You might think when we arrived in Laguna Beach, CA we chose to spend our time sitting on the beach, jumping in the waves, etc. But, you would be wrong. When I moved to San Diego in 1980, I entered the Pacific Ocean and my feet and ankles froze. The water was frigid! In July, no less. How did they film all those movies with Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon cavorting in the ocean? Needless to say, I never went back in again. So, on this trip, I held to my conviction. No, I did not go in the water. Jim did attempt to convince himself that he was mistaken on our last trip out there that the water wasn’t as cold as he remembered. He was wrong. It was.
So, we wandered around town, did laundry, went shopping and mostly sat on our deck and watched the goings on at the gas station across the street. If you think that last part was boring, it was not. Actually, there were two gas stations … one on each corner. One was much busier than the other, both on the same side of the street, and both had the same prices. The one that had been renovated and had a newer convenience store was the busier one, even though many of the people did not enter the store. We even watched one man wash his entire car from the bucket that holds the windshield scrubber brush, with the brush!
After a week of rest and with clean laundry, we packed up the car and headed north along the coast. We chose to take the Pacific Coast Highway up to San Francisco, rather than the interstate. Our first stop, Santa Barbara. When I lived out there, I had a hard time liking this city. I have no idea why, but it took me years to decide that I did, in fact, like it. And it is a great city. Having been disappointed at how Santa Fe, and Taos, NM had changed, I was worried about how we would find Santa Barbara. Would it be filled with all the chain stores and restaurants? Would the wharf still have its character? It did!The chains were around, I suppose. But, not in the downtown historic area. Since it sits on a hill, facing the ocean, it wasn’t surrounded by 2018 sameness. We loved it and enjoyed the wharf. If we hadn’t had so much territory to cover before we got back home, we would have stayed here some additional nights.
Much as we hated to leave, we knew if we didn’t continue on we would still be on this trip at Christmas. We wound our way along the coast and then … Big Sur! You absolutely cannot visit California without driving Big Sur. It’s a must see/do. I happened to be the driver which gave Jim the opportunity to take pictures and say, “Wow!” A lot! I had always been the passenger in previous trips. This was an experience for me too! All those curves and narrow turns. Enough to make me car sick! Even so, I felt disappointed when we got to the end of this stretch of Coast Highway. I’ve read recently that it’s most fun and scary to drive north to south because then you are actually driving with the cliff on your side. For us, we were on the inside lane, against the hill. I didn’t have to worry about falling off the cliff, just scraping the side of the car on the dirt and rocks.
As we came into Carmel-by-the-Sea, I didn’t recognize it. I still can’t figure out where I had wandered around before. Nothing looked familiar. We didn’t really stay long. Lots of traffic and parking was difficult. And … lots of tourists. If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you know I dislike places that are filled with tourists. Yes, I know I am one. I’m not really into shopping, which was a good part of the activity in town. I think when I was younger I liked shopping much more. Now I think of where am I going to put it? Or will I really wear it? Really takes the fun out of it. And I’ve never been into window shopping. Online retailers love me! So we looked around for a bit and then headed out. It’s a very scenic place and if you’re ever in the area, I encourage you to visit it. Don’t let my issues dissuade you. It was actually a very lovely, charming place.
On to the Bay area. We decided to call ahead to reserve a room in San Francisco. The image of us being able to just pull up to the hotel front door and get a room, as we had been doing, was unrealistic. My son lived up there for years and I knew that wasn’t going to happen. Wow! Most all of the chains we called were either booked up or only had rooms in the high $300 to low $400 range. No, thank you. So we reserved a room in the East Bay on the BART line, which is the rapid transit train system to get around the area. We decided it would be easier to take the train into the city instead of trying to find and pay to park. Boy were we ever glad we did! What a breeze! I didn’t have any trouble buying our tickets at the kiosk, but I did have a bit of difficulty figuring out how to get the turnstile to open. Luckily, Jim was watching other people while I was being thoroughly confused and holding up the progress. Voila! Once he showed me what to do, no problem. I’m a quick learner!
When we came up out of the train station, we were shocked! What a crowd of humanity! Why were there so many people there? Then we found out. It was a 3 day weekend–who knew? When you’re retired, you don’t pay attention to things like that. And it was Fleet Week and the Blue Angels were performing that afternoon. We can really pick our times to visit, can’t we? Could anything else have been going on then? And it was hot! Too hot! As I remember, the Bay Area was seldom hot. We found ourselves walking in unison up the street with the millions of others who were doing the same. Jim hates walking and I hate walking in a crowd. So, we decided to catch a bus to take us up to Fisherman’s Wharf, but every one that came by was full. Eventually, one came by that had room. Thank you, Jesus! As we were waiting, three latter elementary – middle school age children were sitting on the only bench at the stop — in some shade. I kept thinking their dad would use that moment as a “teaching courtesy moment” and offer the bench to the senior citizens. But, no dice. If that had been my son, I would have smacked him upside the head and told him he was brought up better. Hah!
