Category Archives: Oklahoma

Crotaphytus collaris (Eastern Collared Lizard) in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, Oklahoma; 16 June 2004

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Crotaphytus collaris, the Eastern collared lizard, photographed in Comanche county, Oklahoma (16 June 2004).

We’ve taken a good chunk of the week off here at Dust Tracks, but we’re starting to shift back into gear. This past week was, of course, monstrously difficult for many –far too many– in Oklahoma and other stretches of the midwest. The tornado that struck Moore, Oklahoma five days ago was a nightmarish brute of a twister. Still, it seems the human loss could have been much worse. Much, much worse. Though the damage was, is, and for a long time to come, will continue to be catastrophic to those directly affected, it could have been even worse. My heart still bleeds for all those affected — my friends, my former colleagues, and so many, many more. There’s much to mourn for this week, but also much to celebrate and to be grateful for.

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Reflecting on Moore, Oklahoma and Tornadoes: 1999, 2003, 2013

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These photographs were taken on 08 May 2003, shortly after an F3 tornado passed through Moore, Oklahoma, eventually peaking as an F4 near Interstate 240. At the time, my wife and I lived in Norman, Oklahoma — a few short miles south of Moore. We were graduate students at the University of Oklahoma. That’s where we met, in central Oklahoma.

Five years prior, in May of 1999, the same town, Moore, was devastated by an epic F5 tornado. I had just moved from central Oklahoma back to Florida a week before that particular storm. I remember watching the coverage on the tv in Tallahassee with a true sense of shock and awe. It was unbelievably brutal, that May 1999 storm.

Oklahoma, you see, is sort of my second home in life. I lived there for three years as a kid (5th, 6th, and 7th grades), again for three years as an undergraduate at the University of Oklahoma, and yet again for another three years as a graduate student at OU. Ever since the 5th grade, when the University of Oklahoma dominated the National Championship with Barry Switzer and Brian Bosworth, Oklahoma’s been a place I’ve never left behind. I’m still connected to childhood friends, college friends, grad school friends, people I’ve worked with, people I’ve partied with… It’s a social network that’s never faded throughout the years. Hell, Oklahoma is where I met my wife. It’s a place close to my heart, even if I’ve never identified myself as being an Okie.

Bump forward to yesterday, to 20 May 2013. Moore was yet again savaged by an unrelenting and devastatingly powerful tornado. Our Facebook walls and Twitter feeds are afire with status updates and reports from Cleveland county. I have an old friend who lost a business yesterday. I have another old friend who lost his home. Another lost his dog. Many people have reconnected, some people have not. We still don’t quite know what’s what with all our Oklahoma friends and community. All I can see are scattered images of devastating heartbreak and bittersweet survival. I honestly believe that once the dust settles and Oklahoma is able to assess the scope and scale of the damage, this will transcend both the 1999 and 2003 events.

As for these photographs, they are of the 2003 event in Moore (not 2013). We lived in Norman at the time. As the storm passed to our west, I took off northbound for Moore. It didn’t take long before I abandoned the interstate. There were a ton of smashed, bloodied cars and buses and I didn’t want to clog traffic for emergency response vehicles. It was quickly evident that this was a bad, bad tornado.

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I parked a half mile south of where the tornado cut through Moore and then humped it northbound on foot. As I approached the path of the tornado, I began seeing downed power lines, chunks of insulation, shingle after shingle, random photographs, and –worst of all– dazed and confused people wandering about.

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Within an hour of the storm passing, people were out and about, checking for injuries, checking for property. As for myself, I was careful to avoid downed utility lines, which in places were chaotically bundled and bunched in thick weaves.

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While a line of cars departed Moore, heading northbound to Oklahoma City, other cars were strewn nearby, overturned, crunched, demolished.

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Small groups of people congealed, sharing their experience, asking about neighbors, searching through debris.

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At the top of this post is an American flag hung from debris near Interstate 35 — an act of resilience and pride, I suppose. Later, I spotted a small group of teenagers who’d torn the flag down and were walking along the debris field and I-35, holding the flag up for passing helicopters overhead. At the time, I was offended by them having torn that flag down to wave around as they did. It felt cheap. Now, looking back, I’m more sympathetic. I suppose they wanted to express something. Anything. The flag is a ready-made tool for such an expression.

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I also saw three women slowly walking by a demolished church. They looked utterly broken, devasted, numb.

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As for Interstate 35, it was an artery of chaos at Moore.

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Turning back to the church, the structural damage was staggering.

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My wife and I were spared such immediate disaster (as Norman residents usually are). I was simply a local-tourist taking photographs of the aftermath, trying to keep out of everybody’s way. I’d been through enough hurricanes in my life to know how to play it safe and to keep the hell out of the way. The damage I saw was devastating and extensive, though it was clear the storm wasn’t nearly as vicious as that 1999 storm five years prior.

Now, I think about yesterday’s tornado. I think of Moore. I think of the utter carnage. I think about friends, some who are like family. I think of the kids, all those helpless kids. And it hurts. It just fucking hurts. I hurt for the citizens of Moore — and for all the other midwestern communities brutally savaged by these recent tornadic cycles.

Dust Tracks is going to take a nap for the next few days. We’ll be back by the end of the week. If you can, give some time, thought, and support to those impacted by these tornadoes. If you’re further inclined, you can support the victims through the American Red Cross.

http://www.redcross.org

My thoughts are with my Oklahoma friends and family right now. My heart aches for them. For them all. Still, with that being said, Oklahomans are extremely resilient and strong people. They band together and they help each other, especially when it counts. Though there are many aspects of Oklahoma I don’t personally connect with, their collective ability to weather the storm, to rebuild, to band together, has always been nothing short of breathtakingly inspirational. I’m proud to have Oklahoma in the fabric of my life. I am a better person for it.

