I left Phoenix on Tuesday with a plan to camp in Monument Valley that evening. The road was looking good and I was excited to finally get going….until this happened:
Literally within the first few hours! A semi passed in the opposite direction and WHACK! I didn’t see it but by the sound and resulting impact, I’d say it was a sizable rock. Of course I immediately saw it as an ominous sign. On the other hand, this one has a companion now:
Seriously, this is 9 years old and I almost got the windshield replaced before I left on this trip. So the bright side is that I didn’t.
Onward through northern Arizona….
Most of the Four Corners area is tribal land and roadside booths like these are common along the highways. I only saw a couple that were actually being used though.
I knew I was getting close to Monument Valley when I saw this in the distance….
Arrived at the Tribal Park and was a little shocked by the entrance fee. This was one of those times when traveling solo doesn’t quite pay off! I’m still wondering about the ‘no passport’….
There were quite a few people there, but not as many as I would’ve expected. This was good because there were plenty of tent spots available. But while I packed a tent, I also have an air mattress in the bed of my truck, so that’s going to be my preference for the duration of the trip. Luckily I could back my car up in the parking area and have this view from my bed:
Photographically speaking, when I’m in a place like this it can be difficult to find an original composition. I mean, this photo is taken by probably every single person who visits this place. The fact is, it’s not hard to get a decent shot when you’re in such picturesque surroundings. So I experiment, just playing with exposure….
Not too bad, but what else can I do? I play with flash…
Not a great frame but it has potential. After a little more experimenting I arrive at this and I’m okay with it. (Now that I think about it, Ansel shot something similar years ago. And probably a million others too. Oh well, like I said, it’s hard to be original in a place like this!)
The thing is I’m not a landscape photographer. I’m really easily bored with landscape photography. I don’t know if it’s a result of growing up and traveling throughout the west all my life, and maybe taking it for granted, but these days what I really like to photograph are people interacting with the landscape. There has to be a human element to a landscape photograph for me to take any interest in it. Something as simple as this, to me, makes it a more interesting photo…
Or maybe even just a couple tents with folks getting ready for bedtime in the foreground (the light on the brush is coming from the visitor center at camera right)…
Finally, I threw a flash in one of the traditional huts nearby and that was my last photo of the evening. I had to get ready to catch some Z’s myself.
So you ever been camping, and you’re laying there, and all of a sudden you start hearing funny noises from an amorous couple in a nearby tent, maybe overwhelmed by the stimulation from being in such a gorgeous spot? Yep, no joke. I had to have a peek…
Haha, these two locals were going at it for awhile about 10 feet away from my truck. I didn’t have the heart to shoo them away so I just put in the ear plugs and laid down for the night hoping they would tire out sooner than later.
Now’s about the time I tell you about the unfortunate timing of my departure from Phoenix. Remnants of Hurricane Blanca have been blowing up from the south since I left. So yes, it rained all night long and into the morning. Actually, the fog was so thick when I first woke up you couldn’t see the monuments. AND, I couldn’t even make some coffee to get me started for the day! It was going to be a long one.
I sat in my truck looking at my atlas for awhile dreading the conditions before I finally left. I had to cover some ground, though, as one of my two hard dates on this trip was two days away. To compound my anxiety there were flood watches all along my planned route through Shiprock, NM up to Montrose, CO, and over to the Gunnison area. I ended up heading north from Monument Valley towards Moab, UT and up to I-70 where I’d be on a main interstate over to the Denver area. There were flood warnings this direction as well, but it seemed a safer bet than central CO.
Once I hit the road, it was like I was the only one on it, and this made me very nervous. I was encouraged by the sight of some motorcyclists, though. These folks are hardcore, and I thought if they can do it on a bike, I shouldn’t be so worried.
A few more shots slogging through the rain. This is Mexican Hat. I don’t really get it, though. A sombrero?
And some wild horses making their own slog…
I knew I’d be stopping in Arches National Park for lunch. I have a parks pass so it was too convenient not to stop. And wouldn’t you know, by the time I got near things started to look pretty good….and strangely mammalian.
I mentioned the motorcyclists earlier. I stopped at a roadside arch about 20 miles south of Moab and met these distinguished gents, four Englishmen on a road trip from Key West, FL all the way up to Prudhoe Bay, AK. Even though these guys had ridden in the rain all morning, they were happy as clams. It was fun chatting with them and I asked if they’d let me make a portrait. They were happy to oblige.
On to Moab with a stop to pick up a sandwich and into Arches.
There was a minor drama going down in the Windows parking area. While backing out a truck a lady started yelling that she couldn’t move because the parking brake was stuck. Meanwhile there was a huge line of cars lining up behind her. She kept saying it wasn’t her truck and she didn’t know what was going on. After a bunch of different people tried helping, it finally got moving right as I was pulling away (luckily I was parked ahead of her). Turns out it was something really simple, but I didn’t catch what exactly the trick was.
Ended up eating my lunch and driving to the lower viewing area of Delicate Arch. It was getting pretty hot at this point, and there was no way I was going to hike up to it.
A few more shots on my way out…
At one point I was driving along the winding road and I looked up and saw this blackbird pretty much tracking right ahead of me for a quarter mile or so. I love random shit like this…
Made it to I-70 and started heading east again.
I decided I’d try to find a place to camp in Grand Junction, CO. After stopping at a Cabela’s to pick up some insect repellant and getting a good recommendation for some local camping, I ended up at a state park near the town of Palisade, CO. Unfortunately, the weather would turn pretty violent that evening. Huge thunderstorm rolled through, lightning flashed all night, and my truck shook from the howling wind. And as I laid there trying to get to sleep, I started to reconsider my choice of camping spots- the Colorado River was only yards away and I started worrying about waking up in the middle of the night with a weird floating feeling.
The next day was forecast for more of the same, but I had to keep plowing through it. There was something happening in Longmont, CO that I really didn’t want to miss.