Saturday, 29 September 2012

Goodbye Godchild

Well, it's back to the quiet life for me!  Hannah caught her flight to London earlier today.  We spent the end of her hols mopping up any sins we'd missed out (although Las Vegas pretty much accounted for all of them...and then some).  A trip to wine country, a stop off at Whole Foods Santa Rosa - the one that has a bar inside the supermarket! - and then, of course Yogurtland.

Sin #464: Champagne.

Sin #465: Grapes.

Sin #466: Pumpkins.

Sin #467: Beer in a supermarket.

Sin #468: Champagne (again).

Sin #469: frozen yogurt (although, unlike our other Godchildren, Hannah did not consider this the best thing to happen to her in her whole life ever).

Sin #470: Having to leave :(

Thursday, 27 September 2012

1592.2 miles

And just like that, it was over.

After a delicious "Dirty Pumpkin" at the Looney Bean coffee shop (Psycho Donuts to start, Looney Bean to finish - I don't just throw this together!) we climbed north into the Sierra Nevadas and Yosemite.

Before hitting the park we made a detour to Bodie.  This is the biggest ghost town in the US, and makes Calico's mall an insult to the ghost town brand.  At its height in the gold rush 10,000 people lived in Bodie, and now it's only the park rangers.  There are about 100 buildings still standing, representing 5% of the original town, once the third largest in California, and everything has just been left.  You wander, peering into dusty windows, looking at what everyone left behind.  It's more than a little eerie.

There's also a curse.  If you take anything from the town bad luck is supposed to haunt you.  We didn't steal, of course, for ethical and historical reasons, and laughed at the superstitious tourists.  A couple of hours later we hit a deer in Yosemite.  I checked with Hannah that she hadn't snuck anything out but she claims not.  The deer didn't fare too well, unfortunately, and the car is a little bashed up.  Time for a new American experience - an insurance claim!

Despite that, Yosemite remained as beautiful and breathtaking as ever.  Hannah proclaimed it the most beautiful place she'd ever seen.  And this is a girl who's been to the Jelly Belly factory!  We drove along the top of the granite peaks and then down into the valley (where I reported the deer death to a sympathetic ranger).

The final section of the drive was the least inspiring, through the Central Valley as darkness fell.  It's still fun to see almond, cherry, and every-other-type-of-orchard but we've been a bit spoiled by the amazing sights of the last few days.  We finished with the milometer counting just below 1,600, and while I was tempted to travel a little further to tip it over it was high time to return home.  So: 1592.2 miles, highest point: Tioga Pass at 9,941ft, lowest point: Badwater Basin at -282ft, several pumpkin lattes, one confirmed kill.  All in all a very successful trip.

Welcome to Bodie.

Some of what's left, empty.

It's just full of...stuff.

Reminds me of my room at uni.

Lively church.

A ghostly image in the mirror.

And at the window.

Bodie was known for wickedness, badmen, and "the worst climate out of doors".

As this is California, rent is probably $2000 a month.

A new resident.

It's my La-Z-Boy!


Not any more.

The general store.


We scoffed at the curse.  And then hit a deer.

This is before you even get to the Yosemite entrance!

Stunning, as ever.  And the mountains.

An alternative view down to Half Dome.

Rock chick.

No animals were harmed in the taking of this picture.  Well, maybe one.

Down at the bottom.

Goodbye Yosemite Valley, and farewell road trip as the shadows lengthen.

The magic number.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

1216.8 miles

My spiritual home, you may be surprised to hear, is not the Las Vegas Strip but the desert.  In a previous life I was an eagle, or a dung beetle.  Either way, I relaxed as soon as we left Sin City behind (having enjoyed a pumpkin spice Starbucks latte).  The suburbs of this place sprawl endlessly but eventually give way to rocks and sand.  Then it was out into the wilderness.

