I've been looking up all the old cliches, trying to figure out what to name/how to start this blog post. But the point is – it's about travel. I like to joke, "Sometimes you have to get lost in order to find yourself," but I have found some truth in that.
When I was in Scotland, two summers ago, I had my palm read by a gypsy at the St. Andrews Highland Games. She (accurately) predicted that I would be doing a lot of traveling soon after that. I think she said in the next year specifically, but let's expand that to the two years following my time in Scotland. Since then, I have visited Washington, D.C., twice. I went to Toronto for New Years that year. I was in New York state briefly. I flew to Orlando to visit a friend last summer. I went to Washington the state (Seattle specifically) and snowboarded in Oregon this past December.
And when she made that prediction, little did I know that I would have my first big Western adventure two summers after that.
My experience of The West had been limited to Montana and Washington and a brief trip to Oregon before this summer. I already knew I liked Seattle. When I found out I would be in Las Vegas for the whole summer, I was excited but was sort of prepared to hate it. I'm not the biggest party animal. I'm not huge on gambling. But what they don't tell you is that there's so much natural beauty right around Vegas.
I bonded with my boss Kevin over our mutual love of the outdoors. He gave me books, including one called "Base Camp Las Vegas," which shows just how excellent the location of Vegas is. It's a half day's drive from at least half a dozen National Parks and countless more conservation areas, state parks and the like. I feel like I didn't waste a single moment this summer, as I spent a lot of time hiking and traveling when I wasn't working.
Even though I've been back at school for almost three weeks, it's nice to still look back and reflect on this summer. AND some of these (previously unreleased) travel photos get to see the light of day. Here are all the places I visited this summer.
Red Rock Canyon
Red Rock is probably the closest big outdoor opportunity in proximity to Vegas. From The Strip, one needs only to drive 20 or 30 minutes west to access a vast space of brightly colored rocks and hiking. Red Rock was the reason I first decided to get an "America the Beautiful" pass, which got me into all the national parks and conservation areas for free for a year (after fronting the initial $80). After my first full week of work, I spent one of my off days exploring Red Rock and went back countless more times, including once or twice on assignment for a story. In fact, my very last assignment was flying on a police helicopter and they took us out to Red Rock where they do a lot of rescues. I've included some of those pictures too.
Kelso Dunes – Mojave National Preserve, CA
The most exciting part about photojournalism is getting to venture out and meet new people all the time. In some cases, I get to be outside adventuring on assignment, or sometimes I'm in a spot that allows me to explore before or after an assignment. During my first week in Vegas, I was sent to Laughlin, which is about an hour south of Vegas. I took photos at the Laughlin Marina, which had new ownership and was making a comeback. After filing my photos, I still had light and time and thought I should go to California. I mean, why not? I had really only been to LAX for a connecting flight in terms of being in California, which isn't really even being in California. So I went to the nearby (ish) Mojave National Preserve and discovered some sand dunes. The Kelso Dunes, they were called. And then I hiked up one of the taller dunes, which was my first time really experiencing sand dunes other than vacation in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I reached the top right as the sun was setting. Well timed, Patrick.
Valley of Fire State Park
An hour and 15 minutes to the northeast of Vegas is the Valley of Fire State Park. Most of the landscape surrounding Las Vegas consists of flat desert that stretches for miles and miles at a time before giving way to towering mountains that surround the desert floor. Such is most of the drive to the Valley of Fire. After exiting the interstate, a lonely desert road (there are lots of those in Nevada and the surrounding states) winds around, and after coming around a bend or through a canyon, suddenly the Valley of Fire appears before your eyes in the form of stunningly bright red rocks. They named it that for a reason.
When I got there, I drove around for a bit before stopping at the short but worthwhile Rainbow Vista Trail. Natural beauty abound in the form of stellar views and varied colors in the rocks.
~ LONG STORY but worth it if you have a minute ~ (or else continue onto the photos, up to you)
~ tl;dr - I got lost and almost messed up but saved my own ass and made it out ay ok)
I then decided to hike the White Domes trail, a purported 45-minute loop. Soon after beginning to hike, I ran into a man named Jan (but not pronounced like you'd think) from the Netherlands. He was traveling the states for several months on holiday. Europeans really know what's up with actually giving people the time and permission to go off and travel, to really take a break and do something personally fulfilling for months at a time. We should really take a hint.
After a while, I decided to part ways with my new friend after walking and talking about politics and society. When I began walking again, I soon realized I was helplessly lost. I had food and water. But I had picked up an evening assignment for work and had to be back for it. And I did not want to have to call my boss in the middle of week two and have to explain my mistake. The element of time was against me.
