Later that day we passed the National Bridges Monument. The unbelievably empty U.S. 95 road was cutting the red and orange painted rocks and canyons like a sharp knife as we headed north. Quite abruptly the road made a gentle descent to the Colorado river and reservoir. We arrived at Glen Canyon. In August the Colorado reservoir was almost empty. We parked the car went to see around.
Impounded behind the Glen Canyon Dam, waters of the Colorado River and tributaries are backed up almost 200 miles to form Lake Powell, the recreational focus of the park.
From Kayenta we got back north, passed again the Monument Valley and soon arrived at Utah again. Our first stop was Goosenecks State Park located close to a small village of Mexican Hat ( the name of the village is derived from a funny Mexican-hat-like rock standing nearby ). Here the San Juan river is surrounded by canyon walls more than 1000 feet high.
From the Park we headed north passing the Valley of Gods and later climbing the steep Moki Dugway ( amazing views down below ).
Date: August 26th, 2010.
Driving through the Monument Valley is like being inside the opening scene of the good old Western movie where lone John Wayne is riding his horse in the valley and from above the red mountain ridge the Indians are watching him closely. It is like going back to your childhood.
We have already visited the Monument Valley twice, in 2005 and 2007. This year it all happened somehow by accident. On the vast and deserted lands of Southern Utah it is hard to find a hotel. The only option we found that night was Kayenta, a desert community Indian town in Northern Arizona with trailer-type homes, gas stations, burger emporia, horses hanging on the streets, dust, wind, some souvenirs stores and a Holiday Inn ( where we stayed at night, tasted a nice sweet Navajo bread and ate at Sonic drive through ).
So that night we had to make extra 50 miles South to get to Kayenta. But it was all worth it. The red flat landscape is dotted with majestic rectangular rocks with sharp blue sky above it. This is definitely one of the "must-see" places before you die.
Owachomo natural 35 meters long and 1 meter thick bridge.
A long straight empty road runs across semi-desert Southern Utah. That early afternoon we passed the Comb Ridge on our way to Natural Brigdes National Monument.
Date: August 25th, 2010.
The road to the Canyonlands N.P. ( needles district ).
In the morning we departed rather early driving south on the U.S. 191. After a couple of miles we made our first stop at "Hole in the rock" shop. It was a funny place with lots of garbage and memorabilia to buy. We kind of liked it. Then we hit the road again. From U.S. 191 we turned left ( in the place where a beautiful Church Rock is ) to Scenic Road 211 to sightsee the Southern part of the Canyonlands National Park. The road to the Visitors Center was long - over 30 miles, but not in the second boring. We stopped at the Newspaper Rock to admire some beautiful ancient Indian Rock Writing and then proceeded until we arrived the the Big Spring Canyon Overlook. This is the heart of Colorado Plateau - a vastness and wilderness of red, brown and orange rocks all in very strange shapes covering the visible land. Millions of years of erosion have transformed this area into hundreds of canyons, gorges, mesas, fins, arches and spires. This is the spirit of Wild West. To a large degree the area is untrammeled even today - the roads are mostly unpaved ( due to the local government decions no new roads will be constructed ever to protect the enviroment ), the trails are primitive, its river free flowing and no construction allowed. And there is one thing more about it: the unnerving silence. The deep canyons seem to swallow every sound. So when you get out of the car it is all about only two senses: you FEEL the heat, you SEE the beauty, but you HEAR no sound.
The Canyonland is a wild America.
In the evening when my son Lucas and Agnieszka stayed at the hotel I went alone to explore and old road along the Meander Canyon of the Colorado river, passed some old Indian petroglyphs and finally arrived at the mine of Potash. The paved highway ended here where potash, a mineral used as a fertilizer, is extracted. I met no people or cars, just a bare but marvelous scenery.
