It has become a bit of a tradition for many photographers to share their top 10 or so photos from the past year, which I have been doing as well. This year I felt the need to do things a bit differently. I haven’t been writing and blogging as I had hoped/intended, and I’m pretty disappointed with myself over this. Because of this, I felt my year-end post needed to recap all we have seen and achieved this year. It certainly does not make up for my lack of sharing throughout the year, but it’s a start. My goal for the coming year is to share recaps of all of our trips shortly after we complete them; it will help keep me motivated to process my images and stay connected with you all. I will also be digging through the archives and catching up on the overwhelming backlog I have created.
I have to be honest, the events of the last two years have put me in quite the funk, as it has for countless people worldwide. I’m thankful we were still able to travel, and I have not lost a desire to photograph. My struggles come when I sit in front of the computer, it has become the device for WORK, the endless struggle to find new streams of income to survive financially through the pandemic. I am committed to providing for my family, and processing photos did not feel necessary to this endeavor. I have fun processing my photos, and I felt guilty spending my time this way. Jennifer has given me some ‘motivational’ talks, basically telling me to get my shit together and start sharing my work again, she’s right, and it’s time for a change.
Death Valley National Park
We started our year as we usually do, in Death Valley, one of our favorite places. This year, It felt a bit different as we were still deep into the third wave of COVID (or fourth, fifth? I can’t keep track anymore). At this point, vaccines were still not available to us, so we were cautious. We met up with a few friends here and there but were largely alone in the desert.
Below is one of those nights spent with friends in Death Valley on a stormy evening. I climbed to a high dune to get this perspective and was thrilled when the sun snuck through the storm clouds and lit the dunes dramatically. I have largely moved away from big dramatic landscapes like this in favor of intimate landscapes, but sometimes a scene like this can’t be ignored.
Another example where these lovely salt formations were perfectly suited to the grand landscape and accentuated by soft twilight light on a clear day.
To avoid other people during this crazy time, we visited locations off the beaten path that required longer hikes. We only saw two other people at these remote dunes the entire day and not a footprint to be found.
Besides the storm shown in the first photo, we essentially had blue skies for the entire winter. This did not dampen our spirits at all. We refocused our intentions and embraced what we were given. The beautiful tones of twilight are one of the benefits of clear skies.
We also spent much of our time exploring the vast amount of canyons that Death Valley has to offer. These are perfectly suited to blue sky days and social isolation. We saw a total of three people in our exploration of multiple remote canyons.
While visiting this remote set of dunes, we got our truck stuck in very deep sand; I was able to extract it using Maxtrax knockoffs that I always carry around with me, thank god! That trip sent us back to camp with our tail between our legs, but we returned with a rented Jeep and conquered the road easily.
The canyons in Death Valley have a stunning glow and a never-ending variety of interesting rock formations that kept us occupied for hours on end.
After a long stint in the desert, we were in need of some time on the ocean. Jennifer was working on her ongoing project photographing dolphins, but we also decided to dip our toes into video. We picked up a GoPro and underwater housing and started experimenting! Below are a few small clips to give you a taste of our first attempt. We have loads of dolphin footage along with an encounter with a Mola Mola, and the highlight of the trip was an incredibly close encounter with a fin whale. What a magical experience to see the second largest whale on earth!
Yellowstone National Park
After Death Valley, we returned to Denver for an extended period to catch up on business activities, along with getting vaccinated! We were both knocked on our butts by the Moderna vaccine but happy to have the protection. After our extended stay in Denver, we headed back to our other favorite location, Yellowstone National Park. This would not be a typical trip to Yellowstone for us; we had six weeks to finish research for our upcoming photography guidebook for Yellowstone (click here to get on the waitlist!).
While this trip was quite enjoyable, it was also a lot of work. We photographed nearly every sunrise, sunset, and many nights for six weeks straight; talk about exhausting! We do not want this to be a mediocre guidebook; we want it to be something special. We learned all about geysers by reading, researching, spending time with some of the geyser gazers, and many hours waiting for eruptions.
Early in our trip, we were gifted with incredibly dramatic weather. On this evening, the skies were stormy, a perfect setup for an incredible image of Grand Geyser. We waited for several hours while enduring multiple soaking rainstorms hoping for a magical moment of light during a somewhat elusive eruption. Grand Geyser was running late this day, and most of the tourists had retreated to the comfort of their hotel rooms. We waited patiently with freezing cold hands when suddenly the sun broke through the clouds and filled the sky with an impressive double rainbow! But Grand Geyser wasn’t cooperating just yet. It was well overdue to erupt; could this magic moment possibly come together? The rainbows were getting stronger when we noticed the tell-tale signs of eruption, and Grand Geyser came to life! This was one of those magical moments in life you will never forget where all the elements come together, and it feels surreal.
When we thought the weather couldn’t be more dramatic, mother nature said, ‘hold my beer.’ The forecast in West Yellowstone called for less than an inch of snow; the next morning, we woke up to 14 inches. Slowly and carefully, we were able to find our way into the park at the crack of dawn. We were rewarded with incredible snowy conditions.
On other mornings we were gifted with fog in the valleys, a photographer’s dream.
We used the dramatic skies to our advantage to create a lovely contrast against the erupting geysers.
