West Coast Road Trip Day 5 - Death Valley National Park

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Let me start by saying that Death Valley is one of my favorite parks in the country. Something about its desolation and away from people drew me here. With many years of turning pages in National Geographic magazine, it was that moment of driving into the park that finally came true. The trip was an easy two and a half hours from Las Vegas. With no traffic, the Sun was trying to heat the land below, but it was a comfortable 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit here for most of the park.

First stop: Zabriskie point

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Here in this photo at Zabriskie Point it is geologically crazy. This was created by violent water, and volcanic activity. Three to five million years ago before the deepest part of Death Valley was formed, this used to be filled by shimmering lakes with a long mountain-rimmed valley here. Driving past Furnace Creek seemed that there were lakes, but it was just a mirage from the heat. So weird how distance, and heat waves can make you believe that there is water.

Wildflower at Zabriskie Point

Wildflower at Zabriskie Point

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Driving to the Visitor Center is always a must to stamp our passport book, and learn more information and long history about the park. We now entered an area where we were once 4000 feet up a few miles behind, we are now 190 feet below sea level and the temperature went all the way up to 96 degrees. Not hot in this dry climate, but you still have to have plenty of water in this park.

I learned so much. This park has so much life. From coyotes to an endangered species of fish that still live here. Since the park has been going through a drought for centuries, this species once had vast numbers. We also learned about the Timbisha Shoshone Indians who have lived here for centuries and the artifacts collected here.

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The Furnace Creek Visitor Center had a huge theater, and played a film about the park but with time ticking by, we decided to leave and explore more of the park. With Charlotte not feeling so well from the night before in Las Vegas from two very strong vodka cranberries, she stayed low and tried to keep cool in the air-conditioned rental car, while I ventured out to the sand dunes.

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The Sand Dunes here in Death Valley National Park are so massive, compared to the people in the distance. Even though the temperature was an up and down ride given with the dramatic elevation changes, the car said it was around 90F (32C) here and 70 degrees back a few miles prior, It was a perfect day to walk around and explore the Dunes without being torched to death.

Here in the shot below, you might think that Death Valley National Park is full of nothing, and lifelessness, but it's actually full of life. Wildflowers were blooming all over here during the spring. These two shots below are by Rainbow Mountain, and it exceeds its name as the sun was ready to set in the next hour.

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Mother Coyote in Death Valley National Park

Mother Coyote in Death Valley National Park

Soon after leaving Towne Pass , there was something prancing in the distance. A car in the distance was braking according to their red lights, so I then decided to drive much slower at 20 M.P.H. Trying to figure out what this thing was, and as it got closer, it clearly was a mother coyote. The temperature was dropping, and being that this is the time when they come out of their dens to go hunt, and scavenge for food. This was normal. Not exiting the car, I was able to shoot this shot from my window. Such a cool experience, but I had to quickly close the windows, because you never know with wild animals. Remember to never feed the animals. Keep them wild. After the encounter, I kept driving out of the park with so many views, cool rock formations, and overlooks to check out. With time alluding, and rest room breaks needed, we stopped at this ghost town rest stop. I was trying to find a Joshua tree to photograph around the park, but luckily there was one right here. Woohoo!

Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree

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Information:

Death Valley is the largest U.S. National Park outside Alaska at 3.4 million acres. Nearly 1000 miles of paved and dirt roads provide access to locations both popular and remote. Even so, 91% of the park is protected as officially designated Wilderness. That wild country includes low valley floors crusted with barren salt flats, rugged mountains rising as much as 11,000 feet, deep and winding canyons, rolling sand dunes, and spring-fed oases. Whether you have an afternoon or a week, careful planning will help make your visit safe and enjoyable.

What to expect:

Death Valley is generally sunny, dry, and clear throughout the year. Winter and spring (October through April) are mild with occasional winter storms and a chance of spring wildflowers. Winter requires warm clothing and light to medium jackets. As the temperatures rise in spring, shorts and light clothing are enough, but higher elevations can still be chilly. Summers are extremely hot and dry. Daytime temperatures may exceed 120°F and nights remain hot with overnight lows in the 90s. Outside activity is not recommended at that time of year, except in the mountains. Plan to keep to the main roads and use your vehicle's air conditioning. It is very important to drink water year round. Always carry water with you and keep an abundant supply in your vehicle in case of emergency. 

West Coast Road Trip Day 4 - Zion National Park

With a full day at Zion ahead of us to explore was exciting, because this was the first real hike that we were going to take on our trip. Driving from Hurricane, Utah with views you cannot witness anywhere on earth. The first two shots here were from the car, but an these views are wildly awesome!

With the rain starting to pour down on this day, it didn’t dampen our spirits, because that reminded us of the time we hiked at the Great Smoky Mountains. Similar weather of fog and rain with lush greens and big mountains to look up and admire.

