Made of America – Our First Adventure
This is the story of Photographer, Greg, and wife, Jill Pallante’s epic cross-country honeymoon road trip with Stetson along for the ride.
It’s hard to believe it’s been two years since Jill and I were married. It doesn’t seem like a long enough time for all of the things we’ve already shared. Looking back it was our first official act as husband and wife that really set the precedent. We planned and executed our entire wedding together and when the subject of a honeymoon came up she just shot those big brown eyes at me and offered, “You’ve always wanted to drive cross country and right now is as good a time as any.’ I thought about how lucky I was to have her in my life and the decision was made.
Anyone who’s driven coast to coast across the states knows it would take a lifetime to see it all but we did our best to take in as much as possible. I’d be remiss if I didn’t say these were the best three weeks of my life to that point.
We plotted our stops loosely between The Statue of Liberty and the beaches of San Diego favoring the southern states. We rented an American hybrid automobile and, like so many before us, we set out in search of our OWN American Story.
One of my favorite days we had on this trip was the one we spent exploring The Valley of the Gods. The sandstone valley just outside the town of Mexican Hat, Utah is a breath taking stretch of dirt roads ripe with ancient mesas, buttes, towers, and mushroom rocks. They all have fun names like Battleship Rock, Castle Butte, and Seven Sailors. We arrived just after sunrise and could barely drive ten feet without jumping out of the car to grab a few photos. A feeble attempt to bring it all home with us.
Just up the road in Paige, Arizona lies Horseshoe Bend. This scenic overlook is just 5 miles downstream from the Glen Canyon Dam where the Colorado River makes such a dramatic turn that it almost appears to link a full circle. It is photographed a lot and though you’ve probably seen a photo like this before, none of them do it justice. If you ever have the chance take the hike in, park yourself on the edge, peer down on the miniature boats below, and feel the wind nearly take you away take it. You will not regret it.
We spent another notable day at Zion National Park scaling Angels Landing. The entire hike to the top is only 2.5 miles long but it ascends 1,500 feet onto a razor sharp hump back mountain ridge. We were warned that at least six people had died in the last few yeas attempting the hike and just last week I heard a thirteen year old girl fell to her death here. The hike is certainly no joke so if you do go take it seriously. I got the the top just as the sun was setting and got some great photos but in the end I prefer this view of the trail itself as a reminder to keep facing forward.
When you think of Route 66 you think of roadside oddities like this variant Muffler Man statue by artist Glenn Goode. He stands just down the storied highway from Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo Texas. Once riddled with bullet holes the statue was repurposed and erected at an RV park 2014. Like many Texans before him, The Second Amendment Cowboy, as he’s become known, is extremely fond of his right to bear arms.
Having grown up in New Jersey, I’ve got a special place in my heart for diners and diner culture. I may be a yankee through and through but I love southern biscuits and gravy. It’s become a quest in our travels to find the best in the country and though I’m not ready to hand over the crown to any contenders just yet, the historic Arcade diner in Memphis Tennessee is on the short list so far.
Some stretches of road offered only grazing horses and cattle for miles on end. What surprised us the most was how much we both enjoyed being in transit: taking in mile after mile of unfamiliar landscape, the anticipation of the next destination, and the search for local grub. The less attractive a place might seem to the everyday tourist the more the feeling of exclusivity and importance.
‘Educational’ is an odd way to regard your honeymoon but we learned so much both about this country and about each other.
One of the many expressive rock formations you’ll find Within Lower Antelope Canyon in Paige Arizona.
Though the Stetson hat plant was not operating on the day we visited, we had the pleasure of meeting some of the designers and taking a tour of the facilities in Garland Texas. We learned all about the process of felting and the history of John B. Stetson who, much like us, left New Jersey in search of adventure.
Stetson, the son of New Jersey hatter, was diagnosed with tuberculosis in his youth and when doctors gave him only a short time to live he decided to venture west.
Stetson met and worked alongside ranchers, cowboys, and prospectors. The popular hat of the day was the coon skin which many complained stayed waterlogged or became infested with fleas. Stetson created a felt hat with a four-inch brim to keep sun and rain out of the eyes of the person donning it. The rest is history as they say. Pictured here is the El Presidente 100X Premier Cowboy Hat with custom carrying case.
The most memorable times often come from being open to unplanned experiences. Or at least that’s what I tell my wife when she says we could’ve planned things better. One day out of the week the famous Blue Bird Cafe in Nashville Tennessee sells tickets at the door. On this day the line stretched all the way down the road and the sun was blaring. We waited in the dry heat for upwards of three hours until the doors opened. We were literally the next two people on the line when someone came out to announce the place was at full capacity.
Upon being locked out of The Blue Bird we were told there were plenty of great places to catch a live show in Nashville. We ended up at a little honky tonk called The Stone Fox in East Nashville where we saw Chris Scruggs and his band perform their own mixture of bluegrass and early rock and roll. It was a night to remember.
In the third week, we reached San Diego where we basked in the sun and chilled out on the beach for a few days before hopping a flight back to Newark, NJ. If you’ve ever spent time in San Diego you know how close the airport is the city. It takes a few days to get used to the low flying roar overhead throughout the day but eventually you become accustomed.
No matter where we were on this trip we were together and there is something romantic about that. We continue to travel together whenever possible. This passed October, just days after returning from Hawaii, we found out that we will be welcoming not one but TWO baby boys to our family this June. The anticipation could not be more intense and we’re as excited about this new adventure together as we are thankful for all of the experiences we’ve shared.
My name is Greg Pallante and I am a commercial and lifestyle photographer in New York City. My wife Jill is a nurse in northern New Jersey.
I photograph people and tell stories with lifestyle energy.
Jill selflessly saves and/or improves lives.
We travel as much as possible and still love experiencing new cities and landscapes.