Friday, June 8, 2012

Road Trips For Dummies

Greg Gaskin
Greg and Jack Gaskin are brothers.  Both are talented photographers, and both are the type of men you'd want as your friends.  They are smart, witty, a little ribald, and the warmest, stand-up guys you can imagine.  They live far apart--one on the East Coast and one in the Mid-West but manage to get together a few times a year to go "shooting" together. 

The tale below is Chapter One of the chronicle of the brothers' most recent trip together, last Winter, to photograph the scenery and wildlife in Yellowstone National Park.  They had a phenomenal time and this is Greg's saga of his experiencing the breathtaking vistas and wildlife with his brother, Jack.  You'll enjoy reading it and you will LOVE viewing Greg's gorgeous photos.  Chapter two can be seen here.

Note:  Click on a photo to enlarge it in a different window.  Then click your browser's BACK button to return to the story.


Thanks for stopping here to see the latest post. I'd love to know what you think of the "Relentless Pursuit" series. Please leave a comment below for the author and email me with your suggestions on what you'd like to see on this blog.

If you have a story to post on this theme, contact me. And be sure to take a look at my Photography site. I'd love to hear from you! Also, consider forwarding the link to "Relentless" to your friends and family. Thanks again!
Michelle Alton


[or two dummies on a road trip, depending on your perspective]--By Greg Gaskin

"Forests, lakes, and rivers, clouds and winds, stars and flowers, stupendous glaciers and crystal snowflakes - every form of animate or inanimate existence, leaves its impress upon the soul of man." --
  Orison Swett Marden

"And some places you been before are so great that you don't ever mind going back. Some places you been before you don't ever want to go back, you know, like Montreal in the winter."
  Morgan Freeman

Chapter 1:   On the Road Again Days 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5

(cue Willy Nelson)

Be forewarned, there is no particular point to this yarn. It is just about quality time spent between two brothers in their quest of the natural beauty of America's greatest National Parks. Perhaps the only thing you may get out of this story is the knowledge that you never want to be seen in public with us. If at the end of this tale you think to yourself, "Hey a photo road trip with Jack and Greg sounds like fun" you might be in serious need of a mental health professional as you are as warped as we are. But I do hope that after reading this, some of you jump into your car and venture off to Yellowstone or some other destination on a road trip of your own.

For those of you who read my previous tale on "In Relentless Pursuit" know of my fondness for Yellowstone and photo road trips in general. The last three out-of-state trips for photography that I had taken before this were all in conjunction with family weddings. So in other words I planned my photo trips around other things. This is not a complaint. I enjoyed all of these weddings and was privileged enough to walk my niece Honey (that's really her name) down the aisle. This was one of the greatest thrills of my life. Anyway Jack and I decided that it was time for another photo road trip for the sake of a photo trip and determined that a return to Yellowstone was the best destination.

Day One

I heard from Jack several times in the week heading up to the trip. His bags were packed and he was ready to hit the road long before our planned departure date. He could not sleep much the night before and ended up leaving his Long Island house somewhere around midnight and drove straight to Michigan.

Upon his arrival at our house we quickly loaded up his stuff into my Chevy Equinox and we got underway hoping to get to eastern Iowa that day. Luck, good weather, low traffic and strong bladders were all on our side that first day and we actually made it all the way to Avoca, in western Iowa. The next day we got a very early start and proceeded to Western South Dakota and the Badlands. 

Day Two

I am sure that if I had to drive across South Dakota on a regular basis I would find it quite tedious; but in this case we were just giddy at the thought of the wonders that lie ahead. I mean how much grassland can the human mind withstand?

We did happen upon a couple of items of interest though. The first would be the Wayside Chapel in White Lake, South Dakota, which is approximately 8'X10' and has three rows of chairs and an altar.

We also stopped at this scenic overview of the Missouri River in Chamberlain, South Dakota.

After Chamberlain it was onto our destination of the day and upon our arrival at Badlands National Park we both thought, "Hey, this isn't bad!"  It took us several hours to make our way through the park and we were quite impressed with both the vastness of the territory and its stark beauty.

One thing that seems to get lost in my pictures of the Badlands is the immense size of the landscapes involved. In order to give it some sort of scale this is a picture of Jack, he is the small dot located 3/4's of the way to the right centered between the top and bottom of the picture.

The first thing that was out of the ordinary on this trip was this bird. 

I hadn't really planned on doing any bird photography on this trip but this little guy kept on hanging out in the tree my car was parked near so I just had to get a shot. He seemed so out of place in the desolate environment and flew away and returned several times.

If you happen to know what type of bird this is please drop me a line. After shooting several hours of great landscapes we were getting pretty tired and decided it was time to make some progress towards the parks exit. Turns out we were far from done for the day.

While driving along an area with large open flat tracks of land Jack was able to take some pictures of one of his favorite genres, animal porn. It was obvious that it was mating season for Pronghorn Antelope and well, let's just leave it at that. Feel free to browse Jack's pictures.   

On our way out of the park we got an unexpected bonus, some Big Horn Sheep.