I got myself up to a higher vantage point and spotted a gravel path that I assumed was some sort of trail, perhaps the one I wanted. After walking along that for a while in the direction I thought was the parking lot, I tried to check my phone map. Google Maps had cached the map of the park from earlier and I had GPS signal, even though I was out of cell service. I figured out that I was halfway along the Prospect Trail, a 5 miler that runs clear through the park. And it's not a loop.
I had two options: I could turn around and try to navigate my way back to my car, which I wasn't confident I could do. Or I could continue hiking back to the main road, which connects with the opposite end of the trail. So that's what I did.
Upon arriving, it was just after 3 and I had to be at my assignment by 6. And I was over an hour away from Vegas. I tried calling the State Park with the smidgen of 4G signal I found.
"Hi, I'm actually in the park now but I got lost and could use a ride back to my car. Is there a ranger available?"
"Sorry, we're actually short staffed today and everyone is on lunch. Can you wait about 40 minutes?"
(thinking to myself - shit)
"I'll try to flag someone else down."
Thankfully, not two minutes later, the first car I flagged down stopped for me. There were two nice people from California and their two visiting friends, plus their dog. With me, the car was packed full. But they were gracious enough to take me not only back to the visitors center, but all the way back to my car. I feel like karma has a way of coming back around, because after leaving the Kelso Dunes earlier that week, I stopped and helped a man get his car unstuck from the sand on the side of the road.
I got back to my car, booked it back to my apartment. Got there just before 5, took one of my quickest showers ever, and left the apartment within 15 minutes. And I got to my assignment with time to spare. Go, me. Now enjoy the photos.
Seven Magic Mountains
This one is a bit closer to Vegas – only about half an hour south of the city. It's an art installation by Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone and sponsored by the Nevada Museum of Public Art. It's mostly just fun to visit these brightly colored rocks during sunset and take some photos, maybe walk around a bit.
Lone Rock Beach, Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon
I had taken my tent out west and made it a point to go camping. I began floating around some ideas based on what friends had told me and what was most feasible (also most cool!). I looked at my America the Beautiful card and on it was a photo. It looked really beautiful. I thought to myself, "where is that?" and on the back it read, "Glen Canyon NRA" (National Recreation Area). Plus, that was close to the famous Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon. Sounded like the perfect weekend.
We camped on the beach on Lake Powell, which is near Page, Arizona, and Wahweap. Technically, we camped in Utah but the Lake is bisected by the state border. After getting my car stuck in the sand, the weekend proceeded wonderfully and I saw plenty of amazing sights. And there might still be a bit of sand left in the tent...
Generally speaking, I have been trying to go in chronological order, but this time I've started with Antelope Canyon because it is absolutely gorgeous. I would recommend it to anyone.
Believe it or not, the blurbs before this only get us up through May and June. This only begins July. SO. Once upon a time, on a sunny Saturday in July, four brave interns decided to venture out into the desert searching for something. Not like a grand venture out to find a sense of identity or belonging as so many millennials do, but to potentially find creatures from NOT THIS EARTH. That's right, folks. I mean aliens.
Nevada is apparently a great trip for road trips. Among the great road trips is the 98-mile Exterrestrial Highway, otherwise known as Nevada State Route 375. It was really an all day venture, as we left at 1 or so in the afternoon and didn't return until almost 11. It takes a few hours to get to and drive the stretch that has gift shops and things on it. But we definitely spent more time stopping and looking around than driving. We did not actually see any out-of-this-world creatures (at least I didn't), but we did find the gate to Area 51. Pretty cool, right?
We also stopped by E.T. Fresh Jerky, then the "Alien Research Center" (where the man working there directed us how to get to the real deal, Area 51). We got to have a meal together at the Little "A'Le'Inn" before enjoying an amazing sunset, which featured some beautiful golden light over the desert landscape, some cows in the road and the mysterious "black mailbox" near area 51, which is the subject of a lot of conspiracy stories. All in all, very successful day.
Los Angeles had been on my list. California in general. But after only having been in LAX once, I had to check it out. I've noticed that as I've grown up, I've come to know people in more places as my college colleagues have graduated and spread out. Such was the case with LA, as I knew a handful of Bobcats in the "Summer in LA" program. Among them was my blue-haired friend Sam McCoy, who landed himself a sweet gig with the YouTube channel "Wisecrack" this past summer. Unfortunately I chose to visit the weekend that all the Bobcats were busy producing their student film, but I had a place to stay, got to visit briefly, and had an opportunity to go exploring a new place on my own.
