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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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: day 2 (riding the drift, etc.)

we woke before the sun came up… it was a big day.  i made some coffee and we set off to meet Mike and Ellen at kendall bridge.

from there we would follow the horse trailers towards union pass, then off-road in the direction of a cow camp near a bend in the green river.

we finally stopped.  all in all, there were 4 or 5 trailers and about 8-10 cowboys/ cowgirls.

Mike helped saddle pistol pete for Elle, and they were off!  riding the drift…

my Elle was kind of easy to spot with her sombrero and bright green patagonia jacket…

the two Ellens riding together…

now that’s some real cowboyin’!

can’t have a true cattle drive without the iconic western dust haze backlit by a slowly rising sun!

so they rode off deep into the sunrise… and Mike and i decided to go look for bears, like we’ve done so often the last 6 years.

good ol’ squaretop… such a handsome mountain.  i really don’t think i’ll ever get sick of looking at and photographing it.

we ended up seeing more dogs that morning than bears.  and i saw my first ever river rafting dachshund!

the Ellens finished their cattle drive early… round about noon, and my Elle was exhausted.

so after eating a little peanut butter and honey tortilla lunch, she caught  a nice afternoon nap.  much needed.

Mike and Ellen came back again that evening to have dinner with us.  we took a few more campfire photos… like we did the year before.

Elle got a really cool shot of me…

then i got a shot of her, and made a ghostly appearance in it…

and then i got to shoot another squaretop star photo.

it was another great day in our favorite place in the world, doing all sorts of fun things.

man, if you ever hear me complaining about anything at all, just punch me right in the jaw.  seriously.

all images © andrew r. slaton | photographer 2011

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somewhere in the middle of montana… err… wyoming

i’m tired of this dirty old city.
entirely too much work and never enough play.
and i’m tired of these dirty old sidewalks.
think i’ll walk off my steady job today.

turn me loose, set me free, somewhere in the middle of montana.
and gimme all i got comin’ to me,
and keep your retirement and your so called social security.
big city turn me loose and set me free.

been working everyday since i was twenty.
haven’t got a thing to show for anything i’ve done.
there’s folks who never work and they’ve got plenty.
think it’s time some guys like me had some fun.

turn me loose, set me free, somewhere in the middle of montana.
and gimme all i got comin’ to me,
and keep your retirement and your so called social security.
big city turn me loose and set me free.

music © merle haggard

on special occasions, when my ipod decides to look kindly on me and bring me a gift by way of shuffle, this abrupt chorus of fiddle will perk my ears and lift my spirit.  merle haggard’s “big city” always brings vivid images to mind.  images with which i am quite familiar.

like i’ve said before, i go to wyoming at least twice every year.  and this year’s no different.  well, okay, so it’s a little different this time; to accompany me, i have a friend (who also happens to be a girl, and more, my sweetheart).

last fall i shared wyoming for the first time… with my brother (see “like brothers on a hotel bed”).

and this past winter, elle started traveling with me (see “january fan, july flame”).

and so it was… a perfect storm of relationship and forward progress.  it was time for elle and me to see wyoming together…

elle works a regular job, so time is of the essence.  as a consequence, she had to fly, whereas i drove.  no matter.  it may be too early to ride 24 straight hours in the car together.  maybe not, but i was okay with not finding that out just yet.

i love my time alone in the car on the open road.  lots of time to think.  time to allow shuffle on my ipod to make me laugh, cry, contemplate, remember.

i arrived at the jackson hole airport on time, unlike for my brother only a year ago.  i came up from the south, and avoided the painful crawl of yellowstone.

elle couldn’t believe she was finally here.

poor girl.

she’s had to listen to me “sell” the mystical land of wyoming to her for the past four years, with no way of judging for herself.

“so what’d’ya think!?” i asked when i first saw her.

“ohhh aaaannnndddrrruuuuu!!” she exclaimed, as she so often does.

“it’s wuuuunnderfullll!”

so we left the “bustle” of jackson and the parks, and headed straight for green river lakes.

the upper green is one of the most beautiful places in the world, by my calculations, so i figured it was worth a quick look.

it did not disappoint.  elle was floored.  but we were heading into the heart of the wind river mountains the next day from a different point of entry, so we had move on.

we awoke at soda lake, near pinedale, like i’ve done so many times before… alone.

for breakfast, we watched a bald eagle soar across the surface of soda lake.

we quickly made our way up skyline drive to elkhart park, where we were to meet mike and ellen.

ellen brought her horses, jazz, comanche, and pistol pete.  this was to be a genuine pack trip, though elle and i would be on foot.

quick backstory on my friend mike… although a very compelling novel could be written on this guy.

