A picture is worth a thousand words

Around the world USA West Coast Part 1

Day 7 to 24: Seattle, San Francisco, Yosemite, Death Valley, and Las Vegas

Part I > Part II > Part III > Part IV > Part V

U.S. border

On the way from Vancouver by Greyhound bus, we reach the border to the United States of America after about an hour of driving. The procedure to enter the country is neither very complicated nor does it take too long. The online preregistered ESTA visa may not even be required when entering the country by land, but it certainly won't do any harm either.
United States Port Of Entry Blaine, Washington
We are on the bus with about ten other passengers, who one by one go to the border officials, who seem not to be very busy:
"What's your profession?" "I'm a software developer." "So, you are working for Victoria Secrets, because it is soft-ware, isn't it?"
- Border officer
Well, after passport control and some more small-talk about the further travel route, we are relieved by 12 Dollars for an I94-W form. A brief baggage check and less than 30 minutes later the bus goes off to Bellingham City.


In contrast to entering the U.S., getting to the car rental location is more difficult. We first take two public buses to the Quality Inn Grand Suites Bellingham Hotel. On the next day, we take another bus and after a 30 minutes walk with full luggage we arrive at the El Monte RV location in Ferndale. We have booked this relocation one week before from Vancouver.


Relocation means: We have to transfer a Recreational Vehicle from Ferndale to San Francisco within 4 days. That costs us 1 Dollar per day only, insurance, and 1100 miles (1770 km) included. The vehicle length can be between 22 and 37 feet (6,7m and 11,2 m) and supposedly European B-driver's license conform.
As it turns out, the RV will be a 33 feet long (more than 10 meters) and 14 feet high (more than 4 meters) motorhome with toilet, shower, kitchen, refrigerator, microwave, and TV:
"That usually fits eight persons!"
- Receptionist
However, after some miles of practicing and a few rules to be considered, this heavy vehicle is quite reasonable to drive.


In general, the route should be planned accordingly (e.g. no low bridges!) Driving in advance is advisable because turning around, parking, and maneuvering has to be well thought out (luckily there is space and much is designed for these big vehicles) When reversing, it is advisable to secure yourself with the help of another person In tighter curves (e.g. at crossroads) it is advisable to swing out wide Leave plenty of space to the rear when changing lanes Driving slowly has proved to be a good idea (not only because of the enormous fuel consumption)
Relocation Vehicle


Starting from El Monte RV, the first driving of about 4 hours to the suburbs of Seattle goes quite well. We spend the night at the Trailer Inns RV Park of Bellevue for 46 Dollars. That is not a super cheap deal for a self-catering motorhome, however, on the other hand, electricity, swimming pool, and sauna are included.
Seattle Space Needle
We decide to stay there for one more night and drive towards San Francisco the following day. So, today we take the public express bus to Seattle downtown and walk from the Space Needle, along the ocean to Pike Market, where the world's first Starbucks opened in 1971.
On the next day, we should be driving more miles, to return the RV on the agreed return date in time. We slide in the side components of the motorhome, which are used to extend the interior living space. Then we disconnect electricity and drive back to the highway, on Interstate 5 to the south.


We stay overnight at one of the rest areas along the highway, some of them offer free coffee during the day. The next morning we leave early and reach California in the afternoon. We need to refuel for 130 Dollars, the enormous consumption is most probably caused by weight, distance, and many uphill passages. Before we are going to return the RV on the following day we will fuel up again for roughly the same amount.


