“Come and meet me in San Francisco before for a photography road trip up to Oregon.”, said my friend, Timothy Poulton. I was still in Vietnam, during my travels, so I wasn’t even back home in Australia with any idea of how to make this happen. I wasn’t sure what compelled me into saying yes, but it sounded like an adventure worth taking a punt on.
It was meant to be a fairly straight road trip, to get a feel for American highways and locations for the One Of A Kind (OOAK) tour that Tim would lead in 2016. Instead, it turned out to be quite the whirlwind adventure that would take us 3,500 miles in 7 days as we zig zagged across four states and six locations.
I arrived a few days earlier give myself time time recover from the jet lag. I also needed to purchase some camping gear that would be required for the photography workshop in Canada, as well as for the rest of my 3 month American road trip.
The weather during my first day in San Francisco was hot and sunny; which I thought was normal, only the find that it was uncharacteristic to be anything other than cool and foggy during this time of the year. Later that day, if there was a case of FOMO by not capturing a sunset, then this day would have been it as the sky was set ablaze with an amazing sunset – all while I was waiting for a bus to find some dinner.
The following day, things returned to normal, with a thick blanket of fog rolling into the harbour in the middle of the evening, well before I set up my tripod along the Fisherman’s Wharf area.
The city of San francisco itself is fairly easy to navigate as the majority of the city streets designed in a grid system. However, it’s easy to underestimate the hilly terrain that runs through the middle of the city. With the hills, also comes the cooler breezes, so bring warmer clothes regardless of how warm it looks.
Two days isn’t really enough to see San Francisco, but this would be a reoccurring theme along this road trip.
Time to hit the road
I met up with Tim at the airport, where we picked up the hire car. The first order of day was to fill up our bellies with drive through McDonalds -where only a super sized meal would (regrettably) do.
Our first stop was Yosemite National Park, only 165 miles (265km) for sunset. California is experiencing its worst drought in history, with the damaging effects quite visible amongst the plant life as we drove through the park. Evergreen plants that are characteristically green all year round, were mostly stressed and dying from the lack of water. Even Yosemite Falls was barely a trickle from our viewpoint at Glacier Point.
One thing that wasn’t considered during our pre-planning, was the vast distances between locations within the park. Just driving from El Capitan to Glacier Point took an hour along a winding road. As a result, we were already behind schedule and only managed to capture Half Dome after zipping past the famous El Capitan and Tunnel View.
By the time we checked into our hotel at 1030pm in Mammoth Lakes, we had already driven approximately 340 miles (547km).
We were surveying the map of Death Valley at the park entrance in order to make a call on what we’d photograph for sunset. We were investigating options of capturing both the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes and then heading to the “Race Track” on the other end of the national park. Again, in a straight line, it didn’t seem that far, but upon closer inspection, the only road into The Race Track was an eighty mile road that would be mainly gravel and large stones, unsuitable for our car.
Later on at a fuel stop, we could see the Mesquite Flat Dunes as well as a pub nearby, which is when we decided that we’d shoot the dunes in the afternoon. Also, the fact that there was a pool by the pub made the decision a no brainer.
In hindsight, shooting in the afternoon was probably the worst decision we could have made. As sunset approached around 5pm, the temperature reading from the car at the dunes read 47 degrees celsius. It wasn’t going to cool down anytime soon, so we decided to leg it over a few dunes about what seemed like 500 metres from the car, in order to find a nice line and composition towards the distant mountain range.
If the reading from the car was 47 degrees celsius, then it would have been well over 50 from the dunes. I’ve experienced extreme heat in Sydney, but nothing like this. My heart was making attempts to explode from my chest as I was gasping at every breath while reminding myself to take it one step at a time.
Even with the setting sun, the debilitating heat continued to radiate from the dunes; it felt as though I were trapped inside a wood fired oven. I sat in the one spot trying to compose myself as well as the one of two compositions that I managed to fire off, before Tim called out from afar saying that he had drunk all of his water and was heading back.
Only a few minutes on our walk back where I started vomiting; it felt as though my internal organs were simmering away like a boiling egg.
What goes on in Vegas, stays in Vegas….
Zion National Park
The best part about landscape photography and road tripping is observing the changing landscapes over time. As we were now driving along geological fault lines, the landscape had transformed from the towering canyons, dotted with pines of Yosemite, to rocky outcrops in Zion National Park that reminded me of giant mounds of multi-layered ice cream.
We didn’t venture into the Slot Canyons at Zion like most photographs of the region would indicate Zion is all about – we just didn’t have enough time. Instead, we spent two days capturing more unique images that we fairly easy to get to, but weren’t captured by other photographers.
Part two of this series can be read HERE.