Take me back to Wyoming, sitting by a campfire with some of the most beautiful mountains in the world in the distance with a hot cup of coffee in one hand and my camera in the other. It's hard for me to imagine a better way to spend a morning, and I can't wait for the next moment like it. They always seem to revolve around mountains and either coffee or beer, or at least for me they do. The pit in my stomach after every trip differs according to the amount of excitement and adventure of each one, so it's safe to say this is one of the more miserable ones I've ever had. What's the only cure for the post adventure blues? Planning more trips, of course!
So here are my top 3 must do trips for the rest of 2017. My hope is making them public will light a fire under my butt to actually make them happen. We'll see how well that works..
1. Havasu Falls:
These majestic, turquoise falls are now at the very top of my adventure list. It is the ultimate Arizona adventure. A 10 mile hike down into the middle of the Grand Canyon to a secluded waterfall that looks more like a landmark straight out of Avatar than something you'd expect to find out in the southwest. It is the sacred origin place of the Havasupi tribe, and they are very gracious to even let anyone else come and enjoy their incredible healing waters. Havasu Falls are a true oasis in the Grand Canyon.
2. Yosemite National Park:
The birthplace of big wall climbing. The valley of all valleys. The massive, awe-inspiring, Yosemite National Park has more folk lore and legends associated with it than almost any other park in the states. It is a place begging to be photographed, daring you to try and capture all of its glory in a photo. El Cap, Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, Vernal Falls, Artist Point, and the list goes on. I tell Bri every time we get to a new park that "I think it might be my favorite yet", but in the case of Yosemite, I may actually mean it when I finally get to say those words out loud there in the valley.
3. Carlsbad Caverns National Park:
When I was about 10 years old, a church group I was involved with called the R.A.'s, or Royal Ambassadors, took a trip to The Lost Sea, the largest underground lake in North America located in Craighead Caverns, a cave system just about an hour outside of my hometown of Knoxville, in a little town called Sweetwater, Tennessee. Though I haven't done it a whole lot since then, I fell in love with exploring caves that day. The getting ridiculously dirty part is of course always a plus, but the going to remote areas that few humans have been to is what really got me. Although I will admit that I'm a bit more concerned with getting stuck now than I was 14 years ago, I still have that same feeling when I think about putting on some old ratty clothes and exploring the mud and rocks and admiring the different structures that form deep underground. When I first got really into the National Parks and made my goal to see them all, Carlsbad Caverns caught my eye, but has always been shuffled down the list whenever it comes to planning trips. After knocking off quite a few of the ones on the top of the list on Nanny's trip, I'm determined to get over to New Mexico and see Carlsbad before the end of the year.
What trips are you planning this year? Any suggestions on adventures in any of these three locations or places near them? Leave a comment and let me know!
Picking favorite photos from this trip is a near impossible task. I fall in love with a new handful of shots every day; solely because I still can't believe I got to photograph so many incredible places.
I took almost 2,500 photos and out of those I've selected about 250 to edit. I've gotten through 125 of those so far, and these are my favorite from each location out of that bunch.
The first time I laid eyes on a photo of Horseshoe Bend I stopped everything I was doing and looked up where it was and moved it to the top of my mental "must photograph" list. That was almost 2 years ago and I finally have the shot I've been picturing all that time. A photo could never do this awe inspiring bend in the Colorado River justice. It's size is impossible to capture. That wall measures exactly 1,000ft down to the water at the spot I was standing in to take this.
The wind was something else that night in Monument Valley. According to my FitBit I slept 2hrs and 23 minutes that night. As I awoke from the last of that terrible sleep I was greeted by this view, and nothing else mattered for a few minutes. Then we had to pack up in the rain and the exhaustion set in and I was miserable until the 3rd or 4th cup of coffee. Totally worth it.
Arches National Park
Arches was the first park I took my Canon to after I bought it last May. I look back at those photos and appreciate them for what they were, but am honestly embarrassed at the poor editing I put into them. So going into this trip I knew I wanted to nail some shots to compare and see how much better I've gotten. This is my favorite because it's far and away the best one I took and is in an entire different class as the shot from last year. This shot is the biggest testament to my growth in my first year taking this photography thing seriously.
