02
Mar

Reflecting on Covid Travel

By: muttler

 

WE DID IT. After months of planning and different anxieties, it’s all over. We travelled during Covid.

When Australia opened the borders we immediately booked an overseas trip. Some people thought we were a bit crazy, but we were legit going stir-crazy being stuck at home (having had previously organised international, interstate, and regional travel cancelled in the last 2 years). So we did it for our own well being and mental health.

I thought I might do a quick brain dump of thoughts about it all.

1. Being Risk Adverse

The reality is we booked a trip we thought had the biggest likelihood of actually happening and not being too compromised. We also booked a trip that we felt would have a fairly low risk attached to it health wise. Sure the US has had its problems, but by booking a road trip in the off-season of the areas we were visiting, we felt it could be as good as it gets.

In hindsight I was REALLY happy with this decision. Once we got out of LA we saw hardly any people. Only Zion was busy of all the National Parks and being outdoors we could steer clear of crowds. Disneyland is the obvious exception, but we knew that going in, and that was where we were over the top in terms of masking, sanitising, etc.

So international travel can be done safely, and with a feeling that you are staying safe, doing something like this.

2. Experiencing Something Different

Here I am actually referring to the fact that next to NO ONE is travelling! What did that mean?

  • No one in airports means you clear customs in literal minutes! We were out of LAX in 15 minutes. Unheard of!
  • Hotels are largely empty
  • Eating out was quite easy and not too daunting
  • EVERYONE is happy you are there

So for some extra paperwork and testing, you actually get a fair benefit.

3. COVID Rigmarole

It wasn’t too hard actually. You just have to keep up with the current status of things. For example, the required paperwork and testing for Australia changed 3 times from booking in late November, to coming home at the end of Feb. Check in took a few minutes longer, but it was fine. Just have all your paperwork done and printed.

The testing is the biggest thing. Organising it not too hard if you go with the airport testing, but it adds a layer of anxiety on… you may only find out hours before your flight that you are not going anywhere! But thankfully that never happened to us.

And with testing, the US is MUCh more expensive than Australia.

So while it may all SEEM hard, it isn’t really. Just accept that there is a bit more mucking around, and to be fair some levels of anxiety, but not much all things considered.

4. Mental Health

This was the best thing I did for my mental health in the last 2 years. Yeah, I took the odd break in the past 2 years, but nothing that really disconnected me from not only work, but also Australia. I was surprised how good it felt to just not be thinking about Australia for a few weeks.

Being in the outdoors really did it for me. I think I will always look back on my hike up Angels Landing at Zion as a really important thing, as I think it is THE time in the past 2 years where I was really disconnected from Covid and I was just carefree. Well, there was a very slight fear of plummeting to my premature end I guess, but you know what I mean 🙂

I might add some more to this as I think of it. But anyone who is reading this, do consider travelling during this time, especially if it is something you really value. I can’t express enough how important this was for me.

02
Mar

Disney Recap

By: muttler

 

25/02/2022 – 27/02/2022

Hi all, a quick Disney recap. I didn’t do posts each day as frankly I have probably posted about Disney enough already, and also we were typically going until late in the night, so there was also no time!

These few days at Disney were always intended to be low key. As everyone knows we have been to Disneyland a bunch of times, and so this was just in some respects a signal that some things were slightly more “normal” after the past couple of years. We just intended to take it easy, ride what we could, and also get to the handful of new things, namely the Rise of the Resistance Star Wars ride, and also the new Avengers Campus part of California Adventure.

I won’t go into a blow by blow detail of the three days, but below are some of the highlights:

1. Rise of the Resistance

This wasn’t open last time we went. This is unlike any ride, whereby the line seamlessly blends into the ride, which is part thrill ride, part theatrical story of being rescued by the resistance from the First Order. I rode this twice, both time at park opening (i.e “rope drop) so as to avoid the typical 3 hour wait. It is pretty great, although I think re-ride factor is quite low.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. Smugglers Run

I have banged on about this before. Piloting the Millennium Falcon… what’s not to love? And I got to ride it by myself a bunch too.

