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South West USA

In September we visited the South Western part of the USA for our annual holiday. We flew into San Francisco and then drove to Yosemite, Death Valley, Zion Canyon, Monument Valley, Grand Canyon and Las Vegas. We had a superb time, the weather was fantastic, the sights were amazing and the people were really nice. We also managed to do the trip at 1=$1.85, not quite $2 but better than the $1.45 or so that we have now.

The first stop was San Francisco and it is a really cool city. Although it has the usual high rise down town area, large chunks of the city are more low level. In some ways the city has an Italian or vaguely European feel. This is probably why so many Brits like the place. We took the cable car around the city, went to the steep street that winds down the hill and visited the docks area. We didn't actually go to Alcatraz (lack of time) but we did take a boat trip round the Bay and out to the island and the Golden Gate Bridge. Eating here is seriously good. There are plenty of really good restuarants and the clam chowder is recommended. We would recommend going to China Town for a meal.

We visited the Napa Valley taking in four different vineyards and drank a lot of very good wine. The wines that we drunk were predominantly red and generally quite intense but certainly good.

Yosemite was the next stop. The weather was glorious with plenty of sun, blue skies and warm tempertaures. On the first day we parked in Yosemite Village and went on the walk to Vernal Falls. The walking was easy but as we climbed gently up the views were spectacular. The waterfall was impressive as it cascaded over a large sheer drop. The only disappointment was that there was not much water as it was Autumn. After the walk we went on the bus around the valley and managed to take the shown photograph of Half Dome. That and El Capitan are the two signature peaks in the valley and there live up to the reputation. Both have sheer vertical faces of clean rock that are thousands of feet high. We saw some climberrs on 'El Cap' and they looked so small eben though they were only half way up. It is a paradise for climbers and even made me want to get the ropes and gear out again. There are photogenic scenes at every step, from the meadows to the waterfalls and then on to mountains and peaks. It would be really good to come back in the spring time when the spring flowers are out and the waterfalls really in flow with melt water. Our hotel room had a spectacular view from the balcony over the river, didn't see any bears though.

The next day we drove over the top of the park towards a place called Mono Lake. On the way there are a number of view points offering spectaculare views of the park and back over the valley. There were even some lonely trees. From here we drove to Death Valley which was as hot as the name suggests, 114F at 6pm at night. The next day we drove out of the valley and headed towards Las Vegas. This was only a staging point as we then turned north towards Zion Canyon.

Zion Canyon is one of a number of really impressive gorges that litter this part of the states. It is not as big as the Grand Canyon neither does it have as many interesting features as Bryce. It is very spectacular and the reddish colours of the rock are really good and make a nice contrast with the blue sky in the photos.

Monument Valley was one of the highlights for of the trip for. It is so familiar from the Westerns but it is more impressive there. To see it close you have to take a trip on lorry that is run by the local Navaho tribes people. This adds to the atmosphere. All around the valley there are spectacular unbelievable rock formations. The picture here shows the two mittens and the other one that no one ever remembers the name of.

What can you say about the Grand Canyon that hasn't been said before. It is huge and awe inspiring and unbelievable and...... We did a number of walks around the rim and even managed to see a Californian Condor. This bird is huge, it looks more like a smal UAV. I would bet that it has been mistaken for a UFO by one or two people. While we were in Las Vegas I took a helicopter flight through the gorge and that was fantastic. To look up at the rim of the canyon while flying along a mile high vertical rock was great.

The last stop was Las Vegas and it is another world. The strip is just one incredible hotel after another. Each of them replicates somewhere in the world. The hotel next to ours had a model Eiffel Tower and the Arc d'Triomphe. The Veneziana recreated the canals and St Mark's Square. Our hotel had recreated downtown Bagdad. This was all contained within a large air conditioned hall. When you went to a restaurant you could either eat outside (really inside) or inside. The casinos are open all day and you cannot find your way out once you are in. We played the machines a bit but some people take it very seriously. The best bit were the girls bring round free drinks, so long as you were playing the machines.

To conclude, it was a superb holiday and we really enjoyed it. I would say that everyone should go and see it. Just wait till the pound is a bit stronger.