Last Monday on 19 July I returned from a holiday in the USA’s west. We departed for the USA on the 1st of July, on a holiday paid for by my parents, probably the last one including my parents, brother and sister. This first post will contain a diary and photos of the vacation, a second post will follow with more general observations on the USA and my experience of the vacation. The plan for this vacation consisting of eighteen days was to ride through the states of Arizona, Utah, Nevada and California by car, stopping for the night at hotels and eating dinner at a restaurant for every day. I have mentioned the restaurants we thought were notable.
Day 1: Stranded at Washington Dulles airport
A delay at Amsterdam Schiphol airport caused us to miss our connection to Phoenix at Washington Dulles airport, Northwest Airlines provided us with rooms in a hotel near the airport. Even though they foresaw that there were passengers who would miss their connecting flights at Washington Dulles airport, they didn’t give those passengers priority for the immigration officers. It was a close call, and the waiting line for the immigration officers cost us just a few minutes too much time, making us miss the next flight.
Day 2: Arrival in Phoenix
We rose early this day at 3:00 so we wouldn’t miss our flight to Denver (Colorado) where we would transfer to a flight heading for Phoenix. The climate of Phoenix is very hot with temperatures near 45 ℃, walking around for the first time and feeling the breeze outside is like experiencing the hot air of an oven rising to your face after you open it. Fortunately temperatures would be more comfortable when we left Phoenix, until we arrived in Las Vegas. The next stop was at the car rental company, Hertz, where we would pick up our car we would use for the rest of the vacation, a Toyota Sienna. Even though we’d already arrived a day late, we were told a car wasn’t available right now and that we had to wait for a bit until one was ready. My parents complained, and got upgraded to a Nissan Armada for no extra charge. It’s a beast with its 360 hp, 5,6 L V8 engine. Unfortunately neither my brother nor I could drive because that would require extra costs. Not sure what the reason was again, if I recall correctly the reason was that we were under 25 years of age. The first stop was at a Walmart, which amazed us because of its huge size. Even in Dutch large cities supermarkets aren’t so large, maybe 1/4th or 1/3rd the size of a Walmart store. We had to skip a part of our journey to make up for the lost time, we headed to Tusayan and on the way we visited Montezuma Castle.
Day 3: Grand Canyon
On this day we walked for a few miles along the southern rim of the Grand Canyon. Interesting were the different types of stone displayed along the route, with accompanying explanations listing their age in millions of years, running in the three digits. The Grand Canyon is indeed a great view, with it being so huge. The rest of the day was spent driving to the next stop in Bryce Canyon City, stopping for a few times for other lookout points along Grand Canyon and Red Canyon in Utah.
Day 4: Bryce Canyon
I’m glad we went to see Bryce Canyon after Grand Canyon, because the latter displays more beauty than the former. Especially notable are the hoodoo’s, works of art created by erosion. The fact that I shot most of my photos here says a lot. Our next hotel was located in Cedar City. Most restaurant were closed down because it was Sunday, so we ate at a fast food chain we don’t know in the Netherlands, Taco Bell. They serve Mexican fast food, which was almost universally hated by us. Not to say that we didn’t like Mexican cuisine at all, but besides Taco Bell the Mexican restaurant we chose earlier was mediocre, unfortunately we didn’t choose to eat at another better Mexican restaurant later. Could anyone identify what species of lizard is on the first photo?
Day 5: Las Vegas
The next day we would visit Zion National Park along the way to Las Vegas. After missing some exits on the highway, which resulted from the absence of a built-in satellite navigation system in our car, my parent’s refusal to buy a separate satellite navigation system on my recommendation and inadequate signposts along the roads in the USA in general. And this wasn’t the first nor the last moment we would lose track of the route. The funny thing is that we later met other Dutch people who told my parents buying satellite navigation had been a good decision for them. At a stop we figured out we needed a permit to take a walk in the park (at that specific spot at least) and decided to drive some further distance into the park. When we had seen enough we decided to turn around and stop to enjoy the view before continuing the journey. After taking some photos, I discovered a snake had crept up to one of the front wheels of our car. It was quite large, and not aggressive. Fortunately we could move the car without flattening it, and the snake retreated into the grass when it could apparently no longer enjoy the car’s shadow. Hopefully someone can tell me what snake it is? I don’t want to spend much words on Las Vegas. It’s the most decadent, crowded, vulgar and fake city I’ve ever seen. The only positive points I can mention are the Indian restaurant we stumbled on by change at the Strip, the taxi driver with a good sense of humour. The most memorable phrase heard was definitely ‘water one dollar’.
