12 August – With not a lot to see and do in the Laramie or southern Wyoming region and with the aim of getting a service in Rock Springs, it was most practical to use I-80 all the way – big open plains, grassy to start with and then as it got higher, scrubby rocky areas. Crossed the Continental Divide a couple of times, but hardly noticeable as it was only at 7,000ft. At Rock Springs we found the Ford Service Center, but they were not able to accommodate our size of vehicle so that put paid to those plans. Had to settle for their Walmart – not quite as nice as last night and so many overnighters, it was like a large campground except these people lacked the manners of campground stayers and kept their generators going until all hours!
13 August – More of the I-80 today as we head into Utah towards Salt Lake City and the nearest Ford service centre that can handle us. Took one little detour to follow a bit of the Pony Express route and overland pioneer wagon route. At Fort Bridger was an interesting collection of early buildings from the time of the army fort and the few years before. The pioneers that came through this way were made of stern stuff, that is for sure. The Mormon route also passed this way and their original settlers from Illinois came all this way pushing or pulling hand carts loaded with all their belongings – 500 pounds in weight. Can’t imagine having to lug that over all sorts of terrain for months on end.
Rejoined the I-80 and buzzed along some more until we came to Wanship (we had been here before not so long ago) and to a small state park on the Rockport reservoir. Annoying flies and mozzies have given way to biting ants – is there nowhere we can be bug free? Booked the car service in SLC, so that will be tomorrow’s task.
14 August – A quick run down the mountain had us in SLC way too early, so we just had to wait outside the Ford Agent until our appointment time – at least we have the means to make ourselves a morning tea! This was a much better organised outfit than some we have visited, taking us at the booked time and delivering Wanda out the other side in just under an hour. With the afternoon to start making progress towards Reno, it was back on the the I-80, driving along the southern shore of the Great Salt Lake for a long way before coming to Wendover, the home of Bonneville Salt Flats. We were able to take the 3 mile sealed road right to the start of where the racing happens, but because of all the recent wet weather of course Speed Week had been cancelled. Where the road ended and the salt flats began there was a lot of water – enough for me to have a nice paddle up to my knees.
Despite the track being a little higher, we could see why it wouldn’t be possible to race. The great expanse of the glaring white salt flats was incredible. A few brave souls had driven their 4wd vehicles beyond the wet stuff on to more solid salt – not something you would want to try in a 2wd vehicle. Had a taste of the salt water and boy it was far, far saltier than the ocean water. There wasn’t much else to see at the end of the road – they must set up all the towers and timing checks just when they are needed as there was nothing of that sort visible.
Into Wendover and the state line between Utah and Nevada runs through the middle of the town – the line is marked in the middle of the road and the Nevada side has casinos right on the line. After visiting the local airport and ex-military airfield which had been used to train wartime bomber crews, including those that dropped the first A-bombs, stopped off for dinner at one of the casinos. Had intended to stay the night in the nearby truck-stop but there were just so many trucks, all with their engines going, that the noise would have been unbearable so we headed off into the sunset. Quite by chance took an exit off the freeway at Paquop, which had nothing but a road going to a DOT depot one side and the other side a little forest road which we followed only about 100 metres and came to a great parking place for the night. It was obviously a staging place for OHV trails but with only one other rig parked well away and hidden in some trees, was perfect for us.
15 August – We had a lovely quiet night and the next morning as we motored westward the smell of smoke was quite pervasive – as we came down over a summit we could see why. A pall of thick brown haze hung over the entire valley – when we stopped off in Wells to have a look at their 49’er museum, the curator said it was either from the Idaho or California wildfires that are raging at present. The little museum, along with the curator’s tales, was well done for a tiny town – population only 1200. They had a large earthquake in 2003 which seems to have devastated the town – they lost most of their historic buildings and things looked rather bleak. We had morning tea at Bella’s – Bella is the local madam (prostitution is legal in many counties in Nevada) and she owns the restaurant as well. From Wells we returned to that marvel of I-80, where all you can see ahead of you is miles and miles of tarmac ribbon, with very bland scenery as well. Stopped off at another excellent interpretive centre just out of Elko – this was centred around the California pioneer trails which passed through here and we learnt a lot more about the hardships that these pioneers endured to make their way from East to West.
Didn’t quite make our destination of Winnemucca as we came across a good rest area (Nevada allows stays at these of up to 18 hours) with not too many trucks, that looked like it might be a good prospect for the night.
16 August – Got a reasonable night’s sleep, with not too many comings and goings during the night. Reno was our destination and it was a fairly long, tedious trip there along the freeway. Atlantic Casino offered overnight parking right in the City, so that was the choice of accommodation for this evening. Dinner at a small Chinese diner just across the road, then Jilly was let loose on the pokies. Bob found a cool corner in the hotel reading lounge to ponder if he would need to mortgage Wanda before I came back out!