They were walking along the road so we kept moving ahead of them trying to get a clear photograph without somebody or their car in the picture.

Persistence paid off and I was able to get some decent photos of the sheep.

In my first story on this blog I spoke about people whose gene pool needs a little chlorine. You know who I am talking about. You're not quite sure what their problem is but you know it's hard to pronounce. Anyway besides great vistas and some nice wildlife, we came across our first flock of incurably stupid people at our very last stop of the day.

The Moron brothers decided to climb over the safety rail and walk out onto the cliffs in order to get a better view--or just because they don't comprehend the dangers involved.

One of the young men was texting as he walked and as fate and natural selection would have it the ground under his feet gave way and he started sliding towards the edge. I raised my camera to my eye and focused in on the inevitable death from gravitational force that I was about to witness, thinking,  "Jack is just going to love this shot," when the unthinkable happened. He caught his foot on a rock and stopped his pending death plunge. Damn, another photo opportunity and efficient culling of the herd lost.

After the disappointment of not seeing natural selection played out to the best results possible I was downright depressed and as the day was getting late we decided it was time to find a place to stay the night.

Day two of our journey had been a success as we covered a lot of ground and got some good photography in.

Day Three

Our third day of travelling had us heading to the Bighorn National Forest.  On our first trip to Yellowstone in 2007 we turned west off of I-90 in Buffalo, Wyoming and headed west on Route 16.  This was a mistake. This time Jack suggested that we continue to head north until we got to Ranchester, Wyoming and then to head west on Route 14 and into the Big Horn National Forest. Turns out he was right. It is an excellent drive and I highly recommend it to anyone who has the time.

This is probably a good time to mention that Gaskin men are known to only fear two things in this world, heights and bad pizza. We are also (according to my wife) type "A" personalities. Driving through the Big Horn National Forest I was the one driving. In fact I drove the whole trip. This is not because I don't trust Jack behind the wheel.  This is because I don't trust anybody behind the wheel and it's my car.

 A side note here: Have you ever noticed that you always refer to people driving slower than you as idiots and people driving faster that you as maniacs? Okay back to the story. As we drive along cliffs and mountain passes where there are shear drop-offs next to the road, Jack is very uncomfortable because he is simply not in control;  I would have felt the same way. While driving along particularly steep drop-offs he said "This is good, it will prepare me for the Beartooth Highway" (WRONG!!!!!!), but more on that and our 180ᵒ left turn later. Big Horn National Forest was the kind of scenery that makes you wonder why you don't just chuck it all and move there. That is until you hear about the winter weather. Here are a few examples of the countryside.

Once we were through the Big Horn we started to discuss our drive up to Red Lodge, Montana and the apparent lack of any spectacular scenery along the way. And yes, before you say it, we are like two spoiled kids: "What do you mean there is nothing spectacular for the next few hours WAAAA!!" Change in plans number two was then hatched. Drive to Cody, Wyoming, stay the night and get up early and take the Chief Joseph Highway. I am not quite sure how we came to this decision but it sure was the right one.

Day Four

We got off to another early start on day four not knowing what the Chief Joseph Highway would present to us. It started out rather slow--some nice, somewhat impressive scenery--and then it got better, and better, and better yet. I will not bore you with tales of how beautiful the scenery was just look for yourself.

My theory on photography is simple: Photograph things you love and want other people to see and appreciate. Sometimes this doesn't always work out as I had planned, which brings us to this picture of Dead Indian Hill Summit.

It's not a bad picture. It was taken at 10mm with a fisheye zoom in order to capture the entire width of the vista. The problem is the view is actually a whole lot better than this picture. No joke, no false modesty, and no "oh it's only better in your mind syndrome." This picture really doesn't do it justice. Stop reading this right now, jump in your car, drive straight there with no sleep, food, water or bathroom breaks and when you see what I saw you will say two things:

First: "This was worth the drive" and
Second: "Greg was right--his photo didn't do it justice."

At the end of the Chief Joseph we came upon our mission for the next two days: The Beartooth Highway. First we would drive it in the afternoon then after a restful night in Red Lodge, get up early and drive it in the morning.

We drove for at least 45 seconds before we had to pull over and start taking pictures. As much fun as the Chief Joseph Highway was, the Beartooth Highway just keeps getting better as you drive. As you progress through higher and higher elevations the topography along the Beartooth changes until you are finally above the tree line. Even though the weather turned cold and rather damp we really didn't mind as this sort of great photography isn't just sitting outside your front door to take advantage of anytime you want.

Perhaps the only thing higher than the altitude was our spirits as this was one of those things you remember for the rest of your life. Rather than describe the scenery just take a look.

Okay so as we continued upward, smiles on our faces, songs in our know it just couldn't last. We made a 180ᵒ left turn and heading straight for us in our lane was a car whose driver was so busy taking a picture of the road ahead of him with his cell phone, he didn't know, or didn't care, that he was in the wrong lane heading straight for us and a head on collision.

