Here’s the plan:
- Pack the apartment over the weekend and load the truck on Monday March 3.
- Hit the road either Monday afternoon or first thing Tuesday.
- Objective, see as much of the country as I can and arrive in Boston to start a new job on March 17th!
On this trip I will be staying in contact via this website and email. I plan on updating this page nightly with descriptions of what I have seen and done for the day as well as pictures. For the purpose of this trip, I purchased a Kodak DC50 camera and will be uploading images directly to this site. I will also be shooting plenty of regular film to keep both Fuji and Kodak happy.
Day 1 Mar 3, San Jose, CA to Auburn, CA
Well I hit the road today about 3pm. I spent the weekend and most of the day packing up my apartment. The movers showed up about 8:30 this morning to start loading.
Today’s drive was to just get out of the bay area and avoid the morning commute tomorrow. I drove out 880 to 80 just east of Sacramento in an old gold town of Auburn. The drive out was very colorful, this is the time of year that I like the California hills the best. Everything is bright green, with the fruit trees flowering and the wild mustard growing in the fields. Give this same area a few more months and everything will be a dry golden brown.
The latest tv ads play up California Cheese, I wonder why there has never been a California Mustard with all the wild mustard that grows in this state. If you have never seen it, this plant is about 2 feet tall, with bright yellow flowers on light green stalks. This plant takes over entire fields and paints them yellow and green.
No pictures today, but I promise more words and pics for tomorrow. Depending on the weather, I’ll either:
- head over Donner Pass and down 395 to Lone Pine,
- head down 49 on the western side of the Sierras and cut across to Lone Pine.
Day 2 Mar 4, Auburn, CA to Lone Pine, CA
This morning was beautiful and I went for Donner Pass into Reno. It might have been snowing the night before, but the road was clear by the time I hit it at 9.
Virginia City, NV
Today’s first stop is Virginia City between Reno and Carson City. On the way into this old gold rush town are many billboards to see the “Suicide Table” in the Delta Saloon. I made my way to Virginia City over the Gieger Summit and hit town from the north which is where “Boot Hill” or the cemetery is located.
Mono Lake CA
Next stop Mono Lake. Mono Lake is a salt water lake that is feed with fresh water rivers and streams. There are also springs under the lake that cause a reaction that forms calcium structures underwater. These structures or tuffa used to be underwater but most of the water coming down the Sierras has been diverted to Los Angeles for drinking water. A recent ruling will see the lake start to refill as less water is diverted until an agreed upon level is maintained.
This salt water lake is a major source of brine shrimp and is also a breeding ground for sea gulls. From spring to fall, this lake is full of the tiny shrimp and the sea gulls feeding on them, but at this time of year everything is calm and quite around the lake.
Lone Pine, CA
Lone Pine is located on the way into Death Valley on 395. Also located here are the Alabama Hills were many of the early westerns were filmed (like the Lone Ranger, Hopalong Cassidy, and Roy Rogers). The rocks here look like a great place to play “cowboy ‘n indians” but that would be politically incorrect now wouldn’t it? What do kids play today instead?
Mount Whitney (highest location in continental US) is also located here as well as Manzanar, the WWII Japanese Relocation camp. There is not much to see at Manzanar currently, but there is an old guard shack, auditorium and building foundations and streets.
Day 3 Mar 5, Lone Pine, CA to Hurricane, UT
Another beautiful morning today with some high thin clouds, but mostly blue skies and warm temps.
Death Valley National Park, CA
I drove into Death Valley this morning from the west side. Coming in from this direction is great because you enter from up in the mountains and get to look down on the entire valley. I didn’t visit much of anything here as I have been here before and to take the best photos you need to be here at sunrise or sunset. I did take a few shots of the sand dunes though.
The treat this time was to see some of the wildflowers in bloom. Although not as prolific as what I have photographed in Anza Borrego, there was a little color here.
Rhyolite is one of those ghost towns outside of Death Valley. I first visited here about 1984 when it was truly deserted. Since then a miming or gravel operation has moved in and started to grind down the hills surrounding this site, as well as a new paved road.
Along with the improvements there are new signs up that indicate what the buildings were and the name of the streets that can still be seen in the brush. The photo here is the old bank building, the best structure at this site is the old train station, but they have now fenced this building so you can’t get a clear view of it. Another interesting building is the bottle house that is remarkable condition.
Las Vegas, NV
This was the first time I had been to Las Vegas. I came in from the north end, so most of what I saw was the residential section. They must have had a run on white, Navajo white, and coral pink paint and stucco. Everything is one of these colors including the bridges that are painted instead of raw concrete.
I didn’t see much here, but I did stop in to buy gas at a station with a mini-mart. It was a shock to walk in and find a row of slot machines there and also see half-a-dozen people playing them at noontime!
