USA Holiday 1999
by Heather Collins
USA - Colorado,
Wyoming, South Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Utah, Nevada and California
(Click here for text
Day 1: Wednesday 28th July
Odiham to Denver via New York
The taxi collected us and our small amount of baggage at 6.30am and whisked us off through the early morning traffic to Heathrow. We located the United Airlines desk and checked in and then went to graze the gift shops for half an hour. We were informed at check-in that the entertainment system on the 'plane was not working so were given a £15 gift voucher to buy books and magazines. Kathryn and I selected a book each plus a magazine for David and some chocolate and then went through the security system to the departure lounge. Kathryn set the buzzer off with her metal belt and David had his hand luggage searched! We went to the Red Carpet Lounge where we had free drinks and snacks and were able to sit in comfort reading the morning papers before the flight was called. We had been invited to use the Red Carpet Lounge because David had faxed a complaint to United a few days before. On checking the flight and our seats, he had been told that our seats had been re-allocated because the flight had been re-scheduled by a couple of minutes! He had requested seats on the left of the 'plane so we could see Manhattan as we approached New York. Anyway, we were given seats on the left, just a little further back, so we were happy.
We boarded at 9.30am and were taxi-ing to the runway shortly after 10am. We finally took off at 10.30am and were on our way. The entertainment system had been fixed so there were videos and music as well as the books we had bought! An excellent flight with plenty of food and drinks and attentive cabin crew. The dinner choice was beef, chicken or vegetarian pasta. By the time it got to Kathryn and I, there was only beef left. As neither of us eat beef the flight attendant went to try and find us an alternative. Eventually he returned with two pastas so we were happy. The second meal, a few hours later, was a hot turkey sandwich. This time, I wasn't given a tray at all - but was soon rectified when I called it to their attention!
As the 'plane approached Newark, we had a spectacular view of Manhattan and could see the Statue of Liberty and the twin towers of the World Trade Centre clearly as we circled in to land at 5.15pm. We left the 'plane and reclaimed our baggage before going through immigration. We had become the foreign aliens again but it felt good to be back in America! We re-checked the baggage and got on a monorail to Terminal A and waited for a couple of hours to re-board the same 'plane for the onward flight to Denver. The long wait was boring and we were all feeling quite tired. We eventually got back on the 'plane and the flight left on time. It had now become an internal flight so there were no free headsets and the drink didn't flow! After a short time, a flight attendant came over to us and apologised for the "difficulties" we had experienced on the first part of the journey and would we like complimentary headsets so we could view the movie? We accepted but were a bit mystified, as we weren't aware of any problems apart from the food, which had quickly been put right. We sat back and enjoyed the rest of the flight and another meal, this time there was enough chicken! Time dragged and we all felt we had been travelling too long. After the meal, we were brought a piece of gateau each, obviously from First Class as it was on a china plate, again for our earlier problems!
As we approached Denver, the pilot warned us of approaching storms and we were in for a bumpy landing. We could see black clouds and lightning through the windows and looked down on a rainbow. The approach to Denver was indeed bumpy and the 'plane was being thrown around by the high winds but we touched down safely just ahead of the storm at 5.15pm local time (12.15am UK time.) We were off the 'plane and collected the baggage quickly and got the courtesy bus to the Alamo depot to pick up the hire car. The rain was lashing down by now and the thunder and lighting were crashing all around the area. The sky was inky black and we later heard on the news that the airport had been closed until the storm was over. The usual hassle awaited us at Alamo! The car we had booked wasn't available and they tried to persuade us to pay for an upgrade. We stood our ground and eventually we were given a free upgrade to a much bigger vehicle with four wheel drive known as a Sport Utility Vehicle in the States. The first one we were given had various things wrong with it, like a broken aerial, but the second was fine - a Chevrolet Blazer with 21673 miles on the clock. We loaded up and set off through the pouring rain to a Motel 6 a few miles from the airport where we all fell into bed. It was 8pm. local time - 3am. in the UK. We had been travelling 21 hours and were all exhausted
Day 2: Thursday 29 July
Denver 71 miles
David woke at 4.30 am and got up at 5 am to do what men do - play with the new car! I dozed until 7 am and then had a shower and repacked some of my things. Kathryn was up early after sleeping well and we all had breakfast at Denny's next to the motel. The storms of yesterday had cleared and the day was warm and sunny. We heard on the news that the Denver area had been badly affected by the bad weather with flooding and mudslides that had closed some of the roads.
We drove to the downtown area and drove around looking for somewhere to park. It was very expensive at around $2 - $3 an hour so we drove to Cherry Creek Shopping Centre south of the city centre and spent a couple of hours mostly window shopping in the brand new Mall. It was very hot by midday - 90f+ so we were glad to be inside in the comfort of the air conditioning! After lunching at a Panda Express, we drove back to the city centre and parked near the museum in the park. Had a look at the Imax in the museum but the films showing were a bit too cultural for our taste so we went back to the motel and spent the rest of the afternoon by the pool swimming, reading and relaxing. The clouds had appeared by late afternoon but it was still very hot. Before dinner, we went in search of a supermarket to stock up on drinks and snacks. We ate at Denny's again - we were all feeling tired and a bit jet-lagged so couldn't be bothered to go any farther afield. Spent the rest of the evening relaxing at the motel and were all in bed early.
Day 3: Friday 30 July
Denver to Laramie 170 miles
After a quick breakfast at Denny's we left Denver and were on the road northwards. Took a detour to visit Boulder, north-west of Denver. A very pretty pedestrianised downtown area reminiscent of French towns. David had read about a microbrewery in Boulder so we located it and in we went. David was in raptures and sampled some of the brews. He thought it was all delicious! We were given a short tour of the fermenting bins and mashing tanks etc. It was all spotlessly clean and gleaming and I am sure the beer tasted wonderful if you liked that sort of thing. Kathryn and I had an OJ with ice - neither of us are beer drinkers. We walked around the shopping area for a while enjoying the sun. It was hot - 85f - but not humid so felt wonderful. We left Boulder after a couple of hours stopping at a Target to get some girl stuff - and headed for Fort Collins. Somehow we got on the wrong road and were heading west instead of east! Fortunately, there was a digital compass in the car so we knew we were going in the wrong direction pretty quickly! We stopped at Longmont for some lunch at a Blimpie's - like a Subway.
