Heading East!

Following on from our recent trip through Central America, our car is now back in California. We shipped it back with Bob and Thelma Howells' Landcruiser and both cars are now parked up in the garage just north of Los Angeles.

Two Landcruisers ready for the next big trip

Over the next two months my car will be checked over and serviced ready for the drive we have planned across the States. We will head up into Eastern Canada and then back into the US, driving south through Maine and Vermont to our finish in Upper New York State. Our leaving date will be in the last week of March and the trip is planned to finish on the 27th April.

My next blog will give full details of the trip including the places and people we aim to see and visit.

Latest news

With just over three weeks to go before we head off on our great trek across the United States, my ace motor engineer, Chris Cooper, has flown out to California to check the car over and carry out any work that is necessary. He is combining a week in the sun with a bit of work!

He's taken with him the latest electronic wizardry to boost the power output of the Landcruiser. With the added weight of the extra fuel tank, sump guards, security cage etc., the car struggles when we hit long inclines or need to overtake a truck on a hill. This electronic box of tricks boosts the brake horse power by about 10%. It can be switched on and off at will, so that fuel economy should not be too badly affected. It will be interesting to see how much the performance is enhanced.

We've more or less finalised our route which will take us across California, into Arizona for one night and then into Colorado for four nights. We will be staying in Vail as the guest of Jim and Leejun Taylor. There is a link to Jim's website on the right hand side of this page. The site has many great photos of the various rallies he has entered. From Vail we head south into New Mexico and Santa Fe. Then on into Texas where we will be staying with friends from the rallies, the Crouchers and the Nelans in El Paso, and Ahmad Fakhr in San Antonio. I'll give more details of the route later on.

We leave London on the 19th March, which will give us over a week to do all the final preparations. Another adventure is about to begin!

'T' Minus Nine and Counting!

Just nine days to go till we head off from Malibu, California on our trip. We leave London this afternoon on the BA flight to Los Angeles, hoping that we have taken all the clothes we need for temperatures ranging from minus 15C in parts of the Rockies to over 30C in the Southern States! Still, any shortages we can make up for on the way. Unlike some of our trips we are not in a third world country this time and shopping won't be a problem as we head east.

As far as I know the car is now fully serviced and ready to go. All we need to do is repack everything - spares, tools, camping equipment for roadside meals and hopefully not overnight sleeping and our clothes.

Bob and Thelma join us in four days time for a few days in the Californian sun and then we leave on the 28th March.

I'll start posting photos as soon as we get going.

California and nearly ready to go.

We arrived in California on the 19th March and have spent the last few days getting ourselves over the 7 hours of jet-lag, as well as checking the car over and making sure we have all the spares and equipment we need, not only for the trip across the States, but also for the tour of India in October.

Bob and Thelma arrive this evening from London and we will have three days here in California before we head for Arizona next Tuesday.

Yesterday I went to the local (Santa Monica) AAA offices (Triple A as the Americans call their auto club) to discuss the route and see what help they could give us for the trip. I came away with a detailed route itinerary as well as guide books for all the states we will be driving through. Three carrier bags in total!!

The weather here is simply glorious after a couple of cloudy days, and one rainy day.

The evening sky just after the sun had set looking out over a calm Pacific Ocean at Malibu, California

Tuesday 27th March - Off at last!

After planning this trip for nearly six months, we left Malibu, California this morning at 6.15am. The early start due to a long drive of over 550 miles to Sedona, Arizona and also an attempt to miss the Los Angeles morning rush hour.

After yesterday's cloudy and drizzly day, it was a relief to set off with clear skies and a beautiful sunrise over the Santa Monica mountains. We decided to avoid the centre of Los Angeles by driving north to the 101 freeway and then south to the junction with the 405 freeway and then to drive north-west to join the Interstate Highway I15 from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.

After two hours we stopped at Victorville, a town on the edge of the Mojave Desert for a typical American breakfast of eggs, bacon and hash browns. Great breakfast but not very good for the waistline!