From a financial point of view, it is by no means super cheap. Fuel for 260 EUR, two overnight stays for 90 EUR and grocery expenses for 50 EUR. 4 days, 2 persons results in a total amount of roughly 50 EUR per person per day. On the other hand, we would not have been able to get this cheaper when renting a car, paying for motels and food for 4 days. And don't forget the experience!
After another overnight stay at a rest area, we return the RV near San Francisco, in Dublin. 50 minutes later with the train to downtown and then another public bus, we arrive at our home for the next week. We contacted our host family a few days ago, they are longtime friends of the family and super hospitable.
We will spend the upcoming days with relaxing, sleeping, laundry, and nice evenings with good food and wine. And of course sightseeing: Twin Peaks, Chrissi Field Beach and with rented bikes over the Golden Gate Bridge. Painted Ladies, Ferry Building, and to the 61st floor of the Salesforce Tower. Lombard Street, classic Cable Car, and to the sea lions at Pier 39. Fisherman's Wharf, Market Street, and with the ferry to the former prison island Alcatraz.
View from Twin Peaks to San Francisco skyline
Golden Gate Bridge from Crissy Field Beach
View from Salesforce Tower

Hit the road

After five days at a permanent home, today we're going back on the road for the next two weeks! Fortunately, our booked compact car will be upgraded to a mid-size car. We leave San Francisco behind and head south on Pacific Coast Highway 1. After checking out some motels we finally spend the night at the Bayside Inn in Monterey.
There is a little fee to be paid driving down the 17 Miles Drive on the next day, however, it will be rewarded with many stops and great views, for example
  • Point Joe
  • Bird Rock
  • The Lone Cypress
  • Pescadero Point Ghost Tree
Bird Rock
Further south, Highway 1, known as Big Sur, leads along the coast to countless highlights, such as
Bixby Canyon Bridge
Overnight in San Simeon at the Silver Surf Motel. On the following day, we will continue to Yosemite National Park, where we booked an Airbnb for two nights in Oakhurst. On the way we need to refuel the car:


We pay in cash, as some gas stations charge a lower price compared to credit card payments.
El Capitan and Half Dome in Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

During the winter season, it is mandatory to bring snow chains to Yosemite National Park, even if it isn't necessary to put them on. So we get them from the retailer shop Autozone in advance. There is probably no control over the obligation to carry chains and guessing many visitors simply don't know it, but just in case.


Especially since Autozone offers a 100% money-back guarantee if the snow chains are returned unopened with the invoice. What an excellent service!
At the entrance, we buy the America the Beautiful Annual Pass for 80 Dollars, which is valid per car for a full year in most national parks. Just to compare: a single entry ticket is about 35 Dollars. And then we are ready to start the Mariposa Grove Trail. A highlight is the California Tunnel Tree. As the name suggests, it is so big that we can easily walk through it. Since the way by car to the beginning of the trail is closed during the winter season, the whole hike there and back is about 3 hours.
We continue by car, passing by Bridalveil Fall, through a tunnel with spectacular views of El Capitan and Half Dome, and then to the Visitor Center. Here we can park our car and walk a short distance to Yosemite Falls. We leave the car and change to the free shuttle bus. After a short drive, we hike to Mirror Lake. When the weather is nice, the surrounding mountains are wonderfully reflected in the water! For the last stop of the day, we take the shuttle bus again. The impressive Ahwahnee Hotel can also be visited inside and has already hosted great guests like Barack Obama.

Trona Pinnacles

The next morning brings another day of travel: we will head towards Death Valley National Park. Near Ridgecrest, in Inyokern, we find the inexpensive Mayfair Motel.
Thanks to the tourist information office, we go to the Trona Pinnacles in the evening. These are absolutely worth seeing! The journey, however, is less. Since the sand road is supposed to be passable without four-wheel drive, we follow a signposting and turn sideways into the dunes. The road, which is actually still somewhat drivable at the beginning, ends in front of a bigger ditch, at least for our Toyota Camry with its low front spoiler. We decide to turn back from here. As it turns out, this is a good decision as the main access road is not far away. We also drive on sand and over potholes, but in fact, it is well passable. The impressive Trona Pinnacles reward us for the driving, they have been the location of many films and a recently released music video by Lady Gaga.


