Ray and Jean's 2004 Vacation

Our vacation got off to a rather shaky start, as there was a small fire airside at London Gatwick South Terminal whilst we were passing through there on our way to our departure gate. After an anxious 20 minutes of evacuation (anxious only because of missing the flight slot, then our connection), all was well and we made our flight to Newark.

We had not flown into Newark before and it is not an experience we want to repeat any time soon. We had an unscheduled diversion to the Immigration Department and a further delay, as they claimed that Jean had not left the USA in 1996! This was a bit strange, having just flown in, but it seems that our departure slip from our visitors' visa had not been entered onto the relevant computer. Don't know why it didn't show up in 2002, but apparently there's been a lot of record updating lately.

Together with several warnings (threats, actually) about unlocking suitcases or they would be broken open, we didn't really expect to see our luggage in one piece again, but it was at McCarron Airport to meet us when we landed in Las Vegas on Saturday, May 22nd. We heard that American Airlines was preparing to require its international customers to report to check-in six hours prior to take-off and if that is the case and other airlines follow, I don't think we'll be making another trip across the Atlantic, at least not by aircraft. Sure, we understand about heightened security, but there are better ways to handle it than those we saw on this trip.

Las Vegas has changed since our last visit, again something we anticipated, but the amount of construction is really amazing. Everywhere you look something new is being built. Caesar's Palace is about two blocks wide now, with a new mall opening in the Autumn. A lot of buildings have been refurbished, but the new builds on the outskirts will increase the size of the downtown even further. I hope it all works out OK.

We did miss the atmosphere in the casinos, which is vastly reduced now thanks to the use of bar-coded tickets as payout and mostly bills only in the slots. No more the clanking of handles and the rattle of coins being paid out that - for us at least - epitomised the whole brash nature of the town.

We were booked to see Celine Dion at Caesar's Palace, but she cancelled at short notice (just before we left the UK), so Jean was disappointed as she was really looking forward to it. We did see a show, but at such short notice it was not quite the same. I picked up a car on Monday May 24th. and we set off for the ocean, reaching Carpinteria (CA) by the evening, not forgetting to wave as we passed close to Thousand Oaks (hi, JR and Bruce!). (Mileage 355)

The following day we had a leisurely drive up the 101 through Santa Barbara (some light shopping), Los Alamos, Santa Maria and arrived at San Luis Obispo in the early evening. We stayed at the Apple Farm, following a recommendation received from a Forum member, Bruce. It was a delightful venue, with very attentive staff and excellent food. The room we had was not large, but very pleasant. I spoke to JR on the telephone in the evening. (Mileage 120)
We spent the Wednesday visiting the local area, including the Mission and the San Luis Obispo County Historical Society Museum, where we had a pleasant half-hour's conversation with the Curator. We stayed at Apple Farm again, as we were very comfortable there and made a reservation to visit Hearst Castle the next day. (Mileage 88)
After a delicious and hearty breakfast, we set off along Highway One for Hearst Castle. We took the "Experience Tour" recommended for first-time visitors and we had a great visit. The only drawback was the heavy mist overhanging the castle throughout, but that did not detract from the splendour of the place - really over the top, but awesome in spite of that, as some of these pictures may show.

Outdoor pool, built three times until it was how WRH wanted it. 102 feet long, 90 feet wide at widest point.

One of the three "guest cottages" has this sort of detail in the decor, giving it a really Mediterranean feel

Guest cottage bedroom

Guest cottage bedroom

WHR's private apartment balcony

The Assembly Room for pre-dinner drinks

The indoor pool

One of WRH's Dodge fire trucks

The diving platform

One of the many commissioned marble statues

The ornate entrance door

One of the many fountains
After watching an excellent movie about the castle, we set off again up Highway One, reaching Carmel by early evening. The weather was still fairly gloomy and overcast, but pleasantly warm. We stayed in a small but friendly hotel, complete with a huge Main Coon cat called "Mr. Taffy," who monopolised a sofa in the reception area. (Mileage 212)
On Friday May 28th. we set off again along Highway One and had lunch at Sausalito, after crossing the Golden Gate Bridge.
Our plan was to visit Sacremento, but when we reached the city, the traffic and road system were so frustrating that we abandoned the idea and went on to Lake Tahoe, arriving late in the evening and not expecting to find much in the way of accommodation as it was Memorial Weekend. However, we called in at the Inn by the Lake, which Jean had seen on the Internet and managed to get a room with a lake view. (Mileage 361)
We spent the next day driving around the lake and there certainly are some spectacular views and some really spectacular homes alongside the water, many well in excess of a million dollars. We found a very pleasant stop for lunch and returned to the Inn by the Lake for a second night. We decided to go into town for the evening, but the lack of restaurants meant that we finished up in a large casino - the busiest casino we had ever seen. After a reasonable meal, we watched a local singer for about an hour, then sauntered back to bed. (Mileage 104)
The morning of Sunday May 30th. saw us setting off for Fresno, via Carson City and Yosemite National Park. Some spectacular mountain views along the way, plus the bonus of Mono Lake made this section very scenic and enjoyable. (Mileage 283)
On the 395 between Carson City and Bridgeport

Mono Lake

Ellery Lake, elevation 9,538 feet
On Monday May 31st. we headed for the Sequoia National Forest. The weather was really hot now and the holiday traffic fairly light compared with what we were expecting. We arrived at the Park and it wasn't long before we were craning our necks to look at the massively impressive trees. The General Sherman Tree is estimated to be between 2,300 and 2,700 years old and is the largest living thing on the planet. It is 250 feet tall, 36.5 feet across at the base, has a trunk volume of 52,500 cubic feet and weighs an estimated 1,385 tons. What you don't get from the picture is the wonderful smell, which permeates through the forest.
The General Sherman Sequoia

The comparatively sparse foliage

Jean with two more giant Sequoias

A section of a fallen tree

Detail of the very close growth rings
We had a great visit, apart from forgetting to take lunch with us! Although the signs say that you can't buy gas in the Park, there is a new facility that sells gas now. The accompanying shop has drinks, but the food is limited to crisps and doughnuts. We were very glad to eat once we got on the road again, finally stopping for the night at Tulare, where it was 104 degrees. (Mileage 175)

On Tuesday, June 1st. we set off for the ocean again, took a walk along Venice Beach, then cruised around to find an overnight stop. Something went a little pear-shaped with our plans and we ended up at Palmdale. (Mileage 309)


A cooling walk on Venice Beach

The local wild life
The penultimate day was a leisurely run back to Las Vegas (Mileage 256). The Lincoln we rented performed faultlessly throughout. We used 104 (US) gallons of fuel and covered 2,263 miles, an average consumption of 21.75 miles per US gallon (27.93 miles per UK gallon), which is great for a car of that size and with the aircon going practically all the time. The Las Vegas rental company (Dollar) called it the "Queen Mary" but we loved it!

Lincoln "Signature" Town Car

Jean drove too!

A final day was spent resting by the pool as the Las Vegas temperature rose to 107 degrees. We had to rise at 05.45 on Friday June 4th. in order to be at the airport for 07.00 to check in for the 09.00 flight to Newark (NJ), a good flight with ample change-over time for us to connect with our return flight from Newark to London Gatwick (on a 777). We returned home tired but happy, putting the key in the lock at 09.30 local time Saturday, June 5th. Another successful vacation with some very memorable visits.

A hark back to our 2000 USA Vacation is here