Canyonlands National Park
I love this shot for a few reasons. The first being you couldn't see that lower level of rock when we drove up, and nanny was changing memory cards so she came down a minute later and saw us sitting on the edge and had a mini panic attack. I probably sound like an awful grandson, but this is the relationship we have always had. She, like my mom, chooses to ignore most of the things I do when it comes to adventure. What they don't realize is their warnings of danger lurking around every corner are what drove me to seek it out. Sorry y'all. After she realized we were totally fine, nanny even got some cool shots of her on the edge. See, I just have my ways of getting her to experience things to the fullest! Another reason I love it is the sunburst. I live for these things. When they come out right, they are the perfect addition to any good landscape. And lastly, I love the shot of Bri looking out into the canyon. She has the same appreciation for the parks and for views like this one, and I love that I could capture that.
Grand Teton National Park
This is another shot I've had burned into my mind for over a year that I'm so happy to finally have. These mountains are one of a kind. I described them to nanny as the closest thing to the mountains the grinch lived in that I've ever seen. I still think that's a solid description. The texture is what really draws me to them. I couldn't stop looking the entire time they were out from under the clouds that morning.
Yellowstone National Park
Out of all the shots I had in my mind before the trip, this is the only one that came out EXACTLY like I imagined it. And it couldn't have been more perfect. I got this not 5 minutes into Yellowstone. We came around the first bend and there these guys were right there on the road, the exact photo I wanted more than any other in Yellowstone. These were also the two largest Bison we saw if I'm not mistaken. Just massive creatures. I'm very proud of this shot, and thankful these guys decided to come out when they did.
Bryce Canyon National Park
This shot was never supposed to happen. If things had gone according to the plan, we would have still been asleep in Salt Lake City the moment this was taken. Things don't always go to plan though, and we didn't get to stay in Salt Lake, so we booked it to Bryce Canyon for sunrise. We were running on copious amounts of gas station coffee and just a few hours of sleep in a car, but I think I speak for all of us when I say I'd do it a hundred times over to experience that sunrise again.
Zion National Park
We didn't get to spend a ton of time in Zion, but I still feel like we saw so much. I honestly was so taken by it all that I forgot to take as many pictures as I usually would've. I got a few good ones at the couple of pull offs, though, and this is my favorite. I love the color choice of the roads in Zion. It compliments the scenery so well.
After we left Heart Six I honestly didn't have any free time to write a blog, so here is the condensed version of them all.
We had some changes of plans on Saturday and didn't end up getting to see Will, which was a bummer, but I've been meaning to plan a trip up there anyway so now I have even more motivation to get on that. So, with that change came some options: we stay in Salt Lake City at a Motel 6, or we book it to Bryce Canyon and get a few hours sleep somewhere and catch the sunrise in the park. Of course we took the latter. We spent almost 11 hours in the car that day, by far our longest drive of the trip, but it couldn't have been more worth it. We found a gas station to sleep at in Panguitch, Utah, about 15-20 minutes from the entrance to Bryce Canyon National Park. After a few restless hours of sleep we woke up at 5:30, managed to find the one 24/7 gas station in town for some coffee, and headed to the park. We arrived at Sunrise Point just inside Bryce Canyon at about 6:15 and got a good spot for the sunrise, scheduled to arrive at 6:35 or so. It was a blistery 20 degrees out, but we all were way more concerned with the view than the cold, and we were all bundled up in blankets, so we couldn't complain too much. The sun poked over the canyon rim right on time and provided a solid 30 to 45 minutes of incredible lighting. The glow of the sun illuminated the canyon walls and Hoodoos and lit the entire valley below in a fiery red. After we had our fill we went and hit the visitor center and a few more view points and then set of for Zion National Park, about 90 miles away.
Zion has a different flavor all its own that is obvious from the moment you hit the front gate. The road changes from its usual asphalt color to a desert red that blends in perfectly with the surroundings in Zion. We drove in the east entrance and took the famous Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway 12 miles to the visitor center. Nanny got a magnet at every stop and I added quite a few stickers to my already ridiculous collection. We took pictures along the highway and took our time going along the steep switchbacks, narrow hairpins, and especially the tunnel, it has to be at least a mile and a half long, and windy as well. After exploring and getting our things from the shop, we had a picnic lunch with a beautiful view of Zion all around us, and then packed up and took off for Tehachapi, California, home of my Uncle Greg.
