USA

lights, canyons, action

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So much snow
So much snow
No snow in sight
No snow in sight

Onwards on our trip, we were able to peel another layer of clothing off. So we were down to about 2 layers now. From snow to desert in a matter of days, we travelled from Yellowstone to Salt Lake City to Bryce Canyon to Zion before we stopped at Grand Canyon. With the contrast in temperature,  it was hard to believe that we were in the same country in the same month.

Grand Canyon is magnificently enormous. Its worth watching the IMAX 3D movie before seeing the actual canyon itself – it gave us that little bit of a greater appreciation of those who explored it. But after standing on that ledge and looking out at that canyon, we can confirm that it was appropriately named! Words can simply not describe what we could see. Even photographs doesn’t do the canyon justice. Go see them for yourself!

The colours change as the sun sets and as the sun strikes the sides of the canyon, the lighting plays tricks with our eyes. We felt like if we reached out we would touch canvas because for a moment there, we are convinced that what is before us, is nothing more than an enormous painting. But although it is a work of art, it is not a painting. A moment where again we realise what a wonderful world that we live in!

Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon

All those feelings aside, we travel across desert and along a bit of Route 66 before we end up on Las Vegas Strip! Where we are introduced to excesses – excess lights, excess gambling, excess food. Before coming here, we watched The Hangover and so arriving here we thought we knew what to expect! Well, however you imagine Vegas, its glitzier and regrettably tackier! But, its still worth a visit but dare we say 3-4 days is more than enough.

View from our room in the Bellagio
View from our room in the Bellagio

So we stayed in Imperial Palace for one night before upgrading to the Bellagio for the next 2 nights, where we watched “O”, the Cirque Du Soleil show performed with a pool. It was the show of all shows and trumps all other Cirque Du Soleil shows.  For the past 4 years, we have watched the shows that tour Australia but after seeing this one, we feel like we can put them to bed and see no more. 🙂

And if you want a break from Sin City – Hoover Dam is an interesting “half-day” trip out of Vegas to do.

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no yogi bear for us

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Yellowstone has to be one of the best places we’ve been on our travels so far! Rewind a couple of days and to get up to speed with what we have done – we have visited Tatanka (the bronze bison sculptures), stayed overnight at Deadwood, drove up and over Bighorn Mountain and spent one night in Cody – all in subzero temperatures.

We have been advised that this amount of snow and the cold snap at this time of year is highly unusual. There are no complaints coming from us though because it has NOT dampened our mood whatsoever. This weather is actually adding to the experience. In fact, counting our layers of clothing, we have reached 6 layers to be precise. And whilst in Deadwood, we paid a visit to the local supermarket to pick up thermals. And fortunately too, as by the time we hit Cody, we had minus 14°C. We have never felt such cold before to the point where we were walking to dinner one night literally wrapped up like mummies with only our eyes showing. Now that night was bitterly cold!

Because of the snow, the roads were slippery and there were cars venturing up and down the mountains without chains on their tyres.  Our driver, Chuck was simply brilliant manoveuring us safely around on the snowy roads, up and over Bighorn, bypassing many road-side accidents where cars had slid of the road.

All this build up was for what we were to encounter at Yellowstone. Gorgeous blue skies and herds of bisons crossing the road. Driving into Yellowstone, we came to a sudden halt only to witness a herd of bisons on the road. We sprang off the bus to watch these huge animals trudging along and amongst them, a baby bison which apparently is rare to see at this time of year.

It was onwards to Artist Point, the “Grand Canyon” of Yellowstone and the Lower Falls. We also saw the huge Yellowstone Lake. The landscape here is forever changing and is so spectacular at this time of year. There is no way we would want to miss it in summer so we are definitely coming back here one day. There was a point where we were heading to our hotel when the bus pulled over to the side of the road. There was a herd of elks in the tall grass and it was truly a moment to soak up and try and capture with a camera – the image of these elks littered across the plains and in knee deep water. And only moments earlier, we saw two bisons fighting. It was like we stepped into a wildlife documentary. The feeling was surreal.

Bison crossing
Bison crossing
Herd of elks
Herd of elks
Coyote
Coyote

And of course, a huge reason to come to Yellowstone is to visit Old Faithful – the geyser that is so reliable! And right on cue, he spat at 11.05 just like the clock said inside the information centre. We’re still not entirely sure if it was worth it – standing in the freezing cold for 10 minutes to view a spray of white water with a backdrop of white snow. Again – we’re sure we will be back in summer next time, so we can reassess our first impressions then.

Moving on from Yellowstone, we stopped at the Grand Tetons which are massive but due to the low cloud cover, a lot of it was covered so we really couldn’t see much of it! We were just pleased that the weather was warming up by then!

