Not everyone can leave for two or three months to wander around taking photographs. And each of the eight states I visited could have warranted a separate trip all by themselves. Over the years, I have mastered the art of living like a turtle in the back of my Van. Eating cold food out of cans and too much fast food is the price you pay for chasing the last light and being up at the crack of dawn in pursuit of elusive wildlife or spectacular sunrises. Full campgrounds are definitely an obstacle at times so options and improvising must be considered early in the day as National Parks are unforgiving about some indiscretions. For instance, they donít care much for overnight stays inside the Parks if you are not in a campground or an inn. I wonít bore you with details of whatís packed and the gear I take other than to say I have everything for eating, sleeping and most needed repairs, including plugging tires on the dirt roads in the outback. I do carry Velcro, bailiní wire, duct tape, and other necessities. But I do manage to carry a complete compliment of cameras including a 4x5, a 6x7, two 35mm and two or three digital cameras. A laptop, extra cards, external hard drive and converters for charging complete the digital outfit. More about that later as its time to hit the road with Joshua Tree as the first photo destination.
I canít remember exactly when I departed; sometime during the second or third week in August, but leaving from Phoenix I headed west for California. My overnight destination was Tehachapi but Joshua Tree National Park is a nice diversion along the way. On a long trip such as this one, it is difficult to plan more than two or three days in advance because great photography demands a certain amount of flexibility if you intend to be available at your chosen destinations with suitable conditions. Extremely bad weather doesnít usually afford many opportunities for good images. Spotty weather and waves of storms however can provide extraordinary situations for images. Especially in the Western Mountain States with the grand skies and picturesque landforms they provide. At this point during the infancy of the trip, Yosemite is my primary destination. Herein lays the beauty of living like a turtle.
Iím often asked why I donít fly to these destinations and concentrate more time on them. The short answer is Joshua Tree, Tehachapi, Sequoia and Kings Canyon. I enjoy seeing whatís along the way and appreciate the history that sometimes opens up before you. Joshua trees reaching to the heavens, communicating with the creator. Tehachapi has a railroad grade so steep it requires a 360 degree circle with a bridge over itself to keep from exceeding suitable grades. Sequoia has the largest living plants on the planet. Kings Canyon is full of bears. These are all drive through locations unless circumstances dictate I should stick around for a day or two for some serious shooting. So the plan becomes a drive thru at Joshua Tree with the first night at Tehachapi. The second day Iíll shoot some in Sequoia, catch the last light in Kings Canyon, and find one of the fairly dependable sights in the Kings Canyon campgrounds.
Joshua Tree provided a few nice shots around mid-afternoon as I traversed the Park; however, I usually feel Iím leaving some soup in the pot when I donít stick around for sunsets in Joshua Tree. There are no finer subjects for sunset silhouettes than the Giant Saguaros in the Sonoran Desert and the Joshua Trees in the Mohave Deserts. I could have completed this article without ever leaving these deserts, as they provide so much in unique photo opportunities. I located the RV campground in the dark at Tehachapi but did have to stop and ask for directions as I had no data reception on my Blackberry in the area. This adventure gave me a clear indication that sooner or later I need to get a GPS for help locating campgrounds when cell signals are absent. Morning was harsh and the smog from Los Angeles discouraged me from hanging around long, but I had a wonderful breakfast at a roadhouse near the railroad circle. Afterward I was off to Sequoia but facing my first dilemma of the trip. I had left my tripods at home. While rearranging my gear I inadvertently unloaded some of my equipment after going through my checklist, and left them lying on the floor of my garage. With Bakersfield along the way, a good tripod could easily be found but I would have to pay a premium compared to my usual sources for equipment through the mail.
When I finally arrived at Sequoia, new tripod and all, I wasnít in the park 20 minutes before I saw my first bear. A mother and cub ran across the road right in front of me. No photo-op but my heart was racing like a little kid with a new toy. I truly love this and no matter how many times I see bears, mountain lions, elk, deer or any number of wild critters, my level of excitement increases and my technical expertise as a photographer seems to be quickly compromised. And thatís okay. I am not primarily a wildlife shooter. I use them to augment my Parks submissions; however, these are definitely some of the moments I live for. I was soon to find out I had no idea the number of these moments awaiting me over the next couple months. I have some places I always stop in Sequoia, just to get in touch with the magnitude of these awesome trees, the slime-green mosses and the nearly magical nature of this particular forest. And my second day ended with two more bears and later the cherry light dancing amongst the plants and shrubbery along the canyon floor in the upper reaches of Kings Canyon. I loved this light and stopped to shoot a couple images. So far my images were primarily just pictures, a good chronology if you will, but nothing to jump up and down about except a couple nice images along the road in Joshua.