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We just returned home after spending the last several weeks on the road. This was our annual summer vacation and as is customary, this outing was another cross-country road trip.

From July 6 to August 3 (that’s 4 weeks), we traveled by auto from our home in Grand Rapids, Michigan to the west coast and southwest to explore many of the scenic areas and to attend several family events.

From our starting point in Michigan (latitude 42.9633° N longitude 85.6681° W), we drove in a wide loop around several of the western states (exactly 17 states).

We followed the Interstate highways (I-196, I-94, I-294, I-90, I-84, I-5, I-15, I-70, I-76, I-80) for about 75% of our route. Twenty percent of the route was over excellent US highways (US 2 and US 34) and only a small portion (5% or so) on horrible, unimproved roads (CA 58, for example).

Our vehicle was a Honda mini-van for three adults (my wife, her sister and myself) and two of our grandchildren (ages 7 and 8).

There was plenty of room for the five of us when we snapped this tongue-in-cheek photo of the rear luggage area (38 cu ft). The remaining front passenger area actually had lots of room (172 cu ft).

As an avid fan of our National Park system, I was armed with my Senior Pass. Those of us who are 62-years and older can purchase a lifetime pass for only $10. This is a substantial discount from the $75 annual or $20 per entry pass for younger visitors (61-years and below).

We visited six National Parks on this roadtrip and the two grandkids earned several Junior Ranger badges by completing the requirements during these stays.

I used a pad to keep track of the fuel usage. Here’s some of the travel statistics –

Duration: 28 days
Lodging: Madison, WI; Bismarck, ND; Shelby, MT; Kalispell, MT; Oregon City, OR; Reno, NV; Sonora, CA; Coarsegold, CA; San Luis Obispo, CA; Las Vegas, NV; Moab, UT; Glenwood Springs, CO; Sterling, CO;
Distance traveled: 7040 miles
Fuel consumed: 285 gallons
Fuel efficiency: 24.6 mpg
Ave price of fuel: $3.75/gal
Highest price of fuel: $4.19/gal
Lowest price of fuel: $3.34/gal
Total cost of fuel: $1070.00
National Parks visited: 6 – Theodore Roosevelt NP; Glacier NP; Crater Lake NP; Yosemite NP; Arches NP; Rocky Mountain NP

 
 
 

Another statistic pertains to photography. With six National Parks under our belts and the many other places that we visited along the way, I kept busy shooting pictures. In all I recorded more than 1500 keepers.

I used two cameras – a Sony NEX7 with 18-200mm lens and a Canon 6D with 8-15mm fisheye and 100-400mm telephoto lenses.

The Sony NEX7 has a built-in panorama feature which I used frequently. I also enjoyed working with an Eye-Fi SD card in the Sony NEX7. The Eye-Fi card transmits images from the Sony NEX7 directly to my iPhone automatically. This let me review the photos at my convenience. And while the Canon 6D has built-in Wi-Fi capability, I did not use it on this roadtrip.

Below are my picks from each one of the National Parks.



Theodore Roosevelt NP

Glacier NP

Crater Lake NP


Yosemite NP

Arches NP

Rocky Mountain NP

 

Of course, these boring statistics hide the real roadtrip.

Our vacation was not only about spending time together in the vehicle (we clocked roughly 140 hours driving) as we visited with family in Oregon City and Reno (which are 530 miles apart). Reno is nearby our favorite Lake Tahoe (an easy 50 mile drive) where we spent 2 days swimming its crystal clear waters (albeit a little chilly at 65 degrees). Also in Reno we invested a cool $120 at the arcade in Circus Circus to bring home 27 stuffed animals – what a deal! In Yosemite we hiked the Merced Grove trail to pay our respect to the 2000+ year old Sequoias that reach more than 250 ft towards the heavens. A two-day jaunt to Moro Bay on the Pacific coast gave the grandkids the opportunity to collect rocks and sea shells (120 of them weighing twelve pounds). Then onto a family reunion (would you believe 90+ relatives) in Las Vegas. Believe me when I say that July is not most opportune time to be in Las Vegas (the temperature was 106 degrees). As if the heat there wasn’t enough, we stopped at a hot springs in Colorado to bask in its healthy but soothing waters (104-degree pool). And in a moment of driving indecision we backtracked (more than 200 miles) to visit our last National Park. There we climbed the tundra at the top of Trail Ridge Pass which is 11,800 ft above sea level. Anxious to get home, we made the final leg home from Sterling, CO to Grand Rapids (1050 miles in 17 hours).