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~ janson

Crotaphytus collaris (Eastern Collared Lizard), 16 June 2004

Crotaphytus collaris

I’m wrapping up a wickedly brutal day on this here end of the internet and I honestly don’t have much energy or motivation to write thoughtful and/or complete sentences. So, instead of writing like, you know, a thoughtful reflection or description about the lizard featured above, I’m just going to write this:

This is an Eastern collared lizard (Crotaphytus collaris) photographed on 16 June 2004 in the Wichita Mountains of southern Oklahoma and it is fucking awesome.

More tomorrow!

~ janson

Cnemidophorus sexlineatus viridis (Prairie Racerunner), 02 July 2007

Aspidoscelis sexlineata viridis

I’ve got two posts lined up for today. This, the first, does not feature a very good photograph, but it is a subspecies I’ve yet to recognize on Dust Tracks. This is the prairie racerunner, Cnemidophorus sexlineatus viridis, photographed in the Canadian River basin of central Oklahoma (just south of Norman in Cleveland county) on 02 July 2007.

I’m somewhat skeptical of subspecies designations these days, but when it comes to widespread organisms with distinctive and unique phenotype differentiations throughout their range, these subspecies designations make more sense to me on a purely visual/functional level. The jury’s still out when it comes to genotype distinctions. On Dust Tracks, I list all subspecies under the dominant species tag (in this case, Cnemidophorus sexlineatus), but I will note current subspecies designations when it seems important.

The prairie racerunner is found throughout the midwest of the United States. The Eastern six-lined racerunner, coming up next, is found further to the east/southeast. As you can sort-of see in this photograph, prairie racerunners are brightly colored with yellowish greens. Southeastern individuals lack such bright colors, though they can sometimes have a blue tone to them.

Racerunners (regardless of subspecies and/or region) are wickedly fast and most certainly deserve their common name. They are sometimes confused with some species of North American skinks, which can also have that general striped pattern, but they are most certainly not skinks. Racerunners belong to Family Teiidae, the Whiptail lizards. And did I mention they’re wickedly fast?

I’ve seen many of these prairie racerunners, especially as a kid growing up in Oklahoma, but I have very little to show for it. I’ve only seen a handful since I started photographing my encounters in 2004 and all of these individuals have been particularly quick to flee into the brush. Next time I make it to Oklahoma, this subspecies will be high on my priority list! They really are quite lovely.

NOTE: Some folks now classify this genus/species as Aspidoscelis sexlineata and not Cnemidophorus sexlineatus. For now, I’m sticking with the old classification.

~ janson

Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, Oklahoma; 08 July 2007

We’re going to shift gears here on Dust Tracks for the next few days. Mid-July is going to be a busy, busy run here on the geophysical homefront. I’ve got an annual party to attend in Tallahassee this weekend, the Caribbean Jerk Off (48 hours of Caribbean Jerk Chicken  on the grill accompanied with lots of story telling and, yes, drinking). Then it’s my daughter’s fourth birthday (qualification: she’s turning three years old!), followed shortly by my 20 year high school reunion. We’ve got family coming into town, as well as some dear, dear friends from a former life. Indeed, it’s going to be quite busy on the domestic homefront.

So, for the next few days on Dust Tracks we’ll focus mainly on landscapes and regions. I’m feeling a bit nostalgic for places I’ve been and experienced as of late and, honestly, it’s easier and speedier to post landscape reflections than it is to write about and identify organisms. Heh.

So, let’s launch with a few perspectives of the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in southern Oklahoma.

Second only to Florida, Oklahoma is the place I’ve spent most of my lifespan. I’ve spent more time in Oklahoma than I have in Alaska and Georgia — combined. Yet, I never really felt “at home” there, probably because of The Water Factor. Essentially there are no natural lakes in Oklahoma. What few lakes there are in Oklahoma are human-produced, products of dams. It’s simply not a water-saturated area, at least not in this period of geologic history.

Regardless, there are few places in the world I love more than the Wichita Mountains of southern Oklahoma. From the vast and sprawling plains to the creek-carved canyons of the Lost Lake area, the Wichita Mountains were an oasis of beauty during my time in Oklahoma. The “mountains” are little more than glorified hills at this point; they’ve long since been worn down down by erosion. But they are deeply beautiful and they thrive with with life.

I desperately want to return to the Wichitas with my daughter, to show her the collared lizards, the bison, and the cacti of the region. I want her to feel that warm air rushing over the flowery plains, brushing through her hair as if the breeze was made just for her — as if the entire world was built for this one particular gust of warm wind. I want her to see that brilliant contrast of green and blue — that ever-present and ever-distinct horizon that dominates the edge of the Wichitas.

That day will come, though not soon enough.

To others --to those who may find themselves traveling through Oklahoma from here to there– I cannot adequately describe the awesomeness of the Wichitas Mountains of southern Oklahoma. There’s a beautiful minimalism to the region. In a way, it’s like the Everglades: it’s not a region dominated by vast mountain peaks or by enormously deep canyons. It’s not a region of ancient, deep forests or towering waterfalls. The beauty here is more obscured. It’s a patient kind of beauty. An underscored one. If you visit the area and you pause, if you just close your eyes for a moment and let the breeze wrap around you, you’ll find an elaborate beauty in the sophisticated simplicity all around when you again open your eyes.

Indeed, the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge remains one of my favorite places on Earth — a vast, rich, and lovely region dominated by nothing less than an elegant simplicity in its finest form — a minimalist symphony of time and space. It’s a song I long to hear once again.

~ janson

AK2FL One Year Later: New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma

The Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ Ministries in Groom, Texas (pop. 587). 13 June 2011.

