Twenty thousand roads I went down, down, down. And they all led me straight back home to you

Gram Parsons.

What does that have to do with anything. Well, Caroline is the expert on all things musical and she tells me the story of Gram Parsons, singer songwriter, who used to venture into the Joshua Tree desert and just think (if you don’t know about this, then think of when Homer Simpson went into the desert and had the coyote talk to him). One time in 1973, Gram Parsons was staying at the Joshua Tree hotel when he passed away, suddenly, one evening. He was at the place of two of his greatest loves – the desert and hard drugs.

Anyway, some relative wanted his body back in Louisiana possibly in order to claim the inheritance. However, Gram Parsons’ manager and some friends knew that Gram’s wish was to be cremated and have his ashes scattered in the desert. So, they stole his coffin from the airport, drove out to a location in Joshua Tree – Cap Rock – and poured petrol over the coffin and lit a match. The police were on the trail and put a stop, not before some ashes got scattered. The rest was shipped back, there was no offence for stealing a body; however, they did get fined $750 for stealing the coffin.

So, part of our trip from the magnificent Palm Springs (where the rich and famous and movies stars used to holiday) was to take a drive out to the Joshua Tree National Park and desert. Not necessarily to pay homage but more to see the desert and the trees known as Joshua Trees. This was another of our tourist treks of great things to see and again well worth the visit.

We left in the morning to beat the heat, although it was only 22 it felt much hotter from the beating down sun. It’s cool because it’s on top of a mountain, down below it was over 30.

There are plenty of walks and great things to see. Kind of eerie and you could quite easily imagine why you would want to just come out and watch the stars and think of anything and listen to the voices. We went for one walk and after about five minutes there was nothing there but us and nature. It was quiet and beautiful. And hot, and I wish I’d taken some water. And we could see our car after turning each rock but maybe it was a mirage because it disappeared as quickly as we saw it.

There were also great views overlooking Palm Springs and the valley and the San Andreas Fault line. If you go to LA and are looking for something else other than Disneyland and Hollywood, take the trip out for a night or two at Palm Springs – easy freeway driving (or you can fly).

Here’s a collection of shots (we stayed at a real ‘cool’ hotel the Ace and could recommend).

The first album is of Palm Springs, which as well as being the home of the movie stars, is probably more known for its architecture; the second is the Joshua Tree National Park.

 

Back to Highway 101 … and 1:Day 7

Left Yosemite a week ago and so much has happened in between – not like the drive between Yosemite and our next stop Monterey. This was a pretty much unexciting drive mainly on the 152 with a stop for Starbucks lunch at Los Banos. Starbucks are the new Maccas on road trips – cleaner and better quality food and drinks – and a better quality of clientele. Actually Los Banos might be a kinda interesting town as we passed several liquor stores that also sold sporting goods and ammo; and several sporting goods stores that sold liquor and ammo. Anyways, pretty much a lot of the flat lands were farming – and farming just about anything you could think of it, it was like all these plains were where the USA vegetables come from. Took one picture on the drive, which has no gardening, just dry hills near the San Luis Reservoir. (No map – work it out for yourself if you want – Google Maps Fish Camp, CA to Monterey, CA)

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Arrived early in Monterey, which is on the coast and we had to touch back onto the 101, and also next door to Carmel where Clint Eastwood was the mayor. This is also where Pebble Beach is (we went to drive around there but you have to pay – no wonder they are rich so we didn’t give them any more) and Cannery Row – famous from the Steinbeck novel and sardines – and now nothing but a tourist trap. They have done a good job fixing all the old sardine canneries but if only they hadn’t filled them with every tacky kinda souvenir shop you could think of. Great things such as the mirror maze and wax museum – you name it, they had it. Here’s a couple of shots – note Caroline’s face, which pretty much sums up what we thought of Cannery Row.