We went into a restaurant and had beers while we waited for the Blue Angels to start their performance. We threaded our way to the front of the crowd (pays to travel overseas where you learn to push and shove) and were rewarded with a spectacular view of a wonderful performance. They never cease to impress. Absolutely remarkable! None of our pictures turned out because they flew by too fast.
We decided to take a Hop-on-Hop-off bus (knockoff) to have an easier time getting around the city. Wrong! There was so much traffic that the bus couldn’t move. And couldn’t move. Suddenly, we heard our driver say, “What the f**k is that M***f***r doing?”, at a car blocking our path. We surmised that he had forgotten he was mic’d or maybe he just didn’t think it mattered. Actually, he did a fair bit of yelling out his window at people. But, I can tell you it was the funniest part of our trip. I still laugh when I think of it. It was a good day despite the crowds. We got back to our hotel late; tired but happy, but not before I scared the bejesus out of the bus driver. We weren’t sure what stop we needed to get off. Things looked different at night and reversed. So … I walked up to ask her to tell us when to get off and when she felt me beside her, she jumped out of her seat. We had a good laugh then, with me apologizing profusely. We still had some money left on our transit passes and didn’t want it to go to waste, so I handed them to a lady to use. She didn’t speak much English and I didn’t understand Portuguese or whatever, so I did my best to pantomime. I wonder if she ever got what I was saying and did she use the passes.
Revising our route, we headed back south to Yosemite National Park. If we had kept to our original plan, we would have encountered snow along our original route. And that I did not want. This turned into a long day. Once again, crowds. On the roads! Hey, this was off-season. What must it have been like during the summer? We drove along in a line of cars and were rewarded with some spectacular scenery and views.
I watched an interview later with a park ranger who said fewer people were taking multi-day trips. Now they were visiting on day trips. And they were! We stopped at a gas staion so I could use the bathroom. As I was walking back to the car, an Asian woman was trying to get Jim to understand what she wanted. When I got there, she rushed over to me with her park map. She wanted to know which direction to go to see the sights in the big pictures at the top of the page. I didn’t have the heart or the language skill to tell her she’d never get there before dark. She didn’t understand a word of English. I hope she asked someone else after we left.
As we made our way out of the park, I realized there wasn’t a large enough town neaby that would have a hotel for us to stay in for the night. So we had to drive a little longer than we wanted and spent the night in Mammoth Springs. It was dark, a Sunday, and a lot of places were closed so we didn’t have many choices for dinner. We found a sports bar and had what turned out to be a more expensive meal than I imagined sports bar fare to be. When I think about it, most of our dinners were costly. Maybe it was the scotch and wine that contributed to the bill. Haha!
Our plan was to go to Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park. In studying my beloved maps, I couldn’t find a route that wasn’t on those really skinny black lines that showed a road, but you just knew you didn’t want to go on any of them. I’m sure you know the ones I mean. So we let the Garmin map the route. We had to go further south, which bothered me because Zion and Bryce were north. But, hey, we threw caution to the wind! Sometimes you just have to give up control!
South of Bishop, CA we turned east at Big Pine onto Ancient Bristlecone Pine Road. This took us through the Inyo National Forest. There is a tree called Methuselah that is 4850 years old. It isn’t marked so as to prevent vandalism. Sad, isn’t it that we need to protect things like this from vandals? At any rate, we weren’t high enough to encounter it. If we weren’t kissing our butt on the curves or slowly navigating through one lane blind curves, we were on flat, far as you could see straight ahead, roads. Jim loved it! I think I let him get up to 90 mph, but I wouldn’t agree to 100 mph. It’s all he talked about for days. I guess in hindsight, I should have let him do 100.
After heading south to Las Vegas and then north again, we spent the night in St. George, Utah in a brand new Hampton Inn. We drove to a Walmart where I stocked up on heavier clothing. I’m glad I did because I sure needed them as the days progressed. The hotel was serving complementary snacks when we got back from our shopping expedition, so that was our dinner. This was a good thing because there wasn’t any other option nearby. I think it was Jim’s night to pay for dinner. Dang!
