Thursday, June 1, 2017

Return to Area 51 - or, shooting selfies with the aliens

Everybody knows about the ‘secret’ air-base in central Nevada, Area 51.  It hasn’t been secret for a long time, in fact Area 51 is so well-known that it’s become part of the UFO Folklore.  But unless you’re some kind of super-secret, deep-back, military contractor, X-Files type who’s signed an ‘upon pain of death’ security oath/nondisclosure document, you have not been to Area 51.  Any ‘normal person’ including ufologists,  ancient-astronaut theorists, conspiracy-theorists or the general ‘paranormal tourist’ who says they’ve been to Area 51 hasn’t, they’ve actually been to Rachel, Nevada.  Rachel is a tiny town-oasis located along highway 375, aka, ‘the extraterrestrial highway.’  It’s the nearest ‘town’ to Area 51.  The hub of all human activity in Rachel is The Little A ‘Le Inn, a combo motel-restaurant-bar where the true believers gather.  If you’ve watched any kind of UFO program on TV during the past two decades, you’ve probably seen some ‘expert’ standing in front of The Little A ‘Le Inn espousing some theory about ‘back-engineered’ alien spacecraft or captured alien pilots held at Area 51.  These stories are garden-variety UFO folklore.

Nevada Highway 375, "The Extraterrestrial Highway"

It was the UFO folklore that motivated me to visit Rachel way back in 1996.  You can read all about that adventure in my book, Photographic Memories in a chapter called ‘Wide Awake at Dreamland.’  Without repeating myself too much, that 1996 visit was interesting; I met some ‘true believers,’ and I visited the infamous ‘Black Mailbox’ when it was still actually black.  In Rachel, aside from The Little A ‘Le Inn there was the Quick-Pik convenience store with a gas station and there was the bright yellow trailer that housed The Area 51 Research Center.  In short, Rachel was the Mecca for Ufology, and it was kind of a Big Deal just to get there, it was off the beaten path.

I returned to Rachel a couple more times after 1996.  I shot some background photographs that I used to create some UFO illustrations.  Another time I went with a ‘UFO hunter’ and we spent the night scanning the skies with night vision equipment.  We did our surveillance from ‘The Black Mailbox’ which by then had been painted white (fooling no one).  Aside from Rachel and The Little A ‘Le Inn, the black (white) mailbox is one of only a few manmade objects in the otherwise desolate desert.  It’s just a ‘UFO landmark’ twenty miles south of Rachel where UFO ‘enthusiasts’ meet.  Insofar as penetrating the base, I was never fool enough to try and never felt the need to drive the dirt road from The Black Mailbox to the sign that says if you pass it deadly force is authorized for trespassers.  There was no need for me to mess with the white SUV-driving ‘cammo dudes’ Area 51 security forces; they’d probably ID me from the highway anyway.

During the late 1990s there was a seriousness to the UFO folklore.  You really could meet an ‘aviation expert’ at the bar at The Little A ‘Le Inn and the ‘ufologists’ and ‘researchers’ were actually collecting data.  The people who went to Rachel, to the fringe of Area 51, meant to be there.  They weren’t lookie-loo tourons screwing around.

Twenty years later, in 2016, I returned to Area 51, or Rachel more specifically, and things were a lot different. 

My 2016 visit to Rachel was a side-trip and not my ultimate destination.  I’d been photographing in east-central Nevada and was on my way to Las Vegas, so the excursion to Rachel was just for fun, and lunch at The Little A ‘Le Inn.  Driving up the ‘extraterrestrial highway,’ 375, I wanted to shoot another photo of the infamous Black (or white) mailbox but didn’t see it.  I wonder what happened to it?  I’ll bet there’s someone at The Little A ‘Le Inn who knows.

Arriving at the sparkling metropolis that is Rachel, Nevada I first noticed that the ‘Area 51 Research Center’ was gone.  The Quick-Pik was also gone along with the gas station, I suppose the few Rachel residents must have to drive forty miles to the nearest gas station now.  The parking lot at The Little A ‘Le Inn was oddly full.  When I’d been there before there was never more than a beat-up work truck and car or two in the parking lot.  This day the parking lot was packed with cars, many of them rentals with Enterprise stickers on their back windows, and there were SUVs and minivans and, of course, beat-up work trucks.  My entry into The Little A ‘Le Inn was as dramatic as it was twenty years ago.  Upon opening the door of the restaurant the harsh desert light floods the interior of the dining room and everyone inside (and there were a lot of everyones this day) turns to the light to check out the new arrival.  Hi, hello, yes it is about ten f-stops brighter outside, shade your eyes, let me stop-down the aperture by closing the door.

The Little A' Le' Inn - Earthlings Welcome!

Holy crap!  The place was packed!  Every table was full!  There was a lot of activity for an out-of-the-way restaurant.  I headed straight to the ‘gift shop corner’ and picked out a few must-have souvenirs.  My souvenir shopping was restrained and I spent about eighty percent less than I had last time!  While paying for my UFO trinkets the lady at the cash register asked if I was staying for lunch to which I replied, “yes.”  She asked if I wouldn’t mind sitting at the counter since the restaurant was full; I slid over to the counter and she slid over and immediately took my order.

“Alien-burger with secretion (cheese), a soda and chips, please.”

The Little A' Le' Inn restaurant & gift shop

I surreptitiously shot a few photos of the restaurant and patrons with my little mirrorless camera and checked out the other diners.  All tourists.  There were a few gringos like me but we were outnumbered by Japanese, Mexicans and Australians.  I was trying to read a sign by the door when one of the Australians thought I was staring at him and struck up a conversation, every other sentence ending in ‘aye mate.’  He was enjoying his ‘adventure tour’ and looking forward to his next tour-stop at the ‘black mailbox.’

“And what’s the deal with the black mailbox?” I asked the waitress.  “I’ve seen it before but I missed it on the drive up.”

“It’s gone.” She said.

“Gone?  Really?” I was surprised.  “It’s probably the most famous mailbox in the world, definitely the most photographed.”

“The rancher painted it white many years ago.” She went on.

“I know that, but it didn’t fool anybody.”

“Yeah.” She laughed.  “It’s the only mailbox within twenty miles, so if it’s black or white, ya gotta figure it’s probably the one.  Now it’s a shrine to the old mailbox.”

“Uh, a shrine?”

“Yeah.” She continued.  “People were stealing the old mailbox.  They’d either dig it up including the concrete it was set in, or they’d show up with portable cutting torches and just cut the pole at the ground and steal the whole darn thing!  The rancher finally gave up and stuck a fake mailbox in its place.”

“Wow!” I said, thinking the real mailbox is probably enshrined in some UFO-geek’s basement.  “I guess the rancher has to drive to town to get his mail now?”

“Ya know, I have no idea.” She laughed.  “His ranch is right on the edge of Area 51, he probably gets his mail delivered by drone!”

“I’ll keep my eye open for a ‘mailbox shrine’ twenty miles down the road.” I said and finished my (pretty darned good) alien-burger.

I paid the tab, left a healthy tip, and went outside to shoot a few phots of the signage and stuff.  This didn’t even merit shooting with a ‘real camera’ so I shot a few selfies with my phone and posted them on Facebook just to make my Mulder and Scully wannabe friends jealous.  There was such a line of selfie-shooters at The Little A ‘Le Inn sign I actually had to wait to take my picture!  It was becoming apparent to me that Rachel and The Little A ‘Le Inn was no longer a Mecca for true believers, but rather, a destination for UFO tourists who really knew very little about the actual UFO phenomena.  They just want to visit ‘Area 51’ and get their picture taken outside The Little A ‘Le Inn.

Actually, it’s kind of sad.

Waiting my turn to shoot a selfie by the sign

I walked across the bright and hot parking lot back to my black car, started it up, and found my best friend, Max, which is the air-conditioning highest setting, and headed back southward the way I’d come.  I noted the odometer reading because in plus-twenty miles I should see that mailbox ‘shrine.’

Sure enough, almost exactly twenty miles south of Rachel, on the west side of the extraterrestrial highway I found the ‘shrine to the Black Mailbox.’  Oh, now this has gone from sad to pathetic…

In cop-parlance, I ‘exited the vehicle’ with camera in hand to examine… what the heck, I’m not quite sure.  There was a rinky-dink little mailbox that looked more like a children’s toy posted atop a bent and twisted pole.  It was surrounded by rocks, organized by…. someone.  On the rock were arrangements, ‘offerings’ of coins and pictures and a handwritten note that said ‘I want to believe.’  Seemingly the whole ‘shrine area’ was treated as if it were some mystical spot, a place of UFO-worship, and a place of reverence. 

In fact it’s nothing more than a wide spot on a desolate highway were one lonely rancher couldn’t even keep a rural mailbox from being stolen!  This is really sad.  All this means so much to those who know so little. 

Then a white SUV pulled up next to my car.  Well probe my ass and call me an abductee, I thought, it’s the Area 51 ‘cammo dude’ security forces!  But no, it wasn’t security, it was worse, they were ‘UFO Tourists.’

