photography, travel


i was supposed to be in spain, and then on to lebanon.  but i wasn’t.  and i have to admit, i was a little upset about it.

i have always loved colorado though.  what texas-born guy doesn’t.  twice a year, every year, as almost some kind of required activity, all texans exodus to their playground state to the north.  more often than not, we are an unwelcome sight by locals.  but when you’re a kid, you never pick up on that.

so we left 100 degree heat in dallas, and headed for the mountains.  six guys from texas.

there’s not much to look at on the drive from dallas to amarillo.  it’s 5 or 6 hours of plains, trains, and other automobiles.  lots and lots of 18 wheelers.

but somewhere in new mexico, you begin to see the foothills of the rockies.  rising up from the desert floor like an impenetrable fortress.  you begin to lose track of the time once you see your first mountain on this drive.  thoughts start to race around my brain, and i begin to get giddy like a child on christmas morning.  “what is this trip into the wild going to bring??”

we didn’t get to the cabin outside of boulder, co, until late.  we were all excited, but road weary… and after a few beers and some surprisingly good mexican food, we hit the sack.  

i woke early sunday morning to a beautiful mountain day.  just outside of the open-air room where i slept, the constant buzzing by of hummingbirds lured me out of bed.  i spent a good portion of the morning sipping coffee and photographing these amazing creatures… my kind of quiet time!

that afternoon we took a quick hike to “inspiration point”.  i kept feeling like i should be in a ’57 chevy making out with a girl in a poodle-skirt, each time i heard that name.  but it actually was quite a nice view.

ruby was the group mascot, entertainment of sorts, and scapegoat.  she’s a sweet six-month-old border collie.  but, partially because she’s young, and partially because she’s untrained and spoiled, she was a little bit of a pill to have on a wilderness backpacking trip.  she sure is cute though.

the reservoir near the cabin provided a nice day hike.  getting acclimated is absolutely essential when preparing for an extended high country hike.  so drinking insane amounts of water, exercising at mid-high altitudes, and time in higher altitudes, are all necessary to getting a body acclimated.

monday morning came, and it was time to get going.  just outside of nederland, co, is the hessie trailhead.  this is where we were to set off.  it’s also where we should come out after five days and nearly fifty miles in pristine wilderness.  the weather was amazing, and the forecast appeared as if it might hold.  we were optimistic.  

the first great view came a few hours into the hike.  ben admired creation as we took a breather.

about five or six miles in, and many thousands of feet of gained elevation, we came to a high alpine meadow.  it was late in the afternoon – the worst time in the mountains to be above tree line.  summer storms are almost daily at these high elevations, and tend to involve lightning and violent winds.  so we pushed hard as the wind picked up.  we crested the divide before the worst of the storm, and we made camp just as dusk arrived.

we comforted ourselves that night with the knowledge that tomorrow would be easy.  just a few miles of hard elevation gain, but then we’d be done by lunch.  our planned campsite was to be at high elevation, near fourth of july mine.  we would have the afternoon to take a side-hike to a nearby glacier if we wanted.  it sounded intriguing.

tuesday started with a creek crossing, and a fantastic view at diamond lake.  but we were anxious to get to our next camp.

we made it to fourth of july mine just after noon.  we found a spectacular spot, and made camp.  bart, patrick, and i decided to take the two mile (round-trip) hike up to arapaho glacier.  distance wise, the hike was no problem, but the amount of elevation-gained within the one mile up to the glacier was killer.  but it was well worth it… if only for the images i had the chance to capture.  i quite enjoyed myself.

bart and patrick weren’t done though.  they both decided to climb a 13,000 foot peak to end the afternoon.  i would not be joining them…

that night, we all slept quite well.  the stars were fantastic.  tomorrow was going to be our toughest day of the trip.


dorothy lake, a welcomed sight.  it made me think a while of my good friend dorothy from el paso.  she passed away when we were in college in austin.  this place seemed like a place dor would like.  a monument to a beautiful girl.


day three was definitely tough, but the views made it completely bearable.  the first mile was 2,000 vertical feet up, but the rest was more gradual, and quite a bit of downhill.


