Sunday, October 12, 2008

Adv #8: Western Sun: One-week southwestern highlights

So here we go on my last trek with Suntrek. Just a one-week tour picking up in San Francisco on October 5th, and ending on October 11th in L.A. In such a short amount of time, we covered 1783 miles and saw such highlights as San Francisco, Yosemite, Las Vegas, The Grand Canyon, Lake Havisu, and of course, Los Angeles.

My group was smaller this time, only 9 people. But AGAIN....I was blessed with such a warm, fun bunch of people from 6 different countries. Father and daughter from Germany (Karl and Saskya), med-school friends from Serbia (Anna and Sandra), and 5 solo travelers from Australia (Peter), France (Laurent), Germany (Kerstin), Sweden (Susanna), and Monika (Czech Republic.) This trip more than any other really helped me get better at speaking German. Karl in particular was a huge help to me. Seemed that he and I were both trying to get better at the other language, and that just set me up for a continuing lesson on German. Here's some highlights of the trip:

On the 2nd day, here's Monika, Anna, and Sandra posing in front of the famous "El Capitan" formation in Yosemite. We all did a hike to Vernal Falls later in the day before heading to Vegas.

Tough to put into words, but seeing Karl and his daughter Saskya back together again really struck my heart a bit. Saskya had been an au pair in Conneticut and the Bay Area for an entire year, only having spoken on the phone and email with her parents in that time. This vacation was her Father Karl's first chance to see her in that entire year! I guess that doesn't seem like too much time... but I could tell how excited he was to see his daughter by a few words he said. Saskya is an only child, and maybe that was just part of why her father was so excited to see her.
The Dead Giant Sequoia in Yosemite made a good climbing point for Anna and Sandra.

Anna, is that really bear poop you're eating? Ahh....funny story behind this one. I'd rather tell folks in person how it works though.

Kind of a neat picture of Peter and Laurent standing on Devil's Golf Course in Death Valley.

Pretty Sandra, and a pretty view at Zabriskie Point in Death Valley.
Did you know you can walk into Vegas with no identification, sign a piece of paper and start firing a machine gun? Peter, Laurent and I did this. I had never fired an automatic before, so Osama took the first rounds for me. What cool experience, I shot 50 rounds out of an M4. One more thing to check off on the "To Do" list.

As a tour guide, many companies will "comp" me for bringing them some business. Peter, Saskya, and Karl all wanted to fly over The Grand Canyon, so this time I got to go for free. Papillion Helicopters choreographed this trip beautifully. Choking me up first by playing "Africa" by Toto as we fly over Kaibab National Forest on the way to the Canyon, and then timing the crescendo in "Also Sprach Zarathustra" so that it peaks immediately as I'm flying over the edge of the Grand Canyon. This was my second time to the canyon. Not afraid to admit....I was choked up again.

We grabbed carry-out pizza, and Susanna (nicknamed "Baby" for being the youngest in the group) and the rest of us headed to Yavapai point in the Canyon for sunset.

And then of course sunrise the next morning at Mather Point.

I forgot my camera for the time we spent in Vegas. What a great time though, we combined with 2 other Suntrek leaders and their groups to rent the "Party Bus," and headed out for all the site-seeing around Vegas. Like they say though, maybe it's only appropriate that I don't have pictures from the time there?

Finished the trip by hitting Joshua Tree NP on the way to L.A.

Of course we finished with a tour of L.A. Beverly Hills, Hollywood, and Venice Beach. Harry Perry is the name of the roller-skating guitar player you might recognize. He's been skating and playing his way around Venice Beach since 1974, and has a really neat aura about him. Many street-performers tend to creep people out a bit, but Harry has a sort of innocence about him that is quite welcome on Venice Beach. He seems to be someone that could enjoy life, no matter what has been coming his way. Sounds like the right way to skate through life to me...

Anyway, this was my last Suntrek trip for the year. See what I'm writing about in Adventure #7 if you want to keep in tune to what I'm doing next. Looks like I've got some pretty neat plans taking shape, and this blog might have quite a bit of life left in it....

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