A Travellerspoint blog

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Crossing the Mojave Desert


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Last day in Los Angeles and we felt pretty done with the city by now. Packed down sandwiches for our road trip across the Mojave Desert and started driving. We passed Mojave Desert which had a temperature of “moderate” +35,5 Centigrade. Desert as desert perhaps, but it was still beautiful with many shades of colors, barren nature and vegetation that we don’t have back home in Sweden. All and all it took us 4 hours and 30 minutes to drive to Las Vegas, a break included.

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When in Las Vegas, we checked in at our staying at Fremont Street and we got our room on the 18th floor with an amazing view over the city. Outside our hotel window on a building few blocks away there was a display that showed time, date and temperature. And the temperature was +28 centigrade today. We had lunch and took a power nap before we headed for Fremont Street just outside our hotel which beside several hotels also includes many gift shops, souvenirs and casinos. And when darkness started to fall over Las Vegas the mood on Fremont Street changed and the city was lighted up by billions of lamps. That in itself was an experience!

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The evening was rounded up with a drink in the hotel bar. Then we decided to get early to bed since we had a long and warm day waiting for us tomorrow.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in USA Tagged cities road_trip mojave_desert Comments (0)

Death Valley National Park


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Today it was finally time to visit Death Valley National Park. Before our trip to the US I had googled a lot about this national park and I was really excited to experience everything I read about. So we drove 1 hour and 30 minutes to Shoshone for lunch before we kept on driving into the Death Valley National Park. We had planned to enter the National Park from the south and drive north so we had the sun more or less from behind, because we knew that it would be hot (and sunny) today. And oh yes, the further into the national park we came the warmer it got. The record for the day was +109 °F, which is +43 °C! After driving for a while an animal appeared on the road. It was a coyote that came towards our car begging for food. If I had reached out my hand outside of the window I could have pet the coyote. That’s how close it got. But when it realized it wasn’t getting any food from us it went to the car behind us in line. I’m a little surprised that a coyote decides to live in the desert. But it must have had access to water somehow otherwise it wouldn’t survive.

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Eventually we reached Badwater, the US’s but also the entire west hemispheres lowest point at -86 meter BELOW sea level. Here it was “only” +40° Centigrade. Badwater is a dried out lake and now the bottom is covered with dried out salt and they have made a walkway so you could walk out in the salted area. It was a mighty experience. But the thing that got to me the most was the silence. It was so quiet! You neither heard the cars passing by nor the people talking to each further away. Only when you were right next to people you could hear their voices. So weird! When we got back to our car it was literally boiling inside and it took a while for the air conditioning to cool it down again.

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After driving a little further down the road we turned right onto a narrow lingering one-way road that led us to Artist’s Drive and Artist’s Palette. A barren yet beautiful landscape appeared in front of us with hills in different colors and shades and as an artist myself I thought it was incredibly beautiful. I tried every setting in my camera in order to capture these amazing colors in my photos but unfortunately I couldn’t. So the photos above represent the best settings I possibly could. Soon thereafter my fellow traveler ran out of water so we had to make a stop at Visitor Center and buy some more. I can ensure you that you really need to bring a lot of water due to the extreme heat. We drank water like all the time so whatever you do – do not forget to bring water visiting Death Valley National Park!

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Zabriskie Point was next on our road trip, a nice place with a lot of sand banks. Zabriskie Point is not far away from 20 Mule Team Canyon Road, a canyon named after the carriages that was pulled by 20 mules up and down in the mineral mines in that area. We felt we didn’t have time to drive that road and it is preferred to have a jeep when driving that road and not a city type care that we had.
Last but not least we drove up to Dante’s View (yes, you can drive all the way up there) with an amazing view over Badwater and many mountains in the distance, Telescope Peak for an example. Next to Dante’s View is a hiking trail to Coffin Peak which is not far away and Dante’s Peak. When the weather is clear they say you can actually see the US’s highest and lowest point from Dante’s Peak. But in that heat and all the warning signs for snakes and scorpions we decided not to.

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On the way back to Las Vegas we made a stop at Devil’s Hole in Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. The signs to get there were not that well-posted but surprisingly the GPS actually knew where it was! Devil’s Hole is a deep water filled hole and the home of the almost exterminated Death Valley Pupfish. Nowadays it’s a fenced area with security cameras and as a visitor you were able to walk inside a steel cage bridge over the hole and have a look. Near Devil’s Hole you can find Crystal Reservoir, where you actually can take a swim. In the area you can also find several hot springs but due to the heat we really didn’t feel like swimming today… at least not in a hot spring!