Five photographs from New Mexico to Oklahoma one-year-after the cross-continent summer trip of 2011. These photographs were originally processed with Apple’s Aperture application and have been heavily edited with Snapseed on the iPad for this post. Original live-blog posts from summer 2011 can be accessed here

NEW MEXICO, TEXAS, OKLAHOMA: Miles 5194 – 5919 represented (725 miles total in this leg). My cross-continental journey most certainly accelerated once I hit the New Mexico border. I’d decided to burn through the night from Arizona to Oklahoma, essentially skipping New Mexico and Texas side-trips, to afford myself more time to visit with friends in Oklahoma, as well as to visit Red Rock Canyon State Park. I’d also hoped to visit northern Arkansas to hike the Blanchard Springs area. Ultimately, however, my altered-altered-altered plans were literally unraveled in Oklahoma. My beloved Jeep suffered a rather brutal environmental shock once temperatures climbed well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. After four years in Alaska, the scorching, dry, summer heat of the American midwest simply ravaged my Jeep’s delicate, cold-blooded innards! The rubber lining on pretty much everything started to disintegrate and fluids were sketchy at best. From that point on –mile 5919–, the goal was to simply get home as fast as possible, as we’ll see in the next post.

The New Mexico Border, leaving Arizona. 12 June 2011.

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Interstate 40 just east of the Texas/Oklahoma border. Temp in the lower 100s. 13 June 2011.

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Box Canyon Trail in Red Rock Canyon State Park, Oklahoma. 13 June 2011.

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Along the Box Canyon Trail in Red Rock Canyon State Park, Oklahoma. 13 June 2011.

Sunday 12 June 2011 (Day 13):

Monday 13 June 2011 (Day 14): 

Nerodia erythrogaster transversa (Blotched Watersnake), 10 June 2004

Unlike the 2007 youngster I featured here, this is –quite positively– a blotched watersnake, Nerodia erythrogaster transversa, an adult. Adults are often much easier to positively identify than youngsters.

The blotched watersnake is a subspecies designation of the plainbelly watersnake, Nerodia erythrogaster. You can see where they get their common species name in the photograph to the right. Plainbellies have, well, plain bellies. Most Nerodias (the dominant genus of North American watersnakes) have some kind of ventral markings, but plainbellies are plain through and through. Usually. That’s one of the reasons the youngster referenced in the previous post still throws me off (though, again, I’m not sure what juvenile blotched watersnakes typically look like from below).

This individual was seen in 2004 during a summer trip to the midwest for an OU committee meeting (I was preparing for my Masters defense) and for two friends’ wedding in Missouri. I was sure to save a dash of time to run down to the Wichita Mountains and to root around the residential creeks of Norman, Oklahoma. I found the rowdy adult featured here in a feeder creek leading into William Morgan Park in northwest Norman. This is the same vicinity I found the previously-posted youngster.

Though I spent a good portion of my childhood rooting around for snakes and lizards, I wasn’t an avid photographer. The digital technology wasn’t there and I didn’t have the budget to process tons of film. Most of my old photographs (and there were still plenty) are of friends, school, parties, and stuff like that. It wasn’t until 2004 –a year after I acquired my first digital camera– that I started actively photographing wildlife.

This snake (and this trip) was one of the first where I actively went outside with the goal to photographically record species.

There are a minimum of three compositions I always try to capture, whenever possible: a profile of the head, a ventral scale representation, and a dorsal/torso shot. I try to get multiple angles of the head and face, as well — from the top, from the side, and from the bottom. “Art” is sometimes a goal, but more often than not I’m thinking of reference compositions — photographs that adequately represent an individual and could be used in identification to some degree or another.

I don’t consider these to be amazing photographs, but I do think they served their original purpose quite well. These are fairly decent reference shots of the blotched watersnake, a commonly-observed, non-venomous watersnake found throughout central Oklahoma (and elsewhere). Next time I see one, however, I’m going to shoot more for the artsy side of things! Heh. They are beautiful Nerodias!

~ janson

Nerodia rhombifer (Diamondback Watersnake, juvenile) in Norman, Oklahoma; 06 July 2007

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NOTE: This post was substantially updated on Friday 10 May 2013.

This is, I believe, a juvenile Diamondback watersnake, Nerodia rhombifer. The youngster was creeping about a small residential creek in Norman, Oklahoma — not far from William Morgan Park (a small neighborhood park in the area). Diamondback watersnakes and Blotched watersnakes were quite abundant in the park at this time, though I’m not sure I ever saw an adult Diamondback. Juvenile Diamondbacks look very, very different from adults. They’re darker and slimmer — more like what you’d expect from a Blotched watersnake.

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I spent three “eras” of my life in Oklahoma. The first was 5th, 6th, and 7th grade. The second was when I was an undergraduate at the University of Oklahoma (1996-1998). The third was when I was a graduate student at OU (2001-2004). Of the three eras, the 1985-1987 run was when I did most of my Oklahoma herping. As an undergraduate student in the 1990s, I was way more interested in partying, writing short stories, and being overly-dramatic than I was in wrassling snakes and lizards. As a graduate student in the early 2000s, I was almost entirely wrapped up in the culture of the department and hardly hiked or went outdoors at all (with a few notable exceptions).

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When I think back on those second two of three eras in Oklahoma, I desperately wish I’d reconnected with the outdoors earlier. I’m a bit sad that all that time and opportunity slipped by — time when I could’ve explored more of Oklahoma’s ecology and wildlife. The grand Reconnection didn’t occur until 2004, when I moved to Florida with my wife, graduated, and started teaching. It’s been a barrel roll of ecology escalation ever since.

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I do hope to get back to Oklahoma at some point. It’s a fascinating landscape peppered and dotted by pockets, puddles, and noodles of water — and life clamors around those noodles, puddles, and pockets. There’s an abundance of Natricine watersnakes in the region — far more than I have photographic representations of. I’d love to get back there at some point and devote at least least two solid weeks watersnake hunting the Oklahoman waterholes, to better learn these species, their habitats, and their behaviors.

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~ janson

Nerodia rhombifer (Diamondback Watersnake) with VIDEO, 07 July 2007

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Way back in the caveman days of May 2011, I published a post on Dust Tracks featuring a single photograph of this snake: the diamondback watersnake, Nerodia rhombifer. Nowadays, I tend to publish multi-image posts, often with just a dash more text. Heh. So, given my recent forays back into the world of Nerodia, it only feels right to revisit this individual and to give it some proper respect on Dust Tracks. One little post with one little image does not do this robust and massive watersnake species justice!

