Antilope Canyon & Horseshoe Bend

We drove after sunset (less than 3 hours’ drive on route 89). The freeways here don’t have any street lanterns and people use the big light, which can blind you easily. We parked our car at Walmart in Page after some late night shopping, and obviously were not the only ones. We counted about 10 RV’s and trucks that use the huge parking to spend the night. Did you know that at Walmart they even sell car tires and you can drive a trolley when you are unable or just lazy?

The time zone difference (Mountain Time versus Mountain Standard Time) makes it difficult to understand when shops & guided tours actually operate, so you need to make sure or you’ll miss your tour.

The Antelope Canyons are the biggest landmark here, and booking in advance is highly recommended. Since 1997 you cannot do a self-guided tour anymore when a flash flood killed 11 French tourists in the water flowing at 75km/h. Photographers can take a specific photographic tour, where the guides will allow a lot more time and clear the way with people. A tripod and DSLR are mandatory and on most of these tours, tag-a-longs and shared equipment is not allowed. The price of these tours are about 75-88 USD (photo) versus 28 or 58 USD for a regular one (the most expensive is during primetime which runs between 10 and 1). A tour is about 2 hours. These lands are still owned by the Indian tribe Navajo, the entrance to Antelope includes a 8 USD fee that goes directly to them. Also, many tour operators & guides are native Navajo (but of course they speak perfectly English).

There are several sites to visit such as the lower & higher canyon and rattlesnake canyon. I only did the higher Antelope canyon, some pictures can be found below.

The best time to visit for pictures is around (or starting from) May and primetime (between 11 and 1), when several big light beams hit the rocks within the canyon. On the regular tours, you are not allowed to take any tripod or monopod, but if you have a high end camera, you can easily take amazing pictures, especially if you have a good tour guide, I had as operator Adventurous Antelope Canyon and my tour guide very clearly pointed out good picture opportunities and formations .

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Another landmark in Page is the Horseshoe Bend, a horseshoe-shaped meander of the Colorado River. You can only understand the size of it by looking for small boats and tents at the bottom. I’m currently so tired and my lips have  many cracks, making it difficult to smile on the pictures. I didn’t even know I could make a face like this one 🙂

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Bryce Canyon – A Sunset trip

On the way to Bryce, you can find some very scenic red rocks, I think it’s called the Red Rock canyon. There is an opportunity to do a small hike to a ‘photo tour’, it only takes you 15 min to go up and you will be surrounded by red peaks. Especially in the late afternoon they have a very nice red glow. On this road, you will also cross 2 beautiful arcs.

Driving further (about 20min I guess), you will enter Bryce canyon national park. It was almost sunset when we arrived at the Visitors Center (hence we did not pay for any permit since it was closed) that is still a short drive to the rim. The most known viewpoints are called ‘sunset’ and ‘sunrise’, about 0.5 mile in between them.
From both these viewpoints, you can enter the canyon. A full loop is about 2.5 miles. After taking some pictures from the Sunset viewpoint, I walked all the way down to Queens Garden where you walk in between the hoodoos. It was already after sunset, but as always I keep a small survival package on me such as a light :). The canyon is not just rocks and sand, you will also find beautiful trees and wildlife such as deers. In Bryce Canyon, it’s a lot colder as in Zion.

Some pictures can be found below.

Zion National Park

Getting there

Last minute, Jonathan a local from Vegas decided to join me on the trip. So from now on I will often use ‘we’ 🙂

The way to Zion from Las Vegas is extremely scenic! But also very windy, I would never try this on a bike. It became clear we were entering a more remote area since the cellphone connection got lost (at least for T-mobile, I understood AT&T + Verizon are better).

I decided to take a small detour and drive through Lake Mead. You need to pay a permit but it’s valid for 7 days, including access to the Hoover dam as planned on the way back.

