WILD WEST AND CALIFORNIA
Here are a few words about the trip, which I made with my sister Magda in June and July. We visited southwestern part of Unites States, namely New Mexico, Arizona, Las Vegas in Nevada and California. The trip took us 3 weeks, during which we travelled almost 8000 kilometers (5000 miles).
We went westward from Dallas in the direction of Grand Canyon (which was the only place we had reservations for). On our way we visited Santa Fe, capital of New Mexico. The architecture of most buildings in this town is most strange - they look like mud huts made of red clay. Even big hotels and gas stations are build that way. In my opinion, the beauty of this style is questionable at best, but uniqueness - undeniable. I liked that it was possible to visit Santa Fe by foot.
Since we had a few days left before Grand Canyon, we went to the Navajo Reservation in northeastern Arizona. We visited Canyon de Chelly, where medieval people Anasazi built a settlement in a cavity of a vertical rock some hundred meters high, and Monument Valley, where there are vertical rocks with flat tops, which starred in numerous western movies. One visits the Monument Valley by car; hiking is strictly forbidden. Maybe there is some point in that, because the heat was horrible and no shade in sight.
What astonished me was the poverty of people living there. The dust-covered towns filled with trailer homes don't look like the "paradise on Earth" America, a myth still popular here and there (in Poland in particular). I imagined Mexico's interior look that way - but again I might be wrong. Nice thing was the Navajo language, with letters adorned with dots and dashes in a similar fashion as they are in Polish. Unfortunately, this is where similarity ended - we couldn't understand a single word..
From Navaho Land we proceeded to Grand Canyon. Most people drive there, get out of the car, lean over the edge, make picture and head back. Of course we weren't interested in sightseeing this way. So we left out car on a parking lot and went down with backpacks. We planned one day for a trip down, one day for going up and one day for resting at the bottom (sleeping on a campground), but finaly we spend four days in the Canyon.
Grand Canyon really is a Hell Hole, especially in summer. There are in fact two canyons, one inside the other. Hiking trails are numerous, but everyone must register and make campground reservations. We chose the most popular route (the easiest one) - and barely made it alive. The trails are quite easy and not very long (about 4 hours down and 6 hours up, altitude 1400 meters / 4200 ft). Unfortunately, while you start the hike at 2000 meters (6000 ft) above sea level, amidst a pleasant forest, later you descend into the scorchy desert, which becomes hotter with every step down. We knew about it of course, but didn't anticipate it will be so bad, so we started too late and barely managed to the river. The way up however was quite pleasant, because we made the most of the shade: we hiked from 5 to 8 (a.m. and p.m.), making a long rest under a tree half way up.
Some people go down and back during one day - it's doable, privided one makes the most of the trip at night. But a lot of so called tourists go without any thinking, with no food for example, not to mention flashlights. We rescued some of such with Snickers bars, which - although half-melted - were able to put everyone on his feet in a matter of minutes.
To sum up, the Hell Hole was bigger, deeper, wider and more infernal than it looked on pictures.
Next we went to Las Vegas, a mirage on the desert. I can't begin to fathom reasons which compel people to gamble, but the town made a big impression on us. Anyway we made more pictures in Las Vegas than in the Canyon. For amazing sights were there aplenty. Here the Eiffel tower stands over the Louvre, opposite to the blue and pink medieval castle. Venice with gondolas neighbors the "Treasure Island", complete with two pirate ships on a pond with artificial waves. (The sidewalk near that pond is air-conditioned by means of sprinklers producing the sea-smelling water.) There is also a liberty statue, Caesar's palace, a rollercoaster atop of the highest tower in town, and animated street bilboards, which are in fact huge TV sets. An unbelievable kitsch (lack of taste), but so unbelievable and in such quantity, that it makes a value by itself.