On the road again to Fort Collins - memorable only for the excessive number of traffic lights!! There seemed to be a set at the junction of every block and they were all red!!!
Once through Fort Collins the road became very quiet and wound through the foothills of the Rockies across a vast plain. We crossed the state line into Wyoming and were soon at Laramie. We checked into the Motel 6 and were given two rooms overlooking the pool. The weather had completely changed and was cloudy, raining and the temperature had dropped to the low 60's - not pool weather! We settled into the motel and relaxed for a bit before driving into Laramie. We stopped at a K Mart to buy sweaters for David and Kathryn and then had a good dinner at Shari's next door. After eating, we drove around Laramie for a while in the rain before returning to the motel to relax and watch a little TV.
Day 4: Saturday 31 July
Laramie - Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo 113 miles
We were all up and ready to go at 8 am. It was cloudy and spitting with rain and cool, only 60f, definitely a jeans
and sweater day. We left Laramie and took the Interstate heading east to Cheyenne. The road was quiet and fast and wound upward across the high plains. We stopped for gas at Buford - population 2, elevation 8000ft. Half the population turned out to serve us! We carried on into Cheyenne and arrived just in time to see the Stagecoach and Cowboy procession through the streets. It was a magnificent sight with many beautifully restored carriages and costumed riders. We then went to the Frontier Days Stadium area and parked for $5. It was still early - 9.30 am and it was quiet. The stallholders were setting up and a few contestants were practising in the arena.
We had breakfast of biscuits and coffee and then went to the on-site museum. Very interesting - a large collection of carts and buggies beautifully restored and a Native American display as well as memorabilia of past rodeo's. We watched a video that explained the intricacies of the rodeo which we found very informative and explained what we would be watching live later in the day. We left the museum and went to the Indian Village arriving in time to watch a display of dances. The costumes were beautiful - very colourful with magnificent feather head-dresses. We watched the dancing for a while then made our way back to the main arena area and bought some snacks for lunch - pizza, fajitas and funnel cake - a bit like a flat doughnut covered with icing sugar - at least 2000 calories a bite!!
We took our seats at 1pm. And watched the rodeo from start to finish. It started with a parade of horses and riders bearing flags and past champions. The whole audience stood when the Stars and Stripes were brought in and everyone sang the Star Spangled Banner, then the rodeo got underway. It was excitement from start to finish. There was bull-riding, bronco riding, steer roping, steer wrestling, chuck wagon racing and, best of all, the wild horse race. Wild horses were led in and each one was handed to a team of three. The idea was to get a saddle on the horse and ride it round the racetrack once. Not many teams got a saddle on their horse and those that did had great difficulty getting onto it. Those that did, had even more difficulty making the horse go in the right direction! Only one team managed to get their horse round the track the right way and earned a tremendous cheer from the audience. All the events were conducted at break neck speed and were interspersed with speciality shows, chariot racing and stunt riding. It was a magical afternoon and one that we will never forget.
After the show was over, we left the stadium and started to look at the surrounding exhibits and souvenir stalls. David went back to the car with the binoculars and by the time he got back to us it had started to rain. The heavens opened and there was a tremendous downpour and thunderstorm. The ground was very quickly flooded and we all took cover as best we could until the rain eased enough to get to the car without getting soaked. We drove into Cheyenne but it was raining so hard it wasn't worth parking and walking around so we drove back to Laramie. It had stopped raining by the time we got back but was still very cool and damp. We had a mediocre Chinese meal and then went to a supermarket to buy snacks and drinks for tomorrow before returning to the motel. We had been back about five minutes when the 'phone rang - it was Mike from San Francisco saying Hi and How Ya Doing. David and I both chatted to him for a while - can't believe we are going to get to see him for real in a couple of weeks!
Day 5: Sunday 1 August
Laramie to Mount Rushmore, South Dakota 340 miles
After breakfast of bagels, juice and coffee we left Laramie at 8 am. The morning was overcast and cool again and just beginning to rain. We headed north and then northeast across the mountains. It was raining hard by now and very misty. Even so, we made good time. The outside temperature was showing 54f on the car thermometer but gradually climbed to the low 60's the further north we went. We stopped at a trucker's stop at Orin for a drink and toast about 11 am. And then continued on our way. The weather gradually got better and by the time we crossed the state line into South Dakota the skies had cleared and the temperature was 68f.
Suddenly, we saw Crazy Horse on the right had side. As it was too early to check into our next stop, we decided to get a closer look at the Crazy Horse monument. Crazy Horse was a famous Indian Chief killed in the 1860's. In the 1940's, Korczak Ziolkowski, a sculptor, was asked by Indian Chiefs to undertake the task of carving a memorial to Crazy Horse on the mountain. The project was started in 1948 and by 1998 only the face had been completed. When finished, Crazy Horse will look out from the mountain seated on his horse with arm outstretched surveying his land. Tons of rock has been blasted away but there is an enormous amount of work still to do. It is very doubtful it will be completed in my lifetime!
The whole place was most interesting and contained displays and photographs of the work and models of the project as well as some bronze sculptures by the same artist, including two large horses locked in battle. There was also a display of Indian Art and artefacts and the inevitable gift shop. We bought a few things of course!
We spent a couple of hours at Crazy Horse and then went to the KOA at Mount Rushmore. We had booked a log cabin at the campsite, which was kinda quaint. Our cabin had two bedrooms and a bathroom in-between and a large porch with rocking chairs. There was also a BBQ pit and outside eating area. The cabin overlooked the camping site, which was set amongst pine trees with a backdrop of high mountains. It was very beautiful and peaceful place. We unloaded the car and relaxed for a while before heading off to Hill City, the nearest town, in search of food.
Hill City was an attractive small town with shops and eateries both sides of the main street. We had an excellent meal at the Mt. Rushmore Brewing Company. David and I had White Chilli Skillet, which was chicken and white beans in a jalapeno sauce served with corn bread. Kathryn had Vegetarian Lasagne, which came with a side of fresh fruit. All delicious and the best meal we had eaten since arriving in America. The bill came to $22!!!
