1969 Pontiac for Sale (Seriously)

Yes, it’s true. For the first 30 years that I drove this car, I had convinced myself that I would never let it go. But these last few long road trips made me realize that my taste in travel is evolving, and as I toured my favorite roads in South Dakota back in October, my gut was telling me that I wouldn’t be seeing them again from this particular driver’s seat.

After 32 years and a quarter of a million miles together, I feel satisfied that I’ve experienced a lifetime’s worth of enjoyment with this LeMans. The time has come to go our separate ways.

So before I hand this Pontiac over to the local classic car broker—who will put it up for sale to the general public later this year—I want to give the Riding with Carl audience an exclusive preview. I have no problem selling this car to a stranger, but I’d much rather see it go to a friend or a follower who knows its colorful history.

If you’d love to drive the Pontiac that (most likely) has seen more of the US and Canada than any other ’69 LeMans convertible in existence, here’s your chance. The odometer currently stands in excess of 357,000 miles. Still, the car is very solid mechanically; it’s running smoothly and the front brakes were converted from drum to disc just last year. The top and the interior have already been refurbished. Finish off the remaining body work, add a paint job, and you’re all set. Who knows, maybe you’ll look this good behind the wheel…

I’ll enjoy the remainder of the current driving season on the quiet county roads here in my area code, and that will be that. The new owner can take possession sometime after November 1, 2022.

If you or someone you know is sincerely interested in owning this LeMans, you can leave a message in the comment field below, or email me directly at…

To all of you who enjoy following along as I explore North America, please know that the road trips and the photos will continue as before…only the vehicle is changing. From here forward, I’ll be driving something that will get me deeper into the wilderness, and I’ll be showing you scenery from roads that the Pontiac just isn’t qualified to travel. I’m looking forward to my first visits to the farthest reaches of the continent: Alaska, Yukon, Labrador and the Arctic Ocean at Tuktoyaktuk. Onward and upward!

Your Support Is Appreciated

Rising gas prices and repair costs will certainly impact my future travel plans, and supplemental income will be needed if I hope to puchase a campervan so I can continue to explore rural roads and remote corners of North America. If you enjoy reading these posts and seeing the images I gather on my journeys, please consider purchasing a print or other merchandise from my gallery at Fine Art America. Visit the gallery by clicking the image below…

Additionally, I have created a support page at Ko-fi.com. Ko-fi allows you to make a secure one-time donation in any amount you choose; you are not required to subscribe to anything or set up recurring contributions. If you’d like to make a donation to my travel fund, just click on the blue button…

My appreciation goes out to everyone who follows my blog and who comments on my photos and stories from the road. Thank you all for your support!

Analog, Part II: The World on Paper

Last week in Part I, I told you how I had purged a giant pile of analog media that I’d accumulated over several decades, including all of my old slides, negatives and photographic prints. I can get by just fine with the digitized versions of those hard copies, which are now residing in the landfill. However, there are two analog collections I’ll be keeping indefinitely. The full effect of these items can be realized only on paper; their electronic cousins fall well short of the mark.

Books

I’m not a fan of eBooks or audiobooks. To me, reading is much more than absorbing the author’s words…it’s a sensory experience involving—among other things—the feel and the smell of well-aged paper and cloth-covered boards. Those sensations may be inconsequential to many readers, but they greatly enhance my enjoyment of books.

I’ll say no more about the allure of hardcover books because I’ve already addressed the issue in one of my earliest blog posts, which you can read here: Kindle? Not In My House

And you can browse the following link to see other books from my shelves that have been featured in this blog: Carl’s Library

Now, on to what I really want to talk about today…

Maps & Atlases

Frankly, I didn’t read fiction or fantasy in my youth; I was drawn to the encyclopedia, to dictionaries, and to books dealing with science and nature. And for no particular reason that I can point to, I became fascinated with maps. More than just the occasional glance, I would actually read an atlas, visiting it repeatedly, poring over every inch, memorizing place names, studying topographical features. In grade school, I scored highest in the class at naming all the states and all the countries of the world on blank maps that simply showed the shape of their borders. Long before I first drove a car, I knew where most places were located and which roads connected Point A to Point B.

