Yosemite and Yellowstone


If they ever made it into a film, they’d cast Minnie Driver as Andreanne, Steven Spielberg as Denni, Matthew Modine as Stefan, Julie Benz as Hannah, Sophie Marceau as Alyona and Matthew McConaughey as Andrew. This collection of Hollywood lookalikes kept me company on a two-week camping tour of some of the most beautiful national parks in America, courtesy of G Adventures. (There were eight girls and only four guys, so they obviously believed in providing plenty of eye candy, too…!)

It started in Kenya. Well, it didn’t really, but my safari over there in January inspired me to try and tick off as many destinations as possible on my ‘bucket list’. Since then, I’ve watched the northern lights in Sweden, lunched at Harry’s Bar in Venice and shot a bison in Yellowstone from 25 yards away, so I’m not doing too badly!

I originally wanted to combine this trip with watching bears catch salmon in Alaska, but you have to book the Brooks Falls Lodge a year in advance, so it was far too late for that. Nevertheless, my main goal was still to be able to take as many shots as possible of the landscapes and wildlife and try to sell them through photo libraries. The itinerary included trips to Glacier National Park, Yellowstone and Yosemite, so I was confident I’d have plenty of opportunities to do that.

Itinerary

Here is the official itinerary of our trip from the G Adventures website. (The letters in brackets show the number of Breakfasts, Lunches and Dinners provided.)

Day 1 Seattle

Arrive to our joining hotel at any time. Welcome meeting at 9pm.

Day 2 Seattle/Coeur D’Alene (1L,1D)

Our journey begins in Seattle, a magnificent city with a modern skyline of glass skyscrapers. Enjoy an orientation tour, including famous Pike Place Market, the waterfront park and the Pioneer Square. Idaho welcomes us with beautiful lakes, mountains, rivers, and fertile valleys that glaciers of the last great ice age left behind. In the evening light up a campfire and experience the first night out under the open sky!

Approximate Distance: 500 km
Estimated Travel Time: 7 hrs (including stops)

Day 3 Glacier NP (1B,1L,1D)

Explore rugged mountains, picturesque river valleys, high desert plains and distinctive small towns and historic districts as we enter the state of Montana. While driving, learn about the American bison that has one of the most dramatic stories regarding human impact on the environment. In the seventeenth century, an estimated 60 million bison roamed the plains of North America yet with the arrival of settlers, the bison were pushed out of their native land and ruthlessly hunted until, by 1890, less than 1,000 animals survived. Chill out and enjoy a picnic lunch at the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi, Flathead Lake before we enter Glacier National Park and the day with a sunset over the mountains.

Approximate Distance: 450 km
Estimated Travel Time: 8 hrs (including stops)

Day 4 Glacier NP (1B,1L,1D)

With over 50 glaciers in the park and over 200 lakes or streams, Glacier National Park is a must see! Chose from over 730 miles of hiking trails to really enjoy this wonderful park.From July to August, take a shuttle across the Going to the Sun Road, a spectacular 50-mile highway that clings to the edge of the world as cars and bikes cross over the Continental Divide at Logan Pass. At the end of the day as you pass through the gates and leave Glacier National Park, you may also be a changed person.

Day 5 Glacier NP/Helena (1B,1L,1D)

Today we visit “The Gates of the Mountains”, one of the most widely recognized landmarks of the Lewis and Clark expedition located in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains! Great towering walls of limestone still stand guard over the river as we board a comfortable open air boat to discover what nature as to offer. Keep your eyes open for Bighorn sheep and Mountain Goats, Ospreys, Golden or Bald Eagles, vultures and falcons.

Approximate Distance: 345 km
Estimated Travel Time: 7 hrs (including stops)

Day 6 Yellowstone NP (1B,1L,1D)

Discover the wonders of Yellowstone, the world’s first National Park! Yellowstone is beyond special. Geysers, waterfalls, wildlife and scenic beauty are around every corner for you to explore. In fact, Yellowstone National Park is a super volcano with the world’s largest active geyser field, boasting more than 10,000 geysers. The Park is also home to more wild animals than almost anywhere else in the U.S., including roaming bison, gray wolves, elk, black bears and of course the famous grizzly bear! Get a glimpse of these fantastic animals as you don’t leave a stone unturned in spectacular Yellowstone!

