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Charlotta Richter
Nature Photography & Blog
USA 2017 - "Right back to where we came from"
Roadtrip USA map Midwest mittlerer Westen During July I did a Roadtrip trough the Southwest of the USA. Accompanied by a good friend (Mathias Deuscher), our goal was to see as much Nationalparks and nature as possible. This being my first time in the US it was very impressive and overwhelming. On the left I approximately have displayed our route.
All in all we drove 5.400 mi/ 8.600 km and passed the borders of Nevada, California, Utah, Colorado and Arizona.
Starting in Vegas, we headed down to the Joshua Tree Nationalpark. Though we only stayed for one night the surreal landscape really caught my mind. Because of the summer heat the whole park was pretty empty, and we had no problems getting a camp spot. Our first night we slept not in our tent, but on the pick up, watching the stars and the sky above us. Joshua Tree Nationalpark Ford F100 Mojave Desert
Antelope Ground Squirrel Joshua Tree Park Eichhörnchen Joshua Tree Nationalpark sunset Mojave Desert 
 This Antelope Ground Squirrel was so bold, it  sat on our desk 1 meter away from us. During the night we even saw a kangoroo rat.

The next day we continued to the Sequoia and Kings Canyon Nationalpark. Of course we stopped by at the General Sherman Tree which was very crowded. Still it was impressive.
Joshua Tree Nationalpark Mojave Desert Sandstone 
USA Roadtrip Arby's On the way we had our first fast food meal at Arbys (one of the best we had on this trip).
Sequoia National Forrest Campingspot Big Meadow  After a longer search we found this lovely campspot some way down the road in the Sequoia National Forest. The surrounding was pretty quiet and the total opposite of the tourist masses from earlier that day. Seeing the bedding of stone so clearly was formidable. From there on my rapturousness for various rock formations grew.
Down here is our typical meal (groundbeef and tomato sauce) for when we didn't try different kind of fast food.
Sequoia National Forrest rocks   
The following day we drove to Yosemite. Following the scenic route and not stopping once in the National Park, I experienced what I like to call "Drive Through Tourism". Driving on a 2 lane road, trying to get a glance on nature while everyone else is doing the same, I got the feeling like being in line to order at McDonalds. I got one picture of the Half Dome (of course out of the window). Fleeing the tourist masses again we chose the Tioga pass to Lee Vining. In the afternoon we visited the Ghost Town Bodie. Wandering around and trying to imagine life in a different time was fun. On our way back we briefly stopped at Mono Lake. But with the unpleasing smell and scores of flies it wasn't the right location to stay. Also being really picky about our possible campspot and not seeing the sense of staying in this place, we decided for a night drive all the way to Great Basin NP.  
 Bodie Ghost Town USA Road Trip  Rattle snake Klapperschlange US road USA Straße
 

The next morning we found a nice campsite right next to a small creek. In contrast to the
The US-6 East was by far the most lonely road we negotiated during our vacation. We even saw 2 living (!!) rattlesnakes laying on the street. After 290 miles, 5 hours of driving and 2 refuiling stops we reached the Park at 12 pm.

Great Basin National Park entrance
days before we stayed for 2 nights.  The first day we did a hike up to  the bristlecone pines ( the tree on the right is still living at a small part of the bark!) and the glacier. The other day we went down the creek. A nice suprise was discovering some marmots at the side of the path!


Another meal we had (onions, breakfast meat and eggs). The camping cooker we had was really usefull. Using only a couple of coals and lighter we had enough heat for cooking and boiling water..
 
 

During one night we got suprised by some heavy rain, so we secured all our stuff on the pick up bed with a canvas and slept in the car. It is possible, but not comfortable.
Our following stopover was the Antelope Island State Park. Leaving the traffic of Salt Lake City behind us we strolled over the island. It was by far the most diverse place. We were able to watch avocets, willets, some ludicrous red-neckedsome phalaropes, swallows, one burrowing owl and some more birds. From the car we saw a mule deer with one of the largest antlers imaginable. On our way to the Fielding Garr Ranch we passed a huge drove of bisons who blocked the road.
 Bison Antelope Island State Park Antelope Island State Park sunset Campground 
After enyoing a beautiful sunset the evening before we drove on to Bryce Canyon NP. Though passing Zion we didn't pay much attention to it (much like in Yosemite).
Bryce Canyon National Park Canyon hike
  More by accdident we ended up doing a 8 mile (13 km) long hike. Still it was the best way to get an impression of the canyon and it's size. (It took some time to get this perception. During the hike we we're mainly thinking about finding a way out.) Afterwards we checked the scenery points along the road and saw a group of prong horn antelopes and some prarie dogs.
We spent 2 nights on the campground (belonging to the Dixie National Forrest) near the Red Canyon.
After the first night we relocated to another spot (within the campground). Out of laziness and a little bit of foolishness we chose the easiest way to move the tent:

A fortunate coincidence. On our second spot we were able to observe a buzzard, calmly sitting in the tree above us.
 


