Abridged

(Double exposure by Sarah S.)

At the top of each state’s page in the road atlas is a small cluster of statistics about that state. The one that always caught my eye was the elevation of the state’s highest point. It wasn’t until 1996 that I decided to do something with that information, when I started including those peaks as destinations on my long road trips. The first to fall was Missouri’s Taum Sauk Mountain (elevation 1772′) on September 1, 1996. More visits to state summits would follow in quick succession on that journey and over the next few years.

But it wasn’t long into the process when I realized that checking every summit off the list was an unreasonable expectation. For one thing, I had no desire to fly all the way to Hawaii again just to stand atop Mauna Kea. Then there are daunting and dangerous peaks such as Rainier and Denali where solo climbing is either heavily discouraged or prohibited outright—unless you’re a professional mountaineer (which I definitely am not). To reach those peaks, you have to be led up as part of a group. And if I can’t make the summit alone, I’ll pass. I’m not a fan of being guided anywhere.

To the east, I encountered several high points that were—sorry to say—just plain uninspiring, such as the center of the road in a residential neighborhood (Delaware), an observation tower packed with tourists (Tennessee), and shrubbery-clogged summits with absolutely no view of the distance (several eastern states). Though I “ascended” a majority of the peaks in the East, in truth, many weren’t worth the gas or the time invested.

On the plus side, there were plenty of enjoyable ascents in the mix. My favorite high points are those stretched along the western edge of the Great Plains, from Guadalupe Peak in Texas all the way up to the Cypress “Hills” of Saskatchewan (pictured below). These are worth visiting more than once, and I’ve done so. I’ve also experienced great joy from topping dozens of unnamed or infrequently visited hills, buttes and ridges scattered across the West. As for official state/provincial high points, my count stands at 31 (29 in the US and two in Canada). Maybe more summits from the list will be conquered, maybe they won’t.

The point of this little story: Even an incomplete to-do list can be rewarding.

And speaking of incomplete…

I now face the very real probability that the Pontiac will fall short on its grand tour of North America. Just three jurisdictions remain to be visited, but they’re the three most challenging—Newfoundland & Labrador, the Yukon and Alaska.

Perhaps you noticed that very little was posted here while I was touring the Southwest back in May. That trip did have its share of wonderful moments, but as for the bigger picture, it was probably the least satisfying Pontiac journey on the books. At the beginning of each year’s driving season, the car is inspected and all known issues are fixed, usually resulting in a hefty repair bill. In spite of all that, gremlins had come along for this ride. The starter died on Day One, keeping me in Missouri for an extra night. And upon reaching Las Vegas, New Mexico, some bizarre engine performance issues appeared. What was supposed to be a four-week road adventure got slashed to two weeks, and I limped the car along a direct route homeward.

After last year’s long autumn tour, I wrote about the need to quit using the Pontiac for backcountry camping and 6,000-mile marathon drives. And I did stay on pavement for nearly all of this spring’s journey, logging just a few miles on gravel to get to the ranch and to assorted campsites. But the May trip was indeed proof that the Pontiac should stay closer to home from now on.

I had high hopes that the LeMans would get to travel the amazing Trans-Labrador Highway, as well as make it all the way to the Arctic coast at Tuk. From the reports I’ve read about the route to the Arctic and from email exchanges with drivers who’ve actually been there, I’m confident now that Yukon’s Dempster Highway would reduce the Pontiac to rubble.

I still plan to explore the extreme limits of the Canadian highway system, but just think how much better those trips will be in a vehicle built to handle such rugged roads; a vehicle with its own bed, so I won’t have to sleep in a flimsy tent in polar bear country or try to arrange lodging in remote hamlets. I’ll be able to take it as slow as I wish and savor each journey.

Is this the end of the road for Pontiac travel? No. But the end will certainly arrive, and probably much sooner than I ever expected. For 30 years, I said I would never sell this car…now, I can see it happening. No way I could ever feel shortchanged about it; after 31 years, 243,000 miles and seeing so much of North America, it’s been a great run. And it’s not over yet.

