U.S.A. "Big Circle" - June / July 2008

Below you will find a long list of pictures, taken on our trip through many of the National Parks located near the west coast of the U.S.A.. This route is commonly called the "Big Circle". We were there from June 14 to July 13 2008.
The most interesting images will have a red bullet in front of them. In a hurry? Just want to see the pictures? Check out the slide show.
The days we were walking we kept track of how much time we spent walking. This is excluding the time for breaks.

June 14: Home - San Francisco

We had a direct flight from Amsterdan to San Francisco. After we picked up our car (a PT Cruiser) and drove downtown. We arrived at our hotel (Hayes Valley Inn) around 3.15pm. After dropping our belongings we went to Pier 39 / Fisherman's Wharf. From there we had a nice view of Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge (partly hidden in the fog of course) and the Sea Lions. We strolled along the shore and had a couple of Mojitos and a nice dinner at Cioppino's. Because of the diffence in time zones, it felt already like 6am when we went to bed at 9pm...

June 15: San Francisco and Napa and Sonoma Valley

After breakfast in the cosy breakfast room at the hotel we headed for the vineyards around 9.30. We drove via the Bay Bridge and Highway 80 and 29 to Napa. The latter part of the route there were vineyards on both sides. We took the Silverado Trail via Oakville and Rutherford to Sonoma. We bought lunch at the Sonoma Cheese Factory and ate it in the park next to city hall. After lunch we drove to the Buena Vista Carneros Winery for a wine tasting. We had 4 wines for 5US$ per person. Very nice! We stopped to take a picture at the Larson Family Winery and then we headed back in the direction of San Francisco (Highway 37 and 101). Naturally we took the scenic route on our right side to get some good views of the Golden Gate Bridge (on a previous visit I had noticed that around 3pm the bridge was much more visible than during the morning hours and this proved to be the case this day too). Driving into the city we had planned to drive down Lombard Street, but we were not the only ones - there was a huge line so we decided to do this on the 17th. After a shower and tea at our hotel, we did some shopping at Macy's and the Levi's Store. The prices of a pair of Levis's were something like 20-30% compared to the Netherlands... We had drinks (Belgian Beer!) at The Irish Bank.

June 16: San Franciso and Alcatraz

During breakfast we received two tickets for the "open top sightseeing bus" from a friendly couple. The bus (we started at City Hall) took us past the "six sister houses", Golden Gate Park, the Golden Gate Bridge, Coit Tower, the Transamerica Pyramid, Dragon's Gate in Chinatown and Union Square where we hopped off. We had scones for lunch at Macy's did some more shopping and then went back to the hotel. We planned the route for the next day and then headed for Pier 39. After an early dinner at Wipeout, well known for the funny signs. We slowly walked to Pier 33 to take the boat to Alcatraz for the night tour. Fortunately we had bought our tickets via the official website as it was vey busy and tickets were sold out for the next two days (which seems to be quite normal!). We took the audio tour through the cell blocks and strolled around the island for a while. We took the boat back around 9.30pm.

June 17: San Francisco to Yosemite NP / Oakhurst

After packing our stuff and checking out we said goodbye to San Francisco, but on the way out we drove down Lombard street where we now were one of the few people. On the way to Yosemite we stopped for gas in Groveland. Gas prices were already higher than in San Francisco. We lunched at the "Rim of the world vista point" and then drove on to the "Big Oak flat entrance" where we bought a pass that gives access to all National Parks for a full year. We took a walk to Merced Grove where we saw the first Sequioas. Driving further into Yosemity we stopped to enjoy the views of El Capitan, the Half Dome, Glacier Point and the Bridal Falls. We left the park via the South Entrance and drove to Oakhurst where we would spend three nights. After a shower we planned the trips inside Yosemite NP for the next two days.

June 18: Yosemite NP

Via the South Entrance we headed for Yosemite Village. On the way a black bear crossed the road just in front of our car! At the Wilderness Center we bought a hiking map. We parked the car at Happy Isles where we first went for Vernal Fall via the Mist Trail. We took a short break at the top of the falland then headed for the Nevada Fall. Via the John Muir trail we walked back to the car. We then drove to Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias and walked to the Grizzly Giant, a huge, old sequoia. After that we drove back to the hotel.
This day we walked approximately 4h00m.

