4,000 Miles, 7 states, 78 driving hours, 12 National Parks, 8 Days

This post is by Par Aide’s Engineer – Randy Paulson.  When he is not developing or fine tuning our products he spends time as a photography enthusiast.  His photographs have also been used in the Par Aide and Miltona catalogs.  Below he shares just some of the nearly 3,000 fantastic photos he took on a recent road trip.  Click on the pictures to enlarge, Enjoy!

It started out as a much less ambitious trip. It ended as a 4,000 mile, seven state, 78 hours behind the windshield tour through 12 National Parks and Monuments over eight short days in September.  My original idea was to visit Arches National Park in Utah with photography as the sole objective.  I was willing to do the trip alone, but I realized how much more fun it would be to have someone along who shared the passion.  Enter my good friend Doug.  We met in 1985 as employees at Apple Computer in Garden Grove, CA.  We’ve been best of friends ever since.  Fortunately, he has a supportive wife who really pushed him to join me.

We left Minneapolis on a Friday in September, intentionally after Labor Day to minimize the family vacation crowd. Our first stop was Badlands National Park in South Dakota.  We camped there, got up early for some sunrise shots and had breakfast at the famous Wall Drug in Wall, SD.

Badlands

By late Saturday afternoon we were in Rocky Mountain National Park outside of Boulder, CO. Our intention was to camp there, but the park was packed, so we continued on to Grand Junction to find a motel.  It was poor planning on our part as there was a wine festival that weekend and there were no rooms available.  We pushed on to Green River where we encountered Mellon Days and you guessed it, no rooms.  The remainder of that short night was spent sleeping in the car in the back lot of the Ramada Inn.  Daylight put us back on the road early headed for Capitol Reef National Park in Utah.  We arrived early in the afternoon, set up camp and were able to climb up a nice trail to higher elevation for some shots.  That evening we were able to get some more nice photos in the waning light before sunset.

Cap reef

Early Monday we struck out for Staircase-Escalante National Monument, not far south of Capitol Reef. Upon our arrival at the visitor’s center, we asked one of the park rangers about slot canyons.  He gave us directions that finished with the statement “the road’s not too good”.  I guess two and a half hours to drive 26 miles supports that statement.  However, the reward was far greater than the punishment as the slot canyons were fantastic!

Doug slot Slot can

It was dark and we were tired by the time we got back to civilization, so we stayed in a motel that night.

Tuesday we headed for Bryce Canyon National Park. I’d never been there and could not recall seeing any photos.  I was awestruck!  Doug and I buzzed through the canyon, stopping at all of the overlooks and vistas all the while filling flash cards with images that don’t begin to do justice to the beauty of Bryce Canyon.

Bryce

After a nice buffet lunch, we headed south to Zion National Park. The main campgrounds were full, but we were able to get a site in the overflow area.  All transportation within the canyon is by shuttle bus, so after setting up camp we headed out to catch the shuttle.  Photography is difficult (at best) in Zion, especially with our self-imposed time restrictions.  Most of the features are so large and so close to the view areas that it’s impossible to get representative shots that are properly lighted.  On the way into the park we had seen a herd of Big Horn Sheep.  After getting back to camp, we loaded our gear into the car and headed back toward the entrance in search of sheep.  We got lucky and stumbled onto them late in the afternoon.  The herd was about 12 or 14 strong and VERY used to being around people.  Big Horn portraits were taken until the sun went down.  The sheep photos are my favorite shots of the trip.

Sheeps Sheep

As the sun came up Wednesday morning, we were already well south of Zion, headed toward Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. By late in the morning we came upon an exit to Wahweap Marina on Lake Powell in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.  I’d done a boat shore camping trip from Wahweap back in the ‘80’s so I was familiar with the beauty of the rock formations and the lake.  Our unplanned stop there was one of the unexpected jewels of the trip.  We’ll probably plan a houseboat trip in the future as a result of that short stop.  An hour or so later, we passed by Monument Valley where many of the old westerns were filmed, but we decided not to stop.  However, Four Corners National Monument snagged us.  I’d not been there and am pleased that we stopped to snap a shot or two.  With the golden hour approaching, we pulled into Mesa Verde.  After checking out the map of the cliff dwelling sites, a quick plan was formulated that would take advantage of the ever improving light.  We were able to visit most of the sites twice, once on the way in and once on the way out, and ended up with just enough time to hike down to the one site that can be easily reached by trail.

Mesa Verde

Of all of the parks we visited, Mesa Verde has the BEST facilities. The campground is huge, there’s a GREAT general store (with Wi-Fi), but best of all, they have a laundry and shower facility.  Unfortunately, one of my chargers with a Canon battery is still plugged into the wall in the laundry room.

Pre-dawn darkness Thursday morning found us on the road headed north toward Canyonlands National Park. About halfway to the park entrance we came upon a sign advertising an overlook onto the canyon.  It was about 20 miles off of the highway so we hesitated, but ultimately made the trek.  Wow!  That 20 mile drive resulted in one of the most fantastic views that I’ve experienced.  In fact, the magnificence of that view exceeds that of the view from the actual park.

CL vista Canyonlands

Our stay in Canyonlands was brief. Arches National Park is just a short drive up the highway near Moab, UT.  Of course there were no available campsites in Arches so we found a campground on the river just outside of the park.  We set up camp and headed back to Arches for more photo ops.  One of the shots on our list was Delicate Arch at sunset.  After arriving at the Delicate Arch parking lot two hours before sunset to find it full with more cars circling in search of spots, we decided to lower our sights and target a less popular arch.  As it turned out, we found a great place to set up our gear and have a cold one while we waited for the sun to set.

Arch

By now we were pretty good at breaking camp in the dark without making too much noise. Our drive to Devil’s Tower National Monument took us through Grand Junction, CO again. Having attended college there decades ago, I was familiar with the Colorado National Monument.  The road through the monument is a beautiful loop that can be entered from the west end at Fruita and exited on the east side in Grand Junction.  That turned out to be another unplanned jewel.

CO Monument

Friday was a long day in the car, as we pulled into Gillette, WY after dark. As tired as we were, we found a motel and then headed out in search of pizza and beer.  A good night’s sleep later we were aimed at our last destination, Devil’s Tower.  We arrived in the park and were set up to shoot when the sun finally illuminated the tower.

Tower

Immediately adjacent to the park road is a prairie dog colony.  We both switched lenses and spent the next hour shooting photos of prairie dogs.

P Dogs

Rather than head straight south all the way back down to I-90, we opted to catch Hwy 212 and take it back through South Dakota into Minnesota and nearly to Doug’s back door. In hindsight, it was a great decision, as we experienced a peaceful, traffic free drive home.

Hwy 212

Our 4000 mile trip was an adventure. One could spend weeks at each of the 12 parks and still not fully capture the beauty.  We had time to only scratch the surface.  Would we do it again?  Absolutely.  We’re already talking about a follow-up trip.

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