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UNITED STATES

Trip report: 5000 km through California and the National Parks: a lot of freedom and even more attractions
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UNITED STATES: PHOTOS AND TRIP REPORT

Here below some of the most fascinating photos from California and the United States. Together with the photogallery, you will find a funny and interesting trip report full of info and anecdotes describing the whole travel itinerary. If you haven't read them yet, check out all travel info and precise itinerary here: www.wildtrips.net/united-states.htm.

Monument Valley
Monument Valley

UNITED STATES TRIP REPORT

In the sunny August of 2006 I went to the US with three friends and a lot of imagination. I was hoping to have an "on the road" adventure like the characters in Jack Kerouac’s novel… maybe with less alcohol and drugs, but equally fun.
Probably my youth fantasies were exaggerated and our vacation was by no means "beat-generation-like”. Yet, despite the lack of booze, hangovers, poverty and homelessness, it was a great trip.
It all started from San Francisco airport, where we collected our Dollar rental car. The clerk of the agency was moved to pity when he noticed how much luggage we had, so at no extra-cost he provided us with a spacious SUV instead of the sedan we had booked via internet. The clerk was so kind and caring that we considered asking him also for a free gold watch and a kidney, but in the end we didn’t want to take advantage of the situation.
It was night. We drove for half an hour before stopping at a motel.
The next morning we woke up with enthusiasm under a blue sky. We set off towards our first destination, the Yosemite National Park. The typical 8-lane road really smelled of America but was unattractive. When we turned towards the mountains, 6 lanes disappeared and the landscape became more enjoyable.
Yosemite
Yosemite, California. This national park boasts beautidul mountain scenery and it's a paradise for trekking and climbing.
For those who are not used to driving cars with automatic transmission, I have a quick suggestion. When you stop the car, please don’t press the clutch pedal strongly with your left foot. Firstly, because there is no clutch pedal. Secondly, because you will press the brake pedal instead, brutally stopping the vehicle. Luckily, no one rammed into the back of our SUV and the holiday didn’t end there.
The Yosemite owes its fame to the impressive rocky mountains and “alpine” landscapes, with mythical cliffs that are a free-climber’s paradise.
Yosemite
Yosemite, California
The road went up through a dense forest. We parked and we ventured into the vegetation on easy trails. There were many huge trees and the superb giant sequoias. We were excited as children at the carnival. We jumped and climbed around while watching trees that were more than a hundred meters tall and with trunks so wide that you could dig a road tunnel through them. It isn’t just an example: at the end of the 19th century a tunnel was dug in the sequoia Wawona, without asking her permission. Wawona didn’t appreciate and since then she lost her healthy and vigorous appearance.
Yosemite
Yosemite, California
Yosemite
Sequoia at Yosemite. These trees can be one hundred meters high and thousands of years old.
A sad story that didn’t manage to ruin our mood. Actually, our enthusiasm was fueled by the absurdity of those gigantic trees as it was a juicy anticipation of the many other American excesses we had ahead. We were close to meet the free madness of the US.

