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West USA tour - My travel itinerary day by day
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West USA tour – My travel itinerary day by day

My west USA tour, the idea

 

In early 2013 both me and my wife (at the time we were not married yet) started to plan the one that later became, I think, the most beautiful travel we did together! In our minds, that had to be the trip of a lifetime, the one that you will remember for all your life, and so it was.

 

All started from us buying two Lonely Planet guides for the West Usa and San Francisco, we didn’t even know if the travel was possible that time, but we were optimistic.

We spent about the next two months planning and planning and planning, every time we had some free hours we were planning this tour. Until it became real.

 

The first idea was to make a two-week long trip starting from San Francisco, then moving east to the Yosemite and Sequoia parks, then Las Vegas and the other parks like Zion, Bryce, Grand Canyon.

That was only the first idea, because we ended up to plan a month-long tour, that touched many more places and it was a real dream.

Giorgia showing the Lonely Planet guides
Giorgia showing the Lonely Planet guides

The planning

 

As long as we were reading the guides plus some online articles, our plans were changing day by day under our hands, and at the end we didn’t even know if we had enough time to see all the places we wanted.

 

So, after few days of confrontation, we decided the main places to see; we started to build the real itinerary and divide it in stages. We found a good deal for a flight from Rome to Los Angeles round trip in September 2013, so our tour had to start and finish in LA.

 

Our new plan was then to start from Los Angeles, go north to San Francisco and stay there few days. After that we had to move east to the Yosemite and Sequoia National Park. Once visited the parks we were supposed to point to Mono Lake, then Mammoth Lakes, Death Valley National Park, Las Vegas, Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, Moab, Monument Valley, Page, Grand Canyon, San Diego, and back to LA again.

west usa tour itinerary

The travel

Day 0: From Rome to Los Angeles

 

We landed at LAX airport on a pretty hot Wednesday afternoon at 5 pm after a very long flight from Rome with an intermediate stop in London. Once arrived in Los Angeles we found a very busy airport and we had to wait about an hour and a half to pass all the security checks.

We both were very tired, but we had to pick up our rental car at Alamo, that has a free shuttle bus right outside the terminal, so it was a pretty straight forward process. The only thing I can say is that at the rental company desk I was asked for a little upgrade regarding the insurance plan, that was because I booked the cheapest and they kindly suggest me to upgrade to be more secure.

We jumped on board of our VW SUV, and we went directly to the Motel 6 LAX where we had our reservation. This Motel 6 is very close to the airport and it’s cheap, so I can recommend it if your staying only for one night, as we did. Then we grabbed something to eat and we crashed out because the West USA tour was just about to begin.

 

We stayed at: Motel 6 Los Angeles LAX

west usa tour car pickup
picking up the car at Alamo
Santa Monica beach
Santa Monica beach

Day 1: From Los Angeles to Morro Bay

 

The first day of our West USA tour started with a breakfast at the first Starbucks we found outside the Motel, then we jumped on the car headed to Santa Monica.

 

Well, maybe you’ve heard about it: that the traffic in LA is crazy, especially for someone like me that is used to drive in Italy, where the roads are small and the cars are way less than in California. It took some miles to get used to the number of cars around me, but then it was not a problem anymore.

 

We arrived in downtown Santa Monica at about 10 am and we left the car in a city garage that was pretty cheap.  You can find the list of the public parking in Santa Monica here: Where to Park in Santa Monica

 

I truly liked Santa Monica in September, it was hot but not too much, we wanted to put our feet on the water so much, but we had many things to see that day so we decided not to (spoiler: we did it the last day of our travel).

The 100 years old pier, with the amusement park, is a real icon and a must see. I bet that it gives the best at sunset or at night. By the way the park opens at about 11am so we were able to see all the attractions moving and it was fun, especially for my wife which is kind of addicted to amusement parks.

 

We walked on the pier and we took some pictures, then we walked downtown across the bridge that pass over the Pacific Highway. There are many fancy shops downtown in the 3rd street, you can find big brands like Tiffany for example. We had a very good lunch at Johnny Rockets, then we went to pick up the car.

 

The next stop was Venice Beach, that I don’t think deserves any kind of presentation. That place was as awesome as I expected.  It’s labeled as  “a cultural hub known for its eccentricities” and I can say that this definition is pretty accurate.

 

The promenade that runs parallel to the beach let you walk in front of many beautiful houses, some of which are real architectural masterpieces. Then the handball courts, the paddle tennis courts, the numerous beach volleyball courts, the gyms…

 

We stayed at Venice for a couple of hours then we jumped again on the car, heading to Morro Bay.

 

Morro Bay is the perfect choice to split in a half the travel from LA to SF. That’s of course because it’s on half the way, plus it’s also very characteristic. We arrived there at sunset and we headed directly to the pier to take some pictures looking at the Morro Rock,  that is a big volcanic plug located just offshore from the harbor.

After that relaxing moment we had dinner at Taco Temple. We liked this place very much, the food is great and one plate is more than enough for two people.

We stayed at: Motel 6 Morro Bay

Giorgia in front of the amusement park wheel
Giorgia in front of the amusement park wheel
Santa Monica beach
Santa Monica beach
Morro Rock at sunrise
Morro Rock at sunrise

Day 2: From Morro Bay to San Francisco

 

Our second day in California began at sunrise, in fact we woke up very early and we went again at the Morro Bay harbor. A big surprise was waiting for us: there were few sea lions laying on the rocks near the boats. These mammals were very noisy and funny to look at.

We had a fast breakfast and then we jumped on the car, heading north. The Pacific Coast Highway is one of the most beautiful scenic road you can drive on, the route starts in Morro Bay, then goes up north through Big Sur where mountains plunge into the Pacific Ocean. This twisty road is a great driving experience for everyone, and as long as the roads goes on, there are plenty of scenic viewpoints where you can take amazing pictures.

 

Our first stop on the Coast Highway was at the beautiful Moonstone beach near Cambria, then at Point Piedras Blancas, where we were luck enough to see a big group of Sea Lions on the beach. That was a beautiful experience and we were very excited to see all these wild animals.

 

Still happy and excited for the experience we got into the car and we drove through Big Sur, pointing at the beautiful city of Carmel-by-the-sea. That, in my memory, is still one of the most beautiful places I saw, from that west USA tour. The atmosphere is relaxed and all around you, you can smell art. Carmel, in fact, is known for its natural scenery and rich artistic history. Walking along Ocean Ave, that is the main street of Carmel, you can find Kris Kringle Of Carmel, a Christmas shop open every day of the year! Amazing!

 

We had launch at Mundaka, a Spanish tapas bar that I can only recommend. They are not open at lunch, but the girl worked there was very kind with us and she made us some really good starter plates like Jamon Serrano with bread and much more.

 

Leaving Carmel we entered the famous 17 mile drive, a 17-mile (27 km)-long scenic road through Pebble Beach and Pacific Grove on the Monterey Peninsula. Here you have to pay a toll fee to drive, but this beautiful road passes near famous golf courses, mansions and scenic attractions, including the Lone Cypress, and it worth it every penny. We made a long walk on the beach outside Pebble Beach and finally we put our feet into the Pacific Ocean water, we took some pictures and back in the car.

 

After this stop, we pointed to Monterey, then I wanted to take a look at the famous Corkscrew of the Laguna Seca Raceway because I am a petrol-head inside. Unfortunately this detour took us more time than we expected because it was not very easy to find and enter.

 

At this point we start to realize that we were very late, our plan was to be in San Francisco for dinner after a stop in Santa Cruz, but we had to admit that was impossible. We arrived in Santa Cruz at sunset, we took some pictures on the beautiful beach, and then we moved to the boardwalk to take a look at the amusement park. This was unfortunately closed from 8pm.

 

We were a little bit disappointed for not being able to see Santa Cruz, but the thruth is that it was our fault: we wanted to see too many places and things only in one day. So my advice is that if you’re planning a trip like this, do it in three days instead of two! Maybe you can schedule a stop in Morro Bay as we did, then another in Santa Cruz or Monterey. In this way you will be able to split the times better, and see all the places with no hurry. Due to that mistake, we definitely have to come back in this area again :).

 

The day was almost at the end, and we were still at Santa Cruz! We had dinner with some snacks in the car, and we drove up to Oakland where we booked a Motel 6 for the next 4 nights.  I decided to book outside San Francisco because it was cheaper and not far. In fact, that place was right outside the San Francisco Bay Bridge, in Oakland Embarcadero area. I think that it was not the best place I slept in during this West USA tour, and the neighborhood didn’t look very good, but it was clean.

As long as I had only to sleep at the motel, that was not a problem for me. By the way I can recommend that place only if you are on a budget.

We stayed at: Motel 6 Oakland Embarcadero

Me and my wife
Me and my wife
Sea Lions at Point Piedras Blancas
Sea Lions at Point Piedras Blancas
San Francisco at Sunset from Twin Peaks
San Francisco at Sunset from Twin Peaks

Day 3: San Francisco

 

The third day of our west USA tour started not too early because the day before was very exhausting and we slept a little bit more than usual. The first thing we did in the morning was to go to Walmart. For european people like us, that kind of mall is crazy! Everything is bigger than usual, and the variety of types for any product is even unimaginable! It was very fun to look at all this things that we don’t have in Italy, like all the Oreo flavours in the world for example. We took something to eat for the next days because we didn’t want to lose too many time at lunch in restaurants, plus it was a good way to keep the expenses low.  Giorgia, which is scrapbook addicted, found some supplies for her projects too!

 

Approaching San Francisco: we entered the city through the Bay Bridge, it was about 10 am and the weather was great. We were impressed and excited by the magnificent view from this long bridge, as first stop we pointed to Japan Town district. Contrarily to what you can read on the guides and online, San Francisco is very easy to explore by car. You can park almost everywhere because there is plenty of parking spots around, and the fee is not expensive at all. Near to the Japan Centre shopping mall there is a Crossroad Trading Co, a used clothing shop where Giorgia was very happy to find something to buy.

 

Later we got into the car and we drove through the famous Lombard Street that doesn’t need any presentation: one-block very steep downhill section, with eight hairpin turns that is very fun to go across. Then we parked the car right next to this street and we walked around to take some pictures. This place is truly beautiful and colorful because of the many flowerbeds around, and of course it’s full of people too.

 

Then we walked to the Sterling Park, where there is a beautiful view on the bay and the Bay Bridge. The next stop was at the Coit Tower, that I have to be honest, I didn’t like too much. I mean: the view is beautiful, but the monument itself is nothing special.

 

We had lunch at the Washington Square Park with the food we bought at Walmart, this park is in front of the St. Peter&Paul Cathedral where there was a big group of people because there were celebrating a wedding.

 

It was a hot and sunny afternoon so we enjoyed a walk around the Little Italy district (or North Beach) where we tasted a very good Illy Espresso at Caffe Greco. We walked near the Beat Museum and we liked that neighborhood that is near the financial district, we jumped again on the car and we made a little tour around that other area.

 

Later we went to see the Union Square and then we walked down to the end of the Powell-Hide cable car line, where there is the manual turnaround that is really cool to see in action!

