Articles about Travel

Columbia #OmniGames: Supporting Storylines…

Columbia Omnigames

Dog sledding

The raw excitement around the dogs was palpable and contagious as they yipped, barked and howled with anticipation in the falling snow.  While one group of riders split off and mounted their growling machines, I followed Beth, Justin, Katie and Derek through the thick snow to the sleds.  Snow swiftly swirled around us and the restless dogs as the winds picked up and visibility diminished.  The wirey dogs were quickly harnessed up and attached to the leads one by one, each of them seemingly bursting with excitement for the first sled run of the day.

Columbia OmniGames

Due to injury and lack of mobility, I would not be competing in the long anticipated games.  Nearly 40 outdoors enthusiasts and social media influencers from the past four seasons of Columbia’s #Omniten program gathered near Park City, Utah for a collective competition.  The competition would be a secret set of challenges, completed in teams, with a serious prize on the line.  Once the content of the games was revealed and the teams were chosen, I began my own challenge: To tell the story of the games through photographs.

The final challenge for everyone in the competition would be “Charles Dickens”, a storytelling challenge.  I knew the teams would be immersed in their activities,  in some cases fighting the clock, and there would be little time or opportunity for them to capture the images that could bring their stories to life.  In the highly visual mediums we have to portray our stories, images are invaluable and grab a reader’s attention quickly.  So my challenge, my contribution to the games, would be to capture the moments that would help support the narratives of the competitors to the best of my abilities.

I chose to start my shoot with the first dog sled teams, passing up an opportunity to follow the first snowmobiles to the archery site.  Everyone was excited about the dog sleds and I knew I needed to capture that excitement early while it was still raw, while the dogs were still fresh, while the apprehension was still visible.  I wanted to focus on two things at this station, the excitement on people’s faces as they readied for their first ride and the explosive energy of the dogs.  The dogs were much less cooperative than the #omniten but were the real stars, beautiful animals straining against their harnesses with incredible power.

Columbia Omnigames

The shooting wasn’t too difficult here, but getting around in a foot and a half or more of snow with a bad knee made for some sketchy moments.  A couple of falls and bad twists made things interesting and set a cautious tone in my head about being physically able to follow the games.  Still, I would do my best.

Making fire exciting

It was quiet once the dogs had run off with their sleds in tow.   I set off across the snow to find the other teams working on their challenges.  luckily for me the other events were clustered together, but they were up a hill…normally not an issue but this time it felt like an arduous trek.  I struggled up the snowy, uneven path to the Fire Challenge.

Columbia Omnigames

Each team had 25 minutes to light a fire and get a small pot of water boiling.  Not quite the excitement surrounding the dog sleds.  Looking for storylines I focused on the expressions of concentration,  I tried to capture the spark flying off the flint starter, and for those who were successful…flame.  I started to realize my background in graphic design and sequential illustration played in to how I thought about the photos.  During the Fire Challenge I really began to treat the photography like I was setting up a storyboard. I looked for “scene setting” images, “character” images and “action images” while in my head I stitched them together sequentially so I could visualize and capitalize on the gaps.  This technique of visualizing a sequential storyline helped get me through the next few events.

Columbia Omnigames

I can’t be everywhere

I really wish I could have covered everyone at every event, but it just wasn’t possible. The Dog Sledding was too mobile and the archery event was too remote.  Even the clustered events were difficult because I was having a hard time moving quickly enough through the snow to catch each team at each event.  Knowing I couldn’t do it all, I began to broaden the scope of the story I could tell.  Instead of focusing on individual stories, I realized I needed to tell the broader story of the games in general. I started thinking about the group story and how the individual stories would intertwine.

Columbia Omnigames

This released me from the idea that I had to capture everyone at every station. As long as I could cover different crews at each event I would be supporting the overall story. Still, the first day was a serious challenge.

Archery in the snow

I managed to grab a ride along on one of the snowmobiles later in day one. The weather had become more aggressive and our visibility was getting pretty tight when we took off. I remember thinking that this could make for some great dramatic images or it could ruin my equipment. I stored my gear for the ride out to protect it then set up once we reached the archery station.

Archery turned out to be some of the most dramatic imagery I captured on the first day. The wind picked up and the snow whipped through the frame while I narrowed in on the expressions of focus and concentration of our archers. Just the image of a drawn bow exudes tension, power and drama and has been used in imagery of warriors for millennia for just that reason. This was a pretty stationary event, like the fire building, so I worked my angles to capture a higher sense of action to support the narrative.

Columbia Omnigames

Day one of the #Omnigames wrapped up in whiteout conditions with the last of the #Omniten warming themselves indoors with bowls of fresh chili and hot chocolate. I found myself continuing to head outside even though the games were over just to enjoy the weather. Standing outside, wrapped in my warm Columbia gear with the wind and snow whipping around me I was able to have a little quiet time to think and appreciate where I was and how I got here.

Columbia Sportswear has developed a culture built around pushing boundaries and exploring our limits. Their products are designed with this in mind and the “Trying Stuff” mantra is a corporate rally cry that echoes throughout everything they do. We were brought together by Columbia because we embody this message, we live the “Trying Stuff” lifestyle with everything we do. To me it is just that,  a lifestyle, a philosophy that permeates every part of our lives. It’s a personal commitment to accepting challenges and facing them with persistence and excitement…even joy.

