Return to New Zealand

Auckland, New Zealand – April 25, 2017

We took the hotel shuttle to LAX several hours ahead of our flight to Auckland, New Zealand.  After checking in at the airport, we went to the business class lounge.  It is one of the nicest I have ever seen.

The lounge was a great respite.  One could sit on a terrace overlooking the duty-free area of the terminal; inside at a table or bar; in the television media room; in a shower to refresh; or on the outdoor terrace overlooking the tarmac of LAX.  We spent most of our time at the outdoor terrace.

Our time in the lounge helped us relax before our nearly 13-hour flight to Auckland.  Our time on the plane was wonderful, as the following menu demonstrates.

Meal after departure:

  • Grilled prawns with ajo blanco sauce, gremolata oil and fried chorizo crumbs.
  • Cod with hazelnut romesco sauce and risoni pasta with tomatoes, peas and green beans.
  • Strawberry and rocky road ice creams with meringues and strawberry compote.

Breakfast prior to arrival:

  • Gourmet bagel with bacon, spinach and Dijon mustard.
  • Fresh fruit salad.
  • Poached eggs on toasted muffins with bacon, steamed spinach and hollandaise sauce.

It is little wonder we were well rested when we did arrive in Auckland.

In Auckland, we went to the business lounge.  While we were there, we saw Andrew Little, the leader of the New Zealand Labour Party.  He acknowledged us as he passed by nodding his head.  That may be our brush with fame in New Zealand.

We made it home to Wellington without issue.  We departed the United States on April 22.  We arrived in New Zealand on April 25.  The International Date Line makes travel interesting.  After all of the travel, we were tired.  We were in bed by 19:00.

Some of the traffic trying to get to the terminals at LAX.
A Chinese airline flight on final approach to LAX.

Rest Stop

Los Angeles, CA – April 22, 2017

Los Angeles is the location we chose for a rest stop.  It is a long way from Grand Junction, Colorado to Wellington, New Zealand.

At the Marriott Residence Inn on Century Boulevard, we lounged around in the room until it was time for dinner.  About 20 steps from the hotel is a wonderful restaurant, Zpizza Tap Room.  They sell pizza either whole or by the slice.  Their hand-tossed pizza is delicious.  The crust is thin; not paper thin, but certainly not thick and doughy.  Also offered are craft beers.  We opted for wine instead of beer.  After dinner, it was back upstairs for some television and sleep.

The following morning, it was downstairs for the buffet breakfast.  While eating, breakfast we discussed things to do that day.  We had plenty of time to kill since our flight to Auckland did not depart until 22:30 that night.  Our decision was Santa Monica Pier.  Neither one of us had been there before.

People pose for photographs in front of the iconic Santa Monica Pier sign.

Google Maps easily guided us to the pier.  When we arrived, we stopped at the red light directly across from the entrance to the Santa Monica Pier.  I knew I had to get a photograph of the iconic sign.  That would have to wait until we parked.

The traffic light turned green and we proceeded across the intersection and began our descent to the pier.  At the bottom of the drive, one had to turn left to the parking lot on the boardwalk.

The sign guides people to the entry to the Santa Monica Pier. The massive crosswalks are almost too much for the eyes.

Once we parked, I walked back up to the entry sign while Leslie waited on the boardwalk.  I was certainly not the only one who decided to take a photograph of the sign.  Group after group of people stopped to take a “souvenir” photo beneath the iconic Santa Monica Pier sign.  All the while, the locals went by, hardly noticing the tourists.  In the first photograph I posted, a blurred runner attests to that fact.

I was surprised at the crosswalk at the intersection.  Essentially the entire intersection was a crosswalk.  I had never seen one painted quite like that.  With all of the converging lines, it was almost too hard to look at and stay oriented.

The sidewalk leading down to the Santa Monica Pier.

The pier itself is not as large as I had imagined.  Much to my amazement, there was parking right on the pier.  There was additional parking in a paved lot at beach level.  As we began to stroll along the pier, it was obvious that the pier was not quite in full swing.  Since we are usually early when we go anywhere, we frequently miss the largest crowds, which is just fine with us.

One of the things we noticed on the beach was a field of crosses on display.  It seemed to be drawing attention to the many soldiers the United States has lost in the war on terror.  We could not discern why some crosses were white while others were red.  If one looks closely at the photograph, one can make out at least one Star of David and one Muslim crescent moon.  Those that installed the display did a very precise job.  No matter which way one looked, the crosses lined up perfectly.

A field of cross at the Santa Monica Beach. The intent was to highlight the number of American soldiers killed in the war on terror.

In addition to the larger buildings and restaurants on the pier, there were numerous kiosks.  The kiosks had all manner of tourist kitsch.  Of course, we had purchase some kitsch; specifically, our prerequisite refrigerator magnet.

