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Thriving Communities

Monday, July 10th, 2017

This is my eleventh hour letter to the Secretary of the Interior. As Edward Abbey wrote, my vox clamantis in deserto, my voice crying in the wilderness.

Today is the final day to submit your comments on Executive Order 13792, which orders a review of all national monuments established since 1996. This review is to ensure that they were created in accordance with the original intent of the Antiquities Act of 1906. The most pressing national monument “under review” is Bears Ears, although there are many others, several of which are in the West. Please make your opinion heard; it is the only way for the the Secretary to hear our thoughts on this matter. You can read my other thoughts on this in these blog posts (here and here).

Comments may be submitted online at http://www.regulations.gov by entering “DOI-2017-0002” in the Search bar and clicking “Search,” or by mail to Monument Review, MS-1530, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street NW, Washington, DC 20240.


Mojave Trails National Monument

With July 10th looming closer, I decided to spend the part of the weekend in the desert, photographing monsoon thunderstorms. Perhaps more than that, I simply wanted to be out on my public lands. After considering where the storms were moving, I ended up on the western edge of Mojave Trails National Monument, one of the monuments currently under review by the Department of Interior. While the scenery did not disappoint, a small foible of my own began a series of events that has caused my view of our National Monuments to evolve.

Mojave Trails is just a little less than 2 years old, and protects a very large swath of the Mojave Desert in southern California. The Cadiz Dunes and parts of historic Route 66 are two highlights of the monument, but there are countless other mountain ranges and valleys, each with their own bits of natural wonder and history. The casual observer may see only miles of desolate, lonely creosote in Mojave Trails. However, a 2014 study published in the scientific journal Nature identified the Mojave Desert as a huge sink for carbon–in other words, the plants here do an incredible job of removing carbon from the atmosphere, thus curtailing global warming. Uninterrupted patches of desert are even more important than we originally thought.

photo of mountain ranges and valleys in Mojave Trails National Monument

A Sandy Situation

After entering the monument, I pulled off the highway, ate lunch, and continued down a long dirt road. My plan was to get as close to Ship Mountain as possible, for views of the Sheepshole Mountains, as well as the Cadiz Valley to the east. With temperatures well over 100 degrees, I was content to enjoy the air conditioning while I enjoyed the scenery.

Like most backcountry roads in the Mojave, I encountered several patches of sand, which I floated through effortlessly. Then, I got to the big sand pit. As soon as I realized I shouldn’t be there, I put the car in reverse and floored the gas. All I got was a giant dust cloud. I realized I was stuck immediately, so I used some wood I found to try to build a bridge for my car’s tires. Still nothing. I found something I could dig with, and actually got to a hard bottom of the sand, but my tires still couldn’t find purchase. I tried everything I could think of, but it soon became clear that I needed help.

It’s time for me to dine on crow for a bit, and admit that I screwed up. Although I normally am very aware of my limits, I was in a 2WD vehicle on a backcountry road, and did not have the proper equipment (like a shovel, or an air pump so I could deflate my tires) to extract myself. However, I did have a full tank of gas (for air conditioning), a GPS messenger, and lots of water and food. More importantly, I had cell service.

I called my girlfriend to ask her to call AAA for me, hoping they would be able to send a wrecker to pull me out. Of course, the nearest service wanted $1500 for their time, so that wasn’t an option. Still, my girlfriend and her dad drove out to pick me up, and we left the car for the night.

On our way home, we stopped for dinner, and happened to ask our waiter (somewhat jokingly) if he knew anyone with a 4×4 who would be willing to pull me out. Turns out he did! We got into contact with an entire network of good samaritan off-roading enthusiasts who pull people like me out of sticky situations for free. I posted my GPS coordinates and a description of my problem on one of their forums and within minutes I had several people willing and ready to help. The next morning I met two servicemen stationed in Twentynine Palms, and they had me out within minutes. We even stopped on the way to my car so they could help another motorist in need.

The cost of their goodwill? A handshake.

Our National Monuments as common ground

Even today, writing this, I’m blown away by their simple willingness to help, and wanting nothing in return. They would have driven anywhere to help me, and one of them even offered to come help me at 3am, before he realized I had gotten a ride out for the night. This neighborly goodwill and cooperation is what Daniel Kemmis writes about extensively in his excellent book, “Community and the Politics of Place.

Although I likely won’t cross paths with those men again, I am thankful for their selfless willingness to help. I am also reminded of the common ground that brings us together: our public lands. While they enjoy a different activity than I do, our monuments and backcountry views bring both of us outdoors, together.

In the same way the Mojave Desert plants create a healthy ecosystem, there is another community of outdoorsmen that is simply thriving. In a time when we are feeling idealogical and political rifts more than ever, I believe it’s more important than ever to seek common ground, make connections, and make our collective voices heard.