 

It won’t be long before the sunset so we jumped again in the car headed to the Golden Gate viewpoint, but fog is blocking the view so we decide to cross the bridge and go to the hill on the other side. The view is breathtaking and we enjoy the panorama. Unfortunately the sunset was not spectacular because of the lack of any cloud in the sky, but the view was unique! It was cold,  I took some (bad) pictures and then we got into the car again.

 

We had dinner at the Fisherman’s warf, we choose Nick’s Lighthouse and we had a Crab Cake and a Crab Sandwich. I suggest you to have dinner there, because the atmosphere is cool and the food is great.

 

Our day was at the end so before to go back to sleep, we gave a quick look at the Musee Mecanique that was near to the closing hour. “The world’s largest collection of coin-operated mechanical musical instruments and antique arcade machines in their original working condition”. You bet we played many of them! We also made a walk on the famous Pier 39, there we saw a magnets shop, a lefty shop, a donut shop, and much more… It was late and cold, I was wearing shorts, so we didn’t stay long. The way back to Oakland was a big traffic jam and we spent one and a half hour over the Bay Bridge to go back at the motel…

We stayed at: Motel 6 Oakland Embarcadero

Lombard Street
Lombard Street
Giorgia
Giorgia

Day 4: San Francisco

 

The sun is shining in this fourth day of our west USA tour, we are still based in Oakland at the motel. That day we got into the car around 8am, headed to the city through the Bay Bridge.

 

Alamo Square was our first stop, where all around this beautiful park you can find plenty of  Victorian houses and buildings painted in many beautiful colors that embellish or enhance their architectural details. The group of houses near Alamo Square is also known as Painted Ladies or Postcard Row. Alamo Square Park is not particularly big, and it is frequented mainly by neighbors and tourists. That day the weather was great and we were able to see the Transamerica Pyramid building and the tops of the Golden Gate Bridge from the park.

 

We took a long walk in the park and the surrounding area, we hadso much fun taking pictures of the beautiful houses. Later we went to the Buena Vista Park that is very big, we walked there for about an hour but we didn’t reach the top point, so we decided to move forward and walk down to the Haight-Ashbury district.

 

That neighborhood is known for being the origin of hippie counterculture in the 60s. We walked on Haight street for about an hour looking at all this vintage shops and signs, all surrounded by the same type of colorful Victorian houses  and buildings. As you can imagine I took so many pictures there.

 

After this long walk, we went back to Alamo Square for lunch, we layed on the ground with a colorful blanket and we spent about an hour in complete relax, having a picnic in this wonderful city with an outstanding view was priceless.

 

After this pleasant break we got into the car and we moved down to Castro,  one of the first gay neighborhoods in the United States. Also known as The Castro here we found all kind of symbols of lesbian and gay movements you can imagine, plus many shops with all kind of accessories and clothing. It can sound strange to many, but it was pretty interesting to see how can be a community like that.

 

The next district we visited was Mission, that is the mexican neighborhood. That place is full of murals in every angle, from the electrical little boxes at the side of the road to the biggest buildings, all is painted and decorated. If you look at the Mission walls and fences you see paintings inspired by the traditional Mexican art. We spent there almost all the afternoon, and I took many many pictures.

 

Then, we went to the City Hall for a quick outside tour and later we checked-in again at the Golden Gate View Point. That part of the day was a little bit frustrating: this time was even worse than the day before. The bridge was covered by the fog and we couldn’t see neither the pillars.

 

At this point we went back to the city and we pointed again to Japan Town: we went to see the Peace Pagoda and after that we went shopping to Daiso. Giorgia bought some stuff there, end of the story 🙂 .

 

We looked at the sunset from the twin peaks hill, and there I took my best San Francisco pictures that you saw above. The view from that point is a must see, if you visit SF you absolutely can’t miss it!

 

After a second trip to the Musee Mecanique, the dinner took place at Bubba Gump at Pier39. We took a Shrimp Mc Cheese together, then a Shrimp New Orleans for Giorgia, and a Dumb Luck Coconut Shrimp for me. That last plate was too much for me, but it was good and tasty. At the end of the day, I absolutely can recommend this place.

On the way back to the motel we stopped the car under the Bay Bridge and I took some night pictures.

 

We stayed at: Motel 6 Oakland Embarcadero

Alamo Square sign
Alamo Square sign
Castro sign
Castro sign
Anne Patterson - Graced With Light Installation at Grace Cathedral
Anne Patterson - Graced With Light Installation at Grace Cathedral

Day 5: San Francisco

 

We started this third day in San Francisco with a quick breakfast at the motel room, right after that we realize: our food bag is empty so we had to go again at Walmart! This time we went to a bigger one, that had many Halloween themed gadgets and food. It can sound strange, but in Italy we don’t have so much attention for that festivity and we were surprised by the amount of stuff you can find about it.

 

After the shopping time at Walmart we jumped into the car and we pointed to the first stop of the day that was the Palace of Fine Arts that is located at the San Francisco’s Marina District.

 

Well, I have to admit, I didn’t like that place very much. It’s well-built and beautiful that’s for sure, the architecture is inspired in Roman and Ancient Greek monuments, in fact the purpose was to design a fictional ruin from another time. That, to my eyes, looked like a big fake of what I can see in Italy or Greece, for real.  By the way the park is beautiful and it was a sunny day so we stayed there a couple of hours and we took several pictures. My recommendation is to go there only if you have very much time to spend in the city because that’s nothing special compared to the other places in SF.

 

Then, we went to Ghirardelli Square, a very cool area with shops and restaurants that are placed inside the old headquarters of the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company. In fact you can see the old machines making the chocolate inside the Ghirardelli shop. We walked there few hours and we bought some sweets.

 

As long as we were there, we tried to go to the Golden Gate view-point at Crissy Field, but guess what? There was the damn fog again, covering all the bridge! At this point of my SF experience I had only two pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge, and they were nothing special. I was a little bit disappointed about that, but I couldn’t do nothing about it.

 

The launch took place at Rosamunde Sausage Grill. Sausage and beer is a classic combo and here is at its finest. With many types of grilled sausages, a seasonal made in-house, and even some vegan sausage options, we found the true love there. I absolutely recommend this place if you visit San Francisco.  We had both a spicy sausage and we loved it: I had the pork one with Habanero and Giorgia Duck with Onion and Peppers. Amazing, really! 🙂

 

After that spicy lunch we needed refreshment so we went back to Girardelli and we had a giant ice cream together, then we went to Kara’s cupcakes and we bought some cupcakes for the afternoon, what a sweet day huh?

 

The next stop was at the Ina Coolbrith Park on Russian’s Hill. That is one of the ~200 parks in SF Area. There we take a walk and we saw some colorful parrots on the trees, plus the view on the city was awesome.

 

The Grace Cathedral is an Episcopal cathedral on Nob Hill area. I think that is the biggest of the city, but I’m not sure about that. We saw it in a very special outfit because there was an installation from Anne Patterson right in those days. Graced with light is the name of the magnificent ribbon project that allowed me to take few amazing pictures.

 

At this point we jumped again in the car and we went to see the huge Golden Gate Park, that park is so big that you need a at least a whole day to visit it all. Unfortunately we didn’t have that time, the weather started to be very bad because of the low and dense fog that was covering everything. At this point we decided to take a quick look at the Japan Garden free area and then we moved to the next place we wanted to see: The Suthro Baths.

 

Sutro Baths were a large, privately owned public saltwater swimming pool complex that now is completely in decay and abandoned. I like the urban exploration kind of photography too, so we took a walk around the ruins and this time the fog was playing a good role for us. We took some pictures there and it was very cool.

 

It was very cold that evening and the sun was setting down behind the fog, so we moved away from there and we started to look at a place for dinner. Giorgia found a coupon for discount at Cioppino’s, and we decided to give it a try!

That place is famous in SF area, based on the review we found online that was the right choice to taste the famous cioppino soup. The dinner was not bad at all, we had a cioppino and a clam chowder. Both the dishes was pretty good and the fish was fresh without any doubts. I’ve read few bad italian reviews about that place that I can’t explain, or maybe I can, but I wont 🙂

By the way at the end of the dinner I can say that the service was nothing special, but I still recommend this place because if you go for the house specials you won’t be disappointed by the food at all.

 

That was our last dinner in San Francisco, because the day after we were going to leave this beautiful and magic city to continue our west USA tour.

 

We stayed at: Motel 6 Oakland Embarcadero

Palace of Fine Arts
Palace of Fine Arts
Us in Ghirardelli square
Us in Ghirardelli square
Giorgia under the ribbon project
Giorgia under the ribbon project
The Golden Gate bridge from Crissy Field
The Golden Gate bridge from Crissy Field

Day 6: From San Francisco to Yosemite National Park

 

We woke up early, it was about 5:30 in the morning. After packing our bags and having a quick breakfast, we left the Motel 6… That day we were going to Alcatraz!

 

We booked well in advance via alcatrazcruises.com and we chosen the Early Bird tour that starts from the Pier 33 at 8:45 am. Boarding was 30 minutes before the departure time, and we found a parking spot in a garage on the other side of the road in front of the pier. After few minutes in line we were on board of the Alcatraz Flyer.

 

While the Early Bird is the same as the Day Visit, we chosen that because we got a head start, and so we avoided the crowds arriving later in the day. In fact, we arrived at the Island and nobody was there, except for the staff of course.  The Flyer took something like 15 minutes to reach the Alcatraz island, during that short time the view from the boat was really breathtaking. We were able to see both the bridges (the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate), and as long as the boat approached The Rock, we started to feel the creepy atmosphere that surrounds it.

 

We started our tour by exploring the “service buildings” that were outside the cell blocks, that part of the island was dedicated to personnel of the prison. There were little residential buildings like real houses, that gave hospitality to the guards and their families; then there were few shops, a little playground, and even botanical gardens… I think that in the past it was something like a little village.

 

After that first walk around this areas we took the audio guide and we started to explore the cell blocks! When I entered there I was one of the first, and I was almost alone inside the big aisle… It was really exciting to be there! I didn’t even had the time to place my tripod (yes, tripod is allowed at Alcatraz) that all the other people started to explore the block too. I really wanted to take a picture with nobody there, but unfortunately I wasn’t fast enough.

Well, what can I say? Alcatraz is really amazing, but I don’t want to reveal too much of that great experience… I think that it will be a real spoiler. There’s so much to see and explore starting from the open cells, the outside areas, the control room, etcetera … I suggest you to not to dig too much if you want to visit Alcatraz, then you will be pleasantly surprised by all the details you can learn about this prison.

 

We enjoyed the visit and the explanations from the staff that is professional, then we walked a little bit outside and we took the Flyer to go back to the mainland.

 

Once back on the mainland the weather was still pretty good, and I was still without the Golden Gate picture I wanted. So, we decided to go back to Crissy Field again, and this time the bridge was visible! The light was not the best, but I managed to take few pictures, nothing special, but at least I can prove that I saw the damn bridge!!!

 

We had launch there at Crissy Field, there are plenty of tables and picnic areas so it was perfect for us poor people. After a quick-lunch we got into the car headed to Yosemite National Park!

