Illywhacker - California by Road


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Author Peter Aston
Date April-2003
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A 2 week break away from illywhacker before we set sail for the long trip home to Australia takes us to the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas. We get a taste of the vast geography and the excesses of consumerism that America has to offer. Views of the rich pastures and rugged coastline along the west coast remind us of home and convince us to sail direct to Hawaii.

  At a mile deep, the Grand Canyon is vast

A Break Away from illywhacker

Why do we need a break? I think it helps us to get our thoughts in order before a significant course change in our life journey. When we set off from Sydney in June 1996 we saw our cruise as endless - there is so much of this world we haven't seen and people with new or different ideas we haven't considered that we knew whatever time we had would never be enough. Our "retirement plan" (and this began 25 years ago), always foresaw the period of gathering experiences from foreign places being followed by a more relaxed time closer to home shores while we put it all into perspective. The question we are now facing is how will we recognise and accept the time of that transition.
We always assumed the signal would be a medical one and clearly if either of us suddenly had a stroke God forbid, the message would be a strong one. However, Lyndall has been diagnosed with a slowly debilitating blood disorder which we know will make her more tired as the years progress. But that's old age too and in our early 60's we ain't there yet! The real problem turns out to be the potential for expensive medical treatment overseas. Until now we have covered ourselves for emergencies with travel insurance but each year the list of exclusions increases and Australia is the only place where we have "full" cover.
Our way of dealing with this situation is to plan a passage to Australia via the most comfortable route and endeavour to overcome the illness before heading off again. A direct sail from Victoria to Hawaii lies on the great circle to Townsville, North Queensland so we opted for this route and decided to accept an invitation from the ever-generous John and Dolores in Santa Rosa for a 2 week stay and tour of California as a way of seeing that part of the US rather than sailing down the somewhat inhospitable coast.

For a recent update on events see Townsville - 2006

Las Vegas

How to describe it? A gamblers paradise, a continuous line of theme parks, an advertisers' heaven - all of the above and surely over the top in every way. BUT, it's fun wandering through the massive hotels with your hands in your pockets, just looking. All the casinos, expensive shopping and pop culture are wasted on us but we did enjoy the free entertainment and the cut rates at the hotels. This is not the real America we think we know but the amongst the huge flashy signs were frequent calls for God to Bless America. This neon message urging the population to support the invasion of Iraq seems as acceptable to Americans as the 10 second "news hits" of CNN. In this respect we feel as true foreigners.

Venetian Hotel Front Entrance Friend Dolores loves to gamble

Grand Canyon

From Las Vegas we took a plane/bus tour (too expensive but....) to the canyon. After a brief look from the top we decided it is a place to spend more time in. Hiking or riding a mule to the valley floor to camp or even better, rafting the mighty Colorado river are ways we'd like to get a real feeling for the vastness of this place. We had enough time at the top however to gather our troubles and cast them into the void. That's what the advertising said to do!

Magnificent and serene - the Grand Canyon is one of the 7 wonders of the world

Hoover Dam from the air - at the western end of the GC on the Colorado River

Hearst castle

We made the return journey from Las Vegas to San Francisco via the coast road (hwy 1) which took us from the sandy desert country of Arizona and Nevada past Edwards Airforce base into lush pastural land and the rugged California coastline. 60 miles of this coast is owned by the Hearst Corporation and the site of the famous Hearst castle built in the 30's by William Randolph H, a newspaper king. His dream of a European-style castle filled with past treasures is there for all to see. What dreams one can fulfil with an endless supply of money, a tremendous ego and a huge amount of energy are here to see in an excellent tour. (also too expensive but...)

Outdoor Pool at Hearst Castle - you should see the inside one! Hearst estate has 60 miles of California coastline

Carmel Mission

The origins of California are Mexican, as witnessed by the many Spanish placenames. Ever present is the catholic influence and none illustrate early times and cultures as the Carmel Mission founded by the Franciscan Monk, Father Sierra south of San Francisco.

Looking out to the courtyard - as it was 200 years ago The first library in California was this one at Carmel Mission established in 1778

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