Option "A" was to swerve into the wrong lane and hope he didn't veer over at the last moment and push us off the edge of the cliff. Option "B" was to slam on the breaks and hit the horn, at the same time hoping he would veer back into his own lane. Option "C" was to hit the horn, make obscene gestures and scream vile obscenities at him.  Being good Brooklyn born boys we naturally choose option "C". I think the only thing Jack said to me for the next hour was "Keep your freaking eyes on the road!"

Days 5

After completing our journey across the Beartooth we stayed the night in Red Lodge and got up the next morning to retrace our path on the Beartooth and head for Yellowstone. It was a little chilly as we started out and while pulled over taking pictures we saw a State or County truck with a snowplow drive by.

I assumed that they were using the snow plow to remove some of the rocks that had fallen onto the roadway. In hindsight that was really dumb. I mean after all it's only mid September.  What are the chances that there is any snow to be plowed? The higher we climbed the colder and windier it got until we got back above the tree line where we discovered that winter never really leaves the Beartooth--it just lulls you into a false sense of security.

The reading on the car dashboard said it was a toasty 21ᵒ out and the wind felt like it was at gale force. This did not deter us from continuing to take photographs as there is a real possibility that we will never drive the Beartooth again.

What did start to concern me was the slush on the road was freezing into patches of ice and it was becoming quite slick. For perhaps the 200th time Jack implored me to "Keep your eye on the road!" When I suggested that perhaps I shouldn't have drank that whole bottle of cough syrup that morning right before we headed out, he reminded me that if we drove over the side he would kill me before we hit the bottom. 

Flash back one month earlier when Rita (my wife) and I traded in our nice big heavy 4-wheel drive SUV for the front wheel drive crossover because the SUV sucked down gas faster than I suck down a pizza. As the road became slicker and slicker that decision started to seem like a really stupid one (the truck, not the pizza).

All worked out well though, and once we dropped below 8,500 feet the road was clear. Now it was onto our journey's purpose, Yellowstone.

Before leaving the Beartooth we had to stop for some road construction. The lady holding the stop/slow sign was placing bread in her hand and the Grey Jays would land on her hand and then take the bread.

I had heard of this before and just had to try it so I put down the camera right there and gave it a shot. It made me feel like a kid again. Funny how the smallest things seem to give us pleasure.
(to be continued)

  All photos by Greg Gaskin

Greg Gaskin's Short (VERY Short) Biography:

Short (very short) Biography:

I was born (1957) in Brooklyn New York and lived there until the age of eight when the family moved to the Hamlet of Islip on Long Island's south shore. For the past 30 years I have lived in southeast Michigan and presently reside in Wyandotte, Michigan with my wife Rita and our dog Sparky.
Photography is my "drug" of choice (although coffee is a close second). I will photograph anything that I find interesting but my main interests in photography are lighthouses and wildlife. I retired March 1st but was unexpectedly offered a job and will be returning to the work force for 3 years starting June 25th. I am also part owner of a small photography business, Pixel Magik.
[Note from Michelle:  Greg's photography may be viewed at ]

Please Note:

*** This Blog Needs Your Story! *** { I'm Serious!} If you have a story to post on this theme, contact me, please! We have only a single story on tap at this writing.

Give your imagination a stretch--your story can be about any sort of Relentless Pursuit, fact, fiction, poignant, humorous, or even harrowing! I'd love to hear from you and work with you on your story! We need to keep this theme going! We've had some truly fabulous posts over the last several months. Why not yours?

Thanks for stopping by.
Michelle Alton



Dave Phalen said...

Great story!! Fabulous photography!!

LauraEm said...

What delightfully fun reading of you two brothers having a driving adventure across this great land mass of ours. The excitement of take off, the bore of the grasslands to the high adventures destined to lay ahead! All so fun to read!!! I've been across American many many times in all directions, high and low and I know first hand that it truly is "America the Beautiful". You're a fantastic writer, reporting the facts so well. You had me gripping at the armrest of my seat, (much like Jack might have been on parts of the drive?) in those high and icy elevations and along the cliffs and ridges! WOW! I was there with you in spirit!

Your fantastic photography as well as your tale being so well told have me anxious for part two! Can't wait!!

Monnie Ryan said...

WTG, Greg! Fantastic photos, fun reading. Looking forward to the next installment!

Carolyn Mc said...

Loved reading your tales of your adventure and thoroughly enjoyed your photos. Really looking forward to the next installment. My husband can definitely identify with the Keep your eyes on the road . . . dammit comment and I will kill you before you get to the bottom has a distinct ring of familiarity!!!!

Art Rosch said...

If I can put aside my envy for a minute; (any road trip that isn't mine evokes this emotion). I love the narrative but I especially love the photos. I note that in your image of
Dead Indian Hill Summit there is a celestial body in the mid-upper left.
This is probably the moon. That gives one an idea of the scale of the scene.
Or else your camera has a blown pixel!

Anonymous said...

Greg I have sent you an e-mail. For the record here. Thanks for the memories Greg. The story is superb, I thought I was in the car with you. WTG. The photos are outstanding. Can't wait for round two. RON

Bob Cammarata said...

Great travelogue and photos!

My brother and I took a road trip to Yellowstone a few years ago and your photos brought back the memories of that trip.

...looking forward to Part 2!