Hello again. I hope there is no time limit for trip reports and that you don’t mind a bit of different perspective.
Our trip took place between June 25 and August 14 2009.
We drove 7 thousand miles, visited 6 states and took nearly 7 thousand pictures.
Our itinerary: SAN FRANCISCO – (Murphys, Columbia, Sonora, Jamestown) GROVELAND – YOSEMITE – DEATH VALLEY – LAS VEGAS – (Oatman + Route 66) SELIGMAN – SUPAI – GRAND CANYON (+Phantom Ranch)– SEDONA (Jerome, Montezuma Castle and Well, Walnut Canyon, Sunset Crater Volcano, Wupatki) – PAGE (Horseshoe Bend, Navaho Bridge, Antelope Canyon, The Wave) – MEXICAN HUT (Monument Valley, Goose Necks) – (Moki Dugway, Natural Bridges, Four Corners) CORTEZ – MESA VERDE – MONTICELLO (Canyonlands: Needles) – MOAB (Canyonlands: Island In The Sky, Dead Horse Point, Arches) – (Flaming Gorge) GREEN RIVER WY– CODY ( Old Trail Town, rodeo) – (Beartooth) YELLOWSTONE - GRAND TETON – (Salt Lake City) SALINA – (Capitol Reef, Hwy 12) – TROPIC – BRYCE – ZION – HURRICANE – (Hoover Dam) LAS VEGAS – (Hwy 2, Mulholland Drive) LOS ANGELES – (Hwy 1) MONTEREY – SAN FRANCISCO
We are a couple from Poland. We are in our mid-forties which means we were growing up when our borders were closed. After some time we were allowed to travel west mainly to work as cleaners or construction workers. In the 1990’s things started to change rapidly. At first we could afford an ice-cream in Vienna then a romantic evening in Rome and finally one day I said to my wife that we were going to visit national parks in the USA. Twenty years earlier it would have been as if I had said that I booked a spaceship to the Moon.
I just wanted to give an idea of our perspective, explain some of our choices and why we didn’t care about some minor obstacles.
First I bought a big map of the West and started circling places which we wanted to visit. For this country buy as big map as possible. Otherwise if you are used to using “European size” maps, you might get an idea that on your way from San Francisco to Las Vegas you can have a glance at Yosemite and maybe even Death Valley. Google Maps will tell you the truth.
I started a year in advance so I thought I had more time than I needed. But when I got to National Parks Service, TripAdvisor and other websites I quickly understood how wrong I had been. Enzian helped me to figure out “How to solve an accommodation problem?” in most popular parks. It took about eight months to plan the whole itinerary.
Next step was to get myself a credit card. Let me tell you that in Poland we DO have color and colour TVs, elevators and lifts and credit cards as well. But we also have our local currency and in some cases if you pay for something on the net in American dollars they first convert dollars into euros and then euros into zloty. You wouldn’t like to know the exchange rate! A daylight robbery that you don’t have to put up with. A good idea for those who have got some bucks or just buy cheap in advance is a prepaid card in dollars. I got VISA from one of our local Polish banks and it was good for the Internet and also wherever they wanted a regular credit card.
I tried to find as much information as I could. When you surf the net you come across official sites where you can order brochures, leaflets, maps, etc. on condition you have got a decent address. I don’t know about Britain or Australia but I never got a scrap of paper on my Polish address. Luckily I have a family and friends on the East coast and they resent me everything I ordered on their address. The same thing was with emails. Someone on this forum advised me to use a “nationless” portal.
Another problem was choosing a car rental agency. It wasn’t a problem to choose a car because we could only afford up to intermediate. We ended up with Hyundai Elantra. It was perfect for the two of us. It never let us down. It climbed the steepest slopes and did well in the heat of the Death Valley. The trunk was big enough for one medium size suitcase, one travel bag and a foam cooler plus plenty of loose stuff. I limited our choice to HERTZ and AVIS. You can pay less with other companies but I was not sure if the offer was the same. They use different names for insurance, you must be careful with hidden fees and extras. We decided on AVIS and we booked in a Polish branch because it was actually cheaper than a bargain USA offer. We got the full insurance and I could understand the small print.
A very important thing was to choose a travel insurance. At this point we forgot that we were on a shoelace budget and we didn’t pay attention to anything below half-a-million coverage. We took Travel Guard from AIG. It cost us $560 for two people for 52 days. It covered also hiking and horse riding without an additional fee. We never regretted spending so much money on something that we in fact didn’t need.
We landed in San Francisco in the late afternoon. We went to the information desk at the low level and bought three-day MUNI passes. To use them you have to scratch off the year, month and three CONSECUTIVE days. If you do it in the afternoon, you will lose half a day. We used BART to get to Embarcadero Station and took a cab in front of the Hyatt hotel. We paid $5.35 for Bart then but in August when we were leaving it was something like $8.20. The line for cabs is not directly in front of the Hyatt hotel and some quests overlooked a short line of people. It got much better when one of waiting virtually dragged out two cheaters out of the cab and continued to inform others about our existence in loud voice. Our cab driver was originally from Turkey. As a young boy he played football with Polish boys in an immigrant camp in Austria, we toured his country and he tried to give us some advice so before we knew we were in Lombard street in front of our hotel.
We chose Super 8 for price and location. When I booked this hotel in February 2009 we were charger about $90 a night (including tax). We stayed in the same hotel in a next door room in August and it was $120. Quite a change. The location is great. There are a lot of small restaurants and bars to choose from, a small supermarket, greengrocer’s, gas station and bus stops to every possible destination in SF within a short walking distance.
Next morning we got up very early only to see dark gloomy sky and it was COLD! Come on! That’s not what we had seen in all movies! Despite feeling a bit disappointed we went for a walk. We got to the Palace of fine Arts, had a first look at the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and continued eastwards along the coast.
For the next three days we visited all major sights. I’m sure experts will be able to advise you better. However, there are a few things I’d like to mention.
People here are unimaginably helpful. If you need help, you don’t have to shout or even ask. It is enough to look confused or take out your map. If for 10 seconds nobody approaches you, it means there are no locals around, just tourist. It happened to us at least five times. On our first walk we found Safeway supermarket. When we picked up our car we went there shopping. At the checkout counter two very nice gentlemen advised us to apply for a discount card - we saved $30 only on that purchase (take one even if you are going to shop just once) and as we couldn’t find a foam cooler, brought it for us and made sure that we knew they had also plastic ones. Unfortunately we didn’t meet them when we were there again in August so I would like to thank them here once more.
If you have got enough time, visit Sausalito. We initially planned to get there by ferry but in the end we went there in a car. I just wanted to get a hold of an automatic gear.
While trying to visit Civic Canter we came across a very special meeting, parade, protest, gathering. Whatever you call it, there was music, dance, costumes. That was amazing. The participants didn’t mind our being there although with our camera and tourist look we stand out from the crowd. But it was nothing. After a while we went to a metro station and at that moment I believe the parade ended. We were standing at the foot of the stairs and the crowd was pouring down. We couldn’t help staring and admiring. I know it is rude to stare but I assume that’s exactly what we were expected to do. I don’t know how many trains we missed but it was worth.