June 19: Yosemite NP

We entered the park again via the South Entrance and now drove to Glacier Point. Unfortunately, the sun was in a position which made it difficult to take pictures, so we headed back and decided to try it later on again. From the parking place to the Sentinel Dome it was a short walk. From there we had great views of El Capitan and Yosemite Falls. Back at Glacier Point we had lunch. We then walked to a viewpoint of the Illilouette Fall. Back at Glacier Point we walked to the viewpoint. Now the sun was in a much better position for the pictures. We then drove back to the hotel and made plans for the next two days.
This day we walked approximately 2h15m.

June 20: Oakhurst to Three Rivers via Kings Canyon NP, Redwood NP and Sequoia NP

We took the 41 towards Fresno and then the 180 to Kings Canyon NP. We entered the park via Big Stump Entrance. Near Grant Grove we walked the "General Grant Tree Trail". We saw a couple of enormous Sequoias, e.g. the General Grant and the Fallen Monarch, you can actually walk into the latter! We took the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway into the park, all the way to the end at Roads End. There we saw a controlled forest fire. On the way back we lunched at Grizzly Falls. We visited the Visitor Center in Grant Grove and then took the Generals Highway through Redwood NP & Sequoia NP to our hotel in Three Rivers. Fortunately there was a pool at the hotel so we could cool down; it was pretty hot! After that we planned the route for the next few days. After dinner we thought we could walking along the Kaweah river - our books mentioned this, but that was not possible.

June 21: Sequoia NP

We entered the park via the Ash Mountain Entrance and drove via Tunnel Log to a parking space near Crescent Meadow. From there we walked the "Trail of the Sequoias". We saw many different Sequoias (the McKinley, General Sherman, General Lee, just to name a few) and also some deer (so close you could almost touch them) and a Yellow-bellied Marmot. We lunched at Tharps Log, a fallen Sequoia that used to be the house of a Mr. Tharp! From the parking space we drove to Moro Rock where we walked up and down the 350 stairs to the top. On the way back to Three Rivers, we stopped for some ice cream at Reimer's - delicious! After spending some time in the pool and relaxing in our room, we went for dinner at the Sequoia Cider Mill Restaurant.
This day we walked approximately 3h40m.

June 22: Three Rivers to Shoshone via Death Valley NP

Via Visalia, Bakersfield and Mojave we drove to Olancha and then headed in the direction of Death Valley. We had thought about spending the night in Ridgecrest, but were making so much progress by noon we decided to drive into the park. Via Panamint Springs we drove to Stovepipe Wells. Because of the heat we decided not to spend the night inside Death Valley but to drive on. We stopped at Furnace Creek to check out the museum. We then drove along the Artists Drive and saw the many very beautiful colours in the rocks; this route is definately worth the extra miles! After that we went to Badwaters, the lowest point in the U.S.. On the way there the temperature reached 123 °F! Via Mormon Point, the Jubilee Pass and the Salsbury Pass we left Death Valley NP. We took a room at the Shoshone Inn and took a shower. We had dinner at the Crowbar Cafe and Saloon across the street.

June 23: Shoshone to Las Vegas via Red Rock Canyon

We stopped for gas after having crossed the Nevade state line (as taxes are much lower in NV than in CA). We took the scenic route through the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area - beautiful! We then drove to Las Vegas. We took a room for 3 nights at a Motel 6 just off the strip near the MGM. Around 12.30pm we hit the strip. As we were thirsty we drank a Mojito and later on a frozen Margarita. We bought tickets for a show (X Burlesque) and headed back to our room. In the evening we watched the lions at the MGM before having dinner at Wendy's. Around 9.30 we went to the show at the Flamingo. Afterwards we walked a bit further along the strip. After having watched the water show at the Bellagio, we went back to our room.

June 24: Las Vegas and the Hoover Dam

We started the day with buying tickets for "Ice", an ice-dance show by a Russian group. We then drove to the Hoover dam. Of course we had seen it on TV before, but only standing on it gives you a feeling how huge the dam actually is. We then drove to a harbour in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area to have lunch (at the "Harbour House Cafe"). After that we went back to our room in Vegas to relax a bit (it was too hot to be outside). We took the monorail from the MGM to the Las Vegas Hilton. From there it was a short walk to the Riviera. Just before the show started we noticed a couple of well positioned seats were empty, so we moved there :) After the show we had the opportunity to take pictures of some of the cast. We walked to Circus Circus to see if we could catch a free show, but that meant we would have to wait another 30 minutes. We decided to walk down the strip. At Treasure Island, the show was about to start, unfortunately it was cancelled due to the wind (only a slight breeze...). At La Salsa Cantina close to the MGM we had a frozen margharita, with an extra shot of tequila. Very good, but a bit too strong...

