While being a vandweller isn’t always easy or pleasant, I believe it is more than makes up for all that with all the wonderfully new and exciting things it brings into our lives. A perfect example of that is winter, when bad weather can occasionally make our lives uncomfortable, sometimes even miserable! But then comes glorious spring! While there are low moments in winter, the highs of spring, summer and fall tremendously more than make up for them! That’s the advantage of being fully, deeply alive, the brief lows make the intense highs all the sweeter!
In Arizona, the coming of Spring brings the first of summer’s heat and since I don’t like heat that means I have to move to a cooler location. But I don’t want to move haphazardly, I want it to be in the general direction of wherever I intend to spend my summer. Otherwise, I would waste time and money back-tracking. That raises the question of where am I going to spend my summer? So for the last few weeks I’ve been pondering a travel schedule for the coming year. Fortunately that’s one of the most pleasurable tasks of being a vandweller. The whole country lies open to me to go and do and see anything at all I want! My life is such a blank slate that I can do almost anything and go nearly anywhere I want.
Living Each Year as if it’s My Last
One thing I’ve decided to do is live each year as if it will be my last. When the year ends, I want to be able to look back on it and say, “That was a year Well-Lived!” As I thought of this coming year like it might be my last, I wondered where I would go on my last year on this earth? What would I do with each precious moment and day? The answer to that question will be different for everybody, but for me there is no doubt what it is; I’ll be going to the most beautiful places I know and seeing them through a camera viewfinder. Without doubt, I am most alive and happiest during the act of capturing stunning beauty and creating art as I understand it. In the past that’s meant moving fast and far to see and capture as much as possible. But at this point in my life I’ve gotten over that and want to spend more time in each place “being” with it and not just “buzzing through.”
Not only that, but I’m still on a budget so I can’t waste money when I travel, I need to budget it and get the most bang for my buck. I’m living like this may be my last year on earth, but I’m planning like I may be here for awhile so I have to stretch my money to last more than just this year. It’s a hard balance to strike, but one I think we all must come to grips with in our own way.
Stretching Your Travel Budget
For most of us, the main limiting factor is our budget. Right now gas is still relatively cheap so I’m planning to take advantage of that and travel more than usual. But even with cheap gas I still need to stay within my budget and keep it lean and mean. The main way I can do that is to slow down and not travel much per month. That way, no one month has to pay for all the gas, instead, it gets stretched out over multiple months. The more months the better! Fortunately, like I said, that’s how I prefer to travel.
I’ve been planning on spending this summer in Washington and Oregon with my main emphasis on Mt. Rainer National Park. I want to spend at least a month in that area. The more I study my possible route it looks like I’ll be driving about 5000 miles round-trip. It could be more or less, depending on how ambitious I am. I have an app on my Smart Phone called Road Trip Calculator, and according to it if I drive 5000 miles at 12 mpg and average $3.50 a gallon the trip will cost me about $1500 dollars in gas. That’s way over my budget for one month so I’ve got to spread it out. If I spread it out over 6 months, it’ll only cost $250 per month, that’s doable for me so I’m planning at least a 6 month trip moving slowly between places I love and want to spend time in. I’m looking for places that can be a basecamp and take short trips to nearby places. That gives me the most bang for my buck!
Using Guide Books to Plan the Route and For the Best Weather
One thing I always do when I travel is to plan for the best weather. I don’t want to be someplace where Cody and I will be miserable from the heat, nor do I want to be where there is a known rainy season and I’m constantly stuck inside all the time. Because Nature Photography is my main hobby, one thing I do is buy guide books that tell me when and where to go to get the best photographs of an area. Fortunately there is a really excellent guide to both Oregon and Washington called “Photographing Washington” and “Photographing Oregon” both by Greg Vaughn. They are part of a series of Photography Guide books either written or published by Laurent Martres. The first three in the series are on the Southwest covering Utah, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and some of Texas. I’ve been using them for years and I consider them totally essential to anybody who is exploring the Southwest. Don’t go without them! You can buy them from Amazon here:
Photographing Washington–Highly Recommended!