After dinner, we drove a circular route to Keystone through impressive wooded mountains on twisty roads. Keystone was another charming town full of character. It was beginning to get dark as we drove out of Keystone and there on our right side was the Mt. Rushmore monument. We pulled over into a lay-by and sat waiting for full darkness when the President's heads would be illuminated. David had read somewhere that this took place at 9 pm. - it actually happened at 9.30 pm but was worth the wait - a truly unique experience. We drove back to the cabin in the trees and settled in for the night.
Day 6: Monday 2 August
Mount Rushmore area 93 miles
We all slept incredibly well in our little log cabin. It was very quiet and hard to believe there were hundreds of RV's parked in the field below us.
We woke to a beautiful sunny morning. The sky was clear blue and it was warm, warm, warm!
Breakfast was "all you can eat" pancakes for $2 each at the campsite. Yummy! All the baggage was then piled back into the car and after checking out of the cabin we made our way to Mt. Rushmore. What an incredible place. The four carved President's heads were magnificent and awe inspiring. The presentation of the whole area was immaculate with an interesting and informative talk about how the work was carried out held in the sculptor's studio. There was a walkway under the "heads" with vantage points along the way and information boards. We also saw a short film describing the attributes of each President - Lincoln, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Washington - and more about how the work was carried out. Over 90% of the rock removed was blasted away with dynamite. One interesting fact was that of all the hundreds of men that worked on the project, not one was killed whilst working there.
We were at Mt. Rushmore for three hours and then took a scenic drive south along a mountain road that zigzagged for miles, crossing over itself on intricate wooden bridges and through tunnels blasted through the rock - all the time encountering breathtaking views.
We stopped for lunch at a roadside café and then made for the Reptile Gardens south of Rapid City. What a treat that was! An incredible collection of snakes, alligators. crocodiles, giant tortoises, spiders and other assorted creatures. There were excellent shows of different species. We watched a performance of birds of prey, snakes and small domestic animals conditioned to do various tricks. The snake show was the best with a giant albino python, cobra and rattlesnake amongst the stars. The rattlesnake rattled away and it was a truly fantastic sound!
The inside pavilion housed most of the snakes and amphibians but also had some hens that could do tricks! One played basketball, another sold postcards and another could answer questions - clever stuff! Kathryn asked the question " am I too fat?" The hen answered - yes! It obviously didn't always get the answer right!
We left the Reptile Gardens and returned to the KOA where we checked into a different, bigger cabin for the night. This one had a small kitchen so Kathryn and I went to the camp shop and bought teabags and milk and made a proper cup of tea! We all relaxed for a while enjoying the evening sun before setting off for Hill City. We ate at the same restaurant as last night - it was a lot busier and the food wasn't quite so magic but it was certainly OK.
Day 7: Tuesday 3 August
Mt. Rushmore to Sundance 134 miles
Another good nights sleep and a laid back start to the day. We breakfasted on pancakes at the campsite again and then packed up the car and were on our way north. We drove through the heart of the Black Hills - incredibly beautiful pine tree covered mountain scenery dotted with sparkling lakes and rivers. We made good time, the driving was easy, and arrived at Deadwood at 11 am. The town was like a mini Las Vegas with saloons and gambling joints lining Main Street. We took a walk up Mt. Mariah to Boot Hill cemetery - the hill part was no exaggeration! - and saw the graves of Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok.
After leaving Deadwood, we took a detour to Sturgis so David could admire all the Harley's that were arriving for the big rally taking place there the following week.
We drove on to Spearfish and stopped for some lunch at a café on Main Street. Average food with miserable staff - you can't win them all! David decided to find the library and get on line to check e-mails. Kathryn and I went to K Mart and managed to find a few more essentials to buy!
We continued on west and crossed the state line back into Wyoming and were soon at Sundance where we checked into the Bear Motel. Two nice big rooms on the second floor. We unloaded the car - I swear the baggage was getting heavier - must be all that shopping! We hung around the motel for a while relaxing and unwinding. I sat outside the room enjoying the late afternoon sun for a while and David went to investigate local eateries. He came back with the news that the County Fair was in town just down the road, so off we went for a look. It was mostly packing up for the night but we had a look at the exhibits of hand made and home-grown goods. There were horses, sheep, pigs, cows, rabbits - all waiting to be judged. David and Kathryn had a cup of shaved ice and we got talking to the elderly lady who's family made the ice and other assorted ice creams. We also watched a calf make a break for freedom and the ensuing mayhem it caused before it was captured and returned to it's pen. Good, wholesome, country fun!
We returned to Sundance and had a very good meal at the Aro Restaurant across the road from the motel and then went to buy fruit, snacks and drinks from Decker's Supermarket. We were all pretty tired so went back to the motel and were in bed by 10 pm
Day 8: Wednesday 4 August
Sundance to Sheridan 335 miles
After a quick breakfast at Higby's Café across the road from the motel, Kathryn and I were ready to leave by 8.30 am. Unfortunately, David had gone walkabout and didn't return until nearly 10 am. He had gone to the Bank to get more cash and then had spotted a telephone in a shop window that he just had to buy! It was an imitation
wind up model made of wood with a candlestick hand piece. He was very excited about his purchase and assured me it would work in England. At last we were ready to roll and made good time as we headed north to Devils Tower. We could see the Tower from about 15 miles away and it certainly was an uncanny sight, rising up out of the surrounding plain.
After paying the modest entry fee at the booth, we drove through a large colony of prairie dogs. We stopped to take photos and the funny little creatures obligingly posed before popping down their holes - and then popping up again!
We took a walk right round the Tower and saw some wild deer hidden amongst the trees. The weather was getting hotter all the time but we enjoyed the mile long walk. There were several climbers scaling the Tower and we spoke to a couple that had just finished climbing up and down. They had started at 6 am to avoid the heat of the day and had completed the round trip in 5 hours.
