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North America 6: California to Wyoming August 15-27, 2018

Posted by on August 22, 2018

From San Francisco to Yellowstone National Park August 15 – 27, 2018

Old Faithful Geyser (right), Yellowstone National Park

Trip Plan

The Yellowstone National Park, the world’s first national park established in 1872 with an area of 8,983 km2 and known for its geothermal features, has always been on my list. I make a stop-over in San Francisco on my way back to Hong Kong in order to visit the park. I prefer a camping and hiking trip but my recent hip problem rules this out. Without a driving buddy, I have no choice but join a coach tour. I end up joining a 7-day tour which would travel through seven states (California, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, South Dakoda, Montana and Idaho) covering some 2,600 miles (about 5,800km) in seven days. It is a mad rush.

August 15 Wednesday: Edmonton, Canada – San Francisco, USA

My flight to San Francisco (SF) would depart after 4 pm.  I had a morning exploring Edmonton, the capital of Alberta, on foot. Though I did not go to bed after 4 am, I got up shortly before 8 am. After a light breakfast, I went out with a map in hand.

The city is small with a population of over 4 million. It is the primary service and supply hub for the country’s crude oil, the Athabasca oil sands and other primary resource industries. The city is compact and green. But the recent forest fire has brought smog and severe air pollution. As soon as I stepped outside the hotel, I could smell smoke in the air.

My first stop was the Alberta Legislative Building which is surrounded by gardens, fountains and government buildings. I joined a guided tour at 10 am. There were only three visitors and our young guide did a good job. The province with an area of 600,000km2 is named after Princess Louise Caroline Alberta (1848 – 1939), the fourth daughter of Queen Victoria, who married John Campbell, the Governor General of Canada (1878 – 83).

I looked at the portrait gallery on the corridor on the first floor outside the Governor’s office and was pleased to find Norman Kwong (1929 – 2016), son of Chinese immigrants, serving as the 16th Lieutenant Governor of Alberta from January 2005 to May 2010.

Our guide showed us the legislative chamber which is arranged in similar way as the British Parliament. I left at 10:4 am before the end of the tour as I wished to explore the city centre before returning to the hotel by noon.

I had an enjoyable stroll following Jasper Avenue, then 100 Street before arriving at the Sir Winston Churchill Square. I stopped now and then to read the description about historical buildings, most of which are well-preserved.

The square has been turned into an arts district with an art gallery, a theatre, a centre for music and a library under construction. I like to visit the art gallery. But time did not permit. I took an airport shuttle from the hotel shortly after 12:30 pm (CAD$18) and had a comfortable ride to the airport.

The airport is new and modern. Visitors to the US are cleared at the airport by the US Homeland Security. After checking my passport, the officer told me to go into a waiting room and passed my passport to another officer in the office.  I have a 10-year visa that would expire this October and should have no problem.  But one never knows what the American think and would do these days. I waited for about ten minutes before the officer told me to leave. What’s the problem? I wonder!

The Edmonton airport is not busy and I hoped to stay in a lounge with my Priority Pass. But according to the information posted outside the lounge, it only opens between 5 and 10 am. Who would use the lounge at that time of the day?

I had a pleasant flight and landed at the San Francisco airport after 6 pm. I intended to take the Super Shuttle ($18) to Post Street in the downtown. As I had not booked online, I was told to wait 90 minutes. Hence, I decided to take the BART train (about US$10) instead. The service is efficient.  I got off at Powell Station and walked a couple of blocks to my hostel.  I met a nice young girl from Sweden in the room. I was tired and had pasta in the canteen. I managed to upload the travel notes of the first expedition to my website before going to bed.

August 16 & 17 Thursday & Friday: San Francisco at Leisure

I like SF which I have visited several times. As I had stayed with friends or on business, I never had a chance to explore it by myself.  This time, I would rest, visit a couple of museums, meet up with friends for dinner and to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge.

On August 16, I did not get up till 9 am. With the help of Siu Hong, a social work classmate living in Vancouver, I managed to get in touch through WhatsApp with MK, a schoolmate of 1972 who lives in SF. We would have dinner at R & L Lounge, a popular Chinese restaurant in China Town.