Once you stop facing challenges, once you stop pushing your boundaries, you stop growing…you stop improving and learning. You stop living. I will always be “Trying Stuff” whether that means pushing my limits outdoors, developing my home and gardens to their full potential, learning new skills, or expanding my career. I was limited by injury on this trip but it didn’t stop me from “Trying Stuff”. I was able to explore my limits with photography and push my equipment, knowledge and skills to knew levels. Something that has me excited about doing more photography work in the future. At this point who knows where it will take me, but I’m excited to find out.

A Year in Review (in photos)…

Despite fighting injuries that have severely limited my mobility throughout most of the year,  it’s nice to look back and see that I still had a pretty stellar year.  Between travel for family, trips with my wife and various Social Media events (including #Omniten and Outdoor Retailer) I have managed a hell of a lot of travel this year.  I owe a lot of that to finally living in the same city with my wife, thus cutting down on the travel time we spent just to visit each other.

Even though I’ve spent half of the year in pretty bad pain, I still consider myself luckier than the average bear.  The following is my Year in Review through the images that best represent each trip.  Now, where should I go in 2014??

January…

Eastern Oregon

Winter in Oregon - Oregon Trail

Salt Lake City with Everybody!

Snowshoe at Silver Lake Utah

Idaho with @TrailSherpa, @Wigirl4ever, @AColoradoGal, @Active_Explorer

Sunrise in Idaho- Photograph edited in Lightroom

 

February…

Chalk Canyon

Sunrise light at Spur Cross

South Mountain with @TheMorningFresh and @BananaBuzzBomb

Simply Adventure-South Mountain

 

March…

Haunted Canyon with @BananaBuzzBomb and @MountainMatron

Haunted Canyon- Superstition Wilderness

Skunk Tank with @WriterintheWild

Skunk Tank in Tonto National Forest

Lost Dutchman with @BretEdgePhoto

Photograph of the Week - Lost Dutchman and Four Peaks

Superstition Wilderness

4 - Boulder Creek-Superstition Wilderness

 

April…

Zion National Park with @DavidWherry

View of Watchman from the Campground in Zion National Park

Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park

 

May…

Monterey Bay

Monterey Bay Aquarium

Big Sur

Photograph of the Week - Big Sur Sunset Final

Overland Expo 2013

Epic whiskey-Overland Expo 2013

 

June…

Apparently June was a quiet month.  I only have this image of a giant horn worm from my garden…

Monster in the Garden-Horn Worm

 

July…

Grand Canyon National Park

Desert View Hike - Adventure

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe

Mono Lake

Mono Lake-California

Pinetop

(photo credit goes to Mic Waugh)

Crossbows and beards

 

August…

Rogue River, Oregon with the #Omniten

Rogue River Rafting Trip

Sedona L’Auberge Resort

Oak Creek Hike- L'Auberge Sedona

Mount Graham

Mount Graham photography view

 

September…

We technically started our Hawaii trip in September…but…

 

October…

Hawaii

Grassy hills outside Waimea - diversity in Hawaii

Arches National Park

WD at Arches National Park

Monument Valley

Monument Valley

 

November…

Oak Creek, Sedona

Oak Creek-Fall Photography Trip

Death Valley National Park with @AmericanSahara and @valinreallife

Death Valley Sunset

Return to the Superstition Wilderness with @HikingTheTrail and @BananaBuzzBomb

Boulder Creek - Superstitions

All in all, I would say it turned out to be a pretty epic year.  I want to thank everyone who joined me and helped make this year’s travel possible, especially my patient and beautiful wife.  And a special thanks to Angela and Tracy for helping to watch our four-legged family while we are off having adventures.

I also started my virtual Photo Gallery this year and many of these photos are available as prints.

Happy New Year and may your travels be a little messy,  heavily spontaneous and never go according to plan!

Feeling Alive in Death Valley…

I just got back from an amazing first trip to Death Valley National Park with some amazing people and I desperately want to go back.

Death Valley Sunset

Twitter has been amazing for a lot of reasons, but mostly for it’s role in allowing a community to come together that would otherwise probably never have any contact.  The weekly twitter chat #ATQA (Adventure Travel Question & Answer) has introduced me to a group of incredible people online and I’ve had the great fortune to meet quite a few of them in person.  So when #ATQA host and Adventure Travel Aficionado J. Brandon started talking about a group meet up in Death Valley, I was in without hesitation.

#ATQA is a pretty big community online and the weekly chats bring in a lot of participation.  But when it comes down to planning a trip, very few people can make it happen.  I have found this to be pretty typical with most group trip planning: lots of interest, little actual participation.  Not that that’s a bad thing, fewer people is often better and easier to manage, more flexible…and fewer people to drink my whiskey!

