photography, travel, writing

Exploring my Backyard

“I wasn’t lost, I just didn’t know where I was for a few weeks.” – Jim Bridger


A lot of places feel like my “backyard” at this point. But none more so than this massive and idyllic parcel of the Rocky Mountains (any more detail than that, and I shall have to kill you) that we return to every year. 

There’s a well-known valley in the area that I’ve been exploring for nearly 20 years now. Much like the surrounding mountain terrain, it would take a lifetime to really get to know it. “I’ve got the rest of mine,” I think to myself, “so what the hell.”

All of the dirt roads and where they go, when they’re passable, where the wildlife hide, and the fish too. What’s just over this ridge or that forest. The CDT zig zags and criss crosses the divide through here. I’m going to have to hike it all someday. For now, I tackle sections.

I have made my life’s goal to learn and know these mountains intimately. So each year, I focus on a few different sections. Some you can drive, others, only walk. Ellen had to leave town for a long weekend, so I took the opportunity to take the dogs and go explore.

It’s still too early to get very high up hiking… late season snow has the high country buried still. So we loaded up the new (to me) truck and headed deep into the wild.

On the way out of our current home (where we are parked for a few weeks), the pastures give way to massive hills, which yield to snow capped peaks.

Exploring one of my new favorite lakes to fish, I found a very old cabin. Probably a cow camp from decades past.

Sometimes, an image presents itself in black and white. The hills surrounding my fishing hole.

The locals. Seen everywhere around here. Until hunting season, and then they become elusive, as if to know.

One of my favorite dirt roads of all time. This old route connects three mountain ranges and two wonderful mountain towns. But it is very rough, remote, and impassable until right about now. Sometimes even later.

This pass is a historic route used by native peoples, as well as early trappers and mountain men. It was treacherous for all who traversed it, as it is remote, high elevation, full of grizzlies and wolves, and the weather is quite unpredictable.

I watched this raptor for what seemed like hours. Turned out to just be 10 minutes. At first I thought it was a falcon, but once I zoomed in, I realized it was a beautiful northern harrier.

On a hike to a potential fishing hole, I startled this old girl. A cow moose peaking over the willows at what was most certainly the first human she likely encountered this year.

But for the wildlife, it is a haven of relatively pristine wild land. Used by humans for hunting, fishing, recreation, grazing, and forestry, the amount of land seems to support the needs of all.

Up at the top. From this pass, one can see at least four mountain ranges. The views are just remarkable.

Another distinct range as viewed from the top.

If you look closely, you might see a very distinct looking and familiar mountain range off in the distance. Almost looks like clouds!

It is quite awe inspiring to be able to view at least four different mountain ranges from the top of the pass, and at various spots along the way. Even more than this, it is one of only two places in the whole of North America where three of the continent’s seven major watersheds interlock. One drop of water here can end up either in the Gulf of Mexico, the Pacific, or the Gulf of California.

Yet another range.

And the same from a different spot further down.

The beauty of the trees this time of year is second only to fall.

One of the lakes up top.

The pups and I spent the weekend way out off the grid, hiking, fishing, and exploring the unending and perilous dirt roads of the high pass. It was a time of getting a little (actually, a lot) mud on the tires, and enjoying the feeling of being wild again.

My favorite mountains, waiting patiently for me in the distance from near the top of the pass.

Bare aspens ready for the new buds to sprout. Any day now for these.

Back home after a long weekend of adventures. Right out my front door. It’s good to be home.

After a decent bit of time exploring one of the many different sections of our backyard, I am always humbled and amazed at the vastness. The sheer size of all that I need to explore is daunting, but ultimately exciting. If this is what I get to die doing, count me blessed and happy.

— Andrew

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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.
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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…last week in wyoming…



one of my first, and best, friends when i lived in wyoming was kim.  she recently got married and had a gorgeous little girl, kate.  first thing’s first… i had to go see them.


now on to my animals.  a coyote searches for food in the elk national wildlife refuge near jackson.




two ocean lake in teton wilderness provided fantastic scenery.





on the way out of two ocean and pacific creek, one of my favorite views of the tetons materializes quickly.  almost out of nowhere, the jagged peaks come into view with force and drama.





then, of course, the jackson lake dam provides unimpeded views of this beautiful mountain range, the grand tetons.



a lone big horn ram wandered, grazed.


early in the morning, the elk eat dew-covered grasses.




lamar creek.  the hidden gem of the lamar valley.  always one of my favorite spots to sit in the morning.


the lamar valley in the summer is a haven for the american bison.  they graze it heavily in massive swarms.


the lamar valley is also home to many bears.  this pair, one black bear and one cinnamon black were inseparable as i watched them cross miles of open landscape.  i saw this same cinnamon about four years ago in the exact same spot.  glad to see he’s got a lady to keep him company now…


bull elk are scattered across yellowstone this time of year.  typically alone, they seem to know that the autumn rut and breeding season will be coming in a few short months.


sulphur stained ponds dot the landscape of yellowstone.


a lone black bear on the northeast entrance road scavenges in the shadow of the mountains surrounding the montana/ wyoming border, near cooke city.


not even a mile away from the bear, a fox too looks for an evening snack.



on the road to lulu pass, just outside city limits, seedlings, clear cuts, mountains, and sky provide the backdrop for cook city, montana.




early morning, heading back from a night spent at the cooke city dump, the mountains and fog performed a ballet.  mist danced across the tops of trees as the light watched passively from behind the clouds.


and it only gained dramatic crescendo as i made my way back, further into the lamar valley of yellowstone.


after a long morning hike up the side of a peak in the lamar, a lone antelope kept his distance.



a 45 minute exposure at oxbow bend in grand teton national park, well after sundown.



morning glow over the tetons.  i love waking up to this view!!




mid-morning at oxbow bend.  light slowly makes it way toward me from behind, painting my canvas.



jackson lake was glass.  a rare site.




string lake, near jenny lake, grand teton national park.


back to my old haunt in sublette county… green river lakes in bridger-teton national forest.


the lower lake was in tumult, with wild winds from the south rumbling like a freight train through the valley toward the upper green.


the green river was calm the next morning, though the sky overhead read drama.


i hiked the highline trail toward the upper lake.  squaretop mountain spectacularly reflected the patches of sun.




i followed massive grizzly tracks all the way to the upper lake about three miles.  it was not alone.  two smaller sets of tracks alerted me to the fact that a sow with two yearlings could be around any bend.


on the way into little soda lake, the aspen groves catch a reflection more colorful than reality.


cactus patches keep me aware of where i place my feet…


just a few minutes from the front door of my old house in pinedale, soda lake reflects the wind river mountains, creating impressionistic hues that would make any artist salivate.

all images © andrew r. slaton | photographer 2009