I have returned to civilization! It was an amazing road trip. America is truly a beautiful country. I have around 2000 photos to go through. Get ready.
For those interested, here is what my final itinerary ended up as.
day 1 – left LA for Phoenix, walked Scottsdale night art walk on the canal with my aunt.
day 2 – stayed with my aunt in Scottsdale, went to taliesin west, the frank lloyd wright desert architecture school with grandma. really interesting place. talked with a couple of students.
day 3 – left for grand canyon. wandered the main touristy spots for some nice vistas. camped grand canyon village.
day 4 – hiked down into the grand canyon a ways and met a pack of mules hauling a bunch of industrial type stuff. left for page, AZ late morning. (original plan was to go to buckskin gulch in central utah, but weather was not looking too safe over there to be in a narrow deep slot canyon)
day 5 – left page, headed for needles area of canyon lands national park, utah. camped just outside the park at a neat private campground up against a cool rock formation. it was windy as hell and rained a bit off and on.
day 6 – hiked needles area in the morning, headed up to the island in the sky area of canyon lands in the afternoon and camped just outside of the park overlooking a nice valley. Canoyonlands is really amazing. in my opinion, far better and more breathtaking than the grand canyon.
day 7 – early morning drove down a dirt road to the bottom of the canyon to see the green river. as we arrived at the boat ramp, a younger Canadian couple and two young children were floating in on dual canoes from a 5 day trip from 60+ miles up river. then we went on to arches. we were underwhelmed and didn’t have a whole lot of time for a long hike so we took off after an hour and a half. arches is super touristy. ended up in boulder, CO that evening and had a great couple of beers and burgers at a local brewery.
day 8 – had breakfast with my cousin and his girlfriend at a great local spot with like 8 different kinds of eggs benedict. my kind of place! wandered around the main drag a bit chatting, then off to the airport to drop my girlfriend to fly back to LA to get back to school.
day 9 – decided to just suck it up and do the whole drive from boulder to central Iowa in one day. Man, don’t ever drive all the way across nebraska in one day. it is the straightest, most boring and draining drive you could ever do. repeat, do not drive through nebraska unless there is no other route.
next 12 days I stayed with the folks and wandered around the farm, played with the dogs, and visited some family and old friends. Went to iowa city for a night to visit a buddy and had a rocking good time seeing !!! at a small bar.
day 1 – leaving in tears, headed for badlands, south dakota. got in earlier than expected in the afternoon and cruised around. stopped at the information building and asked the ranger lady where would be an awesome spot to camp back country and she told me to go up this remote dirt road and i’d be the only one there. boy, she wasn’t kidding (thanks ranger lady!). absolutely amazing. camped right on the edge of a cliff down into a desolate valley of badlands and streams.
day 2 – cruised back through the badlands park, saw a buffalo up close right on the road and some mountain goats and a bunch of prairie dogs. left early afternoon and drove through the night to bonneville salt flats to the west of salt lake city, utah. it was grueling but made it to the salt flats about 3:30am and just slept in the car for a few hours (it was way too windy to set up the tent and nowhere to set it up).
day 3 – woke up just after sunrise and drove out on the salt. it was totally unreal. the clouds were dancing overhead and playing with the light. indescribable. after a couple hours headed for reno, nevada. found a car wash in elko. a good friend from elko told me to take a back highway from elko to reno (highway 50, the “loneliest road in america”) and it was just so gorgeous and way better than taking the freeway. had dinner at a nice brewery in reno.
day 4 – after a nice hotel free breakfast it was off to yosemite. most of the mountain passes and the main highway 120 through yosemite were still closed due to snow so i had to take a round about route. the california agriculture rangers took my apples because they couldn’t verify their origin by the labels. took a winding mountain road to the west and decided to try to go up highway 4 even though it said closed ahead. i came across a really cool camping/parking area and had a little hike down to the river/stream. looking back, i should have stayed the night there, but some other time. after finding the road closure, i headed back down to the passable route. cruised through some really beautiful grasslands. got into yosemite late afternoon and the back country permit office was closed so i camped just outside the park in a nice valley at a private campground. nothing special but the sunrise was pretty.
day 5 – went down to yosemite valley then up to glacier point for some awesome panoramic views of the falls, half dome and the valley. decided there wasn’t really anywhere i wanted to camp so headed on to death valley. because all the mountain passes were closed, i had to go down the west side of the mountains through fresno and Bakersfield to get to the 395. got into death valley just before sunset and camped a great little tent-only site on the west side.
day 6 – got up early and did two morning hikes through some canyons. drove up to the crater and wished i had a high clearance 4×4 to get over to the racetrack but my little car probably wouldn’t make it (next time). went back down to bad water to see the salt flat and salt beds 280 feet below sea level. later in the afternoon i headed back toward where i stayed the first night and went up to wild rose campground. absolutely amazing views and wild flowers. totally different than the rest of the park. met a nice older couple at the neighboring campsite from spokane, washington.
day 7 – another early morning. went up the mountain a ways to see the charcoal kilns then back through the wild flowers to head south to mojave national preserve. probably the shortest drive of the trip. I had previously found a really sweet camping spot off a sandy road among the lava flows so i headed there. got there earlier than i thought so i decided to bail and go see more of the park. cruised through several different areas, met two nice desert tortoises on the side of the road and drove through some really dense joshua tree forests. camped at a really nice spot in a previous burn area. it was very remote and the view spectacular.
day 8 (today) – woke up with the sun and cruised further down the dirt road to get out of the park. it was pretty overcast and lighting was uninspiring so i headed for home. made it back to san dimas about 11 am and got the car all cleaned out and washed.
my main mindset was to not drive down the same road more than once if possible. in death valley i did have to retrace some steps but it was fine. other than the main highway in yosemite being closed, my only regret is that i wasn’t able to drive through western wyoming and salt lake city during daylight. Utah was by far my favorite state along the way, so I foresee many more journeys that direction.