Chuq Von Rospach is a Silicon Valley veteran doing Technical Community Management and amateur photographer with a strong interest in birds, wildlife and landscapes. My goal is to explore the Western states and working to tell you the stories of the special places I've found. You can find out more on the About Page.
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Category Archives: Road Trips
Laurie and I just spent a week in Oregon on vacation, where, among other things, we actually took a vacation, and surprisingly enough (given my history) that involved a lot of not being online and not using a camera. Instead we wandered and explored, ate some pretty good food, and just kind of unplugged and unwound. I highly recommend it.
Since then I’ve been trying to finish up some projects that I started before we headed out of town.
The big one is that I’ve switched the photography part of my site and portfolio over to Smugmug (it was previously self-hosted within WordPress). The new Smugmug rocks and lived up to my expectations with one pain point that I was able to work through last night.
A nice side effect of that is that I can now offer prints and digital downloads for sale via the site. I’ve set things up so that you can get an 8×10 of an image for $15.99, 11×14 for $39.99 and 16×20 for $79.99. A couple of sizes of canvas wrapped prints are also available with 8×10 at $129 and 11×14 at $199. Digital Downloads are available for personal use for $3.99 and commercial usage for $29.99. The non-cost usage for Non-profits still exists and you need to contact me directly to arrange that. Full details on this are on my Prints and Licensing page.
This is the culmination of about six weeks of under the hood work — I’d been having recurring performance problems on the site and Laurie and I both have projects in the work where I decided it made sense to refresh the hosting setup; we’ve moved from a shared/virtual hosting setup to a VPS, which among other things gives me a much nicer scaling option if I ever need it, but it also means I have dedicated CPU and RAM profile for the site so it’s not going to get bogged down when one of the other users sharing the server has their site get busy.
It also gave me a chance to pull my site and Laurie’s site out and rebuild each from scratch in a new environment; we’ve been on the old hosting server since 2004 (and quite happy with them! they don’t offer a VPS server option, unfortunately) — and as you might imagine, the disk area on the old server was cluttered with the remains of a lot of projects and former projects. By pulling the production pieces out, it’s allowed me to clean up everything else with a minimum of fuss and risk and set things up so moving forward we don’t end up with a hosting setup that looks like it was rented by someone scheduled to go on Hoarders….
One aspect of this that you should be aware of: we’ve decided it’s time to retire the plaidworks.com domain. There’s a lot of history on that domain, and we’ve run it since 1995, but it doesn’t fit in any of our future plans and it’s an impressive spam magnet. If you’re still sending us email at that domain, you need to update your address book. It’s going to go dark sometime in the next few months.
And now, other than some minor updating to the theme of the blog to match the smugmug site, I am finally at the point where I wanted to be three weeks ago so this would all be done and stable before I went on the trip. Missed it by “this” much…
A Quick Note on the New Smugmug
A quick note on the new Smugmug, since I mentioned a pain point above. I really love the new look of Smugmug sites and the integration went quite easily with one exception: I needed to replace the gallery on the front page of the main site with one from Smugmug. The problem? Smugmug’s embedded galleries are still built in flash. That means they don’t work in browsers that don’t support Flash (like Safari) and on almost all mobile devices.
I worked through a number of options to get around this, and it’s a bit of a “why isn’t this fixed?” problem given that their non-embedded galleries all work fine on those platforms. Leaving it like that was not acceptable, but I wasn’t happy doing something like swapping in a static image if the gallery won’t load. I even considered disabling the front page and redirecting it to the front page of the portfolio site.
Ultimately, I found a solution that I consider to be a hack, but it’s one that works reliably and solves the issue in a way I think will work for the forseeable future. What I ended up doing was creating a page on the smugmug site and removing all chrome from it, and then adding in and configuring a gallery slideshow that did what I wanted. If you view that page in a browser, all you’ll see is the slideshow (and a bit of smugmug advertising).
I then go back into the HTML of the front page of my blog site, and I load that page in via an IFRAME. Since the native gallery works on all of the platforms, when it’s sucked onto the site it’ll work fine. Even though this site isn’t responsively designed, it looks okay on an iPad in landscape mode, and it even functions and is usable on an iPhone.
