“Few places in this world are more dangerous than home. Fear not, therefore, to try the mountain-passes. They will kill care, save you from deadly apathy, set you free, and call forth every faculty into vigorous, enthusiastic action.” John Muir
Last winter the creeping sensation of burnout from work was consuming my every day life and I knew I needed a break. I started planning a month-long road trip that would take me around the Southwest US and hopefully leave me with a renewed sense of vitality. I created a timeline I wanted to follow while on the road, but I left the specific plans up to what I was feeling on the day. Having this style can be somewhat stressful when you’re scrambling to find a place to sleep for the night, but I always found that it left openings for spontaneous things to happen. With my little VW Rabbit packed, I hit the road at the beginning of February.
North Padre Island
I arrived at my first destination, Big Bend National Park, late into the night and was greeted by an absolutely spectacular display of stars. I was too tired to set up a camp, so I pulled off the main road and slept in my car. I spent the next two days hiking through the Chisos mountains, exploring Santa Elena Canyon, and soaking in the hot springs.
Big Bend: The Window
Big Bend: Santa Elena Canyon
Big Bend Hot Springs
After a perfect start to the trip I had a daunting 17 hour drive ahead of me to the Grand Canyon. After arriving a little late in the day I grabbed a backcountry permit to camp at the bottom of the canyon at Bright Angel Campground. I covered the first five miles in good time, but slowed my pace to get some sunset shots half-way down the canyon. I finally made it to Bright Angel in absolute darkness- the last two miles being an incredibly terrifying feat. After what felt like a two minute nap, I was up the next morning to hike the 9.5 miles out.
Grand Canyon: Colorado River
Grand Canyon: South Kaibab Trail
After an exhausting two days I decided to crash in my tent at the Mather Campground near the Grand Canyon rim to recuperate before I made the drive to Death Valley. On the drive out to California it started to rain… and then it started to pour. As I got closer to Death Valley I started to realize what a rare rain sighting this was and the possibility of unique photos it would offer me. I pulled into the park after dark and drove directly to the parking lot at Bad Water Basin where I slept in my car in anticipation for day break. As the sun broke the horizon I was speechless from the flooded out salt flats and had an unforgettable experience photographing them; by mid afternoon the water had completely dried up. For the next three days I spent sunrise and sunset photographing different spots in the park and during the day I laid by the pool relaxing at Stovepipe Wells.
Death Valley: Bad Water Basin
Death Valley: Mesquite Sanddunes
Death Valley: Darwin Falls
After Death Valley my plans became much less concise and prepared as I made my way to Denver. I stopped in Las Vegas to meet a friend for some much needed fun, but when his flight was cancelled I stayed around an extra two days until he could get out. I had intended on going to Zionfor three days, but now I was cut down to a day and a half. I still managed to hike to the Emerald Pools and snagged a permit to hike to the Subway. After Zion I drove through the night to watch the sunrise in Monument Valley and pushed on to Moab, Utah after. I met up with some friends there and stayed for a couple of days climbing on Wall Street and hiking to the Delicate Arch for sunrise.
Valley of Fire
Zion: Upper Emerald Pool
Zion: The Subway (Includes next photo)
Monument Valley (Includes next photo)
Moab: Wall Street
Arches: Near Delicate Arch
After Moab I hiked to Hanging Lake in the morning and then made plans to catch up with a friend in Aspen that afternoon. However, I was easily convinced to stay for the night and what was going to be an afternoon coffee turned into three days of skiing, live music, and beer- a lot of beer. After Aspen I hightailed it to Denver where I spent a day trip in Rocky Mountain National Park, but most of the time I just kicked it with some close friends and enjoyed their company.
After Denver I made my way back to Dallas where I needed to get prepared to start working again. I was definitely sad seeing this trip come to an end, but as corny as it sounds, what I gained from it will stick with me forever. I’ve never been asked to be that self-reliant so I forced myself to be. Most nights I spent alone in my car or in my tent- building my own fires and cooking my own food. It may seem lonely to some, but it was the most fulfilling experience I’ve had. I encourage others to seek self-reliance and experience nature in solitude. It doesn’t have to be a month long escapade, but just an experience where you rely on nothing but your own head and your own hands.
Header Photo: Guadalupe Mountains as seen from HWY 54
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