Six weeks from Boston on the East to LA on the West Coast by Amtrak and VIA
Boston, United States
An evening flight to Boston from London, landing in Boston was actually a decent experience compared to flights I've had through the US in the past (particularly LA); probably helped a lot by being a repeat ESTA and not transiting on a long flight to NZ. From the airport I took the free Silver line bus to South Station then had a 10 minute walk to the hostel getting in at around 9pm.
The hostel was in Chinatown so finding a place to eat was easy. The place I walked into wasn't quite what I expected, I was hit with a wall of sound when I walked in the front door but I grabbed a seat at the bar and had a couple of tapa size dishes and beers. Headed back to the hostel and crashed almost instantly.
+18/08/2016The Freedom Trail
Boston, United States
A sunny day to explore Boston. The Freedom Trail started from Boston Common which was just around the block from the hostel. I had a nice walk from there up to the USS Constitution through a number of sites related to the start of US independence.
From there I took the harbour walk back towards South Station, stopping for a Lobster roll at a place run out a shipping container called James Hook & Co.
Boston's left me a good first impression, something a sunny day always helps with of course but it's friendly and easy to get around as well.
I got an evening train out to Worcester where Steve Hall picked me up and headed out to Holden. Haven't seen Steve in years and it was great to catch up.
Holden, United States
Headed to the Miss Worcester diner for what ended up being lunch more than breakfast. Not a looker from the outside it was really quite cool on the inside with bar stools and booths to choose between. Steve had found it some list of “diners to visit before you die”.
After we headed out to Mt Wachusett for a bit of a hike. Steve was apparently still feeling the beers from the night before and the climb almost killed him so we had an easy walk back. Was a nice day for it.
In the evening we headed back into Worcester to Armsby Abbey where they had a wide selection of beers including a number of Belgium ones. A few beers and bites at the bar was a nice way to finish things up.
Cape Cod, United States
I decided to head down to Cape Cod even though the accommodation was horribly priced with it being the weekend and almost the end of summer. Tried out a diner in Holden with Steve before he dropped me at the train station in Worcester.
From Worcester I took the train into Boston then changed for a bus to Hyannis. It showed up half an hour late, then took even longer to actually get there but eventually we arrived. The motel I was staying in was only about 3km up the road so I decided to walk there. It was doable but not pleasant and finding a break in the traffic to cross the road wasn't easy. Not really designed for foot traffic.
The motel was very average, especially considering the price. Grabbed a bite at a local joint around the corner that served ok pizza then it was time to get some sleep.
Martha's Vineyard, Cape Cod, United States
I took the ferry across to Martha's Vineyard, one of the two islands off the coast (the other being Nantucket). It's quite a touristy joint but was fun and I can see why people like taking their holidays out here.
I didn't have any destination in mind when I decided to come out here so jumped on the bus to Edgartown and Bad Martha's brewery; I'd had one of the Bad Martha beers on my first night on Holden and took the opportunity to try out the rest. It was a nice setting and a hot day so it was a pleasant way to pass a couple of hours.
I walked halfway back from Edgartown to Oyster Bluff along Ocean Rd. It's mainly along a long, narrow, sand spit that was lined with the cars of people enjoying the sun and sand. At “Jaws Bridge” I jumped back on the bus as it was getting cloudy and my ferry was heading back soon.
Back in Hyannis I tried out the local Clam Chowder and some fresh seafood before heading back to the motel for an early night.
+22/08/2016Amtrak: Boston to New York
Boston, United States
I got an early bus from Hyannis to Boston as the late departure and arrival of the bus on the way down had me a bit wary. It was over half an late getting in, but I’d given myself so much time that I had well over an hour to kill which I did by relaxing in a deck chair in the garden across from the station.
The Amtrak train was much more comfortable than I was expecting, big comfy seats with decent enough leg room. The four hour trip south was really enjoyable and the views along the coast were stunning. Lots of bays, big houses, white sand beaches and rocky outcrops.
Arriving in New York was straight forward, I was staying less than three kilometres from the station so decided to walk up. No where near as scary I feared it might be, though with all the lights at street crossings it took longer than I’d expected. After settling in I grabbed some beers and food and a bar down the road and spent a couple of hours in the fading sun people watching.
+23/08/2016One World Trade Centre
New York, United States
I headed down West 57th Street to the Hudson river then walked South for an hour or two until I found a waffle stand and had a late lunch. It was a beautiful sunny day and a nice day to walk.
Eventually I made it down to Battery Point and went up the One World Trade Centre. It’s impressively done, the lift is super fast and they have screens on the walls that give you images of Manhattan changing over time as you shoot upwards. At the top there’s a bit of a presentation about New York with a dramatic reveal of the city below at the end, then you walk around the observation deck as long as you want. Since it was a sunny day the views were spectacular.
