After a wonderful night of camping in Wyoming, we decided to make one more special stop before long-hauling the rest of the way to Oregon. We chose Craters of the Moon national monument…a place that had us with the name alone. Its a lava field, millions of years old, that has oozed over the earth in the middle of the Idaho wilderness. In some places, the rock resembles black taffy that has been frozen in the act of being turned and stretched. Even tiny rocks of the black pumice here contain millions of sparkling minerals in every color. We climbed a small mountain made of billions of tiny chunks of magma shot out of the ground eons ago to get a sweeping and windy view of the valley below that will take your breath away. Not real good at the pano shot but included it.
The photograph of the lady with her dog happened at the campground there at the monument…which was a highlight in and of itself. They have a first come first serve basis for camping there, and no services except for basic toilet (no water) but there are lots of spaces and the view is almost completely unspoiled. Noise and light pollution are zero so you are in for memorable night of star gazing while camping in the soft, sandy gravel of the campground.
Kelly was hauling a Moped and she and Casey have logged about 300 miles, papoose-style, adventuring from Washington on their way to The Grand Canyon. Casey frequently falls asleep with her nose on Kelly’s shoulder as they motor their way through amazing scenery.
With two cars and lots of stuff, we still needed to take it easy camping-wise until we were united into a single car. KOAs fit the bill nicely. They’re everywhere, they’re cheap, they’re clean and literally everyone I’ve met in one is friendly as hell. My favorite one is in Rock Springs, Wyoming. I’ve been there multiple times now and every time I feel like I’m getting this giant bonus added to my campsite. While one side of the camp very typically faces the highway, the other faces these wonderful Wyoming bluffs that offer one of the best sunset views anywhere. Such a pleasure to share this with my Jyo.
Monument Rocks stick up out of the otherwise flat, Kansas landscape like an illusion. Jyo had been there many years before and was able to describe it to me but I still didn’t have any notion of how anything that could be described as “pyramid like” could be found anywhere in the expanse of Kansas landscape I saw around us. The drive up reveals them only at the last minute and takes you completely by surprise. Access to the area is from a long dirt road but is easily drivable in dry conditions. There are no parking restrictions and its on private land so you can just drive right up to them. We spent nearly 2 hours there…seeing only one other small family group the entire time…photographing and exploring. The rock here is comprised mostly of chalk. Its so soft you can affect it by scratching it with your fingernail…though I expect it took a little more than fingernails to carve the heart-shaped rock we found there.
I took a break after Utah, to rest and prepare for the next part of my road trip…meeting Jyo in Kansas to make the drive with her, caravan style, back to Oregon. I met her in Lawrence, where she was visiting with her sister and her family, having just completed the first leg of HER journey from Virginia. After over a month apart, it was so wonderful so see Jyo again and to begin our adventures together. We spent a few days there and were even able to see her niece in a school production of Much Ado About Nothing before we hit the road again. It was the first live theater I’ve seen in over a year and those kids put on one hell of show. Masks and all…they made it all work and they made it all fun.
Next up…on the road…together finally…from Kansas to Oregon.
I knew my road trip would be broken up into distinct parts: the drive with my stuff from Virginia to Oregon, the drive WITHOUT my stuff from Oregon to California to see so many friends and family. The drive out of California into the dessert for my solo adventure…and onto Bryce Canyon. But it was about Bryce really. Its always been about Bryce. Those damned antique postcards I saw as a kid…they stuck in my brain all these years later.
I spent the first night in Bryce’s North Campground (scooting in just under the wire to get one of the last spaces). Bryce is accessible by roughly 18 miles of road, with access to all the trailheads and scenic pullouts from this main road. The North Campground is at mile marker 1. I was told by the very friendly ranger that the only place in the park that allowed dispersed camping (i.e. on your own) was down at the other end of the canyon…at mile marker 18. With the speed limit at mostly 25 along that road (and trust me…you’ll be glad it is), it took me a few minutes to get to the Yovimpa Pass trailhead and park my car. I had already purchased an overnight parking pass and dispersed camping permit ($5) so I was ready to hit the trail the minute I parked.