Enjoying breakfast 'American Style'

Wendy then took over the driving for the two hundred miles across the desert to Needles, a town on the Colorado river near the Arizona state line. Glorious desert scenery with cacti, rugged mountains and wonderful wide open country. The Interstate Highway makes the driving very easy and even though there were plenty of 'big rigs', overtaking was never a problem.

Needles is situated on the Colorado River and we think must be named after the mountains nearby that look like giant needles. We then decided to take a 20 mile detour to visit Lake Havasu City, famous because an American industrialist decided to buy London Bridge and rebuild it on the edge of Lake Havasu. It's certainly very strange to see an icon of London in the middle of the Arizona desert!.

London Bridge 6,000 miles from 'home'

Myself, Bob and Thelma with London Bridge behind us.

A last shot of the bridge with the cars in the foreground and a London Double Decker bus adding to the surreal nature of the place!

Three more hours of heading east brought us to the outskirts of Flagstaff. The town is located some 80 miles south of the Grand Canyon and is famous for its astronomical observatories. These are located high in the mountains which have very clear air and make for very good observing. We then turned off I40 for the 30 mile drive south to Sedona. A very beautiful drive down Oak Creek Canyon with towering cliffs of vivid red rocks on either side of the road.

The stunning red rocks near Sedona.

Sedona is a very popular tourist location and all the way into the town on either side of the road there were hotels and campsites.

We have two nights here in Sedona so tomorrow we can explore some of this beautiful scenery before we head up into the Rockies.

Wednesday March 28th - Sedona, Arizona

It was a good idea to start the trip by having two nights in one place. This meant there was no need to pack things away for another long drive and so this morning we were able to have a late breakfast and then see what we could organise for our day here in Sedona.

Looking at all the activities available we plumped for the obvious, a two hour off-road drive in a Hummer! The weather is really quite cold here at the moment and so as we headed off for the tracks leading into the mountains just south of Sedona I felt decidedly chilly sitting in the back of the open Hummer. The drive took us through National Park areas with wonderful scenery. Our driver, Steve, took us along quite rugged tracks, though both Bob and I were disappointed that the terrain was not that difficult for the Hummer. Still, it was a fun drive and the pictures below show us with the marvellous Arizona countryside.

The amazing US Army Hummer.

We were dropped back in the centre of Sedona and had a good Mexican lunch before driving to a small town outside of Sedona, Oak Creek Village. Once again we drove past the stunning red mountains that ring Sedona. They are very impressive and as the sun started to set the colours of the rock went from a sand colour to deep red. I hope the photos below do justice to these wonderful mountains.

We finished off the afternoon by doing some shopping and then planning our drive for tomorrow. We aim to visit Meteor Crater which is about 30 miles east of Flagstaff and then head north through the Painted Desert (Navajo Indian territory) and on to Monument Valley. From there we drive through the south-eastern corner of Utah before reaching our overnight stop in Durango, Colorado.

March 29th - Sedona to Durango. Colorado

Today's drive is more or less due north from Sedona, crossing into Utah and then to our final destination, Durango, Colorado.

We drove the 30 miles back up Oak Creek Canyon to meet the Interstate Highway I40 from Flagstaff to New Mexico. A further 40 miles east we turned off on Meteor Crater Road. The crater, created by a meteor some 50,000 years ago is an impressive sight and I hope the photo below does justice to one of nature's wonders. The Crater is about a mile across and over 2.5 miles in circumference. We visited the museum and saw an informative film on the meteors and impact craters in the solar system.

Our drive then took us due north through the Hopi Indian reservation and then the Navajo reservation. After about 50 miles we joined our first 'off-road' section. This was a winding track that took us for about 50 miles through the reservations, passing a Navajo mission. Finally, we found our way to Monument Valley in Utah. Thick snow flurries and low cloud luckily cleared as we entered the National Park. Monument valley is a place everyone should see. The towering formations are quite incredible and stand out from the vast flat plain.

Our drive then took us into Colorado and the weather became sunny, although still cold. Still more wonderful mountain formations came into view on our drive into Colorado and the rock spires in the photo below we called the 'Cathedral' because the formation on the right reminded us of the spires of a cathedral.

During the the final 50 miles into Durango we encountered more snow flurries and we arrived at the Rio Grande Best Western Hotel after 438 miles of memorable driving. Best of all we were greeted by free cocktails!

