The Explorographer
Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree Pilgrimage Part IV

The Trip Grand Finale

With Joshua Tree National Park left in our dust, the next stop is Flagstaff for the night and up early for sunrise at the Grand Canyon’s South Rim.  Erin is along for the ride to Flagstaff from Techatticup, Nevada.  She’ll be grabbing a rental and parting ways after our sunrise rendezvous.  On the way out of Eldorado Canyon we see a sight that is just to gorgeous to resist.  We make a quick stop for some shots.

(click photo for download and purchase options)
(click photo for download and purchase options)

Initially as we head north the thought is to make a stop at the Hoover Dam. Unfortunately due to time constraints and the early start the next day our stops will have to be quite limited from here to Flagstaff.  Just as we cross into Arizona on Interstate 93 just outside of the Lake Mead National Recreation area, we pull off for a break at a rest stop overlooking Willow Marina on the Colorado river.

(click photo for download and purchase options)
(click photo for download and purchase options)

Erin and Murray see something interesting off in the distance and take off running.  Here is a shot of them capturing their prize. Lightbenders attack, form of photoninjas!

(click photo for download and purchase options)
(click photo for download and purchase options)

Turn-a-bout is fair play I guess…

Trip Photo by Erin Riedel
Photo by Erin Riedel

Erin sneaks a shot of me trying to use the sign as a tripod in the fading light.  Here is the shot I was taking.

(click photo for download and purchase options)
(click photo for download and purchase options)

And another from that same “tripod” just a few minutes later. This is the Willow Marina on the Colorado River.

(click photo for download and purchase options)
(click photo for download and purchase options)

Such a beautiful area!   With the last of the sun setting, it was time to make our way into Flagstaff for a nice meal and a good nights sleep for the early rise in the morning. After a great nights rest we were up early and ready to face whatever the day had to throw at us, or so we thought. (dun, dun, DUUUUUN)

(click photo for download and purchase options)
(click photo for download and purchase options)

Wait….what?!? Snow in Arizona?? Oh man, they are never going to let me live this down!   After a quick ski trip to the Bob Evans for breakfast and about an hour and forty five into our 2 hour trip it was apparent to us, that this was no ordinary trip to the south rim of the Grand Canyon.  I have been twice before, but nothing prepared me for the sheer breath taking beauty of snow in the Grand Canyon!

(click photo for download and purchase options)
(click photo for download and purchase options)

So far on this trip we have battled blizzards in Virginia, ice storms from Tennessee to Texas. Endured high winds in return for stunning visuals in White Sands, New Mexico. Sweating it out to blistering heat in Tucson, Arizona.  Unmatched skies and sights in Joshua Tree.  Snow in Death Valley. Rainbows over Nevada. And now snow in the Grand Canyon, are you kidding me?

(click photo for download and purchase options)
(click photo for download and purchase options)

I am pretty sure with no amount of planning could it have gone any better to this point!  The Grand Canyon on it’s worst day is gorgeous, but with snow and these amazing skies, I am speechless.

(click photo for download and purchase options)
(click photo for download and purchase options)
(click photo for download and purchase options)
(click photo for download and purchase options)
(click photo for download and purchase options)
(click photo for download and purchase options)
(click photo for download and purchase options)
(click photo for download and purchase options)

We finish our shoot of the canyon at the epic Desert View Watchtower.  The snow here is 16″ deep and just amazemaze!

(click photo for download and purchase options)
(click photo for download and purchase options)

How about a quick selfie in front of a snowy Grand Canyon before bidding Erin a safe trip home?  I think so!

(click photo for download and purchase options)
(click photo for download and purchase options)

Bittersweet hugs all around, it was time for Erin to head off for some more adventuring on her own before flying back to Philly. Meanwhile, Murray and I had a long, arduous, and somewhat sad trip back to North Carolina.  Nothing really but 2,146 miles and 31 hours of driving a head of us.  A breeze really, right?!?  Wait, one last place I want to show Murray just outside of the park before the madness begins. I discovered this little location in 2012 when I literally did a drive-by of this amazing soul rejuvenating place and had an “I MUST STOP HERE” moment.   At first it’s just a pull off along side the road with a pretty view, but the more you just stand quietly and look, the reality of what you are seeing sets in. It is on protected private land, so we do not enter the property, and there is really no need to. All you need to see is right there from the side of the road.  And this day we get a little added bonus of a huge approaching, you guessed it, snow storm.  I call this shot, “Monster”.

