random thought, travel

The First 10,000 Miles

What I Learned From Life On The Road (Part 1)

Livin’ on the road, my friend, was gonna keep you free and clean. Now you wear your skin like iron, and your breath’s as hard as kerosene.” — Pancho and Lefty, Townes Van Zandt

When we set off in June, we didn’t really know what to expect… the stories, the landscapes, the people… the many, varied obstacles.

10,000 miles in, here we are; unscathed… relatively speaking, a little dustier, skinnier. Perhaps wiser, happier? Hindsight will be the judge.

The following are the first 10k miles in pictures and short stories, and what I’ve learned so far from life on the road…

The famous West Texas sunrise

We left Texas in early June, 2016 with great anticipation for the adventure before us. Besides our family and friends, the only thing left in the Lone Star State was a 75 square foot storage unit half full of our stuff. What I learned somewhere along the way in the first 10,000 is that 75 square feet is way too much.

Lesson 1. The less stuff you have, the less stuff begins to mean to you.

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Our new Australian Shepherd pup, Islay (named after our favorite, peaty whisky soaked island in Scotland) was along for the ride. Living in our 200 square foot trailer with us and Colonel Bubba the cat. She is growing and learning and playing with every new mile.

She has slowly become the perfect dog for which we could’ve ever asked… you’ll see later.

2. Finding the right dog for you is nearly just as good as finding the right person.

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We finally hit the mountains in record (slow) time. I’m not used to pulling a 6,000 lb. trailer and having to go 60mph. But we made it to Great Sand Dunes National Park regardless. Our first National Park of the 2-3 year 59 Park tour! We’ve been to GSDNP many times, so it felt like an old familiar friend welcoming us to this new way of life.

3. Old familiar friends are always a welcomed sight for the weary traveler.

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Our first new Park, and 2nd overall was Mesa Verde. And so far, it has been the biggest shocker. We expected nothing from this relatively small National Park, and it really surprised us with its beauty and mystery.

4. No amount of familiarity can ever take the place of a new experience.

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We didn’t have long to stay though. It was on to National Parks 3 and 4, Canyonlands and Arches in Utah.

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These two Parks are pretty spectacular, and basically right across the highway from each other. Pretty awe-inspiring and convenient.

5. Inspiration rarely knows convenience. But when it does…. oh boy, hold on.

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We started to get our “hiking legs” under us on this portion of the trip. I’m really glad we did too, because by the end of the summer we would’ve logged more than 300 trail miles from Texas all the way to Montana’s border with Canada.

The heat of canyon country sped the whole process along. 3-4 mile days quickly became 8-12 mile days as we worked our way up to the cooler mountain temps. All the while, we were dropping unnecessary pounds.

6. Hiking every day is the best way to stay in the best shape of your life. No pricey gym membership needed.

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When we finally arrived at our “home away from home”, the Wind River Range welcomed us with open arms. Pinedale is the town in which I lived in 2005, and the place got in my blood. I’ve visited at least once or twice every year since I moved back to Texas, some years making the 20+ hour drive 4 times.

It would now be our home base for the Summer and Fall. I had workshops slated to happen in the surrounding areas, and we both really wanted to get out deep into the Winds, so it was the perfect “base camp”.

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Soda Lake was our first “off the grid” experience. If you’re unfamiliar with what that means, it’s basically just car camping, but with four walls, a bed, a toilet, a refrigerator, and a limited supply of running water. Not too shabby really.

Ellen and I have been primitive camping all of our lives, so this was an absolute luxury.

And to look out our window and see a scene that I frequently had to travel very long distances to see… well, that proved to be priceless.

7. A spectacular view each morning has an uncanny ability to lift the spirits.

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Hanging around Soda the first week was a great reintroduction to the mountain life. Every morning I would get up before dawn to watch the sun rise over the Winds. Every evening, we would enjoy our “dinner with a view”, play a game of dominoes or cards outside, and then I would go chase the sun’s last rays. Life slowed down to the basics.

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During the day, our hikes grew longer and more challenging, taking us deeper into the Winds.

We headed out to one of our favorite places in the world, the Upper Green River Valley. The area is unique as it is the confluence of two ranges within the Rockies, the Gros Ventre and the Winds. grizzlies, wolves, elk, moose, eagles, antelope, and so much more call this dramatic landscape home. And we did too.

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We had the time to explore new trails and scenery.

Islay was becoming quite the mountain dog, learning to cross dangerously swift rivers and creeks, negotiating boulders, swimming in high, clear mountain lakes with her crazy parents.

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8. Nothing can prepare you for both the terror and delight of the breath takingly cold experience of submerging yourself in a mountain lake. 

