Travel Diary

Day 1

It was time to take advantage of my US$ 1000 flight voucher from my last trip abroad, so here I found myself at the airport again, jumping onto a United plane. Destination Los Angeles. 13 Hours later we touched down with the softest landing I have ever had. It was very foggy. Could hardly see the wing. So how could the pilot see the ground? (I would rather not think about that one)
Through immigration and customs without the usual 20 questions and third degree. As I arrived at the carousel my bag was already there. Called the hotel for the shuttle bus and they said that one was already on its way. It turned up 3 minutes later. Have I got this travelling thing down pat or what. Then with the arvo to kill I booked a half-day city tour, and the Magic Mountain tour for the next day.
They finally turned up and I went to see the sights. We stopped off at Fisherman's Village at Marina Del Ray, Venice beach, saw lots of nice roofs as we drive through The Ritzy area of Beverley Hills. Drove down through West Hollywood and Sunset Strip. Also stopped at Manns Chinese Theatre and studied the famous hand prints in the cement. Looked at a few stars on the walk of fame. We finished the tour and headed back to the hotel via downtown. We passed the Staple Centre, home of the LA Kings (ice hockey side). There was a game on, Bugger. Information that would have been useful before hand. Oh well.

Day 2

Today was one I had been looking forward to for quite a while. I was going back to Six Flags - Magic Mountain to tame those roller coasters. So I went out to the foyer for a 9:10 pickup. 15 Minutes later no-one had turned up so I asked to dude what gives. He said that they had turned up and they could not find me. Well if was any closer they would have tripped over me. Obviously they did not look very hard.
So there I was up that most famous creek without a paddle. Now that I missed the tour I had to quickly devise a plan B. The light went on straight away. Hire a car and drive out there. (obviously I was not thinking straight, hire a car in LA) I walked over to the desk to get a car. They had one waiting so they drove me over to the depot and I filled out all the required forms and signed my life away in blood. The dude drew a very vague mud map that could have got me to Vegas as well and sent me on my way. Well I did not get lost and made it to Magic Mountain.. Ironically it was cheaper to hire the car and buy the ticket than the price of the tour.
The amusement park was fully decked out in her Halloween dress. Spiders, cobwebs and pumpkins everywhere. The place was also packed to the rafters. At least 45 minutes to line up for a ride. The favourite of the day was riddlers revenge. A stand up coaster that goes upside down 6 times and pulls a maximum of 4.5 G. Boy now that was an experience. Trying to keep the legs straight was a task indeed. I also went on all the other high speed, high G Force coasters for my adrenilin fix. It was a good day, but way too many people.
So then came the hard part. Finding the car in the carpark. Luckily they write the number plate on the key ring. Then for my next challenge, getting the car back to the hotel. It was easy on the way up, I just followed the signs to Magic Mountain. No signs back to the Hacienda Hotel. In the end not one U-Turn was required and the force got me home safely. Then I relaxed and waited for the trek Howdy. With my room mate Wouter we rocked on down to discover that we were the only guys on the tour, Bummer. It was a full tour of 13. We went down to this little place to eat dinner and get acquainted. It was a good night. Had a few beer and plenty of laughs. Looked like being yet another great trek.

Day 3

Well today was a very long introduction to the van. We were to drive from Los Angeles out through California, Nevada a bit of Arizona and finally into Utah. Our destination was Zion National Park. We stopped at a local Wal-Mart to do some shopping for a warmer set of clothes as the call was that it was going to get cold, very cold. As you would expect travelling through 4 states in one day the scenery changed quite a bit. From the Urban slums of L.A to the deserts of Nevada with all the Joshua trees and the red rocks of Utah.
We got to camp and set up our gear after an introduction to the equipment. As we were setting up the tents I looked up and saw one of my other trek leaders, Jason Clark from the Westerner 2. How cool, small world eh ? Well not really. As we were cooking dinner it started to rain, so upwent the rain tarp nice and quickly. Apparently we were really lucky. It hardly ever rains at Zion.