Mosaic Canyon ATQA- Death Valley

Three of us made it out to Death Valley and I could ‘t have spent my time in Death Valley with two better people.  Val said it best, “…an amazing confluence of travel, people, and place”.  It’s the trifecta of happiness!  I have always loved to travel and I’m not the cruise-ship-resort-tourist type of traveler.  I find real bliss traveling in dirty places, off the map, encountering real people and I generally enjoy the company of the people I find there.  Even though we were in the California desert only a couple of hours from Las Vegas, this felt like real travel.  Long bumpy drives on lonely dirt roads to obscure sign posts in the desert had something to do with that, but this really did have more to do with the people.  I haven’t had this sense of ease and understanding on a trip since traveling South America with my dad.

I think it’s easy to feel at home anywhere in the world, it’s rarely a “place” that makes me feel more comfortable and at ease.  Although there are places that call to me, like canyons and rivers, feeling at home is much more about the people you share that place with.  Those interactions and relationships are what shape an experience more so than the water, rock and sky.  Traveling solo is sort of a cheat, you can be comfortable in your community of ONE.  But traveling in a group, and feeling a definite sense of community and understanding is much harder to find.

I have to thank Val and J for making Death Valley one of my new favorite places and I can’t wait to go back for more.

 

Teakettle Junction- Death Valley

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Images from this trip are available on my gallery at WildernessDave.Photoshelter.com.

Finding diversity in Hawaii…

The trip was doomed before it even began.  My wife and I (mostly my wife) had been planning our first anniversary trip to Hawaii with focus on spending time in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.  We poured over places to stay and tried to compile a list of things to do inside the National Park as well as outside the park.  We settled on a promising little cottage just outside the park in the village of Volcano where we would be close enough to the park entrance that we could easily get in early and have no trouble staying late (so I could get my sunrise and sunset opportunities).  But things began to unravel early…

Two weeks before our departure from the mainland my knee decided to fail me.  I had been training again trying to get in shape from my foot being broken nearly all Summer.  Miserable as that was, I was excited to be out again and getting in shape in time for some Winter fun and our anniversary trip.  My knee thought otherwise and I was reduced (once again) to painfully hobbling around the house with limited mobility.  Awesome…Hawaii here we come!

Also looming on the horizon was the giant black cloud of the government shutdown.  In my mind, it would be a game of chicken until the 11th hour and then someone would give in and the crisis would be averted.  Never did I expect it to actually happen and, even if it did, I didn’t expect the National Parks to shut down.  I guess that’s the naturalist in me that considers the National Parks and Monuments part of the “essential” services that would be untouchable during a shutdown.  I also, naively, thought of the National Parks as truly public spaces that would still be accessible even if the Park’s services were closed.  But clearly I was mistaken…

Honolulu and the North Shore

North Shore of Oahu

Honolulu, Oahu Hawaii

We arrived in Honolulu for the first leg of our trip.  We would be staying one evening here before moving on to the Big Island so that I would get to see the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor.  My wife has been, but since this was my first trip to the islands we made time to make sure I would be able to see the Memorial.

The long flight had been hard on my miserable knee so we reluctantly chose to push Pearl Harbor off to the next morning and explore the North Shore a little bit and maybe catch the sunset.  We fought our way through afternoon traffic to get outside Honolulu and head toward the beaches.  Still pretty sore and stiff from the long flight, I had a hard time getting around but luckily the road pretty much follows the shoreline and there wasn’t much hiking to get to the beaches along the North Shore.

Turtle Beach on OahuWe stopped at a few places, got to see some turtles, had a little snack and waited out the sun as it slowly settled to the horizon.  We stopped at Sunset Beach and while my wife got out the beach towel to lay in the sand and soak up the last hour or so of sunlight, I hauled out the camera gear and set up to catch the fading light.  The weather was nice, there was a slight breeze and a nice set of clouds in the west for the sun to play with as it set.  The sunset wasn’t spectacular but it was pretty nice and it allowed me to get the equipment dialed in.

After sunset we headed back to Honolulu for a nice sushi dinner and some much needed rest.  My knee kept me from getting much rest, but we were excited to get out to the National Memorial before our flight to Hawaii.  My wife turned on the news as we were getting ready and that’s when we found out about the closure of the National Parks.  Blindsided and somewhat devastated that we were going to be denied access to the only reason we stayed in Honolulu AND potentially miss out on the main reason we were visiting Hawaii we scrambled for some answers.  I called the number listed for the Pearl Harbor Visitor’s Center and spoke with a woman who assured me that the memorial, or at least most of it, was still open.

She was partially right, the collection of memorials and monuments at Pearl Harbor are managed by the NPS but some of them, like the Pacific Aviation Museum are actually on the military base property and were therefore still open.  DOD funding was intact, so the USS Missouri and the museum were still open but access was now cut off so they were shuttling visitors onto the military base to access these memorials.  It was a mess and no one really knew what was going on.  We spoke with some very helpful NPS Rangers stationed in front of the visitor’s center, but their news was grim.  This would not be a quick resolution, the parks would likely be closed for a while.

We reluctantly gave in and headed to the airport.  After a pretty rough flight (my knee was really having a fit with all this travel) we landed in Hilo, grabbed our car and headed to Volcano to check in to our cottage.  We rented a private cottage from Hale Ohai cottages in Volcano.  Our place was awesome and set back in the thick jungle vegetation making for a beautiful setting.  Unfortunately, we wouldn’t get a chance to spend much time there.

