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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art, photography, travel

andrew r. slaton // workshops

woo hoo!!  i’m excited to announce my new workshop blog!!

check it out… find the learning adventure you’ve been looking for…  and be sure to subscribe to stay up to date with what i’m offering.

i have several new classes and trips that i will be adding over the next few weeks, such as big bend, grand teton, and yellowstone national parks, and location lighting in dallas!

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all images © andrew r. slaton | photographer 2013

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art, photography, random thought, travel

wyoming | last look at soda

as always, it was very hard for me to leave wyoming.

so i took a short tour of soda lake before starting my long drive home.

i was met by what felt like some old friends.

soda lake is usually the first and last place i visit when i’m in pinedale… i guess you could say a home away from home.

to sear an image like the one above in my brain before i leave is somehow therapeutic.  looking at these photographs now, months later, makes me long to be back in the mountains.

but it also compels me to explore new landscapes… foreign territories.  unfamiliar terrain.

and then i’m reminded that i’ll have that opportunity soon….

all images © andrew r. slaton | photographer 2012

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art, photography, random thought, travel

wyoming | elk hunt

i was incredibly excited to be invited on Mike and Ellen’s elk hunt at the end of my trip to wyoming in september.

at that point, Elle had to head home, so i spent the last 10 days mostly by myself in the wild.  and of the last 3, my friends were kind enough to host me at hunting camp.

Jim also showed up.  he and Mike go way back.  and actually, he and i do too… randomly enough.

when i lived in pinedale in 2005, i tried my hand a few other jobs after quitting my job at the newspaper.

in this part of wyoming, everyone knows that able bodied folks can make a VERY good living roughnecking in the oil fields.  even i was tempted by the high pay they were offering.

one problem though…. no experience.  in steps Jim.

he runs a water well rig, which is very similar to the oil rigs out in the fields.  and Jim was looking for a bit of help.

long story short, i apprenticed with Jim for one day.  quickly realized i’m not the roughnecking type :)

but Jim was incredibly nice to this city slicker, and i will forever be grateful.  he’s a good man.

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buster found a good spot for a midday nap.

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only the essentials… whiskey, guns….. and a broom?

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unfortunately, there was still a fire ban… so we had to use camping ingenuity… thanks to Ellen, we were all warm.

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when you’re at camp with Mike and Ellen, you’re not going to go hungry, that’s for sure.  breakfast, lunch, and dinner, we ate like kings.

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we woke up very early on opening day to get the horses ready…

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it was a beautiful morning.  but opening day is a tough day to spot animals… lots of other folks out looking for them too…

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no luck.  we searched all morning only to find that we may want to look for a new spot.

so we decided to take an evening drive down from our camp to scout a new location…

along the way, Jim spotted a few grouse…. mmm.  dinner.

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tastes like chicken.  especially when smothered in bbq sauce…

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we found a great spot.  but we would need to return the next morning before dawn.

and on the way back… more grouse.

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so we went back to our spot early the next morning, before sunrise. it was the day i would have to leave wyoming.

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it turned out to be a great location… we saw several good bulls.  but one thing that i learned about hunting is that you don’t always get to shoot, even when you see what you’re looking for.

we never got the right looks, or they were never close enough.  the last thing a hunter wants is to wound an animal right before nightfall, or spoil the meat with a bad shot.

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so we explored a bit… and found a moose family.  a cow, calf, and bull popped out of the willows and we had a chance to see them on the move together.  a real treat.

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seeing the moose family was a nice way to wrap up the morning… but the sun was climbing higher, temperature rising.  not a great time for hunting.

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so i decided to say my goodbyes and get on the road.

i had a really long drive back.  but my route took me back through pinedale, and for one last stop at soda lake.

all images © andrew r. slaton | photographer 2012

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wyoming | antelope hunt

** GRAPHIC HUNTING PHOTOS… PLEASE BE ADVISED**

i felt kind of silly writing the above disclaimer… but then i thought about it, and many of the folks that frequent my site are expecting beautiful landscapes, portraits, and *living* wildlife photography.

this post incorporates all of those elements, but it also adds photojournalism.  a documentation of what the vast majority of humans throughout the span of time have done in order to survive.  with graphic detail.

Elle and i are not big hunters, but we are both meat eaters and have a great respect for the people that go out into the wild to bring meat home for their families.

rarely, in this day and age, do we city-folk ever see the animals that we eat prior to their processing and packaging at our supermarkets.  i think it’s good for all of us to experience a hunt.  it gives us the opportunity to develop respect for the animals, and a thankfulness for the bounty of food that results.  to get our hands dirty.

so here is our first real hunting experience in the sagebrush sea of sublette county, wyoming with our good friends Mike and Ellen.

elle was excited and nervous when we hopped in Ellen’s truck that morning.

