Michael and I flew into Los Angeles International Airport LAX, May 16, 2009. We changed planes in Denver and flew over the Grand Canyon.
Hertz honored my AAA membership and gave us unlimited miles. Rented cars are expensive, but 2 of us were benefiting.
We drove straight to Sequoia National Park. The trees! We drove up Interstate 5 and went through Bakersfield and Visalia. People here know how to get to the Park and gave us directions. It is 220 miles from the airport to Sequoia.
I reserved a room at the Comfort Inn in Three Rivers outside Sequoia. Three Rivers is the gateway.
Karen and I drove down from Kings Canyon in 1979. Michael and I drove up from Los Angeles. There is no road crossing Sequoia, so we left the same way we came in.
It was one night at Sequoia. I recalled Michael saying 2 nights at the Grand Canyon was too much.
The biggest Sequoias are in the Giant Forest. This is where the General Sherman tree is, the largest living thing on earth. We walked along the trail, and Michael spotted a deer. We saw bears.
Sequoias are copperish. I looked through the green crowns into the blue sky. The air was still. No wind.
We climbed Moro Rock and looked down on the surrounding area, something Karen and I did not do. That topped it off! Leaving the Park, we patted trees and told them goodbye, promising to return.
We drove back from Sequoia the evening of May 17. Michael stopped along the side of the road, and I picked oranges. Michael said it was the best orange he ever tasted.
Los Angeles has the biggest complex of freeways in the world: 6 lanes coming, 6 lanes going. We had to be careful. Michael drove.
I reserved a room for 5 nights at the Best Western Media Center Inn in "Beautiful Downtown Burbank," as Johnny Carson called it. We were near the NBC Studios.
Michael and I were in bed when the building shook. It was an earthquake: Michael's second, my first. It was on the news.
We had tickets for Jay Leno and the Tonight Show. I was surprised when they arrived in my mailbox. Michael said it put the icing on the cake! There were 2 tapings, and we saw them both. We stayed in line several hours to make sure we got in. Cameron Diaz and Terry Bradshaw were guests. The announcer brought people on stage to warm up the audience. I sang "Dancing Queen" by ABBA, and the crowd went wild! We ate at the Outback. The Tonight Show was taped in Burbank at the NBC Studios.
I tried to structure the 2009 trip like the ones before it. We concentrated on Hollywood, Burbank, Beverly Hills & Malibu. We got pictures of the Kodak Theatre, where the Academy Awards are given. Michael knew about it. Grauman's Chinese Theatre is there. It was nice to stroll down the Hollywood Walk of Fame with my son 31 years later. Michael took a picture of Leno's star.
We drove through the Hollywood Hills trying to get a picture of the Hollywood sign. After several wrong turns, we got it. Roads were narrow, and the houses in the Hills were like sardines. Michael said he could not live in Hollywood, but admitted that the Hollywood sign was like the Statue of Liberty. Hollywood is part of L.A. Beverly Hills separate.
Michael wanted to see Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, where the stars shop. We went into Brooks Brothers, his favorite. Michael said it was a different world going from trashy Hollywood to classy Beverly Hills. We drove by the Beverly Hills Hotel.
Michael wanted to see Laguna Beach because of the TV show. We drove down the Pacific Coast Highway to Laguna and returned to Burbank on I-5. We saw the Pacific Ocean.
Our last full day, we drove up the Pacific Coast Highway to Malibu: "Michael B. in Malibu!" The city of Malibu is a strip of coastline, home to movie stars.
We drove Sunset Boulevard and went through Bel Air. Elvis had a house there while making his movies. Michael rolled down the window and asked, "Do you smell that? It smells like money!"
We dropped the car off at LAX, settled our account and flew out. Michael's friend met us in Nashville.
We had the idea that one plus one equals 3. There was Michael, and there was me. The third entity was Michael and me together!
