Weeks 3 & 4 - Phoenix, Arizona
to Seattle, Washington
Day 15 - Thursday, June 25th
I headed west on I-8 through the Arizona deserts into the blazing California deserts, right
along the Mexican border. For one barren 20-mile stretch, there was a container marked "radiator
water" every quarter-mile. Then, as you approach San Diego, the weather miraculously becomes
picture perfect. My sister's good friend Aileen lives just a couple of miles from Qualcomm
Stadium and has graciously offered to put me up this evening, topping it off with a free dinner
at the California Pizza Kitchen restaurant that she manages. Thanks Aileen!
Day 16 - Friday, June 26th
Slept in, then headed south to the Mexican border for a quick trip into
Tijuana, just to say I had been there. I
had heard the stories about one of the more popular scams being setting drivers up for
fender-benders and funneling them to the plethora of local Mexican auto-body shops. Indeed,
there must have been at least 20 such shops just inside the border. I survived my tour through
the packed streets of Tijuana and the slow procession back through the border crossing into
California. I had been needlessly worried about forgetting to bring my passport - the border
guard never even asked to see my driver's license. I guess I'd never pass for a Mexican!
I hung around Aileen's apartment for a few hours before making the 5-minute trip over to
Qualcomm Stadium, home of the first-place Padres.
After the game, I took I-5 north toward Los Angeles, making it to my sister-in-law Denise's
place in Anaheim in almost exactly an hour and a half. It's seems downright unfair that someone
living in Anaheim, or anywhere just south of L.A., has three major league teams as close or
closer than the Orioles are to me in Northern Virginia.
Day 17 - Saturday, June 27th
I set out to see
as much of the L.A. area as possible before the 7 pm game at Dodgers Stadium. The tour included
a long stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway (Rt. 1), from Huntington Beach to the
Santa Monica Pier. Along the way, we had
views of lots of beautiful beaches as well as some of the not-so-nice parts of town. After lunch
in Santa Monica near the pier, we headed to the stadium, just north of downtown L.A. I got to
see two of the L.A. stereotypes up close and personal - the thick haze that seems to hangs
constantly over the city, and the inevitable freeway traffic congestion (remember - this is
Back to Denise's place for the night.
Day 18 - Sunday, June 28th
I got off early for a one night side-trip to
Las Vegas. From Anaheim, it was 3 hours, 45 minutes until we were in slot machine hell. We
got a room on the 31st floor of the venerable Monte Carlo (one floor from the top) and then set
out to experience "The Strip." Despite temperatures that topped 110 degrees, we walked several
miles of the south end of the strip, stopping at such landmarks as the Mirage, Bally's, and MGM
Grand. One of the newest and glitziest monstrosity is called "New York, New York", replicating
the New York City skyline right down to a faux Statue of Liberty. The best part was the
excellent roller coaster built on top of the buildings. It rivals the top amusement parks
coasters as far as I'm concerned.
By sitting through a time-share spiel (hey, I'd never been to one - I wanted to have the
experience once), we earned free buffet and comedy show tickets at the Maxim Hotel. Vegas is
heaven for a buffet lover like me - the food is cheap, plentiful and unpretentious. The stand-up
acts were better than I had expected with lots of audience involvement (although we managed to
be spared being targets). After the show, it was back to the Monte Carlo for some serious
gambling. I dropped an entire $1.65!
Day 19 - Monday, June 29th
After breakfast (a buffet of course), we headed out of Vegas, driving straight up the strip.
As you go north, the hotel/casinos get older and smaller, then you go through the wedding chapel
district, and finally past the bail bondsman operations back into the Nevada desert.
We took the long way back to the L.A. area, through the
Death Valley National Park. The many allusions to hell (Dante's view, the Devil's Golf
Course, etc.) are very apt. The visitors center contains a fascinating history of the vast and
varied terrain that composes Death Valley. We made the trek down to the salt flats of Badwater,
famous for being the lowest point in the western hemisphere. The elevation is 282 feet below sea
level and the temperature was 118 degrees.
The journey west out of Death Valley is even longer and more tortuous than the eastern route,
as you traverse up and down two separate 5000-foot mountain ranges. At the few places that gas
can be found, the price is directly related to the remoteness of the station. It peaked at
precisely $2.00 a gallon. Finally, some semblance of civilization appears when you hit Rt. 395,
which runs for several hundred miles along the base of the mountain range that includes
Mt. Whitney (at 14,494
feet, the highest peak in the continental U.S.). It strikes me as fascinating that the highest
and lowest points in the U.S. are within 100 miles of each other.