Valley of Fire State Park, NV
As you head east on I-15, about 60 miles out you will see a sign for this park. If you look around there are mountains and hills but everything is pretty plain. After driving down the roughest and noisiest paved road in my life, you round a corner and all of a sudden you see masses of red rock hills. It looks like they stole some hills from Utah and put them here.
Zion National Park, UT
I drove into Zion valley as the sun was setting. The only sunlight hitting the valley was at the tops of the peaks. There weren’t many people in the park and most were in the process of leaving. As I drove in I past several groups of deer. It must be dinner time for the deer as soon as the valley gets in shade.
Day 4 Mar 6, Hurricane, UT to Capitol Reef, UT
Another beautiful morning today with mostly blue skies and warm temps. I’ll be leaving Hurricane and heading back out through Zion.
Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
This is “hodoo” country! From the vantage point on top of the plateau you can view the different formations. This is sandstone and limestone that has eroded away from wind and rain. the red coloring is actually iron deposits that have rusted.
Kodachrome Basin State Park, UT
From Bryce I headed northeast to the Kodachrome Basin State Park. I took a quick look at this site and decided that after Bryce this wouldn’t compare and wasn’t worth another three dollars. I then proceeded along the Dixie National Forest. This is a beautiful area where I pickup more snow and bare Aspen trees. Also in this area is sandstone formations like you find in Maob where they ride mountain bikes on these formations.
I followed the road along these formations, up and down some 8% grades that were very fun to drive. This is the first time I have ever driven the actual ridge line of a mountain, but I did here. At one point I hit the top of the hill and the road barley had any shoulder on either side and that fell off steeply.
Capitol Reef National Park, UT
Capitol Reef is another sandstone formation, but this one so large that it kept development of this area to a minimum because the “reef” was so long and dense that they had to build a road around the reef. This took travellers so far out of the way and it washed out whenever there was some serious rain.
Day 5 Mar 7, Capitol Reef, UT to Cortez, CO
Just another beautiful morning today with mostly blue skies and warm temps.
Arches National Park, UT
More red rocks today, but today they have holes in them. After driving along the Moab fault, an area where one side of the freeway pushed 2000 feet higher than the other side, I entered the park. Immediately you have to climb to the top of the mesa where the arches are located. The rock in this are is structured in fins one next to the other. These fins then had holes worn through them to make the arches.
There are several types of sandstone here. The frozen or petrified sand dunes as they are called are Navajo sandstone and the fins and rock structures are entrada sandstone. It is interesting that the soil here feels like a sponge when you walk on it. I don’t know if that is because it is really sand that is damp or if this is the normal feel.
I find it interesting that all of these national parks are based upon the underlying rock being exposed by erosion due to wind or water. There are so many hills and mountains here that have the covering sediments still on or surrounding them – how many more parks could be revealed if we just took a large vacuum cleaner to this area?
Just south of the park are a couple of other arches that are named but are not in the park. As I start to leave Utah and climb into Colorado the snow pack is getting thicker, but it is still very pleasant out in just a long sleeve shirt.
Mesa Verde National Park, CO
Mesa Verde is located on top of another set of plateaus that must be climbed to see the cliff dwellings that this park is known for. The snow is heavy here and most of the area is not accessible but the main structures can be viewed from the road side.
From the visitor center you can hike down to this cliff dwelling and see how it was built and examine the very small windows and doorways and kivas.
I back tracked a little and am staying in Cortez, just outside Mesa Verde. I stopped into a trading post just before it closed tonight; I’m up for a little early shopping tomorrow!
Day 6 Mar 8, Cortez, CO to Winslow, AZ
More of those blue skies and warm temps today. Today I started out with a little shopping. I went into the Notah Dineh Trading Company and Museum. I’m not sure if this is their normal way of selling stuff, but everything was marked retail and then sold at wholesale. So jewelry was 50% off, pottery 20% and kachinas 50%.
Canyon De Chelly National Monument, NM
The approach from the east into this area has me on top of the plateau. There are a series of overlooks that give you views down into the canyon. There are many Anasazi cliff dwellings here. These dwellings were empty some 600 years before the Navajo’s moved in (they are still here farming the valley floor and giving guided trips in the area.
Hubbell Trading Post National Historical Site, AZ
No pictures of this site. This location consists of the original trading post, house and support buildings. This post is still in operation and is the oldest continuing to operate post.
There were no deals on the merchandise here like my stop this morning.
Day 7 Mar 9, Winslow, AZ to Albuqerque, NM
More of those blue skies and warm temps today temperature was probably in the high 60’s today.