 

So, the trip to Yosemite Bug was about four hours long. During this run we talked a lot about how we loved San Francisco and we decided that we will come back there for sure! This road trip was not particularly exciting, except for an amazing sunset that we saw. I will remember that along, because I thought how it would be awesome to see it from San Francisco.

 

Yosemite Bug is pretty easy to find, and it is not far from the park entrance. What a lovely place. We booked a cabin room, that was really stylish (English style I suppose) and in the middle of the woods. The place is clean and it has laundry and kitchen. There is also a very good restaurant that is called Bug Cafè. We had dinner there after our arrival, I had a grilled chicken with spinach and parmesan cheese , Giorgia had a fish taco.

I can really recommend that place that’s also a very good budget choice.

 

We stayed at: Yosemite Bug – Rustic mountain resort

Me and my wife at Alcatraz
Me and my wife at Alcatraz
Alcatraz cell block
Alcatraz cell block
Yosemite National Park - Half Dome
Yosemite National Park - Half Dome

Day 7: Yosemite National Park

 

We woke up about at 7:30 am, we had breakfast at the Bug Cafè and then we got into the car. The Yosemite Bug is relatively cheap because it is not inside the Yosemite National Park, but it’s not far from the park entrance. We spent about an hour in the car and then we arrived at the Arch Rock Entrance. The road is very scenic and beautiful, and I really enjoyed to drive there.

 

That was our first visit to a National Park and we bought the $80 annual pass that is valid for a year and all the US National Parks. It covers all the people in the car and the vehicle at sites that charge “per vehicle”. The pass was valid for almost every park we visited then in our west USA tour. I can say that this pass is a very good deal, especially if you are more than two people. I really recommend to buy this type of access if you are planning to visit many parks as we did.

 

We were covering the main park road when, few miles after the park entrance, we saw El Captain. We stopped the car at side the road and there were few deers, I took some pictures at them. These animals are really confident and calm, but it is recommended to not approach them too close.  For that reason I stayed still few meters from the road side and let they to come close to me only if they wanted.

 

An important thing that I have to say is that these days the Rim Fire was burning north of the Park.  The park remained open, and though Yosemite Valley was never in danger, the fire burned many acres of parkland. Heavy smoke was, at times, very present in the sky. To make matters worse, this period of the year is not the best to visit the Yosemite National Park because of the lack of water on the rivers and so, on the falls.

 

We arrived at the visitor centre parking lot, and we left our car there. Then we jumped on board to the shuttle bus that goes all around the park and it’s free, I can recommend to use the shuttle because it’s very practical. The first stop was at Devil’s Fall, that as I said before, was pretty dry. I hope that we can come back there again in the future, because I bet that it would be awesome to see in spring. We knew that September was not the best period of the year to visit Yosemite, but we hadn’t enough time to spend there for enjoy the park, so we decided to take a little tour anyway. I think that this place deserves at leat 10 days itself to enjoy it properly, and the best period it’s in spring.

 

Then, still with the free shuttle, we went to see Mirror Lake that of course was dry, but there was a helicopter that was flying people around back and forward, and the interesting thing is that the people was not inside the chopper but attached to a rope… It was very cool to see and I don’t know what they were doing.

 

After this first two stops, we went back to the visitor centre and we got into the car heading to Glacier Point.  It is located at an elevation of about 2200 mt,  and it offers a breath-taking view of Yosemite Valley and the Half-Dome. Unfortunately there was a little bit of the Rim Fire smoke in the sky, so it was not as beautiful as it could be on a clear day. We took many pictures there and I was really happy.

 

On the way back to the Bug we stopped at the Tunnel view point that offers a very beaufitul view of the valley with El Captain on the foreground and the Half Dome in the background.

 

We stayed at: Yosemite Bug – Rustic mountain resort

Yosemite National Park - The park road
Yosemite National Park - The park road
Yosemite National Park - Me inside the park
Yosemite National Park - Me inside the park
Sequoia National Park - Tough Twins
Sequoia National Park - Tough Twins

Day 8: From Yosemite National Park to Sequoia National Park

 

After two nights at the Bug, it was time to leave it, we got into the car at about 8am heading to the next stop of our west USA tour: The Sequoia National Park.

 

This morning trip was about four-hour long, and during the journey we passed by the city of Fresno where we made a stop at Wal-Mart. We also saw many pastures areas with plenty of black cows, the landscape was not particularly scenic to see but equally very beautiful.

 

Then we passed through another area where we say plenty of fruits plantations and also few vineyards. It was very interesting to see big infinite fields all over around us. After that part we entered a completely different landscape, arid rocks and mountains were in front of our eyes.

 

As long as we covered few more miles we finally arrived at the Sequoia Motel Inn. Chris and her dog Abby (aka door bell) welcomed us very kindly. She also gave us some information about the park. We left our bags in the room and we took a short but refreshing pause, then we jumped again into the car.

 

The park entrance was about at 10 minutes from the motel, we used our annual pass to enter. If you plan a visit to the Sequoia National Park, you have to know that the park is very big, in fact we had to drive almost another 40 minutes to enter the Giant Forest. While we were covering the park road, we started to see some of these big trees. We were really amazed by the size of the sequoias, and the funny part is that we hadn’t already saw the biggest ones. We also passed under a tunnel made through a fallen tree. We initially taught it was the famous Tunnel Log, but it wasn’t.

 

Our first stop inside this magnificent park was at the Sherman Tree Trail. I think that everybody knows what the Gerneral Sherman Tree is, because it is the biggest tree on the planet. It is about 2200 years old and as high as a 25-story building. We took the trail with a big excitement, and we couldn’t belive our eyes when we saw The General. We were speechless. I took plenty of pictures, with the 8mm Fisheye that was the only lens capable to frame this trees from the top to the bottom.

 

Near the Sherman Tree there were other big Sequoias like The President, Pillars of Hercules, and more. Then we walked a little bit away from the General to see the Tough Twins. Not only this two trees are tough, in fact all the sequoias are. Sequoias don’t die by old age. Can occure that lightening or fire may damage this trees, but it rarely kills them. Sequoias are resistant to fire and insects. Most of the trees die by simply falling over, because the roots collapses.

 

We enjoyed very much this first part of the visit to the Sequoia National Park, but the day was coming to the end, and we took our way back to the motel.

 

We stopped in a view-point facing the Moro Rock (not to be confused with the Morro Bays Morro Rock) that is a giant granite dome rock formation in the park. The next day we would “climb” up to the top of it.

 

We stayed at: Sequoia Motel

Entering giant forest
Entering giant forest
Under the Tough Twins
Under the Tough Twins

Day 9: Sequoia National Park

 

It’s friday and we woke up not too early. We had our breakfast in one of the tables outside our room, then we got into the car and we entered The Sequoia National Park. That was our second day at the park.

 

We started our tour passing by the Crescent Meadow Road and our first stop was at the Buttress Tree, a giant sequoia that fell in 1959. We took several pictures in front of the roots of that very big tree.  Then we proceeded along the same road that also leads to the Parker Group.  The Parker Group is a group of giant Sequoia trees named after the eight members of the Parker family. I think that this group of Sequoia Trees is very beautiful because they are all close each other, and it can be easily reached by car.

 

After seeing that beautiful group of magnificent trees we reached the very famous Tunnel Log. The fallen Tunnel Log exists since when a giant sequoia fell across the Crescent Meadow Road in late 1937 as a result of natural causes. Then a tunnel was cut through the log, and now it is accessible as tourist attraction. I drove through this log something about four or five times because it was very funny to do. Giorgia waited  outside the car and took pictures and videos of me driving through. 🙂 Yes, I don’t need fancy things to be happy, I know!

 

Our plans were also to “climb” the Moro Rock, the trail is not particularly difficult because it consists in about 400 stairs and a 6-mile length round trip from the parking lot. So we took our backpacks and we started to run up across the trail. At about half way Giorgia was a little bit scared from the height and she had a little bit of dizziness. So I decided to let her wait in a panoramic and relaxing spot, and go up by myself.

Unfortunately she had the water in her backpack and I forgot to ask her for… It was about noon and that means that it was not an easy trip for me, not at all! I reached the top without water and I was really tested by that experience. I was widely repaid by the view, that was outstanding. I took a couple of photos and I returned down to catch up with my wife.

 

We had launch in one of the many picnic areas available at the parking lots, then we moved to the next stop that was the Auto Log. That log fell down in 1917. As long as it landed right next to Crescent Meadow Road, the authorities decided to turn it into an attraction. At the beginning it was possible to park the car along the upturned side of the tree trunk, and visitors were permitted to drive their cars up there. Then, with many years and thousands of cars, the log started to collapse so it is now off-limits to vehicles. But we were able to walk on the log and we also took pictures standing over it.

 

Then we went back to the General Sherman Trail and we took the long way around that is called The Congress Trail. That pathway is a loop about three-miles long, it is paved and goes about a mile south to an astonishing collection of big other sequoia, that in some cases looks just as big as the Sherman Tree. It is also possible to see the House and Senate groups of smaller sequoia. The trail to the Sherman Tree is a little bit busy, but as long as almost everyone goes directly to see the General, it follows that The Congress Trail is pretty quiet in comparison.

 

After all that hiking we were a little bit tired, so we decided to go back to the motel and have a bit of relax. The dinner took place at the River View Restaurant & LoungeWe split a Spicy Veggie burger and a Western Burger, both were really tasty and the place is cool, so I can recommend it for sure!

 

 

We stayed at: Sequoia Motel

Playing with the giant Sequoia
Playing with the giant Sequoia
Giorgia in front of the Parker Group
Giorgia in front of the Parker Group
Bodie Ghost Town
Bodie Ghost Town

Day 10: From Sequoia National Park to Mammoth Lakes

(Bodie Ghost Town, Mono Lake)

 

As good travellers we woke up very early that day, because we had to cover many miles for our west USA tour. In fact, our next stop was the Mono Lake County. We were supposed to overpass the Yosemite mountains and point East, by passing through the Tioga Road. Unfortunately there was a little problem for us: that road was closed due to the Rim Fire. I was looking at the NPS site daily since few days before, to see if they were opening the Tioga. Then with fingers crossed I checked site that morning too, but unfortunately the Tioga Pass was still closed.

 

I had already planned our detour in case that the Tioga Road would be closed, and so we proceeded with our B plan. The detour consisted to overpass the mountains passing at north, by the Sonora city, then via the Stanislaus National Forest and the Sonora Pass.

We had our breakfast and we got into the car headed to Sonora. Our first stop was the ghost town of Bodie that was 300 miles away from our starting point at the Sequoia Motel. The Sonora Pass was a pleasant surprise because the road offered us breath-taking scenarios and beautiful view points to stop at. There were many animals around, like cows and horses, plus the villages we were passing by were really characteristic.