Day 6: Death Valley
During the night I was woken up a few times because of my brother had to vomit. My sister hadn’t been feeling well since a few days before that. I doubt it was food poisoning, because I and my parents had no problems. This day we would drive through Death Valley and end the journey in Lone Pine. We stopped at Zabriskie Point in Death Valley, then we started driving again. Temperatures were probably around 45 ℃ at Zabriskie Point, so it was hot but nothing new after we had experienced Phoenix. After arriving in Lone Pine, we ate in a Chinese restaurant which ranks as one of the best restaurants of the entire vacation.
Day 7: Mammoth Lakes
Mammoth Lakes is situated on a higher elevation (2,4 km, while Death Valley was below sea level). In the winter it’s a ski resort, quite a difference between this and Death Valley yesterday. We followed some of the hiking routes in the area. It was strange to see snow still lying around at some places, while the temperatures were probably hovering above 20 ℃.
Day 8: Yosemite National Park
On this day we visited Yosemite National Park. The view over the Yosemite Valley was magnificent. Bridalveil Fall was good. I like waterfalls, except for the water vapor covering the lens of my camera. When we drove further down the valley we were dismayed to discover that it was infested with tourists and campings. The hotel near the valley was the first one I encountered to charge a fee for WiFi, in all other hotels it was free of charge. As you can see on the photos, we received a replacement for our car which had broken down. That was remarkably quick service for such a relatively remote place.
Day 9: Yosemite National Park
If almost everyone who has visited the eastern coast of the USA talks about seeing the giant sequoia, and you have seen them on TV but not with your own eyes, you can’t allow yourself to miss them. After a lengthy trip – someone thought that the apex of the tourist season was a good time to start road maintenance – we arrived at Mariposa Grove. The sequoias there aren’t the oldest or the largest, but they were impressive nevertheless. We noticed there had been fires in the forest recently, but these were allowed to go on. Apparently forest fires are good for the health of forests. We ended the trip in Sonora.
Day 10: San Francisco
While I felt uncomfortable with the high temperatures in places on lower elevations in California and Arizona, San Franciso makes me complain because of the low temperatures in July, the frequent cloud cover and fog but most of all the strong winds. Check up the Wikipedia article on SF to learn about the specifics of it’s climate. My first thought is that it’s a nasty climate, even though the average lowest temperature is 8 ℃ in January, I wouldn’t want to live in SF instead of the Netherlands. I’d rather have a winter and a real summer than neither like in SF. After we arrived at the hotel and were charged an arm and a leg for parking the car at the hotel ($30 a day), we went to Fisherman’s Warf. After trials and tribulations with the public transport system in SF, partially because of the lack of preparation on the part of my parents, and partly because public transport doesn’t seem to be well organized and easy to understand in SF, we arrived at Pier 39. I experienced a dejá vu here, since Pier 39 is a hornet’s nest full of tourists just like Las Vegas, and because there’s nothing interesting to see there.
Day 11: San Francisco
This day started with splitting up, I visited the Asian Art Museum, while the rest of my family watched Spain defeat the Netherlands in the FIFA 2010 World Cup final. To the square just west of the museum, in the Civic Center, two large screen displays were set up for fans who wanted to watch the world cup. There were surprisingly much Dutch people around, which I also noticed in our hotel. It’s almost like Dutch people attract each other in foreign countries, like we are contagious, or we’re just a very adventurous people who love to travel. Even more surprising was that my brother and sister got sunburned in SF of all places, the city which is so frequently covered by clouds. Apparently there was more sunshine than I noticed. They told me they forgot to use a sunscreen, but given the tan my sister developed after all those hours of lying under the sun, I expected they wouldn’t get burned even without it. Anyway, the jade artwork on display in the museum was totally awesome, I can heartily recommend the museum. In the afternoon we boarded the Duck Tour, a tour of over the streets and the water of northern SF with an amphibious vehicle. We had a very good guide, she told us they had very few customers since the recession. In the evening we went to Thai restaurant which was just two blocks away from our hotel. The various Chinese and Thai restaurants we visited during this vacation certainly inspired me to try these cuisines at home. The only gripe I and my family members have, especially with the Thai cuisine, is that dishes are far more spicy or hot than in Indian or Chinese cuisine. Even the dishes which rated as moderately spicy make you spit fire. I should be careful not to generalize here because those cuisines can be extremely hot too, but on average most Thai dishes seem to win.
Day 12: Monterey
We visited a lookout point near the Golden Gate Bridge, and then followed the Pacific Coast Highway south to Monterey. There was much more I had wished to see in SF and especially the SF Bay Area, such as the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum, the Intel Museum and Silicon Valley, but unfortunately there was no time for that. In Monterey we visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium there, which I can recommend. I never expected that tuna, the fish which frequently ends up on my pizza’s, would be so large.