Approximate Distance: 350 km
Estimated Travel Time: 7 hrs (including stops)

Day 7 Yellowstone NP (1B,1D)

Today explore the Northern Loop in Yellowstone National Park which features beautiful scenery, exciting wildlife and spectacular hydrothermal features. Discover Mammoth Hot Springs, Norris Geyser Basin and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone!

Estimated travel time in park: 4 hrs

Day 8 Yellowstone NP (1B,1L,1D)

More highlights await you as the South Loop goes through some of the most famous landmarks of Yellowstone, including Old Faithful, Lake Village and Grant Village.

Estimated travel time in park: 4 hrs

Day 9 Yellowstone NP/Jackson (1B,1L)

Drive to Grand Teton National Park and view more than twelve peaks at elevation greater than 12.000 feet! Stop at beautiful Jenny Lake and take an optional boat ride across the lake to discover Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point. Grand Teton National Park highlights are numerous and each offers a better understanding of this natural phenomenon. In the afternoon we reach Jackson. Jackson’s Town Square offers unique and upscale modern and western shopping opportunities and marvel at the Square’s elk antler arches. Wildlife watching is easy here; elk, deer, and many other small mammals can be found throughout the valley. In the evening step back in time and enjoy a night out with a true Wild Western atmosphere at the One Million Dollar Bar, known world wide for its western dancing and live entertainment!

Approximate Distance: 230 km
Estimated Travel Time: 6 hrs (including stops)

Day 10 Jackson/Salt Lake City (1B,1L)

Optional guided wildlife and whitewater rafting trip down the snake river in Jackson. Leave Yellowstone National Park behind as we continue to Salt Lake City. Orientation tour of Salt Lake City including a visit to Temple Square for views of the world’s largest Mormon Temple.

Approximate Distance: 440 km
Estimated Travel Time: 8 hrs (including stops)

Day 11 Tonopah (1B)

One of the best ways to to experience Nevada is to travel on the “Loneliest Road in America”, a fascinating scenic and historic area through a land seemingly untouched by man. In the evening experience Tonopah’s night sky which is considered among the best in the country for stargazing.

After the long drive to Tonopah, we give up camping today in favour of a night in a hotel.

Approximate Distance: 650 km
Estimated Travel Time: 9 hrs (including stops)

Day 12 Yosemite (1L,1D)

Marvel at the spectacular views of Yosemite National Park’s magnificent peaks and granite domes as you enjoy one of most scenic drives in California: Tioga Pass! Take short hikes to majestic waterfalls, clear lakes, beautiful meadows and walk amongst giant sequoias. With a keen eye, you may be lucky enough to spot black bears, deer or coyotes.

Approximate Distance: 385 km
Estimated Travel Time: 8 hrs (including stops)

Day 13 Yosemite NP (1B,1L,1D)

Full day to explore Yosemite National Park. Hike the many trails Yosemite has to offer and be inspired by this beautiful and amazing landscape. Option to rent bikes in Yosemite Valley.

Estimated travel time in park: 2 hrs

Day 14 San Francisco (1B,1L)

Explore one of the greatest cities in the world: San Francisco! Discover some of the most iconic attractions such as bustling Fisherman’s Wharf or the stately Golden Gate Bridge, a marvel of engineering and deco design. Go back in time and take an optional cable car ride over the steep hills or rent bikes and explore the city on wheels. In the evening optional sunset sailing.

For our final night in San Francisco, we stay close to the action in a hotel in the city centre.

Approximate Distance: 230 km
Estimated Travel Time: 6 hrs (including stops)

Day 15 San Francisco

Depart at any time.”