Day 4

Today we had the day to explore Zion Canyon. So after showering (only had a token for an 8 minute shower) so you hurry up because you don't want to run out of water, then find you still have 4 minutes of time left. We went to the visitors centre and looked around. Forecast did not look good, thunderstorms. We all jumped on the park shuttle up to "The Grotto", which was the stop that we would start our first of many hikes from. We were doing the Angels landing hike. The hike was about a five mile round trip, climbing up a massive chunk of rock and if I remember correctly a climb of about 13oo feet ? So we climbed up and up, past Wally's Wobbles and finally got up to one of the landings.
Even this view was quite spectacular. After a short break we made our way to Scotts landing, which involved a few dicey moments where you have to hang onto a chain to get along the trail. Why a chain, because there is a huge drop if you slip. There we were at Scotts landing. Very nice view, but nowhere near the end. After a fair deal of umming and ahhing we decided to take on Angels Landing. It was a fairly tough climb up with a lot more chains and some parts that looked like they were designed for rock climbers. But the view from the top was well worth the climb and I had a great feeling of achievement. Now the hard part, getting back down. It was just as tough, if not tougher getting down, maybe because you are always looking down and you see how high you really are, and how fall you would fall.
We decided to do the riverwalk hike to see the narrows, which involved us getting back on the bus and up to the "Temple of Sinawava". The hike followed the river (I bet you never guessed that) and was nice and flat, a mile (1.6km for you metric dudes) each way. We got up to the end of the trail which was defined by the river itself. So off came the boots and across we went. The water was nice and chilly. The problem was that we put our shoes back on after crossing the river. As the trail went straight back into the river just around the bend. We decided to turn back as it was a bit hard on the feet in the cold water. Back on the right side of the river putting the boots back on and the weather let us know who was boss. The wind came up and it stared to chuck it down. We had to walk a mile back to the bus in the pouring rain. Needless to say we looked like drown rats.
Back in the shuttle bus, to the cafe outside our campground. That was one of the nicest coffees I have ever had. After drying off and eating a good feed we went down to watch an Imax movie on Zion and the surrounds of the southwest. It was awesome and winter time looked great. Will have to come back for that : )

Day 5

Today it was back into the van and off to Bryce Canyon. We drove through the rest of Zion NP, through a mile long tunnel. The scenery on the other side of the tunnel was cool. The fall colours were a bit more predominant. I even fluked a photo getting a bright red tree. We even came across a heard of Buffalo, so out we jumped. Click, click. Wouter snagged a photo of Buffalos doing what buffalos do : ) As we got closer to Bryce we could see snow covered mountains in the distance and by the time we stopped just outside the park here was a lot of snow around. So that early call for cold weather clothing looked a good one. As we drove into the park it was snowing.
We arrived at Sunset point (8000ft) to a carpet of snow. It was cool, and of course snow balls were thrown. The view of Bryce canyon was absolutely breathtaking. One of the most beautiful places I had seen. Then back into the van up to Bryce point (8500ft). We were going to hike back 5 miles to Sunset point through the canyon. It was snowing pretty heavy when we started. The trail was real muddy and pretty slippery, although no one took a tumble. The view along the way was indescribable. Every corner you turned took your breath away. We all took lots, no tonnes of photos, including the infamous "horse shit" photos. The rock formations and colours were an orgasm for the eyes. Mother nature at her best. So 3 hours 15 minutes later we were back at Sunset point after having way too much fun on the hike. We piled back in the van after all cleaning our boots, pity the poor van cleaners : )
Now we were off to our next stop, Boulder Mountain ranch. In the middle of nowhere in Utah. The group had 3 cabins. So us two guys got downstairs in one and 4 girls got the little attic above us. At least we did not hit our heads on the roof. We ate a beautiful home cooked meal in the main house and chilled with another group. Then back to the cabin, got the fire going and we decided to sit outside and watch the stars. It was a wonderful clear nite and there were many a star out to play. As we sat every now and then we would hear an "Ahhhhh" as a shooting star streaked across the sky. We saw many, many shooting stars that night. It was incredible. Guess what, it was also cold. We went to get some cups from under the tarp. We got up there and the tarp was nice and stiff, covered in ice.