We arrived in the evening, and since you can reserve the main camping it was already fully booked. In this national park you have many rangers patrolling, so camping inside without reservation is a bit more tricky. Furthermore, in this season not all the roads are accessible by car and restricted to the shuttle bus. We parked just outside the park on a parking and enjoyed water-drained soup 🙂

Zion Day 1

Taking the shuttle bus is convenient, on the bus they even give you some explanation about the park from different perspectives (e.g. a photographer and park ranger give their perspective).

Our first big hike was Angels Landing, ranked in the top 10 of USA hikes. A trail where you need to crawl in the end to the top with rewarding views. You have a chain to assist you, personally I saw it as a nice challenge to get to the top without using hands or the chain 🙂

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Angels Landing

 

After several days of driving and hiking, you start to feel a bit dirty. Since the main camping-ground ‘watchmen’ has no showers, you need to find those in town (we found only 2). These are located within shops, and also has specific opening times. Since all of those are closed, we jumped in a swimming pool resort. Know that here, upon trespassing you can get to jail.

Zion Day 2

I still did not have any good sunrise pictures, so in the evening we drove up to the viewpoint ‘canyon lookout’ that is supposed to be one of the best places for sunrise. We parked on the parking lot very late, enabling us to cook without being noticed since they do not seem to patrol this road.

 

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Sunrise at Zion Overlook

(Too) early in the morning, I woke up to hike the trail leading to the canyon lookout. To my surprise, I was alone, but arriving at 6am in this period is just too early. After one hour, other photographers eventually joined me. The view is nice as it is a lookout. However, it just takes too much time for the sun to hit the rocks. My opinion is that this location is best visited during the day, when most rocks & the canyon are fully lit.

After sunrise, we drove to the city Springdale to get gear for the Narrows. The Narrows is a hike in the cold river, in the middle of a scenic canyon. You can choose to go all the way up, this would take you 8 hours, or return any time since you need to get back the same way you came. Having the proper gear is important, as the river is cold and you will get wet till above your knee. Furthermore, most of the canyon is in the shade. Basic material are anti-slippery shoes and isolating socks, you can get those for 20 USD. You can also either get a wet or dry suit for another 20 USD. The cheapest rental places are a bit further in town. Note that a rental is valid for 24 hours, and since the most shops only open at 9am, it’s best to get your gear the day before.

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The Narrows

 

 

Las Vegas aka Sin City – Nightlife – almost for free

Nightlife & tricks how to go out almost for free
When it comes to nightlife, the many clubs can keep you busy for at least a week or two. These clubs area really crazy: pool parties, waterfalls, amazing views, etc.

The dress code is not extremely strict, but people like to dress up and impress. When you impulsively decide to get into a queue, get your money ready: a guy will have to pay 35 USD or more, and a girl around 25 USD. However, I found it very easy to actually put my name on a guest list: when going out, make sure you have an even ratio boys-girls and get some phone numbers of what they call ‘promotors’. These guys actually get paid (around 5 USD a person) to get you into the clubs, and put your name on the guest list of your choice, even for the most famous clubs such as Marquee (Cosmopolitan), Hakkasan (MGM), Omnia (Caesars), Thrist (Wind), Draids, XS (Wind). I found these phone numbers after putting a picture on Instagram with the tag #vegas, as many promotors (or a bot) will like your picture. When on the guest list, girls can get up to 3 free drinks (depending if a boy joins them). Drinks are easily 16 USD and more. For this reason, an idea to ‘get into the mood’ before going out is to play in the casino’s: as long as you keep playing, they give you free drinks. The trick is to play on 1 USD machines for a long time (e.g. play 1 line on the ‘line’ machines), and give 2 USD tips to your waitress, asking her to directly get you another round (we even managed to get 2 drinks at the same time).
Inside the clubs, you will find many people taking a reserved table. These tables start at 500 USD and go easily to 2000 USD. With that, you’ll get one or more bottles and personal security. These security guys even walk you to the bathroom and back. In the bathrooms, you’ll find people opening the tab for you, and drying your hands. In XS and others, you will also find a selection of 20+ perfumes and such. Parties here are wild, and even if pools are closed, the later it gets the more people you will find inside 🙂

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High waterfall behind the DJ booth in the Trystl

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Alternative transportation

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In XS, they have a pool…

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What perfume do you prefer?