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I spent my mornings scouring the area for wildlife. And I had some luck.

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From the Green River Lakes trailhead, we found many of our favorite hikes. And our favorite trail snack.

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9. When in season, cherries pack the best punch of flavor and immediate energy on the trail.

We learned quickly how long our water (fresh, grey, and black) tanks and batteries could last… 4-5 days. There’s also no cell reception for 40 miles at our spot in the Upper Green. So it was time to “plug in” and reconnect with the world. We had reached our limits.

We found a little no-frills RV park near Pinedale that was part of a network we could join. For $150 a year, we joined the club, named this as our “home park” and could now stay for free, as much as we like, for the rest of the year. No electric, water, sewer bills… just free “on the grid” camping any time we needed it. All the other hundreds of RV parks across the US and Canada in this network are just $10-15 per night for us too. Best $150 we’ve spent so far.

So we plugged in and found new roads and trails to explore in the southern reaches of the Winds.

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Since we could now stay plugged in for free, we knew it was a good time to do an extended backpacking trip into the Winds. 4 nights, 5 days of carrying everything needed on your back, sleeping underneath a blanket of stars, and being a part of the landscape.

So we left Gertie (the trailer) plugged in at our new “home park”, put a ton of cat food out for Colonel Bubba, and hit the trail, just in time to celebrate Independence Day. Fitting, I thought.

10. There is no better (or often more painful) way to see and experience the beauty and majesty of wilderness than on foot.

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We hit Elkhart Park early and headed straight in for Seneca Lake, smack dab in the middle of the Winds. I’ve been wanting to do this trip for a decade… the infamous Titcomb Basin.

It was a moderate 8-9 miles in to Seneca the first day. Islay did amazingly well. This was her first backpacking trip, and though she’s too young to carry anything yet, she ran at least 2-3 miles for every one we did. She got to be off-leash the whole time, and she never strayed too far or got into too much trouble, and she got to sleep with us in the tent. Now this was a pretty big deal considering she’s slept in her crate every night of her life up to that point.

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We made it to Seneca and set up camp. It was a beautiful spot.

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But we did realize one important thing from that first day of hiking… our backpacks and shoes were way out-dated. It was going to be a painful trip.

11. The right gear is essential to a comfortable mountain backpacking experience.

I’ve known this truth deep down all my life, but I’d never done multiple extended trips so close together to really understand how important the right gear can be. We’ve also just never had the extra cash to throw at the problem. There’s always something else more pressing or important, and I don’t know if you’ve been in an REI lately, but outdoor gear is expensive!

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No amount of pain at this point though was going to stop us or dampen our spirits.

12. Pain is mostly mental.

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The Titcomb Basin has been called one of the most beautiful and striking places in the world. I couldn’t disagree at all. We did’t get the best weather for photography, but it was spectacular none-the-less.

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Our bond grew incredibly deep on this adventure with Islay. She would wake early with me and “assist” me as I shot sunrise. During the day, she would explore right beside us.

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It was perhaps here, in the Titcomb Basin, that Islay Blue became a real part of our family.

I’ve never been “that dog person”. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always loved dogs, but I never treated them like a member of the family. Well… here I am… one of “them”. Islay has become an indispensable part of our family. And all it took was a few thousand miles sitting on the center console of the truck, her quirky personality, hilarious morning antics, a few near-death experiences, and a wilderness excursion for the ages.

Ask Ellen, I’ve become a total softy when it comes to that dog. She freaking gets away with murder when she’s with me.

13. Dog people have it all figured out. :)

… to be continued…

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— Andrew


Ellen and I have hit the road full-time! We are on a mission to inspire and educate everyone on the importance of getting outside. Check 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:
 
See what’s NEW + download your free Rocky Mountain National Park sample when it releases!
 
If you are interested in purchasing a “print from the road”, please check my prints for sale, or email me directly for a custom request:
 
Andrew R. Slaton | photographer // prints
 
If you are interested in licensing any of the images/ video from this post, please visit my stock agency:
 
Tandem Stills + Motion // Andrew R. Slaton
Image Brief // Andrew R. Slaton
  
For assignment work requests, please email me: andrew@andrewslatonphoto.com
 
Thanks for visiting AndrewSlatonBlog.com
 
all images and content © ARS Media, LLC 2016
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random thought, wildlife

Delisting Grizzlies | Ensuring A Species’ Survival

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) is intended to lead to recovery and delisting, so long as adequate plans exist to assure recovery continues.

The ESA requires that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service prepare a recovery plan for species that are listed as threatened or endangered. For many years now, all of the recovery criteria established for Yellowstone grizzlies have been met or exceeded.”

