Welcome back. This is the second part of our mini world trip we did last year. The first part we covered our visit to Malaysia, Germany, Poland and England. This part continues on from there, with the first destination in the USA being New York. After that we did a road trip from Phoenix to San Francisco stopping in some National Parks along the way.
Phoenix to Grand Canyon: Days 12 – 14
We had pre-arranged a hire car from Alamo which we picked up from Phoenix airport. We had booked a pretty basic economy vehicle but they offered us an upgrade to any vehicle for the cost it would be to upgrade one level only. We never calculated the savings but it was quite a good deal and a tip worth sharing. It might have been as we were first time customers. We wanted something a bit special that you can’t find in Australia or Europe easily, so Mrs F. W chose a Dodge Challenger. It was a lot bigger than both of us were expecting! But very cool and very comfortable, and we had a long journey ahead of us.
A little anecdote that I haven’t forgotten is that on the way out of Phoenix and once we had hit the highways, a moment just like in so many movies happened, or nearly… A police car pulled out from the side of the road just as we passed them, dust spewing behind it in its wake. Looking in the rear view mirror, I was just waiting for the lights to come on and started wondering to myself ‘What have I done? Was I speeding? Nope, I was just overtaking someone but certainly not speeding. Something wrong with the lights? Did I look suspicious?’. These thoughts passed through my mind for the ten seconds until they overtook us. not so exciting in the end but I haven’t forgotten it.
We usually stopped off at a giant Walmart whenever we passed one to stock up on plenty of water and food for the journey.
Our road trip had been planned some months before, with the first major stop being the North Rim, Grand Canyon. We chose the North side as we had the time and we wanted a quieter, less crowded experience than what the South Rim supposedly was, and it didn’t disappoint. Even the drive there, especially through Marble Canyon and up along Route 67 and the change of scenery it presented was captivating. We were pleased we chose this route before we had even got to the North Rim itself.
We just about caught sunset but got up early to see the full sunrise before setting off towards Death Valley National Park.
Death Valley & Bishop: Days 15 – 17
We skirted Las Vegas to the north and headed straight towards Death Valley. It was mid July, and it was hot, with little traffic. Our first stop off was Dante’s View with its amazing view over Badwater Basin. This was the most memorable viewpoint for me, more so than the Grand Canyon.
Our accommodation for the night was at Stovepipe Wells which was a much needed break. The drive out of Death Valley was also far more enjoyable than I anticipated. I was expecting a flat road for most of it but it had plenty of altitude variation. Our only near mistake was not getting more petrol at the tiny petrol station at Panamint Springs, as the ensuing journey was very hilly and I found myself being very careful with acceleration and braking as little as possible to maintain efficiency and conserve petrol. By the time we got to Lone Pine to top up, had less than 10 miles left of petrol. So please top up even if you don’t think you’ll need it.
Our next stop off was Schulman Grove in Inyo National Forest to see the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. It was quite a side tour from the road to Bishop, but an enjoyable one- very curvy and hilly with scenic variation as you ascend into the mountains again. This area is home to some of the oldest trees on the planet- Bristlecone Pines, the oldest being the 4,000 year old Methuselah Tree (which we didn’t see but saw plenty of Bristlecone Pines that were ‘only’ a couple of thousand years old.
Bishop is a small and lively city which was a nice change after being relatively isolated for the previous three days. We ate at Denny’s Diner, stocked up on supplies and made use of a laundromat. The day we were there was the 50th anniversary of the first Moon landing and I had half expected to see something on TV somewhere but did not.
Our final surprise we found was Erick Schat’s Bakery, full of countless freshly baked breads, cakes and other goodies. The aroma kept us inside to sample some of their creations, and despite how busy it was, it was worth it.
We left the next morning to get a head start to Yosemite and the infamous Tioga Pass which is only open during the summer months.
Yosemite National Park : Days 17 – 19
The Tioga pass to Yosemite Valley was the busiest place we passed through outside of the big cities. It certainly is a beautiful place with many viewpoints along the way. We stopped at Lembert Dome and Tenaya Lake before descending into Yosemite Valley. We had a reservation for a heated tent in Half Dome Village. What took some getting used to was having to leave absolutely everything which might be consumable to a bear outside the tent in special locked containers, including all toiletries.
We did some of the trail walks including to the Yosemite Falls, through the valley and a longer gentle hike to the Vernal Falls footbridge. You can go much farther if you have the time and inclination, and there are many hikes to do for all difficulty levels. The food options were reasonable and better value than we had expected so we ate at a few of the different places.
Our last stop off on the way out of Yosemite was to Tuolomne Grove to see the Giant Sequoia trees, one of which was the Dead Giant Tunnel Tree before starting on the last leg of the road trip- to San Francisco.
To San Francisco: Days 20-23
We splashed out on the last accommodation of the trip, in case we had not slept well during the road trip, and also because we had a 15 hour flight back to Australia ahead of us. After dropping off the Dodge, we walked to our hotel which was a lovely place on Washington Square, so we were close enough to walk to China Town and the Piers. We ate out a couple of places on Pier 39 and sampled their chowder which we both enjoyed.
We did a boat trip to the Golden Gate Bridge (cold and foggy), passing by Alcatraz Island on the way back, and a trip to the Golden Gate Park. Mrs F. W being very fond of flowers, particularly liked this park, especially the Dahlia Garden. I’m not big into flowers myself but the whole park was beautiful and much more landscaped and interesting to walk around compared to what we saw of Central Park in New York. And that pretty much sums up our overall opinion on the two places: we were a lot more fond of San Francisco than New York. San Francisco reminded us of Melbourne in many ways, both in appearance and vibe. We would return here in the future if the opportunity arises.
Basic breakdown of costs for the trip, per person.
Trip 1st Part Trip 2nd Part TOTAL Average/ day (23 days)
Flights $1,177 $390 $1,567 $68
Other Transport (including car hire & petrol) $575 $420 $995 $43
Accommodation $460 $895 $1,355 $60
Excursions & Tickets $335 $158 $493 $21
Food $320 $350 $670 $29
TOTAL ($AUD) $2,867 $2,213 $5,080 $221
Notes: The long flight back direct from San Francisco to Melbourne only cost us $160 each in airport taxes, as we were able to use flight rewards and use our points we had been collecting for the past three years. We booked through Qantas using Asia Miles.
So there you have it. Our trip cost just over $5,000 AUD each, which on average was about $220 a day. I threw the last average column in for the accommodation and food insights. The averages for both appeared to be very close to what we spend in our daily lives here in Melbourne. However, a week’s accommodation of our trip was at no cost due to staying with family and friends.
Overall a great experience, with an enjoyable road trip which was not too rushed. There were many more places we would have liked to see or stop over at but we didn’t want to rush so much. As it was, we had leisurely journey times and plenty of time to see the places we did choose.
We are slowly building up our points again for the next trip, whenever and wherever that might be…