Saturday, March 19, 2011

Death Valley and Vegas

The road to Death Valley gave me chills, not because of where we were, but because of the blowing winds literally attacking our RV.  The usual road to the park was closed because the winds were too strong for anyone like Rv’s or trucks.  We saw one truck overturned.  So we decided to take an alternative road only to find out the authorities probably didn’t have time to shut that one down.  It was bloody scary!  A stressful drive along a desert highway with winds and gusts of winds ready to make you tip over!  Boyan was a champ driving through it.  Sophie and I were safely buckled down in the back waiting for him to get us into the mountains to find some shelter.   Another steep drive over a mountain range to then drop below sea level into Death Valley!  When we got there, there was still a lot of wind and because our first stop was near sand dunes, there were sandstorms around us.  Made for a unusual eerie scenery.  We slept the night at the campground, which felt more like a parking lot in total darkness since we were in the desert.
The next day we walked in Mosaic Canyon, a beautiful canyon made of polished granite and went hiking in the sand dunes.  A lot of fun, but quite the workout!  The weather was gorgeous with a high of 26 degrees.  It is after all the hottest place on earth.  Summer is deadly over there. The following day we changed campsites and went further south to Furnace Creek where even more gorgeous views awaited.  Death Valley has a nasty name, but truly is beautiful.  A whole new scene unravels just by driving a few miles.  With every turn, the unexpected is revealed.  We spent two more nights there and headed out to Vegas!

Two days of walking up and down the strip in Vegas.  We were pooped at every end of day.  I would have loved to been able to party a little, but with Sophie it wasn’t possible.  Still the second night there, we treated ourselves to a delicious dinner at the Aria Hotel.  A brand new hotel with all the fixin’s.  We hit the buffet.  I tasted crab legs for the first time.   Imagine a mountain of Alaskan crab legs just waiting to be eaten.  We also had lobster and ate way too much of everything else they were offering.  But oh boy was it worth it. Wine, à volonté too!  We watched three rounds of the fountain show at the Bellagio and walked the strip at night.  Sophie partied as best she could before passing out!  A trooper!
On our way out of Vegas, we stopped at Hoover dam.  A marvel of engineering and drove east to Sedona.

Heading back east


We start this last stretch of our trip by driving to Yosemite National Park.  The drive is just beautiful.  Rolling hills of green pasture, cows munching away and blue skies to cheer us up.  Once again, we push our RV up the winding road before making our way back down to Yosemite Valley.  Awestruck!  This park has to be the most beautiful thing we’ve seen so far.  How nature can produce such marvels is beyond me.  Every turn of the road reveals an even more beautiful façade of the mountains sprinkled with waterfalls and lush pines.  It is cold in Yosemite at this time of year so there’s snow on the ground, but it makes for even more spectacular views because you can see the contrasts of the rock on the mountains. Plus it’s nice to be RV’ing in the wilderness when you can cuddle up inside where it’s warm.  We got to the campground by the end of the day so we only had time for a little hike to see some nearby waterfalls and meadow.

The next day we went on a long hike up the mountain to halfway up the waterfall.  Couldn’t go any further cause the trail was snowed in.   Had lunch and came back down.   The sun was nice and warm so we couldn’t feel the cold.  Drove around a little to go see Tunnel View.  It’s a view you get as you come out of a tunnel, which gives on to the whole valley.  You could stay there and gaze out at the scenery for hours.  It’s so big that it makes you realize how small and fragile we are.  Came back home for a nice rewarding meal.  On our last day in Yosemite, we drove to Mariposa grove where Sequoia trees grow.  One can only be impressed by the magnitude of these beauties.  Thousands of years old and standing so proud.  We’ll get to see more of these in Sequoia National Park, but this was a nice preview.

Sequoia National Park

A winding drive again, but the trees didn’t disappoint!  We saw the world’s largest tree named General Sherman.  Now that’s a tree!  The pictures don’t do them justice.  They are so majestic and serene.  You know they’ll be there way after my children or grand-children have passed.  We truly enjoyed our day amongst the sequoias.  At least for me, I can say that they brought me a real sense of peace.  I took the time to relish in the moment, knowing that I’ll probably never see them again.

Up the west coast

 Back up the coast we went.  We stopped for the day in Santa Barbara.  A charming little city, very quaint.  Boyan hurt his knee while in San Diego so our walks are a little shorter and less strenuous.  But still we got to visit the place.  Overlooking the ocean, the houses are gorgeous and downtown has full of cute shops.  We also were there during a farmer’s market, which is a nice place to wonder around and look at all the yummy food.

We left Santa Barbara to head for Big Sur.  A winding road along the water with the mountain on the other side.  A little nerve-racking with our big RV.  The road brought us up and up.  It felt like we were never going to get to the top.  Plus it was incredibly windy which made me stress out even more!  Boyan kept on stopping to take pictures, but I just wanted to get out of there!


