What I Learned From Life On The Road
You cannot count the miles until you feel them.” — Snowin’ on Raton, Townes Van Zandt
It’s funny: I don’t feel like we’ve been on the road full-time.
It still feels like a trip.
Just a really, really long, strange trip.
We’ve settled in to life in less than 200 square feet. Seriously. That hasn’t been the hard part at all. The hard part for me has been settling in to the dream and routine of shooting almost every day. And not getting to married to my plans.
People told me I would have to be flexible with plans, and I brushed them off. “They don’t know how good I am at planning,” I thought.
Well, they were right. I was wrong.
After our backpacking trip into the Titcomb Basin, we spent a few more days in and around Boulder, WY. We continued to explore the southern Winds, and stay plugged in at our free RV park.
Generally for every day off the grid, I need a day on, with power and internet, etc. I am out shooting and writing and creating when we’re off the grid, so you can imagine, when we plug back in, there’s a ton to do. And I don’t have anyone sending me a regular paycheck at this point. So I’m constantly hustling. I constantly have to find new ways to fund our life on the road.
14. Life on the road is way more challenging, but WAY more rewarding.
15. Comfort is overrated.
I’m working more than I ever imagined I could. But I’m also outside, hiking, playing games with Ellie, playing fetch with Islay. My quality of life is so much better than when we were in the city.
16. There are just as many hours in the day as you need.
So speaking of country life vs city life… we had the distinct privilege of joining our friends for Sublet County’s crowning jewel of summer events: The Green River Rendezvous.
See, in the fur trapping days, mountain men would literally descend on the Green River Valley in the summer to trade with their fellow trappers, indians, fur companies, etc. It was a rowdy time, as these men were prone to heavy drinking, fighting, womanizing, and other nefarious activities.
But they were important times in the history of the Rockies. This time shaped these places. And Pinedale is still wild. There are still real cowboys here. One of the longest remaining and oldest running cattle drives in the world happens right here in the Upper Green every summer.
It’s a land of cowboys, rough necks, mountain men/ women, ranchers, hunters, survivalists. The Winds are not for the weak.
So it was a real treat to experience Rendezvous again after 10 years.
A celebration of all things Wyoming. All things tough.
And we topped it off with the Rendezvous Rodeo.
The rodeo reminded me of when I lived here and worked for the local newspaper a decade ago.
It was my very first Rendezvous. I was bright eyed and bushy tailed. And a friend of mine (a Pinedale local), over drinks at the local brew pub one night, proceeded to lay out an argument on why I should sign up for the rodeo. He was pretty convincing.
“Well, yer from Texas, aren’t ya?” he said matter of factly. “Bull riders come from Utah and Texas. You should sign up to ride a bull. You’ll be fine… yer from Texas!”
I couldn’t argue with his logic. I was from Texas after all.
Thankfully, I sobered up before he could get me to the sign up sheet.
Several of the men that year broke bones, bruised muscles, and took pretty big hits to their pride.
I watched from the bleachers with my camera.
17. Just because I’m from Texas doesn’t automatically mean I can ride a bull… or even a horse, for that matter.
Rendezvous ended and the town of 2000 or so, which had swelled to nearly 10000, retracted again to its normal capacity.
It was time for us to get moving. We get restless being anywhere too long. So we hitched up and moved 2 hours north to Grand Teton National Park. Our 5th of 59 parks to visit.
Teton is possibly my favorite National Park of all time, with an asterisk. There’s a possible tie with Big Bend. It really depends on which park I happen to be in at the moment that determines which is my favorite.
I’m back in the Tetons, so it’s my favorite at the moment.
18. A good problem is to have two favorite places.
The Tetons have a magic about them. It’s in the air, and the reflections, and the clouds, and the light.
It’s impossible to explain. You just have to experience it.
It just never ceases to amaze me, this place.
19. If a place keeps calling you back in the depths of your soul, you have to listen and heed.
So I’m a tad bit obsessed with grizzly bears, and aside from Alaska, this happens to be one of the best places to see them.
I hope and wish and pray every time I go out that I’ll get a glimpse of one of these impressive creatures. Not too close though, mind you. I’m crazy but I’m not stupid. Or under any delusion that these animals want to be friends with me.
But in all these years of spending time in grizzly country, 12 at least, I’ve only seen 5 or so griz.
So that’s what made this particular morning so special.
When I can tell it’s not going to be a good “landscape” morning, I opt to drive around a few of my secret spots to see if I can get some wildlife shots.