Free camping is explicitly allowed here, there is even a little vault toilet.
Sand road to Trona Pinnacles

Death Valley National Park

Today we drive through the huge Death Valley National Park, which is one of the hottest places in the world with the record for the highest ever measured air temperature:
"The world record highest air temperature of 134°F (57°C) was recorded at Furnace Creek on July 10, 1913."
Infinity road to Death Valley
At one of the visitor centers, we get an authorization card to drive through the national park, because coming from the west we do not pass an entrance gate to check our annual pass, as usual.
The first stop leads us to the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. Since it is low season now, the heat on a summer day in high season can only be guessed. Nevertheless, it is still hot enough to better take enough drinking water and sun protection when climbing the dunes.
Suitably to Death Valley, there is also a Ghost Town here. We always wanted to see one! So we drive to Rhyolite, which after 1904 became a bigger town with a bank, school, power station, stores, and hotels during the gold rush. However, just as quickly as the soaring of today's Ghost Town was over again, the sightseeing felt like it for us as well. There are still some remains of the buildings of that time, but considering the long drive into the mountains, we don't want to necessarily consider it disappointing but at least unspectacular.
Rhyolite Ghost Town
So we go all the way back and on the Artist's Drive to the Artist Palette, a very colorful rock formation.
Having been to the hottest place in the world, we also want to see the lowest point of North America: The Badwater Basin is 86 meters (282 feet) below sea level and impresses with its surreal landscape of hexagonal-shaped salt flats. Depending on the amount of rain, shallow lakes form, in which the surrounding mountain landscapes are reflected beautifully at dusk. Shortly after sunset, a strong wind suddenly comes up, which accompanies us for the 20 minutes walk back to the car as darkness sets in.
Badwater Basin
Later on, heavy rain starts while we are looking for accommodation. The first motel, which we reach after about a 40 minutes drive, is already closed. There are not too many options at this time, fortunately, we remember the advertisement on the back of Death Valley Magazine. For 49 Dollars a night at the Pahrump Nugget Hotel and Casino, we also accept another hour of driving.

Las Vegas

From our accommodation, we arrive in Las Vegas in about one hour the next day. We have booked a very elegant, almost decadent Airbnb about 30 minutes' drive from the Las Vegas Strip for two nights. Our room neighbors, a young couple from Chile, will introduce us to their national drink Pisco Sour in the evening.
Today we're going on the Strip! We can park our rental car for free in the Fashion Show Mall. We walk along the Strip, passing Venice with its canals and Rome with Trevi Fountain, then to Paris and the Eiffel Tower, further to New York City with Empire State Building all the way to the Egyptian pyramids. It feels like a huge artificial city. Whoever wants can celebrate an artificial wedding in artificial Paris but at real prices!
Our expenses amount to 17 Dollars, which we gamble away at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino in less than 17 minutes. On the other hand, we can watch the fountain choreography in front of it for free. And later the volcanic eruption in front of The Mirage Hotel.

The Corona pandemic

Until here, COVID-19 was not that present, however, we are getting more and more news of the Coronavirus crisis in Europe from the media, family, and friends. They are reporting about restrictions, curfews, flight cancellations, and border closures. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will call on people willing to return home to make use of the still available return flight options. However, we do not consider ourselves among those willing to return, since we had planned a six-month absence anyway. Nevertheless, we will register at the Foreign Ministry.
Here in the U.S., we do not yet notice much of these restrictions, but we will nevertheless be concerned about our onward travel. At the moment, we decide to stay in the U.S. and trying to observe further developments.
We notice the first signs of the Coronavirus crisis in Las Vegas at an Apple store, that was closed temporarily, because of Corona. Since we hear about curfews in Europe and expect that these could probably soon apply in the U.S. as well, we will literally apply for asylum at our host family in San Francisco. Thanks to their help and hospitality, we would not have to immediately fly back home in case of quarantine or curfew. We would contact the rental car company to ask for returning the car to San Francisco and not Los Angeles, as it was planned initially.
A few days later we will hear that the casinos in Las Vegas and therefore practically the whole city have been closed down...

Points of Interest

Click the map to see all the mentioned Points of Interest:

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