We parked our car close by, gathering only the necessities for the hike. Camera gear in hand, ponchos, whistles, water, protein bars, and determination we got some cover from the rain and entered the very busy visitor center. Stamped our passport books, making this now official. We then asked a park ranger at the information booth which trails to try out. I really wanted to do The Narrows Trail to get those epic shots and experience it first hand, but with the amount of rain, the trail was closed off this day from being flooded. We then decided to do the Angels Landing Trail. The starting point was at the number 6 shuttle stop called The Grotto. We hopped on the bus and made our way up the mountain with a packed bus. 


Once arriving, you can find the markers right across the street, and over the small bridge accessing the Angel Landing Trail

Once arriving, you can find the markers right across the street, and over the small bridge accessing the Angel Landing Trail

Prior to heading up on the Angels landing Trail in Zion National Park, the weather was perfect for hiking this steep trail with the average temperature around 65-70F. Along with the high humidity, sweating was a slight problem. Too much sweating and going up in elevation is no good. You can go through water much more quickly. Also, the higher elevation makes your lungs work harder. all in all we were able to manage this by dressing accordingly. Before heading up the mountain I took this shot. (shown below). I enjoyed the sounds of the river, the birds chirping, a mist floating in the air, and watching the fog slowly pass the mountains above.

Procrastinating on the beach, we finally headed on the trail. I noticed this poor cactus flower sitting on the ground. It must have been freshly picked by someone, and left there, so I picked it up. I couldn't find a picture of the flower I found, but here (right) is the same cactus flower. I tried my best to keep it alive, and protected it in my pocket for days that followed.

This shot (above) was taken on the top of the mountain. With it being a little sketchy and narrow on some parts I was a little scared, but luckily my nerves calmed down. After making it to the top, there was a lot of chipmunks! I couldn't believe it! 😍 They were so cute but they were begging for food. Their cuteness did not win the battle with me. Please do not feed the animals, because it ruins their ability to hunt and makes them more aggressive towards humans. Before reading this sign and making the decision to not go the extra step, or fall I stayed here and took some more photos.

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Since 2004, six people have died from falling off this cliff and with the sleek conditions, we were not taking the chance.

Since 2004, six people have died from falling off this cliff and with the sleek conditions, we were not taking the chance.

Charlotte, my partner-in-crime.

Charlotte, my partner-in-crime.

Going down the mountain was fairly easy and nerves completely gone, we didn’t have enough time to spend. Las Vegas being the next stop on this trip, and having to check-in later that day, we had to get going. After we left the park, the weather moved out and the blue skies appeared. 

We decided after a long morning and exercise, we got something to eat at this awesome southwestern restaurant. Even with ponchos we needed some time to get situated with clean dry clothes. Trying to warm up, the food we ordered was So good! Never ending tortilla chips with guacamole and salsa, burgers with sautéed mushrooms with a side of sweet potato fries were off the chain. (sorry no photo) We then made our way with the three hour drive to the Las Vegas. The drive wasn’t so memorable because the land flattened out, but we saw a tumble weed pass by on the highway. That was so exciting! Not something seen here on the east coast so that was cool!

To conclude, we instantly fell in love with Zion National Park ❤️  The mountains are so epic, and hiking here was an experience I will never forget. The emerald color of the North Fork Virgin River graciously passing by as the fog above slid passed the mountain tops were a sight to see. Some might not love the conditions of stormy weather, but as a photographer, it was perfect. Next up, Las Vegas. Stay tuned.

Road Trip Day Two - Arches National Park

Day two of this two-week long road trip began early around 7 A.M. Dropped off the room key at the office, took a few pics of the surrounding area at ponderosa lodge, then we were on our way to Arches National Park in Utah. From google maps, the drive is around seven hours to get there.  It was a pretty drive, but being from the east coast still haven’t adjusted to the faster speed limits of 80 M.P.H. compared to a usual 55 M.P.H. on the highway in Philly is pretty scary.

In between the many miles that were ahead, we made a stop in Boulder to feed the howling wolves inside ourselves making all sorts of racket. Filled up on Starbucks, and a rare Einstein Bagels was a total surprise, because I haven’t seen one in like 15 years back home. A little nostalgia was going on and I had some stories from High School with friends from that joint. After we loaded up, there was a homeless person sitting outside the building in the parking lot. To be honest, the frequent begging back home desensitized me, but this was different. He looked like he really needed a hand, and Charlotte said to me help him out. I got out of the car, reached into the cooler and gave him a bottle of water, protein bar, and a fresh sesame bagel to hold him over. He was more than appreciative and then began to eat. The man said, “Thank you so much, I really needed this, and I appreciate that you helped a stranger.” I then said, “You’re welcome man, its nothing, and be careful out here.” I then made my way back to the car, and set off. Four hours of fast going traffic, the sun was getting to me and I was feeling a bit tired. Stopped at a (I shit you not) a Kum-and-Go. The endless raunchy jokes followed! Fueled up on gas, checked the map, and then made our way to Arches without stopping.

Riding on the last stretch of highway in Utah was purely amazing. I cannot express how cool it was to see this landscape for the first time with the snowcapped Manti-La Sal National Forest to the left.

Once passing the mountains with about 30 more miles to go, the scenery was spectacular!

