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EXPLORING THE AMERICAN SOUTHWEST

Three days, two birthdays, one cake.

Story by Whitney James May 1st, 2016

ONLY CHILD SYNDROME

I’m still deciding if it’s fun that my boyfriend and I share the same birthday weekend, or if I’d prefer to be at opposite ends of the year. Instead of two cakes, we get one. Instead of it being my special day, it’s sort of three shared special days. Instead of being complementary sun signs, we’re both bulls. But against all odds, our third shared birthday weekend together was a huge success. We did something that will never be repeated—we drove from Las Vegas to Boulder in Bryan’s brand new ride.

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HITTING ALL THE F-STOPS

Anyone who has driven through the southwest knows how easy it is to link together a bunch of epic photography spots. We left Las Vegas with an itinerary that went something like this:

Speed-hike Zion, shoot Horseshoe Bend at sunset, wake up and tackle Antelope Canyon, then capture a few rounds of magic hour at Monument Valley. Basically all went according to plan, but doing it over the course of three days wouldn’t be our recommended dose of desert. Take four. Or six. And definitely bring cake.

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WAKING UP TO 27

Thanks to a leisurely pace in Zion and absent-minded navigating on my part, we missed sunset at Horseshoe Bend. But as we pulled into the parking lot only to see roughly 180 people funnel down from the trailhead, we weren’t too perturbed. What did perturb me was sleeping in the parking lot that night. There was really no where else to go. We’d been advised not to camp on BLM land in the area (for reasons of personal safety, which I conveniently didn’t learn until the sun rose well above the horizon the next morning). But we survived the restless night, and I woke up to the start of a new year with this view.

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HERE'S YOUR GHOST

Sketchy camping in the rearview mirror, our next destination was only a couple of miles away. Antelope Canyon is the fabled place where famous Australian photographer Peter Lik took a photo called Ghost, which he later turned to black and white and renamed Phantom. The image sold in 2014 for 6.5 million as the highest grossing photograph of all time.

Since you can’t enter the canyon without a guide, we’d booked the photography tour, which was guaranteed to get us more time in the best photo-taking spots. I went in assuming I could basically take the same image as Lik. My pictures definitely won’t sell for any number of millions, but as we cracked a beer on the tailgate afterward, I told Bryan that our two hours in the canyon was one of the coolest things I’d ever experienced. It was.

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THE TIME TRAVEL CONTINUUM

Our last stop was Monument Valley, where we would finally be able to turn down the pace and catch our breath. I had never been east of Page, Arizona, and the two hour drive through Navajo Nation was reminiscent of road tripping through South Africa earlier this year. Lots of empty land, and where there was life to be found, lots of poverty. Adding to the twilight zone vibe was the all-too confusing time zone situation. Arizona is on Mountain Time. But the state does not observe Daylight Savings Time. However, the Navajo Nation in Arizona does observe Daylight Savings Time.

I’m still not sure what time it was in this incredible place, but it didn’t really matter. We made it there before the sun went down.

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TWO HAPPY BIRTHDAYS

This year I got new experiences for my birthday. And if I didn’t share the weekend with my boyfriend I would’ve been left with just cake.

I think I want the same thing next year, too.

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Footnote: All photos by Whitney James.