We made it.
We made it.
Day 9: Death Valley (9/9)
Unfortunately, we have no photos today. It’s not as if we didn’t take any, they just weren’t quite descriptive enough of how eventful today was. Or maybe today wasn’t eventful enough due to certain setbacks. So, here I am attempting to make this the most enjoyable text post to read, ever!
As someone with anxiety, Vegas is quite the mountain to climb (specifically at night) which is why it was nice to wake up to a still quite fast, yet slower pace of the city. We had two main goals this morning: find a post office, and a garage that would put two new tires onto Brian’s trooper of a Ford. It was great to feel a sense of home as we sent some mail to friends and family. The process went smoothly and I hope they all appreciate it. Afterwards, the pickle of the day began to take place. When I say pickle, I mean the tiresome mishap. Speaking of tires, we arrived at Pep Boys at 2 p.m Vegas time. Pep Boys may do “everything for less”, but we waited quite long. Actually, the initial 45 minute wait turned into a 3 hour wait. By the time we left the garage it was a few minutes shy of 5 o’clock. Thank you, Brad. Brad was the pro who got us on the road with new tires in a jiffy; please note the sarcasm.
We were going to explore daytime Vegas before we left on our (roughly) 2 hour cruise to Death Valley. Unfortunately, we only had time to check out the Stratosphere. I shouldn’t use the word unfortunate because it gave us the opportunity to view the city at it’s highest point. The sky was cloudy, though, and the photos appeared just bland (for lack of a better word). No worries: we will have captured Death Valley through Brian’s camera lens and perhaps mine, if it does the scenery any justice, by tomorrow afternoon. I’m excited because after the hustle and bustle of Vegas, some barren serenity is just what I need…even if it will be 100+ degrees.
Here is where the other setback comes into play. I was beyond excited to travel the extraterrestrial highway, and I know that Brian was too. Sadly, the sun had set. Our curiosity didn’t set, but the overcast and darkness above us took away from our ability to read any signs/see those small entry ways leading towards Area 51. Aside from the slight upsets, something interesting did take place while we were driving along it’s border. Seemingly out of no where, it began to rain and a strong gust of wind sent the sand ripping towards our car. In the midst of it all, I saw my first tumbleweed! Yes, sandstorms happen in the desert. And yes, occasional rain is common as well. But this all happened in a matter of five minutes or less. We’ll allow you to ponder the strangeness of that.
We arrived at our destination which was a Motel 6 in Death Valley, just a couple miles off of the ET highway. While Brian was going through his photographer motions (editing and such) inside our room, I went just outside of the motel for a brief walk around. During that brief walk I heard barking and howling, then witnessed (roughly) 5 coyotes along the highway. Which didn’t surprise either of us considering we are in the middle of the desert and directly across from the motel are a few jagged mountains. Furthermore, while I was still outside, my eyes captured 4 donkey-mule-horse-esque animals. Later Brian did some research and it turns out that they are termed Burros, which commonly and wildly roam some of the western states.
Dreams are on their way, and sleep is much more than needed for the both of us.
LA tomorrow night. Time seems to have flashed before our eyes.
Antelope Canyon from today in black and white.
Day 8: Las Vegas, NV (9/8)
I don’t think we could have had a longer, more eventful day if we tried. Knowing how many miles we had ahead of us, we woke up bright and early at 7 AM and checked out of our cabin style motel room by 8:30. We drove an easy half hour to Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah and were just stunned. I was half awake when we got there, and even though it was a $25.00 entrance fee to the park, it was well worth it. Our first stop was called Natural Bridge, a red rock formation that had an arch within it - formed from millions of years of mountain runoff that finally pushed a hole through the canyon rock. I’ve seen pictures but they really don’t do any justice. Afterwards, we drove to the infamous Sunrise and Sunset Points, the most popular spots in the park. That’s where there are these hundreds of tall rock spires poking up from the rugged terrain. It looks like dozens of stalagmites - but a lot larger - and they’re a canyon red color. See pictures above.