As most everyone knows now, the National Parks stayed closed for over two weeks which meant that our 5 day adventure in Volcanoes NP was spent outside of Volcanoes NP.  Every morning we woke up hoping that the shutdown was over the park would be reopened.  It was sort of our obsession throughout the trip.  The upside of being locked out of the National Park was that we got to see much more of the rest of the island than we had originally planned.

There is so much to see on the Big Island.  Even being limited by my meager mobility we still got to see a ton of diversity in Hawaii as we ventured out from our home base in Volcano.  Exploring the gardens and waterfalls around Hilo, the rough and rugged coastlines around the southern tip of the island, the high grasslands between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea and various beaches.  Ultimately we had a great time driving around the island exploring State Parks, beaches and old lava flows.  We had some great meals in Kona and Waimea and found some amazing little roadside mom-and-pop restaurants.  Parks closed or not, we still had a great time exploring the diversity in Hawaii and spending time with each other on our anniversary.

Cape Kumukahi

Cape Kumukahi near Hilo

Cape Kumukahi is just outside Hilo near Puna and was a rough and tortured coastline of old lava flows broken and twisted by the relentless action of the waves.  Throughout our trip, this area was usually cloudy and raining but we happened to catch it one morning when the sun was out and the clouds were still gathering in the distance.  It’s beauty is in it’s hostility, the sharp black lava rock with very little vegetation and the hard crash of the waves on this side of the island.

Rainbow Falls

Rainbow Falls near Hilo

Just minutes outside of Hilo is Ranbow Falls, one of the most visited falls on the island from what I’ve read.  It’s really easy to access and there are paved walks to view points to see the falls.  Many tour buses drop off loads of cruise ship tourists to come in and snap some pictures and gawk at the dramatic falls and lush vegetation.  It is no doubt a beautiful spot, and the falls is much larger and more dramatic during other seasons but I would have liked to visit more remote falls had I been more ambulatory.

Lava Tree Gardens State Park

Lava Tree Gardens outside Hilo

Lava Tree State Park is also near Puna and hosts a unique feature on the island.  Vertical lava tubes dot the park.  These unique features were created when molten lava washed through the area in the 1790s and cooled faster around the large trees as it washed over the land.  The trees burnt out leaving hollow vertical tubes that still stand today.

Punalu’u Black Sand Beach

Black lava shores of Punalu'u beach

Past the south end of the National Park is Punalu’u Black Sand Beach County Park.  It’s a small protected black sand beach area with some cool lava formations and a small section of black sand beach where we saw another turtle on the shoreline.  We actually visited this spot a couple of times during our trip because it was close enough to Volcano to be an easy drive.

Southern Tip of Hawaii

Southernmost tip of the US

The southernmost tip of the Big Island is also the southernmost tip of the United States and is a pretty harsh area.  The seas are calmer here but the currents are still strong.  If you can brave the undertow, there is supposed to be some excellent snorkeling at the base of the shear cliffs.  There was a lot of long-line fishing going on here when we stopped by.  The rugged, windswept cliffs and the expanse of endless ocean beyond really do make this spot feel like the “edge of the world”.

Grasslands outside Waimea

Grassy hills outside Waimea - diversity in Hawaii

Totally unexpected to me were the rolling hills and open grasslands dotted with cattle.  I never expected to see expansive wild grasslands in Hawaii and I found myself staring out at it every time we drove through these areas.  It was different than anything I expected to find on a Pacific Island I was slightly in awe of it.  We stopped one evening on our way from Kona to Waimea as the sun was setting to grab some pictures at the edge of the highway and these ended up being some of my favorite pictures from the trip.

As disappointed as we were to NOT make our trip about the National Park in Hawaii, we still made the best of it and had a great time checking out all that Hawaii had to offer.  As I said to my wife several times throughout the trip, there’s no way to see it all in a week.  We could spend years out here and never get to see it all.

We are already talking about getting back to Hawaii soon to handle some unfinished business.  Keep those parks open, Hawaii, and we’ll be back soon!

A little something about #TryingStuff…

OmniTEN-jump3

The Columbia Spring/Summer 2013 #Omniten set out on the Rogue River in southern Oregon this Summer in the spirit of #TryingStuff.  A grand time was had by all and I wrote about my experience a little bit, and some of you may have seen the pictures and read posts from the other Omniten about the trip.  Amazing group, amazing time, all with a truly amazing company.

We had a great photographer on the trip by the name of Mark Going who took some cool footage and interviews with the group.  This is the resulting video sent to us from Columbia.  Toward the end there’s a peak at me doing a little bit of a back flip.  Good fun.

Rogue River with Omniten

It’s pretty awesome.  The Winter Omniten has been selected and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for them!

Crossing paths on the Rogue River…

Rogue River Rafting Trip

“We don’t meet people by accident.  Each and every person that crosses our path does so for a reason.” -

I’ve never been a believer in the deterministic universe, that everything happens for a reason, but sometimes it’s hard to dismiss.