June 25: Las Vegas

In the morning we went to the Outlet for some shopping. At the Tommy Hilfiger store we bought some polo shirts and a t-shirt for Sabine. In a small store we bought a tiny t-shirt for the baby (at that time still to be born) of Jack and Daniële: "I love my mommy and dad but my aunt and uncle are the best" :) Back in Vegas Arjen (Patricia didn't dare) went for a ride in the Manhattan Express roller coaster in the New York New York. Wonderful! After that we walked around on the strip for a while and took a dive in the motel pool (as the water was quite warm too, this wasn't very refreshing). After diner we went to the MGM casino for a gamble. Patricia played the slots machines, Arjen played a bit of black-jack. Naturally in the end we lost...

June 26: Las Vegas to Springdale via "Valley of Fire State Park"

From Vegas we drove to the Valley of Fire State Park. The rocks in this park have a wide range of colours. Via the scenic route we drove to Rainbow Vista - truly wonderful colours! Here Arjen got an SMS about a missed call. During the 5 minutes we did not have service, we had missed a call. Listening to the voicemail we heard that we had become aunt and uncle of Sofie! Patricia called Daniële to hear the details. We drove down the rest of the scenic route, all the way to the White Domes and then back. We took the road to the Fire Rocks to see those as well and then headed out via the eastern entrance (with a small walk to see the Elephant Rock) out of the park. We took the I15 and S9 via Mesquite and St. George to Springdale. We stopped at a couple hotels/motels before finding a room at the Zion Park Motel. After a swim and some shopping we wrote postcards for the home front. We had dinner at the Spotted Dog. A bit expensive, but very good food.

June 27: Zion NP

After an early rise we took the free shuttle bus to the Zion NP Park Entrance (only a 5 minutes drive). With the park shuttle (from April to October no cars are allowd inside the park) we went to the Zion Lodge to walk to the Emerald Pools. From there we walked to the Grotto. On the way we saw some squirrels, chipmunks and lizzards. We then decided to continue all the way up to Angel's Landing. The path up was quite steep and narrow, especially the last half mile, which looked like some "via ferrata" in the Italian Dolomites. But it was worthwhile: from Angel's Landing you have a great view of the entire Zion Canyon. Walking back we lunched at the Grotto. We took the shuttle bus to the starting point of the Weeping Rock walk. After that we went to the Hanging Gardens. And then with the shuttle bus to the Temple of Sinawara" to do the riverside walk to the Narrows. We went into the water, but not very far into the Narrows. After that we went back to the Zion Lodge using the shuttle bus. After some drinks we went back to the motel, to cool off in the pool.
This day we walked approximately 5h05m.

June 28: Springdale via Zion NP, Cedar Breaks NM to Panguitch and Red Canyon and Bryce Canyon NP

After a small traffic jam to go through the Park Entrance we took the Mount Carmel tunnel out of Zion NP. Just after the tunnel we parked to walk to the Canyon Overlook trail. After that we drove to Cedar Breaks National Monument (with a stop on the way to enjoy the view of Checkerboard Mesa). An entirely different scenary: meadows, trees, lava and higher up (at approximately 3300m / 10,000 ft) even snow! We took the scenic drive along some of the viewpoints. The view at the amphitheater was wonderful. We had lunch in Panguitch. We had been advised to go to "Harold's Place" (on the highway 12) for a room, which they fortunately had (there was a hot air balloon festival in Panguitch).
As it was still early, we decided to go to Bryce Canyon. On the way we passed through Red Canyon, a preview of what Bryce would bring. We parked near the Shuttles. We went to Sunset point for our first view of the amphitheater: awesome! From there we walked the Queen's Garden Trail and up to the rim at Sunrise point. We took the shuttle back to our car and drove into the park to see the southern part of the park (as the shuttle does not service that part of the park). We headed to Rainbow Point first and then drove back, stopping at every viewpoint. After dinner (they did not have much food anymore) at the General Store we drove back to the hotel (and saw quite a few deer on the way).
This day we walked approximately 1h45m.

