America Road Trip 2011

America Road Trip

Having spent the last two weeks in the Canadian Rockies we were very excited to continue our adventure into the USA, we made a brief stop in Seattle to meet up with friends on Alkai beach before heading for the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. We spent the first night in Forks, recently made famous by the Twilight books and movies and made a visit to the coast before it got dark. The town of Forks is very small and uninteresting but is managing to use its recently found fame to draw in Twilight fans from all over. The visit to the coast however was great, the beaches are covered with huge driftwood that the nearby rivers have managed to undercut and float out to sea. Before heading away from the coast we made a visit to the rainforests that the Olympic Peninsula is so famous for.

After a couple of days on the coast we decided to head in land and away from the constant cloud for some sunnier skies in southern Oregon. We drove right across the State of Oregon from the North West corner to the south, the drive was stunning the whole way and the roads were almost empty. We were heading towards crater lake in southern Oregon to visit one of the deepest, coldest, purest and bluest lakes on earth.


Crater Lake was formed over 7,500 years ago when Mount Mazama, a huge volcano, exploded leaving a huge caldera waiting to be filled with rain. The lake has no inlets or outlets and is protected as a National Park so has some of the purest lake water anywhere on earth.

After leaving Crater Lake and Oregon we headed into California and along the highway passed Mount Shasta, we came across the Living Memorial Sculpture, a memorial to Vietnam veterans. The gardens were very moving and set in the most beautiful spot near Mount Shasta among the surrounding pine forests.

We spent that night camped near Lassen Volcanic National Park which was our next stop on our road trip. The next morning we headed into the park and straight for the visitors center, we knew we would not be in the park long so we wanted to do the most popular hike in the park. Bumpass Hell was the hike to do so we headed in that direction taking in the sights along the way. Parts of California had been covered in 200% of the normal snowfall and parts of the Park were still 40% covered in snow in early August when we were there. We came across this lake still covered in snow and ice, I have never seen a lake like this even in winter so to see it on a warm August day in California was just surreal.

Our next stop was Yosemite National Park, one of the most famous Parks in the world. We were very excited to see the park and expecting to be there for four days, as it turned out we only stayed for one day and I have no pictures to show for our visit. The main reason for this is the horrendous number of people we found in the park, it felt more like a theme park than a National Park and we even found our selves stuck in traffic. We didn’t want to be part of the overcrowding so we cut our visit short and found a quiet beach by the river to relax for the rest of the day. There was also a nearby wildfire that had filled the valley with smoke in the morning, thankfully this did lift by the late afternoon allowing us some brief views of the amazing scenery found in the valley. The Park is undoubtedly beautiful but I will have to enjoy that well out of peak season one year.

After leaving the park we made a brief trip to Bodie Ghost Town which was far more pleasant.

We drove from Bodie to Death Valley National Park, one of the hottest places on the planet. I wasn’t quite sure how we would deal with the heat or weather we would be the only ones crazy enough to be there and camp the night but I was excited. We arrived a few hours before sunset in 46c/116F  and found ourselves a campsite before heading out to watch the sunset.

Spending a night in Death Valley in a tent was close to torture but I was glad we did it, it felt like a real adventure, maybe a loony one but still an adventure. Coyotes were howling around the campsite that night and the full moon was lighting up the valley like a giant space sized torch. The next morning we headed out early to see some of the sights before the temperature went from very hot to even hotter.

Death Valley was one of the most amazing landscapes I have seen but the summer heat made it almost unbearable to be there for long, one day we will go back in the winter months.

We left the Park before midday and headed for Arizona and the Grand Canyon. I was more excited to see the Grand Canyon than any other place we were to visit this summer, I was hoping it would not be a disappointment like Yosemite. We arrived in the park with a couple of hours of sunlight left, our campsite was pre booked so we just got our site ready and headed straight for the Canyon Rim. By the time we got out of our car at the rim we were just a few more steps from the edge of the Canyon but still could not see it through the surrounding trees, our first view of the Grand Canyon would not come until we arrived just a few meters from the edge of the rim.

We arrived at the rim and it was like the world had opened up, the sight before us was more spectacular and overwhelming than anything else I have ever seen, it was indescribable.

Most places I had seen so far get greeted with at least a “wow,” but this was beyond any words, we just sat in awe and silence, I didn’t even reach for my camera.

The sun set and we stayed to watch the moon rise over the canyon and shine through the broken clouds.

The next morning we headed to the rim of the Canyon to watch the sun rise. It was beautiful watching as the canyon was slowly revealed again after a night under the dim moon light.

Hiking into the Canyon was a bit too crazy in the summer heat so we decided on the 13 mile trail along the rim and a smaller hike partway into the canyon led by a ranger. The rim hike was fantastic and very quiet, we even got to see a California Condor within pretty close range, it is the largest and rarest bird in North America and has a 9 foot wingspan. In 1987 there were only 22 of these birds left in the wild, after being heavily protected and bred to be released in the wild there are now nearly 400 birds living and 181 in the wild like this one.

That evening we spent some more time watching the sunset and I had a  little more time for some moon lit Canyon shots.

We drove to Desert View point and the Watchtower on one of our days at the canyon, I made sure to be taking shots for some panoramic images as it would help to show the vastness of the Grand Canyon.

We spent our final night in the Grand Canyon watching the most spectacular sunset imaginable, that evening had been stormy and the sun just seemed to set fire to the remaining clouds.

The next morning we bid (for now) farewell to the Grand Canyon and headed for Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado, climbing the 750 foot tall dunes was great fun although the toughest hike we would do the whole trip. The weather was not great for pictures so I don’t have any to show from there. We spent the night then headed up the east side of Colorado to Wind Cave National Park in Nebraska, we managed to find a nice summer storm along the way to. The second two pictures are from two days late in Badlands National Park in South Dakota, that storm was nearly 100 Miles away and gave an incredible light show.

Wind Cave National Park was a wonderful surprise, set in Western Nebraska in the Black Hills it is in beautiful rolling hills, bright green and full of amazing wildlife, even Bison. The Park is there for the caves found beneath the surrounding hills, there are over 130 miles of amazing caves that have been discovered so far. We took a tour of the caves and spent some time taking in the surrounding scenery before moving on. Wind Cave would be the last place I would take pictures for the website as we soon headed towards Michigan to spend time with friends before heading home. This trip was the greatest adventure we have had yet and has inspired us for the next one.

“We are now in the mountains and they are in us, kindling enthusiasm,

 making every nerve quiver, filling every pore and cell of us.

 Our flesh-and-bone tabernacle seems transparent as glass to the beauty about us,

 neither old nor young, sick nor well, but immortal.

I am captive. I am bound. Love of pure unblemished Nature seems to overmaster

 and blur out of sight all other objects and considerations.”

John Muir