L.A. hotel complications…

FINALLY got a hotel booked for Los Angeles… and boy was that complicated!

Here I thought that being a big city we wouldn’t have to worry about finding accommodations, and so no need to book early… Well I was soooooooooo wrong on that account. All the reasonably priced, most desirable lodgings were booked! So we had to scramble to find something that didn’t cost a fortune, or that wasn’t in an unsafe area, or that at least had secure parking… and we wanted to be within walking distance of the beach!

Well it took me some days of searching but, did end up with a fairly OK deal… after searching hotels, motels, chains, small family run places, short term rentals, and even hostels… I ended up going full circle and picking up a Holiday Inn Express in Marina del Rey that other travelers seemed to rate pretty highly in reviews. It meets our needs, and is less expensive than the alternatives…

And so at the end of Route 66 we will come to our Holiday Inn… somehow that seems appropriate when I think back to those childhood vacations where a Holiday Inn was considered a budget-minded family accommodation (boy have things changed! … or else the conception of “budget-minded” has become out of wack)!

Anyway, am glad that is solved and we will have a comfortable and secure end of the Route rest… before picking up the Pacific Coast Highway to start “part 2″ of the journey… our return!!!!

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Texas to New Orleans to Home…

Am fleshing out the planning for the final segment of the trip — from the Big Bend back to New York, and once again have questions and options to consider. And this is probably something we will need to decide BEFORE we leave…

The current trip plan has us doing the following:

DAY 40: Big Bend to Palmetto state park, TX

DAY 41: Palmetto state park, TX to New Orleans, LA

DAY 42: New Orleans Visit Day

DAY 43: New Orleans, LA to Lurleen state park, AL

DAY 44: Lurleen state park, AL to Smoky Mountains National Park TN

DAY 45: Pick up day

DAY 46: Smoky Mountains National Park TN to Shenandoah National Park VA

DAY 47: Shenandoah National Park VA to HOME

That would give us no time to spend in the Cajun area of Layfayette which seems to really have a lot of fun and interesting things to do (almost more so than New Orleans itself)… Think it could be really good to break and spend the evening there and possibly do the swamp boat ride with that guy  in exchange for the pickup day we currently had in the Smoky mountains (i mean they are beautiful… but we will have seen so much incredible nature already… i think the Cajun bit is more interesting at that point in the journey…)

So if we decide to make the switch we have:

DAY 40: Big Bend to Palmetto state park, TX

DAY 41: Palmetto state park, TX to Layfayette, LA

DAY 42: Layfayette, LA to New Orleans, LA

DAY 43: New Orleans Visit Day

DAY 44: New Orleans, LA to Lurleen state park, AL

DAY 45: Lurleen state park, AL to Smoky Mountains National Park TN

DAY 46: Smoky Mountains National Park TN to Shenandoah National Park VA

DAY 47: Shenandoah National Park VA to HOME

The only “down” side to that is it leaves us with the last 4 days as straight “DRIVE” days with not much else…

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The Zion Narrows permit scramble…

Picture 28

Was up really early this morning, and had alarms and reminders flashing and beeping since yesterday, because today is the day the reservations for permits on the Narrows opens up! There are only 12 campsites and only 6 are reservable in advance… And we have to have the permit for a specific day because of our complicated trip plan!

I had tried the site last night after midnight, but it was not yet showing the August reservations calendar (perhaps it posts after midnight Utah-time… which is 2 time zones behind New York… and I just couldn’t stay up that late… was too tired!).

When I went on the site this morning around 6a.m., there were already days/sites that were full! Luckily there was still a 4-person site open on our required day, and I didn’t hesitate to reserve! SUCCESS! We have a permit for site 3!

Now we have to get a shuttle reservation to the trailhead. And get to the park from Las Vegas in time for the early a.m. departure (which may be earlier than planned because of road construction that has caused disruption to the shuttle schedule).

