Stories

 

USA - May-July 2010


From May 12th to the 19th, 2010

At the Tijuana border, the customs officer was impressed by our combi. We told him that we are traveling around the continent and that our vehicle is our house. Without inspecting our van, he gave us the passports back and let us go. It that all? But there is no stamp on our passport. Is that normal ?

After we purchased the car insurance at the border, we continued our way to Oceanside. We stayed with Mary, Nicole's 92 year old grand-mother. After 3 days of rest, we met one of her daughters who wondered where the two gypsies leaving in the guest room come from… Finally we had a great time together, we laughed so much. It was very pleasant to stay with Mary for a few days.

Unfortunately we had to drive back to the San Diego border to make sure all is good with our passport. It was a very good initiative, because indeed the customs officer "forgot" to give us the green card and stamp our passport with the date of entry in the country.

We left the coast for a few weeks to explore various national parks, starting with Joshua Tree. It is well known for the Yuccas trees, the cactus garden and the big rocks on top of each other. The temperature varies much from one place to another.

  

We spent a night in the Prescott forest, which is at an elevation of 2200 meters. There was a bit of wind and it was really freezing. The good news is that as soon as we went down to the small ghost town of Jerome, the temperature went up again. We made our way to Cottowood. The atmosphere was very pleasant. The village is kind of New Age and very artistic.

The Sedona area was touristy, but I have to say that it was a really beautiful. The surrounds of the city are as you would see in the Western movies. Hills, cliffs, rocks, river beds. Everything is made of red rock. All camp-sites were complete but we were authorized to camp in the neighboring forest. A short stop in Flagstaff enabled us to have our first true American breakfast before hitting the road for the famous Grand Canyon.

The 4:30 AM wake-up was very painful, especially because the thermometer was showing 0°C inside the vehicle and that snowflakes were on our windshield.

We started our hike down the canyon freezing, but quickly the wind slowed down and the first sun rays started to highlight the walls. The huge size of the canyon gives the impression it has no end. Our hike down to the Colorado River was amazing. For the last few miles going up, the blisters were getting more and more difficult to support, but we finally arrived at the end of 25 kilometers loop mid-afternoon.

    

We drove a few kilometers on the famous Route 66 which brought us to Las Vegas. It was a great change. Luxurious hotels, casinos, theaters, tourists, attractions, etc.

We continued our journey through Death Valley. It is one of the places in the world were the elevation is below the sea level. The Badwater salt plateau is as white as snow. The road to Sequoia and Kings Canyon was longer than expected, as some of the passes were still closed because of the snow. The Sequoias are the largest trees in the world. One of them is as wide as three lanes of a freeway. In Kings Canyon, the snow-capped mountains and the Kings River full of water make the drive in the canyon spectacular.

    

Our idea was to go directly to Yosemite national park, but the Tioga pass is still closed because of the snow. We decided to wait until the pass opening and reached the coast in Morro Bay. A little before Monterey, we stopped on a beach where a colony of Elephant Seals are resting. They spend approximately 10 months of the year on the open sea traveling to Alaska and back; and the other 2 months resting and giving birth on this protected beach. We continued our marine mammal experience in Monterrey by joining a Humpback whale watch cruise. Two of them approached our boat. They did some mini-acrobatics and a pretty wink ; -). We kept heading north between Big Sur and San Francisco were we stayed a few days with Lisa, Gilbert and their daughter Sophia. Thank you for hosting the two gypsies (us) sent by Lola (Colin's mother in law).

    

The good news, it is that the Tioga pass in Yosemite national park opened the day when we arrived. It was the best period to visit the area Because of the snow melting, the waterfalls and rivers and lakes where full of water. The only problem was that because some of the camp-sites were flooded, the spaces were limited. We had to leave the park for the night and come back the following day. We did the hike to the top of Yosemite waterfall. The snow-capped mountains, the lakes, the rivers, the waterfalls were part of the splendid view. The drive through the Tioga Pass at an elevation of more than 3000 meters was spectacular. Everything was still covered with snow including the frozen lakes.

    

We followed the Sierra Nevada mountain range with a first stop at Mono Lake to see the tufa formations. But the most relaxing moment of the day was still to come. We camped near Bridgeport at a hot spring spot. The sky was dark, covered with stars (there was no moon) and the two of us in this natural hot bath…

    

The next day, we made our way to Lake Tahoe. We drove along the lake, making a few stops at various places. We meet Lynne and Rick who after 5 minutes, invited to us to spend the evening at their house on the other side of the lake. After a good shower, we had a great time exchanging our travel stories with their 5 boys. Thank you for being so spontaneous!!!

We finally reached the coast a bit north of San Francisco and followed the road through the Avenue of the giants (Redwood forest) and "the world famous drive through Redwood tree". The Redwood is supposedly the highest tree in the world…

We finally left the state of California, went through Oregon up to Portland were we stayed with Gabriel and Jacky (Nicole's sister) and their bull-dog Rocco. They were the last (but not the least) of the 3 addresses we got from Lola. I think I know more about their family than mine now :-)…

Here we are, ready for the last stop in the USA before Canada. We jumped on a ferry to San Juan Island were we spent the day on a kayak, paddling and watching the Killer Whales. We did see them, but I'm sure it is even more exciting from underwater. We spent the next day in Orcas Island where we mainly relaxed in a park along a lake We also enjoyed the view from Mont Wollard. You could see all the others islands including Vancouver Island (Canada).

We continued our drive through Washington State and crossed the Canadian border with no problem.