Enter the Pontiac in 1990, and my exploration of the continent moved from the printed page to actual roads and highways. On my earliest trips, I kept the navigation simple with the classic Rand McNally Road Atlas, handed out for free each year by my auto insurance agent. Hiking in remote areas was the next ingredient to be added to my adventures, and it was immediately clear that I needed much greater detail than the road atlas could provide. So I began buying rolled topographic maps (aka “quadrangles”), which I had to order by mail from the USGS and the Geological Survey of Canada.

Detailed topo data became much easier to haul around once the DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteer line hit the market. They were released slowly, one state at a time over several years, until all 50 states were represented. No longer did I have to buy those rolled quads; here in one handy atlas was all the key data for an entire state—all the topography, every place name, every dead-end dirt road in the middle of nowhere.

Then I discovered the beauty of our national forests and grasslands, which led to a whole new collection of maps—the Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUMs) provided by the US Forest Service and available at ranger stations near each grassland and forest. And I’ll give you three reasons why these maps are indispensable; three key pieces of information you can’t obtain by looking at the desolate prairie that surrounds you:

1. Our national grasslands are a chaotic jumble of private and public land, with heavily checkerboarded boundaries. There are no signs marking these divisions; the MVUM is the only way you’ll be able to differentiate the public grassland from private property.

2. No signs once again for the areas approved for dispersed camping—my favorite way to spend the night when traveling in the West. The MVUM shows you the location of the dispersed camping zones.

3. The MVUM is your best tool when trying to identify the exact location of Forest Service “roads,” many of which are nothing but the hint of an indentation angling through the dry grasses of the plains.

Now I’m fully equipped with all of the navigation data I could possibly need. On any given western road trip, my vehicle carries about twenty pounds’ worth of atlases and folding maps…even today, in the age of GPS. Why?

First off, let me note that I’m using the term GPS in this post as a catch-all for its numerous forms: vehicle-integrated GPS, dashboard GPS, handheld GPS, Google Maps and Apple Maps and other digital maps, whether in a browser, in an app or as downloaded files, whether on a phone, tablet, laptop, desktop, brain implant, etc.

And my goal here is not to deride GPS; it’s a great tool for its intended purpose. Visiting a city for the first time, looking for an unfamiliar address, trying to reroute around a traffic jam, finding a restaurant, gas station or hotel while traveling…GPS is very helpful in these situations, and I use it myself now and again, such as earlier this year while visiting friends on the East Coast. But there’s another way to travel…the Riding with Carl method of wandering aimlessly along lonely, dusty roads, seeking silence and solitude in the unpopulated corners of the Great Plains and the boreal forest of Canada. And in that context, GPS is the wrong tool for the job.

GPS wants to lead you to a specified destination via the fastest and most direct route possible using heavily-traveled highways and streets; it will not help you in your quest to intentionally “get lost” in the backcountry. Having analog maps and the ability to read them will allow you to find that two-track road which leads to the backside of the mesa; chart a course—by vehicle or on foot—to an unnamed pond or the headwaters of a creek; discover places of interest that most people would bypass. My habit of scanning atlases just for fun has allowed me to visit several intriguing, out-of-the-way locations. No one told about these places, nor did I see them mentioned somewhere online—I found them simply because they were noted on a map.

Yes, all of the paper maps I carry are available in digital form (you can access MVUMs for free on the Avenza Maps app). Additionally, there are several hiking and trail apps out there to help you navigate in the wilderness. So why choose a paper map over a smartphone? Here are some practical reasons why I don’t like to rely on GPS in the field…

One very basic issue involves sunshine. Of all the smartphone models available, I’ve yet to see one that can compete with direct sunlight; even jacked to 100%, the screens simply aren’t bright enough to display all of the detail that I’m able to see on a printed page.

Connectivity may not be a problem for those of you who live in metropolitan areas, but I can testify that there are still large parts of the desert, the plains, the Mountain West and the Canadian wilderness where cellular and data signals do not exist. That’s fine with me. It feels good to be offline while immersed in the wild, and I don’t want to see a cell tower erected on every butte and mesa. True, some navigation apps allow you to pre-download all of your mapping data so you can access it while offline, but that’s not the case with every app or device. Personally, I think that digital mapping is great as a backup option, but I prefer analog navigation as my primary source of info—a source that’s not at the mercy of a missing data signal or a depleted phone battery. (And with tech being prone to freezing up or losing its connection or running out of juice, I also recommend carrying a rugged analog compass—something I always have with me whenever I’m in the backcountry.)

