Published: November 4th 2009January 2nd 2009
Thursday 9th October (Day 45)
Orlando - Miami - Los Angeles
We got up and managed another breakfast at the Waffle House before heading off back towards Miami. We had to leave fairly early as we had to drive back south, return the rental car and get to the airport for our flight to Los Angeles. The drive back wasn’t quite as picturesque as I had hoped, as we didn’t really have time to travel down the coast road for one last look at all the beaches. We pretty much travelled back on the freeway, and made it back to Miami just in time. Unfortunately we got tangled up in some road works and a big round-about system, and we ended up fully circling the airport area about three or four times before we managed to get over to the rental car area. We finally dropped the car off and made it over to the terminal in the transport bus, but it was pretty close - the trip across the USA was quite long, and with the time difference it meant that we were quite tired when we arrived, as it was even later in Miami, where we had
just come from.
We had planned to meet my friend’s sister and her husband (Heather and Kurt) and we were really rushing on our arrival at Los Angeles, as picking up the rental car there was an even bigger wait and more of a drama. We hadn’t eaten for ages and we were starving, so we stopped off at a Jack in the Box burger place, where the cashier was behind bullet proof glass. Grabbing our food, we roared off in the car, but now we were quite worried that we would be keeping Heather and Kurt waiting for us. We made it to our motel in Westwood and checked in - it was similar to the unit was had stayed in for our previous visit: fully self-contained with a lounge and dining area, as well as a full kitchen. We found that Heather and Kurt had already stopped by and left a message for us - they were waiting at a bar just a couple of metres down the road, so we got changed and hurried down to meet them. It was pretty nice and not too difficult to get a conversation going. It was really quite flattering
that they would make the effort to do that, purely because I was friends with Heather’s brother, Jeremy. It was nice for us after almost two months on the road to be able to speak with people more like old friends. Kurt was very gracious and paid the bill, although we had been hoping to do the same. Hopefully we will meet again someday and it will be our turn. It was getting fairly late and Heather had an early start the next day, so we decided to call it a night, although I think we could have sat there talking for a lot longer - it would still take them an hour to travel to their home in Long Beach, so it was a really long day for all of us. Thanks guys - great to meet you both!
Friday 10th October (Day 46)
Today we had a bit of a sleep in before getting up and heading to Denny’s for breakfast, which was just a few metres down the road. We discovered that we were in the midst of a large medical school area, so there were lots of cafes, book stores and students everywhere
around us. After a short wander around the neighbourhood we jumped in the car and headed for Griffith Park, which is the main park above the Hollywood Hills, and home of the massive Griffith Observatory. We didn’t really know where the best entrance to the park was, and ended up coming towards it from some really random direction, driving around all these dry hills and picnic areas. Some of the roads were closed due to the extreme fire risk - it looked like a lot of the land had not received rainfall for years, and other parts of California were currently fighting wildfires that were raging out of control. We eventually found the main road up the hill to the observatory. From the top car park there was an excellent view of Los Angeles, the Hollywood sign, the hills, and right out to the coast. It was still a little hazy, but overall just such an amazing sight really. We spent a few minutes looking out over everything and taking some photos, before wandering over to the Observatory (where the movie Rebel Without a Cause was filmed). The Griffith Observatory is an impressive building, and had just been refurbished a
few years earlier. There were so many things to see - all kinds of interactive displays, information panels, amazing photography, movies and telescopes. You could have a go of pretty much everything. We watched a short film and generally just enjoyed wandering around looking at stuff. It would be easy to spend all day there.
We eventually decided to move on to something else - Vaughan had never seen the La Brea Tar Pits (I have been there twice), so we headed back towards our motel, as we knew the tar pits weren’t too far away. We didn’t go inside the museum at the tar pits, as Vaughan had just really wanted to see the tar pits themselves - years ago many animals had become stuck in the tar over time, and it had preserved their skeletons. Later, the skeletons were found, and you can see some of them today in the museum - all kinds of animals like huge extinct cats and woolly mammoths. From there we decided to drive down through South Central Los Angeles on the way to look around Long Beach, rather than try the freeway at rush hour, and it was an interesting ride
as we looked out at some of the ethnic neighbourhoods along the way. Mostly the streets were filled with small stores with big grills on the front and there was quite a lot of graffiti around - we knew that we were getting a bit more into gang territory, so we continued on, still heading for Long Beach. We didn’t have a map so it started to get a bit difficult when we got closer to the coast. In the end we just drove around some fancy areas (Coastal San Pedro) near Long Beach, that had a nice view out over the ocean near White Point State Park. While we were driving, we could see the container shipyards and naval complex of Long Beach in the distance. The shipping area was massive and although I have been to Long Beach before (many years ago), I had forgotten the true scale of the area - it was really impressive!