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Diamondback watersnakes are large, robust, nonvenomous watersnakes. They have strongly keeled scales and deep, red eyes. In the world of Nerodia, adults are fairly distinct and massive snakes (around four feet in length and quite stocky). They also have the temperament to match.

Watersnakes simply aren’t aggressive, but that doesn’t mean they won’t actively defend themselves when caught or cornered. Of all the Nerodias I’ve tangled with, few match the strength and power of a diamondback watersnake defending itself. These suckers can bite — and they can bite hard! Of course, they’re non-venomous, so a strong bite isn’t a matter of life and death… but it can still be quite dramatic from the perspective of a little kid.

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I spent a good amount of time in central Oklahoma as a kid. My 5th, 6th, and 7th grade years were spent in Norman, just south of Oklahoma City. When I wasn’t in school, scampering about the Sooner Fashion Mall, or playing Star Wars, Dawn of the Dead or some such in the neighborhood, I was often down in the Canadian River basin looking for snakes, frogs, and lizards.

I have an ocean of great memories from the Canadian River basin in the mid-1980s. The best memories, however, usually involved these massive diamondback watersnakes. My ass was firmly handed to me on more than one occasion by these impressive organisms.

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On one occasion, my snake buddy, Billy Robbins, and I decided to try to float down a shoreline run in the Canadian to try to catch basking diamondbacks above the waterline. It was a simple plan: float under the snakes, reach up, and grab them. Because they were basking above the waterline, catching them from land was not a viable option.

Billy Robbiins (the tall one) holding a ribbon snake and accompanied by a small herd of even-younger children, circa 1986.

We found a big, buoyant log, tested it out upstream, and then went about our plan. It was all working fine until we actually got to the overhanging foliage sporting about half a dozen or so full-sized adult diamondbacks. When Billy and I reached up, more than slightly excited, we quickly lost our center of gravity and went plummeting down into the water. Of course, as we rolled off the log and into the red waters of the Canadian, we flailed and grabbed the foliage, thus shaking all the watersnakes out of the tree and into the water with us. Yup. There we were, Billy and I, thrashing in the water with more than a few panicked diamondback watersnakes. Heh. Good times.

Anyhow, when we visited Norman in 2007, during our move from Florida to Alaska, I was sure to head down to the Canadian for a hike. Though there’s been much development in the area since the 1980s, a good stretch of the basin is still quite like it was when I was a kid. I didn’t find a log and float down it on that day, but I did manage to catch the diamondback watersnake featured in this post — a beautiful, strongly keeled adult. Hell, I even managed to get some video (featured below).

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At some point, I’ll be able to return to Oklahoma with my daughter and show her my old stomping grounds (if they’re still there). I don’t know if we’ll try floating down a channel on an old log, but I do hope to find and point out some diamondback watersnakes for her. Hell, maybe she’ll find some and point them out to her old man? That would be nice.

I also can’t help but to wonder whatever became of young Billy Robbins. The dude was a snake-master, a keen and sharp young mind. I like to think the guy found his way into evolutionary biology, genetics, or some such. Of course, kids grow up and find new interests and life is often more tangled than the channels of the Canadian River basin in Cleveland county, Oklahoma, but this kid lived and breathed snakes like no other. What are you doing, Billy? I wonder.

THE VIDEOGRAPH:

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~ janson

Anaxyrus americanus charlesmithi (Dwarf American Toad), 02 July 2007

The Dwarf American Toad, Anaxyrus americanus charlesmithi, is a diminutive subspecies of the American toad, Anaxyrus americanus. Reaching lengths up to about 6 cm, the Dwarf American toad is similar to its slightly larger cousin in many regards.

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Acris blanchardi (Blanchard’s Cricket Frog), 02 July 2007

We begin another amphibious micro-tour on Dust Tracks with a new species for the blog, a diminutive little cricket frog quite abundant in Oklahoma: Acris blanchardi, Blanchard’s cricket frog. This individual was photographed along the edge of the Canadian River basin in south Norman, Oklahoma (July of 2007).

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The June 2011 Drive from Alaska to Florida

20110624-103522.jpgIn June of 2011, I drove solo from Anchorage, Alaska to Mt. Dora, Florida, taking the long way and cutting south through Utah and Arizona before finally heading east. I drove 7221 miles in 15 days in my beloved 1998 Jeep Cherokee. Lady Cherokee, bless her heart, performed beautifully — though the 100+ degree temperatures beginning in Oklahoma eventually began to unravel her four-year acclimation to the chilly Alaskan climate. With disintegrating lining and an exhausted water pump and belt, she eventually stalled and died fourteen miles from the finish line: my parents’ home in Mt. Dora.

My wife and daughter had flown directly to Mt. Dora, leaving me with two and a half weeks to explore North America as I made my way southeast. I camped in a tent or out of the Jeep all but two nights along the way and ventured into innumerable parks and preserves. Among these hiking/photo stops were (to name a few): Denali National Park, Stone Mountain Provincial Park, Muncho Lake Provincial Park, Jasper National Park, Banff National Park, Craters of the Moon National Monument, Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, Petrified Forest National Park, the Painted Desert, Meteor Crater, Red Rock Canyon State Park, and the Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge. By the time I reached Oklahoma, the trip accelerated as I found myself closer to home and with an obviously heat-stroked vehicle.

Despite frequent difficulties with attaining decent 3G coverage, I photographed and live-blogged the entire trip with my Nikon D90 and iPad 2. Forcing myself to stop and write about what I was experiencing in real time provided me with a kind of internal rhythm by which I could better soak in these experiences. Indeed, it was ultimately more experience than my tiny hominid mind could handle and now, looking back, I’m grateful to have these on-location notes and testimonials for reference. Otherwise it would all be an incredible blur.

