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13 - Into the Desert 02

Arriving back in Australia after nine months away (three months travelling, six months in London), I was straight back to the 9-5 grind. I spent the next six weeks working back in my old job for the government all the while working out when I could get back overseas. Mostly I was focusing on getting back to London to see out the remainder of my visa ASAP. That all took a turn after having discussion with my good friend Ross, who lives in Melbourne. He reminded me that he was heading to the US in August for a trip around the states.

Towards the end of 2013/beginning of 2014, I had been talking to Ross via Facebook while living in London. He had told me that he was planning a trip to the USA to go to Speed Week, an event held on the salt flats at Bonneville in Utah in August every year. He had suggested that it would be a great thing to attend with the potential for some amazing photos. At the time I was interested but wasn't sure wether I would be able to come across as I had plans to travel Europe the following summer. So it was left at that.

Fast forward four months and things were a lot different. I was back in Aus, saving money and looking at what I could next in term of travelling. After my initial six weeks with work finished, I was fortunate to have the chance to move into another team which would extend my time there. Once I knew I had a couple more months work lined up and a steady stream of money coming in, I made the decision to book return flights to LA to go and travel the USA with Ross and his mate from Melbourne.

At first the plan was to travel pretty much together for the entire time with a road trip from LA to Utah and back and then across the country to Austin in Texas. But when I started to research and work out distances and costs, I realised that It wasn't worth it. I was still keen for the first road trip to the salt flats but after that I decided I would travel alone and visit places I had never been before including New Orleans, Playa Del Carmen in Mexico, Austin and San Diego plus time in Los Angeles. That would take approximately six weeks so I booked flights and accommodation for all the destinations I was heading to. Once this had been completed, I just counted down the days till I was due to leave. I worked right up until the end July and then headed home to Queensland for a week before making the flight to LA.

Arriving in LA on the 3rd of August, I headed straight for my hostel in Santa Monica. I made the decision to fly over about five days before Ross and Dunc were due so I could see a little bit more of LA. So for the next few days I roamed the streets of Santa Monica and Venice beach, photographing as much as I could. I was also fortunate to be able to catch up with my cousins while I was there. Andrew and I had spent lots of time travelling in 2013 throughout Europe so it was good to catch up with him while he was living in LA plus his brother Jono, who had been living and studying in New York, was also in town. So on my final day I headed back to the airport to meet up with the boys who had just flown in from Australia.

Road trip one - Los Angeles to Bonneville, Utah

After meeting them at the airport, we jumped in one of the airport shuttles and headed to the RV rental place to pick up our trusty stead which we would use for the next week as we navigated through the desert. Ross had made a rookie mistake and hired an RV from a place in Corona, which is at least a 45min drive from the airport. We were on a tight time schedule as we had to pick up the RV before a certain time otherwise we would have to wait until the next day. Luckily we got there in time, threw our stuff into the the back and drove the bastard out of the lot. We made a quick stop at Walmart to pick up some necessities and then hit the road.

We very quickly found out the RV was a dodgy, gas guzzling piece of junk. On the freeways steering wheel would wobble and shake and it was fairly gutless. But nonetheless, we were excited. We ended up just outside Vegas for our first night and stayed in one of the many casinos that are all around Vegas and Nevada. The next day we were up early and hit the road again, bypassing Vegas and taking the I-93 north up through Nevada. We were going to stay in a little town called Ely for the night but decided against it and drove through until we arrived in West Wendover which is right on the border of Nevada and Utah. It only has a population of 6000 but two huge casinos and it was bustling as everyone was in town for Speedweek. So we found a spot to park the RV and then went to check out some of the cars on show. After that we went into the Montego Bay casino for some food and a few drinks. Dunc and I got lucky that night on the slot machines winning $300 and $340 respectively from the same machine. The local coupe sitting next to the machine couldn't believe it and when I jumped off were straight onto it. We then called it a night and headed back to the RV for some sleep, ready to go and check out the salt flats the next day.

Waking up early, we were very excited to head out to the salt and get set up for the week. Unfortunately before we headed out there, we heard the terrible news that the event had been cancelled. Due to rain that had come through the previous couple of days, it had turned the flats into a shallow lake. There wasn't enough time for it to dry out so in turn the officials pulled the plug. To say the boys were disappointed was an understatement. But we were still keen to go and have a look. So after spending about 15 minutes taking photos, we jumped back in the RV and headed towards West Wendover. We pulled into a Starbucks and pulled out the laptop the plan our next move. After the huge disappointment, the lads decided to pull the plug on 3/4 of their trip, preferring to try and come back again the following year.

