Tractors Across The USA – Aug 29th to Sept 7th 2009 – RVS
Day 64: August 29 ARIZONA (RVs)
Williams offered some very interesting photo opportunities reflecting their Route 66 heritage of which they are obviously very proud. An early morning stroll down the main street was like a step back in time, with vintage cars parked at an Art Deco style gas station etc. The Native American trading post had a wonderful array of Indian national costumes and giftware wooden statues made an interesting sight under the verandah.
Once underway, our two RVs headed to Flagstaff on US40, then detoured into the Wupatki and Sunset Crater Volcano National Monuments which are run by the National Park Service. A 35 mile loop road takes travellers first through lava deposits, remains of earthquakes which devastated this area many hundreds of years ago. Many of the hills are actually older volcanos which were covered with cinders from Sunset Crater and became cinder dunes. Ash from these explosions covered an area of 800 square miles in Northern Arizona.
Next on the travel agenda was a visit to Wukoki Pueblo, an amazing ruin dating back to the 1100’s and constructed directly onto rock in a position which gave the inhabitants views across the surrounding landscape. Then the most extensive ruin we had seen – the Wupatki Puelbo. This large historic site, in its time, became a densely populated landscape supporting a complex society where people, goods and ideas converged. Archeologists estimate that by 1190, as many as 2,000 people lived within a day’s walk and Wupatki Pueblo which was the largest building for at least 50 miles. The remains seen today are said to be of a building of around 100 rooms, with various ‘kivas’ – special rooms, often circular, which were used for rituals and ceremonies. The site even has its own ‘blowhole’! Despite the heat of the day, around the old century mark, these sites were a joy to explore and conjured up visions of some of the activities which would have been carried out so many years ago.
The loop led us back to Route 89 and by the time we reached Bitter Springs, a decision had to be made on the choice of two routes to Kanab, through Page or through Marble Canyon. The southern route was chosen and what an absolute delight it turned out to be – the route followed the Echo Cliffs for many miles, towering pink formations on our right hand side, a photographer’s delight. Then we called at the historic Navajo Bridge (built in 1928) which spans the Colorado River through the Marble Canyon. A short detour took us to our overnight camp at Lee’s Ferry, right on the Colorado River at Glen Gorge. To dip our feet into the very cold waters of the fast flowing river on such a hot afternoon was a real treat and a chat with residents from the Navajo Reservation provided an interesting exchange of cultures.
From the campsite, the mighty river could be seen and enjoyed while we relaxed with a much anticipated cold drink or two. This day will always be remembered with joy at having stumbled upon such beauty which none of us had ever heard or even read much about.
Day 65: August 30 ARIZONA TO UTAH
The view from the RV Park down to the Colorado River was still as beautiful in the morning as we remembered, so we drove the short distance down to Lee’s Ferry where the rafters take off for tours lasting anything from a couple of days to three weeks. The group we met and spoke with were heading off for 14 days and had a fantastic array of equipment, both safety gear and obvious provisions.
Then it was time to go and we headed through the settlement of Marble Canyon and down US89A towards Jacobs Lake (where there is actually no lake!). The sky was becoming quite hazy with smoke from the Californian fires – the first time we had seen much sign of them.
Our drive through the Kaibab National Forest was interesting – the ‘forest’ at first comprised nothing more than scrubby growths, then as the elevation increased, we came across medium sized bushy pines and then the majestic Ponderosa pines which we have seen in many parts of the country. The drive across the Kaibab Plateau took us through gently undulating country and then we stopped at the Le Pevre Overlook for a look across the plains below, only to find that the view was mostly obscured by the smoke.
Our route into Kanab saw us arrive by around 12.30pm to be met by our contact for the Area, Dean Dysart and his good friends Norm and Sandy Kerr. Norm and Sandy kindly offered us space to set up the RVs and access to power to allow the computer to run for several hours to catch up with correspondence and notes.
We were invited to join in a farewell dinner for mutual friends of the Kerrs and Dysarts who had been holidaying in Kanab but were heading back home to California. Allan and Carolyn decided instead to catch up with some housekeeping, but Ron and Kerry were happy to accept this kind invitation and enjoyed a great camp oven dinner. As has been the case everywhere we have been, the hospitality was exceptional.