March 30th - Durango - Vail, Colorado

We woke up to the unexpected sight of thick snow! The car was completely covered in a 3 inch layer of snow. Suddenly what we had expected to be an easy drive of about 300 miles to Vail had become a great deal more difficult.

We gave up the idea of shopping in Durango and leaving about 11am, which was a shame because Durango is a very interesting and pretty town in the Rockies. High mountains ring the town, and covered in snow, the sight was one to be treasured. As we left the town, Bob wanted to see the steam railroad which takes passengers on five hour trips through the mountains. As luck would have it the train was just about to leave so we were able to watch it pull away from the station - a 19th century steam engine working is a great sight.

Our drive then took us high into the Rockies. We peaked at over 11,000 feet in thick snow.

The road was quite tricky at times and warnings of only driving with chains or snow tyres added to the sense of excitement. Once through the mountains we had a drive of about three hours along Interstate I70, heading towards Denver. The road follows the Colorado River and is a wonder of road engineering. Great lengths of elevated highway cling to the sides of the canyon and make for a great driving experience.

We arrive in Vail as the weather changed and thick snow fell, mirroring the start of our journey.
We were welcomed by Leejun to Jim and Leejun Taylor's house, high in the mountains, which has spectacular views over the Rockies.

Leejun then treated us to some great US hospitality. This included fine wines and good food. Three more days of this and we won't be able to move as we will have put on too much weight!!

March 31st - Vail, Colorado

This is the first of our two full days here in Vail, although to be accurate I should say Avon, a town about 9 miles west of Vail.

We woke up to falling snow and a layer of snow covering the ground.

Good weather for Bob who was taking to the Vail ski slopes with Leejun. Myself, Wendy and Thelma were having a less strenuous day of looking at the sights of Vail and then taking the gondola up to the top of the mountain to join Bob and Leejun for lunch at the exclusive Game Creek Club.

We drove the 13 miles into Vail, parked the car in a vast underground car park and then headed for the centre and the shops. Vail is a very pretty modern town that is right on top of the ski slopes. A walk of no more than a couple of hundred yards takes you from the car park to the ski lifts.

It is the largest ski area in the US having over 5,000 acres of ski runs. There are ski lifts to take you everywhere over the mountains and the Vail ski area is one of the most popular in the US.

The shops are typical of ski resorts - ski shops, designer clothing, jewellery, real estate and high class restaurants. After an hour of looking, and not much buying, we took the gondola up to the top of the mountain. From the gondola station at the top we took a snow cat for the final mile to the Game Creek Club.

Sited in the middle of many ski runs and beautiful snow covered mountains, the Club is a wonderful place to have lunch. Bob and Leejun arrived after us, having had near perfect skiing conditions. Leejun took the picture below of Bob on the slopes, waiting for Chair 4.

A group photo taken in front of the Game Creek Club with Bob & Leejun about to set off down the slopes and the rest of us to take the Snowcat back to the gondola and then down to Vail.

Bob & Leejun had a further hour's skiing before we all went shopping in the town.

The day was rounded off with afternoon tea in the Sonnealp Resort Hotel.

Tomorrow we are being taken by Leejun for a day trip to Aspen, a two hour drive away from Vail.

April 1st - Vail/Aspen, Colorado

Well, today was the first day when Bob and I didn't drive. Leejun kindly offered to take us all in her Chevy Suburban to Aspen which is about 100 miles to the east of Vail.

We left the house just after 10am and arrived in Aspen just before noon. On the way we passed Aspen airport which is an interesting sight because of all the executive jets parked there. Aspen is one of the number one spots for the super rich.

The town itself is different from Vail in that it is laid out like most US towns, with wide roads running parallel to each other. Vail on the other hand is squeezed between I170 and the mountains and is much more like a European ski resort.

Below is a photo of one of Aspen's multi-million dollar homes.

Aspen has many expensive shops selling jewellery, glassware, furs and even fossils and meteorites! I mention the last two because we found a shop selling these and I bought a meteorite that came from Argentina and Bob bought an Ammonite that came from Russia! Hardly souvenirs of Colorado but memorable all the same.