 

We arrived at Bodie Ghost Town at about 1 pm, Bodie State Historic Park is one of the best preserved ghost towns in the United States, there are many buildings that are kept in a state of “arrested decay”. We paid the ticket because it was not covered by our annual pass, and we entered the park.  At the visitor center, we immediately saw a sign that was saying “Tioga Road now Open”, and I couldn’t believe that. It was really frustrating 🙂

 

I like abandoned places and urban exploration photography, and though this is not a real exploration because it is a park, I really enjoyed that place. There are many buildings with perfect preserved interiors that you can observe through the glass or event enter into. There are all the miners houses, the hotel, the saloon, the church. It was really interesting and beautiful to photograph. We spent about three hours in the park, walking around and taking pictures, then we left. I suggest you to visit Bodie keeping in mind that you will enjoy this place only if you are passionate about abandoned places or American History.

 

Our next stop was Mono Lake that is one of the strangest places I saw in my life. This lake is about 700,000 years old, and the lack of an outlet causes high levels of salts to accumulate in the lake that became alkaline. There are two islands in this lake but the main characteristic that make this place so cool are the tufa rock formations.

This kind of formations area spread all around the lake they make the panorama looks like some kind of lunar landscape. We looked at the lake from the road as it became visible from the long distance, it was outstanding to see the reflections in the water and all the white rocks appearing on the background. We spent at least a couple of hours there, walking around and taking pictures, nobody was there in the area in it was really amazing. Unfortunately at sunset it became windy and it caused some ripples in the water, so the reflections were not visible anymore, and my pictures were not great.  I saw plenty of amazing pictures of this place, and I definitely have to come back there another time in my life. 🙂

 

After the sunset at the lake we drove south to Mammoth Lakes where we were spending the night. We took two burgers at Carl’s Jr and then we make a little tour around the city that is really beautiful, I think that this place gives its best in winter during the skiing season.

 

Note: we had to move all our food from the car to the room because there are bears that can damage the car searching for food.

 

We stayed at: Motel 6 Mammoth Lakes

Sonora Pass Road
Sonora Pass Road
Entering Bodie State Park
Entering Bodie State Park
Stratosphere X Scream
Stratosphere X Scream

Day 11: From Mammoth Lakes to Las Vegas

(Death Valley National Park)

 

We woke up pretty early and we immediately found a surprise: one bear damaged a car in the motel’s parking lot!!! The owner had probably left some food inside the car, and the animal made his way through the car’s rear window. We thought that it could be only a remote possibility, but we were wrong!

 

After that little shock we packed our things, and we got into the car headed south. We travelled about two hours across the 395 until we crossed the famous California State Route 190. The Death Valley National Park was our next stop.

 

As long as we were running across the 190, the temperature became higher and higher. The landscape was very breath-taking, but the heat was becoming really unbearable. It was so hot that the action camera we had on our dash to record some travel vlogs, turned itself off many times.

We reached our first stop at Mesquite Sand Dunes at noon, at this moment the temperature was about 120° F that’s something like 48° C. It was crazy! I hate hot temperatures, but I made myself strong and I jumped outside the car to take few pictures… It was very impressive, it felt like breathing inside a furnace! Giorgia waited inside the car with the ac at full power.

 

Speaking of furnaces, we proceeded passing by Furnace Creek, that is the only village in Death Valley. It sits below the sea level, there is a museum and a visitor centre where we stopped for a refreshing pause.

 

The next stop was at Zabriskie Point, a spectacular viewpoint that offers a view of an incredible erosional landscape formed of sediments from a lake that was there about 5 million years ago, before than the actual sinking and widening of Death Valley. I walked upon the hill where the viewpoint is located, the heat was killing me, but I took several pictures and I was really happy to see that beautiful natural landscape.

 

After that stop we decided not to visit the other points we planned in the first place (Dante’s View and Badwater Basin) because of the heat. Now that I’m writing this article I regret that choice because I don’t know if I will be able to go back there again, but I can guarantee you that it was not humanly possible with that kind of temperatures. I recommend to not visit the Death Valley National Park during the mid-day hours in hot months because it’s too much, really.

 

So we drove outside the valley and we pointed to Las Vegas. The road from the Death Valley to Las Vegas is very scenic, especially the Nevada State Route 160. Here we were running under a beautiful blue sky covered of big white clouds all around, visible as far as the eye could see. It was really amazing because the road is perfectly straight and the open space around you is something that, someone who lives in Europe like me, is not used to see.

 

We were approaching Vegas from south so we saw the beautiful Red Rock Canyon on our way, it was about an hour before the sunset when we entered the city. As long as we were entering the city we saw all the shining casino buildings like the Mandalay Bay that was reflecting the sunlight and it was very impressive to see for the first time. We run across all the strip heading north because we had to reach the Stratosphere Hotel. That place is not difficult to find, you only have to look high in the skyline and search for the tower, simple 🙂

 

We choose the Stratosphere for two reasons: the relatively cheap price, and the free tower access that was very cool for taking pictures. We got into our room and we left the bags, then we went immediately to the top of the tower to see the sunset. The view is super-cool, and on top there are few attractions like the X-Scream or the SkyJump. That last one is crazy: you can jump from the top of the tower to the strip in few seconds with an elastic rope! We took some pictures at sunset and then we went back down.

 

Our first stop was at Bonanza Gifts that is right next to the Stratosphere; Bonanza claims to be the biggest souvenir shop in the world! I don’t know if it’s true, but I can tell you that it’s very big! We bought some gifts for our friends and family and it was really funny!

 

Las Vegas boulevard, aka The Strip, is huge. You can walk it that’s for sure, but I don’t recommend to do it all from north to south because it will be exhausting, especially during the day. The casinos are big and it can take about a half of a mile from one to another. Since it was still very hot outside, we decided to take our car and park it inside one of the casinos, we left it at the Mirage.

 

Then, we walked to see the Caesar’s Palace, and the Bellagio, the Paris, the Venetian plus the two modern Aria and Cosmopolitan.

We had dinner at a fast food inside the Venetian, that was nothing special.

After dinner we took some pictures around and we went to see the Bellagio’s fountains show.

 

We stayed at: Stratosphere Hotel

California State Route 190 Death Valley
California State Route 190 Death Valley
Nevada State Route 160 to Las Vegas
Nevada State Route 160 to Las Vegas

Day 12: Las Vegas

 

That day was a very special day for us, because… Well, I guess you have to read all to find out why (or maybe you can find a clue looking at the pictures)! Well, we started our day very easy so we woke up late and we went shopping around.

 

Our first stop was at Scrappin’ Time, and Giorgia went literally crazy for that shop. She bought many supplies for her creative hobby and she was happy to find that stuff in Las Vegas. Then we went out to the Las Vegas South Premium Outlets but it was very hot and it was really exhausting so we didn’t stay too much.

We had launch there and then we moved to another Wal-Mart and Giorgia bought few other scrapbook supplies, later we came back to our room because we had to prepare ourself for the big event 🙂 I ironed my shirt and Giorgia dressed herself very well because…

 

We were getting married! 

 

Yes, that was the plan from the beginning of our travel, getting married in Las Vegas!!! We did not formalize the wedding there and it was just for fun, but you bet that it was very funny!

We booked our ceremony at the Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel for the afternoon, we were very excited and impatient at the same time! Our officiant was dressed like Elvis and he also singed a song for us, “Viva Las Vegas”, of course! We went through the Unity Candle Ceremony and it was intense, as long as it can be in Vegas 🙂

Then we went outside and we saw our names in the big LCD display outside the chapel, we were famous for few minutes!

 

After the wedding we went downtown to the Freemont Street that is the historical center of Las Vegas. I liked that area very much, it is way more interesting and beautiful than the other places around. You can look around and see many old casinos without having to walk for MILES. These are the original casinos of Las Vegas,  and it offers a more vintage experience compared to the Strip. The Fremont Street Experience is the real heart of Las Vegas, you walk under the world’s largest audio-video system, in fact on the ceiling there is a big screen with many images passing by.

 

I absolutely suggest you to visit that part of the city because it’s the real soul of Las Vegas. We enjoyed it very much and so we stayed there a couple of hours and then we took the car for a night strip tour.

 

We had dinner at Panda Express, that was our first time in this chinese fast food and we liked it very much! Then we walked on the south strip, we saw the beautiful Mandalay Bay, then the Luxor that is huge inside. We got into the monorail that goes from the Luxor to the Excalibur, then I took some pictures at night and later we went back to the Stratosphere.

 

We stayed at: Stratosphere Hotel

Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel
Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel
Our sign
Our sign

Day 13: Las Vegas

 

We slept until 12 am that day, because the heat was literally destroying us. This was our last day in a proper and comfortable bedroom, so we took some time to rest, then we got into the car and we start our daytime tour of the casinos.

 

The first stop of our day was at the Bellagio hall, that was all decorated with a beautiful fall theme. We took many pictures there because it was really well made.

 

Then we went to see the newest casinos, that are the Cosmopolitan and the Aria. That kind of building is impressive to look at and to explore, but there’s nothing special inside, I mean: fancy shops and shiny interiors, but nothing more. We had launch at Burger King and then we got into the car again.

 

We went to see the Fabulous Las Vegas welcome sign that is awesome! There was a long line of people waiting to take a picture in front of the sign, that was not a problem for us, but the thing that really disappointed me was another. I don’t know if it’s always the same, but that day there was a man in front of the sign that offered his help to take the pictures, he asked us money in exchange of taking the picture for us.

“I’m sorry my friend, but I have my tripod with the remote, and you don’t touch my camera!” He was not happy about my setup at all, but there was nothing he could do about it 🙂 So, we took several pictures both in front and on the back of the sign, other people were laughing at us, and then we walked away completely FREE.

 

We drove back to the strip and we saw all the buildings under the sunlight, and I think that some of them give their best during the day.

 

On the other hand I have to tell you that I didn’t like Las Vegas very much, I don’t know if it was due to the heat or the “lack of money” we had. I think that the reasons are both, maybe with a more enjoyable temperature and plenty of dollars to spend in the casinos, the city could offer a completely different experience. Unfortunately I don’t think I will never find out 🙂

 

 

We spent the rest of the day looking around the other casinos, like the Flamingo, the MGM, and more. Then, after dinner, went back to the Stratosphere and we went up to the top of the tower.

 

The view at night is scenic, and the strip looks very small from there. I took few pictures, it was our last night in Vegas, and we went to sleep pretty early. Our west USA tour was only at half the way!

 

We stayed at: Stratosphere Hotel

Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas
Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas
Cedar Breaks National Monument
Cedar Breaks National Monument

Day 14: From Las Vegas to Cedar City

(Zion National Park, Cedar Breaks National Monument)

 

We woke up pretty early because we had a long trip waiting for us that day. Our destination was the Zion National Park!

 

The trip was about three hours long, luckily the speed limit in Utah is at 80 mph so we were travelling a little bit faster than the usual. During this trip we saw many different kind of landscapes, at the beginning we saw the desert with red rocks, then we passed by infinite lowlands.

 

At a certain point, the landscape became completely different, in fact we were seeing big red mountains and many green areas with plenty of threes.

 

We travelled across few beautiful villages with perfect houses and big green gardens, I dreamed of living there someday. The red road merged seamlessly with the colors of the surrounding landscape, it was amazing to drive through this spectacular environment.

 

Later we arrived at Zion National Park at about 11am, we entered the park using our annual pass, and we left the car at the visitor centre. In this park, as many of the others, there is the free shuttle bus that is very useful and convenient.