We mostly drank Dr Pepper or flavoured water. The unicorn version of the can enlivened us.
Always looking out for typical american food, I had to try twinkies. Having heard a lot about them the taste disappointed me. They don't taste bad, but they also don't taste particullary special.Dr. Pepper Coke Special edition
oldtimer oldtimers old cars 
From back home we already had booked a camping spot in the Dead Horse National State Park. Still having a couple days left till that apointment, we decided to do a drive down to Grand Canyon North Rim for 1 night. We discovered this awesome field of old cars in XXX.
We camped 5 miles in front of the park, because the campground within the NP was already full.
From our campspot we watched 2 northern flickers flying around. We had to sleep in the car again due to the fact that our tent was still wet and it rained again.
Grand Canyon National Park North Rim Overview
dead coyote Early the next morning we left again. On our way out of the acces road we found a dead coyote pup. He must have been run over a couple of hours before. We carried the corp of the street, so no more carrion eater would get hurt or killed.
In the backround you see the remaining stumps of trees, reminding of a forest fire. The park itself was lovely. Not as crowded as the South Rim (as I soon will find out), and some of the winding back roads are lined with beautiful aspen forrest.
It must be an awesome place for landscape photography in autumn.
Driving all the way back through Bryce Canyon, our next stop was the Capitol Reef National Park. We did another small hike through a narrow, visited the ancient human drawings on the wall and bought matching coffee mugs in the little village store (to have a daily reminder of this journey). Sadly a meadow full of ripe peach trees was locked. And again it was raining on our way there. Capitol Reef National Park Narrow
Goseneck Capitol Reef National Park
Cattle grid USA Kuhgitter A little down the road was a viewing point from where we overlooked this bend. It was a little replacement for the Horseshoebend we had to leave out.

Cattle grids are probably pretty common in the US or  when driving trough Australia. But to me as a German, seeing an "Open Ranch" sign and driving over cattle grids was something totally new. That's the reason I'm sharing this picture.
Escalante Plateau Overview
The road through the Escalante Plateau showed us another surreal rock landscape. Still having 3 nights left we decided against staying in Goblin Valley (having nothing around us but bad lands) and headed to the Colorado National Monument. One of the best decisions we made, being one of my favourite nationalparks in retro perspective.  Down here is the view you get from the Rim Walk near the  visitor center.
Colorado National Monument Overview
The rim is filled with those potholes, also known as a "giant's kettle". The algae and bacteria in the water dissolve the stone. This way the hole is getting even deeper and more water is able to gather in there.

giant's kettle pothole

Around the park we saw some cottontail rabbits and raven. The european nightjar, which flew around during dawn, was exciting (but not photographable). But the most exciting animals were the lizard. We didn't only see the "normal brown lizards", but also 2 collared lizards (male and female). The Highlight was being able to photograph as long as over 2 hours!
That even outshined seeing a female bighorn sheep, being my favourit street sign subject.

bighorn sheep crossing street sign

During the whole trip we got the feeling that not many people look out and search for animals, while driving around the Nationalparks and also in general. Only when we stopped for taking pictures or enyoing the moment other people seemed to discover them too.
I recomend doing a ranger talk at the Independent Monument. It helps understanding the rock formation. And when you are interested in geology or geography it enables you to conect your knowledge with the real formation. I really enjoyed that.

During the midday we drove down the plateau to Fruita and Grand Junction. We poked around in a few antique stores and  bought old licence plates as a souvenir.

When the day was finally come we continued the trip to Moab. It rained all the way there.
dead horse point campground campspot
At the campground (you can see our spot right up here) we had 2 extraordinary events.
1. We saw a kitfox sitting 10 meters away from us. Only having a 200mm lense I didn't get as close as I wanted, but close enough for some valid pictures.
2. We experienced the desert in pouring rain! Prove in point for our feeling of "following the rain". It rained for 2 hours, flooding everything (including our tent) and causing little creeks down to the canyon. After seeing this you will have no problem believing and understanding the water erosion that forms such canyons.
desert rain dead horse point



Having 2 nights there (and paying the ridicolous amount of 80$) we visited the Canyonland and Arches NP, as well as Moab.