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Can I help to dry your hands? At your service!

 

Las Vegas – first impression & the strip

Las Vegas, also known as Sin City and for good reasons. Do you know where the slogan ‘what happens in … stays in …’ comes from? You are right, Vegas! This has to be one of the most extravagant places be I’ve ever seen and experienced. Not just for the gambling and bling-bling casino’s, but also for the nightlife. The place to be is actually everywhere on what they call the strip. Hotels are moderately expensive (especially from Thursday till Sunday) but luxury, and in none of them you can open the windows… Be aware that when booking, on arrival you will need to pay a huge tax around 30 USD on top of your booking. Many people come here to have a good time and saved some money to just spend in either way. You can of course save a lot of money by checking deals such as groupon (as advised in my previous blogpost).

The strip

As previously mentioned, the strip is the place to be where all big casinos and hotels attempt to attract and impress everyone. You can find several shows with music here such as a lava mountain at Mirage and the Bellagio fountains. You can walk down the strip for a long time to see all this beauty, but it’s worth it. Concerning public transport: on the strip and a bit beyond, you can easily catch a bus for 24 hours. A ticket for 24 hours cost you 8 USD and gives you unlimited rides. Be aware that in the evening there is heavy traffic both ways. Another way is to get a limo (either combined with a package), a great way to blend in 🙂

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Further away from the hotspots (at a convenient busstop), you’ll find the Vegas tower also known as the Stratosphere. Here you can, of course, find another casino. A ticket to the top costs you 30 USD. For another 5 USD each you can make a thrill ride on one of the three rollercoasters at the very top. Before you get into the elevator, be prepared for a queue, especially for sunset. The elevator itself takes about 37 seconds to get to the 101th floor, in one of the fastest elevators in the world (… anything is possible here, it’s Vegas!). You can stay an unlimited amount of time on the skywalk, and even grab something to eat. The views are spectacular, but a good picture of the strip is difficult since there.

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Casino’s are really everywhere, you can even gamble in the grocery store!

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The old Vegas

The ‘old’ Vegas, on Freemont street, is where you find another cluster of (cheaper) casinos is not near the strip and in the north of Vegas. Here you can find an impressive hall of LED screens. It’s worth the trip!

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on the way to Sin City!

After finishing Joshua Tree park, it’s time to head out for Sin City – Las Vegas baby!!

You have several ways to get there. If you are leaving from the North part of Joshua Tree, an idea is to first visit the Indian Cove and after that head to the Mojave National preserve, it’s perfect for cruising and to experience that ‘roadtrip feeling’, just be very carefull for all the potholes and make sure you have enough gasoline :). After the preserve, you have a small strech of Route 66! You cannot find any signs by the road, I actually wonder if they still have the signs since there are many ‘collectors’ out there 🙂

You will also pass train tracks with ‘supertrains’. I’ve counted 150 wagons!

Mojave National preserve

Mojave National preserve

Potholes in the Mojave National preserve

Potholes in the Mojave National preserve

Endless miles of electricity poles @ Mojave National preserve

Endless miles of electricity poles @ Mojave National preserve

Route 66

Route 66

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When approaching Vegas, you can suddenly see casino’s and resorts rising in the middle of a dessert. They all make sure to get your attention with huge signs & flashing boards :). The highway ‘miles’ are also sponsored, making sure they are in perfect conditions! Because you don’t want to have your company name linked to bad road conditions.

Sponsored miles @ Vegas area

Sponsored miles @ Vegas area

They say Vegas has the most parking garages in the world, and most of them are free for a limited amount of time.

Tonight, something I rarely or never do: clubbing!

Joshua Tree park – don’t forget your food & water

Some say Joshua Tree park is one of the nicest ones in the USA. It’s a quick getaway for people from L.A. during breaks & weekends. This is something to keep in mind, since camp grounds are apparantly scarce.