we made it down from the high country, but somewhere we made a wrong turn.  thus turning a 7 mile day into a 10 miler.  we were all exhausted when we reached camp that evening.  bart found a great spot in a clearing.  and as the sun fell, it became apparent that this was the prime spot for seeing wildlife.  first we noticed a moose across the creek from us.  then came a bull and cow elk through the trees.  all were welcomed visitors… until night fell.


most of us had gone to bed because with the darkness that night came a major chill in the air.  our thermometers read high 30’s.  bart was the last one up, tending the fire.  around 11 p.m. he started for the tent, his headlamp scanning the black horizon.  he heard a rustle in the creek twenty feet from our camp.  just as his lamp pierced the darkness in the direction of the noise, a big bear head popped up out of the willows.  “we got bears in camp,” he strangely whispered and yelled at the same time. the tone was such that we all knew this was no joke.  

i heard him immediately, but froze with fear.  in all the times i’ve slept beneath the stars in bear country (the majority of those nights were in grizzly country, no less), i’ve never had a bear visit my camp.  it is exactly the stuff that our primal nightmares are made of.

so after flashing our lights at the bear(s) (bart claimed he saw two together) and banging pots and pans together, it seemed the ordeal was over.  however, sleep would remain elusive for most of us the rest of the night.  and rightfully so.

around two a.m., we heard wade, one of only two brave gentlemen that was not sleeping in a tent (funny how a 1/8 inch nylon inclosure makes one feel safe), inform us that the bears were back.  it was in that same spine-tingling whisper-shout.  i jumped up, somehow angry.  this time it was patrick and i who had bear duty, in some sort of unspoken rule.

we yelled and banged the cook pot for a few minutes.  this time very loud, and a bit longer than before.  i never saw a bear, but i believed it had come and gone.  the nature of black bears is such that they really are more scared of us than we of them.  but their curiosity, and insatiable appetite, are what get them into trouble with humans.  

i was pretty sure that their fear of us was in this case stronger than their curiosity or hunger, so, we all finally caught a little shut-eye.

the next day, i think we were all thankful.  thankful that nothing else bear-related occurred the night before.  but we were all sore… and today would be another back-breaking hike.

we had come down from the high elevations only a day before, and now we embarked on a journey back up.  this time to our highest elevation yet.  up and over a place called devil’s thumb.  foreboding?  it absolutely sounded that way.  plus, we got started very late.  i think we finally set off just after 11:00 a.m.

we once again broke out above tree line at the worst time of day.  the ascent took us longer than expected… and it was hardcore.  so when we came out to the high alpine meadows, the storms began.  and this time we were in trouble.  the wind was unrelenting, and our trail seemed to just disappear.

we could see where we needed to go, but there was a 1,000 ft shear cliff between us and our next camp.  after scouring the landscape with six sets of eyes, we finally met back up with our trail.  but it took us up another steep incline, to a shale covered hill over 12,000 feet up. 

our trail then led straight into a huge snow bank.  it looked impassable.  but the storm was creeping up behind us.  so we hiked yet higher, to see if we could follow the shale up and over this massive bank.  bart again came through and found our northwest passage.


almost immediately, on the other side of the divide, our view shifted from dark and ominous, to bright and beautiful.  seriously.  this was one of the most beautiful valleys i have ever seen.  we were greatly encouraged by this surmounted challenge and ensuing reward.



we camped at devil’s thumb lake that night.  we enjoyed scenery and fishing, and a warm campfire.  a deep fog rolled in that evening that kept the temperature moderate, but it brought rain. 

it rained most of the night on into the morning.  so it was by far the most unpleasant morning of the entire trip because we woke up wet and cold.  not a bad motivator for the last day of a trip though.  we still had a good 6 or 7 miles left, and we were all ready for a warm bar, with a burger and a beer.

when we made it back to the cars, we were exhausted.  but the reality of this experience, and the raw nature of what we felt we accomplished was fresh on our hearts.  we smelled worse than we looked.  so when we made it into nederland, and set up camp at a table in the local bar & grill, a table of neatly dressed and freshly moussed tourists had to uproot and move across the room.

they had no idea.  they didn’t know what we had just been through and what we had seen.  they didn’t know how badly we deserved this warm seat, and the burger, and especially the beer.

all images © andrew r. slaton | photographer 2008

photography, travel

remembering travels of the recent past

a few weeks ago i posted about july being a boring month for me.  especially with the anticipation of an amazing upcoming august.  well, august has changed a little, but july remains the same.

so, with the “july-factor” in mind, i decided that reliving my recent travels might help lift my spirits a bit.  and just maybe for a minute i’ll stop whining and feel thankful for the wonderful places i’ve been to see this year.

