Hints and tips for a once in a lifetime US roadtrip

Discussion in 'Travel' started by woodbyte, Mar 16, 2009.

  1. I am English and moved to the USA in August last year. For vacation this year I am planning a road trip with my family across USA. What with my wife, 3 kids and my parents, there will be 7 of us pioneering across US in a Chevrolet Trailblazer. Planning to stop in motels.
    Very roughly we'll be leaving Chicago, heading for Yellowstone, via Mt Rushmore, then drop down through the Rockies via Death Valley, then Las Vegas and finally to Grand Canyon, before heading back to Wisconsin.
    Have allowed 18 days and think we'll drive each other mad, but all are willing to try it.
    I have owned Canon gear always and have used a 1d mkiin for a few years. I took the plunge and bought a "virtually" new 5d from ebay a couple of weeks ago to help with landscapes.
    I have the following lenses 15mm fish, 17-40, 24-105, 100 macro, 70-200 2.8IS, 85 1.2
    Have decent tripod, flash units and 2x tc. At a push for long shots I use the 2xtc on the 70-200, but have never been that impressed with it. Will regret forever selling my 100-400.
    I am very impressed with the "wideness" of my wide angles now on the full frame and am still getting used to the 5d. It wildy over-exposed some shots the other day in the bright sunlight using the 24-105
    Keep all my gear in lowepro computreker bag. Have a bunch of memory cards and plan to back up images to my daughters laptop for safety each night.
    I guess the topic of this thread is somewhat wide (probably too wide), but I'd be interested to hear others views on the following:
    1. Ever done this route - any must see sights I surely must visit? From a photogenic point of view. Rough map below, still to be refined. We'll be driving though June.
    2. In the main parks - Yellowstone and Grand Canyon, where would I find the best shots, given we'll not be mountineering or hiking miles?
    3. I'd like to make one of those DIY photobooks as a record on my return. Any recommendations> I'm relatively proficient with a PC.
    4. Hints/tips on managing/downloading probably a few thousand photos taken over the period of nearly three weeks. (For security I'll carry my gear always with me, in the backpack.)
    5. I'm not really a prolific photographer, but from reading and studying seems some of the the better landscape shots will come early morning or later in the evening, meaning leaving the family alone to fight the bears and bed bugs. (I am not afraid to push myself to get the shot. Once walked to the middle of a very long bridge in Charleston at 2.30 in the morning...)
    6. Am planning to buy a roof box to put our luggage in. BUT camera stays with me in the car.
    Anyway, thanks for any advice, hints, tips or guidance you could offer me.
    Thought long and hard about taking a gun, but I've never used one and figured if we get in a pickle of the human kind I'll offer my camera gear, or the animal kind I'll throw my camera at "it".
  2. From Yellowstone you should cross Idaho/Nevada to Yosemite/Sequoia National Parks in California, from there you can go west and visit the Golden Gates, back track and visit Death Valley NP. The kids may be interested in Disneyland in Orange County. If you take a trip of a life time, you should include California :) :)
  3. zml


    Your projected route is ambitious for an 18-day trip, to say the least :) I'd fly to Denver, rent a car and try from there if I were in your shoes.
    If you are planning to visit Death Valley in summer bring gloves (for everybody) because you may not be able to open your car: touching anything metallic can be hazardous when the daytime temperatures can go way over 110F... You know, they call it Death Valley for a reason... Check the laws (local and federal) on guns in cars, national parks and interstate transportation of weapons: you might be surprised how complicated these laws are (contrary to the opinions in Europe about guns in the US...) and how easy it is to spend some time in a slammer for gun violations.
    Grand Canyon: the North Rim is IMO more interesting photographically but there are fewer services than on the South Rim. In Nevada Las Vegas , Valley Of Fire, Area 52 :))) Santa Fe and Taos areas in NM are nice photographically too.
  4. That's a lot of gear to take in a Trailblazer with 6 other people and their belongings!
    Have you considered an extra long 14 passenger van? You can take out the last 2 rows of seats to store all your stuff.
  5. 1. Consider adding Mt. Zion National Park to your itinerary, because it can be beautiful, although traveling with children you'll have to be careful with temperatures and the length of any hikes.
    2. For any kind of hiking in the U.S. Southwest, take proper footgear which will at least protect the feet against snakes, and carry more water than you could image you'll need.
    3. Traveling with children, and without experience with firearms, do not add one to your equipment.
    4. Since there will be a laptop already on the trip, and you will be staying in motels, add an external DVD writer and a bunch of blank DVDs. This will allow you to have a separate backup, which can even be mailed home.
    Regarding the advice above: Yosemite, if you can go, would be worth it. Do not visit Death Valley in August -- at best, it isn't enjoyable at that time of year. I concur about the North Rim -- the route works better for Zion and Bryce Canyons, if I remember my last time correctly.
  6. [#1.- Leave the gun at home. I've traveled extensively in the American West, and your worst danger is in rolling your car over in a deserted area. I always take a 1st aid kit, and a rescue knife designed to break windshields, & cut seatbelts. Besides, what kind of handgun is legal in Chicago? ]
    The first thing that comes to mind is that you're looking at a minimum of 4700 (more than likely 5500) miles in 18 days. That means an average of 261m/day, about 4 hrs of driving out of each day. True, you have a team of drivers to do it with, but that still eats up about 1/3 your waking time -- every single day. You are going to be very rushed, specially coordinating six people. The advise above about flying is practical and should be considered.
    A minimalist drive-by schedule might be:
    3-4 days Yellowstone.
    1.5-2 days Vegas
    2 days GC and Painted Desert (The north rim can be a real time-suck, IMO. For a first time, the S rim is just fine)
    2-3 days ABQ, Santa Fe and Taos
    1 day memphis
    2 Zion and Bryce drive-through
    That leaves 5 days' time to cover 4700-5500 miles. IMO, you'll have a more enjoyable trip if you either add more time, fly part of the way, and/ or shorten the distance.
    You're going to face a few marathon (600+ mi) days on this trip.
    This is an ambitious schedule. If you've never been there before, even without hiking (and you should go on some of the shortie hikes, btw) Yellowstone deserves a minimum of 4 days, and at least one of those you should spend driving around the Grand Tetons.
    The stretch from Red Lodge into Cooke City is gorgeous, btw.
    There is a staggering amount of things to see and do along your projected route. One could spend a lifetime and not see it all. What sort of things are you & your family into? What are your photographic plans or favorite things to photograph?
    On your schedule, I would not put in more than 1-1.5 days into Las Vegas. Again, enough to catch sunset & sunrise. Be sure to catch the Strip and Fremont Street. There's a neon sign graveyard you might like there.
    Even on your manic schedule, you should spend a full day along the S. rim of the Grand Canyon, and get up well before sunrise the 2nd day for a completely different experience. Hoover Dam has a curious way of devouring time and I've never gotten a picture I liked there.
    [The idea of extending this trip into California would boost the mileage by a minimum 25%. Don't do it]
    After you leave GC, make time to see the Painted Desert/Petrified Forest near Holbrook, if possible. A surreal, unique landscape. The restaurant near the end of the road has a great view. Take a can of peanuts and (illegally) feed the crows, who amazingly, memorize your car, and follow you to the next roadside stop, all the way through the park and beg until full.
    Near Gallup, the Acoma Pueblo tour gives one a good idea of how the Indians lived. Ultra-commercial, though. And photography is very restricted in Indian reservations, btw. Ask before taking anyone's picture. Around Laguna, off 40, there's a fusion church with Catholic and Indian Motifs which is something you only see in this area.
    Bypassing tons of great things, I'd race on to Albuquerque and take in the National Atomic Museum (very wild), take in Old Town. There's a great restaurant at the plaza, and another at the NW corner of Old Town.
    I'd put in 2-3 days between Santa Fe And Taos. Do the Turquoise Trail. Stop at Chimayo. The little place to eat there is good. If you have time, go to Abiquiu. In Taos, the Rio Grande Gorge is close by and worth a stop. Eat at La Fonda (SF & T) and El Taoseno (also a quaint place to stay). As you leave Taos, do breakfast at Michael's, and get several apple burritos to go. Great food.