… And we have to hope the weather and river conditions cooperate … we are only allowed to hike the river if it is flowing at below 120 cubic feet per second and if there are no flash flood warnings in effect. So there is a fairly strong likelihood that even with our permit we may not be able to do the trip. We need to be prepared for that eventuality as well… and we need to be SMART about considering the weather forecasts with due caution (and not the usual unbridled can-do enthusiasm)… as we have “graduated” to “grown-up” expeditions and the Rangers will not make decisions for us here! We need to make our own go/no go decision based on conditions on the day of the trip.

Here is the link to a video (it may take a few moments to download) the Rangers put together about safe Canyoneering in Zion. It is worth watching for the section on Flash Flooding…

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Counting down…

Now we begin the real countdown and put our preparations into overdrive as the trip is fast approaching…

In just 5 weeks Cactus Killer and Silly Squirrel will be in NY!

Everything needs to be ready for D-Day… 9 July!

Overall we are in good shape with the planning and trip prep. Luckily we started so far ahead it was not a mad dash of planning… However, we still have more to do to finalize plans and get everything into place.

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Made the test-drive to Pennsylvania today…

Wanted to field-test the Jeep  and procure some supplies for the bon voyage Fourth of July program at the same time… So did the drive this morning to the Delaware Gap and it was smooth driving all the way.

Left base at 5 a.m. Traffic was already active on the Long Island Expressway, but still flowing smooth enough to at least go the speed limit. The Belt Parkway was about the same. Made it over the Verazanno Bridge and into New Jersey by around 7… and from there decided to take the New Jersey Turnpike to I-80, rather than the shorter route that seemed less well sign-posted…  Traffic was light the whole way to the Delaware Gap, and I arrived there by about 8:15…

So basically the drive to that point took 3 hours… (the return took about the same… amazingly little traffic headed east)…

The Jeep rode well and I didn’t notice any problems or things that felt like they needed to be checked out… though I will have them check the brakes, because when I started it up after 2 weeks of non-use the break pedal needed to be pumped a bit… not sure if that means anything (and i was driving another vehicle while in Ireland that had very sensitive brakes, so I might be reacting to the difference in vehicle feel rather than anything precise…)

Finally, the procurement run went off without a hitch and we have everything we need to make our pre-departure Fourth of July program a success!

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Options from Moab to the Big Bend…

Moab to Big BendWe had an interesting discussion yesterday about the need for rest during the journey. Originally it was built into the plan with pickup days between the various travel legs, but as we refined things we have (on paper, anyway) decided to split up some of the drive days, eating into those pickup days. And adding on the Zion Narrows required further reworking the schedule, stealing a bit more from the “rest” time.

This has left us with a segment from Death Valley through Moab which may be a bit of an endurance challenge for the driver (though not exactly, as there is a big difference between driving 12 hours from point A to point B on the highways and doing an off road jeep trail through the canyons and deserts we came to explore…). However, we do always have the option on those off-road trails, of just stopping and staying in place (that is the beauty of the road side camping … we don’t have to have an approved pre-determined campsite) — though for the Death Valley segments I think we just need to be aware of environmental factors, and make sure if we decide to hold up somewhere, we chose a wise location…

So with the discussion of “rest” still in mind, I am looking at the post-Moab segment of the trip… the long ride down to the Big Bend… and seeing how best to approach it…

In the original plan we had Day 33 (our exit from the White Rim) staying in a hotel in Moab (btw, should we go back to the one we had last time? The Big Horn Lodge…), then Day 34 canyoneering, with the option of leaving Moab that evening…

But perhaps we stay that night in the Moab hotel again… (allowing for a good night’s rest before hitting the road again)…

Then the following day we have a couple of options. Basically we have 3 days to get down to the Big Bend (we need to be in the area on the night of Day 37, as we have the river trip starting the morning of Day 38)… And to put it in perspective, the total distance from Moab to Big Bend is just about 100 miles less than Nesconset, NY to Orlando, FL (where we went to Universal Studios park)!

