USA roadtrip – Yellowstone

The mighty Yellowstone National Park. It’s famous alright and to be honest I didn’t know why exactly until now. It’s just so unbelievably diverse and unlike any other national park in the world. Some areas make you feel like you’ve stepped off planet earth for a second.

Let me begin with some interesting facts.

  • Established in 1872 Yellowstone is the oldest national park in the world.
  • Total area is 2.2 million acres – which in comprehensible terms is a square area 95km by 95km.
  • Comprised of 80% forest, 15% meadows, 5% water spread across three states. 96% Wyoming, 3% Montana, 1% Idaho.
  • “If you drive every road in Yellowstone National Park you will see only 2% of the park”
  • Contains more than 300 active geysers. Two-thirds of all those on the planet.
  • Contains 10000 geothermal features (geysers, hot springs, steam vents and mud pots). Half of all known features in the world.
  • Home to approximately 4000 bison (or buffalo).
Bison!
Bison! Notice how they are shielding their calves.

The park really is just massive. I was shocked. In the three days I was there I drove 600km just to see the grand sights like the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Mammoth hot springs.

The grand canyon of the Yellowstone
The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
An outer worldly feature at Mammoth hot springs
An alien like hot spring/waterfall at Mammoth hot springs

In a way Yellowstone is a big theme park with rides and attractions scattered everywhere and everyone dashing to the next ride. One difference though. Instead of getting distracted by food stalls on your way to the next ride you get distracted by herds of bison, or get caught in a “bear jam”.

I saw hundreds and hundreds of bison, a handful of elk and five grizzly bears.

A full grown bison is monstrous!!! Weighing a ton and according to the park ranger’s talk “They are real athlete’s too. They’re no cow. They can sprint 30 miles an hour and jump over a car.” Bison also injure the most people every year because people get too close for comfort and BAM. You’re sitting in hospital telling your story about how you got gored by a bison. Congrats.

Continuing with the bison subject. One afternoon I was driving and pulled up to a stop because two bison were walking along in my lane without a care in the world. I waited for a few minutes then crept closer so I could squeeze past. The other lane was in a “bison jam” for hundreds of metres so no way through there.

As I past I remember looking out the window and seeing a ton of muscle eyeballing me only a metre from my shrinking car. Please don’t charge I thought…and it didn’t, phew. No hospital goring stories to tell.

Bison...Please don't charge my car as I creep past you
This was my situation. The bison is taller than the car!

Accommodation wise I camped in the park. Two nights at Madison and one night at Norris campground. Both were good. Half of Yellowstone’s campgrounds are reservation only and the other half fill up on a first come first served basis.

In addition to the tremendous wildlife and wild geysers, Yellowstone is a mecca for photographers. Every second person had a big, black, shiny Canon or Nikon. One lady even had three camera’s draped around her neck and was switching between them. Too many for my liking. When a place gets like that it just feels too touristy.

So how would I rate Yellowstone compared to the other parks?

I thought about this really long and hard, and I finally settled on this list…

My favourite national parks to date:

  1. Yosemite, California
  2. Yellowstone, Wyoming
  3. Zion, Utah
  4. Grand Canyon, Arizona
  5. Redwoods, California
  6. Arches, Utah

I can’t go past Yosemite for the win. It’s stunning beauty, hiking trails and ease to get around trump the geothermal uniqueness, wildlife and vastness of Yellowstone.

Old Faithful ever so faithfully erupting every 90 minutes
Old Faithful ever so faithfully blowing it’s top every 90 minutes. View from Observation Hill.
Norris geyser basin was my favourite
Norris geyser basin was my favourite place. Look at all that steam.

USA roadtrip – Grand Canyon rim to rim hike

Woah. I’ve barely had a free moment since I left Las Vegas. It’s been go go go. Camp, hike, drive, camp, hike, drive.

The Grand Canyon trek, along with Yosemite, were the two most exciting places for me before I set out on this roadtrip. Was it worth it? No doubt! Fantastic experience.

I had applied for an elusive Grand Canyon backcountry camping permit back on 1 January for a four day crossing of the canyon. North Rim to South Rim. These permits are hard to get, I believe the figure is one in three applicants are successful. So obviously I was really happy to be one of the “chosen ones”.

The total distance was only 40 odd kilometres. Just a cruisy 10 kilmetres a day so plenty of time to just sit back and “breathe it in”. Get to know the canyon inside out.

It has to be said again that the weather was beautiful. The week previous had been a scorcher, but this week was perfect. There’s a huge temperature difference between the rim and the floor. About 15 degrees celsius (which now that I think about it makes sense according the the rule of thumb – 10 degrees per 1000 metres).

Brilliant weather and a strange piece of flora on the walk to Plateau Point.
Brilliant weather and a strange piece of flora on the walk to Plateau Point.

