US Trip 10 July 98 to 11 Aug 1998

Pre trip notes.

I've been planning this trip for 18 months. Michèle went to the US when she was 13 with her parents, we thought it would be nice to take Eleanor at the same age. Anyway, I wanted to go, I've never been to the States before, and Michèle was keen to go again. Looking at brochures etc finally whittled it down to the Western US and fixed around a month.

I'd seen an interesting route description, on the Internet, on the balloon re mailing list, from a Wayne Mohring. I wrote to say his route description looked interesting, said I was going to the US in the next year, could he give me some ideas on where to visit. I expected a polite paragraph suggesting a few places to see. Instead, after a bit of a delay, I got page after page of full blown itinerary, listing a detailed route, with all sorts of snippets of extra information, comparative living costs in different areas, even mentioning such details as when you bought lemonade or coffee in the US you usually got refills for free! His original route took us up to Washington, I mentioned that we had not wanted to go that far North, instead thought we would head a bit east after Yellowstone, to the Black Hills etc. Back came amendments with our new route. I've just counted, he sent 35 A4 pages in all. Wayne's route acted just about as our bible. As we learnt more in our trip about where to go, very little seemed better than Wayne's plan. We even got a final itinerary suggesting daily milages, and where we should stop each day and we stayed surprisingly close to this timetable.

We originally planned to go early July but had arranged for a family from the UK to house sit, or rather animal sit. They could not come until a little later in the month because of school problems, due to these delays we had limited flights available and booked a charter direct to Oakland, San Francisco, and back. Then our house sitter family phoned, they had severe financial problems, could not take the time off work, couldn't even afford the ferry, maybe going bankrupt. I've since talked to them, things have taken a little turn for the better, they are hopeful. So in the end Mary Woodhouse flew over from Prescott Arizona to house sit. I met her soon to be ex husband Geoff 40 years ago around the jazz clubs in Hull before either of us had heard of balloons. Geoff took up ballooning soon after I did, was at one time president or something of the Balloon Federation of America. I renewed contact with Geoff and Mary through the balloon list although he been over with me to a balloon meet here in Maintenon around 20 years ago.

Day 1 10 July

The journey did not start too well. Our flight was supposed to be direct, it turned out we had a 3 hour stop in New York. Our plane was late into New York, we finished up having to make a mad dash taxi trip from one terminal to another to get our connecting flight. Arrival into Oakland was a bit strange. I have a passing acquaintance with the airport geography of the region, my version of Microsoft Flight Simulator covers the San Francisco Bay region, coming in to land I realised we were coming in to San Francisco, not Oakland. Oh well. We had booked our hire car from Avis (they offered me a shareholders discount deal!) and Avis didn't seem to care, they just transferred the booking.

We had arranged to stay with Brent Stockwell and Christine at their home/workshop in Oakland (yet another renewed contact through the balloon list). They were away in Europe, but house and workshop sitter Rachel welcomed us when we arrived at 8.30 pm. Fantastic place, Brent's workshop, full of all sorts of old ballooning paraphernalia. Plus loads of space to work.

Day 2

San Francisco. Went in to the city by train, the BART, Bay Area Transport, I wasn't yet too sure of the traffic and the hire car and we had had a long day the day before (Well, 9 hours longer than usual. California is 9 hours later than France). Went on a cable car, which is a sort of tram pulled by a cable in the roadway. There was a huge queue and it didn't impress me too much but apparently it is a "must do" in San Francisco, they are famous. Had lunch on Fisherman's Wharf, fresh crabs, delicious. Walked around and went shopping for jeans, they seem a bit cheaper in the US. Dinner in Chinatown, also superb.

Day 3

Were supposed to leave to start our journey, but daughter Eleanor wanted to see the famous World Cup Football match on TV, around noon California time, 9 pm France. We stayed to watch and must have had an effect because France won. Afternoon crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, and stopped to look at San Francisco from the viewpoint on the other side. Very impressive, that skyline.