We made it about five and a half hours into the drive to Greg's when i felt the bouncing. We had been stuck in traffic since Vegas, about 75 miles back, and had just driven through a work zone. It was windy as hell, but I still knew. It was a flat tire. Left Rear most likely. I pulled off the next exit and threw it in park, got out and sure enough the left rear is about half flat and there is a 3" screw sticking out of it. Just fantastic. Luckily my father knows my luck with things like this and has me as a pretty esteemed member of AAA, and its a good thing. I have them on speed dial at this point. I call and finally get the driver an idea of where we are at and he comes to change the flat. Only one problem. You see, I wouldn't have even called AAA if it weren't for the fact that my 4runner has no jack kit and I've been too stubborn to go pick one up. One of those, "itll happen one day and ill take care of it then" scenarios I constantly talk myself into. Nevertheless, I expect this to be a quick and easy change for the AAA guy, but it's never easy. He of course doesn't have the Toyota specific bar to release the spare from under the back end. So I look at him and ask what my options are. "Ill tow you back to a shop in town". Now is when my gold plus membership really kicks in, because I just so happen to get 100 miles free towing with that bad boy. We are currently 80 miles on the dot away from Greg and Andrea's. So I break the news to this poor guy that he just inherited a 160 mile journey at 9pm and we set off for Tehachapi in Tow.
Once we got to Tehachapi we crashed and spent the next day getting the tire all fixed up and then exploring some. Tehachapi is one of my favorite small towns I've ever been to. With wine country and windmills lining the valley, the views are pretty different everywhere you go, but the atmosphere is all the same. It grabs almost everyone that comes through and makes them want to come back again and again. We went and had a good hot meal with the whole Tehachapi crew, and then got another good nights sleep before coming back to Phoenix today. It was the best week of my life and I'm so glad I got to share it with two of my very favorite people in this world.
Remember how I said all the wildlife was hiding from us? Yeah, that didn't last long.
We got up yesterday morning at 6 to a cloudy sunrise but a beautiful layer of fresh snow over everything. We got coffee in the lodge and sat by the fire enjoying the comfort, warmth, and views of the meadow out front. We got ready and headed off to West Yellowstone, about 2.5 hours away. As we were heading south in Grand Teton we came across a herd of Bison right alongside the road. Some were fighting and most were grazing, and they paid no attention to us whatsoever as we snapped photo after photo from just the opposite side of the road.
To to get to West Yellowstone you have to drive up and over Teton Pass, about 4,000 feet of climbing and then right back down. Gonna take a second here to brag on my 4Runner. 4,000 feet of climbing and then immediately 4,000 feet of descent in about 6 inches of snow and sleet is quite unnerving, but that thing stuck to the road like glue and didn't even give us a single scare(nanny and Bri might disagree with me there). It's an incredible drive, and one I would do over and over if I could.
We crossed into Montana and West Yellowstone at about 11am and were immediately greeted by two huge Bison on the road, one of the quintessential Yellowstone photos. We were estatic, but totally unaware that we would go on to see at least 100 more in our 4 or so hours exploring the park.
We took a right at the first junction and headed towards Old Faithful, about 16 miles away. It took us 2 and a half hours due to stopping every tenth of a mile to look at Bison, Elk, Bald Eagles, Moose, Hot springs and Geothermal pools. Yellowstone truly has it all. The Geothermic activity in the lower basin is some of the wildest stuff I've laid eyes on while exploring nature. Bubbling holes of mud created by earthquakes 100 miles away, boiling hot springs with deep, gorgeous blue water, and the brightest orange and red earth you could imagine. It's easy to see why the people of this country wanted to preserve such an incredible landscape, making it the worlds first ever National Park.
Today we head back south to Orem, Utah to meet up with one of my dearest and craziest friends from High School, Will Locklear. I haven't seen this man in 5 years and couldn't be more excited to see him again and to meet his wife, Jessica. It should be a nice and relaxing day after back to back non stop days.
I'm late again but oh well.
