STORM CHASING USA 2011

Distance driven today: 840kms | Total so far: 18556kms

Still continuing the sad drive back to LA for the flight home. I needed to return the rental car tomorrow morning so I really wanted to stay in LA tonight, which meant missing out on a night in Las Vegas. I drove through it during the day instead.

Today's leg covered four states: Utah, a bit of Arizona, Nevada and California. I started in Beaver, Utah where I stopped at a petrol station and picked Michelle up a lovely "I ♥ Beaver" t-shirt. I also saw a vehicle evangelist in full swing:

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I then hit the road and headed for the hills:

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Canyons were the order of the day between Beaver and St George, Utah:

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I saw a few power stations into Nevada and wondered whether they were powering the pokies in Vegas:

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My first glimpse of Vegas:

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It looked a little choked and smokey from this distance, but the crazy colours of this ridiculous contradiction in the desert would eventually emerge:

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In a fanatically christian country, I thought this was pretty brave:

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More dust devils over wide dusty expanses:

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I wanted a closer view of these dust devils so I took an exit and headed for the flats:

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Instead of dust devils, I saw land-sailing:

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The highway stretched as far as the eye could see:

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The world's largest thermometer in Baker, California is a tribute to the world's hottest temperature of 57°C recorded in nearby Death Valley:

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Another abandoned building took my interest:

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My interest was then piqued by the abandonment of an entire water park in Newberry Springs in the Mojave Desert of Southern California:

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It felt very spooky wandering around this park, even in the heat of the day. I was tip-toeing around waiting for hordes of zombies! I subsequently discovered an interesting history and even a TV ad from the park's hey-day.

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Lenticular clouds over the Angeles National Forest just N of LA:

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The night was spent in LA as planned, where I returned the car with 18556 more kms than when we collected it a month ago. An average of about 600kms per day.

The flight wasn't until 11:30pm on the sunday, so I ventured around Glendale, where I stayed, checking out the Glendale Galleria (shopping centre):

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Then eventually the time came for a cab to the airport and the dull flights home, stopping again in Fiji for enough time to be bored, but not enough to explore the place. Long haul flights are often dull and lengthy but always worth it.


Thanks so much to my friend Drew for putting a foot in my arse twelve months ago and actually getting me to see this dream as a reality.

Tornado Alley didn't quite deliver me a tornado, but there are a number of reasons. Some bad planning resulted in the wrong phone and mobile broadband companies, and consequently, very little radar and internet access when it mattered. Another factor was my own fear of the unknown. Still learning how US storms work prevented me from getting too close, particularly during those occasions when the radio was going nuts with multiple tornadoes on the ground. By the final week, I felt like I was getting into my stride, so I'll feel a lot better prepared for next time!

Despite these issues, I saw some amazing storms, and experienced some hairy and exciting moments that were easily worth the trip.

I also discovered much to love about the country unrelated to storms. Besides the brilliant landscapes I've talked about so much already, it's hard not to be happy when everyone just loves your accent. Not only that, but they seem to have more of a respect for storm chasers than I expected. I imagine this is due to the TV shows they get over there and the select few storm chasers who invest their own money into getting better data and hopefully extending warning times and ultimately saving lives. I also think there's an admiration for the kind of road-trip lifestyle that storm chasing inevitably brings.

And what a lifestyle it is. Get up in the morning, check the forecast, drive the necessary miles to the target area, chase storms for as long as they last, find the closest hotel and crash. Then do it all again the next day. If I hadn't wanted to get home and see Michelle so bad, (and if the budget allowed) I could easily have spent another month here. In fact, Michelle and I are now talking about coming over during non-storm season to further investigate those places I either touched on briefly or didn't see at all, but wanted to.

Not bad for a place that was way down on our list of travel destinations.

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