 

So we jumped on the bus and we headed to our first stop that was the Weeping Rock Trail, that is labeled as easy. Well, I don’t want to tell you that was hard because it wasn’t at all, but we walked that half-mile steep at about noon so it was very hot and water demanding. The trail took us about an hour and it was really beautiful up there.

 

After this first exploration we went back to the Zion Lodge, where we had our lunch with some burgers we took on the way to the park. The Zion Lodge is beautiful and there is a big park where you can relax and enjoy a picnic under the shadows of the big trees. We felt the peace of the nature after three days in Vegas, and we couldn’t be more happy.

 

Then we got into the bus again and we went to see another trail: the Lower Emerald that is way more comfortable than the other one before, especially because you walk through the trees so the sun is not a problem. During this walk we saw few deers and I was able to take pictures really close, they were not afraid of our presence but we were very careful anyway.

The Lower Emerald trail leads to the Emerald Pools Fall, as you can imagine the water was not much like in Yosemite, but the place is beautiful in this period too. By the way, if you plan to visit Zion National Park you can think about going in Spring, that of course will be another level in terms of water presence. I guess that it would also be cold because of the altitude, so keep that in mind too.

I personally think that if you want to make a complete tour like we did, September/October will be fine as long as April/May. In our case, the plane ticket price played a big role in our decision.

 

So, as I was saying before, the place is really beautiful also in this period. The big red rock walls, with white and green stripes, were really fantastic to see and we were amazed.

 

We stayed at Zion a couple of hours more, and then we left. We had to reach Cedar City where we planned to spend the night.

 

But first, we wanted to take a look at the Cedar Breaks National Monument that was at about 2 hours from Zion. I have to say that choice was never more apt, because that place was really breath-taking. We arrived there at sunset and there was almost anybody around. Only a ranger that was leaving the little visitor centre, and a couple of tourist that left the place few minutes later.

 

Cedar Breaks is a natural amphitheater situated at about three thousand meters of altitude. The eroded rock of the amphitheater is similar to Bryce Canyon formations, but we didn’t know that yet. We enjoyed the magnificent sunset in silence, and I took few pictures. I will remember these moments for the rest of my life.

 

 

After the sun was set, the moon started to shine and we decided to leave that place, that for the record was one of the most amazing places I ever saw. On the road back to Cedar City, few animals crossed the road, and we were going very slow for that reason. We met 6 deers, a fox, and a couple of owls.

 

We arrived at Cedar City at about 9pm, and we had dinner at Jimmy John’s that we liked very much. Giorgia had a Totally Tuna and an Italian Night Club for me.

 

After dinner it was the time to go to sleep, we were tired because Cedar City is on a different time zone (at +1) compared to Las Vegas. The motel 6 we booked was pretty cheap, but modern and very clean. I can recommend it for sure!

 

We stayed at: Motel 6 Cedar City

Zion National Park Sign
Zion National Park Sign
Giorgia on the Weeping Rock Trial
Giorgia on the Weeping Rock Trial
Bryce Canyon Hoodoos
Bryce Canyon Hoodoos

Day 15: From Cedar City to Escalante

(Bryce Canyon National Park)

 

The destination for that day was the Bryce Canyon National Park. We woke up at 8am, we had breakfast in our room and then we got into the car headed north on the I-15. It took about two hours to reach the destination, so we arrived at the gates at about 11am, then we entered using our annual pass.

 

As in almost all the National Parks, the visitor center is located right after the entrance, there we took a little pause and we started to plan our visit to the park looking at the maps they gave to us. I suggest you to do the same,  it’s important to give a look at all the guides you collect when you enter in a park. There are plenty of information that can help you to organize the day at the best.

For example we decided not to take the bus,  we thought that the car was more practical in this park that has a parking lot in every view-point.  In fact there are a lot of areas to stop at, and we started our day from the biggest that is the amphitheatre area; this first zone includes four different viewpoints (Sunrise Point, Sunset Point, Inspiration Point and Bryce Point). The first three are at walking distance, but to reach Bryce Point it’s better to take the car, because otherwise it will be a very long walk indeed.

 

The Bryce Canyon is something you can’t imagine if you don’t see it with your eyes. It’s nothing but outstanding, it is similar to the Cedar Breaks National Monument we saw the day before, but 10 times bigger! We were amazed to see that big natural amphitheatre in front of us.

 

We started our walk from the Sunrise Point then we moved to the Sunset Point, that was the most spectacular natural environment I saw from the first day of our West USA tour. We were literally speechless! The temperature was about 25-27 degrees and we walked under the sun easily. I remembered seeing pictures of these places covered in snow, and I wondered how it must be to be in this place in such a completely different context. Bryce Canyon is at a much higher elevation than the Zion National Park we saw the day before, in fact the altitude here is between 2,400 and 2,700 m.

 

Bryce distinctive characteristic are the rocks called Hoodoos, that are residual formed by frost weathering and stream erosion of the river and lake bed sedimentary rocks. The red, orange, and white colors of the rocks are spectacular to see.

 

Even if the other two view-points (Inspiration and Bryce) are reachable by walk, we had a fast lunch and we got into the car headed to the last and the highest point. From the Rainbow Point we were able to see all the amphitheatre area because of the altitude and the distance, and we also saw a condor flying over our heads… I tried to take pictures but it was too fast for me 🙂

 

After that we went back on the main road that is full of viewpoints and we stopped the car at the Ponderosa Point. From this place is possible to see the huge Ponderosa Pines forest that sits on the canyon floor. Some of these trees are very big but it’s not easy to figure out the size because of the strange perspective and distance you have from above.

 

Then we headed to the Agua Canyon, here we saw two big hoodoos that are called “The Hunter” and “The Rabbit“. These two giant hoodoos dominates the view from that point, so I switched to a long focal length and I took few close up pictures.

 

Later we moved down the main road again, and we stopped at the Natural Bridge, then Farview Point and the Paria View.  Last but not least we stopped at Bryce Point, where there is a spectacular view of the Grottos. Grottos are alcoves formed by sandstone layers just below the limestone layer at the top of the cliff. They looks like all rows of natural windows looking at the valley; we read on the guides that they are formed by the water that gets through to the permeable sandstone layer via cracks in the upper layer.

 

I think that if you have to choose one spot to take the best pictures you can, you only have to pick from this two: Sunset Point and Bryce Point. You will not be disappointed at all.

 

As last stop of the day we stopped at the Sunrise Point, but as I said before we had to pick a spot for the sunset shooting; I pointed my finger at the Bryce Point, so we went there and we started to wait for the sunset. We arrived at the viewpoint about an hour before the sunset, few minutes later the place started to become full of photographers! I was very lucky to be there in time because I got a very good spot. It also became very cold, so I suggest you to go find your spot in advance and keep in mind that the temperature will drop drastically as long as the sun is setting down.

 

We were amply rewarded from the waiting, because the sunset was epic. There was also a big full moon rising from the opposite side, and shining over the hoodoos.

 

After the sunset we jumped into our car, because we had to reach Escalante that was our stop for the night. This little city is at about one hour from the Bryce Canyon. We booked a room at the Padre Motel that was a budget choice for us. The place is fine, and it seems to be in the 50’s, the owners are nice and it’s clean. Nothing special but I can recommend it, especially if you are planning a one-night stop.

 

We stayed at: Padre Motel 

Hoodoos
Hoodoos
On a bench
On a bench
Road to Capitol Reef
Road to Capitol Reef

Day 16: From Escalante to Moab

(Capitol Reef, Goblin Valley)

 

Our night at the Padre Motel wasn’t bad at all, mainly because our bed was huge and we had a lot of space to share. We woke up not particularly early, and so the initial plan that included a tour of the Petrified Forest was canceled. We were a little bit sad about that, but we also were very tired and we needed some extra sleep time. So we got into the car and we headed directly to the stop number two that was the Capitol Reef National Park.

 

The highway 12 to Capitol Reef is amazing and scenic, we stopped few times to take pictures so it took about two and a half hours to reach the park.  The area is big and the main road goes through all the beautiful viewpoints, in that park there’s no fee to pay; you can drive your car and stop wherever you want.

 

We stopped at the Twin Rocks, then we went through the highway 24 until we arrived at The Castle. 

 

The Castle is one of Capitol Reef National Park’s iconic landmarks and it is very big. We took several pictures there, then we walked a bit along the Chimney Rock Trail to take some other shoots at the Chimney Rock itself. We didn’t cover all the trail length because it is about 3.5 miles round trip that is very much, especially under the noon sun.

 

After that half-hour stop we took the scenic drive that leads to the orchards area. It contains approximately 3000 trees including cherry, apricot, peach, pear, apple, plum, mulberry, almond, and walnut. During the harvesting season you can pick up the fruit from the trees as long as you find the dedicated areas.

 

We stopped at the Gifford Homestead that is a farmhouse where you can buy homemade products like bread, jellies and dried fruit, as well as locally baked fruit pies. The place is amazing and it seems like the time has stopped 50 years ago. We got two pies and an olive bread, we eat up one of the two cakes immediately in the garden tables right outside the house. It was delicious!

 

We got into the car with full stomach and a smile on our face, and we headed to the next stop that was the Goblin Valley State Park. We were not sure about visiting this place because it’s not particularly famous as the other parks, and also in our guide there was only a small paragraph talking about that place. Well, we would regret for sure, because it is unique and I recommend you to keep some time for it if you are passing by this region!

 

Along the way, we stopped at Hanksville for fueling the car and we saw a very interesting surprise on the roadside: there was this small garden full of interesting metal sculptures. It captured our attention very much and we took many pictures at all the strange figures we found. As a matter of fact it wasn’t a proper garden, instead it was an abandoned motel courtyard and the white metal sculptures were representing animal and people shaped figures. Outstanding!

 

After about two hours we arrived at the Goblin Valley, this park is strange and colorful. The landscape is covered with sandstone formations that looks like Goblins, it seems to be on another planet. It was about 3 pm and the temperature was pretty high. We walked along the valley covering our heads with hats, I remember that there was full of cracks on the ground… Something like a desert, but with few little green bushes around, so strange! We spent there more than an hour taking pictures and walking around near the Goblins…

 

After the valley exploration, we left that magic place and we entered the highway 24 headed to Moab.

 

The city of Moab is full of tourists, and it’s perfect as starting point if you plan to visit to the nearby Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. We decided to spend three nights there, and keep a day for each of the two parks we were planning to visit.

 

You never change a winning team, so we booked at the local Motel 6 that is modern, clean and of course cheap!  We arrived there at about 6 pm and we took a relaxing shower, then we went out for dinner.

 

We had dinner at the Blu Pig BBQ restaurant. We tried the fried catfish that I liked very much, then we had both a pulled pork that is pork shoulder smoked for 16 hours, pulled and tossed in a very sweet sauce. We, as italians, are not used to sweet flavors mixed with meat, so it was a little bit strange. Also the sweet corn muffins and the sweet potatoes were a little bit too much for us, but I can’t say it’s bad, not at all. I can recommend this place for sure because the quality is good and the price is ok.