Afterwards, we left Bryce around 10:30. It seemed like a very short time spent there, but I felt content with what we had gotten to see. We embarked on our four hour journey to the little town of Page, Arizona that laid just on the northern border of the state. On our way through a tiny town of Kanab, Utah, the car started heavily vibrating, and we stopped and got out only to see we had a flat tire to our dismay. Luckily, there were a few tire shops in town and I just drove to the nearest one which was a tenth of a mile away. They replaced two of my tires and we were ready to be on the road again within the hour. I feel very fortunate that it didn’t happen earlier or later on that drive that day - many places we drove through didn’t have civilization (let alone a tire shop) for long periods of time - sometimes at least 30 miles. Just plain, flat desert. Oh, and no cell phone reception for miles either. So I felt lucky.
After we got back on the road, we headed towards Page and unexpectedly drove by the beautiful Lake Powell, a (controversial) manmade reservoir. We saw (and walked along) the Glen Canyon Dam, which was mesmerizing in itself. The dam itself is a massive 710 feet tall, and I don’t think I will ever see that much concrete again in my life.
We finally headed a little further south and got into the town of Page. We booked our (expensive) tour through Antelope Canyon and met at the tour office. I don’t think either I or Becky knew what to expect. When it was time to leave, we were shuffled into a large Chevy Suburban with another five person tour group from the Czech Republic and our Navajo tour guide. It was cramped, but just being in the car with those people was so fascinating. Our tour guide drove us through backroads until finally turning on 4x4 and began driving through dirt. Dirt turned into sand, and sand turned into small dunes. It was pretty exhilarating, fishtailing everywhere through a small canyon in the Arizona desert. We finally got to the actual Antelope Canyon, and it was just jaw dropping.
Our tour guide took us in and I just went trigger happy with my camera. Left and right there were incredible views. The canyon is dark, it’s about a 30 foot high crevasse of scarlet, lined rock - and we were on the floor of it. The canyon, like most others, was carved by millions of years of floods and runoff. I was very happy I brought my tripod, as I could see other photographers in various tour groups getting easily frustrated with the lack of light for handheld photographs. Every turn of a corner was a new incredible perspective. I found myself frequently falling behind our tour group, trying to capture the brilliance of this place but void of people. I almost felt like I was tainting the place just by being there and breathing in the red dust hovering in the air, it was that sacred. See my pictures in black and white below for more.
After a quick stop at Taco Bell and a gas fillup, we left page at around 5 PM and headed out on our six hour drive towards Vegas. It was our last drive longer than four hours for the entire trip, which was relieving. We sat in silence and let the music orchestrate our desert sunset. We arrived in Vegas around 11 and I drove us down “The Strip,” the “Times Square” of Vegas. Most main casinos are on this street and the lights were as vibrant as I remember. It could easily be mistaken for day time if you weren’t looking up.
Finally, we went to our hotel/casino, The Golden Nugget, which is on another famous road in Vegas, Fremont Street. Valet was great and immediately serviced my car. It was such a good feeling to have the tiny luxury of someone parking your car for you. We walked in and of course the place was bustling. Drunks yelling everywhere. Slots ringing. The sound of money being wasted. Adults become kids again here. It was interesting though. Our room was easily the nicest hotel room that we’ve stayed in so far - king sized bed, 42” flat screen TV, the whole works. And for $47.00 for the night, I was sold.
It was a long day, to say the least. The time zones were very screwy. We had begun the day in Mountain Time, entered Arizona in Pacific Time, left Arizona in Mountain Time again, and later arrived in Vegas on Pacific Time. At least we gained an hour of sleep. But we made it through some fantastic sites that I will never forget in my entire life.
Well, after that minor setback (a costly one at that…see below post) we are back on the road again. We’re currently stopped in the little town of Page, Arizona awaiting to go on our tour of Antelope Canyon at 3:00. We finally made it to the Pacific Time Zone, three hours behind Eastern time. Antelope Canyon is probably going to be one of my favorite highlights of the trip so I hope it’s as awesome as I expect it to be. Until later.
Day 7: Bryce Canyon, UT (9/7)
The sun shining through the large windows in the loft portion of the barn we stayed in was a pleasant way to wake. After going through routine packing and breakfast, we bid our farewells to my wonderful family who had been so kind to put us up, and then some. Becky began the eight hour drive to Bryce Canyon, but we didn’t get far.