When Columbia announced that our #OmniTen trip would be on the Rogue River I laughed.  I’ve only been on the Rogue a couple of times since my dad passed away but when I was younger we did regular trips down the Rogue and I know the river well.  Columbia was going to take us to my old stomping grounds and I knew it would be emotional for me.

Then the fires started.

The fires closed down the river.  Some friends of mine put in on the last day they allowed anyone on the river and they pushed to get off the river as soon as possible because parts of the valley were so choked with smoke you couldn’t breathe.  This was 2 weeks before our trip and every report estimated the river would be closed for at least 3 weeks as fire crews struggled to get the Big Windy fire under control.  Columbia was scrambling to come up with plan B.

Several days before we were to converge on Oregon for our adventure, the word got out that the river was going to open back up.  Plan A was back on schedule and we would be floating the Rogue.  At the same time, this meant a scramble for the outfitter, Rogue Wilderness Adventures, to grab some last minute guides for the trip.  Aaron DeSilva was one of those guides, setting our paths on a collision course.

I wasn’t planning to be on Aaron’s raft.  I had intended to grab a spot on the other boat, but ultimately ended up in Aaron’s crew and as others traded spots throughout the trip I stayed put.

Aaron is a local guy and grew up running the Rogue, and other rivers, with his dad.  Even though I moved away from the area to pursue a career, we shared similar stories.  We both grew up playing in the larger than life shadows of adventurous fathers, learning to live a life of actions not talk.  We both grew up on the river, developing an appreciation and respect for the river and the outdoors.  We both developed close friendships with our fathers in our adult lives, something that doesn’t seem to happen as often as it should.

So when I found out that Aaron had lost his father I understood, all too well, what kind of impact that had.  It was later, when I accidentally walked across him having a private moment with the river, that I started feeling that our meeting was intentional.  Walking back from the river’s edge he smiled and shared that he was scattering a handful of his father’s ashes in the water, something he had been doing on all his trips since losing his dad.  This hit home hard and I mentioned that I had done the same with my father.

Aaron DeSilva on the Rogue River

This was right above Blossom Bar, one of the most technical runs we would deal with on the three day trip.  Blossom can be tricky, and if you don’t nail it the consequences can be severe.  Aaron had been looking for his good luck charm, the Bald Eagle, all day.  He was nerved up as we float toward Blossom.  Only a couple hundred yards away from the top of the rapid he spotted a Bald Eagle resting in tree leaning out from the canyon wall.  We quietly floated past, Aaron never took his eyes off the bird and it returned his gaze until we had passed it by.  Aaron’s mood changed, nerves seemed gone and Blossom went by without incident.  Good luck charm indeed.

Later that afternoon we ended our river trip and piled into the shuttle vans.  Everyone randomly grabbed a seat and Aaron and I ended up in the same vehicle.  Due to road closures because of the fire, we had to take the long way back to Grants Pass which meant a long detour south into California…right along 197 and the Smith River.  This had already been an emotional trip for me, but it was going to get worse.  Not only would we be driving right by my parents’ old house, but the accident that took my dad happened along highway 197.

An eight year old scab was quickly torn open as we drove along 197.  Knowing Aaron would understand I mentioned what I was feeling and shared the significance of where we were.  It was then that I learned just how raw and recent things were for Aaron.  While I had lost my dad almost 9 years ago, he had lost his only 9 months ago.  It came together, Aaron is the same age I was when I lost my dad and the closeness of their relationship had left him adrift.  No one understood the depth of what he had lost and he couldn’t communicate it even to his wife.  And here I was, eight years ahead of his position and understanding exactly what he was going through.

We had an emotional exchange as we drove along 197, the rest of the bus quietly gave us the space to talk (either out of respect of awkwardness).  I offered understanding, I offered advice, but most importantly I offered proof of the healing nature of time.  Strangely enough, this exchange brought me a measure of closure.  I really, really hope it brought Aaron a measure of relief as well.  I remember that first year and I would have given anything for some true understanding.  It was a very lonely time.

The Rogue River was fantastic and Columbia puts on a hell of trip.  Rogue Wilderness Adventures and their guides do a bang up job providing way more comfort than most of use are used to outdoors.  And having Ninkasi Brewing along was some seriously tasty icing on the cake.  All in all an unforgettable trip with some really genuine and amazing people.

After the trip I received a message from Aaron, he had found me on Facebook and reached out.  He had found some of the articles I had written about my early adventures with my dad.  He mentioned he had enjoyed our talk and asked if I had written more stories about my dad, so I sent him some links.  I told him that writing had eventually helped me work through some of the loss.  For Aaron, the river is where he finds peace.

In chatting back and forth after the trip I learned a lot.  His father, Tom, had been running the Rogue River since the 70s.  Everything Aaron knows about rafting and the history of the Rogue (which is extensive) he learned from his dad.  They also shared a love of flying and sky diving.  Aaron’s description of his dad reminded me of my own, “The rogue is one of his favorite places in the world. On day two you could always find him sitting in a lawn chair in the middle of mule creek with his feet in the water and a cold one in his hand. My dad was always my best friend, father, mentor, roommate, coach and most of all my true hero.”

