A couple of months ago, one of my long-time friends contacted me asking about my plans in early June. It turns out that another long-time friend was moving from San Diego all the way to North Carolina, and an entire group of my close friends were going to caravan his two cars across the country on an epic road trip.
The initial plan was for them to stay at my place in Dallas as a stop along the way, but it's not every day that you get a chance to road trip with seven friends that you haven't seen in years! I made some calls, checked some schedules and consulted with an extremely supportive (and lovely) wife, and before you knew it I made my own plans to join up on this great American road trip as they traveled through the southwest.
Granted, I wouldn't be going all the way across the country, but I did spend four (fantastic) days reunited with good friends all the way from Las Vegas to the Hoover Dam, the Grand Canyon, Roswell and back down to Dallas.
What follows are a few words about each stop as well as some photographs from my Leica M3 and a fantastically wide WideLux F8 camera on 35mm film. When you notice similar faces, you'll know it's my group of friends, but there's also quite a few shots from this trip of scenes that were happening all around us. I'm also in every single photo below - I'm just behind the camera...
If you're reading this page and you were one of the guys on the trip (who have been asking me to post these for weeks now...) I hope you are amused and happy to re-live some of these memories and to maybe see some things you missed along the way. For those of you who weren't on the trip, please sit back and enjoy the ride...
Technical note: click on one of the photos below to see the full image in a Lightbox. From there, you can move through the complete set of full images from that gallery.
This was actually my second visit to Las Vegas, and I really enjoyed having the first night all to myself to wander around and take photos while people-watching. There's a great energy to the city, and you don't have to gamble a crazy amount of money to have fun. The caravan met me in Vegas early the next morning, and the trip had finally begun! My friend Will is going to be particularly pleased that the last shot came out...
LAS VEGAS - WIDELUX
From the fountains of the Bellagio to that crazy suite that Caesars Palace upgraded me to - this city was made for a Widelux! I didn't take as many shots as I thought I would (couldn't stop shooting the M3), but I did enjoy the 15th of a second "timewarp" tests with Ed and James. They stood still while the WideLux turret spun. I tried to time it so that I could take two different pictures of Ed and James in one shot. Sorry James, I was a bit too slow to get the turret positioned correctly for your shot!
The Hoover Dam
Our next stop along the way was the Hoover Dam, and it didn't disappoint. It's an amazing testament to engineering on a grand scale.
The Hoover Dam - WideLux
I only have one WideLux shot of the Hoover Dam to share because unbeknownst to me the back had become unlocked and light was slowly starting to leak into the roll. You can see the damage to this shot, and unfortunately two other shots were beyond saving. Still, you can get an idea as to the scale of the site from the shot below.
ROSIE'S DEN CAFE
When road tripping across the country, you have to stop somewhere off the beaten trail for food. No big chain restaurants, no fast food. Just something new that screams Americana and reminds you that you're on the road. In this case, our destination was Rosie's, and I couldn't resist shooting a few frames while we were there.
The Grand Canyon
This was, by far, the highlight of the trip for me. I had never been to the Grand Canyon and absolutely nothing can prepare you for the sheer enormity of this natural wonder. Be sure to click on the photos below and make sure you look hard at what may appear to be just an image of the canyon. In many shots (specifically the first three below), there are people standing on the rocks in the distance that will help to illustrate the massive scale. What's more - these shots were all taken within a half mile radius of where we arrived. The actual Grand Canyon goes on for hundreds of miles! It's really not to be missed. Make sure you see it sometime with your own eyes.
Another curiosity about the Grand Canyon is that the most of the trails are completely open to the edges of the cliff - no gates, no ropes, nothing. Being afraid of heights (and not wanting to die), I naturally stayed well back and allowed the guys to climb down to their hearts content. After taking the great group shot at the bottom of the gallery below, I climbed back up to the trail and had a surprising one-on-one confrontation with a very docile wild elk. They're obviously used to the human presence there.