Day 6

Woke to a beautiful day. Walked outside to a scene of absolute beauty. The frost was very thick and made the place look as cold as it was. The white of the frost complimented the colours of fall in the trees. There were even ice crystals in the puddles on the ground. After yet another great meal the main activity for the day was horse riding. Now I had in the past said that my one experience was enough for a lifetime. But you know the old saying of getting back on a horse. So I ended up with a nice horse named Rico. He was fairly well behaved and did not like going fast, even when I politely asked. This suited me. The ride/walk was great, going through the bush and around canyons. A few hairy moments going up and down rocks, but at least I did not want to king hit this horse when I got off. After lunch most of the group went out again for another ride, but as certain parts of the anatomy were not really impressed with that idea. I gave it a miss and chilled out.
Got to watch them driving a heard of cattle from across the paddock, so that was cool. More chilling in the main house until bed time, when someone put a bit too much wood on the fire in the cabin, oops : ) I am sure that even the walls were starting to sweat. But it was easy to cool down, just step outside. Which I did to the others entertainment.

Day 7

This morning we woke and found that the frost had not visited again. We had another feast of country style breakfast and loaded the van. Our next destination was Moab, still in Utah (land of the 3.2% beer). We stopped in an area on Boulder mountain to frolic in the snow and take some photos. Again warm clothing was appreciated. We were lucky to find a clear spot as visibility for most of the trip over the mountain was very poor. We cruised through the capital reef N.P and stopped for more photos. The rocks were very red. We took another little stop to look at some Indian petroglyphs. Not the most artistic of drawings but, they were very interesting and had been around a while.
So back in the luxurious van utill our next little side stop. This time we were going to see an arch. We parked at this place next to the railway and the Colorado river (it was like being in a western movie). Then we walked a way up a path until we got to Corona and Bow Tie arch. The place had an enormous echo, echo, echo....echo. It was better to yell into the wall then to shout directly at someone. We were also treated to a show when the sunlight hit Corona arch and it lit up beautifully.
We finally made it to our camp site. Ahh Grass, apparently the best piece of grass in the Southwest. So after setting up the tents a game of soccer was called for. Well I got to say that there were no Maradonas playing today. But it was a heap of fun and only a few bruises. Dinner was consumed, as was a greater portion of a bottle of Gentleman Jack. At least I was not the only one to hit the turps in a big way. Can't say that I remember all of what went on that night, but I guess I had fun. In the end four of us ended up sleeping out under the stars of a Utah sky.

Day 8

Woke up the next morning and I must say that I felt less then fit, but at least there was a reason for it. Today we were going to get real active and go on a nice long mountain bike ride. We rocked up to the bike place and were driven up to the top of the Gemini Bridges trail and after receiving our bikes, were given a few pointers on how to and how not to ride to ensure that no one ate any dust. The bike had front suspension and were a shit load of fun to ride. I gotta get me one of these : )
The ride was mostly dirt track with a bit of technical stuff. When the weight was distributed properly, we could easily tame parts of the trails that we thought were no go zones. We stopped at a place called Gemini bridges. It is two bridges side by side (as if you would not have guessed that) It also over looked a nice valley and had us all standing unknowingly on a huge overhang. We continued on down the road. By the end I had a sore butt and was buggered, but that is what I get for taking on the Gentleman.
Spent some time after lunch cruising the town and doing some emailing. Then we went up to a place called dead horse point to check out the view and have some tucker. It looked out over CanyonLands National Park and was very impressive. The lighting of the low sun made the shapes of the canyon really stand out as the snow covered La Sals mountains were in the background. We stayed up there to cook Chilli Dogs (Yum) and it got real cold, real quick up there. At least the dogs kept us warm.

