What do you do when a friend in the photography industry asks for help getting her car across the country? Volunteer to drive it, of course! Always up for an impromptu adventure, we exchanged our round-trip airline tickets to WPPI in Las Vegas for a one way flight home from Portland, Oregon. With three days notice.
We had already been planning on visiting Portland after Vegas (Em’s sister and many of our friends live there), so this seemed like the perfect challenge: get to Las Vegas on time for the convention, spend a week working and networking, and then get to Portland as quickly as possible to have a few days of play before jetting home. Some of our adventures have been blogged by Design Aglow (from creative visionary Lena Hyde, who also owns the car we were about to drive), but we’ve only just now finished sorting through the images from our March adventure. (See the three blog entries they posted here, here, and here.) Think of this blog post as the extended edition director’s cut… with the exciting conclusion. (Spoiler alert: we made it back to Florida.)
[For those of you who are interested, the images in this post are a hodge-podge mix of iPhone photos (shot with a 5s and edited with VSCO Cam), snapshots from my trusty Lumix GF1, and “big camera” photos from our Canon 5D Mk ii with the 35mm ƒ1.4 and the 135mm ƒ2.0.]
Ready to get started on our whirlwind trip? Grab your caffeinated beverage of choice and click below…
(Writing in the third person can get confusing, so the rest of this post will be voiced by me, Em.) We started the trip in the wee hours, just past midnight. From previous trips we’ve discovered that Steve drives best late at night, when the traffic is light; he tends to get sleepy during morning driving, which is actually when I do best. The first few hours passed uneventfully while I slept, until I suddenly realized we were no longer moving. A thick fog had set in somewhere in northwestern Florida, finally getting dense enough for Steve to stop at the nearest gas station for a break and a stretch. (Lena’s trusty Ford Flex in a pea soup of weather.)
Morning came, and with it my turn to drive. Since I’m fond of living I chose not to take any photographs from the driver’s seat, leaving our next images in this post til I was safely settled in the passenger seat again, at a rest stop with an unusual feature. (And then, absorbed in something fascinating on the internet, I nearly missed our crossing of the mighty Mississippi, but managed to whip out my phone’s camera in record time.)
Believe it or not, we managed to make it all the way to Dallas without stopping for anything other than gas stations and rest areas. Our magic formula for long trips worked again! Trading off napping and driving shifts (never at the same time), we hauled the 18 hour drive with energy to spare. A big dinner and comfy bed made for a perfect recharge after a successful first day. The following morning we headed over to Northpark Center, one of the most interesting shopping malls I’ve come across in my travels around the country. Originally designed in the 60’s, this high-end shopping destination is laid out like an art gallery, with wide hallways and none of those annoying mall kiosks who try to sell you e-cigarettes or hand lotion. Instead the empty spaces are occupied by art from famous artists around the world, including the Andy Warhols pictured here. We grabbed a bite and wandered around for a bit to stretch our legs before hitting the road again.
Texas has some interesting things to see, but I think I can confidently say that most of them are not on the road between Dallas and Albuquerque NM. Unless you happen to like weird, crumbling, roadside Americana like I do, in which case it’s fascinating. Also: trains.
A sunset and a walk around a rest area holding hands (another part of our magical road trip recipe is being nice to each other), and we finally found some remnants of Route 66 at a movie-set-quirky gas station, complete with sedentary “guard” dog.
Bright and early on day three, we found ourselves in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The now well-known setting for the popular [and incredibly awesome] AMC series, “Breaking Bad”, we had never really spent a moment thinking about this southwestern city until we realized we’d be zipping through it on our way to Vegas. We easily found a blog detailing some of the well known locations from the show, and had fun checking each of them out.
Our favorite by far was the extremely unusual looking dam from Jesse’s extraction scene (which we immediately attempted to recreate, as seen below).
Our next stop in Albuquerque was a highlight of recent travels, and something we would immediately do again if we find ourselves in the area: the Sandia Peak Tramway. At one point the longest tramway in the world (the sign still proudly proclaims this, despite it no longer being true), the ride to the top of the mountain was breathtaking, partially because of the lack of oxygen 10,378 feet above sea level. We enjoyed lunch at High Finance, and laughed at a tourist using his iPad as a camera, bravely [or stupidly?] holding it out over the deck’s edge for a better shot.After thawing out back down in Albuquerque, we found a Starbucks and walked around a bit on a modern stretch of Route 66, finding some fascinating street art and local curiosities.
On a whim we decided to see if we could race the sunset to Santa Fe (the answer: not quite, we arrived just after the last light faded). We walked out of the covered parking garage to discover hail plinking off the metal gutters and wind racing through the empty streets. After a failed attempt at a nice dinner (apparently New Mexico style cuisine can not be made without putting pork into every dish, which I don’t eat), we found pizza, which absolutely hit the spot.
Driving back from Santa Fe we were suddenly overcome with exhaustion, so we decided to spend another night in Albuquerque rather than pushing on for a few more hours. We got an early start the next day, and wound up having enough time to check out the Painted Desert and the Petrified Forest, both of which are actually along the same road (and well worth seeing if you ever have the chance).
