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Desert BlooM

A photographic journey through the American Southwest


This album was shot at the tail end of 2021, but the story begins a few years earlier. After losing my job, I was offered $50/day to join a small team out west creating a travel website. I flew out to Santa Barbara on a whim and started working. We rambled over sand dunes and mountain passes for a couple of weeks, documenting the remoteness of obscure little towns. We were telling stories through photo and text, and publishing it on as we went. I had no idea what I was doing, but I sensed an underlying instinct. When I got home, I saw the vision of an entirely new career path laid out in front of me. That's when I began freelancing as a photographer and graphic designer.

In late 2021, with travel still largely restricted by Covid, I engineered a new roadtrip through the west. This time I knew my way around the camera and I intended to do the scenery justice. I saddled a rooftop tent to my car and enlisted two co-pilots. Ultra-adventurist Uncle Dave—stateside at the time from Barcelona—would join me for the journey west. At LAX, my girlfriend Ani would tag in, and we'd make our way back home. A Desert Bloom is a climatic phenomenon where the vegetation of a dry, dormant landscape comes alive after a period of rain. Like one of these blooms, this photo journal represents both a personal creative rebirth, and rejuvenated spirit following the Covid years.


I-70 West

Saturday Oct. 30th, 2021   |   Day 1 
8 hours through the rain from Boston to Pittsburgh.

Looking through a rainy windshield on the highway
Overlooking the football stadium in Pittsburgh
View of Pittsburgh from atop Mount Washington

Pittsburgh, PA

Dave wearing a halloween mask while driving
Dave sipping coffee while driving
Dave sipping coffee through a halloween mask

Oct. 31st, 2021   |   Day 2
In disguise through the midwest on Halloween. 14 hours to Utah.

The Columbus skyline from the highway

Columbus, OH

Driving under a sign for Ohio

The drive-through states.

Indiana. Crossroads of America.
Sign for the Mississippi River in St. Louis
Horse and carraige in front of the Gateway arch
Gateway Arch National Park sign

Accidentally hit our first National Park of the trip.

The Gateway Arch in St. Louis
Tree silhouettes in the dusk

Into that good night.

The speedometer

Nov. 1st, 2021   |   Day 3

Somewhere in Kansas.

Sleeping in the passenger seat
Truck driving through the great plains
Old abandoned Diner somewhere in the plains

Photo cred: Dave

Windmills in the Kansas plains

Gas mileage dwindles over hundreds of miles of slight incline across the plains.

Driving along on an empty highway
Dave in the rearview mirror
instagram story from eastern Colorado

Climbing the plateau. Weather ahead.

5,280 feet into the mountains
8,400 feet up in the mountains
Snowy Vail Pass in Colorado

We came to a dead stop in a snowstorm along I-70 past Denver. No cell service. Next to us, an off ramp that led up a mountain pass. We went for it. On the other side, the clouds broke as we slid down into Frisco, Colorado. A perfect little mountain town. Further on down the trail, we picked up I-70 again.

View near Vail Pass
Clock in downtown Frisco, Colorado
Main street in Frisco Colorado

Everything turned to liquid gold.

Utah's most scenic restrooms

Interesting relics appear as we pull over the Utah line. It got so dark I couldn't see beyond the headlights, and I missed the moment when pine green surroundings became red desert mesas.

Broken down Mystery Machine
A rooftop tent under the stars

We arrived ahead of schedule and there were no places to stay. We sauntered into a local dive to see what we could find out. I bought this guy a beer in exchange for some info on where to hide the quite noticeable setup.  He offered up the small piece of yard next to his house on the outskirts. On night two, we found the official campsite, about 20 minutes south in the Spanish Valley.

Moab, Utah

Nov. 2nd, 2021   |   Day 4

Moab, a lush valley town surrounded by red desert.

Desert Wild store sign
Downtown storefronts of Moab, Utah
Bike shop sign
Red Rock canyons surrounding Moab
Bike leaning along the Green River in Moab
A storefront sign for Tumbleweed
Red and Green fire hydrant
Moab Garage Co coffee shop
Stairway along a red desert trail
Trail sign in Arches National Park

Arches National Park

Hikers climb up a red rock
Sun shining through a giant natural arch
Man climbing some rocks
Man standing atop a rocky overlook

Dave in his element.