 

 

 

 

 

3. Avengers Campus

A new area of the California Adventure park, this is the home of all the Marvel properties. It is not 100% open yet, with only one ride (Spiderman Web Slingers) and some character appearances and things. I will reserve judgement until it is fully open, but it is underwhelming at the moment. Web Slingers is kinda fun (motion tracking you as you fling your arms around to shoot webs at spiderbots) but 2 rides on it was enough for me. I was stuck on the ride for 10 minutes though which is always kinda fun!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. Haunted Mansion

Our favourite.

 

 

 

 

5. Pixar Rides

Probably the best themed rides in any of the parks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6. Random

 

 

 

 

 

7. Food

Always a mixed bag at Disney, but you can find some gems (always Dole Whip Float for the win)

 

 

 

 

 

 

26
Feb

Winding Down (the Disney Way)

By: muttler

 

24/02/2022

We were on the home stretch now. We said a sad farewell to Palm Springs (after I had a nice 2 hours walk through the mid-century modern neighbourhoods) and headed to Anaheim.

All through the pandemic, all Kate wanted to signify a return to “normal” was a visit to her happy place, Disneyland. So we resolved to do so. And today was finally the day.

The drive was fairly uneventful and by lunchtime we were in Anaheim. Too early to check into our final hotel, we dropped our car off and headed to our usual first visit whenever we come… Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar. Who doesn’t want a boozy lunch?

 

 

 

 

 

It had turned into a glorious day, and it was lovely to sit outside, having cocktails. We soaked it up, especially after the last couple of years.

We didn’t intend to be crazy over these last few days, rather just take it slow and enjoy the Disney vibe. For the day we really just wandered around. The parks were unusually busy for a Thursday so we went on the odd ride but rather just wandered around Disneyland and California Adventure.

I likely won’t post each day for the next few. I have posted about Disneyland a bunch, so I might just do one post to encapsulate the few days. The two new things will be the newish Star Wars ride, Rise of the Resistance, and also the new Avengers area in California Adventure. So I will report back on those in due course!

24
Feb

Snow on the Joshua Trees

By: muttler

 

23/02/2022

Who’d have believed it. When we planned our trip, our biggest worry was that we could hit snowy conditions in Utah and Colorado that would cause us to rejig our trip. The dilemma of the hire car is that you can’t really do snowy conditions. But as you will have seen, we were absolutely lucky with the weather all trip.

Until today. We put a few days of Palm Springs in the plan so that we could unwind for a few days with some warm weather, maybe spend a little time in the pool. But today we woke up to rain and about 5 degrees. What was going on?!

It seemed a cold snap had hit most of California, and our desert oasis had become a bit arctic. We didn’t have much planned but we had been talked about possibly going for another visit to Joshua Tree National Park. We had visited Joshua Tree a few years ago and enjoyed driving through the landscape. A quick check of the weather there suggested that it was not raining at all, but that we could encounter snow! So off we went.

On the way we decided to pop into nearby Pioneertown. We had also visited there in the past but only to the awesome Pappy and Harriets saloon. Alas, Pappy and Harriets was closed today, but we did get to see the town in ints glory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Established for filming westerns, a small number of people live there. There was not much to see outside of a dozen or so old cowboy looking buildings. Fun for a quick visit on our way. Plus always a bonus to meet a gorgeous doggo.

We then headed to Joshua Tree, and it seemed a lot of people were drawn by the very rare snow, as it was quite busy going into the park. But once we were in, it was actually not too bad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is one main road that goes through Joshua Tree, with a few offshoots, so we just meandered our way through, stopping to get photos of the snowy Joshua Trees.

We also stopped at the Hidden Valley, my favourite part of the park. It is a great secluded area, surrounded by smallish cliffs where you can wander around, climbing rocks and generally just running amok.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Otherwise we just enjoyed driving through the park at our leisure. While the snow disappeared fairly quickly, it was a delight to experience the park in a completely different way to last time.

 

 

We got back to Palm Springs late in the afternoon. The weather was a bit better, so we just kicked around. Dinner was another burger from Stout Burgers (mine had prosciutto on it… mmm) before getting ourselves sorted to move on again tomorrow for our last few days.

23
Feb

Modernism Week

By: muttler

 

22/02/2022

Again I was awake as the sun was coming up, so I decided to get out and stretch the legs with a wander around downtown Palm Springs.