I’d love to not jump through these hoops to get this done, but it’s done, it works, and while I’ll probably go in and tweak it a bit, I like the result. It should work everywhere except the most recent versions of Firefox that now seem to have restrictions on cross-domain loading of IFRAMES (which I expect will annoy lots of sites around the net, except Firefox isn’t used widely any more). Once I get around to wiring up the Smugmug site to respond to photos.chuqui.com, even that problem goes away…
But still, Smugmug needs to get an iPad compatible embedded gallery going. I expect they will, but this page/iframe hack will work for most folks trying to get around this, I believe.
The smugmug site is built heavily around smart folders, which means I only need to upload an image once and it’ll migrate out to all of the appropriate places as if by magic. I’ll explain how I did that down the road, but it simplifies things massively and allows me to do almost all of the image organization within Lightroom instead of on Smugmug itself. Also a big win…
Now that I have print sales up and working, I expect all of you to go out and buy something. Have fun, and I really like this image on canvas…
I’d love to hear what you think, especially things that you think could be improved or that I broke. (me? break something? nah….) — I’m far from “done”, but I’m happy to leave the rest for later right now.
Because now that these pieces are done, one of the things I did on vacation was figure out this curation “thing” I’ve been experimenting with the last year or so, and now I’m ready to go build the damn thing and see what happens…
My trip this weekend was to the Morro Bay area to join a group down at the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery. It’s peak time of year, as the females have been giving birth since mid-December.
The reason we got together saturday was that an early morning high tide was going to shrink the size of the beach, compressing the seals together. They were grumpy to start, the hope was that they would be grumpy AND cramped. There was some fighting going on, but the main alphas had their territories and mates worked out and didn’t argue much; it was the lesser males sparring and working on the pecking order, and it was the lesser males running like crazy away from the alphas and the females trying not to be caught.
So needless, there was a lot of action, but no heavyweight fights.
The morning broke to fog, which came and went throughout, and which gave the place a weird moody feel. I set myself up as a position I’d staked out earlier that gave me good angles up the beach. Others in the group set up in other locations or wandered the area. Images from the outing are being posted to this flickr group.
The females wean their pups for about a month, giving off a large percentage of their body weight to the pup, and then the pups wean, and the females go into heat. The males mate them, and then the females leave again.
There are sometimes significant disagreements about who gets to make with whom, and for the females, it’s whether the males can catch them. It’s not exactly consensual. The female’s tactic is to run, and if caught, throw sand in his face and hope he gets distracted.
Elephant seals can move surprisingly fast for something that big and bulky – for about ten feet, at which point they need to stop and rest.
The rule on the sand is pretty clearly “if it’s bigger than you are, runâ€¦” — the smaller seal invariably loses the argument, sometimes badly. Newborns are sometimes attacked by the adult males, but more often the males simply run over them if they don’t get out of the way. I saw a couple of cases of that Saturday — no significant injuries, but it had to hurt.
There are three primary sounds on the elephant seal beach: the adults make two primary sounds, one that sounds like a burp, and one that sounds like a fart. Now, imagine thousands of elephant seals all cramped together on a beachâ€¦ the infants make a sound that more or less sounds like a malfunctioning car alarm.
The pups will stick around for some time after that learning to swim and building body strength, but the adult’s responsibility for them is now ended. Many don’t survive the first year. The males will molt and then head off into the waters again, so by March the beach will be mostly empty until the cycle starts again next fall.
After a few hours, we all headed off for some breakfast and chat, then I headed back to Morro Bay for an afternoon of serious birding.
All of my elephant seal images are now on my flickr account, or you can look at this slideshow:
Many thanks to Mike Baird and the Photomorrobay group for organizing this and letting me tag along…
These parks were here long before the state government deemed it necessary to deploy park rangers to all corners of the state, and the parks will remain here long after we are gone. Public spaces are just that, public spaces! We do not require services or supervision in order to enjoy them so the argument that parks will close without taxes is itself a red herring… what will happen is that the state will close off public spaces because their full employment is not ensured.