Extensive photography of the "mailbox shrine"
The black mailbox 'expert' (and tour bus driver)

A group of tourists (including the Australians) got out of the white SUV, cameras in hand, and began extensive photography of the ‘mailbox shrine.’  The SUV driver/tour-guide lectured the group, in low and serious tones, about the ‘history’ of the black mailbox, telling them essentially the same thing the waitress at The Little A ‘Le Inn had told me a half-hour earlier.  Someone made an ‘offering’ at the mailbox shrine and then the group piled back into the SUV.  There was a big ‘Sightseeing Adventures’ sticker on the side of the SUV so I asked the driver if he had a brochure.  He happily gave me a brochure (obviously hoping I’d become another tour-sucker in the future) and then he and his ‘UFO sightseers’ were off in a cloud of dust to take a picture of the sign on the border of the no longer secret base.

                                                              "I want to believe"
Another 'offering' left at the black mailbox

The dust settled and I found myself standing in the hot sun, alone by the shrine, reading the ‘Sightseeing Adventures’ brochure.

The ‘Sightseeing Adventures’ brochure advertised all sorts of daily tours out of Las Vegas.  Most were the typical ‘Vegas day-trip’ fare; Hoover Dam, Colorado River, Valley of Fire State Park, the Grand Canyon and, Area 51 – Top Secret Military Facility.  Seriously?  Twenty years ago, after doing a minimal amount of research, UFO ‘enthusiasts’ would just gas up the car in Vegas and head north to Rachel for their own personal ‘UFO adventure.’  Now they’re running tours out of Vegas!  For two-hundred bucks a person!  Again, seriously?  Hmm, what does a $200 tour get you?  According to the brochure: A trip to the Vegas airport to see the unmarked planes that fly employees to Area 51.  You get to see this through a chain-link fence (been there).  There’s a stop at the ‘Extraterrestrial Highway’ sign (seen that).  You also get lunch at The Little A ‘Le Inn, and a visit to ‘The Black Mailbox’ (shot that).  Two hundred bucks for this?  Oh, that includes the lunch and ‘bottled water and snacks.’  At least you get to ride in a ‘luxury 4x4 with other, like-minded UFO tourists.

This has all become commercialized in the cheesiest way!

If there’s a way to make a buck on something, people will find it.  Driving into Las Vegas from ‘Area 51’ a couple of notions popped into my tiny mind.  First is that the current state of ‘UFO folklore’ is stale, there’s not a lot of new things going on.  A lack of ‘newness’ is what leads things like ‘the black mailbox’ and The Little A ‘Le Inn to mainstream commercialization.  There’s nothing remotely ‘secret’ about a tour-bus destination!  UFO culture has been normalized (although the giggle-factor remains high).

My other observation comes back around to photography, and it’s what I’ll call the ‘Selfie-Factor.’  It seemed the most important thing on the minds of the ‘UFO tourists’ were getting their pictures taken in front of the ‘famous UFO sites’ like the mailbox shrine and The Little A ‘Le Inn.  It’s as if they signed on for a no-risk ‘adventure,’ got on the bus, and shot pictures of themselves to prove to their friends back home that they’d personally ‘been to the UFO promised land.’

Yeah, well, I did the same darned thing myself this time; I shot a selfie in front of The Little A ‘Le Inn sign, so I’m no better than the ‘UFO tourists’ except I did it for only fifty bucks.  Fifteen dollars for a half-tank of gas, another fifteen for lunch and twenty bucks on souvenirs I really don’t need.  I’ll take the $150 I saved and put it towards a ‘UFO adventure’ to another UFO hot-spot, Dulce, New Mexico.  What?  You haven’t heard about the alien base at Dulce?  Don’t worry, you will; it won’t be long before someone starts running tours there too, you know, so tourists can shoot selfies in front of a sign.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

THE ABSOLUTELY EPIC 2015 PHOTOSHOOT-ROADTRIP-ADVENTURE

At least once a year I like to take a solo road trip and do a personal photo shoot to generate new photographic material that keeps me busy creating new artworks.  For 2015, the ideas, subject matter and route began to take shape in my mind in late February and by March the plans were nearly fully-formed.  I was going to go back to central Oregon and photograph the things I couldn’t because of bad weather when I was last in the area in 2013.  And there were some new things I’d discovered that I wanted to photograph which I’d been perilously close to in years past but didn’t know about.  I’ve done many, many of these road trips/photo shoots and every time I plan one I try to do it a little better, or at least differently.  This year I made fairly detailed plans but kept the option open to change things on-the-fly, if necessary.
 
As my route took shape (I really enjoy studying maps) I did a lot of research to find interesting things to photograph along the way.  And, because of travel time and distances, I scheduled some days that were strictly travel days, some shoot days, and some shoot-along-the-way days.  I’d always photographed everyday but scheduling some travel-only days proved to be a smart thing.  I had a folder of maps and hard copies of all sorts of things to look for along my route.  I planned the back-end of the trip better than in years past; I was going to fight the homing instinct and photograph things all along the homeward route as well.  And I did something pre-trip that I’d not done before.
 
Between March, when I’d fully fleshed-out the route and subject-matter, and June when I finally hit the road I visualized the whole shoot.  I visualized myself shooting this, here, and shooting that, there.  I visualized great weather, pretty light and great shot after great shot of hassle-free, successful photography.  The visualization technique worked!  Everything having to do with photography came out great!  Unfortunately everything having to do with hotels and food was a bit more problematic.  I had not visualized anything to do with meals or lodging and that stuff went somewhat awry.  But it didn’t matter much, this was a photo shoot first and foremost, and everything else was secondary.  More on that later.
 
I do some touring by motorcycle and a few of my friends asked if I was, ‘taking the bike?’  No!  A motorcycle ride is a motorcycle ride and this was a photo shoot which meant that I’d be traveling ‘heavy.’  I had a lot of gear.  Two cases of cameras, two cases of lenses, tripods, laptop computer and a first for me, lights which I would use for night photography.  I had all my camping gear and the car was fully loaded with tech as well with GPS, cellphone, Bluetooth, XM radio and all the goodies.  The car was packed with everything organized neatly (organization which lasted about two days) when I left for my first travel-only day, destination Beatty, Nevada, about a six hour drive from home.
The Stagecoach Hotel & Casino, Beatty, Nevada
I did stop and take one quick picture on the way but aside from that, I shot nothing between my driveway and The Stagecoach Hotel in Beatty.  Arriving in Beatty mid-afternoon I wondered if I should have just driven onwards to Tonopah (where I’d stay the next night) and shoot, but it had already been a long day.  I had a leisurely dinner, went to be early, and slept-in the next morning.  No sense in getting up early for a drive of less than 100 miles.
 
The second day I’d be shooting in Goldfield, Nevada, which is between Beatty and Tonopah, closer to Tonapah.  There are no hotels in Goldfield so I stayed in Tonopah, the nearest non-ghost town.  Since Tonopah is kind of an iffy, redneck little place I booked myself a room in the most expensive hotel in town (not the Clown Motel!) and felt safe and secure enough at the Best Western.
 
In 2014 I’d been through Goldfield and had photographed many of the major landmarks of the quasi-ghost town.  What I’d not known about was The International Car Forest of The Last Church, a land-art installation of about 40 cars, trucks and busses stuck in the desert near Goldfield as if they’d dropped from the sky.  When I’d discovered the Car Forest I knew immediately I wanted to photograph such a bizarre and surreal place, and I wanted to shoot it at night.  So, on the way from Beatty to Tonopah, I stopped in Goldfield and scouted the Car Forest; yeah, this would make for some very cool photos!  I checked into the Best Western in Tonopah, caught a nap, and prepared for an afternoon and evening and night of photography.
The International Car Forest of the Last Church, Land Art Installation
At the Car Forest, Goldfield, Nevada
The plan was to shoot the Car Forest in the late afternoon, sunset, twilight and at night; driving the 25 miles south from Tonopah, I made sure I had plenty of water for what would be a long, 7-hour shoot.  Pulling off the highway at the ‘Dinky Diner’ sign I carefully drove the dirt road that would take me to the Car Forest.  Thinking ahead, I thought it might be difficult navigating the unlit road on a moonless night, tired after an extensive photo-shoot I had a (literally) bright idea  --I’d leave myself a trail of ‘glowing breadcrumbs’ and proceeded to toss about a half-dozen glowsticks out the car window each time I topped a hill.  I’d follow the glowing path outta there later that night.
Some of the 40 cars at the International Car Forest of the Last Church
Arriving at the Car Forest I had plenty of time, but, as I always do, I shot fast and already had a lot of photos ‘in the can’ before sundown.  The Car Forest is a large area and I was able to drive around among the upended cars and shoot easily and leisurely out of the back of my car.  As the afternoon turned to evening I shot the sweet light of sunset and after the sun was well below the horizon I prepared for the night photography.  I’d previsualized photographing the Milky Way rising in the night sky behind the cars, trucks and busses of the Car Forest and illuminating those vehicles with color-gelled LED lights.  I set up my camera for the first shot, lighting a bus with a red-gelled light and another car in the foreground with a yellow-gelled light.  I shot the ‘blue hour,’ that not-quite-an-hour between sunset and total darkness when the stars are out but the sky is still blue from the last fading rays of daylight.  As the night progressed I moved from car to car, lighting the scenes and making the exposures all the while dodging the bats that came out to play after sundown.  My last shot was of an upended bus, painted by flashlight with the Milky Way high in the sky in the background.  I shot for seven hours and was darn near exhaustion when I finally wrapped it for the evening.  Now I had to drive out of there in total darkness; there was no moonlight to guide me since I’d timed the shoot for a New Moon.  Now where are those glowsticks I so carefully tossed out of the car window?  Ah, there’s one, so I drove to it.  Then I saw another, then another and I followed my glowing path right back to the highway and pointed the car northward to Tonopah and a good night’s sleep.
Bus & Milky Way, midnight at the Car Forest
Arriving back at my hotel room after midnight, I plugged-in all the camera battery chargers and went to sleep to recharge my own personal batteries.
 
