Escape Campervans Review: Los Angeles to Death Valley (and why we don’t recommend Escape Campervans)

Escape Campervans Review and Our Trip to Death Valley

Let’s visit a popular U.S. National Park in peak season at the last minute! Yeah, that sounds like our travel style. And that’s how our conversation started two weeks back when we decided we had to see the Death Valley Superbloom.

All advance reservations for park accommodations were full. We could try our luck at a first-come first-served campsite, but we didn’t really feel up to tent camping this trip. So we decided to try something new: the rental campervan.

Despite paying more than we should have (no thanks to Escape), we had a good time on our trip. Want to know what the campervan life is like? Keep reading to find out! (More on why we don’t recommend Escape Campervans, too.) Continue reading

The Superbloom of Death Valley National Park: A Photo Journal (California, USA)

Death Valley Superbloom Spring 2016 on North to South: a Photo Journal

After receiving substantially more rain than typical in the 2015-2016 winter season, Death Valley National Park is experiencing a rare “superbloom” of wildflowers. The last superbloom event was 11 years ago, in 2005.  Since missing this year’s superbloom could mean waiting another decade or more before it happens again, we knew we had to go see this rare event.
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The Magical Landscape of White Sands National Monument: A Photo Journal (New Mexico, USA)

The Magical Landscape of White Sands National Monument, New Mexico, USA

This year Ian and I checked a HUGE item off our bucket list. We can both now officially say we’ve visited all 50 U.S. states. (Hooray!)

We’ve explored a LOT of the U.S. this year — even amplifying our goals to include visiting all 50 states in one year’s time — and every time I tell people about our epic quest, I always get asked some version of the same question: Which place was your favorite?

Well, if you limit me to a certain number, I’ll have trouble answering, but White Sands National Monument is absolutely 100% somewhere on my list of favorites. (Funny, because our visit there was completely unplanned.) And while I could go on and on about how amazingly surreal and magical the scenery is there, I think the photos will give you a better idea. So I’ll let the scenic photos do most of the talking… Continue reading

U.S. Road Trip Re-Cap: Week Seven (Wyoming to Alberta)

North to South U.S. road trip recap week seven

Week seven was by far one of the most memorable weeks on our road trip. I can’t believe how much we saw in one week! Oodles of wildlife, gorgeous sunrises, and even the Northern Lights — all the way down in Yellowstone National Park (they’re not usually visible so far south).

Somehow we managed to visit FOUR national parks all in one week. And despite late night Milky Way photo sessions, we managed to wake up before dawn TWICE to witness the gorgeous sunrises Yellowstone has to offer. If you’ve never seen Yellowstone yourself, add it to your bucket list NOW. And in the meantime, you can drool a bit over these photos!

Note: I’m still catching up on our weekly road trip re-caps! This one covers June 20-27.

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U.S. Road Trip Re-Cap: Weeks Four, Five & Six (Illinois to South Dakota)

North to South U.S. road trip recap weeks four, five and six

After completing our third week on the road in the U.S. this summer, we decided it was time for a little breather. We departed St. Louis at the beginning of week four and then pressed the pause button when we reached Chicago. And there we stayed, visiting my twin brother, for the first two and a half weeks of June.

Despite growing up in St. Louis, I’d never visited the nearby Windy City ’til now. And what an awesome place it turned out to be! So much so that we decided we’d return to Chicago for an even longer break after our upcoming national park loop. We finished off this three-week period in Badlands National Park, where we found unique erosion-formed landscapes, plentiful prairie dogs, and the craziest (and unexpected) storm we’ve ever experienced! (You don’t want to miss that video.)

Note: Since we paused for so long in Chicago, this recap covers weeks four through six of our U.S. road trip. And I’m still catching up on our weekly road trip re-caps! This one covers May 30 – June 19.

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Shot of the Week: North to South Sees the Northern Lights (Yellowstone, Wyoming, USA)

Shot of the Week: The Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA

I was half asleep. Only half because of the awkward angle at which my head was tilted when I’d closed my eyes. Sleeping in the car has never been my forte. I quickly snapped out of my sleepy state, however, when my brain finally registered the three words that had just exited Ian’s mouth: “the Northern Lights.”

It was an unexpected sight, in Yellowstone National Park, but having severely sub-par cell service the past two days couldn’t even stop us from seeing them. There was no visible green glow or anything, but the eery gray streaks sweeping across the northern sky were visible to the naked eye. I quickly pulled my RX100 out of the glove compartment and clambered over the middle console of our Yaris and into the driver’s seat. Ian was already out of the car with the a7 mounted to his tripod. I opted for the meager warmth our Yaris could offer with its front window rolled down all the way.

