Friday, October 15, 2010

Nov / Dec Road Trip - ski + poker + wilderness!

Hi Jamie

I’m enjoying the site. I’ve lived and travelled in the USA before and hope to grow old there (in NYC) in 15 years or so. In the meantime, I’m stuck here in old blighty grabbing the occasional chance to fly over.

Along with a few friends, I’m planning a road trip in November / December. This would be about 10 days long. As far as driving goes, we would want to do a about 4 or 5 hours a day. I’m a big fan of the west but haven’t travelled much of it outside of vegas, the Colorado and Wyoming ski resorts. Since we all like poker, an obvious stop off point for a day or so would be vegas and onto hoover dam and grand canyon. I guess a question would be go north or south from this point? Wilderness (deserts and mountains especially) , stuff to see (especially spectacular natural landmarks) and a variety of landscapes would be the order of the day – dotted with a few interesting towns (with decent food and places to stay). Depending on how touristy it would be at this time of year, the grand canyon is a place we would love to visit. I’d also be very interested in going to Yosemite (is it open at this time of year?) and see el capitain and just wander about in the park a bit! Perhaps this means a trip from san Francisco , via grand canyon, to santa fe (south) or somewhere great and wild in the north ending up in Montana or oregon (fly out of Portland?). I guess fall will be working its way down from the north so if we headed north we could see some leaf changing stuff which would be great too.

I know this sounds a bit like asking you how long a piece of string is, but can you suggest a route or things we should see along the way?

Cheers, Harry


Hello Harry --

Thank you for writing in to Road Trip USA, and I hope I can help you plan a great trip this winter. You have quite an ambitious list of things to see and do, but between California and Santa Fe, I think we've got all your travel needs well covered.

Since yo sound like a civilized chap, starting from San Francisco (where I live) makes good sense. There is no better city for getting over jet lag -- so eat drink, and stretch your legs climbing the hills and enjoying coastal walks.

(I don't know of any card games, though there are some across the bay in Emeryville, at the venerable Oaks Card Club (URL: )

Then it's time to hit the road: Yosemite is definitely "open" in November, and the waterfalls should be flowing at full speed. There's some very nice lodging options, from the historic and gorgeous Ahwahnee Lodge to the newly renovated "eco-rooms" at the Yosemite Falls Lodge (URL: ) Hike and walk while admiring the granite icons of El Capitan and Half Dome, and even ski at California's oldest resort, at Badger Pass.

Bigger, better skiing options can be found a hour or two north of Yosemite, at Lake Tahoe -- where there is lots and lots of poker played, too (on the Nevada side of the lake, it's legal!). Tahoe's Squaw Valley is rated as one of the most challenging resorts in the US, and there are many more ski slopes around Tahoe at all levels. For your trip, the only real issue is whether it snows in time -- main season is usually February-March, but last year was fantastic; over the whole season, Squaw had over 500 inches of snowfall!).

SF + Yosemite + Lake Tahoe and back could easily fill a very nice, 10-day trip, but if want to hit the road more intensively, you could pick up the pace and drive on from Yosemite to Las Vegas (via Death Valley, which can be gorgeous in winter).

And if you feel very energetic in your 10 day trek, you could race on from Las Vegas to the wonderful ski resorts in the Wasatch Front above Salt Lake City, Utah.

(Squaw hosted the 1960s Olympics, and SLC had the games in 2002. Both have great skiing, though Tahoe has the better nightlife!)

The drive back from Salt Lake City to SF is potentially fantastic -- following in the footsteps of the old Pony Express riders along US-50, across the lonesome sagebrush plains of northern Nevada, where there are spectacular mountains (including Great Basin National Park), two tiny ghost towns, and almost no people, for more than 500 miles. I have done the entire, 750-mile SF-SLC drive in a day -- actually, it was a full moon night, but that was in summer, when the weather makes driving a lot easier.

It can be done, though -- especially if you have some willing co-drivers along.

Then after all this, you can hop a flight home, returning satisfyingly sunburnt and probably totally exhausted.

Sounds fun, doesn't it? :-)

Hope these assorted ideas help you to plan a great trip --

Happy Trails,

Jamie Jensen
Road Trip USA

PS: btw, I cover the SF-SLC trek in my US50-Loneliest Road route, on the website and (more fully and accurately...) in my book, Road Trip USA, which just happens to be on special offer at Amazon.CO.UK:


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