    In Memphis, eat at the Bar-B-Q Shop (1782 Madison). See Graceland, of course. Look at the Eggleston pictures of Memphis for inspiration.
    One word of advice. Go to Flickr and check out pictures along your itinerary, which will give you some idea of what's there, and where. It will also let you rule out piucs you won't want to repeat. It is easy to be overwhelmed on a trip like this.
    I would buy a stand-alone HD and after uploading to your daughter's laptop, I'd also copy it to the HD that way you have two copies. I'm make sure everyone has had time to break in their shoes/boots and gets in plenty of walking so as to be in shape before the trip. Be sure to take copies of relevant medical records/list of allergies, etc for anyone with a medical history on the trip, and buy medical insurance as well.
    You're making me want to go again! I love Chicago, too.
  7. I totally missed it when you mentioning about leaving in June, I apologize. I agree, do not visit Death Valley in the summer. After the Golden Gate just drive directly to Disneyland and have a blast :)
    On a serious note, I took a 9,848-mile trip to 30 states in 21 days. I can say that I have been to many places, but I don't know much about any of those places. If you want to know more about the places like the people and their lifestyles (crucial for a photog, I wasn't one back then), it's better if you lengthen your trip or cut back with the destinations. Long drives may not be suitable for the elders and young children. Luis G. has some excellent tips and advice.
  8. I will agree with the others, your trip route and time schedule is aggressive. But to stick to the topic .....
    3 days minimum in the Yellowstone / Teton area would be my recommendation. I suggest purchasing this book:
    On your way to the Badlands / Mt. Rushmore area don't miss one of America's true tourist destinations. "World's Largest Ball of String" in Darwin, Minnesota. LOL
    As for the California suggestion ... It is more than possible to spend 18 days traveling thru Cali and not see all the places of interest. I would put that idea on hold until you can do a California only adventure.
    Have a great trip!
  9. I traveled a couple thousand miles through Europe via bicycle when I was a young man. But I spent an entire summer doing it. I'd cycle for a day and then I'd spend a day or two sightseeing if I liked the location.
    I agree that the distance is too ambitious, especially with kids. You'll all be crazy by the end. So I'd trim back the distance by at least 50%. Spend more time at your destination, and less time in transit. And go to your local library and load up with books on CD. It's much easier to travel with kids when they're entertained.
  10. Am I dreaming? Is this 1948-49? James Dean? Cross country trip? On the Road? This would make a great book.
  11. I agree with Luis and others.
    If this is to be a "THE trip of a lifetime" I wouldn't want "long hard drives" interrupted by "short rushed visits" to be the kernel of everyones experience (and memories).
    Cheers! Jay
    Roger G likes this.
  12. Let me add my 2 cents worth(about all it is worth). Kudos to the poster who talked about long drives and short bits of stuff to see and do. Unless photography is a passion for the others in the car you may hve some people not too happy. Be that as it may...let me suggest you try and hit Arches and Canyonlands National Parks in the Moab Utah area. This stays closer to your route and there are a lot of nice ops very close to the roads or very short hikes. And you could allow others to do rafting on the Colorado River for a day while you immerse yourself in the photo ops. This will be high season and rooms may be in short supply. I paid 80/night at a Days Inn in November and it is probably twice that in June. The hike to Delicate Arch is not to be missed..moderate over lots of slickrock so go EARLY or LATE. Afternoon sun is better there for the red glow of the rocks. Early morning at Mesa Arch is great. And going late evening and on into the night for a shot of Landscape Arch can be very nice. There are a couple of really nice tress there to frame the arch with and you can try some light painting here also. You could also go at night and do star trials here. This would put you out by yourself while the rest of the gang rest up.
    And while in Memphis(Im just 70 miles away)- For a bit more of a slice of life try the Rendezvous Barbeque across the street from the Peabody Hotel and down an alley. Anyone can get you there. The waiters there are unbeliveable and they never write down the order..no matter how big the table. And they never get it wrong! Plus you can see the gold record for Memphis' own Rick Dees and "Disco Duck"on the wall.
    Whatever you pick have a great time!
    Bob Wyatt
  13. I'm sorry. When I answered you earlier, I thought you were traveling in August (my fault for scrolling back too quickly to look), and considered it a terrible time to visit Death Valley. June is better, but still far too hot. Spring, particularly when the wild flowers are blooming, seems to be the favored time for Death Valley, although, frankly, I think there are much better places to visit.
    I agree with those who who suggest that you're driving too far for maximum enjoyment. For a little perspective, on one of our visits to your part of the world, we took a week driving from London to the Inner Hebrides and back, and felt like we lived in the car.
  14. SCL


    Trip of a lifetime sounds more like nightmare of a lifetime with a crowd of that size cramped together, aggressive agenda, and the thought of a gun onboard (Yes, I own guns...but wouldn't consider transporting across state lines in most cases). Like others, I encourage you to take a much less aggressive approach to this trip. I did a similar one years ago with just my wife and 30 days, and we both agreed that we tried to stuff too much in and would have had an even better time spending more time at each location. Whatever you decide...do have a terrific time, and make the adjustments to ensure that others with you enjoy it as well.
  15. You will be able to say you've "been there," but how much will you really experience and enjoy? People rent RVs and take a whole year to "do" that much travel, and feel they've been rushed at that. Your gear sounds great to me, if you have room to carry it. Did you mention a tripod? Good idea. (If you search RV-related gun sites, too, you'll find lots of info about that travel issue, too. IMO, if you've never used a gun, you'll be much more of a hazard than a help if you take one.) Good luck and have fun.
    Roger G likes this.
  16. Take everbody on a two day trial trip. In my opinion your vehicle is too small for seven people and luggage. Please rethink what you are doing.
  17. What a thrilling adventure you have planned. I spent a few weeks in the summer of 2007 going to some of the same destinations. You may find my (thankfully abridged) photolog useful:
    Regarding gear, bring several bags of different sizes. You can go ahead and haul everything in your car, but for short and long walks away from the car, you will be glad to have medium and small-size bags for carrying less. Everything you've got is useful. I'd probably skip the 85/1.2 since it's so heavy and overlaps with your zoom and macro. I prefer the 1.4xTC to the 2.0 version.
    I second the recommendation of the Grand Canyon North Rim, which is much less crowded than the South Rim and just as marvelous for photography. Be forewarned that the "photo tours" of Antelope Canyon are a bit of a rip-off and that the dust which tourguides throw in the air to create photogenic "shafts of light" can damage your equipment. Another uncrowded but fascinating stop is Capitol Reef. The air was cleaner there than anywhere else I've been on earth. See it while you can (can't?) Cheers.
  18. I would be tempted to reverse the route. Drive from Chicago to St. Louis, MO, to Tulsa, OK, to Dallas, TX and then head West, then North, then East. After the majesty of the North heading West, the South back to the East may seem a little lack-luster (flat and barren in several of those states, by comparison) for those in the passenger seats. You can probably make Chicago to Tulsa in a good day of driving, unless you find something you want to visit along that stretch. Also, the St. Louis Arch has a short film about the Lewis and Clark adventures into the West that might provide some good background for what you are about to see, if you are not already familiar with that history. Don't know if anyone else would advise this routing, so take it with a grain of salt.
    Either way, you're in for an incredible trip!
    DS Meador
  19. Most of these suggestions seem pretty reasonable, but you must all view the National Lampoon Vacation movie (link ) at least two times before leaving on this trip.
    Have fun, it is "truly a grand tour" to paraphrase President Nixon.
  20. Sounds like great fun! I'll offer my perspectives as a native of Texas -- a state I love, BTW. You're planning to travel across the Texas panhandle and across northern Texas. No offense, I hope, to anyone living in those areas, but that's simply not the most interesting swath of Texas. You'll find a lot of flat grassland prairie and long, straight, long, very long, straight-as-an-arrow, put-you-to-sleep highway. When in New Mexico, consider taking a quick detour from Albequerque to see Santa Fe and Taos. You won't regret it. Then drop southward with a destination of the Big Bend region of Texas. Along the way, stop at the sand dunes near Monahans, TX. After you've taken in some of Big Bend, work your way across to San Antonio, and plan to spend a romantic evening on the San Antonio river walk.
