The First Half - Lake Orion, MI to Orcas Island, WA

At the beginning of the 2019 race production season I finalized as much of my travel as possible for the entire year, including this 2-week road trip out west. For those of you that don't know, I'm also a race director, directing or co-directing 3 extreme triathlons, 1 very large kids triathlon, and 4 swimruns around the country from May-December. Since I'm also a professional photographer and love to shoot landscapes, I typically try to double up any of the trips as photo trips too, while I'm out there race directing.

So, in the beginning of 2019 I talked to my wife and we both agreed it would greatly add to my landscape, fine art portfolio, to drive some 7,000-miles, roundtrip from the Detroit Area out to Washington State, down to California, and back. All year I was excited about this trip. I take a lot of trips throughout the year but due to flying or driving somewhere specific, I'm kind of locked in to trying to photography just one area in different ways. I was very excited to see so many different areas of this country, many I hadn't seen since I was in a kid.


I left on Monday, September 16, quite a bit later than I wanted to. The two days prior I had been part of the Clarkston Art Fair, so I was quite behind getting out the door the next day. That first day/night I drove constantly going over 1,100-miles in 16-hours straight. I arrived at the Badlands National Park in South Dakota slightly after sunrise to witness the low golden glow of the sun really illuminating the rocks. It was even better than I remembered as a kid. The thing is, when traveling like I had planned, you really have to keep moving, which was far more unfortunate than I originally thought it would be because I would have liked to spend a day or more in most locations. I made my way through the scenic drive in the Badlands within just a few hours time, which is good because once the sun gets to a higher position in the sky the rocks begin to look washed out and show a lot less color than they do at sunrise/sunset. While I likely could have stayed all day shooting, regardless of the sun's position, I was on a schedule (had to get to Orcas Island in WA by Thursday night) so I decided to move on.


There's not a ton to say about Mt Rushmore. As an artist I'm in awe of, and have total respect/admiration for what Gutzon Borglum, his family, and the workers were able to carve into the side of a mountain. Not only is it historically patriotic it's also one of the most amazing artistic achievements since the formation of this country. Simply unbelievable and I had to at least stop by to check it out again. The last time I saw it was over 20-years ago. The site is small and the main area and amphitheater was under construction, which made the trip even quicker. Luckily the mountain/carvings were still visible, so I snapped a few photos, stared for a bit, and took off.


AT this point I had been up for over 22-hours, but the excitement of seeing these iconic sites gave me the boost of energy I needed to drive another 2.5-hours to get to Devil's Tower well before sunset. Originally I had planned on spending maybe an hour at Devil's Tower but when I got there there were some crazy storm clouds hovering around and I ended up walking the ring path around the monument for hours. There's something about the prayer clothes tied to the trees, the wind whistling and yet somehow being silent all around the rock formation, and the hundreds of buzzards/vultures circling overhead, that draws you in and calls to you to photograph, and at times just sit and appreciate the tower. Once the sun set I decided to push a bit further before I took a sleep break in a rest area along the way to Glacier.


It's about an 11-hour drive from Devil's Tower to Glacier. Having been up nearly 24 hours and already driving just over 20 hours, I decided I'd drive about 1-2 more hours and before midnight at some point, whenever I was too tired to safely drive, I'd pull over in a rest area and catch a few hours rest. I did just that. About 2 hours into the 11-hour drive I found a safe rest stop, pulled over, locked the car, and slept in the driver's seat for about 2-hours. To make this easy the rest of the blog just assume that whenever I said I "slept" in the car, it was done sitting in the driver's seat. I know I know, that sucks, but it really wasn't all that bad. Anyway, after about 2-hours sleep I woke up and decided to drive until I needed more sleep. So I gassed up, got some coffee, and I was on my way. Unfortunately with about 9-hours left, I only made it 3 more before I required another 2-hours sleep. So.... all caught up on 4 hours of sleep I pushed on through the last 6-hours and got to Glacier 15-hours after I left Devil's Tower, which is what I figured.