— The National Wildlife Federation

Let me first state a fact: I am not a hunter. Nor do I have any desire to ever hunt bears, for any reason. I love bears more than any other creature on this planet… second only to dogs and (possibly) humans. I deeply care about their survival. And as a consequence, I have thought much about and researched extensively the best paths to ensuring their survival in the lower 48.

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But let me be clear; I am not an environmentalist. I am a conservationist. The former, I believe, is responsible for gross mismanagement of our wild places for far too long and leads to a mentality of “playing God” in places like Yellowstone.

Even though I personally do not hunt, I respect those that do. Especially and specifically when they responsibly use the whole animal for meat, clothing, etc. But there are a few other purposes that hunting serves, that many of us city-folk and academic types forget; non-human species are safer when they maintain a healthy fear of humans, and we humans, as the apex of all apex predators, are tasked with managing and keeping animal populations healthy. And sometimes that includes hunting for culling purposes.

According to Nick Gevock, an opinion columnist for High Country News, “It is true that such management might well include hunting… look at the remarkable track record of species that are currently hunted: Nearly every species of wildlife that hunters value has thrived in our country, and with sound scientific management, grizzlies can do the same, and even grow in both numbers and range. It’s difficult for many non-hunters to understand, but it’s a solution that works in Alaska with brown bears and can work in the Lower 48 as well.” He goes on to cite a study conducted by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, “In fact, a study of four brown bear populations in Alaska — two populations in national parks that were not hunted and two adjoining populations that are — found that the hunted bears had larger litter sizes and better cub survival.”

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I find trophy hunting wasteful. On a personal level, I do not understand the appeal. But let’s look at the facts:

1. Hunters are typically some of the best conservationists on the planet.The US Fish & Wildlife Services states “The sale of hunting licenses, tags, and stamps is the primary source of funding for most state wildlife conservation efforts.” It goes on to say, “By respecting seasons and limits, purchasing all required licenses, and paying federal excise taxes on hunting equipment and ammunition, individual hunters make a big contribution towards ensuring the future of many species of wildlife and habitat for the future. By paying the Federal excise tax on hunting equipment, hunters are contributing hundreds of millions of dollars for conservation programs that benefit many wildlife species, both hunted and non- hunted. Each year, nearly $200 million in hunters’ federal excise taxes are distributed to State agencies to support wildlife management programs, the purchase of lands open to hunters, and hunter education and safety classes.” But more than just their tax dollars speaking loudly, hunters are also members of “local hunting clubs and national conservation organizations work to protect the future of wildlife by setting aside thousands of acres of habitat and speaking up for conservation in our national and state capitals.”

2. Hunting is very big business. According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife “Hunting is much more than a traditional American pastime. It creates more than 700,000 jobs nationwide. New studies now show that annual spending by America’s 14 million hunters amounts to $22.1 billion. By comparison, and if hypothetically ranked as a ‘corporation,’ that revenue figure would put hunting in thirty-fifth place on the Fortune 500 list of America’s largest businesses, right between J.C. Penney and United Parcel Service.” This pumps much needed resources directly into local economies and important conservation/ research efforts. So whether you agree with hunting or not, it is a vitally important part of the conservation economy.

3. Humans are an important species within the world ecosystems. Environmentalism paints the picture that humans are the main problem with the environment, which in some respects may hold some truth. However, the movement is largely based on the mediocracy principle, essentially stating that humans are mediocre and no more special, exceptional, or superior to any other species. The movement has many well-meaning individuals who truly care about the natural world, but unfortunately this whole premise is flawed. Clearly humans are the dominant species, and I could argue are quite exceptional, special, and superior. This does not mean we are the “center of the universe” or the only species that matters, or that we should destroy the planet or leave other species decimated. It is not an either/ or. Therein lies the biggest fallacy. To many environmentalists, the choice is either to be on the side that is hell bent on destruction, or to consider ourselves no different from a dung beetle and therefore refuse logic and common sense policies. There is middle ground. It is called stewardship and conservation.

4. The Greater Yellowstone ecosystem includes a massive swath of land (nearly 6 million acres) that is much more than just Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. Ranchers and others’ livelihoods depend on the bear’s fear of human conflict. They no longer fear people. A study in the 1990’s by Jon Swenson, Department of Biology and Nature Conservation at The Agricultural University of Norway (to read the full study, click here) observes in general that bears are more likely to avoid humans in areas where they are hunted than where they are fully protected. What makes things complicated is the availability of food when humans are present. Food storage and proper disposal is still a major issue in bear areas, regardless of hunting. A major rebuttal to the argument that hunting creates more fear in bears of humans is that there is no scientific evidence to support this claim. However, there is quite a lot of observational evidence dating all the way back to the 16th century in Eurasia to support the assertion, and so far, none to suggest that bears would somehow fear humans less or the same from if hunted. The responsibility is on us to be realistic, finding a way to coexist with less human-bear conflict which in the long run will help protect the species.