    From SA, work your way northward through Austin, and enjoy some of the night life there. I always enjoyed the Salt Lick restaurant (BBQ) while I was there. I bet they're still around. Also find some Amy's Ice Cream. Tour the capitol building. Watch the bats take wing from beneath the Congress St. bridge at dusk. The hill country around Bastrop is gorgeous. I also love the Brenham area, but it's best appreciated in the Springtime when the wildflowers are in bloom. As you work your way up towards Dallas (which is a city -- big, lots of glass, lots of asphalt -- but I see you have it flagged), you'll pass through and near lots of quaint small towns around Hillsboro (which itself has a pretty downtown). BTW, there's a fantastic bakery in Corsicana where you'll need to stop for bread. Then head north, and see "Big D" of JR fame. I admit the city is pretty by night, and they have a very good symphony orchestra if you can manage to catch a concert. I'd send you to some other Texas destinations, such as Galveston, but they might be too far out of the way.
    Have fun! Post your photos! :)
  21. Having traveled the return portion of the route you outline (not the northern half in other words) with my two children crammed into the cab of a truck with me, I will agree with the several posters suggesting that is probably not the most interesting leg of the journey, with the exception of traveling through/along the Painted Desert. The notion of reversing the route sounds better to me. Also along that route is "The Thing", widely advertised along the road in giant signs. I don't know anyone that's ever stopped for it... I certainly didn't, as my children were unhappy with being on the trip by that time.
    One other word of caution, which I hope won't be interpreted as insulting. It's hard to imagine just how vast the American west is. And looking at maps can be very deceiving about that. So weigh carefully the distances you plan to travel, how much room/vehicle you will have to do it in before you leave.
    Flying into Denver and taking a rental from there seems like sage advice to me. Good luck on your trip, can't wait to see pictures!
  22. Looks fun, but forget the gun. Get camera insurance instead. Armed robbery will be covered by your homeowners anyway, but camera insurance will be a good idea.
    I agree with the others, skip death valley and extend the trip by at least two days. 18 is too short to cover so any miles, and the car rides will get old pretty fast. Are you going clockwise or antiCL? I would probably go antiCL so that you can drive a lot the first part and then slow down. Theres not much to see between Chicago and Mt. Rushmore.
  23. Some of the same advice as others. Skip the firearms. While it's not all that legally complex (Illinois excepted), it would be a truly unnecessary complexity. The Trailblazer doesn't have adequate secure storage so you don't want the hassle of trucking them in and out of any place you stay and worrying everywhere else you stop. Trying to step up to loaded? Forget it. That does get excessively complex.
    Weather: The desert southwest can be brutally hot by then, depending on location and elevation. Getting burned on car surfaces or other metal surfaces isn't an exagerration. I watched a lady lean up against a guard rail at Boulder Dam to take a picture. It didn't help after she yelled that her husband asked, "Is it hot?" Higher elevations should be fine although rain is a possibility, especially thunderstorms in the high country.
    We've driven from L.A. to/from Yellowstone/Grand Tetons, both times stopping in southern Utah - St. George or Zion and in the Salt Lake City area, then the 3rd day finishing the trip. It can be done faster or with longer days but that kind of extended driving will be miserable - besides, you want golden hours to relax and take pictures. You can loop the Grand Canyon fairly quickly but a day or more in the Zion area, at either North Rim or South Rim or both, then one in the Page area and that leaves several areas out. Less than 5 days in Yellowstone/Grand Tetons is possible but again, beginning to scrimp or too much drive by tourism.
    I'd also suggest thinking about flying into either Vegas or Salt Lake City and looping that way.
  24. It sounds to me that this is a month long trip. How can you possibly see everything along the way to your main spots. I know, I just came back from a 5500 mile trip in one month and still missed a lot. Wish I had better planned instead of being so rushed........Hal
  25. Can only speak from experience on Yellowstone and Grand Teton so here are my faves:
    Grand Teton: Snake River pullout (Ansel Adams' famous scene), Mormon Row on Antelope Flats Road, Oxbow Bend, Jenny Lake, Hidden Falls & Inspiration Point if you don't mind a boat ride and 1 hour moderate hike (roundtrip)
    Yellowstone: Scenics - Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Grand Prismatic Spring, Old Faithful, Mammoth Hot Springs; Wildlife - Tower & Canyon areas best bets for bear sightings (don't be afraid to chat up people you meet and they can tell you where recent sightings have been), Lamar & Hayden valleys for bison and wolves
    Gun comment: If you plan on taking a handgun you need to familiarize yourself with it first. Never pull it unless you intend on using it. Most states require a permit to have one in your car and not all states recognize other states' permits. Also guns are prohibited in US National Parks so that may be the kicker anyway.
  26. Why do you want to go to Dallas? I live there and there's (almost) nothing to see. Also you might want to keep in mind the map projection. The US is not rectangular, and distances at higher latitudes are shorter.
  27. Have you considered renting a motor home for the trip? I can't imagine cramming 7 people in a Trailblazer for that long. With the motor home you could stay in campgrounds some nights and motels other nights. Southern Utah has amazing scenery. By altering your route slightly, you could see Capital Reef, Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, and some incredibly beautiful land in between. I agree with the others; don't try to cover so much that it's exhausting and not as fun as it should be. (And carry lots of water in the desert!)
  28. ouuuf !
    I certainly did not expect this quantity and quality of advice!
    I'll be taking some time to digest all this and adjust some of the plans accordingly. One thing is for sure, I didn't make it very clear in the original post, but I will NOT be taking a gun. Am barely able to use my camera properly without offence, can't imagine what a gun would do.
    @Sinh Nhut Nguyen - my initial draft was nearer 7k miles, including San Francisco, but trimmed it down. In view of the sterling advice above, seems I need to trim further.
    @Michael Liczbanski - I am certainly warming to the idea of flying to Denver and doing a circular trip from there. Need to do some research and Maths. re Death Valley - I've never been to a desert and saw there were some nice looking sand dunes near there. We'd be in that region around the end of June. I "imagined" we'd drive through in half a day or so, but I guess I don't want to endanger my family. My parents are mid 60's, my daughter's 8 and I've 2 boys, 15&16
    @B G - if I fly and hire, then you're right a bigger vehicle would be better
    @Hector Javkin - They told me at work Yosemite was "better" than Yellowstone. i guess if I fly/drive there more chance of getting there in the time allowed. Good advice also on the external DVD writer.
    @Luis G - Wow - thanks for all the great info. What do I shoot? - well pretty much anything, but I love shooting people, incognito. Landscapes are something I never really grasped, but am looking forward to practising. Here are some of my pictures:
    Some of the earlier people pictures are better in my opinion than the Chicago building sets.
    I will look up the restaurants you recommend. Great advice also about checking out the sites on flickr in advance. I'd not thought of that.
    @Sinh Nhut Nguyen - noted thanks.
    @Bob Howdeshell - great book recommendation. Will be ordered this weekend. Big ball of string is intriguing. California dreaming will be for another time, I agree with you, could spend just a month in that one state alone.
    @Robert Budding - CD books are a good idea. Also I bought my wife a portable satellite radio when we moved here, that can be used in a car, so she can listen to the BBC world service (which I had mistakenly always understood was a free worldwide broadcast). Plenty of talk and entertainment shows on there we can listen to.
    @Wayne Campbell - well I could have gone in a Porsche to complete the myth...
    @Jay F - noted. thanks - seems to be the theme.
    @Robert Wyatt - I looked at the Arches. They appear spectacular. I also note your point about increased prices. We'll be looking for 3 rooms per night - Grandparents - Parents - Kids. I budgeted on $100 per room per night. Some may go above, but I reckoned most would be in the $50-100 range. Basic motels (without bed bugs hopefully). I would say we're fairly tolerant unpretentious English-folk, with not huge expectations, just basic cleanliness in a motel will be fine. Certainly not expecting five star hotels at that rate. My concern is booking ahead. Do you think we need to. Advantage - security of booking - disadvantage - tied to a fixed agenda? Thoughts?
