USA Road Trip 1: Put Lauren in the gutter!

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November 11th 2012
Published: November 30th 2012
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There was no emotional reunion with Susan, Lauren's mum, we guess five months is no dramas for many people, but Lauren would have thought it would have been, but it wasn't, just hugs all around and let's grab the bags and get to the car to start the beginning of the end. It had been touch and go since we left if Susan would be joining us, but as we decided a few weeks earlier that the last part was going to stretch our budget too far, Susan stepped in and agreed to come out knowing it would be an unlikely type of holiday she would take again, and bite half the bullet of the expense. That said the three of us now joined forces and set off to pastures new.

We collected our ford fusion car, unfortunately the budget didn't stretch far enough for the Mustang we longed for on the open road! The lady tried her best to make us part with more money, extra insurance and a 4x4 for the incoming snow storm but Lauren, relentless from the New Zealand escapades where we shed out an extra £800 stood tall and she backed down no doubt cursing us as her worst customers of the day, the quote that springs to mind was Lauren, "I cannot deal with her selling crap to us!"

The first sector took us North of Denver to the Rocky Mountain National Park. You needn't come here just to witness the incredible Rockies, they do stretch from Canada south to New Mexico, but we have discovered the "creme de la creme" is at the national parks. We stopped en route after Susan was set the task of animal watching. We all had our own tasks, Ben was to drive and to help him adjust to driving on the right the old "keep Lauren in the gutter" motto was coined, Lauren was navigator, in charge of photos, noting points of interest, watching for pedestrians, eyeing the petrol gauge and speed limits! So Susan got animal watch, now these varied due to location, specifically here she was on "elk watch". Lauren was though first to spot something and Ben quickly dove into a visitor centre so we could run down and see what people had stopped for. We watched an awesome show from a herd(?) of mountain sheep and deer mixed with baby elk! We thought it was awesome as did locals that passed claiming this to be a rare event!

We continued after a stop at the centre for the last couple of miles to the park entrance. We knew we didn't have too long as it was now lunch time so we set off driving around 14,000+ ft mountain ranges admiring the snow capped tops and one eye on elk, we passed some you shall be happy to hear and even an entire farm where Lauren courageously (stupidly) ran out from the car to get closer shots. She came back asking if they could harm her to which the unanimous agreement was, yes they could kill her if they didn't like the look of her and charged! You would think that would prevent her, nope, the next time we passed an elk wondering she was straight out of the car without the ejector seat needing to be pressed, rushing along to get closer! The park itself was gorgeous, beautifully encapsulated by mountains and the roads were superbly maintained. We drove to the furthest point by car and got out to wander a lake, Bear lake, and admired the sun over a beautiful reflection! The route around was a tricky one, completely iced over in places, we admired some cool ice formations as Lauren held onto Ben and rocks as he and Susan laughed, sure she can do a sky jump but put her on ice - she falls!

We left here gutted to have finished this section already and took the freeway south to Colorado Springs. Nightfall had well and truly fallen but Ben was admirable in his quest to arrive in one piece! We had prebooked a super 8 motel the evening before so there was no stopping early! We arrived safely though and sniffed out food, Lauren spotting TGI Fridays a mile away! We tried to indoctrinate Susan but it wasn't a clear winner for her, but where there is wine, there is a way!

We had been informed the snow storm, Brutus, was making his way to us and we would be lucky to escape it but we were relieved when we opened the curtains to a clear day, snowless! We set out, as planned, to visit Pikes Peak, a 14,000ft mountain, one of the 54 in Colorado, still a part of the Rockies. This particular mountain was the chosen one as you can drive to the top, although the Gods had other plans as it was too windy to do this although we did reach 12,000 ft so the views were pretty awesome regardless! We passed Big Foot along the way, and the closest we got to a bear thus far- paw prints in the snow that had fallen this high! We drove back down after stopping at the gift shop although we didn't get past the door as we were blocked due to an unknown medical emergency.

