photography, random thought, travel

#FindYourPark | BIG BEND

Now we’re talking! Big Bend is my home park… So I’ve got lots of good insight for you here.

I’ve been making the 9 hour drive to this remote National Park for the last 15 years (over 20 times!), and I can’t think of a better place to go. What is it that keeps me going back?? Well, if you like to explore, find solitude, star gaze, hike… you’re in luck. And if you like 4×4 roads, there are over 150 miles of dirt roads (more than any other park in the continental U.S.!) for you to drive and explore.

driving the chisos basin road in big bend national park, texas



During a few weeks in March/ April every year, the desert comes alive with color. Texas wildflowers dot the vast, wide open spaces of Big Bend, and the otherwise drably colored desert flora become neon green with life.




agave americana (century plant) in bloom in juniper canyon, big bend national park, texas


But it’s not only Spring that is magnificent in Big Bend… Winter is actually one of the favorite times of year for seasoned BBNP adventurers. And it’s really simple… the Chihuahuan desert stays quite mild in temp throughout the whole season. A great place for snow birds to escape the cold get a little r+r.

sunset over the chihuahuan desert, big bend national park, texas


You know, come to think of it, I’ve been in every season… and they each have their benefits. Fall is nice and mild. Summer’s pretty hot, but you get to see some of the most spectacular lighting storms you’ve ver witnessed.

Let’s just get something out of the way here early… Yes, there are snakes. Well, and lots of other creepy crawlies. It’s a desert, so you can expect many of your phobias to run wild… unless you’re like me and you love these fascinating creatures. But let me calm your fears… Though they are there, it is pretty rare that you come across any snakes, tarantulas, locusts, centipedes, etc., unless of course, you’re looking for them. :)



But you might not be expecting some of the other amazing fauna of Big Bend. There are javalina, jackrabbits, black bear, bobcat, mountain lion, deer, and so much more.

black-tailed jackrabbit in big bend national park, texas

giant millipede, big bend national park, texas

Getting There

So why is Big Bend the Nation’s least visited National Park?? Well, one of it’s greatest strengths is also a weakness in some folks’ eyes. It is REMOTE. The closest airport is in Midland, Texas (MAF), which is about 4 hour drive. You can also fly into El Paso (ELP), but you’re looking at closer to a 5 hour drive. From Dallas, it’s a 9 hour drive and from Austin, it’s 7.

But it’s exactly this very remote aspect that makes it so special in many ways. Ever visited Yosemite or Yellowstone in the summer? Then you’ll know how difficult it can be to hear yourself think! Even in the backcountry, it is common to pass dozens of hikers and backpackers in some of the more popular parks. I know, I know… it doesn’t keep me from going either. But the benefit of Big Bend is that you can have a once in a lifetime personal experience with nature in one of our Nation’s (and the world’s, for that matter) most spectacular natural treasures. If you’ve ever been, you know what I mean… don’t fool yourself by leaving this park off your bucket list because it’s a pain to get to.

Trust me on this.

Where to Stay

National Park tip #2: If you recall my NP tip #1 from Mount Rainier, you’ll be thrown a bit for a loop at BBNP. Big Bend is in Texas, which has very little public land left, so the park is surrounded mostly by private ranches. And it is such a huge piece of land (over 800,000 acres!), that you really do want to stay in the park, to get the most out of your time.

So where to stay??

Well, you may be drawn to the designated campsites, like Rio Grande Village, Cottonwood, or Chisos Basin, but in my opinion, the “backcountry” drive up sites are the best. You’ll pay around $14 per night for the maintained campgrounds and likely have loud neighbors. If you instead go to the office at Panther Junction and ask for a backcountry drive up site, you’ll pay $12 for a full week! No facilities, but plenty of nature and solitude… now that’s my kind of experience.


If you need the amenities of home, well you too are in luck! The Chisos Mountain Lodge offers several rooms and private cabins, nestled in the beautiful Chisos Basin, at reasonable nightly rates. And with a restaurant just a short walk away, it’s quite a comfortable stay. We prefer to get away and rough it, but to each their own…

camping in the desert on the dodson trail, big bend national park, texas

What To Do

Hiking is one of the most common and popular activities at Big Bend. There are hundreds of miles of trails that span every ecosystem of the area including the surprisingly robust Chihuahuan Desert, the high mountain desert plateau of the Chisos Mountains, and the flood plains of the mighty Rio Grande river. Be advised though, depending upon what time of year you visit, it is recommended that you bring 1 gallon of water per person per day you will be out.