When we got back to Las Vegas and after well-needed showers we went down for the Las Vegas Strip (a.k.a. the Strip) with Caesars Palace, Mirage, New York New York among others and walked around in all the casinos. Though we never played or bet at any casino since people smoked like crazy inside and we got headaches after only 5 minutes. So tragic it has to be that way.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in USA Tagged road_trip national_parks death_valley Comments (0)

Hoover Dam and Grand Canyon


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We had gone to bed late last night which was why we spoiled ourselves with a well-needed sleep-in today with a late breakfast. After check-out we headed for Hoover Dam just outside of Las Vegas. Honestly I though the dam was supposed to be bigger than it actually was. After all Google researching about it, looking at pictures and reading about it I had built up high expectations. Though it wasn’t that spectacular IRL and I got really disappointed. Well, well… “been there, done that…”

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We kept on driving towards Grand Canyon. After discussing which entrance to drive to we realized that the best entrance for us would be the West entrance with its famous Skywalk. The last part of the road towards the West entrance – basically a dirt track – was in such bad shape that you could barely drive. Due to the amount of tourists visiting Grand Canyon every year you would expect the road to be in better shape than that.

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When we arrived (the parking lot was asphalted thought) the entrance fee was US$76 to get into the area and getting access to the Skywalk. At the entrance there was a gift shop with various souvenirs to buy. Just outside the entrance building the buses ran all the time back and forth to the Skywalk only few kilometers away. After some photos of the Grand Canyon and the Eagle we decided to take the next bus to the Skywalk. The security was rigorous before you even could get out on the Skywalk. You had to lock up all your belongings (cell phones and cameras included), passing through a body scanner and put on shoe protections to protect the glass floor out on the Skywalk. Then you were allowed to enter the Skywalk! It was a pretty cool feeling walking around in “the air” above Grand Canyon. It was literally like 100 meters down to the bottom of the canyon underneath you and due to the glass floor you stared down at the almost bottomless canyon. So if you suffer from fear of heights might want to think twice before entering the Skywalk. My fellow traveler actually suffers from fear of heights and was actually crawling around at first, but after a while she managed to stand up and walked around. So brave of her!

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The sunset started and it was time to leave Grand Canyon and find a staying for the night. We drove as far as we could and ended up in Kingman before we checked in for the night.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in USA Tagged grand_canyon road_trip hoover_dam national_parks Comments (0)

Route 66, Ghost Town and Red Rocks


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Before checking out, we ate breakfast at the hotel next door. The hotel we stayed at had that service… if you didn’t like the hotels own breakfast you could walk over to the next door hotel and eat there. Thumbs up!
From the town of Kingman to the community of Ash Forks we drove on the classic Route 66. First stop in Valentine and the Keepers of the Wild Animal Park where they take care of rescued wild animals. They had a lot of animals; lions, coyotes, wolves, tigers (Siberian and White), jaguar, cougars, bobcats, ostriches, emus, monkeys, turtles, raccoons, skunks among others. Most of the animals stayed in the shadows though due to the heat. After that we drove to Grand Canyon Caverns and had lunch. We thought about getting down into the caverns but unfortunately it was too long time to wait for the next tour to start so we had to skip it. They do actually have a hotel down in the caverns which you can stay in but I don’t think I would though…

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We kept on driving on Route 66 to Ash Forks and then southbound towards Jerome, now the biggest ghost town in the US. Jerome was founded on top of the mountain Cleopatra Hill and was thanks to its copper mining a big mining community at the turn of the 19th - 20th Centuries. But during the Big Depression in 1930ies and after the Second World War the demand for copper decreased and the mine was closed in 1953. From a population of 15000 people only about 50 people were left in Jerome after the mine was closed.

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We arrived pretty late in Jerome and had only 30 minutes to walk around in the mining area. But it was enough time though if you ask me. Outside the gift shop there was a birdfeeder where they had put sugar water to lure out the Hummingbirds. We stood there waiting for a while with our cameras ready. And after a while they dared to approach the birdfeeder and we managed to get a few nice photos of them. But it is true as they say, they do hum a lot when they fly.

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We drove the steep downhill road from Jerome and south to Sedona. Unfortunately we could only spare a few minutes here in Sedona so the choice fell on visiting Cathedral Rock for some pictures. It was really beautiful with the Red Rocks in the sunset! I’ve never seen such colors! You would probably need at least a day or two to see more of Sedona and its beauty. Though we had stick to our strict itinerary and drive to Phoenix and our pre-booked hotel for the night. As we got closer to Phoenix hundreds of blooming Saguaro Cactuses showed up beside the road which was amazing to see. For those of you who don’t know, it is the classic tall and thin cactuses with several arms growing on the sides, usually seen in cowboy movies. The heat in Phoenix was overwhelming and even though we took a swim in the hotel pool, you didn’t get any cooler.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in USA Tagged road_trip route_66 red_rocks ghost_towns Comments (0)

Beauty of Fighter Jets

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As a tourist there is nothing interesting to see in Phoenix, so we just passed through driving south towards Tucson. Somewhere between Phoenix and Tucson we stopped at a mall with an outlet with a lot of clothes. We shopped at GAP. I bought a thin sweater among other things that could be really useful later during the ranch week.