Following this I headed down to the 9/11 Memorials which are really quite impressive and then visited the Museum which is quite a moving experience. It’s all rather well done and worth a visit.
From there I headed to the bottom of Battery Point and had a couple of beers out in the Sun. There was a bit of drama when about 20 firefighters rocked up with a bunch of kit but after looking out into the harbour for about ten minutes they all wandered off.
I had plans to walk across the Brooklyn bridge but it was getting on so I decided to leave that until later and headed into Chinatown to grab a meal. It seems like a cool area but I guess if you’ve visited Asia a bit then it’s not that exotic.
From there I walked back up through the centre of Manhattan on a slight diagonal, passing by the Flat Iron building and through Time Square just as it was getting dark.
New York, United States
I headed across to the East side, crossing the bottom of Central Park and stopping at the Apple Store on 5th Avenue. The walk down was more mixed up than down the Hudson, some decent parks broken up by stretches that were either work in progress or quite industrial. I passed the UN building from a distance and found out that it seems to be this stretch of river that seaplanes land along.
When I reached the Manhattan Bridge I headed into Chinatown again to find the access point then walked across. The views were impressive and there wasn't much traffic as it's the least popular crossing. I walked down to the river where the views across to Manhattan were fantastic. I grabbed a hotdog and a couple of beers at Buzz Bar while I enjoyed the view of lower Manhattan across the river. It was a good spot to people watch with ferries coming in and out and at one point a wedding party with a photographer who clearly had a pretty good opinion of himself and quite possibly lived up to it.
I crossed back over the Brooklyn Bridge, the more popular and admittedly more impressive crossing. It's a much more beautiful structure and I'll have to delete a bunch of photos as after a couple of beers I may have got a bit excessive. From there I headed up to the high line, a park built over an old raised rail system and stopped for a couple more beers in the evening sun.
New York, United States
Quiet day today, taking a bit of a break from being a tourist though I did explore the Southern tip of Central Park. Went out to Cinemas 1, 2, 3 to watch Suicide Squad which missed the mark but wasn't as bad as I'd heard. Besides that got some laundry done and started organising photos, which is going to be a long ongoing task as I'm still catching up on Jordan.
+26/08/2016Empire State Building
New York, United States
I was focused on the busier central part of Manhattan today and I didn't enjoy it as much. My first destination was the Empire State Building and the lines were long and slow. The views at the top were fine but also pretty crowded. I had an idea beforehand that it wouldn't be as good as One World Trade Centre but it's iconic and even though I didn't enjoy it particularly, still glad I visited.
Next stop was Grand Central Station, impressive building but pretty packed as well. Hit a burger and bar place for lunch then made my way up to MOMA. I was pretty underwhelmed with what was on display, a couple of pieces caught my interest but mostly it did nothing for me.
So I escaped the busy streets and headed to Central Park; busy enough itself but somewhere I could find a bit of grass to sit in the sun and chill for a while.
+27/08/2016The MET and Museum of Natural History
New York, United States
I walked a couple of blocks down to the Hudson again but this time headed north, eventually making my way up to Riverbank State Park which is built on top of the sewerage processing plant. Sadly the park is a bit rundown but the walk up was great. There was a section near the start with some cool artistic monuments and the path was packed with people running on cycling on their Saturday morning.
I grabbed some sushi for lunch from Fairway Market then made my way through Harlem to the Northern part of Central Park. I wandered down, skirting the reservoir until I hit my first museum.
The American Museum of Natural History was impressive. It's just really well done, the life size model of the Blue Whale and the huge dinosaur skeleton with the head poking out the door are hard to miss. The Big Bang exhibition, a video lasting less than 4 minutes, really great gives you an idea of the crazy scale of the universe, though it's too big to grasp as it keeps expanding. I really enjoyed the North American mammals exhibit, the size of the Moose, Bears and Bison are really quite daunting.
From there I headed across to the other side of Central Park and the MET. It's a big place and they had an exhibit full of dresses at the start that put me off until I hit the Modern and Contemporary art gallery that I really enjoyed. The rest was a bit of a mixed bag and I was running out of steam so it was a bit rushed.
From there I made my way back, grabbing a burger and beers in Upper West Side before crashing early for my early morning train to Montreal.
+28/08/2016Amtrak: New York to Montreal
New York, United States
I was up at 6:30 to make sure I got down to Penn Station in time for my 8:15 train. I walked down as I figured I had heaps of time to find a long line for the 69 train to Montreal. Seating is guaranteed so not an issue but a bit of a surprise nonetheless. If heading to Canada you had to checkin so they could verify you had ID but we also got boarded first.