Day 9

Got up and did my washing and somehow managed to wash and dry and watch. Needless to say it has not worked since. Today our plans were to go and suss out most of the arches in Arches National Park. Well, what else would you expect to see. First we went to see Turret arch and north and south window. Then we crossed the road passed the parade of elephants (stopped for 10 minutes to point it out to Kati) then on to Double arch. It was absolutely huge. We then bundied up to Devils Garden for lunch. It was freezing, so I suppose it was the closest I have seen to a cold day in hell.
NEXT !!!. It was a hike up to Double O arch. Double O is two O shaped holes, a small one below a large one. On the way we passed Landscape arch, which has a span of some 97 meters. Passed yet another arch, Wall arch and continued up the path. We finally made it the Double O, quite a nice and interesting view. Passed some fairly interesting rock formations on the way. Allot of walking on slick rock.
Then we travelled to our final hike for the day. We were going to see the so called most popular arch, Delicate arch. We also timed it so we would see the sunset while we were up there. So it was and 1.5 mile hike up (up being appropriate word) to the arch. As it was a scattered cloudy kind of day walking up was spectacular. Seeing the scattered rays of the fading sun peering through the clouds into the valley that was tainted with the colours of fall. So we got up to the arch and sat around. Waiting for the sun to peek through the clouds. We waited a while and as the sun was about to got down behind the mountains, we were greeted with a most wonderful glow of the arch as the sun hit it. It was a colour and sight that no photo could catch or words could ever describe. Now the fun part, a 2.5 km hike/run back down in fading light. We got back down and guess what, it was dark. In the end we hiked for about 9 miles and were sort of all arched out.

Day 10

We got off to an early start today to head of to Colorado to get to Mesa Verdi early, so we could get tickets to a ranger guided tour. We drove through the park, which had recently been the victim of a rather large wild fire. Some sections of the park were closed. Although we were lucky enough to see some wild life, Wild Turkeys, no not the drink but that would have been nice as well. We got there quick enough and had some time to spare. So we checked out the museum and Spruce Tree ruins. It was really cool. We were able to go down into a Kiva, an underground ceremony room that just has a small access hole in the roof. It was kinda eerie, but very interesting. The ruins were still in fairly good shape. If I built a house, it definitely would not look that good in 1000 years. As usual it was very cold, but we should have been getting used to that by now.
After lunch we had our ranger guided tour of Cliff house ruins, the largest ruins in the park. The guide was excellent and very informative. Telling us about the Indian culture and their beliefs about life and where it came from. His stories stirred deep thought and contemplation. I can tell you that I walked away having a total different view of the Indian ways.
Due to the cold weather and the fact that it was not going to get any warmer. The call was made to go the cabins. We had to eat dinner out side and that was cold enough. We played volley ball (real smart in freezing conditions) in this paddock, which had obviously been used by some cows. So we had to ensure that we dodged all of that evidence though the game. Luckily no one had a close encounter of the turd kind. We chilled for the evening, watching videos in the hall and the odd game of foosball. How could I be winning 4-0 and loose 5-4. Nice comeback Wouter.

Day 11

Yet another early start, this time off to Monument Valley. As we were coming into the area we had to stop at a real famous bit of road. The place that Forrest finally stopped running. So we did the tacky tourist thing, out with the cameras. We then stopped at a little market area with many little Indian artefact stalls. I bought some Dream catches and some bracelets. We got to the visitors centre, which gave us a great view of the valley, in particular the Mittens and Butte Mesa.
We payed our cash and jumped on the back of a jeep for our valley tour, with a Naveho guide. James kindly lent out some of his warm stuff, this becomes very important later on : ) Our guide took us around the valley, stopping several times to point out the highlights. We stopped at a Hogan, a native Indian dwelling. We saw both the male and female versions and learnt the reasons and uses for both. We went inside and meet a famous Indian rug maker. It was a bit surreal, but yet another learning experience. We stopped at a place called the Suns Eye, where he showed us some petroglyphs and performed a Pow Wow, with his musical instruments that he bought. It was a very moving occasion, especially coupled with the things that I had learnt in the previous days. By the time we had finished this, the sun had gone down and was getting cold. as we drove back to the camp, the jeep had an open back. It got colder and colder. Then when we thought it was as cold as it could get. It actually got colder. We all huddled up together and this is where James warm clothes surly saved certain parts of mine and Wouters bodies. If you have not guessed it was so cold we thought we were not going to make it.
Back at the hall we met the others and defrosted over dinner and some much cherished tea. After dinner we were treated to some native dancing which was interesting. As the weather was cold and wet we chose to go some indoor accommodation again. So a Naveho guide took us down to our accommodation for the night. It was very dark and I had no idea where we were. It ended up being a very large Hogan. As there was not too much to do we decorated the van for Halloween celebrations after unsuccessfully looking for a loo in the dark. We chilled out in the van and had a few drinks. The weather had turned sour and it was pissing down. Toilet breaks turned into a shower. This was a close to a shower as we were going to get here (no facilities here), but fun was had.