While I’d like to share the other 1494 photos with you, these will have to wait for another article.

Roadtrip! There’s still several more weeks to enjoy the summer vacations. I hope you can get out there to enjoy our fabulous country. Did I hear roadtrip?
 
 
Written by Arnie Lee
 
 
 


 
 
 

On my latest cross country drive to deliver my Mom’s car to Phoenix, I broke the 2000 mile journey into two parts. Here’s why.

For years I’ve been reading and hearing about Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. It’s known as one of the best places in the USA to watch birds, especially those who have migrated there from the northern latitudes for the winter. Since the route from Grand Rapids to Phoenix passes close by, I decided to detour slightly.

Part one of the journey was 2-1/2 days traveling from Grand Rapids to Socorro, NM and visiting Bosque. Although I was in the NWR for only 16 hours or so, I totally enjoyed the wildlife and outdoor. You can see some of the photos from short stay at Bosque here.

Part two of the journey was the remaining 380 mile ride between Socorro and Phoenix. As I was planning for the drive a few days before the trip, I noticed a place on the map with a funny name “VLA”. When I googled it, I found it to be an acronym for Very Large Array. It’s a set of huge radio telescopes 50 miles west of Socorro on US Route 60, the preferred highway to Phoenix. It sounded interesting, so I decided that this would be another stop after Bosque del Apache.

On Friday morning I was on the road by seven and heading west on US 60. An hour later, I saw an amazing group of what appeared to be white dishes sitting on the high desert.



The VLA is operated by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory


The array consists of 27 antennas mounted on tracks to enable repositioning.

You may recognize these antennas if you’ve seen the 1997 movie “Contact” starring Jodie Foster about the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence. I don’t know if the NRAO found any, but they were definitely pointing the dishes away from Washington, DC. I’m not sure what that means. 🙂

 
At the visitor’s center I followed the self-guided walking tour of the VLA.
The 1/2 mile walk afforded me time to take a few snapshots of the impressive machinery that gazes the universe.

I watched as the 27 antennas rotated together similar to a synchronized dance.

Below is a short video of the antennas.



Each dish is 81 feet in diameter


Jack is another VLA visitor
 

 

After spending two hours at the VLA, it’s time to go. The road takes me over some easy mountain grades. Shortly after reaching the New Mexico-Arizona state line I spot several large black birds making circles overhead. I stop the car, retrieve my camera and begin shooting when I notice a dozen much larger birds flying much higher.

Seeing their white heads, there’s no mistaking that these are bald eagles! Although they are above a field a few hundred yards away, I have such a wonderful feeling watching these majestic creatures soar the skies.





Heading west again it’s more high plains and scrub. At Show Low, US 60 turns south and descends into the Salt River Canyon, another gorgeous part of Arizona.



small drop off along the Salt River


scenic view at the top of the canyon


one of many mesas typical of the area


colorful surroundings in the canyon
The next town is Globe about 90 miles from my final destination. An hour and a half later I’m approaching Phoenix. It’s still early enough in the afternoon so I’ve avoided the heavy commuter traffic.

Mom’s house is slightly east of Phoenix. I pull into her driveway about 4pm completing the 2000 mile drive. I’m relieved to be out of the car. Mom’s there to greet me – she arrived earlier in the day via a flight from Grand Rapids. With the delivery of her car, she now has wheels for her winter stay.



grapefruit growing in Mom’s yard

To make the travel more interesting, I’ve been able to break up this long cross-country drive into a series of short “photo trips”. I hope that you enjoyed some of these sights as much as I enjoyed visiting them.

I’ll be writing about a few of my next photo trips soon. I’m off the the southwest again in two days.

Last Friday Mom flew from Grand Rapids to Phoenix as many other snowbirds do for the winter. I volunteered to deliver her car to Phoenix so that she’d have wheels for her six month stay. To make my drive more productive, I turned the 2000 mile journey from Grand Rapids into a mini photo trip.