On our way back through Glenwood Springs, I noticed a cable tram car that ran up the side of the mountain. I recognized it as this ride I had been on before when I was here five years ago. I had forgotten all about it until now, but I remembered how great it was so I convinced Becky to stop. So we followed the cables to the source and paid the 12 dollars for the ride up. When we got to the top, there was a miniature amusement park on the summit of this huge mountain. We decided to ride on the “alpine coaster” - an open two person cart with a handbrake that followed a switchback track along the side of the steep mountain. We must have been going around 40 miles per hour down it, with the wind in our hair, and the gaping wide view of the valley where Glenwood Springs is nestled. I haven’t had that much of a rush in a long time. Until later that day.
Once we finally made it out of the town we were staying in, we embarked on the always scenic drive of Interstate 70 again, the same road we came in on. I didn’t think that there would be much else that could beat our drive between Boulder and Glenwood Springs, but yet again, I was dead wrong. The rest of Colorado was scenic, but nothing we hadn’t seen before. At the very western border of Colorado, we stopped into a dinosaur museum that we had seen signs for on our way to get gas. While in there, we saw some pretty fascinating skeletons, robotic lifelike carnivores, and even a paleontologist’s lab where you could peek through a window at scientists gently removing rock and dirt from tiny fossils.
After our second spontaneous adventure of the day, we made it into Utah. I would like to preface this paragraph by saying that I think out of the 30 states I have been privileged to pass through, Utah is probably the most underrated one. Everywhere is gorgeous. Just on I-70, we must have passed through dozens of crimson canyons, gigantic facades of sedimentary rock, and sporadic plateaus that are miles long. Literally every ten miles was a new “View Area: 1 Mile” sign, and we must have stopped at at least five of them. Very modestly named “areas,” each one had something new and special to offer. The best one was called “Ghost Rocks,” which had the closest scenery to the Grand Canyon that I’ve ever seen out west. This was nice because even though I’ve been to the Grand Canyon, Becky hasn’t, nor is it planned on our trip to go there, so giving her a taste of that helped me feel a bit better about not going. While stopped there, I heard a strange accent from a nearby married couple and their daughter also admiring the view. I asked where they were from and they had hailed all the way from New Zealand, two months deep into an “around the world” road trip. The people that we’ve randomly met have all been incredibly interesting. I’m sure I can speak for the both of us when I say we’ve been very fortunate so far.
After all of our dawdling through the east coast equivalents to “scenic overlooks,” we decided it was time to get the show on the road and drive, since it was a long day. I booked it through the south of Utah and arrived here at our cabin style motel around 9:30 at night. We’re 10 miles out of Bryce Canyon, and we’re going to wake up very early tomorrow to enjoy what little amount we can. Tomorrow is another long driving day, but of course a scenic one as well, dipping into Arizona to a fairly well kept quiet place called “Antelope Canyon,” and then finally up to Las Vegas later at night.
It seems as if every day is trying to outdo itself - and succeeding. My expectations always seem to go down after an incredible place like Ghost Rocks, but somehow the scenery either improves, or shows us something completely new that’s refreshing enough to keep us thoroughly impressed. I wonder if tomorrow can outdo today, because today outdid yesterday. We’ll have to see. Until tomorrow.
Day 6: Glenwood Springs, CO (9/6)
Though both Brian and I had troubles falling asleep last night, it felt great to wake up naturally. However, due to our schedules it’s been necessary to wake up shortly after the sunrises. So, I think our habits have grabbed ahold of us and we wake up semi-early, anyway. Wake, drive, settle, sleep, repeat.
It was a rainy morning in Boulder and as I’ve been told, that just doesn’t happen frequently. In fact, Trudy mentioned that Colorado has (on average) 330 days per year without rain. That may or may not be precise. But I suppose the mostly barren land outside of her home was appreciating the precipitation, as well as the citizens of Boulder. I will say again that Trudy is quite the lady. She has the laid back personality which I’ve been noticing a lot within the people here at Colorado. Along with being laid back though, she’s quite persistent; persistent in a caring, friendly way. After a few Poptarts and a spoon full of peanut butter, we wished farewell and many thanks to her and Tasha (her giant, white, fluffy pillow of a dog).
