Pan-American Highway Road Trip

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Pan-American Highway Road Trip

Yes! Let's just pack our things and go. One month, 6 months, a year? Everyone's had thoughts like this at one time or another and nobody can say that Germans don't know how to travel. It's with good reason that we are not only known as the "World Champions of Hearts" (because of the World Cup in 2006) but we are also the world champions when it comes to travelling.

We, that is Annette and M, also had the same dream and, just over a month ago, we were able to turn it into reality. We started out on our one year road trip along surely the most interesting route in the world. Ladies and gentlemen, we're heading down the Pan-American Highway!

Now that we've explained the 'road' part, let's get to the 'trip'. We bought a 20 year old VW T4, which we have lovingly christened Kalle, and had him shipped to the City of Angels, Los Angeles. From there, we visited some of the most beautiful national and state parks in the USA and captured them on film. Our journey took us through the most picturesque landscapes and exciting cities. We drove a small section of Route 66 to experience a bit of the nostalgia and also enjoyed the drive along the coast on the magnificent Highway 1.

Sound interesting? OK, we'll tell you more.

The start could only have been in the city of cities. Los Angeles is technically speaking not a city but a group of cities. The areas that we think of as districts (Malibu, Beverly Hills, etc.) are in fact cities themselves. But believe me, even when LA is right in front of you, its impossible to imagine how BIG it really is. Yet this wasn't the only reason for making sure I packed my ultra wide angle lens. When I was standing, for example, before the Walt Disney Concert Hall, I wouldn't have stood a chance of capturing it in its entirety without the ultra wide angle lens. There is no space behind you and to the left and right there are streets. I was faced with the same situation when I wanted to be sure I could fit in all the pools at the Venice Beach Skatepark. The Tamron 10-24 mastered the job with no problem.

Not far away, at least in American terms, was the first National Park of our trip. We made our successful 'debut' at the Joshua Tree NP, which was incidentally also the scene of our first night of camping with Kalle. We had spontaneously bought our camper van at the last minute in Germany and the first chance we had to sleep or cook in it was in the USA. The cooking was easier said than done but the hospitality and friendliness of the American people knows no bounds and help was quickly on its way.

The next planned stopover on our route involved a much longer drive. And this was how the twinkling lights of the sin city of Las Vegas fortuitously found its way onto our itinerary, tempting us to play a quick round of roulette. With our pockets freshly emptied we continued on our way to Utah. After a stunning drive, we arrived at the Zion National Park where we hiked some fantastic trails and stayed for a couple of memorable days. As photographers, we naturally found the Subway Trail especially interesting. Protected by permit, this trail leads directly along and through North Creek and rewards you at the end with some fantastic pool and canyon formations.

After a couple of days we had to tear ourselves away as there was just so much more to see. It was on the way to Bryce National Park that we realised the days of wearing shorts and T-shirts were possibly coming to an end. To the left and right of the road we could see the first patches of soft snow – something we had almost completely forgotten about – while the gas stations were selling scarves and gloves. We had a bad feeling about this and the temperature wasn't the only thing that was falling threateningly, as we had to fight our way on towards Bryce NP, which lies at a much higher elevation, past trees that had fallen on the road.

As we arrived, the sun was just starting to set and we hurried to get to the Overlook to enjoy the sunset. It was just amazing and, despite the fact I was barely able to press the shutter release because of the cold, we were so thrilled to be able to witness this display of colour that still fills me with inspiration every time I think about it.

When it comes to beauty and diversity, Utah simply has it all and you will find both large and small state and national parks everywhere you go across the state. While the Capitol Reef will keep you busy learning about the origins of the landscape and culture, the Dead Horse SP primarily draws mountain bikers and off-roading fans to come and explore its rough terrain on wheels. The Island in the Sky – Canyonlands NP – had an especially irresistible titbit to offer us photographers. The Mesa Arch is so photogenic and makes a great spot to see the sun rise. The sun is visible through the arch, bathing it in a warm and beautiful red colour that is almost impossible to describe.