I started out this trip alone but at the second camp I met a couple of gals from Ohio, Amanda and Sarah. We hung out a fair bit until I got bored and hiked out of the canyon – ok no. Until the trip was over.

We mainly laughed at my horrible looking microwavable meals I was eating un-microwaved, my squirrel chasing finesse, and my strict nazi-like criteria BEFORE you can take a photo. Plus we were just plain delirious dehydrated hikers (only joking Mum).

Me, Sarah, Amanda. We're laughing at the "crappy photo" about to be taken. Turned out good though.
Me, Sarah, Amanda. We’re laughing at the “crappy photo” about to be taken. Turned out good though.
Dinner anyone? This was one of the better tasting ones. Mmmm three cheese.
Dinner anyone? This was one of the better tasting ones. Mmmm three cheese.

Looking back on the trip there are a few things that really surprised me.

First there was this image in my head that I’d hike down the north rim, then spend the next so many days hiking across the open, desert like floor with little shade or water before I hiked back out. No, no, no. Not the case at all. The canyon never did open out, just a whole series of narrow-ish canyons and the trail followed a flowing stream most of the way!

Then there were the runners. I couldn’t believe the number of people running (or even walking) rim to rim in one day. That’s a 12 hour walk at least.

I got talking to a runner and he even said “It’s a bit of a thing for us runners to do the double. Rim to rim to rim in one day. 48.8 miles”. That’s almost two marathons back to back!!!

Nearly at the top!
Nearly at the top of south rim!

And the last big surprise was “arrrr my pack is so heavy”. I’d never done a hike with a heavy pack, or a multi-day hike at that and it’s hard work! I guessed my pack weighed almost 20kg (40 pounds) and I had to stop every half hour to rest. When I got to camp I generally slept for a couple of hours before I got back to it.

That said there were people of all ages hiking rim to rim. Couples in their sixties hiking across in just one day. I’m just not battle hardened enough.

Me having one of my breaks. I was getting faster (or my pack was just lighter).
Me having one of my breaks. I was getting faster (or my pack was just lighter).

Wildlife was quite abundant. Lots of lizards, squirrels, and some mule deer. Because I was practically “breathing it in” I even saw the rare and very crowd pleasing California Condor…twice. Up to a ten foot wing span.

Overall it was fantastic. Ribbon falls and Plateau Point were the highlights. Yosemite still claws the win in my opinion though.

Ribbon Falls.
Ribbon Falls
Plateau Point. That's not the very edge by the way.
Plateau Point

USA roadtrip – Disneyland and Vegas

Well how ironic. It’s time (actually well overdue) to write a post about Viva Las Vegas and I only have really limited time to squeeze it out before I get squeezed out the exit doors. So looks like what happened in Vegas will have to stay in Vegas.

First though Kelly and I went to Disneyland and California Adventure Park. I just want to say a big thanks to Debbi who works there and she was kind enough to let us both in for free – thank-you and hope to meet up again in our travels.

A highlight of Las Vegas was going to a David Copperfield magic show. He’s the most famous magician alive and possibly ever. We got so lucky when an attendant randomly came up to us sitting three rows from the back and asked “If you would like we have a couple of front row seats available”. Yes please!

We left that show so dumbfounded and confused. Literally was unbelievable!

We also had the most fun night of our roadtrip on our last night together at a really fun bar called Coyote Ugly. Now we’ve both headed our own ways for more unknown adventures.

I’ve just hiked across the Grand Canyon and I’d love to have time to make a post about that now but it’ll have to be in the near future. I’m about to get the boot from this RV park common room.

The iconic castle at Disneyland.
The iconic castle at Disneyland.
Mickey Mouse's house
Mickey Mouse’s house, Disneyland
Meeting Mickey Mouse in his own house.
Meeting Mickey Mouse in his house, Disneyland
A fun roller coaster, California Screamin, at California Adventure Park.
A fun roller coaster, California Screamin, at California Adventure Park.
Look who's just taking a casual stroll down the street. Howdy.
Look who’s just taking a casual stroll down the street. Howdy.
New York New York has an awesome roller coaster we went on at night.
New York New York has an awesome roller coaster we went on at night.
Caesar's Palace is so huge and unbelievable.
Caesar’s Palace is so huge and unbelievable.
The grandest shopping mall I've ever been to - The Forum shops at Caesar's Palace, Las Vegas.
The grandest shopping mall I’ve ever been to – The Forum shops at Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas.

USA roadtrip – Yosemite

Yosemite National Park in California (pronounced Yos-sem-it-tee). Boy oh boy. The closest thing to paradise I’ve seen and the highlight to date of my USA roadtrip.

Waterfalls galore, tremendous glacier carved granite cliff faces, greenery abounds and the snowy Sierra Nevada mountain range that’s only visible from the highest peaks.

