Semester at Sea 2006 Reunion and Road Trip

Lucid Illusion > Photography > SAS Reunion and Road Trip 2006 > The Road Trip

The Road Trip

The Long Haul Across Kansas

Our journey began around 4:30 PM in Lawrence, Kansas. The goal was Great Sand Dunes in Colorado by sunrise. While not much else can be said for Western Kansas it does have beautiful sunsets.

A Kansas Sunset
A Kansas Sunset on I-70

While there had been aspirations to stop in a national park in every state we passed through the only option for our route through Kansas was Nicodermus we weren't to pass through that area till after 9:00 PM.

Great Sand Dunes

We arrived in Great Sand Dunes, located in southern Colorado, at about 4:00 AM. This left about an hour and forty-five minutes for a quick nap before heading into the dunes for sunrise photos. Actually the original plan was an hour nap but the snooze alarm was just too tempting. Hiking into the dunes was interesting. Sand is much harder to trek and the dunes are deceptively far away. Luckily the snooze alarm didn't cause any trouble as there was a mountain range delaying the onset of morning light.

Sunrise across the dunes.

Amy's sleep deprived dunes adventure.

While we had been advised that late afternoon was the best time to visit the Great Sand Dunes for the deep afternoon shadows it followed that sunrise should produce a similar effect. If I were to change anything it would be that I would have liked to have arrived well rested and ready for the tiring hiking through sand to the top of Star Dune, the tallest dune in the park. That is to be able to be in position and setup for the sun rise light.

The dunes. The distances are deceptive.

Mesa Verde

After sunrise at the dunes and breakfast at a local diner it was off to Mesa Verde.

This was my second visit to Mesa Verde, though my only clear recollection of the first visit was climbing the walkways back up to the street level — likely the same ones from Cliff Palace pictured below.

Balcony House
Balcony House

The return stairs from Cliff Palace.

As usual this area of the country is excellent for photography. Even early afternoon produces some very nice shadows and colors on the rock surfaces.

Cliff Palace
Cliff Palace

Canyonlands: Needles

Canyonlands was the most anticipated stop of the trip, particularly the Needles district, and it didn't disappoint.

We arrived slightly later than planed and began our search for a camp site. We first found a private camp ground just outside of the Needles district but, fortunately, decided to continue in to have a look around before setting up and paying the fee. After a brief photo stop for the setting sun and a 5 minute drive further into the park we found the park camp sites — and one with a spectacular view of the trailing edge of the sunset.

Attention to detail.

While waiting for the sun to start casting it's glow on the formations of Needles I took an opportunity to play with Amy's new macro lens. I find that I've always enjoyed macro photography, and playing with this lens convinced me that I need to add a macro to my collection.

A lucky grab of a campsite with a beautiful view.

And continuing my urge to expand my photography equipment collection I really need a speed light to do proper lighting. That and a diffuser to make the shots look less pasted together (which I assure you, this one isn't).

Sunrise at the Needles.

One of the various desert flora in a dormant phase.

Me and my shadow [with accompaniment].

Another thing that I have found that I like in other peoples photography is slightly off horizons, they seem to give a nice action feel. This one was a "flip of the wrist" shot that I was really taking to just be a bit of an imp.


Arches has an excellent selection of sites and photo ops. With as many sites there is one that is without a doubt the place to see, Delicate Arch.

Searching for equipment near the Snophinxat.

Getting into Delicate Arch is a 30 minute drive in from Moab and then a 2 mile hike in, the sign says 1.5 miles but we decided that was euphuism — though we forgot the GPS on our second trek to verify our suspicions. The arch sits out on the edge of a giant bowl of rock and has excellent position for shadows at sunset and sunrise. The day started at arches just after noon. A camp area in Moab had been pre-selected and we got in, setup camp, showered and took short nap before heading into the park. For the afternoon we visited Park Avenue, Balancing Rock, our custom named formation the Snophinxat, Cove of Caves and a few others. After returning to Moab for dinner we drove back into Arches for the hike to Delicate Arch. Through a combination of will and sleep deprivation we also made it in for sunrise the next morning.

Trail Cairns.

Cove of caves.

The skies here are just gorgeous, be sure that you bring a polarizing filter along on any expedition to this area.

The position of the moon was complete luck.

The Delicate Arch.

Just below the arch and beyond the rocks in the foreground is the bowl in the rock. One can easily walk around to the arch itself — though only do for a bit, some of us want photos without people in them at times!

Arch + Moon.

For this shot I was really wishing that my lens had been just a little bit wider. I was also getting some interesting, and desired, effects by shooting with a polarizing even in low light. I have small folding travel tripod that has served me well but I am sure that my next excursion will require both a more substantial tripod and a remote release for these kinds of shots.

We were really lucky to get this clear of a view of the arch.

Late sunset from Delicate Arch.

Sunrise at Delicate Arch.

Back at the arch for sunrise. We actually made it in early enough that we had the whole place to ourselves. Just at the trail head we ran into a photographer who had been in shooting night shots of the arch and the moon. He had some interesting things to say about the angles go get and then offered up one of his frames (his site) of another park in Nevada.

Now what could she be waving about?

Nap time in the arch.

Las Vegas

No link needed here and unfortunately no photos either — Vegas was down time from the furious pace of the previous few days. We stayed one night in The Stratosphere, spent some time relaxing in the hot tub and a few hours wandering the strip looking for dinner. Then the first morning to sleep in before heading off to Mojave, Joshua Tree and San Diego.


Our stay in Mojave was short, just a drive through and a stop for lunch on our way to Joshua Tree. Anticipating higher gas prices in California we had filled up just inside Nevada but were still shocked to see petrol advertised at $4.39 a gallon just before the exit to Mojave. Luckily this turned out to be an outlier but was at least cause for temporary alarm.

About this time disaster struck. While preparing for lunch I discovered that the container housing our reserve supply of Baklava had popped open at high altitude and drenched the delectable contents in ice water.

Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree turned out to be a real gem of the trip. The stop was actually an unplanned addition after we realized how much time could be taken between Las Vegas and San Diego.

Macro Cactus
A macro view of a cactus.

This stop was mostly a driving tour but we did get time in for a short mile hike through the Hidden Valley region. Even for an overcast day the lighting was beautiful, lots of great contrast between the geological formations and the sky.

Hidden Valley
Hidden Valley

Park Rangers seem to be an interesting breed. A brief stop into the Joshua Tree visitor center to query about the best sites to see in our slightly limited time turned up a ranger who had an interesting obsession with a particular street corner. He must have mentioned five times that "even though it looks like you turn on the map you should drive straight".

Sky bloom
A blooming Yucca variant set against the sky.


Semester at Sea
Lucid Illusion

All images were captured with a Canon 20D and one of the following lenses: 17-40/4L, 70-200/4L, 50/1.4, 50/2.5 macro.

Page last updated Jun 22, 2006.

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