Tour of the West Finale — Chandelier Tree, Vegas, and Phoenix.

For the last post of our big trip, we will be heading down south back home in Las Cruces, NM. Lots to cover so here we go!

Day 7 we visited the mighty Redwoods National Park and then headed south to San Francisco. Total distance/time: 355miles/6.5hrs.

Continuing where we left off last time, we entered the Redwood State Park in northern California. The redwoods, also called Sequoia, are the largest and tallest tree spices in the world. Some we saw were literally thousands of years old and over 200ft tall! Sadly, photos don’t do these massive giants any justice.

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The State Park is scattered along the northern coast California Hwy 101. The park occupies nearly 133,000 acres which falls withinDel Norte and Humboldt Counties. We visited the northern park, Jedehiah Smith. 

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Soon the paved road ended and we ran deep into the woods on a smooth but muddy road.

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Noramlly, I’m a person who likes to keep his car clean along the trip. At this point in the in the trip though, I didn’t care about the filth on the Accord. I considered it more of an achievement.

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We hiked around to get up  close and personal with these giants.

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Some trees came so close to the road, it appeared many motorists scraped their mirrors judging by the numerous wounds on the sides of the trees.

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We felt microscopic!

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Last picture I took on our way back to the highway.

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In Crescent City, we visited a really cool place called Ocean World. It’s like an aquarium, but this privately owned place is just like their slogan, “Sea Life from a new Angle.”

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This is one of the few places I’ve been to where you can have an up close and personal experience with marine life (without getting into the water, or course). This was my first time holding a star fish.

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One of the highlights of this place? The opportunity to pet a live shark!

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They were contained in this large tub for everyone to give a try.

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South of Crecent City in a small town of Leggett, California, is a roadside attraction I’ve been looking forward to seeing the whole trip— The  Chandelier Tree Drive-thru Park! This 315 foot tall redwood tree has a massive 6 foot hole cut through the base to allow an average car to drive through. The name comes from the unique limbs that resemble a chandelier.

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To get to the tree, we had to drive 1.5 miles down a rather dusty road. (Good thing the Accord was already dirty)

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And we arrived!

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Just to be on the safe side, I folded the mirrors in.

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Fits like a glove!

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After going through on my own while Jouhl took pictures, I snuck around again with Jouhl to go through again. Hey, you live once! Here’s the tree from a further distance.

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We saw a piece of a redwood trunk laid out for people to crawl in for photos. We of course had to do the same.

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Now on to San Francisco! I’ve only been through as a passenger on the freeway, but never driven in the city.

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Didn’t take too long before we were able to pull off at the Golden Gate bridge scenic view. This 23,000ft long bridge dates back to 1936 and is one of the most recognized symbols of San Francisco.

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With only being a mild 71˚F with gentle breezes, the weather was perfect.

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…and here we go! The first time I’ve ever driven here.

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Entering San Francisco was exciting and scary at the same time. I’m not used to the hustle and bustle of the city.

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On our way to downtown, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit 2640 Steiner Street—the house filmed in one of my family’s favorite movies, “Mrs. Doubtfire.” The movie was filmed in San Francisco back in 1993 and this house hasn’t changed hardly at all!

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Screenshot from the movie.

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And here’s the mud-splattered Accord in front of the house, 20 years later!

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After a few quick shots of ‘Doubtfire’s house, we went onwards to downtown and Chinatown. It was rush hour and let me just say, this was THE most scary driving experience of my life!

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Took an hour to figure out parking for Chinatown, but finally we were able to enter on foot.

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After it started getting dark, the city lit up like Christmas.

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Day 8 we met up with one of our good friends from New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, Fang-chu. She came here from China as an exchange student to New Mexico and now she’s happily residing in San Francisco. Then we went on to the San Joaquin valley city, Fresno, CA. Total distance/time: 188 miles/3hrs. However, with traffic and various stops, those 3hrs turned into a full day!

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We hung out at Golden Gate Park for a few hours. Was so much fun! (photo curtesy of Google)

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I had to stretch my legs a bit from all the driving.

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Nice man from Russia offered to take our picture for us. Nice seeing you Fang-Chu!

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We left San Francisco by noon and went on to San José to see Cupertino, Apple Computer headquarters.

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Sadly, no tours of the factory were offered, but a visitor center and store were open to the public.

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Jouhl and I are Apple geeks, so this was a must-see.

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Overpriced merchandise? Yes, but I didn’t care knowing where it came from. Man, I’m a sucker!

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Onwards to the San Joaquin valley. This is a valley in central California that holds many of the country’s produce crops. It spreads from the California capital of Sacramento down south to just outside of LA. It’s not very pretty nor are there many attractions, but I have a soft spot for this area because I was born here. Here’s a picture capturing the golden hills of California…where California get’s its slogan, “The Golden State.”