Blossom Bar in particular holds a lot of significance, and dusting the river with his father’s ashes upstream of the rapid Aaron had been looking for guidance.  I’ve done the same thing myself.  Aaron and his father, with their love of flying, have always told each other that if they came back they would want to come back as a bird.  Aaron looks for a Bald Eagle on every trip now, thinking of it as his father watching out for him.  To Aaron it was no coincidence that the Bald Eagle appeared as we approached Blossom Bar and he felt the strong, reassuring gaze of his father that morning.

Hopefully I’ll get to see Aaron again one of these days, maybe share another trip on our favorite river.  But I can’t shake the feeling that so many events came together for us to cross paths.  I just can’t help but think it was not an accident.  Even if we never cross paths again, we connected at a pivotal time that made big ripples in our own little ponds.

Well played, Universe….well played…

Happy Birthday National Park Service – Welcome Parksfolio…

Today, August 25th, the National Park Service turns 97!

I’ve recently rediscovered a love and passion for the National Parks starting with a trip to Zion NP back in April.  Since then I’ve visited Saguaro National Park and the Grand Canyon and have plans to visit Hawaii Volcano National Park and Death Valley before the year is over.  Next year I hope to see Bryce, Arches, Canyonlands and Joshua Tree…maybe more!

National Park Series - Grand Canyon

My Zion trip inspired a cool collaborative project you may remember from previous posts.  The Trail Sherpa National Parks Series is a collection of National Parks photos collected from the Trail Sherpa Network of bloggers, processed and curated by me.  This project was really cool and a lot of fun.  When we posted the collection publicly, Tim and I were flooded with emails from people who had photos they wanted to add to the collection, some of which seemed to have great stories behind them.  The Trail Sherpa Series wasn’t the right place for that but we really wanted to be able to showcase some of these cool images and stories that people were itching to share.

Enter Parksfolio…

Parksfolio

Parksfolio website

Parksfolio is our answer.  Parksfolio will be a photographic journal of the National Parks as told by the many visitors who have a piece of the story to tell.  We want Parksfolio to be THE place to share your favorite memories from the National Parks.  It will be a place where people can tell us about their favorite trail, most amazing viewpoint, most memorable campsite or just share a really cool experience.  What better way to honor the Parks Service’s 97th birthday!

Read the stories.  Submit your own photo and story.  Join the conversation by commenting on any story that moves you.  Or search the stories to find inspiration for your next trip.

 

The #OmniTen effect…

Columbia OmniTEN

I’ve followed the Columbia #Omniten from the beginning.

I remember reading blog posts from original #Omniten about their trip together, how it changed them…brought them all closer together.  It was the kind of trip that inspired life long friendships.  The unique experience of that trip changed the careers, lives and relationships of those who were there.

I wondered if our group would develop that bond.  I wondered if I would be changed by the experience.  I wondered if the first #Omniten was unique.

I’m not the type of person who makes friends easily.  As an introvert, I will tell jokes and make superficial conversation to avoid making true connections with people.  Usually.  The outdoor community is different, the people are different.  Meeting people from the outdoor community face to face for the first time is a lot like visiting old friends you haven’t seen in a while.  Easy, comfortable, comforting, exciting, fun and mixed with a lot of laughter.  Meeting my #Omniten family for the first time was like this.

I will write more in the next couple of weeks about the trip and share some photos.  This was “the adventure of a lifetime”, as Eric put it.  For me personally it was a homecoming, it was emotional.  I’ve always dreamed of being able to take a group of good friends on a whitewater trip and show them why I love the river so much.  Even if I wasn’t the one guiding the trip, this really felt like the trip I’ve dreamed of.  I give credit to Columbia for putting together a stellar group of people and not just the #Omniten.  The people from Columbia that joined our adventure were all truly great people and added tremendously to the enjoyment of the trip.

Columbia OmniTEN

I haven’t floated the swirling currents of the river in over 5 years.  It felt good to drift along in the fickle current, to ride the eddie lines, to slide down the broad green tongue at the top of a rapid and bounce along the frothing, white-capped wave train.  I’d almost forgotten how much I love the sounds of the river – the trickling of waterfalls, the roaring of whitewater, the creak of the oarlocks and soft dip of the oar blades into the quiet, flat water.

I miss the river already, but I just might miss my new friends a little bit more.  I now know first-hand how the other group felt when they had to say goodbye at the end of their trip.  It’s bitter-sweet and filled with adventurous opportunity.

I hope to see you all again soon!

Failure on Mount Graham…

Two years ago I made a trip out to Mount Graham in eastern Arizona to see the Perseid meteor shower.  On that trip, we arrived late as a storm had rolled in and set up camp in the rain.  It rained all night and was a soggy mess in the morning, but we hiked, bagged some peaks, got in trouble with the feds, took a few pictures, slept through a second night of rain and clouds and came home.  I never got a chance to see the meteor shower, or much of the night sky at all.  Bummer.