so Option A:

Day 35 – rest in Moab till lunchtime, then drive 2 – 3 hours to cortez colorado, settle in there and  see the indian dancers at 7pm… (overnight in Cortez area)

Day 36 – drive Cortez to Elephant Butte or El Paso (8 – 10 hours drive depending on how far we go)

Day 37 – drive Elephant Butte/El Paso to Big Bend National park (5 – 8 hours depending on start point)

Option B:

Day 35 - depart moab after breakfast and get as far as we can either Aztec or Albuquerque… (it is 6 – 8 hours to Albquerque… if we could get that far, or stop around farmington/aztec NM area which also has a number of lodging options)

Day 36 – drive Aztec to Elephant Butte or El Paso (7 – 9 hour drive)

Day 37 – drive Elephant Butte/El Paso to Big Bend National park (5 – 8 hours depending on start point)

Option C:

Day 35 – early wake up and marathon drive to Elephant Butte (approx. 12 hours)

Day 36 – day off / rest

Day 37 – drive Elephant Butte/El Paso to Big Bend National park (5 – 8 hours depending on start point)

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Checking out the Big Tent…


The tent, unrolled and on the tarp...

Today was a nice enough day outside to check out the big tent and do the seam sealing. I decided to time myself to see how long it would take to put it up for the very first time (figuring that as we learn how to do it, it will go much faster).

I started at 11:04am and had it up by 11:43am — all by myself! (I didn’t bother to put the fly on, though, as I was just doing the seam sealing, and that wouldn’t make sense, as i wouldn’t be able to reach the seams!)

It went up pretty easily! The only difficulty at all was getting the little metal pegs into the bottoms of the wall poles. That required a bit of strength to pull and push. But otherwise it was extremely easy. And I imagine that when we will be doing it as a team it will go up in about 20 minutes, max. We should have no problems getting it done quickly, even when we have been driving all day. And it seems like it will make a very pleasant shelter!


...with half the wall poles in...

It is really roomy! (I swear it is bigger than some studio apartments I have lived in! — especially in New York City!)

And the windows everywhere are GREAT! I also LOVE the skylight! It will let us see the stars at night without having to actually sleep outside! (we will have to figure out a way to cover it in the daylight so that the interior of the tent doesn’t get hot in the desert!!!)

It seems like a lot of thought went into the design, as it has a lot of good little details so you can open the windows in all kinds of different configurations, and it has a little thing so you can pull the floor down, and sweep stuff right out over the side!

Overall I think it will be a GREAT tent! (I will see how easily it comes down and can get packed up again, tonight once the seam sealer is dry).

photo-5While I had it out, I decided to put the cots in there to see how they fit. And even with the three cots we have a good amount of space and will not feel like we are “on top of each other.”

photo-4Overall I think we made a good choice with this tent! The windows and skylight make it very comfortable inside — and we can configure them in a lot of  different ways to maximize airflow while maintaining some cool shade.

The zippers seem to be pretty good quality, and the whole thing seems sturdy.  It looks like it will hold up throughout the duration of the trip, if we are somewhat gentle with it (and we will still have duct tape handy in case of emergencies)!

One detail I did think about though, was that we need some kind of floor mat (like a door mat) right inside the tent door — or just outside — to put the shoes so we don’t get the floor of the tent too dirty!

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California, Las Vegas and the Zion Narrows choices…

Picture 9

As we are refining the plan, we should probably think about whether or not we want to include the Zion Narrows hike

It was not originally in our plan, but while researching the route, and looking for stopping points between Las Vegas and Moab, we discovered it… and it seems like it could be really AMAZING…

In early drafts of the plan, we had it as an optional stop along the route… but if we want to do the hike and overnight along the river, we will need to get a backcountry permit soon (there are only 11 campsites along the route)

Estimated time for the hike itself is 12.5 hours walking (based on the estimates of the National Park Service, which says it takes into account allowances for rest stops and slower hikers), and about 60% of the time is walking through the river. So it is definitely a two-day activity.