A reasonable compromise for a state with no money would be to remove the padlocks and open public spaces like parks and lock the doors on facilities that require staffing, such as visitor’s centers. If concession services are available then contract with private entities and remove the state from the providing of services to one of managing contact vendors who render a concession fee to support oversight.
So ask yourself, why is it necessary for a park ranger to be at his/her post in order for me to use a park that is by definition owned by the People of California.
- Because someone needs to maintain the trails so they are safe and usable, and fix them when they get washed out or damaged.
- Because someone needs to deal with the trash, because the visitors won’t.
- Because someone needs to clean the toilets, or get the pit toilets drained.
- Because when someone gets lost, they expect to be found.
- Because when someone gets hurt, they expect to be rescued.
- Because when the large party of loud, drinking teenagers shows up and raises their rabble, the people expecting peace and quiet expect it to be dealt with.
- Because the idiot who builds a campfire in a risky area and doesn’t watch it needs a babysitter to come by and save him from himself, before he burns the whole place down.
- Because when someone does do something stupid and start a fire, we demand it get put out,
Before you start thinking rangers are optional in these areas, you ought to sit down with a few and get to know them.
One of the realities of nature photography is that you can only control nature so much — all the planning in the universe won’t prevent some challenges, like a change in the weather. Sometimes you go and epic pictures fall in your lap. Sometimes you go and conditions are such that you just grind it out and hope some of the images are good. And sometimes you sit in the hotel room listening to the rain and wish you’d cancelled….
This week was my spring trip to Yosemite. It’s been a truly weird year weather-wise, in case you haven’t noticed. Spring is late, cold and wet. The wildflower season has been at best, late and erratic. Bird migrations are off as well. All in all, it’s been tough planning around “spring”. But finally, word came out the dogwood was starting to bloom, and I really, really didn’t want to schedule time in Yosemite after Memorial day — as it was, it was clear the park was getting busier and the hotels around it closer to capacity. I finally decided I needed to go, or decide to wait for some other time. So I set everything up for a few nights in the park.
Of course, then I watched the weather, as a late, wet, cold, spring storm decided to hit Northern California and the Sierra. The couple of days prior to my going, yosemite was seeing highs near 70 and plenty of sun. the day before I was due to arrive, the storm moved in and the temps plunged donw into the 40s, and more storms were moving in as the week progressed. There is, unfortunately, a fine line between hitting the edge of a storm and the unbelievable skies that can create for your landscapes and having the clouds move in and close everything down in a sodden grey mass; and many times, you won’t know which you have until you get there and have to haul out the umbrella.
To be honest, I seriously considered canceling. I thought the weather was going to be iffy, but I felt it was worth a shot. So I went, making a later start on Sunday in hopes of trailing the storm and hitting the motel, then driving into the park to scout and see if there was anything interesting to photograph in the late afternoon. I ended up arriving on the Valley floor about 5PM. Â The temp was in the high 30′s, and the clouds were pretty heavy., but there were a few opportunities at shots.
I stuck around for a couple of hours, and then it started sleeting. That was enough for me for the night, and I headed out to grab a few last supplies and hit the room for the evening. Â I chose not to do dawn patrol because of the temps and worry there might be ice or chain issues on the roads, but I got up early and was in the park around 8AM, to bright skies and a rather pleasant set of views.
This was the day I knew I’d have dry weather. What I didn’t plan for was for the clouds to build back in as early as they did. By noon, we were back to mostly drab grey, although it did warm up, that afternoon it may have even hit 50. Welcome to “spring”.
My original plan was to travel out towards Hetch Hetchy for birds and critters. The road out was on chain requirements just after Foresta, and Foresta itself was under a few inches of snow. I scouted out there a bit, didn’t go into the chain areas, and finally headed back to the valley. I decided to head out to Wawona (to scout, and for gas) and it was fascinating to see how much snow had been dropped — 6-8 inches and the drive through that area looked like a winter trip. Other than road construction, nothing really caught my eye, so I decided to focus on the valley floor and headed back.
While I was doing that, the clouds were moving in. And so were the crowds. The park was busy, making parking a challenge in places, and to top it off, I was starting to feel like crap, with a headache building and generally feeling like a bug was coming on. On the other hand, the water flow in the Merced was amazing, and the waterfalls were even more amazing. I mentally shifted away from photographing birds and critters and instead decided to focus on the falls.
