The Scenic Route from Denver to Portland in a Phoenix Yellow BMW E46 M3 by Kevin McCauley

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Welcome to the first post on this travelogue — I wanted a place where I could share more photos and go into more details than on Instagram. 

I didn’t pitch this trip as a story for publication (it would have been my fourth E46 article since 2016, ten years after the car went out of production) but I’d still like for there to be a record of it, especially since this may have been the most photogenic E46 trip with Daniel Sloan. Our previous adventures:

  1. Houston to Portland in BMW M3 Convertible

  2. Portland to Monterey in BMW M3 Convertible 

  3. Portland to Bend In Tesla Model S

  4. Denver to Pikes Peak in BMW F30 328i

  5. Denver to Portland via Utah in BMW M3 wagon

That brings us to number six: Denver to Portland via Montana in a Phoenix Yellow BMW M3 Coupe. Daniel was looking for another E46 M3 — this time, a coupe — to add to his stable for use as a track car. During most of the 2,000 miles on our last trip, I complained about photographing the extremely dark blue color of the wagon, and might have semi-sucessfully planted the idea into his head that he needed a “fun color.” I don’t think it gets more fun than Phoenix Yellow Metallic, a weird, sometimes greenish- gold yellow that looks absolutely radiant in the sun and mysterious in the shade. Interestingly, Daniel told me the car he was buying was gray, right up until I saw it in Denver. The misdirection made it even better that the car was Phoenix Yellow, the poster car color for the E46 M3.

I won’t go through the moment-to-moment recap of the trip, I’ll let the photos below tell the story. But the itinerary was as follows:

Saturday, July 6: Denver to Sheridan, WY – 6h driving
Sunday, July 7: Sheridan to Yellowstone National Park, WY - 5h driving
Monday, July 8: Yellowstone to Choteau, MT - 6.5h driving
Tuesday, July 9: Choteau through Glacier National Park to Kalispell, MT – 6h driving
Wednesday, July 10: Kalispell to Philipsburg, MT – 3.5h driving
Thursday, July 11: Philipsburg, MT
Friday, July 12: Philipsburg to Wallowa, OR – 8h driving
Saturday, July 13: Wallowa to Portland, OR – 5.5h driving 

After probably 10,000 miles (total) on the road with Daniel, we’ve seen and shot some incredible things. After each trip, the thing that sticks with me is the perfectly framed, edited photos that resulted. It’s not that I forget the experience, but my memory is heavily weighted toward these 20 or so technicolor moments, the perfect 20 photos, out of thousands, that defined the trip. The occasional un-charming small towns, or the miserable cloudy skies, or the rare dreary interstate don’t make it into the photo gallery, and they get forgotten, erased from the record.

The real experience, in the moment, is more messy. It’s hard to isolate segments from this 168-hour stream of overwhelming visual information. To condense it down to the essentials. Even though It’s always fun, I’m always looking for that perfect picture just around the next corner — every vista gets compared to a backlog of favorite pictures and moments and sunsets from previous drives. So even though it was never immediately apparent during the drive, I think this was the most spectacular trip of the 6 we’ve done. The best… until the next one.

Stay observations:

  • Daniel’s response to one of my extended car ramblings: ‘You know you’re a car snob when you refer to specific car as a good “example”

  • If you go back and look at the first trip, in the M3 Convertible, I actually shot a lot of landscape and natural photos! The scenery was amazing. On this trip, the scenery was even better, but I couldn’t take my eyes off this car and the charismatic Phoenix Yellow paint. “What’s it going to look like on this setting?” I asked myself, as I hopped out and turned around instinctively to line up the car in the setting.

  • According to Daniel, who drove the car much harder than me: “The handling is on another level from the convertible. It feels like 10% more grip. Where the convertible might understeer, this just keeps gripping and stays completely neutral.”

  • This color always looks relatively clean!

  • 2440 miles, 5 states