We had been chasing an eruption of Great Fountain Geyser for some time; it somehow eluded us with its large eruption window. Towards the end of our trip, we were handed blue skies nearly every day, so we focused on night photography. We noticed that the eruption window for Great Fountain would be at night, so why not give it a try? We ‘cooked’ our dehydrated backpacking meals (our go-to meal for unexpected late nights) on the tailgate of our truck while waiting for darkness and signs of eruption. After a relatively short wait, we noticed the pools were starting to overflow, signifying that an eruption was imminent. Shortly after, we were presented with an incredible show. The geyser erupted again and again over the next several hours, and we stuck it out until the end of the cycle so we could make our first official report on GeyserTimes.org, an incredible resource for geyser gazing.
The Great Truck Debacle and the San Juan Mountains
The summer of 2021 proved to be an incredibly difficult time. While en route to the San Juan mountains in Colorado, our truck began overheating as we drove over I-70. This was the beginning of a very long and expensive endeavor to repair our trusty steed. We were thankful that Jennifer’s father let us borrow his pickup truck to tow our trailer while ours was in the shop. We arrived in Silverton, Colorado, only to be presented with an incredible monsoon that dropped buckets of rain nearly every day. Before the monsoon, there was a drought that confused the wildflowers into blooming at odd times; some areas were a month earlier than they were normally. Photographically it was a wildly unsuccessful summer. The few images I walked away with had no flowers in them at all. When you spend much of your time in nature, you know that nothing is guaranteed and conditions vary every year. In the past few years though, the weather and climate have become more extreme. We now have extended periods of drought sparking massive wildfires followed by heavy rain causing floods and mudslides. It can be easy to ignore the growing climate crisis, but when you’re in it every day, it becomes impossible not to see it happening right before your eyes. Forests are burning, glaciers are melting at a staggering pace, and it seems to be spiraling out of control sadly.
When we returned to Denver, we were met with a $7,000 repair bill for our truck. After a test drive pulling the trailer up I-70 again, it was still overheating. Although they were highly rated, we had found a truly shady diesel mechanic. After the first failed repair, they wanted another $9,000 to repair the head gasket; I knew something was amiss. I pulled the truck and went to another mechanic, who immediately found the issue was with the radiator, overheating issue fixed! We also had several other suspend issues that come naturally with nearly 200,000 miles.
All in all, the repairs on our truck were well over $10,000, a massive blow after enduring a loss of income for 18 months with the pandemic. We debated stepping away from this lifestyle and going back to a job with a steady income, but in the end, we decided to forge ahead and find additional streams of income to help us through this time. While it is still a struggle, we have navigated this trying time.
At the end of the summer, we moved on to Moab, Utah, where we led two incredibly fun night photography workshops. It was incredibly hot, hovering around 100 degrees every day, but the nights were quite pleasant. After the workshops, we were presented with more monsoon moisture which allowed us to photograph these beautiful potholes with water, reflections, and dramatic skies.
With the rains came massive floods, which sadly filled a canyon we previously enjoyed photographing with several feet of sand and debris. While surveying the damage, we encountered these ephemeral mud patterns that kept us occupied for days. You can view the entire gallery here: Ephemeral. We were thankful to find these incredible beautiful patterns, but it is another example of extreme weather fueled by climate change.
Fall Colors in Colorado
After enduring the brutal heat for several weeks, we made our way to Ridgway, Colorado, for our annual fall colors trip. We were pretty excited to have a good fall after our last two years were cut short by tragedy and other issues. Thankfully this year did not disappoint. The fall colors were incredible, and we had dramatic weather conditions much of the time.
During fall, the biggest downfall was Jennifer’s bout with vertigo, which led her to create a photography project using ICM (intentional camera movement) to share how she felt during this time. We spend so much time together I couldn’t help but share this with her, and I created quite a few ICM images of my own while experimenting with new techniques to go beyond the typical up and down swipes.
Zion National Park
In the late fall, we ventured to Zion and explored some lesser-known areas. We were gifted with a dusting of snow and dramatic skies, which I felt was best conveyed in black and white.
We visited some iconic locations with hopes of creating a different take on often photographed locations.
The fall foliage was magnificent in the Zion Narrows this year! It has been sparse for many years, so we were very excited to have such a nice display for our clients and ourselves after the workshop. We went into the Narrows five times in one week!
We also spent a large portion of our time seeking out these naturally occurring oils created by iron-eating bacteria. The colors and patterns are fascinating, and it was fun learning more about how, where, and why these occur. Read more on Wikipedia.
Who knew you could find seahorses in the desert?
Death Valley, yet again.
Here we are back in Death Valley for another winter; it feels good to be back in what we consider our second home. We led an incredible workshop with amazing clients (we are so fortunate!) After the workshop, we were again hit with a deluge of rain, and it doesn’t take much to create floods in Death Valley. We knew after the floods there would be incredible displays of ephemeral mud patterns, and we were not disappointed. We now have a massive collection of mud images to work through.
2021 has proven to be an incredibly difficult year. With the stress of the never-ending pandemic, extreme weather, wildfires, etc., it feels as if normal life may be a thing of the past. We are incredibly thankful to be healthy, vaccinated, and have the freedom to still do the things we love every day. It’s easy to get depressed and take it all for granted when it seems like the world is collapsing around us. Here’s to another wonderful year full of friends, health, love, and photography!