There are many falls in Yosemite that are only active during spring melt, and which dry up again after a few weeks, so unless you come during this period, you’ll never know they’re there. Some of them are stunning to watch.
Some of the more familiar falls were kicking, too. Bridalveil was as full and active as I’ve ever seen it.
And it wasn’t until I took these shots that I realized I’d never photographed Horsetail Falls at all.
Unfortunately, I kept feeling worse; by 3PM, I was exhausted. Almost fell asleep twice parked and watching the falls to judge how to image them. Ultimately, I decided I wasn’t doing myself any good and pulled the plug. On the way out, however, I saw the clot of people that signposts “critter!”, and in the middle was the ranger, which usually means the critter is a bear. So I found a place to park, grabbed the binocs and camera, and headed back to where everyone was clustered.
Meet “White 1″, a 28 month old cinnamon black bear — not all black bears are black, but this color is fairly rare in Yosemite. He was busily foraging for grubs in the fallen tree. Ryan the ranger was thrilled — as he said “I have a wild bear doing wild bear things, and everyone is behaving so I don’t have to yell at anyone”. And then he pointed to one person who was busily running through the meadow “well, except him, but he’s a pro”.
That was @yosemitesteve, who films for the park and does the awesome Nature Notes series available on Youtube. If you haven’t discovered them yet, do so — check out his one on Frazil Ice. Â And kids, don’t try that on your own… I ended up with the “wrong” lens on the camera, the Tamron 28-300, which is unfortunately really soft at 300MM, as you can see from that image. If I’d been thinking more carefully, I should have swapped to my critter lens, but didn’t. And when I went back to get it, of course, the bear ran off just as I attached the big lens to the camera body — of course. So all I have are some rather soft pictures as a great practical example of why I try NOT to use that lens beyond about 150mm except in an emergency (and this came up over on the Stack Exchange photo site, and I ended up chiming in on it).
Photographing a bear qualifies as an emergency. As bears go, it’s a rather small animal, being quite young. But still — I wish I’d grabbed the other lens. But still — being able to just watch an animal like that for a while totally made the trip for me.
After the bear skedaddled, I got back in the car and headed back to Mariposa for the night (Having your hotel room an hour away creates tradeoffs, which I talked about on my Wednesdays in Review). It was at dinner that I suddenly realized I was exceptionally thirsty.
So a nice meatball sub and a liter and a half of water later, I headed back to my room, already feeling better.
Dehydrated. Which explained why I felt like crap. And honestly, I know better, I really do. I’ve known since high school that I dehydrate early and often, and when I’m travelling, have to be careful — the air in most hotel rooms is fairly low humidity, and I tend to lose a lot of water in my breathing. And even though I thought I was taking in enough water, I evidently started the trip a bit dehydrated, and it spiraled. So sometimes, even if you think you have details covered, they get away from you (another truism about only being able to plan so many details; the one you miss messes with you). I actually have a protocol for staying hydrated on the road; for various reasons, I didn’t follow it properly, and it caught me. (yes, my life is an endless mental checklist of things I’ve learned not to forget over the years — and which I sometimes forget anyway). That’s a lesson learned — again.
I was asleep before 9PM, and slept 11 hours. And woke up thirsty. And woke up to rain. Which I expected. The new storm moved in overnight, and things looked ugly. I still felt somewhat ugly, and I’d decided the night before that if the weather was bad as expected, I’d cut the trip short and head home, because there was a 2nd, bigger storm chasing that morning storm into the area. The chances I’d had much good photography in those conditions was minimal, IMHO, so I decided to cut and run.
I drank another two liters of water on the drive home; it wasn’t until I was within 10 miles of home that my body started telling me my hydration levels were fine again (do I really need to explain how you can tell? No, I didn’t think so).
So some thoughts on the trip. Instead of the planned 2 full days and two partial days, I got one full day and a few hours the afternoon before. Instead of spring weather, I got late winter blustery and dull grey skies (and sleet). I took a total of 350 images, a percentage of that was pieces for HDR generation. My ding rate was about 10%. I ended up putting about 50 images into my primary library including HDR material, with a total of 27 “keeper” images. the rest went into my retired library (technically good, but overlapping the keepers and not as interesting, but there if I want a different take of need them in some way). I drove 620miles, and I spent about $500 on the trip.