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It was really hot in Tucson. I would have guessed at about +37° Centigrade in the shadow. We stopped at Pima Air and Space Museum. I had emailed the museum prior to our trip and asked if they had any F14-Tomcat for display. And yes, they replied, they even had TWO. So I was overexcited and thrilled when I paid the entrance fee and then ran around and looked for them. The first Tomcat was placed inside in the Flight Central Hangar and pretty easy to find. Then I started to look for the second one they claimed having but I couldn’t find it. And when I asked one of the staff members he looked like a question marks; “What? Two? We only have one.” So I guess the person that replied my email couldn’t see the difference between a F14-Tomcat and a F15-Eagle. Sure they look very alike, but if you work in a flight museum shouldn’t you know/see the differences? I’m just wondering… Other interesting objects to view were MIG-29, Black Cobra, Mohawk, Blackbird among others. And on top of that they had several hangars with older airplanes from e.g. First and Second World War. And out in the open yard they had commercial airplanes and few space shuttles as well.

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After lunch we visited a shopping mall with all kinds of stores like Victoria’s Secret, GAP and Nike. Before we left the mall we had to buy refreshing Frozen Yoghurt. It was really great! Then it was time to check-in at the hotel next to Tucson Int’l Airport and return our rental car to the rental company before 7 pm. The airport wasn’t that big and it was well-posted where to return our car. It didn’t take more than 5 minutes to walk from the airport and back to our hotel again. The staff from the ranch was picking us up tomorrow so we didn’t need the car anymore. In the evening we swam in the outdoor pool and even though the sun had gone down it was still warm outside (and in the pool as well)!

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in USA Tagged cities road_trip fighter_jets Comments (0)

White Stallion Ranch


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Finally time to go to the White Stallion Ranch! It was actually the ranch week that led up to this whole road trip, even though we visited the ranch the very last week of our trip.

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The white transfer car showed up at our hotel and from Tucson it took about 40 minutes to get to the White Stallion Ranch. It was out in the middle of nowhere among all the Saguaro Cactuses, and upon arrival the sun shined and there was a clear-blue sky. The thermometer showed both Fahrenheit and Celsius and today it was +37° Centigrade outside! At that time we started to think about what we have gotten ourselves into… would we even be able to ride in this heat? They told us later though the entire spring that year had been unusually warm here in Tucson and that it normally isn’t that hot in Tucson in May. We met our wrangler Michael (brother of Russell who owns the ranch) who showed us the reception so we could register our arrival. We had our room up-graded (for free) to a Deluxe Double since the ranch had very few guests this week. Thumbs up! But the room wasn’t cleaned yet so we sat down in the shadow under a tree and waited for lunch to be served. The lunch was a huge buffet and you could eat all you wanted.

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After lunch we got our room keys and our bags had already been carried away to the room. We unpacked a little and brought our cameras and walked around on the ranch and took photos. But after a while it got too hot out in the sun so we went back to our room and had a siesta.
Every Sunday all the horses on White Stallion Ranch have a rest-day. Then all the guests have to do something else. We spent the day in the activity room where they had table tennis, pool table, poker table, air-hockey and fussball. We also tried to turn on the TV in the movie salon, but the remote didn’t seem to work. Outside they had a court for basketball and one for tennis. They also had a net for badminton to put up if someone wanted to play. Even though I’m a badminton fan I didn’t feel like playing in the heat. They also had a gift shop on the ranch but it was closed due to celebration of Mothers Day. I wanted to buy my own cowboy hat but I had to wait until the next day. The ranch had cowboy hats you could borrow (for free) but I felt I wanted my own! The ranch had a little house they called Telegraph Station which had free internet access that all guests could use to communicate with the rest of the world.

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Every day at 6 pm they had Happy Hour in the ranch bar for one hour until dinner was served at 7 pm. Even though we had paid for All Inclusive the drinks wasn’t included. They put the drinks on a tab on your room number which you pay the last day before you leave. During dinner Russell the ranch owner socialized with us guests. That was nice!
Every evening At 8 pm it was time for evening activities like Line Dance. I was a little skeptical towards the dancing thing but I participated just because… But boy was it fun or what?! I don’t regret it for a second. I don’t remember how many dances we tried out, but the number of participants decreased for each dance during the evening. I should add that the evening temperature was +26° Centigrade. In the end we were only 4-5 people left (and I was one of them) and we started off with 15 people. Later that evening a well-needed shower and bedtime. Other evening activities were star gazing with telescope, painting and also a reptile, spider and lizard show (that evening I held a safe distance I could tell you :) ). One evening a cowboy singer came and sang by the campfire… only thing was that the campfire went out and no one could lit it again. Bummer. But he played his guitar and sang for us in the darkness under a clear starlit sky anyway. That was actually kind of cozy too once your eyes had adapted to the dark. Still today I claim him to be the best cowboy singer I have ever heard. I still get goose bumps when thinking about his performance.