Click here to read the Canadian story


From June 27th to July 9th, 2010

After our trip in Canada, we crossed the US border near Glacier National Park. Driving through the national park was very nice and reminded us the Swiss Alps. A few meters of snow covered the trail to Hidden Lake, which itself was just visible below is white coat. The water of the Wipping wall was spraying the road and it gave a good wash to our van. The drive through Montana was very pleasant, there were lots of lakes, rivers, forests and wildlife crossing the road. We stopped for the night near the northern entrance of Yellowstone National Park. This is where we met Mary, Keif and Terrell. After a few stories exchange, Keif offered us to stop for a shower, a meal and a bed at his brother's house near Niagara Falls.

    

The next day started with a head-ach to find a camp-site but we were lucky have the second to last spot. We visited the beautiful Mamooth Hot Springs. The light blue hot spring pool is surrounded by an orange colored stone. A few meters away, the water slides from one terrace to another. In the afternoon we were lucky to watch a bear and a few elks (males). We sat beside a river in Lamar Valley to give us a chance to spot wolves. Instead, we saw a coyote with its baby walking in a meadow, and a few minutes later an antelope running across the field. Further in the valley, a large herd of buffalos was nicely settled in a meadow. They were happy to stop in the middle of the road so that they could smile for our picture. On our way back to the camping, we enjoyed the spectacular lightning show in the dark sky.

The next day, we visited Norris Geysers and Mud Vulcano to discover the different hot springs (hot springs, geysers, fumaroles, mud pools and mofettes). The most impressive was the Old Faithful geyser, the water stream erupted 30 meters high and it went on every 90 minutes. That evening, the sunset was amazing. The clouds transformed into a symphony of colors that made us think about a sky on fire. This is not to mention there was a rainbow on the other side.

    

We continued our journey through Grand Teton National Park and were lucky to see a cute jung black bear and several mooses, including one in a small lake.

    

The highlight of the following week was driving lots of miles and a crazy heat. On the way, we stopped to visit the Crazy Horse (the largest monument in the world but still far from being finished ...) and Mount Rushmore (that represents the carving of the faces of former presidents of the USA). About 90 miles from Niagara Falls, we meet Caroline and Chapin (Keif's brother and sister-in-law) and had a very nice evening around a good home-made grilled pizza.

We drove a few more miles and crossed the Canadian border at Niagara Falls.

Click here to read the Canadian story


From July 22nd to August 9th, 2010

When we crossed the border from Canada to the United States in the state on Maine, the customs officer was not in a hurry. It was 6 pm, there was almost no other cars than ours and I could tell that the officer was bored. He started with a serie of questions, then left us in the lobby and went out to inspect our vehicle. He came back half an hour later, probably disappointed not having found more than a few business cards received from some friends we met during our trip. He even asked us if our relationship with these people was business related... Not being able to keep us any longer, he decided to fill the visa waiver himself, copying letter by letter the information showed on our passports. After one hour in his company, he finally decided to let us go. Despite his lack of effort to speak clear English, and the fact that he had done his job too well, his attitude was not unpleasant. It was therefore not that bad.

The following days, we drove thru several big cities and spent most of our time in traffic jams. We decided to go to New Jersey to visit Mike, a friend that Aless met a few years ago in India. We went to New York City by bus to avoid traffic and parking problems. Kiki, a friend of Mike joined us and gave us a tour of Governor Island and Brooklyn. Apparently, this was one of the hottest days in New York for the last century. I confirm, we sweated profusely all day ...

    

The next day we made our way to Washington DC. On the road, we went through a big storm that did some damage in the streets of the capital city. Some cars were crushed by trees that couldn't stand the heavy wind. Our friend Keif, from Montana near Yellowstone, contacted his friend Ryan who offered to accommodate us. We decided to take a day to stroll between the White House, the Capitol, the zoo and even relax for a while at a movie theater.

Our next destination was Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We entered the park and drove through the loop, well known for wildlife watching. We happened to be there just in time to see a female black bear with her three cubs walking through fields and climbing trees to satisfy their hunger.

The next two days, we stopped in Nashville and Memphis, two cities famous for music. We saw a great soul music concert in the BB King bar and visited the Sun Studio, where Elvis, U2 and many others recorded their albums.

We finally made it to Dallas, Texas where we visited our friend Barry and his wife Kerry. They opened the doors of their little paradise for us. After 4 days relaxing around the swimming pool, we left for Houston to say hello to Daniel and Bella. We had a pleasant evening and night, then continued the next day towards Alice, still in Texas.

    

Our friend Jeff invited us to stay at his ranch, "The Guitar Ranch". Just after we arrived, John and Tres inspected the van. Both horses were loose around the ranch. We also met our new buddy OD (stands for Orange Dog), a young dog, probably abandoned by his masters on the roadside. He found his new home and friends at the ranch. Our three musketeers were super curious and watched every move we made over the weekend. They even checked the breakfast table to see if it was worth it. Late afternoon, once the heat and the sun were going down, Jeff started to get the horses ready for a ride. Unfortunately, Tres was not in a good shape therefore I left the ranch on my own on John's back. It was so great to be able to walk at sunset in a huge property where, unlike in Geneva, there is no need to worry about having to cross roads and watch out for cars. In the evening, some friends from the village joined us, and Tricha, Jeff's wife made a vegetarian barbecue. We were even lucky to be present for an improvised private concert from Jeff and his guitar. The next day, Tres was doing better and we went for a ride with the two horses. Our friend Kevin and his wife Kati invited us to spend our last evening and night with them.

It was with a twinge in the heart that we left Alice, the ranch, our friends and our three musketeers and reached the Mexican border.

Click here to read the story of our trip in Mexico

See album "USA - May to July 2010"