GOING WEST 1979
The west is like another country, at times like another planet. Its variety is endless. It can be thought of in terms of its major cities or be approached from the standpoint of its National Parks. The National Park system is an effort by the federal government to preserve nature's masterpieces. Fees are minimal, geology the theme. The Parks are linked by a system of highways and Interstates that are the best in the world. America's roads are its greatest achievement. It is all transportation!
Going west on I-40, the real change takes place in New Mexico. The town of Tucumcari looks like Mexico, but when you think that the southwest belonged to Mexico until 1848, it is easy to understand the Spanish influence. A few weeks in the southwest makes one see U.S. history from a whole new perspective.
There are some marvelous sights in Arizona. The Painted Desert and Petrified Forest lie side by side. From several vantage points, we gazed at the colored streaks of sand.
Inside the Petrified Forest is a spot called the Crystal Forest. There may not be a more peaceful place on earth. We saw it at sunset. Bits and pieces of petrified wood lay scattered about, and Karen and I felt the sensation of being at the dawn of creation. There were no people for miles on either side. The orange sunset, turquoise sky & quiet blended in perfect bliss!
Near Winslow lies the fabulous Meteor Crater. It is a circular hole 3 miles in circumference, created by the impact of a prehistoric meteor. Pictures cannot portray its enormity. Astronauts have used the site as a training ground. In the distance stands Mt. Humphreys, the highest point in Arizona.
The Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon is the greatest single phenomenon on the planet! It seems to stand totally out of time. It makes the literary and musical achievements of mankind seem insignificant. During my first visit, I wondered at the amazement of those who ventured upon it having seen no pictures or post cards. They must have doubted their eyes. From the rim, the Canyon hardly seems real. All sense of distance is defied. The Canyon is a mile deep. It averages 10 miles across and runs for 277 miles. It is Arizona's pride, and tour buses leave regularly from Flagstaff. The Colorado River cuts through it but looks like a tiny ribbon from above. Geologists speculate that cutting action from the Colorado is what created the Canyon. This was hard to accept at first but after seeing other wonders, I realized that geologists see with different eyes. They are attuned much the way astronomers are. It took 10 million years for the river to carve the Canyon.
I looked over the rim to see a mule train crossing the Canyon floor. The mules looked like ants. There are trails leading to the bottom of which Bright Angel Trail is the most famous. People were ascending on foot, exhausted.
During my second trip, Karen and I saw both the North and South Rims. The North Rim is less dramatic, but we caught it at dusk and during a thunderstorm, which made it particularly austere. We walked out to a point where the wind was up. The Canyon was ominous, and we were virtually suspended above it. The austerity of the scene was enhanced by lightning in the distance.
We circled the Canyon that night to see the South Rim in the morning. We slept in the car in Cameron, Utah. We beelined to the South Rim at daybreak and caught the sun rising. Karen got a series of pictures, which showed the sun's rays filling the Canyon. The river below appeared motionless.
Sprinting from Kingman, Arizona, to Las Vegas, Nevada, we felt the enchantment of the city drawing us on. There was an anticipation of something great ahead! Most of the action in Las Vegas is found in 2 places: Fremont Street downtown and the newer and sprawling Las Vegas Boulevard. It is a city of lights. It never sleeps. At first, it is hard to believe such a place could exist, that little old ladies can be seen gambling their hearts out at 6 o'clock in the morning. There are rows and rows of slot machines, and the gambling is not limited to casinos and hotels. There are slot machines strategically placed in restaurants and supermarkets. I theorized that Las Vegas is a spin-off from southern California and that only the desert could make such liberties possible.
The basic unit on the Strip is the hotel. Driving down Las Vegas Boulevard, one is amazed at the marquees and the famous names. The hotels are like gigantic malls. There are shops and boutiques of all kinds. Most of the hotels have names consistent with the desert atmosphere. There are the Aladdin, Sands, Desert Inn & Sahara, and we spent time in all of them.