I hadn't checked what was the best side to sit on and randomly chose the right. This turned out to be the wrong choice as the train goes up the Hudson and the views were all on the left. And they were quite impressive too. However I found the dining carriage to be almost empty when I went to get a bite for breakfast so snagged a table on the left hand side where I could get an interrupted view of life on the river as we cruised along.
Halfway up it all changed, with views of Lake Champlain on the right hand side so I retired back to my seat to enjoy. The guy who'd been next to me had now moved so I had room to spread as well.
At 4pm we hit the boarder and by 5pm we seemed done but waited the scheduled two hours, not leaving until 6pm. The Canadian side was much flatter with corn field fields as far as you could see and the weather turned for the worse with rain and thunderstorms. This all cleared by the time we reached Montreal though and walking to the Condo I'm staying in was easy.
The first impression of Montreal from the train wasn't great, passing through miles of large blockish houses, but when we crossed the river into Montreal proper it was much more appealing. I wandered along streets of restaurants and there seemed to be Uni students everywhere, I'd guess first years getting into the swing of things from what I saw.
I headed to Mount Royal which is a small hill near the city centre that provides a decent view over Montreal. It's covered in a variety of tracks but I managed to find one that it quickly became apparent wasn't official. Halfway up I was scrambling up a rock face that I had no intention of going back down. Once I reached the top however I could see a fence on the rise above but there was also a dirt track along the top of the rocks which I followed and that led to a break in the fence that I quickly scrambled over. I wasn't far from the summit now but it was hard to get a view of the city as the trees everywhere blocking the view. Descending the other side, down a more official dirt track, I got to the Chalet du Mont-Royal which had a packed terrace with a decent view.
From there I headed down into Montreal and made my way down to the old town. A late lunch and a couple of beers later I bailed on the rest walk I had planned across to the islands and called it a day mid afternoon.
I did the walk I'd bailed on yesterday and given that it turned out to be a 25km I made the right choice the day before.
I headed down to La Fontaine Park first as it was nearby but it was just an average suburban park. From there I headed to Jacques Cartier bridge, a major thoroughfare across the river but one with a well separated path for pedestrians and cyclists. It's a pretty high structure and the path had high steel fences to prevent jumpers which apparently have been an issue in the past.
This took me out to Parc Jean-Drapeau, a park covering two islands in the St Lawrence river that were used for the Olympics and where the Canadian GP circuit lives. You also find the Biosphere Environmental Museum here, which I didn't enter but is a rather cool structure to photograph.
It's on the second island that the Gilles-Villeneuve Circuit lives and you can walk around the entire track, which I of course did. They divide the track so that cars drive on the inside and pedestrians go around the outside. It seems to be a pretty popular spot for cyclists, some clearly tourists while others were taking it more seriously and using the circuit for training. It has some mighty long straights.
Once I'd completed my loop I headed back to the first island then exited via the Pont de la Concorde on the Southern end. This took me back to Montreal through a rather industrial part of town, with a section where I was walking along the cycle lane closer to the traffic than I liked. It wasn't long until I was back in the city centre though, starting in the Old Port section before getting to old town and passing the Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal on my way back to the Condo.
Quebec City, Canada
I've bought a rail pass for the Quebec City/Windsor corridor which gives me 7 trips in the next 3 weeks. I'm planning to use six of these in the next week or so before heading back into the US. The first has taken me from Montreal up to Quebec City and I'll use the rest on my way back down to Windsor, including a return trip to Niagara Falls.
I got into Quebec just after midday and checked into my Airbnb. It's not the nicest place I've ever stayed in but cheap, close to the station and the host is an Indian guy who's really helpful.
I grabbed a mid afternoon lunch then made my way around the harbour. I had a plan to make my down to the bottom of Battlefield Park but found that there's a cliff face almost the entire way down and looking at the map showed no crossings apart from one I'd just managed to bypass. Backtracking I hiked up the stairs, 396 based on the numbers that someone's inscribed on each step, then along the Promenade following the top of the cliff back into Old Town.
Old Town is quite picturesque but very touristy. It looks like they have cruise ships come into the harbour and it seems very much set up for that; or maybe it's just touristy in general as there were a lot of hotels as well. It's all very convenient though and easy to explore and get a drink or bite to eat. It's certainly colder than what I've experienced so far with a bit of a breeze in the evening cooling things down.
Quebec City, Canada
In the morning I bought a bus pass and headed just North of Quebec City to Montmorency Falls. It's a decent waterfall (and I'm not generally impressed by them) and they've built a path down the cliff so that you can walk down and explore the bottom. There's also a cable car you can take back up but I opted to give my legs a workout by climbing back up.