We were straight back on the road following our mountain exploration and heading south west from central Colorado towards Durango an hour from the infamous Four Corners state lines. We were vaguely aware of the incoming snow but naively thought it was north of us, so you can imagine our surprise, driving though glorious sun shine with the most amazing stretches of views and landscapes when we headed up a mountain pass and snow started to fall thick and fast! Prior to this scary journey up Wolf Creek Pass we had been travelling along an open road like a scene from "Cars" even tumbleweed passed out in front of us! We passed some civilisation, by this we mean a road with a church and a few houses with signs such as "Hunters Welcome" and we decided to eat at the local cafe. Now don't get us wrong the sandwiches and burger was great the actual cafe, well lets just say mum said it was home to a lot of rednecks!

We left grateful and full before the skies turned from blue to grey, we sniggered at the snow clouds we saw on the left as we headed right, yet as said, they surely crept up on us as burly men fitted snow chains to their heavy goods vehicles and we kept on pressing forward, we were soon in the thick of snow, the problem with the nine mile ascent to get through was the upcoming nine mile descent! Ben drove well but the ladies were slightly panicked especially once we passed overturned cars in the ditch, but the snowplough was hot on our heels and pulling out so he could pass us we got through to tell this tale. We got through the rest of the hours trip in steady sleet eventually arriving at the motel we had booked. The motel was another super 8 as they came with wifi and breakfast so a pretty good deal.

We headed into the ski resort area, Durango to hunt out food. Our efforts were fruitless, despite meeting Santa and Mrs Claus, every restaurant or eating house was full. Despite no snow here and being a ski resort the place was packed out! We returned and munched on British chocolate that Susan brought to satisfy our carving for "real" chocolate, trust us on this one, chocolate around the world has no patch on good old Cadbury or Galaxy.

We left the next morning thankful again that although freezing temperatures there was no snow. We drove past the town heading the one hour journey south west to Four Corners. We did pass snow struck areas and passed beautiful lakes surrounded by snow covered trees it was stunning. We passed great surroundings with rocks jutting out of the flat plains before arriving at the Indian Navajo area of the historical Four Corners. We reluctantly got out in the horrific freezing weather (who knew the desert got so cold!) we went to the holes in the ground disguised as a toilet and laughed at Susan's reaction to these! We were used to it having seen much worse in New Zealand but surprised to see the pits in tourist areas nonetheless. We did the obligatory spreadeagle over the four corners, the only place in the USA where this is possible as Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico meet. After freezing our butts off on the floor we left pitying the few stalls of people selling things in the sub zero temperatures!

We drove on heading into Utah seeing amazing vistas of red rocks and had a bet on who could spot the famously named Mexican Hat rock, the winner getting a sensational malt shake from the favourite Sonic drive up burger bar. Of course, it being what Lauren wanted she spotted it, but we were all pretty shocked! It was more a Mexican man wearing a sombrero and had the upcoming sign not said Mexican Hat we wouldn't have believed it! Lauren was actually joking when she pointed it out. We soon passed over the state line into Arizona as we drove along the most amazing scenery. The long road stretched ahead to Monument Valley. This is another famous area known for over a dozen red rock formations that make very interesting shapes, all completely natural and standing up to 400ft above sea level. We drove to the national park area, paying our entrance fee meant we could take the two hour dirt track right next to the formations but we didn't have the time as more snow was incoming. We still had a great viewing point that was well worth paying the entry fee for, and enjoyed the gift shop and spotting chipmunks!

We left again still driving on long impressive roads that have raising formations either side before heading into the main town of Kayenta. Here we stopped for the Sonic and Lauren redeemed her milkshake prize! We continued on our way heading the three hour journey south west again to the national park of the Grand Canyon. We got to the vacinity of the park within an hour and a half, perplexed that we had arrived so early when all the other times had been so accurate, we also saw a sign saying the village of the Grand Canyon where we were headed was only 29 miles, but the following speed limit signed said 20mph so we guess that is why! We luckily didn't have the fee as this park, as government rather than Indian owned, were not charging entry fees as Veterans weekend. We passed parts of canyon along the way and Lauren jumped out to peek over but Ben assured her, we hadn't seen anything yet!

