Road’s End Workshop, with Paige and Corey: Travel Log No. 2

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It’s common knowledge that things won’t go according to plan. Deadlines will be missed; projects will go awry, and part of the adventure is learning to roll with the punches. But this felt like more than a few punches—we felt defeated. Our renovation process took a turn for the worse, not once, but twice. After five months of heartbreak, heated arguments, and two renovation companies with less than noble intentions, our 29' Airstream ended up in my childhood backyard. Our timeline had us on the road by mid-January, but life had other plans for us. As of mid-March, the Airstream was finally in our possession and we took over the renovation process ourselves. We found an amazing electrician and went to work. During this time, we took small trips to the workshop locations that were easily accessible. Students had purchased tickets, which we offered for sale based on the promised timeline from our renovators.

The Airstream wasn’t complete, but that wasn’t stopping us from offering the affordable education we originally promised. We traveled to and from Savannah, GA, New Orleans, LA, and Austin, TX… always returning to central Florida. The affordable workshop we set out to provide was now costing us more than we were making. The renovation costs had tripled and the route to and from these workshops was not kind to our diesel truck. The price of fuel, venues, and food was outweighing the price of tickets, but if there’s one thing I’m truly proud of us for, it’s been our tenacity to see this through and fight to realize our vision. After 36 days of our own renovation, many work days lasting until 2:00 a.m. or later, we left with our mostly renovated Airstream, on April 25th.

We learned quickly that this adventure of ours was a labor of love, disguised as romanticized travel and trendy #vanlife—our lessons began early. Walmart parking lots became familiar territory and we travel with a perpetual rotation of iPhone apps, guiding our way among other lengthy vehicles. Our truck, plus our Airstream, reach around 50 feet and there are many roads that prohibit our length or weight. Every drive requires a dedicated understanding of our route, length, and weight limitations, the distance to the next truck stop and fuel, free campgrounds that allow our trailer, and safe places to stay with our three pets—yes, three pets. It’s a complicated dance, but we’ve made it halfway across the country and we finally have our workflow down.

Our time in Texas allowed us to explore only a handful of places, but they were locations I’ve always dreamed of seeing and experiencing for myself. I wish we had more time to dedicate to this magnificently vast state, but our time was limited.

Austin, Texas

Oh, how I’ve dreamed of visiting this location. We weren’t able to explore fully, but we wanted to mention the culture this city holds and the magnetic pull we felt to a city we had never visited before. Corey has a real affinity for old blues bars, and downtown Austin is home to Antone’s Nightclub, a 44-year-old club that has seen a rotation of artists such as Stevie Ray Vaughan, Gary Clark Jr., and Muddy Waters.

I might be letting my millennial show but, a beautiful spot with good coffee and better food is exactly what draws my attention. Bonus points for a great soundtrack and farm-fresh organic ingredients. This really hits the spot when your typical travel plans only include truck stops with fast food spots attached. Think of your favorite restaurant. Now think about how many trucks with travel trailers you see parked in the lot, ours totaling 50 feet. 

It’s not often we’re able to venture around without our home behind us, so we took advantage, explored East Austin, and were able to eat breakfast at The Counter Cafe. Their food hit the spot, and Corey wants to note their local hot sauce, Yellowbird. It was so good, it led Corey on a Google search about a little yellow bird that eats hot peppers to make its body too spicy for predators. Probably the coolest defense mechanism I’ve ever heard of. With Cuvee Coffee Bar next door, we were smitten and ready to venture towards our next stop. Our time in Austin was short and I can’t wait to get back to explore its local culture.

Big Bend National Park

OK, how often are you in Texas and how often do you have the opportunity to go this far south? We couldn’t pass up the chance, so we headed for the border (quite literally). In case you were wondering, yes… it’s a long drive, but Texas proved to be more beautiful than I previously had imagined. With rolling hills and an impressive number of blue and purple flowers, we enjoyed the lengthy trip to Big Bend National Park.