Timing-wise, the shuttle that takes us to the departure point (Chamberlain’s Ranch), leaves twice a day — at 630am and 930am.

The estimated drive time to the park from Las Vegas is about 3 hours (so calculate based on 4 hours for this segment of the drive). We would have to leave Las Vegas by at least 430 or 5am to make it in time for the 930am shuttle.

Assuming we have a campsite close to 6 hours in, we will have at least 6 hours to walk the next day… there is no way we will want to do the 7 hour drive to Moab the same day! So we will have to overnight somewhere near Zion NP, with the plan of leaving for Moab the following morning…

Then, instead of doing the rapelling the first day in Moab, we should plan to go directly into the white rim that first day… and leave the rapelling for the last day…

Here is how our schedule looks now:

DAY 22 – Leave LA — DRIVE 12 hours along Pacific Coast Highway — ARR San Francisco Hotel

DAY 23 – San Francisco Visit Day – morning free , optional visit to Fishermans’ Wharf in the afternoon, 4pm – cruise to Alcatraz – tour Alcatraz 730 pm arrive back at Fisherman’s Wharf (night in hotel)

DAY 24 – Free Day – (can use as San Francisco Visit Day 2 or to go part way to Death Valley or direct to Death Valley)

DAY 25 – DRIVE to Death Valley (8.5 – 10.5 hours from San Francisco) — ARR Death Valley Wildrose Campground

DAY 26 – Death Valley Day 1

DAY 27 – Death Valley Day 2

DAY 28 – DEP Death Valley — DRIVE 2.5 – 3.5 hours — ARR Las Vegas Hotel

DAY 29 – Las Vegas Visit Day

DAY 30 – DEP Las Vegas — DRIVE 8.5 – 11 hours — ARR Moab hotel (with possible short visit to Zion NP to stretch legs)

DAY 31 – Canyoneering in Moab (hotel)

DAY 32 – Canyonlands – White Rim trail day 1 (backcountry camp)

DAY 33 –  Canyonlands – White Rim trail day 2 (backcountry camp)

DAY 34 – Canyonlands – White Rim trail day 3 (backcountry camp)

DAY 35 – DEP Moab

and here is how we could do it if we want to include the Narrows:

DAY 22 – Leave LA — DRIVE 12 hours along Pacific Coast Highway — ARR San Francisco Hotel

DAY 23 – San Francisco Visit Day – morning free , optional visit to Fishermans’ Wharf in the afternoon, 4pm – cruise to Alcatraz – tour Alcatraz 730 pm arrive back at Fisherman’s Wharf (night in hotel)

DAY 24 – DRIVE to Death Valley (8.5 – 10.5 hours from San Francisco) — ARR Death Valley Wildrose Campground

DAY 25 – Death Valley Day 1

DAY 26 – Death Valley Day 2

DAY 27 – DEP Death Valley — DRIVE 2.5 – 3.5 hours — ARR Las Vegas Hotel
(leave DV early in the morning, arriving by noon in Las Vegas… see the city… do our shooting range… sleep)

DAY 28 – DEP Las Vegas 4:30am — DRIVE 2.5 – 4 hours — ARR Zion NP for 9:30am shuttle to Chamberlain (departure point for the Narrows Hike) — HIKE 6.5 hours — CAMP along river

DAY 29 – HIKE 6.5 hours to exit — shuttle back to parking — hotel or campsite TBD (somewhere in or near Zion NP)

DAY 30 – DEP Zion NP — DRIVE 5.5 – 7.5 hours — ARR Moab hotel (or Canyonlands White Rim first campsite?)
(if we leave early enough, we can potentially make it in time to go directly to the White Rim first campsite — the one we had last time)

DAY 31 – Canyonlands – White Rim trail day 1 or 2 (backcountry camp)

DAY 32 – Canyonlands – White Rim trail day 2 or 3 (backcountry camp)