Day 12

We woke and walked outside to find that we were actually sleeping in the middle of the valley. The views were priceless and will not be forgotten in a long time. The tops of the formations were sprinkled in snow, which really put the icing on the cake, so to speak. The sun was out and lit up the mesas in stunning colours. Pancakes for breaky and we finally found the toilet, (if you could call it that. A hole in the ground and a seat). We packed the van and unwantingly said farewell to the Hogan. We got back up to the visitors centre, which was next to our campground. Good call the Hogan was as we would have got well and truly covered in snow. So as usual when there is snow around, balls get thrown. James was kind enough to act as a target.
Then it was time to head off to Canyon De Chelly. We arrived at the visitors centre and some of us huddled around the fire. We watched a video and the went to our camp site. We found that we were again without showers. Well at least we would all stink together. We set up camp and went off to the Canyon for a small hike into the canyon. As we were half way down it started to snow on us again. I love hiking in the snow : ) No, actually I do like it. We walked across the canyon floor to some more ruins. The White House Ruins. It was pretty cool as the walls of the canyon added to the spectacular, not as good as Mesa Verdi. But the canyon was a spectacular sight on its own. It snowed again on the way up. We took a drive around and stopped to look at spider rock in a different part of the canyon. We could also see allot more of the smaller cliff dwellings.
It was our turn to cook so we made Aussie burgers (with Beetroot). Cooking in the freezing cold was less than fun. We needed to warm up so we played some frisby in the dark (another smart move with cold hands). As it was Halloween, Zuzana and Kati carved out the pumpkin we had bought. It looked pretty cool in the end. Ended up with four in the tent due to extreme cold. As we were about to go to bed it started snowing real hard. No cabins to save us tonight. I was so glad I got a new warmer sleeping bag for this trek.

Day 13

Woke up and the water on the tent was not just water, but ice. Must have been cold eh ? A quick wash of the hands and face with cold water in the basin was an exhilarating experience. I was certainly awake after that and feeling real alive. We got in the van and drove through the Hopi reservation. We were going to the big hole in the ground. The famous Grand Canyon.
We arrived at the Eastern entrance and on to Desert View. It has a very nice watchtower there that overlook the canyon. The view was grand indeed. The snow on the ground added to the scene. And yes it is definitely a big hole, deep to. Then we took off to Tusyan, a little town just outside the Grand Canyon National Park. The question of tent or hotel was asked. In the end it did not really matter as the campgrounds were closed for the winter. Bummer, looks like a hotel for the rest of the trek.
Now it was off to the airport to do the scenic flight over the Grand Canyon. Even though I had done this before I thought that I could not pass up the chance to see this marvellous place from the air again. It was like I was flying over a different place. The north rim and surrounds were covered in loads of snow. The contrast from the snow and the reds and browns of the canyon were unbelievable. Many photos were taken and the breath was taken many times at the spectacular views. The sun was low so the shadows that were cast were long and seemed to extenuate the canyons contours. The flight seemed to be over really quick, Well you know what they say about time flying when your having fun. I could have spent hours in the air and it would not have been enough.
We had our hotel, but the most important thing to us was a shower. Ahhhh, the feel to be clean. It was a most relieving experience. We cooked dinner outside the front of the hotel. As we were almost used to now, it was cold. It was almost painful cutting up the chicken in the fridge like conditions. After dinner we just chilled out and watched a bit of TV, ice hockey if I remember correctly.

