I have to apologize for the long delay, but I was quite busy the previous days and still have to catch up on a lot of things... But without further ado, here's the rest of my report, behind the cut:
Did I mention the fabulous sky at night? Oh, I did? Nevermind, I cannot praise it enough. We got up early, watched the short movie about Bryce Canyon at the Visitor Center and asked the Ranger abouth the height of the snow on the trails. She said about one foot... We drove to Rainbow Point and hiked the Bristlecone loop... Luckily, a small group went there not too long ago with snow shoes -- at some places the snow was three feet high... But it was fun and we were rewarded with a great scenery. Or rather: an overwhelming scenery. Afterwards we drove to various vista points and finally to Sunset Point, where we took a hike on the Navajo Loop and the Queens Garden trail up to Sunrise Point. Unfortunately, it was late afternoon when we started and we lost a lot of time with photo shooting, so I had to push Kayjay and lynard_ a bit... I hope I didn't torture them too much, but I really didn't want to go a trail unfamiliar to us in darkness, especially not a mountain trail like that. Well, all I can say the boy scouts I met at Tibble Fork in Utah didn't call me Speedwalker for nothing :-). To be honest, I was surprised how easy it went for me. The daily bicycle drive up the Nuremberg castle to work really pays off. Tired, and only with slight injuries (Kayjay had a bleeding nose due to the extremely dry air), we arrived at the RV just before the rest of the daylight disappeared.
The campground for the night was the Page Lake Powell campground approx. one mile from the Glen Canyon dam. A neat, medium priced campground.
After a short stop at the Glen Canyon dam - a quite impressive building, yet the bridge over the Colorado river is much more interesting - we drove to Grand Canyon Nat'l Park. Entering the park from the East we started at the usual view points: Desert View with the watchtower, Tusayan Ruin and Museum, Moran Point, Grandview Point, Yavapi Point. After Bryce Canyon not really that impressive -- the height and range is too abstract. Or so I thought. Driving up to Hermits Rest (almost crashed into some deer which was crossing the street behind a curve) and stopping at view points such as Hopi Point, Mohave Point, the adequately named The Abyss and Pima Point conviced me that Grand Canyon is, indeed, a great place. On the way back from Hermits Rest we observed two elk stags fighting over a doe -- two meter from our car.
We spent the night at the KOA Williams campground -- and tried to BBQ an Angus sirloin steak at 5 °C below zero on a disposable grill with coal that was supposed to get started by lighting the bag... It sort of worked, but the coal wasn't hot enough and we had to microwave it for short time, otherwise it would have been a cold medium steak... Anyway, the campground has a high standard, nice staff and is, like all KOA campgrounds, in my opinion a bit overpriced.
...or rather: drive through dips on Route 66. The Historic Highway 66 is just an Arizona state highway nowadays. Not really that interesting, IMHO. Anyway, this day was reserved as a scenic drive day. And yes, it was very scenic, espeically the Nevada Highway 164 from Searchlight to the I 15 goes through a very interesting landscape. The route for the day: I 40 to Exit 139, following the Historic Highway 66 to Kingman, drive through Kingman to the US Highway 93, follow that street two miles to the Arizona Highway 48 junction, drive westwards to Davis Dam (you cannot cross the actual Davis dam, another Colorado dam, with an RV unfortunately), then US Highway 95 north, Highway 164 to the West, I 15 to Baker, and then to Death Valley, onto one of the campgrounds. Which doesn't have any hookups, but is very nice, quiet and cheap. And almost empty, to our surprise.
I bought some stuff in the Visitor Center and we drove around a bit in the valley itself. However, you cannot get to the attractions with an RV without risking trouble with the renter -- almost everything is reachable only by gravel or dirt roads. The real attraction, however, is the pass over the mountains. No wonder RVs are prohibited in summer (and only accessible under a "use at your own risk" policy in spring and autumn...) But the scenery is really great.
The rest of the day was spent in Lone Pine and the Alabama Hills, where a lot of western and science fiction movies were shot. The bizarre rocks of Alabama Hills are quite impressive and you instantly think "I know this place." No wonder, you've likely seen the movies...
We arrived in Mammoth late at night. The campground was the most expensive one on the whole trip ($ 42 per
night!), the water hookups where (understandably, though) turned off. But for such a price I expect premium showers, clean restrooms and salted or at least gritted ways to the restrooms. None of this was the case. Oh, and the dump station was half-defective, too. But I guess the staff rather went snowboarding than taking care of the campground...
The Eastern Sierra Nevada is great -- unfortunately, many roads are closed in Winter. But there is still lots to see. We went to Convict Lake, one of the scenic mirror lakes -- and yet another postcard and movie motif. Drove to Mono Lake for a photo stop, and instantly remember the scenery from posters. Drove along the south shore of Lake Tahoe, a short photo stop -- and again, you remember this place from countless pictures. Amazing. If you get the chance to get there in spring or autumn: by all means, do it!
A cold shower, however, is driving through Lake Tahoe City. It could be described best as Little Vegas, with casinos, theme hotels -- just instead of the amusement park theme it is a winter sports region. A scary one. Once we had left the Nevada crazyness behind we were within breathtaking nature again. Following the US 50 to Sacramento we took the highway 99 southward instead of the I 15 as they announced a road block (due to an accident) and recommended that everyone should take the 99. What they didn't announce was the exact location of the blocked road, just a city we weren't able to find on the map for half an hour -- no wonder, it was somewhere near San Diego. Morons. Anyway, we found the campground nevertheless. The Dos Reis Park campground, in the Dos Reis State Park. With full hookups and even showers -- unheated showers, though. Overpriced ($20), wild romantic at night (or spooky, if you consider the fog and the cats with their weird behaviour...), but rather quiet despite the proximity to the Interstate.
What, it's over already? After only 2830 miles? And only so few days? Anyway, we cleaned up the RV, drove it back to ElMonte and waited half a day at the airport. I already suspected something, the plane was parked at the gate all day long already. And yes, something broke down when we were supposed to start. A cargo lid wouldn't close, and instead of searching for the real cause they shut down the electrical system of the plane at least seven times. Finally, they found the defective part -- but hey, a plane isn't a Windows 98 system. We started 90 minutes too late and arrived at London Heathrow 45 minutes late.
Thankfully, our connection flight was also 45 minutes too late -- we would have missed it otherwise. In fact, we were at the gate only a minute before the boarding started. Subsequently, lynard_ and I missed our train in Frankfurt, which wouldn't have been a problem if it wasn't for the Deutsche Bahn ticket system where you cannot specify that you have a Bahncard (DB rebate card) after you have selected your connection -- and which didn't accept my Bahncard with a nonsensical error message -- and an expensive 01805 phone number for complaints. Several minutes of loud ranting later I finally bought a ticket at the DB counter. I arrived tired, but safe at almost 11 pm.
Despite the not-so-relaxing journey back it was a superb vacation. The team was great, we had lots of fun, we saw breathtaking landscapes, lots of nature, went through almost every climate zone from wet to arid, from the sea to high mountains. While quite expensive, this is how I like my vacation: a bit of adventure, a bit of luxury, but self-organized and especially at our own pace.
My personal highlight for this year was Bryce Canyon. Even though it is a hell of a place to lose a cow (E. Bryce), it is an astounding, great place to hike and and watch. Very dear to my heart are also two other places: Jushua Tree Nat'l Park and San Francisco. I'll return to these places whenever I can.