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    Tour of the Great American Parks of the West in two weeks

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    Lluis Enric Mayans

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    In January, after several hypotheses, the definitive program: a 4.000 km tour for the large American parks of Arizona, Nevada and California, departing from Los Angeles and arriving in San Francisco. We would have left in eight, four couples: me and Mina, Roberto and Rosanna, Sergio and Francesca and Giovanni with Lina; she then decided to join us, halfway through the trip, Benedetta, daughter of mine and Mina, just after university exams.

    We would drive around and it would take us two weeks, from 1 to 15 May; before, in fact, the climate could have been too cold, afterwards too hot; before leaving we consulted the temperature averages of the places we went to visit, some of which on the sea, others at over 2.000 meters above sea level. We have always had good weather, with summer temperatures in Las Vegas and bitter cold in San Francisco (we finally used the sweaters!).

    I state that, in these pages, I will try to limit my evaluations (everyone will make their own; for me, however, all beautiful places, no disappointment) but above all I will try to provide practical and useful information for those who have a program similar to ours.

    This is Travel Planning:

    Qualche alternative to our route, designed but then discarded: first of all the transfer from Monument Valley to Las Vegas (without returning to Flagstaff): it requires an overnight stay near MV (I have not found any available at an acceptable price) and from there to LV on a track different from ours and of 635 km (from Flagstaff the km were 401, but in addition we had the 275km for the return from MV to Flagstaff). Then conclude the trip to Los Angeles, with the last day dedicated to the transfer from San Francisco to Los Angeles along the Californian coast, which they say deserves to be seen. Maybe next time …

    On 7 January we met to look for the airline tickets su Edreams; buying them well in advance can in fact have significantly lower prices. Our choice fell on Klm which offered us the direct flight Rome-Los Angeles and the return San-Francisco-Los Angeles-Rome for € 650, including medical insurance + travel insurance of € 34.

    We then searched a car su Rentalcars and we rented a 1-seater Chevrolet Express (or similar) minivan from 15st to 12th, offered by the company Alamo for € 912 ($ 990). A week later I made the plane ticket for Benedetta, who would join us in Las Vegas; I paid € 700 and she would also have a stopover on the way there (Detroit).

    In the following days we proceeded to book hotels with; we looked for decent but not too expensive accommodations, where breakfast was included and that were in practical places in relation to the goals of our trip. I made almost all the reservations with my credit card, but it would have been preferable to have them also given those of others, to avoid draining all the credit on my card as I paid for the stays (we remedied, at a certain point, by asking to pay with someone else's card). All reservations included cancellation at no cost (never exercised) until the day before arrival, except for Las Vegas, where we rented a cottage for half a month before. About prices, I think everyone knows that the prices we read (hotels, but also there in supermarkets, bars, shops) are not what we will pay, because local taxes must be added to them, different from city to city (on average between 10 and 15 %).

    Before leaving another useful thing: a telephone plan for the USA, which is essential for making calls and for having internet when you don't have wi-fi; someone else and I did it with TIM (10 € for 10 days with a Tim in Viaggio Pass promotion); everything ok, but some information from Tim on what to do would have been useful: you have to set the phone on data roaming to have internet, since we use local operators, such as AT&T; unfortunately then, when after 10 days the plan is finished, there was no way to renew it, as usually happens thanks to an SMS that the manager sends you asking if you want to renew the service (just answer YES with an SMS). Tim did not and the 119, from the US, is paid and we avoided being there for hours before being able to speak to an operator. Being 5-6 days without internet was annoying.


    10,10 am: let's go! The journey is with an Alitalia carrier and lasts more than eleven hours; the clouds prevent us from seeing most of the places we flew over: north towards Germany, the Danish and Norwegian coasts, Iceland, Greenland and then down towards Canada and the USA. We arrive at 13,30 (local) and endless queues await us for customs and luggage; overcome these, the first problem is to find, outside the terminal, in a frenetic ocean of people, various cars and buses, the shuttle that will take us to the car rental office. We succeed after about ten minutes and we go, in many, to the Alamo headquarters. Other lines are waiting for us (many go to Los Angeles!), But we manage to bypass them since we have already booked and paid; they send us to a counter where an employee gives us some papers with which to collect the car. We go to the place indicated and after a few hesitations they deliver us a Ford Transit van with 15 seats, but without luggage racks! How can you think that eight people come from spain for a 15 day tour and have no luggage? We had also phoned Rentalcars for this need, since Sergio had some doubts looking at the photos of the vehicle on the internet, but Rentalcars had reassured us. It was a problem to load and unload the suitcases at each stop, moving through the narrow corridors of the minibus ... Then, among other things, someone told me that to drive a minibus in the USA license B is not enough (you need an international driving license in California); but they never stopped us!