The trip was branded as ‘YOLO’ (‘You Only Live Once’), which is the tour operator’s way of saying that the service level was going to be fairly basic. We stayed in hotels in Seattle, San Francisco and Tonopah but otherwise camped every night (either in tents or under the stars). Apart from two or three meals out, we also cooked for ourselves. The van had a trailer, and Andrew did a shopping run every couple of days to make sure we had enough food and drink in there to be able to make breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. The usual menu was muesli, yoghurt, toasted bagels and orange juice for breakfast and a picnic lunch consisting of a variety of wraps and breads filled with ham, turkey, cheese and salad. We took it in turns to make dinner in the evening, and we had chilli, hot dogs, burgers or tilapia plus a few meals out at a Mexican restaurant in Tonopah, The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar in Jackson, Wyoming, and Bistro Boudin in San Francisco. Everybody mucked in when it came to the other chores such as setting and clearing the table, washing up, drying up and putting away. We were also responsible for erecting our own tents, so that was an almost daily ritual unless we spent more than one night at a campsite. However, I was there to take pictures, so I didn’t mind not being able to sleep between Egyptian cotton sheets (unlike a recent girlfriend of mine!)…

As you can see, there was a lot of travelling involved – by the end of trip, we’d managed to drive 3,580 miles through Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and California! – but the van was air-conditioned and equipped with charging points for our phones and laptops plus a 4G wi-fi dongle, which worked most of the time except when we found ourselves in the middle of nowhere. We were also able to listen to a selection of tunes from everybody’s iPhones, iPods and other music devices, and the popular favourites turned out to be One-way Ticket and It’s Raining Men! Whodathunkit…?

We stuck pretty closely to the itinerary – apart from being interrogated by the Park Rangers for hiking up a trail in a ‘bear management area’ the day before it was due to open! – but the highlights for me were:

  • Lake Coeur d’Alene
  • Shooting my first bison
  • Whitewater rafting
  • Watching Old Faithful erupt
  • Swimming at the top of Yosemite Falls
  • Sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge
  • Talking to Andrew

Lake Coeur d’Alene

After seeing Stefan’s spectacular nighttime cityscapes and shots of the 4th of July fireworks from the top of the Space Needle in Seattle, I was beginning to think I was missing out on the chance to take any decent photographs. Fortunately, all that changed when we stopped to camp beside Lake Coeur d’Alene. When the sun sets over a body of water, the possibilities are endless. While everyone else was setting up their tents and preparing dinner (sorry, guys…), I spent a good couple of hours capturing the ever-changing colours on the lake. Beautiful, just beautiful.

Mirror, mirror…

Bison

One of the lessons I learned in Kenya was that you have to get up early to make the most of your opportunities to see the wildlife, and I got my reward in Yellowstone when I woke up at 0430 and wandered down to the river to see the sunrise. After taking a few pictures of the Snake River Canyon, I noticed a large, male bison (or buffalo) walking along the path by the water. It was one of those gloriously unique moments when your heart skips a beat and you start shaking with excitement. I was carrying a daypack with my photographic equipment in it and had my camera set up on a tripod, so I initially had to carry everything with me as I followed along behind it. However, all that heavy kit was slowing me down, and the bison was getting away, so I left the tripod and my daypack on the path and set off in pursuit. I didn’t dare get as close as I wanted to, but I got a lucky break when he crossed the river. I was then able to watch from the other side as he shook himself and rolled around in the dust. After that, the bison walked up to the main road and tried to cross. Just at that moment, though, a car came round the corner, and there was a Mexican stand-off as the car and the 2,000lb bison both stopped and watched each other suspiciously. Eventually, the driver let the bison cross. Very sensible. There was only going to be one winner of that argument! When I got back to camp, I told Andrew, “I just shot my first bison!”

“Do ya feel lucky, punk?!”

(I felt rather less special when we parked later that morning within a few yards of another bison, and saw one on the road from no more than six feet away! Oh, well…)

Rafting

Another first came when we went whitewater rafting just outside Jackson. I’d never done it before, so I was keen to tick it off my list. Six of us went on the trip, and our guide was a chap called Billy. He may have looked like a typical California surfer dude, but he was a great guide, knowledgeable about the names of the rapids (Big Kahuna, Lunch Counter and Champagne), the rate of flow (6-20,000 cubic feet per second) and any wildlife we saw along the way. He told (deliberately) bad jokes to jolly us along and explained the dangers of a ‘guide flip’ when the boat folds in half over a wave and springs back, tossing the guide up to 20 feet in the air! Stefan and I had volunteered to be the lead paddlers, so we got very wet, and Joanna took the opportunity to go swimming – as she always did. The rapids were exciting at times but not particularly dangerous. In fact, the most extraordinary things we saw on the river were two bald eagles, the beautifully backlit bubbles on the surface of the river after the Champagne rapid and then a group of surfers surfing upriver in the backwash from one of the waves – there were even girls in bikinis sunbathing on the river bank! Unfortunately, we only had one waterproof camera between us, and the shots Stefan took with it didn’t meet his usual standards, but I don’t blame him for that. He and I were in the bows of the boat and whenever we went through the rapids had most of the water in the Snake River thrown at us!