 

We stayed at: Motel 6 Moab

Twin Rocks
Twin Rocks
Chimney Rock Trail
Chimney Rock Trail
Dead Horse Point
Dead Horse Point

Day 17: Moab

(Dead Horse Point, Canyonlands National Park, Arches National Park)

 

We woke up at 7 am, we had breakfast in our room and we jumped into the car. It was a wonderful saturday, the sky was full of big beautiful white clouds that were moving fast over our heads. The first stop of the day was at Dead Horse Point.

 

Dead Horse Point State Park, actually is not like the other parks we saw. I mean that, in my opinion, it looks more like a giant viewpoint with few trails starting points. I am not saying that is a bad thing, but we were a little bit surprised about that. We entered through the gates and we paid the 10$ vehicle access fee, because our annual pass was not valid there.

The view of the Colorado River, that you can see in this chapters opening picture, is amazing. I think that most of the people who comes to this park wants to take that classic shoot, and it is priceless. Unfortunately  the water-color was not at his best, but the sky was spectacular and I was happy with my photographic capture…

We were also able to find plenty of other viewpoints where I took several pictures; standing over some of the rocks can be a little bit dangerous if you walk near edges, so I had to be very careful!

 

We left after about an hour and a half, and we headed to the next stop that was the magnificent Canyonlands National Park where we used our annual pass to enter.

 

Every single day of our west USA tour was different from the one before: now we were facing another incredible natural landscape, one that I will remember for all my life. Even from the visitor center we were excited from the view.
There is not an official free shuttle bus in this park, so we used our rental car. The spaces are huge and every single viewpoint or trail has a big parking lot, so I think that’s the best solution even there. I recommend you to do the same, unless you are part of a big group, in that case you can rent a shuttle bus in one of the Moab agencies.

 

The park main road is called Grand View Point Road, and as you can guess is full of viewpoints. We were stopping the car many times, we were super excited. We reached the Shafer road view point, that as its name says, is a scenic overlook that offers a magnificent view of  the Shafer Trail Road. This “road” is a 18 miles dangerous dirt track located down the canyon. I think that it requires extreme caution for both vehicles and mountain bikes, we even saw a couple of crazy drivers with big jeeps that were going down pointing at the valley. I also think that this road shouldn’t be attempted by novice drivers or people without off-road experience.

 

Our next stop was the Mesa Arch Trail. The walk is not particularly long and neither difficult, during this little “hike” we met a lady that was searching for the right way and for her husband. She was very kind and we walked with here with a couple of minutes until she found the husband and so the right way to go.

The Mesa Arch is magnificent, a real natural masterpiece! It’s also is a little bit smaller than what you can think, especially if you only looked it in some pictures without anyone around. Unfortunately the place was full of people because it was the middle of the day, it was also very difficult to take good pictures. I can remember that I said to myself “I had to come back tomorrow morning at sunrise!” because I knew that the sun rises straight behind the arch.

 

We got into the car and we moved to the most scenic area of all the park that is called Island in the Sky. Here we had lunch with our super-cheap sandwiches and we met again that lady. She and her husband were having lunch near us so we talked a little bit. They asked us many questions about Italy and also about what we thought of our west USA tour. They also told us that thunderstorms and heavy rain were coming the day after, so they suggested us to hurry up to see as many places as we could!

 

So, we made use of what they told us and we immediately went to see the Green River Overlook. That was, I think, the most beautiful landscape view I saw in my entire life. Despite that now I traveled many other places, I never saw something comparable to that. That point sits at about 6000 feet elevation (about 1800 mt), you can look through Soda Springs Basin towards the Green River.  Even if you are used to open spaces and great heights, this overlook view is a real unbelievable breath-taking experience. You can try to guess the distance of the elements you see, but it’s impossible! The perspective is incredible and the vista stretches out for a hundred miles to the horizon.

 

The Grand View Point Overlook is right next the Green River Overlook, and it is as beautiful as his neighbour. We spent there some time, and then we decided to follow the old lady advice and leave this magnificent park. At this point I can assure you that the Canyonlands National Park deserves a very special place in my heart.

 

Arches National Park is not far away from there, it takes about half an hour from Canyonlands and you can use the annual pass to enter there too. Even this road is full of magnificent viewpoints so it took a little bit longer than expected. We collected the maps at the gates and we gave it a quick look at them. We decided very fast how to spend the rest of that day.

 

We made a quick stop at The Organ then we moved on along the park road. It was about 5 pm when we arrived at the Balanced Rock. This incredible rock is visible from the park road, and as long as you are getting closer, you can’t believe your eyes. The rock itself is huge, and it sits over a thin pedestal. We walked along the small loop that leads close to it, the view was amazing and, you can tell for sure, it feels like it could fall down at any moment.

 

After a half hour there we decided that it was the time to leave for the last stop of the day, The Delicate Arch. 

 

The Delicate Arch is one of the most famous and beautiful arches in the park, we reached the parking lot at about 6 pm and we had about an hour to reach the top point. The trail to see Delicate Arch is 3 miles long (4.8 km) roundtrip and climbs 480 feet (146m).  You walk over the rocks and the surrounding landscape is all made of red rocks. The path is signed by rocks or stone chips and it’s pretty easy to figure out where you have to go.

 

As I said before, this is one of the most beautiful and famous arches of the park, so when we arrived at the top you can bet that we weren’t alone for sure. There was plenty of people all around the arch, many of them were in line for taking pictures. Others were standing in front of the arch even for 5 minutes each. It was a little bit disappointing, I have to admit. I was not the only one that was pissed off, another photographer started to scream at the people something like “Hey, you are in everybody’s picture!”. Damn it was really frustrating and so I started to whistle at them too.

 

At the end they finally got the message, so I took few portraits at my wife from the distance, then we found a good spot to sit and wait for the sunset.  Later I went behind a small rock so I was not in the middle of the frame of other photographers, then and I stayed there for about an hour until I got my moment.

 

The sun was setting right in front of me and I had a perfect view of the arch, I took many pictures until it became completely dark. As long as the sun was setting down, most of the people around left the place, so I finally felt some of the magic of this wonderful place.

 

After the sunset we had to come back to the car, and it became very dark in few minutes. Another crazy thing I remember of that day was that most of the people didn’t even had a flashlight with them! I had mine, and another man near me had another one; it ended that we both were followed by about over 20 persons each.

Obviously they didn’t see anything and they had to follow us through the path, it was not a problem for me, but I remember I thought that they had to be very stupid… I mean: you take a hike, you wait until night, and you are without a flashlight… Come on!

 

While we were going down the trail, looking at the horizon we saw plenty of lightnings, and we also heard thunders. The lady was right!

 

We got back to Moab and we had dinner at Milt’s Stop & Eat. That’s the oldest burger restaurant in Moab, it was first opened in September of 1954 and it’s an institution in the city. I had a double Cheeseburger and my wife Giorgia had a Chili Cheeseburger. Both delicious!

 

We stayed at: Motel 6 Moab

Island in the sky - Canyonlands National Park
Island in the sky - Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands National Park
Giorgia at the Green River Overlook
Giorgia at the Green River Overlook
Arches National Park - Owl Rock
Arches National Park - Owl Rock

Day 18: Moab

(Arches National Park)

 

As the forecast predicted for that Sunday, the weather was not good at all. We woke up at 7 am, and the sky was very cloudy. We decided to take it easy and we had breakfast at the Pancake Haus, me and Giorgia shared a very tasty Banana Walnut Pancake.

 

After this very good breakfast we got into the car and we drove to the Arches National Park. We started our visit by stopping at the Garden of Eden area that is not far from the Balanced Rock; there we saw some people climbing up to the top of one of the biggest rocks, that is called The Owl Rock. I remember that the clouds were moving fast and the landscape was very dramatic, completely different from the day before.

 

The next stop was at The Windows section, here there are two big arches that are the North and South windows plus another one that is called the Turret Arch. This short loop visits all the three impressive arches that are very close each other. The North and South Window Arches forms openings in the same sandstone rock, and the Turret Arch looks like a castle. We enjoyed very much this easy trail and we took many pictures, then after about an hour we left.

 

Moving on, we stopped at the Sand Dune Arch that is named for its location in a sandy slot canyon between two fins. The main trail, also gives access to Broken Arch and Tapestry Arch that we did not see. The sand here is particularly fine and red. We walked through the sins and we arrived in a sort of beach that leads up to the Sand Dune Arch.

There are places to play hide and seek along the way, and in fact there were few children playing around. We also enjoyed taking photos in narrow spaces, the place was very exciting to explore.

 

After about a half hour we decided to leave because it started raining a little bit. It was not a heavy rain, so we decided to visit the Skyline Arch that was not far from there.  It was an easy hike to the arch and although it is a difficult scramble to get up and under the arch. It was amazing to see, but unfortunately a heavy rain started to fall over us, and also the wind became crazy. We had to run to the car and wait.

 

We waited about half an hour but the weather became even worse, the sky was super-dark and we decided to go back to the motel.

 

The heavy rain continued for all the afternoon, we stayed at the motel until about 6 pm when we went out for souvenir shopping in Moab.

 

We were lucky enough to see a big portion of the Arches National Park the day before, otherwise it would be very sad. At the end of the day I recommend you to stay in Moab at least three days because the parks are big and there are so many things to see.

 

We stayed at: Motel 6 Moab

Arches National Park - Garden of Eden Rocks
Arches National Park - Garden of Eden Rocks
Giorgia on the way to Sand Dunes Arch
Giorgia on the way to Sand Dunes Arch
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park

Day 19: From Moab to Mexican Hat

(Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park)

 

On the road again: we had to cover over 150 miles to reach the Monument Valley, so after a quick breakfast we jumped on the car and we started our journey. We loved Moab so much, it felt like when we left San Francisco 10 days before. I want to come back there in winter, and I will! I promise!

 

Along the road we passed by outstanding landscapes and big spaces, then we saw the La Sal Mountains with even some snow on top. The journey took about three hours, and since we were getting closer to Mexican Hat, we entered the Navajo Nation and we started to see some Navajo people too. They drive very fast along this straight roads 🙂

 

Mexican Hat is a little village near the Monument Valley Park, it is located near the San Juan River and it has a population of 31 people only! It was about 10 am when we arrived at our motel; we unloaded our baggage, then we left heading to the park entrance. Little story short: the name “Mexican Hat” comes from a curiously sombrero-shaped rock, but we never know because we didn’t see it. 

 

The US 163 south that goes to the Monument Valley is one of the most famous roads in the world, and it’s magnificent. This infinite straight asphalt line drives you through the heart of the valley  It’s known as the Trail of the Ancients, the red rocks contrast against blue skies and the soil is full of green brushes and cactus plants. I took advantage of the many pullouts for some pictures.

This road is something you have to see at least one time in your life (better at sunrise, I will discover that tomorrow)!

 

The Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park is not managed by the US National Parks Service so it means that our annual pass was not valid there. We paid the 20$ fee that is valid per-vehicle, and we were in! As usual in this west USA tour, we reached the visitor center and we took a quick look at the maps they gave us while having a cup of coffee. Then we also spent some time looking at the landscape.

