Day 13. A Rare Day Off in Las Vegas
For our day off we have arranged to see the Grand Canyon by helicopter. It was also the day of the UK’s vote on whether to stay in the European Union – Brexit.
At 17.00 we are down in the hotel lobby looking for a Sundance limo that is part of the package we have bought for a Sunset Helicopter Tour over the Grand Canyon. It is a long black limo that has already collected four girls and we go on to collect a further two people from another hotel.
We sign in for the flight, having been weighed, and wait for our flight to be called. On checking in, we filled out a card to enter a draw for a bottle of champagne and free photograph. Amazingly we win it.
Each helicopter takes 6 passengers plus pilot and our group is us and an Aussie family of four.
It is clear and hot when our helicopter takes off at 18.30 and I check my phone to see what’s happening back home. All looks good with Sterling valued at £1.50.
The pilot provides an excellent commentary played through our head sets and we learn a lot about the history of the area, the Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon itself.
As we fly over the rim of the Grand Canyon it is a fine sight. The Colorado River runs through the canyon with the sheer sides which are virtually impossible to climb. The colours go through reds and browns with layers of grey rock and we see these close up as we descend to an outcrop/vantage point where we set down and get out to have a walk around.
The flight back to Las Vegas, into the setting sun, was stunning and the final approach over the town, which is now lit up in full Vegas glory, was superb.
Back on terra firma I checked my phone again and was aghast to see Sterling now at $1.32 and dropping fast. The pundits and polls were wrong and the UK has voted for Brexit!!
We get a table at the Paris Casino on the terrace overlooking the Bellagio Hotel on the other side of the busy road. This turns out to be the best seats in town because every 10 – 15 minutes, a wonderful fountain display shoots jets of water into the sky in a rhythmic display. Thoroughly recommended.
Day 14 – Las Vegas to Porterville
By 06.15 we are on the city limits of Las Vegas and heading towards the mountains in the distance. The road is good and there is little traffic going our way so we really crack along.
After about two hours we stop for breakfast in the aptly named Furnace Creek in Death Valley National Park. Furnace is understating the temperature out here today which is in the 90’s already. However, it’s a dry heat so not too unpleasant.
There is a café for breakfast and the choice although small is interesting ranging from the standard waffles etc to eggs Benedict and Dante’s omelette which was filled with spicy chorizo sausage and jalapenos . There’s the usual American ‘all you can drink’ coffee on offer.
We are soon back in the saddle and looking for interesting roads. We decided to have a look at Titus Canyon. It is a rough, stone track and our speed slows considerably as we bounce along. As we climb, the track becomes narrower and although previously graded it is in need of repair again. It’s a two hour detour from our route and while interesting the road is just that bit too rough for our event.
Once out of the canyon, we get back onto tarmac and are looking for both lunch and fuel. We stop at the Ranch House Café on the roadside and are assured that there is fuel 1 mile down the road.
We are now in California. The fuel stop served two useful purposes as there is some doubt that the road ahead is passable because of locked gates closing the road and also the rumour of a large fire. Roger spots two Hells Angels in the car park and goes to chat with the belief that these guys will know what the situation is. They confirm that the road is passable and that the fires are not on our route.
We set off reassured and start a great afternoon drive through the beautiful Sequoia National Park. Switch back roads and steep climbs and falls through wonderful scenery on traffic roads. For the most part good tarmac with some graded dirt in between, we made great progress. The temperature cools at the top of the hills and with clear air we can see for miles and miles.
The hotel reception suggests we go to The Black Bear restaurant which is about a mile away. This proves to be a good tip and we speak to the Manager about bringing the event here for dinner next year and she is happy to have us. Details exchanged so the menu can be agreed in advance.
Day 15 – Porterville to Morro Bay
We have got a clear blue sky again and it is going to be a scorcher. We are soon climbing through the brown hills covered with brown grass and vines growing on the lower levels with orange trees along the road edge.
We turn to the right onto a single track road with the road winding into the hills again. The hills are strewn with grey standing stones and the fields are empty of stock for some reason. This takes us 12 miles through a ford and to closed gates that are not padlocked so can be opened to allow us to pass. We see no other cars.
By 09.30 we are back on tarmac passing through Seven Oaks Market – a very rustic town. We have a long trek over some mountains which we then reject and find a better tarmac route. Time to stop for a coffee and we find Hasson’s Café where we sit on the back terrace and sip sickly sweet cappuccinos then move on.
By 11.30 and we are back into cowboy country in Kern County. We wind down through the hills and through a gap in the hills can see the flat plain ahead.
Once again the landscape is extraordinary and there is the odd oil well with nodding donkey juxtaposed with vines growing on the left interspersed with orange trees.
To our surprise we approach what seems to be a race circuit ‘Bakerfield Auto Club’ so we turn in to have a look. It’s a drag racing meeting.
We are soon on our way again and into the panhandle – flat and featureless but the hills ahead are enticing.
Time is now right to find a lunch stop for the event and we come upon McKittrick – Oakwood Bar-B-Q diner aka the Penny Bar. The Penny Bar is a must do for the event. Nothing to say for itself outside but the owners however have spent 6 years arranging 1,000,000 ‘pennies’ (1 cent coins), around the bar, the floors, the tables – in fact anywhere you can find the space to stick a coin.
Lunch completed we are on the road again – immediately driving through a vast oil and gas field. We have now reached the foothills of the San Andreas mountains and climb up through the first hills and then descend the empty hills with far reaching views back to the plain behind us.
We climb around the edge of the next ranges of hills. The scenery has changed again and the sharp craggy mountains have given way to the many shouldered regular slopes quite like the Peruvian Andes, further south. There is no habitation up here and we meet only one car.