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…and a shot of how the back roads look surrounded by acres and acres of crops. We got into Fresno around 9pm after a lovely dinner with my aunt and uncle in Turlock, CA.

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Day 9 we went east to the Sequoia National Forest to pick up some sugar pine cones. These come from the Sugar Pine Tree which is the largest species of pine and they are found along certain patches of forest in California and Oregon. There aren’t too many places in the U.S. where you can find these massive cones. This happened to be along the way to where we’d be spending the night—Las Vegas, NV! Total distance/time: 420 miles/10 hours.

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We pulled off on a secluded dirt road and it didn’t take long before we found some. As long as we weren’t in a national park, it was fine to pick up the cones.

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Some Sugar Pine cones reach a length of 26 inches! We were only able to find them as long as 18 inches. These were to take back as gifts and just cool mementos.

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Okay, maybe we got a little carried away. But I have to admit, I was pleased throughout the entire trip with the luggage capacity of the Accord.

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On our way to Vegas, Jouhl captured the moon peeping up over the horizon.

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The I-15 north. Same Interstate we took several days ago through Salt Lake City.

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Vegas was just a little over an hour away. Good thing because we were getting tired.

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Timing was perfect as we got to drive the strip at dark!

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I’ve never been through Vegas at night so it was quite impressive to see “The City of Lights” in its ideal setting.

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Day 10 we were to head south to Phoenix where we’d spend our last night and then on home from there. Total distance/time to home on the road: ~700 miles/10 hours.

After we departed Vegas, we saw a sign on the side of the road, “Helicopter Dam Ride — $39.” This would take us over the famous Hoover Dam. We couldn’t resist…

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Never being in a helicopter before and the day was quite windy, I was nervous. But again, you live once. Here it is landing just before we got in…

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Jouhl took the co-pilot seat. I was happy to hide in the back since I was uneasy about flying.

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Up in the air we go! The views were breathtaking and certainly far superior to viewing the dam from the ground. I guess this makes up for being in the air.

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Shaking from the adrenaline, I was happy to be back on solid ground. *sigh*

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After we got back on the road, we hit the AZ border.

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And finally Phoenix! Out of a few big cities I would elect to live in in the southwest, Phoenix is one of them. I like the layout and it seems clean and laid back. We took a hotel in downtown Tempe. It was suspicisouly quiet in downtown, but maybe we came at an off hour.

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For our last dinner on the road, we went gourmet—In-n-Out!

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Eager to get home, we left Phoenix early in the morning and only made one stop along the way, Saguaro National Park in Tucson, AZ. I came here a few months back, but didn’t have much time to really explore. This time we were able to drive through the entire park. It was just as rewarding to visit again. These massive cacti can reach nearly 70 feet tall and become several hundred years old. We learned that it takes just 75 years before one arm begins to grow.

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Oops! When I backed up for a picture on the trail, I went a little too far and hit the sand bank and introduced some quite a bit of sand to the exhaust pipes. Oh well, it will blow out when we get on the freeway.

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Outside of the park, I filled up for the last time before getting to Las Cruces. It was such a great trip, but we were ready to see home.

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The Accord performed nobly on this trip. It’s times like this when a car proves itself to me, I can begin to grow quite fond of it. Thinking back, it’s been our best friend. Reliable, comfortable and fun to drive. My best recorded gas mileage was 34.5 MPG and the lowest was 27 MPG. The total miles driven were ~4,800 miles for the entire trip. Odometer read 123,500 when we started and was around 128,300 in the end. This Accord climbed the Utah mountains effortlessly, carved through the rainforest and coastal roads with confidence, danced on the beach, charged up the steep San Francisco hills while dodging pedestrians, crawled through central California traffic and paraded through the Las Vegas strip. It has been driven on dirt, asphalt, sand, gravel and grass. And it did all of this without using a drop of oil, and not one suspicious clunk, groan or creak. This car that was once in a dealer lot to be wholesaled in this condition…

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has come to this…

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Looking forward to sharing more adventures with you all. Have a great weekend and see you next time!

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2 thoughts on “Tour of the West Finale — Chandelier Tree, Vegas, and Phoenix.

  1. tysonhugie says:

    Jason, this is a great write-up! What night did you guys roll through Phoenix? I’m not surprised that downtown Tempe was relatively quiet after-hours. Would’ve loved to meet up, but chances are I was out of town anyhow! I’m so jealous that you guys did the Chandelier Tree. And I’ve always seen the sign for the helicopter rides approaching Hoover Dam but I’ve never stopped and done one before. Looks like the view was awesome!

    • pawela says:

      Thanks, Tyson. We came through Phoenix on a Sat night. I believe you were in Utah at the time based on your IG pix. It would have been great to meet up, but timing just didn’t work out. Chandelier Tree was so cool and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. The helicopter ride was certainly an experience. If I weren’t so afraid of flying, I might have enjoyed the views so much more. See you soon in CO!

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