Photo Essay

Cross-Continental Trip!

Reflections in Lake McDonald

We're back!

For months, we've been planning a road trip. More accurately, my wife has been planning and I've simply been looking forward to it. I make long-distance car trips with some regularity, but my wife has never seen the vast stretch of US between Chicago and Seattle.

We got a good start, and by noon, we were in Iowa, and heading north. Twenty years ago, a buddy and I had bicycled across Iowa on a midwest adventure, and I hadn't been back since. It looks the same--mostly corn and pigs.

Our road trip took us north to Minnesota to visit some distant family, and to camp at Forestville, an abandoned but well preserved late 19th century company town.

Next, we headed east to "Little House on the Prarie" land in Minnesota and South Dakota, where we checked out sites associated with Laura Ingalls. The woman is an industry! Had fun checking out dugout homes, sod homes, and old farming implements.

We had to get serious after that, so we drove hard and made it to Wall Drug, which always amuses me. If you haven't experienced the kitschy lunacy of this city-block sized tourest trap, you haven't really lived. From there, we headed to Mt. Rushmore, and took the grand tour in the fog. The presidents made infrequent appearances through the clouds, and I got some great shots before losing the images (or deleting them.) Dammit! Next, we took our low expectations to the half-finished "Crazy Horse" monument, and ended up spending the rest of the day surrounded by the incredible story of the visionary of this decades long project, and some of the amazing items he collected before his death, including an elaborate french mirror once owned by Marie Antoinette. There were also fabulous exhibits on native American culture and vast collections of stone age implements. They also had great info on local geological phenomenons and lots and lots of fossils.

The badlands beckoned us onto a narrow highway in Wyoming, and I felt like a kid in a vast playground as I spent a few hours running and climbing among some of the most bizarre erosion-carved landscapes in the country. It's a bit nerve racking to venture out across a narrow ridgeline with several-hundred-foot drops on both sides, just to get the right angle for a photo, but I did it over and over. Good times.

Next, we made our winding way throught the Rockies, and crossed several Wyoming mountain passes, including a nearly 10,000 foot monster with a near white-out at the top. This made my wife nervous, but I loved it. The reward at the end was entry into my favorite place in the world--Yellowstone.

We couldn't stay long, but my wife has never seen it, so we travelled the loop road and checked out mandatory sites like the Old Faithful geyser fields and Mammoth Hot Springs. I was surprised (again) at how inconsistent Old Faithful has become. It was surpassed (and them some!) by a nearby blast from Honeycomb Geyser, which I managed to shoot, despite the fact that the my wife and I (and my cameras!) were drenched in mineral-rich, sulfur-smelling water, despite our lookout from across the river. I now understood why the more experienced photographers had set up their tripods almost a quarter of a mile away. Even so, they got sprinkled.

Along the way, we saw Pronghorn antelope, Elk, Bison, distant Bighorn Sheep and two Grizzlies, and a distracted blackbear who was wildly outnumbered by photographers. If you haven't been to Yellowstone, then quit your job and go. Heaven exists, and it's covered in snow and populated by animals that are bigger and meaner than you are.

Then it was onward into Montana, Idaho, and through the final pass to Spokane, WA, the land of my birth, to re-connect with a long lost cousin and her husband. We had a blast with dinner and a visit to Riverfront Park, where I got to ride the century-old, hand-carved carousel for the first time in fifteen years. This is a REAL carousel. It's fast, there are actual rings to catch, including the elusive Brass Ring that entitles you to a free ride. In 40 years of riding, I've only had one shot at the dang thing, and I missed it.

The Spokane River, which runs through the park, has spectacular falls, and with all the water running out of the Rockies, it was really moving! In fact, the whole country seems to be at flood stage right now! In almost every state, there were emergencies related to high water.

After visiting my maternal grandmother and introducing her to my wife, we headed west for the promised land. Rather than take the boring drive across the middle of Washington on I-90, we went north and came across Highway 2 for a ways. We were treated to small towns, pine forests, mountain passes, and the rediculous looking Mule Deer which I love so well. We headed south to Grand Coulee Dam, then intoi Seattle just in time to see my buddy Orangy and his band play a gig at a biker bar in tiny Algona. They had Alaskan Amber on tap, and I was a happy guy! My "heterosexual life partner" Timmy met us there along with some old co-workers I hadn't seen in a decade, and we partied it up with a raging crowd of rednecks. (Yes, Seattle has rednecks, and a lot of them!)

We spent the next few days in town visiting family and friends, including my beloved dad and step mom who took out to Pt. Defiance park in Tacoma and to Paradise at Mt. Rainier. Spring had come to Pt. Defiance, and it was awash in Rhodendron blossoms and wildlife, including a few Bald Eagles, a Sea Lion, and a gorgeous Osprey. While I was standing at a cliff edge overlooking the Sound, and shooting a bald eagle in a nearby treetop, a juvenile flew past at eye level right in front of me. I had to zoom all the way out on my 70-200 to track him, and I love the image below.

