Home Genres Travel Photography A Photographic Road Trip Across the Western United States: The final leg

A Photographic Road Trip Across the Western United States: The final leg

Dirk's journey from Colorado to California comes to its conclusion, taking in a spectacular visit to the Grand Canyon en route.

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As described in an earlier article, our photographic journey from Denver to San Diego, had reached Page, Arizona. We had survived hair-raising mountain descents, epic thunderstorms, and photo-bombing by rowdy strangers. Our journey had brought us within striking distance of the Grand Canyon. Here is what happened on the final leg of an eventful photography road trip.

Page sunset

Before starting our next day of travel, Mother Nature had an evening goodie in store for us. The clouds from the monsoon thunderstorm, moving steadily northeast, had cleared far enough to reveal a burning sunset over Page.

We were now on the fourth day of our photography road trip. Page to Grand Canyon, South Rim would be a short drive. However, we faced the confusing challenge of setting our watches to the correct time. Unlike the rest of the country, Arizona does not use Daylight Saving Time. But, within the Navajo Nation, part of which sits in Arizona, Daylight Saving Time is used. Except for Wednesdays, or when it rains, unless you are accompanied by a unicorn, and fairy dust. Whatever…

We followed SR-89 to Cameron, AZ, then made a left turn onto SR-64, which leads into Kaibab National Forest. Shortly afterwards, we reached the Grand Canyon National Park eastern entrance.

A sublime view

The first stop in the park is Desert Viewpoint. We had stopped here four years ago on a previous visit. It’s a short walk from the parking lot to the rim. And then, there we stood again, looking down into the Grand Canyon. Once more, we experienced the sublime feeling of standing at the largest hole on Mother Earth, one mile deep, dug by the Colorado River over a time span of 7 million years.

We got an ice cream and a coffee at the little store. The ice cream is highly recommended. The two scoops are huge.
Placing ourselves in rocking chairs on a porch, we looked towards the canyon. It was silent. Silent enough to hear people whispering in the distance and the bird’s wings flapping. It was one of those special moments that reminds you road-tripping can be both a pleasure and thoroughly relaxing.

What else to do at the Grand Canyon

Zen attitude

We stayed in a hotel in Tusayan. The hotel was surrounded by thick mud and debris: the result of rain two nights earlier, as we learned from the manager. Trucks fitted with snow ploughs were in the process of cleaning up. The hotel’s key-card system didn’t work, maybe due to water. We had to wait, together with other guests who arrived soon after us.

What happened next was in stark contrast to what would have happened in a similar situation in Germany. Everyone was relaxed, took a seat and waited for the system to get fixed. They all adopted the attitude: ‘no point getting mad about a situation you can’t do anything about’. A real German would have argued with the manager, stealing the guy’s time to get it working.

We waited for about one hour, watching a biker cleaning up his Harley (Davidson), which apparently had become a victim of the mud.

A smiling manager approached us, handing over the key cards. Thank you!

Here is a black and white gallery; the images are conversions from IR-shots.

Stormy weather

We used the late afternoon to drive back into the park. No elk this time (that’s another story). Our walk on the rim was curtailed, courtesy of a thunderstorm that moved in from the south. The sky became dark, and frequent lightning flashes lit up the ominous clouds. Why did people still walk out to the rim? We didn’t get it.  It was like trying to qualify for the Darwin Award.

Photography road trip day 5

I had planned my next morning’s sunrise viewing spot well in advance. We had already checked for the mile marker to find the hidden parking lot.

Although the morning did not promise clear skies, I had decided to go anyway. Off I went in light drizzle. I parked the car and took a hike through a wet and dark forest towards Shoshone Point. It continued to rain and, closing in on the rim, I also ran into fog. There I was, poking light beams in the fog with my flashlight.

Since there are covered rest sites at the rim, I decided to at least wait for the break of day. Lucky me, I was rewarded with the fog lifting. I went all the way out to the very end of Shoshone Point. You have to climb a little, and there are no rails to protect you. Be careful with the rocks and wet soles. If you drop, you’ll have plenty of time to think about what went wrong before you hit the ground.

Alone again, naturally

I did not get a jaw dropping sunrise scenario. There were still shreds of clouds and fog in the canyon. But, believe it or not, although there must have been thousands of visitors in the general vicinity of the canyon’s south rim, I was there all by myself. Well, it’s a mile-long walk, slightly uphill. And it wasn’t the best weather. But alone?

