The Golden State, land of dreams and opportunities. We've seen a fair cross-section of it in the last week. Two days in San Francisco wandering around and soaking up the culture, two days in the picturesque rolling hills of the wine country and then we hit the road.
First we tackled the all-american classic, Highway 1. The route of Beat poets, beatniks and freakazoids throughout the ages. It's an amazing winding coastal road which feels like it barely clings to the jagged cliffs jutting into the sea at times. Nothing I've experienced in this life has ever felt more like being in a video game, like Outrun. Fantastic, amazing scenery, especially around Big Sur, a real feast for the eyes. Also it was the furthest west we'd ever been, looking over the Pacific! The first evening we watched the sun set right down to the horizon. We stayed one night in a hostel by a lighthouse at Pigeon Point and almost got blown away looking for gray whales on their migration returning from Alaska to Mexico. Didn't see any
From Cambria we headed inland to see some of the National Parks. The countryside here continues to amaze, it's just.... vast. It's on a scale unlike anything we've seen in the UK or in most of the other places we've travelled. Distances become elastic as you can easily spend 30 minutes crawling along the same section of road between two distant points. We passed through more gently undulating green hills, very green with lots of land to pasture, then flat open farmland with farms selling aubergines, avos, oranges, tomatoes, nuts, tasty baked stuff and elk jerky, straight from the ground/bush/tree/animal. We move higher into more rugged, Peak district-style hills with exposed rocks underneath, then higher still into lushly wooded hills. This is Sequoia & Kings Canyon NP, home of some of the biggest living things in the world. Higher still into the evergreen coniferous forest, and there's still hardpack snow on the ground here. We see General Sherman the giant sequoia tree, the biggest living thing (by volume) on the planet. Fun fact, the tree has been named for a Civil War general famous for his brutal 'scorched earth' policies towards the South – we've actually heard people muttering about how he'd be called a war criminal these days. We came back down the crazily winding road, through another glorious sunset, and then overnight in Bakersfield. Which seemed like the most villainous hive of scum and villainy that we've yet encountered. It took us a while of shopping around hotels to find one that didn't seem full of brasses and thieves. We had to go a bit over budget so dined on Pot Noodles in our nice hotel room.
Wednesday we drove up over the Sierra Nevada mountains , down into the bare terrain of the Panamint valley, up into more mountains and then down into Death Valley. Stark, brutal terrain, with the road coalescing out of a strip of blue mirage ahead of us. Lots of warning signs about having lots of water, keeping you car topped up and basically not dicking about in case you die. Amazing that we were walking on snow the day previous and sand dunes today. There is a bit of a dearth of lodging available here at the moment as it's peak wildflower season, so we have had to stay at the expensive Furnace Creek Inn & Ranch. Appropriately for Death Valley, it's full of really old folk who look like they haven't long to go, with crows circling all around. And there are masses, coachloads of people here, loads more folk than we've come across anywhere else outside the cities. It's a slightly odd atmosphere, the Dharma Initiative in Lost meets Jurassic Park. And it's 190 feet below sea level!
We spent the next day driving around Death Valley. It's a huge area, the national park is bigger than the state of Delaware. There are various sights and viewpoints within the park but a lot of them are a touch underwhelming, the most interesting things are some of the amazing vistas and Badwater, the lowest point in the continental USA and the hottest place in the world. We were turned away from one of the scenic drives by the rangers, on the grounds that "There's a guy up there that doesn't want you to go up there"...
Last night we drove over the state line into Nevada and to Las Vegas. Which has to be the weirdest place we've been yet. It's a 24-hour city which has a place in the American mythology as some sort of Shangri-La where you come out to play. You can even smoke at the bars here! We checked in about 11pm, had a shower, then a martini in the hotel bar and then collapsed into bed.
We've taken loaaaaaads of photos but the cable we need to upload a lot of them has gone AWOL at present. I'll repost this with lots more pictures when it's possible.
Also, it's my birthday soon! Cards might be a bit difficult. We will be in Atlanta over the weekend of March 20th but for the big day itself we'll be in Guatemala, I can collect any mail sent to our spanish school at www.sevillantigua.com. And the ebay shop is still open... http://stores.ebay.co.uk/pendleton-odyssey