Who knows…a bag full of money might drop from the sky and I won’t care if I have to rebuild the LeMans after every wilderness journey. And I can’t rule out the possibility that this car will indeed make it across one or more of those final three borders. The far more likely course of events sees a 4×4 campervan handling the long-distance and high-latitude adventures from here forward while the Pontiac returns to what it does best—floating down well-maintained prairie roads while I sing along with the stereo and enjoy the view.

(If you don’t see a video directly above this line, follow this link to my YouTube channel.)

Tip Jar

Since financial considerations play a major role in my future travel plans, perhaps this is the right time to look for sources of supplemental income. This week, I created a support page at Ko-fi.com. If you enjoy reading these posts and seeing the images I gather as I explore this continent, you can view my page and, if you wish, make a donation by clicking the blue button…

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 prefer a more tangible return on your donation, you can also help by purchasing prints and other merchandise from my gallery at Fine Art America. Visit the gallery by clicking the image below…

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

 

High Plains Drifter II

As I’ve said before, I’m not a fan of Pontiac pictures that show the top in the up position. The old photo of my first visit to Nebraska’s highest point, seen below, was successfully replaced today by the one above. A few things have changed since 1996; the fence is new, as is the $3 entry fee. And the road leading in has become much rougher…just like me.

Black Elk

Now that this mountain has a new name (its third), I think it is time to revisit the summit, which I hope to do in the next few weeks. Road trip season has arrived; stay tuned for a new batch of photos from the American West.

Cypress Hills

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More scenes from last Tuesday’s drive to the top of Saskatchewan.

My final seconds in Alberta; the fence on the left marks the Saskatchewan line…

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At the summit: The highest car in SK…

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Heading back down…

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A hill. And there’s no fence around it! I’ve written before of my strong desire to climb every hill that I see; when I find one that isn’t fenced in, you bet I’m going to the top, even if it isn’t a particularly high hill…

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The view from the top. Spot the Pontiac yet?

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Back on the prairie…

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Self-Portrait atop Saskatchewan

 

Elevation: 1,392 m (4,567 ft) above sea level. Officially, this “peak” has no name; it is simply a broad, flat expanse of grass in the Cypress Hills of Alberta and Saskatchewan. There is little variation in elevation across the patch of land in this field of view, and the exact location of Saskatchewan’s highest point remains unmarked. Consensus places it within a few meters of my X at 49°33′N 109°59’W, just a stone’s throw from the Alberta/Saskatchewan border. This is my first state/provincial summit since last year’s ascent of Texas.

Very few people visit this spot; the “roads” are quite narrow and rocky, and they pass though open grazing land. The cows stood at a distance and watched intently as I was setting up for this shot. But I’m used to getting those looks.

Photo taken September 20, 2016
Nikon D7000
(No drones were used during this shoot.)

“On the High Edge of Texas”

You are looking at the Guadalupe Mountains of west Texas. The title for this post comes from Edward Abbey, who described his experiences in these mountains in the book Beyond the Wall: Essays from the Outside. In October of 2015, I logged my fifth visit to the area, and my first visit to the summit of Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas at 8,751′. The 4.2 mile trail to the summit ascends 3,000′ above the desert floor.

The photo above was taken at sunrise on the day before my hike, during a morning joyride on my favorite highway, which, I’m happy to say, I drove from one end to the other five full times during the week.

The following morning, I arrived at the trailhead by dawn, hoping to conquer as much of the trail as possible before the sun reached the broiling point.

About twenty minutes into the hike, the sun joined the party…

One of the “exposed” sections of the trail; probably a little more harrowing when the rock is wet, or when gale-force winds batter the mountain, which they often do…

Looking north toward Hunter Peak…

The sun climbs higher…

Dead sea creatures: The Guadalupe Mountains are the exposed portion of the Capitan Reef which “loomed over the floor of the Delaware Sea 260 to 265 million years ago…”

The American Airlines monument at the summit, erected in 1958…

Looking down on El Capitan
(Follow this link to a 43-second video showing a panoramic view of the desert from this spot.)

Greetings from Texas…

At the summit: The highest caterpillar in Texas…

Ladybug convention…

Trail buddy…

Have you been living under a rock?

Assorted flora found on the trail…

The Guadalupe Mountains are a hiker’s paradise. Be sure to pay them a visit if you have the chance.