(click photo for download and purchase options)
(click photo for download and purchase options)

It’s by no means the prettiest spot in or around the Grand Canyon, but for me it shows the brutality of it’s formation with the surrounding lands and the scope of it all.  I was happy that I got to share it with Murray on his first trip out here. Unfortunately, that “monster” I spoke of, would be a sign of things to come for the journey home.  But for the time being it was off to Santa Rosa, New Mexico for a hot meal and good nights rest.  The last legs of the journey are long 10 hour drives, or at least that’s what we have planned.  Tomorrow’s journey will take us across Texas, through Amarillo, then through the entire state of Oklahoma to Van Buren, Arkansas for the night. Piece of cake, right?

So the trip back as I said is usually pretty boring. It’s the end of the “vacation” and everyone is tired, etc.  I have taken this trip many times, so I still a few tricks up my sleeve.  One was to visit the famous car sculpture “Cadillac Ranch” just outside of Amarillo, TX.  But when we got there we were not greeted so well.  Here we are at a truck stop near there, gathering our wits about us.

Trip Photo by ADWheeler

That’s right folks….snowing….in Texas!!  So with the “ranch” a bust, I take Murray to the next best thing, The BIG Texan Steakhouse (cue the YEEEEHAW).

Trip Photo by ADWheeler
The BIG Texan

Now I have been to the BIG Texan 4 times in the past and I have never eaten there (Exterior photos are all from a previous visit).  It’s not just a steakhouse, it’s a souvenir shop, a motel, and has some cool “over-the-top” attractions out front.  Apparently every other time I was there I was just too distracted to eat.. I mean, look at this giant sign of a famous cowboy.

Trip Photo by ADWheeler
Woody? Is that you?

Regardless, this time, thanks to the lovely Texas weather we are here to eat! And eat we did!! And I must say, the food was great!

Trip Photo by ADWheeler
Inside the BIG Texan Restaurant

All kitschy-ness aside,  and even though I will never be up for the 72 oz.  Steak in 60 minutes challenge, I will definitely stop here for a burger and a beverage again when I am in the area.  But for now, it’s off into the Texas snow and a trip across Oklahoma to remember.

We are taking the famous Route 40 from Amarillo to our hotel which is just over the Oklahoma/Arkansas border.  It’s 2pm when we depart the Big Texan and google maps puts us in Van Buren, Arkansas at 8:29pm.  But, for the next 446 miles we would have a traveling partner….this:

Trip Photo by ADWheeler

Our trip ends up taking 10 hours and we finally arrive in Van Buren at 12:30am!   My arms and hands were aching from the death grip I had on the steering wheel. I was completely exhausted from the nearly 14 hours of driving under extremely poor conditions.  As soon as we made the hotel, I hit the bed like a ton of bricks.  Hopefully by tomorrow, the storm will have passed and we will make it from Van Buren to Murfreesburo, TN without issue.  Murray and I have plans to revisit Burgess State Park and that old hydro electric station at the waterfall there.

Van Buren, Arkansas to Murfreesburo, Tennessee

Murray grants me a pardon and allows me to sleep in to the late hour of 10 a.m.  We make a run to the local iHop for a nice healthy (cough) breakfast and hit the road.  The first 2 hours to Little Rock, are not too bad. The roads are mostly clear with some slow downs for spots still covered with snow.  But just outside of Little Rock, we run into this:

Trip Photo by ADWheeler

Trapped in the land of giant boxes!  If you notice the road has these patches of thick ice in random spots.  All along the way we see trucks and cars off the road.  For the next 5 hours and 137 miles to Memphis, TN we would crawl.  Near the end of the mess that was Arkansas we were running low on light, bladder strength, and gas!  It was time to make a much needed pit stop, if we could!  It was right at this moment we came to an absolute halt.

Trip Photo by ADWheeler

I checked my phone to see what the deal was.

Trip Photo by ADWheeler

Yes, 1 hour and 43 minutes to travel 7.3 miles. I didn’t think poor Murray was going to make it.  And it wasn’t going to get any better. Once we got to that exit, it took us 45 minutes to get across the exit and into the truck stop.  Murray hung in there and made it though!  We took time to relieve ourselves and grab some tasty truck stop chow and contemplate our final (without delays) 3.5 hours, 239 miles to our hotel in Murfreesburo, TN.   Luckily for us, most of the route was clear. We made it there in just under 5 hours.  Putting today’s driving total at 14 hours behind the wheel.  Once again, I was a brick!  As I faded off to black, my mind was reeling. I knew that I could not do a third long haul again tomorrow.  I prayed myself to sleep.

Murfreesburo, Tennessee to Murray’s House, North Carolina

Luckily for us, all we were cursed with on this last leg to Murray’s house was drizzle and cold.  Unfortunately, both Murray and I were too exhausted to stop at Burgess State Park.  We drove like madmen and arrived at Murray’s in just over 8 hours.   After we un-pack Murray’s gear we have another amazing meal cooked by Murray and his wife.  An early night was just what we both needed.  In the morning, Murray had a surprise location he wanted to take me to.