Yosemite
Yosemite
We drove up to a scenic spot full of squirrels, the Glacier Point. From there we could admire uninterrupted views of mountains, valleys and forests. We continued our car trip, stopping occasionally to have a short walk or to take some photos at a viewpoint. We found rivers, waterfalls and scarily-high granite cliffs (including the famous El Capitan). Some of the mountain passes were over 3000 meters above sea level. It’s important to know that some places, for example Glacier Point and Tioga Pass (on the road to Nevada), are closed from November to May because of the snow.
Yosemite
Yosemite
Well, everybody knows that very high mountains are high indeed. Yet we didn’t think about it and we decided to camp on a mountain pass. It’s true that in the day it was hot, but in the evening the temperature dropped to 5 degrees below zero. We were at 2700 meters above sea level, so we couldn’t really complain.
We should have burnt all the forest in order to keep warm (one of us panicked and was about to set fire to our only map of the United States, but we stopped him in time). Instead, we went to sleep at 10PM in our summer sleeping-bags, wearing light clothes as we didn’t have anything else. At 4 AM we were all locked in the car with the heating on. So we made a virtue of necessity and we drove to some viewpoints to enjoy the sunrise. It was spectacular. We thanked the frost.
Yosemite
Yosemite
Still, that Yosemite camp had two very positive aspects:
1) There was a sign that said “Don’t feed the bears”;
2) Payment method was cash deposit in a wooden box.
Nobody checked: it was all based on trust. It was a nice example of the Americans’ high sense of community. It’s also true that many of them support death sentences, fast-foods, creationism over darwinism and wars around the world, but, hey, nobody’s perfect.
We spent the morning wandering around, then we left the beautiful mountain landscapes and drove down to the desert flats shared by California and Nevada.
Death Valley
Death Valley. A hot and arid but spectacular region.
We improvised, but we had an approximate travel itinerary in mind. We ate a hamburger in a pub that looked as if taken straight out of a western movie. After lunch, the outside temperature rose to 45 degrees. It means that we suffered a temperature shift of 50 degrees in 7 hours. I felt like a frozen fish suddenly thrown in the pan.
Death Valley
Death Valley
Death Valley
Death Valley
We arrived in the Death Valley and admired its extreme landscapes: salt lakes, canyons, rocky peaks. No vegetation and no water except for a few paddles at the edge of a salt lake at an altitude of one hundred meters under the sea-level. We slept in a cheap motel (as we did most nights).
Death Valley
Death Valley
Death Valley
Death Valley
After an American breakfast with eggs and bacon, we ventured again in the American nature. Zion Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands… they are all extraordinary places, with an amazing variety of landscapes (although the rocky canyons are the main highlight, as you can guess from the names).
Zion National Park
Zion National Park. A weird place where to go jogging.
It was a photography enthusiast’s paradise, with those ever-changing shapes and colors and with sunrises and sunsets that took the breath away.
It was 2006 so we were at the beginning - at least to my knowledge - of digital photography. My camera had a 128 MB SD memory holding about 60 photos. Before the holiday, it seemed to me that it was sufficient, being the equivalent of three old rolls! Instead, the desire to take zillions of photos was irresistible. Luckily we had a PC with us where we could download our pictures. At the end of the holiday we counted about 1000 photos each, taken on a journey of 5000 kilometers. The simple idea of a 128 MB memory now makes me laugh.
Bryce Canyon
Bryce Canyon. These pinnacles are even weirder.
Bryce Canyon
Bryce Canyon
Of all the places, Bryce Canyon is the one that surprised us the most along our travel itinerary, with its improbable red rock pinnacles. It's simple to visit: a comfortable road climbs up a mountain, reaching an altitude of over 2000 meters and providing many vantage points.
Bryce Canyon
Bryce Canyon. Probably one of the strangest national parks in the world.
Bryce Canyon
Bryce Canyon
The Canyonlands region is less flashy, but wilder. So its visit is much more adventurous: you can follow a variety of semi-deserted dirt roads that run through canyons and rocky terrain.
Canyonlands
Canyonlands. A wild region with beautiful scenery and roads where driving is great fun.
Adventure is what a fair person needs in the midst of such amazing scenery. It was a mistake, due to our inexperience, not to organize some mad activities in the wilderness. 4x4 exploration, skidding on the gravel and looking for the perfect camera angle was satisfying, but we had the itch to do something more and the feeling to be continually dominated by landscapes that were too big for us. Some hiking and a canoe ride on a river or a lake would have been excellent and economic solutions. There were also more expensive and complicated (but rewarding) opportunities, such as 3-day rafting tours or rock-climbing in the Grand Canyon.
Canyonlands
Canyonlands
Canyonlands
Canyonlands
After some scenic drives along dirt roads in the Canyonlands region, we reached the Lake Powell, where Americans of the rurrounding states go on weekends with their SUVs towing a boat or an aqua-scooter. The water is flat and hot, thus making the lake an ideal place for wakeboarding, wakesurfing and bare-foot water-skiing. This last sport seems as impossible as the story that Jesus could walk on the water. Yet, at high speed, it is indeed possible to enjoy water-skiing without skis, and to perform stunts as well.
Lake Powell
Lake Powell
We had to be content with swimming, playing beach tennis and other similar leisure activities, then we drove to the Monument Valley, with its famous rocky cathedrals in the desert. At sunset, it was an outstanding show.
Monument Valley
Monument Valley. Another impressive and worldwide famous National Park.
Monument Valley
Monument Valley
Monument Valley
Monument Valley
Monument Valley
Monument Valley
The day after we reached the Grand Canyon. We only visited its edge near the main tourist center. It was enough to be amazed by the superb landscapes and impressed by the vertiginous cliffs, but a longer trekking would have helped us to appreciate and understand more about this unique place.
Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon. Some quiet contemplation time is necessary to understand its huge dimensions.
Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon
On the road again, we drove to the crazy Las Vegas. Its hotels and casinos were fantastic skyscrapers and a constant source of awe and head-shaking. We noticed the replicas of the Eiffel Tower and the town of Bellagio and we laughed to America’s delusions. But, in the end, Las Vegas was a lot of fun for us too, so we couldn’t really feel superior.
Las Vegas