We bought some postcards and sandwiches for lunch and left Devils Tower, heading north and then west. We crossed the state line into Montana and then had a long drive of 200 miles across the plains. The road was very quiet and there was very little sign of habitation in all that way. We reached the Big Horn National Monument late afternoon. This area was previously known as Custer's Last Stand but was re-named in 1993. Kathryn had studied this part of American history at school so was particularly interested to see the battle site. It was very hot when we arrived at 4 pm - 96f and there was a hot wind blowing. We listened to a couple of talks given by the Rangers - one about the weapons used by both the Cavalry and the Indians and one about the battle itself - both excellent and very informative. We stayed for a couple of hours walking and driving around and then joined the interstate and headed south to Sheridan - back in Wyoming once again.
We checked into the Mill Inn and were given a suite of rooms, almost as big as a house. There were two large bedrooms, bathroom, living room and kitchen with a cooker, dishwasher and fridge freezer!
The girl at the front desk recommended the Golden Steer as a good place to eat at the other end of town. She was right - we had an excellent meal.
When we got back to the motel, David unpacked his phone and played with it for a bit - he was pleased to find that it worked OK. Kathryn and I went to bed!
Day 9: Thursday 5 August
Sheridan to Cody 160 miles
After an excellent nights sleep and a fairly late start, we were ready for breakfast by 9 am. The motel provided a
free breakfast - a first this trip - so we ate as much as we could of toast, cereal, bagels, juice, tea and coffee. We looked round Sheridan for a couple of hours and then headed west across the Big Horn Mountains. It was a very hot morning; the temperature was in the 90's by 11.30 am. The road wound up the mountains through beautiful scenery. We stopped near the top to watch hang gliders riding the thermals with the birds. It was a little cooler as we were quite high by now. As we started to descend on the western side, the scenery became bleaker. There were very few trees just mile after mile of sagebrush. We also encountered road works of mammoth proportions! There were nine miles of road that was under re construction. The whole surface was covered with compacted rubble - it was very bumpy and we had to go extremely slowly. A lot of the time we were stationery as we had to wait for oncoming traffic to come through. Once through the road works, we had a good, fast drive to Greybull where we stopped for an excellent lunch at Lisa's Café. David and I had Taco's and Chimichangas and Kathryn had a grilled chicken sandwich.
It was then a 60 mile drive to Cody. About 30 miles from Greybull, we could see a storm developing in the distance. As we got nearer, we could see lightening flashes and then we were in the storm. The rain was coming down in torrents and the thunder was crashing over head. We could see the lightning striking the ground all around us, it was quite scary. The temperature dropped 40 degrees in 20 minutes, going from 96f to 56f. As we drove into Cody the storm was lessening and the rain had all but stopped. The temperature was gradually climbing and had made it back to 62f as we drove into the Skyline Motel. We
checked in, unloaded the car and then went shopping. There was a K Mart right next to the motel and a big food store on the other side. We picked up a few essentials and then drove into the town centre to see the Wild West Gunslingers show in the street outside the Irma Hotel. It was very entertaining and all the bad guys got shot!
We took a drive to the other end of town, found a Wal-Mart, bought a few more essentials and then returned to the motel. Kathryn and I went and got a pizza for dinner - we were all still full from lunch so didn't want much to eat. The temperature had recovered to 76f by 8.30 pm. We have certainly had some exciting weather this vacation!
Day 10: Friday 6 August
Yellowstone National Park 302 Miles
What an incredible day! We were up and ready to go by 8.30am and after stopping for a bagel and coffee one block from the motel, we picked up some lunch snacks from the supermarket and were on our way to Yellowstone National Park. The morning was partly cloudy but quire warm - mid 60'sf. We decided to enter the park by the north east entrance. The road that led to this entrance was called the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway. It certainly lived up to its name. The terrain became more mountainous and the road was one hairpin bend after another. Traffic was very light so we were quite surprised to come across a car pulled up in the middle of the road with warning lights flashing. The occupants were looking out of the window and we realised that they were watching a black bear ambling along the side of the hill to the right of the road. What an amazing thing to see! The bear was completely unperturbed by it's growing audience of cars and occupants snapping away with cameras. The bear eventually disappeared from sight into a stand of trees and we were on our way again. The distant mountains still had snow on the tops, a reminder that the whole area is under snow in the winter months.
We arrived at the entrance and paid the $20 entrance fee and entered Yellowstone. The road wound up and down mountains and was very beautiful. We came across a large herd of wild buffalo by the river in Lamar Valley. There were calves with their mothers as well as large bulls, all grazing peacefully in the lush valley.
Our first stop was at Mammoth Hot Springs. Interesting formations of pure white terraces and hot steaming pools. Some elk were sunning themselves in the middle of one of the terraces!
We started going south and stopped to eat our lunch by the river near Beaver Lake. It was very peaceful and quiet and the weather was gloriously warm and sunny. Back on the road we saw many steaming pools. We just had to feel them to see how hot they were - yes, they really were hot! We stopped to admire a large elk at the side of the road and then realised that people in the cars on the other side of the road were looking at something in the woods. It was a wolf! What a fantastic thing to see! Wolves were re-introduced to Yellowstone in the late 1980's and have been increasing in number ever since. The wolf we saw was nonchalantly walking up the steep, wooded, mountainside - not taking any notice of the excited voyeurs at the roadside.
Our next stop was the Norris Geyser Basin where we saw our first geyser spouting. On to the Lower Geyser Basin, where the Fountain Paint Pot is located. We saw bubbling mud and many impressive geysers shooting skywards. There were so many going up at the same time, we didn't know which way to look!
Our final stop was at Old Faithful, the most famous geyser in the Park. We arrived at the car park just as it spouted so we only just caught it. It carried on spouting for a while but wasn't any more impressive than one's we had seen further north.
The time was now 6pm so we slowly made our way back to Cody. The road through the Park was slow, especially near Yellowstone Lake where the road was under construction. Kathryn saw a large bird of prey (possibly an Osprey) with a fish in its claws when we were waiting in a traffic queue by the Lake.
We left Yellowstone by the south east entrance and were able to speed up a bit arriving back in Cody at 8.30pm. Just as we were approaching the town, we drove through a heavy rainstorm - again! We stopped for dinner at the Irma Hotel - not bad - Kathryn and I had a large chicken salad and David had a beefburger and fries. The service was a bit slow and not very efficient. There was a violent thunderstorm going on outside but by the time we had finished our meal it had passed over and the rain had stopped. The roads were flooded in places but we made it back to the motel in one piece and relaxed for a while before going to bed.