In general, I strove to not box myself in with a rigid timeline or concrete plan — other than to arrive home no later than Sunday the 19th on Father’s Day. Still, my modernistic ways kept pushing me to calculate and to box myself into itineraries. In hindsight, breaking free of my own self-mandated scheduling proved more difficult than the drive itself. It took great effort to break myself from “The Plan” from time to time, to follow an unknown road or to veer slightly off course.

In the end I consider the trip an astounding success and an absolute gift of experience. While others dream of exploring other continents, I find myself constantly in awe of my own home continent. North America is vast, dynamic, and extremely diverse in the beauties it affords. For everything I have seen of this continent in my life, I know there is still so much more to discover and to experience. I did some damage to my bucket list on this trip and fulfilled several life goals in travel, but I still feel like I’ve only begun — says the man in his late thirties.

Below you will find a chronological listing of liveblog posts written during this trip, with shortcut links to each and every post. Also mote that all posts on this blog are categorically tagged by state or province. These tags can be accessed via the main “black bar” menu at the top of this page under “Locations.”

Special props and gratitude to all those who read and commented along the way, either directly on the blog or via email. You helped make the trip feel much less lonely — and there were indeed some very lonely nights.

If you have any questions about this trip or any of the photos or information provided within, p,ease feel free to contact me via the blog or my email (jansonjones -at- me -dot- com). Also note that the photographs featured during the trip itself (beginning 31 May 2011) were taken with a Nikon D90 in RAW format and processed solely on the iPad 2. I did not have any laptop available during this time. I was strictly mobile in the true sense of the term.

UPDATE: Images in these posts have since been upgraded (in May and June of 2012). During the trip, I had no computer. Just the Nikon D90 and my iPad 2. All images were originally imported directly to and processed with the iPad 2. I was somewhat limited in what I could upload and usually only posted one or two images per post. Since then, I’ve fully processed the photos and revised these posts with the higher grade images in full.

THE DRIVE FROM ALASKA TO FLORIDA:
INDEX TO THE ORIGINAL LIVE-BLOG POSTS

Pre-Trip Posts:


Tuesday 31 May 2011 (Day 01):
ALASKA 

  

Wednesday 01 June 2011 (Day 02):
ALASKA, YUKON TERRITORY 

  

Thursday 02 June 2011 (Day 03):
YUKON TERRITORY 

    

Friday 03 June 2011 (Day 04):
YUKON TERRITORY, BRITISH COLUMBIA 

    

Saturday 04 June 2011 (Day 05):
BRITISH COLUMBIA, ALBERTA 

Sunday 05 June 2011 (Day 06):
ALBERTA 

  

Monday 06 June 2011 (Day 07):
ALBERTA, MONTANA 

    

Tuesday 07 June 2011 (Day 08):
MONTANA, IDAHO 

  

Wednesday 08 June 2011 (Day 09):
IDAHO, UTAH 

    

Thursday 09 June 2011 (Day 10):
UTAH 

  

Friday 10 June 2011 (Day 11):
UTAH 

  

Saturday 11 June 2011 (Day 12):
UTAH, ARIZONA 

  

Sunday 12 June 2011 (Day 13):
ARIZONA, NEW MEXICO 

  

Monday 13 June 2011 (Day 14):
NEW MEXICO, TEXAS, OKLAHOMA 

  

Tuesday 14 June 2011 (Day 15):
OKLAHOMA, LOUISIANA, MISSISSIPPI 

  

Wednesday 15 June 2011 (Day 16):
MISSISSIPPI, ALABAMA, FLORIDA 

  

Post-Trip Posts:

Alternatively, you can also view a thumbnailed archive list of all posts listed above here: http://dusttracks.com/category/series/summer-2011-the-drive-from-alaska-to-florida/.

~ janson.

NOTE: This post was substantially revised and completed on 11 August 2011.

Day 14, Mile 5859: Red Rock Canyon State Park, Oklahoma

13 June 2011 @ 3:38 pm CDT (5859 miles). I just spent an hour trekking around the box canyon trail of Red Rock Canyon State Park. I’d hoped to find a blotched watersnake down in the creek bed, but it’s so damn hot out there right now, they’re all no doubt hidden among the shadows.

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Regardless, a beautiful day with beautiful sunshine. And –are you ready for the comedy?– the humidity is hitting me hard! For a Floridian to say that Oklahoma is “humid” is utterly absurd… Still, try living in Alaska for four years and then come to Oklahoma in early June…

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Going to trek around a little more, update the blog (five stars on 3G!), and move on to OKC. Looking forward to seeing old friends.

- janson

Day 14, Mile 5754: Oklahoma

13 June 2011 @ 12:30 pm CDT (5754 miles). I’ve crossed over the Oklahoma state line — and that means I’m back home. Back to my second home, at least. Second only to Florida, Oklahoma is where I’ve spent most of my life. Cumulatively, I’ve lived in Oklahoma longer than I did in Alaska (three years as a kid, two years as an undergraduate, and about three years in graduate school). Still, my relationship with and feelings for Oklahoma are complicated at best.

I never really connected with the open prairie and the general Oklahoman ethos of landscape. I’m not a big fan of vast agricultural fields or open prairies. I prefer the denseness of vegetation or the clustering of rock. In regards to the desert, I have no doubt that if I lived in one, I wouldn’t like it much once the honeymoon was over.

I think it’s the water, or lack thereof. In Alaska and in Florida, water is the main player. In the prairie and the desert, sure — there’s water… But it’s sparse. Less abundant. Precious and rare. Maybe it’s the lack of water that always kept Oklahoma from getting too deep into my heart? There is not, I believe, one single natural lake in the state. There are plenty of ponds and plenty of reservoirs, but no natural lakes.

And consider my favorite places in Oklahoma: the Wichita Mountains (where small streams cut canyons through an eroded, remnant of a mountain range) and Red Rock Canyon (where a small stream flows through a narrow box canyon). Water. So yeah, maybe that’s it. Maybe it’s the water.