Despite my research I didn't realize just how big Glacier was and that it had multiple entrances that were over an hour apart, especially when the Road Into the Sun was closed at the halfway point, making things A LOT harder. I decided to go east, south, then to the north and hit the main entrance and McDonald Lake last. Everyone raves about Glacier but I have to say, I wasn't that impressed. I have to be honest though, I spent less than a day, did very little hiking, it was raining like crazy, and the main road (Into the Sun) that was supposed to be the main attraction was closed to through traffic and limited on the east side. Beyond all that I'm not sure on a different day I would have felt that much different. Having been to Alaska every year for the past 4-years, I think that Glacier reminded me of the Last Frontier, just on a smaller scale. The terrain, the water, the roads, everything looked like a carbon copy of Alaska, and I just got back from AK a couple months early. I just couldn't beat that been there done that feeling, so, I decided to head on.

The photos shown above are sunrise taken along the way (not in Glacier)


Before I get into the North Cascades I should say that I was planning on going to down to Yellowstone but the weather was looking horrid and given the time and distance to addd that in, I decided to scrap it and move on. Sure bad weather makes good photos but solid clouds with constant rain is probably the worst of the bad weather to shoot in, IMO, not worth it.

Leaving Glacier I was really not looking forward to another very long drive. This one was the second longest of the trip out so far at 12-hours to get to the west side of the North Cascades and my specific destination of Picture Lake, Mt Shuksan, and Mt Baker (ski area). In hindsight I probably wouldn't have done that drive the way I did with just a couple stops for 3 total hours of sleep. It was less about the sleep, I am always driving safely making sure I don't feel so tired I endanger myself or the people around me. I'm kind of a freak when it comes to sleep, I really don't need that much of it and when I know my body needs to catchup on a lot of it, I take the time to let it. The issue for me that I could have avoided with better planning was driving through a massive storm in Montana and then another one in Idaho. The first storm wasn't really in the mountains but it was in an area with no reception, transitioning from sunset to night, and boasted a supercell with lightening, rain, hail, and what I think was a tornado in the distance. To add to it there was no reception of any kind and once you were in the mix of it, you were committed, with no communication. Luckily, as I sat there on the side of the road debating on if I wanted to go into the monster or find somewhere to bunker down, a truck driver came by and said he'd plow through if I wanted to follow closely behind him, I took him up on it and powered through the storm. While it was definitely intense, I have to say that driving through that unbelievable storm was one of the most adrenaline filled moments of my life. It was absolutely crazy. Nothing like a Montana/Wyoming storm.

Once we were through the storm I decided to find another rest area and get some sleep. I slept for about 2-3 hours and hit the road again. This time hitting yet another storm as I climbed up and over the mountain ranges from Montana into and out of Idaho. I was certainly not expecting the roads to be so slick and so winding with such a steep rate of climbing and descending. Throw in about a million huge trucks and I found myself in another "fun" area.

Luckily once I made It down and out of that section of the mountains it was smooth sailing all the way to the west side of the North Cascades.


I arrived just before sunset and begin to setup at Picture Lake. Luckily there was another photographer that informed me the lake isn't so good at sunrise and told me I should follow him a couple more miles all the way to the top, so I did. We made it to the top with enough time during blue hour left to scope out some amazing spots to shoot from. The coolest thing about this location was that I witness something I had never seen before. Not only was the terrain unique and different from other places I have visited, there was also a valley/cove at the base of Mt Baker that was completely covered with a sea of fluffy clouds. It really was amazing. The sun started to come up and light the countryside really making the yellows, reds, and purples pop. I stated for about 2-hours shooting everything I could knowing that for me, this was the highlight of the trip, thus far. After I shot the Mt Shuksan and Mt Baker (the star of the morning) area, I got in the car and drove back down to picture lake, hoping the sun and wind would cooperate with the reflections the lake is known for. I was not disappointed. There was virtually no wind, scattered clouds, and very few people. They call it picture lake for a reason, and I was able to shoot some of the most amazing reflections I've ever seen. A great ending to the first part of the trip. After a couple hours of sleep within the park, it was time to head to Orcas Island for a few days work on the Odyssey SwimRun Orcas Island event. Next up: Orcas.