Old Faithful

When it comes to music, I’m a great believer in seeing the legends. One of the best moments I ever had at a gig was when the MC announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, Mister James Brown!” It’s the same for the natural wonders. You’ve got to see the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls, for example, and Old Faithful is another one on the list. We saw it during the day and at night, and Stefan in particular got a marvellous shot of it by moonlight using his nuclear-powered flash gun. I contented myself with a video of the eruption (together with an enthusiastic running commentary by Andreanne…).


So predictable…

Fly fishing

I like to watch, but I also like to take part. When it comes to fly fishing, I’d never had the chance to do either before, and the nearest I’d got was to come up with a vague plan to go up to Scotland for the Ryder Cup and play some golf, taste some whisky and do some fishing. All that was about to change. One of the many benefits of getting up before dawn turned out to be getting the chance to meet and watch a few fly fishermen down on the Snake River in Yellowstone. They only arrived after about 0630 – shockingly late, for my money! – but that gave me plenty of time to take a few backlit shots against the dawn.

Yet another beautiful sunrise. Yawn...

Yet another beautiful sunrise. Yawn…

One morning, I even saw a fishing coach with his pupil, but I couldn’t pluck up the courage to ask for a lesson. After that, I thought I’d missed my chance, but I told Andrew about it, and he volunteered to take me down to the river to have a look for someone who could teach me. I wasn’t quite sure what he meant at first, but the person he approached turned out to be some random guy spending a quiet afternoon on the river with his family! Encouraged by Andrew to ‘turn on the English charm’, I had a chat with him, and he was happy to give me a quick lesson. I’d heard that casting was very hard to master, and I was a bit worried I’d embarrass myself by hooking my ear or – worse – someone behind me, but it turned out to be remarkably easy. It just boiled down to pulling out a few feet of line with my left hand, flicking the rod backwards and forwards with my right from 11 to one o’clock, pausing for a second or so in the middle, and releasing the extra line as the hook snaked out into the water. At first, I couldn’t see the line or the hook, as the rod I was using didn’t have the thicker, yellow fishing line for the first few feet to help with visibility, but I soon got used to it. Job done. Next…

Swimming at the top of Yosemite Falls

“If you’re going to enjoy something, it has to be long and hard.” That’s what I told Andrew as we hiked to the top of Yosemite Falls. He said he’d only ‘lost’ five members of his group in 15 climbs, but Alyona had already turned back, and Andreanne had at one point curled up into a little ball, refusing to go on until Andrew had a word with her. History does not record his words of wisdom, but it was encouraging enough for her to summon up the courage to complete the climb. She – and everyone else – was rewarded with a delightfully refreshing dip in a couple of pools at the top of the falls (and the sight of Andrew getting his kit off…).

One of Nature’s wonders

Sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge

I lived in San Francisco for three months during my seven-year ‘retirement’ a few years ago, and, in between working on an internet start-up and falling in love with a girl called Anne, I promised myself that I would sail under the Golden Gate Bridge before I left. I failed miserably (as I did with my plan to marry Anne, by the way…), but I finally had the chance to live the dream on this trip when we went on a sunset sail around the bay. This being foggy San Francisco, there was never any chance of actually seeing the sun set, of course, but it was worth it for the moment when we passed under the most famous bridge in the world and then turned and headed for home…