Still, I’m glad to be back even if but for a few days. I’ve got some good friends here and there are a lot of great things about the Oklahoman folk. In terms of wildlife, there’s plenty of it — and I do love the reptiles of Oklahoma. And then there’s the weather. My god, the weather… Tornados and thundering, billowing, cannonballs of storms that pound the midwest in the spring. Funny now that I think about it. The detrimental weather, the flash flooding, the tornadic thunderstorms… I’ve always had a (foolish) romantic fascination with them. Again: water.

Alright, so I’m back in Oklahoma. It’s a sunny, clear day and rain is not looking likely. The temp’s in the lower 100s and I’m starting to remember what Oklahoma feels like. So too is the Jeep. Heh.

Going to make my way to Oklahoma City to meet up with some old friends at Joe’s Crab Shack. I wonder if their Alaskan Snow Crab is any good… Tonight I’m staying with a dear old friend from my undergraduate days. Because I like nicknaming people on the blog, we’ll call this guy Some-Guy.

But first? I’m hitting Red Rock Canyon State Park along the way. It’s just south of Interstate 40 and west of Oklahoma City. Right on my path.

- janson

Eastern collared lizard, Crotaphytus collaris (2004)

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This is my favorite lizard found in Oklahoma: the Eastern collared lizard, Crotaphytus collaris. They’re also regionally known as mountain boomers (though I don’t know why exactly). Eastern collareds are quite common throughout much of the Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge in southwest Oklahoma — one of my favorite places on earth. The bright colors of the collared lizards do nothing but further adorn the bright red, lichen-coated rocks that lay foundation to much of the refuge.

Collared lizards are, to put it mildly, faster than hell. In the open and on a warm day, catching one is a little more than difficult. With fairly sharp visual acuity, they can easily see you coming and shoot down and over the rocks with a velocity and grace that is unrivaled in the region. They also seem to always know where the nooks and crannies are and can easily disappear into the shadows within seconds. I think the only individual I ever caught was one juvenile sleeping under a rock at Wichita Falls, further south in Texas, when I was in boy scouts. Hell, to be honest, I was the one holding the rock. My buddy Billy Robins technically caught the little dude.

So, I guess it’s 0-345 or so on the Eastern collared lizard front.

Still, regardless of constantly being humiliated by lizards far more swift than myself, I did get pretty good at photographing them from a moderate distance, from about four or five feet. That’s about as close as I can get before they humiliate me with their supersonic speeds. If ever there was an animal that made me feel like a lumbering pile of mammalian lard, its name is Crotaphytus collaris collaris.

Now, the question is: will I see collared lizards this summer? And if so, what subspecies?

I’ll get back to you on that in, oh, about a month or so. After I catch my breath and get over the humiliation of another defeat.

~ janson

Nerodia rhombifer (Diamondback watersnake), 2007

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This is the Thunderdome of North American watersnakes: the diamondback watersnake, Nerodia rhombifer rhombifer. It’s a large, robust and non-venomous watersnake found throughout much of central United States. With strongly keeled scales and deep red eyes, it’s a sight to behold, no doubt. It’s also one of the many snakes people often confuse with the entirely-unrelated cottonmouth.

In Oklahoma, I used to tangle with these snakes down along the Canadian River basin. In Norman, the town I lived and home of the University of Oklahoma, the Canadian River was a fantastic stretch of relatively unscathed land and water cutting just south of town. Of course, as the years rattled on, development encroached more and more along the edges of the river, but it’s still in relatively good shape. All things considered. I was glad to find several diamondbacks during my return trip in 2007, including the one photographed above.

Diamondback watersnakes are quick to flee, or rather drop, into the water when threatened. I’d often find them basking in tangles of reeds and limbs along the edge of shore — prime real estate for a watersnake who merely needs to drop down into the water to flee a potential threat. Indeed, they can be at times quite difficult to catch. The waters of the Canadian are usually a silty brown, tan or red color. Within seconds, a similarly-colored diamondback can easily disappear into the murky waters.

The real fun begins, however, when you actually do manage to catch one. Now, all watersnakes will first try to flee from any potential threat — but when they’re cornered or captured, most will strike back in self-defense. In Oklahoma, the diamondback watersnake was the one that packed the most punch in my experiences. I’ve been bitten by god-knows-how-many of these snakes throughout the years. They’re quite large and have powerful jaws… and, though they aren’t venomous, their bites can still leave you itching and bleeding. This happens, of course, when you’re grabbing the damn snake. Unlike the unfounded fears of so many, just about the last thing a watersnake wants to do is to fool around with a human. They’d much rather flee into the water than to wrassle about with some human. So, if you do get bit by a diamondback watersnake and it takes you by surprise, you’re most likely not paying much attention to the world around you. And neither was the snake. It’s either that or you’re catching one deliberately and should have no earthly reason being surprised the snake is biting you. Of course they will. They likey to live, thankee very much. And you’re the villain in that scenario.

Later, much later, I’ll tell some diamondback stories on the blog. I’ve got a handful of photos of this magnificent snake and plenty of concrete, vivid memories. I’m not sure any other species has ever kicked my ass as solidly as the diamondback watersnake… In every single case I was asking for it. I really was. I treasure every one of those moments.

~ janson

Nerodia erythrogaster transversa (Blotched watersnake), 2004

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We’re less than thirty days from our departure out of Anchorage… and I’m starting to find myself chomping at the bit for snakes.

When it comes to snakes, I’m a bit of a freak. I love ‘em. Just love ‘em. Every last one of them. The big ones, the little ones, the fat ones, the thin ones. The venomous ones, the non-venomous ones. The terrestrial, the arboreal, the aquatic… It doesn’t matter, really. If it’s a snake, I love it and will probably drop everything to study it closer. If but for a few moments.

Snakes have always been a part of my life. As a child, my father taught me much about them — like not to fear them, but to always respect them. Indeed, I remember fondly tromping through the Floridian and Oklahoman bush in search of snakes as a kid, my Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles & Amphibians always at the ready. Further, I remember most of these encounters with extreme clarity. It’s strange, really. I can’t remember people’s names worth a damn, but I can remember the temperament of a particular snake I caught and photographed from years ago… The mind wires itself in strange, serpentine ways.