In Moab we had an internet stop at McDonalds (fast food chains were the only place for us to get w-lan), wandered around in some galeries and ate some expensive but tasty frozen yogurt.

mesa arch sunrise 
Of course we went to see the Mesa Arch during sunrise. Really beautifull, but because of the croud of people waiting for it -just like you do to- sadly you can't ease into the sight as much as you want to.

mesa arch sunrise visitors

After the early start we continued to Arches NP, wanting to hike to the Delicatie Arch. Not being informed beforehand we were suprised of the construction in the park (you even had to leave it until 7pm) and the closure of the Delicate Arch.
Still making the best out of it, we went to view the Double Arch (do the "primitivie trail" that goes behind the arch, you will be kind of alone not realizing the crowd you came from) and did a hike starting at Devils Garden. It included a small fixed rope route I personally had a lot of fun with. Contrariwise to my travel partner who was very careful (thanks again for doing me the favour!).

mesa arch sunrise 
arches nationalpark hike
 
canyonlands nationalpark canyon overview The kloofs at Canyonland were one of my favourites (next to the smoother once in the Colorado National Monument). You'r really able to see the different plateaus and where the Colorado is cutting through.

I much prefer it over the Grand Canyon, which I think is too big to capture. It's like I don't realizi the massive nature before me. That's why I don't understand the hype about it.
Speeking of the Grand Canyon, the next day we had a long drive. Not wanting to spend our last days in Las Vegas we setted our GPS to 29 Palmsville (Joshua Tree) again. On our way we did a little loop, so I at least saw the South Rim. (No joke: it rained again.)

This way we passed "Roys" a second time, this time with a much more impressive light.
grand canyon nationalpark south rim
Roy's vacancy motel cafe sign sunset
Roy's motel cafe sign sunset
At the railroad crossing 500 meters from the old motel I had the chance of counting the container waggons. It was a chocking fact to me, that in the US the containers are even shipped in a douple pack (stapled over each other). Somethin I didn't see before (just like the cattle grids).

Late that night we reached Joshua Tree (again), not without buying some onion rings (after trying some I figured that I love them) and a  strawberry smoothie at Jack In The Box.

Joshua Tree Nationalpark campground campspot
Like in the beginning of the trip we enyoyed the night sky.
I even picked/stole my own cactus pear from a wild growing plant (and hurt my hands with the stings).

This time we didn't so much move within the park. We visited the towns around the area, like 29 Palms und Palms Springs. Walking around, going through antique stores and watching oldtimers for sale.

We also had a glorious breakfast at iHop (my first time eating french toast). For me this trip was as much a degustation journey as it was a nature road trip.
ohio cattlemen's association old sign vintage shop
On our way we drove down to Salton Sea (knowing the interesting history about it). We didn't got so far to see a lot of abandoned buildings (only a gas stop).

But we stumbled across a little village called Bombay Beach. Seeing the trailor buildings, broken houses and the all in all dismal neighbourhood - always knowing people actually live here- was devistating. It made me understand the patrionism and "America First thinking" in some way.
Salton Sea:

A good video to this topic by Veritasium: https://youtu.be/-OqrZH-EBaQ
Lastly we had to drive back to Las Vegas. This time staying at the "Gold Coast".  We celebrated our last evening uproad with a tasty buffet, some drinks and a fantastic view.



The day of our return flight visited some more antique stores and found the biggest little treasure of the whole journey. A red parking meter (estimated to be from the 1960s):
parking meter 1960s vintage Parkuhr



Our first, as well as our second flight was delayed, so everything would have worked out fine. But in Cologne I got pulled out of the line. The wanted me to open my luggage so they could check it. The security man drove me over the whole airport, I walked down some mysterious corridors and showed him the parking meter. He wasn't serious, rather interested.
Now we got a new problem: Not to exceed the luggage weight. So we started -being at the airport 4 hours too early- weighing our bags. We were lucky. Though our luggage weight clearly over 23 kg each the check in lady was very laid back and we got no problems.


At the airport we sat down at Carl Jr, ate and used the refill a couple of times while waiting.
 
That was our last view of Vegas:
Las Vegas overview at night plane

With a delay of two hours we arrived at Lüneburg, and after 3 exciting weeks with nothing to worry about, except for what to eat and visit, I got back home in the same daily grind as usual. Until my next journey..

Lüneburg Rosenstraße
   
Parks:
Joshua Tree NP
Sequoia and Kings Canyon NP
Sequoia National Forrest
Yosemite NP
Great Basin NP
Antelope Island State Park
Zion NP
Dixie National Forrest
Bryce Canyon NP
Grand Canyon NP (North and South Rim)
Capitol Reef NP
Colorado National Monument
Dead Horse Point  State Park
Canyonlands NP
Arches NP

Equipment:
1 tent (North Face VE25)
2 sleeping bags (for summer temperatures)
2 camp chairs
1 Petzl head lamp
trekking shoes
light rain jacket
1 cooler box
pocket knife + cutlery
Canway camping stove

Camera Equipment:
Canon 7D Mark I
Canon 6D Mark I + Canon EF 17-35mm f/2,8
Canon EF 100mm 1:2,8 Macro USM IS
Canon EF 70-200mm /f4 Telezoom USM IS