Day 11: Saturday 7 August
Cody to Idaho Falls 297 miles
We woke to a beautiful morning, blue sky and brilliant sunshine with the temperature rising fast. Breakfast was freshly baked bagels, coffee and tea at the Breadboard, a couple of blocks from the motel. We also bought some freshly made sandwiches to eat for lunch later in the day.
The first part of the drive, after leaving Cody, was back to Yellowstone, through the south east entrance. The traffic was heavier than the day before, probably because it was Saturday, but we made reasonable time. Once in Yellowstone, we detoured north at Fishing Bridge for a few miles to see the Volcano Mud Pots and Sulphur Cauldron - very weird! The road was completely blocked at one point, nobody was moving in either direction. Buffalo on the road caused the hold up! They just stood there and looked at the cars and weren't in too much of a hurry to move. Eventually they moved off the road and we slowly moved off.
Yellowstone was a fantastic place and although we spent a day and a half there, we only saw a small part of the area. It is definitely a place we would like to return to in the future.
We took the road south and left Yellowstone. The traffic was much lighter and most was going in the opposite direction, into the park. We stopped by a lake to eat our lunch and chatted to some bikers on their way to Sturgis. They had ridden up from Jackson but were originally from Salt Lake City.
After lunch, we carried on south through the Teton National Park. The scenery had changed from fir tree covered hills to dramatic craggy mountains with snow on the tops. As we drove on, the sky blackened and we were in yet another torrential rainstorm. It lasted about twenty minutes or so by which time we had driven out of the mountains.
We had planned to stop in Jackson, but it was so congested with traffic that we drove straight through and turned west towards Idaho. We climbed over Snake Pass - a beautiful mountain road with stunning views. The driving was easy - very light traffic - and we arrived in Idaho Falls at 5.30pm. We checked into the Motel 6 and Kathryn and I went straight to the pool. What bliss! The water was heated so it was even better! We swam and relaxed for a while before showering and dressing ready to hit the town and find somewhere to eat. We went to O'Grady's Family Restaurant just by the motel. The food was just OK, nothing special and we wouldn't go back there again. After dinner, we took a drive around Idaho Falls for a while to locate the local attractions - i.e. shops!
Day 12: Sunday 8 August
Idaho Falls 40 miles
Today was a rest day. After so much driving over the past few days, we decided to stay an extra night in Idaho Falls. And relax. The motel was excellent and the pool area was perfect - as was the weather - hot, dry and sunny. After breakfast, I did some laundry as we were all getting short of clean clothes, and then had a swim. The pool was quiet and we had it to our selves for most of the time.
David made a couple of phone calls to the folk's back home to check all was well, and then we went shopping. There was a huge Wal-Mart and Target as well as an indoor Mall. After a couple of hour's spending money, we got some lunch snacks and took them to the falls that give the city its name. The falls are in Snake River and are very wide and impressive. There was a riverside walk and park area so we sat eating our lunch enjoying the view. David took Kathryn and I back to the motel so we could enjoy more pool time and catch some rays. It was still hot at 5pm, in the low 90's. David went off to find the library and Post Office as we wanted to send some e mail and snail mail in the morning. He came back after a while and joined us by the pool. I had some laundry to finish drying so went off to attend to it and then we all got dressed and ready to find somewhere to eat. We went to JB's a few blocks from the motel and had an excellent meal. As it was still quite early, 8pm, we did a bit more shopping before returning to the motel. I re-packed my case, which took quite a while and then caught about half of "Men in Black" on the TV. An excellent film, must try and see the rest of it sometime!
We all liked Idaho Falls very much. It was a very unpretentious place with a nice feel to it. The people were pleasant and helpful and the shops were great!
Day 13: Monday 9 August
Idaho Falls to Salt Lake City 242 miles
After a good nights sleep, we were ready to leave the motel at 8.30 am. We went back to JB's for breakfast and the food was, once again, excellent. We had the usual toast and tea and also shared a large bowl of fresh strawberries. Kathryn ordered a cinnamon Danish - it was enormous - at least 8" in diameter and about 4" high!! She manfully ate about three-quarters of it and took the rest away to eat later.
Before leaving Idaho Falls we went to the public library to receive and send e-mails and then on to the Post Office to send some snail mail. The man in the PO was excited to be sending mail to England and wanted to know our life history - it was hard to get away!
We finally left the city and joined the inter state heading south. Just outside Idaho Falls, we saw small 'planes swooping low. It looked like they were doing aerobatics but was, in fact, crop spraying.
We stopped for a stretch at Malad, a small town just inside the Idaho State line, before entering Utah. The temperature was rising all the time and was in the mid 90's by the time we reached Salt Lake City at 1pm. We went straight to the airport Motel 6, checked in, unloaded the car and headed into the city centre.
Salt Lake City was a well cared for modern city with an air of prosperity about it. The streets were clean and the buildings were well spaced and grand. We parked in the ZCMI Mall car park, which was undercover and cool and then walked to the Temple area. We joined a guided tour of the Tabernacle and other buildings by the Temple led by two young women "missionaries". We saw the famous Tabernacle where the Mormon Choir perform and had a demonstration of the superb acoustics. Pins were dropped and sheets of paper torn which we could hear perfectly at the back of the Tabernacle. We sat through readings from the Book of Mormon and saw a film starring Jesus ( he looked suspiciously like Walker, Texas Ranger )..... It was very interesting and the "missionaries" were very nice but very zealous.....
After that, Kathryn and I went back to the cool of the air conditioned Mall and David went to the Joseph Smith Memorial Building to check out the genealogy thing.
We all met up at 5.30pm and went back to the motel. I went for a quick swim and the other two relaxed for a while in the rooms before we went to look for something to eat. We forgot to get lunch today so were all feeling hungry!
When we last stayed in Utah two years ago, we had eaten at a Chuck a Rama Buffet, so we looked in the telephone directory to see if there was one near by. There was, in the next road. Unfortunately, the road was about ten miles long and the Chuck a Rama was nearly at the end! It was worth the drive though, as we enjoyed the "all you can eat" meal returning many times to the salad bar!
