Cross-country from VA to CA…In 10 days!

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Apr 23rd, 2015, 10:02 PM
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Cross-country from VA to CA…In 10 days!

First, let me preface this trip report by saying that yes, it was rushed, but that was because it had to be. And I still loved every minute of it and everything we got to see!

Day 1: Left VA around 8pm on a Wednesday, and drove straight through to Denver, arriving around 6:30pm on Thursday. Surprisingly, this wasn't as awful as I had anticipated We checked into our hotel in the Golden area (forgive me, I don't remember which hotel for this night), and met family for dinner at the Buckhorn Inn. While the restaurant was very cool to look around, the food wasn't quite as good as I was expecting. We went because we wanted wild game (we tried the elk, yak, quail, duck, and rattlesnake), but I have had better wild game and a few other restaurants. The rattlesnake dip was probably my favorite of all the things we tried.

Day 2: Left from Golden around 6:30am to drive over the Loveland Pass on our way to Glenwood Springs. This was a quick stop for us, as we were meeting family in Glenwood Springs for hiking at Hanging Lake. We arrived at the Hanging Lake trailhead around 10am, which wasn't very crowded. The hike was beautiful! We got lucky and had a fairly warm day (60s). It's definitely at least a moderate hike but the views at the top are so worth the effort! We spent about 30-45 minutes at the top walking around, including going up to Spouting Rock and looking out over Hanging Lake, then headed back down, where we grabbed some snacks in the parking lot before heading into town. Once in town, we went to The Linwood Cemetery to see Doc Holliday's gravesite. Not quite as neat as I had thought it would be, but we had two 12 y/o boys with us that enjoyed wandering around the graveyard. It did offer a nice view of the city. After this we checked into our hotel (Quality Inn on the River, $70/night). The hotel was nice, but it is actually in West Glenwood Springs, so just another exit down from the downtown area. Then we changed and went to the actual Springs. Very relaxing after our long day, and the boys loved the diving board. Word to the wise, make sure your towel is fairly large (we used hotel towels) and near the steps to get in/out of the pool if you don't do cold well! I don't and pretty much ran all the way back to the locker room with my tiny towel that barely wrapped all the way around me! For dinner, we ate at Juicy Lucy's, which was fantastic. We loved the mussels as an appetizer, and kept asking our waiter to bring more bread to sop up the juice with. The side salad I had was probably the best I've ever had (Spinach and Pancetta), and the steaks were great (I again had elk, my dad had lamb, and other family had beef). We walked over the bridge after dinner to see the Springs at night, and they were very pretty with the lights.

Day 3: Today we decided we would leave our car and do public transportation, which is only $1/day. This ended up working out well for us as we walked around most of the day in the downtown area. We first went to Glenwood Caverns, where we toured both caves and my nephew and I did the alpine slide. Nothing much was open, so we only spent a couple hours up here. I wasn't particularly impressed with the caves, except the King's Row at the end, but I'm from VA, where was have quite the collection of large caves that we visit growing up on field trips and family vacations. My family joked the whole time that we were "cave snobs"., but honestly if you have never seen a cave I would recommend going. The tram ride offers great views as well. We went into downtown for lunch, where we are at the Lost Cajun, and it was also fantastic. It was a fun atmosphere and the food was great. We all had po'boys and they were very good, as were the hushpuppies and fried okra. This was my first time trying beignets, and it was a success! We wandered around some more downtown to walk off all that food, and came across a gem store downtown that was really neat to wander around in. For the evening, we decided on a whim to try the Glenwood Vaudeville Revue. Such a wonderful decision. The food is so-so, but we weren't hungry anyways. The show, however, is fabulous! They kept us laughing the whole time and we really enjoyed it. For the weekend here, I would rank this second only behind Hanging Lake. From here, we had to take a taxi home as the public buses stop running around 7 or 8pm I think.

Day 4: Another early day again. We chose to drive through Capitol Reef then via Scenic Byway 12 to Escalante and into Bryce. In Capitol Reef, we stopped and did the Hickman Bridge hike, which was a nice little hike to break up the driving. The Scenic Byway was pretty cool, and then we stopped at the Escalante River Trailhead and walked about a mile or so and back, more or less to break up some driving. It wasn't my favorite hike, and I think if I could do it again I would have taken the time to do the scenic drive in Capitol Reef or see the historic town of Fruita instead. We got to our hotel in Bryce (Best Western Plus - Bryce Canyon Grand Hotel, very nice) around 4:30 or so, then showered and went to dinner at Ruby's Inn. The food here was good as well, I had the trout and my dad had the buffet. We then drove into the park to Sunset Point, but I think we were too late (around 7pm) to get the full effect of the colors. We didn't really consider the fact that there would be trees blocking the sun as it went down, so this wasn't that great of a view.