Route 66 used to run right through here, though the road is long abandoned now. This rusted out car is set along the line of where the road had once been.
We found out later that the gift shop sells huge amounts of petrified wood, which I’m assuming is a small part of why collecting it is prohibited. ;-)Back on the road again, with some unusual sights.
We turned to TripAdvisor for recommendations in the area, and discovered that Meteor Crater was right off the main road (and was still open, despite the waning day). The new visitor’s center is gorgeous, and the visual impact of such a vast space was much more impressive than either of us had guessed it would be. One of the observation decks had several viewing telescopes set up; one of things you could look for was a scale cutout of an astronaut [NASA used this as a training area for the Apollo missions], next to a US flag in the center of the crater. We literally couldn’t see this man-sized figure from the crater’s edge with the naked eye; that’s a big hole in the ground! (Also: it was windy. Unbelievably windy, the kind of wind that makes it hard to breathe or walk.)
We arrived well after sunset to Las Vegas and checked into our home-away-from-home at the Signature at MGM. (This is our secret to surviving a conference in this city of insanity: get a room with a balcony at The Signature so that you can avoid the casino’s smokey expanse, keep healthy snacks in your room, and leave the balcony doors open all night for fresh air.) Plus? Really great views.
As always, we had a whirlwind of a good time with the album company we rep for, Finao, along with many of our industry friends and colleagues. WPPI is part education, part shopping spree, part industry research, part reunion, combined with a lot of caffeine, alcohol, food, and good times, all set in a city that dazzles the eyes and quickens the heart. We’ve grown to love coming here, and hope to continue doing so for many years.After a week in a city of excess, the drive to Reno is strikingly barren. Several times we wondered if we’d somehow found the set of a movie (can one legitimately encounter the Alien Brothel & Bar in the same evening as the Clown Motel?), but luckily we managed to keep moving until we found a place to sleep in Reno.
Sights along the way from Reno the next morning included a tree full of shoes, with no explanation.
It felt like these beautiful horses were trying to race us.Crushed by divine influence?The mountains of Oregon were gorgeous. Unfortunately we didn’t think to bring snow chains for the Florida car, but we managed to escape getting stuck by hitting the snowy areas at just the right time of day. The drive through towering pines topped with a fluffy icing of wet snow was one of the most incredible experiences we’ve ever had on a drive.
A late night drive followed by an even later dinner and visit with a colleague who happened to be staying at the same hotel meant for a groggy start the next day. (But we brought the sunshine with us, Portland!) We drove around the city a bit and managed to find Lena’s new home, dropping off our traveling companion with fond farewells. (On a side note, The Nines is a pretty swanky place to stay in downtown Portland. Highly recommended if you want to indulge.)
And now for a bit of fun with friends and family! We met up with my high school friend, Will, and his girlfriend Courtney. They treated us to delicious Pho and obliged our touristy side with a trek out to Multnomah Falls, which is absolutely stunning. Unfortunately the iconic bridge had been damaged by a large rock falling (you can it in see the image on the right: the bridge has a nice bite taken out of it), so we weren’t able to walk any further. This had the unexpected side effect of clearing the bridge of pedestrians, which is usually impossible. After wandering Powell’s Books we met up with my sister Monica for drinks and dinner.
We spent our last day in Portland with Britney + Joe of Turn Loose the Art, and their adorable two year old, Finn Danger. With just a little bit of sunshine we walked the streets of the city after a beautiful drive through the back roads and hills. We ended up at Salt & Straw, which had such shockingly delicious ice cream that I waited in line for a second scoop… and I don’t usually like sweets. (Salted caramel. I could eat a bucket of this stuff, so it’s probably lucky that we don’t live nearby.)
A redeye flight to JFK, and then onward to home, which was the usual sparkling Florida sunshine. Quite the whirlwind! (Stannis, our cat, was extremely put out at being cat-sit by our friend Jessica for so long that he pouted for days after we returned.)
Thank you to everyone who made this trip a reality (especially to Lena and her family), and to all of our favorite companies who make travel a pleasure. Some worth mentioning:
JetBlue: We love you, JetBlue. Thanks for being you.
Hotel Tonight: This handy app on my iPhone makes impromptu driving/staying/traveling simple. I’m not usually one for finding the absolute cheapest deal (I’d rather stay somewhere reasonable that will be reasonably clean and comfortable), but this managed to surprise us with good deals on good hotels throughout our trip. (Feel free to use my promo code, EPOGOZELSKI, if you sign up; we’ll both get a nice bonus when you book your first stay.)
Starbucks: You can call them whatever you want, the reality is that Starbucks keeps my caffeine levels normal while traveling and for that I am forever grateful. (And so are the people I encounter.)
iExit: This app is an absolute dream for highway driving (as long as you have a copilot). You can browse upcoming exit amenities, preventing that feeling of “Hmm… should I get gas at this exit or will there be better options at the next? Buy an old sandwich at the convenience store or find the food I really want in three miles?” You can even mark your favorite chains and get notifications when they’re coming up.
Thanks for checking out our trip! We hope to do much more of this in the future.
Em + Steve