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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Out of Body Experience

Maybe had one the other day. From the first row in Coach Class on a trip from Minnesota to Florida, I got on the plane as usual and settled in. With a great view of Business Class, my attention was drawn to a fellow in 2C. As he boarded the plane, I noticed him grumbling about the lack of space for his carry on. Seems the person in 3D figured no problem if what she brought aboard would easily take up most of one overhead by itself, even if it meant no room for anyone else. He also was giving some glaring looks at 3D as she needed help to get her “luggage” in the bin.

Plane left on time. There was a meal service and again, I noticed 2C having a long conversation with the flight attendant over what I guess might have been the lunch choices. I watched as he fumbled around with his computer and book etc when the place mat was delivered, almost like it was a big inconvenience while Coach passengers were offered a glass of ice with a splash of soda and a bag of peanuts or pretzels, one ounce size.

As he picked around through the large sandwich and potato chips, I noticed that he again stopped the flight attendant to tell her, so everyone else could hear, that his pocket knife had been confiscated at security and here he was with a tray including two steel knives and two steel forks. I think I heard him also claim that high jacking a plane with a pocket knife was not likely to happen any time soon.

Finally, near the end of the flight I again noticed him straighten up when he noticed some one from Coach Class had the audacity to slip up front and use the one and only one Business Class rest room. I could almost hear him thinking that the bathroom in his cabin was for the 16 people up front and why couldn’t the 200 folks behind him be happy with the two restrooms back there. Not his fault that the line had a half-dozen people in it. As you can imagine, quite a flight.

The reason I am thinking it was an out-of-body experience is that I happened to notice that just before throwing it away, that my seat was 2C. 🙂

Air Travel

Lately, or maybe I should say for many years, I have spent a lot of time on airplanes. I was musing how things have changed over the years. Not so much for the better, though I would rather fly than drive if more than 300 miles.

There was a time when traveling by air was a treat. People were dressed up. Now it is not unusual to be sitting next to some guy who should have bought two seats in a wife beater shirt. I’m sorry but sitting next to someone whose underarms are that close is not my idea of pleasant travel.

My earliest recollection was entering through the tail end of the plane and negotiating a fairly dramatic incline to my seat. I also remember Mom telling me to swallow when my ears were hurting. Those were the days when the Stewardesses (a long forgotten sexist title) were selected for their beauty (again sexist) but honestly, I think the airlines have gone a little far in their fear of discrimination. I have been on flights where a flight attendant had trouble getting down the aisle. Or, how about the ones who should have retired years ago? I was on an international flight a bunch of years back where all four of the attendants in my cabin had to be in their twilight years. They honestly could not have helped anyone stow a bag in the overhead bin, let alone be helpful in the case of an emergency.

Isn’t it hard to believe that it wasn’t that long ago when you met travelers at the gate, there was no security of any kind, and there wasn’t a shopping mall with food court?

It’s really sad that our world has so drastically changed. Air travel now requires planning beyond just a destination and arrival time. Now one must remember no liquids, no sharp objects, charges for checking luggage, upper bins bulging with luggage of those who are smart enough to avoid those charges by gate checking, and wearing just enough clothing to avoid a charge of indecent exposure, including slip-on shoes. I can go on. No more do we leisurely stroll on to the plane. Now everyone gets up at the first boarding announcement in hope of finding space in the overheads. Remember when an on-board meal was not a tiny bag of peanuts?

And, finally, I swear one day, I am going to walk through the plane and record the price each person paid for their ticket!

The Limo Driver

On a recommendation, I arranged to have a limo pick me up at an airport where cabs are scarce and limos are the way to go. In case you are wondering it was also a good bit cheaper. It turned out to be a great choice. One thought-provoking hour. The friendly driver/owner made a couple of statements that truly made me pause and think.

He talked a bit about his past achievements and small fortunes earned which naturally led to my, probably inappropriate but, natural question as to why he was driving a limo, granted, his own. His response? “Unfortunately lost, mostly through poor marriage choices”.  And then his first statement; “we come into this life with nothing and we leave with nothing.” I intuitively knew that and had even said it before but this time it made me really stop and think about it. He continued; “we are only using for a while all those things we think we own. Anything more than nothing is a gift to be enjoyed”. Hmmm.