The sun was moving closer towards the horizon, so it was nice to be out on the coast where we could watch it, but it also meant that we should be heading back towards Westwood, since we didn’t have a map
and didn’t want to get caught out not knowing where we were going. We found the freeway after about 10 minutes and managed to get moving back in the right direction, eventually making it back to our hotel. We went for a walk around Westwood again, grabbing some Subway for dinner and generally just enjoying being out and about with all the students. Halloween was in the air and there were all kinds of decorations around - it was kind of fun. We strolled past some nice restaurants and watched posh people through the windows, before ending up in Starbucks surrounded by piles of medical students, pretending we were foreign exchange students and generally taking the piss out of everyone around us. Finally we strolled back to the motel where we sat out on the balcony, watching people down on the street - it was pretty relaxing and we had had a good day.
Saturday 11th October (Day 47)
Los Angeles - Sacramento
Today we had a decent drive ahead of us and not much else. We were on a mission to reach Reno, Nevada, but had decided to stop for a night along the way
in Sacramento, the capital of California, to break up the long drive into two smaller ones. Along the way we were impressed as always with the landscape - so hot and desert-like (and not at all like New Zealand). We even saw a ‘radar plane’ flying around to monitor driver’s speed limits on the freeway. We eventually made it to Sacramento and found our hotel really easily, as we were staying at a travel hotel, close to the freeway. The hotel was quite large and nice, and had loads of facilities, so we relaxed for a short time before heading up the road a little to see what we could find - there wasn’t much in the surrounding area as the hotel mainly catered to the nearby expo centre, but we managed to find a McDonalds, Taco Bell, Arby’s and a convenience store nearby. Vaughan couldn’t decide what he wanted to eat, so he stocked up with enough food for about four people from both Taco Bell and Arby’s. Vaughan was quite tired from driving and there wasn’t much to do around the hotel, so we just headed back so Vaughan could get some sleep, while I did some washing
and watched TV for a while. It was a shame that we didn’t get to see more of Sacramento, but it was just a stopover for us really - on to Reno!
Sunday 12th October (Day 48)
Sacramento - Reno - Lovelock - Reno
We were up pretty early and ready for our trip over to Reno and beyond - I had planned to visit my friend Jeremy again, who was located in a correctional facility just outside Lovelock, Nevada, and visiting hours began at 12pm, so we were aiming to get to out there in plenty of time. The landscape was quite mountainous and it started to get really cold - we were dressed for the warmer West Coast but ended up having the heater on for the last hour or so of our journey. We eventually descended down out of the mountains and came around a bend, finally seeing Reno laid out before us in the desert. It was quite an impressive sight, although once down on the desert floor we bypassed Reno and kept going right through past Lovelock to the correctional centre, which was about another 1 ½ hours away. It was
really quite desolate out there. We arrived at the prison and Vaughan let me out in the car park - he was quite interested as I pointed out some of the different things to him, which I remembered from my previous visit. It’s pretty much like any maximum security prison you see on TV, but fairly small and quite new. Vaughan headed off to the Lovelock township to kill some time while he waited for me, and I went in to visit Jeremy. It was awesome to see him again and to catch up in person. Initially visiting hours on a Sunday were only 12 - 2pm, but had randomly changed to 12 - 4pm the day before we arrived, so it was excellent timing to be able to spend another two hours there, after travelling so far to visit in the first place. Time flew, just like last time, and before I knew it, it was already time to go. I felt sad to be leaving, because four hours didn’t seem to be enough, and I didn’t know when I would be back. It seemed overwhelming that I just got to walk out the doors and go back to
my normal life like the people at the correctional facility didn’t exist. It was much harder to leave this time and I didn’t want to talk much when I got back in the car with Vaughan, although I had enjoyed my time there. We drove back towards Reno and stopped off for some junk food for Vaughan at a fast food place attached to a gas station before finally making it in to Reno. We didn’t know exactly how to get to the hotel but managed to work it out pretty easily once we got the hang of the one way streets. Reno was like a small Las Vegas, only for old people - you can still gamble and there are lots of casinos. We were staying there because it was closer to Lovelock than Las Vegas (which was about 11 hours drive away). Reno was smaller than I had expected, and we were staying in the El Dorado Hotel, which also housed one of the main casinos - it was actually one of three casinos that were all joined together, so we pretty much didn’t have to go outside for anything. It got dark soon after we arrived and
we had a couple of drinks before heading down to have a go on the machines. We found a nice buffet restaurant in Circus Circus (which is one of the casinos/hotels joined on to the El Dorado) and had dinner there - it was pretty good too! I didn’t really feel that motivated to play on the machines afterwards though, so I only stayed a while before heading back to our room to think about my big day. Vaughan stayed downstairs on the machines for a while, but he was tired after so much driving, so didn’t stay too long either. It had been a very thought-provoking day!