There are only a few hours left to do just that. Mojave Trails, just like the other monuments under review, deserves to be protected for countless reasons. Have you submitted your comments yet?

black and white photo of Ship Mountain in Mojave Trails National Monument at sunset

Public Comments on the Grand Canyon Escalade Project

Thursday, September 1st, 2016

Earlier this week, Bill 0293-16 came before the Navajo Nation Council for approval. This bill contains the much-contested Grand Canyon Escalade Project, which is a massive development project on the east rim of the Grand Canyon near Grand Canyon National Park and the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado Rivers. Grand Canyon Escalade would be destructive on several levels, and I believe it should be opposed. The nonprofit group Save the Confluence has much more about the project on their website. 

The Navajo Nation Council is asking for public comments on the bill until 9/3/16 (which is not much time). You can submit your comments directly to the council by emailing them at comments@navajo-nsn.gov, with Bill 0293-16 in the subject line. 

Here are the comments I sent the council regarding Grand Canyon Escalade this morning.

Esteemed council members:

I am writing regarding the proposed Grand Canyon Escalade Project, which is up for approval as part of Bill 0293-16 and is currently before you.  As I understand it, the bill asks for approval of several items, including significant development of an area on the Grand Canyon’s east rim, near the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado Rivers, near the border of the Navajo Nation and Grand Canyon National Park. I understand this project would bring tourism and revenue to the Navajo Nation and as a non-tribal member of the community, I cannot speak for what the confluence means to the families and clans who live west of Highway 89. Nonetheless, I submit my comments for your consideration.

As places go, the Grand Canyon has faced its share of threats, and fortunately it has dodged some of the biggest ones (like the Bridge and Marble dams, whose progress was halted permanently in 1969). Today it seems like the West along with many other concerned people around the world is again holding its breath to see how the Grand Canyon Escalade Project will play out.

In 1993, I came to the Grand Canyon for the first time with my Boy Scout troop from Farmington, New Mexico. We backpacked into the Canyon from the South Rim; it was my first backpacking trip and I made many lifelong memories. Since then, I have become an avid backpacker, even taking my son into the wilderness for the first time when he was two. In an increasingly busy world, wilderness provides solitude, solace, and sanctuary. I have returned many times to the Grand Canyon since 1993 and in 2013 (twenty years after my first visit) I again found myself backpacking the Grand Canyon, only this time I was hiking to Cape Solitude to see the confluence–and the proposed site for Grand Canyon Escalade–myself.

The trip was impactful for me, and it became even more clear why the Grand Canyon Escalade simply cannot happen. During the entire trip–which comprised over 40 miles of hiking–we did not see an another human, not even another human footprint. We crossed paths with a herd of elk several times, but beyond that the silence was deafening and the dark night sky mesmerizing. The loneliness was aching and beautiful. Indeed, the area of Grand Canyon National Park that Cape Solitude lies in only sees about 50 visitors a year, which is a far cry from the much more busy main corridor along the South Rim; it feels like it is a world away.

Grand Canyon Escalade would be putting undue stress on an ecologically sensitive area and destroying one of nature’s cathedrals that has been billions of years in the making. This part of the Grand Canyon doesn’t need a lot of visitors for it to be special. Wilderness is like that. As much as we need food or water, I believe we need wild places. We do not need to visit them often, and when we do they should be difficult to get to, but simply knowing these places are there calms the nerves in the hustle and bustle of city life.

One night, decades ago, the famous Western author Edward Abbey sat at Cape Solitude and wrote, “We must preserve, not obliterate, what still remains of the American wilderness, the American hope, the American adventure.” Restraint is one of the rarest of virtues, but I ask that you exercise it here, thus preserving the east rim of the Grand Canyon, untouched and unmarred, for future generations.

Respectfully,

Greg Russell

Sunrise at the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers the site of the proposed Grand Canyon Escalade project

The Confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado Rivers

Backpacking a wilderness of rock

Monday, April 18th, 2016

“The upper Escalante Canyons, in the northeastern reaches of the monument, are distinctive: in addition to several major arches and natural bridges, vivid geological features are laid bare in narrow, serpentine canyons, where erosion has exposed sandstone and shale deposits in shades of red, maroon, chocolate, tan, gray, and white. Such diverse objects make the monument outstanding for purposes of geologic study.” – Presidential Proclamation 6920 (establishing the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument), September 18, 1996


A wilderness of rock.  That’s what I imagined the historic Boulder Mail Trail would be when my dad and I set off to backpack it last month.  Indeed, to paraphrase Maynard Dixon, the upper Escalante Canyons expose the earth’s skeleton in a beautiful, if austere, way, exposing the earth’s skeleton.

