photography, travel

ON THE ROAD: AN UPDATE

Oklahoma in the spring is awash with color. New shoots on budding branches green with rebirth. Skies of complex and ever-changing hues of blue, then textured white, then glowing pink and orange. Reflective water, mirroring the hue shifts of the sky. The daily ebb and flow of wildflowers, constantly changing like the tides, indiscriminate, showcasing every color of the visible (and invisible) spectrum. And the deep, earthen red-orange dirt exposed directly adjacent to the vibrant grasses and sedges exploding with renewed life. It’s fragrant out here.

It’s mid-May as I sit to write. Things are beginning to open back up, but the second wave of a global pandemic still looms as an inevitable possibility. So much has changed. 

The holidays in Dallas were what they were. A smattering of good and bad. Great to see friends and family, communing with those we love dearly and don’t see nearly often enough. But as I’ve mentioned, the city wears both of us down. And this year in particular, we experienced the loss of another beloved friend. I’ve mentioned the untimely passing of my dearest friend in Wyoming in September, and then on new years eve, the Colonel, Bubba passed away quietly under the bed in our guest room at Ellens folks. Ellen called him a dear friend for 16 years. He and I mostly tolerated each other, with brief moments of affection throughout my dozen or so years with Ellen. It was hard on her though. The end of an era. We buried him in a secluded corner of their backyard with a lovely candle lit service, and said our tearful goodbyes to him, and our family.

We spent the winter soaking up the sun, sand, and salt water in Florida again solidifying, potentially, our new dream, or next step. More on that later.

We filled our days with further exploration into new territory, as well as deeper into old favorites. I started a section hike of the Florida Trail, with a harrowing two-day 32 mile hike through knee deep south Florida swamp (the full story on my blog). I also was inspired to create a new Big Cypress workshop for 2021, as well as a few other brand new locations. 

As March rolled closer to April, the coronavirus, and fear from a lack of knowledge and highly sensationalized news, took over. All of our state and national park reservations were canceled out from under us, and jobs were postponed or canceled outright. The world, to most everyone, looked a bit more uncertain. But for us, not too much more uncertain. Let’s be honest here… Ellen and my life for the last four years has been a dress-rehearsal for many catastrophic scenarios. And here we are; lean, mean, and ready for Broadway.

As the cliche goes, when God closes a door, He opens a window. Well, when we had no where to go, no where to park Gertie, we jumped through the proverbial window and booked it for my brother’s in Chattanooga, TN, just before the world went on total lockdown.

We figured we would be there for a week or two. Then the Easter night tornado tore through the neighborhood just 100 yards from where our ultra-lite trailer rested precariously in their driveway. It was a terrifying experience for us, but we were the lucky ones. Many in Chattanooga and surrounding areas lost their lives and their homes that night. We just lost power for a week.

My brother, who is a pastor helped coordinate community service in the weeks proceeding. I helped with my chainsaw to cut neighbors trees and remove debris. No social distancing was possible in the wake of tragedy on top of tragedy. But the little we did was dwarfed by the response of the kind people of the whole area. They poured in to help, and truly made quick work of the devastation. Certainly not all was magically fixed, but the show of love and acts of kindness helped to heal a severely broken community.

We ended up spending the end of march, all of April, and the first few days of May parked at my brothers in Chattanooga. It was a special time of connection with family that we don’t get to see as often. Family dinners, games every night, hikes, basketball in the driveway with the kids. We will cherish that time, in spite of the pandemic quarantine and tornado destruction.

We even had the chance to sneak away a few times to the nearby Appalachian mountains of North Carolina to get a little car camping in. Replete with campfires, smores, hiking, swimming in freezing creeks, pipe tobacco smoke, Tolkien essays, etc. All the good stuff.

I received word that a few of my clients wanted to proceed with shoots that were intended for early March, now the first week of May. One in north Louisiana/ Arkansas, and the other in West Texas. I was overjoyed that the jobs didn’t disappear. We were really counting on that income. So we planned our route, and said more bittersweet goodbyes to the ones who embraced us so fully and graciously for over six weeks. We would miss them dearly. But as is often the case for us, it was time to move on.

With the volatile economy, I haven’t been sure what to expect, since much of my business depends on tourism. However, my workshops have started filling up again, and I am hopeful that we will pull through. 

So here we are now, in the ever warming days of high desert New Mexico, boon docking on a reservoir near Raton. The winds and dramatic spring storms kick up the dust and bring to the nose notes of cattle, and hard western living. We have planned and replanned and rerouted our next steps so many times, even I’m getting little confused as to what’s next. But its looking like we will explore and backpack the nooks and crannies of our beloved Wyoming next, and then up into Montana to revisit Glacier National Park. 

As we approach our four year anniversary of life on the road in early June, we look back with immense gratitude. Ellen and I both laugh and roll our eyes whenever either of us starts to look at the pictures and videos in our phones. It is a multi hour time-warp. We get completely lost for hours remembering the amazing adventures we’ve had. All on a broken wing and a heartfelt prayer.