At the summit of the famous rock climbing peak  El Capitan
At the summit of the famous rock climbing peak El Capitan with the snowy Sierra Nevada mountain range in the background

There’s one problem though – everyone knows it!

And isn’t that the problem with so many “must see” places? By the time they reach that “must see” status that once secluded paradise has turned into Highway 101.

Now that’s not to say Yosemite was over crowded  or even remotely unpleasant when I was there. Not at all. I hiked for five hours straight and only saw five people.

What I gathered from others was right now is one of the best times of year to visit too. The waterfalls are approaching their peak, the crowds are quite alright, and the weather is just about perfect. The summer crowds of July and August are apparently wild.

But even so the evidence is still there. Trails that are a four hour tough slog away from the nearest car are well and truly beaten in and over a metre wide. And this is at the start of the hiking season too, albeit after the snowmelt. What will the trails look like in four months time?

This is the trail just before reaching Eagle Peak
This is the trail just before reaching Eagle Peak, four hours from the trail head

But regardless of this I had a really really damn awesome and satisfying time. Just mind blowing surroundings.

Yosemite was the place I was most looking forward to visiting on this roadtrip and it didn’t disappoint.

The valley itself is really impressive. 1 mile wide, 7 miles long and surrounded by sheer walls of granite that loom 1000m above in all directions.

I knew I only had two days to make my Yosemite experience one to remember so it was go go go.

Day 1 I did a 9km return hike to the top of Vernal Falls and Nevada falls. The mist at the base of Vernal falls was so intense that a rainbow was visible.

Vernal Falls (the mist falls)
Vernal Falls (the mist falls)
The rainbow from Vernal Falls.
The rainbow from Vernal Falls mist
Liberty Cap looms over Nevada Falls
Liberty Cap looms over Nevada Falls

Then I caught the free shuttle bus to Lower Yosemite Falls. Yosemite Falls is the tallest waterfall in North America and the fifth tallest in the world. 739 metres top to bottom over two waterfalls – Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls.

I managed to squeeze in a drive up to Glacier Point stopping at the awesome and very popular Tunnel View lookout.

The weather turned wild that afternoon. Rain, fog, clouds, and even some hail.

The awesome view of El Capitan on the left and Bridleveil Falls on the right from Tunnel lookout
The awesome view of El Capitan on the left and Bridleveil Falls on the right from Tunnel View lookout
That's Yosemite Falls way down there looking from Glacier Point
That’s Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls way down there from the Glacier Point lookout

So so happy the weather played nice for Day 2. Thank-you weather gods. I did the longest hike I’ve ever done in a day. 31km over 10 hours and climbed about 1500m up and down. It was pretty tough but awesome to have accomplished. Eagle Peak was the highlight (and coincidentally the highest point) of the day.

Someday I’ll have to get back here to do the mother of all day hikes – Half Dome (the one in the picture below). Easy right? Only 26km.

Eagle peak. Still a few hundred metres below the top of Half Dome. It took me 8 attempts on timer to get this photo.
Eagle peak. Still a few hundred metres below the top of the majestic Half Dome. It took me 8 attempts on timer to get this photo.

USA roadtrip – San Francisco

San Francisco, the City by the Bay, Fog City, the Paris of the West, Everybody’s Favourite City. No matter what you call it Frisco is the best city I’ve ever been to.

Highlights for me over the past four days have been watching the sunset from an awesome rooftop location, hiring a bike and riding from downtown over the Golden Gate bridge, the novelty of the steep streets, a locals tour of the city, visiting movie sets like Mrs Doubtfire’s house, going to a baseball game, and visiting Alcatraz.

Here’s an interesting fact too. The Chinatown district here is the oldest in North America dating back to 1848 and also has the largest Chinese community in the world outside of Asia.

The best rooftop location in town, right where I stayed.
The best rooftop location in town, right where I was lucky enough to stay.

Sitting up here at sunset it felt like I was in a movie set. Like a Jason Statham film and he’s either sitting here at the end of the film reflecting on all the carnage he’s inflicted or he’s lining up a sniper shot through one of those many windows.

Little needs to be said. The golden gate bridge with the city in the background.
The golden gate bridge with the city in the background from Marin Headlands.

There’s no better way to see the bridge than riding over it. Those long swooping cables that run from the tops of the towers are huge.

This gives some perspective
This gives some perspective

Then there were the steep streets. They certainly make for some weird and wonderful perspectives with all these angles. It’s a photographers dream, and walking around I did see a lot of enthusiasts with their big lens cameras finding just the right spot. A big congregation is always hovering around Lombard Street. It’s one of the city’s most popular attractions. The street was too steep for a straight road so for practicality a road with eight bends was constructed.