17 August – First up today was a trip to Harrah’s Collection, the National Automobile Museum in the heart of Reno. Wow, this was another one of those impressive old car collections. Originally owned by Bill Harrah of Casino fame, his collection was split up upon his death when his empire was bought out by Holiday Inn. About a third of the vehicles were donated to the new museum, while the other 240 were auctioned off. The 120 that remained were still a good cross-section of the unique and the exclusive – very nicely displayed with period costumes dotted around. The highlight was the Thomas Flyer – the original New York to Paris race winner. We purchased some raffle tickets for a 1980’s Corvette, so look forward to taking ownership of that on November 5th when it is drawn.
With that completed it was out of Reno following the I-50 towards Carson City, stopping off at a small Regional Campground at Davis Creek & Pond, although the poor old pond was all but dried up. Nice to be in amongst trees for a little bit of shade to try and keep things comfortable.
18 August – Not a good start to my morning – after duly putting in the required coins for the showers, spent the next four and half minutes ducking in and out of freezing water – I was not impressed. With a charge of $20 for a primitive (unserviced) campsite, it was really not up to scratch. The restrooms didn’t appear to have been cleaned in at least the last week and were really manky. They also expected an extra $5 fee to dump our waste – they didn’t get that out of us on this occasion although we did do a dump. Carried on our way into Carson City to fill up with fuel and have a quick look around, but it didn’t particularly impress so we carried on our journey. Before crossing our last State border, we ate anything that might cause an issue with California’s Agriculture check and cooked up anything that we couldn’t eat. Turned out they were really only after fresh fruit, but not bothered by the few pieces that we had left. Onwards now on the long downhill slide towards sweltering Mono Lake. This is another of those very saline (3x more than the ocean), alkaline lakes with no outlet and a few small rivers flowing in which had been almost totally diverted to California in the 1960’s, but very slightly allowed to flow back into the lake via a mandate in the 1990’s, to try and save this unusual environment.
An impressive feature of this lake is it’s tufa formations formed where underwater springs had entered the lake prior to it being lowered – we drove down to the South Side to walk to the lake’s edge and get up close and personal with these strange formations.
The afternoon was getting on and we had yet to hit the Hwy 120 road to Tioga Pass on the way to Yosemite. With wildfires burning in the hills on the left side of the road we were climbing up, there was no stopping at the earlier campgrounds listed – all roads to the left of the highway were blocked off. Had to go nearly all the way to the top of the pass, to Ellery Lake and a small NFS campground with just 13 sites, alongside a pretty little stream and majestic views fore and aft. A real relief to be out of the oppressive heat of the valley below and at 9,500ft the air was cool and refreshing. Managed to find a perfect site for us, but the late-comers were all out of luck. It was a fair climb up the pass and this should be the last one that Wanda will be doing for us – it’s downhill all the way to the west coast now!!
19 August – What bliss to have a cool, quiet night. Still lovely and cool as we set off for a journey through Yosemite. Reached the Tioga Pass at 10,000ft and queued for the entry through the gates into Yosemite. The entry fees for these big parks seem to have gone up this year – we are on our second $80 Annual Pass which allows us free entry into all National Parks and Monuments, which has been worthwhile. The current one had paid for itself by the time we had done Grand Canyon, Zion and Bryce Canyons. At up to $30 a vehicle, the fees can soon mount up if you don’t have a pass.
The long descent down the mountain with gorgeous views, huge granite peaks and pine trees was very enjoyable, the more so because we were travelling on the inside of the mountain road – there was not much room on the outside of the road before it dropped off into the abyss. Again, a road with very little beyond the white line. It was a big drop from 10,000ft down to only 2,000ft in the Yosemite Valley.
We came here over 30 years ago and what a difference – the scenery is still stunning but the crowds were unbelievable. We tried to park near the visitor centre but all five car parks were stuffed to overflowing with no chance of finding room for Wanda, so we hightailed it out. Had a lunch stop further down the valley away from the people and then headed out, following the Merced River down through a narrow gorge. Then the fun for the afternoon began as we hit Mariposa (we were here once before on this trip too, but in a much cooler April). Temperature had climbed to 99 unrelenting degrees. Sally decided that she would have some fun with us – we were heading to a COE camp at Eastman Lake.
Over 1 hour to do 30 miles – she was not kidding – we were taken on a narrow winding road for all of that 30 miles, at least it was relatively flat and the driving was not difficult apart from having to go very slow on the rough bits and the very windy parts. It was all through ranch land which was dry last year but now it looked even worse – many huge trees dying, parched land everywhere and no green to be seen. After 30 miles we decided to have a rethink as the final part of the journey turned out to be 16 miles of dirt road – enough was enough and we found that we were actually very close to another COE campground at Hensley Lake which we had also visited last April, so made for there and joined the only other camper (the camp host) of the 50 odd sites. Not much in the way of shade from the searing heat, but one tree which still had leaves and the luxury of power meant that we were going to stay put and just turn on the aircon and blob. We have our own personal shower block – unlimited hot water and clean!! The water level of the lake looks to be about the same as it was eighteen months previously, which is really, really low.