    @Hector Javkin - One week - did you get lost? (joke) Compared to living in America, going from London to Hebrides and back, is just like a trip to the next big town over here :)
    When I was young I went on a cruise round the outer Hebrides. Very cold, but a great trip.
    @Stephen Lewis - yes. Could also be a huge nightmare. But hopefully nothing a bottle of red won't resolve every night.
    @J. W. Wall - our initial plan was to do this in an RV, but I reckoned cost wise was as expensive as motel/hotel, and we'd drive slower, be more stressful driving a bigger vehicle, and we never be from under each others feet. Going the motel route gives us at least sleeping time to breathe away from each other, and stretch in our own space.
    @Ronald biggar - great suggestion, but my parent are just flying over for this trip. I have a sort of trial run coming up. Will be driving down from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, to Springfield Missouri, with three work colleagues in early April. Will give me a small taste of life on the open road...
    @Ken Schwarz - great pictures. I dream of taking those. Love the galaxy shot, the guy on the edge taking a picture, the lone cowboy was inspirational. Where were those (what looked like) orange underground caves, carved or worn out by a river I guess - looks fantastic..Also good advice on the bags.
    @DS Meador - am still undecided, but warming to the idea of flying into Denver or somewhere more central. All the advice so far is spend more time at fewer places, which seems sound advice.
    @JDM von Weinberg – my wife watched it a few weeks ago and keeps bugging me to watch it again ( I saw it a few years ago). Another favourite of mine was Planes, Trains and Automobiles with John Candy and Steve Martin. Great fun.
    @Sarah Fox - sounds wonderful. Bats coming out the bridge sounds like a challenge to capture. I grew up in the 80’s with Sue Ellen and JR, and Bobby and Lucy, and the rest of the Euwings which was one of my mothers staple soaps. Would be good to actually take her there.
    @Thomas Watt – Yes, whilst geography wasn’t my favourite subject at school, the US does appear marginally wider than the UK now I’ve arrived here. I always knew it was a small island somewhere off the west coast of Ireland. But you’re right. I have trimmed my initial (fantasy) agenda to this unrealistic one. A bit more trimming till it becomes a realistic possibility.
    @Galen Anderson – camera insurance is also a good idea. I need to check up on what’s actually covered on my household insurance.
    @Craig Gillette – I know it would be cramped in our car, which is why I was considering buying a roof box. Owned one in Europe and they’re great for storing all the suitcases and bags, freeing up the internal compartment to breathe. But I think if we fly/drive, we’ll rent a bigger car (or SUV)
    @Hal Edmonds – noted, as many other have, thanks.
    @Brian Wolfe – I can’t wait for Yellowstone, looks and sounds amazing. I think if I (we) encountered a bear though I’d be torn between changing lenses, and composing, vs running like hell…
    @Indraneel Majumdar – I live in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. Trust me Dallas sounds infinitely more appealing. Having said that, I’ve taken some great shots in Fond du Lac, in my garden, in a holiday inn hotel room, in a blizzard, in a microwave, in a toilet, in the rain, of dog poo, of rubbish, or all manner of other seemingly innate and boring paces or things. There’s a good photo buried in virtually everything we see around us. The skill is to try and find it and release it. It’s a bit like carving. Buried inside ever piece of wood or stone is a masterpiece just waiting to be freed,. But finding and freeing it is what concerns us all here…
  29. Taking on board much of the great advice already given, the following seems more manageable. Flying to Salt Lake City would put us central, and allow a trip to San Fransico. Always fancied seeing Alcatraz, although I understand you have to get there early. Also believe its difficult to get good shots of the GGBridge. Hire car and flights would add another few $k, but this is not the kind of trip we'd do every year, or probably ever again. Brings the mileage down to less than 3k and would allow more time at each key spot. We may even skip Vegas as we'll have had a dose of city life in SF. (although the neon sign graveyard sounds cool)
  30. Hector: did you get lost? (joke) Compared to living in America, going from London to Hebrides and back, is just like a trip to the next big town over here :-
    I know, I know, and I'm not even counting the additional days spent in Edinburgh, as I attended an academic conference there, so I think the total was ten days. But we wanted to see things, really enjoy that beautiful country, particularly as we had an English friend on the trip as a guide. Of course, not being local, and accustomed to abiding by rather strict U.S. laws, any time we found a lovely place for a pint or more meant that we had to spend the night and continue driving the following day. But we enjoyed it, and that's what we want you to do with your trip.
    Oh yes, if it were me, I'd much rather visit Yosemite (for perhaps my sixth time) than Yellowstone (for my second) but I don't know what Yosemite's current access rules are. That's why I suggested Yosemite as optional -- I dont know if you'll have a choice.
  31. As for safety, buy some bear spray. It fends off much more than bears! I did a trip last fall for 2 1/2 months after losing my job - from my home in Portland, Oregon all the way to the NE US (Vermont, NY, PA...). I caught a boatload of fall colors, great off season prices and low crowds. S
    topped through Yellowstone for 2 days, definitely needed more time, but I was on my way home at that point. I see you have Craters of the Moon in Idaho as a destination. Smart move, very overlooked area, it's a very surreal chunk of land.
    If you are going to see 'The Wave' in Utah/Arizona you will need permits well in advance.
  32. I really just wanted to cover the issue of taking a gun with you since I have never travelled where you are planning to go, but do have a lot of experience travelling with guns of various types. I would also strongly advise against it.
    I never travel by car without at least one gun, but I was born in the rural South, so I've been using them as long as I've been able to hold one. If you have never used a gun before, leave it at home and spend some time on a range before you consider carrying one, even if it is just in a car. At least some formal training would be a good thing. At the very least I need to stress to someone who admits that they have never used a gun to never point it at something you are not planning/willing to KILL. There is no such thing as being too safe. As a teenager I lost a friend to a hunting accident and another was nearly killed due to an accidental discharge. Luckily I wasn't involved in either of those, but I came within inches of a young cousing taking my head off with a shotgun while hunting. Again, there is no such thing as being too safe.
    I agree with someone who said the various laws can be complex, and I always check to see what the laws are in the states I will be visiting. Few states have gun laws as liberal as Florida where I live, but you have to do the research. Even then, you can't always rely on law enforcement knowing exactly what you can and can't do as many laws are vaguely written and open to some interpretation. Even with the recent Supreme Court decision I wouldn't take one to Washington D.C. for example, even if it were completely secured in my car. National parks and such throw more confusion on the issue as well since guns are banned in many parks, at least those that have wildlife refuges.
    Finally, even though there is a large percentage of Americans who feel better having a gun "for protection" the chances of needing it are remote. The ability to use one safely and effectively will depend on training and practice as well as the right mindset. Leave it at home if you are inexperienced.
    I hope you have a good trip, but I'm not so sure with seven people in a Trailblazer. The last time I was in one it was with two other people and only about 200 miles round trip. I thought my knees were going to explode, and I'm only 5'9". If I haven't said it enough, leave the gun at home.
  33. Sorry, I didn't see your later post stating that you will not be taking a gun. Even so, what I said above applies to the trip down the road to the grocery store as well.
    Again, I hope you have a good trip whatever route and vehicle you use.
  34. You're now down to about 150 miles/day of travel. That's still an average of 3 hours/day in a crowded car with kids. I'd be inclined to fly to Las Vegas and make an even smaller loop. You'll still see some amazing scenery and you might even be able to have a non-travel day or two.
    It's a big country - you'll need more than one trip of a lifetime to see it all!
