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  • Writer's pictureAustin Harter

In Pursuit of Magic: Photos from a Road Trip West with My Best Friend Westward


a color photo of dirt and concrete walkway with a white stencil with the words "in pursuit of magic" on it
Santa Fe (2023) - Leica M11

At the beginning of the summer, I took a road trip westward with my best friend, Chris, and snapped a ton of photos. We drove from Virginia to Nevada and back in nine days. If that sounds like a lot of driving, it is. The majority of the scenery was beautiful and dramatic. I have done this drive many times before, but this was the first time I took it, intending to capture the experience. I'm sure Chris was tired of me shooting by the end. I tried to spare him as much pain as possible because that's what friends are for!



a color photo of the hotel restaurant and other fast food signs through a window in a stairwell
Nashville (2023) - Leica M11


a black and white photo of a chair outside a hotel
Nashville (2023)

a color photo inside the lobby of a hotel
Nashville (2023) - Leica M11

The first length of the trip took us just outside of Nashville since we started later in the day. A quick overnight stopover presented me with a pet-friendly room that came with its own cat. However, this rather humorous speed bump didn't dampen my spirits since I got a new room and promptly passed out.

I'm an early riser and often find myself up even earlier on trips. It gives me time to get some coffee and a little grub in my belly. It's also an opportunity to grab my camera and snap some frames, which I did every morning on this trip. Sometimes the light was excellent, with fantastic views. Other times, not so much, and I made the most of it.


a color photo of a sunrise in the desert of New Mexico with the highway in frame
New Mexico (2023) - Leica M11

a color square photo of a roadside hotel with a bush in front
New Mexico (2023) - Leica M11


I remember really vibing with New Mexico that first morning. The sunrise against the rocky desert landscape got my brain firing. The colors were beautiful. It had been a while since I had seen it. It's something I could easily get used to seeing daily. Alas, my photo brain didn't kick into gear until we were on the road and ventured into Santa Fe.

a photo of people walking down a street in Santa Fe
Santa Fe (2023) - Leica M11

a color photo of a stone church in Santa Fe
Santa Fe (2023) - Leica M11

a color photo of people crossing the street in Santa Fe
Santa Fe (2023) - Leica M11

Santa Fe was our first side quest. I was glad to take Chris to a place that means a lot to me. My aunt lived there for many years until her passing, and she and my uncle always hosted me on my cross-country travels. This was the first time I had been back since her death. It was nice. I forgot how much I love this city. Art, architecture, spirituality, and rich history blend seamlessly everywhere you look, and the people are just fantastic.

We moved on from there, continuing out to the Grand Canyon. Flagstaff became our next stop. What a cool town. I like the snow-capped mountains rising in the distance. That is definitely a town I'd like to explore some more, but we didn't have that much time. I managed to snap a few frames around after I grabbed a morning coffee. We headed to the Grand Canyon later.


a photo of a man sitting on a cliff at the Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon (2023) - Leica M11

a black and white photo of the Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon (2023) - Leica M11

A color photo of a man hiking along the rim of the Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon (2023) - Leica M11

This was my second time visiting the park; it might as well have been the first. The place is stunning. Everywhere you look, there's something beautiful to capture. We did some hiking and, by the end of the day, headed to find a hotel. The next day we were headed to Vegas.


a color photo of the Vegas sign over the strip
Las Vegas (2023) - Leica M11

a color photo of a man wearing a blue hoodie looking at the water feature in front of Caesar's Palace in Vegas
Las Vegas (2023) - Leica M11

The trip into Vegas had a couple of side quests that took us to the Hoover Dam and another scenic viewpoint. It's incredible to see the landscape change around you during a trip like this. The world was shaped by such violence, which can be incredibly beautiful. Needless to say, both quests were a hit.


view of a rocky mountain through a window
Mesa Verde (2023) - Leica M11

a photo of a dead tree on the ground with snow cover mountain range behind it
Mesa Verde (2023) - Leica M11

a black and white photo of a man wearing a jacket standing on the edge of cliff and looking out over a canyon
Mesa Verde (2023) - Leica M11

The trip back took us to Cortez and Mesa Verde National Park. What a beautiful place. We also stayed in this amazing hotel. The Retro Inn is worth a stay. Driving through Colorado presented options to pull off and marvel at the landscape. I think Chris and I constantly said "Wow" whenever we saw something new. However, the eastern part of Colorado and Kansas was incredibly flat. We both nearly fell asleep in the car multiple times.


A low angle shot of the a flat road and flat country side with cloudy skies
Kansas (2023) - Leica M11

a photo of flat countryside with cloudy skies
Kansas (2023) - Leica M11

Our last memorable night was spent at a winery hotel. I think it may have been haunted, and I believe we were the only people staying there that night. What a fun place to stay. I managed to snag some exciting photos the following day.


a photo of a red brick hotel from the side with fire escape
Kansas City (2023) - Leica M11

a photo of concrete stairs that lead up to the front of a red brick hotel
Kansas City (2023) - Leica M11

What's next after this? I don't know. Perhaps another road trip is on the horizon.

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