Monday 13th October (Day 49)
Reno & Lake Tahoe
After a sleep in for most of the morning we felt a little more refreshed. We started off the day with a visit to the Walmart Superstore (once we found it) so that we could get some fresh breakfast. It was a stunningly clear day, and already quite warm. We headed out of town and up the mountains, bound for Lake Tahoe, about an hour away. On our way up Mt Rose we passed the entrance to several ski
fields, and it was clear that the area was an incredibly popular winter destination. We had heard that Lake Tahoe was also a popular spot for tourists in both summer and winter, and we were looking forward to spending a little time there. Mt Rose was quite steep and after a short time, we noticed a significant amount of snow on the side of the road. We drove for a few more minutes as the snow got thicker, looking for somewhere to park. We ended up stopping at the summit of Mt Rose, where we made snow balls and took some photos for an Indian family who were excited to see snow for the first time. It was kind of cool to have a view down to the bottom of the desert basin where it was about 25 degrees Celsius (or so), but up on the mountain it was cold enough to snow overnight. We mucked around for a few more minutes before getting back in the car and heading over to the Lake Tahoe side of the mountain - the view on the way down was spectacular! The lake was far larger than I had imagined (it was about
¾ the size of Lake Taupo, for all you Kiwis reading this) and is apparently the highest elevated lake of its size in the USA. The lake was surrounded by mountain ranges and the mountains were covered with trees - everything looked green and lush. The water sparkled in the sun and we saw several signs warning us about bears in the area, although unfortunately we didn’t see any on our travels. We made it down into the Lake Tahoe area, where we stopped for a moment in a tiny place called Incline Village. There wasn’t too much to see, although all the log cabins and houses were pretty cool - they were really built to handle the heavy winter snow. We continued on down to the water and stopped at a recreational area called Crystal Bay, where we paddled in the water (which was freezing) and spent a little while walking around and taking photos. It looked like it would be really busy in the summer too! Lake Tahoe is also in two states (Nevada and California) and as we drove around the shoreline, we passed back into California where we stopped in a town called King’s Beach. It
was pretty much aimed at the tourists although it was very quiet - we just enjoyed wandering down the small main street, browsing around snowboarding shops and cafes, and we sat on a picnic bench down at the waterfront for a while, eating ice cream sundaes from McDonalds, before finally heading back to the car for the drive back over the mountains to Reno. The whole Lake Tahoe area was really nice, and I would quite like to go back sometime in the winter and stay in a cabin in the snow.
We arrived back in Reno in good time and stopped back at Walmart on the way through, to do some shopping and pick up some random items like cheap clothes, to take back home. After finishing up there we went back to the hotel where we just chilled out and watched TV for a while before finally heading down to the casino area. We ate dinner at another buffet restaurant and then stopped off at some 5c gaming machines right by the restaurant. We chatted with the gaming manager in the area, and managed to score a few free drinks. I put $20 into a machine and made it last for 3 hours, until I was bored and it was late. We didn’t have much money to waste, so we had a big wander round the casino to just watch people for a while, before finally heading out onto the street to see what was open. The tourist stores were open late but they didn’t contain much of interest. Reno: it may be the ‘Biggest Little City in the World’ but it ain’t got nothing on Vegas, baby!