I picked Yovimpa not only for the access to the solo in-the-park camping experience I wanted but also because it was the only camping area almost directly adjacent to the rim of the Canyon. It was also the start of a trail that led into the canyon itself. I had promised a dear friend back in Virginia a sunrise photograph from the rim and I figured this was the best place to do it. Oh you can get something at mile marker 1 I suppose…that’s where all the big “amphitheater” photos get taken…by you and about 3000 other people there all clicking away. There’s nothing wrong with that mind you, I was just interested in a different experience.
It was an easy hike, even with a full pack, down that initial trail from the trail-head to the Yovimpa camping area…mostly a gentle rolling down hill along the rim with breathtaking (and somewhat death defying) views of the entire canyon. There is even a place where the view is so vast you can see the northern edge of the Grand Canyon…some 90 miles away. With no one around, I quickly set up my tent, dumped some of my weight and caught the trail into the canyon.
The ranger had warned me earlier that weather conditions can change quickly and that there were high wind warnings and a possibility of snow at some higher elevations. I bore this mind as I spent the next 4 hours, in shirt sleeve weather, hiking, photographing and listening to the wind through the rocks and trees. It was getting late in the afternoon, and that’s when the clouds started to roll in and the temperature noticeably dropped. It occured to me that getting stuck out here, away from my tent and campsite, as night fell and snow started to come down, may not be the most ideal way to spend the evening. I was able to complete the trail loop (about 6 miles) back to my tent just as the sun went down and the snow started to really fall…and stick.
I cooked a quick meal in my tent with my single burner and hunkered down to ride out the night. Kudos to my sleeping bag by the way. I know what you next question is going to be… “weren’t you cold?” and the answer is no…I slept comfortably warm all through the night. There were indeed high winds, but I was sheltered by trees and a tent that cut all but the very worst of it. The next morning I awoke to dead silence and a strange quality of light in my tent. I gingerly reached my hand up and tapped the inside edge of my tent roof. I was a greeted by cheerful “sssSHHHLLLoooooOOOp!” sound as a chunk of built up snow slid gracefully down the side of my tent, allowing unaffected morning light through the fabric. I poked my head out to a perfect winter wonderland…the air perfectly still with just the tiniest shimmer of ice crystals hovering in the dawn light. I poked my hand down into the snow and sank in up to my knuckles.
If I was going to keep my promise, I knew I only had a few minutes to grab my camera and make my way to the Canyon rim. I learned later it got down to 26 degrees during the night, but without the wind and the sun just breaking, I was comfortable enough in just my jeans and a long sleeve overshirt. I nearly ran to the rim and set myself in in a spot I had scouted the day before (loooooong back yesterday when it was sunny and 70). There was still significant cloud cover and the lower canyon was still shrouded in mist but the sky was a quickly moving patchwork of clouds and deep blue. I wasn’t sure if I’d get it…or how long I’d be able to stand there without getting chilled waiting. But as it happened, my wait wasn’t more than a few seconds. The clouds suddenly parted enough to let, for just a moment, a sliver of pure golden sunlight into the canyon. I shot 3 exposures before it was gone again…just as quickly. Sometimes…thats how it is. Sometimes…that’s enough.
Promise fulfilled and the cold starting to catch up with me…I broke camp (which if you haven’t done in the snow before…? Suuuuuucks) and hit the trail again back to where my car was parked. Remember that whole “… mostly a gentle rolling down hill along the rim with breathtaking bla bla blaaaa…” part? Yeah…the thing is…with a full pack again (30-40lbs), several inches of snow on the ground and an air temp of below freezing, all that gently rolling shit went out the door and it took me almost 2 hours to go almost 2 miles..almost all of it very much NOT downhill. It was one of the hardest physical things I’ve ever done actually, and by the time I got to my car I didn’t give two shits about shirking my pack and laying down on the cold wet surface of the parking lot and just staring up at an impossibly blue sky for a few minutes while my breathing came back to normal and my legs stopped shaking. I couldn’t see myself…but Im pretty sure the smile plastered on my dirty face was from ear to ear. And I thought again of those goddamned postcards….