Was it what I planned? Not remotely. Did I come back with some good images? Yes. Was it worth it? Just to stand and watch the bear for a while, absolutely freaking totally yes. Despite being disappointed at having the wrong lens handy for the pictures, I don’t care. Much.
Would I do it again? Yes, but without the dehydration; that impacted the day a lot more than I realized until later (I don’t know about you, but when I get dehydrated, I get slow and tired, low energy, a headache, grumpy and a bad attitude; so I didn’t push myself into doing as much as I would have if I felt better. oh well). Part of that is practical; I wasn’t going to reschedule my time off at work again. I wasn’t going to push my Yosemite trip out past Memorial day. Staying home instead was an option, but hell, a chance to go to Yosemite?
But I do wish I’d hit more spring than late winter. And it’s a bit annoying that a couple of days after I pulled out, the rain is gone and the weather is heading back into the 60′s. This storm was perfectly timed to annoy me.
Still, when you’re doing nature photography, it’s important to remember nature doesn’t always cooperate. And just roll with it. (and drink plenty of fluids).
And I ended up with zero shots of dogwood blossoms, after all of that. Because they were gonig to be a big part of the 2nd day of photography. oops. well, next year.
And that may be the important lesson of a trip like this (other than “drink that bottle of water NOW, and open another”) — a place like Yosemite, you don’t visit once and have a finished portfolio. Too much to cover, too many different things, too many different looks — adding images every trip is how you do this, over time and with some patience. And in the final judgement, the images I added weren’t the ones I’d planned (except the chapel image, which I’ll write about tomorrow), but they were the ones that deserved to be added based on what was going on when I got there. And with that, I won’t complain about a little sleet and a headache. After all — Yosemite? Or going to work.
One of the things I’ve been doing leading up to this trip is figure out what I want to accomplish while I’m on the road. Yosemite is one of those places you can just point the camera in random directions and press the shutter and end up with good images, but a little thought and planning can leverage that time and push forward other initiatives as well.
In previous trips I’ve focused more on the grand imagery of the park, classic shots and classic locations. This trip I want to try to spend more time looking at Yosemite on a smaller scale — the trees, not the forest, so to speak.
All of this is open to change based on weather and opportunity, but here’s my current thinking. I’m looking to spend three nights there, with a Â room in Mariposa. I could have gotten a room at Wawona (and I like that hotel) but I’d rather spend the money other ways, so I’ll drive a bit more and spend a lot less. Â Yosemite Lodge at the falls was full, as was Yosemite View Lodge at El Portal, and Cedar lodge had rooms but for a bit less money, it seemed to make sense to stay in Mariposa. Â Because the hotel situation looks opretty busy, I expect the park to be fairly busy, unlike my stays in February and March when most of the visitors are up at Badger Pass, but far from the crowds you get after Memorial Day.
Day 0 is driving in; I’m considering doing a birding trip through San Benito county to get into central valley, and arriving later in the day. It would be a good excuse to show up with a cold dinner and hang out at tunnel view, weather cooperating. Or down somewhere on the meadows looking for opportunities for classic landscapes.
Day 1 is the first full day. Expectation is to get up rather early and get out on the road to Hetch Hetchy, exploring the Mather and Foresta areas. An early start gives me a better shot at wildlife, get there before other folks are up and around, and that area should be quiet in any event, so the wildlife won’t be driven out of site by the crowds. That’s an area Ic an look for mountain quail and cassin’s finch and interesting woodpeckers, also good opportunities for mule deer and coyote. If I get lucky, maybe fox, maybe bobcat. we’ll see. but the trick is to get out there early for the mammals, explore hetch hetchy, slow trip back looking for birds, Â and be back on the valley floor for a late lunch. The afternoon and evening is for exploring the valley floor.
Day 2, I go out the other direction. don’t need to start as early, but I want to explore big trees. On the way back, I want to try to do some photography of the Wawona Inn and see what happens. When I’m done, again it’s on the valley floor.