I got the bus back into town and grabbed some lunch before my making my way to the Citadel on the cliff overlooking the river. They're doing a bunch of work on it currently so can't explore it but you can walk around the wall surrounding it and old town. From here I made my way down Battery Park, finding that there's a pedestrian path at the bottom down to road below that I probably could have made use of yesterday. The walk is quite industrial though and along the road rather than the river so I didn't miss much. The walk along the top though was great, a dirt track along the cliff top through the trees covering the hillside.
To finish my day I then made my way across town to the St Charles River which I followed back into town.
A beautiful cloudless sky after two cloudy days in Quebec City. My train left at 8 but the station was an easy walk from where I'm staying. It's going to take almost 6 hours to get to Ottawa and seems like the train will pass back through Montreal.
The station in Ottawa is a bit far from the centre and while the walk in mostly follows the river it isn't fantastic. In the centre the main attractions are the parliament buildings and park. They're quite impressive and have a nice setting along the riverside.
I grabbed a bite to eat and some beers at the Lowertown Brewery before heading back to my accommodation near the station. There's a Walmart superstore nearby that I had to check out but it was pretty mundane, will be interesting to see if the US version lives up to expectations.
Another morning train, this time at the more reasonable time of 9am, and a 6hr ride to Toronto. Views of mostly farm land along the way with glimpses of Lake Ontario as we approached Toronto.
Finding my Airbnb was easy, getting in a bit trickier. I'd been offline when the guy messaged me an hour before to contact his flatmate so had no luck buzzing the apartment. There was a restaurant with wifi across the way though so I grabbed food and a beer and an hour later had managed to organise access.
It was a gorgeous day so I explored the waterfront which was packed with people enjoying a long weekend. It's quite nicely done with small parks, open air theatres, a mini beach for sunbathing and water taxis coming and going all over the place. The restaurants and bars were packed with long lines outside so I found a place closer to home in the evening.
I headed to the CN Tower in the morning. After New York I really don't need to be forking out to go up another high building but it dominates the skyline in Toronto and the sky was sunny and clear. Getting up didn't involve too long a wait, probably helped by the fact that I got there before 10am so was quite early. The views were good, it's a larger city than I realised, has a lot of big green patches where parks are and a number of tall buildings dotted about. The harbour and the islands that ring it were the most attractive part of the view.
Following the towers I intended to walk West around the coast line further but when I was passing the Tiki Taxi stand changed my mind last minute and got a ride out to the islands. The lines were way shorter as it was before midday and I was able to jump on straight away.
The islands are quite cool. They're covered mostly in a park and you have a number of white sand beaches along the outer shore. Parts are certainly a little too touristy, namely the rides in the centre, but it's a fun destination and on a sunny public holiday it was packed with people having a good time. There was also an air show on for Labour Day, with a variety of planes taking off from the airport on the southern tip of the island all day.
The ride back over was a little longer as I'd walked around to the other side but there was ice cream when I landed back in Toronto which I'd been picturing for the last hour or so.
I caught up with Jessica in the evening, a local girl I met in Jordan a couple of months ago. Nice way to end the evening with good food and good company.
Niagara Falls, Canada
Got the train down to Niagara Falls which turned out to be the Amtrak service to New York. The walk down to the falls from the station followed the river and apart from the humidity was nice.
I jumped on the Hornblower boat that is the Canadian equivalent of the American sides Maid of the Mist. We passed the American falls first then went into the middle of the Canadian horseshoe where you get soaked from the water blasting up the middle. It's a fun ride and gets you up close and personal with the falls.
Grabbed a bite to eat at the top of the falls then did the Journey Behind the Falls. This takes you down to a tunnel they've drilled out behind the falls and gives you a side on view as well as glimpses from behind the falls themselves. It was OK but not as fun as the boat ride as you're basically just walking along a damp tunnel and the views from behind a just a wall of water cascading down.
I had a train booked back but it was quite late and there seemed to be a good chance that it'd be delayed from my experience with Amtrak and VIA so far; so I jumped on a Greyhound bus back into Toronto which while more cramped had the advantage of being earlier and on time.
I got a 6:45 train from Toronto to Windsor. I'd originally planned to pass straight through but it turned out Mike, a guy I work with at Spindrift, was in town visiting his parents.
Windsor itself is a small town with not a great deal going on. It was actually nice to see a different side from the big cities I've visited so far; the counter is that there's not a great deal to see. I checked out the Sculpture Park down by the river which itself wasn't spectacular but offered a great view of Detroit across the river.
Caught up with Mike at his parents place out in Tecumseh for a barbecue in the evening. Weather wasn't perfect but it made for a nice change and was great to chill out for an evening by the pool with a few beers.
Detroit, United States
I'd planned to take the bus over the border crossing but Mike and his mate Chris gave me a ride over and showed me some of the sites. The border crossing was actually really easy, a few questions about my plans then we were through.