5. After delisting, grizzly bears will remain protected in the 3 National Parks they call home, and under special regulations in the surrounding states’ National Forests and designated Wilderness Areas. Hunting seasons and quotas will be limited and determined by biologists and conservationists projections, updated yearly to reflect proper wildlife management, just as they do with elk, deer, moose, black bear, big horn sheep, etc.

Anyone who spends much time in grizzly country, especially hunters, know that an unfortunately large segment of these bears have grown to associate humans with easy food. When an elk hunter fires his rifle in grizzly country, he/ she knows that it is only a matter of time before a bear will show up. This is potentially the exact opposite of what we might have after a few generations of bears that experience being the prey of (now) predator humans. They will try to get as far away from gunshots as possible. See the aforementioned Swenson Study.

This very simple fact could save dozens of bears lives every year that otherwise would get into conflicts with humans because they lack any fear of us. And we all know that the bear loses when it gets into human conflict. Protocol is usually to relocate the “problem” bear first, or to dispatch (kill) it. The fact is, the government killed 31 grizzly bears in 2015, for various reasons, mostly due to human-bear conflict. Could these numbers be lower (or at least the same) with the introduction of a very limited-tag trophy hunt scenario?

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According to Chris Servheen, Grizzly Bear Recovery Coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), “the bears have met every criteria set in a recovery plan to have them removed from the Endangered Species List, or ‘delisted.'” If delisted, grizzlies would no longer be protected under the stricter Endangered Species Act (ESA) regulations, and would be managed by the six surrounding National Forests and to the states of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. The populations inside Grand Teton, Yellowstone, and Glacier National Parks would still be highly protected and managed by the National Park Service. If you would like to read the entire ESA, it is available as a pdf here.

Defenders of Wildlife, an organization who “is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities,” states, “Today, there are an estimated 1,800 grizzly bears remaining in five populations in the lower 48 states. Most of these bears are located in the Northern Continental Divide Population (including Glacier National Park) and the Yellowstone Population.” That includes the conservative estimate of 700+ in the Greater Yellowstone area.

Many conservation biologists argue against delisting, stating that it isn’t enough to protect grizzly bears if their habitat isn’t protected as well. Servheen counters that “the Service looks at more than raw numbers for delisting, including the present or threatened destruction or curtailment of bear habitat or range; overuse of habitat for commercial, recreational, scientific or educational purposes; disease or predation; the lack or inadequacy of regulations; and other natural or manmade factors affecting the population’s continued existence.”

“The key to success is adaptive management,” said Servheen. “As conditions and the needs of the bears change over time, management can change to address those needs,” he said. “I’m optimistic that the bears will be around for hundreds of years. All three state plans are good,” Servheen said, “and don’t have the political problems that have afflicted the ESA delisting plan for wolves.”

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So what does all of this mean for these magnificent bears? Well, it means great news; grizzly bears in the lower 48 have made a remarkable recovery, thanks to the Endangered Species Act. It is a “huge conservation success story“, But it doesn’t mean they are out of the proverbial “woods.”

The states of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming have already stepped up to create comprehensive plans to manage the grizzly bear populations and to protect them from a return to the ‘threatened’ status. What this all comes down to is ensuring that bears have adequate and sufficient habitat within which to roam and avoid dangerous human contact.

I simply want to start a dialogue here that is somewhere in between the two extremes. Anyone can say what they want about me, but my main concern is the great bear’s long term survival, and to me, that means less human-bear conflict.

From where I stand, I see two main groups that are on polar opposite sides, unwilling to meet somewhere in the middle to find a balance between what is right and good for bears, and what is reasonable and fair for humans. It doesn’t have to be that way. It is possible to ensure the survival (and thriving) of this magnificent creature, all the while, managing it’s territory and population to ensure the safety and livelihood of the people who live within the massive boundaries of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

I readily admit that I do not have all the answers. Neither do you or anyone else, but I invite you to share your thoughts and feelings here, in hopes that we can come to understand each other and work toward a common goal: protecting a true symbol of the wild, and maintaining a healthy grizzly bear population, for generations to come.