A good snack lunch and a bit more shopping and then we drove the 100 miles back to to the house.
Beautiful sunny weather in both directions and a chance when we arrived back to take some photos of the house and the surrounding mountains.

This evening we are heading into Vail for a farewell dinner with Leejun to thank her for a wonderful stay.

April 2nd - Vail to Santa Fe, New Mexico

Yesterday's drive of just over 300 miles was through some stunningly beautiful mountain scenery. I should start with mentioning the great farewell meal we had in Vail the evening before. American restaurants have definitely improved and it seems you can always find a 'gourmet dining experience' in an American town. We certainly struck gold at the Sweet Basil in Vail. The wine list included a Mouton Rothschild at $3,250 a bottle. We spent a few minutes discussing if we should try it, but then decided on a slightly cheaper bottle of white wine at $42!

We left Vail at 10am having spoken with Jim Taylor, who had arrived in Shanghai on his classic rally going from Hong Kong to Beijing. We were all able to thank him for his and Leejun's wonderful hospitality. Hopefully we will be able to reciprocate when they are in Europe in June at the end of his next rally, the Peking to Paris event. Our drive took us south through the high Rockies. Wonderful mountain scenery with flowing rivers and towering mountains on either side of the winding road.

The road peaked at over 10,000ft and the mountains reached over 14,000ft. Bright sunny weather and a temperature that never fell below 5C made the trip truly memorable. After an hour we reached the old mining town of Leadville which gives a great impression of how the West must have been in the 19th century. Further on, at over 10,000ft, we came to another mining town, Buena Vista. Like Leadville, old wooden building lined the main street. We saw the opera house and a saloon that could have come straight from a cowboy movie.

Another hour's drive brought us to Highway 17. There can't be many roads in the world that are dead straight for 49 miles! We drove through the small town of Antonito and came across the Cumbres and Toltec scenic railroad. There were wonderful old steam engines parked up in the sidings by the side of the highway.

The railway doesn't start tourist rides until the end of May, I presume because of the snow in the mountains.

Another fifteen miles and we came to the state border with New Mexico. A great drive along empty roads across the high plains of New Mexico for about 100 miles and we arrived at the state capital, Santa Fe. Our hotel, the La Fonda, was next to the cathedral and the central plaza.

We found a restaurant within walking distance where the waiters sang songs from Broadway musicals. A fine way to end another great day of travelling across the US.

April 3rd - Santa Fe to El Paso, Texas

Just one night in beautiful Santa Fe; such a shame. Still we were able to spend an hour or so looking at the centre of the town before we headed south, and into Texas.

Around the corner from our hotel was the Loretto Chapel. The chapel, which is privately owned, is famous for its unique 'miracle spiral staircase. The chapel was built in 1873-8, and an unknown carpenter was asked to construct the double 360 degree spiral staircase. How he built the staircase is unknown.

When he finished he simply disappeared without asking for payment. The staircase is unique because it has no central support, nor is it supported by the wall or the floor above. Adding to the mystery is that no one is sure what wood was used in its construction. Various studies have been made of the staircase but no satisfactory answers as to how it was built have ever been forth coming.

We then visited the cathedral which was built between 1869 and 1884. There is a marvellous marble font and very beautiful pictures depicting the stations of the cross.

Over breakfast we had made the decision to drive slightly east of the direct route to El Paso and go through the 'UFO capital of the United States', Roswell, New Mexico. The town is about 200 miles south of Santa Fe in the middle of wide open flat scrub lands. It became famous in 1947 after the 'Roswell Incident' occurred. A farmer found strange metallic debris on his land which he handed in to the local police. They called in the US Air Force who then sealed off the area and over the next few weeks rumours abounded that the Air Force had recovered three alien bodies. The facts have never been fully explained and as a result many people believe that there was a major cover-up by the US Government. Even to this day nobody is certain what happened. We visited the UFO Museum and Research Centre in Roswell
This gives a very comprehensive report of the Incident. It was, much to my surprise, well worth the visit.

The drive south from Roswell of over 200 miles to El Paso took us through some very beautiful mountain scenery. We descended from the mountains towards the White Sands National Park, famous for its pure white gypsum. Nearby is the US Air Force missile testing station.