Palm Springs is most known for being a bit of a 50’s time capsule, with the town dominated by mid-century modern houses, as well as Spanish-style villas. So I wandered in one of the more traditional areas before getting back to the room for some breakfast.

 

 

 

We didn’t have a set plan for the day and what we didn’t know when we first worked out our trip was that we arrived into Palm Springs bang in the middle of Modernism Week, their annual celebration of the style and architecture of the town. Sadly, most events were either on the other days we were not here, or sold out. But we spoke with some of the friendly staff, and decided to craft our own driving tour of classic houses, with some support of a tourist office map.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many are behind large fences, so it was difficult to see many of the “classics” but it was fun to drive around the different areas. It is quite remarkable how many of the houses have been kept true to their original style. Some included Elvis’s Honeymoon House, as well as those owned by Sinatra among other celebrities.

 

 

The rest of the day we decided to do our traditional shopping outlet run for new, cheap Levi jeans and a visit to our absolute favourite, the Shag Gallery in downtown Palm Springs. Most know that our house is full of artwork by Shag (i.e Josh Agle) and it is always a delight to see more of his work up and chat with the staff.

 

 

The weather had gone quite pear shaped, with the temperature dropping to around 12 degrees and the rain coming, so we stayed warm and dry, before heading out for some absolutely delicious Mexican food for dinner.

23
Feb

Get Your Kicks on Route 66

By: muttler

 

21/02/2022

Today was just a long day. Basically, today was a driving day to get from the Grand Canyon to Palm Springs… about a 7 hour haul. But it had to be done.

Me being the early riser though, I was awake before the sun was up, so decided to rug up and leg it to the canyon rim. So while the sun came up, I wandered along the south rim for an hour or so, watching the sun start to bring shadow and then colour into the canyon walls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I got back to the room where I warmed up and we got ourselves organised to hit the road. We stopped by another spot on the rim for some final morning photos and then got at it.

So there is not much to report from this day. 7 hours is a lot of driving. One of the highlights is that we got on to some historic parts of Route 66. In fact, one town that we stopped in was Seligman AZ, which is noted as being a main inspiration for the Pixar film Cars. Why you ask? Well, when the new highway opened, just near the town, the town went from being a main stop for people to being bypassed completely.

 

 

 

 

The main street of the town indeed had some elements of Radiator Springs from the film Cars… the diner, the old school motel. We were actually planning to have an early lunch at the (in)famous diner, however sadly it was closed for the month and not to reopen until next week. Oh well, we tried to do our bit for the town.

 

 

So after a bit of getting our kicks on Route 66, we got back on the main road and headed on. Given the diner was closed, I was very happy to find a highway-side In-n-Out Burger joint which I gotta say… I am so going to miss these burgers when we head home 🙁

 

 

 

This was by far our toughest day of driving. Not only the time spent on the road, but also this part of Arizona was not really the most picturesque scenery we had seen, nor was the part of California that we ventured in to.

The other thing was that it was windy. Not windy, it was WINDY. Relentlessly so. But we soldiered on and by about 4:30pm we arrived into Palm Springs.

We grew fond of Palm Springs on a previous visit so were keen to unwind here for a few days. Our hotel was a charming Spanish-style building kept in quite original condition. After checking we went for a walk downtown to stretch the legs and have a cheeky beer to unwind.

 

 

 

When we got back to the hotel we were greeted with a couple of glasses of champers to celebrate Kate’s birthday, and then it was time to relax.

22
Feb

Now, That IS A Grand Canyon

By: muttler

 

20/02/2022

We said farewell to Monument Valley this morning and started on our way South West, leaving Utah for good and spending our time driving through Arizona. The landscape, while still new and different, was less interesting than in Utah.

That was OK though, as we had a fairly easy 2 hour drive to arrive at our destination… the Grand Canyon!

 

 

We can in from the East, which sent us along the South Rim, so after officially entering the park, our first glimpse of the canyon was not what most people see (who come up the main road from the south), rather it was at Desert View.

Now I had visited the Grand Canyon before, albeit 25 years ago! But this was Kate’s first visit. And indeed we both agreed… this was a pretty grand canyon.