We didn’t have long to explore, so we stopped at the closest visitor center, got my stamp (as per usual), and grabbed a map. We really hadn’t done much research about this park, because this stop was a bit spontaneous. We had plans in Marfa, but as I mentioned before, how often are you this far south in the United States? I searched the map for the most intriguing destination I could find for our short visit, and I noticed a canyon that seemed to border the U.S. and Mexico. The map didn’t prepare me for the sight we were about to see. As we drove toward the pin on the map, I noticed a large inconsistency in the towering rock face in front of us. I’ve visited my fair share of canyons, and perhaps this is why I was shocked to see our destination: Santa Elena Canyon

Unlike the popular canyons created by the Colorado River, the Santa Elena is a product of the Rio Grande and it borders the two countries perfectly, making its grand entrance by splitting a 1,500-foot cliff (visible from quite a distance). It caught our eye immediately and we were humbled as we drove closer and saw the sheer magnitude of the cliffs above. We hiked to the water’s edge and witnessed kayakers beginning their journey down the river. The 1.7-mile canyon trail begins at the base of the cliffs and takes you along some tight switchbacks before allowing you to get a glance of the Rio Grande from a higher perspective. The trail continues and descends back to water level. At the end of the trail, you’re standing on a small beach, the U.S. border behind you and Mexico a mere few feet in front of you. The kayakers passed us and beached on a small sandbar. We watched as one by one, they walked to the rock face, belonging to Mexico, and placed their hand upon the cold stone as a sign of respect and admiration for such an impressive sight. The two stone ridges, one belonging to Mexico, one belonging to the U.S., were almost identical but perfectly complementary. The Rio Grande brings them together and allowed us the opportunity to be in two places at once, humbled by each. 

We hiked out and took in the canyon from the water’s edge, one last time. We were somehow alone and felt so small standing in front of something so magnificent. As we got into our truck and prepared to take the scenic route back to our camp, we noticed a shortcut labeled Old Maverick Road. This is a 4 x 4 high-clearance dirt road and the perfect opportunity to see what our truck was made of. Because this was a designated route for vehicles such as ours, we felt confident and left the security of the pavement. It proved to be great fun and secured our confidence with our new vehicle.

(Please note: always stay on trails and only drive on roads designed for your vehicle type. When in doubt, park your vehicle and scout ahead.)

Marfa, Texas

If there was one place in all of Texas that encompasses everything we love while staying completely mysterious and off the beaten path, it’s Marfa. We stayed at El Cosmico to attend and teach at a photo retreat: Yeah Field Trip. It was their first time hosting it at this location and it really took all of us out of our element. The venue felt like a campground at Woodstock, but cleaner and in the middle-of-nowhere Texas. There are old trailers and Airstreams painted wild colors and placed throughout the grounds. Canvas tents, yurts, and teepees filled in the remaining space, and the store had local crafts for sale along with a constant supply of Topo Chico mineral water. A large, metal-crafted eyeball adorned the entrance post and kept watch over all of us, and we spent a long weekend learning about our creative passions and dancing under the stars. Hundreds of young creatives gathered and invested in their education by attending this retreat and allowing themselves to be vulnerable and honest among strangers and new friends.

We taught a Lightroom intensive course and it jump-started our excitement for our workshop tour. We saw the need for more courses and education on Lightroom and we adapted our workshop to reflect that. We took note of what impacted our community the greatest and have done our best to incorporate that into our own curriculum. When we weren’t teaching or bonding with new friends or listening to Barbara Davidson, three-time Pulitzer Prize and Emmy winner speak about her passion projects and life journey, Corey and I ventured around the town of Marfa. We ate the best tacos of our lives at this little place called Al Campo. It was tucked away and hidden from the main road, but so was the little Airstream in the back of their establishment. We located it and discovered its true purpose: a stick-and-poke tattoo shop, Slowpoke. So, of course, Corey was hooked and got a tattoo of an eye, to commemorate our time in Marfa and that watchful eye at El Cosmico.

We made one more stop, at a location I’ve always wanted to visit. No, it wasn’t the fake Prada store art installation but yes, I was tempted to make that drive. Instead, we made time to visit the The Chinati Foundation and view Donald Judd’s concrete works. They were as stunning in person as I had hoped, and the bright Texas sun created the shadows I think Judd intended us to see. Geometric patterns and complementary shapes were created by the dark shadows and then contrasted by the stark concrete. They were incredibly impressive, and our friends Tiernae and Bailey let us shoot with them to capture a bit of a human element among the concrete jungle.

We made our way through the panhandle of Texas and onward toward California. Our first major workshop with our Airstream was scheduled for Joshua Tree National Park.

Joshua Tree National Park

This park will always have a special place in my heart. I don’t know what it is about it, but I feel so drawn to the high desert and everything it has to offer. We parked our truck and Airstream at the Hidden Valley picnic area in a designated RV spot—another reason we love the park system. Our students gathered and we had our first official workshop inside of our renovated 1972 Airstream, Clementine.

