Saturday, June 23, 2012

Grand Canyon

Woops. The last blog was accidently published before we had finished it. We have found it helps to get the photos in place, then write about them. Someone (who will remain nameless) hit the publish button.

After hearing about the 6 hours bus trip each way we decided the best way to go to the Grand Canyon was to fly there. How right we were. We have heard a lot of people using the word “awesome” on this trip, but the Grand Canyon truly is and the flight over it gave us a fantastic opportunity to get some idea of its size and grandeur. The part that can be seen from the South Rim is just a fraction of the whole.

We flew over the Hoover Dam on the way. Lake Mead, behind the dam, extends for over a hundred miles. We managed to get a shot of the Skywalk as we flew over the West Rim.

Our tour guide at the canyon gave us an interesting photography lesson. He explained how to take photos using edges to give some idea of the perspective and depth of what we were photographing.

It was a fantastic way to spend Peter’s birthday. One he will remember for a long time.

The Grand Canyon















Las Vegas

We had the morning in Visalia before our flight. Claire had spotted a store called Beverly’s Fabrics and wanted to investigate. She hit the jackpot, fabric she wanted and the prices were so cheap in comparison to Australia. We now have a weight problem with our luggage for the trip back home even though we brought some carry-on luggage as well.

The only airline operating out of Visalia was Great Lakes Airlines. Of all the people we encountered in our travels nobody had heard of them, which was a little worrying (though Claire reckoned they would have heard of them if they had crashed). The plane was a very small old twin engine propeller job. That’s the pilots instrument panel you can see at the end of the corridor.Las Vegas Peter 13-6-12 015

The flight over the mountains to Las Vegas was not smooth but interesting. Claire’s colour at the end of the flight did contain a hint of green. On the eastern side of the mountains we encountered a barren desert landscape but every now and then these strange circles of some crop. Somehow they had found water to irrigate these circles of something.

Las Vegas Peter 13-6-12 023

We landed in Vegas, made our way to the hotel and went in search of the Grand Canyon tour we wanted to do. I turned out if we wanted to do the tour the next day we would have to get moving at 4.00am. So we booked for a reasonable time the following day, giving us the rest of the evening and one full day to explore Vegas.

What a town, full of all sorts of people, some weird and the super weird. Enormous casinos themed in all sorts of ways. The first night we didn’t stray too far but made up for it by staying out all of the next day. It was incredibly hot so that we found ourselves exploring a number of casinos from the inside working our way along the strip only ducking out into the sun for short periods. The following pictures are a small selection of what we found.

Inside the Venetian.


The Palazzo.


Inside Caesars Palace.


The Fountains at the Bellagio.




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We did gamble, well Peter mainly. He won a little on the first night and then while we were visiting some of the venues the next day tried his luck on a few of the craps tables for $20-40  each. On one occasion turning $20 into $300. Over the next few days giving it back slowly. We ended up under a hundred dollars down for the full visit. Not bad.

Certainly an interesting place, but not one we feel the need to visit again.

Sequoia National Park

As you can see from the previous post it was not an easy trip to get to the park, but it was entirely worth it.

The Sequoia Park shuttle picked us up and dropped us off at the hotel. It was a one and half hour trip each way to the park and there were free shuttles to take you around the various main attractions all for $15 each. It didn’t make sense until our driver, Ralph, explained that the Federal and State governments realised that the multitude of cars visiting the attraction was actually damaging the trees so that the shuttle service is subsidised to encourage people not to drive around the park. Ralph had lots of interesting stories about the history of the sequoias and the park.

When we entered the Forest of Giants we started to see the giant trees. The first ones we saw looked huge, but as we got further in we realised they were only young trees.


When dropped of at the visitor centre we were confronted with the tree in the photo below. A sign near this tree explained that this was a very average example of a sequoia.


After a brief visit to the museum we chose not to catch the shuttle to the next attraction but to follow a 2km walk through the forest up to Hanging Rock and Moro Rock. No, Peter didn’t manage to push the rock over the edge. While you can’t see it from the photo the drop off the ledge just off to the left side of the hanging rock was about 1000 feet straight down.


The next photo is taken from Hanging Rock up to Moro Rock which is 4000 feet above the valley floor (only slightly less than the drop to the valley floor at the grand canyon). It’s difficult to see in this picture but the tiny little dots at the top on the right hand side are people. We were going to climb up there.



So here were are at the top appearing as two tiny dots to the people at Hanging Rock. We should have taken the shuttle to save our legs for the climb.


From the pictures of these magnificent specimens it’s difficult to get an idea of the size of them. This tree below was not cordoned off so Claire could get close and give you an idea of the size. My guess is that this tree was about 7/10th of the size of the General Sherman.


This is the General Sherman tree and we are standing about 20 metres in front of it, so it does not quite do it justice. It is estimated to be about 3000 years old and is the largest tree, by volume, on the planet.


There are lots of fallen trees, that are left where they fell. Many have tunnels cut into them.


We had a wonderful day exploring the park. The US National Parks that we have visited are very well run.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

When Peter started planning this trip he found that there were quite a few places that we wanted to visit that were difficult to get to if you didn’t have a car. One of these was Sequoia National Park to see the giant redwoods. He finally found a shuttle that ran from a small town called Visalia. Getting there required a flight from Seattle to Fresno, then an Amtrak train to Hanford and a bus to Visalia.

We left our Bellevue hotel in beautiful sunny weather, walking to the Transit Centre. We took this photo to prove that it doesn’t always rain in Seattle.


