drove through, and the mist and fog meant that the view of Twin Lakes wasn't much like the pictures we had seen when researching the trip!

Independence Pass
We arrived into Denver and our accommodation after dark and quickly crashed. We had a lot of ground to cover the next day... we were pretty much half way through our holiday, but not yet half way across the country!

And make up some ground we did. This drive was the same as that done by Lloyd and Harry in Dumb and Dumber when they drove "a sixth across the country in the wrong direction." So naturally, during this part of the drive (where there's not exactly much to see or do) we quoted memorable lines from the movie... like "what's the most annoying noise in the world?!". This day would be our longest drive—8 hours worth—to get to Omaha, Nebraska. And we saw a lot of very flat landscapes filled with corn. A lot of corn. And just in case we'd missed it, more corn.

From Omaha we set the GPS for Rockford (which meant crossing Iowa), and not much changed with the scenery... except that we started getting more hills as we approached Illinois. We got to the point that we were researching corn—did you know there are three types? The weather was also getting colder and colder (and much colder than we had expected for autumn) so by the time we got to Iowa, we decided made a quick stop to get some warmer clothing. We got into Rockford quite late but in time to have dinner with my uncle and his family... was so good to catch up with my cousin Sunshine—it had only been 20 years since we had last seen each other!

My cousin, Sunshine, and I

More on the trip next time x

Saturday, 10 February 2018

US trip: a horseshoe and more bikes

The next morning we said goodbye to Margus and continued our journey east across the US. Our next overnight stop was Moab, where we had a day of mountain biking booked in. To get there though we had a long drive and lots we wanted to see... starting with a drive through Zion National Park.

In Zion National Park
Zion was a complete contrast to Yosemite from a few days earlier, yet still incredibly impressive and spectacular. The vibrant colours were captivating and around every bend was something new and amazing to stop and look at. We hadn't expected Utah to be such a treasure and so unfortunately didn't give ourselves enough time to really absorb the region as much as we would have liked.

Just past Zion
In taking a more scenic route from Zion to Moab, we took a road that first took us slightly south and over the Arizona border. Due to the limited time we had in the region we had skipped going to the Grand Canyon, however in researching the area we had discovered Horseshoe Bend, in Page, Arizona, would be a good alternate to visit. Located further up the Colorado River, the picturesque meander sits just outside of the Grand Canyon National Park and was well worth the drive and then short walk to see it. Al had fight his fear of heights to get as close to the edge as possible to get a good picture... meanwhile, I had heaps of fun seeing what my new wide-angle lens could capture at this stop!

Horseshoe Bend
Al at the edge!
From Horseshoe Bend, we headed back north and back into Utah. Monument Valley was filled with really interesting rock formations—some which we tried to just capture from a moving car, and others that we stopped to have a good look at. 'Mexican Hat' was particularly impressive, and proved a good place to stretch the legs, have a walk around, and break up the drive.

Mexican Hat, Utah
We finally got to Moab, where we had a quick takeaway dinner before settling in for a good nights rest... we had a big day organised the following day, with a guide and rental bikes booked so we could explore one of the best mountain biking areas of the world!

Amazing colours as the sun set over Utah
The trails at Moab were so different from what we're used to in Australia. Overall, instead of single-trail we're used to, we were riding across rocks marked with lines so we knew which way to go. Sections that we wondered how anyone could ride and in Australia we would be slipping on our guide (from Rim Tours—we'd highly recommend them!) reassured us would be grippy... and to our amazement it was, and the bike didn't slip or slide at all!

Al and our guide Sam from Rim Tours

It was a long but fun day in Moab... I enjoyed trying out a different bike (I rented a Juliana Furtado, made by Santa Cruz) and being challenged by different terrain. By the end of the day, we were exhausted and the hotel's heated pool was bliss!

My bike for the day—a Juliana Furtado
More on the trip next time x

Monday, 29 January 2018

US trip: Cars and bikes... and time for Rampage!