What I dislike most about smartphone navigation is that it offers such an impractical field of view. In a navigation app, the map data is presented in layers. Let’s say I’ve zoomed in to get the fine details of a very small local area. If I pull back to see that area in the larger context of the surrounding terrain, the detailed layers below vanish one by one. This means I’m constantly pinch-zooming in and out to determine where one point or feature is in relation to significant trails, roads, towns or other landmarks; I’m unable to view the entire picture at once. Maps and atlases give me everything in one convenient package…the big picture and the fine details, all available at a glance. With my many years of map-reading experience, I can gather the information I need much easier and much faster than I can when working with images on a tiny screen.

Interesting to note that DeLorme is more than an atlas maker…the company was an early player in the market for digital maps on CD-ROM and then went on to produce their own GPS units. In 2016, they were acquired by Garmin—one of the biggest names in the GPS business. And Garmin knows they have a good thing going; the DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteer line is still in print and still selling very well. I’m glad that Garmin and their customers respect the enduring relevance of analog maps.

Mapping our route to Pawnee National Grassland.
Photo above by Sarah S.

Like the appeal of hardcover books that I mentioned at the top of this post, there’s something about paper maps that I find fulfilling…an aesthetic quality that is lost in digital representation. More than just navigational tools, maps can be appreciated for their beauty, as with a painting or any other work of art.

My large wall maps showing the Pontiac’s North American travel history, 1990-2021.

 

Analog, Part I: The Purge

It was just five years ago that I posted a lengthy query to my online friends about the future of my vast photography catalog—thousands of slides, negatives and prints that I’d been accumulating since I started shooting in 1976. What happens to a lifetime’s worth of photos when you have no kids to inherit them? Do photographs still hold the same importance that they held for the Analog Generation? Do I really care? Should I really care? And so on.

In addition to my own boatload of film, there were thousands of family photos (mostly Kodachrome and Ektachrome slides) dating all the way back to the early 1940s. Sorting through all of this material and scanning the good stuff was a task that had been on my list for a long, long time, but the scope of the project seemed so daunting that I perpetually shoved it aside. Well, thanks to a pandemic that encouraged me to spend a greater amount of time at home during the past two years, that daunting project was finally tackled…and completed far more easily than I ever expected.

In deciding what to keep and what to dump, I asked myself if the image met any one of these three criteria:

– Was it good enough to be shared in my portfolio or on social media?
– Could it be monetized as a stock image?
– Did it have a strong sentimental or family quality?

Very early into the sorting process, I realized that my current approach to shooting with 35mm film is much more selective than it was in the last century, when both film and processing were cheap and easily accessible. The pile of slides and negatives destined for the landfill rapidly grew as I frequently commented, “Why did I keep this crap?” I had saved rolls that were nothing but camera tests and/or lens tests; rolls featuring multiple frames of the same scene with different exposure settings or different Wratten filters applied; rolls of dark, blurry and grainy concert photos from the 1980s; rolls containing far too many shots of scenery without a person or a true subject in the frame (something that I find more and more unappealing with each passing year).

It wasn’t at all difficult to let go of the clunkers; there was no agonizing over the fate of any particular image. The prevailing mood during the process was that of Good riddance! To my surprise and relief, I needed only two days to pass judgment on every photo in my collection.

In the end, less than 5% of that old film made the cut for digital preservation.

As for those questions I posted online five years ago while pondering the fate of my catalog, I don’t believe that anything in my philosophy has changed between then and now, it was simply a matter of needing to be immersed in the task and actually seeing most of these images for the first time in years to realize their relative unimportance.

So after scanning the few hundred desirable frames I had selected (and backing up the digital files in three additional locations), I was free to cart decades worth of clutter out the door:

All of my negatives, all of my slides, all of my photographic prints and contact sheets…gone.

Why stop there? Since I was on a roll, it was the perfect time to sort through all of my vintage media, digitize only the best material, and send those old containers on their way:

Movies on 8mm and 16mm film…gone.
Videotapes (VHS, 8mm, MiniDV, Beta SP, U-Matic)…gone.
DVDs…gone.
CDs…gone.
Audio cassettes…gone.
Vinyl records…gone.
And all of the bulky vintage devices used for playing such media…gone.

My home is now several hundred pounds lighter.