Day 3, hopefully a pre-dawn start and onto the valley floor for early wildlife. I expect to spend most of the morning exploring Happy Isles area. I’m not sure my knee’s going to let me go out to Mirror Lake, but if I can, I will.
Things I specifically want to shoot include the chapel, the Ahwannee, Wawona Inn, and exploring around the Merced River. Instead of the iconic vista landscapes, I want to focus more on smaller, intimate ones, do more work with the macro lens, and work a lot more in the 70-120mm range. I’m hoping for blooming dogwood, but we’ll see what I have when I get there. Â I’ve got half a dozen birds on my list (the two above, white-faced woodpecker, pileated, mountain chickadee, and golden crowned kinglet) plus wahtever is in the area for spring. Bears are always on the list is opportunity safely arrives, but I’m hoping I can find a bobcat and I’m fairly confident I’ll find coyotes. Mule deer are a given…
And of course, as soon as I get there, I’m sure this will change… And of course, it’s waterfall season there, and I’d be an idiot to ignore them. But I don’t want to just go take new versions of the images I’ve already taken…
So day 3 of the road trip is over. I’m tired, in a good way; sitting in a motel room in Morro Bay looking at the results so far — 1900 images and counting. Tomorrow is another day around Morro; the harbor is full of loons, but the otters are being coy and distant, and as usual, early and late you’re dodging fog. But I’m not complaining…
Just starting to sort through the images, but here are a few that caught my eye…Â
Case in point, we are talking about taking a family vacation to San Diego early next year (look out Kedrosky!) and decided that renting a minivan and driving down would be cheaper than flying and less hassle to boot. Itâ€™s a lot of time behind the wheel but no worse than trudging through an airport pissed off about having to pay $150 to check bags.
Whenever Laurie and I do our driving vacations — which we’ve done since before they made airports so damn painful — friends and co-workers have always wondered if we were insane. Now that airports have become so insane, people are starting to realize that plopping on a plane isn’t the only option, and in many cases, not the best.
We almost always drive vacations (and we never, ever fly to SoCal) for a few reasons: first, we tend to carry a lot of gear, including the computer stuff and cameras and etc. So under most circumstances, flying generates compromises we can avoid by driving. Second, driving is almost invariably cheaper. Third, in many cases, especially these days of three hour waits for connections and flight delays, TSA delays, baggage delays and rental car delays, it’s not significantly slower to drive. And finally, not only does it give us a chance to just sit and talk and be with each other, there’s a whole bunch of stuff between here and there worth seeing and looking at you won’t see at 30,000 feet. The journey CAN be the reward; hell, sometimes the destination is the excuse, not the reason.
When we did our Yellowstone trip this fall, I kept notes on costs and timing. Yellowstone is about the limit of what I’d consider reasonable for a “normal” vacation. Two days driving each way, with rational driving times each way. Silicon Valley is about 16 hours driving from Silicon valley; I prefer to keep each leg about 8-10 hours. That takes you through a lot of territory, though: from silicon valley, it’ll get you to Vancouver, Yellowstone, Salt Lake, Denver, Taos, and all points east. By limiting driving to 8-10 hours, you don’t have to play the “crack of dawn” patrol, you can stop and explore places of interest, eat without a drive-through window, and get into a hotel at a rational hour for a rational sleep. You’re not stressed or harried or exhausted when you get there.
(hint: it’s even MORE interesting to find spots along the way and make the entire journey part of the trip, but we wanted to maximize our time in the park, so we hustled out way each way; I did, however, flag four or five places as future photography locales… But for us, a typical trip to Victoria or Vancouver would involve a day or two in Portland and a couple of stops up and down the Oregon Coast, rather than putting all of our time into one place. Once you get into this “along the way” type of travel, lots of things open up, especially areas you’d have real issues getting to via an airport…)
Here’s a comparison of what it’d take to drive to Yellowstone, versus flying. In many ways, this is the extreme case: Yellowstone is about as far as I’d want to drive on a ten day trip (week off plus two weekends), so you’re spending the maximum amount of time in the car, which you’d think would benefit the airplane. Not necessarily.
