West Coast USA – Day 4 – Mule Ride

An early start at 6am. Breakfast of bagels and coffee in the motel breakfast room. Lots of people about at this time in the morning.

The view from a mule

Drive up to Bright Angle Lodge and wait for the mules to arrive at 8am. Have a briefing from a cowboy and get into first group to be assigned mules. I get a mule called ‘Bonnie’ but the name tag says Norman, so not sure what to call it. We saddle up and start to ride down the trail without any practice or getting used to the mules on the flat. After 10 minutes we stop and readjust saddles. Stopping involves pointing the mule over the edge of cliff!

The descent

The descent turns out to be pretty scary as you have virtually no control over the mules who seem to like to walk right next to the edge. The weather is pretty cold while we’re in the shadow of the canyon and doesn’t warm up until later in the morning. We keep descending for 1.5 hours until we reach Indian Garden (called that because it was a Native American prickly pear garden) where we stop for a water break.

We carry on out to Plateau Point for lunch at 11.30am stopping along the way for a group photo. Eat our packed lunches overlooking the river. Lunch consists of Beef jerky, apple, cheese, crisps, oreos and peanuts.

The group

After lunch and more photo’s we saddle up and start the ride back up. It’s starting to get warm again so we remove some layers. Stop again at Indian Garden for a water break. Now we start the proper ascent, there are a lot more people around at this time of day, mostly hikers who are camping in the canyon overnight. Ascent for 2-3 hours stopping regularly to enjoy the view and rest the mules. It gets cold again once we get into the shadow. Near the top we see mountain sheep and lots of tourists. Backsides are pretty soar!

Di and myself in the canyon

Once at the top we ride into the corral where we ‘jump off’ and goodbye to the guide and the mules.

We head over to the lodge for a needed cup of tea and the courgette cake. Buy fridge magnets and postcards and start the drive to Las Vegas. The drive turns out to be 5 hours, not the 1.5 hours I’d overheard the previous day. (Thankfully we didn’t find that out until we got back to the top of the canyon)

We drive long straight boring roads trying to figure out from the map and gps a good place to stop. Want to get another In & Out Burger, but don’t seem to be able to find one. Stop to investigate a ‘town’ which is supposed to have several food places. None seem to be appetising so we buy some corn chips at a gas station and keep on driving. Manage to find an In & Out Burger in Kingman just as we’re getting despirate.

Briefly stop at the Hoover dam but can’t see that much in the dark. Lots of security around and car searching around the dam.

Finally arrive at the Luxor in Las Vegas and finally find the self-park garage (signs seem very confusing). We walk with our bags through the casino to the reception and check in. We have a nice room on the 17th floor with an airport view. Shower and collapse in the bed.

West Coast USA – Day 3 – Sedona

Wake up at 8 and have French toast and home made jam for breakfast.

Jana has Monday’s off work and so she’s taking us to Sedona. We drop Jana’s two girls at a friends house to play while we are out for the day and head on down to towards Sedona. We take the freeway on the way down. The canyons are beautiful and the buildings blend in with the surroundings very well due to tight building regulations.


Bell Rock


After parking up we take a walking trail with the aim of walking around Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte. We get half way around and stop for a rest and a photo session. When we start up again we loose the trail and end up walking about trying to find it again. Find a smaller trail and keep walking in the general direction. This smaller trail disappears and we head through the scrub looking for signs of the trail again. Walk for 20-30 minutes not finding a trail until we stumble upon a couple having lunch on a rocky outcrop. They point us to the trail and we continue on. We make it back to car after a longer hike than expected, hungry and thirsty. We find a parking ticket on the car, we’d all failed to notice any signs to alert us that we needed to pay (and even on the way out we couldn’t spot any). Thankfully the fine was only $5!


Myself, Di and Jana on the hike

Next we drive into Sedona proper and stop at a Mexican cantina for a well earned lunch. I have the special which consists of a large green chili pepper filled with cheese, dipped in egg white and fried. Then covered in cheese and wrapped in a soft tortilla with more cheese on top! Also served with refried and black beans, rice and all the usual trimmings. Di has a chicken ‘salad’ which is huge. Jana and myself have beers and none of us can finish our huge meals.