After finishing dinner, we went to Smith's supermarket to stock up on drinks and snacks for tomorrow and then returned to the motel to watch a little TV and relax. The temperature was 88f at 10pm.
Day 14: Tuesday 10 August
Salt Lake City to Ely, Nevada 287 miles
The morning was overcast but warm - mid 70's by 9 am. After breakfast at Denny's two blocks away, we left Salt Lake City and headed west. The distant mountains were shrouded in dark, low clouds and it looked like a
storm would break before too long. The road went straight across the bottom of the Great Salt Lake and then wound up through mountains and plains. We drove for miles across salt flats, which shimmered like snow. There were a few salt works dotted along the roadside with huge piles of salt standing like enormous snowdrifts. The rail track was beside the road for a good part of the way but we didn't see many trains along it. There was a strange sculpture by the road. It was a concrete "tree" with enormous coloured balls, some on the "tree" and some on the ground. Apparently, the artist who made it thought the salt flats needed a tree! Just before reaching Wendover, we came to the Bonneville Salt Flats and followed a sign to the Speedway Track. After a few miles, the road ran out and we were driving on the famous salt flats. It was an eerie experience. The salt was all around us as far as the eye could see, white as snow and it was very easy to become completely disorientated. We made our way back to the road and stopped after a few miles, at the Wendover Truck Stop for a hot drink. We drove on in to Wendover town where we crossed the State line into Nevada. We had planned to stop in Wendover but it was raining hard and looked like it was going to be quite a storm so we decided to keep going. The road turned south and eventually the rain stopped and a watery sun came out. It was quite cool, only 64f at noon. The road was very quiet, we saw only about ten cars in two hours as we crossed mountain ranges and wide plains. We drove through two small settlements in 100 miles and then we arrived at Ely and checked into the Motel 6. Ely is an old mining town of some proportion. It started life as a silver mining area and then copper took over as the main industry. Now, it is just another small town in the middle of nowhere with an exotic past. The main street was mostly casinos, bars and a few gift shops. David went to the library to check his e-mails while Kathryn and I wandered up and down the main street. One of the shopkeepers told us of a Garnet hill a few miles out of town. She told us there were Garnets just lying around waiting to be picked up! It was well sign posted and the rough unmade road led up into the mountains. The views were fantastic from the top where there was a picnic area and a lot of broken rock.
We wandered around looking for Garnets but we didn't have any tools to break the rocks, so we didn't do very well!
On the other side of the mountain we could see the old copper mine workings with a track leading up to an overlook area. We left Garnet Hill and drove up the mine track - it was a good job the car had four wheel drive - the track was steep, sandy and rocky! We got a bit lost but eventually found the right road back to Ely and returned to the motel to freshen up before driving into town. We had a moderately good dinner at the Nevada Hotel on Main Street and then lost all our nickels in the casino slot machines.
Back to the motel for the rest of the evening after stopping to get supplies at a supermarket. The weather was very cool and windy, it felt like home!!
Day 15: Wednesday 11 August
Ely to Reno 340 miles
David was up first this morning and went off to get the car washed. Kathryn and I eventually dragged ourselves out of bed and by the time David returned, we were nearly ready to go.
We packed up, checked out and went to Denny's on the next block for breakfast.
The morning was sunny and clear if a little cool - mid 50's at 9 am - but the wind of yesterday had dropped so it felt remarkably warm.
We left Ely at 9.30am and headed west on US 50, reputed to be the "Loneliest Road in America".
I drove most of the way to the next small town, Eureka - 77 miles away. The road twisted and turned over mountains and plains and was reasonably quiet. It was certainly strange not to see any settlements at all for over 70 miles. We stopped for coffee in Eureka and then drove on to the next town, Austin, 70 miles from Eureka. We stopped for gas and lunch supplies in Austin and got our map stamped. We had bought an "I survived Americas Loneliest Road" pack in Ely with a map and places to get it validated in each town along the road. The next town was Fallon, 111 miles from Austin. About 40 miles east of Fallon we stopped to eat the sandwiches we had bought in Austin by a derelict Pony Express Depot and Wagon Train Post. It was in the middle of nowhere and very quiet. David noticed that all the road signs had bullet holes in them. Obviously a local sport!
About 20 miles further on, we stopped at "Sand Mountain", a large sand dune. I was driving and David wanted me to drive right up on the dune. I went a short way but wasn't too happy so stopped. We all got out and walked around and up the dune and watched dune buggies zipping up and down having a great time. It was hot by now, 84f and sunny and dry.
David decided to drive off the sand ( he really wanted to go further up ) but got the back wheels stuck! Fortunately, by using four wheel drive, he was able to drive off OK. Back on the road, we stopped at the "loneliest 'phone box in America" and phoned Mike in SF. He had told us about this phone and we had promised to give him a call from it if we could.
One more stop before Fallon was to an ancient Petroglyph site - very interesting.
Fallon was a big town, quite a surprise after driving through nothing for over 100 miles. We had trouble finding somewhere to validate our map but I spotted the blue sign at a tyre outlet.
It was a short 27 miles to the final town, Fernley, on US 50. Unfortunately, we arrived at 5.10pm, ten minutes after the Tourist Office closed and we couldn't find anywhere else to get the map validated. Never mind, it was a bit of fun and made us take a closer look at the towns along the road. We got on the I80 and were in Reno by 5.45pm. We checked into yet another Motel 6 and were given two nice rooms overlooking the pool. Within ten minutes, Kathryn and I were in `the pool and were quickly joined by David. It was still pleasantly warm at 6pm - 80f - and we swam and splashed around for about half an hour before showering and getting ready to get some dinner. We ate at Carrow's and had a good meal. Kathryn was a bit tired so we took her back to the motel to watch TV and David and I went into downtown Reno. It was very pretty with all the lights in the Casino's. We parked at Circus Circus and had a look round going into Silver Legacy to watch the laser show. We put a few coins in the slot machines- and lost ! We drove round a bit more, it was very quiet everywhere, not like Las Vegas, and then returned to the motel to watch TV and relax. We saw on the news that Salt Lake City had been hit by a tornado - 24 hours after we were there!