I came back to Oregon directly after that. After being on the road for almost a month, I need some time to rest, recharge and restock before heading out again to meet up with my Love in Kansas. Further adventures and shenanigans to come, this time shared…and I can’t wait.
When I was a kid, I saw a set of antique post cards from Zion and Bryce. They were old prints that had been hand painted. The colors in them were impossible to me…I thought maybe the color artist had gotten a little carried away. I thought then I’d love to see if those color are real. Thats the real reason I decided to come here. Those damn post cards. They’ve always stayed in my mind.
From Las Vegas, to get to Bryce, you gotta go through Zion and oh thank god you do. I didn’t make any stops there other than to shoot from the road but its for sure on my list of places to come back to and explore.
I decided to stay a night in Las Vegas on the way to Zion and ultimately Bryce Canyon. I found a Motel 6 off the strip and looked forward to nothing more than a shower, some decent tacos, a beer and sleep in a bed. Las Vegas holds zero interest for me in terms of its entrainments, however, I’d be an idiot to turn down the opportunity to do some fun steetphotos where literally everywhere you look there is something interesting. It gave me the opportunity to walk off those tacos at any rate. Oooph….
Typecast by its name, the thought of driving through Death Valley made me more than a little nervous. I heard the rumors of gas-price gouging and stories of cars overheating by the side of the road. I was prepared for anything. I wasn’t prepared, however, for just how freaking pleasant it was. Highs never reached more than the lower 90s. My bucket list to do item… a sunrise 6 through the dessert…turned out to be almost effortless. The wind can sometimes come out of nowhere, and the sand along with it, but even that only caused problems for a couple of tents not tied down. I followed the advice of a fellow traveler (Thanks, Devin!!) who suggested I hike a trail just across the way from the campsite. The hike led to Mosaic Canyon. In many places, the rocks have been worn marble smooth by eons of water erosion. Pretty sure I picked just the right time to visit.
After Fresno, I wanted to make my way to Yosemite to see if I could get away with my first real dose of back country style camping. Unfortunately, most of the roads through the park were closed and there were only very limited places to camp. My brother suggested an alternative…the ghost town of Bodie…just on the otherside of Yosemite from Fresno. He had taken his son there a couple of years ago on a road trip. Its an actual ghost town…booming during the goldrush days but then abandoned sometime in the early 1900’s. Like…spooky abandoned. The state park system maintains about 100 or so surviving buildings…allowing some to collapse and keeping others up with just enough support to keep them standing. At one time, the town had it all…homes, a bank, schools, post office, telegraph and morgue. A church, a restaurant and hotels. Much of the Mill still stands. But inside many of these are the dusty reminders of former lives and community. The high desert here, about 7000 feet, waits patiently to reclaim all of it…someday.
I very much got my first real dose of lonely-traveler style camping. All the land around the park is under the Bureau of Land Management…that is to say…its public land and totally legit to camp there, as long as you adhere to some basic rules about where you are in relation to things like roads or other public use land. So just outside of Bodie…which is 10 miles from any modern town or service, down a veeeeery long dirt road….are thousands of acres of untouched desert. Nothing but scrub grass and gently rolling hills for as far as the eye could see. I spent a chilly night under the perfect night sky with only the sound of the wind for company. I of course took the opportunity to take my Onewheel out. Sooooo great.
The next morning, I packed up my camp and entered Bodie just before it opened at 8am. There were only 2 or 3 other early birds there and I had the town mostly to myself. I spent almost 3 hours walking around and taking photographs.
My brother was right. It was totally worth the drive, the chilly nose…the bumpy ride..all of it. Thanks Bro.
Fresno California. I spent some time with my brother and his family, drinking his coffee and mostly soaking up some of that wonderful central valley sun. I promised my niece some photos with her horse and it turned into us photographing pretty much ALL the horses at the stable. A great way to spend the afternoon.