First stop was the Heidelberg Project, a collection of sculptures made out of trash and a few painted old buildings. Apparently it used to take up the whole street but the authorities have cracked down on it and a number of the remaining buildings have burned down as well. It's still an interesting site to wander around though some of the stuff is bizarre, especially the number of freaky looking dolls.
From there we headed to the Eastern Market to check out some of the graffitied walls that seem to abound in Detroit before getting to the Michigan Building. This was really cool, it featured in the movie 8 Mile and is an old theatre that's been converted into a car park of all things. It's a bit sad just how deteriorated it is, and you wonder how much of the ceiling must drop onto the cars below occasionally, but it's a fascinating place to visit.
Lunch was apparently an authentic Detroit experience, Coney Island hotdog and chilli fries at Lafayette Coney Island. Mike and Chris seemed pretty keen to go here and it's a cool old joint.
We tried to go up the GM Renaissance Centre but it didn't open until later in the day so Mike and Chris headed back to Canada and I checked into my Airbnb by the station and checked out the local scene in the evening.
The Motown Museum was opposite where I was staying so I checked it out in the afternoon. Never realised it was a label and that so much of the iconic music I know from then was under that label; I'd certainly never realised it started in Detroit and was short for motor town though once you know it makes a lot of sense.
Chicago, United States
Really early train this morning at 5:58 and my first time zone change. Got in before 11 and was able to check in to my hostel and go exploring.
The hostel is in the middle of town so I headed straight out to the bean which must be the most famous Chicago site. It's a giant silver monument shaped as a bean that gives you great reflections of the skyline and people around. It's surrounded by people taking photos of themselves, which is impossible not to do with the cool reflections that the warped shape of the bean offers. Officially named the Cloud Gate, The Bean is a much more apt description if not as colourful.
From there I walked up to Navy Pier which is a touristy strip out along a pier then walked down along the waterfront to the Adler Planetarium. This was closing about this time but as I didn't have any intention to go in that was fine. It was also at this time that the rain that had been threatening all afternoon finally arrived. I was feeling knackered at this point anyway, the last week has been packed, so I headed back to the hostel for a quick nap before venturing out in the evening to check out the local bars.
+10/09/2016Amtrak: Chicago to Denver
Denver, United States
Walked downtown for a bit then checked out The Art Institute of Chicago. Quite a few cool works here as well as some really famous pieces. I enjoyed the Modern, Surreal and Impressionist sections the most, a bit of a trend for me really.
At 2pm I was onboard the Californian Zephyr on its way to Emeryville in CA, though I'm only going as far as Denver for now. After I was able to get a window seat spend most of the time in the observatory car which has large windows in the ceilings and walls as well as chairs that spin 360 to give you great views.
+11/09/2016Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park, United States
My last minute planning bit me in the arse today. Arrived in Denver before 8am and set off to find a car only to find that apparently every rental place was fully booked. I eventually found a SUV that was available, though for much more than I really wanted to pay. It was only for two days though and I really wanted to get some hiking in so I went for it.
I chose Hanging Lakes as my destination after a quick Google threw it up as a popular hike. It was a two and half hour drive west of Denver along the Interstate 70, quite a pleasant drive through the mountains, but on arrival I found the car park was full and they were turning people away. Turns out it's Sunday (who knew) and the locals were out in force enjoying their weekend. So now I was in the middle of nowhere, hungry and with no idea where to go.
Lunch was quickly resolved at a stop on the way back to Denver and after looking at the map I decided to take a more scenic route back, even if there was no time to hike now. My scenic drive started along a loose windy road following a river before a more sedate stretch then a drive through Rocky Mountain National Park. This was really cool, beautiful scenery and a smooth windy road to cruise along. The Aspens are starting to colour for autumn and the woods seemed to be packed with deer. It was a really fun drive and made up for the missed hike.
I wound up in Boulder after 7pm and managed to find a last minute Airbnb. Going to try planning a bit further ahead for a while now, today was a pain trying to organise so last minute.
Boulder, United States
I managed a couple of little hikes around Boulder today.
The first was up Mount Sanitas on the outskirts of Boulder that provided a great view of the plains as the city sits at the feet of the Mountains that rear up here. This was straight up and was tough work, the altitude of the area making it a bit harder than normal. I also haven't encountered any real uphill so far on this trip so it was certainly a bit of a shock to the system.
The second was up to Royal Arch, a natural arch found half way up a cliff face. Again of lot of steps going up and I was stuffed by the end. By this time it was mid afternoon and with cloud and rain coming in I called quits on anymore hiking. Given how much air I was sucking in going up the last climbs there wasn't really another option :)
I drove back up into the mountains for the late evening through a cool gorge to a little town called Nederland whose primary existence seemed to be selling weed and alcohol from what I saw on my brief visit. I then headed up North and completed a loop back to Boulder for an early night.