We were thrilled when Dean offered us the opportunity to join him and his wife Diane on their boat for a day on Lake Powell on the following morning. We had read about this lake in the brochures but had never expected to have the chance to see it, so were very happy to accept.
Day 66: August 31 UTAH – ARIZONA – UTAH
Dean Dysart arrived early to attach his boat to his pick-up, then he and the men headed off to the lake. Diane Dysart meanwhile had collected lunches and came to pick up us ladies. The trip to Lake Powell took something over an hour and then the boat was in the water and we were off for a great day’s adventure.
Dean knows this lake and all its coves and crannies extremely well, and soon we were at the point, nearly 50 miles from the start, where boats are able to tie up and people can take the two thirds of a mile walk to the Rainbow Bridge. This magnificent attraction is the largest natural bridge (nearly 300 feet tall) in the world and is only accessible by boat.
Two different Indian tribes introduced Europeans to this bridge back in 1909 after a five day horse ride to reach the site.
In 1956 construction of a dam on the Glen Canyon was commenced and was supplying sufficient water for the first two generating units at the power station built at the dam site by 1966. It was 1980 before the dam first reached it full capacity and now provides water storage and power generation, as well as recreational opportunities. There are many houseboats moored at the lake and good facilities for those who use the lake regularly.
The opportunity to have a short swim at any given time in the pristine and relatively warm waters was wonderful, even though the day was not overly hot. Allan gave us all a thrill when he not only attempted, but succeeded to master water skiing after a gap of some 20 years since his last experience. His first couple of attempts gave us all a good laugh, but soon he was up and away.
Soon the day was over and we will have to rely on the very many photos taken of the majestic scenery to remind us all of just how beautiful this lake really is.
A shared pizza dinner back and Dean and Diane’s home was a perfect end to a perfect day and we are extremely grateful to them for their kindness and friendliness.
Day 67: September 1 UTAH (RVs)
Our visit to Kanab now over, we experienced a pleasant drive through rolling hills, surprisingly green. After traveling along US89, the turn-off to Bryce Canyon took us along Route 12. The hills were still quite smoky but this was no impediment to the views at the Canyon. Once again, we were just so amazed at the beauty of this area, so different from the Grand Canyon yet so very beautiful. Scientists give wonderful explanations of the origins of these pillars of rock left by erosion. One can conjure up all kinds of visions among the many statue-like ‘hoodoos’ – Native American legend has it that the ‘hoodoos’ are ‘Legend People’ whom Coyote turned to stone as a punishment for their wickedness and it takes very little imagination to make out rows of figures in the ‘Silent City’. One can find cathedrals and castles among the many beautifully coloured spires, ranging from pure white to a rich coral pink. We can certainly understand why the tractor group so enjoyed their visit to this Canyon a few days ago.
Once again the clock demanded that we move on, this time towards Zion Canyon. This drive required some back-tracking down the only road between the two canyons, but soon we were off the US89 and onto the road into Zion. Every motorist pays US$25 for his vehicle to take this route across to Washington, Utah, whether they want to stop at the canyon or not and for large vehicles such as ours, an additional charge of $15 to have centre of the road use of the second tunnel which is not wide enough to allow two lanes of traffic larger than a standard car. The scenery once through these tunnels soon made us forget these charges however as the absolutely enormous hills rose sharply on every side. The route to the Visitors’ Centre follows many hairpin bends and the drivers were quite pleased to arrive safely and look forward to a Shuttle bus service first thing in the morning to take in the rest of the canyon.
Day 68: September 2 UTAH – NEVADA (RVs)
The day promised to be hot, so we were off on the 7.15am shuttle bus and were fortunate at the first stop, the Court of the Patriarchs, to see the early rays of sun hit the towering mountains, named Abraham, Isaac and Jacob after the three towering figures of the Old Testament. Then the route wound its way between giant hills of solid rock in many different forms and colourations. Because of time constrains, we did not do any of the longer hikes which would obviously be well worth doing, but we did take the track up to the ‘Weeping Rock’ and were amazed at this incredible place where, even in the dryness of late summer, there was water dripping all along a section of wave formation rocks, with ferns growing from many crevices. A quite fast moving stream flowed through the valley near this spot and our bus guide’s advice was that the whole valley was once a lake, with tests showing up to 300 feet of silt in the base of the canyons. The stream is all that now remains of this large water mass, however the valley is still home to diverse wildlife. From the shuttle bus, we saw several wild turkeys on the road, then two young elk showed no fear when we walked down the path while they were enjoying their breakfast of green shoots. The squirrels are quite brave also, always hoping for an easy meal – a definite no-no from the authorities.