After an easy 15 minute hike, I arrived there early in the morning to find several fellow photographers had beaten me to it and had already assembled their tripods complete with the rest of their heavy gear. We marvelled at the spectacle together and the sweet sound of shutters only added to the atmosphere as the sun appeared over the horizon.

Still impressed by the Mesa Arch, we set off to try and find more of these awe inspiring arches and as luck would have it the next park on our route was the perfect destination – the Arches National Park. The landscape there with its bizarre cliffs and rock formations formed over thousands of years almost made you forget you were still actually on good old planet Earth.

Even though this park spoilt us with many different arches, one still stood out above the rest. It wasn't the biggest, highest or even most beautiful but it has become the symbol of Utah and so this delicate arch simply cannot be left out. I was already there well before sunset and watched the hubbub – and there was plenty of it – while enjoying a picnic. The nearer it got to sunset, the more photographers arrived after their pilgrimage up the gruelling but well accessible trail. As I actually found the sky above the other side of the plateau more appealing, I stood in contrast to most of the other photographers on the opposite side and managed to capture a rather unusual perspective.

We set off on the way past Salt Lake City and Lake Tahoe to our final national park for the time being – the Yosemite NP. I had so looked forward to this in advance but unfortunately we had a few days of less than pleasant weather. Or to put it more precisely, it rained buckets. Yes, I know that there is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong gear but when the sky is so dark and the rain so heavy, finding a good subject becomes a different kind of challenge (something I had already noticed in LA by the way).

The park is huge and although its the off-season I can still recommend visiting at this time of year. On the one hand its nice and quiet and on the other, there is water falling in both the Upper and Lower Yosemite Waterfalls. What's really impressive is that this water consists purely of meltwater. When you see how much water is flowing non-stop over the waterfalls, it is almost impossible to imagine how much snow must have melted higher up. This was the reason why not all of the trails and tracks were open so it wasn't possible, for example, to drive up to the amazing Glacier Point. So much the better because that meant we ended up walking the entire 4 Miles Trail, mostly through snow, which was surely more interesting and impressive that driving up in the car. It goes without saying that the view was magnificent and the fact that we had it exclusively to ourselves was just the icing on the cake. There was no one else there, simply fantastic!

There was a similarly awesome view from the Tunnel View lower down, which again is not only easy to reach by car but you can also park there directly. This is how I ended up waiting 3 evenings in a row for the perfect light and in the end had to settle for this picture of the afterglow in the mountains.

By now, we were once again ready for a bit more of an urban atmosphere to give our worn out limbs time to recover from all the trekking, hiking and walking and to take advantage of some of the gastronomic highlights. We drove into the metropolis San Francisco as darkness fell and were immediately enthralled. If you've never been there, you really should go and if you have already been, you will want to go again. It really is a model town with all the beautifully designed houses and sloped streets with the cute cable cars, all bordered by fantastic beaches. Oh yes, and then there's the bridge. No, not the modern Bay Bridge, lit up at night to great expense. I'm talking of course about the legendary Golden Gate Bridge. No visit to San Francisco is truly complete until you have strolled across this famous bridge. You can take pictures of this bridge from any angle, by sunrise or sunset. Its rustic architecture and the pretty lights above the dark sea provide you with the perfect subject matter. This was where my favourite lens came into play, the high speed Tamron 17-50. The glass is so flexible and the magnification ratio is so good that this lens is my first choice in many situations.

So how does the story continue? Heading further and further south is the simple answer. We followed the picturesque Highway 1 further down the coast, where we saw whales several times that were migrating north. The auto-focus on the Tamron 70 -300 blew my socks off again. From the distance, you can only spot the whales by their well-known trait of blowing water as they breathe through their blowholes. Unfortunately, they are only at the surface for a short space of time. With the lens fully extended I panned in on these impressive animals and the auto-focus resolutely found its target every time. That's how to really make whale watching fun.

We then left the USA for Mexico on the search for our next adventure and subject matter.

To experience it live is no problem. Kalle's got plenty of room, so climb on board, join in and share your tips for places to visit or things to photograph along the way.

Visit to experience the trip in all its full glory and to make sure you don't miss a thing, or send us your greetings and share a little love on

Stay bright and well exposed at all times!

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