  35. James - The caves you ask about are in Antelope Canyon, near Page, AZ. These sites belong to the Navajo, not the U.S. Park Service, so you have to pay the tour guides to see them. There are lots of tour companies vying for your business, and they all try to bring people into the canyon just when the sun is overhead because that's when you get to see those famous "shafts of light" come down from the ceiling. Aside from the cost (which adds up but at least is justified by the truck ride to the site) my main complaint was the extreme crowding of tours all coming at the same time. Also, I warned you about "rip-off" photo tours. These are not really oriented towards pros--you are part of a group--but at least your fellow photographers are more courteous about taking turns taking shots from advantageous angles and not getting in eachothers' way. Still, even in the "photo tour" there was so much crowding and collision with the regular tours that you didn't have much opportunity to get that great shot. Furthermore, the tour guides (not just yours) throw sand in the air in order to make the "shaft of light" appear. So, this will dust-test your camera for sure. If you go, bring one body, an ultra-wide zoom with a protective filter, and one small bag to hold it. You will need a tripod, too. I used HDR to get shadow and highlight detail. Don't change lenses on site. You will need to vacuum everything when you get back to the hotel and use a damp towel to remove residual dust from the camera and lens exteriors as well as the tripod. (The tripod and ball head took the longest to clean up...what a pain.) In general, I treat the inside of my bag as a "dust-free zone" so that lens storage and changing can be done with confidence whereever I went. That worked throughout the trip.
  36. Very busy at the moment but will reply properly later.
    But just wanted to say (also being English and having spent a good amount of time in the USA, about half a year in all) that I have done some of the exact route you've picked out there. Could give you some inside knowledge on great places along the way (though South Dakota's slogan of Great Faces, Great Places is true, give or take the many miles beween anywhere.)
    Will reply properly later!
  37. Don't miss the Four Corners
    Loaded with beautiful sceneries.
  38. I am an old man who has done much of the US full time in a motor home of some size. 200 miles a day is quite manageable in a 22000 lb. MH towing a 3500 lb car. Some of the best photos I have taken were in the Big Cypress swamp and Everglades while parking in the swamps for a month or two. I found it hard to do much good with a camera while we were on the move. Two hundred miles was four hours. The advantage in a motor home is there is a bathroom on board. Mine was 38 feet long and had three slide outs which made a living room and kitchen of about 11x16. Quite spacious. We used to take a tent and kick my grandson outdoors in warm weather. We even hooked up a TV in the tent so we could have some privacy. However, if you have seen RV with Robin Williams inexperience can lead to problems. Parking can be a problem. But we have been through many of the areas you were talking about. Santa Fe is interesting. Used to ski at Taos. Good place to stop. I once lived in Albequerque and was there again in 2007. Not much to photographs in my mind in that general area compared to Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon etc. I always wanted to go to Bosque del Apache in season to photograph the cranes. Got there when there were no birds. With the economy the way it is I bet there are a lot of RV dealers who would rent you one. Eighteen days is not much time. Better to do a few quality places with a three day stop than to try and cover too much ground. Too much time devoted to logistics like packing, unpacking, finding a restaurant, finding a place to shoot pictures. The nice thing about the MH was I had my cameras, comptuter, printer all with me.
  39. Actukally the living room was 14x16
  40. James, we may have crossed paths, from looking at your Chicago photos.
    One can apply street photography experience very well to landscapes on a trip like yours, since you'll have to work fast a lot of the time. Unless you're already a trail runner, you can get yourself in form by running up stairs. I'd also consider taking less lenses than you mentioned, or reconfiguring your backpack as you go. Otherwise, that's going to be one hefty backpack to always be dragging everything along. The 17-40 and 24-105 will be your mainstays.
    Another radical-sounding recommendation: Looking at your new route, I'd like to suggest something I've done several times to reduce the total mileage: The open jaws trip. It adds a little $ to the budget, but I'll show you how to get that back.
    Fly into Frisco, do your southern route, and end up at Salt Lake City. Saves 800+ miles (and 2 days) from doing a loop. Or fly into Salt Lake City and out of San Francisco. Check with the car rental people, because it is almost always more agreeable for them in one direction than the other.
    Lots of spectacular scenery on your route. Yosemite is ga-ga gorgeous, but Yellowstone is unique. In places, it's like going to another planet -- with traffic jams! See both. BTW, at Yellowstone I found Old Faithful to be ...how to put this kindly....best viewed from the restaurant behind the bleachers, by the big picture window (deploy some of your team to save seats) while munching on their savory buffalo burgers. :)
    On saving money....most american hotels will give you one free room if you take 6-7. But unless they're full, and you can see that as you pull in, they're going to give you a discount (15-25%+) for three. They know you can just drive down the road to the next motel, and if not full, they'll drool at the thought of filling three in one shot.
    At risk of sounding like William Shatner, negotiate. Do not make reservations ahead of time (except in the National Parks, and you should make those ASAP, as they fill up quickly) there's loads of motels along the way. In your price range, I've had consistently good luck with the generic/corporate Best Western and Holiday Inn Express, but there are loads of Mom & Pops in between. Many times I've grabbed the first motel at the end of a long day, when 20 miles further would have been far better. *Always* ask to see the room before taking it.
    I prefer to get up very early, do breakfast (and most of the free breakfasts at motels really suck). and get the miles in earlier in the day. As opposed to getting up late and arriving at night. If there's any problems along the route, they're best dealt with in the light of day.
    You should use your daughter's computer skills and laptop to help navigate & find lodging. It is good to assign different tasks to each family member. It makes things easier, and people don't get in each others' way as much. Have iPods for the kids, and maybe a DVD player and some movies to keep them hypnotized along the way.
    In San Francisco, I have enjoyed staying at the Francisco Inn (basic, cheap for what it is, but well-located):
    and more expensive, but utterly charming, quiet and quite romantic, the Marina Motel, same location. You can get one family room for 4, and an extra (since that will be early on your trip, no one will have frayed nerves yet!).
    Driving/parking in SF is a pain. Besides Alcatraz, Drive down Lombard Street. A great view of Golden Gate is Ft. Point, an 1861 brick fortification located under the bridge's toll plaza and vista point. You can stop by Warming Hut Cafe there and pack a lunch. If you want to earn points with the spousal unit, go to the Mark Hopkins Hotel/Top of the Mark lounge for a Martini (check the menu, there's like a hundred variations). Fabulous view of the city at night. Take a cable car, visit the Tin-How Buddhist Temple off Grant. No pictures, tiny, but a wonderful experience of the sacred.
    BTW, Frommer's puts out a great small book:
    It is well worth the price. I loved the walk showing the writer's abodes. Beautiful, strenuous (it may be too much for your parents or kids steep hill climbing) and invigorating. There was a small park (one of many along the route) and at dawn, there were people silently praticing Tai-Chi, like a secret ballet in these beautiful hidden nooks. Just north of the City is the Point Reyes National Seashore (gorgeous) and there's the Tule Elk reserve on the N end of it. About the same distance south, is Monterey, Carmel, and Point Lobos, Weston's stomping grounds. Both give a great sampling of the West Coast.
    Get the Stern's road trip food book. This will go a long way to enhance the experience. A tip: when traveling, a cop car in front of a restaurant means 99% of the time it's good and cheap. The other 1% have beautiful waitresses!
    Laundry is a time-suck when traveling. I recommend technical clothing for the team, things that can be washed in the sink with Woolite, and hung up to air-dry with your traveler's clothesline or on hangers while you sleep. It may look ghetto, but is a real time saver. Undies, t-shirts and socks of something like Coolmax, and Supplex shorts/pants dry extraordinarily fast. That also lightens the baggage load considerably.
  41. I skimmed some of the other posts, and agree that your vehicle is too small. Irregardless of what vehicle you take, it's best to have a system whereby each person in the car gets the same amount of storage space, ie those plastic bins, and a plywood "shelf" system in back to hold it all, I've seen it done in a Suburban for a family of 6 that did a 2-months journey around usa, plus they had a Thule roof box. Hopefully your kids are out of diapers, or that is another can of worms lol. Keep it simple bring a minimum amount of clothing and supplies - it's easier to stop at Walmart (they are everywhere lol) and get supplies than to store junk you dont need.
    My biggest recommendation is to LEAVE YOUR PARENTS OUT OF THE TRIP. Seriously man, you're either going to end the trip with your parents, and the wife will have filed for divorce and left with the kids, or you'll end up killing the parents on Route 66 somewhere (watch Vacation as the others mentioned). Leave the parents at home and rent a minivan, easy access, sliding doors, decent gas mileage.