Play Misty for me…

Andrew

I’ve always been the type of guy who is happiest in the company of just one other person. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy being in a group, but I need to have a special connection with someone to have a really good time and feel that somehow I belong. I’ve been lucky enough to have a few best friends and serious relationships along the way, and our ‘Chief Experience Officer’ Andrew Tipton came closest to playing the part of the ‘substitute girlfriend’ on this trip. It’s not often I meet someone who has lived in more places than I have, been successful in more careers and tells better stories than I do, but Andrew certainly fit the bill. I took the chance to sit in the front seat during the first few days of our drive and learned that, as well as being a tour guide, he was also a deep sea fisherman, Star Wars geek, sculptor, glassblower, photographer, chef, yoga coach, published author of two books on sex and education, an expert on the flora and fauna of American national parks and San Francisco architecture and a sailing and surfing instructor in Puerto Rico! He was always good company and quick to help everybody out with their individual needs. We even shared a beautiful night together under the stars (just taking pictures, you understand). Thanks for the memory, Andrew…

“Ooze, baby, ooze…!”

Verdict

While I was away, the Lions won a Test series for the first time in 16 years, Andy Murray became the first Briton to win the Wimbledon Men’s Championship since Fred Perry in 1936, Chris Froome became only the second Briton to win the Tour de France and England took a 2-0 lead in the Ashes. So, was it worth missing one of the greatest fortnights in British sport? Er, yes. Just… I didn’t get as many wildlife shots as I expected, and I sacrificed a couple of opportunities to take pictures for the sake of a good night’s sleep and because I didn’t have the right equipment, but it was great to get away. I needed a holiday, and the scenery we saw – particularly at Yosemite – was spectacular in places. I appreciated the chance to meet and get to know all my fellow travellers, especially Andrew, and, as Humphrey Bogart almost said, we’ll always have bison…

PS

If you’d like the Bridget Jones version of the trip, these are my diary entries:

6 July:

Dreadful airport, “There’s no need to be rude” so why are they? Very tender beef, flight over golf courses of Long Island, Broken City, The Factory, boat wakes stationary from 30k ft, flat landscape looks like map of north of USA with fields instead of states, ‘ovenable’ crostini with pesto, turkey and Edam and mustard, Darling Spuds (w/o weight) and a Lily O’Brien sultana and Crispins cluster, smiled when told 84 degrees, G Adventures PA announcement, water polo camp group, baseball diamonds, “L&G, welcome to Seattle”, iPhone problems – is it still Saturday? Floatplane over CBD, taking photos of Space Needle etc for an hour, intro talk with CEO, sleepwalker, bed at 0600 BST only to be woken up by belated 4th July fireworks at 0200 Zulu

7:

Reading ST on Mac from 0400 in hotel lobby, breakfast at Bacco (eggs salmon Benedict, granola, juice, espresso)

Tour of Seattle

Drive to picnic spot, lunch of sandwiches, tortilla chips, strawberries, grapes

Drive to Safeway for supermarket sweep

Campsite

Sunset photos over the lake

Pasta, tomato sauce, mozzarella, salad, no cake!

Putting up tent

Campfire stories about life-threatening situations

Night photos of lake

Four shooting stars

8:

Breakfast of OJ, yoghurt with strawbs, blueberries, drive and hippy concert

Window blow-out at 70mph

Lunch at Flathead Lake just before rainstorm

Moose Drool beer on offer

Bought Bad rock 115% proof rye whiskey

Saw Stefan’s photos at night from Space Needle with 4 July fireworks and wished I had gone as planned. A good photographer is not a lazy photographer!

Dinner: kebabs, rice, cheesecake, apple/cherry pie, whipped cream

9:

Woke at 0500 – a decent night’s sleep finally!

Packed lunches for Glacier NP, Snyder Lake

Stefan & Katerina late back due to shuttles, so 24oz Pabst beer by Lake MacDonald taking pictures and wading

Fajitas, s’mores round the campfire for the first time after Andrew failed to repair window

10:

Blew up my two mattresses for the first time, so best sleep yet from 1130-0611.

