After spending months planning our cross country van travels, I had a lot of different expectations for the the many spots we would visit. For some places I was brimming with excitement and prepared with plans for photos I couldn’t wait to take. Other places were added to the map as an afterthought or I was worried might be too crowded. In many cases my expectations were spot on. However, a few times I was completely surprised!
There were times the reality greatly exceeded our expectations and and we discovered some amazing beauty and serenity in places we never imagined. Occasionally, however, the reality didn’t live up to the hype and the experience was a a bit of a let down. I wanted to share a few examples of each of these. Have you ever been pleasantly surprised on a trip? Have you been disappointed by a place you were excited about? Let me know in the comments!
Kind of a Let Down…
- Mesa Arch – To be fair, I didn’t do a ton of research on this spot before we went, and if I had I might have been more prepared for the reality. I had seen amazing sunrise photos of this arch which made it look like a huge natural structure hidden deep in the remote desert. The photos of this arch were just so incredible that I had created a narrative in my head for what the experience would be like. In reality, the arch is only a 5 minute walk from the road and therefore was swarming with people. When we got to the parking lot, multiple tour buses were unloading with dozens of tourists. It is also known as a sunrise spot, so when we arrived at the arch in the early morning hours, there was already a line of photographers in front of it, blocking the view for any latecomers. Luckily we were able to elbow our way in and found some room to snap a few photos. I will say that the sunrise through Mesa Arch was an incredible sight. The rays of sunlight caused the arch to glow in a brilliant shade of orange, with amazing shadows cast on the desert scene behind it. However the whole thing just felt a little phony . It was crowded, loud, and felt more like a photo shoot than an authentic natural experience.
- Diamond Fork (Fifth Water) Hot Springs – Okay, so don’t get me wrong, these hot springs were pretty great. But they didn’t quite live up to my expectations. The first time we tried to go was on a Thursday evening. When we arrived, the parking lot was almost completely full and there were loud, drunk young people everywhere. They were laughing, yelling, and blasting their music. I know, I sound so old right now! But we were looking for a quiet, peaceful soak…not a wild party! So we decided to skip the springs that day and try again on a Sunday. The second try was better, but the hot springs were still pretty crowded. Also, the photos I had seen showed a low flowing river of bright blue water and I was so excited to see and photograph it. However, when we were there, the river was raging with water that was brownish gray and not blue. I guess we were there at the wrong time of year! The springs were still lovely and hot, but the experience was pretty underwhelming.
Better than Expected
- Monument Valley – I knew that Monument Valley would be a nice place to visit and I had seen a lot of great photos of the place. However, the experience of being there was much more special than I had imagined. It’s hard to describe, but the valley had a peaceful and serene feeling to it and I just genuinely enjoyed being there, despite the fact that we didn’t even do much. I loved that the scene was the same and yet completely different as the sun moved across the sky and altered the lighting on the monuments. I also think we were there at the right time of year because there was hardly anyone else camping there and the whole place was relatively quiet, considering it is such a popular spot. We also happened to be there when the mitten shadow is on the other mitten, which apparently is a rare occurrence, and wasn’t something we planned for! (Click here to read more about this part of the trip!)
- Alabama Hills – this is a spot that is photographed by a million instagrammers so I had assumed it would feel like a phony photo shoot spot swarming with young kids with their iPhones and cameras. What we found was an incredibly beautiful landscape with almost no people and tons of empty free campsites. The famous photo spot with the road leading down into the snow capped Sierras was empty at sunrise! I sipped coffee and hung out there all morning without seeing a single soul. This was one of the most beautiful scenes and peaceful moments of our cross country adventures and greatly exceeded my expectations. (My blog post about the Alabama Hills can be found here!)