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Photos of the Day

Western United States

(April - June 2023)


Shortly after I began my trip to the US by van, someone emailed me suggesting I create a blog page with some of my favorite photos. It took me a few weeks, but I decided to do it.
In addition to sharing some of the amazing sites I am experiencing, I want to illustrate what is possible when you have
self-management and neuroplasticity in your toolbox.

And believe me, self-awareness and daily practice are essential. Certain challenges could upend my recovery if I'm not paying attention.  I became ill with ME/CFS, FM, and ES in 1989.  For more information on this, please click here. After years of research and experimentation, I am driving across the United States in my brand-new van sharing this journey with all of you.

Some days there may be more than one - seeing so much beauty sometimes makes it hard to choose. Other days lack a photo because I spend the day driving, working, or doing errands, and there is nothing of note.

I realized part way into the trip that the reason I enjoy travel so much is because I get to see things that inspire awe. They can be as small as ants busily transporting produce in and out of their colony or something as vast as a landscape.

I never plan ahead when I travel, and I never research what I’m about to see. I love to be surprised. Sometimes that works in my favor, and as you’ll see, sometimes not.

I hope enough of the essence of what I’m experiencing is transmitted in these images. Thank you for your interest. I’m enjoying reading the comments you are posting and emailing.

Day 2 Washington

This photo was taken the morning after my first night of camping in my new van. I was shocked to wake up to fresh snow in Cascade, Washington. Luckily the van has a furnace and it worked perfectly. I was warm and toasty. And a bonus was that because the van was kept warm I didn’t have to scrape the windows.

Day 5 Migrating sandpipers in flight at
Piute State Park
Central Utah

I decided on this trip that as much as possible I wanted to stay in dispersed camping, which is much more common in the United States than in Canada. It usually means staying on government land where free camping is allowed. Utah is one of the best states for dispersed camping. I pulled into this state park later in the day to find it filled with migratory birds. Although in the summer a fee is usually charged, the fee box was locked and nobody showed up to collect any money. My experiences are that in dispersed camping, I often meet interesting, diverse people. But on this trip so far, I’ve been on my own almost every night. I’m sure that will change as I get closer to coastal California, but for now, I’m enjoying the solitude and quiet.

Day 6 Desert bighorn sheep at
Zion National Park

On this day I was guided by my friend, Shawn Green, through the east side of Zion Park. Although I’ve been to Zion NP once before, it was extra special to get a personal tour from someone who goes to the park several times a week and knows “social trails”. Shawn told me that we might see desert bighorn sheep in this area and sure enough there were six or eight on the rocks right over the road. As we stood there watching them, one of the sheep pushed some small rocks onto the road with its hoof and we dodged traffic to remove them so that cars wouldn’t be damaged. These sheep to my eye look different than their northern cousins. They have narrower faces and are almost goat-like.

Day 8 Zion squirrel with earing

As in most parks, the small rodents are very habituated to people and brazenly approach in the hope of getting food. As I watched the obviously well-fed squirrels in Zion Canyon, I noticed that most of them were sporting fashionable earrings, presumably there some kind of tracking device.

Day 8 Waterfall Zion Canyon

I went back to Zion NP two days later, this time to what is referred to as “Zion Canyon”. The road is closed to vehicles, so my friend Shawn and I rode our bikes the 7 miles in and back. At the end of the canyon was a substantial waterfall. Apparently, the rain and snow pack this year has led to much higher waterflow than usual. In a typical year the waterfalls have already slowed to a trickle by this time of year. I was entranced watching the water fall as if in slow motion.

Day 11 Desert evening primrose
La Verkin, Utah

One of my hopes for this trip was that I would be able to see the desert in bloom. I had been told that the bloom is usually finished by April but it turns out that spring is almost a month late this year in most areas of the southwestern US. People are describing this year as a super bloom event. I’ve been told that in Southern California the bloom can be seen from space. I hope it is still blooming by the time I get there. This photo was taken on an overlook less than a km from my friends’ house. The hillside was resplendent with all different kinds of flowers. The desert evening primrose caught my attention. Apparently, the blooms open at night and last for only one day.