I awoke fairly early after my long night at the Car Forest, grabbed some of the free breakfast provided and hit the road.  Day Three would take me to California, via highways 95, 50, 80 and 395; I’ve done this drive before.  There was not much traffic on the state highways of Nevada.  Passing through the creepy military town of Hawthorne I wondered if all the ammunition stored in all those bunkers outside of town was still any good.  I saw the cop on the other side of the sign that lowers the speed limit from 55mph to 45 and braked hard so I’d be going 45mph when I crossed that imaginary line ---I don’t need a ticket or to be shot by a cop.  He gave me an annoyed look but he couldn’t stop me for speeding; I know their games, he’ll have to hassle the next driver!  I wouldn’t be stopping to photograph the old Shoe Tree on the north end of Walker Lake because it was long-gone, taken down by some Nevada DOT road crew in the name of ‘safety.’  I noticed the small towns on the way to Fallon must base their entire economies on the sale of fireworks; I’d never seen so many fireworks stands outside of an Indian Reservation!  Catching Interstate 80 east of Sparks, I cruised through Reno, got onto highway 395 and crossed into California.  I answered ‘no’ to the California Inspection question of ‘do you have any fruits or vegetables?’  Just past the agricultural inspection I stopped and photographed the Shoe Tree on the side of highway 395.  I’ve photographed that tree before and it always makes for a nice infrared photo.  I continued on to Susanville where I stopped for the night and got a room at the Econo Lodge.  ‘No,’ was the answer to my, ‘may I have a first floor room, please,’ question so I schlepped my clothes and cameras up to (one of many, as it would turn out) my second floor room.
Highway 395 Shoe Tree, Photographed in Infrared
Once in my room I cleaned up, relaxed a bit, and checked my folder to see if I’d found any obscure things to photograph in Susanville.  I had one thing on my list of ‘Susanville photo-ops,’ and it was the Giant Lumberjack in front of The Lumberjack Restaurant.  Looking out my hotel room window I wondered where The Lumberjack Restaurant was until I noticed it was right next door to the hotel.  Cool!  I’ll grab my camera, walk over there, take the photo, and have some dinner.
 
The ‘Giant’ Lumberjack wasn’t all that giant and wasn’t even impressive enough to merit a photograph so I got a table and ordered dinner.  I ordered the ‘specialty’ which was a turkey dinner with stuffing and gravy.  After a mediocre meal at the Beatty Denny’s, a Burger King lunch in Tonopah and nothing else but granola and snacks, a nice, sit-down, family-style meal would be nice.  Well, in theory, but not in practice.  When they serve you a complete turkey dinner less than two minutes after you order it, that’s not a good sign.  And indeed, it was a Bad Omen as it was the first of many shitty meals I’d eat on this trip.  Although I’d visualized the photographic part of the road-trip, I’d done no such thing for the food and lodging aspect and here I was, in an overpriced ‘cheap’ hotel and eating a really bad dinner.  Oh well, at least it didn’t make me sick.  Could be worse, no attack of the post-dinner shit-n-pukes!
At Lassen Volcanic Park, California
The next days’ drive from Susanville to the Lassen Volcanic Park in California was beautiful with cool, tree-lined forest roads and light traffic.  I paid my fee at the Visitors Center and (surprisingly) there was cellphone service so I was able to call Bernadette.  All was well at home.  I slowly drove through the park and made notes of which mountain was where so I could choose an interesting backdrop for the night photography I’d be doing in another ten hours.  I chose a convenient campsite at Manzanita Lake, had some lunch, and relaxed for the afternoon.  During the day I scouted two locations, neither far from the campground, where I’d shoot some night photos.  One location allowed me to get the reflection of the night stars in the water, the other would put Mount Lassen directly below the Milky Way.  At about 10:30 pm I drove to the Mount Lassen location.  It was a very convenient spot with a pullout on the road.  I drove into the pullout and drove as far forward as I could, so no car could park in front of me (one must take certain precautions, usually unnecessary, when photographing at night) as I didn’t want to get boxed-in.  As soon as I began gathering my equipment from the back of my car, another car drove up, stopped, did a U-turn, drove into the pullout and parked directly in front of me!  I’d left no space, but now there was a suspicious car in front of mine.  I could see the glow of a cellphone, but the driver didn’t exit the vehicle.  With ‘it’s dark and I’ve got fifty grand worth of cameras’ paranoia setting in I wondered what that person was up to.  Dumbass humans with their freaking herding instinct!  Well, that person doesn’t seem threatening, but I don’t know what they’re up to so………..  I put a fisheye lens in one pocket and my 380 semi-auto handgun in my other pocket and got to work.  Fortunately the person never got out of their car, never bothered me, and when I wrapped the photography the gun went back into its hiding place.
Milky Way over Manzanita Lake
Aside from the paranoia-causing car that just had to park in front of me the only other weirdness that evening came in the form of two UFO sightings.  Before I’d even set up a camera I saw a strange light in the sky.  It would hover, then move, then change directions in a ninety-degree angle, hover again, and then move.  It was just a light in the sky but it moved and then stopped in mid-air, then it would make a ninety-degree maneuver and stop again.  Weird flight characteristics and too high in the sky to be a helicopter.  Later, while I was shooting, another strange aircraft appeared overhead.  It was traveling in a straight line, like an airplane, but it didn’t have flashing FAA wing lights.  It did have one centrally located flashing light that was surrounded by white lights that looked as if they rotated around the central light.  It looked disk shaped with the rotating lights.  I photographed its straight flight-path but once out of sight I never saw it again.  I wonder what it was?
Is this a UFO?  Normally planes' wing-lights leave dots in the exposure, there are none in this picture
I was good-to-go if the aliens wanted to abduct me, but they didn’t, and I wrapped the shoot a little after midnight.
 
Frequently when shooting night photos I camp to be near the location where I’ll be photographing.  When I’m shooting at night and camping, I always choose a campsite that’s near the entrance/exit so I don’t disturb anyone when I return from the night shoot.  In every campground there’s always one asshole who sets off his car-alarm at midnight and disturbs everyone --- and I don’t want to be the noisy one.
 
I quietly drove back to my campsite, stowed my gear, and got ready to sleep in the back of my car.  Just as I had everything set and was about to turn in I accidently set of my car alarm which made me the very noisy asshole I was trying so hard not to be!  I’m sure everyone saw my lights flashing, heard my horn honking and me, inside the car, cursing, sonofabitch!  How embarrassing….
 
I was outta there before first light the next morning!  Car alarm?  I didn’t hear no car alarm!  It wasn’t me.
 
I began my fifth day driving through the Lassen forest on my way to the Lava Beds National Monument.  I saw many areas devastated by forest fires and ultimately ended up on a rough, barely paved road taking me to the Lava Beds.  My intent was to photograph some caves, and one very pretty one in particular, to use as components in future digital composites.  I stopped at the Visitors Center, paid the entrance fee and got quizzed about ‘white nose disease.’  No, I hadn’t been in any other caves recently and I wasn’t carrying the fungus that caused ‘white nose disease’ in bats.  I asked the ranger-chick about the specific cave that I wanted to photograph but was told the local Indian tribe had taken it back as a ‘sacred site’ and I couldn’t go there.  She directed me to another cave that ‘looks similar.’  So I visited some caves, got a nice photo of the ‘similar’ cave and… decided I really don’t like caves.  I also decided I did not need to camp at the Lava Beds National Monument so I pointed the car towards Oregon and headed north.
One of the caves at Lava Beds National Monument in northern California.
Just south of Klamath Falls I hung a left on State Route 66 and drove fifty miles of twisty, curvy, technical roads (perfect for motorcyclists) into Ashland.  On my list of ‘interesting things to photograph along the way’ was a local park in Ashland that I thought would make an interesting subject for Infrared photography.  But despite my MapQuest printed map, the Triple-A map, an Oregon atlas and a GPS, I could not find the damn place.  After wasting too much time I simply gave up.  It’s only a park and The Universe does not want me to find it, so fuck that!  In my low-blood sugar state I found a Wendy’s instead and got a quick body-refueling, immediately felt better and decided I’d get back on I-5 and head to Medford.
 
Rolling into Medford a few miles later I checked into another upstairs room at the Motel 6.  Noticing the Dairy Queen across the parking lot, I knew then what I’d be having for dinner.  Urgh, more fast food.  But hey, it’s cheap and convenient and better than that hideous turkey dinner I’d had at The Lumberjack restaurant back in Susanville.  After a brief respite I drove the twenty miles to Jacksonville where I would photograph the old and supposedly haunted Jacksonville Cemetery.