Our next step is foggy, but seems to be coming in to focus more and more daily. It may be time for us to plant some roots, somewhere. Where exactly, were still deciding. But we’ve both come to the conclusion that we need a proper home base. The prevailing leader of the pack is Florida, at this point. Low taxes, warmth, beaches, gorgeous land, wonderful and interesting creatures to find, and it already feels a bit like home. My first choice was and is always Wyoming. But the winters are too long and brutal. We would prefer to continue our tradition of spending the milder months up there, while soaking the sun and warmth elsewhere the rest of the year. Nothing to prove here.

The last we left things, we were seriously considering buying the shuttle business in Wyoming after running it last season. That fell through and both Ellen and I are actually relieved. We realized we weren’t ready to share our time with a new all-consuming business. We have our own businesses that still need much tender loving care.

But what we learned from that experience, is that we are ready for a change. And this time, perhaps, a more grounded change. We don’t plan to leave the road until 2021. We want to finish our (potential) last year on the road strong.

— Andrew


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national parks, photography, travel

PARK PEEK // GREAT BASIN

Late in 2017, we ventured west from Wyoming to see new territory. New to us, at least. First up, as we crossed the Utah/ Nevada state line was Great Basin National Park. A relatively small, and unknown Park, Great Basin is a gorgeously diverse gem.

The visitor is likely first captivated by 13,000+ ft. Wheeler Peak. It is impressive from every angle.

But this is not just a mountain park. It boasts sage brush foothills, a bristle cone pine forest, and caves.

We boondock camped in the adjacent BLM land, but the park itself has several camping options for both tent campers and RVers.

The bristlecone pine forest is beautiful and ancient. These trees are gnarly, but the oldest living organisms on the planet.

We visited in October, so the temps were quite cold at higher elevations.

Great Basin is a really nice place to get a glimpse into the diversity of landscapes, plants, and animals in the Great Basin region. It’s a quiet park, remote and little visited, but it’s not because it doesn’t warrant interest.

— Andrew

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photography, travel, workshop

LOCATION FEATURE // THE WINDS

In 2005, I packed everything I owned into a Nissan Xterra and headed north, leaving Dallas, my home off and on for almost 25 years. Sure, I lived in Austin for 5, and a short stint in Telluride, CO, but Dallas was HOME, all caps. It was February 13.
The next day, Valentines Day, I arrived in the sleepy, frozen town of Pinedale, WY. The reason; a job as photojournalist for the local weekly newspaper. I had no idea, however, that it would utterly change my life in so many ways. But all of that is for a later post…
My first week, it reached -20ºF every day. Needless to say, not much going on outside, except for the occasional parade of moose clopping through town. Part of my job, aside from community journalism, was to get outside and engage in outdoor activities. I would shoot it, construct a story, and then write about it. This forced us to do something other than sit in the office, the bar, or in front of the TV. Well, needless to say, summer couldn’t come soon enough for us at the Pinedale Roundup.
Cue the Hallelujah Chorus. Summer did not disappoint. Though I did not work for the paper throughout that season, I remained in Pinedale. The draw, you might ask?
The Winds, of course.
Huh?
Sorry, the Wind River Range.
I developed an immediate infatuation. Maybe I should say obsession. Yeah, that seems more appropriate.
Every year since 2005, I returned at least once, sometimes twice or even three times. And over the last four years since we hit the road full time, I have spent more time in the Winds than I have anywhere else. By far. It’s now my home. Even if we only spend the summer and fall there… It’s only because we aren’t quite hearty enough to weather the brutal winter in our trailer.
The area encompasses 2.25 million acres, so although I have extensively explored it over the years, I feel as though I havn’t even begun to scratch the surface. I could easily spend the rest of my life walking those trails, and still never see it all, I suspect. None-the-less, I have made it my life’s work to become one of the few living experts on these mountains. I’m surely on my way.
So, what’s going to happen here is that I plan to open the faucet of images I have made over the joyful years of stepping into this incredible wilderness. During this time of quarantine and daily bad news, I simply hope to bring you (and myself) a little beauty and some memories of better times. I hope it helps, even if for a brief moment. Below are tons of images, and some stories I wanted to share as well.
Maybe just to remind us all of the good that there is out there. And perhaps it will help you hear the wind through the trees, the mountain songbirds, the mighty rushing creeks and the deafening quiet of the wide open wilderness. Maybe you’ll catch a whiff of the lodgepole pines and clean air. Listen for the cry of the eagle, the chirp of the marmot. These good things still exist.
And when all of this ends, I’d love for you to consider joining me out there. Amidst the unending beauty. Check out my newest workshop of backpacking and photography in the Winds.
  
Ellen and I developed an affinity for skinny dipping in these secluded, high mountain lakes during the summer of 2016, when we first hit the road. I dare any of you to tell me of anything more naturally exhilarating than jumping head-first into a 50ºF lake, with towering granite surrounding your fragile frame.
We’ve learned another simple joy these past few years with our wonderful pups; they love nothing more than bounding through open mountain meadows. Witness the pure ecstasy!
    