Back at the car, I was rewarded once more. A herd of elk was munching their morning food and willing to pose for me. This is one of the pleasant aspects of a photography road trip: surprises.

Next time at the Grand Canyon will see me at Shoshone Point again.

Back on the road

We had planned to get to Barstow for our next stop. This was a 400-mile drive, taking us from 15°C (59°F) at Grand Canyon to 42°C (108°F) in the Californian High Desert.

Driving on Interstate-40 is rather decent, due to little traffic. Since we had missed photographing the Burma Shaving Signs on Route 66 on our previous trip in 2019, we took a slight detour.

We exited I-40 at Seligman and continued on Route 66, ‘The Mother Road’, (John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath, 1939) all the way to Kingman. We got our pictures right after Seligman. There are four sets of these old advertisements to be seen when driving westbound.

Bagdad Café

The next stop on our photography road trip would be Bagdad Café in Newberry Springs. My toe-stepping article, as it later turned out, was ready to be published on Macfilos. But, I was missing an image of the aforementioned place. That was quickly accomplished, and we were soon back on our way, reaching Barstow in late afternoon. 

We had planned to photograph the railroad installations at night. Barstow is a large railroad hub in the US. Well, the whole place made such an “inviting” impression on us, that we dropped that plan. In fact, the hotel was amassed with so many surveillance cameras pointed at the surroundings, we unloaded the car completely and made ourselves comfortable in the hotel room.

There is not much to say about the last day of our trip. It’s a quick drive from Barstow to San Diego, where we were to meet the family. Yes, that uncle mentioned at the very beginning of my tale, as well as my cousins.

Later in the week, we had a very pleasant meeting with Macfilos’ author Keith and his fiancée in Coronado. This will be the content of a different story, told by Keith and us.

Kit and caboodle

Once again, since I know Macfilos readers are interested in photo gear, I would be remiss in not saying anything about this aspect of our trip.


The images in this and the previous article were taken with Leica Q (Typ 116), Leica M10, Nikon D850 and ….an infrared converted D700. The black and white photos are conversions of infrared images out of the D700. I’ll be happy to answer questions regarding the images.

I took a couple of high-resolution panoramic images with an automated pano-head, which can’t be shown on this website due to their enormous size: more than 500 megapixels.

Travelling with that much gear is not exactly a joy, but to me, it has definitely been worth it.

It’s been many months since we came back to Germany and began the final work on this article. You know what? It’s about time for the next road trip.

Claudia and the author at Del Mar

Read more from the author


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5 COMMENTS

  1. What a fabulous trip! I particularly love the B&W shots. It’s part of the world I have not explored but would love to do so and have a few places in AZ on my bucket list.

    You can see why writers, photographers and songwriters have been entranced by this part of the world.

    I’m taken back to studying “Grapes of Wrath” in high school, listening to Tom Waits’ song Burma Shave “Licorice tattoo turned a gun metal blue, Scrawled across the shoulders of a dying town”. Or Jackson Browne’s “Take it easy” set in Winslow Arizona “Such a fine sight to see”. And the works of Ansel Adams some of which can be explored at the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson about a 5 hour drive to the south.

    Lots to explore!

  2. A bit late to the party, but I wanted to say it all the same: Thanks, Dirk, for sharing also this episode of your trip. And what a wonderful opportunity to meet Keith James, our friend and associate editor. I am in awe for your dedication to rise so early for a sunrise shot and to accept the fog. I particularly liked the infrared images. One of the next things I want to try out! Best wishes, Jörg-Peter

    • Dear Jörg-Peter,

      thanks for the comment.
      Early rising for sunrise is one of my favorite things to do, the best way to enjoy the morning’s silence.
      Let me know about your IR try outs.

      Greets
      Dirk

  3. An enjoyable article Dirk, thanks. It brought back happy memories of our visit to the Grand Canyon; a truly awesome place. I think the B&W works well in that landscape.

    • Thank you Kevin,
      it worth to be revisted over and over.
      I saw an image by Ansel Adams from about the same view as the last B&W image. I didn’t know it when I took my images.

      Greets
      Dirk

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