Bird Watching is another popular activity in and around the park. Big Bend’s location, near the 100th meridian in the middle of the continent and along a migration route, is ideal for bird diversity throughout the year. It is also the year round home to some fascinating species, like the Peregrine Falcon, Mexican Jay, Colima Warbler, and Roadrunner.



With 42 backcountry campsites in the Chisos mountains accessible only by foot, Big Bend boasts some pretty epic backpacking. However, due to rocky conditions, high temps, very dry air, and the extreme remoteness of the backcountry, novice backpackers are discouraged from testing their limits here. Each year, park rangers respond to emergencies when hikers are not prepared for the heat and extreme conditions of the desert. Please be sure to check in with the backcountry permit office before embarking on your journey… permits are required and will give you a heads up on any dangers you might encounter.




Big Bend is known as one of the most outstanding places in North America for star gazing.  In fact, it has the least light pollution of any other National Park unit in the lower 48 (according to NPS). This is the best of surprises to visitors when they see the Milky Way in its full glory for perhaps the first time in their life. Realistically one can see approximately 2000 stars on a clear night here compared to perhaps a few hundred in a medium sized city.

So if you’re in to astrophotography like me, this is the place for you! You might even want to consider joining me for my annual Big Bend night and landscape workshop.

Starrs over the Chisos




There really is nothing like Big Bend. You have to see and experience it to understand. And as you’ll surely come across, those who have been, never stop making their pilgrimages back to that magical swath of desert. Some more frequently than others, but it is said that “you never go to Big Bend just once in your lifetime.”

What to See

I’m guessing if you’ve read this far, you’re in. “So,” you might be asking, “what are the main sights to see?” Well, there are several very famous spots, but just know that there are also many hidden gems in Big Bend that may not be on any of your maps or guidebooks. That’s okay, you can definitely find some them… you just have to be a little resourceful and very respectful of these precious few secret places. People are usually happy to share their favorite off-map trails.

Since this is simply an introduction, and by no means a comprehensive guide, I will only mention a few of my favorite spots. I’ll leave the rest up to you… And if you’re really interested in a guided experience, and you’d like to see all of my favorite secret spots, come with me in March!

The Dodson Trail gives you unparalleled views of the Chihuahuan Desert and Mexico to the South.

panoramic view of the chihuahuan desert from the dodson trail, big bend national park, texas

The River Road is a most exciting (but very dangerous) 4×4 road that gives you access to the most remote campsites in the park, but also some of my favorite views. Be warned that this is an incredibly remote, oft void of any human activity for days, 4 wheel drive high clearance vehicle road. Many people have gotten themselves stuck out here and had to hike for days to get out without ever seeing another soul… Not naming any names here…

tent camping at dusk on the rio grande and the chisos mountains in big bend national park, texas

rio grande and the chisos mountains in big bend national park, texas

The view from Emory Peak is quite spectacular. It’s the tallest point in the park at just over 7,800 feet.


The area around Panther Junction provides amazing views for sunset and sunrise. You can look back into the desert to the North or watch the light dance on the Chisos to the South. Either way, you won’t be disappointed. Dusk and dawn out here is well worth losing sleep, I promise.

colorful dawn over the chihuahuan desert in big bend national park, texas

Santa Elena Canyon is one of the most famous sights in the park. Ansel Adams even photographed this… it is a must see.

sunrise on santa elena canyon and rio grande in big bend national park, texas


There is so much information on this lesser-known park, I could seriously spend months writing about this special place, revealing so many of its secrets. But here’s where I leave you… with a simple call to action. Go. See. Explore for yourself, and experience why this is one of America’s greatest treasures!

— andrew

P.S. with all of these #findyourpark posts of late (and many more upcoming), I wanted to let you know about a wonderful organization that works hard to help preserve our Nation’s most magical places, The National Park Foundation. In honor of the NPS Centennial this year, I have put together a special collection of (some never before seen) my favorite National Park prints. Please check it out and know that 5% of all the profits from the sale of this artwork will be donated to the Foundation. We will be visiting almost all of the 59 National Parks this year, so check back often as we will be updating the page regularly. Thank you so much for your support!