20 August – Decided to make use of the power, enjoy aircon for a day, take advantage of the hot dry weather to get washing done and explore a little of the environs on foot.
21 August – Hit the road again – original plan was to go to the Pinnacles NP but as we journeyed further into California it got hotter and drier, so instead headed straight for Santa Cruz and the cool coastal redwoods abode of Ken and Sharon where 18 months worth of junk mail was waiting for us – the only non-junk was our registration tag which we had been without since it expired back in February.
22-24 August – Wanda has been spring cleaned from top to bottom and now trying to sort out all our accumulated stuff to see what needs to go back by mail to New Zealand and what can go to the good folks at the Goodwill store. In between, generously entertained by Sharon and Ken, we are becoming quite the baseball officiandos of the Giants (the home team from San Francisco who take on rivals from all over the USA). Quite a punishing schedule that they have during their season – over 160 games and traveling all over the country playing 3-4 games at each venue as well as at home.
Joined Sharon and her friend Georgia on a car club run to San Juan Bautista with about twelve other vehicles ranging from a Model T (which set the pace) to late 1920’s Lincolns and Packards, right up to Sharon’s Camaro. We got to see some really different roads in the area around Watsonville – travelling through a lot of lettuce, strawberry and raspberry farms before arriving at our destination for a nice lunch at a little Italian Restaurant.
Got to help out Sharon with her daughter’s classroom setup for the new school year – she is a 3rd grade (8yr olds) elementary teacher.
25 August – Following up an invitation from a couple we met while cruising back from South America, Seattle here we come – our flight was from San Jose and Sharon ferried us up there to their nice new terminal. 90 minutes after take-off we had arrived in the grand metropolis of Seattle and Joan and Eric were there to meet us and get us to their home to the north of Seattle. They share this with their two cats and get nightly visits from a raccoon family of mum & three babies – so cute.
26-30 August – With the loan of a car and also making use of the efficient public transport, we managed to see a lot of Seattle and it’s surroundings missed on our previous visit.
A bus trip from close-by Joan & Eric’s house had us into downtown Seattle in just over ten minutes with our first stop the Pike Place Market – a bustling market with a small number of produce and fish stall,s but a large number of local craft stalls offering all manner of interesting art works. Seattle is very much like Wellington with its hills and harbour, although the hill streets are a little more challenging. We ventured down to quayside for a walk along the harbour front before climbing back up and hopping on the little monorail. It was put in for the 1960 Seattle World Fair and runs from downtown to the site of the fair, which is now a lovely park with theatres and stadium. A trip to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation rounded off our day – the foundation funds innovative thinking for solving some of the world’s problems and has had a lot of success. With projects like eradicating Polio and other ghastly diseases, to helping people in poor countries improve hygiene or develop more successful farming processes, they have a wide reach and have made good progress.
A trip north the following day to Whidbey Island made for a nice day’s run – a very laid back island about 40 miles long with views of Puget Sound as you traverse it’s length. A bridge gets you to the Island from the north and at the southern end there is a short ferry ride back to Edmonds. Stopped off at a few little villages along the way with nice arts and crafts.
Back into Seattle downtown via the bus again the next day – then a lovely 30 minute ferry ride over to Bainbridge Island where we enjoyed a leisurely lunch before ferrying back to the city. Then had an entertaining visit to Seattle’s Underground (not the tube variety but actually streets which were wholly underground). In the late 1880’s a huge fire destroyed much of the city. A plan had already been in place to level out many of the high hills and this provided the right timing to get started, the only problem was that the CIty Governors were a little tardy in getting the project started so businesses had already started rebuilding. The city, in their wisdom, decided that because they owned the strip of land between the buildings they would build that up with the fill from the hills in places as much as 30 feet, so the reconstructed buildings found themselves with huge walls outside their ground floor windows. The only way to cross the street was to climb a ladder up one side of the street and down the other Eventually a footpath was put in at first floor level but was open underneath and the underground streets came to life. Apparently they were the domain of nefarious low life and were abandoned after about 20 years. Our tour took us through these “streets” where in places you could still see the original glass skylights which shed daylight below and the remains of doorways, etc.
With a change of weather we decide to make use of the loaned car again and headed to the Paine Field,s Museum of Historic Flight which was running a flying day of German war planes. Sadly the weather had something else to say about that – very strong winds had picked up and put paid to any flying display, so we had a look around the museum instead and watched them start the planes up to taxi for everyone to photograph, but not quite the same as seeing them in the air.
