Friday, 4 September 2015

Goodbye Baby, Aman


It was an amazing trip.   

Southern route Westward, Northern route Eastward

Every day presented itself in different and fascinating ways.  I saw what the American’s would call “the heart of America”, and met many of their salts-of-the-earth.  Some more salty than other. 

As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog I wanted to meet and interact with the real soles who inhabit the land, not just “the haves” in their SUV’s”.  Those I met had stories to tell that were as diverse and fascinating as the land itself.  
Where have all the people gone?
Would I go back and do the trip again.  Yes, but more focused the next time around.

There are places I’d skip to concentrate more on other places.  The further west I pushed the more the land seemed to call out and enticed me to get off the beaten track and explore.  
Once a busy place, now no one drops by
I realize that this might sound trite but not until I got off of the beaten track, sometimes way off, to the point I hoped I hadn’t made a wrong decision, did I really find I was exploring what R66 had once really been like and how much it made and then broke the towns and communities it touched.  Many of the locations I ventured into there wasn't any cell coverage so if anything had gone wrong,  well,  I'll let your imagination fill in the rest. 

Once the great Route 66
Even the vehicle has rusted away
A house of stone
Maybe it’s simply that the huge tracks of open land, further west, were easier to photograph than the urban centres teeming with people, industry and vehicles.  Or maybe those vast empty parcels of land, that the west provided, gave you the aura of time standing still where nothing seems to have changed except the grass on the front lawns was much longer.

Perhaps the lawn mower is broken
If I were to make such a trip again what would I do differently? Two things.

Equipment, I’d add two items. 
A: a Tilly Hat, baseball caps are just a pain, I took mine off so often that I ended up giving myself a real sunburn on the top of my head (primary cause; lack of hair) within two days. 
B: a GPS unit for my DSLR. Try as I did, it was just too time-consuming and sometimes impossible to know where I actually was.  Remember I chose to stay off the beaten track and many places I visited either didn’t have a visible name or I couldn’t find one. Case in point was Jericho in Arizona.  It did appear on the map but not the GPS.  The one showing up on the GPS was 26 miles away from the one I was looking for.  I was only able to find the remains of the hamlet when I happened to find a weather-beaten and faded sign laying on the ground, that said Jericho Cemetery.

I’d do a bit more reading about the areas I’m going to visit.  Though I knew a great deal about the history of Route 66, I knew very little about many of the small towns and areas I visited. Now, the object of my trip was to visit and explore as much as possible and to this end, I feel I partially met my objectives. I say partially because once in an area I quickly came to realize that there was much more to explore than I had thought there would be. Next time I’d narrow my scope and put more concentration on fewer places. 
Round Barn
Places I loved and those I couldn’t wait to leave. Those places I'll leave for you to discover, my preferences, likes and dislikes,  might not be yours.

Funny, but sometimes it’s the small things you recall most vividly about such a trip.  One place in particular that has stuck in my memory was in the town of Carthage, Missouri.  I hunted out the old civil war battlefield where the first major battle of the war took place and was struck by the serenity of the place.  For such a bloody part of the US history, 650,000 killed, this cool grassy park set under the shade of tall trees seemed such a contrast to the reality of the horror that once took place there.  It was surreal standing there in the soft drizzle with the only sound being heard was that of a soft breeze, gently rustling the leaves.  
How could such a lovely place have once been a killing field

Some of Route 66's so-called ghost towns really aren’t.  They might have been headed in that direction but the communities revitalized and restored their past to beckon today’s tourist to stop and spend some time and dollars experiencing what once was.  These places, with some items of interest to photograph, were just too Disney in design for my liking.   They are magnets for the passing tourist, typical souvenir shops, (most everything was made in China) and fancy restaurants pushing “Route 66 hamburgers” and cheap beer.  The Winnebago’s and fancy SUV’s would be parked out front and Ma, Pa and all the young'ns would be stuffing their faces with Nachos drenched in melted processed cheese.
Garish, but the tourists seem to love it
Crowds just aren’t my thing but sometimes they can’t be avoided, unless…

Popular sights such as Horseshoe Bend and Monument Valley are lures for the selfie shooters and one just can’t avoid the busloads of tourists.  However, the majority vanish the moment the sun slips behind the horizon or the weather turns nasty.   In the twilight the desert takes on a completely different look, the red soil turns pink and bushes appear to glow.
As the sun goes down, the colours come out.
Leaving Monument Valley isn’t the end of the magnificent sights but the beginning. As I headed north towards Moab I kept one eye glued to my rear view mirror and glad I did.  The amazing thing about this part of the country is that the beauty surrounds you 360º and even if you don’t capture it on a sensor, you do so in your mind's eye. 

As I headed into the Colorado Rockies I experienced the lack of something that most of us just take for granted.  Oxygen.  As I climbed higher and higher I realized that I needed to apply more gas to the throttle and it suddenly dawned on me that the traffic, in general, was starting to slow down.  I became aware that the huge trucks engines were growling as if they were about to endure heart attacks, then the penny dropped.  Oxygen or the lack thereof. At 11,000 plus feet, my engine was showing signs of becoming oxygen deprived.  Considering that small aircraft are not allowed to fly above 10,000 feet without oxygen, here I was at over 11,100 feet.

Descending over 11,000 feet on nearly a 6% grade presents its own set of problems. Using your brakes all the way down can and did in some cases result in you reaching the bottom minus your brakes.   Not me, I used my gears and just touched the brakes when needed but some of those big heavy SUVs weren't quite so wise. I passed a few who were pulled over with either very little or no brakes left.

Nebraska proved to be as expected, wide-open, flat, cattle and farming country.  Iowa was an entirely different matter. 

I had planned on driving straight through Nebraska and Iowa. However, Iowa's lush green rolling hills with miles of unpaved country roads are a photographer's dream come true and I found myself being lured off of I-70 to spend time capturing the wonderful sights.   

Iowa's green fields and dusty roads
Just around Gary, Indiana, I stopped for my last night on the road.  The next day I crossed over, again at Sarnia, and straight on to Markham.

Many have asked questions asked about my trip, here are a few of my answers:
Days on the road: 15
Principal lodging: Motel 6
Best available Wi-Fi connection: McDonalds
Best coffee: McDonalds
• Bottles of water consumed: 60+
Miles/Kilometers traveled: 6,275/10,100
Gallons/Litres of gas purchased: 160/605
Lowest gas prices: Michigan
Highest gas prices: California
Least photos taken: Nebraska
Most photos taken: New Mexico/Arizona
Highest altitude: 11,116 ft, Colorado
Hottest temperature: 117ºF/47.2C
Principal cameras: Nikon D610 and Fuji X100s
Frames Shot: 8500
Average distance travelled per day: Too Many
Best photographic opportunities: Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, and Iowa

Would I do a similar trip again, Yes.  There are just too many things to see all, in one go, and many more way-off the beaten track places to explore.


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