Yesterday was so much fun. We left Park City and drove 5hrs north up to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The drive goes through about a half dozen small towns with populations of less than 200 people, stratles the border of Idaho and Wyoming(as in the center line of the road is the state line. We drove in both at once!), and rides along mountain range after mountain range. I think between Nanny and Bri we have about every 5 seconds or so documented.
The really fun part came after we drove through Jackson and Grand Teton National Park. Nanny thought we were gonna be camping last night and tonight and I could see her questioning it in her head as we drove up and up and the snow got deeper and deeper. So when we turned into the absolutely gorgeous Heart Six Ranch here in Moran, WY about 5 miles from the entrance to Grand Teton, she lost her mind. See, Nanny grew up watching old westerns and LOVES Annie Oakley, John Wayne, and especially Roy Rogers. She told me awhile back that she had always dreamed of going to a dude ranch in Wyoming, so I of course had to make it happen. The look on her face was absolutely priceless. To be able to give her even an ounce of the adventure and joy she's given me my entire life is a really special thing to me.
After we settled in and talked with the staff for awhile(they are genuinely some of the nicest people I've ever met, but with a life like theirs how can you not be?), we took off to search for more wildlife. Grand Teton and the surrounding area is home to Bison, Elk, Moose, Grizzly Bears, and Wolves. We have a goal to see them all before we leave. Last night we caught a few glimpses of some Moose and saw a TON of Elk, but the others have been hiding so far.
Today we are off to Montana and the West Entrance of Yellowstone National Park, and then we will be back here at Heart Six for another night!
Our campsite at Archview Campground just north of Moab was absolutely perfect for what we wanted last night. Quick and easy, but still with amazing views. We could see the same Arches in The Windows section of the park that we had visited just hours ago from the front of the campground, hence the name Archview. We got up this morning around 6 again, this time much more rested and rejuvenated than yesterday morning. We made coffee and breakfast, packed up, and then hit the road around 8:30. The entire drive today was so beautiful, from the red rocks of Moab to the ski slopes of Park City in just under 4 hours. Views of snow capped mountains, aspen groves, mining towns and flowing rivers made the drive fly by.
We got to Park City around 1, and walked down Main Street to get some food while we were waiting for our room to be ready at the Marriott Mountainside (Shout out to my Pop for letting me use some of his Marriott Points), a beautiful ski resort nestled right against the mountain, as you could probably guess from the name. We found a little deli and got a good hot meal in us and then spent the remainder of the afternoon going to the Hot Tub and laying around relaxing in the room. After a quick and easy dinner, we uploaded and edited some of our favorite photos from the first 3 days of the trip and now we are all about to hit the hay. Today was a much needed slower day before we head off for Wyoming and Grand Teton National Park tomorrow!
Today started out rough ya'll, I ain't gonna lie.
After about 3 hours of sleep and barely having an actual tent left over us after being beat to death by the wind all night, I woke up at 6 to a very underwhelming sunrise considering my expectations for Monument Valley, and then for a split second thought I had lost Nanny. I panicked and frantically searched the vacinity for her, knocking on every bathroom and looking in every car and tent I could for her. When I went to go get Bri to tell her I had lost my grandmother for good, I saw Nanny sitting in her chair taking pictures of the Monuments. Apparently getting a little chilly towards the end of the night, she got up and went to the unbelievably warm bathhouse to journal and wait out the wind and cold. In a coincidence too funny to be made up, we walked right past each other on either side of the car as I was walking up to look for her and she was heading back to the tent.
After gathering myself, I attemted to boil water for coffee. Since fires aren't permitted in the Navajo park, we had to boil it using a small camp stove and a can of sterno. With the wind and cold and a little rain here and there, it took almost an hour to boil. At this point we all feel like death and don't want to do anything, much less pack up and clean.
But alas, we finally got some coffee in us and everything packed up despite the rain, discomfort, and impending exhaustion, and set off for day 2's destination: Moab, Utah and its 2 National Parks.
The day got MUCH better from here.
Here's us at Arches National Park, specifically at the Windows. A group of landmarks in an area the size of a shopping center including Double Arch(my personal favorite), the Individual Windows, and Turret Arch.