There isn’t any drama or click bait information about our workshop. It’s honest, humble, and well executed. I can say that now, after a dozen successful workshops in the south and along the west coast. Our small classes gather as we make fresh coffee and set out pastries. Our workshop has three full classes. The first course explains your camera in ways you’ve never had it explained before. All those buttons and doo-dads finally have a purpose and reason. Then we break down Lightroom, because I have a nerdy obsession with LR and everything it can do. Lastly, we give an inside look into our client workflow, from inquiry to gallery delivery. We have a successful wedding and elopement business called Going Home Co., and we’re proud to be at the point in our career where we can share our story and unique workflow.

So there we were, in one of my favorite places on earth, Joshua Tree National Park. Our workshop was a smashing success and we were finally ready to start our boondocking adventure. For almost two weeks, we camped just south of Joshua Tree NP. This spot was free, about three minutes south of the southern park entrance, and well populated. The established campsites were close enough to one another that you never felt uncomfortably alone, but still far enough that you felt some privacy. We saw a ranger drive past at least two times a day, morning and night, but the closest grocery store was around 30 minutes away, in Inyo. If we had chosen to camp at the free BLM ground on the north side of the park, we would have had easier access to stores, but the northern campground is located in a wash and can get dangerous with any amount of rain.

(Travel Tip: Boondocking refers to camping off grid and utilizing whatever natural sources you’re equipped with. In our case, we have 500w of solar and have embraced a completely composting lifestyle.)

We felt comfortable enough to unhitch and leave the Airstream, so we could explore Joshua Tree and Palm Springs. If you only have a day or two in these areas, we suggest exploring the park early in the morning, at sunrise, if possible. Not only do you avoid the heat of the day, but it also helps eliminate the hordes of tourists who shuffle in during the late morning hours. Make sure to stop and view Pleasant Valley, to be truly humbled by the Joshua Tree.

(Travel Tip: The Joshua tree is protected and will eventually go extinct. They are fragile and deserve nothing but our respect. Please avoid touching them, harming them, or hanging anything from them.)

After a morning in the park, head out the northwest entrance and take a stop at Crossroads Cafe for a hearty brunch. Directly across the street is Joshua Tree Coffee, and we have to suggest this spot because we quite literally always have a bag of Joshua Tree Coffee with us—it’s that good. If you plan on driving toward Palm Springs, take 62 toward I-10 and you’ll see a number of places to stop to get a shot of those iconic wind turbines (so powerful that Palm Springs gives energy to the Los Angeles area). When staying in Palm Springs, I always opt for the Ace Hotel and Swim Club. Not only is the aesthetic on point and makes the interior decorator inside of me beyond happy, but there’s nothing like waking up early, sitting by the pool and ordering breakfast from their restaurant, King’s Highway. Every Ace Hotel location has delicious food, but sitting at the pool with the hazy foothills surrounding you is exactly how I like to treat myself. From there, we always stop at Koffi to grab the largest serving of their cinnamon vanilla cold brew, and head out for a hike. Our favorite spot is surprisingly close to the city. Only a couple of miles away is Indian Canyon, with a handful of trails and stunning views. Hidden among the rocky hills and desert sand are dozens of waterfalls, massive palm trees, and quiet trails.

Alabama Hills

After our time in Joshua Tree, we drove out of our way to San Luis Obispo. I turned 30 and craved a slice (or two) of pink champagne cake from The Madonna Inn, and we made it happen and, yes, it was worth the drive. From there we drove east, looking for a small town called Lone Pine, which is nestled between the Inyo Mountains and the Eastern Sierras. The town of Lone Pine is quaint and full of travelers, many passing through. But just outside of Lone Pine lies a free campground and real hidden gem, one that is, sadly, becoming more popular and sought out by the day. Alabama Hills, with a perfect view of Mt. Whitney, was made known through motion pictures and can be seen in films like Django, Iron Man, and nearly every John Wayne movie. It’s the perfect mix of snow-capped mountains and jagged desert terrain. 

We were in awe of this location and cannot recommend it enough, but we want to be honest about our experience. We loved Alabama Hills so much, we’ve already been there twice on our road trip. The majority of our stay there was quiet, beautiful, and rewarding. Once the weekend came around, our campsite was overrun with young and disrespectful people, all of whom walked off trail and through restoration areas to a location aptly named “the Instagram road.” Our campsite was at the top of a hill, and the dirt road made for an epic shot of the desert rocks and snowy peaks. Some visitors parked so close to us, they blocked us in or covered our fire pit with their car. Many brought changes of clothes and treated our campground like a dressing room. One young guy even flew his drone, illegally, and when we asked him to land it, his only response was full of expletives and cannot be written here. The weekend crowd almost ruined this spot for us, but the breathtaking sights and undeniable beauty is hard to ignore. We know now to seek a more private campground at Alabama Hills, avoid the “Instagram road” and the demographic that flocks there.

