When we arrive in Las Vegas, we first work through our "to do" list:
- Laundromat. For me, already an experience in itself: rows of high-speed washers and dryers that all work on coins. There are also "interesting people" (poorer people without their own machines), full of tattoos or full of drugs.
- Car washing. No staff here to do that for you, like in Latin America. Adriaan gets most of the desert dust off and out, but the helpers in the south could do it better.
- Groceries. You can buy alcohol here in the supermarket but a clerk has to bring the bottle to the cash register himself and your date of birth is entered on the cash register.
We take a room one of the many hotels (MGM Grand) and then, pretty soon, start looking for entertainment. It turns out it's not hard, there are cool, dark casinos everywhere with lots of gaming. Overwhelming nature makes me quiet, but this cacophony gags me. Money rolls here. Again and again $100 bills are brought out and again and again people lose or... I see few happy faces and many deprived people. One can even smoke inside here (remedy for stress?). I had planned to sit at a table and play Black Jack or roulette but finally decided not to.
After sunset we walk along the Strip, the most famous boulevard in Las Vegas where all the hotels of name have a place. We enjoy the fountain spectacle (with water that would be recycled) in front of the Bellagio hotel while scarcely dressed men and women try to get our attention to sell a photo. We decide to leave on time, tomorrow.
As we leave Las Vegas we listen to a podcast by De Standaard (a Flemish newspaper) about the extreme drought in California. The water pouring out of the shower, the cooling water spray on the streets of Las Vegas, the many filled swimming pools are certainly not proof of this.
East of Las Vegas we encounter Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam. Both provide a large share of the metropolitan area's electricity supply. Due to the drought, the water level in the lake has dropped to such an extent that if this continues for a while, there will be major problems in water and electricity supply.
We drive to the south side of the Grand Canyon. We get up around sunrise for two days to see the Canyon at its best. As the writer Priestly beautifully puts it, "There is of course no reason at all in trying to describe the Grand Canyon. Those who have not seen it will not believe any possible descriptions. Those who have seen it know that it cannot be described". The Grand Canyon is the largest and certainly the most magnificent example of erosion in the world. Over millions of years, the Colorado River has eroded the mountain range.
There are 6 million visitors a year. We don't see them all, but still enough. Just outside the park we find a quiet campground with wild horses, wild boar and deer. As the crow flies, the north side of the Grand Canyon is only 15 kilometers (10 miles) from the south side. To get there, you have to take a 350 kilometers (200 miles) detour through the Navajo Indian reservation. Nature is sparse and there are also small shabby settlements.
The north rim is cooler and quieter - we find a camping spot along the rim of the Canyon. For several days we view the Canyon from different vantage points with different light. Each time a different image with different colors. Especially the sunsets and sunrises are sublime.
After the Grand Canyon we drive to the next national park: Zion. We sign up for the lottery of the national parks to be allowed to do one particular hike but we are not drawn. We decide to get up early so we can get to the park before the masses arrive and because temperature rises pretty quickly to over 35 degrees (Celcius, or 95 degrees Fahrenheit). But... even before 8am there are many people.
One can only enter the main valley by shuttle bus and we decide to ride along until the last stop, hoping that few will follow us. Our reasoning didn't work out so well, because most people got off at that last stop and were better prepared. Everyone had water shoes and sticks with them but we only noticed that at the first river crossing. This hike is mainly through the river. We can only look and return, against the stream of 'adventurers' who are all going to do the same thing with the same rented shoes and sticks. During another walk to some pools we constantly have to move aside to let other hikers pass. It is a very beautiful park but so full of people.
After Zion, we head to Bryce Canyon (which is not actually a canyon). It is very beautiful because of its rocky colorful Hoodoos. These look a bit like stalactites in caves, but come about because water 'washes away' the rock around them, revealing the layered structure of thousands of years of geology. We spend a day in this fairy tale park.
We decide that we have an excess of crowded parks for a while and find a quiet place near a river. Adriaan washes many of the clothes with river water and a lot of attention. An American laundromat is a special place, but admittedly the clothes are not clean. We enjoy our day 'vacation' in the sun.
We stop in Salt Lake City for a stop at REI, the outdoor store in the United States. We buy a backpack for me. And I finally find a fresh, romantic, red/white checkered plastic tablecloth for the picnic tables we use here and there.
The 4th of July (Independence Day) is really an event here! Flags are everywhere and fireworks are sold in many places. Along the way we see many people spending the extended weekend 'elsewhere'. We decide to use that weekend to drive a little further, because our GPS tells us that Alaska is still very far away.
We find a great place to sleep (meadow, river, tree shade and no people) but decide not to stay for a day. We drive more than 600 kilometers (380 miles) and put the Beast somewhere deep in a national forest. We make pasta and after a short walk we climb into the tent. Soon, a thunderstorm starts and we get hailstones of 2 centimeters (8/10 of an inch). The roof of the tent starts to leak. Adriaan takes our new tablecloth to seal the leak :)
Our last American state before Canada is Washington. We visit two more national parks: 1. Mt Rainier where the highest mountain is 4392 meters. The route through the park is closed, so we go north to round it. Adriaan compares it with his beloved French Alps. People still ski here, there are several glaciers. We see our first bear! From a distance even this grizzly looks cuddly. Brilliant images. 2. Olympic National Park which is mainly characterized by its great diversity: rainforest and mountains. The rain of the last few days has made it impossible to do our planned hike. And Mount Olympic was shrouded in clouds and fog for three days...
Some houses look very shabby. We also pass some trailer parks where people live in inexpensive housing. There is a lot of poverty in this rich country.
The flags for the 4th of july are still there but now hang at half-mast....
After busy California, 'wild' camping is getting easier and easier. We are on our 20th consecutive day and we find it easier and easier to find a quiet or solitary spot. We then cook our meals in nature (our wild camping cookbook is expanding daily). Furthermore we have developed a routine where I am the chambermaid (making the beds and keeping order in the tent) while Adriaan takes care of the outside and (in the morning) brews my coffee.
We live close to nature: every river is an occasion for a big (personal) bath.
We are at the border with Canada. Alaska is approaching....