“This year has been a year of firsts for the National Parks Traveler Editor Kurt Repanshek. First-time visits to units of the National Park System, that is. This year Repanshek has taken road trips through Nebraska, Kansas, and New Mexico to explore overlooked gems of the park system. To discuss these and other must-see sites with us today are Rebecca Latson, Traveler’s contributing photographer, and Kim O’Connell, a Traveler contributing editor.”
To listen to the podcast, click on the image above.
The background image is one I captured during my visit to the Painted Hills Unit of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in Oregon.
The podcast interview was a fun one, and maybe it will encourage some of you out there to take your own road trip to one or more of these “overlooked gems” within the National Park System.
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I’m getting ready for a Big Road Trip to Yosemite National Park, Devils Postpile National Monument, and Great Basin National Park. During the pandemic. I’m not one of those vaccine- or Covid-deniers. I believe in wearing masks, keeping a social distance, and washing my hands (a lot!). I’ve taken the Covid vaccine and the other day got my annual flu shot. So here I am, preparing for this trip. How am I doing it in a pandemic? Actually, very similar – pretty much exactly the same – as when I traveled to Crater Lake National Park, Redwood National and State Parks, and Whiskeytown National Recreation Area back in 2020. For those of you interested in learning what preparations / precautions I took, read on. For those of you who roll your eyes and think the thing is a hoax or not serious at all (despite all the REAL facts, not Faux Fox News facts), then you might as well just move right along and look for something else to read.
Ok, with that out of the way, here I go.
I’m a solo traveler. I much prefer it that way – especially during the pandemic. I can go where I want, when I want, do what I want, and if I feel like stopping and spending 30 minutes or longer photographing an area of interest, I don’t have to worry about the other person in the car being bored out of their mind and wanting to get to their hotel room. I also don’t have to worry about entertaining anybody else. When I am on a photo trip, I am all about the photography.
I’m driving, not flying anywhere. Even if there was no pandemic, I still wouldn’t fly much at this point in time. I’m sick of it. I don’t really like to fly, but it’s a means to an end and I spent 20 years flying to national parks when I lived and worked in TX. So, when I finally was able to get the hell out and move to Washington state, one of the first things I did, a year later, was trade in my little Honda Fit (which was perfect for commuting to and from Houston) and purchase my first-ever SUV. And, I LOVE it! I can pack what I want in it without worrying about weight limits and, if needed, I can sleep in it. Besides all that, why the heck would I want to fly amongst people who bitch about wearing masks on the plane and then get totally unruly and cause themselves and everybody else problems? Plus, I enjoy driving. The journey to a national park is part of my enjoyment … although I am not looking forward to the 15-hour drive I’ll have during that first day of the trip.
I wear a medical id bracelet so in case of an emergency, first responders know who to call and can access my medical information. It’s a good idea to have one of these, whether you travel alone or in a group, actually. I use Road ID, but I know there are other similar operations out there.
I pack two large suitcases. One has all the clothing/underwear/toiletries/first aid supplies I’ll need (and then some, actually) for my time away, and the other one has nothing but food, condiments, and utensils (bowl, small plate, knife, fork, spoon). And my coffee maker. And my hot pot to boil water for reconstituting freeze-dried meals.
I spray my pants and shirts with permethrin to protect against ticks and other pests. I use DEET or other repellant to protect my bare skin from insect pests.
I wear bright / neon long-sleeve shirts. That way, my arms are protected against the sun and if something happens to me, I’ll hopefully be easy to spot off the trail.
I carry bear spray. When I flew, I had to wait until I landed and then find someplace that rented out bear spray. Now that I drive my own vehicle, I can get the bear spray and have it with me all the time.
Yes, I take all of my food with me. While this does not preclude going to a drive-through (sometimes, I crave McDonalds if it is nearby), I have absolutely no intention of eating inside any building other than my own room. What do I take with me? Well, it’s a personal preference, of course, but here ya go:
Ground coffee. I love my coffee (Peet’s Italian Roast), but usually wait until I return from a day in the field to drink it. I don’t want to have to pee all the time, and I need/want it while working through the day’s images when I return in the evening.
