The American West

The aim of the journey was to visit in the American West and more particularly the National Parks. This individual trip organized in France was a loop from San Francisco. The means of transportation was a car rented at the airport and returned four weeks later before returning to France.

The trip took place in 1991, from July 31 to August 27.

The report is in six tables. The general comments are given by the USA presentation.

San Francisco

Golden gate bridge

San Francisco

San Francisco

San Francisco

Approach: The Continental Airline flight took 17 hours from Paris to San Francisco with a 3-hour stop in New York. It took off at 11:15 am in Paris and landed at 4:23 am (Paris time) at the international airport of San Francisco. At that time, American immigration controls were easy. And so was the renting of the car from Alamo company, the reservation had been made in France. The hotel was located downtown. It took only two hours since the landing.

San Francisco: The city and its surroundings were visited twice : two days at the beginning of the stay and at the end of the tour loop before returning to France.
The city was visited very briefly in 1985 at the time of a business trip.
The first contact showed an easy motor vehicle traffic but difficult parking downtown. The first day of visit was devoted to the tour "scenic drive" which enabled us to visit the main monuments: California Palace of the Legion, Veterans Building, Museum of Modern Art, Civic Centre, Union Square...

Beyond the "Golden Gate bridge": The second day, we crossed over the bridge spanning the estuary to discover the north of the bay. Our first stop was to explore Sausalito, the village of trendy residences where artists find a haven of peace. Then we headed for to Muir Forest where we admired the giant sequoias dating back to several centuries before our era. John Muir is considered, with President Roosevelt, as the inventor of American National Parks.
Road 101 led us from Sonoma to the Napa Valley whose high-quality wines cause concern to French wine growers. The visit of the Domaine Chandon was an example of technology transfer from France to the USA.
The return was made over the gigantic Bay Bridge. The day was completed by the visit of Embacadero and Mission Dolores which was the first district of Frisco in 1776.

Driving from Yosemite Park: We went to Berkeley where we visited the campus. We drove along the road to the port then we moved to the Castro, Nob Hill, SoMa - South Market -, and Fisherman' S Warf districts. We attended the projection of the film "San Francisco Experience", a picture wall by several tens of slide projectors.

The last day: The morning was a long walk in downtown, Chinatown, the visit of the "Cable Bus" Museum and Union Square. The afternoon was dedicated to the Asia Museum and the Haight-Ashbury district

San Francisco is the most extravagant city in the USA, because of its localization on a peninsula 50 km long, its steep streets offering an exceptional sight on the bay, its typical districts like Mission and Castro.
Though turned to the Pacific Ocean and Asia, it may be the most European of American cities.

The American West Coast

Approach: The circuit started on the road from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

High-Tech Valleys: Road 82 carried us to San Jose then to the Campus of Stanford university. The Silicon Valley is the land of, "Money Makers". Road 101 led us as far as Monterey. The city is an important fishing harbour with canneries.



Scenic drive: From Monterey to San Luis Obispo, we followed the coastal road between the sea and the Santa Lucia Range passing through the town of Carmel, where we visited H. Milller's house then the escarpments of Big Sur, by the 17-mile toll road, a private property. The landscape looks like the French Breton coasts.



Hearst Castle: To visit the site, it was advisable to phone to reserve for an organized tour. This building is a megalomaniac dream of a newspaper tycoon in search of his roots. It was used primarily for sumptuous receptions and the shooting of the film "Citizen Kane" with Orson Welles. The construction started in 1919. The main buildings are: Casa Grande, The Gardens of La Cuesta Encantada, Neptune Pool and the Main House. The most extravagant is "The refectory" which recalls the extravagances of Ludwig II of Bavaria.



Scenic drive

Hearst castle

American roads have no interest, they are monotonous long straight lines crossing villages scattered among vast sceneries. Something happened to me:
I was stopped by the police because I was on a right turn lane. Unfortunately I continued straight on because such was my destination, I thus crossed a continuous white line. A police officer in his car caught me with revolving light and sirens. A tall police officer got out of his car. I thought I was going to get a ticket. But he was magnanimous for a "Frenchie".