Visiting Death Valley ended up adding 230 miles and more than 5 hours to the trip back to
Day 20 - Tuesday, June 30th
Hooray for Hollywood! Friend, former co-worker, and all-around wild and crazy guy Zia Sabir
took over as tour guide today. I met him at his apartment in Hollywood, getting a
true dose of L.A. traffic hell in the process, for a personalized tour of the Hollywood Hills
(gotta see the Hollywood sign!), Beverly Hills,
Studio City, Rodeo Drive, Sunset Boulevard, the
Walk of Fame and much, much
more. After lunch, we headed back to Anaheim with Zia for the 7 pm Angels game.
One learns very quickly that life in L.A. revolves around avoiding traffic. I was to be
heading north out of the L.A. area on Wednesday morning, so I decided to make the drive back up
to Hollywood tonight and stay at Zia's place instead of letting the endless morning rush hour
turn the trip into a 2-hour nightmare.
Day 21 - Wednesday, July 1st
Today's theme was the Pacific Coast Highway (Rt. 1), but there are several sections closed
due to recent landslides, so I had to bypass Malibu and take Rt. 101 all the way to San Luis
Obispo to pick up Rt. 1. From there, it was 180 amazing miles up along the coast, through
Big Sur, and around the rim
of Monterey to Santa Cruz. Big Sur gets all the publicity and pulls in the tourists, but there
are plenty of places along this drive that are just as amazing. Quite a few sections of Rt. 1
are still under repair for the damage done by El Nino this winter and spring, so there were
several delays as traffic alternated in the one open lane. Nobody seemed to mind though - the
delays just provided convenient photo opportunities.
I arrived in Santa Cruz before 5 pm and found a $30
motel room right on the water, across from the popular Santa Cruz Pier and Wharf. The pier is
basically an amusement park, and the star attraction is the Giant Dipper roller coaster. It's
been in operation for over 70 years, but still makes many of the "best coaster" lists. Not bad
for a traditional wooden coaster.
Day 22 - Thursday, July 2nd
I continued up Rt. 1 along the coast into San Francisco, getting there around 11 am. I
managed to find a room downtown for $40, but it was smaller and dumpier than the $25 and $30
rooms everywhere else, and parking wasn't provided. After taking a drive down to
Fisherman's Wharf to secure tickets to Alcatraz
for Friday, and treating the Rodeo to a well-deserved oil change, I crossed the Bay Bridge into
Oakland for the 6:15 A's game.
After the post-game fireworks (the first of three nights of fireworks I would see), it was
back across to search for a legal and somewhat safe-looking parking place near my hotel. I did
some walking around the downtown area and called it a night.
Day 23 - Friday, July 3rd
All San Francisco, all the time. In order to get my
Alcatraz ferry ticket on this the busiest weekend of the year, I had to spring for a package
deal that included a 3-hour van tour of the city. The driver/tour-guide was very good and we got
to see quite a bit despite the oppressive traffic throughout the city. He pointed out lots of
famous movie locations and even made restaurant recommendations. Alcatraz, including the very
well done audio tour, lived up to expectations. That little rock has quite a history!
I had planned to stay another night in San Fran and see the Giants game on the 4th, but I
decided that I'd had enough of the parking hassles and the expensive everything. Besides, the
Giants were doing their fireworks tonight and, like the A's, expecting a huge crowd.
After the game and fireworks, I headed about 40 miles north and spent the night in the Rodeo
in a little town called Vallejo, site of the Marine World Theme Park.
Day 24 - Saturday, July 4th
Happy Independence Day! I celebrated with those all-American treats - roller coasters. Marine
World has recently added several state-of-the-art coasters to their formerly staid park. Despite
the large 4th of July crowds, I managed to do all the major rides at least once in the 4 hours I
was there. The new Kong inverted roller coaster was fun, but my favorite was a ride called
Hammerhead, which spins you over at least a dozen times, often leaving you hanging upside down
for a few seconds.
By about 2 pm, I was headed back toward the coast for another dose of the never-boring
coastal highway. Stunning cliffs and rock formations, beaches, steep winding trips up and down
mountains, and seemingly endless descents into heavily forested valleys. After another 200 miles
on Rt. 1 and 101, I called it a night at a motel in Eureka. I'm a full day ahead of schedule, so
I will get to explore the natural wonders of Oregon and Washington for an extra day.
Day 25 - Sunday, July 5th
Just north of Eureka on Rt. 101 is the
Redwoods National Park,
home of the tallest tree in the world. Seeing it and the rest of the Tall Trees Grove up close
is a challenge - 7 miles of paved roads, 6 more miles of dirt roads, and a steep 1.5 mile hike
down to the bottom of a gorge. The three tallest trees are well marked, with #1 measuring over
367 feet high and 14 feet thick. After my Grand Canyon ordeal, the hike up out of the canyon was
After a quick stop in Crescent City, I crossed into Oregon and traversed a few more mountain
ranges on the way to
Crater Lake. I got there at dusk, had dinner in one of the restaurants overlooking the lake,
then settled in for a night in the Rodeo.
