US Road Trip - Diary and Images!

It's right in the middle of wedding season for me so this post has been in my draft section of the blog for weeks but I'm super excited to finally share some of my favourite images from our trip to the US west coast.

Seattle 

Our trip started off in Seattle, staying with some of my family and exploring the city and the surrounding area. We felt really at home in Seattle, which in a lot of ways felt very similar to European cities - certainly far more laid back and less built up than New York or LA. We were also blessed with some unseasonably warm and clear weather which gave us great views over the city and towards Mt. Rainier which is around 60 miles from the city and yet still dominates the skyline. Highlights for us were definitely Pike Place Market (don't bother with the first Starbucks, it's tiny, surrounded by tourists, and there's plenty of better places to find coffee) and the 500ft tall Space Needle, from which the views were incredible. We would definitely visit Seattle again, we both loved it. We also visited a few local lakes and parks within the wider Seattle area, and the beautiful Snoqualme Falls was a particular highlight due to the high rainfall and spring melt it was in full flow.

 Space Needle, Seattle, Washington

Space Needle, Seattle, Washington

 The RV

On the first Thursday we went to grab some food at a supermarket before heading to a little town called Puyallup to pick up the RV, soon to be affectionately dubbed 'Winnie'. It was far larger than I imagined it would be, and so spacious inside, definitely more than comfortable to spend a couple of weeks in. As the guy was showing us round I couldn’t escape the impending feeling of doom knowing that the first drive was round the corner, and that to get out of the RV place it was a left turn onto a 6 lane road - terrifying! For the first few miles Charlotte was my wingwoman, yelling “LEFT” every so often when I was getting too close to the right hand kerb or other traffic (at 12 feet wide the RV was basically the width of the entire lane) and also a second pair of eyes for the different road signs and rules. We headed straight to the first campground where it rained all night, but thankfully this was the only rain we experienced for the whole rest of our trip.

 Winnie at our first campground, Harmony, Washington

Winnie at our first campground, Harmony, Washington

The Oregon Coast

I was already looking forward this part of the trip an awful lot but the sheer beauty of the coast and how few people there were around was simply amazing. There was everything from small seaside towns, to sweeping empty bays, giant sand dunes and steeps cliffs – all with that coasts characteristic driftwood from winter storms covering every beach.

 Looking south towards Nehalem, Highway 101, Oregon

Looking south towards Nehalem, Highway 101, Oregon

Over the next three days we travelled up and down the coast visiting Ecola State Park, Cannon Beach, Cape Kiwanda, Cape Mears, Lincoln City and Depoe Bay whilst we stayed at Nehalem Bay State Park. This was probably our favourite campsite. Secluded, no wifi and about 30 seconds from the Pacific Ocean so you could sit out with a campfire or go to sleep to the sounds of the ocean. Highly recommended!

 Pacific Coast Sunset, Nehalem, Oregon

Pacific Coast Sunset, Nehalem, Oregon

We finished up our Oregon journey by staying in a little town called Bandon, after driving through close to 100 miles of sand dunes it was a welcome stopover! We felt like we'd barely scratched the surface of Oregon and we'd love to come back some day to explore more.

 The view from the top of a 300ft sand dune, Cape Kiwanda, Oregon

The view from the top of a 300ft sand dune, Cape Kiwanda, Oregon

 Bandon, Oregon

Bandon, Oregon

Into California (Briefly)

We had initially planned to head to Crater Lake but due to heavy snowfall and a non-winterised RV, we decided to skip it and head towards Lake Tahoe instead. Whilst disappointed we missed Crater Lake, Tahoe National Forest and Lake Tahoe didn't disappoint. Being from a very flat part of the world and never too far from the sea it was so bizarre being thousands of feet up and yet surrounded by so much water. The water in Lake Tahoe is so clear that you can apparently see 70ft straight down! We probably visited at a funny time as it was just past ski season and not quite summer so some places were closed, but still a very beautiful part of the world to go and see.

 Tahoe City, North Lake Tahoe, California

Tahoe City, North Lake Tahoe, California

Nevada

Next up on our itinerary was Death Valley National Park,but to get there we had a 7 hour, 400 mile drive to complete. After stopping the night in Reno, we set of early and soon left the bright city lights behind us and embarked on a surreal, lonely desert drive through ghost towns and barren desert. With Nevada being the only place in the US brothels are legal and a healthy dose of alien and Area 51 conspiracy theorists, the road signs were a welcome distraction from the long, straight, hot roads!

 Coaldale Ghost Town, Highway 95, Nevada

Coaldale Ghost Town, Highway 95, Nevada

Death Valley National Park

After filling up Winnie and buying as many large bottles of water we could in a town called Beatty on the Nevada/California border, we turned south west and headed into Death Valley with a few nerves but plenty of excitement. We descended rapidly from around 3500 feet in Beatty to below sea level, so when we arrived at the visitor centre, we opened the RV doors to oppressive 40+ degree heat. With such heat, we were drinking up to a litre of water per hour just to stay hydrated, and we only ventured out in the early hours of the morning, making it back to camp by mid morning. We stayed at Furnace Creek ranch which had a swimming pool, which was an absolute godsend. Swimming in a pool in 42 degrees whilst being 300ft below sea level is definitely an experience I'll keep with me for years.