Want to learn photography and enjoy a guided experience? Check out my exciting, NEW workshop dates:
Big Bend NP // Night/ Landscape // 2016
Isle of Skye // S C O T L A N D // 2016
Highlands // S C O T L A N D // 2016
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:
Thanks for visiting!
all images and content © ARS Media, LLC 2016
photography, random thought, travel

Winter in Big Bend

We just returned from our annual birthday trip for Ellen to Big Bend. And this one was extra special.

It’s always a special experience to spend time in nature at one of our national treasures. But Ellen and I are making some big changes in our businesses and life together, and we needed time to “recharge our batteries.”

See, we get our energy from alone time. I guess that’s the classic definition of introverts. But we’re not exactly classic introverts. We love people and social situations… we just don’t exactly get our energy from others.

The last few months have been busy with preparing to go on the road full time… getting rid of a lot of “stuff”, cold calling potential brand sponsors and partners, working overtime to increase our social presence, etc. It’s been so fun, but also utterly exhausting. It’s been work, I guess you could say. :)

So we headed out to the desert for 10 days or so. To of course get a little work done, but mostly to relax and recharge.














And as a bonus, a few great friends showed up to spend a little QT with us…








I finally started a series I’ve been wanting to do for a while now. Dave is the first installation of a portrait series I’m doing of National Park volunteers. Now, whenever we visit a park, I aim to meet and photograph one of our many wonderful volunteers. They give their time to help provide information to visitors and to keep the parks clean. Thanks Dave for your service, and for being my first!

ARS_BBNP_20151116_1914   ARS_BBNP_20151116_1920   ARS_BBNP_20151116_1930





















It feels like we never have enough time in Big Bend. But it is our “home” park, so when we hit the road full time, I know we will make it a base of sorts. Big Bend is a really special place. If you’ve never been, you need to add it to your park bucket list. Better yet, come with us in March and expand your photographic skills.

Hope to see you all out in the desert soon!

— andrew

Join me on an amazing adventure… check out my exciting, NEW workshop dates:
Big Bend NP // Night/ Landscape // 2016
Isle of Skye // S C O T L A N D // 2016
Highlands // S C O T L A N D // 2016
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:
Thanks for visiting!
all images and content © ARS Media, LLC 2015
art, landscape, photography, random thought, travel, workshop, writing

big bend // revisited… part 2

Once again, I woke up before the sun…



And witnessed a spectacular sunrise over the Chihuahuan Desert, with both Texas and Mexico in view.





Everything in the desert seems to want to hurt you.  It’s an amazingly inhospitable place.

Maybe that’s why I love it.  It continually screams at me to leave, and I, unrepentantly scream back at it, “no!”








Mariscal mine settlement.  When you visit this small village (seriously) in the middle of nowhere… it really does make you think about how beautifully tough our forefathers must have been.

This place is so difficult to get to and remote, that few people even nowadays visit.  What with our air conditioned cars and four wheel drive.








So I finnally exited the River Road and hit pavement.  It’s funny the feeling you get when you’ve only felt super bumpy, unimproved dirt tracks underneath you for two days – driving 20 miles an hour, because if you drove any faster you’d surely bottom out or receive a flat for your insolence and disrespect to the road – finally being lifted up on to the smooth ride of a highway, and potential speed of 65.  I love it.  Kinda feels like you just won the lottery.  Undeserved and glorious.  Thankful you made it off that God-forsaken death trap of a road.  The reverse can also be true.  I LOVE THE RIVER ROAD!!


So I spent the next several hours scouting a few different locations.  The first being my evening “epic” Big Bend landscape, that attempts to sum up the place.  Tough indeed, if you’ve ever been to BBNP.

The second shot was a night, road photograph I’ve had in my mind on this trip.  I got one in RMNP, but really wanted to try one here.  I had several nice spots from which to choose.

The third and fourth theoretically could be the same spot.  One shot would be in the very early morning hours… a star picture.  And the other was a morning “epic” Big Bend landscape.













I finished my scouting with several hours to spare, so I decided to hike to one of my favorite little spots in the park, Cattail Falls.


I always go when water is scarce, so I’ve never come away with the waterfall picture I want, but it’s a great little hike and the only place I’ve ever seen a bear in the park.


By the time I got back, it was late afternoon… time to begin my work for the evening.












I ended up with a few shots I like, so I called it a night… at least get a few hours of sleep.  Back up at 4 a.m. to shoot the stars and catch what would be a gorgeous sunrise.










That morning was a sunrise-to-end-all-sunrises.  At this point, it was as good a time as any to quit while I felt ahead.

