10 Days on the Road with Wallie Wanders

Nothing is more rewarding than travel. Being able to experience new and exciting places is truly inspiring. It allows you to forget what you knew and to be free. You can fly yourself to anywhere in the world to escape and create. You can live the highlife in hotels and AirBNB’s, but where’s the sense of adventure? To me the journey is equally, if not more, important than the destination. Small towns in between, open roads, open skies, nothing for miles – that’s where I feel inspired. A road trip isn’t just a one-stop deal, there are hundreds of opportunities to immerse yourself into the landscape. Ramblin’ across the country with 5 like-minded creators in a 30-foot RV just sweetens the deal.

The route was planned. Chicago to Flagstaff to The Grand Canyon to Monument Valley to Moab to Great Sand Dunes and back, all in 10 days. The energy level the first night on the road was insane, especially considering we left at 12:30AM after everyone had worked a full day. Even though the Midwest tried to keep us from leaving with electrical problems (thanks Camping World), we still were able to break out. We made it to Oklahoma where we slowed down the pace. We stopped in a TINY town in the middle of nowhere to take a look around. We were greeted by an old woman who was the sweetest thing. She asked “Are y’all lost?” and we just laughed. When we said we were headed to Amarillo she replied “You know the best thing to come out of Amarillo? I-87 North.”  These are the small interactions that make road trips worth it. Being able to talk to real people on the way.

Coming through Amarillo we stopped at Cadillac Ranch, which was an unplanned but incredible stop. The carefree atmosphere of this ever-changing art project was fuel to our inspiration. Again we talked with tourists and locals alike, exchanged stories and  even taught a Japanese business man how to do graffiti.

Onward we went through New Mexico. Billboards started popping up for a truck stop… and we were still 150 miles away from it. As we got closer and closer there are more and more billboards until there is a sign every 100 feet on both sides of the highway. Then we saw the one that said: “We have Snake Stuff!”. “What the hell is ‘snake stuff’?!” we asked each other. We just had to find out. The truck stop’s ridiculous advertising campaign drew us in. Turns out, snake stuff is just stuff made out of snakes.

Through Albuquerque and past the Breaking Bad house we went to our first planned stop, Flagstaff, Arizona. We found the nearest Walmart parking lot and turned in for the night. In the morning we woke up and decided we’d much rather take the road down to Sedona than stay in Flagstaff (there was still snow in Flagstaff.. ew). Another welcome change in plans. Down the mountain we found a Whole Foods (bless up) and got some good coffee and juice to refuel. Then out into the desert we went to shoot.

One major difference between the Midwest and the true West is the scale. Everything out there is so much bigger than it seems. Wide open spaces broken up by incredible rock formations. We climbed up the side of a cliff that turned out to be way bigger than we thought and relaxed on the edge. Day 1 of full shooting, complete.

Tired and eager to edit our photos, we holed up at a haunted hotel bar in Flagstaff (Hotel Monte Vista, look it up. It was creepy as all hell). We plugged in to every outlet we could find and went to town before regrouping and heading to the Grand Canyon for sunrise.

Even though it was freezing and the wind was rough, watching the sun come over the eastern rim of the canyon was incredible. After catching dawn and shooting for a bit, we headed back out into the desert towards Utah. We stopped at a Native American stand on the side of the road to check out their turquoise and art and just to chat.

Monument Valley was up next. After a short drive and pitstop to make lunch we could see the mesas and buttes growing on the horizon. We didn’t even go into the state park, we just stopped in a pull-off on the side of the road to shoot and appreciate the view. Four hours we spent parked on the side of this road, just taking in the beauty of the desert.

After a “boujie” night at an RV park we headed back out on the road up into Utah, stopping wherever we thought might be even remotely interesting. There was no rush to get anywhere. We were exactly where we wanted to be, in the west with nothing but time.

We eventually pulled into Moab, Utah and went straight for Arches National Park to watch the sun go down. We pulled into the parking lot at the trailhead for Delicate Arch and filled our bags with all the stuff we wanted to shoot with the golden hour light. We were definitely overpacked with a ton of stuff that we did NOT need, and under packed with what we DID need (water) but we made it up! And it was worth carrying all of the stuff up the mountain. The serenity and beauty of Delicate Arch at sunset was a surreal experience.

On the hike down, we were stopped by a group asking about our cameras and what we were up to. After talking with them for a bit, we found out that they were also photographers and one had an assignment to shoot an engagement session. We (Michael and I) of course volunteered to be their subject the following morning at sunrise.

Having a completely adorable and loving shoot in the bag, we went for another hike, almost on accident. Again, ill prepared, we headed out for a 3 mile hike in the early morning. And I have to say, even considering our lack of water, the hike was completely worth it. Arches is an amazing park.

Our day in Moab ended with some food and thrifting. We turned in after dark with Sand Dunes on the agenda for the following morning. And sure enough, right with the sun, we were up and out, headed towards Colorado.

After some unplanned (but welcomed) stops at Mesa Verde and some thrift stores, we got in to our spot at the RV park near the sand dunes. We caught sunrise and hiked up about halfway before the sand got the better of us. We shot, messed around, and just relaxed with the sun beating down on us. It was the closest thing to a beach we’d seen in MONTHS so we had to take advantage.

On the road again. This time it was the last leg of our trip; back through Colorado and home to Chicago. Not far out of Great Sand Dunes, we saw a hand painted sign for antiques, so of course we stopped. Inside this building was a unique experience, not because of the items for sale, but because of the salesman. He was a man named Arvey. He was at least 80 years old, but with tons of life still in his eyes. At first glance he seemed to be a stereotypical country man, but he was full of surprises. We stayed here a lot longer than expected, listening to Arvey tell us about where we should go next, what to eat, and just how to live. This stop and conversation alone is evidence enough that the destination is not nearly as important as the path you take to get there.

Next week we will be announcing how YOU can go on a free Wallie Wanders trip with us. Keep an eye out.

Images by Tom Borges, Michael Snell, Yu Miao, Braylee Schmidt, Brooklynn Sitowski, and Daniel Kouba.

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