June 29: Bryce Canyon NP

We drove to Ruby's Inn to buy breakfast/lunch. We drove to Bryce Point and had breakfast with great panoramic views of the amphiteater. We then drove to Inspiration point and later on Sunset point, where we parked to walk a combination of the Navajo trail and the Peekabo Loop. On the way out of the park, we drove by Fairyland Point. We stopped at Ruby's Inn for coffee and then headed back to the hotel (some thunder, lightning and rain on the way). At the hotel we could see the last part of the European Soccer final between Spain and Germany. Around 5.30pm we drove back to Bryce Canyon. We had dinner at Ruby's Inn and then drove into the park to watch the wildlife (35 deer and 10 turkeys) and enjoy the view at Sunset Point. On the way back we stopped at Ruby's Inn again for coffee. Back in the hotel we had free wifi so we could mail with the people back home.
This day we walked approximately 2h30m.

June 30: Panguitch via Capitol Reef NP to Moab

Like the day before we stopped at Ruby's Inn for breakfast/lunch. Via Tropic, Escalante, Boulder and Torrey we drove to Capitol Reef NP. We drove the scenic route in and out of the park, getting good views of Twin Rocks, Chimney Rock, The Castle and Egyptian Temple. Just before we left the park, we stopped to see some petroglyphs. Via Hanksville and Green Rivers we arrived in Moab. We had dinner and played a game of pool billiards at the Moab Brewery (a micro brewery with great beers!).

July 1: Arches NP

An early rise as we wanted to see a lot and were hoping to do a lot before it would get really hot. We drove to Arches and then via the Courthouse Towers to the Windows Section. In just under an hour we did the walks near Turret Arch, the South and North Windows and the Double Arch. We then drove via Balanced Rock and the Garden of Eden to the Upper Delicate Arch Viewpoint. After that we drove to Devil's Garden where we started our longest walk, visiting a lot of arches (Landscape Arch, Wall Arch, Partition Arch, Navajo Arch and many others). At the Double O Arch we took the primitive trail. After this walk we headed back to our motel. We again had dinner at the Moab Brewery.
This day we walked approximately 4h20m.

July 2: Moab to Cortez via Canyonlands NP

We drove to Canyonlands NP to see the views from "Island in the Sky". The canyons here have been formed by the Green River and Colorado River. In the morning the light was not very good for the views and pictures (you might consider going here during the afternoon). After that we went back to Moab (for a coffee) and then drove in the direction of Monticello. We stopped at Newspaper Rock (petroglyphs) and then headed for Cortez in Colorado. We found a room at the Sand Canyon Inn. In the afternoon we decided to see Hancock at the local cinema. After that we went for dinner and some locally brewed beers at the "Main Street Brewery and Restaurant". After dinner we played some pool, enjoying the jukebox music.

July 3: Mesa Verde NP

We got up early to have as much time as possible in Mesa Verde. We went to the visitor center to pick up tickets for the guided tours. Then on to the Balcony House for our first tour. After that we drove the Mesa loop and to the Cliff Palace for our second tour. Our next stop was Wetherill Mesa. Here we took the tour to the Long House (we got the tickets from a friendly couple who didn't feel like going there anymore). As it was late in the afternoon, we headed back to Cortez afterwards. Like the day before we had dinner at the "Main Street Brewery and Restaurant". Back at the room we re-planned our route for the next day going to Williams in stead of Page (as that is a very popular place on the 4th, with limited chances for a room).

July 4: Cortez to Tusayan via Grand Canyon NP

As we had a long day ahead of us, we left early. We took the route via Shiprock (so we could add New Mexico to the list of states we visited) and Teec Nos Pos (Arizona) and then heading north, back into Utah. We went to Gooseneck State Park (looking into the San Juan River Canyon). We took a tea/coffee break in Mexican Hat (named after a rock with that shape) and then drove through Monument Valley. We then drove via Kayenta and Tuba City to Cameron. There we decided to take the east entrance into Grand Canyon NP (rather than driving to Williams via Flagstaff). We stopped at some viewpoints (Little Colorado River Gorge, Navajo Point, Lipan Point and Grand Canyon View Point). Unfortunately by then we had some thunder/lightning and raindrops (and the temperature dropped from 40°C to 15°C). We decided not to try and find a room in Grand Canyon Village, but drove out of the park via the south entrance to give it a shot in Tusayan. Our third attempt was succesful: at the Red Feather Lodge we could get a room for 3 nights (not cheap, but a good room). Around 3pm we watched the parade (4th of July!). After that we decided to drive to Williams to watch the parade there too. On the way back we drove a small part of Route 66. Back at the room we planned the walks for the next couple of days.