We then had a 60 mile drive, of virtually straight roads to the Texan border. We entered our sixth state in the early evening and drove into El Paso via the western loop which took us high above the city and then down to the Rio Grande, and our final destination.

We were all delighted to meet up with our friends from previous rallies, Kenny and DeeAnne Croucher, who had kindly invited us to stay. Later in the evening we were joined by Ernie Nelan (Fred's wife) for a lovely dinner by the hot tub and pool. Ernie told us she had heard from Fred that he and Jim Taylor seemed to have overcome most of their car problems on the rally from Hong Kong to Beijing. (You can click on Jim Taylor's link, to the right of this posting, and read about their rally)

Tomorrow we have a rest day here in El Paso and maybe we will be taken up in Kenny's light airplane for an aerial tour of El Paso.

April 4th - El Paso, Texas

A rest day!

Kenny and DeeAnne are treating us to true Texan hospitality - plenty of fine food and drink! The morning started with a walk along the bank of the Rio Grande, which is just a couple of hundred yards from their house.

They are within yards of the New Mexico state line and also very close to the Mexican border which is on the south side of the Rio Grande. Following the walk we had a great cooked breakfast to set us up for the day.

Bob and I took our cars to the local car wash to wash the dirt off that we have accumulated during the past week during more than 2,000 miles of driving.

Kenny who is a very experienced pilot, and has flown all over the United States and the Caribbean, asked if we would like to take a short flight over El Paso. Bob, Thelma and myself said yes, and off we drove to the local airport where Kenny keeps his Cessna single engine plane.

Much to our surprise he asked if anyone would like to pilot the plane, under his guidance, and Bob took him up on his offer. The picture below is of Kenny and Bob at the controls of the Cessna.

We took off and flew for about an hour along the border with Mexico. The Rio Grande is the border, dividing the towns of El Paso and Ciudad Juarez in Mexico. I took the photo below of Downtown El Paso with the bridge crossing the Rio Grande into Mexico in the centre and Ciudad Juarez in the background.

It was a great way to see the area and Bob handled the plane excellently, even bringing it into land.
Following the flight we returned to the house and we all went shopping and sightseeing in El Paso. El Paso is renowned for its cowboy boots and we saw them being made at Rocketbusters, a famous maker. They can cost thousands of dollars and seeing how much work went into making them I can see why.

A light lunch at a Mexican restaurant and then the short drive back. This evening Ernie is cooking us all a meal. Tomorrow is the longest drive of the tour, nearly 600 miles to San Antonio and the hospitality of another great rally friend, Ahmad Fakhr.

April 5th - El Paso to San Antonio, Texas

We were all very sad to have to say goodbye to Kenny, DeeAnne and Ernie after such a short time with them, but our journey across the States is over a very great distance in a comparatively short period of time and, as a result, our stays in each place have to be limited. We managed to have a group photo taken by Maribel, Kenny and DeeAnne's housekeeper.

Today we travelled just under 600 miles across western Texas to San Antonio. After driving 200 miles we reached the small town of Fort Stockton, and it was here that Bob and Thelma decided to take the smaller roads to San Antonio, going via the border town of Del Rio. We, on the other hand, decided to keep to the Interstate 10 and have our lunch at Ozona, where there is a memorial to Davy Crockett.

Crockett died at the Alamo in 1836 during the Texan war of independence against the Mexicans. The Alamo, which is in San Antonio, will be one of the places we will visit tomorrow.

Texas is in two time zones and for the second time on this trip we had to put our watches forward as we entered the Central Time Zone.

After lunch we continued the drive across the increasingly green Texan countryside and wild flowers carpeted the central reservation, and the verges, of the highway.

The last 100 miles into San Antonio was through forested areas, quite a contrast to the desert we had driven through in the morning.

We arrived at Ahmad's house at around 6pm. 560 miles in 9 hours. About half an hour later Bob and Thelma arrived. We were all then treated to some wonderful Iranian cuisine. Once again the hospitality of our rally friends is simply incredible.

We are looking forward to seeing a little of this historic town tomorrow.