I did not venture out till 11 am. I walked downhill from Post Street to the Asian Art Museum at the Civic Centre. On the way, I saw many eateries from the Middle East, some homeless people and a long queue waiting for free lunch. I would not walk alone in this area in the evening.

First opened in 1966 as a wing of the MH de Young Memorial Museum in Golden Gate Park, the Asian Art Museum was relocated to the Main Library in the Civic Centre. It moved to its present location and reopened in 2003. A new pavilion is under construction. The price of a ticket without special exhibitions is $15. One can also get a two-day flex pass including special exhibitions for $35.

The museum has an outstanding collection of 18,000 works of art and artifacts from all major Asian countries. Some pieces are over 6,000 years old. There are over 20 galleries devoted to the arts of South Asia, Iran, Central Asia, the Himalayas, China, Korea and Japan. I am most impressed by the sculptures from South India and the jade collection from China.

I strolled along the Market Street and arrived around 4 pm at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, one of the world’s largest museum for modern and contemporary art. The entrance fee is at cheap ($25). Established in 1935, the museum has a good collection of modern and contemporary art with over 33,000 works of painting, sculpture, photography, architecture, design and media arts.

There are several exhibitions. I like the spiders of Louise Bourgeois.  The exhibition “Nothing Stable under Heaven” makes a timely political statement. It reflects on the contested past, the turbulent present, and the unpredictable future and examines how the individual and collective voices can be heard.

I spent a long time watching a captivating three-channel video installation “Sublime Seas” by Ghana-born British artist John Akomfrah and JMW Turner.  The video explores the greed and cruelty of the whaling industry, the slave trade, the current refugee crisis etc. The video is most beautifully made.

I can spend a day as there is too much to see. The building is an art work in itself with beautiful green walls and a roof garden. By the time I reached the special exhibition on “Rene Magritte: The Fifth Season” (the entrance fee is $8), it was nearly 6 pm.  Magritte (1898 – 2018) is a Belgium surrealist painter. One needs at least 30-40 minutes for this exhibition. Unlike the Asian Art Museum, it does not offer a flex pass for two days. Owing to my dinner appointment, I had to give it a miss.

On August 17, I took bus 38 to Presidio and boarded bus 28 to the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Centre. This suspension bridge measuring 27.4m wide, 2.7km long and 227.4m high, the icon of SF. It spans the 1.6km-wide Golden Gate strait, connecting the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean and linking SF to the Marin County.

Construction of the bridge started in 1933 and finished in 1937. Irving Morrow was the architect and the engineering design was done by Joseph Strauss and Charles Ellis. Opened on May 27, 1937, it has become the most photographed bridge in the world.

I began the bridge walk in nice weather around 12:30 pm. The orange-coloured bridge span gracefully and elegantly across the strait. Though the views of the bay and the bridge are breath-taking, I find the traffic noise from the six lanes excessive and disturbing. There are also too many bicycles: a pedestrian must be alert to avoid being running over. All in all, I have done the bridge and once is enough.

After the walk, I took bus 28 after 2:30 pm and got off at North Point Street, close to the Fisherman’s Wharf. I enjoyed strolling along the Beach Street where the Maritime Museum is located. Opposite the museum is the Ghirardelli Square. I saw a long queue outside the famous ice cream shop. I love ice cream. Without knowing the portion of a scoop, I paid over $6 for a cone with two scoops. I was surprised when I was given a cone lying sideway on a plastic container. Each scoop is enormous and two cannot pile up in a cone without falling. The American live on consumerism and are used to excessive portions of food which are beyond our daily requirements.

I stopped by the Hyde Street Pier with several old vessels. There were swarms of tourists and countless eateries and shops. This area is too noisy and crowded for me. I jumped on a bus and got off at Union Square. I then took a BART train to Dublin – Pheasanton around 4:30pm. Maria, a secondary school friend from 1973 to 75, picked me up outside the train terminal around 6 pm. We last met in 2013 when she returned to Hong Kong to attend the 40th anniversary of Class 73. We chatted non-stop over dinner. I had Japanese food in Toronto. But the portion here was much bigger. She dropped me off at the Oakland station which is only a few stops from the Powell Station. I was back in the hostel just after 10pm.