Day 13 Prickly Pear cactus in bloom

I’ve never before seen cactus in bloom in the wild. Whenever I’ve been to a desert it’s been desiccated. Often beautiful, but in a stark monochromatic way. So far, I’ve seen at least three different types of cactus in bloom and more are on the way. The iridescent pink blooms of the prickly pear cactus are as luxuriant as those of the peony. In fact, many of the flowers in the desert are iridescent and shocking.

Day 14 My solitary camping site in a desert wilderness area

Although I didn’t end up at my intended destination this evening, I had one of the most splendid views imaginable. On this trip, I am continually reminded of Alice Munro’s famous short story called “Too Much Happiness”. I’ve wondered on some of the days where every turn reveals a new, spectacular vista whether it’s possible to have "too much beauty". So far, my opinion is that it’s not. I say bring it on.

Day 14 Desert lizard

I’ve been surprised how many lizards of different species I’ve seen. Many of them scurry away so quickly I can’t even get my camera out in time, but this one stuck around and I was intrigued by its apparently plump belly. It’s so well camouflaged that if it hadn’t moved, I never would’ve spotted it.

Day 15 Endangered desert tortoise in
Mojave National Preserve

For the past week, wherever I’ve gone, there have been signs talking about the endangered desert tortoise and how we should look out for them, not run over them with our vehicles and so forth. In my experience, whenever there are signs talking about something being endangered, I don’t expect to see it.

This afternoon after a few navigational missteps (a hazard when most areas have no cell service and where Google maps can be flawed), I finally turned onto the 30-mile road heading into the Mohave National Preserve. Almost immediately, I saw a car pulled over to the side and two people standing by the side of the road intently staring down.

Of course, I pulled over right away to see what they were looking at, and low and behold it was this chap, a full-size desert tortoise. We stood there for some time waiting for the tortoise to cross the road so we could flag down any approaching traffic (there was none).

The signs say the tortoises are endangered due to habitat loss, but I suspect indecision may play a role. It was probably a good 20 minutes before the tortoise safely got across the road. I feel so lucky to have had this experience.

Day 16 Kelso Sand Dunes

After a full day of meetings and work, I decided to go for a late-day hike at the Kelso Dunes in the Mojave National Preserve. If you look in the distance, you will see a pointy-topped sand dune with a small notch at 1 pm (on the right). I climbed to the notch before deciding it was more important to listen to my body and fully enjoy the experience during and after rather than trying to achieve an arbitrary target of getting to the very top. The final ascent was a very narrow sandy ridge.

I had been talking with my team earlier in the day about the importance of self-awareness and charting in order to recover. It is true! So, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to practice what I preach. When I look at this photo, I feel grateful for my solid recovery. It was slow in coming but has been holding for over 5 years. Part of the reason I’m posting photos and videos from my travels is to show what is possible.

You might be like me and have to try many, many things over many, many years - but don’t give up.

Day 18

Hummingbird on an Ocotillo

I came across a stand of ocotillos in peak bloom. They are the oddest-looking trees. They look dead with woody trunks and branches sporting needles. Then, when there is a bit of rain, leaves form around the needles and bright red flowers blossom. When I was visiting, I noticed a hummingbird near one of the ocotillos. As I watched Spellbound, it sat still on a twig for several minutes. I’ve never seen a hummingbird standing still before. Later, when I saw my photo using Zoom I saw that it was drinking from one of the thorn attachments. Maybe there was a bit of nectar there or maybe a bit of water. In any event, I consider this photo a masterpiece - a hummingbird sitting still.

Day 19 Desert Collared Lizards mating

Yesterday I met my first VanLife traveler. He is an eccentric individual, to say the least, but today we went for a hike together at Ryan’s Peak in Joshua Tree National Park and had a fabulous time. We agreed we were on a natural high from peace, beauty, and exercise. On the way down from the lookout, I learned how to use the new-to-me Seek App which identifies plants and animals as you focus on them with your camera phone. It could be addictive except that many park areas are out of cell range, so the app won’t work. I tried the app out on these two who in another moment were clearly mating and it identified them as desert-collared lizards with great confidence. Right afterward the park ranger told us that the lizards are mating right now. I have been seeing them everywhere. 