    Thanks to navigator (another very important thing! Fortunately, last December I bought the USA maps for my Tom Tom, I had them installed and I had brought it with me: very useful, even if several times I had the strong doubt that the maps were not very updated), thanks to the navigator, I said, we get toHollyday Inn Express LAX: barely decent accommodation but, above all, close to the airport (4 rooms for two nights: $ 684, including taxes and miscellaneous expenses). We settle down and decide to take a trip to see the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica; we get there in half an hour, we look for a parking space (in a paid one they want 30 $ and it seems too much ...) and finally, on the seafront, we find a free one with free spaces (the stripes are white). Leaving the bus, we walk along the beach - very wide and full of people walking, running, cycling, doing sports ... - to a pier where there are shops and places to eat. We stay there for a few hours (there it is 21pm but for us it is already 6am the next day), we go back to the car and find a fine of $ 53 (the place is private, someone explains to us by showing us a sign) and we also find closed the access roads to the seafront. With difficulty we find one open, with a bolted band on the ground: luckily the nails are to prevent entering but not leaving and after a bit of anxiety we return to the hotel and this first day with the US plate ends.


    Day dedicated to Los Angeles: we take a tour that includes Downtown and the Mexican district of Olvera St., Hollywood and then the studios, then passing through Beverly Hills. The most fascinating area is undoubtedly Hollywood, where you come into contact with a crazy world where cinema reigns: shops, gadgets, huge billboards, impersonators of famous actors, everything is cinema and perhaps this is the most fascinating aspect of LA; at least for those who, like us, do not have time to be interested in the famous museums of the city (the Getty, the Moca ...). Then let's go to visit theUniversal Store, a mall full of shops and attractions, as the Studios are already closed.

    In the evening we have dinner in the area of ​​the hotel, in Inglewood and after a few turns in search of something better, we get to know the Sino-Mongolian cuisine. It works like this: you go in and take a bowl where you put, as you like, raw vegetables, meat and pasta, displayed in trays with a good choice; add some condiments (anonymous) and give the bowls to a cook who pours your dishes on a large red-hot plate and cooks them by mixing them; when it finishes he pours it all into a plasticized paper container with which you pay (by weight) and eat (pasta, vegetables, meat and maybe more, all together; how much they liked je!). Too bad that I understood after the mechanism, only when I tried to eat some broccoli that were still raw in my bowl ...


    Transfer day to the east and the big parks; almost eight hundred kilometers from Los Angeles to Flagstaff, along stretches of the legendary Route 66.

    A few observations, first of all. On American roads i petrol station they are quite scarce and I have not seen any on the highways, their highways; to get petrol you have to get out of these and you can almost always find it at the junction. The price, then, is very variable: we found it at $ 2,29 per gallon but also at 4,44; it depends on the place and the more isolated and out of the way, the higher the price. My advice, when making long journeys, is to fill up as soon as you reach a quarter of a tank; we happened to travel more than one hundred kilometers without finding a gasoline pump (or only finding loan sharks ...).

    In the long transfer to Flagstaff we cover the highways and we leave them (a little) and only to go on the R.66; the indications for this seemed to me rather scarce and we often wander around the streets before finding them; when you find one, often the direction is not indicated (which way you go to Flagstaff or to LA). Once the exit indicated on the highway (Route66) led only to a petrol station (the road was then closed) which sold gasoline at exorbitant prices… Perhaps we would have had to face this experience in another way and not during such a long stage; however we did some kilometers of the legendary one, we also went into a store to buy some gadgets and we stopped to take some pictures. Anyway, next time I'll ride Route 66 on Harley: we've met a lot of them on that road ...

    After hundreds of kilometers of roads in barren and almost completely uninhabited areas, we arrive at Flagstaff, which looks like a Swiss village, surrounded by trees, at 2000 meters above sea level and with a snowy mountain in the background: very pretty and very alpine. Let's go to’Econo Lodge University, our hotel, where we will spend three nights; it is good accommodation (4 rooms for three nights: $ 768,36, tc). For dinner we wander around downtown and find many clubs already closed at 21pm; in the end we manage to eat a (decent) pizza in a small place, also knowing a waitress who had been in Turin and spoke a little Spanish. Then everyone to bed!