The Boulder Mail Trail (which isn’t much of a trail at all), is the historic mail delivery route between the hamlets of Boulder and Escalante, Utah.  Highway 12, which now connects Boulder and Escalante, wasn’t paved until the 1970s, so the Mail Trail was the quickest route for quite some time.  All along the route, the old telegraph wire connecting these towns is also very obvious, although it’s fallen down in a few places.  The Mail Trail now lies almost entirely within the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

A couple of months ago, my dad asked if I wanted to go backpacking this spring, and of course I jumped at the chance.  A while back, I wrote a blog post about January trips with my dad, and I continue to feel really fortunate that my parents are both willing and able to be active.  It was our first backpacking trip together in many years, but it ended up being very fun, and just the right length for two old “geezers.”

For early spring, the weather was what one can expect on the Colorado Plateau: windy and cold.  Out of the wind in the sun, it was pleasant, but it was never too hot.  When we set off from the trailhead outside of Boulder, snow flurries were ducking in and out of the canyons on the Aquarius Plateau to the north, and looked like they might reach us within a few hours.  Dark skies to the west seemed to promise wet weather as well.  That’s better than boring blue skies, though, right?

Box-Death Hollow Wilderness, Utah

The Mail Trail is more than just a walk across sandstone, as it crosses a few fairly large tributaries of the Escalante River.  The most significant of these is Death Hollow, which despite the name is known for being a fun backpacking trip in its own right (save for the poison ivy it is also well known for!) and is about halfway along the Mail Trail. Death Hollow is surprisingly lush (hence the poison ivy), and is a wonderful riparian habitat tucked neatly away into the desert. We ended up camping in the bottom of the canyon amongst giant ponderosa pines because the weather was just spunky enough that we didn’t want to get blown off the rim and into the night as we slept.  We ended up falling asleep early, and despite a small sprinkle of rain and major sandblasting from the wind, the storm never really developed.

Box-Death Hollow Wilderness, Utah

The next morning, we hiked about a mile down Death Hollow before the route continued out the west side of the canyon, and towards Escalante.  We were able to see Escalante within a few hours, but it took much longer to wind our way down through the sandstone and back to the car we had parked at that end of the Mail Trail.  A quick run up to Boulder for the other car, and a beer (or two) at Hell’s Backbone Grill topped off the trip.

Box-Death Hollow Wilderness, Utah

Despite the increased popularity of the Escalante area since President Clinton included it in his massive 1996 National Monument, the upper canyons of the Escalante River seem to be less visited than other more popular areas along the lower river.  It was nice to be able to experience a little bit of history, wilderness, and complete solitude for two days.  That said, solitude shouldn’t come as that big of a surprise–there isn’t a traffic signal for at least 100 miles from Escalante, and this is one of the most remote and rural places in the lower 48 states.  Combine that with world class scenery, and this wilderness of rock is truly an area to be cherished.

Box-Death Hollow Wilderness, Utah

Making Peace

Monday, December 7th, 2015

I normally try to not let politics mingle with my photography, mostly because I’m not that political of a person. However, last week’s shootings in California hit a little too close to home, and today I’m feeling the weight of it all.

Today, I’m thinking about this image, which I made back in 2010 in the cemetery at Manzanar National Historic Site. If you’ve spent any time in the eastern Sierra, you’ve surely driven by, maybe even stopped. Manzanar was one of the internment camps that the U.S. government established after the bombing of Pearl Harbor to house Japanese-American citizens. These internment camps were the result of the mass hysteria of not knowing who the enemy might be as the U.S. entered World War II.

Upon reflection, our view of Japanese-Americans was painted with the broad brushstrokes of fear–an entire ethnic group was characterized based on the actions of a government across the Pacific.

It’s been a rough month, with the Paris bombings, various attacks elsewhere, capped off by the largest mass shooting seen in the U.S. in two years. Of course no reasonable person wants to see these things happen, but at the same time, we struggle for someone to “blame”–perhaps knowing we can pin the blame on someone, or something, helps ease the sting a little bit, helps us make sense of it.

In making peace with these senseless deaths, history seems to be repeating itself, and many people are once again painting an entire religion with broad brushstrokes, based on the actions of a few. The growing hysteria and now-cyclical rhetoric is no doubt fueled by ongoing debates between presidential candidates, social media, and the conflation of this discussion with that of gun control.

