Summing Up the Road Trip

Eighteen hundred miles and four days later, I made it back to Denver. I hope I cleared the cobwebs a bit. I needed to skip town for a few days and press a shutter button, regardless of the result. My digital images await my editor’s eye, and I just got back the proof scans of my film images. I shot all of those with the Hasselblad Superwide. I’ll post a selection of images later in the week after I’ve had time to do some culling and captioning.

I’m still learning how to get the best from the Superwide. I have to keep reminding myself that its best use is to get close to whatever I’m shooting, and put its wide, distortion-free field and immense depth of focus to work to tell the photograph’s story. The temptation with such a specialist camera is to make the camera itself the story – here’s a cool “wide angle” shot taken from half a mile away wow that’s really sharp isn’t that interesting….not.

To recap my itinerary, I started on Wednesday afternoon in Denver, and drove west to Grand Junction, Colorado, on the other side of the Front Range. GJ is not far from Utah; it’s a favorite starting point for staging into southeastern Utah’s system of parks and public-access spaces. It’s a 250-mile drive, but with frequent stops it took me 6 hours to get there. No matter; the point was to get out and look at stuff, and maybe make a picture or two.

Thursday morning I drove to St George, Utah, through some of the most beautiful country in North America. I stopped, among other places, at Bryce Canyon, which I mentioned in my last post. The images I made – stay tuned – don’t really do it justice. That, in fact, is why I don’t consider myself a “landscape” photographer, in the tradition of Ansel Adams and others; anything I might shoot in that genre has already been done, and better, than I could do it. Simple documentation of locales doesn’t interest me much. But that said, there was a lot of cool “landscape-y” stuff along the route to St. George, so I gave in to temptation. I’ll post a selection of Bryce images soon.

Friday morning I left for the final outbound leg, to Gallup, NM. This southeasterly route shallowly cuts off the northeast corner of Arizona. The best part came along US Highway 89/89A, which I picked up at Fredonia, AZ, and followed in a meandering southeasterly direction, skirting Grand Canyon National Park to the north and east. I was tempted, but I’ve already been to the south rim of the Grand Canyon, and didn’t feel much like arriving at mid-day or early afternoon, to deal with harsh light and hordes of tourists. Besides, I was still reeling from Bryce, and not sure I wanted to look at some old ditch in the desert after beholding the wonders in Utah.

The route goes through the Navajo and Paiute reservations, and is a stark and beautiful desert landscape. Then, as US 89 veers due south towards Flagstaff, AZ, one traverses the Cococino National Forest, again a place of surpassing beauty. Then it’s on to I-40E near Winona, AZ, and there’s not much to look at until you get to Gallup. I was sorely tempted by the Petrified Forest and the Meteor Crater, but I arrived too late in the day for those attractions. Something for next time.

Saturday was my day to drive home; I was road-sick by this point, and the novelty of driving had worn off pretty thoroughly. My plan was to head towards Durango, CO, a part of my newly-adopted home state I’d not yet seen. US 491 took me north through Navajo and Ute nations lands, and Shiprock, NM, where it crosses US 64 at right angles. Then it was on to Farmington, NM and north to Durango. I didn’t find this leg of the trip compelling; it felt like a segment to get through quickly. Only when I got into CO and the terrain began to climb again did I really enjoy the view. Note to self for future trips.

There are numerous wildfires burning throughout the West, and I frequently encountered haze and the piney smell of burning wood, like a distant campfire. The Durango-to-Denver final homeward hop took me through at least four national forests, and I wound up having to alter my route slightly because of a road closure on US 280, due to fire. I finally made my way via Leadville, CO, through Breckinridge, to I-70 westbound and home. Saturday’s drive was something like 10 hours, which I’d have broken up if I’d planned better, and surrendered less to whim.

A note about what worked, and what didn’t. The American Southwest worked, overtime. My love for the region has been firmly cemented; the mix of desert, mountain, and forest is just enchanting. If I can convince my wife, I’d like to retire there. If they still have any water left.

The Fuji X-Pro1 with the Leica 35/2 Summicron ASPH worked – even though a 35 on its APS sensor is more like a 50, a bit too wide for my taste. That’s what feet are for, to move oneself backward away from the subject. Not bad for a 6-year-old camera, which might as well be from the Pleistocene, given the half-life of digital cameras. I wouldn’t say that the Leica lenses are better than the native Fuji lenses; they are different, in a pleasing way. Less bitingly sharp, with maybe better micro-contrast.

The Superwide worked, and will work even better once i’ve figured out how to get the best from it. It’s lightweight, simple, and oh, my, that lens. Get closer…. I was asked several times about the “video” camera I was using; when I mentioned “film” you might have thought I was holding a moon rock or the tibia of St Paul or something. I make a habit of looking, and mine was the only film camera I saw in my four days of travel. I saw no evidence of the current film resurgence, beyond the trunk of my car.

Which performed admirably; but Subaru’s in-car navigation decidedly sucked. This is evidently true of every OEM nav/entertainment system; at my last service visit the manager admitted as much. She told me that all the carmakers want to “own the customer experience”, whatever the f*^k that means. What they “own” is a steaming pile of flyspecked dung. My 2016 Outback’s systems are NOT Android- or Apple CarKit-compatible, but new models will be after 2019. I’m hoping for a firmware upgrade that will allow me belated entry to the 21st century.

Software, whether nav, entertainment, weather, traffic, is clearly not their core competency. Hell, it’s not even a peripheral competency. About all the Subaru’s mapping is good for is following one’s route, assuming the display doesn’t freeze up, as happened a couple of times. The system was frequently confused about routes and road closures, or wouldn’t timely update. Trying to enter a simple address or find a destination via its sluggish interface invoked a hell-scape of touchscreen buttons and sub-menus – compared to the brainless simplicity of searching for a destination in Apple or Google Maps. Of course, I’d never try to work a complex menu while driving; but data entry is disabled even for one’s shotgun passenger as long as the transmission is not in “park” I’ll never buy another car that locks me into an OEM nav/entertainment system. (That this is a first-world problem of the highest order, I freely stipulate.)

Google and Apple Maps worked, mostly, but they rely on an internet connection (cell-phone service) to update properly. Thanks to Verizon, which also worked, coverage loss didn’t happen very often. We recently switched to Verizon after 15 years with AT&T, and the coverage has been overall much better than, though not always as fast as, AT&T’s. I’m old enough to remember when you’d call AAA for a paper-map “TripTik”, or use a printed Rand McNally Road Atlas, in order to get from A to B. I’d say that satellite-based navigation is the best thing to happen for the traveler since they figured out how to measure longitude.

Mike’s Camera in Denver also works. I dropped my film off yesterday morning, a Sunday. They uploaded proof scans this morning, just after opening. Flawless. I’ll look at the negatives themselves to check for issues. As for film, the jury is still out on Cinestill 50D; Ektar 100 is my preferred emulsion for this sort of photography. I’ll have more to say, maybe, after I’ve gone over the negatives and scans.

Pictures to follow.

Michael Sebastian @mikeseb