The boardwalk at the Santa Monica Pier.

At the end of the pier, we sat on a bench near the Mariasol restaurant and watched all the sights.  There were a lot of people fishing from the pier.  While we were there, we did not see anyone catch anything.  Maybe on other days at other times, those fishing have much better luck.

We ended up sitting on the patio of Mariasol to have a coffee.  There were a few others there for lunch.  The Mexican food looked amazing.  Unfortunately, we were between a rock and a hard place.  We had eaten breakfast not all that long ago.  Also, we planned to drive to the In-N-Out Burger for lunch.  If we ever get back to that point on the planet, we will plan better so we can try some of the Mexican food.

Looking over the edge of the Santa Monica Pier.

I did not realize the Santa Monica Pier was the end of Route 66 until I saw the Route 66 Last Stop Shop at the end of the pier.  When we walked back along the pier, we saw the “End of the Line” sign.

A family posing for their photo at the end of Route 66 on the Santa Monica Pier.
The Santa Monica Pier is the end of Route 66 from Chicago, Illinois.

A little beyond the Route 66 sign is the old Hippodrome building.  I understand it is the oldest building on the pier, dating from the mid-1940’s.  Housed in the Hippodrome is a beautiful antique carousel.  The carousel dates from the 1920’s.  We did not ride it (apparently there is a weight limit), but we did sit and watch it for a long time.

The antique carousel on the boardwalk at the Santa Monica Pier.

We got back in our rental car and drove off the pier.  Sitting under the Santa Monica Pier sign, waiting for the traffic light, we noticed the drive down to the pier was no longer open.  We could only imagine the drive reopened periodically as people depart like we did.

Just like the last time I was there, the In-N-Out Burger by LAX was absolutely packed.  Somehow we were lucky enough to find a parking space.  Inside the restaurant, all the employees moved at a frenetic pace.  It is an amazing site to see all the employees working assembly-line-fashion to fulfill the dozens and dozens of hamburger orders.

While I waited for our order, Leslie went outside to find a table.  In my opinion, half the reason to eat at this particular In-N-Out Burger is to watch the endless stream of planes landing at the airport.  We got our fill of burgers, fries, and planes.

After lunch, we walked across the street to watch the planes approach the airport, flying directly overhead.  I filmed a Southwest Airlines jet and posted it on Facebook.  By clicking on “watch on Facebook” one can see the video.

The Santa Monica beach.
A dolphin sculpture on the Santa Monica Pier boardwalk.
A man coaxing and teaching a boy to fish off the Santa Monica Pier.
The Pacific Park amusement park on the Santa Monica Pier.


A panoramic view of Santa Monica from the pier.
The beach as seen from the Santa Monica Pier.
People on the Santa Monica Pier boardwalk heading toward Pacific Park.
Two men fishing from the Santa Monica Pier.






Grand Junction, CO – April 22, 2017

We began our journey back to Wellington, New Zealand on the morning of April 22.  To relieve the transportation burden from our family, we opted to take a taxi to the Grand Junction, Colorado.  I arranged the taxi the day before, requesting a van and a 07:00 arrival.

When we travel, we do not like drama.  To help avoid drama, we like to arrive early.  Our 07:00 departure meant arriving at the airport almost exactly two hours before our departure time.  The taxi company apparently did not understand our desire.  We began watching for the taxi about ten minutes before the requested time.  At 07:00, with no taxi in sight, I called the company.  They assured me the taxi was on its way.  Another ten minutes went by, still no taxi.  I called again.  I received the same message.  Finally, at 07:20, the taxi arrived.

Our first disappointment was the taxi’s late arrival.  The next disappointment was the vehicle, a Toyota Prius, not the requested van.  I specifically asked for a van because of the amount of our luggage.  After much trial and error, our larger luggage pieces fit in the rear hatch of the taxi.  Our carry-on luggage ended up in the front passenger seat.

Departing the house nearly 30-minutes late made us both nervous.  The good news is that the drive to the airport does not take very long.  Secondly, the Grand Junction airport is quite small.  That means one does not need to closely adhere to the airline advice of arriving at least two hours prior to departure.

The United Airlines employee that checked us in for our flight was extremely nice.  That was refreshing since United had just been in the news for dragging a passenger off one of their planes.

On the other side of the security checkpoint, we ate breakfast.  Well, breakfast is a bit of a strong word, especially when referring to a ham and cheese croissant and a cup of coffee.  Regardless, it was good and it filled our void.

The large sign near the Los Angeles International Airport.

Unlike the taxi, our plane pushed away from the gate eight minutes early.  An hour later, we arrived in Denver.  After a bit of a layover, our flight from Denver to LAX pushed back early too.  It was like we had hit the jackpot! In about two-hours, we arrived at LAX.  We retrieved our luggage, got our rental car, and headed to our rest stop hotel; the Marriott Residence Inn on Century Boulevard.