Next morning, Zion! If you have never been there, it’s a must see! Just beautiful! I must say, we have such a diverse country. There were several tunnels we had to drive through. The first one we encountered, I was driving. The Park Ranger who was directing traffic, made me stop. I was first in the new line. There was a crosswalk on the pavement and I stopped too far forward … about a foot. She made me back up that foot. There weren’t any people walking around because there was a cliff on one side and a hill on the other. But, I backed up the foot … or 6 inches. Hey, she was in charge. The only reason we could see for traffic to have to stop was that it appeared to be one way going through the tunnel when a large RV needed to come through. The tunnel opening wasn’t so high or wide, so the RV would have needed all the space. Interesting. The scenery was various shades of red, as were the roads. Just beautiful! We weren’t into hiking (see above) so other than stopping to snap some pictures, we just worked our way through it.
Onward, James, to Bryce Canyon National Park. Obviously, tourism had discovered this park, big time. So many more places to stay than I remember and now you could take a shuttle bus through the park instead of driving yourself around. I was there last when my brother helped me drive across country when I moved from California to North Carolina in 2002. There were nice lookouts built that I don’t remember having been there before. I remember climbing up dirt hills, etc.
I was shocked to see the hoodoos. When we were in Cappadocia, Turkey we marveled at the fairy chimneys, which were hoodoos, really. I hadn’t recalled the similarities. But, there they were in all their colorful glory! Another beautiful park that is well worth a visit.
After consulting my map, we decided to head up to I-70 to spend the night in Richfield, Utah. Once again, I was driving. The speed limit was 75 or 80. Jim wanted me to take it up to 100. Are you kidding me? Why would I want to do that? So I could say I did! No thanks. Maybe I did 75 or 80 tops! Jim was disappointed in my lack of adventure. Sorry!
When we checked into our hotel, the front desk clerk suggested a steak house right down the road that had very good food. I’ve gotten a little leery of suggestions from people who have grown up eating fast food as to what constitutes good food. But, it was. And to our surprise, they were playing smooth jazz! So after some good food, good wine and good music, we paused on our way out to take a few dance steps. Life isn’t all about national parks, you know.
Making our way toward Colorado the next day found us driving some very curvy roads, once again, as we made our way through Bears Ears National Monument. A fair amount of it looked like Zion and Bryce Canyon. Utah sure is colorful. We stopped at the Colorado River to take some pictures and hit the port-a-potties. We met a couple from California, and we swapped picture taking with them. Soon, we entered Colorado.
This turned out to be dicey because there weren’t places out in the boondocks to stay. We had been driving through forests etc. most of the day and it appeared we would have more of the same for hours yet. As we came to the end of a road and had to choose left or right, I made the decision to go right to Ouray, CO. It looked like a shorter distance than going left to Montrose. Wrong decision. Ouray was a very nice town, known for it’s natural hot springs, but it had been raining and we got there after dark. In desperation, I chose a hotel off of hotels.com or booking.com just so we’d know we’d have a place rather than stopping here and there. The place I chose was adequate. Period. And the only place in town still open was a bar. So, that’s where we ate. I ordered beef stew because it sounded good, but it tasted like Dinty Moore’s beef stew. You get the idea.
The next morning in a cold drizzly rain, we headed north to Montrose and as we were heading out of Ouray, I happened to look to the side and there it was … a pot shop. Jim made a u-turn so fast I almost toppled out of the car. As you entered, you stepped into a locked anteroom and had to show your ID to get buzzed in. Whew! It was smelly! I didn’t know marijuana smelled so strong. I mentioned to the girl that it really smelled and she replied, “I know. Doesn’t it smell great?” Hmmm … not so much. We explained we knew nothing about marijuana or what to do with it. Did we want to smoke it, bake with it or vape it? Who knew? I thought you could do anything you wanted with it. Guess not. Then she gave us instructions which I knew we’d forget. Don’t they have printed instructions? I can’t rely on memory so much anymore. There was no one in the place when we walked in, but by the time we left there were about eight people in line. Jim happily danced out of the place. Success! I just walked. We continued on our merry way in the drizzle.