Then we headed towards the Napa Valley, California's wine growing area. On the way we stopped in Sonoma and called in at a sweet shop. They had a huge selection of jelly beans (We even took a photo of them all!). We then headed off towards the Napa Valley, stopped at the side of the road for a few minutes, near the top of a hill, and a car slowed and pulled to a stop. We've just got engaged said the passenger, I've got to tell someone! So I said, you better stop, well have a drink to celebrate. Took out a bottle of champagne I had earlier put in the car, just in case, and we celebrated! We've heard from Donna since, the engagement is still on. Dinner later at Lyons Resto in the Napa Valley which we left too late, had a longer drive back to Oakland than we expected, and got lost on the freeway. The signposting is not very clear, they often tell you the name of the roads at a junction but not where the road is going to, makes navigating tricky, since the maps only show the names of places and not the names of roads. We never really sorted that problem out.

Day 4

Managed to leave Oakland at a reasonable time, headed westwards to the coast, to join California 1 heading north. It's a super ride up the coast, the road running mostly just about on the edge of the sea, with super views over the rocks. We rushed it a bit too much, because we were late on schedule, due to the football match! Stopped at a bit of beach and spoke to man with big Harley Davidson motor bike when he tried to rescue a seagull with string round it's leg. He used was from a hammish community (that’s the religious community with big hats and don't use mechanical things) but said he was slightly different hammish, his sect allowed you to ride motor bikes. He had driven down from Chicago to San Diego on the old route 66 and was now heading back home. Picnic lunch in the woods - forgot to mention, there are lots of forests on the way, running down to the sea. It's really beautiful. Beginning to realise distances are pretty big, already finding large gaps between habitations. After about 100 miles of coast the road headed a bit inland, for the start of the giant redwood forests. We went to see one giant tree, with a tunnel running through, and took pictures of the car in the tunnel. Then a bit more north to stay at a Holiday Inn just outside a small town called Fortuna. We had on of the more interesting meals of the whole trip in a nearby Restaurant, the Eel River Brewery. There is an Eel River, and it was a brewery. And the food was good. Mmm.

Day 5

Headed north, to the Redwood National Park. Took a trail through the forest, Howland Hill Road, a track really, about 20 miles, beautiful, and impressive, had a picnic on the way. These are big trees, 300 or more ft tall! A beautiful drive. Then rushed on towards Crater Lake National Park. Got there earlieish evening to find the cabins in the park all booked. Had to take a 15 mile drive to Fort Klamath to find a motel. Dinner in the Cattle Crossing Cafe.

Day 6

Got up and left at the crack of dawn. We have to be in Boise Idaho this evening to meet up with Scotty, a balloonist I have corresponded with on the balloon list. So we arrived at the entrance to Crater lake at 7 am raising an eyebrow from the warden on the entrance gate, not many people arrive at that time. Followed Wayne's advice and bought an annual pass for all the National Parks for $50, one of the better bargains of the trip. Lovely in the park, no-one there, views all over the lake, which was formed when a volcano collapsed and left a big crater. It's pretty high, 8,000 odd feet, and there was snow still around. In July! In fact, part of the road running around the crater was still blocked with snow, by the road we could see snow around 6 ft deep. Left heading north at around 10 am and decided to take a smaller back road to Bend, since the map had it marked as a pretty road. It was worth the diversion, also we passed by huge areas just covered with lava rocks. Miles of them just the black rocks, virtually nothing growing on them. We were in the valley running alongside. Just before Bend (that's the town called Bend) a bike race went past, I heard later it was one of the really important races in the area.

After Bend we struck off east across a "desert", 200 miles of scrub land. Scotty said it would be a boring drive but we were fascinated, I've not seen ground like that before. Stopped in a picnic area for lunch, and read something I'll never forget. When the railway came to Bend, in Oregon, the government offered land to settlers who flocked out from the east, to make smallholdings and run farms. The information said from the side of one of the local hills it looked like fairyland, with all the twinkling lights hung on the porches of the houses. But the information went on to say, the land was poor, and it generally took the settlers only 5 years to build a house and plant crops and have successive crop failures and run out of money and get tired of jack rabbit soup and give up and try to get a job in Bend. When we passed by there was no sign of all these old houses, they had completely disappeared, there was just the scrub, seemingly going on for ever. Hardly any habitation at all in that 200 miles, even then a couple of the "towns" consisted of one building only.