Denver, United States
I had a quite day in Denver getting in some laundry and Internet before catching up with Lena in the evening. Lena's a girl I met on my India trip last year who lives in Denver and it was a nice chilled evening catching up.
+14/09/2016Amtrak: Denver to Salt Lake City
Salt Lake City, United States
I'd caught up with Lena yesterday, a girl I met on my trip round India and who lives in Denver. After a good evening with plenty of drink I was up early to catch the 8am Amtrak to Salt Lake City.
This train ride was spectacular. After leaving Denver we climbed up into the Mountains where we were spoilt with fantastic scenery as the line winded it's way through narrow gorges and meandered by rivers full of fishermen and rafters.
Eventually we exited the mountains (after passing by the Hanging Lakes parking lot which was only half full!) and entered flatter terrain. This was still spectacular though, as the ground is broken up with eroding cliff faces all over the place. It's a land that seems to be in decay as it's slowly being worn down. Such a contrast to the mountains but beautiful in its own way.
West Yellowstone, United States
I was out of Salt Lake City nice and early, it really didn't seem to have much to offer and I had a long drive ahead of me. I asked Google Nav to avoid tolls and motorways which added about an extra 2 or 3 hours to the drive but made the passage a bit more interesting. It was a mixed bag though, sometimes clear roads and pretty countryside, other times boring sections of the larger towns or traffic filled roads.
The road got more enjoyable the further north I went, less suburbia, more national parks and farmland and the weather even joined in on the act. The result was a long but ultimately enjoyable drive landing me in the weird little town of West Yellowstone. It's a really touristy joint but has a temporary feel to it as well in some way, I suspect mainly because of the seasonal nature of the place.
I'm staying in a cabin at a campsite/RV park, a small little affair that gives me a place to crash and a little civilisation before I try camping in Yellowstone.
Yellowstone, United States
I was up before 8 to a freezing morning, it had gone down to -2 overnight, which will make camping interesting. Sleeping bag is warm enough and I didn't have any heating in the cabin so hopefully my little tent will be fine.
The entrance to the park was really close, I was there in 5 minutes and into Yellowstone in no time. It was a misty morning and you could see steam rising of the lakes as you drove past.
At Maddison I headed north, the road at Morris was closed so I headed on to Canyon to take the other northern route. It was on the road north of Canyon that I came across my first bears, three black bears doing their thing at different points along the road with a gaggle of tourists by the roadside taking photos that I joined. These guys seemed quite used to humans being around but it was still cool to see them in the wild doing there thing.
I then headed out to Lamar Valley which was full of Bison before heading back to the other side and checking out Mammoth Springs. From there it was a drive back through Canyon then down along the lake, with plenty of Bison and deer along the way, to Grant where I'm camping for the night.
Yellowstone, United States
Well it was unpleasantly cold overnight but I managed to sleep in some fashion until 7 in the morning. Leaving the tent made me realise it did actually keep some heat in because god it was freezing. My hands went numb just packing stuff away.
My plan to today was to check out some of the thermal activity and to squeeze a hike in.
My first stop Old Faithful, a geyser that erupts every 90 minutes in impressive fashion. It was about 5 minutes behind schedule when I was there but did indeed go off roughly on time, shooting water about 20m for a minute or so. Enough time to get in plenty of videos and a quick video anyway. I then wandered around some of the walks nearby and other geysers that worked to their own more erratic schedules.
My second stop was the Grand Prismatic Pool, the one you see all fantastically colourful aerial shots of. From ground level it's still beautiful but the steam, along with the wind blowing it directly over the viewing platform, made it hard to get any really great photos.
Next up was a short 10km hike to Shoshone Lake. This was a pleasant wander through pine forest with yellow green grass and for the second part the path skirted the forest and a meadow to the lake. The highlight was seeing a Giant Snowy Owl on a tree stump on the way in and again on a fallen tree on the way out.
To stick with my thermal theme I drove up to the top of Yellowstone Lake to check out a few thermal sites I'd passed on the way yesterday evening. Coming from NZ a few pools of boiling mud and water didn't engender a lot of wonder and the dotes at Old Faithful were much more impressive. Still a nice relaxed stop to end the day.
Hopefully the fact that it's clouded over tonight will mean it won't get as cold but I don't hold much hope.
Yellowstone has totally lived up to expectations. I didn't see any wolves, elk or moose but, I saw plenty of Bison, the three black bears and that huge owl. The thermal sites were impressive and it's the scale and variety of them that makes them incredible.
+18/09/2016Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton National Park, United States
I was up before 7 after what was a much warmer night. I packed up my tent and headed South towards Grand Teton National Park. There were a lot pines trees along the way but also a lake and a narrow gorge to make the drive a bit more interesting.