— Andrew


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:
 
See what’s NEW
 
If you are interested in purchasing a “print from the road”, please check my prints for sale, or email me directly for a custom request:
 
Andrew R. Slaton | photographer // prints
 
If you are interested in licensing any of the images/ video from this post, please visit my stock agency:
 
Tandem Stills + Motion // Andrew R. Slaton
Image Brief // Andrew R. Slaton
  
For assignment work requests, please email me: andrew@andrewslatonphoto.com
 
Thanks for visiting AndrewSlatonBlog.com!
 
all images and content © ARS Media, LLC 2016
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photography, travel

#findyourpark | A QUICK INTRO TO GLACIER

One of America’s most spectacular parks is without a doubt, Glacier. Now, you may have heard me say that I have been making plans to visit this park every year for nearly 10 years, and every year the plans fall through. Well… it finally happened. And it was worth the wait.

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This post will not be my typical #FindYourPark post, full of info, locations, tips, etc. Since it was my first visit, I had to stumble around a bit, explore, and figure things out for myself. When I have the chance to return, I will be on a mission: to gather all of the most relevant information for all of you to have an epic experience in Glacier National Park!

So for now, please enjoy my thoughts, reflections, and images from my long awaited first visit to Glacier….

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I always do a decent bit of research before I head out to any new park, so Glacier was no exception. So there were a few “must sees” and “must dos” that I knew about, and of course at the top of the list was Going-To-The-Sun-Road.

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It was the first thing we did when we got to the park. Spectacular.

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The next morning, I decided to try my luck at Lake McDonald, another very famous area for landscape shooters.

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After a beautiful sunrise, we decided to check out one of the park’s most popular short hikes, Hidden Lake. It is the shortest hike to get up into the high country and experience the vibrant blue mountain lakes. It’s also a great place to see the park’s most quirky residents up close and personal… mountain goats.

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Unfortunately it was the wrong time of day to get the shot I wanted, but I’m sure it won’t be the last time I hike to Hidden Lake.

On a particularly cloudy day, I decided to take advantage of the soft, even light, and do some creek and waterfall shots. McDonald Creek was the perfect candidate.

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Rolling steadily through hemlock forests, eventually cascading over water-worn rocks, McDonald was never visually disappointing.

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And of course it was back to Lake McDonald to see how afternoon/ evening light would paint this landscape.

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I took a few mornings to explore the far West and Northwest of the park. Definitely needed more time up at Bowman and Kintla.

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Up and over Going-to-the-sun-road a few more times…

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Then, but not soon enough, it was on to the East side of the park.

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St. Mary’s Lake, Two Medicine, and of course, Many Glacier.

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Many Glacier provided the much desired cloud/ peak drama I was really wanting to capture. All of Glacier has this potential, but on my short visit, Many Glacier was the sweet spot.

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So after an inaugural trip like this, I certainly have favorite spots, locations that I know I want to revisit… now with the much needed knowledge that comes from experience. But there were also so many places that I just did’t have time to see/ check out.

It is a vast wilderness. With so many hidden visual treasures lurking around every bend in the road, trail, river.

It’s now a forgone conclusion that I will be back… I hope sooner rather than later.

— Andrew


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:
 
See what’s NEW
 
If you are interested in purchasing a “print from the road”, please check my prints for sale, or email me directly for a custom request:
 
Andrew R. Slaton | photographer // prints
 
If you are interested in licensing any of the images/ video from this post, please visit my stock agency:
 
Tandem Stills + Motion // Andrew R. Slaton
Image Brief // Andrew R. Slaton
  
For assignment work requests, please email me: andrew@andrewslatonphoto.com
 
Thanks for visiting AndrewSlatonBlog.com!
 
all images and content © ARS Media, LLC 2016
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education, photography, travel

#findyourpark | ROCKY MOUNTAIN

Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado is the quintessential Summer mountain destination. With cool temps in the 40’s to upper 70’s, it’s a nice getaway from the sweltering heat of the lowlands. It is incredibly beautiful in any season, but Summer offers the most to see and do since the elevations can reach in to the 14k’s. And what better time to visit this iconic park, than the Summer of 2016, the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.

I admit that I visited this park a little later in life. My family used to go camping in Colorado every Summer, but for some reason, we stayed mostly in the south/ southwest part of the state, in the San Juan mountains. I did not first visit Rocky Mountain National Park until 2013. But I’ve made up for lost time and visited many times in the last several years. It is a truly spectacular park with much to see and do.

There is so much to see and do, in fact, that this post is in no way comprehensive. It is simply a list of some of my favorites, and many of the “musts”.

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When To Go

As I’ve stated, Summer is definitely the most popular time of year, and for good reason; good weather (just watch out for afternoon thunderstorms!), abundant wildlife, easy access, etc. But Fall is spectacular with colorful foliage, no mosquitos, and energetic wildlife, frantically preparing for the harsh Winter to come. It’s moodier in the Fall. The weather is unpredictable and makes for more interesting photos.