Just as many retirees make the trek to warmer climates in the late fall, so do many northern birds. One of their gathering spots is the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. I leave Grand Rapids on Tuesday at noon (ahead of Mom) and set the destination in my GPS for Socorro, New Mexico – about 90 miles south of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Eight hour later as I’m passing through St Louis, I’m attracted to the night time lights of the Gateway Arch. I exit the interstate and head towards the Mississippi River where I find a place to park my car adjacent to the river front. Here’s what I see:



Four Seasons casino and resort


the Gateway Arch


After 30 minutes I’m in the car and back on the interstate. My next stop is a rest area in Oklahoma near the Texas state line at 3am. I grab a few hours sleep in the car until I awake from the cold. Drive on. Approaching Amarillo, I spot an unfamiliar aircraft circling the airport. Then I recognize it as a V-22 Osprey doing touch and go maneuvers. I pull off at the next exit and grab my camera with a long lens.



V-22 Osprey doing touch and go’s


what a beautiful looking aircraft

On the road again, it’s a pleasant drive on a warm, sunny day across the high plains and farm lands of New Mexico. For the next few hours I pass by towns with great names: Tucamcari, Cuervo, Santa Rosa, Moriarity, Albuquerque.





The final leg is south on Interstate 25 to Socorro about 1500 miles and 28 hours from Grand Rapids. I check into the Howard Johnson motel, drop off my suitcase and hop back into the car for the short 30 miles trip to Bosque del Apache. My goal is to be able to see the sunset at Bosque.



Nat’l Wildlife Refuge Visitor’s Center


sandhill cranes feeding in the marsh


coming in for a night landing


alone again

The next morning I’m up at 5am to arrive at Bosque again to experience the solitude of dawn.



dawn arriving at the north pond


early morning flight

From here on, I’ll skip the text and show you some of the snapshots



small flock of snow geese


northern pintail enjoying the pond


juvenile northern harrier scanning for food


sandhill crane touching down


high flying adult northern harrier


gorgeous warm and sunny day at the NWR


spectacular flyout by thousands of snow geese


this harrier scared an awful lot of snow geese

 

 


Here’s a short video of the flyout

 



duckling enjoying a swim


sandhill crane moving in late afternoon
Although I had only 16 hours to explore Bosque, I thoroughly enjoyed this amazing outdoor environment. I dispensed with the typical hiking clothing and footwear; although unpaved, the park roads, hiking trails and boardwalks are well cared for.

While there, I shared the refuge with several hundred other nature lovers – some with binoculars or scopes and others will ample photo equipment. I’ve already seen some of their photos on Flickr. Go to flickr.com and search for the Bosque del Apache group.



warm and sunny day at the NWR

While my stay at Bosque ended on Thursday evening, I awoke on Friday to complete the drive to Phoenix. I had a much shorter 350 mile drive ahead of me and again I turned it into another mini-photo trip. More about the Socorro to Phoenix leg in my next episode.

It’s that time of the year again. Almost all of the leaves have fallen from the trees, the days are noticeably shorter and the temperature has decided to fall as well. With the onset of winter, this is when Mom is preparing to leave Michigan to head south for warmer environs. She’s booked her flight to Phoenix and is anxious to again become a “snowbird”.

Of course she’ll need a car in Phoenix for her winter stay. For the past several years, I’ve been the chosen one – I drive her car to Phoenix and then fly back home to Grand Rapids.

This year I’ve decided to make a slight detour on the drive to Phoenix. I’m planning to join the migrating birds at Bosque del Apache, a large bird sanctuary near Socorro in western New Mexico. I’ve heard about this wildlife refuge for a long time so now is the time to take the plunge, so to speak.

In preparing for the visit to Bosque, I found out about another close-by site. The Very Large Array (VLA) is an astronomical observatory made of 27 antennas each 80 feet in diameter. The VLA collects large amounts of data from outer space. Being only 50 miles from Socorro, I’m planning a short stop at the VLA following my visit to Bosque.

My drive is a southernly route taking me through Missouri, Oklahoma, the Texas panhandle and to Albuquerque; then south to Socorro. Up to here, the route is all interstate highways and the weather should be snowfree in early November.

When I leave Socorro, I’ll head west following US 60 which takes me through some mountainous and forested areas in New Mexico and Arizona before flattening out near Globe, AZ. Hopefully the snow will hold off until later in the month. From Globe it’s clear sailing to Phoenix.