Meteor Crater, AZ
Well it’s a big hole in the ground! And it costs you eight bucks to see it. Three miles across and 573 feet deep is this crater and it is the best preserved impact site in the world.
I don’t know if any of you saw the National Geographic TV special on meteors the other day but it was quite interesting. The Schumaker of the Schumaker-Levey meteor that hit Jupiter was a big propenent of meteor impacts during the 60’s when this was evidently thought not to be possible.
Schumaker worked out of Palo Alto and was one of the chief scientist for the Apollo missions and trained the astronauts in imapct geology at this site.
Route 66 in AZ and NM
After visiting the crater I took some of the side loop trips along the old Route 66. One of these days I want to drive the whole length from Chicago to Long Beach, but this wasn’t the trip for it. Along this route though you get to see what America was all about in the 50’s – the road side trading post or zoo!
Acoma Pueblo (Sky City), NM
I took this side trip to the oldest continuously inhabited city in the US. At the time I didn’t realize access was only with a tour group at the actual site, the other surprise is they wanted $10 per camera if I wanted to shoot any pictures. I did pay for one camera, but I didn’t register the digital unit – I’ll have to scan some to these images in later.
While waiting for the tour to start, I visited the vendors in the parking lot. There must be a psychology at work here that says, mark something up for 3 times what you want and then when the “pale faces” look at the price tell them they can have it for $100 instead of $450. Anyway it worked, I left with a new bracelet and two additional pots.
Day 8 Mar 10, Albuquerque, NM to Study Butte, TX
New Mexico started out warm and blue skies, but the closer I got to Texas the more overcast it became until I pulled into the hotel and it looked like they just had rain.
Day 9 Mar 11, Study Butte, TX to Junction, TX
Overcast this morning and it must have rained overnight. Even though it is cloudy, it is still nice and warm.
Terlingua (Ghost Town), TX
First stop this morning was Terlingua, a ghost town just outside the Big Bend Park. It was hard to determine the ghosts from the living buildings in this area. There are several houses that people are living in that don’t look much better than the ruins. This is the site of an annual Chili Cookoff as well as the headquarters for several tour guides.
Big Bend National Park, TX
Big Bend Park is located on the border between Mexico and Texas with the Rio Grande forming the southern border.
This area is very interesting in that it consists of mountains deserts, canyons and rivers. I found most of this area (except the river) to be like the Anza Borrego Desert outside San Diego. It was raining in much of the park of the park, with the mountain area being shrouded in clouds.
The drive around the park is about 150 miles because none of the roads circle the park, they are in a pitch fork shape, so you do a lot of backtracking. This park is out of the way, but I think it is well worth the effort to get here if you enjoy a desert environment. With the addition of the river rafting and horse back riding there is quit a bit to do here.
The drive out of the area was overcast with slight sprits of rain up until about 5pm tonight, when it started to rain. There are flash flood warnings for areas around Austin tonight with more rain expected for tomorrow.
Day 10 Mar 12, Junction, TX to Port Allen, LA
Overcast this morning the Weather Channel is saying there will be a lot of problems in the Houston area an east with rain.
Today is a major travel day. Time to start heading for the east coast. I’m headed out I-10 and wanted to get out of Texas today. The day was pretty uneventful, it was overcast all day, but it only really rained right around Houston. East of Houston it got quit warm and humid, but still overcast.
There were a fair number of flowering trees and wildflowers along the road today. The first twenty miles or so inside Louisiana were on a raised highway running through the swamps and bayous right along the coast. When I first came through here with my Saturn you couldn’t see much except for the tops of the trees along side the freeway, but with the mini-van I could actually see much of the water and some of the shacks out in the swamps.
I hope to get up to and through the Smoky Mountains tomorrow and from there I will see what the snow coverage/report is for the Blue Ridge Highway. I would at least like to complete the bottom third of that route, having already done the top two thirds.
Day 11 Mar 13, Port Allen, LA to Knoxville, TN
Overcast again this morning I didn’t catch any news to find out what the weather is supposed to be like today, but it doesn’t look good.
Today is another major travel day heading east and north today. The rain comes in spurts today. It seems to fall the heaviest right around the major towns and cities. Makes it fun to deal with their traffic.
The road is lined with pine trees with other brush in between. There are dogwoods that are in bloom with their white blossoms, some vine with yellow flowers growing on the other trees and another bush that is covered in purple flowers.
It is interesting that in Georgia where they have clear cut some trees in wide areas, but they left a screen about 20 feet deep to hide the fact that there is nothing behind them.
I had a great dinner tonight at the Applewood Family Restaurant. This is a restaurant that is also located in Gatlinburg. I had pork loin grilled over apple wood, baked sweet potato, fried apples, and apple fritters. I ordered another dozen of the apple fritters for breakfast tomorrow.