Almost all buildings are hotels with casinos. Straight from street one enters a maze of gambling machines. Just sit and play - it's open 24 hours. Hotels are very cheap, but not all - you need to do some searching to get a deal. Between high-rise hotels there are uninteresting motels, seemingly never cleaned, which offer rooms for the same price. I wonder who stays there. Unfortunately there is one thing Las Vegas is short of. Strangely enough, it is food. All restaurants are hidden behind gambling rooms and difficult to find, and all of them close at around 10 p.m. We were a little late and had to wander for at least one hour, before one restaurant reluctantly agreed to serve us ("Only two? OK, two dinners more we can serve before we close"). Most amazing.
We spent the night at one of fancy hotels (and it was one of our least expensive stays, campings excluded). In the morning we lost $1.25 on gambling in the hotel casino.
We left Las Vegas heading for the Yosemite national park, having Death Valley on our way. This name is often used for the whole Southeastern California - but we went to the Death Valley proper, which is a small valley between mountain ranges. The valley has the deepest depression in America (-85 m / -282 ft).
It would be difficult to find better name for the place. Complete void, empty mountains, salt lakes and the death hovering over ground: 45 degree heat (Celsius, of course, that's 113 F). The mountains were colorful and pretty beautiful though. We camped there, but didn't get any rest. There was no escape from heat - even restrooms had only hot water.
Sun rising over Funeral Mountains saw us driving to Yosemite. At sunset we were on one of mountain passes throwing snowballs at each other.
Yosemite National Park is one of nicest parts of Sierra Nevada range, at least in my opinion. The main attraction is Yosemite Valley, with its monumental vertical rock walls and waterfalls. It all looked very nice, I would say even a little too nice for my taste - like a cheap "mountain and deer" painting. There are also sequoias and snowy mountains. Sequoias disappointed me a little - although they were really grand, I found them shorter than expected, kind of chopped at the top. What we liked were grass, trees, streams and snow - we almost forgot how they look like. We spent three days in Yosemite, on a campground which was pretty scenic but very badly organized, like most American campgrounds (which I say with great disappointment).
Next we went to San Francisco. It is a amazing city. You drive a car there like a rollercoaster. The area is hilly and streets are American way - that is totally straight. Twenty percent slope is therefore not a rarity. The "downtown" is relatively small (and walkable) and is divided into several distinctive parts. The skyscrapper-dotted financial district neighbors with Chinatown, very oriental (even street signs are in Chinese). Other parts of the city consist mainly of small buildings in the style which is as characteristic as it is strange.The number of different means of public transport is astounding: there are busses, many kinds of street cars (electric and cable-driven), trolley buses, city and regional subway (BART), and ferries connecting many points around the bay.
To sum up, the city is interesting, but quite messy and not very clean. And very expensive. We couldn't find any place to stay with reasonable prices. Because of that we shortened our stay to only one day and a half. It's a shame, because there are interesting sights for at least a week to visit.
From San Francisco we went South by the famous Highway 1. It goes along the seashore, and is famous for beautiful vistas and frequent fogs. We had the fortune to see the latter.
Los Angeles turned out to be one great disappointment. There is nothing worth visiting there. Especially I am puzzled by the world-known fame of the Sunset Boulevard. In fact, it is a street like 100 others, with holes and half-ruined buildings on the sides. The only good thing is that many of these buildings are cheap motels (of that kind that it was necessary to check the cleanliness of bed sheets before paying for the room). All Hollywood sights (very poor indeed), such as Chinese Theater, hand imprints of famous stars, museums and such are on another street. The famous "Hollywood" letters (the remnant of the real estate company commercial) are hidden in such a way that it is virtually impossible to make good picture. We went also to Beverly Hills (just to be there), but didn't find anything even worth taking a picture.
THE WAY BACK
Our way back from Los Angeles to Dallas took us three days. We were visiting mostly vegetation: cacti and Joshua trees. Arizona's cacti are really lovable (especially the Saguaro species). They were as anyone would expect, only higher and mightier. The Joshua trees, on the other hand, are clumps of grass, which are growing high and dividing, eventually forming trunk and branches. The trunk has a bark, branches are made from dead "grass", and the only green parts are branch endings. Strange life forms indeed.