His second statement, I had never thought about before even though it is so obvious. He said, “Do you realize that in 100 years, with only a few exceptions, everyone alive today will be gone and a whole new group will be here using our stuff?”

The timing was perfect. I am praying for about a half-dozen friends who are fighting some bad things. For the better part of an hour I forgot about all of my “big” issues and thought about them, the goals I chase and possessions I covet, and life. He put it in perspective.

Road Trip!

Road trips are the best and I assume for the ladies as much as the guys. I am pretty much confined to write this from the guys’ perspective. Not particularly sure what makes it special – is it guy talk, drinking without “the look”, smoking cigars, or staying out late and again avoiding “the look” upon hitting the bed. By the way, let’s get one thing clear right away – my wonderful wife of 31 years gives me free rein always and it’s that trust that limits my adventures.

For me, the road trip is not having to worry or think about anyone but me. Restaurant a dud – so be it. Room close to untenable – so what.  Salty language – no one cares. Going fancy or casual – same clothes. Get lost on highway – no biggy. Almost miss a flight – we made it, right? This is what makes a Road Trip.

For a few years, we made one to an away Gopher hockey game and most recently our road trips involve a NASCAR or NHRA event, but almost any occasion is worthy.

Right now, I am on the way back from the Daytona 500 where I saw three fantastic races and in particular, saw NASCAR history made as a 20-year-old, Trevor Bayne, became the youngest person ever to win NASCAR’s most prestigious event. Worth a cool 1.5 million if you’re counting. So what about the road trip story that obviously this blog is about? Well great thing is, that is another wonderful feature of a road trip – what happens there stays there!

I waited for this?

Vacations.  How often have you anxiously awaited that reprieve from the routine, job, and endless demands upon you? Vacation.  If only I can just make it to vacation.  And so here I am.  On vacation.

I have played hundreds of games of Solitaire.  Not ordinary Solitaire but Spider Solitaire and the most difficult level as well.  I am so tired of it.  You see, we decided to vacation in Florida.  Just the sound of it brings to mind palm trees, walks on the beach, and the smell of suntan lotion.  Only problem is; the weather in Florida this year, at least on the southwest side, has been the worst in over 30 years, which is roughly equivalent to the longest anyone can remember. Cold, windy, and rainy.  Not what I had in mind.  Our “escape” was from Minnesota which not surprisingly has had two of the warmest weeks in March that anyone can remember there.  In fact, on a couple of days, the MN temperature was higher than it was 1400 miles to the south.  I could write what I really feel about all of this but it would be edited out.

Fortunately, it hasn’t been a full loss as I discovered the sitcom, The Office.  I know it has been on for 5 or 6 seasons now but as with MASH, Home Improvement, Seinfeld, and Cheers, I never watched it until well into its life.  Great show!  I am through the second season and now on the third.  And, I have picked up a few management techniques that I cannot wait to get back and try out!

Las Vegas Blues

Let me begin by setting the story straight – I love to visit Las Vegas. The weather, 24 hour action, glitz, and just plain excitement are intoxicating. I am convinced that the ladies look as good when in Las Vegas as they ever do. Of course, consider the source. I am not sure about the guys. If you are in to people watching, it has to be one of the best venues in the nation.

My wife and I tried it out again recently for a weekend. On the plane there, we discussed all of the things we planned to do: walking around enjoying temps some 50 degrees higher than home, take in a movie we never seem to have the time to see, relax with a quiet cocktail, enjoy a good meal, and generally chill out. I am not sure what happened but I am quite sure none of the plans came to fruition except maybe enjoying the weather – from the airport to the cab to the hotel entrance! Whether it was the allure of the clanging machines, the hoots and hollers from the crap tables, the dream of instant wealth at the blackjack tables, or the offerings of adult beverages at every turn, we returned home with only fewer brain cells and dollars.

However, having not accomplished our goals, I am ready to return and try it again!