Mike and Ellen had already harvested one antelope of their two for the year, so they were just ready to get the meat that they needed for the long wyoming winter.

antelope hunting is unique.  there are tens of thousands of high mountain desert acres in wyoming.

antelope roam those plains, sometimes alone, and sometimes in groups.

because of that, it is common for hunters to drive miles of dirt road until they spot a suitable animal.  so we drove.  looking….

after a while of looking… we spotted a huge, lone male.  so Mike set up for the shot.

Elle loaded the 30-06 magazines.

it was a really long shot… probably around 750 yards.  needless to say, Mike missed quite a few times.

the one that got away.

more looking….

then, finally… Mike found ‘the one’.  it was downhill from us and still a very long shot.

not a clean kill, unfortunately, but Mike eventually got the kill shot…

now it was time to gut the antelope.

just as it sounds, gutting just means to cut out the insides in the field so that the internal organs don’t turn and spoil the rest of the meat.

really sharp knives are helpful…

it can be a messy activity.

all in all, Ellie was not a huge fan of the experience.  though she understands hunting for food and respects people’s right and need to do so, she feels it’s not for her.

i, on the other hand, am fully prepared to reap the harvest of wild game… if i need to feed my family… and there are no cows or chickens nearby to ‘hunt’.  though generally prefer to shoot animals with my camera.

we live in an interesting time.  one in which most of us never see where our food comes from, and many certainly like it that way.  ignorance is bliss, right?  and so is a fresh steak.

but still, there is something comforting about knowing exactly where your food came from.  and wearing the earth and blood to prove it.

i look forward to taking part in many more excursions with my frontier friends… to see how it once was, and still can be.

all images © andrew r. slaton | photographer 2012

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wyoming | our time

thanks to our clients and friends at the goosewing ranch, and our new ranch HAND | photographic business venture, Elle and i spent nearly a month in wyoming this fall.

we headed up a week before we needed to be at the ranch so we could see our friends in pinedale and backpack a few days in the winds.

well, our plans didn’t exactly work out the way we wanted…. but it was some much needed time rejuvenating ourselves in the mountains….

me getting geared up for a day hike…

it’s weird for me to have photos of myself on here now that Elle is shooting too.

she makes fun of me for my new “fanny pack” camera bag, so i decided to pose for her to prove how useful it would be… especially when backpacking!

i do look pretty nerdy though.

the fall colors were just starting to ignite at soda lake and on the trail to little soda.

my girl exploring the light…

the beautiful wind river range in the distance.

we sat for a while and watched a family of bald eagles at little soda.  i haven’t seen these guys there since 2005.  it was a welcomed sight.

i used to sit and watch them for hours when i lived in pinedale.  it brought back good memories to see these majestic creatures again.

we soon decided to do a three day trek into the winds from the new fork trailhead, up new fork lakes to new fork canyon, then up through palmer canyon and back out doubletop.

not a tremendous feat.  but for some lowlander city dwellers, an accomplishment for having just driven 22 hours up only one day before.

Elle had been feeling awful that day, but we decided to embark in spite of her worsening condition.  and i had already (somehow after only being in hiking country for a little more than 24 hours) developed a few killer blisters on my heels.  no problem, i thought.  i can ignore them.

we got about two miles in.  both of us reeling from carrying too much gear, nursing illness and blisters, and decided to go ahead and set up camp.

Elle tried to sleep off her fever.  and i re-taped my blisters and went for a little day hike.

beautiful view from our tent of new fork canyon.

we were both ready for bed.  “hopefully, we’ll feel better tomorrow.”

the sun rose with purpose.  we did not, however.

we decided to just relax and enjoy our surroundings.  we noticed a slew of woodpeckers all around us.  what a treat.

after a while, we went for a short day hike…

this bald allowed us to get in really close…

new fork canyon is beautiful, and we were really looking forward to getting up into the high country…. but it wasn’t meant to be on this trip.

so we eventually hiked out to the car and headed over to little half moon lake, one of my favorite car camping spots near pinedale.

dusk at little half moon.

stars over little half moon.  that night, the moon never rose… it was VERY dark.

the next day we hiked around, explored a little, made our way to half moon lake, and enjoyed the scenery.

we watched more birds of prey… an osprey this time.

our time around pinedale was coming to an end.  but our wyoming adventure wasn’t even half way done.

we had the privilege to go with our friends on an antelope hunt before we were needed up at the goosewing.

we didn’t hunt, but i documented the whole experience… antelope hunt images coming soon!

all images © andrew r. slaton | photographer 2012

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wyoming | summer in the parks

we ended our time at the goosewing and had a week or so to enjoy the scenery of wyoming.

i spend at least 3 or 4 weeks in wyoming every year, but i just never seem to tire of the land, people, and animals.

Elle’s never been to yellowstone, so we spent a few days up there, a few in the tetons, and then a few near pinedale, at soda lake and green river lakes.

it was too short, as always… but we had an appalachian adventure to get to.  so we’ll have to spend extra time up there in september :)

 

all images © andrew r. slaton | photographer 2012

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