Day 16: Thursday 12 August
Reno 24 miles
Bliss! We all had a lie-in today - I was the first up at 8.30am followed by Kathryn at 9am and David eventually got showered and dressed at 9.30am. Breakfast was at Denny's on the next block. Service was pretty slow but we weren't in any hurry and we got there in the end. We did a little shopping at a local Mall and then went to Circus Circus. We had a good lunch at the Casino Buffet followed by a wander round the slots and gaming tables. It was quiet everywhere - really quite civilised! David put a quarter in a slot and got $13.50 out! We used some of his winnings to play a horse race game. I won the second game and got a fluffy tiger for a prize!
Back to the motel at 3pm so Kathryn and I could have some pool time. The weather was perfect - mid 80's, clear blue sky and just a light breeze. David decided to go to the Motor Museum that a friend at work had told him about. He came back after a couple of hours and had had a great time.
I managed to tear myself away from the pool and got showered and dressed. None of us was hungry so we decided to go to the Farmers Market in nearby Sparks, a couple of miles east of Reno. It was great fun. Lots of stalls selling fruit and vegetables and other stuff. There were also a lot of stalls selling snacks so we just went round buying and eating what we fancied. I had a `vegetable samosa followed by a basket of strawberries and some popcorn. There was a cookery demonstration , which we watched for a while, but it was so slow - the chef took about ten minutes just to slice an onion. He liked the sound of his own voice too much!! There was also a pair of camels giving rides to the children - quite a strange thing to see in Nevada - or perhaps not as it is mostly desert!
We left the market as the sun was setting and returned to the motel and spent the rest of the evening relaxing and watching TV.
Day 17: Friday 13 August
Reno to Sacramento, California 178 miles
We were all up at a reasonable time and after breakfast at Carrow's - much faster service than Denny's - we got on the Interstate and were heading west. Once through the Reno area, the scenery was beautiful. Very mountainous with the road switchbacking up and down through passes. Shortly after crossing the State line into California, we stopped at the Port of Entry and declared the fruit we were carrying - four apples and four bananas. The apples had to be inspected. They were OK apparently, because they were from Washington State.
Once through the Port of Entry, we took an immediate right turn into the Donner Memorial State Park. We watched a slide show with commentary about the fateful Donner Party settlers which was very interesting and informative. Kathryn had studied this event in her history course earlier in the year, so was very interested to see where it had happened. We wandered round the museum for a while before seeing the large bronze memorial outside in the park.
Back on the Interstate for a few more miles before taking a detour north to Nevada City. The drive was again through beautiful scenery. Pine forested mountains and hidden lakes - a winter ski area.
We arrived at Nevada City at midday and wandered up and down the main street window-shopping. I had read about a brewery in the town where you could sample all the different brews, so we located it and David did some sampling and bought a glass of one of the beers. Kathryn and I had OJ - I sometimes wish I liked beer. We sat in an outside area enjoying our drinks in the sun before returning to the main part of town to find somewhere for lunch. We settled on the "Nevada City Citizens" and had a good lunch of soup and sandwiches.
Next stop was Sacramento. I was map reading and somehow managed to get us on the right road going the wrong way! Having a compass in the car sure was useful!!
Not too much damage was done and we were checking into the motel at 4pm. David went off to check out the local area and Kathryn and I went to the pool. The pool was empty - we soon knew why - it was unheated! It was OK once we were in but had to keep swimming to get warm. We got out of the pool just as David returned and after showering and dressing we all went to the Old Sacramento area. It was a delightful place full of turn of the century buildings and a wide boardwalk. Most of the shops were selling tourist stuff or were eateries. There was an old train station and the wide American River ran along the edge of the area. We walked up and down looking in all the shops and then ate at a Chinese café - excellent food, good and spicy. We looked some more and then took a drive through downtown Sacramento, a very attractive area. Large modern office buildings set in beautiful grounds with elegant fountains and water features. The State Capitol building stood at the end of a wide tree lined road like a mini White House. It was very clean, no litter, altogether a prosperous and well-kept city.
Back to the motel for some R and R.
Day 18: Saturday 14 August
Sacramento to San Pablo 79 miles
After a quick breakfast at Perko's across the street, we left Sacramento and headed west on the I 80. There was quite a lot of traffic but no hold ups and we made good time. We stopped at the factory outlets at Vacaville and bought a couple of things. The stores were too numerous over a vast area so we didn't get to see them all. We had some lunch at Chevy's, a Mexican restaurant - Kathryn and I had a healthy salad!
We arrived in the San Pablo area about 2pm and cruised around for a while before going to Mike and Dana's house. It was so good to meet them in the flesh after e-mailing back and forth for so many years. We sat and talked for a couple of hours and then we all piled into Dana's "Blazer" and headed for San Francisco. The closer we got the colder it got. I was glad I was wearing my new "Gap" jeans! We could see the fog out in the bay covering most of the Golden Gate Bridge. Dana parked close to Pier 39 and we walked to that area. It was busy with tourists milling about but it was a happy and exciting atmosphere. The shops were full of souvenirs and T shirts and it was great looking in them. We walked to the end of the Pier and up the steps to "Bubba Gumps Shrimp Restaurant". It was a themed restaurant based on the movie "Forrest Gump" and was a fascinating place. The walls were lined with memorabilia from the movie and some of the costumes worn by the actors were in glass cases. There were "Gumpisms" written on the walls and the movie was playing on TV monitors, with sub-titles. There was no pre-booking, you just turned up and had your name added to a list and hung around until you got called. It was very busy so we had a wait of about an hour, which was fine, we got a drink and stood by the bar and got to know each other a little better. We finally got seated and ordered - shrimp of course! There were probably a dozen or more different shrimp dishes to choose from - all of them sounded good! There were car plates on the table, one blue, which said "Run Forrest Run", which you showed if you didn't need the waiter and one red, which said "Stop Forrest Stop", which indicated you needed something. The system worked well and the service was excellent - the food was pretty good too!
We could see across San Francisco Bay from our table, it was so pretty with all the lights on the bridges lighting up the night. We finished our meal and then wandered back to the car, stopping to look in the shops on the way.
Back to Dana and Mike's, where we chatted some more before going to bed.