 

 

 

 

 

From there, we made our way along the south rim towards the main village area, stopping at each stop to get different views of the canyon and the Colorado River carving its way through. The view never gets old.

We parked at the main Village and wandered into the visitors centre. Unlike all the other parks, that were in off-season mode, the Grand Canyon was still in the midst of tourist season. I’m not sure it’s never in full tourist season.

What that meant was a few things. First of all, more people than we had seen in the past 2 weeks which was a bit of a shock. Secondly, I am not sure if it is a reflection of the state of Arizona, the changing circumstances, or what, but it seemed the “mask mandate in public areas of national parks” was not really being followed by 90% of people. Hhhmmm. Third, we were resigned to parking the car and using the park shuttle service. While in every other park the shuttles were parked for the winter, it seemed the amount of visitors here meant they were still going.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That was OK, we waited for the next and made the way to out next lookout, Yaki Point. What was good about Yaki is that it is a bit removed from the other lookout so there was not too many people. Because of that we took the time to sit and relax and soak up the views.

We took the bus back a little way and then walked the rest, along the rim. Our accomodation was in the park at one of the lodges, so we grabbed the car and checked in to our room. But it was about 5:30pm, so we headed back out to check out sunset and another of the view points.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was gorgeous. Not too busy either which was nice. The sun dropped below the horizon, as did the temperature, so we headed back to the room to relax for the night.

19
Feb

The Searchers

By: muttler

 

19/02/2022

An early morning this morning, as we got up on sunrise to join our one and only organised tour of the trip. We thought it best to take a Navajo organised tour of Monument Valley today for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it would get us into some of the out back areas that you need a guide for. Secondly, in the current era, only 5 cars per hour were being let on to the main drive of Monument Valley. So a tour it was!

 

 

I was up before sunrise, and was thankful for our “valley view” room. Not bad seeing the sun come up over some of the landscape.

At 7:45 am we met up with our guide and the rest of the group, piled into our jeep and headed off. We did a quick stop to check out a Navajo Hogan, a traditional hut made of juniper tree logs and mud. We were told that some of the Navajo people of the area still live in them, although many now take advantage of modern facilities.

From there it was into Monument Valley proper. I was worried this would be “more of the same” having been to so many parks and seen so much countryside over the past 2 weeks, but it had a different feel again. Now THIS was the landscape of those 40s-60s westerns that we all know. Indeed, there are tributes to John Wayne and John Ford all over the place. As such, there was a weird familiarity with the place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The tour was predominantly spent in the jeep, on the dusty trails, being pointed out to all the different “monuments”. Unlike the other parks, Monument Valley is mostly barren red landscape, with towering rocks coming out. Each have their own “personality” of sorts as well as quirky names. So we wound our way on the trail, stopping periodically to get more info and for scenic photos.

At times we were able to get off the main track into private Navajo land, a big reason for the tour. On those tracks we got to see a number of pectroglyphs, that unlike others we had seen in our travels, we were able to get right up to, given the private land we were on. We also saw several arches, one of which we were pointed out looked just like an eagle (see if you can work it out from the pictures below… hint, look for a blue eye and the curve of the beak).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The tour went for 3.5 hours and took its time through. It was stunning landscape, and I could see why many people make the trip, especially evoking Hollywood of the past.

This meant we were done by lunchtime. Unlike the other parks, hiking is not really a thing here, so we decided to drive on a few of the public roads to get some better views of the monuments from different angles.

 

 

 

 

 

We also came across the spot where Forrest Gump famously ended his cross country running. We roughly knew where the spot was, but it was easy to find… just look for all the people standing in the middle of the road!

 

 

 

The rest of the day was spent relaxing with the gorgeous vistas. The hotel also shows a John Wayne film each night, with tonight being Stagecoach, so I decided to settle in for the night with the seminal 19030’s western (sadly The Searchers was the night before). Tomorrow it is heading back west for the Grand Canyon!

19
Feb

From Mesas to Monuments

By: muttler

 

18/02/2022

Today was another predominantly travel day, from Moab to Monument Valley. Total travel time was around 4.5 hours, but we had two stops planned.

