Eclipse Or Bust, Part Two
More Chronology Of The Trek West
This is blog article number three, in my series on the Great American Eclipse Road Trip 2017, if you haven’t read the second article it can be found here: Eclipse Or Bust
If you are new to this blog series, let me bring you up to speed:
- Taught eclipse workshops at Midwest Photo Exchange
- Decided to go shoot eclipse, a long way from home
- Packed up a ton of gear
- Headed West, like way, way West
- Currently camping in a trailer in Kansas City, MO
Ok so those are the Cliff Notes so far, and if you were with us for the first two articles, you will know that the trip is underway and we have already visited St. Louis for so impromptu shooting there. We settled in, in a RV campground on the outskirts of Kansas City and it’s now time to pay the piper. Okay, that’s overly dramatic, really we need to find the campground office, pay for the previous night and get the code to the shower building. Yes even camping has gone high tech, without the code, no restroom, no shower, no clean teeth.
Cleaned up and packed up, it’s now time to batten down the hatches (and the roof) on the camper and continue the trek westward. I-70 beckons and we must be moving along, if we are to get there in time to scope out our shooting location ahead of time.
Passing Dorothy and Toto in the right lane, we break speed limits and throw caution to the wind. And I do totally mean we have thrown caution to the wind, we have no reservations for campground spaces along the way or at our destination. This trip is a total flyer, thrown together at the last minute, in complete haste. Now reflect upon that little insight as I discuss some of our observations along the road.
Just past Kansas City and not to far into the State of Kansas there are two things to take note of:
- One, there’s a hell of a lot of fields here. I am convinced, that if the Apollo Eleven moon landing was a hoax, then this is where it must have been filmed.
- Lots and lots of signs, all of them warning about the upcoming Eclipse event and the ensuing traffic that will result. As of now, we are not even close to where totality will be happening, by hundreds of miles, so this seems ominous.
So, really I could care less about Apollo Eleven, that’s so eleven seconds ago. However the warning signs, lit in bright orange, every 10 or so miles, are seriously starting to make me think about the less than nailed down strategy for this trip. I assume these signs are to serve as quasi-prozac for the drivers viewing them. Kind of a fait a complete as it were. Yet, with all the signs, I am not seeing any more traffic than normal. On the other hand, still two days before the event, so who knows.
Eventually the picturesque plains of Kansas yield to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and Denver shines ahead like a beacon in the night. I have always had a fond spot for the “Mile High” city, but unfortunately this trip doesn’t allow time for a thorough visit. As we plan to cook all of our own meals, for the duration of the trip, we do our grocery and supply shopping on the outskirts of town. Fully supplied, minus of course the things we forgot (there’s always something), we hop on I-25 and begin a swing northward.
As it gets later in the evening, I start to check into campgrounds in the Estes Park area, or better yet in Rocky Mountain National Park. A flurry of phone calls, had me find no room at the inn, so to speak. Walmart parking lots are notorious for allowing motor homes to spend the night in their parking lots. But I wasn’t sure if this was a universal rule, a quick consultation with Google, had me believing that overnighters weren’t welcome on Walmart lots, in Colorado. Not sure if this is a Walmart thing, or a State of Colorado thing, either way it’s a thing.
A little noodling of the problem, had us deciding that a truck stop was probably our best bet, given the time of night and where we were. Siri explained to us all about Johnson’s Corner, a truck stop near Loveland, CO. Johnson’s Corner is famous for its Cinnamon Rolls and has apparently been a fixture, known to truckers in a multi-state area for many decades. A quick check with the gal at the diesel fuel island, had us a location where we could call it a night. It’s pretty funny to see a popup camper amongst a sea of tractor-trailer rigs. Lucky for us, the trailer’s exhaust fan worked well in dispelling the fumes of the nearby parked stock haulers. Before we head further West, can’t say enough about the shower’s and the service at Johnson’s Corner. If you have to camp, at a truck stop, this is a first class choice.
Next stop, on our journey, is Estes Park, tourist town and gateway city to the eastern portal of Rocky Mountain National Park. I have lost track of the number of times I have been in both the city and the park. Both are fantastic places and showcase what is best in Colorado hospitality and natural scenic beauty.
Before heading into the park, for a day of photography, we decide to stop at the Fall River Visitors Center, and there we are fortunate enough to meet “Doc.” Doc is, as best I can determine, a retired physician and if I had to guess a volunteer at the park. A gregarious and cheerful man, exceedingly easy to engage and very pleasant to talk with, who seems to know the surrounding area quite well.
A chat with Doc and we quickly learn that the park is basically “sold out”, with all the campgrounds being full. Doc being the font of information that he is though, has a plan for us. He says “now this isn’t a guarantee, but if you head over to Timber Creek Campground, someone will be leaving and you’ll find a spot.” Additional conversation with Doc has him providing us with a route, that is back roads and remote, but avoids all the traffic on I-80 that will be heading towards Jackson, WY. Doc points out which gas stations we should visit along the way, the best spots to eat and generally advises us where to find “the kind of Americans we should be supporting.” Thanks Doc your advice, was a life saver and spot on! Hope to see you again in a future visit!
Based upon Doc’s advice, we have a new route and a new lease on sanity…
We find Timber Creek Campground and sure enough an empty spots awaits us and some wildlife as well. Dads, moms and babies making the best of the day and we try to stay out of the way.
A part of the plan, called for us to spend the day shooting in Rocky Mountain National Park. One of my favorite places in the park is Fall River Road. A single lane dirt track that works its way up the back side of the Deer Mountain and brings one into the back side of the Trail Ridge Road Visitors Center.
The road is steep and requires constant attention in order to make sure you don’t make an unplanned descent. It offers a multitude of places to stop and grab gorgeous images, including a waterfall or two. Definitely worth the drive and the occasional shock to the spinal cord that the road provides.
Fall River Road offers stunning views of alpine meadows and large sweeping mountain bowls. In the image below we are near the top and can see the Trail Ridge Road Visitors Center perched on the edge. Doesn’t matter how many times I drive it, it always provides new views, new subjects and new images. I have photographed waterfalls, meadows, wildlife and models along Fall River Road, will always be a special place to me.
Wrapping up the day, finds us at Bear Lake, and just in time. Bear Lake is one of those stops that’s almost to good to be true. Easy to get to, a simple hike to get to photographically pleasing viewpoints and the crowds seem to forget the sun sets here. We didn’t…
On the way back to the campsite, we run into a bull elk who is munching on a few last blades of grass for the day. Mostly unconcerned with our presence he lets us shoot a number of pictures proud stance. What a great way to end the day.
So we’ll call it a night for now. Time to head back to the camper and figure out what I am cooking for dinner. I have no doubt it will be tasty after a long day of driving, planning, and shooting. While dinner is being thrown together, we’ll have just one more opportunity to think about the eclipse and what images we wish to capture while we are there. No pressure in driving across country for a photo shoot that is basically going to last two minutes.
Tomorrow’s the day, we’ll finally be in Jackson, WY and then it’s on…the Great American Eclipse of 2017.
See you under the sun.