Ramen instant cup-of-soup (Maruchan is my favorite brand)
Annie Chun instant noodle soups
Freeze-dried meals of various brands: Mountain House, Backpacker’s Pantry, Peak Refuel, Alpineaire, Heather’s Choice. Mountain House is my fave because it’s always well-seasoned. The other brands tend to be a bit on the bland side so hot sauce or a little extra salt comes in handy – and I bring hot sauce, salt, and pepper with me. REI.com carries a great assortment of each brand, plus, if you are a member, you’ll get a dividend at year’s end (or thereabouts) that’s 10 percent of whatever you spent over the year.
Canned tuna in olive oil (the most flavorful, imo)
Gel packs for hiking (I like Clif Shot and Hammer brands). They taste good, give me a boost of energy, are easy to carry in my photographer vest pockets, and I don’t spend time trying to chew and swallow bars with the texture of sawdust
Toblerone and Hershey’s chocolate bars
Loaf of bread
Snack chips (of course!)
Little packets of mayonnaise, ketchup, and mustard
Clif Energy Bars (I love their nut butter-filled bars and their sweet & salty bars)
Little cartons of cream that I keep in a small, thermal, lunchbox. I love cream with my coffee. I’ll take half & half if there is nothing else available, but I hate those little packets of non-dairy creamer and I’ll only drink black coffee if I have no other recourse. Yes, I’m spoiled.
I bring my own water. I get those jugs of water at the grocery store. I used to think it was an old wives’ tale, but from personal experience, I can tell you that drinking water from the tap in different areas/states/counties/towns brings on – for me anyway – diarrhea, because each place has its own set of microbes in the water. Nothing to kill me, but def enough to create havoc with my digestive system for several days. Besides, I like keeping lots of water in the SUV, in general, so I can quickly refill my water bottles after a day out in the field.
I also bring Gatorade to help with replacing the salts lost during a hike. After reading Andrea Lankford’s “Ranger Confidential,” I discovered hyponatremia can be every bit as bad as dehydration.
In addition to the first aid supplies I pack in the suitcase, I have a small storage bin of first aid supplies, in addition to extra toilet paper, paper towels, Kleenex, rubbing alcohol and peroxide that I always keep in the vehicle.
I have rheumatoid arthritis and high blood pressure, so I always pack my meds with me.
I wear glasses, so always carry a spare pair in addition to prescription sunglasses and those sunglasses that fit over prescription glasses. After the emergency eye surgery I had (which caused me to cancel / reschedule some of my June Big Road Trip), I am cognizant of protecting my eyes to the point of hypervigilance.
I carry some sort of fire starter with me, just in case. It’s one of those 10 essentials.
Sleeping bag – I prefer to sleep in the bag on top of a hotel/cabin bed, so I take it with me. Also, if I am ever stuck in the middle of a snowstorm or something, I have something to sleep in / keep me warm.
Blanket for the car. Again, along similar lines if I am stuck somewhere and it gets cold, but I also use the blanket to cover up the stuff I have in the rear seat.
A couple of towels and a hand cloth or two – these are mainly to keep in the vehicle.
Extra hiking boots
A couple of small hunting knives – both for protection and in case I need to saw/chop/cut something.
A couple of tripods (I like carrying a spare heavier tripod for those times when it’s extremely windy). I also often use a lighter tripod as a hiking staff in addition to keeping my camera stable. A 2-fer-1 usefulness.
Hats for both sun and cold weather
Large flashlight, small flashlight, LED lantern, headlamp. I have two headlamps – one that shines regular light, and one that only shines red light suitable for night photography.
Clorox disinfectant wipes, Wet Wipes, hand sanitizer – I used the Clorox wipes for wiping down everything I might conceivably touch once I am at a hotel or in a cabin. It’s the first thing I do after checking in and getting my room key.
Lots and lots of face masks. My sister is a seamstress extraordinaire who spent an entire year (actually, she is still doing it) sewing for the family these awesome facemasks with three layers of fabric in fun patterns – most of mine are all national park- or camping/travel-themed.
Extra trash bags
Now, for the camera stuff. Again, I’ve got that kitchen sink mentality. If I’ve got them, I’ll take them. That, plus I have, indeed, broken a couple of lenses and a couple of cameras during trips to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park (super strong wind blew over the not-so-sturdy tripod and camera setup) and Yellowstone National Park (camera and telephoto lens too close to the passenger side door and fell out when I opened the door). I always try to be so careful with all my camera gear, but accidents happen. Trust me when I tell you that while it certainly exercises one’s creativity when framing a photo with a lens you don’t really want to use for a particular subject but have no other alternative, it is also a First World crappy feeling, not to mention expensive when repairing or replacing.