The Grand Canyon - WideLux
It was at the Grand Canyon that I finally noticed the back of the WideLux had become unlocked. Unfortunately, these first two shots were pretty much lost thanks to the light leak. The first shot below is the group shot and the light leak managed to happen right on top of the group! The second shot is a portrait of me in front of the Grand Canyon taken by my friend Ian. After I saw the back had become removed, I quickly locked it and rewound the spool since the frame counter was reset at that point as well. I reloaded a new roll into the WideLux, double and triple checked that it was locked, and took a few more shots of the Grand Canyon with the fresh roll. The last photo below does an even better job of comparing the scale of the Grand Canyon to the people on the cliffs to the left of the frame.
Continuing through Arizona, we decided to also stop at Meteor Crater, which is a 50,000 year old meteorite impact crater (hence the clever name). The crater itself is nearly 4,000 ft (just over 1,200 meters) in diameter and so closely matches the topographical nature of other planets that NASA used it to train the Apollo astronauts.
All that being said, I have to admit - after seeing the Grand Canyon, Meteor Crater didn't impress me. Not as much as it should have, anyway. True, it's very large and was carved out of the Earth from an object from space. Cool, very cool. But the Grand Canyon is gigantic. GIGANTIC. It was nice to see Meteor Crater, but I recommend seeing it before the Grand Canyon if you're driving through Arizona in the future.
Meter Crater - WideLux
Perhaps the WideLux does a little more justice to the size of Meteor Crater. I also like that we arrived close to sunset, so you can see the shadow of the of the crater wall drifting into the center as the sun went lower in the sky. If you look closely, you can make out the observation deck that we were standing on in the shots above. The last shot is facing away from the crater at the rest of the Arizona landscape beyond (and my shadow - does that make it a self portrait?)...
What great American road trip would be complete without taking a cruise down historic Route 66? On the way out of Arizona, we stopped at Winslow - a small town made famous by a reference in the 1972 Eagles song "Take It Easy".
The song lyrics are:
Well, I'm a standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona
and such a fine sight to see
It's a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed
Ford slowin' down to take a look at me
...and wouldn't you know it, they even had a flatbed Ford sitting outside on the corner. Well played, Winslow.
We also stopped at their 9/11 Remembrance Garden where two beams from the WTC were erected and dedicated on September 11, 2002.
Winslow, Arizona - WideLux
Just one group shot on the WideLux here. I like the way this one came out.
Roswell, New Mexico
At some point in Winslow, someone realized that we were already running behind getting out to Roswell, New Mexico. Apparently there was a time change or something and we were actually about an hour behind and dangerously close to our friend Ed missing a flight back to the east coast. For the next seven hours, this was all I could take photos of, except for the (canned) moment where we narrowly got Ed to the airport in time for him to catch his flight...
Having heroically made up the time on the road (and surviving a hood-denting freak hail storm in the middle of the desert) we actually had 20 minutes to make it to downtown Roswell to visit the UFO Museum.
I'm so conflicted as I think about what I want to write when it comes to Roswell. I've always loved the mystique of aliens crashing there and the government cover-ups, but what I found (maybe not surprisingly) is that Roswell was a serious let-down. The "museum" is just an odd collection of amateur models and newspaper clippings pinned against temporary walls. The surrounding stores sold cheap alien souvenirs and literally the entire area that we walked around smelled like a nearby sewer system or fertilizer plant had backed up and leaked into the surrounding neighborhood. The truth may be out there, but it's definitely not in Roswell.
Finally arriving back in Dallas marked the end of the trip for me, but before the group went on I showed them a bit of downtown (the J.F.K. Museum / memorial and also Pioneer Plaza - home of the bronze cowboy and longhorn sculptures) and we also enjoyed some genuine Texas BBQ.
Dallas, Texas - Widelux
I took a few more shots on the WideLux at Pioneer Plaza and on Dealey Plaza (another one of my favorites). A great BBQ lunch at Lockhart Smokehouse was the last shot of the trip on the WideLux.
Looking back on these images brings a smile to my face. We all took cell-phone shots and shared them on social media for minute-by-minute updates, but there's always something nice about having these negatives and waiting to see them until after the trip is done. It's one of the reasons I like shooting film so much.
Memories like these are meant to be shared and viewed often, so I hope to print some of these shots and find a fitting place for them on my walls at home. Many years from now I hope one of those photos catches my eye and reminds me of the time I spent with great friends out on the open road.