90 Days Traveling the USA: Part Three
For the last portion of our USA summer travels, we flew to the West. Departing Iowa we flew into San Francisco to begin our California experience. We only stayed four nights in San Francisco. It was one of the most expensive cities we visited this summer while we were traveling.
After our flight arrived Friday afternoon we took the train downtown to check into the hotel we were staying at on Market Street. Since we had a late start our first day we decided just to walk to the pier and look around. We stopped in Chinatown, walked up and down the hilly streets and visited the different shops in the famous Pier 39. We also went into the old “Musee Mecanique”, an antique coin operated arcade which was really unique!
It was much colder in San Fransisco than we had anticipated and very windy! It did not feel like July. Before the sun set we decided to walk back to the hotel since it was a far walk from the pier. If you visit San Fransisco and can afford it, I recommend trying to stay closer to the pier unless you like walking up and down hilly roads for a long time.
The next day we woke up early and walked straight to the Golden Gate Bridge. Luckily, the morning was fairly clear of clouds so we could take some decent photos of the bridge! The rest of our time in San Fransisco was quite cloudy so we chose a good day to visit the bridge. We walked across the bridge to the other side while whale watching. There were a lot of whales in the harbor! It took a couple of hours to walk across the bridge, take photos and walk back again, and it was getting increasingly cloudy.
We got a little lost on the bus, but eventually we made it back closer to downtown. We walked down to the harbor, and then visited the SF Railway museum. I’m not usually into museums but I really enjoyed this one! It had a lot of information about the old cable cars of the city and their history. San Fransisco has the world’s last manually operated cable car system. The system runs in the museum.
We also walked all the way up Lombard Street for the view of the city. Lombard Street is famous for its one-block section of eight steep, hairpin turns.
Sunday we walked to the Painted Ladies- San Fransisco’s famous Victorian houses across from Alamo Square Park. We were a little disappointed, but I’m not really sure what we were excepting. After all, they are just houses. There were a bunch of people just taking photos of a row of houses. There was also a lot of construction going on at the time.
We kept walking and ran into a street festival. There was a lot of music, food and some art so we spent a couple of hours there. Following that we continued walking to Japantown where we ate a liquid nitrogen treat called “Dragon’s Breath”.
The next day was 4th of July so we went back to Pier 39 for the festival and fireworks show.
Humboldt Redwood State Park
After our short visit in San Francisco we began our next road trip into Northern California! We rented a car through Turo. Turo is a company that rents out vehicles from private owners and is significantly cheaper than renting from a company.
We drove over the Golden Gate Bridge and out of San Francisco. We stopped at In-N-Out Burger for lunch, a popular West coast burger place, and stopped to stock up on groceries before continuing onwards. Our first stop was the Chandelier Tree- one of the drive-through trees. We continued driving stopping along the way to take photos of the beautiful scenery. The drive through Northern California is stunning! The forest, lakes and wildlife is incredibly pleasant.
We kept driving until we reached the Avenue of Giants. This is the scenic highway running through Humboldt Redwoods State Park. These ancient trees were like nothing I had seen before! People talk about how beautiful and tall they are, but it really is magnificent to see them with your own eyes. I loved driving through them.
That evening we found a small gravel road on the edge of the park with a small hole in the forest where we parked the car and slept for the night.
The next day we started off by going down to the river bank, and then visiting another drive-through tree called Shrine. Later, we parked the car at the visitor center and went hiking in Humboldt Redwoods State Park. We took a trail through the forest which led to a small river and we walked back around to where we parked our car along the highway. The serenity in that forest was amazing. It was so quiet and you could hear the wildlife everywhere.
We had lunch and then continued driving towards the northern section of Humboldt to see the Giant Tree.