In Vegas we had met up with a friend of ours from back in Canberra. While we were still early into our trip, Margus was towards the tail end of his holiday so we had a lot to catch up on! From Vegas, Margus would join us for a couple of days—and was also coming along to Red Bull Rampage. So with the promise of seeing some quilting shops later in our journey, I agreed to let the boys have some fun before we left Vegas... they had found a place called Dream Racing where they could hire very fast cars, and drive them as quick as they could around a race track!

Al with his instructor for the day
Al and Margus had an absolute blast with the sports cars... and with big grins on their faces, it was time to get into our rental cars and continue on the journey. Next overnight stop: Toquerville, Utah. While we didn't have a long distance to cover that day, we were crossing our first time-zone and losing an hour, and we also had to get to our destination a certain time to collect a rental bike for Margus. But of course, we also wanted to squeeze in some sightseeing... so we set our route to Toquerville via the Valley of Fires.

Al and Margus at Valley of Fires, Nevada
There was in incredible vibrancy and intensity to the colour in the Valley of Fires, and you could quickly tell how the valley got its name. We did a couple of short walks, but with time quickly ticking over we had to skip more than we would have liked. This place is somewhere well worth visiting again!

We managed to get to the bike shop just in time to collect Margus's rental (Al and I didn't need bikes as we'd managed to get Rampage tickets that included a shuttle to the event area). After a quick dinner we headed out to find the venue for Rampage and managed to get ourselves sorted for the next day. It was actually happening!

Early the next day we piled in the one car and headed to Virgin Utah, only 15 minutes from our accommodation in Toquerville. The day was finally here... Red Bull Rampage 2017!! And what a day it was... the tricks and stunts, the venue, the riders, the bikes, the atmosphere, the excitement in the air. I don't think you could have wiped the smiles of Al and my faces if you'd tried!

The 2017 winner, Kurt Sorge

At the end of the event Al and I both managed to get photos with our idols, and previous winners of Rampage. The event is something I don't think I'll ever forget, and was definitely worth getting up at 4am to get tickets for. To see live what some people can achieve on a bike, absolutely inspiring. And while I'm not about to do those sort of stunts myself, its awesome to watch!

Al with Rampage icon, Kyle Strait
It was amazing what these bikes and their riders could do!
The day was certainly a massive highlight of our US trip... but we still had a few things booked in that we were really looking forward to!

More on the trip next time x

Friday, 19 January 2018

US trip: A Valley, Vegas and Virgin

Finally getting back to my blog and continuing to tell the story of our journey across the US... it's been a busy Christmas and New Year period and unfortunately I had to get straight back into work. I've got so much to write about so let's keep going with the trip and then I'll share some other things :)

Our trip so far had been spectacular, but it had then been dark driving into Bishop. When we woke up, we could clearly see the landscape had changed dramatically from what we had seen in Yosemite and surrounds. Our destination for that evening: Las Vegas. And to get there, we would be going through Death Valley National Park.

The ground became drier and dustier as we entered Death Valley National Park, and we really started to feel like we were in the middle of nowhere. Al's stories in the car changed from mountain lions (which where going to emerge any minute while we were driving through Tioga Pass) to cowbows, westerns and coyotes.

We happened upon Rainbow Canyon where there were a few cars parked so we figured it would be a good spot to stretch the legs. After wondering around we noticed a few people on camper chairs with cameras... turns out military fighter plane exercises are conducted in this area, giving the area the nickname of Star Wars Canyon. Sadly, we didn't get to see any planes go through the canyon—and instead left the professionals to continue their waiting game and continued on, soon stopping at another canyon... this time Mosaic Canyon. This had taken a bit of research, and was slightly off the main track but definitely worth the stop. I think in the middle of summer it would have been unbearably hot, but it's an impressive walk and you don't have to go far to see the best the canyon has to offer.

Al and I walking through Mosaic Canyon
 Not far from Mosaic Canyon are the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes... these dunes just seemed so odd yet incredible in the middle of this desert. We walked around taking it all in (my shoes also took a lot in!) and again I was thankful for the time of year we were visiting as hate to imagine how hot the sand would get in the peak of summer!