(Photo Tip: This place is expansive! Make sure to bring along your wide angle for this location and consider a longer focal length, as well. A 50mm will still capture the beauty, but a wider lens can help you capture the 360-degree views. A longer focal length will help you compress space and bring Mt. Whitney closer to your subject.)

Point Reyes

Our San Francisco workshop caused us some logistical issues. Of course, we wanted to travel US1 and experience Big Sur, but our 29' Airstream quite literally isn’t allowed on those roads. The tight turns and switchbacks make it one of the most difficult and dangerous roads for trailers and large trucks. We took our time, driving a more inland route, but we knew our workshop live shoot had to be on the coast. Our students traveled from places like Reno, NV, because they were excited for a different location and some diversity in their portfolios. We decided to pay for a campground just north of San Francisco and take the drive to the coast, just for the live shoot. Point Reyes did not disappoint. The weather was rough and brought in some stormy skies, but the wind was being playful and made for some beautiful images.

We parked at the lighthouse parking lot and explored the established trails on both sides of the cliff. The threatening skies kept other tourists away and we were able to enjoy some privacy in the grasslands around Point Reyes. We saw deer enjoying the cliffside and only a few other photographers braving the wind. If you have the chance to explore the area, make sure to travel all the way out to Point Reyes Lighthouse and leave enough time before or after to stop at the Cyprus Tree Tunnel.

Death Valley National Park

Back to the desert! We had to cancel our Yosemite workshop, and it came as a huge shock to all of us. It was almost June and snow on the peaks was to be expected, but no one was ready for the snowstorm that hit the area. We know quite a few weddings, elopements, and workshops that had to cancel and reschedule their events due to the unfortunate weather, and we were one of those. Bummer.

We decided to make the most of our time and visit a location high on our bucket list. We were surprised to learn Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park had a 25' maximum length restriction for trailers, so we couldn’t venture through these locations, but Death Valley National Park was easily accessible to us. We came from the west side and headed east through the park. We arrived at sunrise and headed directly to Father Crowley Vista Point. You can park in the paved lot or take your chances with your vehicle and head town the 4 x 4 road that breaks off from the main parking lot. If you manage to get to the end point, the sight is out of this world. We parked the Airstream on the gravel cul-de-sac and took in the expansive view in front of us. We were alone for the majority of our time out there but, as we left, we passed at least three off-road vehicles that sped down this road with more authority than they were granted. The air filled with dust and the peaceful lookout we had just enjoyed was filled with off-road vehicles and loud music. We had gotten there just in time. 

 

We stopped at the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes and were lucky to find a designated RV spot. The parking spots for us are long and usually have a sign stating RV and bus parking only but, without fail, there are always a couple of cars there taking up an entire RV spot. It was still early in the day, but we could feel the sun getting warm. No pets are allowed on the trails in Death Valley, so we put our three furry babes into the Airstream, turned on the AC and used the sun to power our tiny home. They were enjoying their air-conditioned home with a running pet water fountain and music playing to help silence the other cars or people taking photos of the Airstream (it happens a lot). We ran around the dunes until our calves were on fire and the perfect sandy shapes were ruined by everyone’s footprints.

We got back to our pets and peeked through the window to see them asleep and happy—we we’re golden! We drove to Badwater Basin and did the same thing again, leaving our pets in their cool and comfortable tiny home. I don’t think we could travel without having the luxuries of solar power. We don’t need much, but the security and comfort of our pets means everything to us. Again, they aren’t allowed on the trails, but I might have snapped a selfie of me and my cat in the parking lot of Badwater Basin, because why not? He was definitely the lowest cat below sea level in the western hemisphere and that’s pretty darn impressive.

(Travel Tip: Death Valley has multiple hotels and gas stations within the park grounds, but diesel gas was more than $6 a gallon! We stocked up before the park entrance and again as soon as we left. And don’t forget to bring your water to this location, even in the winter months. During summer months, they recommend no hiking after 10:00 a.m.)

Have questions? We have answers!

We’ll be taking questions over the next couple months and addressing them in a special blog post! Send us your question and check back to see if your inquiry is picked for our blog post! And be sure to check back every month for a new episode of the Road’s End Workshop with Paige and Corey! If you missed Part 1, click here!

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