The view was unbelievably beautiful. The red vastness of red rocks coming sharply down with gorges and steep impenetrable mountain walls. And far down away the brownish meanders of Colorado river. We wondered for a couple of minutes, made many: ohhs and aahs, and drove to next point of view ( the Upheaval Dome Overlook ) and end the trip at the Dead Horse View Point ( above ). We picked a place to sit for a while and just take it all in.
In the morning we got back to our van and headed south. Very soon we entered Idaho and for an hour we drove through the beautiful scenery of Targhee National Forest ( picture above ). Just after Idaho Falls we joined the Interstate 26. Every kilometer south the air got hotter and hotter and the landscape got more half desert-like. After a couple of hours we passed the Idaho-Utah frontier. At Salt Lake City we stopped at Gateway Mall, did some shopping, had a lunch at TacoTime. Salt Lake City is located in the middle of the flat and hot desert surrounded by the high red brown-colored mountain peaks and white salt lakes. We drove passed the white towers of the Mormon Temple in the city center ( pictured above ) and soon we were back on the Interstate.
After Springville we left the Interstate 15 and turned to road 6 going south. The landscape was deserted ( picture above ) and the road seemed to be never-ending. We passed some 'settlements' dotted on our map as towns but they were literally in the form of a gas station, and a few surrounding shacks - and nothing else.
But we were very excited. Soon we were to land at one of the most picturesque corners of the US: the Southern Utah.
Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone N.P. is the third largest hot spring on earth ( with water temperature of 160 ºC ) but considered the most fascinating one.
Algae and pigmented bacteria in the microbial mats that grow around the edges of the mineral-rich water spring change color dependent on the ratio of chlorophyll to carotenes produced by these organisms.
This is definitely one of the sights you want to see in your lifetime.
Date: August 23rd, 2010.
And the best of all: the colors. Deep blue, ultramarine, green, orange, yellow, all derived from heat-loving microorganisms. All colors were saturated, deep and so not-from-this-world that you wanted to touch them, play with them, just like a child would.
It was a moon-like experience.
That was one of the best days on our trip.
Date: August 23rd, 2010.
This is a historic spot. One of the most important and influential landscape photographers of the last century, Ansel Adams used to take photos here.
This is my small tribute to this before-the-photoshop-arrived era genius.
Date: August 22nd, 2010.
Later that day we had a nice walk to the Jenny and String lakes, then passed the Snake River dam and drove north. The weather was pleasant.
At one of the view points over the Jackson Lake we stopped. I spotted these two guys on motorcycles also stunned by the Mount Moran panorama light and shadow show.
Guys on motorcycles is a very common site in America as common as RVs. It seems like when guys go out riding, it's a male-bonding thing. Riding bikes together is like a pack, a sense of brotherhood, all for one, one for all kind of thing. I like that. Keep rolling on, brothers !
We woke up before the sunrise, had an early bird breakfast at the hotel in Driggs, Idaho and rushed up East in the direction of Jackson Hole. Soon we climbed the Tenton pass ( 2200 m. ) and entered Wyoming. The sun was still rising over the Sheep Mountains. We quickly drove through the Jackson ( one of the most charming American small towns ), paid a fee and entered the Grand Teton National Park. This was the landscape acclaimed one of the most enchanting in the US. There was hard to find a spot that did not dazzle us with beauty, majesty and serenity.
First we stopped at the Antelope Flat road. We had to drive very slowly because our car got surrounded by a horde of bisons ! Then we stopped at Schwabacher's Landing ( above ). This is one of America’s most spectacular viewpoints with the slow moving river that offers beautiful crystal-clear reflections in the early morning. One can often see bison and elk grazing in the sparse fields along the base of the mountain range with its highest peak Grand Tenton soaring over 3000 m above the sea level. Even now, in mid-August a small glacier could be clearly seen.
Date: August 22nd, 2010.
Wedover is a strange town. It sits on the Utah / Nevada border in the middle of "nowhere". The "nowhere" is really the middle of Great Basin desert: 700 km of diameter large dnd hot desert.