We crossed the California border, immediately sensing the organicness and anarchy, and down into Death Valley.  Our first destination was Badwater Basin, the lowest point in the USA (later we saw Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the Lower 48, only 80 miles on).  Temperatures peaked as we walked through the dunes at Mesquite Flats, and we marveled at the price being asked for a gallon of petrol here - by Chevron, no less.

We left the park on the opposite side, driving up the foothills of the eastern Sierra Nevadas and down into a strange half-desert-half-green valley on the other side.  The mountains, including Mt. Whitney, form a wall that shoots up to 14,500ft, and we arrived just in time to see the sun disappear behind it and the gargantuan shadows sweep across the plains below.

We stopped in Bishop, which is funny but very nice little place, a gateway to the national parks and forests to its left, therefore full of travelers and the independent shops and cafes that congregate around such people.  And the motel had TLC, and tonight it was Toddlers and Tiaras...

Creatures of the desert can grow to incredible sizes to cope with the lack of water.

And relax.

I laugh extremely in the face of extreme danger!

Hannah and the rock formations at Zabriskie Point.

"Fluxuating"?  When will the murder of English by the Americans cease?!

Deep down.

Hannah is currently the lowest person in the USA.  If she wanted to get lower, she'd have to become a politician.

Chevron, Death Valley.  How much?

New temperature record.

Out into the dunes.

Replenishing nutrients lost to the dry wind at Astorga's Mexican in Bishop.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

878.3 miles

"Victorville?  Wow, you came to the wrong place."  So said the cashier in Starbucks this morning when I told her we were here on holiday.  It wasn't that bad, but then we did drive away immediately to our first stop at Calico Ghost Town.  A "ghost town" located on "Ghost Town Road" was hardly going to be authentic, and although the place does have abandoned mines it's more of a ghost-town-themed-mall these days.

We grabbed lunch in Baker, next to the world's tallest thermometer.  It wasn't working, perhaps malfunctioning in the 100F+ heat.  Then it was a drive through relentless desert until we found the Hoover Dam.  This was quite exciting, as I got to be in California, Nevada and Arizona all on the same day.

We retraced our steps toward sin city and checked into Sam's Town.  "Will you want two beds or one?" asked the desk clerk.  "Two," I answered, pausing.  "She's my Goddaughter."  "Of course she is sir," he replied.  Hmmm.  But the place is quaint, cheap (i.e. several miles off the Strip), has animatronic bears and wolves, and its own all-you-can-eat buffet.

We wanted the real Vegas, so sneakily parked in The Flamingo and sauntered through several of the massive casinos.  It was quiet, for Vegas, but still packed, which I suppose is surprising for a Monday night out of season.  People need to gamble!  We scratched that particular itch by returning to the more sedate environs of Sam's Town and trying the 1 cent machines.  No winnings for either of us, I'm afraid, and no free drinks from absent cocktail waitresses.  I'll send Hannah out to find her own big spender - I'm too old, and off to bed.

The finest breakfast in Victorville!

Even the ghosts have abandoned it.

Can't blame them.

A decent fit.

Authentic gold rush signs.

Looking down at the desert.

We did take a ride on their train.

Hannah: dismissive.

For the dog that has everything.

The big thermometer, that didn't work.

No longer vegetarian.

Oh, yeah, we also stopped at a place that sold "alien jerky".

Posing with a Joshua Tree.

The Hoover Dam.

What if they're saddled?

High up and scary.

Right foot in Nevada, left foot in Arizona.

The view from our room in Sam's Town.

They have a live bear here!  Oh, wait...

Almost rivaling the Bellagio.

No Hannah, do not gamble, it is evil!

Moon over Vegas.

Hannah studied modern languages at uni, and so was obviously amazed at the authenticity of the "Paris" casino.

Vegas, as usual.

Bellagio fountains, spraying to "Fly Me to the Moon".

Oh, we did eat somewhere cool for dinner (i.e. cheap): Secret Pizza at The Cosmopolitan.

Sicilians regard that as a very sacred relationship.

The Mirage volcano, also authentic.

Negative winnings...