We stayed out of the downtown area, never got to Fisherman’s Wharf, but did enjoy the shopping centre across the road from our Comfort Inn, which was another of those old-fashioned drive-in motels that comes with complimentary neighbour noise and a buffet breakfast – range of people at this hotel but I don’t think any generally caught their breakfast – also a few overseas visitors. This area is very popular with the tourists because this is also where one of the world’s most spectacular drives starts or ends, depending on whether travelling north or south. And that’s what drew us there and why we stayed two nights. I couldn’t imagine how busy this area would be over summer.

We travelled down Highway 1 from Monterey, through the Big Spur and turned around in Cambria, which was an excellent little strip-village off the highway, and many lunch choices. This covered the best areas of the drive and there was everything. Coming from north to south is also ideal as that puts you on the beach side when driving for the best views and turnouts. But interestingly, we came back south-north and it does give you a different view, it was like a new drive. Also interesting to see how long it takes. I didn’t do an exact time but it was over four hours to reach Cambria with all our stopping and a little over two on the way back – so it depends on how much you want to stop. There also seems to be a few who appear to want to see how quickly they can do the drive, which is primarily single lane each way at about 55mph. And there are also quite a lot who have done the ultimate road-trip in hiring a convertible – and yeah, the weather was good and that would be kinda cool to do.

So, the highlights on the trip was the absolutely magnificent view of the ocean, how close you get from the top of the cliffs, the amazement of driving through a forest at the Big Sur and then more great ocean – only a stone’s throw from Australia across the Pacific. But we also saw stacks of sea lions (now would be the time to go back to the Sea Lion caves) and a beach where the elephant seals come in before winter, and a gopher, and some fantastic houses on the edge of the cliffs, and sea eagles. And yes, it was well worth the drive. This and Yosemite were two of the things we wanted to see and do and have not been disappointed. And yes, the Great Ocean Road has nothing on this road-trip. Here’s a few pictures but it is really the views, sounds, smells in our heads that you can never put in a picture.

Yosemite

This visit needs no special post title, and it doesn’t need many words either. The park was magnificent. Being off-season it also was not crowded – the guy in one of the shops told us Yosemite has over 4 million visitors a year.

Our accommodation was very good and easy access to the park without actually being in the park. However, due to it being off-season there was minimal staff in the two restaurants open in the resort (you kind of don’t have  a lot of choice unless prepared to drive to the next town) and this meant service was slow but there was nothing wrong with the quality when it did arrive.

Anyway, back to the park and the views kind of creep up on you then all of a sudden coming from the southern entrance, which we did, you go through a tunnel and reach the view from the earlier photo. It’s like a picture, in fact most of the park looked like a picture. And we were lucky with great sunny weather and some snow overnight but the roads we wanted were open and chains weren’t needed.

There are multiple places to camp inside the park and heaps of trails to walk. We followed one to Mirror Lake as it apparently makes for a great scene. However, as there hasn’t been any snow yet, there also isn’t any water in the lake. But the dry lake did still make a scenic and peaceful picnic spot.

Saw a few deer walking around and they had no fear of people but we didn’t see any bears. Although on the red sign in the album it mentions speeding kills bears and they put these signs out at all locations where a bear has been killed by a car during the year. So far this year a notice said over 100 bears had been killed on the roads.

We also didn’t see everything there is to see in the park but what we saw was pretty damn good. I hope you enjoy the photos (which I could have posted earlier but the resort had slow internet that you had to keep renewing every hour).

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The drive up to Yosemite
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Tunnel at Tunnel View
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From Tunnel View
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From Tunnel View
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Tunnel View
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El Capitan from Tunnel View
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Brideveil Falls - not much water until after the snow
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That's the tunnel ahead
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Sunset
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Snow on our balcony
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From Mirror Lake
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A dry Mirror Lake
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One of the creeks with a trickle
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Reflection
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The Ahwhanee - historical and you need to be rich
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Plenty of tame deer
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El Capitan - to the right of the top of the tree is a rock climber
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From our balcony
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Tenaya Lodge lobby
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The rock climber

And here’s a copy of the park map. We stayed at the bottom of the park at Fish Camp. The photos come from the drive along Wawona Road and in the Valley Floor. yose-2011

Nowhere Near Highway 101: Day 5

Okay, back on the road from Sonoma for a drive further inland to Yosemite. This was one part of the road-trip we were looking forward to and for a while there we were going to have to find something else to do with the Government Shutdown and the National Parks closed down. So, we hadn’t booked any accommodation and eventually came up with a magnificent resort – Tenaya Lodge – just outside of the National Park and because there were vacancies and this is off-season we got it at less than half price (usually over $400 a night).