The late afternoon light illuminated the 1800s cemetery beautifully.  Although I didn’t get any creepy feelings, that cemetery is definitely old enough to be haunted ---I’ll have to check my photos closely for orbs.  I shot the cemetery in infrared, which seemed appropriate for the ‘dreamy’ quality of the place.  I lost the light as I filled the camera’s memory card and headed back to my room in Medford as the sun dropped below the horizon.
Jacksonville Cemetery, Jacksonville, Oregon, Photographed in false-color Infrared
Unsuccessful again in obtaining a convenient, first floor room I began the three-trip schlep with my equipment from the car up to my room.  Halfway up the stairs on the last trip my cel-phone rang.  ‘Oregon’ the caller ID said.  I know maybe two people in Oregon, who the heck could be calling me?
 
It was my old friend Doug!  Doug and his wife Lori own a restaurant, The Sawtooth Roadhouse, in Odell (yes, that’s the name) Oregon which is about 20 miles south of Hood River.  He tells me they need new photos for menus, website and the rack-cards that advertise the restaurant.  He’s talked to a number of local photographers but their rates are so high he’s thinking of just buying a new camera and shooting the pictures himself and wants to know what I think of certain camera models.  So I share all the information I have and ask him about how much he wants to spend.  He gives me a number and I think for a moment and say:  “I would shoot that for you for half that amount.”
 
“Well that would be cool, but….” Doug replied.
 
“…But I’m in Medford right now.”
 
“You’re in the southern part of Oregon, right now?!”
 
“Yeah, and I even have lights with me.  I could shoot the job for you if you can wait a couple of days for me to get there.”
 
“Hell yeah!”  Doug answered, and added, “I’ll get the spare room ready for you, you’ve gotta spend a couple of days with us!”
 
And with that it was set.  I’d be up near Hood River in three days.  I’d just booked a little job, would see my old friends, would have a nice place to sleep and I already knew the food would be great.  How cool is that?!
 
Bernadette was astonished when I called and told her the news.  “You never make money on these trips.”
 
I left the Medford Motel 6 before dawn the next morning.  It was cool, cloudy and rain was threatening as I drove up I-5 to Roseburg.  Exiting the interstate in Roseburg, I gassed up the car again, grabbed another cup of coffee and wondered if my good weather luck had run out and I was now getting into ‘typical’ gloomy and rainy Oregon weather.  But no, it did not rain and the weather improved as I traveled eastward on highway 138.  I spent the better part of the day taking short hikes and photographing many of the waterfalls along the one-hundred mile route.
Small waterfall on highway 138 east of Roseburg, Oregon
Connecting with highway 97 at Diamond Lake I turned northbound towards Bend and started looking for someplace to eat a late lunch.  Finally stopping at a McDonalds in Gilchrist I had lunch with a collection of mutants, one of whom was actually stumped by the question, “Do you want fries with that?”
 
You see all kinds of weirdness on a multi-week road trip, especially in restaurants and bars!
 
The photography was pretty much done for the moment so I called Bernadette from the car.  “Where are you spending the night?” she asked.
 
“Prineville.”
 
“Where the hell is that?”
 
“North of Bend, east of Redmond.”
 
“Never heard of the place, and why did you pick Prineville?”
 
“Because I want to shoot the Painted Hills and Prineville is the nearest town, about fifty miles away.”
 
“I’ll get online and see what’s available for the night and call you back.”
 
This would be the routine for the rest of the trip; I’d call Bernadette with my location and she’d go online or call ahead and book me a hotel room.  Except when she’d call back, it usually went like this:
 
“You’re fucked.”  She’d say.  “All the hotels are booked.”
 
And that’s how the get-me-a-room-in-Prineville conversation began.
 
So I just rolled into Prineville determined to wing it.  After two laps of the main drag through town I stopped in the Econo Lodge, had a pleasant conversation with the Indian (not Native American) woman at the desk, and got the last available room at an over-my-budget-but-better-than-sleeping-in-the-car rate.  Of course it was an upstairs room.
 
 Cooling off and resting in my Econo Lodge room I called Bernadette and told her I’d be sleeping indoors after all.
The John Day Painted Hills
That evening I made the one-hundred mile round trip to the Painted Hills and shot some nice photos.  The next morning I did some photography in town and treated myself to a leisurely sit-down breakfast which was actually good.  My next stop would be in the little town of John Day.  Bernadette was checking on lodgings in John Day when I called her in-route.

“You’re fucked.”  She answered when I asked about a room in John Day.

“What the hell?  John Day is a little pissant, one stoplight town.”  I was getting frustrated.

“Well, why was Prineville mostly booked up?” She asked.

“County fair and a Pow Wow.” I answered.

“I don’t think there’s a Pow Wow in John Day.  I don’t know what the deal is but there is one room at The Dreamer’s Lodge in John Day for ninety bucks.  If you want it I’d better call that Indian (not Native American) dude back soon.”

“Get me the room!”

It wasn’t too far a drive from Prineville to John Day and I took many side roads and shot landscapes and other unexpected photos along the way.  I drove many roads where I wished I was on my motorcycle and saw many, many motorcyclists with shit-eating grins riding the Oregon backcountry.  I photographed the John Day Fossil Beds and the famous Mitchell Shoe Tree.  Driving through the outskirts of John Day I saw a big, handmade ‘Impeach Obama’ sign on the side of the road.  Mental note: don’t talk politics with dumbass conservatives who hate the Black President.  Ya know, big anti-government signs greeting travelers aren’t really the best way to welcome someone to your town.  When I got to the towns’ single stoplight I saw the Dreamers Lodge, checked-in and learned why every motel room in the whole darn town was booked.

A motorcycle rally.  A very big motorcycle rally.  Maybe 1500 bikes!

Some of the motorcycles parked at the John Day fairgrounds

Lovely way to welcome travelers to your town!  So, you're Obama-hating rednecks who watch Fox news, eh?
Hauling my stuff up to another second floor room I opened the door and found…. A three bedroom apartment!  And no, it wasn’t nice – or clean.  It was one of the weirdest rooms I’ve ever seen.  A ‘living room’ with couch, vinyl flooring and a wall-sized mirror; a full kitchen furnished circa 1970, a ‘master bedroom,’ two more, smaller, bedrooms and a skinny, hallway sized bathroom.  Weird, and kind of creepy.  This was not a place where I wanted to hang out.  No, for my time spent in this really weird room I would be unconscious, sleeping.  In the meantime I needed food and I figured I could do some local photography to finish the day.
 
The large, surly chick at the McDonalds grudgingly gave me one catsup pack and I felt lucky to get some ‘lubricants’ for my dried-up French fries!  I did some more photography to avoid going back to that weird room.
 
I was back at the hotel at sunset as the parking lot was filling up with motorcycles.
 
There are two subjects you can talk about with just about anyone, anywhere, and they are dogs and motorcycles.  I ended up chatting with a group of bikers (and these are retirement-age guys on big adventure-touring bikes and definitely NOT the Hell’s Angels) until after dark.  Thanks to their cheery conversation I didn’t have to spend much time awake in that very odd room.  I slept well and was gone by dawn the next morning.
 
The next day I was heading into familiar territory.  I’d been in this area before but there was something different this time.  No Rain!  Driving through north-central Oregon I was excited to get to the Windfarms near Wasco and Biggs and, finally, get some nice-weather photos of those electricity-generating windmills.  In years past I’ve photographed the windfarms but I always had to contend with dark skies, gloomy weather and rain, but not this time.  No, the third time really was a charm.  White columned, three rotor wind turbines penetrated the blue skies, growing up in straight rows from the green and yellow crops.  It was simply beautiful!  I took my time, made lots of stops and explored many side-roads and really ‘worked’ the windfarm photography.  And, for the first time ever, I could see Mount St. Helens in the distance, something I never knew about when shooting in the rain previously.  When I got to the Columbia River Gorge I crossed the river into Washington and shot the windmills on the north side of the river.  Doubling back I re-crossed the river and got onto interstate 84 westbound to Hood River.  But I didn’t get far.  It had been an early morning, with almost no breakfast, and I’d had about a half-dozen suicidal deer encounters (evasive driving but no deer-impacts).  I was so tired I had to pull off the road and grab a quick parking lot nap just west of The Dalles.
Electricity-generating wind turbines near Wasco, Oregon
Waking up, refreshed but groggy from my auto-nap, I realized that at this halfway point of the trip, I was really tired and fatigued and needed a break.  The timing of my friends’ food photography job couldn’t be better! 

I gassed up the car at the always-busy Shell station in Hood River and headed south to Odell, the Sawtooth Roadhouse, and Doug and Lori’s place.

Twenty miles later I was parking at the restaurant which is directly across the road from the Lumber Mill (hence the ‘Sawtooth’ Roadhouse name).  Neither Doug nor Lori were in the restaurant so I had lunch at the counter and then drove the quarter mile down the road to their house.