Day 19: Sunday 15 August
San Pablo to Petaluma 77 miles
Spent a relaxing morning with Mike and Dana. David got to ride one of Mike's Harley Davidsons, so he was grinning a lot!
We left San Pablo at mid-day and drove across the San Rafael Bridge and down to the Muir Woods area. The road was unbelievable - narrow, steep and twisting. We got to the Muir Woods parking area along with hundreds of other folks. There was just nowhere to park so we carried on down the hill the other side - more twists and turns - and eventually made our way back to the interstate. We could see the sea fog hugging the coast and on the tops of the hills. It looked like a cotton wool blanket.
We headed north and arrived at Petaluma in time for a swim. The pool at the motel was unheated but David and I braved it - Kathryn didn't! We had a nice hour by the pool reading and relaxing and enjoying the afternoon sun. There was a cinema complex across the road so we decided to see a movie that evening. We had an excellent meal at Applebees on the next block - cocktails were half price so David and I both had one - and then walked across to the cinema. We saw a new release, "Bowfinger" starring Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy. It was very funny and we all enjoyed it. David and Kathryn had popcorn, of course!
Back to the motel and a peaceful night.
Day 20: Monday 16 August
San Francisco area 123 miles
We had a fairly lazy start to the day and a latish breakfast at Denny's. After a quick stop at a nearby K-Mart, we drove west to Napa Valley. The Valley looked like the wine growing regions of France - even the houses looked the same!
We went to the Factory Outlets at Napa so that David could get some Timberland shoes then we made our way south back to San Francisco. We drove to the Pier 39 area and found a good place to park for $5 flat rate. It was a bit of a walk to Pier 39, but that was OK. It was quite windy, but the sun was warm. Pier 39 was busy but very pleasant. Kathryn and I checked out all the shops and bought state flags at Alamo flags. We had a quick pizza lunch and just ambled around for a couple of hours. It was interesting to see what had changed since our last visit two years ago and what was the same. The sea lion colony seemed to have grown and all the pontoons were so full that a lot of them were hanging around in the sea.
We left the bay area and drove south via Alamo Square and Steiner Street to see the pretty Victorian houses and then got on the 101 and made our way to San Mateo and the Super 8 motel. The traffic was quite heavy but moving so we made reasonable time and were checked in by 5pm.
We relaxed in our rooms for a while and then went looking for a supermarket and somewhere to eat. After driving for what seemed like miles, we saw a Lucky supermarket with a Lyons Restaurant right next door. We ate first - a mediocre meal - and then bought some drinks and snacks for breakfast before returning to the motel to read, relax and watch TV.
Day 21: Tuesday 17 August
San Francisco 76 miles
We were up reasonably early after a good nights sleep. David and I had both woken in the night and heard a cat miaowing off and on. When I looked out of the window, I saw a small black and white kitten - it didn't look very old so was probably calling for its mother.
The motel provided breakfast so we had tea, coffee, juice and Danish before heading off towards San Francisco. The weather was overcast and cool at 64f. The Interstate was fairly clear so we were back in the city by 10.30am. Parking was a nightmare but we eventually found a meter. Unfortunately, it was a maximum of one hour only. Anyway, we had a quick look round Chinatown and then back to claim the car. We drove up to the Coit Tower and admired the views before driving down to Fisherman's Wharf. We got into a parking lot at Pier 39 and then caught a bus back up to Chinatown. The bus was excellent - only $1 each and the ticket lasted for three hours. There were no tourists on the bus, just locals going about their business.
We found a good place to eat lunch in Chinatown and then Kathryn and I went off to look for T-shirts and other important tourist stuff after arranging to meet up with David at 5pm near the car.
We caught the bus back and walked along the Embarcadero looking in all the tourist junk shops and watched street artists. One of them really scared me by growling and jumping out from behind a bush he was holding. I was looking the other way and didn't see him at all. Kathryn thought it was very funny!
We met David and got the car and then headed out of the City. The road went through Golden Gate Park, which was beautifully laid out in different themed formal gardens. The road was fairly clear - only a small hold up around the airport and we were soon back at the motel. We relaxed for a while before driving to a nearby shopping centre to buy a few last minute things. We ate at a café in the same complex. None of us were very hungry so we ordered soup and a bruschetta starter. The soup was a meal in itself - very thick and hearty.
Back to the motel to sort out the baggage. Hope we can get it all in the cases tomorrow!
Day 22 : Wednesday 18 August
San Mateo - San Francisco Airport - home
The morning was cloudy and cool. David and I had heard the kitten again in the night and when I looked out the window there it was with its mother. A beautiful cat with pale beige markings and a fluffy tail. It reminded me that there were two cats waiting for us back home. Hope they were enjoying their "holiday" in the cattery!
Packing was quite hard. We had far more stuff than when we had arrived. However, we managed to get it all in somehow!
We had breakfast at the motel again and then checked out after packing the car up for the last time. We had several hours to kill before going to the airport. First we headed east over the San Mateo Bridge, a seven mile long structure. The first part was high to let shipping through but most of it was low and flat. We turned the car round and came straight back when we reached the far end. There was a toll coming back but we didn't have to pay because we were a "car pool" i.e. two or more persons. That made David's day!
We headed west to the coast on the other side of the peninsular. There were nice beaches but it was too cold to go on them so we did a circular route and stopped at a K-Mart we had seen on the way. Kathryn and I both bought some make-up - hope the colour is OK when the tan fades! Lunch was at Denny's near K-Mart and then we headed to the airport.
We took the car to Alamo and were all very sad to see it go. The final mileage for the trip was 3581 miles - WOW!
We checked in for our flight and then wandered round the airport shops until it was time to board. The flight home was good and uneventful. The food and staff were excellent - we would definitely fly with United in the future.
Our pre-booked taxi met us at Heathrow. The driver was probably the worst in the UK, but we got home in one piece!
All was well at home. The house was in good order, the garden was blooming, the cats were very pleased to be home and there was a mountain of mail!
This had been one of the best holidays of our lives. There were so many highlights - Mount Rushmore, the rodeo at Cheyenne, Yellowstone, the Salt Flats, and of course, meeting up with Mike and Dana. We shall carry happy memories of the summer of '99 with us for many years to come.