Murray’s House, NC to Harrisonburg, Virginia

Up bright and early and fully refreshed, I hop in my car and follow Murray to one of his favorite local locations to take some sunrise shots at Historic Yates Mill County Park.   It’s a little Northwest of Murray’s home and southwest from Raleigh.   We got up early so that we could catch sunrise at the mill.  Unfortunately, we were met with locked gates when we got there.  The park really needs to recognize that most photographers who visit will want to visit early for the best light.  The more photographers, the more visitors, especially if the photos are awesome.  Murray and I do not let this discourage us.  We find a pull-off near a bridge at the Mill’s dam and decide to shoot from the road.  Not ideal but we have made the trip!  Turns out that this road is super busy and dodging for our lives to get the shot is not high on our list.  With a bit of ingenuity, I find a way to the other side of the fence.  I shout to Murray to come on over.  The look on his face when I just appeared on the other side of the fence was quite classic.  Anyway, here are the shots from this beautiful mill, first from our original position on the bridge.

(click the photo for download and print information)
(click the photo for download and print information)

Here is a shot from “under the bridge” as I found my secret way in.

(click the photo for download and print information)
(click the photo for download and print information)

And here is my favorite from the bunch.

(click the photo for download and print information)
(click the photo for download and print information)

And this is the end of the road for Murray and I.  A great way to end off a long journey.  Although, I am still 10 hours or so from home but I’m not going make it in one run.  You see, I have a make-up date with another old mill in West Virginia!    Daylight is burning.  Murray and I say our goodbyes and I am off to Babcock State Park in West Virginia once again, before heading to Harrisonburg, Virginia for the nights stay.  The mill and Harrisonburg would be my last stop before finally heading home.  Hopefully this trip out to the mill, I will be able to get into the park.  Unable to find any information about conditions online, I decide to take my chances!  I mean, it’s only 3.5 hours out of my way.

The road ahead looks promising as I pass Pilot Mountain via Route 52.

20150307_093506

Hopefully all will be good once I reach West Virginia.  Just two more tunnels and a bit of back roads and I will be there!

East River Mountain Tunnel

Now I am seeing more snow and getting a bit nervous.  As I get closer, more and more snow, although the roads are clear.  The roads were clear the first time yet huge piles of snow were blocking the entrance.  This doesn’t look good!

Luckily, the entrance is clear! Unluckily, as I start to pull in, I see before me a very narrow, nearly single lane road, very steep, and covered in very SHINY snow.  I was hoping that it was water…it was not, it was all ice.  I went as carefully as I could and the Subaru Crosstrek, once again was amazing.  It handled the ice covered hill very well.  I think my heart only quit beating a couple of times.  At the bottom of the hill I miraculously found a few cars and a lot of snow.  The mill was more gorgeous that I could have ever imagined it.  I carefully made my way over one of the snow banks and as close to the edge as I dared and got my first shot.

(Click for download and print options)
(Click for download and print options)

It took me about 10 minutes to set up and grab this shot and while I did the couple of cars that were here, are now gone and I am all alone.  It was so quiet and surreal.  I made my way up and around the souvenir pavilion there and down a snow covered flight of stone stairs.  I should probably say “slid” down the stairs although it was more like an orchestrated prat fall. Thank goodness no one saw that. X^)  I make my way out onto a large (and very slippery) rock to set up for my next shot.  The snow is gorgeous and the sun on my skin is warm.  I pause for a moment and take it all in, I have been truly blessed on this trip.

(Click the photo for download and print options)
(Click the photo for download and print options)

The two trips here were well worth it. I love old mills like this and getting to photograph two in one day is incredible.   I will definitely be back here….soon!  One last black and white for the road.

(Click the photo for download and print options)
(Click the photo for download and print options)

That’s a wrap!  Just 3 hours to the hotel in Harrisonburg, Virginia and then about 6 hours home to New York.  It was 14 days on the road and nearly 8,000 miles total but it went by in a flash!  I just cannot express how amazing it was hanging out out in person with my incredible new photography friends, so I put it in a video.

Thank you for joining all of us on this amazing journey.  There will be many more in the future I assure you.  In the meantime, please check out these fine photographers:

Erin Riedel  ~  Steve Walser  ~  Caleb Asch  ~  Lisa Speakman  ~  Murray Parker

The Explorographer™

Explore. Photograph. Write. Repeat.

A multi-award winning travel photographer and mentor. Most known for his "abandonscape" images. Creator and curator of TheExplorographer.com and TravelObscura.com.

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