An enjoyable late breakfast cum morning tea was enjoyed at the Zion Lodge and then it was time to hit the road again. After the cool of the morning, the temperature rose quite sharply and by the time we hit the desert country, we were facing century plus heat. The drive was quite interesting with many different land and rock formations but nothing greener than a few cactus for many miles. We looked forward to seeing Lake Mead, but found the levels depressingly low for most of its considerable area – the sign read to the effect that more water is being taken out of it than flows into to, which may explain the very low levels. There were still quite a lot of visitors to the lake however and several boats on one section, but many of the boats were in dry dock, obviously hoping for better conditions at a later date.
Then it was off to see Hoover Dam of which we had heard so much – there were large crowds and the heat was not conducive to sightseeing, but it is an interesting masterpiece of engineering expertise. There is a new bridge under construction, being built into the solid rock. Huge cranes were in evidence – the supporting arch appears to be mostly complete, with the traffic lanes just starting to be constructed. A new road system is in the process of being built and in time the whole traffic system will obviously be streamlined. Once again however, the water level was extremely low with many feet of bleached rock bearing witness to much higher levels at some time in the past.
As we continued towards Las Vegas, the smoky haze looked as though is was enveloping the city, however once arrived, it was a relief to find little sign of the smog except the car dealers advertising ‘Smog Checks and Repairs’ which did not inspire us with confidence!
We checked into the RV Park at Circus Circus, which seems like a contradiction, being placed as it is next to the Hotel/Casino. Towering skyscrapers appear on the skyline around the park and at night many colourful signs light up the darkness.
The tractor trekkers have been here at the RV Park for nearly a week and members have taken several tours from the city. Our small RV group have thoroughly enjoyed the time spent visiting the canyons and National Parks and now look forward to seeing this city and the obvious attractions.
Day 69: September 3 LAS VEGAS (RVs)
Once again the day is hot, but not quite as fierce as the previous days. The tractor people were busy preparing to leave early in the morning, but the RV drivers decided to spend an extra day at the Circus Circus RV Park to allow time for limited sight-seeing. Advice is that accommodation is extremely tight in California over the Labor Day Long Weekend which is another incentive to ‘stay put’. Tickets were booked for the evening’s session of ‘The Lion King’ for Allan and Carolyn and Ron and Kerry, so the day is kept pretty low key.
At 6.30pm the tractors lined up in front of the Circus Circus Hotel/Casino for a photo opportunity. This had to be kept very short as tractors are not really meant to park there! Once this was achieved, the RV people headed up town to the Mandalay Bay Resort for dinner and the show. This presentation of ‘The Lion King’ was absolutely fantastic – the costumes and staging could not be faulted and the music had a real African beat, with percussionists placed strategically on either side of the theatre.
Las Vegas has a bus service which runs up and down Las Vegas Boulevard and a 24 hour ticket can be purchased for as many uses as one requires. Our group took advantage of this service for the return from the theatre and had front row seats on the upper deck of the double-decker bus. For each stop there was a commentary on which Hotels and Casinos could be accessed and the passing parade of people and lights was amazing – the only problem was that no-one was going anywhere fast – the 5 mile trip took around one and a half hours which made the night rather a late one. Lucky we were not the ones heading off at 5.30am in the morning.
Day 70: September 4th LAS VEGAS (RVs)
An early email from our friend from Kanab, Dean Dysart, really caused our group to think how very lucky we have been. As part of our shuttle bus tour of Zion Canyon on Wednesday morning, we visited Weeping Rock and were so impressed that photos were posted on the webpage. We now find that less than an hour after we walked the trail up to the rock, there was quite a severe rock fall and the trail was closed. Fortunately there were no injuries, and we are thankful that we did not finish up under some of those boulders. This is a very special place, and it is unfortunate that it cannot be re-opened until after the Labor Day weekend.