Los Angeles


Los Angeles

Universal Studio

J. Paul Getty

Approach: The way from San Luis Obispo to Los Angeles is fwy 101 (freeway). The first part as far as Santa Barbara had little interest. From there, the coastal road runs through cities which American series made famous - soap operas- Indeed the landscape is splendid. Cliffs and beaches look like "a Californian Mediterranean coast".

Santa Barbara: The most artificial of the coastal cities has a "Mission" in a pretty park. The construction dates back to 1786. The church is remarkable with its two bell-towers on both sides of a facade of pre-Christian Roman temple style.
Ventura: The city is also a "Mission" San Benaventura dating back to 1782.
Malibu: It is one of the rare unpolluted beaches, due to the TV series.
Venice Beach: The beach is the privileged place of body-builders with oiled muscles.

All these cities are truer than the TV series. Except for beach sport fans, their only interest is to be a microcosm representative of the American dream.

Los Angeles: Driving into the city was not fun because of the dense network of roads and streets. We looked for an hotel on foot! We discovered it around 6 p.m.. Its swimming pool was welcome.
Two days were devoted to visiting about fifty districts in search of their identity.

The highlights of the first day were:
- The morning spent at the "Universal Studios" to see movie sets and special effects.
- The Griffith Park and the observatory made famous by James Dean's film -Rebel Without a Cause-.
- The Stack - stacking of motorways -, Bayle Heights -the Mexican district- and a detour to Hard Rock Cafe.


The second day was devoted to:
- The J Paul Getty museum located outside LA at the "17985 Pacific Coast Highway". The building is the reconstitution of an ancient Roman villa - Villa dei Papiri- of the 1st century of our era, decorated with gardens. The collections are remarkable.
- The visit of the Watts District which had been in the news a few years before.
- In the later afternoon, Beverly Hill -its sumptuous villas- and Sunset Bld -its pavement-.

Road 101 from Sonoma to San Diego is the road of the "Missions". "El Camino Real" has still 21 "Missions" representative of the Spanish ecclesiastical art from 1769 to 1823. Some of them are genuine museums in exceptional gardens. Their visit requires an effort of imagination to replace them in the context of the Spanish conquest.

The parks I

Approach: From LA, we visited Disney World -Magic Kingdom-. Some attractions are interesting. In particular a film about China projected by nine cameras. Then, to reach our first stage, we had to drive more than 320 miles on a monotonous and endless road. It was our quotient, we drove approximately 3,900 miles to reach Frisco, the end of our trip.

The sites visited are mentioned chronologically:

-The Petrified forest: The Petrified Forest National Park is part of the Painted Desert National Historic Landmark . Like all American parks, it is very didactic. The tree fossils and the colours of the desert are a visual enchantment.
- The Grand Canyon: The first contact took place around 6 p.m., the sight was exceptional, imposing. One day of visit was occupied by an overflight by helicopter, it was my birthday, and by a walk on the Canyon Rim Nature Trail , western and eastern side.
-National Navajo Monument: At Page, we visited the Marina and made a boat tour on Powell Lake to admire Rainbow bridge. Then, we drove towards the park, an Indian reservation, and the village Anasazi Betatakin, hidden under a rock vault.


-Monument Valley: Needless to describe the park so many films have been shot there. The tour, on a dirt road between the "monuments", is strictly controlled, it is impossible to get out of the way. Each monument bears a name. The spectacle is unforgettable.


-Natural Bridges: The park has the most beautiful bridges dug by rivers in a very old rock.
-Blanding: The city of the Mormons is located in Utah.
-Hovenweep: This small park has "Pueblo" ruins in a valley located in a desert.
-Canyon of Chelly: This canyon has human size unlike its prestigious neighbours. It is narrow and the river waters sheep pastures. The walk on the "White house trail" allowed to visit troglodyte houses dug in cliffs.


Grand Canyon

Monument Valley

Natural Bridges

American National Parks are managed by the National Park Service -NPS- which delivers a "pass" for seven consecutive days or for a year. The organization is remarkable for the documentation available as well as for the supervision. Rangers are kind, but inflexible on the respect of rules and the cleanliness of the sites.
The speed limit is 65 ml/h on highways, but powerful trucks run at much higher speed. Truck men use CB's to avoid controls. On the road, a truck passed us and the tread of one of its back tires came off and flow over the top of our car!