Lombard St, San Francisco. The "crookedest street in the world". A big tourist attraction.
Lombard St, San Francisco. The “crookedest street in the world”. A big tourist attraction.
A car descends one of the steepest streets in San Francisco - Filbert St, grade of 31.5%.
This car “falls down” one of the steepest streets in San Francisco – Filbert St, grade of 31.5%.

Filmmakers love San Francisco and why wouldn’t they? By filming here they get a lovely backdrop that makes any movie look better and with so many iconic locations in one place. I had some fun tracking down Mrs Doubtfire’s house and even though I’d never seen Full House we visited the beautiful Alamo Square and saw the “painted ladies”.

Mrs Doubtfire's house! San Francisco.
Mrs Doubtfire’s house! San Francisco.
The painted ladies from Alamo Square, San Francisco. The opening scene set from Full House.
The painted ladies from Alamo Square, San Francisco. The opening scene set from Full House.

Next up was a visit to the world famous Alcatraz. Just a casual 16 million people visit the island each year!

They have a really great hour long audio tour where you get headphones and are guided around the prison. It works brilliantly because they’re just too many people for guided tours to work. As Kelly said “It’s like a silent disco” with everyone moving round and not talking.

The views from the island are awesome too. You can see the city, the bay bridge and the golden gate bridge. We were lucky to have a beautiful day.

I’ve also updated my USA photos.

Alcatraz ruins
Alcatraz ruins. The prison closed 50 years ago in 1963.
Cell 138. The site of the famous great escape from Alcatraz. See the dummy head and the escape hole.
Cell 138. The site of the famous great escape from Alcatraz. See the dummy head and the escape hole.
Classic photo of San Fran. Cable cars, steep hills and Alcatraz.
Classic photo of San Fran from Hyde St. Cable cars, steep hills and Alcatraz.

USA roadtrip – Vancouver to San Francisco

At last I’ve hit the road for one awesome month long American roadtrip!

It was such a surreal feeling 6 days ago when I was driving to go pick up Kelly in Vancouver. After 4 months of planning out the whole trip by email I felt like is this really happening? After so long of talking we were finally about to start walking and make these plans a reality.

The weather has been perfect every day, so lucky given it’s supposed to rain a fair bit this time of year along the northern coast. The sensation of actually feeling warmth when the sun is out is amazing. 20 degree days feel like they are nearly 30, I’ve forgotten how hot that is.

First up was Seattle, supposedly the city everyone wants to move to in America. I found the first ever Starbucks, started back in 1971. Starbucks are everywhere around here, and free wifi too.

A big eye opener was the underground tour, the city was originally built on a flood plain and now there are so many passages and first floors of buildings that were once ground level but now completely underground.

Driving further south we passed through the wonderful and small town feel city of Portland, Oregon. It was refreshing walking through a city of low rises instead of sky scrapers for once. Everywhere was so clean and the people so friendly.

Portland from 30 stories up
Portland from 30 stories up

While these cities were fun, I was most looking forward to getting to the big trees. Heading towards the coast to go camping in a California redwood forest was exciting, and it was funny the campground was exactly like I had envisioned it. Right in amongst a dense, dark forest.

Just awesome camping around these goliaths
Just awesome camping around these goliaths
A climbable coast redwood in Jebediah Smith National Park, California
A climbable coast redwood in Jebediah Smith National Park, California

The park info centre guide said go to Klamath outlook to see whales. We thought OMG wouldn’t that be awesome, but we didn’t actually think we’d be that lucky. I mean who ever is that lucky to see whales from land right?

Fast forward an hour and we had soaked up the spectacular view and were about to call it…no whales lets go. Then a man beside us goes “Just to the left of that rock”. Wewewhaaaaat?

We later learned he had been watching these whales for the past 3 days…so lucky we had a trained eye on board or no chance. We ended up seeing 3 or 4 grey whales and a seal or two. They were just hanging out so close to the shore.

Spotting a grey whale spouting at Klamath Overlook, California
Spotting a grey whale spouting at Klamath Overlook, California. “To the left of that rock”

The next couple of days was redwood central. Walking and even driving through a tree!

Strolling among the tallest trees on the planet with no one else to disturb the peaceful serenity was awe inspiring. It gave me a greater appreciation of time knowing that these trees are up to 2000 years old. Growing inch by inch year by year into where they stand now. Every handrail seemed like it was too small given the scale of the surroundings.

The "big tree" in Redwood National Park, California
The “big tree” in Redwood National Park, California
Avenue of the Giants scenic drive, California
Avenue of the Giants scenic drive, California

The last stop we made before San Francisco was at the Napa Valley. It was a big day of driving so not much time but hey I made the time to climb a light post! Now I’m here in San Francisco for the next few days and wow I love it, but that’s for the next post.

A Napa vineyard from the top of an electrical pole
A Napa vineyard from the top of an light post