Terra Galleria Photography

The Road Trip


I initially came to the U.S. in 1993 for a postdoc of 2.5 years on a J-1 visa, with the understanding that I would return to France at the end of the period, where a post would be waiting for me at the research institute where I did my graduate work. However, when 1995 rolled, I changed my mind. I had begun to visit the national parks and photograph them with my 5×7 large format camera, and I wanted to continue doing that, even though those days a lot of my free time was spent trying to climb big walls in Yosemite, with a few occasional road trips in between.

Since at that point, no matter how interesting the science, I already valued my time spent in the outdoors more than that spent in the office, I chose a career in academia, over the more lucrative corporate paths that were plentiful in the Silicon Valley for a Computer Science graduate. I was hoping that academia would give me more flexibility for personal time. Since I had no family and had always lived frugally, even a less than full-time salary would be enough to fund my other endeavors. With that in mind, I took a job in the Artificial Intelligence Center of SRI International in Menlo Park. This tour of SRI by Robert Scoble gives an idea on how interesting the work there could be, and here is my SRI web page, unchanged from the day I would leave the Institute, a dozen years later.

My J-1 visa was expiring, and SRI had applied for a new H1-B visa on my behalf, but to collect the new visa, I had to go abroad as it could not be granted inside the country. My new employer mentioned that most people in my situation would travel to Canada for that purpose. It was mid-October, and my new job would not start until late in November, so that left me more than a free month. I planned a wide-ranging road trip, east into the desert, north to the Canadian Rockies, west to the Olympic Peninsula, and south down the Pacific Coast.

I had done road trips in the west before, but since I was always accompanied by friends or relatives they were often a motel-based affair with a schedule only partly conductive of photography. That trip was different because it was the first time I traveled by myself for such a relatively long period of time, living from my car and campgrounds as I went from one national park to the next. I discovered the freedom that the open road can offer, and the purpose that a trip focussed solely on photography can bring. On that most formative extended outing, I developed most of the routines that I still use to this day when I travel the American wilderness, and I visited more national parks new to me than I had done in the 2.5 years before combined.

In particular, Yellowstone National Park made a strong impression on me, as I experienced it at its wildest, short of a winter visit. I got there in early November, just a few days before the park would close for the season. The park was mostly deserted. Only a few cars were parked on the huge lot near Old Faithful – of all the people, my girlfriend’s ex came out of one of them. Although I had climbed Denali, I was not prepared for the temperatures in the park, and had to drive back to Jackson to buy a down jacket. The frigid temperatures enhanced the thermal steam, coated the trees near thermal sources with ice, and a dusting of snow differentiated both sides of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. A number of images of the park from this trip a quarter-century ago remain some of my favorites and those illustrating that post made their way into Treasured Lands.

Unfortunately, not all images remained. Among the possessions in my car, I considered the most valuable to be the small pouch containing my exposed film, both 5×7 sheets and 35mm rolls. When I eventually arrived in Calgary, my first city stop since leaving home, it felt natural to carry the pouch with me wherever I went instead of leaving it in the car. Take your valuables with you! As I walked into the US Consulate General to collect my new visa, I thought only briefly of the X-ray machines. In those days, it was understood that hand-inspection of film at airport security was not really necessary, but only a precaution taken against the cumulative slight fogging that might occur if your film is x-rayed many times over. Unlike with digital, with film, you never really knew what you got until you got your film back from the lab. Three weeks later, after driving back from the lab, I opened with tremendous anticipation the film boxes. Most of the photographs from before Calgary were ruined with heavy random patterns. Sometimes you lose, but nothing is really lost if you are willing to start again. I vowed to go back, and boy, have I done so.


  1. I am enjoying your stories QT and continue to enjoy “Treasured Lands”. I too enjoy going on the road by myself. I spent a month in Alaska last year, taking small planes into the various National Parks. There is a feeling of freedom when you aren’t effecting someone else’s experience. Sharing the adventures after is always rewarding. I’m sharing some of my recent Antarctic images on my facebook page. When you get a chance please check them out. Your advice on going back in your past images has helped with this self quarantine. I’ve been working on my two most recent trips, Antarctica & Kauai. I may even take this opportunity to learn Lightroom & Photoshop?? Stay safe & healthy!


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