As the valley itself is surrounded on all sides by mountains, the overnight temperature only dropped to around 30 degrees so whilst we're glad we went - two nights was enough!

 Zabriskie Point sunset, Death Valley National Park, California

Zabriskie Point sunset, Death Valley National Park, California

Yosemite National Park

The drive between Death Valley and Yosemite was always going to be a long day but little did we realise when we set out just quite how long! On paper, the drive was 400 miles which we expected to complete in about 6 hours. In reality, due to road closures due to a combination of snow, mudslides and forest fires, it actually took almost ten hours via what could conservatively be called a 'circuitous route'! Still, we arrived at our camp ground at Mariposa to the west of Yosemite Valley and got an early night for our two day stay at the park. After some issues parking the first day we got in early the second day and beat the traffic (it's at least an hour drive to the main parking areas in the park so get up at like 5am to be on the road for 6). As expected the scenery was amazing and I also got to check out the Ansel Adams gallery, one of mine and no doubt many other Photographer's heroes.

 Yosemite Falls, Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite Falls, Yosemite National Park, California

On the second day we climbed Vernal Falls getting absolutely soaked in the process, but hey, how often do you get the chance to be showered by glacial meltwater?! Talking to some of the other hikers it turned out the park was so busy because the waterfalls were not only at their spring peak, but they were being boosted further by the recent rains California had had which had finally taken them out of the drought they've been having for the past six or seven years. We felt really lucky to be able to see the waterfalls in peak flow.

 Vernal Falls, Yosemite National Park, California

Vernal Falls, Yosemite National Park, California

Napa

Who could visit California without visiting wine country? Well not these guys, that's for sure! I'm not going to lie, we did a lot more drinking than we did driving (obviously) and taking photos so photos are sparse - mostly because we were walking everywhere and I couldn't be bothered to carry my camera! Safe to say the highlight was definitely Castello di Amoroso, a mock Italian castle in the Napa Valley hills. Napa definitely felt very familiar and European to us, even if it was a bit pricey!

 Dillon Beach, California

Dillon Beach, California

San Francisco

Then, as quick as it came, it was over. After driving 3000 miles in two weeks we finally dropped off Winnie in San Leandro, and caught the train across the bay into San Francisco. We spent the next two days soaking in the city sights and were both really pleasantly surprised with the city. We walked from the city to the Golden Gate Bridge which was much further out than we thought it would be (We'd sort of assumed as it was so iconic it was right in the centre of town, but it really isn't!). We had initially planned to hire bikes but it was so busy and full of tourists we decided against it and walked and used public transport instead. Luckily, like any major city, you can easily walk pretty much anywhere and the public transport is great.

 Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California

 Leaving San Francisco :(

Leaving San Francisco :(

If you made it this far, thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed the images!

US Road Trip - Route and Gear!

Almost a year in planning and the time is nearly here.

As I write this blog it’s only 5 days until we fly out for our epic 3000 mile US West Coast Road Trip extravaganza! We’ve finalised our route, Charlotte began packing about 5 weeks ago (I have yet to open my suitcase) and we feel about as ready as we’ll ever be.

Our route contains two big cities, the Pacific coast, wine country, snow and ice, a desert, and everything else in-between. Spread over 3 weeks we’re going to tackle Seattle, the Oregon coast, Crater Lake, Reno, Death Valley, Yosemite National Park, Napa Valley, and San Francisco – the full route is below if you want to check it out. To say we’re stoked is the understatement of the year!

Planning

We've been using the RoadTrippers app and website to plan our route as we wanted a space to be able to collaborate as well as guide us once we're out and on the road. If you're planning a trip I highly recommend using a routeplanner like this as we've discovered loads of cool looking places along the suggested route that we may have otherwise skipped had we just stuck to the main highways.

 

GEAR

With so many amazing opportunities for images on the table choosing which camera gear to take was of course a big decision. When travelling in Europe last year I got by really well with the Fuji X100S so was tempted to stick with this as it’s such a light, compact camera with great image quality, however in the end I decided to go the whole hog and pack the full frame Canon 6D. There were several reasons for this. First off, the X100S is fixed at 23mm, fine for cityscapes and some landscapes but you lose a lot of options when you can’t zoom at all – the 24-70mm reach will give me much more options in the field. Secondly, the battery life for the Fuji series is still iffy at best, given that we’ll be away for 3 weeks and at times a long way from civilisation, I wanted the certainty that the larger Canon batteries provide. Finally, with Death Valley being one of the largest (relatively) easily accessible dark sky parks in the world, the low light performance of the Canon for some potential starscapes was very important too!

I’m definitely compromising a little on weight. The camera, lenses, chargers and associated gear will likely top out at over 6kg, but I think it will be worth it in the end. The final kit list is likely to be:

  • Canon 6D
  • Tamron 24-70mm 2.8
  • Canon 50mm 1.8
  • GoPro Hero 3
  • Joby SLR GorillaPod
  • Beeway Waterproof Memory Card Case
  • 2x 64GB SD, 2x 32GB SD and 2x 32GB MicroSD Cards
  • FantaSeal GoPro 360 Timelapse Mount
  • GoPro Suction Cup Mount