Arches has some of the most spectacular geological features in the world, and is honestly a must see for anyone remotely intrigued by rock formations, or just nature in general.
Nanny got mad at me again for fibbing to her about the distance and elevation to the Delicate Arch Viewpoint(1mi roundtrip and a couple hundred feet), but once again, she did great and loved every second of it.
For the longest time leading up to this trip, I was referring to Canyonlands National Park as "the mini Grand Canyon"
I was so innocent and naïve.
This bad boy dubbed "The Island in the Sky" took our collective breath away from start to finish. From the stunning white capped canyons to the wildflowers to roads with drop offs on either side that'll make your head spin, this park has everything. The canyons themselves are vast, wide, and even have more canyons of their own! Where the Grand Canyon blows you away with its sheer depth and countless layers of rock, Canyonlands gets you with colorful rocks and vast stretches of canyon floor going on for what seems like a million miles off in the distance. There is little ability in the human mind to comprehend a space so incredibly vast and empty.
Day 2 provided some stressful moments and an even greater amount of wow moments. It wore us out and got us going. It was another amazing day on the road.
We're camping out in Moab tonight and hitting the road for Park City, Utah bright and early. Day 3 is a relaxing day and boy do we need it after these last 2 jam packed days of adventure.
A day late but hey, better late than never.
We started our journey off having to stop about 5 times in the first hour to re-strap the roof rack after almost losing our camping gear all over I-17. After resolving the issue with a little engineering(zip ties and camp knots), we headed off to our first stop: Horseshoe Bend.
This incredible landscape is something I've been dying to see, but has been just out of the way of every other trip. Pictures truly do it no justice.
Nanny was was a little angry with me for telling her it was a quarter mile hike when it was actually 3/4 of a mile, each way, but I wasn't about to let her miss out on this one-of-a-kind view.
When we left Page, AZ and Horseshoe Bend, we back tracked a little and then headed northeast to our first campsite right on the AZ/UT border: Monument Valley.
Not too shabby, right?
"The View" is the most fitting name of a campground one could have. Through the ridiculous winds of the night and lack of sleep due to said winds, we never lost our excitement, because I mean look at it.. how could you be upset with a view like this??
What an opening day.
About a year ago I got an idea.
To put this idea in perspective I have to provide a little back story. My grandmother, Brenda Harkleroad (better known as Nanny, Brenda Fay, Nan-Dog, and many other endearing nicknames), is not only one of my favorite human beings on the planet, but also the one who got me into both exploring the outdoors and taking photos, being quite the adventurer and photographer herself. Growing up I spent hours outside exploring and learning about the outdoors with Nanny and my late grandfather, who I called Poo-Paw. They instilled in me a desire to be in the great outdoors that has never died out.
So, back to the idea. A year ago I'm brainstorming plans for big trips in 2017 and I have said idea: Take Nanny on the most incredible southwest road trip I could come up with. To give her the true southwest experience hitting all the highlights. Nobody in the world is more deserving of an adventure like this than her. So I started planning things out. I started with a route stretching all the way up the west coast and across to Colorado before realizing I was in a little over my head. After spending hours looking up routes and narrowing it down, I came up with a northern route to Wyoming, with plenty of stops in Utah and northern Arizona both there and back including Canyonlands National Park, Arches NP, Grand Teton NP, Yellowstone NP, and Zion NP and many more incredible places.
It it seems crazy that we are now just 3 and a half days away from setting off on this trip. I hadn't truly seen it all coming together until we were organizing gear yesterday and I realized it's all planned out and really happening now. There's no telling what kind of nonsense we will get into and what incredible things we will see. I will (hopefully) be posting an update each day here and on my instagram and Facebook pages.
Heres to one hell of an adventure
5 of my favorite drives I've taken, from North Carolina to California, and everywhere in between
1. Knoxville, TN to Asheville, NC via I-40
This 115 mile stretch of road cuts right through the heart of the Cherokee National Forest and offers one of the most beautiful scenic drives in America. It is known to locals as "The Gorge", and it doesn't take long to understand why; the winding road cuts through a literal gorge in the mountains with many sharp curves and tunnels. As you drive the mountains jut up on either side creating an almost clostrophopic feeling. Once you get passed that, relax and enjoy the view of the gorgeous Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina.
