Destination 11: Yellowstone National Park
Old Faithful; one of our oldest, most active geysers that goes off multiple times a day like clockwork. We arrived at dawn to a steaming mound and no one in our sight. It was brisk and windy; we made our way up the cliff side above Old Faithful. We got our blood pumping and were rewarded with being able to watch it erupt high into the sky. The power of water under pressure is amazing.
As the sun started to peer into the park, the crowds grew thick. We hiked for a few miles through fields of geysers. The salt buildup in these pools gave them amazing color displays on the edges with the clearest water in the middle. The prevalence of Sulphur in these pools could be smelled throughout the hike. (Think rotting eggs)
Next was the Grand Canyon at Yellowstone. This was my single most favorite spot on my road trip.
Seeing the waterfall from a distance was confusing. To see it so small, but hear how loud it was proved that the force of water is enough to carve a canyon out of rocks.
To hike down to the top of this 308 foot waterfall, stand at the top and look down the river, was another thing.
It makes you feel small! The only other thing that can be said about Yellowstone is you need time there. At least one week… On the road again…
Destination 12: Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve
Our next adventure took us to Arco, Idaho. We camped at the preserve, in between huge rocks that looked like asteroids on Earth. They were good wind blocks.
I awoke before sunrise and snapped this shot.
The lava flow at this site had hardened in bands that looked like braided rope. It provided a rich atmosphere for some plants, but a rough terrain to grow in. Some small flowers could be seen among the scattered Limper Pines.
I was able to find some of the volcanic rock that had been broken, and the inside displayed a porous matrix of hard lava rock and air space.
We continued on to hike Devil’s Orchard Trail.
We saw some interesting rock formations, spatter cones, and cave entrances.
With a long drive to Utah ahead of us, we got on the road before sunset.
Destination 13: Bryce Canyon National Park
Upon immediately entering Bryce Canyon National Park, we happened upon the visitor center that had just completed construction of a Concentrating Photovoltaic Solar Array system.
It was ingeniously designed to be 53 feet off the ground so there is no habitat loss to the wildlife, in addition to it being a good perching area for birds.
The solar panels installed are way more efficient than conventional solar panels currently on the market, will track the sun throughout the day, and save the park about $40,000 a year in electricity costs. Way to go Bryce Canyon! Our hike down our first trail led us through a couple archways to many interesting rock formations, called Hoodoo’s.
We then followed many switchbacks back up to Thor’s Hammer.
I was pretty thrilled to be on this adventure with my big brother.
Learning about the lands we visited was a big part of our adventure. We did research, talked to park rangers, examined maps, and read quotes of visitors throughout history. Here is one quote from Herbert E. Gregory from his geological and geographic sketch of Bryce Canyon National Park, in 1950: “of this vast region of unexcelled scenery in Utah and Arizona, Bryce Canyon National Park is but a short narrow strip along the southeaster rim of the Paunsangunt Plateau and this plateau is only one of the seven great tables that dominate the landscape of Southern Utah.” Great tables, indeed.
Destination 14: The Grand Canyon National Park
I had long been waiting for an opportunity to see the Grand Canyon in person. Knowing how big it is made think we wouldn’t be able to see much of it. I decided to explore the southern rim mostly. My initial walk out to look into the Canyon was terrifying as I realized all those small green dots were trees.
The canyon was so huge and we were about a mile about the Colorado River that flowed within. The next logical thing to do was take the South Kaibab trail down many switchbacks, past donkeys, as far into the canyon as we could.
There was no way we could make it to the river and back by sunset, and we had no camping gear, so we only went a few miles in. We headed back up and went down to the Bright Angel Trailhead. The vista from the trailhead was a gorgeous sight to see. After a short hike, it was sadly time to move on and set up camp for the night.
Traveling can bring together individuals who share the same type of energy. That night we bumped into a new friend, Christo, while camping in the back country. We exchanged stories around the fire before and after one small hike to the fire tower. As we watched the moon on this cloudy, windy, night we talked of our love of Maui and how we would rendezvous there in a month or so. He is a man of his word and we continued our friendship in Hawai’i. That’s true Aloha.
Destination 15: The Hoover Dam and Vegas
Many have heard of the Hoover Dam, but even less has heard of Lake Mead. They share a relationship through the man who provides the namesake to the Lake. Dr. Elwood Mead was a water and irrigation engineer. He wrote Wyoming’s first water code which was emulated around the world. As a water conservationist, his genius was recognized and he was named Bureau of Reclamation’s first commissioner, where his last final project in his life was the Hoover Dam.
The Hoover Dam is a huge concrete structure that reclaims the water from the Colorado River. That is the same river that flows through the Grand Canyon. It was built with huge concrete blocks, 215 in total, that range from 25-60 feet.
The dam generates about 4 billion kilowatt-hours of hydroelectric power each year. That goes to about 1.3 million people in Arizona, California, and Nevada. The power plant is down near the foundation, split into 2 wings that have 17 turbines total.
It is a great example of America using the topography and landscape to produce clean, renewable energy. ‘Merica!
Our trip through Vegas was a short one. We visited my friend Joe from Philadelphia, and we caught up for a few hours before eating dinner and hitting the road, once again.
