Our last edition of the journal concluded on Friday 22nd August when we were in Mariposa near Yosemite National Park. We had a well earned rest day and prepared for our road trip across the country.
The following day we got an early start and headed over to Kings Canyon and Sequoia national parks. This is where there are Giant Sequoia trees named after two generals - The General Grant tree and the General Sherman tree. The latter being the largest (not tallest) living tree in the world, by volume. This is because of its nearly conical trunk which retains its girth almost to its maximum height of 275 feet. Its trunk weighs in at 1,385 tons and its circumference at the ground is nearly 103 feet. It is estimated to be 2,200 years old.
The main cause of death for a Giant Sequoia is that they just fall over due to their shallow root system and the high winds. The winds being quite strong in the only place they can be found, between 5,000 and 7,000 feet above sea level on the west slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains.
These are truly amazing trees and equally as impressive as the Kauri trees we saw in New Zealand. The Kauri having a larger trunk but they certainly don't grow as tall.
We drove through the National park and Helen had her eyes shut for the steep descent and hairpin bends that we had to negotiate as we left the park - don't worry, Helen wasn't driving! We stayed at a motel in a small town called Three Rivers a few miles from the park gates.
During our travels through USA, we have discovered a TV series that we were aware of but had missed in the UK. We are now huge fans of "The Big Bang Theory".
If you haven't seen it, give it a try. Its so popular in the US that the cast have just negotiated obscene salaries for the next series.
On Sunday we shared the 6 hours of driving, mainly on freeways, leaving California, entering Nevada (3rd state of the trip) and eventually arriving at Las Vegas.
We've been traveling since San Francisco with a GPS that has been as useful as a brick and we've been navigating using the map system on our IPads. When we arrived we managed to change it at the airport car rental office in Vegas. Having played with the GPS we now have a woman called Emily giving us directions in an English accent, this will hopefully make things a little easier.
We settled into our spacious room at The Orleans hotel which is a massive hotel and casino complex. We had visited Las Vegas in 2001 and had a little unfinished business as our stay was only for 1 night and was very rushed. In the evening we caught the hotel shuttle to visit "The Strip" and saw the bright lights and the first of our "must do's" which was the amazing fountain display outside the Bellagio hotel.
We tried to walk the relatively short distance back to our hotel but quickly discovered that the streets off The Strip were not designed for pedestrians so we caught a cab.
On Monday we left the city and went on a scenic drive into the desert and around Red Rock Canyon.This area was very picturesque with multi layered rock outcrops, canyons and rock art.
We relaxed during the heat of the afternoon before heading out to see a show, this was our 2nd "must do". We had decided to see The Blue Man Group at the Monte Carlo hotel on the strip. This was a great show that is extremely quirky and we both found hilarious.
On Tuesday we left Las Vegas and continued our drive east, we shared the 7 hours of driving mainly in rain (we thought that it was a desert - clearly not) as we headed into Arizona. (4th state of the trip).
This was the first significant rain since we had left Florida.
We drove onto the Navajo nation reservation which extends into the states of Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. It covers over 27,000 square miles and is larger than 10 of the 50 states in America, its so large that they have their own time zone and we had to adjust an hour for time difference.
We finished at a hotel in a small town called Kayenta and hoped we had seen the end of the wet weather, ready for our guided tour of Monument valley the next day.
That night we tried the local fried bread which is unleavened and similar to a Nan bread - really delicious.
On Wednesday we were lucky enough to have a change in the weather, the sun returned and we headed across the border into Utah (5th state) for the afternoon. We met our Navajo guide called Don and found we were lucky enough to be the only ones on his tour that afternoon. We had a personal tour of Monument valley which gave us lots of time to take photographs and talk with our guide.
We spent three hours in the back of a truck on a scenic drive through the sandstone rock formations called "Butte's" that have been used in numerous western movies. One magnificent viewpoint is named after John Ford the film director who's use of the area in his films gave filmgoers the impression that this is what the American west looked like. We also went off the usual tourist route to see some petroglyphs. It was great to have the opportunity to speak to a member of the Navajo Nation and to get a better understanding of Navajo culture.
After visiting Monument valley we had decided to head on a southerly route but not before a brief visit to Four Corners, a totally artificial boundary where four states join each other at right angles. This gave us a very brief entry into Colorado, our 6th state (sorry Erik & Hannah, this is as far as we get into your State) and New Mexico, our 7th state. (We had approached from Arizona and Utah the other 2 states at four corners).
We knew to get across the USA and to still see something we would have to include days of just driving and on Thursday this was the case. We continued our drive into New Mexico and stopped at Albuquerque for two reasons. It was about half the driving time to our next destination, Oklahoma City, and second...
It has the longest tramway in North America (Some claim the world!). We took a return journey on the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway which transported us high above deep canyons a distance of 2.7 miles. We were there for sunset on the observation deck at a height of 10,378 feet above sea level. This position on the mountain gave a 11,000 square-mile panoramic view of the Rio Grande Valley. Helen also took the opportunity to (repeatedly) sing the Prefab Sprout track 'The King of Rock 'N Roll' which includes the line 'Hotdog, Jumping Frog, Albuquerque'. Nigel's eyes glazed over at this point.
On Friday we continued our drive to Oklahoma City and our route was mainly on the Interstate (motorway) We entered Texas our 8th state for a short time and this gave Helen another opportunity to sing as we passed though another town - this time it was Tony Christie's 'Amarillo'. Nigel was overjoyed and again his eyes glazed over.
When we hear of Oklahoma (our 9th state) we both think of the song from the film and musical. "OOOOk-lahoma, where the wind comes sweepin' down the plain" etc etc. (finally, time for a duet).
A little more obscurely Nigel thinks of the film " Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" where Steve Martin and Michael Caine play con artists. Steve Martin playing Caine's brother "Rupret" who wears an eye patch and has to have a cork on the end of his fork. To cut a long story short "Rupret" came from Oklahoma.
It's Saturday 30th August and we have a day to explore Oklahoma City, top on the list is the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, which Nigel wants to visit at "Cowboy time". What's Cowboy time we hear some of you say to yourself.
Well it's ten to ten ("ten,to'der ten (pause) to'der ten ten ten")
Its a public holiday in America on Monday which is "Labor day" which has come to be celebrated by most Americans as the symbolic end of the summer. It is celebrated on the first Monday in September and is historically a celebration of the American labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of the workers.
Next week we're going to continue to head south and east as we continue our journey driving across the USA.