    On the photography side, you're overly ambitious, nothing worse if you're not a photographer having to stop and go for the photographer in the group. Actually I did a week backpacking trip with another photographer and it was a royal pita. The best compliment as a photographer to me on this type of trip is "I didnt see you take this one or that one" , just blend in and dont make people pose for you or slow them down. You won't get many unique shots in the nat parks if you're not hiking away from the main viewpoints, and expect throngs of people at those. I have a 5d and all the fancy lenses etc but for this trip I'd take my g9 and a digital video cam.
    Firearm? You've got to be kidding. If you're an Alien, I don't think you can (legally) purchase a gun. Especially if you've never used one, laughable. Just stay off of inner city streets named after.......uh..welll...watch Vacation lol. With a name like James Dean, I expect you to have some b*lls, don't be offering your camera gear to anybody. Sorry to be kind of a pessimist.
  42. James Dean. I grew up in the SF area. It was some time ago but there is a park on the west side of the North or Marin County side of the bridge where you can get some nice pictures of the bridge and the city. BTW I don't think calling San Francisco by that other short name is well accepted there. The accent is on the second syllable "cis".
  43. One last thing I learned in the MH is that you can over plan. Some of the best places we visited were side trips that were not on our agenda. You can be flexible and in the evenings you have time to replan your trip. It is a shame to leave a place you like to get to a place that you might not like.
  44. Some good thoughts. No gun.Not permited in Federal National Parks and Forests and if you are caught you in trouble you don't need. Stay away from bears all kinds not just grizzlies. Budget time for serendipity side trips. Buy "Golden Eagle" passport to enter parks if you qualify and I believe you do. Big savings. Don't kill yourself trying to get it all in in one day. I don't care for a roof top carrier idea and would prefer to have a good small box trailer,frankly, for clothing and light gear. And keep goodies in there, like snacks and maybe a small 12 volt operated fridge. Food is the toughest thing to locate while making time in a car. Read about others' experience and get latest map and GPS updates. Carry own music of course, portable DVD player is not a bad thing to take along. And welcome to the West, where the deer and buffalo still roam. Bring a guitar, think Woody Guthrie...enjoy. it will be fun except for the highway slogs and the bathroom stops. But there are some great freeway rest places. Thank Eisenhower for the Interstates. Check out the old historical trails, the remnants of US 66 that we once used...it is history.
  45. Make sure that you skip sit down eatery breakfast except on Sunday. Too much time is wasted waiting for coffee refills. McDonald and/your carry you locally bought rolls and a toaster even. Local fresh fruit and bananas but I may be talking down to you and don't mean to if you know the ropes on that part.... My wife naturally sits and relaxes when we eat at a real table with a waitprson, it is normal to do so, and we have had a tough time to get on the road once we are staring at eggs and hashed browns, fresh muffins and strawberry preserves. Unless you like chatting with the local folk, then it can be great fun. Ask a lot of questions of the merchants. Then let them talk and tell how they got there and how long they have been at their job and what they boast about in the area. Then ask for their photo and maybe show them one and take their address. I have made some great friends that way. I spent Summer in Yellowstone and one could easily spend the whole trip in the states of Coloroda and Wyoming and fell satisfied. Zion and Utah is quite awesome , georgeous. Give time for guide tours. Order free or cheap stuff now from the Department of the Interior with maps of all the parks enroute, godspeed and aloha, gs
  46. Check out the last report on motels reported by Consumer Reports in the library. They show the cleanest and nicest in price categories. It is a crapshoot but you can avoid the shoddier places.Holiday Inns are too poorly maintained to win my seal of approval. Usually. I still think Consumer Reports is better than the photoshopped photos on web sites...if you know what I mean. And sometimes it is fine to just 'stumble on' a place if you are willing to chance it. My last thought but important to sleep well.
  47. They will have killed themselves by the end....when is the movie coming out?
  48. Hi James. May I suggest changing your starting point in Salt Lake City It’s a pretty boring drive through Utah and Nevada with not much to see. I would suggest you begin your journey in Reno Nevada or Sacramento California which would allow you to see Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Nevada. Then on to Yosemite and from there to San Francisco. You may want to end your journey in Las Vegas where airfare should be cheaper. You also may want to drive by where the other James Dean perished as it could be incorporated into your route. Look at highway 101 from the San Francisco area to highway 46. That would Allow you to see possibly Monterey and the Salinas Valley if you’re a Steinbeck fan. From there you can catch Interstate 5 to Los Angeles (God help you). You could do Yellowstone on another trip directly from Wisconsin. You could hit Zion before departing from Las Vegas. A gun is not necessary except maybe in L.A. as most people are friendly and happy to help. A GPS device will be essential. Stay out of the bad neighborhoods. Highway 1 from Monterey to Santa Barbara is spectacular but not for large vehicles. You could spend months in California alone and not see it all and so much of it photo worthy. From Alcatraz you can get an unusual shot of the GG bridge or maybe one of the tour boats. I believe Delta Airlines just started a new direct Flight from Minneapolis to Reno. I could go on forever with suggestions hope this helps.
  49. Wow, what a trip! Wow, what a collection of suggestions! I will add that while Yellowstone National Park is very interesting, the amount of people there make it unappetizing anymore. Far more interesting is Glacier National Park, a bit more to the north. Combine that with the Flathead Lake area and the National Bison Range, both in Montana, and it makes a great loop with or without Yellowstone. However, at this point in my life, I find Glacier National Park far more interesting and inviting than Yellowstone.
    I think you will miss your 100-400mm lens tremendously on this trip. Due to all the wildlife along the route – any of the routes above – you will need a long lens (400mm+). Image Stabilization is also helpful because a tripod is usually not while chasing critters.
    Have a fantastic trip – I’m jealous!
  50. I hope all you Americans realise what a stupendously beautiful country you have. I would give my left testicle to spend a year driving from one photographic nirvana to another. You have it all...arid desert landscapes, ice capped mountain ramparts, limitless open plains, craggy coastlines, endless forests, stunning world cities...the lot. You also have four distinct seasons making each category of the above ever changing throughout the year. Maybe one day I could afford to spend enough time there to see it all.
    BTW, James, you are doing the right thing by driving. The US has ridiculously cheap gas, so take advantage. It's a country made for road trips. And one other thing...you are almost exactly repeating a trip my late mother made at the and of WW2, but she went by bus. Yes, there was a book: "In the Lap of the Yanks". But no movie....Maybe "The Long Long Trailer", starring Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez comes close?
  51. Even if you don't fly and drive, I would STRONGLY suggest renting an appropriate vehicle. Years ago, I broke an axle on a car outside of Jackson, WY. It took 3 days to get the parts and repaired. With a rental, if you have insurance, you can usually just get a replacement and be on your way.
    my .02
  52. James,
    Safety tips:
    (1) DO NOT CARRY A GUN. They're illegal in National Parks (and possibly on Indian land, also), and the rules about what you can carry vary a lot from state to state.
    (2) Prepare for a WIDE range of temperatures. The weather in the western US is far less predictable than in the east. You can die of dehydration in the heat of the afternoon or exposure in the cold of night. Sunscreen is mandatory, especially at high altitudes where the UV radiation is stronger. If you fall over the edge at the Grand Canyon, you won't survive.
    (3) In the dryer regions, carry ONE GALLON of water PER PERSON PER DAY. It will seem like too much when you're buying it, but it will seem like too LITTLE when you need it. PEOPLE DIE IN THESE PLACES.
    (4) Lightning can be very dangerous at high altitudes, and storms can come upon you very quickly.
    (5) Do NOT try to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon unless you plan to camp down there and hike back up another day.
    (6) Never enter a "slot canyon" if there's ANY chance of rain in the area.
    (7) Keep your eyes on the road. No picture is worth risking your family's safety.
    Photo tips:
    (8) Any time the light looks interesting is a good time to shoot. A portfolio of nothing but sunrises and sunsets is BORING no matter how colorful they are.
    (9) A good tripod (and head) is an investment that you'll never regret.
    (10) The South Rim of the Grand Canyon has lots of beautiful vistas/turnouts. You'll figure it out quickly. You don't have to hike into the canyon (where the views are actually more limited).
    (11) The North Rim is more isolated with fewer "easy" places to grab a quick shot.