Winter is quite nice in its own way as well, but very cold, and many of the roads are closed. The road to Bear Lake is open though. Winter transforms any mountain destination into a peaceful, quiet scene, and RMNP is no exception. Plus the crowds are virtually non-existent.

How To Get There

RMNP is one of the most easily accessed National Parks, as it is a short drive from Denver International Airport. Flights into DEN are relatively cheap, and so are rental cars. So whether you drive or fly, it doesn’t have to break the bank to get there.

From Denver, head north along I-25 until reaching Loveland. Take 34 to Estes Park, which is right outside the park. There are other routes to take from Denver, but I have found this to be the quickest, least trafficked.

Driving Trail Ridge Road at night, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

Be prepared for many cars, trucks, and RV’s on the road into Estes Park, and RMNP, especially in Summer. If you’ve been to Yellowstone or Yosemite, reference these memories. Just take your time and relax. Enjoy the scenery, even if traffic jams aren’t your thing :) Chances are, if you keep your eyes peeled, even with all the people and automobiles, you’ll get to see wildlife wherever you are.

Where To Stay

If camping isn’t your thing, there are so many options in and around the wonderful little town of Estes Park. From cheap motels, to swanky hotels with all the amenities, there is no shortage of places to stay within 15 minutes of RMNP. However, even with an abundance of options, the wise traveler will book as early as possible to ensure their desired accommodations. This area receives over 3.5 million visitors every year, so plan ahead.

If you’re a camper, like me, you can of course stay at any one of the developed campgrounds within the park, though they fill very quickly, especially in the Summer. There are even several NPS maintained campgrounds just outside RMNP, that serve as popular alternative access points to the park. For NPS camping info, go here.

To download a full, detailed park map of Rocky Mountain National Park, click here or the image below:

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As you can see in the map, the park is surrounded by National Forest. These can provide great, free (or low cost) camping as well, but keep in mind, it will be primitive. I’ve car camped several times in undeveloped Arapaho (west) and Roosevelt (east) National Forest sites, and really enjoyed the solitude and cheap living. Usually, the park can be accessed within a 20 minute drive from many of these sites. They are first come, first served though, and some roads may be too rough for low clearance vehicles and large trailers/ RVs.

What To Do

I feel silly writing about this, because it would seem obvious to some. But Rocky Mountain National Park really is one of those parks with so much to see and do, it may help to have a few things highlighted for the first-timers.

Driving

There is so much to see just from the car window, so a good bit of time can be spent driving. From Many Parks Curve and all of Trail Ridge Road to Old Fall River Road and Moraine Park, many beautiful scenes can be seen right from the passenger seat.

alluvial fan, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

Driving Trail Ridge Road, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

Trail Ridge Road (TRR) is one of the great, paved alpine roads through the Rockies. Drivers can wind up from Deer Ridge Junction to top out at over 12,000 feet elevation. Keep in mind that Trail Ridge Road closes in mid-October, due to the high elevations. There are many stops along the way to get out and experience, including (but not limited to): Many Parks Curve, Lava Cliffs, Alpine Ridge Trail, Medicine Bow Curve, etc. The Alpine Visitor Center is your best spot for info, restrooms, gifts, and refreshments. It sits atop near the highest point in the road (12183 ft) and boasts phenomenal views. TRR is a must drive for anyone visiting RMNP. Just be sure to hydrate, as it is common to experience symptoms of altitude sickness at these elevations.

Driving Trail Ridge Road, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

Old Fall River Road is a one-way alternate route to the top of TRR. Starting about a mile past the Alluvial Fan, cars can switchback their way through forests past gorgeous flowing streams, up steep switchbacks to get a whole different view of the subalpine and alpine ecosystems. Eventually arriving up at the Alpine Visitor Center, at the top of Trail Ridge Road. Keep in mind that this road is only open from July 4 through September. Be sure to take it slow, and bring plenty of water!

silhouetted cyclists on trail ridge road, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

Wildlife Viewing 

This is one of the best parks in the U.S., except possibly Yellowstone, to view wildlife. Rocky Mountain elk, moose, deer, black bear, coyote, eagles, hawks, fox, pika, big horn sheep, and more can all be seen in one day here.

Cow moose with baby Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

bull elk in velvet in Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

Slowly driving the main roads is one great way to see wildlife. Begin early and stay late are the mottos of successful wildlife watchers. Dawn and dusk are the best times to see animals, just about anywhere. It can be a gamble to see anything during the heat of the day. Animals are typically resting in shaded areas hidden by the dense forests and rocky outcroppings, making spotting them nearly impossible.