Destination 16: Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree was not a destination on my original itinerary, but life happens. On the route to the Grand Canyon, we hit a deer in my brother’s car while going around a blind turn in Utah. This led to a long evening of dragging the deer off the highway, waiting for the police, talking to insurance on the phone, and looking for a shop to take the vehicle to. We were forced to leave my brothers car in Utah, and to take a rental car on the last leg of our journey. My brother then had to head back from LA two days early so he would not have to wait an extra weekend to get his vehicle, before driving back cross country, alone. So we decided to skip our plans to see Yosemite and Silicon Valley, which was unfortunate because Silicon Valley was the place my brother wanted to visit most.
Joshua Tree is an interesting meeting place of 2 ecosystems. The eastern part of the park is a lower desert and considered the Colorado Desert. The western half is higher in elevation, and considered the Mojave Desert. We visited the western half to see the legendary Joshua Tree and the awkward rock stacks.
We were not disappointed with what we found. We came across cacti, trees suffocated by parasitic mistletoe, massive boulders laying on massive boulders, and a tarantula!
It soon became apparent that we were not spending enough time out west. There are massive areas to explore, plants to see, and wildlife to observe. With the day winding down quickly, we hit the road together for the last time.
Destination 17: Costa Mesa, California
One of my best friends from college, Loc, had moved to Costa Mesa from Philadelphia to pursue success as a landscape architect. This was a great opportunity to visit him, and potentially have one quick adventure together. We met him, and spent the night with him in Costa Mesa. The next morning my brother and I said goodbye. It would be nearly 3 months until we would see each other once again. I convinced Loc to join me on a short camping trip to the Sequoia National Forest. We had spent many days on campus at Temple Ambler, under the Metasequoia, studying, playing Frisbee, and planning travels and designs. California had been a destination we hoped to explore together, and we finally had a chance. I immediately rented a car for the weekend we started heading North.
Destination 18: Sequoia National Forest
Our drive into the forest was eerie and exciting. Our ascent up the mountain began at sunset, and we were soon climbing switchbacks in the dark. Our headlights would illuminate huge trees at ever other bend, with steep cliffs at the others. We climbed another couple thousand feet before reaching our campsite for the night. We set up camp, got our fire going, and enjoyed some snacks before calling it a night. We rose with the sun and headed to a local spot on the mountain for breakfast. While doing so, we got the low down on trail closures due to recent fires and storms. This limited our itinerary to only visiting the Trail of 1,000 Giants. We didn’t have to hike far to find these majestic creatures. One tree with fire damage on the inside had 4 leaders that rose from the ground to make the trunk. That created a small tunnel to walk through. A small photoshoot ensued.
We continued down the trail only for another couple minutes before we lost the trail. Downed trees and plant debris prevented us from going any further without losing our path back, so we turned around. Loc and I made many stops at scenic lookouts along the switchbacks down the mountain.
With a vista of trees as far as my eyes could see, my road trip was feeling pretty complete. On the road one last time.
Destination 19: Anaheim, California
The time for my road trip was coming to an end. It was Halloween, and I had to catch a flight to Hawai’i from Los Angeles in two days. Having come from Philadelphia, I was not in the mood for much city time. I got a hold of a great high school friend, Nicole, to spend the next few days with. We spent a lot of time on her roof next door to the Angel’s stadium. We spent countless hours catching up from the last 8 years. We had plans to go out and enjoy ourselves for Halloween celebrations, but stayed in last minute due to great travel, relationship, and friendly conversation. It was so great to reconnect and realize we were still close despite years apart. My last few hours on the mainland were spent in reflection. I thought of all the great friends I got to see, the breathtaking landscapes of the various national parks I visited, and the experiences I gained while car camping for 3 weeks. I then started to look forward on the Hawai’ian journey I was about to set out upon, on the road trips I would take across country in the future, and on the amazing job opportunities that would fill the next year of my life. Time to board.
Destination 20: Maui, Hawaii
This entire road trip was a pre-cursor to a 4 month adventure in Maui. I got a job offer to go live off the grid, take care of a 10-acre estate, and work for a 1-acre organic micro-farm, called Maui Moon Farm. As a horticulturist in Pennsylvania, I have the ability to travel in the winter when I’m not in the growing season. I visited Oahu in 2014, then Maui in January of 2015. I was curious what it would be like to live and work in paradise. Fortunately, I have amazing friends who find unreal opportunities for me. My time here is coming to a close, and the experience I gained was years’ worth squeezed into 4 short months. I look forward to writing a post in the near future that will highlight my experience in great detail.
Traveling is an activity that should be prioritized high on ones list of things to do with life. You meet people, see sunrises and sunsets, go on great hikes, struggle with those you love while living together in small spaces, and lose your attachment to material things. I have a deep appreciation for those initial explorers of our national parks for their sense of adventure, love for nature, and their vision to protect it. I titled this post America the Beautiful because I purchased a National Park Pass labeled “America the Beautiful” that gave me free entry into all the parks I visited. I’ll leave you with these words from Edward Abbey, “It is not enough to understand the natural world; the point is to defend and preserve it.”