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A round of golf in Sun Valley (where Davis Love is as much a home town favorite as he is on St. Simons) began a two week segment of our trip that would include many of the most scenic and famous spots of the American West.
After a stop in Bend, OR, a pretty town that offers lots of outdoor recreational activities and is home to the Deschutes Brewery (5th largest microbrewery in U.S.), we headed to Crater Lake, the Nation's deepest lake. Formed by a collapsed volcano that has filled with centuries of rain and snow melt, it is as blue as pictures show it to be. Unfortunately, there was a smoke haze from area forest fires during our visit.
A guided boat trip around the lake was worth the one mile, 1000 foot descent (and climb back up!) from rim to lake. Actually being down in the volcano allowed us to see features and formations not visible from the rim.
After an overnight stop and theatre performance in Ashland, OR. - a funky little town renowned for its annual Shakespeare Festival - it was CALIFORNIA HERE WE COME!
Oddly, EVERY car has to stop for inspection when entering California from Oregon. When the guard at the border kiosk just waved us through, we stopped to ask what the inspection stop was all about. Normally, it is to control incoming produce, but due to state budget cutbacks, there isn't enough manpower for actual inspections so he sits there all day being paid to simply wave everyone through!!
We continued west along the Klamath River on state highway 96, also known as the Bigfoot Scenic Byway as it boasts the most Bigfoot sightings anywhere in the country. No. We didn't see him.
As we passed widely dispersed little villages and homes, we began to see "NO MONUMENT" signs. At a breakfast stop at the Seiad Cafe ("3rd best place to pig out" - Travel Channel, 2003), the owner explained the Bureau of Land Management, as part of their mission to conserve spectacular landscapes, is trying to designate one million acres as The Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.
Locals see this as destroying the fabric of their rural community and lifestyle. Hunting, fishing, logging, mining, ranching and gold panning would all be prohibited. Apparently, land ownership could be passed on one generation only, after which it would then be purchased by the government. The NO MONUMENT signs were a passionate local protest.
The afternoon took us on an impossibly curvy road through the Redwood National Forest (awesome trees but not as beautiful as our live oaks!) and then, finally, the Pacific Ocean!!! From sea to shining sea! 24 days and 4803 miles. It was an exciting moment after the many days of prairie, high plains, forest fires, rocky mountains and forests, to see the sparkling Pacific waves crashing against the California coastline.
If we were thrilled, can you imagine the thousands who traveled the Oregon and Overland trails?
We enjoyed an evening in the tiny cliff- top artist colony of Mendocino, CA with its spectacular sunset views and then continued south to Paso Robles to "sample" some Central Coast wines. As members, we attended a special dinner at the Justin Chateau. Be sure to try this great wine at Halyards.
Down CA highway 46, we drove through zillions of almond and pistachio orchards, stopping at Blackwell's Corner, a Texaco station which was the last place James Dean was seen alive before his car wreck. (See photo).
Then on to Del Mar, a fun seaside town near La Jolla, to meet up with both daughters and all six grandchildren for four days. I will restrain myself from relating the many cute, smart and funny things they did as I don't want to brag. But if you are ever there with kids, try the "kayaking with sharks" in La Jolla!
It was finally time to start heading back East toward the Atlantic coast and home.
First stop: the North Rim of the Grand Canyon - the cooler, more remote, less touristy side. The approach is south from St. George, UT, the commercial hub of Utah's "Dixie", so named for Brigham Young's efforts to grow cotton. (The efforts failed.)
You cross into Arizona and go through Colorado City which has been for 100 years - and continues to be - the base for fundamentalist Mormon sects who choose to practice polygamy. (Google: Warren Jeffs). The town is mostly dirt roads with abnormally large homes for an area that is clearly economically depressed. (30% are below the poverty line. ) I assume the large homes were to house the large families??? The one woman we saw wore a floor length denim colored dress with long sleeves and had an odd hairdo.
But onto the Grand Canyon. A National Park Service statistic states only 2% of park visitors go further than 100 yards from their car. Not wanting to be a statistic, we hiked a couple miles down into the canyon. The changing rock formations, the colors, and lush vegetation and wild flowers are incredible and make the effort well worth it.
During one short early evening hike on the rim, we were lucky to spot a rare California condor perched atop a dead tree right near the trail. He dutifully posed and preened as we exhausted our camera batteries.
In Rocky Mountain Park a couple weeks prior, we hiked to the headwaters of the Colorado river. Now, on the North Rim, we could see it a little over a mile below. It was time to get a closer look.
We headed out across the Arizona strip, what locals call that section of land between the Grand Canyon and Utah, to Lake Powell for a float on the Colorado. We went through towns like Kanab, UT, which has the largest no-kill animal shelter in the country, caring for as many as 1,700 animals at a time on nearly 20,000 acres.
Lake Powell and Page, AZ are in the heart of red rock country. The lake, created by the Glen Canyon Dam, looks odd: all this water in the middle of rock and desert. Below the dam, we floated the Colorado through the red canyon walls for several hours and even took a dip in the 45 degree water.
The next week would be in the cool (in both senses of the word) mountains of Colorado at over 10,000 feet. We eagerly left the hot, dusty sandstone around Lake Powell, crossed the Navajo reservation, noticing some of the remaining hogans, the round, cone-shaped traditional Navajo home. We stopped at The Four Corners, where your entrance fee goes to the Navajo Nation. (See attached photo of the odd sign warning against human cremation.)
For those of you who recall my Banditos encounter, either I didn't learn my lesson or I have great faith in my fellow man because I struck up a conversation with another, friendlier, group of bikers while we were waiting to stand on the Four Corners!! (See photo) These three guys were REALLY doing a cross country trip. They had shipped their bikes from Hawaii to San Diego and then ridden to Sturges, SD to join the annual Biker Festival and were now headed back home.
From Four Corners, we drove The Trail of the Ancients across Ute territory to our next destination: Telluride, CO, which boasts the highest concentration of 14,000 foot mountains in the U.S., "the 14ers. "