Well, this morning, I did just that. And I got incredibly lucky.
As I was leaving one particular backroad, I came across an open hillside meadow full of midsummer wildflowers. A young grizzly was rummaging around the field, digging up roots and searching for vegetation to eat.
I sat in my truck, safe and sound, about 25 feet away from this magnificent beast. He wasn’t too concerned with me for some reason. So I experienced his presence, uninterrupted for what felt like 30-45 minutes. Who knows how long it really was.
It was truly a once in a lifetime thing.
Just me and the grizzly bear.
20. Fear of creatures is trumped by fascination.
When he finally left (it was him, not me to leave first), I decided to try to continue the streak…
Pronghorn antelope and elk through the fog of the Snake River topped off that spectacular morning. I was glowing.
But it was yet again time to move on. We had a new park to visit… we were finally heading up Glacier.
First though, we would need to pass through the world’s first National Park, Yellowstone.
I have a bit of a love/ hate relationship with Yellowstone.
Don’t get me wrong, it is an amazing place that I deeply love and cherish. Every time I visit, I have a moment of pure awe. Every time.
But if you’ve been recently in the summer months, you might know why it can also be frustrating.
With every year that passes, Yellowstone gets more and more visitors. And every year, the things that some of the visitors do is more and more strange and dangerous. I’m sure you heard a few of the profoundly dumb things people did this year that made the national news.
I don’t know what it is about this park, but it makes people do some really weird things.
And the traffic jams. Oh the traffic jams.
But I keep reminding myself that…
21. A traffic jam in Yellowstone is way better than one in the city.
And it is so quiet and peaceful here at dawn. It’s really nice that not many people chose to wake before sunrise.
I feel like I have the whole park to myself in the morning.
22. I’m thankful to be a morning person.
Well, I guess serious anglers wake up early.
And Yellowstone is one of those iconic places to fly fish, so I always enjoy getting images of people catching fish in this beautiful place.
We worked our way up to the northeast corner of Yellowstone, my favorite area of the park. The Lamar Valley, Cooke City, and the Beartooth/ Absaroka… doesn’t get much better.
We parked the trailer off the grid, outside of Cooke City, Montana and set off to explore.
I drove into the Lamar Valley most morning and evenings, and we hiked trails all along the Beartooth Highway during the day.
Islay and Ellen clearly had a blast exploring a new area. I have been coming here for years, but Ellen had never been.
23. Sharing our special places with the people we love makes those places even more special.
The Beartooth Highway is perhaps my favorite drive in the whole world. It is called “America’s most scenic highway,” and I have yet to find anything to beat it.
It snakes its way back and forth across the border, Wyoming to Montana, Montana back to Wyoming, Wyoming back to Montana. You begin to forget which state you’re in.
The Absaroka and Beartooth mountains are just stunning.
And there are such amazing little side roads to explore and trails to get out, deep into the wilderness.
We could easily spend the whole summer and fall right here.
But Glacier was calling.
See, I’ve been itching to go to Glacier National Park, and as a consequence, planning a trip every single year for the last decade. And every single year in the last decade, my trip has been canceled. For various reasons, but the fact remained; I’ve still never been to Glacier.
Nothing was stopping us this summer.
We arrived and I’m so glad we finally had the chance to visit. I wrote a blog post just on that trip, so I’ll spare you the doubling up on the same stories. If you’d like to read more about our time in Glacier, check it out here.
After Glacier, I had a private workshop down in Teton, so we made the trek back down.
It was really great. A young photographer whom I’ve known for a few years wanted to sit down with me and her assistant and basically have a no-holds-barred Q+A.
I prepared an outline that we followed much of the time, based on what I knew she wanted to learn. But ultimately, she asked every question she could think of, from the business and marketing side of things, to planning, scouting, shooting, and workflow.
We had a blast. And she and her assistant left inspired and refreshed to get out there and follow their dreams! Or at least, that’s what they said.
I felt so honored to be able to give them encouragement.
And we couldn’t do a full-day’s workshop without getting out to shoot! So we ended the perfect day with a perfect Teton sunset shoot.
24. I obviously have to make a living, but if I can make money while helping people, I have had an incredibly good day.
The next evening, I could tell the light and clouds weren’t going to do what I wanted for a landscape shoot, so I went for another wildlife drive.
Well, I decided to go back to the same place I had my grizzly experience… which by the way, almost never works – lightning almost never strikes twice. But I went anyway. And what should I find? A big, healthy black bear. About 20 feet from my truck!