It was a great relief to know that we only had about a four hour drive ahead of us. Brian’s mom had suggested that we have lunch with her friend Cathy while we were still in Boulder. She ended up having important matters to tend to which was perfectly fine because that gave us time to roam the city for a while. I bought a T-shirt, of course. It reads: “In most states getting this high is a felony”. Again, such a tourist sometimes. Afterwards we met a kitten named Pegasus, browsed and purchased novels at a quaint book store, came so close to being guilted into supporting children in other countries (which is an absolutely worthy cause, don’t get me wrong), stopped at Chipotle to feed Brian’s tummy, and stopped at a gas station to fill Brian’s Focus up. Before we knew it we were on our way to Glenwood Springs, CO to stay with Brian’s cousins Nancy and Denny. I thought the view from Trudy’s house was breathtaking, but the interstate on the way to Glenwood Springs was more than that. A few stops were made just to capture the essense of the snowcapped mountains which slowly turned into dry, red, rocky mountains. The rain was relentless, but it didn’t affect the beautiful scenery.
Before we knew it, we arrived at Nancy and Denny’s home. I met Brian’s great aunt Ren who is Nancy’s mother and she is delightful. Not only delightful but knowledgable and her experiences and stories completely blew me away. Then, I met Brian’s great uncle Karl who is Nancy’s father. He is unbelievable. A jewish man, with a strong German accent who has survived the reign of Hitler and far more unimaginable events. Talking to Ren and Karl was almost like being in the midst of a college history lecture (in a fantastic way).
We all had an enjoyable dinner and shared more life stories. Then gathered in the family room to feast our ears as Brian played his guitar for family who seemed to be mesmerized.
Denny is a sort of nerdy, innovative man who showed us a few crazy automatic insertions as well as creations that he had placed around the guest house. The guest house is where Brian and I are sleeping tonight. It’s like our own hideaway in the midst of the mountains. Nancy, I know you will read this. You are absolutely wonderful in your own quirky way and we thank you for everything. Included in that thank you is the use of that ever so relaxing hot tub. It’s about 3 a.m, and too late to function if I may say so myself. Tomorrow: hello Bryce Canyon, Utah. I hear you are a wondrous view.
Our odometer reads 2,059.8 miles so far.
Making progress. Utah today.
Day Five: Boulder, CO (9/5)
We started off our day leaving the somewhat sketchy hotel in a small suburb of Lincoln, Nebraska. We were both somewhat fortunate to get out of there, I think. Shortly after leaving, we passed this gorgeous field full of sunflowers. Becky loves them so we decided to stop. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many in my entire life. The field literally went as far as my eye could see. I held the camera above my head to take the picture above but it didn’t really capture the beauty of it. I don’t think any picture can capture the true beauty of anything, but this didn’t even come close.
Anyway, Nebraska was a haul. It was probably one of the longest states we’ve driven through so far. It’s pretty much what everyone makes it out to be - lots of corn and lots of straight county roads. But as soon as we got into Colorado, everything started to become more cinematic. We got there and filled up on gas at a station straight out of the 70’s. Nothing was digital about this place. It was a refreshing change. The wind really picked up around there, too. As we drove further into the state, we saw the Rockies off in the distance and got excited. It’s very strange. They literally sprout up out of nowhere. No gradual mountains in between. It’s just flat, and then it spikes. I found that interesting.
We drove through the city of Boulder, following our trusty GPS (who hasn’t failed me yet) to my cousin Trudy’s house. We thought her house was in the downtown area of Boulder and didn’t know what to expect. We began driving through the mountains and kept going up. Before we knew it, we were at the tops of the very mountains we had been marveling at earlier. 8,000 feet up, my GPS told me. Trudy’s house is incredible. I know I’ve used that word a lot this trip but it is absolutely gorgeous at her house. I’m in a McDonald’s in downtown Boulder right now because she doesn’t have WiFi, but I kind of like it that way. It’s nice to just disconnect from the world sometimes and take in the natural beauty. This trip has really changed my perspective on using technology. I’ve realized how much less I could use it and how much more I could take in. I will post pictures of Trudy’s house tomorrow sometime.
The pictures you see of the mountains are right behind her house. It was about all I could ever ask for. I’m happy because I think it exceeded Becky’s expectations too. She’s never been here before (I have) so I wanted her to enjoy it the most. But I ended up doing so as well. Colorado is just the epitome of the west. It was a vacation to this state when I was a 15 year old that induced me into the wide realm of photography, so being back here is like finding my roots again. It’s really a wonderful feeling. I wish we were staying here longer. But fortunately, tomorrow, we’ll be driving to western Colorado to stay with some more cousins, so we’ll still be in the state. Stay tuned.