 

The view from the visitor center parking lot is breath-taking, the valley is unbelievably big and the two Mittens in the foreground are huge, it seems that you can touch them but actually they are miles away from you.

 

Then, after a little bit of debate, we decided to use our SUV and take the scenic drive through the valley.

 

The road is not paved, and the first part is very steep and sometimes rough; Giorgia was a little bit scared at the beginning, but then it was very funny for both of us. I enjoyed driving there, and luckily we had a car with a high clearance, so it was easy.

After the first half mile the Monument Valley scenic road levels out, but you have to be very careful anyway. When you drive on the sand you never know if there’s enough grip, in fact I remember seeing more than a car stopped in the sand.

Actually some signs recommend a 4-wheel-drive vehicle, but trust me that’s not the case. Our Tiguan was FWD and it went fine, all you have to do is take it easy and, at the same time, don’t go too slow on the high sand.  However, if you rented a low riding vehicle I don’t recommend to try this road. Instead you can go with the park trucks, but good luck with that! (* Take a look at the pictures below and you’ll know what I mean).

 

The scenic drive is 17 mile long and there are 11 stops. It starts with the East and West Mitten Buttes viewpoint, then the Merrick Butte and Mitchell Mesa. Moving on we arrived at the Elephant Butte and the beautiful Three Sisters.

There were also some stalls that were selling hand-made objects and jewelery. Giorgia bought a necklace for her mother, beautiful and not expensive.

Later we arrived at the Rain God Mesa that­ marks the center of the park, then the magnificent Artist’s Point where we took many pictures and a relaxing break for lunch.

 

While we were having lunch we talked about how there, in Monument Valley, we didn’t felt the same magic than the days before in Canyonlands and Arches National Parks. We didn’t know why, maybe there were too many people around? Honestly I don’t know, but we both agreed to that!

 

For that reason my advice is to visit the Monument Valley (and the Grand Canyon) first, then move north to Moab and see the other two parks I mentioned before. I think that in this order you will better enjoy every single one of them.

 

After lunch we went through all the scenic drive until the last stop, and we enjoyed it very much. It was about 4 pm when we decided to go back to the motel and take a shower.

 

At this point I remembered that I had to book some tickets for the following day. Unfortunately the wi-fi was not working and it was very hard to get the info I needed with the smart phone only. The lack of internet access was a little bit frustrating for me, but they said that was a technical problem and they were fixing it up, so I guess it can happen especially when you are in a very small village in the middle of nowhere. At the end of the day, the San Juan Inn was the cheapest motel around the Monument Valley so if you don’t want to spend too much inside the park, that’s basically the only option you have.

 

After a couple of hours we came back to the park for the sunset, at this moment there was almost nobody around, all the crowd left the place and we started to feel some magic. The sunset was not particularly colorful that day, but since the sun was going down, only the upper part of the Mittens were lit.

 

We took many pictures at sunset and then we left at about 9 pm. I don’t remember why, but at some point we stopped along the road! Well, now the magic literally shocked us, there was nobody around except a car every few minutes; the darkness was total even at 9 pm, and we saw the Milky Way over hour heads. No more words needed.

 

We stayed at: San Juan Inn

Monument Valley - Our rental car in front of the Rain God Mesa
Monument Valley - Our rental car in front of the Rain God Mesa
Monument Valley - Three Sisters
Monument Valley - Three Sisters
Upper Antelope Canyon
Upper Antelope Canyon

Day 20: From Mexican Hat to Williams

(Antelope Canyon, Lake Powell, Horse Shoe Bend, Page)

 

 

We left the motel before the dawn, and so we reached the valley at sunrise. We stopped along the US 163, I grabbed the camera and I got out of the car. It was a little bit cold outside and the sky was purple without clouds. The color began pink at first, and then vibrant orange. The rocks slowly became red like they were on fire, and then the magic happened. This was one of those moments I will never forget.

 

We took few pictures and we admired this magnificent place for the last time, then we got again into the car. Our next stop would be the Antelope Canyon.

 

The road to Page is about 140 miles (220 km) long, and it took about 2 and a half hours to get there. As I told you before, although with some wi-fi problems, we booked our tours the day before and we decided to split up. We found the best offer on navajotours.com , I got the photographic tour that is 2 hours long. They let you bring a tripod and you have all the time you need to frame you shoots properly without people passing by. Giorgia went with the regular tour.

 

So, as you may know, Page is in Arizona and it is on another time zone compared to the Monument Valley that is in Utah, so one hour ahead. Obviously we didn’t remember that little detail and we were there “a little bit early”. We arrived there at 10 am, that actually were 9 am, and we booked for the 11 am tour. Damn!

 

We waited the two hours reading our guide on the car and listening to some music, then finally the time came. You have to jump on board the back of these trucks that are similar to the ones they used at the Monument Valley the day before. The seats are very rough and the they go way too fast on the sand, the drive is funny but a little bit stiff. The canyon is about 3-4 miles away, I would recommend wearing sunglasses and cover your face/mouth as you will have a lot of blowing sand on your face.

 

We arrived at the Upper Antelope Canyon entrance, this one is the most visited by tourists mainly because it requires no climbing. We chose that instead of the lower because of beams (shafts of direct sunlight radiating down from openings in the top of the canyon) that are much more common in Upper than in Lower.  Beams occurs when the sun is high in the sky so the 11 am tour was the perfect choice!

 

I entered the slot canyon that is formed by erosion due to floodings, the guide told us that they still occurs and you have to be very careful especially if there are rain chances. I walked though the small and deep corridors, looking up and around me I saw all the rocks shaped smoothly by the water. The beautiful edges were drawing some kind of ‘flowing’ shapes in the rock, it was absolutely amazing to be in there.

 

We passed by many formations named like Monument Valley, Big Bear, The Eagle, King Kong, George Washington and The Butterfly. Thanks to the photographic tour I was able to capture many pictures, the exposure range  is extremely wide due to the reflecting light off the canyon walls. I took all the pictures in auto exposure bracketing and on the tripod, otherwise it would not be possible at all. For that reason I absolutely recommend you to go for the photographic tour instead of the regular one. The price is not cheap because it costs 120$, but that’s the only way if you are looking for some good quality pictures.

 

The tour was exciting and I was very happy about the pictures I took, especially the one with the light beam. After returing to the Canyon entrance we moved to the city of Page that is very close. We had lunch and then we went to a Wal-Mart and we bought some food for the next days.

 

Then, we decided to skip the Lake Powell tour, we took some pictures of it from a viewpoint but it was a little bit late so we pointed at the next place that was the Horse Shoe Bend.

 

Horseshoe Bend is a horseshoe-shaped meander of the Colorado River, and it is accessible via a 1.5-mile (2.4 km) long trail (round trip). The access is free, but is part of a state park. The Bend can be viewed from the steep cliff above and it is very impressive. Walking there is a little bit dangerous so you have to be very careful: the overlook is very high and you look at the river from a 1,000-foot (300 m) drop.

 

I couldn’t wait for the sunset there and I regret it so much, that place is wonderful and I think it gives it’s best at sunset or even at sunrise (depending of the period). I highly recommend you to spend at least a night in Page, so you have all the time you need and you can visit this place at sunset or sunrise.

Unfortunately we were running late and a part of the highway 89 that leads to Flagstaff was closed due to a landslide. We had to cover a very long detour trough the highway 160 and the total distance was about 220 miles (350km) instead of 170 miles (270 km).

 

We stopped at Flagstaff and then reached the city of Williams at about 10 pm, we were exhausted, so we checked in at the Motel 6 and we crashed on the bed immediately!

 

We stayed at: Motel 6  Williams East

Upper Antelope Canyon Corridor
Upper Antelope Canyon Corridor
Upper Antelope Canyon
Upper Antelope Canyon
Grand Canyon National Park
Grand Canyon National Park

Day 21: Williams

(Grand Canyon National Park)

 

 

Another beautiful day with clear sky over our heads, we woke up even before the alarm and we had breakfast with the free coffee at Motel 6, plus some cookies we bought at Wal-Mart the day before.  We got into the car and we left Williams at about 9 am.

 

The road to the Grand Canyon National Park (South Rim) took us about an hour then we finally reached the gates. We entered using our annual pass and as usual we collected all the maps. We spent some time at the visitor center and then we decided what to do.

 

We decided to use the free shuttle bus, so we left the car at the big visitor center parking lot and we jumped on the orange line bus. Here in Grand Canyon I recommend you to use the bus because the park is served very well and many roads are not open to private vehicles. The orange line is the one that covers the most beautiful viewpoints, then there are the blue and the red ones too.

 

Our fist stop was at the Mather Point, then we walked along all the rim trial and we stopped at all the view points we found on the road. It was very windy that day, and the Grand Canyon is unbelievably huge. At the South Rim, near Grand Canyon Village, the width of the canyon is 10 miles ( 16 km ) rim to rim so it’s not easy to figure out the proportion and the size of what you see.

 

We took many pictures there, but unfortunately the sky was too flat and without clouds so I was not happy about the pictures I got. Later we got into the blue line and we visited the Grand Canyon Village where you can find lodging, fuel, food, souvenirs, a hospital, churches, and access to trails and guided walks.

 

Then, via the red line we saw many other beautiful viewpoints like Maricopa Point, Powell Point, Hopi Point and Mojave Point. Due to road works the bus was not able to cover all the line path, so our tour was almost at the end.

 

Oh the road back to the visitor center we stopped at the village again and we had lunch. Then we had to take the blue bus, but I remember we even saw the Grand Canyon Train approaching the village in that moment, super-cool! The Grand Canyon Railway, is a passenger railroad which operates between Williams and Grand Canyon National Park South Rim. So, if you want, you can reach the park by train!

 

Our day at the Canyon was almost at the end, although the park is very beautiful and majestic, we were not particularly captured as it happened in Moab. We left our hearts at Canyonlands!

 

It was about 4 pm when we left the park and we pointed back to Williams.

 

The city of Williams is not big, it lies on the route of Historic Route 66, Interstate 40, and as I said before it is also the southern terminus of the Grand Canyon Railway. Here there are motels, restaurants and bars, the city is full of tourist so there are also plenty of gift shops.

We walked along the Historic Downtown District that covers six square blocks. We enjoyed the evening there very much, we bought some gifts for our friends and then we had a very good dinner at the Cafè 66.

 

 

We stayed at: Motel 6  Williams East

Grand Canyon National Park - Colorado River view
Grand Canyon National Park - Colorado River view
Grand Canyon National Park
Grand Canyon National Park
San Diego from Coronado Island
San Diego from Coronado Island

Day 22: From Williams to San Diego

(Historic Route 66)

 

 

I knew from the beginning, that day would be hard! The way from Williams to San Diego is about 500 miles long (800 km) and we had to cover it in one day!  We woke up very early, and we immediately got into the car with our free coffee from Motel 6 and our bags full of food.