Day 5: We arrived at the Navajo Loop trailhead at Sunset Point around 9 or 9:30am, and hiked it and Queen's Garden back up to Sunrise Point. We loved this hike! But as we were coming up from Queen's Garden, it was starting to crowd up a little, so I would recommend doing it early. I would also recommend hiking it in the direction that we did because we felt the incline from Sunset Point is steeper down Navajo Loop than the one at Sunrise Point down Queen's Garden. From here, we drive further into the park, stopping at Natural Bridge and Agua Canyon, and then on to Rainbow Point, where we walked the Bristlecone Loop trail. Very nice trail that is an easy walk. I also wished I would have had time to do the Agua Canyon hike. On our way back out of the park, we stopped to watch 7 pronghorn antelope cross the road directly behind our car and run off into the field. From Bryce, we drove on to Zion, where we stopped and did the Canyon Overlook hike. We got to the actual overlook around 5:30 or 6pm, so it made for a very pretty view. We drove on through the park and checked into our hotel (Quality Inn and Suites Montclair, which was on the far end of town, but very nice). We had dinner at Wildcat Willie's, which was good (but for the life of me I can't remember what I had!).

Day 6: We got up early enough to be at the Zion Adventure Company (8am) to rent dry pants, boots, and a stick to hike the Narrows. Because of the low rainfall this year, the Narrows were actually very low and many people were hiking it. We packed lunch, the pants, long sleeve shirts, and a change of clothes into our Camelbak book bags, used carabiners to hook our boots on, and carried our sticks so we wouldn't have to come back out to the car between hikes. We started at Hidden Canyon, which was great. We loved being able to pick our way over the rocks and not be confined to a trail necessarily (although the canyon itself isn't very wide). We had some nice views of Angel's Landing on the way up the switchbacks, and the views in the canyon itself were also nice. It does have some exposed edges, but I would liken them to the "easy" exposed areas of Angel's Landing, having done that last summer. From Hidden Canyon, we went on to the Narrows, where we had lunch at the bus stop before walking up to the start of the Narrows. We hiked in the Narrows as far as the beginning up Wall Street, then up Orderville Canyon for maybe 1/4 mile or so. I personally think the prettiest area is from about halfway to Wall Street up through it. Orderville Canyon is also neat because it is narrower and has a darker feeling because it is shaded more. This is the second time I've done the Narrows, and I loved it both times. Although it does give your legs quite a workout, and my feet are always sore when I'm done. Once we got back to the beginning of the Narrows, we crammed our wet stuff into dry bags and hooked our boots to our backpacks so we could hike Emerald Pools before leaving Zion. Personally, my favorite part of this hike is the overlook at the middle pools as I haven't actually seen the waterfall at the upper pools yet. It was still fairly crowded, even this late in the day. We finished in Zion around 6:15 because we had to return our gear by 7pm. After that, we ate at Wildcat Willie's again. This time, I had the country-fried steak (which is actually pork), with mashed potatoes and gravy, and it was very good. After hiking all day, I was craving something home-cooked and this really hit the spot. From here, we drove on to Las Vegas. We checked the weather in Vegas before leaving, and all our weather app said was dust. We found out they were actually under a high wind warning with gusts up 50 mph. This DID NOT make for a fun check in at our hotel, the Rio. Let me also clarify, we are from a small town in VA, and did not understand how Las Vegas works. First, we got lost trying to find hotel registration and where to park (we are used to just driving up to the front door). Once we figured that out, we learned that we had to use a bellboy for our bags (too many to just carry). Then we had to go park somewhere and come check in. After such a long day of hiking and then driving two hours, this was somewhat stressful for me and probably not something I would do again. However, we did get to sleep in the next morning as we had planned for Vegas to be a relax day