So what did I do in LA? Well, there's a lot more to do and see than could be done in a singular weekend. I had to choose my battles. But since the heat was slightly more bearable than Vegas, I chose to be outside. I went to Griffith Park and checked out the abandoned zoo. I hiked up to the "wisdom tree" and the top of the Hollywood Sign. I spent a bit of time downtown, checking out the Grand Central Market and a cool book store called "The Last Bookstore." I went to Santa Monica Pier and Venice Beach, both of which I loved. The following day, I went to the Getty Museum and then back to Venice Beach for most of the day.
As is common knowledge, the traffic sucked and LA is too expensive. And very sprawling. And yet, too crowded despite that. Could I live there long term? Probably not. But is it fun to visit for a weekend? Certainly.
Zion National Park
About two hours and 30 minutes to the northeast of Vegas is Zion National Park. Although it is one of the smaller national parks, it is very popular. Again, I feel like people are pretty good with their names, because Biblically, Zion references a raised up monument, specifically the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, which is thought to be the most holy place in the world for Jewish people, the connection between God and humanity. Zion really does feel that incredible when you’re surrounded by it.
I set out for Zion on a Saturday with a few new friends I had made while out west to hike the Narrows trail. The Narrows is second in popularity only to Angel’s Landing, a daunting ascent that ends in a climb to the top while grasping onto a chain for dear life. I did not have a chance to attempt the later, but we did hike the Narrows. It’s a beautiful hike up the Virgin River in the magnificent section of Zion Canyon that is a "slot canyon," which essentially means very narrow and carved out by water, but beautiful. We had the thought to bring inner tubes as well, so after hiking upstream, we floated back. Many envious hikers commented on how they wish they had thought of that. It's a hike that can turn deadly in a sudden rainstorm, but we lucked out.
Portland had especially been on my list for a while. Ever since I began watching Portlandia and hearing more people talk about it, I knew I had to go. But it was definitely a place I very much idealized in my head before going. I had a vision of this mecca for hipsters and it being essentially paradise on earth.
It did live up to expectations, but what they don't tell you is that you have to do a little bit of looking to find what you want to do or where to go. It really helped to talk to locals and ask around, like "what should I do?" And the people are very nice. But as Portland is a place that is built on an underground, hipster culture, nobody is going to say hold your hand and give you directions. It's a place that sells itself, so the tourism bureau definitely doesn't work as hard or at least doesn't have to. And it's kind of fun to do some independent exploring and not be bound by the "top 10 things you need to see in Portland." I used a combination of map, conversation and intuition to get to the places I wanted to see and enjoy. And I rented a bike, which turned out to be a fantastic decision. Plus I got to stay with my pal Jim, who was the Editor-in-Chief at The Post during my freshman year. It was good to catch up with him and one other friend. Plus, I went to see Portugal. The Man!
I really do see why Portland is all the rage after visiting. I would live there in a heartbeat if it weren't so damn expensive. It has many appeals, but one of them being the vast outdoors space both within the city area and in the direct areas surrounding it. There's beautiful wilderness to explore no matter which direction you drive from Portland. The mentality in terms of eco-consciousness is amazing. Consequently, Portlanders are dealing with a huge influx of people moving in, and it's not all good. They don't always like rich folks from California. And make no mistake – the real Portlanders knew about Portland before it was cool. ;)
International Car Forest
While coming back from our night stay in the Clown Motel in Tonopah, Nevada, which is about 3 1/2 hours to the northwest of Vegas, reporting intern Katelyn and I decided to stop by the International Car Forest of the Last Church, an art installation just outside the old gold town of Goldfield, Nevada. I don't know what it is, but something about art installations and the desert really do go hand in hand. It's like the nephew of Carhenge and the cousin of Cadillac Ranch, but equally as cool as either one. Plus the International Car Forest is the only one of those I've seen.
Mount Charleston, about an hour to the north of Las Vegas, in some ways became my saving grace for the summer. Who knew that there could be a place so green and lush but an hour from the hot and barren desert? I didn’t at first. In some ways, Mount Charleston sort of became my saving grace. I went up there at least 4 or 5 times throughout the summer. Here’s my co-worker Ben.
Las Vegas sits at about 2,000 feet or so. The base of Charleston is at 7,000 feet, and the summit at almost 12,000. Needless to say, there was a distinct and much welcomed temperature difference. On some days, there could be a 30+ degree difference in temperature. Say it was 110º in Vegas, it might be 75º on Mount Charleston. It was very nice.