July 5: Grand Canyon NP

We got up early and ate breakfast in our room. We then drove to Grand Canyon village and took the shuttle bus to Hopi Point (as the rest of the road is closed for maintenance). From Hopi Point we followed the Rim Trail all the way to Pipe Creek Vista. We then took the shuttle bus back to the car park. We went back to the hotel and then to the Imax Theater to see "Grand Canyon - the hidden secrets". Amazing! Via SMS we had contact with Ester, Sandra, Sandra and Trui and arranged to meet up in our lobby at 8 to go out for dinner. Coincidentally they were doing a similar route as we, but in the other direction, so we could meet up.
This day we walked approximately 3h00m.

July 6: Grand Canyon NP

A very early start as we planned to do a lot of walking. By 7.30 we started walking down the Bright Angel Trail. At 10.05 we arrived at Plateau Point. Heading down (and especially back up) to the Colorado River would take too much time, so this was the lowest we would get. Just before 2pm we arrived back at the rim. By then it was raining and a bit more into the canyon there was a small thunderstorm. Again the temperature dropped from 40°C to just 10°C! We headed back to the hotel and had a beer. We again had planned dinner with the 4 ladies, this time at "We cook pizza and pasta". After that we had tea and coffe in our hotel lobby and then said goodbye as we would head out the next day.
This day we walked approximately 5h15m.
This makes for a total of approximately 31h50m for this holiday!

July 7: Tusayan to Palm Springs

Another long day in the car. From Tusayan we drove via Williams to Flagstaff. From there we headed to Phoenix and then west all the way to Palm Springs. Palm Springs looked deserted, but only crazy Europeans visit it this time of year I guess. As it was too hot outside we went to a pub (O'Leary's). After Margharita's we had dinner there too. We then walked to the Spa Resort Casino and then to the Village Pub for a Corona. By 9.30pm it was still 40°C!

July 8: Palm Springs to Santa Barbara via Joshua Tree NP and Hollywood

We drove into Joshua Tree NP via the south entrance (Cottonwood Spring Road). We made a small walk at the Cholla Cactus Garden. By then it was already hot again (40°C)... We drove out of the park (which was a bit of a disappointment) via the North Entrance and then to L.A. In L.A. we only stopped to take a picture of the Hollywood sign and then we took the 101 to Santa Barbara. After unpacking in the hotel, we drove to the beach. Because of the ocean it was pleasantly cool at 25°C. We strolled down Stearn's Wharf and the beach. We had dinner (very good Tapas) at Matador.

July 9: Santa Barbara

We went to see the mission church and after that the county courthouse. Then we did some shopping before heading to the East Beach. Very releaxing, just reading a book and enjoying the sun. We had e very good dinner at Pascutti.

July 10: Santa Barbara to Monterey

We wanted to drive the coast road as much as possible this day. We drove the 101 to Gaviota and then the 1 up north. Near Pismo Beach we drove another stretch of 101, and then the 1 again. We stopped for pie in Cambria (at Lim's). Delicious!!! We had to take the 101 from there as the 1 was closed near Big Sur due to forest fires. We tried to get close to the coast again at Greenfield, but many roads were closed there too. So we took the 101 via Salinas to Monterey. There we walked down the Municipal and Fisherman's Wharf. Around 7 we went for dinner at the Fisherman's Wharf at Old Fisherman's Grotto.

July 11: Monterey

This day we visited the Montery Bay Aquarium. Wonderful those local sea creatures. Especially noteworthy were the "touching pools" where you were allowed to touch the sea cucumbers, etc.. We then drove to the library to check in on-line for our flight back. After that we drove down the "17 mile drive" which was slightly disappointing. We again went for dinner at Old Fisherman's Grotto. After dinner we drove to Point Pinos Lighthouse. This time of day there are very many deer walking around. We spotted 6. In New Monterey we had a drink at the Bulldog (English Pub) and then headed back to our hotel for our last night of sleep in the US.

July 12 & 13: Monterey to San Francisco and home

We drove the 101 to San Francisco and delivered the car at Alamo. In total we drove 4473 mile (7157 km) during our trip. We had to wait a while, but at 3.30pm we were airborne. The next morning (after a flight with many children running around during the night and a lot of people talking and keeping on their lights) we arrived in Amsterdam.