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
Our last stretch stop was Zabriskie Point. If time had allowed there were so many places away from the main road we would have loved to have seen, but we contented ourselves with the tourist spots that were easily accessible. Zabriskie Point certainly didn't disappoint though... the colours and shapes of the rocks, the formations and the creases—both Al and I played with the angles as we practiced our photography skills!

Zabriskie Point
And finally, we were on the home stretch to Vegas. We only spent one night at Las Vegas as it was really just a transition, and for me one night was enough. I was excited to see the Bellagio fountains and for one night to see what the buzz of Vegas was about... but the next couple of days held far more excitement as far as I was concerned!

Dancing fountains at Bellagio, Las Vegas
More on the trip next time x

Saturday, 25 November 2017

US trip: Yosemite

From Napa, we drove the 330km to our next stop... Yosemite.
Al and I at Yosemite
 On the way we stopped at the town of Mariposa to re-fuel the car and ourselves given it was dinner time. Our meal at the quaint diner we found in the town was massive... I had eaten enough half-way through the unexpected entree that came standard with every meal! After dinner, we continued to our accommodation, Highland House, which wasn't too much further a drive. This place was incredible, really comfortable and one of our favourites of the entire trip. The location, the owner, the room, and the breakfast were all top notch.
Highland House, Mariposa... amazing accommodation!
In the morning we headed to Yosemite National Park. We stopped along the drive to take photos of the amazing scenery... and then we got to the park itself and the amazing scenery we had seen on the way suddenly looked rather average.
Entering Yosemite National Park
To quote Al, a blind person could take photos in Yosemite and still get amazing pictures. The sights were breathtaking, and I think we spent most of the day saying "wow... woah.... oh wow". At the first chance we had, we parked the car and did a short hike to Bridalveil Falls...
Bridalveil Falls

And then we did the walk to Mirror Lake... although as there wasn't much water in the lake due to the time of the year, I had to get creative with my photography!
Mirror Lake, Yosemite
We managed to get some pictures in of El Capitan, drive around exploring the park, then see all the torch lights dotted up El Capitan once the sun went down and the rock-climbers had settled in on the wall for the night. Al had told me about it but I have to say, I was still surprised to see so many lights up the side of El Capitan—particularly given we had only spotted a couple of climbers during the day.
A rock-climber making their way up the side of El Capitan
Thankfully we had allowed ourselves some time the following day to head back into Yosemite before moving on to our next destination. We drove out to Glacier Point to begin with...
Half Dome, Yosemite, viewed from Glacier Point
And then parked the car to do the Sentinel Dome walk. This walk around 1.5 km each way, with a reasonably steep climb to get to the top of the dome itself. But it was well worth the effort!
Al, with Sentinel Dome behind him
El Capitan viewed from the top of Sentinel Dome, Yosemite
We stopped at Tunnel View on the way back from Sentinel Dome, which proved to be a great 'summary' spot for our time at Yosemite. From this spot you can see El Capitan, Bridalveil Falls, and in the background Half Dome. Yet another 'wow' moment for us.
Tunnel View, Yosemite
To get to our next overnight accommodation spot, we headed out of the park via Tioga Pass. We were really lucky that the Pass was open—a month later and it would have been closed for the winter. Soon after taking the turn-off for the pass you reach Toloumne Grove—home to Giant Sequoia's (Sequoiadendron gigenteum), the worlds most massive trees and sadly endangered. With Al's love for trees, of course this was a must-stop for us.

Al and I in the cut-away in a remaining stump of a Giant Sequoia otherwise destroyed by fire
We continued on our drive through Tioga Pass and continued to muse over the sheer beauty that this earth offers us. As the sun started to set, the changing colours amplified the majestic sights.
Driving through Tioga Pass, Yosemite
View of Yosemite from Tioga Pass at sunset, with Half Dome in the background
We stayed at a motel in a small town called Bishop that evening, and enjoyed a delicious (albeit huge!) burrito at a small Mexican diner. The next day would see the drive to Vegas...

More on the trip next time x