And besides, I was into my third week of being on the road…. living out of my Subaru, eating lots of peanut butter and honey, sleeping alone (an activity I used to love – that I am now quite weary of) on the hard ground.

It was time to go home.  Hard to leave, but definitely time.




So I composed my last shots of the desert and mountains of Big Bend National Park, and bid it farewell… this time thankfully, it won’t be so long between visits…

If you are interested in learning more about photography, taking your art to a new level, and/ or Big Bend photography tours and workshops, please check out my new workshop dates:

Big Bend Photographic Tour/ Workshops 2013-2014

More Destination Photo Tours/ Workshops 2013-2014

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

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:

Thanks for visiting!

all images + content © andrew r. slaton | photographer 2013

art, photography, travel, writing

wyoming | the bounty of autumn

it’s been said before that fall in the mountains is a magical time.

the leaves are changing, the temperature drops, and the animals are energized with hormones for mating season.

moose populations in wyoming are declining because of the growing wolf numbers, and i’ve been seeing less and less of them every year.  so i was really excited to see a huge bull with two cows at our campground one morning when we woke up.  the state has recently opened a limited hunting season for wolves.  there are at least two lawsuits in the courts currently, brought on by environmentalist groups to challenge the state’s new policy.

because of the close proximity of fires, the sunrises were often very hazy but quite colorful.

i spent many days out on the river road looking for bugling bull elk.  and i found plenty.

the bears were apparently out in full force.  fall is the time when grizzlies and back bear are fattening up for the long winter ahead.

and grizzlies, in particular, are emboldened by the fact that hunters are out in full force and leaving their kills’ guts in the field.  it can be a dangerous time.

but i didn’t even see one bear the entire month i was there… just lots of signs…

mornings on the river road were marked by bugling elk.  they lead their harems up from the snake river to the high plains to strut at the foot of the tetons.

the evenings brought about the reverse.  the bulls, some with new females won from rivals, made their way back to the safety of the tall grass, trees, and water along the snake.

bugling is one of my favorite sounds in the natural world.  and spending the quiet times of my mornings and evenings listening to the haunting tune of elk replenished my soul.

autumn is a time of beginning and end.  the leaves fall from their branches, but not before they take on colors rarely seen so bright in nature.

bitter cold wind blows in from the north.  but not without it’s gifts.  the cold air brings with it the desperately needed moisture to alleviate the wildfires with the first snowfall.

i long for this time of year.  i already miss it.  and i’m already planning for next year…

all images © andrew r. slaton | photographer 2012

art, photography, travel

wyoming | the many faces of the tetons

my working title for this post originally was “l’obsession des tetons”…

you know, referencing western wyoming’s french explorer roots.

then, thanks to google translate, i quickly realized it was essential that i think of new title.

needless to say, i don’t speak french.

so last year, i had a photographic obsession with squaretop in the wind river range. this fall, i can’t believe i’m saying this, but i didn’t even visit green river lakes (where squaretop lives).

yes, it’s sad. but i was just too busy. i had a two hunts to attend, a ranch to shoot, lots of hot wings to eat in jackson, many pints to consume at deadman’s bar in signal mountain lodge, etc. so since most of my (very important) activities were near teton park, I decided to spend some much needed quality time with the beloved teton mountain range.

enter my newest photographic obsession.

it started the day we finished at the goosewing ranch shoot.

we had a burger and beer at deadman’s bar, then sat on the edge of jackson lake to watch a phenomenal sunset over the tetons.

i then ventured out on the river road, looking for elk.  and the interesting photographic opportunities expanded.  in the next blog post, i’ll show more of the elk photographs.

the clouds and smoke provided most of the drama for me.  but it is the landscape itself that always draws me in and keeps me coming back for more.

come on… you knew i had to.

a portrait with my subject….

more bull elk in the shadow of the mountain.

where the antelope roam…

i hiked to emma matilda lake for the first time.

and then, of course, oxbow bend.  there is good reason that this is one of the most photographed places in the world.  especially in the fall.

that night the stars were out in full force.  i could see the milky way stretching high above the tetons.

i’ve been going to this part of wyoming at least annually since 2001, which i know in the bigger scheme of things is not a long time.

but for me, it’s over a third of my lifetime, spending some of my favorite moments up there.

and honestly, i can’t wait to find out what gorgeous mountains will capture my obsession next year.

God bless wyoming.

all images © andrew r. slaton | photographer 2012