’07-’08 was a blessed year for me regarding travel, and ’08-’09 is already shaping up to be exponentially better.

i guess dallas is where it all begins and ends for me right now.  and though i’m not so fond of her, dallas has enough work to allow me to travel more than most.  so i’ll think kindly of her for the moment…

austin is kind of my secret girlfriend.  we courted for over 5 years, but i had to leave her for a more practical lover.  so sad.  i do sneak around from time to time though… just to see her pretty face, and hear her alluring voice.



brazos bend, texas.  my favorite place to play with alligators in texas!!  if you want to see some prehistoric monsters, i highly recommend this park.  it’s just a short drive southwest of houston.

cabo san lucas, mexico!  my friends joe and erin got married there last summer, and guess who was able to go for free in exchange for a little wedding photography.  well worth it…


not too far from the city, somewhere out in east texas, is a private getaway, known only as “timado” to the few elites who know of it.  i was let in to the inner-circle last fall when i was invited to a double bachelor party extravaganza.  well, okay, so it’s not very elite, more like a good place to drink beer, go fishing, and grow out your mullet.  but it’s really fun.  and a great place to catch snakes and shoot fireworks.

big bend national park, texas.  ah, the big bend of the rio grande.  one of my classic favorites.  this trip was the first of two for the year, but it ended in tragedy.  my truck somehow found its way to the bottom of a four-foot-deep washout.  at least i only had to hike 18 miles through the desert before i saw someone to get help – hahaha!  what a great trip!


another friend of mine, adam, got married in wonderful savannah, georgia.  what a great place.  i had been once before, but rest assured that i could never get sick of savannah.







so, yet another friend, anna, got married in her home town of philadelphia, pa.  big year for marriage apparently.  and no offense to my other friends, but this was the best one yet.  i’d never been to philly, but it quickly became one of my favorite cities.  partially because two of my favorite people were there – anna and elaine.


another first-time favorite city, san francisco!  i lucked out with this one because of some awesome friends of mine, john and bd.  the brothers had an extra ticket to the 2007 baseball all-star game, and i got the invite.  we had a fantastic time at the weekend’s festivities, and we even made our way out to napa for a day.  amazing trip!





i lived in pinedale, wyoming a few years ago when i worked for a small newspaper.  it’s a tiny town just south of jackson (or to you tourists, jackson hole… hahaha!).  consequently, it is also very close to grand teton and yellowstone national parks.  doesn’t get much better than that.  so, since i reluctantly moved back to texas in 2006, i’ve made the pilgrimage back at least twice a year.  this was my first trip of the year, in the autumn.  and it was breathtaking – just the way i remembered it.  i hope to someday move back…



yee haw, boy howdy!  ARKANSAS |ˈär,kanzəs|!!  the white river in arkansas is incredibly beautiful, no doubt.  i went on a weekend trip up to northwest ar with some friends last fall to do a little fly fishing, and enjoy the scenery.  i don’t know how to fly fish, so i just enjoyed the eye candy, and made photos all weekend.  i think we’ll try to go again this fall.






oklahoma city, oklahoma.  we have tons of family in oklahoma – our rival state to the north.  and in all honesty, i don’t visit enough.  it’s really a great state.  though the university by the same name will always be my arch enemy.

the okc bombing memorial is stunning… a quiet experience… completely heartbreaking.






big bend, part deux.  i took my new ride to experience the land that claimed my previous truck’s life only months before.  wow, i really like my new car.  especially with gas prices the way they are.  i was able to do the entire 5 day trip for under $250!!  that includes 1500 miles of driving, four days of bland camp food, and priceless nights under a clear desert sky.  it was a really rejuvenating experience.  i needed it.