Had trouble getting the phone to work to ring Scotty, then a garage suggested I bought a pre paid phone card, and all worked fine! Scotty met us at a garage, his wife joined us, we went for a drink. Then Scotty showed us our hotel. I'd asked him to book us a motel room, but wow! This was no motel. Then it turns out we did not have to pay, he'd fixed it with the hotel and we had a free room!

Day 7

Met Scotty for breakfast. The night before he'd offered to dig out a couple of 56's and said we could all go flying. I'll never really understand why I said no, we were all really tired I think. Anyway, it was a really good breakfast, in a tiny little almost scruffy cafe stuffed with regulars and an old man owner cook almost blind and fascinated by all things French. I think he had had the cafe 50 years.......

We had plans to continue rushing along the freeway through Yellowstone and on to get to the Bighorn mountains in time for the start of the riding holiday. But no, Scotty sent us north through the Sawtooth mountains, said it wasn't much further. It wasn't, and was well worth the diversion. Stopped for lunch by Redfish lake, the girls went swimming. Then on to Idaho Falls, passing Craters of the Moon National Monument and a huge area of lava beds (around 100 miles by 50 miles!)

Stayed at Driggs, picking the motel because it claimed "spectacular views of the Grand Teton Mountains" Well, yes, if you stood at the front. Unfortunately all the rooms looked out to the back over a sort of junk yard and it was generally a bit scruffy. It was also the most expensive motel we stayed in. You can't win them all........ We had trouble deciding where to eat, the girls didn't fancy O'Rourkes which had been recommended but we found the other places were shut so it was O'Rourkes which turned out just fine in the end!

Day 8

Took the Teton Pass ((8,429 ft) into the Grand Teton National Park. Thought we were going up for ever, although we had been close to that height in the Sawtooth mountains. Found how handy our annual pass was, saved the $20 entrance fee! Fired by brochures on white water rafting we had picked up around Sawtooth the girls wanted to go white water rafting here. Sadly, we did not have time, not if we were to get to the ranch on time for the riding. We did have time to drive through Yellowstone though. Saw the geysers, waited for Old Faithful throwing a jet of water 100 ft up in the air, saw the hot springs. Fascinating these pools of really clear boiling hot water coming from the ground, or boiling mud springs bubbling and glugging away. The beauty of the place is immense, but so is the size. The road round the park is nearly 150 miles long, with only 5 road junctions, apart from one road crossing the park east to west. We saw buffalo, and deer, even a small brown bear. Memory is a bit blurred, road through the woods, lots of road, open areas, beautiful views, stopping to look at geysers or springs or to wait for animals on the road. Headed out of the park late, trying to make up time, didn't stop until 11pm when we found a motel in Greybull without problem.

Day 9

Left Greybull at the crack of dawn, around 6.30am. Girls desperate to get to the ranch in time for riding. Headed up and up into the Bighorn Mountains, turned right on to a gravel track, which continued on through the woods without a junction for 30 miles! Eventually found the ranch, they don't have a phone, apparently can't even get a mobile to work, it's 8,000 ft up. It was 10.30, Eleanor decided to wait to ride in the afternoon, and I decided to stay for lunch. I'd decided not to stay for riding. Apart from not being too keen on riding, my back had been playing up since San Francisco, I didn't want to risk jarring it and getting that shot of pain! Anyway, it was expensive and the girls had made it clear they wanted to do this together! The cabin the girls were to stay in looked fine, lunch was OK.