So with that in mind, we started the journey back to LA. We managed to gun it to Las Vegas and decided to stay for a couple of days as both Ross and Dunc had never been before. I did a bit of my own research and worked out that we could do a day trip out to Valley of State Fire Park . It was place I had found out about on my previous trip in the US but it was after we had completed my road trip with my brother, so I vowed to get there. Luckily for me, as one door closed another opened. We made the trip out there and it was very much worth the effort. You are driving through pretty standard desert scenery and then suddenly the valley opens up and this rich, red rock formations appear in front of you. We ended up spending a few hours there and many rolls of Ektar 100 later before heading back to Vegas.

The next day, we woke up around 4:30am and hit the road for our five hour journey to Corona. We couldn't get a refund for returning the vehicle early but it didn't both us too much, we'd had enough of the shit heap. One of Dunc's old friends then came and picked us up and drove us back to LA. I then left the boys and went and stayed with my friend Devin in Mar Vista, close to Santa Monica. She had just moved back from Germany, was unemployed and keen to do anything. So after a quick chat, we decided to head out to Joshua Tree National Park. Another amazing place I had wanted to travel to for a while and with the cutting short of our Speed Week road trip gave us the extra days to be able to do it.

1: Arrow Canyon Wilderness, NV 2 & 3: Driving through Nevada to Utah
4: West Wendover, UT 5 & 6: Bonneville Salt Flats, UT 7: Ely, NV
8 - 11: Valley of Fire State Park, NV 12 - 14: Moapa Travel Plaza, NV

Road trip two - Los Angeles to Joshua Tree and Salton Sea

We got up the next morning, packed the car and headed off. It's about a three and half hour drive there from LA. Arriving in the afternoon, we headed to our accommodation just outside of town. Devin had spotted this awesome little caravan on Airbnb and booked it for two nights. Best decision we could have ever made. After going to the pub for a few drinks and some food, we grabbed a case of beer and drove back to the caravan. We then sat outside drinking beers and gazing at the stars in the open desert sky. So cool.

The next day we went and explored Joshua Tree National Park. It's a fantastic national park with beautiful rock formations. We then headed back to town, stopping along the way to take some photos of the old, rundown buildings no longer used. We headed back to the caravan for one more night before having to make the journey back towards LA. Getting up the next morning, I did some research about a place called Salvation Mountain. It was built in the 1970's as a concrete monument to God and looked amazing to photos I saw on while googling it. It was only about two hours drive from where we were so I mentioned it to Devin and she was keen for it. So we packed up the car and headed off to Salvation Mountain. As we were driving out there we were stopped by police as two semi-trailers had crashed together which closed the road. Getting anxious as we needed to be back in LA by a certain time, we decided to wait to see if it would clear up. 45 mins later and the road was clear so we continued onwards. We had put the location into google maps but when we arrived, we found that nothing was around. Thinking that maybe it was back towards the town we had driven past, we turned around and headed back. Next thing you know, there was a US-Mexico border crossing. It was about 50 miles from the actual border but the checkpoint existed as there was a main train line that came up right next to the highway from Mexico into California.

I then began to pack myself as I had left my passport back in LA. We didn’t think we would be going even close to a border crossing so I left it behind. We were pulled over and questioned by the guards before jumping out of the car so they could inspect it. We also found out that Salvation Mountain was back in the direction we were heading, only a couple more minutes down the road. After about 10 minutes they gave us a stern warning about having the right identification papers all times before letting us go. As soon as we jumped back in the car, we smashed in back to LA. I was very disappointed about not seeing Salvation Mountain but alas I will get back there one day.

1: Caravan in Joshua Tree - CA 2: 3 - 5: Joshua Tree National Park - CA
6 & 7: Keep Out - Joshua Tree, CA 8 & 9: Devin and Me - Joshua Tree, CA 
10: Lonely cowboy - Salton Sea, CA 11: Salton Sea - CA

Shot on a Mamiya 7, 80mm f4.0 lens and Kodak Ektar 100 and Portra 160  film. Developed and scanned by Richard Photo Lab in California.