For the driving, we left Saturday mid-morning, and arrived in Yellowstone around dinner time on Sunday, stopping overnight in Winnemucca, roughly half way. At the time, gas was headed down but we still paid an average right around $3.70 a gallon. The drive to Yellowstone is almost exactly 1,000 miles.
We drove 1,000 miles getting there, 1,000 miles around the park in the days there, and 1,000 miles coming back, spending a total of $400 for 107 gallons of gas. 2/3 of that gas was used in transit, so the fuel cost for travelling was around $250. Factor in car maintenance to be fair: $70 for the 3,000 mile lube, and some percentage of the 60,000 mile service and tire costs; practically speaking, that’s probably another $70, and I’m probably being generous (my last major service plus 2 new tires ran a grand. factor that cost into 30,000 miles, and you get about $70 for 2,000 miles).
So, the total cost of driving to and from Yellowstone is about $400.
Flying? I did some checks on flight costs at the same time we travelled. For Yellowstone, that’s either West Yellowstone or Bozeman. A typical flight to Bozeman at the same time would have cost you about $500 per person round trip and take 8 hours, flying through Denver or Salt Lake. I just checked, and today it’s about $400ish in December, but next June, we’re back at $450-$500 for a time when a rational person would take that trip. West Yellowstone is slower and more expensive, with only a couple of flights (totalling 90 seats) a day, and it’s seasonal. Then add in a rental car, which when I checked in September was averaging $130/week out of those cities.
So your travel costs end up running you at best about $1,000-$1,100. And if you fly to Yellowstone, you’ll arrive just in time for dinner Saturday — in Bozeman. It’s late enough you won’t actually get into the park until Sunday morning. Leaving? you either get the crack of dawn patrol for a flight out around 7AM, or a late flight out and get home at midnight on Sunday.
Net result? If you fly, you get a Sunday in the park coming in, and a Saturday in the park going out that you don’t get driving. And for the privilege, your cost goes from about $400 to $1,100, over 2X. I’m not counting hotel or food costs here because the same meals get eaten (only in different places) and hotel rooms get used — although most likely, the room on the road while driving will likely be cheaper (ours were about half the cost or more).
As to the hassle factor of driving? you can’t tell me that the joys of the TSA, of flight delays, of 3 hour connecting flight waits, of checking and retrieving luggage and renting cars — and airport food — is any great shakes. It’s all in the attitude; getting into the mindset that the trip is part of the journey and not just a way to the destination opens up many options. And, well, having time to unplug and just talk to the people you’re with? Or heading off a side road and exploring? (well, laurie calls it “getting lost again”, but I prefer to see it as adventuring into the unknown). Massive fun.
Flying options options; I wouldn’t want to drive to chicago or tampa, not unless it was part of a longer, extended trip. OTOH, a two day drive from where you live opens up many places — from silicon valley, pretty much everything west of and into the rockies.
And if you stop and think about it a bit, there is basically no way you can do an airport run from northern california to southern california faster than driving these days, not once you factor in the time getting to and from airports, TSA lines, renting cars, etc. etc. At best, it’s a wash. and driving’s much cheaper. I can’t see why anyone flies back and forth on that shuttle, honestly.
so for me, it’s car first. We’ve done flying trips to Vancouver and Victoria in the past (flying into Victoria directly, into Vancouver, and into Seattle and crossing the border), and you know what? Have fun in the plane (hah). I’ll just hop in the car. You may get there a bit sooner, but I’ll be relaxed and happy when I get there, and I’ll have all of my stuff. What did you decide not to bring to fit into the overhead and checkin restrictions, anyway?
What I don’t understand is why when airlines decided on what business model they were going to follow, they chose “greyhound bus” as what they wanted to be when they grew up….
Update: One of the commenters made an important comment:
It’s hard to argue with most of what you wrote, but flying does allow me to take do a trip like a 4-day weekend in Vancouver from time to time.
And that’s an important thing to keep in mind: the trade-off between time and money. If your time is short, then spending money to minimize travel time, but when you do, it’s knowing that you’re taking a more expensive option for speed. That’s fine; I certainly wouldn’t drive a 4-5 day trip to Vancouver.