Photographing Oregon Guide Book
Photographing California – Vol. 1: North
Photographing the Southwest: Volume 1–Southern Utah
Photographing the Southwest: Volume 2–Arizona
Photographing the Southwest: Volume 3–Colorado/New Mexico
Using those guide books I saw that the very best weather for photographing wildflowers in Mt Rainer NP was in mid-July and August and for shooting Olympic NP and the Washington coast was in September. That works perfectly because it spreads out my travel time nicely. All I needed was to find places to spend May, June and early July along the route to Mt Rainer NP.
June and Early July in Jackson, Wyoming
That’s an easy choice for me! Last year I fell totally in love with Jackson, Wyoming as a basecamp to explore both the Grand Tetons NP and Yellowstone NP. June is the perfect time to be there to photograph not only the beautiful snow-capped mountains but also wildlife. The Tetons and Yellowstone have the very best concentration of wildlife viewing and photography of anywhere in the lower 48 states and they are at their best in June. The high country is still snowed in but the valleys are clear and have spring growth for them to eat. That brings the very hungry bears, moose and elk right down into the valley, and the wolves to follow them. I really want to be there in June!! So that’s where I will spend June and part of July, but that leaves the question of where will I be in May that’s along that path?
Moab in May
No doubt about where I want to spend May; Moab! It’s directly in line from Flagstaff Arizona to Jackson, Wyoming and it is one of my very most favorite places in the country. Like Jackson it’s very close to two amazing National Parks, Arches and Canyonlands. I’ve been to both numerous times but I just can’t get enough of them! Their main appeal to me right now is star-photography which I have just started into. It’s not enough to get a nice shot of the Milky Way or star trails, you have to have an interesting foreground. There is nothing as good for that as the arches and beautiful red rock landscape of that country! While I’m there I might do some white-water rafting and do at least one rappel.
So as of now I am limiting myself to just a few places. The ones that I’m fairly certain of are:
- Moab, Utah in May
- Jackson, Wyoming in June
- Mount Rainer NP, WA in mid-July to mid-August for wildflowers
- Olympic National Park, WA in September
- Smith Rock State, Oregon depending on the weather
Those I feel strongly about and are almost certain, but along that path there are some other truly wonderful places I want to see and so I’ll fit them in as time, money and energy allow. Because they often mean lots of driving to get to them or they conflict with another schedule none of them are certain. I don’t have a return path planned so some of these might be on the return in the fall. But often by then I’m tired or running out of money so I just skip them and head straight back home. That’s one of the drawbacks of getting older! Here are those ideas:
- Alabama Hills near Lone Pine California
- Monument Valley
- Oregon Coast
- Ouray or Crested Butte, Colorado in July for wildflowers
- Cody and Pinedale, Wyoming for their museums
- BearTooth Highway, Montana
- Glacier Bay NP
- Canadian Rockies.
So those are my basic ideas for this summer. If you are interested in traveling part or all of it with me, let me know, or if you are in the area of my travels let me know and feel free to drop by, my camp is always open to my readers! If you know those areas I’d love to have your suggestions about places to see along the path! All too often we drive right past amazing things but don’t know about them. That’s the advantage and power of being part of a tribal community, combining our knowledge and experience! And of course, I’ll take lots of photos and overwhelm you with them!
May we all live this summer like it’s our last, and at the end of the year be able to honestly say, “That was a year well-lived!”
(My friend Steve is selling his Honda EX 650 generator and it’s such a good deal I thought I would tell you about it. This is the generation before the current inverter generators so it isn’t as quiet and doesn’t have the eco-throttle but what it does have is the same legendary quality and reliability. Because of that they’ve held their value and are still highly sought after. Steve has the 650 watt model and with a good battery charger you can keep your batteries charged up and run small appliances. It’s in very good shape, including a new carburetor and he’s asking $300 or best offer. We are camped just north of Prescott, AZ where you can pick it up or he will mail it but you have to pay for shipping and packing. If you are interested you can e-mail me and I’ll put you in contact with Steve. firstname.lastname@example.org )