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On the first day of riding as a new guest at White Stallion Ranch you start with participating in a Slow Ride, which means 75 minutes of walking out on the domains. You must participate on that ride so you can feel if you and the chosen horse get along but also so the staff could evaluate your riding skills. Apparently people tend to overrate their riding skills and therefore are paired up with the wrong horse. My horse during the week was T-Bone, a 12 year old gelded Painted Quarter Horse. I loved T-Bone from the beginning and you would really have to look for a more obedient horse than him! I wanted to pack him down in my suitcase and bring him back home with me ;)

Each day (except Sundays) you could choose from several rides to participate in. Slow Ride and Fast Ride were optional every day. Some days you could start with a Breakfast Ride where you ride off and eat breakfast out on the domains among the cactuses. Other days had Slow or Fast Mountain Rides and some days even Half or Full Day Rides were available. During each ride we brought water bottles in our saddlebags… and that was really necessarily in that heat I can tell you. Team Penning was also a frequent activity where you compete in teams of 4 riders. One in the team is suppose to separate three calves out of the herd and together with the 3 other team riders herd those three calves into a pen in the shortest matter of time.

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T-Bone and I participated in most of the activities and rides but not a Full Day Ride. It was too hot for that! And Team Penning was super fun because it involved some thinking and other animals with their own free will. I could tell T-Bone liked Team Penning too, because when it was my turn to separate the three calves he got super excited and energetic. So fun!

On Saturday they taught Roping lessons. We decided early during the week that we would try that out. Said and done, we stood there and practiced over and over again. I got a grip of it pretty fast due to my strong wrists from playing badminton. Saturday finished off with a Rodeo where all the wranglers participated and showed off their skills. Some of the horses and riders came from other ranches to show some of the games. All of us guests sat on the gallery with our cameras taking photos and filming the show. Nearby the gallery we could spot tiny little squirrels (Round Tailed Ground Squirrels) that reminded a little of small meerkats as they stood on their hind legs – just sooooo cute!

General about the ranch week…
They had great and healthy horses for both experienced and inexperienced riders. Unfortunately it was too warm during our visit but as I mentioned earlier it was an unusually warm month that year in Tucson. What surprised me the most was that the horses had no fear of small animals running underneath them during the rides. We also saw a rabbit and four deer but the horses didn’t care at all. I guess that the horses are used to that.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in USA Tagged horseback_riding Comments (0)

Tucson - Denver - Reykjavik - Arlanda


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When the alarm rang and it was time to get out of bed I almost flew up. I was so homesick and longed for my own bed. Our transfer from White Stallion Ranch to Tucson Int’l Airport left at 6 am just after sunrise.

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The flight from Tucson to Denver took 2 hours. At Denver Int’l Airport we had to kill some time before the flight via Reykjavik to Stockholm - Arlanda. When the flight finally taxed out of the gate at Denver Int’l Airport it was delayed by 30 minutes. But suddenly the airplane drove back to the gate. Great! Now what? Is something is wrong with the airplane? After a while the flight attendants announced in the speaker that they had shut down the entire airport. OMG! Is it a bomb threat? I thought for myself. But no, it was just bad weather just outside Denver. Thank God! So when we finally got permission to tax out of the gate again we were 2 hours delayed. Perfect! … or NOT. We had a connecting flight in Reykjavik and now we would miss it! But when we asked the flight attendant about what we could do we got a positive answer. All the other connection flights (from the same flight company) on Iceland would wait for our flight! Now that’s service! Thumbs up! Now I could relax knowing that I would get home to Sweden according to plans, although delayed. So after 7 hours and 20 minutes we landed on Iceland and we literally had to run to the next flight towards Stockholm Arlanda. Now we only had 3 hours left! But it was a challenge itself since the entire body was itching and you almost couldn’t sit still. So after totally 12 hours and 10 minutes of flight time we were finally back home in Sweden. I must say though I had no problems adapting to the Swedish time zone again. We managed to book flights so the time change went smoothly. My fellow traveler though had a hard time adjusting back to Swedish time again.

But one thing you never can take away from the American people is their friendliness. That's why I like traveling to America. They are kind, helpful and chatty unlike us Swedish people. Here in Sweden we are almost afraid of starting a conversation with completely strange people or being forced to sit down on a seat next to an unknown person on the bus. So we could really learn from them.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in USA Tagged traveling Comments (0)

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