For the record, I have not renounced my belief in the superior quality of analog media. Music still sounds better on vinyl, and photos still look better when shot on film and printed on paper. But vinyl doesn’t travel well; I tend to listen to music while I’m on the move. And I don’t invite people to the house to look at photographic prints; if I want my widely-scattered friends to see a picture, it needs to be availble online. The old media may be gone, but the images, the audio and the video remain, now easier to store and share and carry with me. It’s all part of my continuing forward progress toward a more compact and portable life.

But I’m not yet ready to part with everything that I’ve acquired in decades past. Two analog collections are being kept—likely for many years to come. Their superiority over contemporary digital equivalents is profound enough to justify living and traveling with their bulk. A look at those items, next weekend…

 

Sharing Film with Friends

I’ve never had much love for social media. Mostly, I regard it as a semi-necessary evil, and it’s likely that I spend far less time exposed to it than the average account holder. However, in fairness, social media does have its constructive uses, and there have indeed been some bright spots during my time online; most notably, finding new friends with similar passions.

It was about six or so years ago that I started meeting many talented photographers who still shoot with 35mm film. And going beyond conventional photography, I was introduced to a variety of experimental techniques, and to the community of photographers who engage in international film swapping, sometimes referred to as “one film, two cameras”—shoot a roll, rewind it to the beginning, then mail the roll to a faraway friend who shoots the second pass. (For the team approach to double exposures, please remember to rewind carefully and leave the leader protruding so your friend can load the film. Also, don’t forget to double your camera’s ISO setting so each of you are providing half of the light needed for a proper exposure.)

A good deal of the fun comes from the fact that the final results are left to blind luck; we don’t coordinate our shooting locations or subject matter ahead of time. Sure, some frames don’t amount to much, but many others yield wonderful surprises. My favorite collaboration partner in this pursuit is Australian photographer John Baxter Weekes. The photo above and the next two below, we shot on Adox Silvermax 100 film…

The next three frames come from a shared roll of Kodak Ektar 100 film…

These three were captured on Kodak Tri-X film…

Of course, there’s no rule that says you have to limit yourself to double exposures. Here are a few frames from our quadruple exposure exercise; each of us shooting two passes on this roll of Fuji Velvia film…

A sample from our roll of Rollei Ortho 25 film…

Another film swap friend of mine is Walter von Aachen of Germany. Walter has a fondness for shooting with lesser-known 35mm films; here’s an image we created on Rollei Redbird 400, a redscale color negative film…

But there’s more to Walter’s work than double exposures. The mad scientist in him loves playing with “souped” films, where rolls of unexposed film are soaked in various beverages and other liquids, then slowly dried over several weeks at very low heat. As you can imagine, many labs don’t want to process film that has been treated in this way, so Walter does his own developing. Below are two frames that I shot on a roll of his color film (Kodak Gold 200, as I recall) that was pre-treated with vodka…

And these three shots were captured with Walter’s famous “Kaffee Kodak” coffee-soaked film…

If you’d like to participate in this sort of thing, check your favorite social media platform for tags related to souped films and film swapping. Enjoy!

 

BAR-F

$1.36? I’ll take it.

Four defective photos from the Pontiac’s epic road trip in the autumn of 1990. The BAR-F Diamond Shamrock above is probably the one in Bloomfield, New Mexico. Funky name for a franchise, but I was even more intrigued by the gas stop in the photos below…somewhere in New Mexico’s rural interior. Any run-down old station that features lazy mongrels and disgruntled goats lounging around the gas pumps is definitely my kind of place.

These poor-quality photographs were shot on 110 film rather than 35mm. My Canon AE-1 died just three days into this 5-week journey. Once I reached my friend’s house in Austin, Texas, she generously gave me her old 110 pocket Instamatic camera, declaring, “I think it still works.” Well, I suppose it did, if you don’t mind overlapping frames and light leaks. Thanks for trying, dear.

After seeing these dismal results, I trashed the 110 and switched to disposable Kodak cameras for the rest of the trip…the Tetons, Yellowstone, Glacier, British Columbia, the Pacific Coast. It was my first experience with those single-use cameras, and I found that they performed surprisingly well.