Back over the Mountain

Fruita, CO – April 3, 2017

Leslie and I left Colorado Springs on April 3, a day earlier than we had planned.  Our trip back to Fruita, Colorado included four mountain passes; Ute Pass, Wilkerson Pass, Hoosier Pass, and Vail Pass.  The weather forecast called for heavy snowfall beginning the afternoon of April 3.  We did not wish to be stranded in a snow storm.

We were on the road by about 06:00.  It was a cloudy, dreary day.  Alma, Colorado is at foot of the eastern side of Hoosier Pass.  That is where we first encountered snow.  It was not heavy, but it was snowing.  The snow continued until we reached Breckenridge, Colorado.  That town is at the foot of the western side of Hoosier Pass.  The snow was never bad enough to impact the road conditions.

At Frisco, Colorado we merged onto Interstate 70 west, beginning our ascent of Vail Pass.  We encountered a little bit of snow near the summit of Vail Pass; but, just as before, it was not bad enough to impact the road conditions.

We made it to Fruita with no problems.  Later that evening, we saw on the news that the State closed many of the roads through the Rocky Mountains because of the heavy snow.  We were glad to have made it through unscathed.

From many places in Fruita, one can see the Colorado National Monument.  It is one of my favorite places to visit and photograph.  I discovered there are some petroglyphs within the boundaries of the Monument.  I tracked down the location, drove to the trailhead, and walked the very short distance to the petroglyphs.  My disappointment was immense.  I did find the rock and petroglyphs I read about.  Unfortunately, vandals have chiseled names, initials, and drawings onto the rock surface.  It was quite difficult to determine the authentic petroglyphs.  I did take some photographs; however, I have not included any here because I just did not like them.  On a side note, I did take some other photographs, such as a unique hole in the sandstone near the petroglyphs.

A unique hole in the rock in the Colorado National Monument.

One morning I decided I wanted to find a road that leads up into the Book Cliffs.  I remembered the road from a previous trip, but I did not remember how to get there.  I took a stab at finding the road.  Leslie and I ended up at the North Fruita Desert.  Even though there were a lot of people camping in the area, it still had a very empty feel.

Looking toward the Book Cliffs near Fruita, Colorado.

Since I could not find the road for which I was looking, we decided to go to the Colorado River.  I selected the Kokopelli Trails area near Loma, Colorado.

Leslie and I walked a portion of the Kokopelli Trails.  The sandstone formations there are stunning.  While we were there, we saw dozens of people on mountain bikes.  On the lower trail, I stood beside the trail, waiting for a mountain biker to pass by.  With so many cyclists around, we did not have to wait long.

A mountain biker descending on the lower trail in Kokopelli Trails.

One of the most unique things we saw was a house carved into a sandstone cliff.  It was unique; however, we both agreed there was no way we could live in such a home.  We were certain the rooms at the back of the home would be quite claustrophobic.

A cliff house near the Kokopelli Trails area.

One of the last things Leslie and I did before we returned to New Zealand, was a hike along the Canyon Rim Trail in the Colorado National Monument.  The views were stunning.  One of my most favorite views; although it was not on the trail, was that of the Balanced Rock.  The Colorado National Monument is a must-see for anyone traveling to the Fruita/Grand Junction, Colorado area.

The Balanced Rock in the Colorado National Monument.
Layered sandstone in a dry creek bed in the Colorado National Monument near Fruita, Colorado.
An ancient tree and some prickly pear cactus in the Colorado National Monument.
Looking west in one of the canyons in the Colorado National Monument.
Layered cliff in the Colorado National Monument.
Some of the wilderness in the Colorado National Monument.
View of the upper and lower trails at the Kokopelli Trails area near Loma, Colorado.
Looking east from Kokopelli Trails toward Grand Junction, Colorado.
The upper trail at Kokopelli Trails hugs the top of the cliff in the distance.
Looking across the plateau in the Kokopelli Trails area.
A sandstone cliff in the Kokopelli Trails area.
A panoramic view of an area in Kokopelli Trails.
A sandstone tower in the Kokopelli Trails area.
The cliff edge along the Canyon Rim Trail in the Colorado National Monument.
An old cedar tree in front of the Pipe Organ formation in the Colorado National Monument.
A sandstone overhang in the Colorado National Monument.
The Pipe Organ formation in the Colorado National Monument.
We stopped for photo along the Canyon Rim Trail in the Colorado National Monument.
An ancient cedar tree in the Colorado National Monument.
In the very center of the photograph, one can see Independence Monument in the Colorado National Monument.
Some of the sandstone textures on a cliff face in the Colorado National Monument.
Looking along the edge of a canyon at the Canyon Rim Trail in the Colorado National Monument.