The shuttle to Sea-Tac (Seattle-Tacoma airport) cost $2.50 for a 45 minute trip. We have found public transport in the US to be very reasonably priced and a great way to get around. The flight to Fresno had us travelling across some very interesting countryside. Just after leaving Seattle we flew past Mt. Rainier.


As we got closer to Fresno the pilot informed us that we were flying over Yosemite National Park.


When we left the airport at Fresno it was like walking into an oven. It was 38 degrees and quite a shock after the low twenties of Seattle. We had an hour wait for the train so we thought we would have a look at downtown Fresno. “A look” was enough. We don’t like to judge a town on a quick look, but downtown Fresno was not very appealing. The train station is usually on the outskirts so we were probably not in the best place. When we got back to the station we were informed that the train was delayed an hour. Luckily there was a bar across the road which served very refreshing lemonade for Claire and beer for Peter.

The train trip to Hanford was a trip through the orchards, market gardens and vineyards of California. We had some time before the bus to Visalia and experienced one of Hanford’s Mexican restaurants, the food was good.

Finally the bus ride to Visalia was similar to the train trip through very fertile territory.

Next day Sequoia national park.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Cruise Summary & Seattle again

It’s hard to find any fault with the Westerdam (Holland America) cruise. The food was outstanding, we both need lots of exercise when we get back home. All sorts of functions were run throughout the day and night. I think we only missed one trivia session and amassed a collection of various paraphernalia by winning more than half a dozen and running no worse than equal second place.

We met lots of people and are great fans of sharing the evening meal with other couples.

Claire saw more of the shows than Peter and enjoyed herself joining Peter in the casino later on.

We thoroughly recommend this cruise to others. But be sure that the trip includes a day in Glacier bay.


Paul and Zoe picked us up from the cruise and we decided that while we were in town we would go to the EMP Museum. The museum has a great mixture of exhibits. Some to do with Seattle’s influence on American music through a impressive range of artists including Jimmy Hendrix and Nirvana. One feature was being able to listen to interviews with various people connected with either the music or the sci-fi and horror movie industries.


There was also a sound lab where you could jam in sound proof rooms or individually learn to play bass, lead guitars, drums etc.

The was a sci-fi and horror exhibition with a good collection of props from the various eras of sci-fi  and horror movies. It also housed a collection of interactive displays where you could interact with your sci-fi fantasies.  Great afternoon.




On Paul and Zoe’s suggestion we all played putt putt golf the next day. It was one of the best putt putt courses Peter had seen. The competition was fierce with Peter winning in the end. It was great to spend time with Paul and Zoe.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Ketchikan and Victoria (again)

A statue of some of the famous/infamous individuals who contributed to Ketchikan.


Ketchikan’s main attraction was the aptly named Creek Street which once housed the many brothels that came into existence during the gold rush. There were a number of famous madams that operated well past the gold rush times who went underground when the brothels were banned. Behind the creek in a wooded area was the married men’s walk which allowed a secretive approach to this infamous service area. This walk now has been widen and sign posted.



Claire managed to find another quilt shop in town and added to her growing stash of Alaskan themed batiks.

Next day we arrived in Victoria at 6.00pm and as we had been there before we decided to walk through Beacon Hill Park again and then walk back into town. Claire was disappointed not to see a raccoon, but she did get a good photo of this squirrel.


We have seen some very unusual buskers in our travels but the violin playing Darth Vader has to be our favourite.


We returned to a pub that we had visited before and listened to a 60’s cover band, then walked back to the ship along a harbour –side path.


Evenings on board the ship were filled with sharing great meals usually with 2 other couples (getting kicked out for enjoying the situation too much), trivia, some shows and we even managed to spend some time in the casino (mainly Peter).

Monday, June 18, 2012


Sitka is another Alaskan town nestled under picturesque snow covered mountain. It’s summer but the snow is still abundant.

The town has a strong Russian presence even today stemming from the days when this was a Russian colonial outpost. The native population, the Tlingit, had several battles with the Russians until the hostilities were finally settled.

The Tlingit culture is very strong in the town and they are proud of their heritage keeping their traditions alive.

We went wandering on our own rather than taking an organised shore excursion. We were going to catch a bus that travelled around the main points of interest, but missed it at the port. By the time we had walked to the next stop we realised that everything was within easy walking distance. We climbed Castle Hill which looks over the town.


We came across a locally run non profit aquarium and salmon hatchery. You were encouraged to touch some of the star fish which seemed a little strange.


The locals told us that  we were very lucky to get a full view of Mount Edgecumbe, the volcano that overlooks the town as it had been obscured by cloud for over a month.


We found the Tlingit cultural museum and totem forest park.



We had a serene walk through the totem park which was located on a peninsular with a fast flowing perfectly clear stream on one side. It would have been great if the salmon were running up stream but it was the wrong time of year.

We even come across our first chipmunk. Claire was very excited but the photo was not great as it scurried off quickly.


Sitka is the location of the Alaskan raptor rehabilitation centre which takes in all sorts of birds injured by cars, plane and gunfire and attempts to get them back into the wild. Some of the birds are so damaged that they must remain at the centre.


While we were there we watched a couple of flightless bald eagles screech out at the circling eagles above.  We thought that they we calling to them but one of the attendants told us that they warning them off their territory.

Peter tried a reindeer hotdog which was excellent however he managed to get mustard on his shirt, pants, socks and shoes. Some things never change.

Overall of the Alaskan towns we visited we both agreed that Sitka was our favourite.