The most distinctive and appealing of the hotels are Caesar's Palace and Circus Circus. Caesar's Palace at night is a lovely shade of green. An escalator carries patrons from the sidewalk to the front entrance as a recorded message provides the welcome: "I, Caesar, welcome you to my Caesar's Palace..." Replicas of famous statues exploit the Roman theme. When we arrived, Ann-Margret was at Caesar's.
Circus Circus features circus acts at intervals through most of the day. There are games and stuffed animal prizes to lure the young and unsuspecting.
All the big hotels have shows, and no one should go to Las Vegas without seeing a couple. They run the gamut from comedy to music to animal acts to burlesque. They are Broadway in style and for the sexually liberated. We saw 2 major shows: Folies Bergere at the Tropicana and Razzle Dazzle at the Flamingo Hilton. Razzle Dazzle was on ice. It occurred to me that girls in their 20s flock to Vegas from all around to sell their legs.
We lived for a month in the Ali Baba Apartments, down the street from the Tropicana. We worked a couple of days. Karen worked at the Golden Goose Casino, and I worked for an office equipment company. Take away the hotels and casinos, and Las Vegas is like any place else.
There are some interesting sights surrounding Las Vegas. Old Nevada, a replica of a western mining town, sits at the foot of some scenic bluffs. There is a petting zoo and some peacocks. On the way to Old Nevada is Red Rock Canyon. Blue sky, green desert landscape & red sandstone cliffs merge in silent beauty. The peacefulness of the scene matches that of the Valley of Fire State Park. In the Valley of Fire, we stopped to look at a petrified log. Again, we were totally alone. I yelled, and my voice echoed off the distant hills. This kind of environment was a relief from the turmoil of the city. But it was hot in the Valley. At the tourist center, the thermometer read 118 degrees! The twisted rock formations have taken some weird shapes. There are several so-called elephant rocks.
When my Greyhound crossed Hoover Dam in 1978, it was at night, and I was barely aware of where I was. When Karen and I returned to the spot, we were amazed! The dam captured our imaginations.
Hoover Dam was built between 1931 and 1935. It blocks the Colorado River in its journey from the Grand Canyon to southern California. Lake Mead sits behind the dam. It is in the desert and complete with beaches.
The desert is so eerie and yet so compelling. Trees become remembered as an eastern vegetation. Brown landscapes become normal. We were most aware of the desert during our journey from Las Vegas to Yosemite. We felt our isolation keenly when seeing some white sand from a high elevation and thinking it was a body of water. Our car ran short of gas, and we just made it to Big Pine, California. These were our most apprehensive moments. We were glad when we espied the Sierra Nevada.
The Mojave Desert lies between Las Vegas and southern California. For the most part, it is flat and featureless. Joshua trees are plentiful.
Around Barstow, the power of the desert is strong. The presence of Death Valley is felt. We did not cross the Valley but passing a few miles from it, the heat that hit my face was like a blast from a furnace. The thought of Death Valley instills wariness in the tourist. A temperature of 134 degrees was once recorded there. It is the lowest place in the country, 282 feet below sea level.
The mountains of the west present a contrast to those of the east. They appear sculpted, flat on top and treeless. The buttes and mesas are formed from rock, whereas eastern hills are primarily earth. Paradoxically, there are a lot of flash floods in the desert because water runs off ridges and stands on the desert floor.
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite lies across the Sierras in California. This is where we spent the night of July 4, 1979. We slept in a tent. Stars shone through the ponderosa pines.
The mountains of Yosemite are breath-taking and had snow on them in July. Karen made a snowball. From above, I satisfied myself with the explanation that the valley was carved by glaciers. The scale is a grand one! The one thing all National Parks have in common is a quality of magic. They are raw, primeval. Natural beauty is their offering.
Karen got pictures of Yosemite Falls, the highest falls in North America. It divides into upper and lower, and we crossed the bridge leading around the lower section.
El Capitan is the world's largest exposed mass of granite. It stands 3000 feet above the Valley floor. Yosemite is full of domes shaped by glaciers during the Ice Age.
