The road is an intriguing place to be on. It’s where I go to find some solace. I usually end up driving out into the country and exploring some b-roads. Especially to find some quiet destinations where I can just enjoy the scenery, play around with my camera and rejuvenate my mind. Before I started my journey as an automobile photographer I spent my days in a laboratory doing research on neural crest cells and getting my bachelor at the University of Montana – Missoula, USA. Back then, America was going through a pretty rough depression, financially, and new scientific projects were not getting funded. This put me in a situation where I had to re-think my way forward. Driving away from the town used to be my first go-to option. Anything to get away from the chaos of life. Just pack a small bag, grab some food, plug in some good music and go pedal to the metal.
At the time I owned a 1978 bottle green Mercedes-Benz 300SD. It had a golden pinstripe running along its length and a never say die, 3.0L turbo diesel that had done about 190,000 miles on it. My roommates used to call it the “Dictators Car,” because of it’s iconic design and style. It was because of this car I fell in love with Mercedes-Benz as well. It was built like a tank and was reliable in every way possible.
On my drives away from Missoula, I would frequently visit Glacier National Park, one of the most beautiful, untouched wildernesses in northern America, just to think and try to get some perspective on the way forward. My time in the Big Sky Country is where I discovered my love for the Rockies and developed my passion for photography. On the 8th of May, 2012, on the banks of Lake McDonald in Glacier, I finally took the decision to become a creative artist and leave cell biology behind. This made me move back to Mumbai, India. Now, four years later, as a professional automobile photographer, I make a journey back to the place I consider “Home.”
Montana – The wilderness in which I found myself…
Mercedes-Benz USA decided to give us the GLC300 4matic for the 5000-mile journey from California to Montana and back. Considering the underlying aspect of having a special drawing to the National Parks, it felt apt to make the trip this year, as 2016 marks the centennial year celebration of the National Parks System in America. The journey was to take us from the Sierra Nevadas to the most northern part of the Rockies in the US and then back down the west coast of this vast country.
The Plan: Visiting as many National Parks along the way as possible to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of this amazing system that allows visitors to enjoy the untouched wilderness of the US.
The Route: California – Nevada – Idaho – Wyoming – Montana – Idaho – Washington – Oregon – California
Number of Days – 15
Miles to be covered – 5000
The morning was a cold start and we had a long day ahead of us. The highlight of which was the southern shore of Lake Tahoe and then the crossing of the utter flatness of Nevada till the border of Idaho. Crossing this state really puts the vastness of America as a country in perspective. There was nothing on either side of Interstate-80 for the longest time. Once in a while, we’d get to see some low-rising hills but that’s about it. With its heated and cooled seats and the great Burmester surround sound system, the GLC made what seemed like a never-ending journey, a very comfortable and quick one. We had already crunched quite a few miles in a short time, Montana was just two more days of driving away. Before we got there though, we had to cross two of the most magnificently scenic parts of the Rockies: the surreal and elusive Grand Tetons and the caldera of fire and brimstone, Yellowstone.
Entering Teton from the south means crossing over Teton Pass. At this time of year, it was not too kind to us. Gloomy skies and intermittent rain mixed with the already snow covered ground created a slushy scene as we pulled into Teton Village. The iconic peaks of the Teton range seemed to play hide and seek with us, just showing us glimpses of its rock faces but never really revealing themselves. It was quite a bummer as I was really keen on getting some images with the peaks in the background. Nonetheless, the gloomy weather allowed for some dramatic photos.
Yellowstone – The land of fire and brimstone. A land so vast and unpredictable, making it the most iconic national park in America. It also happens to be the first national park in the world. Wildlife is always on the lose here. Bison, elk, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, wolves, and bears roam free on top of this volcano. The most famous part of the park being, the always on time, Ol’faithful geyser. A fountain of boiling water that squirts up to 400ft in the air, flamboyantly showing off the power below the Earth’s crust. What Yellowstone does is it casts a spell on you. It makes you ogle in awe at how distinctly different this place can be. A river that never freezes in -60 degree winters, colorful bacterial formations around crystal-clear pools of bubbling acid water, and the last place on earth where wild bison roam free. It’s a life changing experience going to Yellowstone. Every visit here is a unique one. Crossing Yellowstone meant that Montana was just a few meters away. The Northern and Western boundaries of the park touch the state of Montana. So we were close, close to Missoula and close to Glacier as well. I could feel Glacier drawing me closer to her and I knew that it wouldn’t be long before I got to see her again. Missoula was a must stop as that’s where I went to university. Going back to campus brought back many memories from when I was in school but it felt great knowing that this was the place that helped mold me into who I am today.