In Grand Teton I chose to follow the Teton Park Rd which takes you closer to the mountains and lakes. Up near the border with Yellowstone the roads were bordered with patches of burnt trees from the fire that had closed the road a few days earlier with even the occasional smoke stain across the road. Along the Teton Park Rd the scenery was pristine with the mountains across the lake dominating.
I finished my route along the Moose-Wilson Rd and finally spotted some moose, if in sub par circumstances. The bull was sitting in long grass and you could only see his antlers move occasionally, the calf was buried in the middle of a bush and the cow was wandering around in shoulder high grass in the background. Even so I was happy to have come across them at the end.
I lunched at Jackson, having a bison burger which went down rather well, mainly because of the BBQ sauce; the meat on its own tasted just fine as well. From there I headed across the hills to a the outskirts of a little town called Victor where I'm staying the night
Salt Lake City, United States
I had the car until 17:30 so took the longer scenic route back to Salt Lake City, heading South East to Flaming Gorge. Definitely a bit out of the way but it was a great drive.
From Jackson I headed south, following a beautiful scenic gorge for about an hour until it opened up into rolling hills for a couple of hours before I hit Flaming Gorge National Park. This was a really quiet drive and while quite stark actually varied and beautiful at the same time. Another two hours and I was through and had to boot it along the highway for a couple more hours to drop off the car in Salt Lake City.
From here I have a 6 hour wait until my train this evening. It's a beautiful sunny day so it shouldn't to be onerous and I've booked a sleeper cabin for my last Amtrak leg which at this point seems like a brilliant idea as I'm absolutely stuffed.
+20/09/2016Amtrak: Salt Lake City to San Francisco
San Fransisco, United States
The sleeper was a great choice, I had a two berth to myself and fell asleep on my bed watching the moonlit night scape blur by and woke to the sun colouring the horizon.
We arrived pretty much on time then got the free transfer bus from Emeryville into San Francisco. The bus driver was a bit of a surly chap who seemed to assume you should know everything and wasn't keen to share. I got off in the Financial District and walked down to my hostel near Union Square.
The guy I'd roomed with in Jordan a couple of months ago wanted to catch up around “8ish”, which got pushed back to 21:15 then he eventually rocked up at about half ten. Not totally unexpected to be honest and he shouted me a couple of pints and it's always nice to see a friendly face.
San Leandro, United States
I picked up my rental car around the corner in the morning and discovered, when asked for my credit card, that I didn't have it. I realised I must have left it at the Cheesecake Factory the night before when paying the bill so put my car on hold while I went to recover it.
Credit card thankfully back in hand, I headed north out of town over the Golden Gate Bridge. The plan was to visit Muir Wood but the car parks were all packed so I headed down to the Coast and grabbed a nice lunch at Stinson Beach. I took the Panoramic Highway back inland which was a lovely little drive through the woods.
I headed up Grizzly Peak where I walked a couple of tracks before enjoying the spectacular view points at the top of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge.
In the evening I caught up with Michael, a guy I met on my India trip who was giving me a bed to crash on. He was actually heading to India again on Friday to check out the Southern parts and finish the loop. He's been to the Galapagos and Antarctica recently as well so I was keen to get a better idea of what are my next options. Was great to catch up.
El Portal, United States
I headed out towards Yosemite to catch up with Katie, a girl me and my sister met in Ecuador ten years ago when she was starting out in the Peace Corps while Charlotte and myself were volunteering to plant trees. Since then Katie's been working for a non profit in Yosemite and is now planning to convert a van so that she can live in it and travel around the States for a while.
I had to deal with a bit of San Jose traffic in the morning, though I skirted most of it, before getting on a more relaxed route out to El Portal.
Once I'd found Katie's place, not too hard given the size of El Portal, we headed out into Yosemite and the Giant Sequoia grove before a couple of chilled beers in the evening.
Yosemite, United States
Yeah this place is just incredible, lived up to all expectations. We dropped my car near the entrance and Katie drove in to take me on a tour of the sites.
First up was a view of El Capitan then we headed into Yosemite Valley to do one of the best known hikes, Mist Falls. As it's Autumn there's not much water, so the hike was sans the mist, but a couple of falls are still putting on a pretty display. The walk was absolutely beautiful with views of half dome and the valley below. I would have loved to squeeze in a longer hike but just didn't have time.
Katie took me through a cave system she used to take students through near the base of Yosemite Falls. It's not long but there's absolutely no light and I was reliant on her instructions to get through. There was one bit where you had to go feet first over a small rise through quite a tight space that had me wondering if this was such a good idea but it was a fun experience.