First destination was to Mesa Verde National Park. This was in many respects the main park that Kate wanted to visit. But we also knew this would be the most compromised by our timing. While all the other parks didn’t have too much off limits being winter (in fact it had been SO MUCH better, with the small crowds), Mesa Verde we knew would have many parts closed for the Winter. This sadly included the guided tours into the Ancestral Pueblo cliff dwellings that the park is most famous for. But we knew this, which is why we elected to visit on a travel day, as we had seen that about 3-4 hours would be enough to explore what we could.

 

 

Yet another different vibe in this park. First of all, it was in the mountains and covered in snow! Thankfully the gorgeous weather of the last couple of weeks translated to clear roads so we had no troubles heading up the mountain. Secondly, this park is less of a hiking park, and more explore the ancient sites. The ost spectacular of these are the numerous cliff dwellings that can be seen incredibly perched within the cliff faces themselves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

They date from more than 700 years ago and it is mind boggling to think how on earth they were lived in. Apparently there were hand and foot holes within the cliff face to get up and down. I’m brave, but not sure that brave!

We did the scenic drive to the different sites, taking our time to explore what we could. 4 hours disappeared in the blink of an eye, and so we headed down the mountain and off to our next stop.

 

 

Next stop was a minor diversion, but a fun one. Who could resist visiting the point at which four different states meet! With just 10 minutes to spare before it was closed, we arrived at the Four States monument. Here, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah meet. So technically we have now visited New Mexico too 😛

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It made for some cute, kitschy, photos, and thankfully 10 minutes was all we needed.

With the sun going down we were back into Arizona (and then Utah) and those familiar red rocks reappeared. This time a bit different though as it was more the classic “cowboy” landscape of those 50’s films. We arrived into Monument Valley itself, staying at Gouldings Lodge, previously used to house all the movie stars who would make their way out here to shoot their films.

 

 

 

Two nights here would mean a full day of exploring tomorrow!

18
Feb

Arches! Arches! Arches!

By: muttler

 

17/02/2022

Today was exciting as we were visiting Arches National Park, high up on the list of both Kate and I. It is also one of the most popular parks in the country, so much so that from April you need to pre-book your visit. Crazy!

Thankfully for us, Winter = Low Season, so we were 2 of only probably a few hundred that decided to visit.

 

 

Arches is just 5 minutes from Moab, so in no time at all we were in the park. We were excited about the park for a couple of reasons. First of all, the images we had seen of the titular Arches looked amazing. And we knew we could explore the arches and their surrounds. But also secondly, Arches is the filming location for the awesome opening of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, where young Indy gets the taste for adventure.

Many of the Indy sites were on the way into the park proper. Below are a bunch of classic shots from the opening… the credits as well some of young Indy’s adventure. A good site for reference is this one where you will see the shots as they are in the film. Then you can check out our shots below 😉

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These shots were of well known formations in the early part of the park, including “The Organ”, “The Three Gossips” and “The Balanced Rock”.

 

 

 

 

 

From there, we started to come to the famous Arches. In fact the rest of the day was spent visiting the arches… sometimes from lookouts, and sometimes from short hikes to them.

What I LOVE about this park is that it almost has a playful quality, as while it asks you to stay on the trails, the trails are plentiful and you can get up close with almost all arches, and even make your way through them! So very often a short 15-30 minute hike could get you right under the arch itself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So here are a bunch of photos of the arches and exploring them. I won’t bore you with all the blow-by-blow of arches, rather just enjoy the scenery 🙂

 

 

As a bit of a bonus, we visited a small collection of petroglyphs!

In the blink of an eye we had spent about 8 hours, and the sun was close to setting. As it had been a long day we decided to drive back into town and have an early dinner. I was intrigued by the old school looking Moab Diner to see if we could get a bit of a proper diner experience. While it probably had a little more sheen on it than some country diners, it was pretty good. Fast food, pretty delicious, attentive server, and drink refills.

 

 

 

I decided to give their “signature” green chili open burger a crack. The chili was not super hot but nice and tasty. So while technically this can be included in my burger challenge, it is a bit unfair to compare it as it was more a platform to enjoy the local chili. Mmmm.

Back to a big driving day tomorrow. Off to Monument Valley via Mesa Verde!