When we got to Montrose, I realized this was where we should have spent the night. Nice town. Lots of options. As we headed east, Jim decided to take a nap. As I was driving, I saw a sign … the kind that lights up and flashes. ICY ROADS. DRIVE WITH CAUTION. Are you kidding me? Why me? I haven’t driven on icy roads since I left Ohio in 1980! Up to that point there had been some snow on the tops of mountains off in the distance. I guess we had arrived. So I immediately started sweating and talking to myself. Jim was still sleeping. I started watching the temperature gauge. Outside it was 47 degrees. Okay, if it doesn’t get much colder, we’d be okay. Correct that, I’d be okay. As we began to climb, the temperature started to drop. Oh Dear. Then it kind of leveled off. All right! No problem. I got this. Then we began climbing again. Cars were blowing by me. I rationalized that they were Colorado drivers and were comfortable with this stuff. The temperature was now down to 39 degrees. And the snow outside was a little deeper on the side of the road. We kept climbing and the temperature kept dropping.
Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore and announced to Jim that he was missing everything. He was sure surprised when he opened his eyes and I’m sure, quite nervous with me doing the driving. We kept climbing and eventually the temperature dropped to 28 degrees. I noticed a little way back that the road had been salted and sanded. As we reached the crest, with snow blowing around us, I saw the salt trucks. Now we had to get down the other side. Yikes! What if we slide off the side of the mountain? There was a pickup truck from Texas pulling a small trailer in front of me going rather slowly, so I just stayed behind him. Some cars were passing both of us on those curvy roads, but we just kept our speed. Let them pass, the fools! The temperature started rising and the road became a little drier and we began to breathe a little easier. Finally, we were down. YOU GO, GIRL. Damn I’m good!
We spent the night in Pueblo, Colorado where Colorado became flat. Hooray! Once more we could drive 70-75 on flat secondary roads, having the road to ourselves. While passing through a town, we came upon these trailers for sale. I want the pink one. We eventually got back on I-70 to Kansas City, Missouri where we spent a few nights with some of Jim’s family. Homeward bound!
The morning we left them, I plugged in an address in Nashville, Tennessee. I don’t know what the Garmin or whatever the navigation system is called in a Honda Oddyssey, but it drove us from Kansas City, Missouri to Kansas City, Kansas back to Kansas City, Missouri where I recognized a street his daughter had driven us on one day sightseeing. Slightly over an hour and we were finally out-of-town. Whew! That was hell! Nashville here we come.
Once again, I was driving while Jim was sleeping. We were on State route 50 … a very nice divided road. The Garmin changed the route just before Jefferson City because of congestion. Really? And then the fun began. We were going on small country roads and through towns so small if you blinked you missed them. We’re losing time here, folks. Once Jim took over driving I was able to get out my beloved map and see where the hell we were. In the middle of nowhere, that’s where! Going to nowhere. Dusk was settling in and in a panic, I was leafing through my AAA tourbook looking for someplace for a town that might have a place for us to stay. Finally, I found a Comfort Inn in Willow Springs, quite a drive away. Once we got there, the Garmin was directing us to this rundown strip type motel or office building. WTH? We couldn’t find it. We drove all through the town, which wasn’t very big. Deciding we had nothing to lose, we drove out the original way figuring there was a large divided highway that way and we might find something along there, when lo and behold, there was the Comfort Inn. The waypoints from the satellites were wrong. It was pretty new and very nice. The desk clerk recommended a Mexican restaurant back in town … or the four corners as she called it … and had a good meal, but no margaritas. No liquor license. Bummer. We needed a drink after that stressful day.
The next morning we decided to get ourselves onto I-40 to Knoxville, Tennessee. Nashville would have made the drive for our last day too long. Things were not too bad until we came to a point where I-75 merged with I-40. It started to rain and it was getting dark. And here came the trucks. There were trucks before that, but now it was multiplied by 10. And once again, I was driving. Why me? There were probably six or seven lanes (or so it seemed to me) and I couldn’t see the lines delineating the lanes with tractor trailers throwing water all over the windshield. It was quite dark. Jim was looking for an exit that had hotels on it that we could get off on. I wanted off this road, right now! Traffic opened up enough that we were able to get off, but the hotel chain we were wanting, we couldn’t locate. We could see it, but couldn’t find our way to it. There was a place called Baymont Inn that looked really nice right next to a Carrabas. And it wasn’t as expensive as some of the places we had stayed. I was never so happy to get out of the driver’s seat as I was then. I recommend you try this place if you’re going to be in the area..
Our last day. The only issue we had that day was getting through Boone, NC. There was some construction in town that had traffic down to one lane. But, eventually we got through it and got home.
This trip took 29 days and 6,000 miles on Jim’s car. We decided the next trip like this we’d do northern U.S and southern Canada. We’ll see if it happens. It was fun and we’d do it again in a minute. We had a great adventure. But, there are still so many places we haven’t seen. Like the Amazon!