Day 13: Ventura
When we continued driving south this day to Ventura, we stopped on a lookout point over a beach near the sea, where we saw elephant seals. In southern California the climate was much more palatable. The sea water was a bit cold, but after acclimatizing for bit it was acceptable for swimming. By chance we happened to discover a very good Italian restaurant.
Day 14: Los Angeles
On the way to Los Angeles we would pass the Getty Villa, so we split up there when I was dropped off at the museum and the rest of my family went to the beach. The Getty Villa was the best thing I have seen during this vacation. It’s not the the ancient Greek, Roman and Etrurian artefacts exhibited in the museum which are remarkable, it is the museum itself. It’s modelled after a real Roman villa, the Villa of the Papyri from southern Italy, and many other Roman villas. Descriptions in the museum explain in detail the features of the villa, and which real Roman villas served as inspiration for them. I did notice some strange things though. Most obvious are of course the fountains, for example seen in the photo of main courtyard in the Wikipedia article of the Getty Villa. Why were these fountains placed there when there was such a great desire to recreate an authentic Roman villa? I also noticed wall paintings of columns on the inner sides of the walls surrounding the main courtyard. It seemed to me like they ran out of cash when they wanted to decorate the walls with real pilasters and instead chose to paint columns. Or are painted columns authentic as well? Also, I wonder how ancient Roman villas were isolated? In Mediterranean climates temperatures can get close to freezing in the winter, and having an open roof like in the Getty Villa doesn’t help isolating the villa then. Google doesn’t give me an answer to that question. What was notable in the collection of exhibited artefacts for me was ceramic pottery which was cleverly disguised as if metal was the material. Unfortunately I did not have enough time to see everything without hurrying. I had three hours, but because I like to read all descriptions completely and visually analyse all artefacts carefully, I had to rush after seeing the first half of the ground floor to see the rest of the ground floor and the upper floor. After we arrived in LA we went on a bus tour through Hollywood, West Hollywood and Beverly Hills. The bus tour was okay, the idolization of celebrities which was obvious from audio descriptions accompanying the tour was not, neither was the heat wave in LA at that moment. We ate at a Thai restaurant of wide acclaim. I had never seen such a large menu before. I ordered the mussels here because they were recommended, but I thought they were nothing special. Other dishes were good though.
Day 15: Palm Springs
After one of the longest distances we had to cover with the car, we took the Aerial Tramway near Palm Springs. While it was over 40 ℃ below, on the top of the mountain it was somewhere around 25 ℃ and there was a forest there instead of desert. This was a good place for walking a few miles, and the mountain top gave you a good view over Palm Springs. We ate at Chinese restaurant again, also highly recommended and one of the best during the entire vacation.
Day 16: Scottsdale
On the way to back to Phoenix were we would take our flight back to the Netherlands, we wanted to visit Joshua Tree National Park. The distance was too long for us, so we turned back at the park entrance. For this day we had a hotel in Scottsdale. Even though we were staying in the area near Phoenix and Scottsdale for two days, we had two different hotels, don’t ask me why. My sister and mother insisted on shopping – even though they didn’t buy anything which they couldn’t get in the Netherlands – so we visited a large shopping mall. It was huge, far greater than anything we have in the Netherlands. For a standard of comparison, Hoog Catharijne is a provincial backwater compared to that. I also noticed a lot of teenage girls who looked like walking fashion industry advertisements, apparently spoilt by their rich parents.
Day 17: Phoenix
On this last day we wanted to visit the Apache Trail. I haven’t seen much of it, because no one wanted to walk the trail in temperatures near 45 ℃, neither did I. On the way there we came across the Goldfield Ghost Town & Mine, which is a ghost town. A commercialised, renovated ghost town to be exact, so the term ‘ghost town’ could not really be justified. I thought it had been better to skip it, until I we noticed some sort of small museum displaying large (living) snakes, reptiles and spiders. The guy who ran the museum, the Superstition Live Reptile Exhibit, told us passionately about the animals on display. Even though it was a very small museum, what could be seen here and this persons interest in telling us about the creatures made it totally worth the money. We spoke about our previous encounter with a snake in Zion National Park. When he showed us a bloody photo of some nasty surgical procedure on a snakebite victim, I’m glad the snake we met wasn’t aggressive at all and that we didn’t accidentally provoke it! Unfortunately I forgot to show him my snake photo so he could identify the snake. After that we drove to our hotel, close to the airport.
Day 18: Departure
We had to rise early at 5:00 to catch the flight to Washington, and transfer there to a flight to Amsterdam. Of course United Airlines, with its boasting that they’re number one in on-time arrivals in it’s advertisements, had to fuck up at this point. The airliner was delayed by 45 minutes. Fortunately Amsterdam was our final destination. If UA really scores best on the lowest amount of delays, I don’t want to know what the other American airways are like.