From the days of Jack Kerouac to the culture of Route 66, it is common knowledge that America is best experienced from its roads. That’s why I decided to grab a friend, rent a car and head off into America’s beautiful southwest to see what all of the fuss was about.
I left with a camera full of photographs, a better understanding for the U.S.A and a little piece of my heart missing, gone to the valleys and the prairies of that vast and beautiful place.
Technically part of Los Angeles, Venice Beach is a gathering place for surfers who are after the waves, bohemians who search for the hippie vibes and the youthful who are looking for a party or a day spent lounging in the sun. Leave the hectic streets of LA behind and gaze out over the horizon, toes steadily planted in the sand. Listen to the percussion of the ever present drum circles and watch the artists happily sell their works from the side of the streets.
San Diego is blessed with perfect weather, beautiful coastline and endless days of sun. In a quiet residential town stand the sunset cliffs, a hidden gem amongst suburbia. The Sunset Cliffs Natural Park hugs the Pacific Ocean and is laced with sea caves and natural arches. Many walk along the cliffs for the view from the top, but it’s beauty is visible no matter where you stand.
Bordered by vast desert on either side, the road to Death Valley is tremulous yet mesmerizing all the same. Cacti and desert brush scatter the land and mountain ranges loom in the distance. The heat hits you like the blast from an open oven and at times you may wonder why you traveled there in the first place. The thought is lost however, as each turn is a new discovery of the landscape.
Just when you start to believe that nothing can possibly exist in Death Valley besides desert, Badwater Basin makes its show-stopping appearance. This spring fed pool gets its name from the salt content which renders the water undrinkable. The cycle of freeze and thaw has left an effortless hexagonal pattern of salt on the surface of water and visitors come to photograph this natural wonder along with the infamous “sea level” sign that adorns the cliffs above the water.
The salt has played a leading role in yet another one of Death Valley’s wonders, The Devil’s Golf Course. Once Lake Manly, the waters have since evaporated and left the salt and mineral content behind. Through the weathering process, they have been slowly sculpted over time and have formed into monuments with depths of over 1,000 feet.
Exactly what it sounds like, the Artist’s Palette is full of color in the otherwise barren desert. This unexpected rainbow of the rocks is formed naturally by the oxidation of its composite metals. Iron salts produce the yellow, red and pink while the mica turns to green and the manganese displays the purple. A lovely change from the bland tans and browns of the Mojave.
Covering a very small percentage of the park, the sand dunes make quite the contrast against the rest of the rugged landscape. Their smooth and swirling ripples draw the eye’s attention and awakens a childlike sense within your soul, urging you to dive in and play.
The Road to Zabriskie Point is one seemingly paved in solitude. Although appearing to be a road going deep into the desert, it takes travelers on a journey to one of the park’s most stunning view points. Don’t let the vast valleys that border it fool you, the road is one well worth taking.
Zabriskie Point offers stunning panoramic views over the gulches and canyons of Death Valley’s badlands. A lack of vegetation and waves of multicolored mountains are what makes this view point one worth visiting.
Right on the border of Nevada and Arizona, the infamous Hoover Dam sits, holding back the powerful Colorado River. Used as a generator to provide power to three nearby states, the dam proves to be more useful than for its known tourist attraction title. Still, despite its uses, thousands of travelers a year come to visit this engineering feat and see the beauty within its inner workings.
The road leading to the Valley of Fire State Park is just as beautiful as the final destination that it leads to. Passing through Indian Reservations laced with mountains and desert brush, the road winds its way through some of the southwest’s most distinct natural landscapes.
Holding the title as the oldest state park in Nevada, Valley of the Fire was dedicated back in the 1930’s. It derives its name from the formations of red sandstone that make up the interior of the park. Filled with rock formations and jagged walls, the park holds cliffs and valleys that are said to have formed during the days of the dinosaurs.
Often overlooked due to its proximity to the Grand Canyon, Horseshoe Bend is the perfect example of the absolute artwork that the Colorado River has created through the mountains that it passes. From the infamous viewpoints, you can see how the river has carved out the canyons in a beautiful and natural horseshoe shaped effort.
Nature proves its inner artist yet again with the presence of Antelope Canyon. This slot canyon has been carved out by wind and water and travelers lower themselves inside to see the swirling colors that have formed on the rocks. A photographers paradise exists in one of the most unsightly places.
Like a city full of awe-inspiring skyscrapers, Monument Valley is home to rock formations that make it look like the downtown of the desert. Drive past the huge natural formations and stare up at them in awe as your sense of self shrinks down to that of a mere ant in the world of giants.
These are the most recognizable monuments in the valley. They stand together, secluded from the others and tower over the scarce desert, casting gorgeous sandstone shadows over the valleys.
Surely one of the most recognizable symbols of America, the Grand Canyon lives up to its name. The Colorado River’s final masterpiece is this vast and inspiring canyon that has seen millions of spectators over the years, coming to experience its powerful presence.
After my journey around, through and on top of this wonderful landscape, I felt like I understood America better. As if I finally saw beyond the surface of the busy people and the big cities. I experienced the country’s life blood-what made it tick and what truly made it special. A piece of my heart will always be lost on those plains and valleys of the stunning country, but my soul has been left enlarged, a little sweeter and enriched because of the experience.
About the author: Bobi Dojcinovski is an IT consultant and a street photographer based out of New York City. You can find more of his photography and writing on his website. This photo essay was also published here.