when i first moved to pinedale, wyoming, my publisher, rob, was giving me a run down of the newspaper, the town, and it’s people.  he made a very specific command for me not, under any circumstances, to take any info or quotes from a guy in town named mike ramsey.  he said it was because mike was always full of, you know what.  but i knew there had to be more to it.

big mistake, rob.

not more than a week later, i was enjoying a cold beer at the brew pub, and who do i get introduced to?  none other than the “infamous” mike ramsey.

if you haven’t gathered yet, i’m the type that immediately becomes intrigued when someone makes a point to tell me not to do something without a very good explanation.  now this can be good and bad.  luckily, this time it turned out to be good… i think.

we hit it off, and over the next few months we would spend hours in the car together looking for bears and telling stories from the backcountry.  whiskey was often involved.  it took a while, but in spite of me being a texan and a dumb kid, i think mike started to enjoy my company.

and now, over five years later, i still see him every time i’m in his neck of the woods.  for some reason he still puts up with me.

something else about mike you should know; he spent over twenty five years guiding hunters and fighting fires in the maze that is the wyoming wilderness.  the wind river mountains, teton wilderness, the gros ventre, yellowstone… he’s the guy you want with you if you want to make it out alive.

so months ago, when we talked about planning a pack trip for this summer for us and the two ellens, i knew it would be unique and memorable for all.

off we went.  into the wilderness.  from elkhart, we took the pole creek trailhead.

it was july 4th weekend, but there were still plenty of snowbanks.  elle was very excited to see snow in july…

the scenery was breathtaking.

and then we made it to photographer’s point.  easy to see why it’s called that.

freemont peak towered in the background as ellen and mike enjoyed the view.

then, possibly the highlight of the trip for elle, a ride in the mountains on pistol pete.

just five or six miles in, we made it to our first camp at eklund lake.  we went up to mary’s lakes, but there were no suitable corrals for the horses, so eklund it would be.

buster was a perfect camp dog.  and i swear he ate better that weekend than i typically do on a good week back home.

that’s definitely one of the joys of packing in your food and gear on horses…  usually i only carry what i can on my back, so as you might imagine, i eat a lot of peanut butter and ramen.

elle and i posed with our “bear spray”.  large caliber pistols and shotguns are better deterrents in my opinion than traditional pepper spray when you’re in grizzly country…

we took the horses to feed in a nearby pasture, and i think elle made a real connection with them.

it was a beautiful sunny afternoon in the mountains, so we relaxed, and enjoyed the quiet.

the next day, due to an ankle injury suffered the night before, elle and i decided to only hike up to mary’s to fish.  we would also stay at eklund as our base camp for the next few days.  no need to push ourselves to hard.  we were on vacation after all!

our time in the winds was over.  elle and i had to start making our way north to jackson, closer to the airport.  sadly, she would have to leave the next day.

we decided to spend the day in the tetons.  so we hiked jenny lake.

…elle’s favorite spot…  the view and the fact the she had to leave soon made her cry.  i wished i could make it all better for her, but i couldn’t.  i wished i could just make the world right, but i can’t.  so we decided to just enjoy what we could, while we could.  that seemed to help…

i no longer identify with certain parts of mr. haggard’s tune, like i have in the past.  i mean, i’m pretty blessed with what i do for a living.  i often get to go to the mountains, and it’s hard for me to say that i feel like what i do is “hard work” with a straight face.  don’t get me wrong; work is work.  but i’m fortunate to love what i do.

however i kept getting the feeling that elle could really identify with parts of the song.  you know, parts about too much work and not enough play, or dirty cities, or working every day since age 20, etc.  it made me sad for her… but it also made me really excited.  see, she has such a unique appreciation for this place that i love so much.  i’m excited that i got to be there to see it light her eyes, to watch it grow in her, and ultimately to see it make her cry.

it reminded me of my first experience in wyoming one magical summer almost ten years ago.  i’m happy to be with her as the magic of the memories start in her now.  and i was starting to enjoy the fact that i now could again identify with a song, through her eyes.

our time together was over… it was so hard.  normally i’d be happy to push someone off onto their plane… anxious to have wyoming all to myself once again.  but those days have passed for me.

after i saw elle off, i drove up through yellowstone to cooke city, montana.

yellowstone lake was surprisingly calm.

with no cell reception and a heavy heart, i made it all the way up to cooke city and lulu pass.

i climbed as high as the snowbanks would allow in my new car.  this forester had to be tested, and i’m happy to say it passed.

when the car wouldn’t go any farther, i got out and went on foot to the highest point around to get a better view of where i was…

i remembered my last experience in this place.

and it occurred to me that it was time to move on.

in more ways than one.

so i left montana as quickly as i came.

on the way back i watched a mother grizzly with two cubs lumber across the hillsides.

they started to get a little too close, so i moved on…

on a whim, i decided to take union pass back to green river lakes.  it’s a relatively deserted 4×4 road through beautiful and rough country.  a place that i’ve found myself stuck many times before.  where you may not see anyone for days.