The drive isn't the only thing that makes this trip worth it; as both Knoxville and Asheville are smaller towns with incredible personalities. The Scruffy City of Knoxville has the worlds fair site, The University of Tennessee, and a fairly recently renovated Old City with a great night life. Asheville, on the other hand, is known for its wide selection of locally brewed Craft Beers, beautiful Modern Art, and huge music scene!
2. Route 66
The Mother Road. The one that started it all. Before Route 66, there were no "Road Trips" as we know them today. This is far and away the longest trip on the list, coming in at 2,451 miles, stretching from Downtown Chicago, IL to the Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles, CA. Full of roadside attractions, odd hotels and restaurants, and blasts to the past, this road gives twice as much as it takes from you. It is long, and seemingly endless at times; however the freedom of the road and wonder of what crazy thing will present itself next drives one to wonderlust rather than insanity, even after 40+ hours. Route 66 is a true spectacle of American engineering and culture of the past, as well as some from the present as Route 66 is ever changing to keep people coming back time and time again.
3. Denver, CO to Phoenix, AZ via Moab, UT and Monument Valley.
As far as diversity of scenery, you would have a very hard time finding a drive that could compete with this one. Starting in the thick of the Rocky Mountains and ending in the middle of the Desert of Central AZ, you will pass through towering aspen trees, down through the petrified rock of western CO, into the red rocks, natural arches, and vast canyons in Moab, UT, pass through the world famous Monument Valley, and again up through mountains and Snow of Flagstaff, AZ. This drive of around 850 miles will have a max elevation of around 8,000 feet and drop all the way below 2,000 feet by the time you hit Phoenix. The wildlife, weather, and scenery will change drastically 4 different times in less than 1,000 miles! So grab your snow pants, bathing suit, hiking boots, and sandals, and hit the road!
4. Sedona, AZ to Flagstaff, AZ via Highway 89A
At only 30 miles, this is the shortest drive on the list by almost 100 miles, but don't let the distance fool you, Highway 89 packs as much as you possibly can into a 45 minute drive. At the bottom you will be in the Mecca of Red Rocks: Sedona, AZ. This small town is as charasmatic as one can be. Sedona is know for its New Age vibes; with plenty of yoga studios, spiritual awakening tours through the vortexes in the Red Rocks, Spas focused on spiritual awakening, and even palm readers and other fortune tellers. It is a very calm, relaxing place, even if you aren't into all the healing and spiritual stuff.
As you take 89a up the canyon, you will have incredible views of Cathedral Rock, Snoopy Rock, and other well known rock formations in Sedona. After a few miles you will come to Slide Rock State Park(pictured below), one of the more famous swimming holes in the Southwest. The rock streambeds have been smoothened into perfect, natural water slides, hence the name Slide Rock. Take a break here and go for a dip, you won't regret it!
The rest of the drive up to flagstaff is mostly switchbacks up the canyon walls. There are cabins, resorts, and restaurants right on the creek in some places, but a lot of the drive, especially the further up you get, is nothing but incredible views of red rocks, trees and streams. Once you get to the top of the canyon you will keep climbing and notice the red rocks have been replaced with aspen and pine trees, and the temperature will have fallen between 10-25 degrees depending on the day. This short drive is a great getaway from the heat of central Arizona, especially in the summer!
5. Los Angeles to San Diego via I-5s
Taking I-5s from LA to San Diego is a gorgeous 125 mile drive along the famous coastal cliffs of Southern California. With plenty of pull offs and scenic views along the road, there is ample opportunity to catch glimpses of the waves coming in and crashing against the cliffs. Grab a picnic lunch, and enjoy it on the cliffs as you listen to the sound of the ocean below, or grab just grab the camera and take a few minutes to stretch your legs and enjoy the view. There is nothing like rolling the windows down, blasting some music, and enjoying the fresh air and beautiful surroundings. There aren't many places to enjoy the sun and the waves than SoCal, so make sure to plan a stay in one or both of the cities to get a full appreciation of the area. But when you feel like hitting the road and letting the smell of the salt water and coastal winds take you on an adventure, look no further than this short, but worthwhile drive between California's two best beach cities.