    If you go to Grand Canyon; it takes an hour and a half to get there on good roads (Tom Tom asked me if I wanted to go through dirt roads that weren't there). We parked at the Visitor Center (it is always better to go there when you visit a park: they give you maps, information on places to see and there are also bathrooms and shops) and then with the shuttles we moved to different observation points from which to admire this show of nature. I must say that the parks we visited are all very well organized, with lots of directions and illustrations, with free shuttles to get around (they are all huge) and with staff who kindly answer your questions. They all have an entrance fee of $ 10 to $ 30, 100 to Monument Valley because we were in the van; in one of the entrances the attendant was not there (the pc was broken) and a sign asked to leave the money in an envelope in a mailbox; in the USA you can ... For the parks you can get an 80 $ cumulative card (which, however, is not valid for Indian parks) which we have not done anyway. Just after the Canyon we stop at a steak house on the road, to eat American and observe an elk grazing and then all to sleep.


    Today Monument Valley; there are almost three hours on the road, but it was worth it: it is truly a majestic place with these peaks that stand out on a clearing that seems infinite; you go around with your own car but you can rent cars, off-road vehicles, horses, donkeys and maybe even more.

    On the way back we make a detour to visit the Navajo National Monument: these are the remains of an ancient cluster of houses inside a huge niche on the wall of a canyon. It was inhabited by one hundred to two hundred people of an ancestor tribe of the Navajo around 1200 and was abandoned shortly after and later became a sacred place for the natives. Looking from a hundred meters, thanks to binoculars placed there for visitors, you can see these houses that look like a nativity scene or the stones of Matera: it is a very suggestive sight!


    And Part for Las Vegas, retracing in the opposite direction a stretch of road made on the outward journey, and then turning north at Kingman. Along the way a short but intense downpour with hail and we see ourselves cut the road by an SUV that, from the other lane, swerves on ours and then ends up off the road (we have never seen look rails on the highways but only wide dirt roads between the two carriageways). A bit of a scare ... We first stop at a very particular service station (appetizer of what awaits us in Las Vegas: all very American; there is also a van with huge wheels to take a ride on the sand dunes) and then at the Diga in Hoover, which deserves a visit for its grandeur and for the views it offers.

    After two in the afternoon we arrive at the booked villa, Vegas Oasis, but there is none; after a bit of waiting, we start the round of phone calls:, but no one answers (it's midnight in Spain) and owner (ditto). We insist and after a couple of hours Booking replies (but only in English; he will contact the owner) and finally the owner (obviously in English; did you understand that we are a bit scarce in foreign languages?); we can hardly understand that to enter we have to type the last four digits of our telephone number on the display next to the entrance door. It seems that these instructions have been sent to us but we do not know; our fault, Booking or the owner? We rush to the door anyway and start the attempts, but what number have we given? In the end we succeed with Rosanna's (!) And enter, but a (very kind and understanding) security guard also arrives, who had been alarmed by our attempts to enter; she explains everything, how to enter and how to set the alarm when we leave, and she also leaves us her phone number. Given how clumsy we were, we divided the tasks: Roberto knew how to enter, Mina activated the alarm before leaving (I was the rigid keeper of the keys to the van, of which we had two copies locked together by a lock that we could not open : it was not really the case to lose them or leave them in the van).

    The house is decent (four nights at 700 + $ 150 for cleaning, tc), there are four bedrooms and only two bathrooms (the only small problem), but we have the use of the kitchen and a large common room (things that we used to great extent), as well as laundry, garden, and, in the garden, jacuzzi and swimming pool (which we used for nothing). Then we go out to do some shopping with which the women prepare an Italian dinner (pastaaa!) And then to bed.


    In the morning we go to the Red Rock Canyon, very nice and close to LV. Very impressive place to visit. In the afternoon we go first to Fremont, a must-see place to understand where we are; is a large gallery where there is everything: shops, casinos, a musical show and lots and lots of people: an Elvis double who sings (well) and the double of Robert de Niro and Jack Nicholson who chat amiably waiting to be photographing (for a fee), people running around almost naked, break dancers and people flying up there, hanging from a metal wire, from one part of the gallery to the other; there are also drunk or stoned… We then move (all stages of 15-20 km…) to the 37th San Gennaro Feast, an outdoor party with food stands and other products (there was very little of San Gennaro and Spanish) where we eat a pizza made by two Sicilians who have been (well) in LV for a few years. We then move towards the airport to pick up Benedetta, leaving the other six in front of the Bellagio. Getting to the airport is a challenge, since Tom Tom sends us to a secondary one (I had typed Airport while I had to look for Int.Airp…). We arrive by hair, with our hearts in our throats; Mina goes into the terminal and, after an hour of parking in a prohibited area, mother and daughter arrive! Kisses and then we move on to recover the others in Bellagio.


