Frontier Founder, Sandra Potter, looks back on one of her favourite US Holidays.
I have had so many great journeys around the USA but one of my all-time favourites was the drive I took with my son from Las Vegas to Los Angeles. Why was it so memorable? I think the sheer variety of the countryside and the joy of driving on mostly empty and straight roads.
It started brilliantly! After a couple of days at The Venetian enjoying the bright lights, shows and food of Las Vegas, we went to collect our car. I had reserved a standard convertible but when I got to the desk, they offered me a Mustang for a mere $45 extra. What a treat and, of course, I said, oh yes please.
So, full of excitement, we headed off to Death Valley. I was slightly concerned that we would get sunburn and spoil the rest of the trip, so sadly kept the roof up. I was pleased I had since the temperature was just over 100 degrees so the air conditioning had to work overtime. Death Valley itself is an extraordinary place. I knew that it is the hottest, driest, and lowest national park in the United States but was surprised by the variety of the landscape. I had expected the salt flats and sand dunes but had not thought about the mountain ranges. Death Valley ranges from 282 feel below sea level to 11,049 above! We loved the shapes of the iconic Joshua tree and the colours but decided that hiking was not for us and jumped back into the cool of the car.
I mentioned variety: from the heat of Death Valley we drove north past Mammoth Lakes towards the cool of Yosemite. I had chosen to drive route 120 which is only open for a short period during the summer but is absolutely gorgeous. With the roof down, we passed Mount Dana, crossed the Tuoline Meadows, through the Yosemite Valley to the Redwoods in Yosemite where I had booked us a two-bedroom cabin. There are lots of excellent lodges around the park, but I had chosen this because I love the cabin life and it was nice to have our own sitting room, outside deck and kitchen. We spent three days exploring the park including a visit to the Ansel Adams Gallery, quite a lot of walking and we also took one of the free guided nature walks to the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. I had wanted to take one of the photography walks but unfortunately, they were fully booked. Note to self: prebook next time. The Ansel Adams gallery also offers multi-day photography workshops which I would love to do next time too. They do cost money but would be amazing for a keen photographer.
Yosemite National Park (/joʊˈsɛmɨtiː/ yoh-sem-it-ee) is a United States National Park spanning eastern portions of Tuolumne, Mariposa and Madera counties in the central eastern portion of the U.S. state of California. The park, which is managed by the National Park Service, covers an area of 761,268 acres (3,080.74 km2) and reaches across the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountain chain. Over 3.7 million people visit Yosemite each year:most spend their time in the seven square miles (18 km2) of Yosemite Valley. Designated a World Heritage Site in 1984, Yosemite is internationally recognized for its spectacular granite cliffs, waterfalls, clear streams, Giant Sequoia groves, and biological diversity. Almost 95% of the park is designated wilderness. Yosemite was central to the development of the national park idea. First, Galen Clark and others lobbied to protect Yosemite Valley from development, ultimately leading to President Abraham Lincoln signing the Yosemite Grant in 1864. Later, John Muir led a successful movement to establish a larger national park encompassing not just the valley, but surrounding mountains and forests as well – paving the way for the United States national park system.
Leaving Yosemite behind us, we decided that we should visit the capital of California, Sacramento. I did not know much about the city and was delighted to find restored buildings from the Gold Rush era, the Sutter’s Fort Historic Park, an 1839 agricultural colony, and the impressive California State Capitol where we had a free guided tour. From Sacramento, we drove to Tiburon where I had chosen to stay rather in San Francisco as it is quieter and less expensive than the city. We stayed at the delightful Water’s Edge which is next door to the ferry to San Francisco. We enjoyed the ferry ride across but also spent some time exploring pretty Sausalito and the Golden Gate National Recreation Centre. I have to say that I was a bit regretful that I had not chosen the Cavallo Point Lodge, I did look around it and loved the Colonial Revival character, beautifully restored and glorious views over Golden Gate bridge. Another thing for next time!
Leaving San Francisco, was the part of the journey I had looked forward to most. We took the slow Highway 1 which hugs the coast all the way. It certainly lived up to the hype. We were lucky enough to have brilliant weather, so with the roof down, we visited Monterey, drove the 17 Mile Drive ogling the famous golf courses, mansions and such well known sights at the Bird Rock and Lone Cypress to Carmel where we spent a night at the Relais & Chateaux Auberge. After a lazy morning, we drove on down Highway 1, (also known as the Pacific Highway) stopped for lunch at the renowned Post Ranch Inn (amazing) and then many, many photo stops as we passed Big Sur and the Bixby Bridge getting to San Simeon rather later than intended but the Avila Village Inn welcomed us in. I was intrigued to visit Hearst Castle – what a place. Not only are the buildings extraordinary, but the size (165 rooms) and gardens (123 acres) and quantity and quality of the artwork are amazing. We spent much longer here (we took the Grand Rooms Tour) than I anticipated and so arrived rather late (again) into Santa Barbara. We spent a couple of days here enjoying the relaxed vibe and the wine tour into Santa Ynez.
NB. However long you have, you will probably wish you had more.