Day 21 Imagine unexpectedly coming across a giant pterodactyl

Well, that’s what happened to me today. I was driving through Anza Borrega park heading to the SE corner to see the scenery. All of a sudden, I noticed a giant pterodactyl in a field. I pulled off the road and scanned the conveniently located QR code to find out more. A whole field of sculptures was commissioned by a wealthy landowner. The artist, Carlos Ramirez was born in the area of migrant worker parents. His mother worked with advocate Ceasar Chavez who fought for the migrant workers to have better conditions in the 60s. After admiring this sculpture I noticed the others and spent an hour or so walking to see saber toothed tigers, dinosaurs and horses. I love surprises like this. It totally made my day to see something so surprising, creative and powerful.

Day 22 Soda Lake at Carriza Plain

I came to Carriza Plain because I was told it is the only remaining undisturbed grassland in California. I wasn’t sure what to expect, knowing that the peak of the spring blooms was apparently past. Lesson to self don’t believe everything you hear.

First this grassland was magical. There were so many species of plants, animals, birds and insects. The fields were noisy with life. The birds especially seemed jubilant, flying all over just for the fun of it. This lake at the entrance to the park is very high in minerals and as a result the vegetation around it is encrusted in salts. And it turns out that although the flowers in the plain were past their peak, those in the surrounding hills were exquisite. Huge patches and hillsides of so many colors. Hard to capture in a single photo, but just imagine every color in the rainbow, all over and all mixed together.


Day 24 Moths and blue flowers at Carriza Plain

Second, there were these moths ravishing patches of blue flowers, thousands of them.

Day 29 My camping neighbors

(this text is a bit long but so interesting)

When I drove by the Walker Pass Bureau of Land Management (BLM) campground, the first thing I saw was a white llama serenely sitting at the top of the hill at the entrance! Not something you see every day. It turns out my soon to be camping neighbor, Manfred, owns two llamas and two donkeys which he brings with him so they can browse freely on the BLM land and so he can ride the donkeys into the mountains.

But this wasn’t the only joys this campsite had to offer. It turns out this campground is an entry/exit point to the Pacific Crest Trail, one of the triple crown of US long distance hiking along with the Continental Divide Trail and the Appalachian trail. “Trail angels” come to the campsite almost daily to leave water and food for needy hikers. The water was stored under my picnic table, so I had a steady stream of hikers dropping in - young people from all over the world.

The morning after I arrived, I hiked a small part of the trail - it was flower filled and I met David, a dopamine researcher with whom I had an interesting conversation for about 3 hours until I turned back. When I got back to my campsite, I was greeted with welcomes by a group of hiker trail angels who had gone to the nearest town and come back with food and drinks for other hikers. One solo woman hiker was very moved saying in 6 weeks it was her first experience of “trail magic”. It does seem to be a magic environment on the trail in which people meet and support each other - people who were previously total strangers.

Day 35
The Lake Crowley Pillars

These very unique rock formations are so similar to the pillars of ancient Greek temples, it’s hard to believe they are created by nature.

According to Wikipedia, the pillars were formed by cold water from melting snow seeping down into volcanic ash (the result of an eruption more than 760,000 years ago), creating tiny holes in the hot ash, which filled with minerals more resistant to erosion than the surrounding volcanic ash.  

There were swallows nesting in the pillar arches, ravens creating a nest in a rock crevice and a bald eagle soaring above.

Day 36 The tufas at Lake Mono
and an osprey catching a fish

Nearby Lake Crowley is Lake Mono, also in the shadow of the Sierra Nevada mountains, and also known for its unique volcanic rock formations. They are visible only because of water diversion by the city of Los Angeles since 1934 lowering the lake level substantially. Even though the city has been ordered by Congress to use less water and restore the lake, nothing has changed for decades. There are signs as you approach the lake showing the lake level at various decades and indicating where the water level is mandated to be compared to where it is.

Tufas are still forming in the lake under water from volcanic vents spewing minerals into the water which then cool forming these towers. All around the tufas were carpets of light pink flowers. And there were a pair of ospreys making a home here. I spent a couple of hours just staring at the unusual formations and taking in the beauty and nature.

