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Hints and tips for a once in a lifetime US roadtrip


woodbyte
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<p>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.<br>

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.<br>

Have allowed 18 days and think we'll drive each other mad, but all are willing to try it.<br>

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.<br>

I have the following lenses 15mm fish, 17-40, 24-105, 100 macro, 70-200 2.8IS, 85 1.2<br>

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.<br>

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<br>

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.<br>

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:<br>

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.<br>

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?<br>

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.<br>

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.)<br>

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...)<br>

6. Am planning to buy a roof box to put our luggage in. BUT camera stays with me in the car.<br>

Anyway, thanks for any advice, hints, tips or guidance you could offer me.<br>

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".<br>

regards,<br>

james</p>

<p> </p><div>00SmID-116841584.jpg.5f517807dd309e3c4e7ef95f8b86aba7.jpg</div>

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<p>From Yellowstone you should cross Idaho/Nevada to <strong>Yosemite/Sequoia</strong> National Parks in California, from there you can go west and visit<strong> the Golden Gates, </strong>back track and visit <strong>Death Valley</strong> NP. The kids may be interested in <strong>Disneyland</strong> in Orange County. If you take a trip of a life time, you should include California :) :)</p>
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<p>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.<br>

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.<br>

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.</p>

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<p>That's a lot of gear to take in a Trailblazer with 6 other people and their belongings!</p>

<p>Have you considered an extra long 14 passenger van? You can take out the last 2 rows of seats to store all your stuff.</p>

<p> </p>

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<p>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.<br /> 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.<br /> 3. Traveling with children, and without experience with firearms, do not add one to your equipment.<br /> 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.<br /> 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.</p>
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<p>[#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? ]</p>

<p>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.</p>

<p>A minimalist drive-by schedule might be:<br>

3-4 days Yellowstone.<br>

1.5-2 days Vegas<br>

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)<br>

2-3 days ABQ, Santa Fe and Taos<br>

1 day memphis<br>

2 Zion and Bryce drive-through<br>

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.</p>

<p> You're going to face a few marathon (600+ mi) days on this trip.</p>

<p>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.<br>

The stretch from Red Lodge into Cooke City is gorgeous, btw.</p>

<p> 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?</p>

<p>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.</p>

<p> 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.</p>

<p>[The idea of extending this trip into California would boost the mileage by a minimum 25%. Don't do it]</p>

<p> 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.</p>

<p>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.</p>

<p> 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. </p>

<p> 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.</p>

<p>In Memphis, eat at the Bar-B-Q Shop (1782 Madison). See Graceland, of course. Look at the Eggleston pictures of Memphis for inspiration.</p>

<p> 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.</p>

<p>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.</p>

<p>You're making me want to go again! I love Chicago, too.</p>

<p> </p>

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<p>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 :)</p>

<p>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.</p>

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<p>I will agree with the others, your trip route and time schedule is aggressive. But to stick to the topic .....<br>

3 days minimum in the Yellowstone / Teton area would be my recommendation. I suggest purchasing this book:<br>

http://www.amazon.com/Photographers-Guide-Yellowstone-Tetons-Joseph/dp/0811728951</p>

<p>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<br>

http://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/2128</p>

<p>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.</p>

<p>Have a great trip!</p>

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<p>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.</p>

<p>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.</p>

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<p>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.<br>

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.<br>

Whatever you pick have a great time!</p>

<p>Bob Wyatt</p>

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<p>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.</p>

<p>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.</p>

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<p>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.</p>
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<p>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.</p>
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<p>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:</p>

<p>http://www.flickr.com/photos/the-maestros/sets/72157601584325083/</p>

<p>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.</p>

<p>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.</p>

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<p>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.<br>

Either way, you're in for an incredible trip!<br>

DS Meador</p>

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<p>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.</p>

<p>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.</p>

<p>Have fun! Post your photos! :-)</p>

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<p>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.<br>

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.<br>

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!</p>

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<p>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.</p>

<p>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.</p>

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<p>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.</p>

<p>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.</p>

<p>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.</p>

<p>I'd also suggest thinking about flying into either Vegas or Salt Lake City and looping that way.</p>

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<p>Can only speak from experience on Yellowstone and Grand Teton so here are my faves:</p>

<p>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)</p>

<p>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</p>

<p>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. </p>

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