I’d met Doug way back in the early 1990s when he was a student in one of my photography classes in Houston, Texas.  He was one of the smart ones and we’d become friends.  Each of us had escaped the climatological horrors of Texas during the mid-1990s, he moved to Alaska and I’d gone to Arizona.  During the interceding years we’d stayed in touch and gotten together a few times when wildlife photography had taken me to Alaska.  Eventually Doug met Lori and they got married.  About seven years ago they bought the Sawtooth Roadhouse restaurant and moved near Hood River.  They also adopted a baby girl from China, Mei-Li.  They’re good parents and are the very kind of people who should have kids.


I’m envious of their lifestyle.  They own a restaurant and live a quarter mile away, so they don’t even have to drive a car to work.  Their home sits on a couple of acres of land, which is green and lush and quite unlike my local backdrop.  Sitting the backyard smoking cigars one evening Doug mentioned that he was envious of my lifestyle!  We always want what the other guy has, don’t we?  Actually both Doug and I know exactly how lucky we are.

And I’m lucky Doug owns a restaurant with a bar in it!  When I travel I always carry a flask of rum but I’d emptied it during my previous night in John Day.  Fortunately Doug refilled my flask with some tasty spiced rum.  Yay!  Doug’s rum lasted until I arrived safely at a bar in Las Vegas.  Note to self: next road-trip, bring two flasks!

Since I’d arrived on Father’s Day Sunday I’d be partaking in the Father’s Day barbeque and had a wonderful evening with Doug and Lori and their parents.  Doug’s folks drove in from Portland, about an hour and a half away, and Lori’s parents live in Hood River.  It was a great evening, full of intelligent conversation and great food.  The restaurant photography could wait until Monday.

We got started on the photography after a late breakfast the next day.  I cleared a table on the ‘family’ side of the restaurant (separate from the bar side) and set up lights to compliment the window light which I would use as the Main Light for the food photography.  Doug brought out the wine and beer to be photographed and Lori prepared the salads, nachos, sandwiches, desserts and other things I’d be photographing.  And then the restaurant got busy.  In between preparing perfect (no food stylist) meals for me to photograph Lori was also prepping food for customers.  And Doug was working part-time as my assistant and waiter.  I was really impressed when I watched him take an order from a table of six, not writing anything down, and deliver their lunches perfectly accurate!  I’d of screwed up their beverage order ---and spilled it!  By late afternoon we wrapped up the shoot.

Some of Wine offerings at The Sawtooth Roadhouse, Odell, Oregon
We went back to the house and since the light was just getting nicer and nicer in the late afternoon hours I figured it was time for some portraits of Mei-Li.  She was a willing model and I shot a number of poses and some extra photos of her with her new puppy.  Doug and Lori work hard and photographing the kid isn’t a priority, so I made sure they’d have some nice pictures.
 
I’ve met Mei-Li now three times and have watched her grow from an infant to a first-grader.  I know her (sad) pre-adoption backstory.  Although I don’t have kids, and wouldn’t want to raise one in today’s world, I know Mei-Li will be just fine.  She’s pretty, intelligent and will be raised right.  I love the little girl and since I don’t have children of my own, I’ve put her in my will.  I just hope I can do her right by leaving her something to inherit aside from cleaning up my lifetime’s mess.  Before she went to bed Monday night she told me I had to come back, and when I did, I had to stay three nights.  I told her I would.
Doug, me & Lori
It was really great seeing my old friends, doing a food-shoot and some kid-portraits.  I really needed a respite at the halfway point of my Grand Adventure.  Doug saw me off the next morning, pre-dawn when I hit the road again.
 
Doubling back through Hood River and Biggs I photographed more windmills and was grateful for the sun and clear skies.  Every other time I’d photographed the area I had to contend with the typically gloomy Oregon rain, but this time was gloriously sunny and I shot a lot of photos that would be very different from the earlier photos.  Heading further eastward along the Columbia River Gorge I made a stop in Boardman to photograph a Tree Farm.  I’d photographed the Tree Farm in 2013 in the rain and gloom and gotten some great photos, but this time it was sunny with clear skies.  The ‘good’ lighting conditions were actually not as useful as the overcast skies had been two years previously.  The ‘good’ light this time was contrasty with dark shadows and bright highlights but I ‘worked the light’ and came away with another series of arrow-straight rows of trees showing the camera multiple vanishing points.  I’ll figure out what to do with the new Tree Farm photos sometime in the future.
At the Boardman Tree-Farm
My next planned stop would be Palouse Falls State Park where I planned on camping one night and photographing the Palouse waterfalls both during the day and at night with the stars out.  While still within sight of ‘civilization’ near Walla Walla I called Bernadette.
 
“Where will you be tonight?” she asked.
 
“Camping at Palouse Falls State Park in Washington.”
 
“OK, where tomorrow?  Do you need a hotel?”
 
“Tomorrow I’ll be heading into the Palouse region of eastern Washington.”  I answered.
 
“Where will you stay?”
 
“I’m thinking about driving to Pullman, Washington, and finding a hotel there.”
 
“Let me call ahead and see what’s available, you haven’t been having much luck with motels.”
 
“OK,” I replied to the hands-free Bluetooth phone, “you’ve got about another hour and after that I’m not so sure about cel-phone service.”
 
About twenty minutes later she called back and again said: “You’re fucked.”
 
“Oh man, not again!”  Was all I could muster, this string of no-vacancy hotels was getting frustrating.  “OK, check availability of rooms in the nearby towns of Palouse, Colfax, and Moscow, Idaho.  Worst case check on the Super 8 motel where I stayed two years ago in Lewiston, Idaho.  It’s a little out of my way but it’s right on highway 12.”
 
Bernadette went to her computer to check for hotels, I went to Burger King for my only hot meal of the day.
 
My phone rang and I answered, “How fucked am I?”
 
“You’ll be staying at the Super 8 in Lewiston,” was Bernadette’s answer.
 
“No shit?  Is that the closest you can get me?”
 
“Yup, Pullman, Palouse, Colfax, Moscow, all booked, no vacancies.  There’s plenty available in Spokane but Lewiston is closer so I got you a room at that Super 8.”
 
“Well that’s frickin’ inconvenient, but it’ll have to do.”
 
She texted me the confirmation number and I continued onward to Palouse Falls State Park and out of cel-service range.
 
A few hours later, after traveling the interstate to a state road, the state road to a 2-lane county road, to a dirt road, I arrived at Palouse Falls State Park.  The place was smaller than expected with only about a dozen campsites.  The waterfall was smaller than expected too.  I shot some mid-day photos of the waterfall, mid-day being the best light as the falls are, essentially, down in a hole.  
 
Actually, the falls and the park weren’t all that impressive, and I thought about just moving on but didn’t really have anywhere to go.  I was only a couple of hours from Lewiston, where I had a reservation for the next two days, but not to-day.  I decided to stick with the plan and camp.  I took one of only twelve campsites and set up my tent.  I don’t sleep in tents anymore because I prefer to have sheet metal between me and the bears instead of the false security of a sixteenth inch of fabric.  I sleep in the car, but I have to put up a small tent to retain the campsite ---I’ve left ‘occupied’ looking items like coolers and camp chairs but they only get stolen.  After setting up my tent, I took a nap.
Waking up at Palouse Falls State Park, Washington
Later in the afternoon all the ‘day users’ had left leaving only the overnight campers in the park.  Everyone was very friendly.  I met Martin, a Canadian who was vacationing alone.  He was playing guitar at his campsite and looking for someone to jam with, and after a while another camper/guitarist joined him.  I talked to another Indian (not Native-American) who was ‘taking the kids camping while he had custody over the summer.’  There were a number of photographers there too and I ended up chatting with them all.  When I mentioned I planned on doing some night photography of the falls around 11PM everybody was interested.  The other photographers were planning on the same, they’d all seen the same photo online I had of the Milky Way rising over the falls and wanted to try to ‘get that shot.’  Martin and the Indian guy wanted to watch and learn how so…
 
At about 11PM I led an impromptu night photography seminar and showed all those guys how it is done.  We painted the falls with light from our flashlights and played with some of my Chinese lasers.  Everybody had fun and thanked me for showing them how to photograph stars at night.  I know Martin got some nice shots because I saw them on the back of his camera.  As for getting that ‘falls and Milky Way’ shot, I didn’t get it and I don’t think anyone else did either.  I think that photo online was a composite.  Oh well.  It was a fun evening with friendly folk.
 
With only  a short drive to Lewiston ahead of me I slept in as long as I could, had a granola bar and Red Bull for breakfast, packed up and headed out.
 
The drive from Palouse Falls State Park to Lewiston, Idaho was short and scenic and I stopped a number of times to shoot photos.  
 
Driving into Lewiston from the west I recognized some familiar landmarks from my last visit in 2013.  Had I’d known in 2013 that the incredibly beautiful Palouse farm region was little more than ten miles to the north I’d of photographed it then, but I’d been completely unaware.  I’d also been rather single-minded on that trip so I missed it and I had some of the shittiest weather I’d ever had to contend with.  Now, the weather was perfect, sunny, clear and warm with no rain in the forecast at all.  Since it was still too early to check-in the motel I found a restaurant and had a nice, hot and leisurely-late breakfast.  Better than granola and Red Bull for sure!  After breakfast I checked my watch and, calculating one hour later for Mountain Time, paid the bill and drove to the Super 8 motel on highway 12.  But I was still too early to check-in.  Apparently, just over the eastern state line of Washington, Lewiston is still in the Pacific Time zone, so I had to wait an hour.  That hour stretched into two hours (why, I don’t know, except that’s the only power motel people have over clients).  At 2PM local time I finally got a room.  They couldn’t refuse me a first floor room because the motel only had one floor!
 