Day 12 Mar 14, Knoxville, TN to Spruce Pine, NC
Overcast again this morning.
First stop today is the Smoky Mountains, but to get there I have to go through Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, TN which means DollyWood! These two towns look like something out of Las Vegas or Disneyland, I’m not sure which. The towns are nothing but hotels, arcades, rides, and restaurants, wall to wall tourist trap!
Great Smoky Mountain National Park, TN
Just after Gatlinburg is the entrance to the park. There are 2 main roads in the park. One runs north-south to an area called Cades Cove and the other heads east-west and connects with the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Cades Cove is an area where an old Appalachian town has been somewhat preserved. For such a small area there were 3 churches, 2 Baptist and 1 Methodist. The road out of the park was pretty well covered in fog and rain so there wasn’t much to see there.
Blue Ridge Parkway, NC
I connected up with the parkway just outside of Cherokee and drove on into Ashville. This particular section of the park has the highest point on the parkway. I went through this area 2 years ago and there was snow everywhere, today everything was clear except for the rain.
Day 13 Mar 15, Spruce Pine, NC to Greensboro, NC
I headed north on the parkway from the Spruce Pine entrance. About 20 miles up is the Linn Cove Viaduct. This is a section of the road that was the last to be built because of the construction technique. This small section was built off the edge and above the mountain side rather than use a cut into the mountainside.
After stopping here I returned to Spruce Pine. Along the road back I came across a flock of about 15 wild turkeys and they weren’t even in bottles! Also, because the night was so much colder then the day before there was an ice show on the sides of the rocks with sheets and icicles.
Once I was back in Spruce Pine I went to the Gem Mountain shop and panned several buckets of dirt to remove a variety of gem stones. This store owns and leases about 10 mines that produce a variety of stones. The mines are then mined and buckets are filled. The stones here that I found include: amethyst, tourmaline, quartz, rose quartz, smokey quartz, ruby, emerald, sapphire, garnet, aquamarine, and topaz. The following picture shows these stones, it doesn’t do justice to the color, but you can see the range of sizes.
Day 14 Mar 16, Greensboro, NC to Boston, MA
Beautiful blue skies and cold! Today is the final day of my trip and the run for the end has begun at 7am!
For this portion of the trip I’m going to go as direct as possible, so it is out I-40, to I-85, and then up I-95. Along this route I saw more cops than anywhere else. I saw three cops up til Texas and only one of those was sitting and waiting for a speeder, I probably saw 10 of them today all waiting to catch me!
Most of the interstates that I had been on in the west were posted at 70 to 75 mph, but on the east here at best it was 65 and many were set at 55. Even those that were set at 65 had so many construction zones set at 45-55 that it almost didn’t matter. Actually it didn’t matter except to these cops, because we were all cruising at 70-75 most of the time anyway.
Just some thoughts and reactions to what I saw and did over the last couple of weeks.
- When traveling, don’t expect all phone equipment to be current or amenable. I found one hotel where the telephone and cable to the wall were hardwired with no connectors to allow me to transfer files. I also found switching equipment that had such delays between entering the “8” or “9” prefix and dialing the number that it took repeating the 1 prefix five or six times to get it to be recognized.
- Some of you maybe wondered why I stopped where I did in some places. As a photographer, I wanted to be a critical locations either for sunrise or sunset (not that I had many colorful ones on this trip) and only want to shoot before 10am and after 2pm. The other consideration was the direction of the park in relation to the sun. Where I knew anything about the orientation, I planned on being there when the sun would light the object rather than backlit it when possible. It became quit the trick to try and plan a route that put me where I wanted to be at the time I wanted to be there. I eliminated some sites or spent less time there because of the time of day I was there. For an example of this, look at the picture of the VW spider and then the images from Zion. The spider is backlit and isn’t much more than a silhouette. But in Zion I captured the setting sun hitting the tops of the peaks and adding color to those rocks.
- Digital cameras are great tools, but it added one more level of complexity to my other photography. Not only was I shooting slides in my Canon, print film in the point and shoot, and panoramas with the Noblex, I also had the digital. I was carrying 2 camera bags to hold all this equipment, and that was using just one lens on my Canon!
- Digital photography is more convenient than scanning a negative but they do not hold up on a landscape or an image where there is no large central object in the image.
- Travel snacks consisted of Sunburst (original flavors) and diet Coke or Pepsi in those uncivilized areas where both were not available.
- My average daily cost for this trip was about $120 a day. This covered, gas, food, and hotel costs. We won’t talk about all the incidental items I just had to buy!
- Total distance traveled from San Jose to Boston, via anything I thought was interesting: 5951 miles.