7-Day Yellowstone, Grand Teton, My Rushmore and Lake Tahoe

Day 1 August 18 Saturday: San Francisco – Sacramento CA– Elko, ND (540km)

I got up early and walked from the Post Street to the meeting point in Sutter Street. The bus turned up at 8:30 am and Peter, our guide, looked pleasant. The weather was fine and I had excellent views of the city and the bay from the Bay Bridge.  We have 35 tourists for this 7-day coach tour. While the majority are Chinese, we have a delightful group of 11 Filipinos from California.

Our first stop was Sacramento which was founded in 1849 and was at the heart of the gold rush. Today, it is the capital of the state of California (CA), the most populous and richest state with an area of 423,970km2, a population of 40 million and a $2.8 trillion economy. If it were a country, CA would be the fifth largest economy in the world.

We had half an hour to take a quick tour of the State Capitol which serves as both a museum and the state’s working seat of government. Security has stepped up since 9/11. I did not join the long queue and walked around to look at a fair held outside the building. We were back on the bus at 11 am.

Railway line running along Route 80

We followed mainly Interstate 80 (Route 80), an east-west transcontinental highway running from downtown San Francisco to Teaneck, New Jersey. By noon, we crossed into Nevada and had lunch at McDonald. Not a fast food fan, I bought two thighs from a supermarket instead. After taking off the fried skin, I found the meat moist, tender and tasty.

We were back on the road at 1:45 pm. Except of having a toilet break every two hours, we basically spent the whole afternoon on the coach. Luckily the desert scenery changes and is never boring (at least for me). Peter put on a video showing the film “Lalaland” which I have seen. The rail line is next to the highway. I watched half a dozen long freight trains with 50-100 containers or carriages passing by.

We had buffet dinner in a Chinese restaurant (about $10 pp) before going to Super 8 Motel at Elko for the night. It was around 8:30 pm when we checked in. I had a large room with two double beds that are big enough to sleep four. Hence the tour company offers “four for the price of two”. I am travelling alone and have to pay the price for two as well. I was tired and had a decent sleep.

Remark: An uneventful and long day

Day 2 August 19 Sunday: Elko ND – Great Salt Lake, UT – Independence Rock WY – Casper WY (813km)

Today, we had the longest drive of this tour and set off at 7:30 am. We soon crossed into Utah (UT) and drove through the Great Salt Desert in the morning. We had a glimpse of the Bonneville Salt Flats at our first toilet stop of the day. It was a hazy day and the expansive flats on both side of the highway looked dull and boring.

We had a 45-minute break at the Great Salt Lake, the largest lake in the US that is not part of the Great Lakes region. The lake with an area of 4,400km 2 is the largest remnant of Lake Bonneville, a prehistoric pluvial lake. Its size fluctuates substantially due to its shallowness.  Despite its high level of salinity, it provides habitat for millions of native birds, brine shrimp, shorebirds and waterfowl. I stretched my legs and visited the visitor centre looking at  information on the lake before heading to the lake shore.

In the afternoon, we drove along the Emigration Canyon into Echo Canyon. Peter pointed out the Devil’s Gate, a natural rock formation that served as an important landmark on the Oregon Trail a 3,490-km historic East – West, large-wheeled wagon route and emigrant trail in the US that connected the Missouri River to valleys in Oregon, that had helped guide pioneers westward across the barren United States of the 19th century.

We had been driving along Route 80 since leaving SF. We now followed Route 89 to the Independence Rock. Around 5:30 pm, we arrived at this granite monolith is another historical landmark that had served as an important landmark for those travelling west via the Oregon Trail.

We had 30 minutes here. Peter said one could reach the top of the rock within five minutes. But the descent is steep and tricky. Two men and I made to the top easily. But I did not want to take the same path back as the descent would be too steep. Hence, I walked towards the lower end of the rock looking for an easy descent but could not find one. At the end, I managed to find a path between rocks that I could hold onto. I had a long walk to the car park and was late by eight minutes. Luckily, my friends did not complain as they watched me hurried back to the coach.

We had a short drive Casper, which is also called “The Oil City” and has a long history of oil boom town and cowboy culture.  It was about 8 pm when we arrived at the Parkway Plaza Hotel.  I was not hungry after a big buffet lunch. I therefore had instant noodles and enjoyed a quiet night in my comfortable hotel room.

Remark: A long driving day

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