Monday, September 22, 2008

Adv #6: California Dreamin' - Tour of the U.S. Southwest

Finally, I was assigned one of our most popular trips, called "California Dreamin'" which meant I'd get to do and see many of the places I'd always heard my fellow trekleaders talk about. This 2-week tour started Sunday September 7th, starting and ending in San Francisco. Plans were to see the Pacific Coast Highway, Big Sur, L.A., and San Diego. Then head northeast to Joshua Tree NP, Lake Havisu, the Grand Canyon, Seligman/Route 66, Las Vegas, Yosemite National Park, and then back to San Francisco.

I was so glad to tell my passengers on the first day that I was going to see some places for the first time, too. (Joshua Tree, Grand Canyon, Vegas, and Yosemite were all first-time for me!)My 13 passengers were German, Swedish, Swiss, Spanish, and Belgian with ages ranging from 20 to 36. I know I've said this before....but really....what a great group we had. Energetic, rarely sleeping, always entertaining and happy to be entertained.

Since I’m not much into the cities, the first photos I took were from when we went kayaking through the caves in La Jolla, just north of San Diego. Here’s Yassir (Switzerland) and Jenny (Germany.)

Paddling with me was Cindy, also from Germany. Hard to see, but check out the sea lions in the background on the rocks.

These La Jolla caves are quite an interesting site. As I’ve learned over this summer….erosion will take away the softest and weakest soils first, and sometimes it leaves behind formations like these caves.

After each of us did kayaking, surfing lessons, Sea World, or the San Diego Zoo, we all ended up back on Pacific Beach for the sunset. Here’s Jenny and Cindy with me. Yes, that’s Walter Sobczak on my shirt, and no, he doesn’t roll on Shabbas.

Off to Joshua Tree National Park, I think the trees are far more impressive in the springtime when they are in bloom. The neatest thing we found in the park were the rock formations that are just fun to climb and hang out on. The face in the rocks behind Yassir looks like its’ going to eat him maybe?

Jenny, I’m not sure what looks better…

Cindy, you are very gracefully melting into that rock…

Next we heaed to Arizona, here’s a shot of the whole group.

Each of us was going to the Grand Canyon for the first time, and some folks like Yassir (in the white on the right) wanted to see the canyon from this unique perspective. Six of us took helicopter rides, and I don’t think anyone was disappointed.

My first time at the Grand Canyon, I could only muster up enough courage to hang one foot over the edge…not two. We had gotten carry-out pizza and watched the sunset at Yavapai Point. Perfectly timed.

The next day, my people did a hike on the Bright Angel Trail, and I did the South Kaibab all the way down to Skeleton Point. There’s a silly law in only a couple of National Parks that says I can’t hike on the same trail as my passengers unless I’m a licensed backpack tour guide. I’m not so I decided to avoid the fine and just hike separately. Pic is of me at Skeleton Point.

So we saw sunset the first night, saw the hiking trails the next day. What’s next? Sunrise at Mather Point, just before we leave for Vegas that day. This was absolutely worth getting up at 5am. The colors and textures just a few minutes after the sun shows up are absolutely beautiful.
Next it was Welcome to Las Vegas for a bunch of first-timers!

And speaking of Vegas, here’s the aircraft carrier……eh…….I mean “limo” I had arranged to give us a tour of Sin City. We were all first-timers in Vegas, too. This was a great way to all see some of the sites around town the first night.

There’s a little better group shot, with most of us huddled into one end of the limo. Geeze. I look like Bubba from Forrest Gump. "I wuz born wit big gumz." Reminds me of when I first met my buddy Jay Lay in college. I think the very first thing he said to me was when he asked if I had some dip I could spare. "Uh, sorry. I don't chew tobacco. I just have a huge bottom lip."

Not 5 minutes in the limo, and Ally from Sweden was all over that pole dance routine! The limo driver told me he has a midget that dances in there for bachelor parties sometimes. Get this….she makes $1500 for one hour of entertaining a bunch of meatheads. Good for her.

Next day was sky diving, just south of Vegas. I’m breaking the rules taking my people to do this…but hey, some rules are there to be broken. Yassir and Karin are getting ready to go first here. Yassir was ready for this moment WAY before it arrived!

Blurry pic, but Karin was elated to have just finished her first jump. Six of our group went for a dive that morning, and I think everyone was glad they did it. I'll go next time, as I get to jump for free if I get an odd number of passengers to do it.
Then onto Yosemite NP, here’s a group pic in front of one of the Giant Sequoias. WOW are they big.
One old, dead Sequoia was laying there. We found a good view of the roots first.

And then realized we could climb up the middle of the hollowed-out tree for about 60 meters and find an opening halfway up the tree! That's Jan making the way up the center.

Many of the spots in Yosemite will make it clear why this is a premier rock climbing spot in the world. That’s one sport I’m not too much into yet. I enjoy a little scramble on the rocks with just bare hands and feet here and there, and maybe someday I'll get further into the more technical climbing.
So as described earlier, we left Yosemite and headed back to San Francisco with flowers in our hair. This group had the idea to put all of our pictures on DVD's so we can all see what we might have missed by splitting up sometimes. That means I have something like 6000 pictures from this trip now? There's a couple of gems in there, I'm sure...

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