It started getting late so we started to search for a place to sleep for the night. We chose a small, “scenic” road instead of the highway. It was definitely scenic, but the road was in such bad condition and curvy it took a couple of hours to get through it because we had to drive so slow. We drove through the forest more and adjacent to the ocean. About halfway through we were getting exhausted and found a piece of gravel next to the road to pull over to sleep. It was tough sleeping in the car in Northern California because it was so cold at night! Most nights we had to turn the heat on in the car for a little while so we could sleep. We hadn’t brought many warm clothes with us either.
The next day we finished the scenic drive and stopped in a small, coastal town called Eureka for breakfast. Paul also wanted to watch the soccer match so we went to a hotel bar for the game. It was a very cute, little town!
Redwood National and State Parks
When the game finished we kept driving through the little towns until we reached Redwoods National and State Parks. On our drive through we saw a pasture with elk. We found a perfect place the evening to sleep on a road inside the park with nothing else around!
At dawn we awoke to eat breakfast (a Walmart pastry, like usual) and then started searching for our next hiking trail. We stopped to look at a few of the famous trees and then we began our under-calculated hike through the forest. It was another beautiful hike! I preferred the trees in Humboldt but the Redwoods Park I believe was more lush with so many species of flora. I felt like I was walking through Fern Gully. However, it was a long 8-mile hike through the mountain with part of the trail covered in plants. It was also raining most of the time so we were cold, tired and hungry by the end of it.
At the end of the trail we came to Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. This is where one of the Jurassic Park scenes was filmed.
At this point I was hungry, cold and fatigued. We both knew we couldn’t hike the eight miles back through the forest to our car. This hike had been poorly planned. We ate lunch in the rain and decided to hitchhike our way back to the car. Thankfully, the third car that passed by picked us up! That didn’t take long. Two guys that were going camping let us ride in the back of their truck and they took us all the way back to our car. Go hitchhiking? Check.
We tried sleeping in the same place we did the night before, but a ranger came by and told us we couldn’t stay there. So we ended up moving to another hidden spot off of the highway which suited well for our last night sleeping in the car.
Our last day we slowly drove back to San Fransisco. We took our time because we didn’t have to return the car to the owner until 7pm that evening. Stopping in another small town called Trinidad on our way back, we looked at the lighthouse and then walked down the path to the beach. We met a hippie whom we talked to for a while as he told us his story of his travels and how he’s kept moving around for several years now.
Northern California was my favorite part of the summer trip. A lot of the places we visited I had been to already, but this was one that was new to me. I had not been to this part of the country yet, and I really loved the ancient, huge trees and lush forest. It was very peaceful and the hiking was great!
After we arrived back in San Francisco we returned the car to its owner and went to the bus station. We had an overnight bus to Los Angeles.
When we arrived in L.A. in the morning we went to an iHop for breakfast to kill time. We couldn’t check into our Airbnb until later that afternoon so we had to carry our luggage around (which was difficult because the handle had broken off in San Francisco so we just tied a belt around it to pull it) the city. After breakfast we walked to the pub to watch the final Eurocup game. They let us store our bags in the back and we stayed in the dark pub until the game finished. It was a bad experience- France lost.
While in LA we spent one day visiting Hollywood and walked down the Hollywood Walk of Fame to see the stars.
We also went to Venice Beach and walked up the boardwalk to Santa Monica Pier. Along the way we stopped to watch skateboarders doing their thing, muscle men lifting weights and basketball players competing.
LA is a very large city in physical size and it takes a lot of time to get from one place to another. We rented a room in a house that was shared with both residents and other Airbnb guests. During our stay we spent a couple of evenings visiting with the other people staying there. We also spent some time soaking in the comfort of staying in a house after sleeping in the car the last week.
After Los Angeles we took a bus to Las Vegas. We spent four nights there and splurged on a hotel on the strip. I feel like if you’re going to do Vegas, do it right. We stayed at the Flamingo which is one of the cheaper hotels on the strip in relation to some of the others. We loved it! Our room was wonderful and we absolutely loved the pool. It was huge with several bars and there was also a DJ playing.