So overall, Yellowstone did NOT disappoint. The only let down was that we didn’t get to see all the wildlife we had hoped for. We were in Yellowstone so on our to-see list was bears and mooses. And sadly, one was not able to be ticked off our list. We even managed to see the elusive coyote but not a single bear in sight. Clearly it was due to the much colder weather! That’s fine with us though as that only means another trip back to this area. This time in warmer weather – that is the plan! But maybe we need to visit Jellystone Park if its bears we want to see.

let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

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Before coming on this trip, we didn’t expect it to get so cold. But it did. So much so that it snowed on our first day of the tour. Again, we were on a tour where the average age (minus us) would’ve been late 50s/early 60s, and throw us in the mix in our late 20s – the tour director said she was nervous when she had young people on her tour. She had nothing to worry about; we are laid back, easy-going, punctual and were there for the same reason as everyone else – to see the national parks on this side of the USA and enjoy  what the country had to offer!

Dressed in short sleeves, shorts and thongs (or flip-flops), we hopped on the bus in Denver. Mary (our tour director) suggested that we wear something a little warmer as where we were heading was going to be cold. Off the bus we got to get to our cases underneath the coach. Luckily, there was a delay with the departure for “other” reasons, we were able to pull on our winter jackets and put on some shoes without delaying our fellow travellers.

Crazy Horse Memorial
Crazy Horse Memorial

Driving into Wyoming then South Dakota, we could see the temperature  dropping on the bus reading- although it was in Fahrenheit. Arriving at Crazy Horse Memorial and standing on the viewing platform, snowflakes began floating down. We hadn’t seen snow falling before so this was truly magical. We hadn’t expect to see something so amazing on Day 1 of the tour. Sure we had our itinerary, but the magnitude of Crazy Horse Memorial and with the snow falling around, we were in awe. If this is anything to go by, we assume the rest of the tour had big boots to fill.

Waking the following morning, we peaked out the window. The snow had come down even more overnight. Everything was layered in snow as we drove out to Cluster State Park on the lookout for bisons and other wildlife. And we were DEFINITELY treated to a variety of animals: mountain sheep, prong horn antelope, elks, donkeys and bisons.

Mountain Goat
Mountain Goat
Prong horn antelope
Prong horn antelope

The biggest treat would have to be spotting a chipmunk at Mount Rushmore. Growing up with Simon, Alvin and Theodore, we had no idea that chipmunks were so tiny and moved so very fast. The treat in itself wasn’t just seeing the chipmunk but also seeing Mount Rushmore. Having not being exposed much to American history, it was such a great opportunity for us to start learning a bit more about the different presidents and experience the patriotism. The weather cleared up and we got blue sky at Mount Rushmore so we had unobstructed views of the 4 faces in the side of the cliff! Mount Rushmore was another highlight and we were only on Day 2.

Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore
Chipmunk
Chipmunk

View more photos of our trips in Photo Gallery.

be sure to wear flowers in your hair

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When you think of San Francisco, what springs to mind?

  • Alcatraz? Yes
  • Cable cars? Yes
  • Golden Gate Bridge? Yes
  • Steep and hilly? Possibly
  • Full House? Hmmm….

And this is what we thought before arriving. Together with all the touristy things we look forward to, we associate our travel destinations with a song. It always happens somehow. So true to tradition we can’t help singing: “If you’re going to San Francisco, Be sure to wear flowers in your hair” in the lead up to arriving in San Francisco.

But there is SO much more to San Francisco than flowers in our hair and the famous “Painted Ladies” (or otherwise known as the Victorian/Edwardian homes) – where do we start? It’s the first US city we visit together and we LOVE it.

Not sushi train but sushi boat?
Not sushi train but sushi boat?

Do we tell you about how you can enjoy sushi train but instead of plates going around on a conveyor belt, it sails past you on a boat in water? Or how the Chinatown is the biggest outside of Asia and you  can visit the fortune cookie factory? Or that you can eat clam chowder out of a sourdough roll while watching the sea lions relaxing in the sun? The list of “fun things” goes on and on. And the fresh seafood to eat goes on and on. It is very true what people say when they say the servings in the USA are big.

Shrimp salad
Shrimp salad

We were only in San Francisco for 1 full day so we booked a Mr Toad’s tour which was a brilliant half day tour around the city. It was lots of fun zippy-ing around in a vintage car and flying down the steep hills with the wind in our hair (picture all the police chases in movies where the car flies over the crest – well that was us!)

Yes, we did do all your must-dos as a tourist here: Lombard St (the crookedest street), Coit Tower, Alcatraz, Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf, Mrs Doubtfire’s house…And all the other tourist traps – but how did we get suckered into “fishing” a pearl out of an oyster along Fisherman’s Wharf? Guess it happens! We ended up walking away with about 6 pearls, as after the first one, we fished out double pearls 🙂 Made great gifts for our mums!

It’s definitely a city we will have to visit again and probably for longer because we didn’t get to see much of its surrounds.

Our tip for San Francisco: travel on the cable car early in the day – queues are short or non-existent.

Cable car
Cable car

We stayed at King George Hotel and have reviewed it on Tripadvisor.

View more pictures from our trips in Photo Gallery