When we ran out of time, we headed north to the beautiful Skagit Valley, where the tulips (and the crowds) had already faded, to the refinery town of Anacortes, and then by ferry to the San Juan Islands, where we planned to camp and hike in the woods. As it was the Thursday before Memorial Day, I was convinced that we would not be able to secure a campsite on Shaw Island, since there are only a dozen sites, and we had not made a reservation, but the campground was deserted!

We set up the tent under threatening skys that never did rain, then made a fire and cooked s'mores. My wife insisted on bringing an air mattress, so we blew that up and I must admit--it was pretty comfortable. I'm more used to tossing a sleeping bag on the ground under a tree and roping a tarp overhead.

The next day, we explored the island, then went north to Orcas Island to climb Mt. Constitution. While trudging up through cedar and lodgepole pine, we were treated to gorgeous vistas of the Puget Sound. I am also a big fan of the temperate rain forests in Western Washington, and of the bizarre plants, lichens, fungal growths and goats beard growing everywhere. After making the top and climbing the stone observation tower for an unbeatable view of the islands, we got a gander at the dwarf Blacktailed Deer that live on Orcas during the hike back to the car..

Unfortunately, we had now spent nearly two weeks on the road, and since the bank account is not unlimited, we had to start moving along. So, we took a ferry to the mainland, then headed north to Vancouver, BC to visit one of my favorite cities. My wife and I walked over Granville Street Bridge, which arches nearly one hundred feet over the river and buildings below. That freaked my wife out, but we made it over without her puking over the side.

The next day, we shipped off to Victoria to view an exhibit on writer/painter/Canadian hero Emily Carr and her First Nations artwork. She's not terribly popular in the states, but Emily is a big star in Canada, due to her beautiful water colors, evocative journals, and her attempts to preserve aspects of the dying native cultures. In the late 19th and early 20th century, Emily (who was probably gay, and almost certainly mentally ill) travelled to living and abandoned native villages on Vancouver Island and other remote regions in Southwestern Canada, north to Southeast Alaska, where she worked to sketch and paint Tlinget, Haida, and other tribal totem poles, house poles, villages, and other art, which was rotting away in obscure coves and fjords. Look her up--she's interesting.

From there, we drove the winding Highway 3 through the south Canadian mountains (North Cascades, Okanagan, Kootenays, Chilcotin) and passes at night! That's fun--I found the roads (at least in the dark) similar to Big Sur in California. That is to say, they were challenging, windy and winding, and would have been fantastic on a motorcycle if it wasn't for the ocassional snow. We finally grabbed a hotel room in a tiny mountain town somewhere and woke to the glorious site of the Canadian Rockies.

The snow-dusted, chiselled peaks rival the Matterhorn and other European peaks for grandeur. These glacier-carved mountains continue south into Glacier National Park in Montana, where we set up camp and hiked some more. It was here, after an easy hike into the muddy shallows of McDonald Lake, that I was able to shoot the relections photo featured here. The place was freakin' gorgeous!

I got a good laugh on the way up. The people coming back down were increasingly frantic as the sun set. As we were approaching the top, we met three fisherman who were almost sprinting down the trail to avoid being caught out at night. I understand the feeling. In the early 80's, I was caught on the steep side of a Cascade mountain at sundown, and ended up falling off a cliff. I spent the night in a rigid, almost-verticle posture (it was VERY steep) trying not to move and bleeding all over the place.) But I'm more experienced now. I brought headlamps, and I'm pretty good with bears. A report of a good-sized black bear only made me want to see him.

As luck would have it, the bear showed up at the bottom, after we had gotten in the car to head back to camp. He lumped himself across the road in my headlights. Gorgeous.

I did another, less successful hike early the next morning while my wife slept in. I wanted to get up high and shoot some morning shots on a ridge. Unfortunately, the trail bogged down in snow, and after 3 hours of hiking, the footprints--and the trail--vanished all together. By then, the light was blown anyway, and the air was hazy and blue.

We packed the car again, and headed out on the road. By this point, we had almost 5,000 miles in, and another thousand to go. So I put the pedal to the medal and we headed across Montana (a REALLY big state) and into North Dakota, where I pulled over to shoot a gorgeous sunset.

After that, we made speed, although we did make a stop at the Mall of the Americas in Wisconsin before continuing home. There are three roller coasters in there--but we were too tired to ride anything.

A big push, and a little help from the wife, got us through Chicago and back into Speedway just as the sun was coming up this morning. I've got hundreds of photos to go through, and laundry to wash, and a bugs to scrape off the car, but man--what a trip.

It's a big, beautiful, fascinating world out there, people! Go and see it!

VOTE: Do you like this story?

Tell a friend about this story!

Tell a friend about this story!

  1. or

Hi there!

thought you might like this story!

—The JPG team

No responses

Want to leave a comment? Log in or sign up!