DAY 33 –  Canyonlands – White Rim trail day 3 or 4 (END at hotel)

DAY 34 – Canyoneering in Moab (hotel)

DAY 35 – DEP Moab

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The Pacific Coast Highway and options…

Looking more closely at the post-Route 66 part of our trip, I am wondering if we should split up the drive from LA to SF on the Pacific Coast Highway, camping somewhere in between the two cities…

According to the mapping program, if we want to take the Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1), we are looking at almost 500 miles… or about 9.5 hours of drive time… so 12 hours of travel time. Now in other spots we have tried to split that up so it isn’t so much at once… Although here we will allegedly be somewhat rested, after two full days “off” in LA…

Am thinking it is about as much of a drive as we have the first day of the whole trip (which is a massive drive day)…

Possible alternatives are to cut short the last day in LA and start up the coast a bit (also avoiding paying for another expensive hotel night)… or cutting into San Francisco Day One instead… (again avoiding a costly hotel)…

The argument AGAINST “breaking” the Pacific Coast Highway segment is that after almost 3 weeks of driving, maybe it is good to rest a little and then just plow thru the PCH, with just one or two short stops along the way to stretch our legs and look at the beauty… We will be going from hotel to hotel that way, and so it isn’t really that big a deal if we arrive a bit late in the evening… we (or maybe just me, if you guys rest en route) can go straight to sleep, if need be…

what are your thoughts on this one…

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Grand Canyon dilemma…

We have talked a lot about the whole Grand Canyon thing — whether or not we really want to spend much time there, given the mass tourism aspects of the south rim, and the fact that we could not get the overnight mule trek into the canyon. Currently we have a reservation for the “Abyss Overlook” mule trip, which, according to the guy at the booking agency is designed as a compromise trip for folks who were kind of afraid of riding the mules down into the canyon, but still wanted to go on a mule ride. Essentially the 3 hour trip is just an easy ride along a trail through the forest that takes you to an overlook point where you can see the whole canyon, you get off the mules and take a picture, then get back on and ride back to the lodge. Here is the description from their brochure:

<< If you feel like an adventure but an Overnight Mule ride to the bottom of the Grand Canyon is too much, take a ride from the Grand Canyon Village to the spectacular Abyss overlook.  You will pass through a Ponderosa Forest and a Piñon and Juniper woodland filled with abundant wildlife on your way to a magnificent cliff at the edge of the canyon.  While at the Abyss, riders will dismount their mules and stretch their legs while viewing the Grand Canyon for the first time on the ride.  Here they can take photos atop the 3,000 foot vertical drop and marvel at the beauty of the Grand Canyon’s many colorful pinnacles, buttes and mesas.  Your total ride time includes 2 1/2 hours in the saddle and roughly 30 minutes at the Abyss overlook. >>

At the time I booked it, I took it because the overnight trek into the canyon was full. But the more I think about it now, I am not sure it is really worth doing — particularly because it locks us into a schedule. We can cancel the mule ride (and receive a full refund) up to 3 days before, so we can decide whether or not we want to do it at some point in the future…

However, the Grand Canyon schedule dilemma remains, because we have discussed the idea of reserving a room for the night we will be near there. We had decided to book a room at the Cameron Trading Post, which is on the east side of the canyon nearest the Desert View Watchtower, and on the way up from Flagstaff. I still think this is a great place to stay, but if we do not HAVE to be there on a certain day/time for the mule ride (which I am currently leaning toward cancelling), do we want to be locked in to the date?

If we don’t make a reservation, we can potentially spend an extra day on the road between Amarillo and here… and there seems like lots of cool stuff to do in New Mexico…

On the other hand, we probably should try to stick to the planned itinerary days as much as possible so we don’t build up a delay… so maybe we really SHOULD book the room to give ourselves the obligation to keep to the plan…

Also, if we go without a reservation to the Grand Canyon area we are liable to end up having to take a very expensive accommodation at the last minute…

Any thoughts on this?

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