 

The plan was to cover all the distance along the I 40, with some detours on the Historic Route 66. Then at the end of it, we had to move on the I 15 south bound to San Diego. Easy! 🙂

 

Our first stop of the day was the little village of Seligman. It was on the original U.S. Route 66 then, the Interstate 40 bypassed it a couple of miles south and it was almost completely abandoned. Later it became a very characteristic and popular tourist destination.  Seligman historic district includes Pitts General Merchandise Store and the U.S. Post Office from 1903, the Pioneer Hall and Theatre. The Seligman Garage from 1905, and the Seligman Pool Hall from 1923. We also visited the famous Angel Degadillo’s Barber and Gift Shop and it was very interesting!

 

 

The next stop was at Kingman where there’s almost nothing to see, so we moved on and we stopped at Goff’s. This ghost town in the middle of the Mojave desert is very small and we saw few buildings completely ruined by the time, then with surprise we noticed that someone has restored other buildings. From a little research I found that after becoming private property and falling into disrepair, the Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Association (MDHCA) rebuilt it and has turned the school into a museum and the local cultural center.

 

We left this abandoned place and we moved back to the I40, this road goes straight along the desert for miles and miles. It seems that the landscape never change, and we had to talk very much because I was literally falling asleep while driving.

 

The lunch stop took place in a rest area along the road, then we drove for miles and miles and miles until we started to see some palm trees and then, finally, the ocean! We were close to the coast, the traffic became crazy and the last miles to San Diego were really exhausting for me.

 

We booked a room at the Motel 6 near the airport, that unfortunately wasn’t a good choice at all. The planes were passing by very low near the motel and the noise was unbelievable. The room was also dirty and we even found few bugs there.

 

Honestly that was the first time we wasn’t happy about a Motel 6, but trust me: if you are planning a stay in San Diego don’t even consider this place.

 

It was about 5 pm when we left the motel heading to the Embarcadero area where we waited for the sunset. Once there, we placed the camera on the tripod with timer in front of the Unconditional Surrender statue, and then we posed as the statue characters. It was very funny and the people around clapped to us!

 

We took some pictures at the sunset and at the USS Midway, then we left for the Gaslamp District.

 

The Gaslamp Quarter is located downtown San Diego, and is the site of several entertainment and night life venues, it’s full of young people and the atmosphere is very cool. We had dinner in a bar and then we walked around for a couple of hours.

 

 

Later we got into the car and we went to Coronado Island that actually is not really an island. The bridge is not the only thing that connects the “island” to the mainland, in fact there is also a little sandy stripe called the Silver Strand. Coronado is a city itself and is full of beautiful houses, hotels and restaurants, but the best part of that place is the view. From the Coronado beach you can see the beautiful San Diego skyline and it’s amazing at night.

 

I took some pictures there, then we decided to go to bed because as you can imagine we were very tired.

 

We stayed at: Motel 6 San Diego Airport – Harbor

San Diego - Unconditional Surrender
San Diego - Unconditional Surrender

Day 23: From San Diego to Long Beach

 

 

As you can imagine, the night we spent at this Motel 6 was not the best, so we were really happy to leave.  On the other hand we were having fun in San Diego very much, maybe it might be better to stay longer. Maybe another day? I guess..

 

By the way we had all the morning to spend in the city, so we started by visiting Point Loma and then the Cabrillo Lighthouse. The view from the top of Point Loma hill is amazing, you can see all the city bay and the skyline in the background… Unfortunately that morning was a little bit hazy, but I think that it can be very cool in a clear day.

 

We also visited the lighthouse that it is no longer in operation as a lighthouse, but is open to the public as a museum. The historic house is part of the Cabrillo National Monument. We went inside and we took some pictures, it was very interesting because you can even climb up to the big light bulb!

 

After a couple of hours we left, and we pointed at the beach.  Mission Beach is similar to Venice so it’s full of people around, someone is running, other sunbathing or surfing, bicycling, skateboarding. This beach looks like the perfect place for all the outdoor activities you can imagine. The weather was perfect and we took a long relaxing walk on the sand, I remember we passed by some strange and very big algae that looked like giant carrots.

 

The next stop of the day was the Old Town district, this neighborhood is actually a State Historic Park. It commemorates the early days of the town of San Diego and includes many historic buildings. In fact the park preserves and recreates the atmosphere as it was during the Mexican period. Of course the Old Town area is a popular tourist destination, here we found plenty of gift shops and restaurants. We bought a sand dollar and some gifts for our friends.

 

Moving on, we went to see the La Jolla area: we were literally dreaming about living there. The coast is full of beautiful homes, many of them are situated even over the high rocks facing the ocean, all around is covered in palms, beautiful gardens, flowers… I think that this area is one of the best places where you can live in California. I guess that’s also very expensive 🙂

 

It was about 1 pm when we left the place, we went shopping at Wal-Mart for the last time and we had lunch there. Now it was the time to leave because Giorgia had a very important appointment in Long Beach 🙂

 

We decided to cover the journey across the Pacific Coast Highway.  We passed by many beautiful towns on the coast like Laguna Beach, Sunset Beach, Newport Beach… It was a little bit longer than the freeway, but way more exciting.

 

We arrived at Long Beach at about 4:30 pm, we took a quick tour of the port area and we saw the very big RMS Queen Mary. We didn’t stay much because, as I said before, Giorgia had a very important appointment. She booked a wedding dress try on appointment at David’s Bridal Long Beach!!!

 

As you may know, the groom to be can’t see the dress before the wedding, so I had to wait for about two and a half hours… I walked around the Towne Centre Shopping mall for all the afternoon until it was the time! She said yes to the dress!

 

We had dinner inside the shopping center at Panda Express, then we left for the motel.

 

We stayed at: Motel 6 Long Beach

Me on the San Diego Mission Beach
Me on the San Diego Mission Beach
Los Angeles Night Cityscape
Los Angeles Night Cityscape

Day 24: From Long Beach to Los Angeles

 

 

The stay at the Motel 6 Long Beach was pretty good, so I can recommend it for sure. We left the place at about 8 am heading to Downtown LA, we had a quick breakfast at Starbucks along the road and we reached the city in about an hour.

 

Our first stop of the day was at the Watts Towers. This complex is a collection of 17 interconnected sculptural structures located in one of the worst neighborhood of the city. We arrived there with the car and we were looking for a parking spot, when some people started to look at us very persistently. After a couple of minutes that we were looking around for parking, a guy even stopped us offering park plus car cleaning service in a parking lot nearby. Well, maybe there was no danger at all, but we didn’t feel good about the situation so we decided to leave. Later I found out that the area is one of the most high-crime rated of the city, and I think that is better to not take any chances.

 

Unfortunately we were able to see the towers only from the distance, but they didn’t look special at all so I guess that it was not big deal.

 

So we moved on to the next stop that was the Union Station, we arrived there passing by the Fashion District that is an area full of interesting clothing markets. We took a quick look at the station that is famous for being seen on movies like Blade Runner or Pearl Harbor for example, but I have to admit that I didn’t like it so much.

 

We took a walk and we passed by the City Hall and the Grand Park LA where we saw the big fountains. Then we reached the Walt Disney Concert Hall building.  This magnificent structure is designed by the famous architect Frank Gehry. I think that is a real masterpiece and it is the most beautiful building of downtown LA. I took some pictures at the impressive steel structure and then we left.

 

Later we arrived at Hollywood Boulevard where we took a long walk around several shops, luckily we were able to find some cool t-shirts and hollywood themed gadgets for our friends. We also took some pictures in the walk of fame and we saw the very famous Chinese Theatre.

 

It was about 1 pm when we decided to leave Hollywood Boulevard, we found a little park nearby and we stopped there for lunch because we still had some food with us!

 

I forgot to say that it was Saturday, so the perfect day for a trip to Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills! We left the car in a public garage at the end of the road, and then we walked down the street. We grabbed a very good ice cream and we looked at the fancy boutiques and cars while we were eating it. I took many pictures at the cars passing by, and it was a very enjoyable afternoon.

 

Later we checked in at the Motel 6 LAX (the same of the first day of our West USA tour), and then we had a refreshing shower because outside it was very hot. After a couple of hours we were on the road again heading to the very famous Mulholland Drive. This twisty road, that is full of bikers and sports cars especially on week-ends, stretches up in the hills between Santa Monica and Downtown Hollywood, we took few pictures at the Hollywood sign that is visible from the eastern terminus of the road.

 

We planned to spend the sunset at the Griffith Observatory, but we were a little bit optimistic about the saturday evening traffic situation in LA. In fact, it took about 2 and a half hours to reach the Observatory, and we arrived there at about 9 pm.

 

The Griffith Observatory offers a magnificent view of the Los Angeles city especially at night: the vista goes out for a many miles to the horizon and it seems infinite to your eyes. Everywhere you look it’s all covered by the city lights!

 

We spent there a couple of hours taking pictures and looking at the stars with the free public telescopes that are available every evening. These telescopes are managed by demonstrators that are also available to guide visitors in observing, it was a very interesting experience for me, so I recommend you to take advantage of that opportunity too.

 

It was about 10 pm when we left the observatory and we haven’t had dinner yet, so we pointed ad the closest Carl’s Jr and we grabbed two big burgers.

 

We stayed at: Motel 6 Los Angeles LAX

Hollywood sign
Hollywood sign
Pelicans over Santa Monica
Pelicans over Santa Monica

Day 25: Los Angeles

 

 

Our west USA tour was coming to an end, that Sunday was the last full day we had in California… We decided to take it easy and enjoy a day like the locals, so the plan was plain and simple: we went to the beach in Santa Monica.

 

We liked Santa Monica very much and so we decided to spend there another day. The initial plan was to visit the Universal Studios, but honestly we didn’t care very much about that. It was a sunny day in LA, and we arrived at Santa Monica at about 9:30 am. We immediately put our feet in the water and it was super-relaxing!

 

We stayed on the beach until noon, then we went up to the Amusement Park. Later we had lunch at “our favorite” Johnny Rockets on the 3rd street, the same of the second day of this west USA tour.  We had a very good lunch there, I had a Route 66 Burger and Giorgia had a Bacon Cheddar Burger. I definitely suggest you to give it a try if you are in the area, they give you all you can eat fries! 🙂

 

After lunch we walked around a little bit and then we decided to have a relaxing afternoon, we laid down on the little gardens near Ocean Avenue and we spent there a couple of hours under the palms shadows, talking about all the places we saw in the previous 24 days. Later we took some pictures on the beach and then another walk on the 3rd street looking at the shops and listening to the street artists singing and playing songs.

 

As you can imagine, we were a little bit sad that evening… We started to pack our things and it wasn’t easy because, you know, a wedding dress is not easy to carry around in a bag especially if you can’t even see it…

 

 

We stayed at: Motel 6 Los Angeles LAX

Giorgia on the Santa Monica beach
Giorgia on the Santa Monica beach

Day 26: From Los Angeles to Rome

 

 

Ok, that’s the end! There’s nothing special to say about this last day… The plane was leaving at 5 pm so we checked out from the motel at about noon, we had lunch at the closest Carls Jr. and then we returned our car to the rental company.

 

The shuttle bus took us to the LAX Airport… And that’s all!

I leave you with some numbers about this West USA Tour:

  • 5835 photos taken
  • over 30h of video clips recorded
  • over 200Gb of data stored
  • 8675 miles covered
  • 5 states visited
  • 5 major cities visited
  • 15 state/national parks visited