On the way back down we found a nice spot to spend the night.  It was quiet, overlooking the water and pitch black!  What a difference with our usual parking-lot parking!  We were joined by a lovely French couple who obviously hadn’t spoken French to anyone in a long time and really needed some bonding time!  The next day we went to Big Sur and hiked a little bit before arriving in Monterey where we visited an aquarium. Back along the coast then finally arrived in San Francisco!

Much fun was had in SF!  The roads are crazy fun to drive on.  A very nice city with all sorts of different things to see.  We went to visit Alcatraz, drove over the Golden Gate Bridge, went to Fisherman’s Warf, Pacific Heights, …  Boyan has a friend who lives there so we spent a day with him.  In all, a delightful place to visit. 

We also went for a day to Napa Valley for some wine tasting.  Beautiful scenery everywhere you look.  Again not easy to do some wine tasting when you have a baby, but we found a family friendly place that didn’t seem to mind her crawling around.

Monday, March 7, 2011

San Diego

After our fourth flat tire of our trip, we drove down to Encinitas near San Diego to visit my cousin Paul and his wife Joanne and baby Ava!  It was so nice to see familiar faces. Not that Boyan anSophie aren’t great, but we don’t talk to many other people on this trip so when someone from home is there to share some good times, it makes for a wonderfully good time!  The best part was to see Sophie and Ava play with each other.  Sophie absolutely loves other children, especially babies.  So she was just thrilled to have Ava.  Ava, on the other hand, wasn’t as excited about seeing Sophie!  Sophie would hug Ava or climb on her, which wasn’t always welcome, but they found a way to make it work and figure each other out!  It was delightful to see them.

We went for a little hike along the beach, ate Jo’s famous fish tacos, discovered San Diego, strolled in Balboa Park, visited the USS Midway (aircraft carrier),ate more of Jo’s awesome cooking, had Paul’s sourdough pancakes, had Boyan’s crepes, hung out in the Jacuzzi tub and talked around a fire in their backyard.  An awesome visit that helped us, or at least me, replenish for the last remaining month of our trip.

Los Angeles

It was off to L.A. afterwards.  As soon as we stared driving, the scenery started changing.  Grass was replacing the desert sand and trees started showing up.  And the LA takes over quickly. First the suburbs and then the never ending city.  Sprawled all over the place.  You can’t see the city limits!
Our first afternoon there, we spent a lot of time looking where to park our beast.  LA is not RV friendly, nor are the drivers may I say. People are stressed here on the streets.  No mercy!  We finally found ourselves in the far suburbs in the north-west, above Santa Monica and Malibu.  So we went to Malibu beach.  Odd, one day we are wearing winter coats in the mountain and the next we’re in shorts and t-shirts!    Saw some surfers in the late afternoon sun catching some waves. We walked a little along the beach admiring all the beautiful beach villas.  Tried to find Charlie and Allen from Two and Half Men, but to no avail!  So we headed back home though the Malibu hills.  There we discovered that we were parked next to Trader Joe’s!!!  What is Trader Joe’s you may ask?  Well it’s the best grocery store in the whole entire world!  (thanks Paul and Jo).  All sort of natural foods at cheap prices.  We got ourselves some readymade dinners and had a delicious meal! 

The next five days, we visited LA with all its glory.  Hollywood, Rodeo Drive, Beverley Hill, Belair, Santa Monica, Venice Beach, Getti Museum, Griffith Park Observatory, Hollywood sign, Mulholland Drive, … We really enjoyed ourselves.  Plus the weather was cooperating so it made for a nice visit.
Playing with Dad on Malibu Beach
Super Diva

Joshua Tree National Park and Palm Springs

What a state!  No wonder so many people live in California.  You really have it all, mountains, beaches, urban living, nice weather.

We started out our Californian adventure at Joshua Tree National park.  Odd looking trees in the middle of a desert where huge boulders make up the landscape. Higher up in altitude, we had to dress up more than what we were expecting for California.  The scenery was unreal. It felt like we were on another planet sometimes! The park is so large, that we did quite a bit of driving to see the most that we could.  We did manage to do a couple of one-hour hikes.

Right next door to the park, there’s Palm Springs.  We didn’t do much then drive around in the city, but we did take the aerial tram all the way up to Mount San Jacinto.  I really enjoyed myself.  After a dizzying ride up, we got to go on a wonderful hike.  Normally people go in the summer where the trails are properly indicated, but because there was snow on the ground we were on and off the trail all the time which made for much more interesting views and discoveries.  The temperature was just above zero with loads of sun.  Nothing better for some mountain exercise!  The views were breathtaking and made us feel like we were all alone.  Which we were more or less since not that many other people actually leave the tram area.