Bull Elk resting in high alpine tundra of Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

Bighorn sheep crossing the road in Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

For very specific tips on where to find certain wildlife, and how to photograph them, see my new eBook, The Photographic Guide to Rocky Mountain National Park.

Bighorn sheep crossing the road in Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

Cow moose in the Colorado River, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

american robin, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

Two Mule deer bucks spar on the side of the road during the rut in rocky mountain national park.

Rocky Mountain Bull Elk, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

Hiking

In 2013 massive flooding occurred in the town of Estes Park and parts of the eastern side of RMNP. Please check with a ranger station for up to date trail conditions before embarking on any hikes.

hikers, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

RMNP has  hundreds of miles of scenic trails throughout the park, ranging from very easy, to very difficult. Depending upon your skill level there really is something for everyone. Be sure always to hydrate more than you think you need to, and try to avoid late afternoon hiking in the Summer, as lightning is a very real danger.

A front rolls in over Long's Peak in spectacular color.

Long's peak from Bear Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

The Bear Lake trailhead offers several stunning, but heavily trafficked hikes. Due to its high volume of visitors, there are shuttles available to avoid the potential parking nightmare.

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The best (and most popular) from the Bear Lake trailhead is, of course, Dream Lake. Download the map above! This is a fairly easy hike and very heavily used, but for good reason. Starting at the Bear Lake trailhead, it is only a few miles to stunning alpine views of Hallett and other peaks. The trail passes Nymph Lake, then up to incredible Dream Lake, and if you keep going, the next reward is Emerald Lake. All three are beautiful and worth seeing and photographing in their own rights. You may not beat the crowds with this hike, but it is certainly a “must see & do”.

hikers at dream lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

Sunrise at Dream Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

waterfall near emerad laek, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

There are over 300 miles of trails to hike in RMNP. And all of them have merit. Consult the book recommended above for more great hikes, specific to what you’re looking to see/ achieve.

Backpacking

There are so many great backpacking opportunities within the boundaries of Rocky Mountain National Park, well, and many more in the immediately surrounding areas for that matter. If you plan to backpack in RMNP, you will need a few things specific to the park: First, stop at the Wilderness Office for a permit and current wilderness information. For more info, go HERE. You will also need a bear proof food container. I recommend this one. Next, you will need a good map. The one provided above is great for basics, but if you choose to venture out in to the backcountry, you will definitely want this map.

Timber Creek, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

sunrise at Odessa Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

Creek flowing out of Odessa Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

Fern Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

This is clearly a Rocky Mountain NP specific, (very) short list. If this is your first time backpacking, I recommend reading up on what gear and clothing you will need generally, and how to prepare for several nights in the backcountry. Any time you step in to the wilderness, life becomes very serious, and all about survival. That statement is not meant to scare anyone away from enjoying such an experience, it is simply to highlight the fact that trekking into the wild, with none of the comforts/ securities of modern life can take many people by surprise. Search and rescue missions have increased exponentially in recent years, often due to the unpreparedness of people. Be aware! And enjoy responsibly.

night at Odessa Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

If you are looking for a beautiful, quick overnighter, Timber Lake, and Odessa Lake are my favorites. Both are under 8 miles one way and offer beautiful views, and a wonderful backcountry experience. The Timber Lake trailhead is on the east side of the park, just 10 miles north of Grand Lake. Odessa Lake can be accessed either from the Bear Lake or Fern Lake trailheads.

Fishing

Sport fishing is allowed in the park, and all that is required is a valid Colorado fishing license. There are many idyllic streams, lakes, and rivers within the park to break out the fly rod or spinner reel, where one can experience peace and solitude. But be aware of any regulations and or conservation efforts in place before packing up and heading out. All current regulations and information can be found HERE.

creek in forest, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

Fly fishing Dream Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

Dream Lake outlet waterfall in Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

creek near dream lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

timber creek, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

Photography

This park is one of my favorite for all of its photographic opportunities. Regarding landscape, wildlife, stars, and general nature photography, it is one of the best.

Stars over dream lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

columbine, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

A front rolls in at dawn over Long's Peak in spectacular color.

There are of course the tourist spots, where you’ll be elbowing other people to get some of the classic postcard shots, but then there are the off the beaten path spots. I am now putting major time and effort into providing you with all of my favorite secrets within our National Parks, and I’m excited to announce Rocky Mountain NP as my first eBook! You can look forward to maps, locations, photo tips, and much more in this soon-to-be-released eBook. Pre-order it HERE to get a discount.

smooth rose, Rosa blanda, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

Stars over Long's Peak and Bear lake in Rocky Mountain National Park.

