With semi-spontaneous vacation opportunities somewhat limited by Stephanie’s school schedule, we set aside two weeks in early June (between her spring and summer semesters) almost a year in advance. Our plan amounted to little more than a list of Utah’s best known natural wonders—and an ill-fated attempt to rent a Jeep Wrangler in Cedar City, UT. The rental fell through, but the puddle jumper was already booked, so Cedar City it was—a blessing in disguise, as Cedar City is just over an hour from both Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks. A great starting point. Everything else (including the route) we made up as we went along.
Our annual pilgrimage to the desert last Thanksgiving felt like a return to our road trips of yore. We had a few goals in mind, but no explicit itinerary. We felt this acutely on our first night, fighting exhaustion in order to find a place somewhere around Lake Tahoe to park our Escape Campervan. Turns out most of the places we’d researched in advance were closed for the season, so we had to head all the way up to Sugar Pines Point State Park for the night.
When traveling in a new place, I’m drawn to the backgrounds, the negative spaces, the tapestries of color and texture that exist just behind the people and cars and advertisements and graffiti. That background is what differentiates one place from another; it’s what makes a place a place. But it can be hard to photograph [well] because there’s all that other stuff in the way. And I didn’t have the weeks or months, let alone days, to immerse myself in the buzzing energy of Oaxaca enough to anticipate those moments of perfect urban composition.
As luck would have it, I stumbled upon a handy conceit. I was struck by how many Volkswagen Beetles were plying the cobblestone streets of the old city. So I took a photo of one or two—I love the juxtaposition of an old car against an interesting facade. I found that the familiar and graceful shape of the Beetle was a convenient foil for my true intention—to capture something of the place behind it. So what started out as a whim, turned into a sport, and I began walking the streets of old Oaxaca intent on collecting Beetles in their natural habitat.
As part of our Thanksgiving desert pilgrimage, Stephanie and I drove down to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument on the border with Mexico. The park protects the desert wilderness surrounding the northernmost range of the organ pipe cactus. We had just enough time to drive the mostly unpaved, 21-mile Ajo Mountain Drive, before heading back to Phoenix to catch our flight home to San Francisco.