We took a walk through the meadow in the middle of the valley that's just beautiful and has been Katie's lunch time walk for the last eight years. Last stop was at the base of El Capitan spotting climbers scaling the cliff face before I picked up my car and headed north.
I took the 120 out of Yosemite, heading East for a couple of hours before exiting the park and heading north. First I had fish tacos at the Mobil station that Katie had recommended then had a night drive up to South Lake Tahoe. The drive out of the park was spectacular, the view of half dome from the other side especially worthwhile.
Klamath Falls, United States
My destination is Crater Lake but today was all about moving from A to B. The morning was a boring couple of hours along motorways before I switched onto 139 North. This involves a mixed range of territory, starting with a winding road through pine covered hills into long straits through similar terrain before the forest faded away and I was eventually in farm land and Oregon.
Klamath Falls itself isn't particularly special as a destination but my motel is right next to Klamath Basin Brewing, a nice little micro brewery with a decent selection of beers. So it's an early evening in the beer garden before heading out to Crater Lake in the morning.
Crater Lake, United States
It was an easy drive up to Crater Lake which was just spectacular. I did the hike up to Garfield Peak first which offered incredible views over the lake that just seemed to improve the higher I got.
I then drove halfway around the Crater rim to the Cleetwood Clove Trail that descends to the Crater bottom. There was a sign saying it was closed because of the road works but given it was Sunday and the path was fine headed down anyway. As there was almost no one around couldn't resist a quick dip in the water which was freezing, before tackling the climb back up.
I headed out to the Pinnacles which are dirt spires sticking up along the valley edge before existing the Park for a gorgeous drive through the pine forest. The evening sun was drifting through the trees leaving me with a lovely drive.
I stopped at Grants Pass after deciding Medford wasn't that appealing and found a cool little bar around the corner from my motel.
Fort Bragg, California, United States
Today was all about Redwoods. I headed towards the coast and entered the Redwood National and State Parks. First stop was Stout Grove for a wander around some of the giants then a fun little drive along the dusty Howland Hill Rd back to the main highway.
I grabbed some lunch in Crescent City then it was off down the Redwood Highway. This follows the coast and takes you through a number of national parks whose Redwoods tower beside the motorway. As I got further south I changed over to the Avenue of Giants which parallels the motorway but gives you a more intimate and scenic drive with only a lane each way so the trees tower over the road. Absolutely stunning and a fun windy road to drive along.
The last stop was at Leggett where they've cut a hole in the bottom of a living Redwood and you can drive your car through it. It cost $5 but was totally worth it, even in the rubbish little Kia Rio I'm renting.
From there I jumped onto California 1 and hit the coast just as the sun was setting. This led to a gorgeous wee drive to Fort Bragg where I'm staying the night and plan to visit the glass beach in the morning.
Monterrey, United States
The morning was foggy, like really foggy, and with the tide high I didn't find anything worthwhile to look at at the Glass Beach. So I grabbed breakfast at Denny's; eggs, bacon and pancakes. By the time I'd finished it had actually cleared and a walk in the other direction at the beach and I found the glass. Pretty, though they say only a fraction is left of what used to be there from tourists carrying samples away.
From there it was a long drive down to San Fransisco along the coast. A really fun drive along the windy California 1 though annoying stretches of slow traffic at times. The fog was hugging the coast the entire day and I drifted in and out of it as I made my way down. At San Francisco the fog was rolling in over the Golden Gate Bridge, making me regret not getting photos when I crossed a week earlier and it was sunny. Still cool to get a different perspective with the fog and maybe I'll get another chance on my tour next week.
I grabbed Pizza at a place in Santa Cruz that had been recommended then found a motel in Monterrey to stay the night. So a long full days drive that didn't get me as far as I'd originally expected but the nature of the road that caused that also made it fun.
+28/09/2016The Pacific Coast Highway
Irvine, United States
I left before 9 as the fog seemed to be retreating and found an hour of sun driving down the coast before the fog rolled back inland. The Pacific Coast Highway which I drove stretches from Monterey where I stayed the night down to Morro Bay. I wasn't too upset by the fog, as at this point I'm more interested in the drive and will be coming back through the area in a few days on my organised tour; so hopefully I'll get to see all the sights in glorious sunshine then. I did fit in stops to see Bixby Creek Bridge in the sun and the Elephant Seals in the fog.
I dropped in to San Luis Obispo to check out Bubblegum Alley, an alleyway lined with chewed gum, then grabbed lunch down at Splash Cafe in Pismo Beach on the coast. A bit foggy still but had a nice clam chowder down on the pier.
From there I booted it down to Irvine on the other side of LA to catch up with Gerald, an ex colleague who put me up for the night. 5 ½ hours to cover 350km, I got to experience the joy of LA rush hour traffic, something I'll happily never do again.