I left and headed on again, dropping down hair raising and incredibly steeply descending hairpin bends on the gravel road. I moved further east, still in Wyoming, along another stretch of 70 miles of road with hardly a road junction, not a single habitation, and hardly more than the odd wire fence to break up the scrubby grass land. Then I took a left to Devils Tower. First there was a "city" of prairie dogs in a field, funny creatures, standing by their holes and diving in at the first sign of trouble. Devils tower is a bit like an old tree stump, but nearly 1000 ft high with sheer fluted sides, the internal residue of an old volcano. Must be about 100 yds diameter. I watched some climbers starting the climb down, they had started up at 10.30 am one of their friends told me. I remember it seemed rather windy to be climbing up there. Evening was drawing in, the town of Sundance was near. Famous from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I was actually in the area where these things happened! I was realising I was actually in the wild west! So I found a motel, bit scrubby, sort of caravan, but clean and cheap. Dinner down the road, super place, forgotten what I had, but I remember the waitress made a few mistakes but said it was her first day. She was trying hard so I left her an extra tip....

Day 10

Sunday. So the Sundance Kid museum was closed. I took a photo of the bank though. The Sundance Kid did not raid the bank, he was in prison here when he was about 18 for stealing a horse or some such, that's how he got his name. So what? It's the wild west.

On to the Black Hills. Gold mining area, so I stopped in the town of Lead, had a quick look at the outside of the Homestake gold mine, and bought a fine silver neck chain for Eleanor. Silver is a sort of by product of the gold mines. Then to the mining museum in the town, took a tour of an old mine reconstruction. Down the road to Deadwood. Memories of Calamity Jane (Doris Day?) and the Deadwood Stage. Took a drive down the main street and a visit to Boot Hill Cemetery for the graves of Wild Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane. Picnic lunch on the way to Mount Rushmore to see the giant size carvings of 4 American Presidents. Interesting but all the adjacent paraphernalia was incredibly soppy sentimental American patriotic. The film of how it was made was full of stuff like "our great American state which is showing democracy to the World." I could not imitate it. That does not give the idea. It was more like a parody, but in the film the commentary went on in that vein for around 30 minutes! There was a huge stone plaque showing the names of all 2 or 3 hundred men who had worked on it, and a few who died, and another showing the financial contributors. That's OK, but there was a man taking a very careful picture of all these lists with his video camera! There was a walkway with the flags of all the states. Which is also OK, except I heard someone saying, seriously, so and so has sat down, at least they could have sat under their own flag.

Stayed too long at Mount Rushmore, carried on via the scenic route to Rapid City to stay to find the first motel was full, but they sent me to another which had a room, was very good, and very cheap.

Was sent to decent restaurant. Fell into conversation with a beef farmer from Minnesota heading west to see his son working on a farm in Wyoming. One thing doesn't change. He reckons it's hard being a farmer, beef prices are too low. Pleasant conversation though. Nice thing about Americans, very easy to fall into conversation with, not sort of reserved like us lot.

Day 11

I'd been dying to visit a Wal-Mart so that was first on the agenda. Bought a few things, including reading glasses for about $12. Then at the checkout said I had forgotten a couple of things, I didn't have a pen so I couldn't write down a list which said buy a pen! Lady after me in the queue said she always had too many pens in her bag and gave me one. What a nice thought. Then headed east again to Wall, famous for it's drugstore. Bought by a young couple in the 1930's as a tiny little drugstore in an unknown tiny nondescript town they had the idea to put up signs on the main road saying free ice water at Wall Drug. Wall Drug is now nearly 100 yards long and is about half the commerce activity of Wall so I guess the idea worked.

I headed south to the Badlands National park. Strange area, the ground is a sort of volcanic ash, easily eroded, all sorts of little canyons and dry river beds, nothing much grows. Back via Rapid City to Chief Crazy Horse monument. Similar idea to Mount Rushmore, but bigger and not yet finished. They have only been carving it for 50 years so far........ Much less formal than Mount Rushmore, much fewer people. Down into Custer then a quick loop round the Custer State Park - pretty, again, lots of trees, then back to Custer and on to the Jewel Cave National Monument. Too late, last tour had already departed! So I carried on with the 150 mile drive back to the west to Buffalo to stay the night. Dinner at Col Bozemans, it was good. Worth remembering is the fact that it was often tough finding a reasonable restaurant, you often have to ask around a bit, there are hamburger and similar places everywhere, but usually there is somewhere that is a touch more adventurous.

