Sunday, 15 November 2009

Zion to Vegas to SLO ...

The drive from Bryce to our next stop of Zion National Park was on the two scenic highways of 89 and 9 both characterised by mountainous scenery, intermittent plains and occasionally an arc h to drive through.

Zion has solid, vertical rock faces that seem to go straight up to the sky, very different to the delicacy of Bryce. The only way of entering the park from the East is through a dark, narrow, mile long tunnel going straight through a mountain. The tunnel is illuminated by carved ‘windows’ in the side of the mountain and although going through it was pretty freaky, it was amazing looking back at the side of the mountain and seeing the windows from the outside.

After the solitude of Bryce, Zion seemed quite hectic. There was a constant stream of traffic on the park driveway and a lot of people on the mostly paved trails including two busloads of Chinese tourists and a high school busload too. So we didn’t really do much except stare at huge rocks, sit by the river and get rained on by Weeping Rock where droplets of water cascade gently from an overhang.  Outside of the park, however, there are several other hiking trails so we took one long, and very hot hike through a backcountry desert area surrounded by mountains.

One of the most enjoyable things was actually just chilling in the town of Springdale which forms the western entrance to Zion. There are of course lots of motels serving the park but they don’t take over because Springdale is a really pleasant and funky little town with a lot of personality and some great restaurants. This was a marked contrast to the horrendous tourist town creation of Ruby’s Inn at the entrance to Bryce which we studiously avoided by staying 10 miles down the road in Tropic.

From Zion we left on Route 9 and then joined the I-15 where we drove through a corner of Arizona for about 15 miles before crossing the Nevada state line. We were heading to Vegas baby…..

The last time spouse and myself were in Vegas was nine years ago and we had lots of fun. We stayed two nights at the Hard Rock Hotel then so we stayed two nights at the Hard Rock Hotel this time too. The difference was that last time we got married so this time was an anniversary celebration. The Hard Rock Hotel is truly wonderful for musical obsessives like spouse and myself and after six weeks of cheap motels, staying in a huge corner room with glass walls on the 11th floor was absolute bliss. We had lots of fun this time but it’s pretty easy to have fun in Vegas. It’s such a wacky town all you need to do is sit with a long, cold drink in an assortment of locations and just watch the wackiness go by. I gambled a whole dollar in a slot machine at Caesar’s Palace and promptly quit after getting 6 dollars back so don’t suppose I’ll ever develop a gambling problem.

From Vegas it was a short whizz through the desert to California and a night in Bakersfield which brought us back down to earth with a crash. The town seems to have tripled in size since we were last there and we drove around for ages in rush hour with no map frantically looking for a motel. When the ‘Americas Best Value Inn' sign suddenly appeared amid the exhaust fumes I almost wept with relief. The evening then improved dramatically when we discovered Pizzaland. Bakersfield may have grown but it still seemed like the whole town was in there watching the football, drinking beer and eating good pizza.

From there it was a relatively short hop towards the central Californian coast and having been to California on three previous trips this part of the journey was very familiar. Pulling into San Luis Obispo (one of our favourite towns on the planet) felt like coming home but it also felt a little sad because it meant we were entering the last stage of the trip and we don’t want it to end…. ever! Can’t we just drive around seeing cool stuff until we just drop dead by the roadside???

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