But, first we had to get there. The morning started with an excellent pecan pancake and crispy bacon at the Cinnamon Bear and here’s a picture of the breakfast and because I asked, here’s a picture of the pancake mix and our lovely host Darla.

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Bit of a chat with the other couple staying the night (that’s what happens in B&Bs) and then hit the road. Back through Napa, making our way to the 99 then the 41, which would take us to Yosemite.

Started well until we had to take a detour off the freeway due to a head-on involving two semis with one of the driver’s deceased I later found out. Lucky Mr Garmin was speaking to us so we knew which way to go.

Pity Mr Garmin didn’t keep speaking to us because after some hair-raising driving through Stockdale where there were multiple trucks, heavy traffic, shitful roads, and roadworks Mr Garmin decided he’d had enough and packed it in. Caroline twigged when she said it’s been saying we had 58 mile until our next turn-off for a very long time. She tried a reset but the pin Avis gave us did not work so we were at the mercy of T-Mobile and Caroline’s iPad. If ever you go to USA for more than a few weeks recommended to get a sim-card from T-Mobile, you don’t need a social security card with them like AT&T. Getting back to the pin on the Garmin, this is the second time this has happened (last time we were in Memphis on our last trip – I probably blogged about that if your are interested) so Avis will get a message when I get back.

Back to the driving – if you do not like driving on freeways in heavy traffic with a concrete barrier on one side and a series of semis on the other with hardly any gap between you and them and you are doing over 65mph and you have no idea where you are going – do not drive in America. Here’s a picture of the roadblock after the fatal –

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And because it’s not all doom and gloom, here’s a picture of some wine vines coming out of Sonoma.
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Maybe it was all gloom, here’s another typical shot out of the roadworks and semis.
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Almost there, made it through some town which appeared to be very much Latino populated, then off into the hills. (Although we did have a pleasant sandwich at Starbucks in Chowchilla.) I was expecting a much more curvier and steep drive – it was bendy but not as steep as our earlier trip to Reddding. However, this was made even more enjoyable when poor old Jim just wanted to take in the scenery; however, he felt he was in the movie Duel with a delivery truck chasing us up the mountain – does the worker have no consideration for the tourist.

Anyway, managed eventually to let him pass when we paid our $20 vehicle fee (lasts a week) to enter the Yosemite National Park and came across this:
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and this:
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and more to come … suckers

 

 

No Longer Highway 101: Day 4

Monday and we are well away from Highway 101, in fact we probably won’t be hitting Highway 101 again so this could be the last time you see that in the title but as I like consistency, I will probably leave it … or I could change it.

Doesn’t really matter, Day 4 of our drive, which is no longer on the coast, started in Redding, travelling down the I5 (a major north/south freeway) then turning off towards Napa Valley before settling in Sonoma for the night.

Being mostly on the freeway this was a pretty unexciting drive and then we hit Napa Valley, which was pretty much under road repair everywhere. Better mention there were no breakfast incidents, no kids touching all the biscuits and coughing over the scrambled eggs or old people cutting into the toaster line.