Two years prior, when I’d arrived in Lewiston, I did laundry and backed up camera files.  This time I again did a load of laundry but I didn’t have to back up any camera memory cards.  I had so many large capacity memory cards this time that I never did have to back anything up.  I never had to haul the laptop computer into a motel room.  I sorted my laundry, cleaned cameras and lenses, took a shower and then had an afternoon nap.  Nice!
 
I awoke a little after 5PM.  I’d thought I’d try for three shoots in the Palouse area, tonight I’d not shoot but turn in early.  I’d shoot the next days’ sunrise and sunset and the following sunrise, except after my nap I was feeling refreshed and figured I’d go for it, so I loaded my equipment into the car and headed north.
 
It literally was only ten miles northbound when I got into the rolling farmland of The Palouse; not as far a drive as I’d anticipated.  My cel-phone rang, it was Bernadette.
 
“Where are you?”
 
“Northbound, heading towards Pullman.”
 
“Are you shooting?”
 
“No, not yet anyway.”  I continued.  “It’s cloudy and dark, looks like it might rain.”
 
“Oh no, has your good weather luck run out?”
 
“It may have, but I hope not.  The clouds don’t look all that thick, and there’s a break in the clouds near the western horizon.  You know how that goes; the weather looks shitty then the sun pops out for a few minutes of incredible light.  You don’t know if you don’t go, so I’m here.  If I get skunked with weather at least I’ve scouted the location.”
 
“Well I’ll let you go shoot, good luck with light.”
The Palouse
I drove on to Pullman and then turned westward, driving slow and making mental notes along the way.  When I’d researched the Palouse area I discovered that it is a photographer’s Mecca with all kinds of photo-workshops and even online maps pointing out ‘lone trees’ and ‘red barns.’  Oh, the fucking Red Barn cliché!  And I did see lots and lots of cliché red barns ---which I resisted shooting until I saw one that was just too perfect of a pretty picture cliché not to shoot (I don’t have to show it to anyone).  As the miles wore on the sun began peeking from the clouds illuminating the landscape magnificently.  I started shooting under overcast skies but soon the sun broke through for the remaining hour of daylight.  I drove fast and shot fast and got a lot of good photographs.  Bernadette called again.
 
“How’s it going?”
 
“Great!  Sun’s out and it’s freakin’ awesome!  Fucking-A, this is incredible, it’s amazing, beautiful and…. I’ve got to go!  Not much light left, I’ll call you back after sundown.”
 
And I shot like crazy until it was dark.  And darkness didn’t come until after 9PM.  I live in Arizona, the Southwest, and I’d forgotten that the further north you go in the summertime, the longer the days are.  Sunrise comes before 5AM and sunset isn’t until after 9PM.  Long days.  It was after 10PM when I got back to my motel room with a bag of McFood.  After scarfing down another fast food meal I called Bernadette with the good news.  
 
“Wow!  You’re having good weather luck at the same intensity as the bad weather last time.”
 
“It’s been amazing!  Good light, beautiful locations, not too hot or too cold.  Good thing I went for it tonight.”
 
I’ve been doing this photography thing long enough to know a few things about luck:
Luck is not dependable.
Luck favors the prepared.
Often ‘bad luck’ is just good luck you’re not ready for.
 
Still, I’d rather be lucky than good.  Actually, I’d rather be lucky and good.
 
It wasn’t a long nights’ sleep.  I was up and out of the hotel shortly after 4AM the next day for the sunrise shoot.
 
Driving northbound towards Colfax, Washington, with my cup of motel coffee, I tried to remember a conversation I’d had back at Palouse Falls with one of the guy’s I’d met.  He’d been in the Palouse area a few days prior and had said I just had to go up on some butte for the view… what was the name of that butte?
 
I drove and stopped and photographed and drove some more and photographed more and… saw a sign for Steptoe Butte State Park.  Ah ha!  That’s the butte the guy was talking about!  And so I drove straight up that mountain.  Well, it wasn’t straight at all; the road went around and around that mountain all the way to the top.  After what seemed like a whole lot of dizzying miles I arrived at the top of the butte and was rewarded with a spectacular view.  Yup, this is where so many of those photos I’d seen online of The Palouse were shot.  And this was one of those unique landscape viewpoints that begs for a long telephoto lens instead of a wide-angle.  I attached my 100-400mm zoom to my camera, racked it out to 400mm and shot like crazy.  Then I put a long lens on my infrared camera and shot it all again.  I had the area completely covered by the time the sun rose so high my morning’s shoot was over.
 
Wow!  What an incredible morning.  Turning three-hundred-and-sixty-degrees revealed beautiful subjects in every direction.  You’d have to be a horrible photographer not to take a great photo here.  Yes, many of the photos I shot were blatant clichés, but what the heck, cliché’s are pre-approved, so I shot ‘em.
 
Cruising back to Pullman I stopped for McBreakfast and more coffee and decided, instead of driving back to Lewiston via the same route, I’d return via Moscow, Idaho, and see what there was to see.
 
It was a short drive from Pullman, Washington to Moscow, Idaho.  Both are college towns.  I only had to drive a few blocks through Moscow to find highway 95 which would take me back to Lewiston.  Turning right, southbound, on the road that would become highway 95, I saw a sight I had to photograph.
 
Some photographs are difficult to make but the image I saw when I made that right turn was a ‘gift,’ a beautiful photograph, fully formed and ready to shoot without any alteration.  Luckily there was an empty parking lot in just the right place, I pulled in.  Working quickly I grabbed my Lumix Micro Four Thirds camera, which was on the front seat at the ready.  I made a quick lens change, zoomed it to 45mm (90mm equivalent), pointed the camera out the car window and fired three brackets of three exposures each.  Nine frames total and I was done.  The picture was of five people painting the side of a building, all wearing red shirts with three of them on top of ladders.  It was the kind of shot I would have set up if it were a job, but this was a gift, already there, and all I had to do was take the shot.  So I got nine shots before someone started walking away.  No one saw me.  For just an instant I was Henri Cartier-Bresson!  It was one of the easiest photos I shot on the whole shoot and it was the only people-picture I made (excepting the Mei-Li portraits).  Of all the beautiful landscape photos I shot that morning, the ‘people on ladders’ picture was the one that stuck in my mind.
The "gift" photo in Moscow, Idaho
I was one happy photographer when I got back to Lewiston.  My room had been cleaned while I was out so I got out all the battery chargers and charged up all the camera and device batteries.  Then it was time for a nap.  With long days and short nights I had to sleep at odd hours.  I slept for a good portion of the day, awoke, went out for some fast food dinner, showered, and got ready for one more sunset shoot of The Palouse.  And it was another spectacular sunset shoot as well.  By the time it was dark and I’d wrapped the shoot I figured I didn’t really need to shoot another sunrise and would bug out early the next morning for Montana.
 
The homing instinct really kicked in after The Palouse shoot.  I’d gotten every photograph I’d hoped for, and I was kinda ready to get home and relax, but at my current location I was as far from home as I’d be on the whole trip; I was days from home.
 
I checked the map but there was no more expeditious route than the one I’d planned.  I had no choice but to stick with my pre-planned route and drive across the Idaho panhandle one more time (I’d done this exact drive two years previously) to Missoula, Montana.
 
Leaving at first light the next morning I was determined to get to Missoula as quickly as possible and drove the two-hundred or so miles as fast as I could  ---which wasn’t that fast.  The highway follows a river for about one-hundred miles so it’s a twisty, technical road that would be fun on a sportbike.  Fortunately there wasn’t much traffic to slow me down.  I’d driven this same route in 2013 so I’d already taken all the ‘easy’ pictures in-route so I didn’t stop until I reached the traffic-clogged clusterfuck known as Missoula, Montana.
 
Urgh!  I arrived in Missoula tired and hungry, cranky with low blood sugar.  And the traffic was horrible.  I slowly worked my way through town and turned eastward on Interstate 90.  I figured that, once on the interstate, I could put the hammer down, click on the cruise control, listen to some music and knock back some miles.  Er, no.  I got onto the interstate and promptly stopped.
 
In Montana, and most of the mountainous northern states, there are two seasons, ‘winter’ and ‘road construction.’  It was full-on road construction season and traffic on the interstate was moving no faster than single-digit speeds.  Shit!  I should have gassed-up and eaten breakfast in Missoula.
 
Since I was crawling towards Butte at an incredibly safe speed of about 7mph, I called Bernadette and gave her an update.
 
Bernadette opened with: “And where are you?”
 
“Parked on Interstate 90 barely east of Missoula.”  I explained my situation.
 
“Where do you plan on spending the night?”
 
“I’m not entirely sure.  I want to photograph a ghost town that’s near Dillon, can you check availability of motels in Dillon, Montana?”
 
“I’ll get online and call you back with info.”
 