I couldn’t last more than a day in Missoula. The desire to get to the Glacier was so strong that I decided to get back on the road. The drive on I-93 is another spectacular one. Winding highway roads around Flathead Lake and the Kootenai national forest bring you to a small town called Columbia Falls, from where Glacier National Park lies next door.
We got to the park by late evening and enjoyed the sunset at Lake McDonald’s, watching the sun light up the peaks as it went below the horizon. We still had about an hour of driving ahead of us to get to a place called Polebridge. Little did we know that the road to get here would be raw and full of pot holes. Nothing that the GLC couldn’t tackle with ease of course. By nightfall, we were through the rough road and at the cabin in the mountains. What happened next was something none of us ever expected. As we got done with dinner and went to check if the sky was clear for some night shots of the car, we happened to see a faded hue in the night sky. It was blisteringly cold. After taking a test shot we found out what we were dealing with here. Glacier had yet another gift for us, this time it was the Northern Lights. A rare phenomenon on the American continent. Usually one can only see them above the arctic circle, but this time we got to see the lights dancing around the sky as if they were welcoming us back to the park. It was a sight to behold. No, it wasn’t the streaks which are usually seen but instead it was like red and green pillars of light moving around in the sky. One of the most unforgettable moments in my life.
Once again Glacier reassured me that my decision of becoming a photographer was a right one in every way possible.
Satisfied with our time in Montana we decided to head towards Seattle, one of the few big cities on the western coast of the US. The drive to Seattle and then on to Portland was a long one without any drama. The weather was gloomy and it rained occasionally, making us want to just keep on going till we found some good weather. We decided to give the GLC a break in a small town called Roseburg. The next day, we took a detour, and headed east, away from the coast, to one of the most mesmerizing places of the journey – Crater Lake National Park. This place too was a surprise for us. As we climbed higher in elevation the weather became colder and soon in no time we were surrounded by snow everywhere. Not just a light sprinkle but at least four feet deep snow in certain places. The 4MATIC system helped keep the GLC grounded and prevented us from losing traction on the slushed-up roads. Surrounded by a white winter wonderland, the red GLC really stood out and even caught the attention of many onlookers who were quite curious about this particular Mercedes-Benz model.
We went from snow to sand in a matter of five hours in the same day. From Crater Lake, we hauled us all the way to the border of Northern California to catch one of the most beautiful sunsets of this trip. It was time to stick to the coast from here on until we reach San Francisco. This meant navigating through some of the most beautiful pieces of road in the world. B-roads curving off into avenues lined by giant redwood trees and then opening up into vast expanses of the Pacific ocean, the Pacific coastal highway is seriously a must do! This was probably the only time we wished for a convertible from AMG rather than the SUV. But with its huge boot space, I was thankful that the GLC could take in all the luggage and yet keep everyone in the car comfortable for the journey.
Our next stop was San Fransisco. Known for the famous Golden Gate Bridge, the crooked Lombard Street, and Ghirardelli Chocolates, this city was the perfect playground for the GLC. With insanely steep climbs and descents and bustling with traffic, we got to experience the city aspect of the GLC too. It had a great response cutting traffic and was a great size vehicle to park. The integrated auto-park system helped to relief stress when parallel parking in the busy roads. The last part of our journey back to LA took us through America’s smallest and newest national park: Pinnacles. Formed in 2013, this national park sits right on the San Andreas fault line which can be seen on the rock formations in Pinnacles. So to sum it up, this trip took us through some of the most iconic national parks in the world including the oldest and the youngest parks of the United States.
All in all, the 5000-mile journey from the southern part of the US to its Canadian border and back we could handle perfectly thanks to the GLC 300 4MATIC. It was comfortable enough to carry five people and luggage during certain parts of the trip and even allowed for a good rest whenever we decided to stop and nap in it along the way. The heated and cooled seats with the Burmester sound system made for an extremely lounging interior experience. I think the GLC was a great car for me to go back “home” in. It gave me the off-road capabilities that my old 300SD didn’t have and with all the latest technology it made the journey an easy, tireless one.