Tons of memory cards. During the very first photography workshop I ever attended (Arizona Highways Photoscapes) back in 2008. I brought along plenty of memory cards, but ended up giving a few of them away to people who had only brought a single memory card with them. You need to bring plenty of memory cards with you so you don’t waste valuable photo time trying to decide which photos to keep and which to delete to make room for future shots.
Extra spare batteries. Very important. Granted, most cameras nowadays have a pretty good battery life, but some cameras – I’m looking at you, Fujifilm – have a battery life that sucks for air. I love the GFX series, but, at least with the GFX100 and GFX100s – even when you turn the camera off, the settings still show up on the top LCD screen, and that, in turn, leaches away the battery juice over time. I don’t know why Fujifilm did that. I could care less what my camera settings are when I turn the camera off. Anyway, I bring plenty of spare batteries with me, as well as a phone charger for the car and a separate one for my hotel room/cabin.
Battery chargers – spare batteries will only work so long before they need more charging.
Filters – graduated neutral density (grad ND), neutral density (ND), circular polarizer (CPL) and regular UV protection. All of them are “thin mount,” meaning you can’t stack filters on top of each other. I use this type of filter because I don’t like the vignetting I get when using a wide-angle lens with a regular filter. I’m also pretty redundant and pack plenty, because I’ve been known to crack one of two filters at times. Saves my lenses … well, most of the time – except for that Hawaii trip …
Wireless shutter releases – Ok, I use them for selfie profile pics of me and my camera against a beautiful landscape.
Lenses – I’m redundant with the lenses, too, but that’s because I have room to pack them and the memories of broken lenses still haunts me. The main lenses I always take with me, spare room or not, are:
Telephoto 100 – 400mm
For the Fujifilm cameras: 23mm (equivalent to 18mm), 30mm (equivalent to 25mm), 45-100mm zoom (equivalent to 36-79mm)
If I have more room, then I’ll also consider packing the following:
11-24mm (Canon) or 12-24mm (Sony)
If I flew, I’d try to take 2 – 3 camera bodies with me. Driving, I can take more. Why so many? The memory of damaging a couple of camera bodies ….
Lens cleaning tissues and microfiber cloths
Travel laptop – 15”
Several portable hard drives – redundancy is a photographer’s best friend, so I like to download the photos from the memory card onto two separate hard drives in addition to the laptop. I then pack away the used memory cards rather than reformat them at the time, because I’m a pessimist and am always worried that something will happen to laptop or hard drives during the trip. I keep the photos on the memory cards until I’ve returned home, and then I reformat them.
I have considered taking a memory card backup storage device like Nexto or Gnarbox but haven’t read enough reviews about them. However, if there was ever a time I would not be able to take the laptop, then I’d plunk the credit card down and get one of those devices.
Ok, let’s talk about lodging. I wrote earlier that I much prefer a room to a tent. I’m 60 and have had rheumatoid arthritis since my mid-twenties, so while I could still car camp, I won’t ever be doing much in the way of backcountry backpacking, and I just much prefer a room, if I can afford it. During the pandemic, I look to stay in cabins, which are usually set apart from one another and I don’t have to worry about walking a crowded hallway, taking a crowded elevator, pushing elevator buttons used by others, or taking a crowded stairwell. That’s not always an option, but for this trip, I managed to get a cabin for the Yosemite portion, and a sort of motel-type room at a small resort near Great Basin national park. If I had done the smart thing and invested in a little travel trailer, that would be my ideal mode of travel. For now, though, I’ll go with my SUV and renting a room/cabin.
Traveling solo has its rewards and its setbacks. I’ve always traveled solo and revel in being on my own, with time to myself. It’s liberating to be apart for a bit from other people/family. When I return home, I appreciate even more seeing family and sleeping in my own comfy bed. Solo travel is not necessarily for everybody, though. I know one woman who would never ever want to travel by herself. She absolutely needs to have someone else with her. And, if I have car problems, it’s just me, myself, and I having to fix the issue.