    (12) You'll find plenty of great photo opportunities all along the way, not just in the Big Name parks. Keep an open mind.
    (13) Don't forget your battery chargers and some lint-free lens cloth. Don't forget batteries for your strobe unit. Don't forget your USB cables.
    (14) Consider going to Arches NP and Bryce Canyon in Utah. (I'm not a big fan of Zion NP.) Consider Sedona and Monument Valley in Arizona. Consider a stop at Lake Powell and the nearby Antelope Canyon (slot canyon). Consider Mesa Verde or Canyon de Chelly to see cliff dwellings. Consider spending at least one night in Las Vegas.
    (15) The more memory cards you can carry the better.
    (16) The Grand Canyon is frequently hazy. A polarizer will help cut through the haze.
  53. Oh, and FORGET CALIFORNIA. It's WAY too far out of your way. Save the Golden State for another vacation.
    BTW: It's not difficult at all to take pictures of the Golden Gate bridge. Where did you hear that?
  54. Probably the same place so many people heard firearms were illegal in National Parks and Forests.
    There's a difference between complicated, restricted, annoying, and subject to broad range of potentially caprious differences from place to place and "illegal."
  55. A few comments on comment on Death Valley. It is a Winter, Spring, or Fall destination. Summer is definitely the least pleasant season to visit there. You'd be dramatically better off going to the High Sierras in Summer and save DV for another trip. A drive up or down Hwy 395 is a must do experience! You can fly to LV in Winter, gamble, catch a couple of shows, and do a DV tour all in 4-5 days. I love DV, but I only go in Winter! Go here if you want to view my gallery on DV: http://www.photo.net/photodb/folder?folder_id=885860. Best of luck on your big adventure! -Clayton
  56. We're going to Yellowstone in the 3rd week of July starting from the Fort Worth area. Four adults & 5 children. The advice on renting a larger vehicle is right on. We have a Tahoe & Dodge minivan but will be renting a 15 passenger van & possibly towing a small trailer for luggage. This will give us a little room to stretch out. Yellowstone will be our only "destination" and have booked cabins 9 months in advance. Seriously - book before you go. Your trip sounds too agressive to me in that you will be tired day after day from traveling. You might consider a Cody Wyoming , Yellowstone/Grand Teton , Glacier Park trip to allow more time actually "being there".
    Hope you have fun on your trip - might see you there.
    The only photographic advice I can give is to rent a LONG lens for your trip. The wildlife viewing distances will be long.
    Here's a few links
  57. Probably the same place so many people heard firearms were illegal in National Parks and Forests.
    There's a difference between complicated, restricted, annoying, and subject to broad range of potentially caprious differences from place to place and "illegal."​
    I stand corrected. The law was changed three months ago after a 25-year ban. Forgive me for not being "up to the minute."
    By the way, guns are still banned in some parks and public lands. Call ahead to be sure.
  58. I think that you are trying to see too many places in too short a time.
  59. Actually "the law" wasn't "just changed." The blanket statements several people made or repeated about firearms being illegal in national parks and forests were overstatements and wrong. As with anything "legal," one generally would be better served to get their legal advice from local, competent lawyers and not photographers.
    There have been provisions for the legal transportation of firearms through national park service units (with local provisions as to specifics). Typically one was to report the firearm(s) on entry and demonstrate that it met certain conditions of storage, etc., so it wasn't readily available for poaching, illegal discharge, etc. This is from the Yosemite website"
    "The possession, use, or discharge of a firearm in Yosemite National Park is prohibited, to include pellet and BB guns.
    Weapons may be transported through the park, provided that they are unloaded, broken down or cased, with ammunition kept separate from the weapon, and securely stored in your car or hotel room.
    You may not carry the weapon."
    Recently changes have been made to allow individuals with concealed carry permits to continue to carry according to the provisions of their state's permits and local laws in NPS areas. What this typically would do would mean a person with the permit would not have to stop at the entry point, reveal the concealed weapon, unload it, case it, hide it, etc., then on departure go through the reverse. That issue is like any concealed carry, complicated by the patchwork of different local and state laws and carry provisions, reciprocity (or not).
    National forests in a general sense have always been multiple use areas and possession of firearms, hunting, sports shooting activities, etc., has not been "illegal" as such.
    What there are and remain are a patchwork of varying federal, tribal, state laws and particular requirements tailored to individual locations. People travel all the time with firearms and don't have trouble doing so, exercising a modicum of common sense. For the casual traveler, it's probably not worth the bother.
  60. Hello from Minnesota!
    Ugh! I-90 across southern Minnesota and South Dakota, best to do that when the kids are asleep. Hundreds of miles of flat prairie land, hour after hour after hour. From west of the Mississippi River to Rapid City, you will see three trees. That's a strong 600 miles, one very solid day of driving. That's not counting substantial breaks in the action, only gas and potty and drive-thru McDonald's.
    I've got to be honest, James, and a few others near the top of this thread said similar things (before I just jumped to the bottom)- 7 people in a mid-size vehicle for 2.5 weeks of long travel days... "Have allowed 18 days and think we'll drive each other mad, but all are willing to try it." For whom will this be enjoyable? How old are your kids? (Infants may be fine, they sleep constantly, unless they get an ear ache. Small kids can't sit still for more than an hour. Mid-size/age kids may likely grow bored out of their minds and torture everyone in the process. Teen-agers, well, all bets are off with them.) How well do you or your wife get along with your/her parents/inlaws? Vice versa? I love my parents and my parents-in-law, but more than an afternoon with any of them makes me a bit... edgy.
    Do like someone suggested- pack all these folks in that car, drive 12 hours out, spend the night in a Motel 6, get up before dawn the next day, and drive home. Then everyone have an honest heart to heart talk about the 2-day trip and then decide if this is a good thing to do.
    I sure hope I'm not throwing a wet blanket on your plans, but in my opinion this isn't sounding like a good time. I hope you prove all us naysayers wrong.
    The trip- Mitchell, South Dakota. Take a picture of the outside of the Corn Palace, but don't bother going inside. Keep moving. Wall Drug, somewhere west of the Corn Palace (you'll see the signs, don't worry)- just keep on driving, no need to stop (you won't be able to carry the junk you'll end up wasting your money on anyway, your car won't have the room). Yellowstone- wonderful to see, can test your nerves with the traffic, especially the gigantic motorhomes driven by, err, people that probably should have turned in their driver's licenses long ago.
    I really wish you well for your excursion, but be safe and be smart. Best Wishes!
    (edit) I should have kept reading, you may have changed your plans. Oh, well. Best Wishes just the same!
  61. Lots of suggestions and ideas here. Good luck in sorting it all out. If you end up coming through South Dakota on this trip or a future one, I've included many suggestions for photos at my photo blog - www.Dakotagraph.com.
    You might take a look at Badlands National Park in western South Dakota. Not exactly the same, but can be similar to much of the desert southwest area, and even give a Grand Canyon feel, but not so deep.
  62. You could add a detour to New Orleans to your original plan to create a minature outline of the USA.
  63. If your final route takes you through Amarillo, Texas, be sure to stop and see the Cadillac Ranch west of town.
    If I were you, I'd consider a larger vehicle and/or fewer passengers. But please, no Porsches.
  64. Well, finally after much heartache, the flights are booked as follows:
    Fly Milwaulkee to San Francisco. Hire a BIG car or van. Drive to Las Vegas. (1500 miles ish) in 15 days finally think this is manageable.