 
The night sky still elicits awe.
Let me be the first to tell you that hiking these mountains is not always romantic. It’s difficult as hell. Mosquito swarms, submerged trails, freezing temps, grizzlies and other critters of which to be mindful, high elevation and the problems to the human system that can arise from that. These mountains are for real, and quite unforgiving. But the beauty and solitude one can experience are worth every ache and pain.
  
Islay and me in Titcomb Basin…
Only one year later… and one more pup added to the pack, Skye.
More skinny dipping. Actually, this was our first time! Islay loved it from the get go. After a brief, breath-stealing swim, Ellen, Islay, and I sat on the shore in the sun eating cherries as the sun warmed and dried our frozen skin.
A mother moose and her littles (there’s another just out of frame). This is one of my favorite pastimes in this mountain range; it’s full of wildlife. I can spend hours just quietly watching wild animals live their best lives.

The fishing’s damn good too. Islay hasn’t figured out how to help just yet, but she’ll get there, no doubt. She tries.

Every year we spend up here, I find new places that leave my jaw on the ground. So many spots that I want to return to in the “good light” to capture something truly amazing. That’s the plan, Lord willing.

I always felt like this tree somehow belonged on the grounds near Hogwarts.

I’ve spent far too many nights (and it’s not even that many) tent camping in the winter in the Winds. Very little sleep occurs though. I highly recommend NOT doing this.

I truly hope you’ve had a nice little break from the “real world” going on all around us. If you ever need a break, I encourage you to come back and daydream for a bit of this lovely place of immense beauty. It’s what I do.

— Andrew
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national parks, photography, travel

QUARANTINED IN APPALACHIA

With the Covid-19 global pandemic in full strength, our nomad dream has halted abruptly, just like everyone’s normal lives. The state of Florida closed down all of the state parks where we had reservations, so with no where to stay, we headed up to Chattanooga, TN to hole up with my brother and his family. There are much worse places to be.
It’s a beautiful area in Appalachia. Admittedly, we’re not getting out much. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is only 2 hours away, but is of course closed. So as we’re quarantined, I’m reminiscing about our spring trip to the Smokies back in 2018. Here are a few images from that month or two we explored the area.
  
  
  
Even though we can’t get out too much, I will still try to share the beauty of our wonderful world with all of you. I hope you all are safe and healthy… when we emerge on the other side of this, we will undoubtedly appreciate our wonderful parks and our freedom with fresh eyes and wearied hearts.
— Andrew

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travel, workshop

PARK PEEK // OLYMPIC

We had the pleasure of visiting several new National Parks over the last several years that I never got around to sharing in the ol’ blogosphere. Shame on me! And one in particular stood out to me as one of the most photogenic and interesting; Olympic National Park in Washington.

Here’s a quick peek at what I found, and why I’ll be planning our return as soon as possible.

Only a few hours from the Seattle area, the first thing you’ll notice when you visit or research Olympic is how large it really is. It has no road that intersects, so in order to see its several distinct ecosystems, you’ll do a decent bit of driving around the entire Olympic Peninsula.

It encompasses nearly a million acres. Within that, you have mountains, rainforests, and dramatic coastlines.

We happened to be there just in time for the Rhododendron bloom, which is pretty spectacular.

One of my favorite things, dirt roads, are abundant around the park. Lots of places “off-the-beaten-path” to explore. And much of the Park runs adjacent to Olympic National Forest, so there are tons of recreation opportunities, including camping.

And every so often, if the conditions are favorable, you’ll get smacked in the face with a view of Mount Rainier, over 100 miles away.

The old-growth forests are spectacular and transport the visitor to another time. One can imagine the terrible and beautiful creatures that must have roamed this lush area.

The flora is the most impressive visual at this park, even though it does contain a surprising amount of animal inhabitants. Surprising only because of the dense populations of people surrounding this vast wilderness. But truly, the plant life reigns supreme here.

And then, there are the Olympics. Majestic and rugged mountains. Not particularly high, the tallest in the range is Mount Olympus, clocking in at just shy of 8,000 feet. However, the eastern slope of the range rises up from sea level at Puget Sound, so the mountains are still quite steep and impressive looking.

On the western slope, the Hoh Rainforest dominates. It is the wettest place in the lower 48, in fact. And because of this, it is the United State’s best glimpse into the temperate rainforest ecosystem.

Unfortunately, I only had a moment during the middle of the last day on the coastline for this trip, so more to come on our next visit. I didn’t get to explore that section as much as I’d like, nor did I come away with any jaw-dropping images, however, it was clear that this section would be just as fruitful and inspiring photographically and from a sight seeing perspective, as the other areas of the park.

The big takeaway for me was that this park demands time. A lot of it, if you really want to get a feel for the incredibly varied looks it will give you. It was my favorite of Washington State, and that’s saying a lot if you’ve ever been to Mount Rainier or North Cascades, both spectacular parks in their own right. Olympic National Park is a truly special place.

— Andrew
 

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The Photographic Guide to Our National Parks” series of eBooks:
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Grand Teton National Park
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Andrew Slaton // Canvas + Metal Prints
STOCK
Tandem Stills + Motion // Andrew Slaton
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