Regarding safety, because I travel solo, I do what I can to make sure my family knows where I am and can be contacted in case of an emergency. I leave names, addresses and phone numbers of where I’m staying with my family, and make sure to text, call, or email them whenever possible, just to let them know I am ok. I take my iPhone and wear my Apple Watch because both have GPS in them, which I have turned on. I also have an App called Find My Friends that my sister also has, so we can keep track of one another. When out in the field, I try to be as observant of my surroundings as I possibly can and tend to stick to the more-utilized trails.
I think that about covers what I do when traveling and the precautions I take regarding the pandemic. If you’ve made it to the end of the post without rolling your eyes at some point, I congratulate you. Just remember, this is how I roll. Not everybody takes the kitchen sink with them. Not everybody likes to travel by themselves. Not everybody wants to pay or has the money to pay for a hotel or lodge room. Not everybody likes to drive – especially long drives. Different people have different modes of travel, and they take different things with them that they want/need. Perhaps my post, here, will give you an idea for your own travels, or maybe not. However you travel, please stay safe, and please keep in mind the safety of others. If you travel to a national park, remember to bring your masks, because wearing one is required to go inside any park building. It’s a small thing to do, doesn’t hamper your supposed freedoms, and really does protect other people – even the ones you don’t like.
Copyright Rebecca L. Latson, all rights reserved.
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One year ago, today, I watched the movers load up my stuff and leave to put it in their temporary storage. I, in turn, hopped into my little car and began my almost-3-week road trip adventure to central Washington, stopping at 5 national parks and 1 national recreation area before finally arriving at my destination. It took me 2 days to get out of Texas (the drive from Houston to Amarillo was long, hot, humid, and boring, and all my Hershey chocolate bars melted, but I was glad it was interstate). When I crossed into the New Mexico border, I burst out crying from happiness.
Yes, yes, more shameless self-promotion. I previously listed a calendar I made with Lulu.com. I also made calendars using other websites as well, for quality control and comparison. As such, I’ve decided I really, really like Zazzle’s products much better and have set up a storefront there, with calendars representing the national parks I’ve visited this year. I’ve got a couple more calendars to go, but if you are interested in taking a peek (they make great gifts), then click on any of the images to be taken to my storefront.
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A serene morning at Schwabacher Landing, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
I’m all done with my national park portion of my road trip move from Texas to Washington State. I’ve visited 5 national parks on this trip and have come away with some stunning photos (imo). I’m in Bozeman, Montana, visiting friends and will leave tomorrow to continue on to central Washington. It’s been an awesome trip, so far, but I’m ready to see the end of the road (literally).
Here is an image I captured one early morning at Schwabacher Landing in Grand Teton National Park. No visit is complete without a stop in this area. Be warned, though. Except for a very short portion of paved road, the rest of the route is a gravelly, bumpy, potholey drive to the parking area. And it’s best to arrive in the morning, not only for lovely lighting but to beat the crowds (if you visit in the summer). Do walk along the trail as far as you can, because there are many views with still water and mountain reflections all along the way.
A full moon and the beginning of sunrise over the Grand Teton Mountains, Wyoming.
I was so very tired the day before from all the driving and hiking of the previous days, that I didn’t think I could get up early enough to do any sunrise photography. Besides, I had not really scouted out anyplace per se. So I figured I’d just sleep a little later that morning. Then, at about 4am, I had a HUGE cramp in my left calf. This was the same leg in which I’d pulled the calf muscle while on the North Rim. The pain was so bad that it woke me immediately and I didn’t get back to sleep. So, I figured what the heck, might as well get up and get going. I checked out of the hotel in Jackson and drove to an overlook I’d passed by a day earlier on my way to the park. Turned out to be a nice spot. And it was cold! Lucky for me I had my wool cowboy hat with me and I was wearing long sleeves. As I stood there getting pre-dawn and sunrise photos, I had to grin to myself that I was no longer in heat and humidity and the air was sweet with the fragrance of sage.
Copyright Rebecca L. Latson, all rights reserved.
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A perfect end to a perfect day in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Where, indeed, will that rainbow’s end find you? I’m hoping for more photographic adventure (ok, and maybe gainful employment, too, once I get to central Washington).