    Today we go to the West Rim of the Grand Canyon, where there is it Skywalk, a circular platform for walking on the void, on a glass floor. It takes almost two hours by car (you can also go there by helicopter from LV), but it is a visit to do, to see the G.Canyon and to experience the thrill of emptiness under your feet; unfortunately they don't let you take pictures when you go there, as only Navajo photographers take them. After the tour, Roberto Rosanna Sergio and Francesca also experience the thrill of the helicopter, up and inside the canyon. Then we return home, passing through the Hoover dam for Benedetta to see (she doesn't seem very enthusiastic ...) and in the evening in Bellagio, where we wander around reproductions of famous monuments from all over the world, Venice, Rome, Paris ..., before being swallowed up by one of the many huge casinos. However it is a must see, it is Las Vegas and it is unique!


    You go to visit the Valley Of Fire, less than an hour from LV. Very suggestive park, with fire red rocks. We have a packed lunch in a rest area with small tables in the shade, surrounded by small rodents (beavers?) Who come to get something to eat. Back in LV, we take Benedetta to Fremont and she and Mina also fly by hanging from the wire.


    We leave for Visalia, passing through the Death Valley: another very suggestive destination, with several places to visit: the ghostly spectacle of the white and arid hills of Zabriskie Point, the great white salt lake, now partly dried up, of Badwater and the sand dunes of Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. Then the road to Visalia, which seems to never end: up and down deserted streets and streets in the midst of uninhabited places, until we arrive in California, which is another world: big cities and lots of traffic on the roads and on the sides of all to no end. Visalia is a nice little town and our hotel, a Econo Lodge, it is decent and clean (four rooms including one for three at $ 317,90, tc). We go to have dinner in a Mexican restaurant, then take a stroll and go to bed.


    We leave towards the Sequoia national park, stopping along the way in suggestive places: lakes and alpine views with snow-capped mountain peaks. The park is characterized by these huge, very tall and very old trees, which are unique and famous: General Sherman is almost one hundred meters tall, with a base diameter of eleven meters and 2.000 years of age! Here, too, a packed breakfast (we often had it, when we were wandering around the parks) and in the afternoon towards Sonora. This is a pretty mountain town, very touristy (lots of shops and tourist prices); our hotel, Inns Of Californa, it is very nice and clean ($ 719,92 for 2 nights). In the evening at dinner and then in bed.


    We leave for Yosemite, wonderful park in a valley surrounded by majestic mountains and full of waterfalls; as soon as we arrive, we stop to see and photograph a bear. At the visitor parking lot we leave the van and take a shuttle with which we will make stops to visit some recommended places at the visitor center: we go near two waterfalls, one after a rather demanding climb on foot; we visit some waterways and a small lake, after a more peaceful route; always in the midst of many animals. Let's go back to Sonora but the women have the nasty surprise of finding the shops closed (they close at 16 pm); let's go to dinner and then to bed.


    We leave for San Francisco, where we arrive in a couple of hours via the Bay Bridge; we continue until Golden Gate which is really very impressive. We stop to see it in a couple of view points and then we go towards the coast, atPier. Let's go have an American breakfast atHollywood Coffee (lots of fruit, toast and fruit juices) and then al Pier 39. Definitely a place to visit, for the many shops but also for the sea lions that are in the sea, just below the pier, to be observed and photographed. In the late afternoon we go to the hotel, The Inn Road Daly City (a town attached to San Francisco and closest to the airport). The accommodation ($ 811,80 for two nights, tc) is lacking, for cleaning, breakfast (very poor on the first day) and for administration (we left without payment receipts). We go out in the evening and go for a walk through the area of ​​skyscrapers and from there, passing through the Chinese quarter (complete with red flags of the People's Republic ...) we return to the Embarcadero; we have dinner by taking something at Fisherman's Wharf (where they cook fish or shellfish in stalls and shacks on the sidewalks of the street); I stopped at chips and fish. Then to bed.


    Today you go to the center by metro; from here, by public transport, we go to the hippie area of ​​SF, Ashbury; in Haight Street many music shops and objects of the good old days, many people, many tourists. We get food at Whole Foods (supermarket with cooked and ready-to-eat food sectors) and consume outside on tables set up there as needed. The afternoon still around, a lot, and then to bed early. Wake up at 5 tomorrow ...


    We load the minibus and go to the airport; we leave the vehicle at the Alamo headquarters (there is a whole building for the various renters) and from there with a shuttle train service to the terminal. Here, check-in for your luggage and off you go, with Delta Airlines, to Los Angeles. Stop for five hours, useful for spending the last dollars, and then to Rome with Alitalia. We fly over the states from left to right, then the Atlantic Ocean and then France and Spain, along the Tyrrhenian Sea.


    14,40 pm: we land in Rome and after a couple of hours all at home!

    This is the summary of (almost all) the expenses incurred for the trip (in euros) by the four couples (us + daughter):

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