A story behind:
The eastern part of the town is located in Utah - a state where most of the population belongs to Mormon Church which greatly influences Utah culture and daily life. So it is a quite, normal and a simple good-living small town. The western part of Wendover belongs to Nevada, a state where prostitution, hazard and crime hit the national´s high. 10 cm behind the Nevada-Utah border a huge Nugget Casino rises with its large and blinking colorful sings inviting you to gamble, spend money and join the party.
In the morning we left Wendover and joined Interstate 80. After 45 km we turned north and drove road 233. For the next 160 km we were practically alone on the road and met as many as 2 cars on our way until finally arrived at the gorgeous Sawtooth National Forest and a tiny village of Rosette ( 10 houses and a red brick church ). A couple of miles later we joined Interstate 84 and entered a state of Idaho. We crossed Curlew National Grassland ( "A land of many uses" as the sign was saying ) and drove north to Pocatello. At Pocatello we stopped a at Applebee´s and had a nice lunch. Agnieszka ordered her favorite White Peach Sangria with Sutter Home White Zinfandel to drink. Oh, it was goooood, very good. And this is where America stays at its best: they bring it big, very big, like an almost a liter big glass of sangria so we all could enjoy it.
After lunch we hit the road again. Our surroundings has changed. We soon forgot about hot, flat and desert-like landscapes of Utah and Nevada. Idaho was all about vast grassy planes with woods and rivers and cattle. But it was not until Idaho Falls that the landscape became heavenly beautiful.
The Swan Valley lies between Caribou and Snake River Ranges surrounded by the rocky mountain peaks of 3000 m.
In the middle of the valley we found this old shack standing in-between the corn fields. The sky was made of tiny black and white puzzle-like parts ... I stopped and took a picture. I could feel we were approaching the Tetons National Park, one of the most stunning landscapes in the United States.
Date: August 21st, 2010.
Gott´s Roadside ( or Taylor´s Automatic Refresher as it was called until lately ) was voted ( by three of us ) the best burgers we have ever eaten in America. Sweet potato fries and milkshakes were also so good !
Date: August 16th, 2010.
My first impression of the San Francisco China Town was bad: the district appeared to be a very touristic, overrated, too crowded place selling cheap plastic Buddhas, 2 $ lousy T-shirts and suspicious-looking "health balls".
But when I returned there another and yet another day I slowly found it more and more appealing. It all started in a small shop when we stopped to buy water. I asked the Chinese man at the counter how´s "Thank You" in Chinese. He responded, laughed and we talked. Instantly China Town gained a much more "human" face. Just taste delicious Dim Sum, drop in to see Fortune Cookies factory, admire oriental Renaissance style buildings´ decoration, stroll narrow in between alleys, look for family run restaurants, enjoy card and mahjong players at Yerba Buena and ignore hordes of tourists on the main Grand Avenue.
Xie Xie China Town !
Date: August 14th, 15th and 16th, 2010.
The city sits on the top of a peninsula, surrounded by waters of the Pacific Ocean.
The Bay Bridge ( above ), photographed at night August 15th, 2010 from San Francisco pier 14, links San Francisco and Berkley.
This is the story that begins our 7th visit to the US and our first time in San Francisco. The place is one of the United States’ most striking and amazing cities: the hills, cable cars, the bay with its bridges and the famous fog ( the latter we found less agreeable: the fog was absent only a few hours around midday giving some unpleasant chill for the most of the day ). But there is more to the city: throw in the uniquely charming architecture, world-class restaurants, a vibrant multicultural mix and you get the place with its in and outs worth exploring.
After dark I went to the Embarcadero and Pier 14. It was rather cold. The breeze was blowing from the ocean. The low, fast-moving clouds were illuminated by the lights of the city of Berkley located on the other side of the bay.
Location: The Embarcadero street, pier 14, San Francisco.
Date: August 15th 2010. 21.16 h.