Since that trip, I’ve become much more serious about photography and really, really wanted to do a night sky shoot.  With the meteor shower reaching a peak this weekend I wanted to get back out to Mount Graham and try to not just see the celestial event but capture images of it.  So I packed up some basics and headed out Sunday morning to make the 4 hour drive to Mount Graham.

Mount Graham and the Pinaleno Mountains are one of the Southeastern Arizona “Sky Islands”, a collection of isolated, high elevation peaks that are throwbacks to Arizona’s ancient past.  As the climate has changed and the Ponderosa Pine forests have been pushed higher in elevation these mountains have become the island homes for many species that can’t survive the desert.  The Sky Island Alliance has boasted, “the region harbors a diversity exceeding anywhere else in the U.S., supporting well over half the bird species of North America, 29 bat species, over 3,000 species of plants, and 104 species of mammals.”

Mount Graham photography view

These mountains also have pretty crazy weather.  At nearly 11,000 ft they tower over the desert floor and clouds tend to pile up against them and then let loose.  This is what caught me two years ago.  And this is what was in store for me this weekend.  A perfectly clear pleasant afternoon soon hinted at a cranky, grumbly storm as I drove up the twisting mountain road to camp.  I stopped to take some pictures as the storm approached and built up steam.

Mount Graham photography camp

Just as I reached camp and started to set up, the storm bullied it’s way over the mountain and let loose with a massive downpour.  The camp host said it hadn’t rained for a week or so but the last time a storm came over lightning struck a tree at one of the campsites convincing the temporary residents to pack up and go home.  This storm rolled right over the top of camp with thick walls of rain and hail, lightning striking so close I could smell it and thunder that seemed to crashing right between my ears.

Luckily I had the light rain jacket from Columbia to keep me dry as I scrambled to set up camp.  I got the tent up in a hurry then decided I didn’t want to be stuck in the tent and set up the tarp I normally reserve for hammock camping.  This allowed me to set up a nice little dry area where I could cook, hang out and watch the storm.  The storm blasted camp for a good two hours, causing torrents of runoff to carve a path through camp.  I took a stick and dug in a channel next to the tent to divert the drainage around the tent instead of under it…it helped.

Mount Graham photography camp

Once the rain had stopped, I pulled out the camera to see if I could get a few post rain shots during the sunset.  I didn’t get much and what I got seemed off but I didn’t know why.  I waited out the sun busying myself with other camp duties.  The moon would set around 9PM offering a nice dark sky for night shooting.  I got the camera out and set up to do some long exposures and catch the Milky Way while I waiting for the meteor shower.

Mount Graham photography night shotsThis was my first attempt at night shooting, my first attempt to do open shutter captures…and I couldn’t figure it out.  It took me close to an hour to figure out how to lock the shutter open on the damn camera (I know, I felt like an idiot).  Once I finally got it to work, I was having a really hard time capturing anything.  Even keeping the shutter open for 3 or 4 minutes and with the ISO pushed up I was having no real success.  Then I noticed that when I did get something in the viewfinder it looked weird.

Everything, and I mean everything, was wet from the storm.  The storm had dropped so much water that as it got cold there was not a single dry surface anywhere…that included the lens!  Dammit!  I have been struggling to get these long exposure shots and all I was doing was shooting through a foggy, wet lens.  After some necessary swearing, I finally found a cloth I could try to clean the lens with.  I hoped I could get it clean and then get some shots.  The problem was, the shots would take anywhere from 3 to 10 minutes to shoot and the mist would collect on the lens in less than 2 minutes.  Ugh!

Mount Graham photography night shotsBut I tried.  I would set up the shot, clean the lens, open the shutter…wait.  I would also have to hold my breath when setting up the camera because the steam from my breathing would fog the lens immediately.  So I would hold my breath, set up the shot, clean the lens, open the shutter, then scurry far enough away to exhale and take a breath.  Seriously….?

It was about the time I got this system down that I realized my battery was dying and eventually wouldn’t let me take a shot.  How the hell did I take off for two days of shooting without charging the battery??  Good thing I had a backup.  I swapped the batteries and, nope, that one was dead too.  GOD DAMMIT!!  What the hell?  I could have sworn I had charged the batteries after my last trip…but I guess I hadn’t.

So, dead batteries, wet lens, battery going dead on my headlamp and the cold starting to get to me…I put the camera away just as the meteor shower was supposed to get going.  At least I will get to watch it, even if I can’t try to shoot it.  I waited.  1AM…not much to see, a couple of streaks but not much of a show.  1:30AM…still nothin.  Peak show is supposed to be from 1AM to 3AM…where is it?  2AM…Do I have to buy a ticket?  Is that why I’m not seeing much of anything?

At about 2:30AM I got frustrated that I wasn’t seeing much.  I was cold, tired, wet and my foot was killing me from stumbling around camp all night.  I called it and went to bed.

With the good camera useless, I decided to pack up and head home instead of doing a second night.  If my busted foot wasn’t feeling so sore I might have stayed just to hike around the mountain a little bit.  It’s a beautiful place.  But I had come out for the photography and my equipment was shot.  The upside was that I did get to use my new Induro tripod and I really liked it.  So much lighter and easier than my older tripod.  Very impressed with it.