When we arrived Thursday evening we spent the early evening walking around the strip and then we went out to Tao Nightclub. The next morning we took advantage of the pool. With it being July it was incredibly hot and the pool was perfect! We lounged in the water with a few drinks dancing away to the music. For the night we got free entry and drinks in Hyde nightclub. I really liked that this club had a view of the Bellagio Fountains!
The fountain is one of my favorite parts of the strip. When in Las Vegas I enjoy just walking up and down the strip looking at all of the different attractions, casinos and hotels.
Our time in Vegas was pretty much: Pool, walk around the strip, go to a nightclub. Repeat. Throw in one trip to the casino and lose some money.
I love Vegas!
After our 4-day weekend in Vegas we began our final, long trip of our summer travels. We rented another car through Turo and began our drive to Hoover Dam. It was phenomenal. It was massive, but it was sad to read about (and see) how low the water level has dropped just in the last 30 years.
We continued driving onwards until we got just outside the Southern Grand Canyon Access. We found a spot that was perfect for sleeping, and it reminded me a lot of the Australian terrain when we were driving into the Outback. Very dry with cactus plants which I kept stepping on.
We spent the next two days walking the ridge trails of the Grand Canyon. I visited the Grand Canyon when I was 13 and I remember it being unbelievable. It still felt just as magnificent as the first time. It’s hard to grasp just how huge this canyon is, and how small we are in comparison.
On our way up to the Northern access of the Grand Canyon we stopped at the Navajo Bridge. Unfortunately, after the long drive several hours to the Northern access, we discovered there had been a fire and most of the trails were closed down. We were able to access one area, but after that we decided to move on.
We continued driving and we arrived just in time to Monument Valley that evening to witness the sunset and a storm brewing! This created a supreme view of the desert.
We slept that night behind a Burger King. The following morning we drove through Monument Valley during the day and made our way into Utah. It was a long drive and we made it just in time that evening to visit Arches National Park after 6pm when it becomes free entry.
We drove into the park and hiked to the most famous Arch just as the sun was starting to set. It was a great hike and the view was staggering albeit it was covered with tourists. It was difficult to take a photograph without a person in it. We spent quite a bit of time taking in the views and atmosphere. We took off our shoes and walked around barefoot since the rock was slippery. By this point the hikes had become a norm and we began doing them in flip-flops.
That evening we slept on a random road off the side of the highway. We found in Arizona and Utah it was less restrictive on where we could sleep. If we pulled off onto the side of the road no one asked questions or asked us to leave.
The next day we went to Canyonlands National Park- another park within the “Utah’s Mighty 5” National Parks. We also went back to Arches to finish up what we missed the evening before.
We continued our drive to Zion National Park. Unfortunately, I think we visited Zion in a season that was not the best. A lot of the waterfalls and creaks were dried up. We did one very steep hike then swam in one of the creeks that still had flowing water to cool off.
Although we were sleeping in the car again and had one shower (which we found somewhere after the Northern access of the Grand Canyon on the way to Monument Valley) in ten days and were living off of tuna sandwiches and fruit, we savored this trip. It was our final “hoo-rah” of the summer traveling the USA. We had made it 10 days in the car with only each other hiking each day, being hot and hungry, and feeling happy in our simple, adventure-seeking life.
The next day we drove back to Vegas and stayed one night in a motel before flying back to Iowa. We spent one week with my family relaxing and getting things organized before Paul had to make his trip back to France.
Our last weekend together was spent in Chicago. We spent Sunday exploring downtown, Millennium Park, and the pier. Monday his flight left in the early evening so we spent our final hours together at a bowling alley having fun and laughing with each other.
It was tough returning to the international terminal for departure. It’s been a rough 3.5 months being apart. I spent the last three months working in Iowa to pay some bills then save up some money for the next deed. In just three days now I’m heading to France for a couple of months to be with Paul once again for Christmas! After that? South Korea.