I'm actually writing this on day 4,400. More or less. Because this is as far as I got in my account of the journey! I have the route marked on my map, I have discovered a box file with brochures etc gathered on the way, and I recorded place and date of all credit card chitties so I can pretty well remember what happened. I'll continue with a brief summary of the remainder of the journey we made such a long time ago.........

Day 12, 20th July

I picked the girls up, they had had a great time. At the time of writing (December 2011) I note that the Spear-O-Wigwan ranch is up for sale, $800,000 if anyone is interested.

We continued south to Casper where we stopped at a hospital. Michele had wrenched her ankle and was concerned that it might be broken. It wasn't, but I got a bill for about $200 for X-Ray and consultation. Later on returning home I got another bill for $120 for something else associated. By coincidence, a few months after returning home I tripped on the stairs, thought I might have fractured my ankle, went to hospital and had an X-Ray. I got a bill for something less than $50. For the exact same procedure. I think French hospitals offer better value................

I digress. We continued on, stayed the night somewhere, maybe Cheyenne, and next day, 21st, headed for the Rocky Mountain State Park. It was very wet and misty but what we could see looked great. We stayed in Granby then headed for Moab, to visit Arches National Park. And after staying in Moab took a visit to Monument Valley. We backtracked a little and stayed in Mexican Hat (23rd) then next day took the road through the Valley of the Gods then Natural Bridges NP. Bryce Canyon was next on the list then Kanab (25th) and the Grand Canyon North Rim. The girls took a horse ride down into the grand Canyon, we stayed at the lodge (26th), visited the South Rim and stayed in Flagstaff (27th). The next was a call in to visit Geoff Woodhouse in Prescott. Geoff as I mentioned earlier I knew years ago, his wife (of the time) was house sitting for us. (Geoff was married 7 times, and referred to his wives by number!)

After a pleasant stay with Geoff we headed towards San Diego, stopping at a rural (chickens running about) 2 room motel in the tiny town of Ocotillo. But had a good meal by the highway, picked up some hints for my old Ford Granada from a specialist who made the near 100 miles each way daily commute to his workshop in San Diego.

Next stop was with Simon in San Diego. The day after we arrived we went to look at the Getty Museum in Los Angles. We did the trip in style, flying from San Diego to LA in Simon's small plane. I was later to get to know that plane very well, in 2001 Simon and went on a 3 week trip from San Diego though Mexico to Costa Rica and back.

My back problems had been getting worse. And worse. While in San Diego I went 3 times to visit a chiropractor with little improvement. It came to a head, so to speak, when we were dining in the Crab Catcher restaurant, this is a very smart and very good restaurant next to a pretty bay in La Jolla. We had one of the best tables, right by the window overlooking the bay. Then I needed a pee. The toilets were right at the back of the restaurant, and I couldn't walk, even using the tables as support. I had to crawl right through this restaurant and back.

Next day we went to Disney World and the day after to Universal Studios. Then to Las Vegas. Then Death Valley, Yosemite, then Monterey. Then back to visit with Christine and Brent in Oakland where a life changing event occurred. Naturally, we recounted the story of our travels, I told them about my back, and crawling across the restaurant.

Ah said Christine. Brent used to have a bad back. Brent nodded. She said, then he read a book and he doesn't have a problem any more. Brent nodded again. She said, we keep a copy to give to friends, and she gave me a book. I read it on the plane on the way back, and again at home. I am writing this 14 years later and apart from a couple of twinges early on I haven't had a back problem since..............

We caught the plane back on the 11 the August.

So the conclusions? We saw a lot of the Western United States. Maybe a little too much. 7,000 miles in a month was rather a lot. Of course, it would have been much easier if I had not been crippled with my back problem, if I had been able to drive more, and more easily. But my appetite certainly was whetted, in the following years I made several very long tours of the US. We spent $6,100, including $1,400 car hire. We have an album with around 500 photographs. We have lots of memories.

And the book which changed my life? Healing back pain by John Sarno. Around £5 ($7) from Amazon.

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