Mount Graham photography

 

Mount Graham photography

The next morning I walked around a little with my smaller camera and tried to shoot some of the scenery in the morning light.  There really is an abundance of stuff to shoot in the mountains.  Especially for late Summer, this is the place to find some amazing plants and animals to capture.  I really wish I been better prepared and in better shape to hike around the mountain this weekend, but I will go back.

That’s two failed trips to Mount Graham…one of these days I’ll do it right.  I promise!

Test Run with a Teardrop Trailer…

The Wilderness Wife and I like to travel.  We talk a lot about trips we’d like to take and places we’d like to see.  I like to run pretty lean when it’s just me, but the wife likes just a little creature comfort when we’re out road-tripping and camping for multiple days.  A couple years ago we saw a couple pull into a camp ground hauling a small teardrop trailer from T@B.  That began our obsession with teardrop trailers.

This past May we took a few days off and drove to the Overland Expo outside of Flagstaff, mostly to see friends, but with the secondary motive of checking out the trailer options for overlanding.  The Expo proved fruitful and we came home with a stack of brochures for all the trailer and gear options.  There were a few stand-outs that we really liked.

The Moby1 Teardrop Trailer…

teardrop trailers- Moby1 trailerOne of the first trailers we saw that we really liked was from Moby1 Expedition Trailers, LLC.  We liked that it was light, clean and simple with high clearance and plenty of options.  A very versatile trailer that we could take anywhere and probably tow with any vehicle.  They have a variety of configurations ranging from super light, bare bones trailers to heavy duty, cross country, off-road trailers with tons of amenities.  A viable option, but we wanted to see more…

 

So-Cal Teardrops…

teardrop trailers- so-cal trailers

We looked around and saw a few others, most of which just didn’t fit us.  Then we found the setup from So-Cal Teardrops and really liked what we saw.  These teardrops were pretty sweet and have a TON of optional upgrades (more than we could ever afford).  They fit most of what we were looking for – off-road capability, solar options, water storage and pumping options, kitchen setup, optional bike racks, awnings, etc.  As with most of this kind of equipment, there is some sticker shock when you start asking.

Even so, we had the bug after the expo and just couldn’t let it go.  The wife was shopping for used trailers looking for deals.  I wasn’t sure if she’d really be as comfortable as she thought in one of these.  I mean, they look like they could be stuffy and cramped…it’s a tin can in the desert, what’s comfortable about that?

So we had to try one.  That was that.

When my foot injury kept me from flying off to California to tough out two weeks on the JMT, we decided to spend her birthday camping.  We settled on the Grand Canyon and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to try out a teardrop trailer and see if it was something we really thought we would use.  Luckily, she found a local outfit renting Little Guy Trailers under the name Old School Teardrop.

Old School Teardrop Trailers…

Old School Trailer- teardrop trailer

I contacted Old School Teardrop via email after checking out their site and Facebook Page.  The wife had pretty much decided already that she wanted to try to rent one from them if it was available…and it was her birthday so I had to see what I could do.  Jose, the owner of Old School Teardrop, got back to me and we slowly hammered out the details via email.  Jose was very accommodating and actually let us pick the trailer up the night before our rental so we could get an early start with it.  He has two trailers he rents out and has plans to get another one.  Both trailers are kept very clean and he has rules against allowing pets or smokers use the trailers.

Teardrop trailers - Old School Teardrop

My giant truck barely knew the trailer was there.  The one we rented was pretty light weight and stripped down.  Jose had it outfitted with a bed, storage pockets on one wall and a set of old-school metal lunchboxes on the other wall for storage (pretty cool!).  We got the trailer up north and made our first night’s stop at Bedrock City.  The trailer was still holding some of the heat from the valley and took a while to cool off inside.  Even with the roof vent wide open, the two side windows open and the back left wide open all night it was still a little stuffy until about 4 in the morning.

Old School Trailer- teardrop trailer

After that first night though, it stayed cooler and was much more comfortable.  We spent three more nights camping at the Desert View Campground in Grand Canyon National Park.  The trailer gave us a nice spot to chill out, nap, crash at night, change clothes in privacy and a secure place to stash our stuff while we were out exploring.  The most important part: After 4 days on the road and camping the wife was not ready to go home!  WIN!  Four days in and she was ready to keep going and a lot of that had to do with the trailer.

Teardrop trailers - Old School Teardrop

So, it sounds like a trailer of some kind is in our future.  It’s just a matter of figuring out what we can afford vs. what we need to make it worth while.  Renting the trailer was a great learning experience and gave us a lot of information to work with in making a decision.  I also think Old School Teardrop will continue to be a great resource for us until we find one of our own.  Jose seemed pretty excited about having Wilderness Dave take one of his trailers out.   We’ve already talked about renting one again for an extended trip out to Joshua Tree National Park in the near future.

 

When I mentioned online that we had rented a teardrop for our trip I had a TON of responses from people on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram asking about the trailer and what I thought of it.  The teardrops seem to be really popular right now.  If anyone has any questions about the trailer or our experience that I didn’t cover here, just hit me up in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer.