Saturday, July 19, 2014



Tuesday, July 15, 2014

USA Final Week

As I mentioned in my last report I was very lucky to gain a lift from some people who lived near the ferry wharf at Anacortes so managed to overcome the problems with Amtrak and reach Friday Harbor on the San Juan islands late in the evening.

I stayed in a B&B and after a hearty breakfast was able to buy a day bus pass for the main island and went to a spot called The English Camp.  San Juan Island was the site of the last war between the USA and the British Empire in 1859 although no shots were fired in anger.
For 12 years both sides maintained a garrison on the island today known as English Camp and American Camp. Finally in 1872 Germany arbitrated in favour of the USA.

Near the English Camp is Mount Young, 650 feet (200 metres)  high and I climbed up and took photos.

I think Vancouver Island (Canada) is across the strait. At that time it was sunny and warm but in the afternoon clouds rolled in and it was grey and light drizzle for much of the rest of my time there.  After climbing the hill I had a look at the many preserved buildings of the camp. Apparently the English forces had a very pleasant stay. I was told a huge flag mast flies a Union Jack and it is the only place in the USA where it can be flown without the Stars and Stripes alongside. However the flag flying that day was the Star and Stripes, I guess understandable as it was July 4( Independence Day). When I left the town the street was lined with chairs in preparation for a parade later that day.

I walked around the point(about 1 mile) then instead of waiting for the hourly bus I followed the driver’s earlier suggestion to walk to the resort centre of Roche Harbor.  It was about 3 miles and rather hot and uninteresting. I took a detour to “wetlands” but they were quite dry.  When I reached Roche Harbor with what seemed like thousands of boats on a public holiday, it was almost time for the return bus to Friday Harbor. There I had an icecream and caught the bus in the opposite direction to Lime Kiln Bay and Whale Watcher’s point.
There are several pods of orcas in the area and the ranger said one pod had been there at 9.30am.  It was then after 4pm and they did not return.  At my B&B other guests with bicycles told me they had much more success but they were more flexible in their travel.

The following day I caught the ferry to another Island, Orcas island, which is larger but less populated. Again a bus trip across the island took me to Moran State Park and Cascade Lake. I was going to take the level walk of about 3 miles around the lake but met some others who were going to climb Mt Constitution 2,400 feet (730 metres) and 7 miles (11 km) return.  We had about 5 hours before the last return bus but my companions soon went ahead and after dealing with blisters and over 2 hours climbing I estimated I had walked just over 4 km and climbed over 600 metres to a point where there was a nice picnic area. I decided to have lunch and return down to the lake. I never saw the views but when I met my companions on the ferry back they told me it had been very misty. I returned down hill more quickly and sat for an hour with another icecream for the bus back to the ferry,

On Sunday I packed up again for the rather complicated trip to Seattle. It was back on the ferry to Anacortes. The 4 ferry trips over 3 days only cost me $6.50 as a senior. You just pay one way leaving the mainland and all trips between islands are free. I guess they make money on the cars. Being a holiday weekend, the car queues were long but plenty of room for foot passengers. At Anacortes I waited about an hour for a shuttle bus to Seattle airport, actually  2 buses, we had to change at one point. This took 3 hours then it was on the light rail for half an hour into Seattle and I found a very steep hill to my apartment.

I stayed 3 nights, again providing my own meals and taking it easy. The first day I wandered in Seattle, the main city, then the waterfront and the old town area of Pioneer Square where I spent a good hour in a museum about the Yukon Gold Rush when most prospectors started from Seattle. The second day I was more organised and took the monorail out to where the World Trade Fair was in 1962. I did not go up the Space Needle tower but visited the amazing Chihuly Glass Museum. I have included just one photo  but there were many examples of glass blowing by Dale Chihuly, many were set in the gardens.

Then to Pike St Markets where I did not make a good choice for lunch. I now realise why there were no queues at that takeaway fish and chip counter. After a rest back at my apartment I went to the sky viewing area at the Columbia centre. This was just 2 blocks from my apartment and much higher than the Space Needle. We took the lift to the 72nd floor. Then back down to the waterfront for a bus to the lakes and a ferry ride through the locks which allow large ships to enter the freshwater lakes. There was a spectacular view of Mount Rainier after we had gone out into Puget Sound.

Then one of the Seattle skyline.

The Columbia Tower where I had been earlier is the grey building on the right. The small building on the far right was built in the 1910’s and at the time was the highest building in the world outside of Manhattan.

I was lucky with very clear weather in Seattle which is known for cool cloudy weather. It was over 80’F every day. Apparently the west coast has had severe drought. I had very little rain on my trip.

The next morning I was on my last long train ride as I took the Coast Starlight again, this time to San Francisco. It was only an hour late. As the car attendant, who was far superior to my previous experiences, said. It was not late for Amtrak as it arrived on the same day.

However I had to leave my bags at the hotel for 5 hours and wander around the shops until I could get into my room and change. There are summer clothes sales on and I have splurged as much as I can fit into my bag without being overweight.

On Friday I took a tour to Muir Woods where I remember going on my first visit to San Francisco in 1980. This is now my 5th time in the city. I would have liked to use public transport but the shuttle from Sausalito to Muir Woods only runs on Saturday and I did not want to risk being on the wrong side of the bay when I had to catch a flight home. The tour took us across the Golden Gate Bridge to the Woods where the Sequoia or Coast Redwoods grow. These are the tallest trees in the world, the tallest is 112 metres but not in Muir Woods.

I think these grew to 75 metres. There are lots of walks but I only had time to do a 2 mile round trip before the bus took us into Sausalito.

 I left the bus here and after a good lunch I went by ferry back across the bay to San Francisco.

Last night I attended the San Francisco Opera production of La Traviata. I believed I would see Pene Pati from Sol e Mio singing one of the minor roles and was disappointed to see he was not in the cast. I have now learnt he withdrew from a scholarship with the San Francisco Opera in April and I bought my ticket in March. However it was an excellent performance and La Traviata provides a feast of great music.

I tried to finish and send this before leaving the hotel but was not successful. I am now at the airport waiting for my flight to Auckland. Security gets worse and worse. I even had to take my handkerchief out of my pocket and, as I refuse to part with my passport, they flicked through it after  I was body scanned.
 After leaving the hotel I spent over an hour waiting to board the cable car. I have travelled on it several times but still enjoy it.  I think the crowds are evidence that it would be great if they restored them in High Street, Dunedin. It would then only be the 2nd city with a cable car in the world.
After the cable car ride I took a trolley bus and then a normal bus to the Golden Gate Bridge.  I had wanted to do this in previous visits but this was the first time I managed it. I walked to the midpoint and back which was a real test of my fear of heights. As it is 2 km across, that meant my return walk was 2km.

After getting back to the city I wanted a coffee and found a shop called Nespresso. It is attempting to bring proper coffee to the USA. It was real upmarket, at a price, sitting in swivel armchairs with lots of waiters providing constant service. There were 3 types/strengths of coffee as well as decaffeinated, I chose a mid range strength. With a chocolate cake it came to $16 plus tip. Not your everyday choice and I did not take up the offer to join the Nespresso Club. Finally I collected my luggage and caught the train to the airport. Thankfully my luggage was not overweight but my hiking boots are in my carry on.

All being well I depart at 9.15pm arrive Auckland at 5.25am after more than 12 hours in the air then my flight to Dunedin arrives at 10.20am.

I have actually now returned home. We landed in Auckland on time but there was a thick fog and so my flight to Dunedin was over half an hour late. However many regional flights were cancelled. Dunedin was sunny but cold, there had been a heavy frost in the morning.

Monday, July 07, 2014

USA Week 4 (and a bit)

Since leaving Washington there have been a few disappointments and frustrations but lots of wonderful scenery and happy coincidences.
The train journey of nearly 24 hours on the Cardinal from Washington to Chicago was through Virginia, West Virginia  and Kentucky into Ohio by nightfall. We crossed the Allegheny Mountains. While very scenic there were few opportunities for great photos through the trees.
At lunch the first day I sat with a couple from Cronulla, Sydney who were also crisscrossing the USA by train. We also had dinner together. The next morning they were a little concerned as we were running late and they had to make a connection to the Southwest Chief to Los Angeles. However we were only an hour late and they would have been ok. To avoid that worry I stayed overnight in Chicago. There was a cool wind and as I walked along the lake shore the mist over the buildings was quite fascinating.

The next morning was spent in the Art Institute. It certainly lived up to its reputation of being the best art gallery in the USA. The number of impressionist paintings was amazing. 
Then it was back on the train, this time the Empire Builder which runs from Chicago to Seattle. Just after dinner and before reaching Minneapolis we crossed the Mississippi.

