Welcome to Open Roads

this Tribe's mission. Plus: How A spontaneous decision to extend a trip, rent a car, and explore led to an amazing moment.

4y ago

This is Open Roads, your road-trip tribe. We're going to have a great time here, with tales of adventure, conquest, mission, romance, and of course mishaps and mayhem. We'll talk about how to plan for an exciting road trip, what to bring, WHO to bring, and how to put your body and brain in the right place for adventure. We'll discuss how to to maximize your machine on the road, how best to capture your trip in video and photography, and even how to queue up a great playlist to accompany your exploration.

I'd like to start by telling a quick story about this photo, which I shot in early October while on a trip to Jackson Hole, Wyoming--home of the famed Grand Teton National Park. I was there to test out Audi's new A4 Allroad, and we'd spent two days exploring the beautiful region, but in heavy rain and fog. As a car critic, the conditions were ideal--it was a perfect way to push the off-road Allroad to its limits, in mud, snow, low-visibility, and other assorted nastiness. But as a photographer and simple lover of beautiful scenery, it was an epic bummer. I knew the mountains in the heart of Grand Teton were there, but most of the time I couldn't see them.

On the last day, I had to be at the airport at six in the morning, while it was still dark. Of course when I arrived it was--finally--crystal clear outside. I stood at the check-in kiosk in a funk, but then noticed the little "Flight Options" button on the screen. I pressed it. There was, to my amazement, a later flight. (I'd inquired about delaying my return the previous day but at the time there were no options--flights in and out of Jackson Hole are infrequent, and always full.) I noticed a car-rental counter just a few feet away, and committed myself. I booked the later flight, ran over to the counter, snagged a Toyota Camry, and 20 minutes later was in the heart of Grand Teton, still before sunrise. I drove around for an hour capturing the rising light on the freshly snow-covered mountains, the elk and moose in the surrounding grassland, the evergreen trees in the morning light.

Then I headed to Jenny Lake, at the base of the mountains. Even though it was just a few miles from where I was minutes before, it was a completely different place--a winter wonderland draped in ground-level snow that the area around it had missed. I entered Jenny Lake Road to head toward the lake, where I knew the view would be spectacular. A few miles before I reached it, I came around a bend and saw the scene above. I was awestruck. It looked like a painting. I could tell it was a dynamic scene with rapidly changing light and clouds, so I skidded to a stop, hit the hazard lights in case another car showed up--there's very little shoulder there, as you can see--and leaped out with my camera.

I framed my first shot, checked my settings, and squeezed it off, and a split-second later the sun went behind the clouds, making the scene much flatter and grayer. I kept shooting and hung around for a few minutes to see if the light came back, but the clouds persisted. It didn't matter, though--I was lucky enough to get my shot in the very first frame. I looked at the camera to check the image and make sure I had the focus and exposure right, and was thrilled to see that not only were both of those spot on, but I'd managed to capture a scene that, in my view, was pretty special. Of course, Grand Teton is one postcard moment after another, but I knew the combination of this perspective, the lighting, the clouds, and the delicate snow--notice how the road is completely free of it?--was fleeting. Furthermore, it also frames the road itself beautifully. It's a testament to the unbelievable value of the U.S. National Park Service, which works to make scenes like this available to outdoor-lovers, and a statement about road trips themselves. You never know when you're going to come around a turn and find something amazing.

I continued exploring for several hours, capturing many more images of the beautiful park. I stopped for breakfast in the lodge, still wired from my spontaneous, unexpected adventure. As I ate, I pulled the photos off my camera and uploaded the one above to Instagram. By coincidence it happened that my favorite Instagram community, @jjcommunity--which runs daily themed contests--had chosen "USA" as their theme that day. I tagged my photo to enter the contest, and headed for the airport. As I boarded my flight a few hours later, I got an Instagram notification revealing that my photo had been picked as the first highlighted selection of the day. It was a pretty stellar end to a pretty amazing morning. All because I was willing to press that "options" button.

So my question to you folks: What's your favorite spontaneous-road-trip story? When did you take a chance that paid off big, or just head out with no plan in mind only to have an experience you'll never forget? Can't wait to hear your stories--both in this post and in the future. Thanks for reading ....

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Comments (1)

  • Landscapes like that make concentrating on the road rather difficult. Similar problems in Scotland...

      4 years ago