In 2011, my girlfriend, my mate and I completed an incredible road trip around the western USA – this is our story.
In my previous five blogs I have talked of the incredible road trip I took with my mate and my girlfriend in a Chevy Cruze from LA to San Francisco to Yosemite and on to Death Valley, where on 26th August 2011 we had reached 123°F and needed somewhere to stay. In the middle of a desert…
We descended even further, reaching 100 feet below sea level. By this time it was far too uncomfortable to be wearing a shirt and even though it was 6pm and heading toward sunset the temperature was still over 110°F! We stopped by a wagon which used to be pulled by 20 mules across the desert. I know that because the wagon was essentially a museum piece fenced off with a descriptive sign in the middle of nowhere, about as far from an actual museum as it could possibly be.
It was still ridiculously hot even as the sun set and we suddenly realised it was Friday night (in Death Valley there’s no real sense of anything as normal as days of the week). I made a playlist on my iPod entitled “Death Valley Friday Beats 26 Aug 11”. I still listen to it a lot as it reminds me of the surreal nature of that wonderful evening as the sun set on quite literally the hottest day of my life.
We stopped to take yet more pictures at the Nevada border – up until now we had been in California, which is just an incredibly diverse state when you think about it. But now thoughts turned to the pressing matter of where we were going to stay that night. We decided to stop about 25 minutes short of Vegas at Indian Springs and check into a motel for a well earned shower after our hottest day ever (not an exaggeration!) First, though, we needed a meal and this was alien country. By which I mean we weren’t far at all from Area 51 and the road just a little north of the one we drove down that evening has more alien sightings than anywhere in the world. So of course I had to have the motel’s impressive and huge alien burger, complete with olives for eyes. I so nearly finished it but it was just too much…
The following day we booked hostels for when we got back to LA and my last night in the USA in new York, whilst watching the news that Hurricane Irene was about to strike. We pressed on and the sweetest thing about that morning was finally having filled our milk jugs and bottles up with cold water from the motel rather than the oh-so-hot water we’d had to drink the day before.
As soon as we set off the temperature was back over 100°F. We passed Las Vegas (we planned to come back to it a few days later) and stopped for a Subway on Route 66, perhaps the most famous road in the world. I bought a Stetson (read: $14 straw hat) in preparation for Monument Valley a couple of days later, where Dr Who was filmed!
Before that it was the Grand Canyon in Arizona and, lo and behold, it was breathtaking. We went to the South Rim, the far more popular side about ten miles from the North Rim as the crow flies and 25 miles if you walk down and up.
We walked along the rim, taking it in turns to have our photo taken on more and more precarious ledges, daring ourselves to climb up on rocks just for the sake of a good profile picture. Eventually, though, we stopped putting our lives at risk and took our spot to watch the sunset over the canyon, a fantastic thing to witness.
We pitched at the only campsite in the Grand Canyon national park itself and despite being up during the night during a thunderstorm, we got up at 5am to drive back to the rim to watch the sunrise. On the way we tuned in via satellite radio to the Belgian Grand Prix on 5Live, a surreal thing to listen to at dawn at the Grand Canyon for sure. We parked up and got a free shuttle bus to Yaki Point, the spot we reckoned would be the best to watch from, with minutes to spare.
There was a bit of cloud but, god, it was stunning. After taking some cool silhouette pictures of us against the sunrise we headed back for a well earned breakfast at the plaza before hitting the road. It was only 8:30 but it felt like we had been awake for ages. Tiredness was soon forgotten, however, when we stopped whilst heading out of the campsite to fill up our bottles with water. There, just wandering through the campsite, were two bucks, just chilling eating some shrubbery merely feet from people’s tents. I was able to walk right up to them to the extent that I could barely fit them in a photo – I don’t think I’ve ever been able to get that close to a wild animal before, just incredible.
The next stage of the road trip was incredible as we drove further east towards Monument Valley, the most iconic of American landscapes. I said it about Yosemite but if there is one place in the world that photos will never quite do justice do and that cannot truly be appreciated until you go there, it’s Monument Valley. More importantly for us, it was the location of the first two episodes of this year’s Doctor Who series so we played Murray Gold’s Eleventh Hour Action Theme as we drove in to the epic landscape. I spent all day remembering parts of the episode set around the area and coming to the conclusion that anything filmed in Mon Val instantly looks more majestic.