I hope you have found this information useful. Even more than that though, I hope this encourages you to get out and experience one of our national natural treasures, Rocky Mountain National Park! As always, for the most up to date, comprehensive park information, please visit the official NPS website for RMNP.

— Andrew


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 3 SPOTS AVAILABLE
LOCAL + PRIVATE WORKSHOP// 2016 – AFFORDABLE RATES FOR ME TO COME TO YOU
BIG BEND // LANDSCAPE + NIGHT SKY // 2017 – MOST POPULAR! 7 SPOTS AVAILABLE
 
I’m excited to announce my “A Photographic Guide To Our National Parks” Ebooks:
 
See what’s NEW
 
If you are interested in purchasing a “print from the road”, please check my prints for sale, or email me directly for a custom request:
 
Andrew R. Slaton | photographer // prints
 
If you are interested in licensing any of the images/ video from this post, please visit my stock agency:
 
Tandem Stills + Motion // Andrew R. Slaton
Image Brief // Andrew R. Slaton
  
For assignment work requests, please email me: andrew@andrewslatonphoto.com
 
Thanks for visiting AndrewSlatonBlog.com!
 
all images and content © ARS Media, LLC 2016
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photography, travel

Adjusting To The Tiny Lifestyle

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Over the course of the last year, we have paired down everything we own to a small storage unit and whatever we can fit in our 200 sq. ft. travel trailer. It was a difficult process. But a very freeing, therapeutic one as well.

I will admit, the first cull didn’t get rid of nearly enough. It wasn’t until we actually got the trailer and our lease was ending in a months time that the real work began. Garage sale after good will run after craigslist after giving stuff away to family and friends, and here we are.

We’ve been full-time nomads for only a week now, so check back in a few months and I’m sure my sentiments will contain more marrow, but so far, we love this new tiny lifestyle.

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Now, let me be clear, I think the term “tiny” is simply a trend. And actually quite inaccurate. Because once you downsize all of the clutter and the “stuff”, your life becomes anything but small. I feel like we’ve super-sized our lives. Our backyard has expanded to as far as we can drive, we are outside hiking every day, seeing landscapes most of us have reserved only for the bucket list. It is not a problem free lifestyle, but it is definitely the lifestyle for us.

Even if you can’t pack it all in and hit the road for good, its a great exercise to simply go through a closet at a time, hold your stuff in your hand and ask yourself whether this thing brings you joy, fulfillment, or if you have looked at it or used it in the last year. If your answer is “no” to 2 out of 3 of those questions, then sell it, donate it, or throw it away. Cherish the memory you have attached to it, honor it, and then let it go. A friend of mine read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo recently and relayed this concept. It is so simple, and yet so freeing when put in to practice.

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Letting go is one of the most natural, yet difficult truths of life for us humans. We have to let our loved ones go whether we deal with it properly or not. It is unavoidable. Maybe thats why some of us (I’m a true packrat at heart) have such a hard time letting things go. We feel like we have a little bit more control over those memories if we can just hold on.

Another realization I’ve had just in the first week; I am going to have to work much harder to maintain the relationships I hold dear. I have begun to make a list of friends and family that I deeply desire with whom to uphold regular contact. I’m not a phone person, so this will not be easy. But contrary to popular belief, we did not choose this lifestyle because it is easy. We chose it because it is hard, and it’s dirty, and it is soul-nourishment rewarding to us.

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So here we are… location independent Americans, learning to live with less, but living for much more. Promising not to become the “old hermits” of the woods, but in fact to be more bold and intentional in our relationships. Cheers to all the miles, adventure, sunsets, sunrises, and friends we hope to meet along the way.

— andrew


Ellen and I have hit the road full-time! Help support our journey 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. We will be visiting all 59 National Parks over the course of the next 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
GRAND TETON // LANDSCAPE + WILDLIFE + NIGHT SKY // 2016 – 8 SPOTS AVAILABLE
LOCAL + PRIVATE WORKSHOP// 2016 – AFFORDABLE RATES FOR ME TO COME TO YOU
BIG BEND // LANDSCAPE + NIGHT SKY // 2017 – MOST POPULAR! 8 SPOTS AVAILABLE
 
If you are interested in licensing any of the images/ video from this post, please visit my stock agency:
 
Tandem Stills + Motion // Andrew R. Slaton
Image Brief // Andrew R. Slaton
 
If you are interested in purchasing prints from this post, please check my prints for sale, or email me directly for a custom request:
 
Andrew R. Slaton | photographer // prints
 
For assignment work requests, please email me: andrew@andrewslatonphoto.com
 
Thanks for visiting AndrewSlatonBlog.com!
 
all images and content © ARS Media, LLC 2016
 
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