Las Vegas. It doesn't amaze as much as the surrounding natural landscapes, but it's a crazy and entertaining town.
There were entertainments for all tastes and all budgets. The hotel rooms were cheap, in the casinos there were tables and roulettes where the bets started from one cent, many shows were for free and the buffet restaurants provided good food for few dollars.
The consequences on our health were tricky. When we had lunch at a buffet with delicacies from all over the world we ate way too much. Going in and out of the air-conditioned hotels was debilitating. Spending the evenings in bright and luxurious hotels, without realizing when the night came, took away time from our sleep.
Las Vegas
Las Vegas
However, we survived Las Vegas. After having refused to spend $ 60 for a quadruple room in a 5 star hotel, complaining that it was too expensive (the reception clerk’s face was funny) we drove all night towards San Diego, the next stop along our travel itinerary.
We didn’t have a GPS navigator, so we followed the road signs, generally very accurate, and the palm trees, according to the theory that the more palms we saw the closer to San Diego we were getting. Strangely it worked and at dawn we could lay down on a Californian beach.
San Diego
San Diego. On the ocean, close to Mexico, a very good city where to live.
San Diego
San Diego
We slept. It was good. When we woke up the long, sandy beach was already full of joggers, families and surfers. It was a typical American beach view, with a long pier and the lifeguards’ red 4x4 pick-up. Then we visited San Diego, a modern and liveable city with an ideal climate.
We slept in a motel. The day after we drove north, to Los Angeles and its famous neighborhoods of Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Bel Air, Santa Monica and Malibu. As we drove through Los Angeles Downtown (the city financial center, full of skyscrapers and offices, lively by day and deserted by night) we came upon a scene of guerrilla. We saw overturned cars, flames and gunfires. It looked pretty interesting. We stopped to check out the situation and we found out that it was a movie set. A policeman (a real or a fake one? Reality and fantasy mingled) explained to us that it was a scene of The Transformers.
Los Angeles
Los Angeles. At first we thought about terrorism and war, but it was just a movie scene played in Los Angeles Downtown.
In Santa Monica we challenged some players to a few sets of beach volleyball, with alternate results. There was a huge, really excessive amount of volleyball courts: I think that millions of players were needed to use them all. Maybe they migrated from the North in the cold season, I don’t know.
In fact, in a gigantic city like Los Angeles, divided into several towns, it takes time to get to know the right places and times to meet the local people, to play beach-volley or to drink a beer in good company. We always had the feeling of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. In Europe the most vibrant area of ​​the city is often the "center", but Los Angeles Downtown in the evening was rather spooky. The problem was that there were several city centers in Los Angeles, one for each "neighborhood" (a misnomer for Santa Monica, which has nearly 100,000 inhabitants).
Malibu
Malibu
Wandering aroung we found a rather popular pub and beaches full of people, but certainly it takes time to be able to appreciate metropolis like Los Angeles, and possibly the help of some local people.
In Long Island we had a Whale Watching trip. Unfortunately it was not whale season (so we were told after we had bought our tickets), but it was fun anyway, as we ended up seeing hundreds of dolphins.
From Los Angeles we continued towards North. We stopped in the nice town of Santa Barbara, where we surfed for a while. It was a cold, gray morning that became a sunny afternoon. We drove along the beautiful coast up to Monterey. The next morning there were gray skies again. We took another whale watching trip, but this time the whales were so kind to show up, as expected. The Monterey Bay offers very good chances of spotting a whale or two, and also seals and dolphins. Maybe you really don’t care about watching whales, but in our opinion it was a fascinating experience. Clearly the best option is to rent a sailing boat (there was a good wind) and tack and jibe between cetaceans: it should be pure adrenaline! An amazing adventure as long as you don’t hit a whale… which rarely happens anyway.
Then we drove to San Francisco. The sky became quite blue, which is not guaranteed in this part of California, while in the South it is the normality for most of the year.
San Francisco
San Francisco. A fascinating town with lots of attractions.
San Francisco
San Francisco
San Francisco is unique, beautiful and livable. Its highilights are quite famous, from the Golden Gate Bridge to the trams climbing up on steep roads, from the elegant white buildings to the wide and windy bay in which lies Alcatraz island. On the last night before catching the flight back to Italy we lived a funny adventure.
San Francisco
San Francisco
San Francisco
San Francisco. The Golden Gate Bridge was the final mythical landmark of our trip.
We were admiring San Francisco skyline, with its illuminated skyscrapers and bridges, when I casually closed the door of the SUV. Unfortunately, the keys were inside the car and no-one was with them. When I tried to open the door, I noticed that for some magic reason it was locked. In short, we were locked out of the car, seized from the outside world. We stared at each other for a while and we decided to blame the Dollar clerk who hadn’t donated us a kidney. Then we walked to a nearby police station. The sheriff made us call the firemen.
They arrived shortly after abord of the typical big red truck, the same model that appears in the Hollywood movies where some flames are involved (most of them). It really seemed an overkill, but the firemen came out laughing. They were friendly and nice. With an axe and a piece of wire managed to open the door without damaging it and they saved us. That experience symbolized the general kindness of the Americans, always ready to help.
We drove to the airport. Our flight made a stop in Philadelphia, where we spent twenty-four hours. It was funny to visit the stairs where "Rocky" run in the famous movie and to scream “Adrianaaaaaaaaa”. We slept in the train station. At 4 AM a policeman woke us up by hitting twice our bench with his flashlight. We left the station together with the other homeless people.
We returned to the airport and the holiday really ended. An easy and spectacular trip, in which "on the road" meant freedom, but also comfort (really, if you feel uncomfortable during such a journey, you should try the island of Java in Indonesia). This trip is definetely advisable, and I dare to say mandatory, essential, necessary. If you want to plan a travel itinerary in this region, please consider that the National Parks are worth a longer visit and additional adventurous, funny, crazy activities!
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