Travel Blog

Photography, travel, and self-reflection

A Short Lesson In Living It Up: The Day I Ditched My Flight & Drove 500 Miles to California

It was just before 5AM on a Wednesday in Metro Detroit. I was up before dawn getting ready for the 45 minute drive from my hometown to the airport. It was the day before I was due to visit Facebook Headquarters in California, and I had a flight to catch.

I was a tad disappointed. In the weeks prior, I had planned to drive from Detroit to San Francisco for a fun weekend in the Bay Area, then head far south into the Mojave Desert. I was looking forward to spending a few quiet weeks shooting landscapes in the mountains to capture the approaching spring bring the desert to life.

But I had only been back in the States a few days after flying in from another three-month stretch in Amsterdam. Between catching up with old friends and family, wrapping up a big project, and struggling through some brutal jetlag, I simply ran out of time. Having just three days to drive 2,500 miles solo in the winter is pushing it a bit too far, even for me. So I booked a last-minute flight.

After a few hours in midair, I noticed the landscape outside my window begin to change. The grey skies, ice, and snow of the American Midwest gave way to the rugged pastels of the Southern Rockies. The skies were clear and bright. We were approaching Las Vegas. Two-hour layover ahead.

Landing in Las Vegas

By the time the plane taxied to the gate, I could already feel the heat. Las Vegas is notorious for its sweltering summers with average temps around 106°F (41°C)—something I fondly refer to as “perfect weather”. I couldn’t wait to get off the plane and into a warm climate, if only for a couple hours.

I grabbed a quick breakfast inside the airport among a field of slot machines. In the food court under immense windows, I eyed the landscape with a hint of nostalgia. Detroit is where I was born and raised, but Las Vegas was the home I claimed as a young adult. I spent the majority of my twenties living in Las Vegas for months at a time, always with a strong sense of freedom and a deep love for the outdoors. With easy proximity to the best sights in the west—from Death Valley to Zion to the Grand Canyon, the list goes on—Las Vegas has been an irresistible home base for me. For any landscape photographer.

Having spent most of the past year outside the US, I’d been away from this home for way too long.


Wandering over to my gate, I double-checked the time for my connection to San Francisco. We should have been taking off within two hours, but the departure screen blinked an update in bold color: FLIGHT DELAY. This meant at least four more hours gazing out at a blue sky without feeling the sun on my face. I couldn’t do it. Life is too short and it was far too beautiful outside. I was done waiting.

On a whim, I decided to ditch my connecting flight. I went online and reserved a rental car within seconds, and spoke to the gate agent about getting my luggage pulled. Within a half hour (and only a little extra prodding), my suitcase appeared on an empty carousel in baggage claim. By the time an hour had passed, I found myself on a shuttle feeling liberated.

At the rental agency they were out of the standard cars I had reserved, so I got a free upgrade. Score! By noon, with the sun beaming overhead, I was on the freeway cruising south on I-15 in a brand new Dodge Charger the color of the deep sea. Cutting through the mountains of the Mojave Desert, I was in heaven.

I ended up having a beautiful 500-mile trip up to San Francisco—a long drive on the open road under a big blue sky, just like I wanted. This, my friends, is the biggest secret to traveling well: Remain flexible, and jump on unexpected opportunities. You might just get an even better trip than you asked for.





Photo Credits: © Hillary Fox


  • Paul R. Giunta on May 21, 2013

    Bad Ass!! Good for you!!

  • Jordan Oram on May 21, 2013

    This is freaking fantabulous! I love the story, the truth, and your glorious visuals! Dang.

    • Hillary Fox on May 21, 2013

      Thanks, Jordan! It was an incredibly beautiful, freeing journey. 🙂