the quintessential western road trip, executed at the worst time of year.  my friend, bd, got a wild hair in early november, and decided to plan one of the most classic of american road trips, down the 101.  it was originally planned for the next spring, but neither of us could wait that long…

we set off just a few days after thanksgiving.  we left dallas, and spend the first night in denver.  then from denver, we made our way through blizzards, over togwotee pass to jackson, wyoming.  we had the privilege meeting up with my old roommate, emily, and previous editor, noah.  we had way too much fun.

the next day in spite of splitting headaches, we were off to boise, idaho and then to portland, oregon.  portland may be my new favorite city (i know… i say that a lot).  it reminds me so much of austin, but even prettier.  we spent a few days there, and then made our way up to seattle.  another great city.  somehow, we ended up at a seedy bar called “shorty’s” that night.  it was clown-themed, which made it creepy to begin with, but it also happened to be in, what i found out later to be, seattle’s “crack district”.  that was the first, and hopefully last time i’ve ever seen someone smoking crack.  right outside the bar, in the rain!?  interesting.

so we were ready to get back on the road after that night.  from seattle, we drove back to portland, then on down to eugene…  go ducks!!!  from eugene, we headed over to the coast, and that’s where we hooked up with the legendary highway 101, which we followed the rest of the way down to los angeles.  the scenery was absolutely amazing from the oregon coast all the way to big sur.  and even south of big sur to monterey was quite nice.  really, the trip down the 1 was so overwhelming in its grandeur and raw beauty, that for me (someone who is already a painfully bad writer), is too hard to put in to words.  plus, i’m a photographer anyway.  so i hope the images speak for themselves.

in spite of taking this trip in the most off part of the off season, it was incredible.  i can only hope that i have the opportunity to do this trip again at some point in my life.  i should be so lucky.

my virgin voyage to chitown.  seriously though, i was such a nerd on the flight there, and in my rent car.  the only two albums i listened to the whole weekend were sufjan stevens’ come on feel the illinoise, and greetings from michigan, the great lake state.  but they fit so well!  and they are two of the best albums of all time.  so at least they had that going for them.

chicago is certainly a cool town.  i need to spend more time there.  also, it was december, sooooooo, just a little cold.  maybe i’ll see what it’s like in spring…







ah, spring in wyoming… what a segue – damn, i’m good!!  so this was the second (well, technically third, if you count the short drive thru on the road trip in november) time for me to visit my old haunt in about six months.  what a treat!

yet another friend, kim, was getting married in pinedale, so it was as good an excuse as any to go visit one of my favorite places in all the world.  and it certainly did not disappoint.  i camped for the first time in single digit weather on eight feet of snow pack too.  so that was cool.  but i learned a valuable lesson:  don’t ever do that again!!

in all seriousness, there is something about western wyoming.  a special quality that lacks clear explanation.  ask anyone that has spent any time there, and they’ll tell you…  it’s a deeply spiritual experience.  and there’s something about the winter (which is much of spring as well).  it is what quiet looks like… if that makes any sense.

anyway, if you’re still reading, i feel sorry for you because you may have severe mental problems.  or into s&m or something.  but i promise that i’m almost done.

there are two innocence mission songs that always make me nostalgic about my travels, so i’ll end with some lyrics.  if you’re unfamiliar with the innocence mission, i would highly recommend you give them a good listen.  the first song is called, song about traveling.  really… go figure!?  and the second is the brotherhood of man.

“a man said, ‘why?’  why does traveling, in cars and in trains, make him feel sad?  a beautiful sadness, i’ve felt this before.  it’s the people in the city, you’ll never know.  it is everything you pass by, wondering will you ever… return.”

“waiting at the airport on my suitcase, a girl traveling from spain became my sudden friend.  though i did not learn her name.  and when the subway dimmed… a stranger lit my way.  this is the brotherhood of man.”

“i never can say what i mean… but you will understand… coming through clouds on the way.  this is the brotherhood of man.  this is the brotherhood of man.”

all images © andrew r. slaton | photographer 2008