Due to limited amount of time, I needed to take the freeway. If you have time and come from the south, a visit to Salton Sea &  e.g. Salvation Mountain (landmark from ‘Into the Wild’ are an interesting visit.

You will be driving near big farms and huge windmill parks. Houses are often not near the street, that’s why the mail boxes are aligned near the road. You will see the typical ‘leverages’ too (wich are high when you have mail)

Typical mail boxes

Typical mail boxes

When entering the park (from the west), you’ll find a guardpost to get your permit. At 6pm, it was not manned and no fees had to be paid (it states 20 USD / vehicle + 5 USD / person). A park permit is valid for several days. I paid 15 USD when existing the park (around 1pm) on the north side.

Camping Hidden Valley is very unique with all it’s boulders, which makes it an attractive destination for rock climbers!  Jumbo Rock is similar.

When entering the camping grounds, you can get a camping spot by filling in a paper from the ‘box’ and fill in the details such as dates that you attach to the camping spot (so people can see it’s occupied). It is full self-service. On most campsites, for 1 day you pay 10 USD. You can stay maximum 1 week at the same spot.

Example campground

Example campground

Arriving very late (7pm) I was out of luck, but a friendly family offered to park my car next to theirs :). They had the same issue in the past and were very happy to return the favor.

Picture time! The camping is perfectly located for great pictures with all the rocks & boulders.

That night ‘unfortunatly’ it was full moon, making it difficult to make good pictures of the stars.

Suddenly I realized I did not buy any food in the rush for sunset. The cookies given by David his mom from San Diego came in handy as dinner & breakfast 🙂

I got up to see the sunrise, the boulders are very easy to climb and have an amazing sunrise view!

Getting up early is adviced as it can get very hot, making a walk more comfortable. Always bring enough water! During the hikes, I was hoping to find some rattle snakes (they emerge from hibernation in March or April), normally they are most active during early morning and late afternoon. A good spot for rattle snakes is the ‘rattle canyon’ walk near Indian Cove, note no real trail exists and you just choose where you go.

Other nice walk I did on the way out was Wonderland of Rocks, where I also just ‘invented’ a trail across the rocks. Just make sure you got good referrals to landmarks such as typical mountain peaks (on a good day). On the way you’ll find an old pink ruin. Another landmark on the way is ‘the skull’, just besides the road.

The Skull

The Skull

Some specific advice when hiking here & desserts:

  • Lookout where you put your feet & hands, especially when climbing rocks
  • Don’t run and allow snakes to get away
  • Wear closed shoes and loose pants

When you drive to Vegas, avoid the route 15 since it is just boring. In the beginning drive through amboy and the Mohaviv reserve. You will even pass a small strip of route 66 🙂

In the image below, you can navigate in 360 degrees!

San Diego & carpooling a stranger

On the way to San Diego & first evening

Right after getting the car, I picked up David (from the craigslist ad, see previous post). He just came back from a long travel in Asia and wanted to visit his family (and doctor). I did not know at all what to expect. He had a good laugh when I asked him for help to get gasoline, the systems are differ here in the USA. Most of the times, you pre-pay inside. If you use a creditcard, the non used credit goes back to your card. Convenient 🙂

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We drove to San Diego during rush hour, traffic is just as bad as in Belgium. Interesting to know is that you can take a special carpool lane (as with other regions in the USA, such as New York). You are only allowed on this lane if your car has more then 2 persons or you are driving an electric car. This is one of the reasons several people are switching to electric cars nowadays.

Compared to other regions in the USA, such as Nevada, guns are not allowed here. Especially with the close border of Mexico. Sidenote; most of California was previously owned by Mexico (hence the spanish names of the cities).