Day 14

Got up to "sphincters and milk", a charming analogy from someone, (guess who) for cheerios. But when you look at them........ Today was our hiking day in the Grand Canyon. We decided to take on the Bright angel trail and planned to go down to Plateau point. This is the same hike that I did in the westerner 2, so I knew what we were getting ourselves in for, so why did I say yes ?
It was a 20 km round trip. Descending 1 km in altitude and them coming back up again. The top of the trail had a bit of snow and ice. but the rest of the trail was fairly wet. Wether it was from rain or the countless donkeys that rode the trail, I did not really want to know. I think it was a bit of both. The size of the place was a lot bigger than I remember. I suppose it is hard to believe something could be so big in your memory. We got down to the point and had a little bit of a party and a bite to eat. The views were well worth the walk. Now for the fun part getting our sorry asses out of the canyon. Well I did it a bit tough in the later stages of the climb, but I only had myself to blame as I ate no where near the amount that I should have. You would have though I would have learnt that by now. But as I am sitting here typing this you can guess that I made it out. We sat around and waited for the shuttle to front up. We made it back to the van a little late, oops.
We jumped in the van and drove off to an area of the canyon to watch the sunset. It was real cold and I was caught out in shorts again. As we were dodging the five hundred tourists we spotted a bald eagle flying across the canyon. I had left my large lens in the van. Poor form, no lens and shorts. But we did see a couple of elk. We went to see the Imax about the canyon and then all went to the pizza place for dinner. 4 were ordered and quickly inhaled by the hungry hikers. So a 5th was ordered and dispatched along the same path. A few drinks and more chilling out after a long day before bed.

Day 15

The song for today was viva Las Vegas. We got off to a pretty early start. We made an unexpected little detour to a little shop on the old historic route 66. The dudes were characters and the place was chokers full of charm. It was very refreshing. We stopped at Hoover Dam as well. This dam is huge, and gets fairly crowded to. One thing I must say is that the rest rooms on the dam itself were very neat and tidy. Some of us even got to feed the fish.
We made it to the hotel and went to our rooms for a little rest. This was of course after being flashed by someone when I was in the carpark getting my bags. Time to hit the town. We rocked on down to the Luxor, where we had a famous Vegas buffet. The only problem was I could only take on the one plate full. Shame shame. But the desert was heavenly. We went up to Freemont street the see the light show. A large area with lights in the roof. The show was fairly interesting, but the lights and scenery just oozed Vegas.
So after that was over we cruised the Strip and got out at Treasure Island. We watched the Pirate show, then the Volcano erupt at the mirage. The singing fountain and walked past the Eiffel Tower and many other famous casinos down to New York, New York (only in Vegas). Walked across the Brooklyn bridge (maybe one day I will walk across the real one : )) and saw the old girl holding up her torch. After walking some more and drooling over some nice cars for hire We settled on a casino and played the slots. It is great having drinks delivered for "free" playing the machines. After a while I was a wee tipsy on my J.D's and a bit lighter in the pocket. But that is what Vegas is all about. Loosing money and having a load of fun. We walked back to the hotel and hit the sack at about 3:30.

Day 16

Made it down to the van for a 9:00 departure, only just. Today was to be our final day in the wan. It was a fairly long day in the wan as well. Our destination was LA. We did stop for lunch to get a last chance of fresh air. Wouter and I nearly choked when Liddy went mad with the mustard. Some looks are just priceless : )
We hit LA and it was the clearest I have ever seen it. It was like a normal city. We did the Manns Chinese theatre thing. As I had been here two weeks before hand and had more important issues to deal with I went in search for a rest room, and found one !! We then drove up to Mulholand drive and stopped at the overlook. It was impressive as you could se for miles and miles. You could even see the ocean, Ahh the Pacific. We said our thanks to James for a wonderful and fun trek. Then for the worse part of the trek, we dropped Sally and Lid off at a their hostel before returning to the Hacienda.
Most of us went to dinner at the restaurant were it all began. As time went by we said our farewells to people as they went on their way. It was definitely the saddest part of the trek. Saying farewell to good friends and great people. By 9:00 they were all gone bar two. That was a very quick end to a great trek. So the two of us sat down and relaxed to a bottle of wine before calling it a night.

Day 17

Today was more or less a recovery day from the trek, to relax and recharge the batteries a bit. We had lunch and went for a walk down to LAX to get some of that lovely LA air in our lungs. Got to love the taste of Carbon Monoxide. We sat down to a late arvo drink of some good Australian Chardonnay in the courtyard. The thought of staying a bit longer and travelling with Zuz had been in my mind and at that point I decided to give it a go. So I jumped on the phone and made a few phone calls and about 45 minutes later my travel plans had made a severe turn to the north east. And the rest is History. To see what happened next you will have to go Here.

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