Sun flare in a photo of Delicate Arch

Delicate Arch.

Two people roaming around big rock formations

Castles in the Sky.

Rock formation in Devil's Garden

Rock formation that inspired the book title.

Man hiking along a rock ledge
Rocky landscape near Moab Utah
Distant view of the La Sal Mountains

The snowcapped La Sal mountains in the distance.

Roadtrip equipped car pulled over on the side of the road
Cooking food over an open fire
The Milky Way seen over a red cliff
Chicken thighs, veggies and potatos on a open flame

Camp meal.

Rooftop tent parked under the night sky

Nov. 3rd, 2021   |   Day 5

Canyonlands National Park.

View from Green River overlook in Canyonlands
Standing on the edge of a cliff in Canyonlands
Sitting on the edge of a huge cliff
Man standing on a rock watching the sunset

Feels like standing at the edge of the world.

Canyons at Dead Horse Point State Park

Dead Horse Point state park.

Sun flare shining through my car window in a vehicle

Dave grabs ahold of the ol' machine. Off we go.

Monument Valley

Nov. 4th, 2021   |   Day 6

South through Monument Valley en route to Page, Arizona.

Driving into Monument Valley
Lone rock mound in Monument Valley

It wasn't shortest distance between two points. But well worth it. The largest expanse of land we'd ever seen. Easy to see why it's sacred land to the Navajo.

Taking a picture in the road

The angle.

Iconic shot of Monument Valley

The shot.

Driving in the desert dusk

Page, AZ

Nov. 5th, 2021   |   Day 7

Accidentally waking up to a giant balloon fiesta.

Hot air balloons fill the sky
Two hot air balloons prepped for takeoff

We're told if we head down to the grounds early enough, we might be able to find someone that needs help setting up. In exchange, we get offered a free ride.

Hot air balloon prepares to lift off
People rigging up a hot air balloon
Dave riding in a hot air balloon.jpg


Page Hot Air Balloon Regatta
Hot air balloons floating up


A hot air balloon over the desert
Balloons flying over Page, Arizona

Taken by the wind.

Hot air balloons landing in the desert


Taking a selfie on top of a cliff
Hot air balloon above Glen Canyon Dam.jpg
Red and yellow hot air balloon in the desert
Glen Canyon Dam

Glen Canyon Dam. The Colorado River was at 28% capacity in late 2021.

Lizard on the rocks
Horseshoe Bend in Arizona

Horseshoe Bend.

Bryce Canyon

Nov. 6th, 2021   |   Day 8

Detour: 4 hours off course.

Tunnel on Scenic Byway 12 in Utah
Sign for closed off area
Trail along the rim of Bryce Canyon
Bryce Canyon rim view
Sign for Rainbow Point in Bryce Canyon
Rainbow cliffs in Bryce Canyon
Standing on the edge of Bryce Canyon
Sensitive plant habitat sign
Thor's hammer in Bryce Canyon
Pine tree in Bryce Canyon

Thor's Hammer.

The horseshoe shape of Bryce Canyon from the rim
Hoodoo's of Bryce Canyon
Wall street sign in Bryce

No Ponzi schemes here.

Taking pictures deep in the hoodoo canyon

Down inside the Hoodoos. A purple borealis sunset.

Nov. 6th, 2021   |   Night 8

The detour leads to another late night arrival.

Waking up in a tent just west of Zion Park
The Milky Way appears over the desert hills

Waking up at Kolob Gardens Gate.

Making a fire at the campsite next to the rooftop tent

A 5-star hotel.

First sunrise in Zion National Park

Sun wakes the canyon.

Cactus plant in front of a sign
Zion Park Motel in Springdale, Utah
Stained glass sconce light in a Zion coffeeshop
Footbridge over the Virgin River
Tarantula on red sand
Part of Angel's Landing trail cuts into a cliff

Heading up the infamous Angel's Landing trail.

Virgin River swerves through Zion Canyon
Sharing space on a perch on the cliff
Sharing a narrow ledge on Angel's Landing
Climbing down Angel's Landing

Cliff walkers.

Sure-footed Dave along the climb
A view back down the narrow sandstone fin of Angel's Landing in Zion

Scared of heights.