On the freeway, close to San Diego, you can find a huge military base. Here the US army trains with helicopters, amphibian vehicles, bunkers, helicopter-plane combi aircrafts, supercarrier warships (I think to have seen USS Theodore Roosevelt), …

Hospitality from a stranger and his family

I dropped off David at his place, a very nice (the best?) area in the San Diego hills.

He invited me inside where his mother had a dessert moment with family and friends. She invited me to join them. It was just lovely, the table was filled with fresh fruits, delicious small snacks/desserts from foreign countries in a very nice typical terrace & garden.

This place was lovely and very typical, very spacious & warm!

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To see a panorama, click on the picture below:

David was meeting a friend at this place that he did not see for a long time, but it did not hold him back to take me to a beautiful sunset spot in the hills, the coastal reserve on the biodiversity trail.

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Villa where Michael Jacksson espaced from all the madness

To see a panorama, click on the picture below:

After the sunset, I went myself into the city to find out about the spring break madness! More about that later in this post.

Next stop was Pacific beach, going to mission beach was too far (apparantly this is more a party beach). I just hope I did not miss anything. Finding parking around mission beach is really difficult… you can park your car for free by the side of the road, but you’ll need some luck. If you decide to park your car on the shopping parkings, be aware that apparently they do tow (I just wonder how they can check?). You can opt to pay 5 USD for one hour and up to 20 USD for overnight parking.

The boardwalk of mission beach is a nice walk, you’ll find many bars & dining opportunities. I got myself some fresh crab.

I got the following advice from locals to go out: tuesday is taco Tuesday, a very good day to go out in San Diego. Wednesday is not so good, and it is especially the weekend that is active during Spring Break. A good pub is ‘The Tavern’

Later that evening, David & his mother invited me to sleepover. I got a private room, private bathroom and had an amazing sleep since a long time. In the morning, the breakfast on the terrace was just epic :). His mother gave me some cookies and banana chips for along the way, for sure at some point I would need them.

I was so thankfull to have met this ‘stranger’ on what was just a simple carpool offer, who invited me to his family, where they offered me a bed and a lot of advice. Being impulsive and travelling alone can get you far! David, if you read this… thank you again! 🙂

Following their advices, I continued my travels.

Spring Break – Where is the madness?

At the time of arrival (beginning of April), spring break was on for the colleges & universities around San Diego. Unfortunatly I did not find any madness.

Over the years, it seems that the government has taken many actions to make it a safer happening. The drawback is that many of the spontanious madness fades away.

One example was the attempt to forbid drinking on the beaches. A year after, everyone was drinking & partying in tubes on the ocean, since the law did not forbid to drink on the water. Nowadays, you cannot find any activity on the beaches.

A morning in San Diego

It was going to be a busy morning. First visiting Mount Soledad (Park) gave extensive sights over San Diego. On this mountain, an (volunteering?) officer was offering his guiding services (for free) in case someone had any questions about the memorial landmark. The monument holds names of many USA soldiers, including all their decorations (which are very important here in the USA, apparantly it was a sensitive quesion to ask the officer…).

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Mount Soledad

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Memorial WW II

I went to the Cove and walked all the (scenic! Many animals!) way to the Childrens garden / pool. This beach was constructed for the children as a playground, but in the end sea lions took over and since these are protected animals… you can guess 🙂

Along the way, I was interviewed by a camera-crew which asked my opinion about the sea lions being to close to humans (you can get very close to them). They also asked a question how they smelled 🙂 …

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La Jolla Cove

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Childrens Playground

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Childrens Playground

For a panorama, click below:

For lunch I wanted to eat a typical California burritos (the other typical alternative was Fish Tacos) at a local place.

I asked a lady on the street, who was very kind to help me out. After some minutes, I did not manage to find it till suddenly the lady showed up, re-explaining me since she made a small mistake. Just amazing these people here!

For just 6,59 USD I got the Burito at a Mexican place called Cotija’s.  For the ingredients, look at the menu.

Menu

Menu

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California burritos

My last quick stop was getting an invertor at RadioShack for 55 USD to be able to charge all my electronic equipment from the car cigarette plug.