Breakfast: muesli, fruit, bagel, Nutella, strawbs, banana, OJ

Lunch: ham & cheese sandwiches, fajita, strawbs, banana

Upper Coulter Lake boat ride on Missouri River

Mann Gulch fire, 3,000 acres in 12 mins – get outta the green and into the black – 70mph – 13 smokejumpers died

Saw two bald eagles, but Stefan got the money shot, not me, and I was too slow to change my lens to get a proper close-up of the osprey

Went for a swim in Canyon Ferry Lake and helped with dinner – tilapia, yams, broccoli, cabbage

Took sunset photos and showed the girls my pictures on laptop

11:

B’fast of muesli, yoghurt, OJ, nightmares with the window, Pretzel Bacon Cheesburger at Wendy’s

Yellowstone: elk and bison beside road/river but didn’t stop

Set up camp, cooked chilli with Denni and saw Old Faithful

12:

Woke 0430, took pics from 0500 of river, fly fishermen, bison rolling in the dust – had to leave rucksack and tripod by the river

B’fast: toasted bagel with Nutella, peach yoghurt with peaches, OJ

Saw another bison 6′ away on road to Grand Canyon and one 20′ from car park!

Prismatic pools, lost a couple of people, Andrew got ill

Dinner: hot dogs and melted ice cream

Cards and bed

13:

Dawn on the river, lost my tripod bracket, met fly fishermen, one fish ate the whole fly off the line!

B’fast of bagels, peanut butter, Pepper Jack cheese, Nutella, OJ, Basic 4 – bought specially for me by AT!

Shoshone & Yellowstone lake

Hike one day too early and park rangers escorted us out of the park and fined AT

Picnic lunch at wooden Lake Lodge on rocking chairs on veranda

Walk to beach

Hike up to see the view out over Yellowstone lake

Quick visit to prismatic pools for those who missed them last time

Stopped to photo deer

Went fly fishing for the first time with AT

Dinner of burgers, salad, pasta, crisps

Never argue with a Russian about freedom…

Watched OF at night – Stefan got amazing shots with his nuclear-powered flash and moon in the background

14:

Got up 0500 and saw fly fisherman catch a small trout, promised to send him pictures and gave him my card

Breakfast of Great Grains muesli, strawbs, bagel, yoghurt – no juice!

Driving to Jackson, stopped at a waterfall, Jackson Lake and saw the Grand Tetons, rising up suddenly ‘like a grizzly bear rising out of a blueberry patch’!

Lunch: sandwiches, crisps, fruit

Six of us went white water rafting on Snake river, so called because a squiggle in the air by the Shoshone looked more like a snake than a sign for weaving! Billy was a great guide, knowledgeable about the rapids, the rate of flow (6-20,000 cubic feet per second), their names (Big Kahuna, Lunch Counter, Champagne – due to all the bubbles from 70′ of water depth, Shipwreck Rock), stories of the ‘guide flip’ when the guide gets tossed 20′ into the air. Also saw adult and juvenile bald eagles, turkey vulture, one or two seabirds. Stefan and I took the now positions so got very wet. Joanna swam – again – and Alec managed to reboard the boat on only his fourth attempt! Surfers surfing upriver and girls in bikinis beside a hole in the river.

Steak dinner at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, Americans so polite one of the diners called a waiter sir, talked to Andrew who self-published book on sex and relationships then with a friend a syllabus or approach to teaching to change the south, studied business and art, travelled to Ecuadoe, Guatemala, Argentina.

AT monopolised 5 girls in between playing pool with me.

15:

Woke up before dawn again at 0535, but nowhere to take pictures at this campsite, read the paper for a while and caught up on emails.

Usual breakfast and lunch on the way to SLC. Beverly even met cowboys at a rest stop. Tour of Salt Lake City, including walk outside Mormon Temple Square and Capitol. Return to camp, wi-fi nightmare, swimming pool.

Dinner at California Pizza Kitchen where I got asked for ID for the first time in 20 years. Pizza habanera caritas with quesadillas, Blue Moon local beer, told my Neeek story, which went down well – AA thinks I sound like Hugh Grant, and Bev promised to set me up with a friend or her sister in Turkey and a friend in Brisbane arranged for me to meet someone from Australia to show her round London, and we’re due to have lunch on 9/8, so my dance card is filling up. Missed taking photos of lit fountain.

Thunderstorm put paid to sleeping under stars, and we all had to scramble to rescue our stuff. I slept on two rollmats under the awning. Stefan climbed into Andreanne’s tent.