The parks II

Mesa Verde


Arches National Park

Brice Canyon

Approach: Road 160 to Mesa Verde crosses "the Four Corners", rectangular border of four States: Colorado, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico.

The most amazing sites are mentioned chronologically:

-Mesa Verde: The park has hundreds of houses built by Anasazi Indians between the 6th and the 12th century. The city was a large metropolis with an estimate of +5,000 inhabitants. The park is the place elected by the Mesa Verde Fish Hook Cactus.

From Moab, the trip followed the septentrional bank of the Colorado river westwards.

-Canyonland: One of the vastest parks of the area. The park is an ecosystem, the soil consists of micro-organisms and macro-organisms which develop with the first drops of rain into sumptuous plants. The ground of the desert is a "cryptobiotic soil".
-Dead horses point is the most exceptional point of view on Canyonland, the spectacle is an enchantment colours, a horizontal stratification of various nuances of ochre.


-Arches National Park: It has approximately 1,500 arches. The most dramatic are: Window, Devil, Delicate.
-Capitol reef: The long park is immense. The "scenic drive" allows to admire the Egyption Temple and the Golden Throne.


-Brice canyon: The monuments of the park are among the most delicately engraved by nature. The colours under a low angle light, at sunrise as well as at sunset, are exceptional. The walks on the Navojo Loop Trail and Peekaboo Trail are an enchantment.
Our lodge looked south on to the park.
-National Zion Park: The name is an old Hebrew word meaning : refuge, sanctuary. The way follows the river and from "the Temple of Sinawava", it is necessary to walk in the water!

In the terminology of American parks, an "Arch" has been excavated by wind erosion, and a "Bridge" has been dug by water erosion.
The Anasazi Indians left rupestral engravings on the rocks and cliffs: Petroglyphs, by removing part of the rock with "chisels" and Pictographs, by applying pigments to the rock. Everywhere in the world, old civilizations marked their passage with rupestral art in the Andes, the Sahara and elsewhere.

The parks III

Approach: After a one half-day visit of National Zion Park, we headed for Las Vegas where we arrived around 4 p.m..

Las Vegas: Everything has been said about it. It is disproportion, ate, excessive and represents American's components: business, dream, escape. Its reputation is well deserved and efforts are made to pick up new markets, families with children!
The centre of games and pleasures is on the "Strip", Las Vegas bld. Buildings are extravagant beyond imagination!

The astonishing sites are mentioned chronologically:

-Death Valley National Park: The valley deserves its name which comes from the many "pioneers" who died during the conquest of the west. The panorama from Dantes View, +1,669 m high, to Badwater, -86m deep, is among the most dazzling. In the background of the Devil's Golf Course, the perpetual snows of Mount Whitney magnificently contrast with "the Artists Palette", an amphitheatre of all colours. Many one-way roads allow visitors to drive from one point to another.
Our evening stage was at Furnace Creek Ranch.
-National Yosemite Park: This park close to San Francisco is the paradise of hikers and family holidays. It is located in the Sierra Nevada with summits +4.000m high. The park is famous for its waterfalls. Two days were spent walking on Vernal & Nevada Fall Trails. These walks were an absolute delight.


On the road to Frisco: The stay in the American West was drawing to a close. We took again the road to San Francisco whose visit was described with that at beginning of the stay.

-Jamestown, Railtown 1897 State Historic Park: It is America's last authentic roundhouse. The locomotives and cars have appeared in over 200 films.
-Sonora: Founded by Mexican miners, the city was the biggest, richest and roughest of the cities exploiting California's gold.
-Columbia State Historic Park: The gold rush to Columbia began in March 1850. The park has the best preserved gold rush town in all California.

Las Vegas

Death Valley

Yosemite National Park

Columbia State Historic Park

The visit of the National Parks was the discovery of the exceptional nature of the north American continent.
Let us be grateful to the American people for taking the right measures to preserve these natural beauties very early.
About the cities, I will particularly remember San Francisco and the "Missions" on road 101.

The return to France was made by a Continental Airline flight via New York.

Neuilly, le 2004/02/22