Day 7: We woke up and headed to the Hoover Dam, arriving around 11am, where we did the Dam Tour, which was pretty cool and very informative. We walked around the top of the Dam for some pictures, and then headed back to Vegas. We stopped at the Pawn Stars shop, which, in our opinion, wasn't very impressive. It was much smaller than I thought it would be, and we honestly couldn't really afford anything in there besides the tshirts From here, we headed over to Vivas Las Arepas, which was great. We wanted a small, local place to eat, and this place served Venezuelan food. My dad and I each got an arepa, and he got fried yucca and I got the plantains. The plantains were great, almost as good as what I've had in Ecuador. I also had a little breaded pouch stuffed with guava and cheese (can't remember the name) that was also very good. The juices there are good, but obviously not as fresh as what I've had in Ecuador. After dinner, we went to the Fremont St. Experience, which was very interesting. We saw all kinds of people here and walked through some of the stores. We considered doing the hipline, but didn't really want to pay the money for it at the time. The lights came on right as we were leaving. From here, we drove the strip and went to the Bellagio. We parked and walked through the hotel, hoping to get a spot in the Hyde Lounge to see the fountains. Once we got to the Lounge, we found out it was closed for a private party until 9 or 9:30pm, and it was only 8pm. So we decided to just walk around to the street out front to watch the fountains. Walking through the Bellagio itself was pretty cool, we loved looking at the colorful ceilings. We watched the fountains outside for 3 songs, then headed back up to the parking lot, where we watched another song before leaving. We had planned to do the zipline and rooftop bar at our hotel, but the wind put a damper on that for us. We went to bed fairly early because we had a long drive the next day.

Day 8: Early start, leaving at 6:30am to drive to Mojave National Preserve. We got out at the Teutonia Peak Trail and walked up a little ways just to look at all the Joshua Trees, which we thought were pretty cool. We drove on into the preserve to the visitor center, then looped back up to Baker by the cinder cones. From here, our next stop was a quick lunch along the way and then Cambria, where we got on the PCH. We stopped at Piedras Blancas, which was really cool. We probably spent 30-45 minutes just watching the elephant seals. We continued our drive along the highway, stopping at various pull-outs for pictures and to enjoy the scenic vistas. We stopped and walked to McWay Falls, which was beautiful with the sun hitting it (we got here around 6pm). We continued on to Pfeiffer Beach. The turn is a little difficult to find, it's the first paved road right after the post office. It's about two miles down to the parking area, which wasn't full at all. We walked out on the beach, which was beautiful. We hit it right around 7pm, so the sun was setting and the view was gorgeous. We must have been at the wrong time of the year for it to set behind Keyhole Rock though, because it was off to the right. Still a great view nonetheless. We searched for the purple sand, which wasn't as much as we thought it would be once we found it. We stayed here and enjoyed most of the sunset, then headed back up to Nepenthe for dinner before it has completely set. Nepenthe was very good, we had the brussel sprouts for an appetizer (which I loved), and I had the Ambrosia burger and my dad had the special which was haddock I think. Both were very good. For this night, we stayed at one of the cabins at the Riverside Campground, and I was pleasantly surprised at how nice it was. The heat was just a space heater, but it was plenty for us. We loved the scenery along the coast on this day, it was very different from our beaches back east and we really enjoyed having the mountains on one side and the beach on the other.

Day 9: We drove to Monterey for breakfast at LouLou's Griddle, which was great. We both had the Seafood omelette and loved it. We also enjoyed watching from the pier some tourists getting a surf lesson while we waited for an available table. We had planned to stop at Point Lobos, but didn't realize it was before Monterey and then we didn't want to drive back with everything else we had planned. I will have to go back on my own while I am here in CA this summer instead. We continued on to Big Basin State Park, which we decided to do after a suggestion on here. It was a great idea! We did the Redwood Trail to see the largest trees there (I didn't realize the coastal redwoods were the tallest in the world, I thought it was the giant sequoias!), and we also did Sequoia Trail to see Sempervirens Falls, which was very pretty. We also spotted a fairy ring along the trail, which we read was a circle of younger growth trees around an older one. From Big Basin we went on to the Golden Gate Bridge and the Presidio, which is where we finally hit traffic. (I'm learning to be patient with traffic, considering my hometown is one road and no stoplights ) We stopped and walked through Fort Point, which was neat because neither of us realized there were Civil War forts on the West Coast. We drove around the Presidio as well (and the wrong way down some one way streets!), and then went over to find the Lyon St. Steps. We found them and climbed them all, and I have to admit the view was great. From here, we went over to Mamacita for dinner. At this point, I really have to brag on the people of SF. I'll emphasize again that I am from a small town, so big cities make me a little nervous when it comes to safety sometimes. I had read some stories about people's vehicles being broken into and being attacked by homeless people. So, when we rounded the corner on our way back from dinner and I saw the passenger door of my car wide open, I literally about had a heart attack. EVERYTHING was in the car. All of my stuff for my internship, both our computers, my iPad, you get the picture. But absolutely nothing was missing. Apparently, when my dad got out and shut the door, it didn't actually shut because it was windy, and had blown back open without either of us realizing (stupid, I know). So our car was open the whole time and nobody bothered anything. Thank goodness! We headed to Santa Clara after this little mishap to drop off my stuff at the house I am renting, then came back to the city to stay at the Royal Pacific Motor Inn. This hotel was nicer than I expected after seeing what it looked like on the outside. But, it was close to where we needed to be and offered free parking.