My main story will focus on the day that interns Katelyn, Bailey and I hiked 8 miles each way and ascended upward of 4,500 feet in reaching the peak. We knew it was no easy task. I grew up hiking and spending time in the great outdoors. Plus, I had just gotten my new Camelbak about two months earlier and was itching to test its full daypack capabilities. So we did our best to prepare and woke up at 4:30 a.m. (yikes!) one fateful morning to set out on our trek. We began hiking about 5:45 and watched the sunrise.
We climbed switchback after switchback, as most of the elevation gain happens in the first few miles. But none of it is very sudden. Just gradual, gradual climbing.
I like to keep a pace when I'm hiking and sometimes felt like we were stopping too frequently, but I never minded a stop to take in the views. After all, my hiking buddies both hailed from flat states (Florida and Iowa), and had just gotten into hiking during the summer. Once we got up to about 10,000 feet, where there's a flat-ish meadow for a while, it was close to 10. But we were making decent time. We began to hike past a lot of remnants of a wildfire a few years ago that closed down the trail for a little while.
At that point, it was hike, hike, hike, then stop. Feel tired. Question decision to embark on this hike. Sip water. Eat part of a Cliff Bar. Wash, rinse, repeat. But as the unofficial cheerleader for our hike, I said that if we put one foot in front of the other for long enough, we'd eventually get there. Closer to the peak, it was time to ascend again. But we could see our goal in sight.
Did I mention there's also a plane wreck near the peak? In 1955, a plane bound for Area 51 crashed and the case was shrouded in mystery for years. Now, some remnants remain.
Soon after, we made it! 11,916 feet. The time was 12:40 p.m., PDT. The views were breathtaking. My longest and highest climb to date. Although I fully expect to surpass that eventually. ;)
But as they say, what goes up must come down. And ascending such a distance can also take a while. We spent about an hour at the peak, departing again around 1:45. Once we got across the meadow, we all came to the unfortunate realization that while we had packed sunscreen, we were all too determined or tired or something to remember to put it on. And at a higher altitude, we were getting extra fried. We all came back with surefire signs that we had, in fact, been out in the sun all day. And we had forgotten to use sunscreen. We were beginning to lose light while descending the switchbacks. There was talk of getting burgers. We were all exhausted. I kept on cheerleading. Finally, we arrived back at the car. The time was just before 7 p.m. It had been a 13 hour hike.
My Random Morning Hike
So once upon a time, I came home from work and took a nap around 4:30 p.m. I had been busy and burning the candle at all ends. I woke up in the 7 o'clock hour, but still felt tired. Went back to sleep. Woke up again at about 3:30 a.m. mildly confused, but well rested. After all, I had slept for about 11 hours and had no huge desire to go back to sleep again. I don't think I could if I tried. So I decided to go head out to Lone Mountain before heading into work. As the name suggests, it's a lonely peak in the middle of the suburbs, close to the cliffs and peaks of Red Rock Canyon. Not quite as tall, but close in proximity. And those suburbs probably weren't there 15 or 20 years ago to surround Lone Mountain. But it was very tranquil to be out before sunrise in the city that never sleeps, and to get up to the peak in plenty of time to watch the sun rise.
The Grand Canyon
Few places on earth are more well known than the Grand Canyon. Go to any country, say the words "Grand Canyon" in the native tongue, and most any person would immediately get a picture in their mind. And let me be clear: the photos do not do it justice. Millions of people dream of going that have never been. And that's on top of the 5+ million visitors the park already does get every year.
I went for my first time at the beginning of this summer on the way out to Vegas. It was truly incredible. When you look out at it, you sort of stare in disbelief and want to think that it's not actually real. How could something be so vast and majestic? You have to continually pinch yourself and remind yourself that it is real.
As my friend from Malaysia reminded me, some people only have the chance to go once. I actually had the fortune to go again at the end of the summer. I had about the same experience of disbelief the second time as I did the first, but I knew a little better what to anticipate. On each occasion, I hiked part of the Bright Angel Trail, which helps it to feel more real as you descend into the canyon. The only thing I could think about as I left for the second time was when I could feasibly get back again.
Well, that's a wrap, folks! If you stayed with me til the end, that's a small miracle. Part of this is sharing my photos and experiences with others. The other part is that as long as the internet is around, I can have my own personal chronicle of this summer.
And as you can see, I don't think I could have feasibly fit much more into one summer. That's not even quite everything. But I can't sit still. In a new place, I need to get out and explore. Preferably somewhere outdoors. If you couldn't tell, I caught the western bug and I want to go back like ASAP. I already go through hiking withdrawal any weekend that I can't get out and do something. I miss the mountains. But mark my words – I will be back!
As I'm finishing up my last semester, I can't even begin to imagine all the places I will travel within the next few years. After all, adventure is out there. Go find your own.