Day 26 - Monday, July 6th
Sunrise on the lake was cool, despite the oppressive mosquitoes. I was all set to make the
hike down to the lake shore (a 1000 foot elevation drop), so I was disappointed to find out that
the hiking paths and even most Rim Drive, the 33-mile road that circles the crater rim, were
still closed due to snow. On July 6th! Apparently they can only manage to keep these areas open
for a few months a year. Oh well, I guess I'll just have to settle for the great vistas provided
by the lake, the deepest lake in the U.S. at 1932 feet, over 6 miles across, and so amazingly
clear and placid that it's like looking at a mirror reflecting the surrounding mountains.
I headed due north on the secondary roads of central Oregon, through some of the most varied
countryside I've seen. From deserts to rolling hills, to huge, snow covered mountains, they've
got it all. Toward the north end of the state, along Rt. 197, there is quite a bit of farmland,
almost all of which is extremely hilly. I reached the famous
Columbia River Gorge (the route followed
by Lewis and Clark) at a uniquely named town called The Dalles (are there any other cities or
towns with "The" in the official name?) and headed west on I-84. Along the more than 90 miles
into Portland, I took the two sidetracks onto the remaining sections of the original, pioneering
road through the gorge, Rt. 30, that are now officially designated as "scenic byways". Scenic
they definitely are. From the sweeping views of the massive Columbia River to the breathtaking
waterfalls that spill over the canyon edge, it's all here. At over 600 feet tall, the
Multnomah waterfall is the
second highest in the United States.
I crossed over to Washington State just outside of Portland, intending to locate former
co-worker Bob Brandau, who is stationed at the army barracks in Vancouver Washington now. My
detective skills were apparently not up to the task, so I headed onward, again following the
mighty Columbia River toward it's terminus at the Pacific. I called it a night near
Long Beach Washington, the longest
continuous beach in the country (28 miles).
Day 27 - Tuesday, July 7th
I made a quick trip to the end of
Cape Disappointment, where a
huge rockpile jetty juts out into the Pacific and one of the first Pacific Coast lighthouses is
located. Then it was onward up the Washington coast. A large portion of this land is "managed
timberland", which has been repeatedly clear-cut and replanted over the last century. There are
little signs along the roadside that list the dates that each area was harvested. There is also
a large American Indian presence in these parts, reflected in some very colorful town names such
as Tokeland and Humptulips. Finally, the little town of South Bend (I couldn't find the Fighting
Irish), which bills itself as the oyster capital of the world. Considering you can get oysters
at the local Dairy Queen, I'm not going to argue.
Toward the northwest corner of Washington, I drove through a section of the huge
Olympic National Park
on the way to Cape Flattery, the
northwestern-most point in the continental U.S. Then it was due east along the Strait of Juan de
Fuca into Port Angeles. I had planned to take the ferry from there to Victoria, B.C., but the
$28 fare struck me a little pricey, so, after watching most of the
All-Star Game at a
local sports bar, I continued on to Port Townsend and took a shorter and cheaper ($8) ferry
across to Whidbey Island, the longest and second largest
island in the lower 48 states. I spent the night at a nice country inn in the little town of
Coupeville - it was more than I wanted to spend, but I was sick of looking for a place and just
Day 28 - Wednesday, July 8th
It was only a short drive to the bridge at
Deception Pass, which connects Whidbey Island to mainland Washington and is supposed to
provide some spectacular views. Unfortunately, when I got there this morning the bridge was so
enshrouded in fog that you couldn't see from one end to the other, much less the sweeping views
of the straits that it's famous for. I'll bet all the people on the tour bus that pulled in
while I was there were real impressed too.
I took I-5 north to British Columbia, the first of four Canadian provinces that I hope to
visit (quick quiz - how many provinces are there?). The border crossing is quite the production
- a huge park with the Peace Arch in the
middle. It was another 30 miles into Vancouver, where I stumbled around the busy downtown area
before heading just north of the city to my destination attraction - the
Capilano suspension bridge. At 230 feet up, this 100
year-old footbridge is the highest in the world. It's also 450 feet long, spanning a rather
large canyon. It is unsettling walking across it the first time (with about 50 other people on
the bridge at any one time, it sways quite a bit), but I adjusted real quick and went back and
forth a couple more times without even touching the handrails.
My hosts in the Seattle area are Judie and Jim Relf, who live just across Lake Washington
from Seattle. Judie is my father's first cousin but I had never met them, so it was awful nice
of them to offer to put me up. Dinner ended up being a mini family reunion, with a couple other
cousins of my dad that live in the Seattle area attending as well. I also found out that one of
my second cousins is a movie star. His name is
Jeremy Davies and he's had the lead in several smaller films, plus a role in Twister and a
big part in the upcoming "Saving Private Ryan".