New Mexico, September 1990

Kodak 110 film

 

Go Play on the Volcano

When the conversation turns to events from our grade school years, my best friend has been known to remark, “We were the last generation of kids who got to have fun.” In those glorious days before video games and the internet took up residence in American homes, our fun was outdoors…and our parents were glad to have us out of the house. We survived deadly lawn darts, BB guns, bows & arrows, and our Evel Knievel tributes: building ramps out of scrap lumber and jumping over assorted junk with our Stingray bikes. Between bumper skiing to school on snowy days, hiking through the storm sewer system with flashlights, and playing for hours on end in abandoned factories, I’ve accumulated enough true stories of adventure, exploration and near-death experiences to make today’s helicopter parents scurry for the nearest Xanax bottle.

This particular stroll down memory lane was inspired by these decaying slides, which I recently rediscovered. I shot these photos in the summer of 1979 while in Hawaii, attending a high school field course in biology and geology. Yay, science!

Part of our study brought us to the Kīlauea summit caldera. I believe there were only two adults in our group—teachers—and I’m sure that their supervision was on par with the standards of the day. Nevertheless, I remember the hike as a bunch of students meandering over the caldera, striking out in multiple directions toward any lump of hardened lava that warranted closer inspection.

Cracks were prevalent all across the caldera’s surface; several of them were venting steam and volcanic gases. In some spots, the surface was warm enough that you could feel the heat right through your shoes…

Having made our way across the desolate black landscape, we walked right up to the rather crumbly-looking edge of Halemaʻumaʻu crater, where we stood peering down at the crater floor, hundreds of feet below. No railing or fencing between us and a long drop…

Looking at these photos, I can’t help but consider that our freewheeling ramble across the caldera would never be tolerated today. Indeed, from the contemporary images I’m seeing online, visitors are now restricted to dedicated trails and overlooks, with fencing in place to discourage anyone from approaching the crater’s edge.

Our visit in ’79 coincided with a quiet period for the volcano. Four years later, Kīlauea awoke and erupted pretty much non-stop for the next 35 years.

Other than spending our final day of the journey in Honolulu, we stayed on the Big Island, studying lava formations, petroglyphs and jungle flora, and observing marine life while snorkeling on reefs and exploring tide pools. It certainly was a fun adventure for a teenage science geek.

My only regret of the trip: I didn’t get to meet Jack Lord.

Kodak Kodachrome 35mm film

 

Welcome to Colorado

My first trip to the West, my first visit to Colorado, my first look at the Rocky Mountians…all on the same road trip in July of 1977. And if I’ve seen these photos before, it was probably more than 40 years ago; I discovered them more recently during last year’s project to sort and scan our old family slides. This particular batch contained plenty of pictures showcasing the mountain scenery, as well as several shots of me as a surly 14-year-old.

This trip was all about camping and riding our dirt bikes on trails near and along the Continental Divide. There were multiple father and son pairings, and multiple vehicles pulling the bikes on trailers. We were held up for day in Goodland, Kansas when the drive shaft fell off of our van on I-70; I recall spending several hours in Goodland’s High Plains Museum while the repairs were in progress.

By the way, my father’s Stetson hat, which you’ve seen in many of my photos over the years, was purchased on this trip at a hat shop in Vail. I remember being impressed by the signed picture of President Gerald Ford that was hanging on their wall.

Kodak Kodachrome 35mm film

 

Road Warriors

One benefit of a tiny British car with a manual transmission—such as mom’s Triumph Spitfire pictured here—is that it’s very easy to push…especially with a gaggle of friends. We weren’t old enough to drive properly, so we’d take turns behind the wheel while everyone else pushed the car up and down the block as fast as we could run.

Even though the engine wasn’t running, I doubt that the police or the insurance company would have approved of our scheme, had they found out. Regardless, this was my first experience “driving” a convertible.

Summer 1978
Kodachrome 35mm film

 

Hunting for Gifts?

One final time this year, I’ll mention that prints and merchandise are available in my Fine Art America gallery for anyone interested in unique gift opportunities. Prints can be ordered in a wide variety of sizes and paper choices, with the ability to add mounting and framing options. My photos can even be printed on canvas, metal, acrylic and wood, as well as on cards, posters, mugs, puzzles, towels, shirts and many other items. Over 650 photographs to choose from, with more on the way. Please contact me if you need help finding a specific item, or if you have any issues while navigating the site. Visit the gallery by clicking the image below…

Thank you!