16:

When your towel had been soaked in a rainstorm, it’s tricky to take a shower. You have to run naked from the shower stall to the paper towel dispenser, grab a length of towel, run back to the shower stall and repeat three or four times, all the while hoping nobody walks in on you! Fortunately, that’s unlikely at 0615…

Juice and papers – now that I have the dongle!

B’fast as usual, with AT leaving to get the window fixed at 0645!

Drove across Great Salt Flats, not far from Bonneville’s measured mile, where Bluebird took world land speed record (see Jack Vettriano painting on my wall).

The Loneliest Highway (I89)

Lunch at McGill – one-horse town without the horse?

Arrived in sweltering 87F Tonopah, NV, at 1800 and checked in to motel, Jim Butler Inn & Suites, which miraculously had wi-fi. Mexican at El Marques, fajitas and a Pacifico beer.

17:

Woke up to nice message from a friend in England, entered a See Me competition with photos from trip, breakfasted in office standing up – 2 bananas, 2 Danish pastries, slice of toast with everyone’s favourite Smart Squeeze Non-fat Buttery Spread and honey, read the paper before leaving at 0930 for Yosemite via Lake Mono. Bought 12 12oz Rolling Rock for $8.49. Hiked up in the mountains for 20mins, then drove to Tonya Lake for a swim/paddle. Saw the Half Dome by chance out of the window, as if it was the Eiffel Tower at the end of a Paris street. Went to Swinging Bridge for photos, then stopped at the Village Store. AT worked out we’d driven 3,200m – only 187m to SF. Slept under stars, next to stream and home made swing. Alec hid in Aliona/Joanna’s tent & made them scream. Starting to feel sad with only 2 days left.

18:

Woke up early and read the paper online. Breakfast as usual, and we made sandwiches for a 6-hour hike up to Yosemite Falls. As I told Andrew when Aliona turned back and AA struggled, you can’t enjoy something unless it’s hard and long.

Passed scene of forest fire where defoliated trees recalled a FWW battlefield.

Swam in pools at the top, Joanna losing glasses and borrowing my goggles to find them. Lost her on the way down, Alec and Hannah waited but we all made it tithe Pizza Patio, where I had a root beer and AA wanted to pay me for her drink! Denni showed me photos of the rattlesnake he bumped into! Dinner was tortellini with steak and salad and cookies (and Rolling Rock), then AT invited me to take some night shots with him, so we drove out, climbed the hillside with my camera and tripod and took some shots of the trees, the moon and the stars. Slept under them again.

19:

Last breakfast.

One way ticket and It’s raining men are the soundtrack to this holiday. Picnic lunch in Modesto.

Checked in at The Opal hotel

Sailing:

Dinner: Bistro Boudin clam chowder in sour dough bread, Anchor Steam beer.

Speech: oldest and wisest to say a few words, but Bev wasn’t insured to do it, so I had to take over! The job of a CEO is to make sure we all have a great experience, and we’ve all had a great experience – Stefan with his photos, Joanna hand feeding the squirrels, me seeing the bison and Alyona finding something to moan about every single day! He has to be a substitute girlfriend, always there for companionship, guidance, conversation and making sure dinner’s on the table when we get home. If this trip was a film, it would’ve starred Minnie Driver, S Spielberg, M Modine, Julie Benz from Roswell/Defiance &Sophie Marceau, but that’s just the supporting cast. The true star has been deep sea fisherman, Star Wars geek, sculptor, glassblower, photographer, chef, author of two books on sex and education, sailing and surfing instructor, expert on the flora and fauna of American national parks and SF architecture, I give you M McConaughey, alias Andrew Tipton. We clubbed together to buy you a nice present, but we didn’t have enough, so here’s a card and all the change we had in our pockets…!

Drinks afterwards round the corner with Nadine, Alec, Hannah, Joanna.

Tried to download photos but not enough space.

20:

Continued importing photos and reading the paper, packing up. Super Shuttle to airport. Read the paper on AT&T 4G, but after spending my Vodafone quota of £42.50, I couldn’t use wi-fi at SFO even with an iPhone. Bottle of Tequila landed in my lap, then LHR as grey as ever – despite my trip coinciding with a heat wave in the UK.

Lost & found

Lost: cap, tripod plate

Found: lens cap

Broken: electric toothbrush head, razor head

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