Ditto a day trip to SoCal; if I had to go to SoCal and return same day for a meeting (first, I’d try NOT to, but that’s a different issue), then I might fly, because otherwise it’d be a really long day; in that case, sitting in a plane or airport might be preferable to driving. But if I could schedule it to drive down, take in the meeting, overnight, and drive back while stopping at, say, Morro Beach on a Saturday, well, sign me up…
So ultimately, NONE of this is absolute. And if your idea of a perfect vacation is to sit on a beach in Cancun drinking margaritas — that’s great, too. But heck, you could sit on a beach near San Diego and drink for a lot less, I bet, and have pretty darn good weather, too. Or Phoenix, for that matter.
it’s summer vacation time — and not suprisingly, we’re headed North.
if it’s Sunday, it must be Vancouver. We left San Jose about 10 Saturday, got into Portland in time for a nice Dinner at Stanfords, took off a bit after 8 sunday morning, and hit the hotel room about 3:30, and were sitting in Yaletown Brewing for a nice dinner at 5.
When we tell people we drive on these trips, we always get asked why. Vancouver is so far away — why not fly?
First, we like driving. It gives us a chance to unplug, unwind, and enjoy the journey. I used to do most of the driving; since buying the BMW, Laurie won’t let me drive now. I’d complain, but… I don’t mind.
Second, it’s really not that far. It’s about 1000 miles, 14-15 hours driving in good weather. That’s about twice the distance of San jose to Los Angeles, and it’s easy to do in two easy shifts — no marathons required.
Third, it’s a lot cheaper. gas: about $110 + hotel: $80. Travel time (start to finish): 34 hours. To fly? Supershuttle to SFO, $75 each way. Tickets to Vancouver: $350 per person each way. Throw in a rental car — about $225/week for two weeks. And an extra day in our destination hotel: $200. That’s, um, $200 to drive, versus flying: about $1700.
And if we fly? Out of SFO, we can either fly around 8AM, or about 7PM. If we fly out at 8AM saturday, we have to be at the airport 90 minutes before that, an hour’s drive away, and the shuttle will add in a fudge factor. So we have to get up at 3AM? or fly out about 7PM, not get to the hotel until close to midnight — room service time, if it’s still open. Flying’s been made so inconvenient — why bother? For an extra $1500, we get one extra meal in Vancouver and one more evening in the city. instead, we had a really good meal in Portland. (and this assumes we’re staying here. we’re not — we’re actually spending time here, Victoria, Seattle and Portland — in practice, at least three plan transfers (shudder) if we fly.
And finally — with a car, you can pack stuff in it and bring it home. Like, say, a case or two of good wine from British Columbia, Washington and Oregon. Try that in coach class. And since we aren’t spending all of that money on plane tickets, we can spend that money on wine instead. and good meals…
We end up saving $1500 or so; we lose about 8 hours net time in Vancouver, somewhat less time on the return trip from Portland (same day, no overnight), and actually gain time not worrying about the flying hassle on transfers to other cities. . Nice tradeoff.
Have you sat down and considered the tradeoffs on your trips? It might surprise you.
the drive north was almost non-eventful (which is nice). Highlight (or lowlight) of the trip was driving up 5 past Mount Shasta (a beautiful, if hot, place to visit) when we get passed by a car. Laurie goes “what is that hanging from his car?”
“That” turned out to be the hose from a gas pump, still inserted into the gas tank, On the other end, the connector (designed to separate if some idiot drives away from a pump without removing the hose) had died a hero, and was sparking its way down the road. Between the hose, the sparks and the fact that the guy was driving like a royal idiot (way too fast, way too aggressive) we made sure to give him a wide berth. We followed him at a good distance for a few miles, when suddenly he braked and made a mad dash for the side of the road (nearly going through the fenders of a car to the side of him…..), and stopped. when we went by, he was standing next to the car, staring at the hose.
one can only wonder at how this happened. And what the gas station attendant thought.
We made Portland (actually, Clackamas) in time for an early dinner at, and a nice drive up to Vancouver on Sunday. It took us about 20 minutes to cross the border at Peace Arch, and arrived in Vancouver in the early afternoon, checked in to the hotel, and went off in search of food….