This part of the I5 was easy driving, passing orchard after orchard after orchard, until we hit olive grove after olive grove then more orchards. We stopped at Napa for lunch at the Bounty Hunter Wine Bar & Smokin’ BBQ. A BBQ wine bar that matched wine with the BBQ. The food was okay, I actually enjoyed my shrimp and clam chowder but the ribs were nothing special. Then we went for a bit of a walk. This place was quiet and full of botox blondes – there was a table at the bar that could have come straight from the Real Housewives of Napa, with their husbands who were kind of like construction workers or maybe they were the ones who sold trailers to those who would not fit in Napa, i.e. drink their wine from a cask. Another funny thing here, in a town that is wine Caroline had a lovely red from New Zealand – go figure? (she made up for it over dinner with a Sonoma wine)

We walked around the area known as Riverfront, that was pretty much deserted, many vacant shops and empty restaurants and resembling a Disneyland kind of wonder world. No doubt, it is buzzing at other times than a Monday afternoon. However, the weather was excellent – beautiful sunshine, about 23 with no fog. Had a look at the weather reports and snow is expected in Spokane where the dog conference was – would we hit snow on Day 5 – you will have to keep checking in.

However, we then arrived in Sonoma, which reminded us of a lovely country town in Victoria. The character was so different and we nestled into our very nice B&B with such a cute (?) name – the Cinnamon Bear. We went for a drive around the valley (and not being a wine drinker and being a dedicated driver and there is not much point in buying wine unless you ship it back) we never hit a winery but we did go to the Lagunitas Brewery in Petaluma (about half an hour from Sonoma and through multiple four-way Stop signs, which when you get used to them work quite well) just to buy some stuff (I have had this beer in Melbourne and love their dog logo … and their beer is pretty good too).

Excellent pizza at The Red Grape followed by very pretty chocolate cake. And we would definitely return to this area to hit the wineries – just needs more than an overnighter.

Day 5 and we head off to Yosemite – and wait until you hear the stories of that drive. Also, more pictures for this post will come later as up here in Yosemite the internet is like Commodore 64 speed, so check back again.

Along the I5 between Redding & Napa

Along the I5 between Redding & Napa

 

Highway 101: Day 3

Back on the road after a wonderful night at Gold Beach. As mentioned, the breakfast was an experience. Hotels with complimentary breakfast attract either business people, travellers like us or folks or have no time to catch their breakfast. Unfortunately we were caught up in the latter. But the breakfast was okay and it does make for an interesting morning.

Another cheap fill of petrol, pumped and cleaned by the young lad who did a good job. We were away early as we had a long drive and there was no reason to linger over breakfast. The highway south was a good drive and we checked in to several turn-outs for a look at the view.

Then we crossed the border from Oregon to California. You could feel you had actually entered somewhere new (or different. or old?)- a bit like crossing from Victoria into NSW on the old Hume. The roads needed more work, there were hitchhikers everywhere that all seemed to be heading to a G20 demonstration and wondered why no-one was stopping.

The coastal towns were older and mostly bigger, the traffic busier and faster, and the lunch stop was McDonalds in Eureka – this was on our original plans for a stop and quite pleasing we changed. But, maybe there were some good parts (unlikely).

Forgot to mention we also gained an hour as daylight saving ended so we could head away earlier than usual, which would be valuable as the next leg was one hell of a leg.

Before we reached Eureka we did have the tacky tourist stop at The Trees of Mystery. Going into the forest and seeing the size of the trees (200ft or more and some you could drive a car through – we did not bother going to where you can drive through the tree) and a ride in the Gondola for a magnificent view and the customary souvenir shop at the end (the only thing missing was the photo of your visit – very common in USA tacky-tourism; on a previous trip we got kicked back in the line for photos at Empire State Building as we had no intention of buying them but that doesn’t matter, you still have to have it taken). The Trees of Mystery have been around for a very long time and you could tell and as the trees are over 600 years old or more, will probably be around for many more years to come.

After Eureka we doubled back to the Highway 299 to head inland to Redding, which would be a nice stop-over and would make our day 4 to Sonoma an easy drive. This drive was one hell of a drive, windy (as in lots of bends), long, a bit of traffic every now and again, a few bridges under repair, and long, and did I say windy and steep (over 3000ft). But we made it, with one bit of excitement when we were coming through a nice little town, which name escapes me, but it was that nice there were bigfoot museums and shops (this is bigfoot country) but a deer also walked across the road in the centre of the downtown.