As we started along the very well maintained roads of the park, the snow started again. Although the road seemed wet it was definitely sticking. We would be lucky enough to see the rare sight of snow at the Grand Canyon. We stopped at the first visitor point where we were advised as it is the first view of the canyon. We got out and pulled our coats tight as we braved the elements. We walked to the edge area and saw the most breathtaking view despite the clouded weather! We couldn't see the full expanse due to the cloud but what we could see was vast! Susan enjoyed another gift shop as we went up the watch tower to see a higher view. It was great and even romantic to be caught in the snow! We left thinking we still had an hour to our accommodation within the park, after a stop for some wine for Susan at the general store.

We stopped a few more times along the way as the road ran parallel to the canyon and the scenes were phenomenal. We arrived, finally, into the village and amazed at a national park so well equipped! Complete with a range of lodges, restaurants, a launderette, post office and even a bank! We checked into our accommodation and headed to the dining area for munches. We enjoyed pizza as Susan had a roast dinner before deciding the plan of action. We decided to use the free shuttle to head out at sunrise, using the shuttle that goes along a road for that exclusive use. That said sunrise was early so we called it a night snoozing to tv in our very lovely room that reminded us of centre parcs.

Sunrise came too early as we dressed sleepily to leave at 6am and welcomed, not to snow, but minus 16 degrees- and Celsius not Fahrenheit! We braved it, Susan wearing six layers under her coat and us tying with five layers! We shared two glove sets between the three though, Lauren insisting she wouldn't need them as snapping away. We were out at pitch black but weren't the only fools on the 6.15 shuttle ahead of the 7.02 sunrise. We arrived at the recommended spot twenty minutes later and wearily stepped off with our few other companions. It started to get light a lot before the actual sunrise as we all stared at the huge canyon before us seeing the eleven miles across to the north rim. Lauren did snap away but boy did she get cold! A lot of people did join us later and all swapped stories about their fancy equipment as we kept quiet with our inferior but Lauren couldn't help but smirk as we were the only ones to pick up the sleet that started just as the sun rose beyond a canyon at precisely 7.02! After a myriad of purples, yellows, oranges and every shade of red we left to see what else this private area of the park offered. Lauren and Susan decided to get off at a couple of stops, one at the highest point but Ben decided to stick it out in the bus to get back and warm up! Lauren and Susan saw a few different aspects and more rapids of the relatively calm looking Colorado river, and also stopped at the furthest point without hiking at Hermits Rest.

Following this, it was back to the room to warm up after purchasing some hot drinks and pastries before checking out mid morning. We left heading to one last area that has a geology centre and the most magnificent views, and also the area where you can see up to two billion year old rock formations! Pretty impressive stuff, but after another thousand clicks it was time to leave this wonder of the world behind.

Things of note:

If you want to drink in a national park you must have the state ID card or passport, no ifs or buts!

Durango is a very interesting place with a lot of eateries but it would seem you need to book a Friday night regardless of the season.

Each park has a rough entry fee of about $20 and the views inside are definitely worth paying the bucks for.

If you want a helicopter ride the only way to land in the canyon is outside of the national park on a separate tour, if not you just fly over it from a town six miles south of the south rim.

The north rim entrance is only open April to October due to weather extremities, this should be extended to the south rim potentially!

There is the option to ride a mule down to the canyon floor and ride the rapids of the river which would be awesome and there is even a bridge to cross and a lodge down there!

If you want to do the glass skywalk over the canyon you must pay for a tour to go to the west rim and pay the extra $75 to go on for a few minute walk, so we gave that a miss!

What would we do differently:

Spend longer at each place so we could appreciate it more and do the drive around monument valley. We always knew this was a taster though!

Thefts: 0

Near Misses: 0 despite Lauren getting very close to the edge of the canyon several times!

Fallouts: 0 again quite a shock given driving and we had no map for directions, we literally wrote the directions off iMaps that we wrote in New Orleans!

Additional photos below
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