Day 10: Whew, our last day! We got up early and walked to Pier 33 for our Alcatraz ferry, which departed at 8:45am. We got there around 7:30am to get some breakfast at the cafe and start lining up around 8:15am. We did the audio tour of Alcatraz, which I think is really well done and we really enjoyed it. We could push stop and play whenever we wanted and walk around and see other things in between, so it was nice not to have to keep up with a tour guide the whole time and go at our own pace. I don't mean to be ignorant, but we didn't quite understand how the Ai Weiwei exhibits tied into Alcatraz. We didn't particularly enjoy this part of looking around Alcatraz, but many tourists did. We took the ferry back after and arrived around 11:30am. We walked over to Pier 39 and around the back of it to see the sea lions, which were again a lot of fun to watch. They were much more playful than the elephant seals. We ate lunch at the Chowder Hut near Fishermen's Wharf, which was pretty good. We just had a couple sandwiches. From there, we walked over and got on the Powell-Hyde streetcar (after waiting in line for about 20-25 minutes). We just purchased the single ride ticket for $6 each, and got off at Union Square. We chose to stand on the back with the conductor because we weren't able to get a side on the east side facing out, and it turned out to be great. Once we got off at Union Square, we walked over to the gates of Chinatown on Grant St. and began our self-guided walking tour of SF. We wandered through Chinatown, where we bought some jade earrings for my mom and tried some dim sum. (It honestly wasn't my favorite). We also had a treat at a bakery; I had a mooncake filled with lotus and covered in chocolate, and it was great! I wish I had brought a couple home with me! From Chinatown, we walked through North Beach until we came to Lombard St., which we decided to walk up so we could see the crooked part. From there, we walked over a block and then headed back towards North Beach. We ended up climbing Telegraph Hill to go to Coit Tower, and on our way stopped and bought a cup of lemonade from a couple kids that had set up a stand right in front of their house. It was so cute, we couldn't resist! From the Coit Tower, we then walked back into North Beach/Little Italy, where we had some gelato. While we were sitting in the square in front of the church (I don't remember the name), we kept hearing the weird squawking noise and couldn't figure out what it was. We finally looked up and saw the parrots! We hadn't expected them to be in this area as we had read they were closer up to the Coit Tower. So we watched them while we finished our gelato, then headed back to pick up our car. After getting the car, we drove to Alamo Square to see the Painted Ladies, and by then it was time to get some dinner and take my dad to the airport. After walking around SF, we figured out why so many people run on the Embarcadero, those hills! But we really enjoyed walking around the city and seeing everything that we saw.

All in all, this trip was so much fun and we saw so much along the way. I wish it could have been slowed down a little, but we enjoyed it just the same. I look forward to exploring this area more over the next three months during my internship, which will conclude with ANOTHER cross country road trip, but this time via the northern route through Yosemite, Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, Mt. Rushmore/Black Hills, Badlands, and Omaha, then home. Thanks for all the advice I had leading up to this trip, it was all very helpful in finishing up planning the details!
Virginia1990 is offline  
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Apr 24th, 2015, 03:25 AM
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Wow, sounds like you did a marathon. How did the kids make out with all the car time? How did you get back to VA?

Thanks for the report.
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Apr 24th, 2015, 04:09 AM
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THAT is pretty cool. You certainly packed in every possible thing in each place--congrats. I didn't hear about any kids, but didn't look back for other threads.
Wish you had eaten at The Fort in Morrison rather than the Buckhorn for your wild game.
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Apr 24th, 2015, 07:30 AM
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It was just my dad and I, I'm a PT graduate student who had to come out to Woodside for an internship for the summer. I'll be heading back to VA at the end of July! So we didn't have to worry about kids or anything. Gretchen, I went to Colorado a few years ago and ate at the Fort on that visit, and I agree, the food is definitely better! Whenever we return that will be the place we choose for wild game.
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Apr 24th, 2015, 08:26 AM
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I love this trip report==and the reason!!
And by the way, I think PTs hung the moon!!
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Apr 28th, 2015, 08:02 PM
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Aww, thank you Gretchen
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