when i finally arrived at the lakes, the area was shut down for camping due to a menacing male grizzly.

so i camped near pinedale.  and i forgot all about the big city that night.

i went back out to green river lakes the next day.  squaretop mountain greeted and seemed to call to me.

so i decided to leave the comfort of my car and hike deep in to the base of squaretop…

it was a dramatic journey.  the clouds began to form out of nowhere, as is their mood in the mountains.  a sow grizzly with two cubs had been seen recently near the trail, so i kept my .45 loaded and my hand near it’s grip.

only five or six miles in, i reached the park that sits at the very foot of squaretop.

the mood grew eerie.  and i grew increasingly lonely.

i felt dark days from my past crowd in on me.  i knew it was time to lay them to rest.

on my way back, far off in the distance, i noticed something large bobbing in the upper lake.

as i approached, i began to see that it was a moose swimming across the lake…. what a sight…

it started to rain as i neared the trailhead.  melancholy crept in with the changing weather.

but i had a feeling this too would pass.

there was a lot going on in my heart and head on this trip.  different than any other time i’ve been up there.

but it was good.

i know it was good… all of those thoughts to wrestle and subdue…

as i approached my car, i turned back for one last look.  and i noticed a man fly fishing by himself.

i took a picture of him because it was beautiful.

but also, because it made me sad.  the solitary life – that life that i’ve known so well, and that i loved.

and i thought to myself that all things must pass.  all things must move on and grow.

and i let go of it.

and i was happy.

happy that i had a wonderful woman, my best friend waiting back home for me.

all images © andrew r. slaton | photographer 2010

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autumn in wyoming

fall is my favorite time of year.  wyoming is my favorite place in the states.  so you may be thinking, “i know where he’s going with all of this…”

well, i really wish i could say, “not so fast!”  but i can’t.  you’re right.  i’m about to get all mushy on my favorite time of year in my favorite place.

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the proximity of all the wildfires this year to all of my favorite spots, added a drama to the landscape that i never experienced.  it was great for pictures.

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mount moran towers over the fire on jackson lake with the moon and stars illuminating the night sky.  maybe my favorite shot from the 2 week trip…

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my good friend mike and his girlfriend ellen let me tag along on a quick pack trip into the wind river mountains near pinedale.

mike knows the winds and teton wilderness like the back of his hand.  seriously.  he has lived in the area since he was a little tyke, and he guided elk hunters through this maze of a landscape for over twenty years.  he knows the land, it’s history, and it’s wildlife, but more importantly, he knows the ways of the wilderness.

there are certain unspoken rules one must follow when traversing the backcountry.  it’s a matter of respect for the elements.  someone like mike would have never survived so many years in the wilderness without acquiring such knowledge.  he’s a great guy to have with you out there.

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ellen is a great personality, and not too shabby with horses.  she was breaking a young colt on this trip, and considering the nature of the trip, the horse did quite well.  a testament to her abilities.

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being texan, i’m naturally inclined toward firearms.  we are all born with sidearms tied to our umbilical cords down here.  so of course, mike didn’t hesitate when i volunteered to carry our protection from bears and lions (or worse… crazy people).  later, as seen above, i showed the two what i would do if we encountered an aggressive bear.  not all that intimidating, i must say…

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the wind river range from soda lake.  i go here a lot.  it’s only a 5 minute drive from pinedale, but the views are spectacular, and i frequently get to see pronghorn, bald eagles, and sometimes moose and elk.

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the golden hills and sky surrounding soda lake never cease to inspire me.  i’ll never get sick of this place…

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the magic of the alpenglow in the winds.

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this is pinedale.  no stoplights or fast food.  just beautiful surroundings, friendly people, and my favorite beer in the world – the wpa (wyoming pale ale), from wind river brewery.  hoppy and extra strong.  the way i like ’em.

i’m kind of glad i can’t get it back home.  i’d be just a little less likely to have a good excuse to go up to wyoming as frequently as i do.

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the winds on a clear day from soda…

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some of the surrounding hills between willow and soda lake looked as though they were on fire.  the colors this year were spectacular.

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my last night in the tetons was frigid.  the first snow had come and gone.  the clouds were moving out of the area, and thus, the heat from the sun generated during the day was vanishing from the land quickly.  i awoke early to the sound of wolves.

all images © andrew r. slaton | photographer 2009

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…last week in wyoming…

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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.

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

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two ocean lake in teton wilderness provided fantastic scenery.

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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.

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

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a lone big horn ram wandered, grazed.

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

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

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

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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…

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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.

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sulphur stained ponds dot the landscape of yellowstone.

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

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

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

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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jackson lake was glass.  a rare site.

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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

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

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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

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