Having decided to stay one extra day in Las Vegas after the departure of the tractors, our little group really had to give the sight-seeing our best shot. The idea in this city seems to be to sleep during the day and party at night – not quite our usual custom. Allan and Carolyn had spent an evening seeing some of the sights on Thursday and Allan was keen to show us those he thought we would most enjoy.
First on the agenda was the Stratosphere Tower, where the lift takes visitors to the 866 feet level. We were amazed to find the vision free of the smoke which has been shrouding most areas for the past days and from the indoor observation deck we could clearly see all of the city and out to the mountains in the distance. This was quite an experience.
Next was dinner in one of the many restaurants in the Circus Circus’ huge hotel/casino complex. Then a bus ride was appropriate to take us to the Bellagio to watch the water fountains which are just brilliant and to see their wonderful floral displays. A quick look was all we had time for at the French Casino, complete with half scale Eiffel Tower, Arch de Triumph and interesting reproductions of various buildings around the inside of the Casino. Then it was time to join the throngs of people on the streets and head to The Venetian. The canals are so well reproduced that it was hard to believe we were not back in Venice again.
The attractions go on and on but the feet say enough is enough and we were glad to head back to the RV Park after a very interesting and enjoyable look at just a small cross section. Carolyn referred to Las Vegas as an ‘adult Disneyland’ which pretty well sums it up – the city is just so different to any other we have seen in this country.
Day 71: September 5 NEVADA TO CALIFORNIA (RVs)
The day was already hot when we left Las Vegas but the traffic flowed well and we were soon out of the city. Much of our journey was through the Mojave National Preserve where low scrub and cactus was about all there was to see.
A fuel stop at Baker was an opportunity to see ‘The World’s Largest Thermometer’ and it was no surprise to see that it registered 102 degrees F, proving that it really was hot! Soon we were back in the hills again and the elevation reached 6,800 feet up and down very steep roads. Much of this area is protected as part of the San Bernardino National Forest and the vegetation was again quite healthy.
Our destination for the day was Big Bear Lake RV Park and it was a relief to be near the water again and feel so much cooler. This is a very pretty area with lots of water activities and many friendly folk interested in our visit to their country. A quick walk to the jetty was an opportunity to catch a sunset somewhat hampered by a thick cloud of smoke on the horizon, but none the less very colourful, with the sun glowing as a ball of brilliant red.
Days 72 and 73: September 6 & 7 CALIFORNIA (RVs)
What a truly lovely spot Big Bear Lake is and how lucky our little group was to get bays in the RV Park on this, the last holiday weekend of the American Summer.
The weather at Big Bear is certainly several degrees cooler than out on the desert for which we have been thankful. Overnights have actually been quite cool with afternoon temperatures warm but not uncomfortable. Our stay here has been a perfect opportunity to start the unenviable job of packing up ready for our return home which is now just days away.
The decision to stay in this area was made after making a request for some important documents to be sent to a contact not far from this location. The holiday weekend naturally delays mail, so it was a perfect opportunity to have a relaxing three days before the last hectic arrangements for our departure and also the shipping of those tractors which are being returned to Australia.
After spending most of Sunday sorting and packing, it was decided to have a BBQ and use up most of the fresh supplies. This turned out to be very pleasant evening in balmy conditions.
Monday being the last day of the long weekend saw lots of RVs heading off, and the number of boats on the lake many less than over the previous two days. It was therefore the perfect time to take a cruise on the ‘Big Bear Queen’, a small paddle steamer which took us on a really enjoyable 90 minute tour of the lake which is much larger than can be seen from the RV Park.
The first interesting landmark we passed was the Big Bear Solar Observatory, one of only six in the world and located here because of the 300 plus days of sunshine enjoyed at Big Bear. Then we were amazed to see the many different styles of housing around the perimeter – from the 100 year old tiny cabins virtually built into the boulders which line much of the lake, to the sumptuous mansions which belong to many affluent Americans. We passed a modest home built in the 1940’s which belonged to the voice behind ‘Bugs Bunny’, Mel Blank. This home is now owned by his son Norm who surprised us by giving a short rendition of the famous cartoon character’s famous lines.
After this wonderful break, it will be time to head off in the morning and hope the special mail has arrived.