My first shots were crap, from a photographer’s perspective, but the colors were absolutely amazing. To start, I’d quickly flipped my dial to ‘M’ and prepped for a 6-second exposure. No tripod. Just handheld. Propped atop the open window frame of the driver’s side door. With some expected star streaking from my unsteady hand in my first few exposures, I made some minor adjustments — adding a 2-second timer, using the tilt screen to more steadily prop my camera up on the window ledge — and was rewarded with better results. My final improvement to my set-up was turning the car’s engine off and setting the e-brake (Ian never does) to keep car movements to an absolute minimum. And I was quite impressed with my results!

This photo was taken on June 22nd with the Sony RX-100 III. Continue to view full photo.  Continue reading

[VIDEO] Shot of the Week: Night Storm Symphony (Badlands National Park, South Dakota, USA)

It was cool and sunny in South Dakota when we woke up in our tent this morning. No indication of the craziness that ensued last night, other than the minor bowing to our east-facing tent poles that left our tent slightly askew. And we were among the lucky. Our tent had survived.

Around 8pm the lightning started. It was beautiful. The sun was setting behind a thick wall of clouds, and whenever the distant lightning struck, pink light puffs would appear and pulse throughout the sky.

The campground full, there didn’t seem to be need for alarm. Everyone was continuing on, getting ready for bed as they would if there were no threat nor signs of a storm. It wasn’t until I overheard a neighboring camper collecting his son, telling him “Let’s go. I don’t want to be here when it hits,” that I started to worry. We quickly checked the radar on Ian’s phone, and the image confirmed: it was coming. And it would hit hard. Continue reading

U.S. Road Trip Re-Cap: Week Two (Arizona, New Mexico and Texas)

U.S. Road Trip Week Two: The American Southwest -- Arizona, New Mexico and Texas

Two more National Parks and three new National Monuments, including the most beautiful (and surreal) place I’ve ever seen! Week two of our summer road trip took us all the way from Arizona to Texas, with a scenic desert drive through New Mexico on the way.

Below is a photographic re-cap of our second week of road-tripping across the U.S. in our little red Yaris. Read on for beautiful white sand dunes, cacti that actually look like the ones you drew when you were a kid, and a couple of neat ruins speckled about the American Southwest!  Continue reading

Shot of the Week: Wanderlust and White Sands (White Sands National Monument, New Mexico, USA)

Shot of the Week: White Sands National Monument sunset hike

Roaring wind. Rippling sand. Rolling dunes. All were present on the night we backpacked out to our backcountry campsite at White Sands National Monument. As luck would have it, we’d gotten the last available site. And we were grateful. Otherwise we’d’ve had to backtrack 30 miles toward Las Cruces and the nearest campground.

Up and over and in between the dunes we hiked, each carrying our backpacks, cameras at-the-ready. It took us 45 minutes to get to our campsite, racing the setting sun. We set up camp, took off our boots, and set out barefoot for the top of a neighboring dune, getting in just a few more photos before darkness and the evening wind settled in. We’ve now completed week two of our cross-country U.S. road trip, and White Sands stands out as one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever seen. It was magical. Enchanting, even. If you’ve never hiked over sand dunes before, add it to your bucket list. It’s surreal.

This photo was taken on May 18th with the Sony a7 II and Voigtlander 15mm f/4.5 Heliar III lens. Continue to view full photo.  Continue reading

Shot of the Week: The Grandest of Canyons (Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA)

Shot of the Week: The Grandest of Canyons (Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA)

One week into our road trip, and we finally made it to the Grand Canyon! Before this visit, I’d been there for a brief stop along one of my many journeys between St. Louis and LA in college, and Ian had only flown over it in a plane. It was time for both of us to really see this place. And see it we did, in the sun, rain, sleet, hail and snow!

We camped for two days at the South Rim’s Desert View Campground — a deal at just $12/night — and endured cold, snowy weather inside our warm sleeping bags and tent (see more of our camping essentials here). After roughing it at Lake Mead and Williams the two previous nights, I was SO happy to finally be staying at a place that had showers (thought it did require a 20+ mile drive to the other side of the park). It was also the perfect, iconic place to round out week one of our all-American road trip.

This photo of the Grand Canyon was taken on Thursday May 14th with the Sony a7 II and Voigtlander 15mm f/4.5 Heliar III lens. (Continue to view full photo.)  Continue reading