Without having cellphone service for most of the day, we wanted to find out more information about Arches NP, and curious to know when the visitor center closes. There was still around fifteen, or so miles to go and we were cutting it super close. Within fifteen minutes of arrival, the visitor center closed at 5 P.M.  It wasn't the most important thing to do and see, but having the official national park Passport book, (right) I wanted to have the official stamp marked in there, but this will allow a future visit to the park with more time to explore. Also, more stories to share with family, and friends later. As we got to the gate, The park ranger informed us that the park will be closing in a couple hours, so we had to see the main attractions, but there was one road in particular that was closed.  The Devils Garden area was closed due to flooding, and with a very short time frame deciding that the Windows Section of the park was a good amount of things to see and do.

Driving up the mountain

Driving up the mountain

Walking towards the Windows section of Arches National Park, crowds started to diminish with a storm brewing above. I took the gamble of sticking it out with little rain drops falling and the cold wind followed it. This moment seen here was epic. Silently standing before the second window here, all I can think of how amazing this place is, and how many millions of times the earth had to spin for this to naturally form. Time and erosion will happen, but remember the moment you had, before it’s lost forever. 

Looking past the ancient petrified sand dunes with snow capped mountains to the east, the Manti-La Sal National Forest literally took my breath away. The sheer silent winds brewing storms miles away during the sunset made this scene here one of my favorite moments of this trip.

With the park closing at 7P.M. and only 30 minutes to go, we hopped back into the car, taking a few pics from a few overlooks, and made our way with another 3-4 hours to get to Richfield, Utah. Finally arriving to the motel, it was a little too quiet in this town. Suspicions running amuck inside our heads like a dog chasing a rabbit in circles for hours, the Motel 6 sign above us was brightly lit up, but weirdly enough below it was an inverted restaurant sign. Weird right?! After the brief dirty looks to each other, we were greeted by a super friendly Indian couple you runs the place. They made us feel comfortable, while getting squared away. The room was really clean, affordable, and relaxing to charge up our batteries before making way to Red Rock Canyon State Park, and Bryce Canyon National Park in the morning. Apparently the inverted backward letters were only visible during the night time, and not the Day time. (see below)

West Coast Road Trip - Day One (Part One)

Day One (Part One)

I have always wanted to do a road trip that extended throughout America since I was a young boy. Having to dream many times how cool it would be to see firsthand what the early explorers experienced. With many sunsets passed, this dream finally came true. As a 35-year-old man, I haven’t been this excited since the Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series in 2008.

Setting out on a two-week adventure with my partner in life, we knew that this was going to be the best trip we would ever make. Having the chance to be able to explore, see the country, and get away from every day from the hustle and bustle would be an amazing feeling.

The first stop on this super intensive visual adventurous rollercoaster was Estes Park, Colorado. Driving alongside the Rockies was visually breathtaking. No matter where you would look, there was something to see. From the red rocks below, to the snowcapped mountains above, it was mind blowing how beautiful they are with shades of grey and the haze of orange hue reflecting its way to view across the valley.

Before making way to check-in, Estes Lake is a relaxing spot to kick back before heading into town. With views so grand, I had no desire to think about normal day life. Soon after taking a few photos, realizing that we wanted to have some time to Explore Rocky Mountain National Park, we got back into the rental, and shot over to Ponderosa Lodge.

The location couldn't have been better, and for that price, it couldn't be beat. it was a perfect combo! Ponderosa lodge was really charming, and very laid back. With the river running right beside it. We were greeted nicely by the manager, where he was confused by why I was wearing an Oakland A’s hat, and Charlotte was wearing a Boston Redsox cap with the rental bearing Arizona tags. We joked about it, and talked a little baseball while he was setting up our room. We got to our room, and it was clean and we were satisfied. All we could ask for is a clean place to stay, with no bells and whistles. Equipped with two full sized mattresses, an outdoor patio, a fridge, and a very clean bathroom. For sixty dollars, that's one heck of a bargain.

 

After settling in, and 10 minutes later, we heard screaming. Not sure where it was coming from, so I peeked out the window, pushing the blinds down observing that an older couple having some words with the manager, and I was in total shock. Confusing why he was super cool to us. That is some real Jekyll and Mr. Hyde stuff right there. What we heard was that this couple was impatient about checking in, and the manager was yelling back, “I was trying to give her some compassion man! Her father just died. What is your problem?” The man said, I was just wondering how long will this will be?” The manager then said, “All you had to do is lay back and wait a minute while you were in line. You're an a****** man!” The man said, I want my money back, this is ridiculous!” Still going back and forth about who's an a******, then the man said I am not gonna take this, I want my money back!” The manager then said, “Her father died and worried about sixty bucks man! Get the F outta here! Meanwhile, All I was worried about is letting this fight cool down, and not walk by them and by some chance be brought into it. Definitely not how I do business, and I'll never speak to someone like that, but I minded my own business and we headed out to Rocky Mountain National Park soon after. Quietly, but enough to get-out-of-dodge.

…to be continued.