He didn’t stick around too long, but it was still the end to a great day/ week.
25. Lightning sometimes does strike twice.
About a year ago I did a deal with a guy in California who wanted to start a Chinese photography workshop/ tour company. He was going to tap in to the growing market of Chinese middle class that love travel, photography, and U.S. National Parks, and I was going to lead tours through Wyoming, and more specifically, Yellowstone.
So the time had come for me to do my first tour through Yellowstone with tourists from China.
We headed back up to Yellowstone, and made our home-base Lake Hebgen near West Yellowstone.
I didn’t know what to expect.
Often times the cultural and language differences are enough to make for really difficult trips.
But as often is the case, my fears and worries were immediately diminished when I met the group for the first time.
26. Fears rarely, if ever, reflect reality.
They were excited and respectful. They listened to me, learned about the park and its wildlife, and we all had a great time.
I showed them all around Yellowstone, a place I do consider very near and dear to me.
We spent four full days together seeing the regular tourist sights, and even visiting a few of my “secret” spots.
And on the last day… the icing on the cake. A sight so rare on this big earth, that I couldn’t believe what we were witnessing it.
A crowd was forming on the side of the road near the Yellowstone River, so we pulled over. Just across the river a stark, white wolf came over a hill and dropped into view. She went down to the river for a drink.
She was beautiful.
In all the times I’ve been to Yellowstone, I’ve only seen two wolves.
Now, I know you can spot them a mile off if you sit long enough in the Hayden or Lamar Valleys. So when I say I’ve “seen” a wolf, I mean one that I was close enough to observe well with the naked eye.
This was the third. And then the fourth, and fifth, and sixth. In all, we saw four wolves, that we were told were part of the Wapiti Lake Pack.
And the ranger told of us of a rare soap opera drama that was unfolding with this particular pack.
You see, there was an old male that was the alpha. But a few weeks back, two young males had come in to the pack and run off the old male. So his female became the alpha. She seemed to enjoy having the young males around and her old alpha gone.
Well, no one had ever observed this behavior in wolves before now. When the young males would go off to hunt, the old alpha would find his way back to the pack. He had pups with the alpha female, and he wanted his visitation rights. Rangers observed that the old alpha would stick around to watch over the pups until the younger males would return. He would then leave the pack again to roam alone. And back and forth this went.
It very well may be the animal kingdom’s first observed instance of a civil divorce with custody agreement.
27. Even animals are drama queens.
We were all reeling from the unique experience. But the tour was ending.
I was so worried that the cultural differences would keep me from being able to connect with the group. And I was so wrong. I actually made friends with everyone in the group and it was tough to see them go.
28. When fear changes to friendship, our eyes are opened to the similarities between people, not just the differences.
It was great to end on such a high note, and I really enjoyed my time with the group. But I was exhausted from the four days of waking at 4AM to drive 2 hours to get to our meeting point, then leading the group until dinner, and driving the 2 hours back to the trailer to be with Ellen.
So the next few days, I crashed.
29. The best way to get a good night’s sleep is to work your butt off during the day.
Ellen and I have hit the road full-time! Help us on our mission to inspire and educate everyone on the importance of getting outside by checking out my workshops and my prints, made #ontheroad in my mobile print studio. The revenue will help propel us further and further on this great adventure. Enrich yourself and others… and feel great about it too as you’re helping to ensure our wild lands are cherished and to keep the wild spirit of the American Dream alive. Our goal is to visit all 59 National Parks in 2-4 years. LEARN MORE ABOUT WHAT WE’RE DOING HERE
Want to learn photography and enjoy a guided experience? Check out my exciting, NEW workshop dates:
TELLURIDE // LANDSCAPE + MOUNTAIN LIGHT // 2016 – SOLD OUT
TELLURIDE // LANDSCAPE + MOUNTAIN LIGHT (Trip 2) // 2016 – ONLY 2 SPOTS AVAILABLE
LOCAL + PRIVATE WORKSHOP // 2016 – AFFORDABLE RATES FOR ME TO COME TO YOU
BIG BEND // LANDSCAPE + NIGHT SKY // 2017 – MOST POPULAR! 6 SPOTS AVAILABLE
LEARN PHOTO + CAMERA BASICS // DALLAS // 2016 – 20 SPOTS!
I’m excited to announce my “The Photographic Guide to Our National Parks” series of eBooks:
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