Many consider a cross country trip such as this an arduous undertaking. I have always enjoyed driving long distances and welcome the chance to stop at Bosque and VLA. I’m hoping that they will both offer me some interesting photography opportunities.

If the cameras are working and I make good with the photography opportunities, I’ll have some pictures here soon.

Suddenly in early August, the summer turns busy for me.

My son Paul asks me to drive with him from our home in Grand Rapids to Orono, Maine to pick up a new vehicle (see below) to be returned to Michigan. This is a trip of 1000 miles each way through Canada and rural Maine. I agree to accompany him provided that I can enjoy a fresh Maine lobster and spend a few hours in Acadia National Park. Paul shakes on the “deal” and we’re off.

Our drive takes us through eastern Michigan, over the St Clair River Bridge into Canada, past London, Toronto and Montreal where we stop for a late lunch. Then eastward towards the Canada-USA border and finally south to Orono. After sixteen hours in the car, we arrive in Orono and settle down in the hotel for some sleep.

The next morning we are up early and conduct and conclude our vehicle purchase. By noon we point the car towards the resort town of Bar Harbor on the Atlantic Ocean and also the gateway to Acadia. Here’s where the lobster part of the “deal” is satisfied.


picturesque church in rural Quebec close to the Canadian-USA border

 

Acadia is largely situated on a few islands along the rugged Atlantic coastline. Visitors often spend weeks exploring the vastly different environments of the park. But now, I have only a few hours to satisfy my scenic cravings for this gorgeous part of the USA. To move this story along here’s the outcome:


Promise 1: our chef preparing a Maine lobster

Promise 2: a few hours at Acadia National Park

 
I stuff myself with lobster and stuff in a few hours of picture taking on the Atlantic.

Fast forward a few weeks (it’s still the busy month of August) and we’re visiting our daughter and grandkids in Oregon City, but only for a short 2 days. We decide to take a day trip over the coastal mountain range to Seaside and Ft Stevens on the Pacific Ocean. Again I am able to stuff a little more picturetaking into the visit.


the grandkids playing on banks of the Columbia River with Grandma

fishermen hoping for the big salmon catches

huge freighter entering the Columbia River from the Atlantic Ocean

clouds at sunset over the coastal range

 
While the purpose for being on both coasts has nothing to do with photography, I am able to walk away with some fun and interesting shots. As is often the case when traveling, when you’re pressed for time, it is still possible to squeeze in those pictures. Travel is one of my passions, but I also enjoy recalling the pleasures of travel through photos.

 


This is the vehicle that we picked up in Maine – a full service kitchen on wheels. We’re looking forward to some quality food.
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I wrote this article almost two years ago. The purpose of this cross country journey was to deliver an auto to Phoenix. Whenever possible, I try to record my travels through photographs. Since I’m planning another repeat of the drive from the Midwest to the Southwest in a few weeks, I wanted to refresh my memory to see how I might stuff even more photos into my next trip to Phoenix.


Written: November 2008.

Here’s some rambling about nothing in particular.

When the weather starts cooling off in Michigan, Mom starts thinking about going to the warm environs of her Winter home in Arizona. Normally she waits until after the Christmas Holidays, but this year she decides to travel early.

Here’s where I come in. She flies and I drive. As the designated driver, I drive her car from Grand Rapids, Michigan to Phoenix, Arizona to use for the months that she is there. I don’t mind, in fact I look forward to the 2000 mile trip. After delivering the car to Phoenix I’ll fly back to Grand Rapids.

During the cold months to avoid bad weather, the preferred driving route is through Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and then on to Arizona. When I leave Grand Rapids on Friday at 7PM, my plan is to follow this route. But two hours into the trip I call my son Paul by cell phone and have him check the road conditions forecast for Colorado. According to weather.com, he assures me that the roads through Colorado are clear. So I decide to take the more northernly route through Iowa, Nebraska and Colorado. The reason is simple – the scenery in Colorado is preferable to the scenery of Missouri and Oklahoma.

Except for refueling, a rest area just east of Des Moines is my first stop at 3AM. Mom has thrown a blanket and pillow in the back seat for me so I recline the car seat for some sleep. My alarm clock is the cold temperature of the car. After a few hours sleeping in an unheated car (the engine is off), I’m too cold to sleep any longer so I’m back on the road. I reach the Iowa-Nebraska border at 7AM.