“Great, I’ll be right here, probably right here at the rate I’m moving.”
 
Traffic eventually passed the construction zone and sped up, then slowed again for another work area, then sped up.  It was frustrating driving.  I pulled off the interstate for gas in Deer Lodge.  I filled the tank but couldn’t get back on the highway, construction workers blocked the ramp.
 
“Ramp will be open in ten minutes.”  Said the bearded man in the hi-viz vest.
 
So I drove through McDonalds to get some breakfast.  Breakfast wasn’t being served.  I got no food.  The entrance-ramp to the interstate was still closed.  Ah fuck, I’m stuck in Deer Lodge Montana and will probably die here!  Dammit!
 
So I got in line with all the traffic and drove through town to the interstate entrance ramp on the east side of Deer Lodge.  The cops were heavily working the road since it was the only way back to the interstate highway.  Not nice, guys.  I didn’t see them shoot anyone….
 
Not long after I finally got back on the highway, my phone rang.  Bernadette began with her usual refrain:
 
“You’re fucked!”
 
Oh man, not again!  This is getting freakin’ absurd!
 
“Every hotel in Dillon that has a website is booked.  I might be able to get you a room in Butte and I can definitely get you a room in Idaho Falls.  Even the campground in Bannack State Park is full.”
 
“Butte’s no good, I’m darn near there and it’s not even noon, if there is a room I couldn’t get in it for hours.  I can’t believe Dillon is completely booked.  And I can’t even camp in Bannack State Park?!  Let me pull off, study the map, do the mileage-math and call you back.”
 
So I stopped and studied the map.  I had thought about making a side-trip to Yellowstone since I was in the area, but the homing instinct was really pulling at me, and I’ve photographed Yellowstone plenty of times.  Hmmm, maybe Idaho Falls is the way to go?  That’ll make it a long day, five hundred plus miles of driving, and it’s kinda weird starting in Idaho, driving through Montana, and ending up back in Idaho for the night.  I would be one day closer to home though…
 
I called Bernadette back and told her to go ahead and book me that room in Idaho Falls.  I got off the under-construction highway 90 and turned south toward Dillon on I-15.  Interstate 15 was not under construction and had a legal speed limit of 80mph like I-10 in west Texas.  I hauled-ass and made up time.
 
I’d re-fueled the car in Deer Lodge but not myself.  I dug through the stuff within reach and found my bag of granola for a snack.  Before leaving Prescott I had made a big bag of ‘gorp’ for munching on the road, it had some chocolate bits mixed in with the nuts.  During the hot days when the car was parked the chocolate in my granola had melted, and then during the cool nights had re-solidified.  Now, after two weeks of melt and re-solidify cycles my bag-o-granola was a solid chunk of nuts held together by chocolate.  It was a big mess, but yummy and filling and it raised my blood sugar just enough so I was a little less cranky.
 
I arrived in Dillon just after noon.  Since I’d left Lewiston pre-dawn it was already a long day but I was covering a lot of miles too.  Driving through Dillion I saw a lot of motels with empty parking lots which meant I probably could have gotten a room after all, it just would have been in a smaller mom-and-pop kind of motel that didn’t have a website.  I pulled into a McDonalds for lunch and use of the free wi-fi.  While eating yet another McBurger I consulted MapQuest on my tablet, did the mileage-math in my head and decided I’d shoot that ghost town and then head to Idaho Falls, I should arrive there between 4 and 5PM, which would be just fine.  I wondered if Idaho Falls even had a ‘rush hour?’
 
Two years ago I’d had the ghost town of Bannack, Montana on my list of places to photograph but had skipped it and instead gone north to Glacier National Park.  That had turned out to be a Very Bad Idea as most of the park had been closed with snow (in May) and bad weather had chased my ass across Montana and North Dakota.  But now it was sunny and warm and a good day for photography.  Leaving the Dillon McDonalds with a full belly, I was off to Bannack, finally.
 
The roads to Bannack included a short drive on the interstate highway, to a state highway, to a county road, to a barely-paved local road, to a dirt road and into a dirt parking lot at Bannack State Park.  As I drove past the campground I noticed only one tent, I probably could have camped here too.  Don’t trust all the ‘no vacancies’ notices on certain hotel websites, they’ve probably got rooms but didn’t update their websites.  Sometimes you’ve just got to ‘wing it.’
 
There were a few cars in the Bannack parking lot but not many.  I walked into the ranger’s shack and paid my six dollars admission.  I asked the ranger-chick if it was possible to go inside any of the buildings.  She told me that most of the buildings were open and I was free to enter any that weren’t locked, just close the door when I left.  Cool!
Hotel, Bannack Ghost Town, Montana
I went back to my car and grabbed my hat and vest, shoved a bottle of water in my vest pocket and mounted my wide-angle zoom lens on my Lumix GX1 micro-four-thirds camera; I was going to shoot some of those building interiors.  I could have carried my Canon 5D and a tripod but that might have looked ‘too professional’ which could have caught the eye of some ranger who could hassle me about ‘photography permits.’  I’ve never really had any hassles about ‘professional photography’ in state and national parks, but I don’t like calling attention to myself.  Unless I’m on a job, with a paid permit and with assistants and a crew, I prefer to blend in with the tourons.  I was an early-adopter of the new, small, mirrorless cameras and bought into the Lumix Micro-Four-Thirds system a few years ago.  The GX1 camera I was using looks like a little amateur point-and-shoot except it handles like an old-school Leica and I had a good-for-interior-architecture 14-28mm lens.  And I didn’t use a tripod.  I looked like a tourist, which was exactly the plan.  Don’t hassle me, just let me shoot pictures and I won’t bother anyone!

Bannack is a typical abandoned mining town.  It looked like a set from Gunsmoke.  One dirt main-drag road through the middle of town with wooden sidewalks on either side, and one block of building facades facing the road from each side.  The only brick building in town was the old hotel/bar, all the rest were wooden.  And all the expected buildings were there: an old schoolhouse, the church, the bank and some private residences.  Most were open and I photographed them all.  I didn’t see or feel any ghosts.

Photographing inside the Bar in the Bannack Hotel
I spent the better part of the afternoon mashing myself into the corners of those old rooms and photographing the interiors.  And they were beautiful!  Peeling paint, rotting wallpaper, off-kilter windows and doors… I had no idea what I would do with all those interior photos (I did have some vague, pre-visualized ideas) but I had to take the opportunity I had to photograph them all.  I still had a long drive home with plenty of hours to think about what I could do with the photos.
Bannack Ghost Town Interior
After a few hours I’d shot megabytes of photos and had pretty much documented every building there.  I stopped in the ranger’s shack on my way out to talk to the ranger-chick I’d met on the way in.  She confirmed my suspicion that Bannack, like the California ghost town in the Sierras, Bodie, was kept in a state of ‘suspended decay’ by the Park Service.  ‘Suspended decay’ means that the decay of the buildings has been stopped; old decay has not been repaired but new damage is repaired or replaced with vintage materials.  These old ghost towns would not hold up to extensive tourist traffic if not maintained, they’d fall to dust otherwise.  I told her they were doing a great job and how glad I was to have taken the side-trip to see Bannack.  All too often Park Rangers have to deal with law enforcement issues or people complaining about stupid things like ‘when do they turn the water on at Old Faithful?’ so I always make a point of saying something nice when I’m impressed with what the Park Service has done. 
 
The heat had risen inside my black car while it was parked and my granola had re-melted again.  I re-traced my route back to I-15 and turned southward to Idaho Falls.
 
Bernadette had booked me into a way overpriced Super 8 motel.  I had the reservation number and address in my phone but I figured I’d see the motel, or a sign for it, from the highway, but I didn’t.  Exiting I-15 at the road where the motel was supposed to be I didn’t know if it was a right or left turn, so I turned right.  But 50/50 odds are always against me and after a few miles drive down that road, I saw no Super 8 motel.  Pulling a U-turn I called Bernadette.
 
“Where the fuck is that motel?”
 
She read the directions off their website to me.  Yes, I should have turned left, but I still wouldn’t have found it.  I had to make a couple of other turns before I found it and when I did it was one of those big-ass high rise Super 8 motels.  I checked in and asked for a first floor room, which again, I couldn’t have.  Nope.  I had to schlep my stuff down a hallway to an elevator and then through a total of six more doors and three more hallways.  So much for convenience!  Well, they did have a good selection on satellite TV and I watched an old episode of Doctor Who with Sylvester McCoy before bed.  I think my dinner budget exceeded the Doctor Who special effects budget!
 
There was Chili’s restaurant about two blocks from the hotel so I went there for a sit-down dinner of not fast food.  Oops, another shitty dinner, fast food would have been better after all.  Oh well, at least they didn’t screw up my cocktail!
 
I slept well and found an exit nearer my car when leaving the next morning, I only had to haul my stuff down two hallways to an elevator!
 