A sitting spot along the trail
The final plateau of Angel's Landing
The view of Zion Canyon

The reward is a full canyon view.

Small waterfall trickles down the cliffs
Dave looking into a cavern
A rock shaped perfectly for a nap

Rest for the wicked.

Court of the Patriarchs

Court of the Patriarchs.

The Watchman overlooks the Virgin River in Zion

The Watchman. One of my favorite shots.


Nov. 8th, 2021   |   Day 10

Nevada. Just passing through. 

A casino sign lit up at night
Roadside sign at sunset

Nov. 9th, 2021   |   Day 11

Sunrise reaches the Pacific at Crystal Cove State Park. Uncle Dave heads back to Barcelona tonight.

Sunrise over the Pacific at Crystal Cove State Park

Nov. 10th, 2021   |   Day 12

Ani flies in to LAX. After the obligatory In-n-Out burger, we head off to get our kicks. Inland Empire.

Backlit Route 66 sign
Wig Wam Motel in San Bernardino, California

Non-politically correct motel.

Palm Springs

Nov. 10th, 2021   |   Day 12

Cheap motel pools and potent cocktails.

Stardust Hotel sign
Fan palm in Palm Springs
Grove of palm trees in golden hour
Corner of a motel pool
Sunglasses on a striped towel

Relaxation Station. The "vacation" portion of the trip.

A yellow desert flower
Caliente Tropics hotel entrance
A small spikey palm plant
Sinatra's estate Twin Palms

Twin Palms. The Sinatra Residence.

9_Palm Springs-3842.jpg
9_Palm Springs-3844.jpg
Overlooking Palm Springs at night

Moonrise over the Mojave with the lights of Palm Springs in the foreground.

Palm Canyon Roadhouse Bar and Grill

Joshua Tree

Nov. 13th, 2021   |   Day 15

J-Tree by moonlight

A lone joshua tree beneath the moon
Spiked desert plants
Skull Rock formation in Joshua Tree

Skull Rock

Orange glow shines through an opening in the rocks
Gazing out onto the Joshua Tree landscape
The moon over Joshua Tree in the twilight
Valley floor in Joshua Tree
Close-up of a Cholla cactus
A small Cholla cactus

Cholla Cactus Garden

Small lizard on a rock
Detailed close-up of cactus thorns
Cholla cactus garden
Man standing in a rock archway
Sun flare over a boulder
Two people rock climbing in Joshua Tree

The rocks are dry and sticky and easy to climb.

Person's shadow on to of a rock
Joshua Tree Saloon sign

After a day in the hot sun, time to cool down.

Dos Tecate's with lime, please.

Sunset skies over Joshua Tree Park

Orange soda.

Desert plant silhouette
Rooftop tent in the desert sunset

Campsite at Sky Fire Ranch. 15 minutes outside the park.

Rusted out car under the stars at Skyfire Ranch
Logo of a rusty Chevy Corvair
Coyote footprints in the sand
Rear end of a rusty Chevy Corvair
View down a long stretch of highway in the desert

Time to head back east.

Roys Motel and Cafe sign in Amboy, California

Amboy, CA. Two hours out of Joshua Tree. Population, 4.

Grand Canyon

Nov. 14th, 2021   |   Day 16

5:28 am. Elevation 10,000. 28 Degrees.

Looking out over the Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon overlook at sunrise
Orange sun washes the cliffs of the Grand Canyon
Trail guides harnessing up a donkey
Donkey at the grand canyon
Grand Canyon telescope
View down into the Grand Canyon
Big crevice in the canyon
Artists hut along the south rim of the grand canyon
Girl sitting along the edge of the Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon from the south rim
View of the backside of the Grand Canyon

The reverse angle view.

An elk in the woods

Stepped on a pinecone to make it look at me. 


Nov. 15th, 2021   |   Day 17

Popping in for a quick, quiet weeknight. Fulfilling destiny on a certain corner.