I’ve been staying in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah, for the past couple of days. Every afternoon, sometimes starting as early as 12 noon, the monsoon rains would drift through, either where I was, or far off into the distance. For this photo, the rain had just left the Bryce Canyon Lodge area and I knew there would be some great stormclouds in the distant scenery. So, I hotfooted it to the Rim Trail in the Sunset Point area and sure enough, there was a combination of sun and stormclouds and, to my delight, a beautlful rainbow, as well.
Heading out of Bryce Canyon today and on to Park City, UT, where I will finally get to meet face-to-face, the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of the National Parks Traveler, Kurt Repanshek. I’ve been contributing articles and photos to the Traveler since 2012, but we’ve only ever communicated via email (mainly) and telephone (sporadically).
After spending the day in Park City, it’s on to Jackson WY and then to Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Parks, where I will spend time wandering and photographing before arriving at the end point in central Washington.
See you up the road!
Copyright Rebecca L. Latson, all rights reserved.
Note: This was written yesterday but it turns out the spotty internet at Bryce Canyon Lodge was just not strong enough to upload everything. So, a day late with this post.
After my visit to Petrified Forest National Park, in eastern Arizona, I drove west and then north to the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park, where I stayed for a couple of days. During that time, small forest fires broke out and distant thunderstorms showed up (it’s the summer monsoon season in the West and Southwest). I could see all of this from a small overlook perched just below the Grand Canyon Lodge.
I happened to overhear a visitor mention that he really liked the North Rim better than the South Rim because they could do so much more on the North Rim. I thought about that for a moment, and decided that he was correct. Granted, there are more stoppable view areas and more services and infrastructure at the South Rim. This, of course, means more people and more tour buses. However, for do-able trails that don’t require hiking waaaaay down into the canyon and then waaaay back up, I’d say the North Rim wins. In terms of beauty and great photography, both areas tie for that position, I think.
The North Rim is 1,000 feet higher in elevation than the South Rim, and it’s far more forested, sitting on the Kaibab Plateau. If you visit, then be on the lookout for a small bison herd that comes through the park along Hwy 67, and see if you can spot the beautiful and unusual Kaibab squirrel. I was lucky enough to see both, but only lucky enough to photograph the bison herd.
Copyright Rebecca L. Latson, all rights reserved.
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Twenty-one years ago, I moved from Washington State down to southeast Texas to be with my aging parents. Found a job, found a nice (but old) apartment right next door to my parents, got really involved in photography and did a fair amount of traveling to see and photograph many neat things, thanks to the salary from that job.
I never really felt like Texas was home, though. I was born in Montana; I’m a mountain gal. I told Mom and Dad when I moved that I would never spend the rest of my life in Texas and ultimately, I would move back to the mountains.
In 2 days, I’ll be hitting the open road from southeast Texas *back* to Washington State. I’m done with Texas. And I’m pretty certain Texas is done with me; I am not a Texan.
My home is packed except for a few items that I’ll box up before the movers arrive. I’ve scheduled all the disconnects. I will have to return my ATT internet equipment (insert sad-face emoji). I need to run a few other errands. But, I’m ready! My cameras are ready! My car is ready – well, it should be ready after a tuneup, replacement of some things, new tires, and a new windshield (don’t ask, it’s one of those unforeseen things that happened the other day).
I have a road trip itinerary mapped that will take me almost 4 weeks to complete (provided nothing unforeseen occurs). It will be like the 4-week vacations my family used to take in the camper every summer when I was a little girl. I’m stopping at national parks I’ve never visited and a national park I have visited. I’ll be seeing a couple of friends along the way, as well. I’m calling this Becky’s Big Road Trip.
I’ll be taking you all along with me via my photos, so stay tuned.
Hey there! As you can see, I’m packed for a trip. Heading out on a 13-hour drive over to Big Bend National Park, Texas. I visited this past Dec 2013 and liked it so much I wanted to go back in the spring. As you can see, I’m taking everything but the kitchen sink. I’m taking about 3 times what I normally take when I fly. And, in addition to my Canon 5D Mk III and Canon 1DX, I’ve rented a Nikon D800 and Nikkor 24-70mm lens. This photo was taken with the Nikon. I’m totally impressed, and while I have invested too much in my Canons to divest myself of them, I can tell you that my next camera purchase is probably going to be a Nikon D800 or whatever iteration they have by the time I am able to afford one.
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