Drive back to Jana’s picking up the girls on the way. We say our goodbyes and take some courgette cake with us as we need to get to the grand canyon tonight. Would have loved to have stayed longer with Jana and Silas, but there is always next time!

The Grand Canyon

We drive to the Grand Canyon and arrive at the east entrance to the south rim just before sunset. We drive along the south rim stopping for photo’s and watching the sun set over the Grand Canyon. We reach Grand Canyon village after dark and head over to the Bright Angel Lodge to check in for our mule ride. We get a long speech about what we need to wear and do and collect our ponchos (which are our tickets) and canteens. Also purchase cowboy hats and sunscreen.

We attempt to have dinner at a posh lodge overlooking the (dark) canyon but the waiting time is 1.5 hours so we decide to head to the motel.

Check in to the Red Feather Lodge and stop the car to unload into our room. I start carrying the bags up while Di goes to park the car. An American couple in another SUV overtake Di in the car park and then try to steal her parking space even though there are plenty. I look over the balcony to see what all the honking is about to see a little Chinese guy shouting at Di and put something through the open window of our car. I think the worst but it turns out to be his ‘police’ badge. We calm down the situation and everyone gets a parking space in the end. We do take down their car registration number just in case!

After the ruckus we walk across the street in the biting cold to Spaghetti Western, an ‘Italian’ restaurant run entirely by Mexicans. The food is not good and the spaghetti is more than over cooked but there isn’t much choice in this one horse town.

After the meal we quickly walk back to the motel to avoid being out in the cold and go to bed for an early start tomorrow.

West Coast USA – Day 2 – Flagstaff

Have waffles for breakfast from waffle machine in reception.

Buy map – too large a scale – and head to the Hollywood sign. Use GPS to get there, which takes us to the middle of an intersection, and the view of the sign is average. Park up in a near by store and take a wander down to take some pictures. Have to dodge traffic and stand in the road to get half decent shots of us with the sign. Walk back to the store and buy a gift for Yana and ask the guy at the counter for directions for the best place to see the sign.

Drive to a “Dog Park” not too far from the store which has excellent views of the Hollywood sign. Get the tripod out and take some snaps.

The Hollywood sign

After the photo shoot we head for Walmart using the GPS to stock up with supplies. In the end we stop at a 7-11 as Walmart seems to be miles away. Stock up with snacks and a crate of bottled water, which turns out to be very handy.

Set off to Flagstaff around 12.30pm, it’s a long 6 hour drive and we stop at In & Out Burger on the way for late lunch around 3pm. Stop in Needles – a one horse town – for gas on the way. Turns out to the most expensive gas in the country, over $4.5 a gallon, no wonder the clerk didn’t know how to operate the till! Arrive at Yana and Slilas’ house at 8pm as expected to a warm welcome. Ate eggplant and cheese bake while catching up. Diana and Yana met in Kindergarten and haven’t seen each other for 17 years!

Have an early night as we’re all exhausted.

West Coast USA – Day 1 – LA

Arrive at Heathrow to find that BMI doesn’t fly to the US. They use United, would have been nice of them to tell us in advance. Get two seats together in their own row next to the window to Chicago.

Have a 6 hour layover in Chicago where we walk up and down the passenger drop off as there is no other place to walk and we don’t have time to go into the city.

Finally arrive at LAX 20 or so hours after we began.

Very pushy salesman at the Hertz counter, manage to avoid buying any extras, but end up paying for the sat nav we’d reserved. Booking confirmation form was very misleading. Pick up SUV and have to exchange because it won’t start since the battery is flat. Finally get a Silver Ford Explorer and make it out of the parking lot.

Drive to motel on the Sunset Strip. Room is nice and has a walk in closet! Get to bed at the ‘normal’ time only to be woken by drunken guests and car alarms – nice area.

West Coast USA – Road Trip – The route

After working for the whole of the summer it’s time for a holiday!

My wonderful girlfriend Di and myself are off on a road trip of the west coast USA for 10 days. We’re flying into Los Angeles, renting an SUV and taking in the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Death Valley, Yosemite, finally flying out of San Francisco. Can’t wait!

Here’s a rough outline of the route: