Sunday, May 03, 2015

Travels with Father - our trip along The Grand Loop

One of my longtime goals has been to share the stories about the travels I did with my father.  I wrote an introduction back in November of 2013, and you can read that here. I've shared our 1985 trip to Sequoia, King's Canyon and Yosemite, and now here is the journal from our 1986 trip.  Enjoy....

Travels with Father – 1986, Zion, Bryce and the Grand Canyon

It had seemed to me that the year since our trip together in 1985 had been good.  I was in my 3rd year of full employment at Westamerica Graphics, and the wedding season had been busy with weddings.  I had been shooting weddings now in addition to assisting, so the income was greater.  I had purchased a Volvo turbo station wagon to haul all the lights, background and camera bags that I took to every wedding.  Still living at home, I had a good amount of income.  So this time, I wanted to take a more ambitious trip. 

Dad had been retired now for over 11 years, and our relationship had improved greatly.  I was not yet spending time with him in the darkroom (that would not happen for a few more years), but I was doing a great deal of photography that I would show to him for his commentary and critique.  I was beginning to have a more creative eye, and appreciated his viewpoint and instruction.  As was his method of “teaching”, his criticism was constructive, more of “why don’t you try this next time” rather than “you should have done this”.  My confidence as a photographer was growing.

I teamed up with dad to lay out a trip that would somewhat recreate what our family had done in 1969: the “grand loop” as it’s called.  A trip through the three major national parks on the Colorado Plateau: Zion, Bryce and the Grand Canyon.  However, we decided to alter the trip slightly, adding the Valley of Fire north of Las Vegas on our way to Zion, and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon instead of the South Rim.  I believe we planned a full 10-day trip, because I seem to remember a great deal of time spent in each location. 

As was our custom, a great deal of preparation was made for the trip.  We packed enough clothes for the several days on the road.  We packed both dry and cold food for lunches and snacks.  I made sure that the Volvo had good tires, an oil change, and was in good shape for the nearly 2000 miles we’d drive.  And film.  Plenty of film.  All 35mm slide film.  Kodachrome.  Dad had always liked Kodachrome over its sister Ektachrome because of its red-bias.  We tended to do most of our photography in the mid-day and late afternoons when light is warmer.  So, with ourselves all set, we got up early the next morning, packed up the Volvo, said goodbye to mom, and headed out.

Getting out of the LA Basin was easier back then.  Since the I-15 from the 91 to the Cajon Pass did not exist yet, we had to go through Riverside to the 215, and head north from there.  But even with all that, the traffic was non-existent, and we were zooming up the pass in less than an hour from leaving home.  Our first intended stop was Boulder, the city that is closest to Hoover Dam, and where we stayed the first night on our family trip back in ’69.  However, when we arrived, all hotel accommodations were full.  At least, we thought.  Dad planned the trips to the AAA guidebook, and always booked our rooms in advance.  He did not do so in Boulder, and we did not bother to locate any other rooms there.  It was still early enough in the afternoon that we continued driving to Henderson, where we found a room easily. 

Early morning photography, image by Cliff Prothero
It was up early the next morning, because we wanted to get to the Valley of Fire at sunrise.  I had been there during our trip in ’69, and have vague memories of it.  I knew that dad, Don and Jim had gotten “stuck” there during the big family trip of 1971, but other than that, I had little exposure to it.  We entered in by coming north out of Henderson, skirting the western edge of Lake Mead, and entering the park from the east.  The sunrise was to our backs, rendering all of the red rock in very brilliant tones.  We parked, and started to explore, taking out the cameras.

A word about our equipment here would be in order.  Dad had always been a Nikon man, having a Nikon F during the trip in 1971, and now was using a Nikon F2.  He had an assortment of lenses, but he loved to work with zoom lenses so he could “compose” his shot by zooming in or out.  I had purchased a Canon F1 the year before, and like dad, preferred a zoom lens to help in photographic composition.  I also had a 28mm wide angle, which I liked to use for certain compositions.  To this day I remember how well balanced and solid that Canon F1 was.  We both had tripods, but we both hand-held our cameras except for low-light shots.

Valley of Fire is a beautiful place to photograph in both the early morning and late evening when the light angles are low.  It also has very interesting rock formations that allow the photographer to create very interesting shots, using the natural composition of nature.  I found myself walking around, spending a great deal of time looking at detail and shadow, looking for geometrical shapes.  The weather was pleasant and I did not feel the need to dress too warmly.  We spent a couple of hours there, until our stomachs reminded us that we had not yet eaten breakfast.

We left the park by the eastern road, heading north through Overton and up to I-15, where we turned north to Mesquite.  We drove into the sleepy town (before the casinos had been constructed on the highway), and stopped at a café for breakfast.  It was Sunday morning, and I was surprised at all the locals there who were obviously not in church.  I was also surprised at all the cigarette smoke and smoking.  There was no “non-smoking” section here, and it reeked of tobacco.  There were also a few nickel slot machines that were getting quite a bit of brisk business.  Mesquite was the last town along the I-15 corridor in Nevada before you hit the northwestern corner of Arizona, so I was not too surprised at the gambling.  I had an excellent pancake breakfast, despite the acrid smoke.  We soon left sleepy Mesquite, and headed up the I-15 through the corner of Arizona and up into Utah.

I have certain vivid memories of this trip of the landscapes we saw.  I am sure that I had seen them during our trip in ’69, but only being 8 years old at the time, they did not make that much of an impression.  They did now.  The drive through the Virgin River Gorge was spectacular, and to this day it still is awe-inspiring.  Soon we were on the Colorado Plateau, driving through St. George and up to the turn-off for Zion.  The drive was pleasant and un-crowded.  Of
Zion, image by Cliff Prothero
course, it was the first week of October when all of the summer travelers were gone, so it was naturally un-crowded.  We pulled into the town of Springdale, which is the town at the gates to Zion National Park.  Dad had made reservations at an inn called the Bumblebee Inn.  It was mid-day, and we knew we’d be early to check in, but we wanted to anyway.  When we go to the inn it was deserted.  Not as in decrepit and decaying, but no one there.  The office was closed with a note stating that the proprietor was at home watching the Mormon Annual Assembly on TV.  That’s when I realized we were in Mormon country.  There was a note that lodgers should just go down to the rooms, find one of the cleaning staff (who were non-Mormon I assumed), and select a room.  We did so, finding a cleaning lady who let us into a room on the upper floor, right near the stairs where I parked the car, making it easy for us to unload gear.  It was a very nice, very big room with a balcony that overlooked a “stockade” in back. 

This stockade was interesting.  It looked like a movie set that had been built
Image by Cliff Prothero
and stocked with carriages, traps, wagons, stagecoaches, and other vintage items of the “old west”.  I went to explore, but found I could not get in. However, there were gaps in the fencing which allowed me to point my lens through and get some interesting shots.  It turned out that we were the only guests in the inn, which surprised me a bit.  But as we traveled on during this trip, it became apparent that early October was not the preferred travel time for most folk, which suited dad and I very well.

We left our room and drove into the park, stopping at the visitor center for a bit, where I bought a book of David Muench photographs – the first of many of his books that I have, and the first exposure (no pun intended) to this master of landscape photography.  We drove further into Zion, stopping occasionally to take the brief hikes to the various places in the canyon and do photography.  We practically had the place to ourselves, such was the lack of other visitors.  It became very common in our future trips that we’d have places to ourselves.  In the early afternoon we stopped for lunch in a picnic ground near the Zion Lodge.  It was here that we continued our long and unhappy relationship with yellow jackets – those pesky and aggressive wasps that like food.  We put a cup of juice at the far end of our picnic table which drew them away from the rest of our lunch.  Whenever we’d run up against them we’d do this.  Nowadays, I’ll take a slice of lunch meat and toss that away from the table, and I have seen them go after that, literally tearing small pieces out to consume.  After our lunch and more photo time, we returned to Springdale later in the day, had dinner, and retired for the night.  Dad tended to like to go to bed early, so it was early dinners (like at 5 PM), followed by some TV or reading, and then lights out at 9 PM. 
Image by Cliff Prothero

The next day was clear and brisk, and we drove into Zion for more photography and exploration.  We drove up to the end and parked at the Narrows parking lot, where we hiked the paved trail to its end.  The temptation to go on up the Narrows was great, but I wasn't too adventurous yet.  We soon found ourselves having spent a great deal of time in photography and exploration, but we had to go on our way to our next stop, Bryce Canyon

We left the canyon, drove up the switchbacks to the tunnels that led you into the upper reaches of the canyon, where we stopped at the roadside to photograph a stand of red-leafed maples, and the checkerboard mesa.  Then it was on east to Carmel Junction, where we turned north to go up to the turn off to Bryce.  The road was wide open, 2 lanes, and smooth.  The next thing I knew I was going 70 mph, and as we went over the crest of a hill I could see a car parked on the side of the road a couple of hundred yards ahead.  My suspicion was that it was Utah Highway Patrol, and I started to slow.  As we approached it my suspicions were correct, and it was a UHP Mustang.  As I passed, it pulled out, and followed me several yards back.  Unlike the CHP, which rides your tail, this guy was so far back that I wondered if he was really after me.  So, I pulled over, and he did too.  As he approached my window I pulled my wallet and registration out.  He was quite polite, and issued a ticket with dispatch.  I was soon on my way, and vowed to be a little more cautious on my drive. 

Soon we were at Bryce, and checked into the Ruby Inn – the only hotel in the
Enjoying the pond, image by Cliff Prothero
immediate area at the time.  We had a pleasant room, with a small duck pond just outside the door.  We took a drive into the park, going to the main amphitheater stop and taking time to do some photography.  The weather was beginning to look iffy, with clouds beginning to form.  We returned to the inn, and I spent some quiet time on a picnic table next to the pond.  We went to the diner there in the inn, and returned to the room for the night. 

During the course of the night the storm rolled in, and when we woke the next morning the grounds were wet with rainwater.  Dad and I had decided the night before to get up very early for the sunrise, and drive the park road to the south end of the park, where we could get a view of the entire amphitheater.  We got up in the dark, dressed warmly, and drove off.  The road climbed in elevation as we drove, and we ended up at the parking lot with snow all around.  Fresh
Image by Cliff PRothero
snow.  We walked along the trail on the rim just as the sun was coming over the peaks to the east.  We looked to see the morning sun creep along the face of the amphitheater, and took several photographs.  It was very cold – not freezing, but in the 40’s.  The sun bathed the face of the amphitheater, causing the formations to glow and cast dramatic shadows.  We stayed there for several minutes, enjoying the experience until the sun was fully up and the light was not as dramatic.  We went back to the car, then back to the hotel to check out. 

The drive from Bryce west to the main highway, then south through Carmel Junction, down to Kanab, and then to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon still is one of my all-time favorites.  The day was clear, the roads open (and I stayed at or under the speed limit), and the country was glorious in the post rain sunshine.  I remember passing farms and small towns, and seeing the beauty of the area with a great sense of happiness.    The climb up the road to the top of the Kaibab Plateau was stunning.  By the time we reached Jacob Lake we were in the forest, surrounded by ponderosa pines.  The drive continued south out of Jacob Lake, and into areas with broad mountain meadows and aspen trees.  And something else that we would learn is part of traveling in the fall: road construction.  We had to wait for a while, and then be escorted for a bit while the Arizona Dept. of Highways did its pre-winter road work.  But the drive was still beautiful, and soon we were at the gates for the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

Image by Cliff Prothero
As we drove past the gates and on down, dad became even more quiet than usual, and then pointed out a clearing where several years before him, along with my brothers Donald and Jim, had witnessed a massive accident.  They had been following a logging truck in our motor home, when some idiot in a car pulling a small trailer passed him and was in the process of passing the logging truck, when a car came from the other direction.  The driver of the car pulling the trailer veered into the logging truck, which flew off the road, sailing into the trees, clearing the path that he was now pointing out to me.  The logging truck’s full load of logs continued with the momentum, flattening the cab with the driver inside.  He was trapped for nearly 2 hours before rescue crews could get there to help.  He was dead before he was extracted.  The driver of the car that caused the accident stayed at the scene, and dad recalls the driver fainting when he realized the driver of the logging truck was dead.  After our family had returned from that trip I recall us getting a phone call from the district attorney of the county, getting a deposition from dad as the primary witness.

Our cabin, image by Cliff Prothero
The drive to the rim was wonderful, and when we arrived at the Lodge we secured one of the cabins that dad had reserved for our two-night stay.  The North Rim Lodge was warm and inviting, built with stones and timbers hewn from the area.  There are no “rooms” in the lodge itself, but several cabins from single-room rustic to 2- room nice cabins.  We had the former, which was nice with two double beds, a small bathroom, and a thin wooden door that communicated with the adjoining cabin.  We spent the afternoon exploring, hiking along the narrow Bright Angel Trail (that scared me to death), and witnessed the afternoon sun setting from the west.  The clouds from the storm were high in the sky, creating even more drama.  We had dinner in the cafeteria, and then returned to our cabin for the night, reading until we went to sleep.

The next morning broke clear and crisp, with sounds of chainsaws.  The forest service crews were coming in around the cabins, selectively cutting trees with deft skill.  Dad and I had breakfast in the lodge dining room, and I decided to spend the cool and crisp morning reading “Sherlock Holmes” on the terrace, while dad went and did some solo photography.  After lunch we decided to take the drive out to Point Imperial and Cape Royal.  This was a beautiful side-drive
Image by Cliff Prothero
that led towards the east, and as we drove along my mind’s eye saw in the landscape that Tolkien had described in “Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring” – and I could see the path that the Ringwraiths had ridden on.  We continued on the Point Imperial, then to Cape Royal.  We returned to the rim, spending the rest of the afternoon relaxing in our cabin and reading.  At one point a small herd of mule deer appeared outside our cabin, and I sat on the stoop and enjoyed them before some idiot whistling loudly came by and scared them away.  We decided to return to the points east for evening photography, but only got as far as Point Imperial.  We returned to dinner in the lodge, and went onto the large outdoor patio to watch a lightning storm over the south rim.  We returned to our cabin as it started to rain. 

That night in the cabin brought one of my funniest memories from any trip we’d taken.  Dad and I were reading, lying on our beds.  My bed backed up to the wall that adjoined the cabin next to ours.  As I’d mentioned, the walls and door were thin, and so it was easy to hear our neighbors – a couple – actively involved in lovemaking.  I kept concentrating on the book I was reading until I heard the unmistakable sound of a fart – a loud fart – followed by a distinct gassy smell.  It was then that the man commented “ah, honey! I HATE when you do that!”  I suppressed my laughter, but dad could still see me laughing and asked what was going on.  I couldn't tell him then, knowing that our neighbors would hear my explanation.  But I did tell him the next day. 

During the night the rains came down, and it offered us a spectacular morning view, with low clouds hugging the temples of the canyon, and the air full of moisture.  It rained on us as we packed the car, and drove from the rim.  The drive out through the meadows was made more beautiful with the rain, and soon we were off the Kaibab and heading down towards eastern part of the Colorado Plateau.  The weather in this part of the Colorado Plateau is predictably unpredictable.  As we left the plateau and headed east to the Marble Canyon, the clouds loomed ahead of us.  By the time we were driving along the Vermillion Cliffs we were experiencing rain.  Not a hard, torrential rain.  We continued on south, towards Flagstaff, where we got a room for the night. 

Oak Creek Canyon
Image by Cliff Prothero
The next morning was beautifully clear, and we headed south out of Flagstaff, on highway 89A, which led us through Oak Creek Canyon (one of my brother Jim’s favorite spots while he went to college in Flagstaff), through Sedona, through Jerome, Prescott, and finally into Wickenburg, where we stopped for the night at the El Rancho Motel, one of our regular stops on our trips.  We ate dinner at one of the local restaurants, then back to our nice room for the night where I watched the Angels in the playoffs.

Our final leg home was from Wickenburg, all the way home to San Clemente.  A wonderful trip, with a great deal of photography, miles, and wonderful time with dad.

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