The next day I drove to Arco, Idaho and photographed the (less than impressive) EBR-1, America’s first nuclear reactor used to generate electricity.  I drove a big loop and on my way back to the interstate I stopped in Atomic City only to find that it was just too ugly and boring to photograph.  I didn’t spend much time in the area, I’ll bet the background radiation there is higher than normal…
EBR-1, decommissioned Nuclear Reactor, Arco, Idaho
Once back on I-15 it was onwards to Salt Lake City and then a western turn on I-80 to Wendover and the Bonneville Salt Flats.  Bernadette had already booked me a room at the Knights Inn on the Utah side of Wendover and I found it easily and checked in.  The old dude at the registration desk looked to be about 500 years old but he was efficient and I was in my room posthaste.  I finally got a first floor room but it was only because the building only had one floor!  I dropped off my stuff in the less-than-nice-or-clean room and drove one block to the Nevada side of town and went to a casino buffet for a late lunch.  The last time I was in Wendover the Nevada-side casinos were all in giant tents and rather impermanent.  Now the casinos were in big high rise buildings.  Come to think of it, I don’t recall seeing any private residences or houses in Wendover, I wonder where the workers live?
 
My casino-buffet lunch wasn’t all that bad or expensive and certainly was better than fast food!
 
I drove out to the Bonneville speedway (which was a 2-inch deep lake because of recent rains) and photographed the salt flats at sunset.  I think I saw the ghost of Burt Munro!
Fun on the Bonneville Salt Flats
The next day was my second to last on the road and was a fairly long drive.  I had a reservation at The Palace Station, an off-strip hotel/casino in Las Vegas.  Calculating a six-hour drive with a 3PM check-in, I didn’t leave Wendover until after 9AM; no need to hang around Vegas in the heat waiting for check-in time. 
 
Not far south of Wendover on highway ALT 93 I found another shoe tree and photographed it.  I gassed-up in Ely and turned on state highway 50 (the loneliest road in America) to connect to highway 93 south.  At the intersection of highways 50 and 93 there was a new Wind Farm with bright white wind turbines.  If it hadn’t been the worst midday light, I’d of stopped to photograph the windmills but instead I made a note to return and photograph the windmills and do some night photography at the nearby Great Basin National Park.  Maybe I’ll do that next summer?
 
It seemed like every radio station was playing ‘Yes’ music this day.  Why was there so much great 1970’s progressive rock by one band being played, I wondered.  Sadly, Chris Squire had passed that day and seemingly all of FM and XM radio was playing tributes.
 
Once I got to Panaca, Nevada, I was in familiar territory again as I’ve toured this area on my motorcycle before.  I stopped at the intersection of highways 93 and 375 and photographed the ‘Extraterrestrial Highway’ sign.  After than I was continually passed by very fast Nevada drivers all the way to interstate 15.  I was cruising most of the day at 85mph, if that’s too slow for the Nevada drivers then pass me, you can be the ticket-bait!
 
Once on I-15 it was a short drive to Las Vegas, Sahara Drive and into the Palace Station parking lot.
 
Bernadette and I had chosen The Palace Station for my last night because of its price and convenience (we’d stayed there before).  Although it was a Las Vegas hotel/casino it was lower priced than most of the shitty hotels where I’d stayed during the past two and a half weeks.  It was off-strip but only a block from the freeway.  Most importantly it lacked that typical two-mile schlep through the casino to check-in.  No, this was one of those rare hotels where check-in is near the door and the elevators to the rooms are near check-in.  When you’re tired from shooting and driving from dawn till dusk for almost three weeks it’s nice just to walk in a hotel and get to your room without detours.
 
I was standing in the check-in line with my two aluminum camera cases in hand when a guy in a suit came out of a door marked ‘VIP Registration,’ nodded towards me and said, “Come this way, I’ll check you in.”  Nice!  VIP registration!  I was in my room quickly.
 
Ah, last day!  My own bed tomorrow night!  For now it was time for a shower, shave, clean clothes and a celebratory cocktail.  Putting on my last set of non-grubby clothes I headed off to the bar where I had a couple of drinks, caught a mellow buzz and sent some texts, made some phone calls and took care of some business.  I walked outdoors to smoke my last cigar and took another call which lasted for nearly an hour.  I had a yummy and filling dinner at one of the hotel’s restaurants, another cocktail and went back to my room and its king-sized bed for a good night’s sleep.
 
After a buffet breakfast the next morning I packed up one last time and hit the road for home.  Once I passed by Bagdad, Arizona it was just a Sunday morning motorcycle ride from there on home.  I arrived early afternoon, got a tail-wagging greeting from Bruno the Chihuahua, a big hug from Bernadette and, at sundown, enjoyed a monsoon thunderstorm from the back deck of my house.
 
Perfect!
 
The stats from this little road-trip/photo-shoot/adventure are:
4890 miles
8 states
16 days
500 GB – 9389 photos
….and $35.00 under budget!
 
Conclusions and take-aways:
 
Plan, plan, plan… and be flexible to change things along the way, on the fly.

DO NOT believe everything you see online regarding motel availability.  Often there are rooms available even if the motel website says ‘no vacancy.’  Many smaller, non-chain motels don’t have websites, often they have rooms available but you have to either call the directly or go there and ask.  Sometimes just showing up and asking is easier than making a reservations.

There aren’t many decent, inexpensive hotels left.  Motel 6 isn’t even cheap.  Budget accordingly.



Drink!  Stay hydrated.  Eat!  Keep your blood sugar up so you feel well.

TALK to people.  Be friendly.  Chat up the locals to learn things you wouldn’t otherwise know about. Bars are good for this. 

Watch your back but don’t be paranoid.




I seek out Mom & Pop style family restaurants.  They’re often the best, but when they’re not, they’re horrible (you won’t know until it’s too late).  Fast food is cheap and has a certain level of predictable mediocrity.



Avoid ‘range anxiety,’ gas up frequently.



Long drives are a great time to THINK.  Especially if you travel alone.  Keep a tape recorder or small video camera to take verbal and visual ‘notes.


XM radio is great for long trips because you won’t lose the station by driving out of range.



Long car trips are perfect for listening to concept albums, on this trip I listened to the following long-form epics:
o   Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”
o   Genesis’ “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway”
o   IQ’s “Subterranea”
o   Jethro Tull’s “Thick as a Brick”
o   The Who, “Quadrophenia”
o   Spock’s Beard, “Snow”
o   Alan Parsons’, “I Robot”
o   Marillion, “Brave”
o   Bruce Reaves, “Zero to Sixty”
 
Wear BOOTS.  And layers.  In the desert a HAT is a necessity.  Always carry a small knife and a flashlight ---you never know when you’ll need them.

Photograph the clichés, it’s OK if you don’t show them to anyone.

When photographing, LOOK BEHIND you, you might see something amazing.

Large, stupid animals feed at dawn and dusk, when the light is best for photography.  Be careful when ‘chasing the light’ and don’t hit an animal.




Before road-trips, check websites like AtlasObscura.com for strange and unexpected photo-ops along your way or at your destination.

BE NICE to park rangers, they have lots of useful information, talk to them.

I’ve been home 10 weeks now (it’s early September) and I’ll be working on all the pictures I shot for quite some time, probably through the end of the year or beyond.  It was an intense, full-immersion photo-shoot that generated a lot of images in a short amount of time.  I divide the task into ‘capture’ and ‘processing.’  Each has its unique pleasures and pains.  I find the image-capture part to be physically and mentally demanding with occasional risks to life and limb.  The image-processing part isn’t as physically demanding or potentially dangerous but requires patience and concentration.
Before I hit the road I figured I’d spend my alone time in the car thinking about the bullshit I’d been dealing with businesswise.  But no, my mental activity was fully occupied by the task at hand.  This was a good thing because I didn’t even think and therefore not obsess about any of it, because in the long run, none of it mattered.

Not talking is kind of nice.  There were a few days where I spoke to no one except to order food or check into a motel.

I purposely didn’t listen to much news radio or watch news stations in motels.  I did watch The Weather Channel in motels and, occasionally, NPR on the radio.  XM radio allowed me to listen to the entire Terry Gross interview with Brian Wilson which was nice.  I didn’t even know there had been another mass shooting at a church until I ‘discovered’ CNN on one motel’s channel lineup.  I got into my ‘own little world’ and didn’t really need to know about some asshole expressing his second amendment rights/racism anyway.  I NEVER listen to AM talk radio (conservative hate-radio).  Why get all worked up about shit that’s not even true or things I can do nothing about?

I’ve had plenty of bad weather to contend with when I’ve photographed in these areas in the past.  I’d planned this shoot for June when I hoped the weather would be cooperative.  It was good planning but I was lucky too.  I had amazingly good weather the whole way. I’d planned the night photography for dark, new moon nights and that worked out well.  I didn’t get rained on nor did I have to reschedule anything because of bad weather or bad light.  You could say I was prepared for good weather luck.  My luck was so good with the weather this time that I missed a whole lot of bad things that would have fucked-up the shoot.  For the two and a half days I was in Lewiston, Idaho, the high temps were near 100 degrees.  A few days later, after I’d left, high temps hit 114.  A few weeks after leaving The Palouse area forest fires sprung up to the northwest and, had those fires been burning while I was photographing, much of the areas would have been obscured by smoke.  It rained like crazy in Hood River about a week after I left the area.  I was lucky, lucky, lucky!  Luck favors the prepared, so prepare!

My location photo-shoot philosophy is simple:
                Slow down, observe, pay attention.
                If you see it, shoot it.
                Be flexible.