Anyhow, as the years passed my primary interest in snakes gravitated toward those of the American southeast. I wasn’t so much fascinated by faraway snakes in distant lands. Instead, it was the snakes I could actually get in my hands that commanded my attention. This is probably one of the reasons that the watersnakes, genus Nerodia specifically, are my very favorites. Man, I just can’t get enough of Nerodia watersnakes. And there are many species of Nerodia. The tactile event of catching a watersnake, photographing and studying it up close, and then safely releasing it back into its habitat can’t be beaten when it comes to my outdoor excursions. It’s one of my favorite aspects of being alive on this earth.

So, with this in mind –as I’m soon to return to the land and waters of Nerodia– I thought it would be fun to revisit some of my old Nerodia friends on the blog. Over the new few days, I’ll post a sampling of different Nerodia species found in the American southeast. I’ll actually start with two Oklahoman species I’m rather fond of and then zoom in on Florida’s offerings. Further, most of these shots will be facial profile shots (and not so much full-body shots). Some readers will think it strange, but I find incredible beauty and complexity in a snake’s facial build.

I suppose I should mention that the photograph above is of a blotched watersnake, Nerodia erythrogaster transversa, a Nerodia watersnake quite common throughout much of Oklahoma. I’m not sure I could count the number of blotched watersnakes I tangled with as a kid in Oklahoma (we lived in Oklahoma for three years when I was a child). It was fun getting back to Oklahoma for graduate school years later and re-acquainting myself with this species. They have fairly mild temperaments, can be quite cooperative, and are extraordinarily lovely snakes. Blotched watersnakes are also non-venomous — as are all Nerodia watersnakes.

The next snake I’ll feature is more of a bad ass — the kind of tough snake one is more likely to imagine when they hear the word snake: the diamondback watersnake, Nerodia rhombifer rhombifer.

And now? Now I return to packing up stuff in Alaska with silent whispers of snakes beckoning from both the past and from the future.

~ janson

Plains bison, Bison bison bison (2007)

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In the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge of southern Okahoma, there is a group of a little more than five hundred plains bison, Bison bison bison, roaming the land. The plains bison is one of two recognized subspecies of the American bison. The other (and the subject of the next post) is the wood bison, Bison bison athabascae.

I know the plains bison quite well from my time in Oklahoma and these magnificent animals are undoubtedly one of the key ingredients in making the Wichita Mountains region so incredibly special and unique. When exploring the Wichitas, these bison aren’t too hard to find. Indeed, just look for massive tanks of dark fur roaming the grasslands and you’ll probably find them. Bison are hard to miss, even from a distance.

There are other populations of plains bison found in North America, despite their incredible victimization by over-hunting in the past. We actually have some introduced populations of plains bison up here in Alaska, though I’ve never seen them in the wild. That may change this summer, as one of these major populations is in Delta Junction on the Alaska Highway (southeast of Fairbanks). This is one of my Alaskan stops as I bid adieu to the 49th state.

When one thinks of bison, it’s usually the plains bison that comes to mind. The closely-related wood bison is a bit heavier, more robust, and can have larger horns. The wood bison is also far more endangered than the plains bison. Through dedicated conservations efforts, both of these American bison subspecies have recovered in numbers with success, though the plains bison is doing much better than the still-endangered wood bison.

~ janson

A Red Rock in Oklahoma

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Not surprisingly, I’m thinking about the June 2011 drive from Alaska to Florida this morning…

I’m glad as hell that I’ll get to spend some time in Oklahoma on this drive, though I do wish there were a couple more days to throw into the mix. I’ll miss the Wichitas, Norman, and the parks in western Oklahoma. In the end Canyonlands, Arches, Meteor Crater, and the VLA won the tug-o-war of where to allocate time.

Still, Oklahoma is one of those regions I know I’ll return to again and again in the future. Second only to Florida, it’s where I spent most of my life growing up. As much as I don’t relate with Oklahoman culture and the environment (“No beaches?!?!?”), I do cherish my time there and count myself lucky to know so many of its understated charms and beauties. Oklahoma is a state often missed and passed by in the plethora of American Getaways and Daydreams of Trips-To-Be.

This photo is odd and doesn’t do the state justice, of course. But I love it. A red rock jutting out of the surface of a lake. And that’s about it.

There’s not one natural lake in Oklahoma. Any lake you’ll find in-state is the result of a dam and human intervention. And yet, some of these lakes are quite beautiful and surprising. Perhaps not in the conventional ways… but there’s a strangeness to them that I find deeply appealing. Oklahoma is a fascinating, small region.

- janson

June 2011: The Plan

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On 01 June 2011, I leave Anchorage and begin my two and a half week road trip to Florida, where I’ll meet up with Mumpower and Kid A at my folks’ house in Lake County. They’re flying separately to Florida, leaving me to do the drive solo –well, just me and my camera, at least– in the Jeep. Undoubtedly it’s going to be a remarkable trip.

In general, though I have an itinerary planned, this won’t be a trip regulated by rigid and firm deadlines. I fully expect for the “plan” to change and adjust in real-time, in response to what may come. Hell, the plan has changed already…

What follows in this post is the general plan so far for the June 2011 drive from Alaska to Florida.

Admittedly, this post also serves to allow me to pre-structure the new blog with categorical tags for each of these regions… as I do plan on live-blogging the trip as much as possible… You’ll also find a menu option below the banner image for “series”. This option will let you sort collected batches of posts by related by series-content. For example, all “Alaska-to-Florida” Summer 2011 posts will be collected together as one series. Organization is swell!

Alright, here’s the plan so far:

ALASKA. The trip begins, obviously, in southcentral Alaska. I’ll be shooting east for the border and plan on stopping at a few favorite haunts on the way out. Eagle River Valley, Hatcher Pass, and Matanuska Glacier are likely stops on my way to Tok. From Tok, I’ll then bolt east to the Yukon border, cruising the infamous Alaska (“Alcan”) Highway.

