Day 43: The Scenic Route

It has been a long time since I have written, more time passing than I had intended between post. Oh, but what a wild journey my road trip became at its tail end. As with so many of my travels, what I had planned and what actually came to pass were nothing alike.

When last I wrote, I had been camping in the Mojave, tent set up near the summit of a 700 foot tall sand dune. I had been on a mission to capture the Milky Way at its best. A mission I am pleased to say was incredibly successful.

After that night, I decided that the rest of my trip home would be all about photography. I plotted a course from Mojave to Zion. I had wanted to catch the sunrise, sunset, stars, and sunrise again. Sadly, none of those things happen. Instead, something much more pleasant came into my life unexpected.

Waking up around 11 in the afternoon, I knew that I had lost a good chunk of the day. Thankfully, this was far less frustrating than it would typically have been. I needed the sleep like a fish needs water. When I finally started moving, I threw together a cardboard sign, red and blue Sharpie flashing ” NEED 2 DAY PASS 2DAY”. Thirty seconds later, I had the park pass I knew would come my way.

Driving beneath ancient canyons and towering spires of stone, I found the park visiter center. Battling against hordes of impatient drivers, I snagged a parking spot and jumped aboard the shuttle. Sitting alone, I had a major decision to make: Talk to the older couple who were remembering the time they bussed across Europe, or talk to the young couple behind me. The choice was made for me when I overheard the sweetest thing I had heard in a while.
“Your easy to love, that’s why I love you so much.”
I couldn’t help it, I turned and introduced myself and said how wonderful it was to hear something so loving. With that, a beautiful new friendship exploded.

As it turned out, they were newly engaged and had decided to take a roadtrip in celebration. Being the shameless self-promoter I am, I offered to be their photographer for the day. And being the loving person I am, I offered to do it all for free.

We hiked all day, reaching the summit of Angel’s Landing, exploring the nearby flat-tops, and even finding our own private oasis tucked against a stone wall off the beaten path. It was a magical place to be, made all the more magical by the wonderful people I was with.

Leaving Zion and the couple behind, I headed to Bryce canyon, once again going for the star shots. Once again, that didn’t happen. Instead, I crossed paths with a dear friend and his family. They were on their own roadtrip, nearing it tail-end as well and offered to let me join them for a day or two.

We hiked all day (imagine that) under the watchful gaze of sandstone hoodoo’s in the other-worldly Bryce Canyon. We managed to walk the entirety of Bryce Canyon in one day, covering about fifteen miles. Throughout the whole day, I snapped away, happily taking family photo after photo. Essentially, it was a repeat of Zion.

With Bryce and Zion behind me, my path took me north across Utah. I was heading to Flaming Gorge Preserve for (you guessed it) some Astrophotography. At long last, I found what I was looking for: a sky illuminated with endless stars. They stretched the horizon and beyond, brilliant pinpricks filling empty space. Starlight lit the trail I followed, despite the trees branches overhead. I had a spot in mind, a retaining pond tucked back in the forest. Aspens and pines surrounded one bank, while its opposite opened to a grassy field.

It was beyond perfect. Perhaps the only thing to compare it with would be the Mojave. Nowhere else have i experienced the magnificence of those two nights. They are places I could sit in wonder for eternity, feeling incredibly small and incredibly important.

Words are not enough to cover the nights of stargazing alone. Even harder to express is stargazing with people you love.

The following day, I reached Colorado at last. It was the homecoming I wanted: more camping, this time with my brother, his girlfriend, and a few other friends. We set up camp near Red Feather Lakes, in northern Colorado. Late into the night, we drank and laughed, sitting around a fire, blanketed beneath countless stars.

That was the last night for my trip. In total, it came to 40 days and over 4,200 miles of driving. Needless to say, it was a long journey full of the most beautiful people in the most places. I did some amazing things, buried my feet in sand and snow, crossed from mountains to ocean, passing desert to paradise. All that is left now is to sort the millions of photos, reliving the trip though them.

For those who are interest, a few more technical aspects of this trip.
total mileage: 4200 miles
States visited: Colorado, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, California
Parks and Preserves: San Juan National, Oljato-Monument Valley, Joshua Tree National, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, Kings Canyon, Sequoia National, Rodman Mountains Wilderness, Mojave National Preserve, Zion National, Bryce Canyon Ashley National Forest, Red Feather Lakes
Total Cost: Just under $1000 (gas ain’t cheap)
Total picture count: 2500 (I cut a lot in post-processing)

The Zach Randall Rating: 4/5 stars. Roadtrips are incredible. They are so much fun, that you sometimes forget that roadtrips require cars and cars require fuel. Without a doubt the most expensive part of this trip was needing to buy gasoline so often. Having the car is a double-edged sword, and not needing to throw down for a bed was awesome. If you can live in your car (and trust me, you can), it makes roadtrips way more viable.
I would love to do another similar trip, although I think I am more of a backpacker and hitchhiker than I am a driver.
I am sure I will be on the road again soon in one way, shape, or form.

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