As mentioned, a rest at Hampton Inn in Redding (this was a busy place) and dinner at the Cattlemen’s where the steaks were excellent – as is the norm in USA. And we had complimentary breakfast so what would be in store for us on Day 4?

Home » Highway 101: Day 3 » Gold Beach to Redding » Gold Beach to Redding
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Highway 101: Day 2

Just finished day three of our drive and we are off the coast and inland – one hell of drive through the mountains but more about that in the Day 3 blog because this is the Day 2 blog.

End of Day 1 and we camped for the night at The Timbers Motel in Eugene. This is an old, original kind of motel on the outskirts, next to the Greyhound Bus Station but it was good enough for sleeping and it was close to a brewery bar (Falling Sky – excellent beer and I had pasta bolognaise and it was outstanding), Starbucks and the Saturday morning farmers market. And easy to get to and get out of in the car.

Day 2 was not going to be a long drive but we had to head back to the coast on a different route and this was also the first day we hit rain, which the locals tell us is very unusual (unusual that there has been no rain, not unusual that there was rain). Apparently the weather has been great for this time of the year and we aren’t complaining. No need for petrol and the toilet stop was at Deans Creek Elk Viewing Area – a stop-off on the side of the road (Highway 38) where the elk live. At least we waited until there were toilets with a door as we counted about five or so folks that had to park on the side of the road – this is either what you do in this neck of the woods or maybe it has something to do with the amount of coffee people drink. Most places the small coffee is 120z and they go up from there – 12 oz is 350mil – most people go for the 18oz, which is half a litre. And I say it again, no wonder you gotta pee in this town.

Anyways, the elk were good, although they were off in the distance. Then back towards the coast, which we picked up in Reedsport. This area is the sand dune area of the coast; however, you can’t really see them without taking a few detours and we were not inclined, just in case we got caught short.

So we kept heading south through some tiny and at times rather uninspiring towns until we stopped at Coos Bay for an excellent sub. Then on to Gold Beach where we stayed for the night at the Gold Beach Resort. Not the kind of resort as we know it but have a look at the views and this place fronted the beach and no doubt in summer would be a busy place. We ate at one of the local Italian restaurants not opened for long and it was excellent – the Mangia Buff. This is the second time we have found excellent Italian in the most unlikely of places (many years ago when we drove route 66 we found an Italian restaurant in the middle of the desert that was outstanding). It was a family run restaurant, with family employees and they were so accommodating, we even had free ice-cream and more importantly free bourbon – woo hoo!

Breakfast was one of those interesting times where I think we were the only ones who did not live in a trailer and do not have to catch our food – but that is Day 3, so more to follow. Here’s some photos …

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Highway 101: Day 1

We left Portland on Friday to commence our drive south. We have given ourselves a week for a trip that takes about four hours on the freeway by taking Highway 101 – the Pacific Coast Road – along the Washington, Oregon, California coast. This drive is also recognised as being one of the world’s greatest road trips. So, we didn’t come all this way just to go to Spokane for a dog conference. Actually when we go to conferences (this is the third and we also did one in Canada) we always look to see where it is situated and if there is anything around that would make the trip into a worthwhile holiday as well as an informative five day conference.

Back on the road and I had planned a certain route that would have us picking up the coast a little farther south than Portland but the concierge recommended picking up the highway at Tillamook (farther north than where I was headed) so we took his advice as I’d be guessing he’d know a little more than me and Google maps. Our actual target for day 1 was Eugene, which is about 2 hours south of Portland on the freeway but where is the fun in that – and the freeway is inland. So our planned trip would take us through the mountains to the coast, south to Florence then cut back through the forest to Eugene – a bit under five hours.

It was a pretty easy drive, the road system over here is excellent and you know one of the biggest differences is that they aren’t doing roadworks everywhere and when they do they don’t see a need to block half the road and reduce the speed to almost nothing. Although there was one section of the coast road that was reduced to one lane and luckily we were in the direction that got flagged through first as the opposing traffic was about a kilometre long (or at least it seemed that way).