San Francisco seemed pleasant for such a big city. I stormed the bay area in 1978, but did not see the Golden Gate Bridge. I headed for Reno, where I learned the devastating power of gambling. A black guy at a street corner told me he just lost $7000, his life's savings. From Reno, I was going to the Sequoias. I got as far as Carson City and turned back. I played the slots all night in Carson City waiting for the bus.
The Sequoias were exerting their pull. The following summer, Karen and I saw the big trees. We toured the adjacent Parks while on an excursion from our base in Las Vegas. We saw our first Sequoia in Yosemite. My reaction must have been comical as I jumped from the car and ran toward it. Karen said I looked like a little boy. The Wawona Tunnel Tree is in Yosemite. It is the one they used to drive cars through. It fell in 1969 and still lies there.
Sequoia National Park lies south of Kings Canyon National Park, and we got more exposure to the big trees. There are 75 groves along the western slopes of the Sierras. The epic proportions and otherworldliness of the Sequoias put them in the same category as the Grand Canyon. Some are as much as 3500 years old. They were living when man's civilization was in its infancy, when King Tut reigned in Egypt. Their age is attributed to a chemical in the sap that resists bacteria. Their bark is spongy and may be from 6 inches to a foot thick. Before the Ice Age, much of North America was covered with Sequoias. Certainly, there is a prehistoric quality about them. Many have been ravaged by lightning and fire, but older ones are being replaced by younger ones even today. The General Sherman Tree is the largest, located in the Giant Forest of Sequoia.
My experiences in southern California in 1978-79, were limited. In 1978, I took a city bus to Hollywood and Vine. I entered the Capitol Records Building and saw gold Beatle discs hanging on the wall. On the sidewalk, I saw the Walk of Fame, celebrity names inscribed in a series of star patterns.
In July, 1979, Karen and I left Las Vegas for Anaheim and Disneyland. Karen had been to the park in Florida and conducted the tour. There were Frontierland, Fantasyland & Tomorrowland. Disney's secret was in making the most of his knowledge of children's literature. To this, he added his own characters. I was too old, and the experience gave me a migraine headache.
Yellowstone National Park
After 6 days and nights dozing only on the Greyhound, I took a room in Salt Lake City. I was so tired, I barely made it to the bed. The next morning, I observed the Mormon Temple. Only Mormons are permitted inside. Salt Lake City is a clean town.
From Salt Lake City, I rode the bus north to Yellowstone. Through the window, I glimpsed the Great Salt Lake.
After awaiting the bus in Idaho Falls, crossing and recrossing the Snake River, I arrived at Yellowstone. The most scintillating things about Yellowstone are its geysers and waterfalls. I saw Old Faithful. It spouts water once every hour, thus its name. The hot springs are sulfurous and smelly. Yellowstone is in the northwest corner of Wyoming, and I spent the night in the town of West Yellowstone, Montana.
Southern Utah and Colorado
The steep cliffs of Zion National Park made the ride through it an interesting one. We hurried to the Coral Pink Sand Dunes. They were 11 miles off the main road, and the car almost got stuck in the sand. We kept moving! We had lunch in Kanab, the town known as Little Hollywood. Many of the old westerns were filmed here.
Southern Utah sports some weird terrain. The traveler almost expects to see dinosaurs. It is never dull. We stopped at Four Corners to look at the monument. This is the spot where 4 states touch: Arizona, New Mexico, Utah & Colorado. It is the only such place in the nation, and people like to say they were in 4 states at once.
Mesa Verde National Park is in southern Colorado. The ruins of the Cliff Dwellers are here, and we explored the Cliff Palace. It was inhabited between the 7th and 13th centuries, when Europe was in its Middle Ages. The descent is precipitous, and the Indians must have been in good shape. The circular kivas were used for religion.
From Colorado, the west disappears rapidly. We saw Pike's Peak from a distance and the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. Pike's Peak is a mountain 14,110 feet high and not unlike the mountains of the east.
Written in 1980 to cover
the trips of 1978-79