Day 37 Pelicans at Lohontan State Recreation Area

Although this photo is too distant to see it clearly, this is a flock of hundreds of pelicans. I have never seen so many. They were flying as they do, a set distance behind each other, in lines, reaching from one side of the horizon to the other, and in circles of different altitudes above this man-made lake.

It rained much of the time I was here and after the rain an untold number of tiny biting flies and no-see-ums came out and attacked all orifices whenever I left my van. It took hours to clear my van of the pesky insects and I decided that although the park was gorgeous and I wanted a better view of the pelicans (one of my favorite birds), I would vacate and move on. The rain changed my next plans as well.

I had been planning to go to the Black Rock Rendez-vous at Black Rock desert. However the rain makes the sand playa like cement and dangerous to drive on. So the people I met who invited me to join them, instead headed home to Soda Springs, near Truckee, and I tagged along.

Day  39 House at Soda Spring, California
(earlier this year)

I’ve mentioned in a few of my videos that this year set records for rain and snow.

Apparently at Mammoth Ski resort, they had over 100 feet of snow cumulatively over the past two years. I met a woman from the area who invited me for the weekend and showed me this photo of her house in March of this year.

On May 29th we went snowshoeing in California!

While visiting I saw cars whose roofs had been crushed by the weight of the snow and collapsed carports and porches. That night it went down to about 4 degrees! Talk about extremes - from 40 degrees to 4 in a couple of weeks.

Day 42 Giant redwoods (sequoias) in the 
Armstrong woods near Santa Rosa, California

I drove from Soda Springs and deep snow to Santa Rosa only 3 ½ hours away but a world apart in temperature and landscape.

I was told that these giant redwoods used to fill all of the coastal areas of Sonoma county - until the San Francisco earthquake.

Then they were harvested and shipped south to rebuild the city.

At Armstrong woods there is one redwood that is over 1400 years old - it has seen civilizations come and go. One gets a sense of timelessness there.


Day 42 Pelicans at Goat Rock Beach

I finally got my photo of pelicans! When one looks up into the sun with the camera one can’t see anything. So, I took dozens of photos in the general vicinity of the flocks of pelicans in the hopes one would have birds in the frame. And I got one!


Day 45 Morning reflection in Clear Lake, California

Getting up early is becoming routine, as I don’t have curtains yet in my van. And an early morning walk is common. This walk was exceptional. At Clear Lake State Park there is a boardwalk next to this lake from which I saw water birds, turtles, lizards, deer and heard a multitude of song birds, all in the perfect calm of the early morning.

Talk about a vagus nerve booster!

Day 45 Field of flowers at Mendocino Headlands

Most days I’ve been passing multitudes of flower, but often can’t stop and take a photo. They are often on the side of a vertiginous, winding, narrow road with no safe place to pull off. But this gives you an idea of some of the flowers they are reportedly seeing from space in this California Superbloom.

Day 48 Wild rhododendron

The tiny, pale pink wild mountain rhododendron is one of my favorite wildflowers and I count myself lucky if I see a few fragile specimens each season in the mountain parks. Imagine my surprise and awe when, as soon as I crossed the border into Oregon, the forest understory and roadsides are filled with this larger, brighter version. Timing is everything when it comes to flowers. I’ve travelled through this area before but never in spring so I’ve never seen them in bloom. They were mythical creatures to me. No longer. I just passed a sign on the trail near my campsite saying they are poisonous. If people eat the honey of bees that have feasted on rhodo nectar, it can make them ill. Something so beautiful with a dangerous aspect.

Day 52 Sea Anemone at Cobble beach tidal pool
Newport Oregon

Cobble Beach is designated an outstanding natural area and it certainly lives up to the reputation.

At high tide, when the waves rushed over the cobbles they make a delightful musical tinkling noise.

At low tide a large area of tidepools are uncovered and filled with anemones, sea stars, tiny crabs, and various other forms of plant life.

There are colonies of common murrs, cormorants and other sea birds. We saw pelicans and great blue herons and dozens of harbour seals lounging on the rocks. Apparently because the spring is so late this year very few birds have laid their eggs yet.

The seals have had their pups and we saw some nursing.
It is an incredible sight