Also, everyone here in Oregon and moving back into Washington are very polite drivers. No-one sits in the left (the right for us) unless passing, trucks stay on their reduced speed limit (65mph for vehicle on the freeway, 60 for trucks – on the coast road this is 55mph for cars). The roads are smooth and hardly a anyone speeds or tailgates.

Nice drive through the mountains but I was wondering where the bloody hell was the coast. A highlight was petrol in Beaver Town (it was beaver something anyway) where there was someone to fill the car and do the windscreen for you and the guy inside was in for a chat and the toilets were great – such a contrast to Connell from one of my earlier posts. And the petrol prices, this is the second time for a refuel – it costs about $3.45 a gallon (which is expensive the attendant told me), which for us is about 90 cents a litre – and that’s expensive!

We finally picked up the coast, had a nice seafood lunch (fish and chips and a cup of clam chowder) in Newport and headed inland to Eugene. There are a few viewing points along the way but the sky was quite hazy but the views are worth seeing. And so was the highlight, which was a visit to the Sea Lion Caves the largest sea lion caves in Nth America. Unfortunately we were out of sea lion season (they return to the caves about tend of November, not the start) but we were lucky enough to see two of them swimming around in the rather rough ocean (and we did get a discount as there was no guarantee of seeing a sea lion). Great views from here and the cave was pretty amazing, even had to catch an elevator down.

So day one ended in Eugene as expected. More to follow.

Home » Highway 101: Day 1 » Portland to Eugene
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From Portland to Tillamook
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From Portland to Tillamook
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From Portland to Tillamook
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From Portland to Tillamook
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Tillamook to Newport
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Tillamook to Newport
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Tillamook to Newport
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Somewhere on the highway
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Somewhere
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Somewhere
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Just like the other somewhere
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Newport
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Newport
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Sea Lion Caves
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Newport to Sea Lion Caves
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Sea Lion Caves
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Sea Lion Caves
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Teaser for Day 2

 

The owls were flying

Okay, back to the holiday – or should I say vacation. I mentioned we picked up our car in Seattle for the drive over to Spokane and then from Spokane, driving on down to Portland.

We have a Nissan Altima with Oregon plates, which helps in fitting in with the crowd. It’s not bad to drive but there is some terrible glare through the windscreen, i.e. bouncing off the rather large dash. The radio is okay and does well at selecting all kinds of music in this area – country or christian. Although we did find one that was original rock, think AC/DC et al.

Staying on the right is not a problem, just those damn windscreen wipers being where the indicator should be.

The first drive was about 4 hours which was very scenic as we drive through the forested mountains but then flattened out to not very much as we got closer to Spokane.

Home » The owls were flying » Seattle to Spokane
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The second trip, well that was the opposite, although at one stage we drove through a dust storm – very windy, very dusty. Especially in one place – Connell – that had a prison and trailer park; and dust and a not so clean rest-stop but when you gotta stop you gotta stop as there aren’t many opportunities and it does add to the fun(?) of the trip. Although we did a detour to stops for lunch at Bacon & Eggs in a place called Walla Walla, which is a bit of a wine area and fantastic food.

And I almost forgot, the trip was that much more exciting as Mr Garmin sent us on Washington side of the river to the older state highway, rather than the Oregon side on the newer interstate – still got to the same place just a different view.

Home » The owls were flying » Spokane to Portland
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Excuse some of the photos as not easy using a camera while driving and there are the customary bugs on the screen. I’ll stick a map in here when I can remember how to do it … and I remembered

 

Driving on the Right

We’ve had a few days of driving so far – Dallas to Dallas for a night; Dallas to Hot Springs for a night; Hot Springs to Memphis for three nights; and Memphis to Nashville via Shiloh National Military Park (where we are for the next three nights before moving on). All up about 900 miles (around 1440 kilometres for you back home), which has required two trips to the gas station (only about half empty – or half full for the others) for a total cost of close to $70 (petrol, or should I say gas, is around $3.33 a gallon – about $1.12 a litre – unless someone’s math is better than mine). There is still plenty of driving to go and looking forward to it.

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