I fill up the tank again in York, Nebraska where the gas is only $1.99 per gallon. This turns out to be the lowest price for this trip. As I pass by the large and fragrant stockyards in Ogallala, Nebraska I know that I’ll soon be leaving the East-West Interstate 80 and heading south into Colorado.

Since I’m getting a little drowsy, I pull off into a rest area in Sterling, Colorado for an hour nap. Then I’m back on the road through Denver and a short jog onto US 185. Now I’m passing through the very pretty mountains and high plains of central Colorado.
Although today is a Saturday, the roads in rural Colorado are nearly traffic-free. This makes my drive through the mountains very relaxing. Five hours later I arrive in the southwest corner of Colorado and the picturesque town of Durango.

Durango is most well-known for its narrow gauge railroad that climbs the steep mountains to Silverton. During the summer, this unique railroad attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists to the cozy town. A few years ago, our youngest son lived in Durango so I know the town well. So I point the car towards East by Southwest Restaurant to treat myself to sushi after my first 24 hours on the road. Then on to the Best Western motel.

After checking in, I ask the clerk for a 6AM wakeup call and hit the pillow for some real sleep. The next thing I know my wakeup call is harkening me back into the car. It’s still dark out when I pick up a coffee from McDonalds and leave town driving south.
A few miles out of Durango I cross into New Mexico. Northwestern New Mexico is also the Navajo Indian Reservation. I stop in Shiprock to snap a few photos of the famous monument. Then I continue south to Gallup where I pick up Interstate 40 westward into Arizona.
An hour later, I’m at the entrance to Petrified Forest National Park. Although I’ve passed through this area a dozen times before, this is my first visit to this National Park.
The 28 mile loop through the park yields about 75 photos. Then, I’m back on the road for the last leg of my journey. In the scenic east central area of Arizona I drive over mountains and through winding canyons and past the cactus covered deserts. I arrive in Phoenix just as the sun is setting.

Here’s a few observations from this cross country drive.

My biggest surprise is the cost of a medium chocolate shake at McDonalds in Holbrook, Arizona – $3.81 including tax (ouch).

Best breakfast – Golden Corral in Gallup, New Mexico

Best dinner – East by Southwest in Durango, Colorado

Prettiest site – Shiprock monument in Shiprock, New Mexico and Painted Desert overlook in Petrfied Forest National Park

Sleepiest section – eastern Iowa at 1AM

  • $2.03/gallon – Walcott, Iowa
  • $1.99/gallon – York, Nebraska
  • $2.59/gallon – Sterling, Colorado
  • $2.58/gallon – Farmington, New Mexico

Mom’s Toyota Camry performs OK. I check the mileage twice and find that it gets 25 miles per gallon on the interstate highways where the speed limit is 70 mph to 75 mph. However in the high plains of Colorado where the speed limit is 55-60 mph, the car gets an impressive 35 miles per gallon. The bottom-line to maximize your gasoline dollars – slow down.

I pull up to Mom’s house at 6PM – just about 48 hours after leaving Grand Rapids. I unload her belonging from the car, have dinner with my sister and brother-in-law (who also live in Phoenix) and then retire for the night to get some sleep. I’m up at 5AM the next morning for my early flight back to Grand Rapids.

Here’s a few observations about my return flight on Monday morning.

A one-way ticket from Phoenix to Grand Rapids is a sky-high $470.

The leg from Phoenix to Chicago is overbooked. United Airlines asks for volunteers to give up their seats in exchange for free travel. Within 5 seconds of the gate agent’s announcement, a dozen volunteers are offering their seats. This is not surprising. With high prices for airline tickets, consumers are on the lookout for ways to save money. Since I want to get home, I don’t volunteer.

One of the passengers confesses that she is upset over the $15 charge for checking her luggage.

Onboard, I find that not only are United’s prices for beer and wine up from $5 to $6, the prices for purchased meals is also up from $5 to $6.

After the 3 hour flight to Chicago and short connection to Grand Rapids, I’m back home by 3:30 PM. Mom’s car is now in Phoenix awaiting for her arrival. I’m happy to have a set of photos from the cross country trip and I’m also happy to get back to work. And all of this completed before the snows begin out West.