Day 4 – Grand Canyon to Santa Fe. Petrified and Tired.

Sunrise Stampede

Up at 4:30am to catch sunrise from the Grand Canyon South Rim. Wow.

Sunrise - Easterly View

Sunrise - Westerly View

Drove from the Grand Canyon to Santa Fe, NM. Long drive. Way too tired to write the blog tonight. Visited the Petrified Forest along the way and got pelted with shredded tire parts from a passing truck.

Enjoy the photos. More tomorrow.

Painted Desert

Petrified Forest

Petrified Forest

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Day 3 – Brakes in the Desert & the Grand Canyon

Made it this morning from Needles to Kingman in good time and got to (name withheld) brake shop just in time to wait for an hour for them to take a look. The mechanic had two speeds – and neither one of them was fast. He started removing the rear wheels and, when I told him it was the front brakes that were causing the problem, he replied, “Just doin’ my job, bubba!” Good thing there was a WalMart Supercenter across the street ‘cuz I had to kill a couple of hours.

It wasn’t a huge deal, but it did put me off my route and schedule enough to make me bypass Zion National Park. Oh well – next time. The good news is that it gave me more time to scout the Grand Canyon and find my setup locations for sunset. Getting to a motel earlier in the day also seemed like a good idea since I’m dog tired and was having a hard time staying awake at the wheel. Working too hard at having fun on my road trip? Nahh!

I am amazed at how little people really know about our own country. Case in point – I had a conversation with a woman this morning and was describing the road routes and places I would be visiting. When I mentioned the Texas Panhandle, she quickly cautioned me to keep and eye on the weather. Hurricane Alex was about to hit. She leaned in conspiratorially and said in a lower voice, “You may want to consider avoiding the coast and keeping up with the latest weather.” “In that case, I’ll be sure to stay a little further north,” I assured her. I think Hwy 40 should be “north enough”.

Finally got back on the road to the Grand Canyon. Between Kingman and Williams, Hwy 40 is pretty monotonous. I didn’t see any canyons up ahead – Grand or otherwise – but I have heard that you could drive a mile away from it and never see it. And it’s true. You don’t see the canyon until you step out on one of the paths. Wow!

View From the South Rim

Unfortunately, the light wasn’t very cooperative today. The thunderstorms over the canyon were beautiful but I just couldn’t capture the essence of what I saw and felt standing there on the rim.

Storm Over the Canyon

I waited around for sunset just in case. One of the park rangers told me that last night’s sunset was “spectacular” but tonight, not so much. Thanks.

Sunset

Dawn at 5:15am. Maybe tomorrow will be better.

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Day 2 – Lee Vining to Needles

Tufas - Mono Lake

Today’s route took me from Lee Vining to Needle – 419 miles. A pretty good bit of driving IMHO. Not too bad, considering I spent about an hour in Mammoth and 3 hours visiting Mt. Whitney Portal.

!st, coffee (a really nice organic Ethiopian) from the Latte Dah coffee shop in Lee Vining, then brekky (breakfast) along the way to Mammoth Lakes.

Breakfast Along the Sierras

This was a very important day for me. Mt. Whitney was, according to our family’s history, named for one of my ancestors on my mother’s side. I remember my grandmother telling stories about my Great Grandfather Whitney. Today’s visit was really 30 years some-odd in the planning.

Mt. Whitney from Lone Pine

Mt. Whitney on the Portal Road

In the above photo, Mt. Whitney is centered in the background. gd

Snow Plant - Mt. Whitney Portal

The Whitneys come from Whitney, N.B., Canada and there’s a lot of family pride with such an impressive mountain having been named after the clan that bears my son Joshua’s middle name (or versa visa).

Mt. Whitney’s elevation is 14,505 ft. above sea level – the highest mountain in the contiguous U.S. and for years it’s been a dream of mine to climb to the summit. Well today, I didn’t summit (there’s a lottery system in place to obtain one of the cherished permits to do so), but I did make it to the starting point of the Mt. Whitney trail – 8,365 ft.

I hated leaving but, with the brakes still giving me problems, I had to push as close to Needles as possible (they were just worked on and there’s a warranty station there).

Traveling South on 395, I had to stop several times along the way through Inyo. Years ago, I spent a lot of time hiking in the high country just behind these mountains and just seeing the names of familiar trails brought back a lot of good memories. There were also a few interesting towns along the way – with a few oddities to photograph, too.

The Inyo Covnty Covrt Hovse

Dropping down into the valley from 7,000 ft., temperatures climbed to 107 degrees and I reluctantly turned on the AC. The drive to Barstow and beyond isn’t the most picturesque but I managed to find a few segments of old Route 66 to follow. Seemed like (and I may be dating myself here) I should be driving along in a red Corvette convertible.

Route 66 Motel

Route 66 RV park

Finally got to Needles at about 8:45 and recognized a motel Clynda and I had stayed at a few years back on our way to a  Laughlin Bike Rally. Home sweet home – for tonight.