YUKON. There aren’t any formal parks I plan to spend much time at in the Yukon, though I do remember some areas from the 2007 drive I want to explore more of, namely the Kluane Lake area around Destruction Bay. I’ve got room to explore here.

BRITISH COLUMBIA. Highlight stops in British Columbia include Liard River Hot Springs, Stone Mountain Provincial Park, and Muncho Lake Provincial Park. Plenty of time is allotted for random wanderings, as this stretch of the Alaska Highway is packed with roaming bison, stone sheep, wild horses, and black bears.

ALBERTA. Alberta is home to the Icefields Parkway, a spectacular drive from Jasper south to Banff. Athabasca Glacier is located here, as are Banff and Yoho National Parks on the southern end (though Yoho is technically just over the B.C. border to the west). Also in this area, Moraine Lake and Lake Louise. Amazing region. I thank my Nikon in advance.

MONTANA. Glacier National Park, baby. I loved it in 2007 and I hope I love it again in 2011. After Glacier, this is where my route will break from the one in 2007. Instead of heading east toward the Lewis & Clark National Forest, I’ll be heading south toward Utah. I might stay the night near Lewis & Clark Caverns before skirting the edge of:

WYOMING. My time in Wyoming will be short. I plan on checking out Yellowstone National Park in the extreme northwest corner of Wyoming before continuing south. If it’s too crowded, however (which it is likely to be), I’ll probably save time and continue southward. As much as I’d love to see Yellowstone, I don’t like massive crowds… And I don’t have time on this trip to do much backcountry hiking/camping. So, Wyoming’s up in the air. I’ll play it by ear.

IDAHO. I’ll actually hit Idaho before and after Wyoming. I may check out Targhee National Forest after Yellowstone, but for the most part I’ll just be seeing Idaho from the pavement. Another blending of borders is Fossil Butte National Monument. Technically it’s in Wyoming, just over the border, south of Yellowstone — and it looks like a good place to stay the night on my way to Utah.

UTAH. This is the main goal of the trip, short of actually arriving in the southeast alive. Utah. I’ve never been and always wanted to… Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park beckon. I plan on spending several days in this area, soaking up the canyons and arid climate. I will also strive to not become pinned by a boulder in a narrow canyon.

ARIZONA. From Arches and Canyonlands I continue south to and through Arizona. The main objective is to get to the arid region east of Flagstaff, namely Meteor Crater — a mile-wide impact crater formed during the Pleistocene (about 50,000 years ago). I briefly visited Meteor Crater in January 1998 with a dear friend in college and can’t wait to return again. The region is immaculate. It’s a bit out of my way, but completely worth it. (Also note that I’m skipping the Grand Canyon northwest of Flagstaff — there just isn’t enough time!)

NEW MEXICO. Continuing east I hit New Mexico. The goal: the Very Large Array near Socorro. This is another spot I visited in 1998. The VLA is a part of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. It’s comprised of three massive (y-shaped) tracks of 82 foot dishes (twenty seven in total). The dishes can be adjusted on these tracks depending on what’s being studied. The array can span about twenty-two miles when fully extended. The region around the VLA is quite beautiful and one I look forward to seeing again.

TEXAS. Texas is but a speed bump on the drive. No offense, Texans. I’ll pass through the panhandle between New Mexico and Oklahoma.

OKLAHOMA. Destination: Tulsa. Purpose: Party. I’m meeting up with a group of old and dear friends in Tulsa for a party. If there was more time, I’d do the Wichita Mountains (one of my favorite regions on earth) and visit Norman, home of the University of Oklahoma. But alas, from the angle I’m coming in from, that would add two days to the trip to do each place justice… So, straight to Tulsa it shall be.

ARKANSAS. This is the part of the drive where distance and making-time starts taking priority over exploring and photography. Having said that, I do hope to be able to spend a little bit of time in the Ozarks of northern Arkansas. Lost Valley is a particular highlight. A favorite place of mine from years past. I miss the Ozarks of Northern Arkansas dearly.

TENNESSEE. I’ll pass through Memphis in the extreme southwest corner of Tennessee, but that’s about it.

MISSISSIPPI. Passing through Mississippi mainly to make time, it might be nice to find a few hours in Holly Springs National Forest. Maybe?

ALABAMA. My time in Alabama is constrained because of my arrival-deadline. I’ll be coming down Interstate 22 and then hopping on 65 at Birmingham (and then highway 82 east from Montgomery). I’ve got some dear friends in north Alabama I hope to meet up with for lunch, but the rest of Alabama-Time will be spend burning tread.

GEORGIA. I’m meeting Mumpower and Kid A in Florida, so humorously I’ll only be blowing through south Georgia, driving right past Valdosta. We won’t actually move to Valdosta until July, after we spend some time with family in Florida and later in South Carolina.

FLORIDA. And then, BAM! FLORIDA!

And that’s the plan.

Again, the “plan” is malleable and I fully expect it to change quite a bit. I’ve mapped out driving distances and times, but absolutely don’t want to regiment myself to any clock (other than arriving in Tulsa in time for the party and arriving in Mt. Dora on the right day). There are a lot of unknown variables in a trip like this. Automobile Health. Weather. Sleep. And on and on. So, who knows how it will actually pan out?

It’s certainly a lot of driving — and, mercifully, I do have quite a bit of time reserved for hiking and photography. Much of the trip I’ll be camping at night, sometimes in a tent, other times in the back of the Jeep. I plan on doing a hotel once every three or four days, maybe, so I can recharge batteries, shower, shave, and do the other things normal human beings do to make themselves tolerable to others.

It’s also going to be the grand test of the iPad. How well will this thing connect to the internet while on the road? Where will my blackouts be? And so on.

Crazy. This trip is going to be crazy. And that’s the plan. So far. As of now. (I’m a little bit excited.)

~ janson

NOTE: The photograph was taken in late 2007 from the window of an airplane somewhere over North America, between Anchorage and Tulsa…