Bob wanted to check out Hinshaws motorcycle shop again, so we got on the freeway to go down to Auburn south of Seattle. Big mistake – this storm was really letting go and falling trees were creating havoc. We got stuck in slow moving congestion while they tried to clear the trees off the freeway. Finally made it down to Auburn and the bike Bob had been dreaming about for eighteen months was still there – but they weren’t really ready to do a good deal on it, so it was back on the freeway to “home”. As we came off on our freeway exit we noticed that a lot of the traffic lights were out – not a problem here in the USA as they have intersections called all way stops where everyone has to stop and it is first stopped, first off again. So they just resort to that and the traffic manages to flow quite well, even if it does favour the minor roads and slow the main road.
Back home we found that Joan & Eric’s street had no power and was not set to get reconnected until the early hours of the morning. Fortunately the local pizza place had power and were able to deliver dinner.
Power still had not been restored by morning, so Eric rigged up his generator in order that at least fridges could be kept cold and a little light could be shed on the problem. That state of play lasted the whole of the day with deadlines being pushed out until they were told it would not come back on until Monday evening. At the height of the storm nearly 500,000 homes were without power.
31 August– Time to leave Seattle and say farewell to Joan & Eric, but still no power. Eric dropped us off at the downtown light rail station and we had a smooth and uneventful ride to the airport. Somehow we have got a pre-TSA check for security which means a streamlined queue and you don’t have to take your shoes, coats, belts, etc. off. Got what seems to be the usual for us, a gate change, but at least we were given plenty of notice and it wasn’t at the other end of the terminal. Small Bombardier jet plane with Delta and there were some passenger grizzles as it couldn’t take wheelie carry on bags, so they were taken off us before boarding. Two hours later, after a fairly scenic flight, we were back at San Jose with Sharon kindly waiting to take us back to Santa Cruz.
1-7 September – Putting the finishing touches on Wanda and in between a busy social calendar with Sharon has kept me busy. Joined her down at the school again – this time with pupils, so got to see how things are done here. Teresa had me sit in front of the class to answer questions about my travels and New Zealand, which proved to be very entertaining. We topped that off with lunch down on the pier. A lovely evening was spent having wine and nibbles in their garden with some of their neighbours.
The following day Bob & I had the loan off Ken’s ute so we headed off to look at a car collection not too far away. Impressive cars and an immaculate service bay – race cars, Porsches and even a few motorbikes as well as a used car sales room with even more Porsches and other exotics for sale. Poor old Giants got thrashed in their match tonight, so a rather despondent household.
Sharon and I had another luncheon appointment down in Santa Cruz on Friday while the boys went to Gilroy to fetch a window which had been specially painted for their front porch.
Dinner at Georgia’s finished off yet another enjoyable day on Saturday. Georgia has quite a menagerie – two miniature donkeys, two rather large horses, a dog and three cats. Her gardens were a joy to wander around despite the very dry conditions.
On Sunday Bob and I had the loan of Sharon’s Mini Cooper to buzz down to the Roaring Camp train at Fenton and ride in style down to Santa Cruz. Nice ride starting off through the redwoods before hitting downtown; with the train track running through the middle of traffic lanes it was an interesting exercise as the train got the cars to move out of it’s way. Arrived down at the boardwalk around 11.30 and spent the time exploring the pier which extends a half mile out in the harbour and the boardwalk area which is home to the longest running amusement park on the West Coast. A lovely old carousel running since 1911 together with all the other usual rides and sideshows, even a roller coaster on wooden trestles.
After a nice lunch out on the pier wandered back to catch the 4.15 train back to Felton. Must say that the horrible Felton Empire Road (the one which Sally loves to take us on in Wanda!!) is much more fun in a Mini!! Think I might need to have one when we get back home!
As Monday is Labour Day holiday here in the USA there is not a lot of point trying to go anywhere as the traffic would be diabolical. Stayed home instead and watched the SF Giants get defeated again – this time in Arizona. Finished the day off with dinner at the neighbours, Pat and Lonnie, over the road – another evening with great company and good food.
08 Sept – It was time to finally leave the nest, so organised to have lunch down by the harbour with Ken and Sharon. We have had such a nice stay with them both, been thoroughly spoilt, enjoying their help and company immensely. We then hit the road south to Monterey. Having visited here last year, we knew that the Veterans Memorial Park campground was the best place to stay and even managed to get a spot with shade.
09 Sept – Monterey Aquarium day today. Pat had very kindly loaned us her member’s guest entry cards which meant free entry instead of $70, which was great. What an amazing place – so many sea creatures on show. Got to see the penguin feeding, sea otters having a fun time playing with their toys, kelp gardens with huge schools of fish, jellyfish (called Jellies here) of all shapes and sizes, colourful anemones, octopus, ocean fish galore and adorable puffins. We were so lucky to be able to see all these creatures close up.