Tomorrow, brakes in Kingman and then I’ll decide if I still have to cut out the loop through Zion National Park. One alternative might be to head up to Hoover Dam, then back around to the Grand Canyon. We’ll see.

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Day 1- Tourists, Mosquitoes, and Brakes…Oh My!

Yosemite Overlook

I fell in love with Yosemite the first time I saw that magnificent view as you emerge from the tunnel overlooking the valley. Half Dome, El Capitan, all those iconic granite monoliths displayed in a breathtaking panorama. It’s really impossible to fully understand the grandeur and sheer size unless you see them in person. Unfortunately, since my first visit more than 30 years ago, many others have made the same discovery. Maybe it was less congested only in my imagination but today, it felt like I was visiting “Yosemite – Your Natural Disneyland Park”. Open tour buses laden with families drove past me every 5 minutes, Moms and Dads pushing strollers full of screaming (or sleeping kids) up the path to Yosemite Falls (which was spectacularly flowing. It was a little depressing – until I started concentrating on me. How was I going to experience this amazing place over the next few hours?

I visited all those monoliths I had climbed – or attempted to climb – all those years ago. I stood in the meadows, following with my eyes the routes I could remember, drawing in the views, getting lost – and annoyed by the mosquitoes, who were as numerous as the tourists. I had forgotten about these vicious varmints. In fact, it was here in Yosemite that I first discovered DEET. (I remember it taking the paint off a can of Coca-Cola and thinking “that can’t be good for your skin”). All the itchy welts aside, it was still a wonderful day. But the real treat was yet to come.

I had never crossed over the Sierras at Tioga Pass to visit the small town of Lee Vining – and the site of the famous (and controversial) Mono Lake. Driving over the 9,000′ summit was supposed to provide amazing views and this didn’t disappoint.

John Muir had written about Tuolumne Meadows and the wilderness beyond Yosemite. Every turn revealed another breathtaking mountain vista and it became apparent that I was never going to get to Mono Lake  if I kept stopping at every one. So, after leaving the park (at over 9,000 feet above sea level) I started down the steep grade. I feel comfortable driving mountain roads, but some of the cars ahead of me clearly did not and I found myself having to ride my brakes more than usual. I knew they were getting hot – I could smell them – but when those brakes began to feel like butter and I realized I wasn’t able to slow down as I should, that was a little unnerving. I stopped at a pull-out to see what was going on and discovered my front brakes were SMOKING! Not good. I figured I’d let them cool down and try to ease my way down the remaining 3 miles. That worked fine – but I’ll need to stop at the first opportunity to get brake pads I think. But first, more important things on the agenda.

Mono Lake was everything I had expected. This briny, smaller cousin of the Great Salt Lake in Utah, is home to unique geographical features called Tufas – calcium carbonate towers formed over thousands of years underwater and now exposed as the water level has lowered (drained to feed thirsty Los Angelinos – a huge controversy).

I  had timed my arrival so that I could be set up to shoot in the late day light and today, it was a stunning sunset. I met a fellow photographer, Moy Williams from Great Britain, and it was a great end to an (almost) perfect day. After introducing Moy to an amazing tri-tip dinner at Brodie Mike’s, one of three local restaurants, it was a fun evening of good conversation, shared passion for photography, and some cool refreshment. But Lee Vining closes early – so it was time to call it a night and turn in to my room at Murphy’s Motel (I highly recommend it) and regroup for the next day.

On to Mt Whitney!

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D-Day: O’Dark-thirty

Up early and the car is packed – to the brim 😦

First stop – Yosemite!

I hope to time the light just right for the overlook. Photos to come!

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T-minus 4 Days

“The Route”

I’m really not sure sure where or when the idea of turning my cross-country drive into a road trip and blog happened – it just sorta clicked into place as I was considering the route I would take, days needed, etc.. This is my third time driving across the U.S.A. but the first time I haven’t had a tight deadline waiting for me on the other side. It’s rather freeing, actually.

So here’s the plan – roughly –

Leave Visalia at O’Dark Thirty on Sunday, June 27th. Destination? Yosemite National Park and a day of shooting all those iconic, natural wonders I climbed over and around in my younger days and will miss terribly – El Capitan, Half Dome, Yosemite Falls. Next, drive across Tioga Pass and arrive at Mono Lake in time to set up and catch the sunset. Day 2 – on to Zion National Park to photograph scenes I have only in my memory. Hopefully I can recapture them in glorious digital. After that, the schedule becomes a little less, well, scheduled. I’ll mosey on to the Grand Canyon South rim and then on to Santa Fe, NM. Who knows what I’ll find along the way? I’ll be searching for old sections of historic Route 66, maybe try eating the Big Texan 72 ox. steak dinner in Amarillo. Then, on to Oklahoma City, Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville, and then Boone NC.

I hope to post photos and experiences all along the way. Hope it works and hope you’ll stay with me.

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