Paparazzi of photograhers at the Sedona red rock overlook
Overlooking Sedona Arizona
Route 66 graphic in the road
Standin' on the corner in Winslow Arizona
The corner in Winslow Arizona
Red flatbed Ford F-500 truck
Chrome silver truck against a brick wall

White Sands

Nov. 16th, 2021   |   Day 18

Wide open New Mexico

Long highway out near White Sands New Mexico
A distant mountain ridge in New Mexico
Sign for White Sands visitor center
Old blue pickup truck driving down the highway
Sign for the Sands Motel
Ripple texture in white sand
Girl sledding down a sand dune
Sotol plant in White Sands
Girl sledding down a sand dune
girl in orange walking along a sand dune
Two people sitting on a sand dune watching the sunset
Girl watching moonrise in White Sands
Sotol plant in white sand
White sand ripples
Alien crash site exhibit at the International UFO museum in Roswell

Before arriving in Las Cruces we drove out to Roswell, New Mexico. For a place with such a distinct cultural history, it didn't have much of the the wacky, weird, mystical qualities I had hoped for. Disappointing.

The Far West

Nov. 17th, 2021   |   Day 19

There's East Texas. West Texas. And then there's the Far West.

Sign for El Cosmico under the moon
Yellow and red string lights

We found in Marfa what we had been looking for in Roswell.  A deserted bohemian hideout with a funky twist. The "Marfa Lights" are a mysterious, potentially extraterrestrial series of glowing orbs in the Chihuahuan desert. The lights give the town its entire personality. Even if they turned out to be just an atmospheric refraction of headlights a distant highway. 

Glamping tents at El Cosmico Marfa
Train tracks stretching across the Texas plains

One of the most isolated population centers we encountered.

Prada Marfa in the daytime
Prada Marfa at night
The Marfa water tower
Texas Lone Star on a building
Texas newspapers on a table
Restaurant in disrepair in Marfa
Broken down ice plant in Marfa
Marfa Film Shop mural
Freida Kahlo mural on an auto parts garage
Desert themed mural on a small house
Front end of a rusty Chevrolet pickup truck
Granada sign in Alpine Texas
Pink art deco style fire station in Marfa
Window sign for a book store
Large mural on the side of a building in Alpine Texas
Lemon wheel in a cocktail
Chihuahuan Desert Sotol
Yellow trailer front with eyes painted on it
Custom painted trailer
Cosmic eye entry sign at sunset

Neon Cowboy

Nov. 19th, 2021   |   Day 21

7 hours across Texas from Marfa to Austin.

Cowboy hat on fire
Guero's Taco bar in Austin Texas
Looking down South Congress street in Austin
Neon sign for Stetson hats
Two cowboys roughing up a hat


Man steaming a cowboy hat in Texas
Neon lights along the street in Austin
The Meteor Wine and Beer bar

Quite the combination.

Cowboy hat on fire
Heritage Boot Company neon sign

Nov. 26th, 2021   |   Day 28

A full day's drive from Austin. The final night.

French Truck Coffee sign
Grungy green building in New Orleans' uptown
Neon sign saying slow down

Another trip around the sun.

Neon sign for This must be the place
Floral art on the corner of a diner

Nov. 27th, 2021   |   Day 29-30   |   Saturday into Sunday


Home is where I want to be.

After a month on the road, I woke up on a couch in New Orleanssluggish and hungover. I'd just completed another trip around the sun, to cap off the roadtrip of a lifetime. I reflected on the wanderlust I felt years before, jobless, trying to make a few bucks through a bluey screen. There were limited resources and no directions then.


I sat in my car surrounded by the thick morning air of the Garden District, with many miles in front of me to get home. For the first time in a long time, I wanted to close that gap. I decided to drive as far as I could in one shot. For entertainment, I tuned my radio dial to the local football games as I skimmed around the towns of the SEC. I stopped for gas near Starkville. Ate Chik-fil-a in Tuscaloosa. By nightfall I hit an orange-drenched Knoxville after a game let out. And still had 13 hours to go. I picked up some more coffee and continued on. Eventually, no amount of caffeine can stop the metronome of painted white lines flashing across your pupils in nothing but blackness. I couldn't sleep at two sketchy rest stops. Eventually I saw the sunrise somewhere over the Appalachians. I don't remember driving through Pennsylvania. Finally, just short of 9am, I smelled the Meadowlands and crossed into New York. A sign for Providence. The big blue bug. Massachusetts welcomed me in green. On Sunday around noon, I pulled into my parents house, dove onto the couch and half-slept while watching the Pats game. I was right where I needed to be.

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(c) 2024 Nick Gianetti

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