I was headed from Reno Nevada to Yosemite National park California, my first stop the town of Bodie. Bodie is one of America’s most famous ghost towns, established in the early 1850s during the Californian Gold Rush the city was abandoned when the gold dried up and went into caretaker mode in 1943. It became a historic landmark in 1961 and is now maintained by the Californian State Park service. It has 110 structures left standing and some of the buildings can be entered into, others shop entrances are blocked behind glass with furnishings and goods stacked on shelving as it was when it was locked up. There are also remains such as nails, bottles and pieces of china on the streets but it’s illegal to remove these. It’s an amazing place to visit and there were a few tourists, unfortunately, the park closes at 6pm or I would have stayed there overnight and see if I could find myself a ghost.
Next stop Yosemite to my first night’s accommodation on the east side of the park, this was as you imagine a spectacular drive. The west entrance is not so popular so driving conditions were optimal, waterfalls, open lakes, stunning meadows and mountain ranges, there isn’t really more you could ask for, every corner just as stunning as the previous. The park is 3000km square and is for outdoor adventurists, hikers, climbers and road tourers. I was essentially driving a loop of the park and would exit at the same point as I entered. When I arrived the hostel was quiet but dinner was free, I spoke to a few backpackers and then headed off to be really early as I wanted to maximise my time in the park the next morning.
Up at 6am I drove back into Yosemite and headed towards the most popular area where I would be staying and exploring for the day, the Half Dome and Village accommodation area. The Half Dome is a 12-hour hike so short on time I elected to take the bus tour to the view and what a spectacular sight the Dome and park below, a tall insane looking rock mountain in a bed of green. I returned to the bottom and then went on the far less energetic 5-hour 8km hike up the top of Nevada Fall. This is rated as a strenuous hike and I enjoyed going up the side of this waterfall passing other hikers even though I had been drinking a lot of beers on my road trip and my fitness level was down a bit. I snapped a few photos at the top and then headed back down again and drove to a view of El Capitan to look at the massive cliff face, a nap in the park below to recover from the hike and enjoyed the perfect summer day. The evening involved heading to the Half Dome bar, drank a few beers and spoke with other hikers. Then it was to bed and had a well-deserved rest in the canvass tent I had booked for the night.
Up early the following morning there was little traffic as I drove back out of Yosemite heading west to my next destination, the city of St George Utah. First, though I had a stop off to make, the Area 51 Alien Centre. This centre ( which has no website) from what I could tell is not madly popular and when I pulled in was essentially a petrol station with a mocked-up space ship and tow truck sitting out front. The centre was a long bar that also sells alien merchandise, kind of cooky but what should one expect in such a place.
Area 51 area has a serious side to it, its the highly classified Edwards Airforce Base that is believed to be used in testing experimental aircraft though nobody really knows what goes on there. I was told by the Alien Centre bar attendant that if I was to leave the highway and drive to where the public land stops and Area 51 starts, I could possibly be shot by snipers monitoring the area, surrounded by Ford Bronco’s or helicopters would ascend on me and I’d be swiftly arrested. The vendor seemed quite serious so after a beer, a look around the centre, I continued my drive and avoided temptation.
I eventually reached St George on my rather convoluted route that took about 11 hours, Id also decided to avoid the faster route of driving through Las Vegas in case temptation took me and I stayed the evening, instead driving a series of single-lane quiet roads in the Nevada desert to my hotel in Utah. I checked in the hotel and quickly fell asleep, I had one more night left with the rental Ford Mustang before I had to drop it off in Las Vegas so I was going to make the most of the day, and it was a spectacular day.
First stop was Bryce Canyon National Park, the park is a series of irregular spired rocks both red and white forming many natural amphitheatres or small canyons. There are shuttle services around the park and many walks through these theatres, I had my rental car so could do my own personal tour at a rather more accelerated pace, the park can be seen in a day, I saw it in a few hours, the rock formations make it a truly unique experience.
Next was a drive to Zion National Park three hours south. Yet another amazing national park within this confined area, it is on the Colorado Plateau with the Colorado River running through it. It contains tall sandstone red and white rocks much like Bryce Canyon, however its one huge and deep 24km continuous canyon which can be driven through with walks along the Colorado River. I hiked few a few hours along one of these walks and then headed out of the park and continued my rushed road trip 4 hours further south-west.
The rush south culminated in the largest and most famous national park in the USA, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. I had booked accommodation at the Grand Canyon Lodge (which needs to be booked well in advance) and is the only accommodation available in the northern side of the park. I have been to the Southern Rim (which I’ll write about another time) and wanted to enjoy the road trip coming in from the north through the parks I have already mentioned. The North Rim is a 34km hike to the South or approximately 5-hour drive, the North is also closed for winter.
The views of the canyon and the Colorado River below are epic as you expect and with the sunset made for a perfect setting facing south. There really is no adequate way to describe the experience and after experiencing so many spectacular parks across the USA, the Grand Canyon was the best way to spend my last night on my road trip. The evening involved some live country music at an eating hall where I shared a beer, some quality barbeque and laughs with travelling American’s on tour.
The following morning after breakfast I was back on the road and headed for Las Vegas. I crossed the Arizona border back into Utah and then Nevada heading south towards Lake Mead, the largest body of freshwater in the USA. The drive through the desert involved a lot of rock formations, sweeping turns and different desert colours, the lake itself is the reservoir for the nearby Hoover Dam and is at about 40% capacity, it’s strange to see such a large body of fresh water in a desert. I continued onto the Hoover Dam on the border of Arizona and Nevada, constructed between 1931 and 1936 it was successful in taming the wild Colorado River, construction involved 25000 workers of which 100 died. People are allowed to drive and walk across the top of the dam and it makes for quite a spectacular view on both sides. There are organised tours but I was now in a rush to get to Vegas.
After an hour I was in Las Vegas dropping off the car, I had been in the Ford Mustang for six weeks across the USA and was sad as it was like saying goodbye to an old friend. With a tear in my eye I parked the car at the airport, handed in the keys, hailed a cab and headed downtown to Las Vegas for the next five nights before my flight back home. As they say “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” so I won’t go into any detail except to say I love the place “Disneyland for adults”, I don’t gamble but there is always something to do there whether it’s take in the neon lights, grab a show and drink a beer.
My first road trip across America has come to an end, as indicated when I started this blog, I have made three extensive trips across the USA. I’ll write about the next two sometime in the future. The highlights of this road trip would have to be the national parks closely followed by the cities, the history and of course the people I met. I can’t recommend highly enough a trip across the USA and would encourage anyone to do it, it’s easy to get around, the people are accommodating and friendly and can be done relatively inexpensive. So anyway, I hope you enjoyed my road trip from 2012 and I hope to bring you 2014 and 2017 very soon, cheers….