On our way down to the Grand Canyon we had a stop in Utah where we camped on a remote free camping spot. There were many gray clouds with some sporadic showers.
Getting closer to Arizona the sky started to clear a little bit, but still it was not even close to the weather we would have expected in this desert. Not that we had a problem with it, we could enjoy some fantastic views!
When we finally got closer to the canyon the terrain started to climb and thus the clouds became lower again. Before we got to the canyon we first had to cross a part of the Kaibab National Forest. We drove through some burnt pine forests where aspen trees had taken over. With their autumn leaves it seemed like the fire was still going on! We also passed some areas that were actually burning. Mind you, these were human controlled low-intensity fires to prevent severe high-intensity forest fires and to restore the natural balance which has been destroyed by human fire prevention over the last centuries (at least that’s what I understood from the explanation signs along the road).
Anyway, when we arrived at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon it was very foggy and we feared we wouldn’t be able to see anything. It turned out to be an amazing moment to visit. Clouds and clear views followed each other closely, creating magnificent views.
When we got enough of this we decided we still had the time to drive to another viewpoint. On our way there the weather started to clear again so we could also enjoy some more wider views. We enjoyed this quiet and beautiful spot while the sun was setting. We drove back to the Kaibab National Forest to find a free camp spot. In the National Parks itself you can only camp in pay campsites which are insanely expensive, especially if you consider there are almost no facilities at all.
During the evening the weather got pretty bad, the strong winds got us worried and we were anxiously looking around inspecting trees that might fall down. In the end we decided to move our car to a clearing in the woods. The terrain was a bit less level but at least we would be able to sleep without worries. Our experience in Quetico is still showing it’s effect on us.
In the morning the sky was completely clear. We decided to go for a hike down into the canyon. Since the bottom of the canyon with the Colorado river is too far from the north rim we could only descend into the first and steepest part. If you want to go all the way to the river you should book a campsite in advance as they tend to fill up pretty quickly. The trip we made still measured about 17km with a height difference of more than 1000m (down and up again). Since we didn’t have our heavy backpacks with us this wasn’t a problem, but it was a nice workout.
The views in the canyon were amazing. Although it was relatively busy on the trail we still enjoyed it a lot. The temperature difference between the top and the bottom (well, as far as we got) was huge. Down in the canyon it was very warm but when we returned and started climbing out of the canyon the temperature started dropping again. Because it was a steep ascend we didn’t notice this, but when we finally arrived at the top and rested for a while we became aware of the pretty cold weather even though it was very sunny. This is not that surprising if you consider that the north rim is located at about 2400m above sea level.
Anyway, we went for a nice shower at the nearby camping and drove back to our free camping spot in the woods where we enjoyed a campfire and a beer (or two).
So much for the Grand Canyon. We put ourselves on a rather tight schedule in USA due to our temporary car insurance. That’s why we drove on in the direction of Death Valley National Park the next day.
On our way there we passed through Las Vegas. We didn’t really plan on visiting Vegas but as we passed there we decided to take a quick look. We found a parking spot which was free for an hour. The problem was that it was an underground parking of a Casino/Hotel and we found it pretty hard to find our way out. After some wandering through a shopping mall, casino and the lobby we finally got out. We had a quick stroll around before getting back to the car. At that point we were a bit irritated we didn’t plan this properly. Although we are not the type of traveler that enjoys cities as Las Vegas very much we would have liked to spend a little more time there. The price of winging our travels I guess.
Well, on to Death Valley, things started to heat up quite a bit. As much as we loved our car (named Bigfoot), we cannot deny something was a bit wrong with the fans of the climate regulation. So, although the airconditioning worked, the stream of cold air we got from it was rather limited. Now, we are both not a big fan of airconditioning and most of the time we like to drive around with open windows instead. But, in this desert we were pretty happy we had it, even though it didn’t function that well!
Despite the heat we enjoyed Death Valley pretty much. We made several stops along the way (mostly short ones, fleeing back to the relative freshness of the car) and finally ended up at another free camping spot. With the sun going down temperatures became pleasant and we met a crazy french couple who were also on their way to Patagonia, by bike! We had a nice chat with them and wished them a lot of luck.
At night an amazing sky full of stars appeared above us. We have seen other beautiful night skies before, but mostly they were up in the mountains where nights were so cold we didn’t take a lot of time enjoying it. Now, we watched it for quite a long time, enjoying both the sky and the lovely temperature, before we finally went to bed.
After a good night of sleep we left quite early. The sunrise in the desert was very pretty and a nice moment before we continued our way to Yosemite National Park.
We arrived at Yosemite around noon and made a shorter hike up to one of the rocky hills. Quite relaxing and escaping from the bigger crowds which were very present all along the road. I guess the fact it was weekend had something to do with it. Even though we enjoyed our simple walk, the busy schedule we followed during the last days/weeks started to take its toll. We were more enjoying the calm and quiet than we were enjoying the amazing scenery and nature. If you visit a lot of them in a short time, amazing things start to become normal I guess.
Our plan was to camp in the National Forest outside of the National Park and visit some sequoia trees next day combined with another smaller hike. In our previous experience we found out that most National Parks are surrounded by National Forests. And in National forests you can either camp for a cheaper price or even find free camping spots. However, we found out things were different in the National Forest at the border of Yosemite. You could not camp for free, and managed campsites were expensive ($28 for a camping spot with only a hole in the ground as a toilet). Furthermore a gigantic forest fire came through this area some time ago which killed thousands if not millions of trees, due to this there were many warnings about falling trees (and there were also many fallen trees!). Now, if you read our blog so far you probably know we don’t like falling trees a lot! All this combined with the fact that we were pretty exhausted from traveling on a tight schedule made us a bit irritated and after quite a lot of wandering around in search of a camping spot we just said to each other: Screw this, we’re off to San Francisco!
However, we both really wanted to see some sequoia trees. We checked the time and figured we could still visit some right before dusk if we hurried a bit. So we went back to Yosemite and visited the sequoias in Merced Grove. To get there we still had to hike several kilometers. So we hurried down the path and quietly enjoyed the big giant trees. The nice thing about being there so late in the day was that we were all alone when we got to the trees and even though we were a bit in a hurry it was still kind of a magical moment wandering between this giants while the sun was setting.
After this beautiful moment we drove through the evening in the direction of San Francisco. We stopped for a burger and finally camped at a truck stop.