By 16.40 we have completed this magic and beautiful section and spot the Vintage Cowboy Winery that is open for tastings. We also check out the ‘Old Saloon’ at the bottom of the drive, which is closed today, but is recommended due to being original back to 1860’s. It looks like it too!
We move on into the last rough section of the day. After 1.5 km JB declares that it is too rough and with 12 miles ahead, at the end of a long day, it is too much so we turn back and make our way into Morro Bay along the tarmac.
Morro Bay is built overlooking a massive rock on the shore line which is bleak and stark with a nuclear power station with three tall chimneys directly opposite! We learn later that this station is going to be decommissioned over the next 20 years because, due to the alternative renewable energy now adopted by the Californians, it is only needed to produce 25% of the potential output and doesn’t function properly at this level.
We take a drive around the town, go to the Pacific edge across the rocks and take some pictures of the Pacific Ocean to prove we have made it from coast to coast.
Day 16 – Morro Bay to San Francisco
Up early. Fuel up for the day and we head for Highway 1. Roger has prepared a section for early in the day and we turn right onto Old Creek Road for a spot of regularity.
We twist and turn through empty hills with far reaching views over fields, again with no livestock, so it seems rather desolate but beautiful all the same.
With only one test planned for the day participants will be able to stop and visit various attractions as they make their way north up the coast. We pass Hearst Castle and the speed limit here on HW1 is a meagre 55 mph. It’s tough to meander along at this speed on wide open roads.
Out to sea is a grey wall of cloud rising but with the clear blue sky above. This is a dramatic wall of fog and we hope that this will remain off shore.
The shore line has guano covered rocks and sweeping bays with long continuous waves that break in a mass of white spray. We pass several seal and otter viewing points and the fog rolls in from time to time. Then the road climbs above this and the sun breaks through again.
We pass Los Padres National Park, Julia Pfeiffer Barns and Big Sur. The road is a two way traffic highway at this point with few overtaking points as it follows the coast.
Next we decide to try Monterey, the next town north up the coast. Again the town is busy, (it is now full holiday time as well as being the weekend), so we head for the public car park then into Fisherman’s Wharf. It is sunny and cool in the breeze, which is a change from the scorching heat of the last couple of days.
We are soon back on Highway 1. We have arranged to meet Hayden Burvill on the outskirts of San Francisco.
It was good to see Hayden and Tracey again and they had got a good table on the outside terrace, overlooking Half Moon Bay. They are regular rally participants, usually in a Porsche 356.
It is interesting to find out that Hayden (an Industrial Engineer) has taken a project with a thermal oil extraction company and knows the oil fields we passed back in the San Andreas Mountains and part of the complex there is owned by the business he is working with!
We approach San Francisco along the coast where the housing is a mixture of old and new dating from the great earthquake in 1906. The route in is pretty simple with not too many junctions and 20 mins after getting to the outskirts we are in the financial district which is on the bay, close to China town and where the Hyatt Hotel is situated.
Day 17 – Day Off – San Fransico
Although it is a clear blue sky again, the wind is chilly so we collect jumpers from our rooms and head for the waterfront. The waterfront and piers cover at least a couple of miles and having booked ourselves on the 15.45 afternoon boat trip around the bay, we have another coffee at ‘Peet’s’. For a nation that has a coffee shop on every corner, the actual coffee served is seldom good.
We go back to our hotel and do some work catch up until 14.30. A taxi takes to Pier 39, the departure point for our tour. As we now have time in hand we wander along the pier which is fully fledged tourist trap with fish restaurants and kiss me quick hats everywhere.
The Explore the Rock tour leaves on time and we take to the top deck in the open air and brace ourselves in the cold wind.The tour takes us along the coast line towards the Golden Gate Bridge, with the loud speakers directing us to look at monuments of interest and some historical facts.
The whole tour takes 90 mins and is well worth it. Back on dry land, we take a taxi to Broadway district and sit in the sun to warm up and watch the world go by. This is less touristy and more local which makes a pleasant change.
It is now about 18.15 and it is time for supper as we have missed lunch again. A stroll along the street and we find ‘Original Joe’s’ an Italian restaurant on Union Street that looks pretty full with happy chatter coming through the door out to the street. This is always a good sign!
Day 18 – San Francisco to Yosemite
We are away by 08.15 into another blue, cloudless sky day although it is rather chilly. The route away from the hotel is more complex than the way in and we are caught by the morning rush hour traffic. We leave the city over the Oakland Bridge on the lower level – in coming has the top.
They will be delighted to have the Rally pass by next year and will host coffee and Danish as well as a tour. Afterwards we have a breakfast at The Little Pea Café in the adjacent Mall. The temperature has risen to 78 degrees which is much better.
We drive out of Blackhawk past smart housing estates and back into the rolling hills, brown grass and cattle.
The first Regularity of the day starts in the hills and after 40 miles turns left into Del Puerto Road with more hills and occasional farms. Still brown grass and yet the drive is lovely.
Turn onto Indian Gulch Road which is to be a regularity stage. Single track, patched tarmac and empty. Merge onto Old Highway with further gravel track and tarmac. The scenery has become more majestic with steeper cliffs, wider valleys and grey stones and boulders.
We had to pay $30 for the car to enter Yosemite Park. We find the Majestic Yosemite Hotel in the centre of the park. It is lovely with a ski lodge style being built in wood with high ceilings, comfort oozing and warm.
20.15 we arrive in Groveland and the Hotel Charlotte which is our night stop for the recce.
We have supper at the historic Iron Door Saloon (established 1852) where there is live music, a reasonable supper, beer and pool tables.