By the next morning we were in North Dakota and beginning to experience the significant delays this train has recently been experiencing due to oil freight blocking its path. Actually we had one of the better runs for the week and were only an hour and a half late into East Glacier.  I stayed the first night at the 100 year old Glacier Park Lodge which has the largest foyer of all the great National Park Lodges.

While right opposite the train station, it is not actually in Glacier National Park so the next morning I was on a shuttle into the park and to Many Glacier Lodge. It had a much more scenic location on a lake. The shuttle drive gave me the worst news. I had planned my whole USA trip around taking the bus to Going to the Sun Road. It goes over the Continental Divide and usually the road is open from June 20. I planned June 30. However 2 weeks earlier heavy rain and caused avalanches and the road was still closed. (I think it may have opened the day after I left.)
However on the shuttle I also met Lu-ann and her mother Mary from Indiana who were following the same itinerary as me. We had many meals together over the next few days and shared some of the frustrations, beginning with our rooms not being ready until after 4pm.
Just after I got into my room I had to rush down for a pre-booked ferry ride on the lake. It was actually 2 ferries with a short walk between the lower and upper lakes. The sky was overcast with intermittent showers so although I took many photos, better ones came in later days.

The next day was the bus ride which now only went 13 of the 50 miles along the Going to the Sun Road. However even this was very scenic and I sat up the front next to the driver. We went up to a point where we overlooked one of the many glaciers. The Red Buses were built in the 1930’s and have removable canvas roofs.
Here is of our bus with 2 Medicine Lake behind.

The tour was still 8 hours but went to alternate places which I was to see again during my stay there. While still disappointing it was not as bad as I feared when first hearing of the road being closed.
 In  the evening I walked about 4 km around the lake. I was only going to go part way as it is not wise to walk alone in bear country but met up with a couple who invited me to join them. There were quite a few groups walking. Back at the hotel I waited to see sunset over the Mountains from the back deck.

The next morning I joined a ranger led walk for safety. Besides having a canister of bear spray she regularly sang out “Ho Ho Bear, hikers coming through and clapped” The main thing is not to surprise them suddenly in their dining room. However we did not seek any bears, elk or moose just a few big horn sheep. I am not sure whether to be relieved or disappointed.
We walked to Bull Head Lake, about 10 km return although I had any extra 3 km return from the hotel to the ranger station. We only climbed about 300 metres. These photos were taken along the way, one of the Red Rock Falls.

We had lunch by the lake looking up at several glaciers. sadly they are rapidly retreating with climate change. I had hoped to go to Iceberg Lake which is higher and has floating ice in it until late summer but it was still blocked by snow and probably just as well as there would be more climbing and at over 1250 metres above sea level I was quite breathless.

In the late afternoon I was back on the shuttle to Glacier Park Lodge for the night. As the train was not due until late the next day I went down the village in the morning and had some huckleberry pie with my coffee. Huckleberries are very nice, a less sweet blueberry but cannot be farmed so only available in areas where they grow wild.

Then I caught the shuttle back to 2 Medicine Lake, where I took the photo of the red bus 2 days earlier. I was put on a waiting list for the 1pm ferry and luckily my name was called as that saved me a 3 km walk around the lake. When i got off the ferry most people were taking the short walk with a guide to Twin Falls about 3 km return but I met a young couple from Kansas city who were happy to have an old bloke join them and we walked the 8 km return to Upper 2 Medicine Lake taking it in turn to sing out “Ho Ho Bear, Coming Through”
I am so glad I did as, after struggling over a snow bank, I had the best view of my trip.

Back on the ferry and shuttle to Glacier Park Lodge where, after dinner, we waited until the train arrived 4 hours late at 12.20am.

When I woke we were nearly 5 hours late and it looked like I would miss my connections to San Juan Islands. I had booked a very cheap motel in Seattle just in case as it was the night before the July 4 Long weekend.

However, while explaining the situation to the car attendant, the lady in the next roomette overheard me and told me that she and her daughter were headed for their home in Anacortes where I needed to catch the ferry and her husband was picking her up.
So I got off at an earlier stop and was driven by Paul, along with Vicki and Emily for nearly 2 hours. Unfortunately I just missed the 4.45pm ferry but did get on the 8.20pm and arrived Friday Harbor on San Juan Island at 9.30pm. I will continue the story in a few days time.