    On the way the agenda is rough, but still to be refined:
    few days in SF
    few beach days round Montery
    few days in Yosemite
    few days in Sequoia Nat Park
    few days driving south of rockies
    few days in Grand Canyon
    few days in Vegas
    fly Vegas to Milwaulkee
    Really heartfelt thanks to all that contributed, and will be checking out in more detail the recommendations y'all made that coincide with this route.
    ya just gotta luv p.net
  65. That sounds like a much better plan. Enjoy your travels!
  66. The thing I might suggest - if you can but there's no good way to predict it at this point, the pass will probably be open but may not be depending on late season snow storms and conditions when plowing - if Tioga Pass is open, the east side of the Sierra would be easily accessible for places like Bodie, Mono Lake and then south via 395 and potentially through Death Valley to the Las Vegas area. This would mean going out the east side of Yosemite instead of heading south and through the Sequoia/Kings Canyon area. It also depends on if you felt like any "Los Angeles" type time. South out of Yosemite (with side trip to Sequoia or not), the main road is Highway 99, when you get to Bakersfield, east on 58 all the way to Barstow then back on I-15 to Vegas, that passes south of Death Valley. If you can go east on the 120, then south on 395, it's possible to hit the routes to DV or just continue south on 395 to the 58 and east as well. The Owens Valley route could allow you to pass Mt. Whitney (high point in the 48 contiguous states) and also pass through Death Valley.
    Note that if you consider this, Bishop, Lee Vining, June Lake Loop and the Mammoth Lakes area offer quite a bit of lodging, it's possible to find some lodging in the small towns of Big Pine, Lone Pine and Independence but then from there through Death Valley to Las Vegas, except for Barstow, lodging can be very limited and very difficult to find and advance reservations are probably very important.
  67. One camera/lens. Film, so you won't be tempted to spend your time taking pictures while ignoring the others. If it's not too hot the day you're there hike down one of the trails from the South rim of the Grand Canyon or take the mule trip. The rim is boring by comparison. Plan to spend two days around Santa Fe, an interesting mixture of Indian/Spanish and Anglo. See the Navajo reservation and go to Canyon de Chelly. Go north to Kansas and travel across the praries and across Missouri to St. Louis and the Gateway Arch
  68. Plan sounds better and even though you still have a lot of country to see in a short time. I would suggest that you have a long list of things/places you wish to see. Get the family to help create the list. The list should be so long that its impossible to see everything on the list. :)
    If the list is so long that it cannot be all seen you won't feel so bad for missing one or two places. And the long list gives you the list of saying list go east to see A instead of south to see B. Hopefully in what ever direction you end up taking you will have something on your list to see.
    The trip you are planning I wanted to do decades ago when I was in school. But I never had the time. I surely don't have time now. One day though.
    If the vehicle you rent has a hitch you can also get what is called a hitch hauler. Its a platform you can tie stuff down on outside of the vehicle. This keeps the luggage off the time of the vehicle which can be a pain to load, makes noise in the windstream, and cuts down on mpg. You should be able to buy a hitch hauler at any sporting goods store or RV/trailer store. They do come in different hitch sizes so you have to be careful.
    Driving out west can be boring depending on the landscape and the person. Make sure that everyone has something to do on the drive to keep them from getting bored. I would also try to not spend too much time driving. Getting in the car and driving for hours and then stopping to see something for 30 minutes is not my idea of fun. My kids would go bonkers after a day or two of that kind of travel.
  69. Just to make a suggestion about your "few days" Grand Canyon. If you are going to the North Rim, do make a reservation in advance. I did, last summer, and listened to the desk clerk turning away four or five people who did not. It was hours to the nearest alternate accommodation, and no guarantee there would be space there either.
    I drove from Salt Lake City to Houston and back (3300 miles) in 10 days last summer, and we saw and photographed a great deal on the way. The advice to ignore the sit-down breakfast is good. If you make your trip a little more regimented by making reservations, you always know where you are staying, and you won't be spending time checking out this motel and that motel during prime photographic shooting time!
    The very best advice I can offer, is to research what there is to see in each of your chosen destinations, and try to avoid too many unscheduled stops. Our trip last year concentrated on the Utah National Parks, and it was so tempting to stop and take a lot of pictures on the outskirts of the parks. We avoided the temptation, and were well rewarded, there is good reason why those particular parts of the land are National Parks!
    National Geographic has a great book on Scenic Highways and Byways of the US. I used it to plan last year's trip, and in every case when we took one of their recommended backroads it was well worth it. Use the interstates to get from one area to the other, but check that book in your local library to plan your routes in each area.
  70. 1. No need for a gun. I've travelled many times throughout the US via Jeep and never needed one.
    2. Don't miss S Utah (Zion, Bryce, route 12 is fantastic). Bryce is best before/at sunrise or sunset and there is no one at the gate before 8AM so you'll save $$.
    3. 18 days is a rush-job to see that much. Well, if you're planning on just getting out of the car at overlooks, you can do it. My suggestion would be to gather details on everywhere you want to go. Then play it by ear and change plans based on how you feel. With a compressed timeframe, you'll often get to places when the light is not at its best. I personally hate Bryce at mid-day and if that was my 1st experience, I would have not gone back.
    4. I use nothing but 4x5 now ("upgraded" to sheet film, and will never look back). But in my Nikon D80 days, I found a 20mm prime, 28mm prime, and the 70-200mm VR was all I needed for all situations. Other lenses were not even used. If I was to go digital on a trip like yours, I might throw on a 50mm as well. A Circ. Polarizer is useful as is GND's. At 8000-11000 feet, there's a bit of distant haze in the mountains as well.
    5. On image storage...On my 1st trip I brought a bunch of SD cards. After that I always brought a Wolverine unit which acts like a portable hard drive. When an Sd card got filled, I popped it in the Wolverine and it sucked all the images over. Then I deleted all from the Sd card and started again. Ended up with 3 Sd cards (2 backups, just in case) but always used just 1.
    6. A decent 1st aid kit, pocket knife, compass, and the right socks. I cannot tell you how many times I run into people doing 5 mile hikes (non-hikers) in the desert wearing cotton socks. I stop, patch up their blisters, and move on.
    7. Back onto my #3. A few years ago in October I was heading to Zion and there were terrible rains. Flash flooding, a lot of water. It was to go on for a few days. So I re-routed. I guess what I am saying here is that you could spend years seeing the southwest. So if you get hit with bad weather or a setback, go somewhere else.
    And have fun,
    Good luck.
  71. 1. No need for a gun. I've travelled many times throughout the US via Jeep and never needed one, doesn't even cross my mind.
    2. Don't miss S Utah (Zion, Bryce, route 12 is fantastic). Bryce is best before/at sunrise or sunset and there is no one at the gate before 8AM so you'll save $$.
    3. 18 days is a rush-job to see that much. Well, if you're planning on just getting out of the car at overlooks, you can do it. My suggestion would be to gather details on everywhere you want to go. Then play it by ear and change plans based on how you feel. With a compressed timeframe, you'll often get to places when the light is not at its best. I personally hate Bryce at mid-day and if that was my 1st experience, I would have not gone back.
    4. I use nothing but 4x5 now ("upgraded" to sheet film, and will never look back). But in my Nikon D80 days, I found a 20mm prime, 28mm prime, and the 70-200mm VR was all I needed for all situations. Other lenses were not even used. If I was to go digital on a trip like yours, I might throw on a 50mm as well. A Circ. Polarizer is useful as is GND's. At 8000-11000 feet, there's a bit of distant haze in the mountains as well.
    5. On image storage...On my 1st trip I brought a bunch of SD cards. After that I always brought a Wolverine unit which acts like a portable hard drive. When an Sd card got filled, I popped it in the Wolverine and it sucked all the images over. Then I deleted all from the Sd card and started again. Ended up with 3 Sd cards (2 backups, just in case) but always used just 1.
    6. A decent 1st aid kit, pocket knife, compass, and the right socks. I cannot tell you how many times I run into people doing 5 mile hikes (non-hikers) in the desert wearing cotton socks. I stop, patch up their blisters, and move on.
    7. Back onto my #3. A few years ago in October I was heading to Zion and there were terrible rains. Flash flooding, a lot of water. It was to go on for a few days. So I re-routed. I guess what I am saying here is that you could spend years seeing the southwest. So if you get hit with bad weather or a setback, go somewhere else.
    And have fun,
    Good luck.
  72. Some of these may be off your route but these 3 books are what got me hooked on photographing the southwest. Be warned, they are addictive.
    All by Laurent Martres.
    Photographing the Southwest: Volume 1--Southern Utah (2nd Ed.)
    Photographing the Southwest: Volume 2--Arizona (2nd Ed.)
    Photographing the Southwest: Volume 3--Colorado/New Mexico

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