I’ve only stopped at Manzanar once–it’s all I could handle. While the visitor center presents the role of internment camps in our history as best it can, there’s a certain melancholy that seems to have transcended the buildings and gardens, which are now gone. There’s the memory of good people being ripped from their homes and sent to places they didn’t want to go, simply because of their ethnicity. This was a low point in our country’s history; although it can’t be undone, it should be cause for serious self-reflection. The violence we face today is not a Muslim problem, a Christian problem, or an atheist problem. It’s a problem of angry people doing awful things. Stopping those awful things from happening is the topic of another blog post, which I’m not qualified to write.  However, if we are to move forward as a country and search out solutions, we can’t do it divided, scared of one another, labeling one another–it simply won’t work.

Okay, now that that’s off my chest, the year is wrapping up and I’m thinking about my “best of” blog post. I’ve had a varied, but productive year, and look forward to sharing some of those images soon.  Thanks for reading.

Manzanar cemetary, with Mt. Williamson

Happy Thanksgiving

Thursday, November 26th, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving!  It’s hard to believe that a year has passed already since my last Thanksgiving post.  It’s true what they say about time flying by, and that’s been something on my mind a lot lately.  This year, I’m grateful for time spent with family and friends over the last year, today, and in the year ahead.

This morning, I started the day in the San Gabriel Mountains of southern California.  Predawn temperatures were in the teens.   Rime ice covered the trees, and as icicles started falling off pine needles, they shattered the morning’s silence with the tinkling sound of fine china hitting the ground.  Not a bad way to start Thanksgiving morning.  This afternoon will be spent with a pot of posole, then off to the desert tomorrow to spend Black Friday outdoors.

Wishing you and yours a happy Thanksgiving!

San Gabriel Mountains, fog

El Paisaje Perfecto

Friday, October 9th, 2015

I was really happy a couple of weeks ago to be contacted by Pablo Sánchez, who runs the website, El Paisaje Perfecto, a spanish language website about photography and conservation.  Pablo invited me to be featured in an article on black and white landscape photography, and the article was published today on his website.

Black and white images don’t make up the bulk of my work, but they are an important part.  In my interview with El Paisaje, I said that for many photographers, black and white is an afterthought in the digital darkroom, as if color didn’t work the first time.  However, I prefer to start out by visualizing an image in black and white in the field, and bring that through the entire post-processing workflow.  A well-processed black and white image can be very evocative, which is what draws me to black and white.

The ability to conceptualize a scene in the field then bring it to life in monochrome is a great way to exercise one’s vision.  So too is the identification and isolation of the important components of the composition.  I made this image in August on a cloudy day along the North Saskatchewan River in Alberta, Canada.  As you enter the dramatic Icefields Parkway that connects Banff and Jasper National Parks, scenes like this are the low point of the scenery, but the forest and moving water drew me in.  After playing with several exposures to get the riffles in the river “right,” I knew I had something that probably wouldn’t hold up to snuff in color, but in black and white, the feeling of the impenetrable forest was certainly conveyed.

Saskatchewan River Banff National Park

I hope you enjoy the article.  For more great black and white landscape photographers, see the work of Bruce Percy, Michael Gordon, and Bruce Barnbaum.

The Savages of the Colorado Plateau

Thursday, July 16th, 2015

In early July, I made it home to the Four Corners region of the Southwest to visit my parents.  Although I haven’t lived there in close to two decades, I use the word home to describe it because that’s how it feels–no matter how long I’ve been gone, it always feels like I haven’t left.  Perhaps this isn’t a good thing, implying things about a lack of progress, etc., but I prefer to think that feeling is due to an intangible familiarity that is coded in our DNA.  Safe, familiar, known–space becomes place.

As I usually try to do on my visits home, I visited the Cedar Mesa area of southern Utah.  Driving across the unassuming highway that crosses the Grand Gulch Plateau, I was reminded of the many backpacking trips I took there when I was younger.  My friends and I climbed the ledges of the canyons, busted through the willows, and–yes–explored the numerous Ancestral Puebloan ruins in hands-on style.  While we were never destructive, we certainly never hesitated to climb inside, living in our own fantasies of what the lives of these people must have been like, completely oblivious to the historical context of the sites.


Last week, I took my seven-year-old son backpacking in our local mountains here in southern California.  After driving home from New Mexico, he wanted a “short car ride,” and I was happy to oblige.  The San Jacintos have really wonderful Sierra Nevada-esque piles of granite boulders, and after arriving at our campsite for the day, he was content to play in these makeshift forts, but of course from a seven year-old’s perspective, a fort can always be improved on.

After a few hours of playing, he asked for help moving a huge number of logs and deadfall into a particular area to create a wall.  My first reaction was that moving that wood would violate Leave No Trace principles, and I caught myself starting to redirect his attention towards something less impactful for future visitors.  But then I looked around: impact abounded around us.  Visitors from the weekend had left a 5-gallon bucket of water, there was trash in the next door.  One weekend’s crowds leave, another’s roll in.  I happily picked up my first log and put it where I was directed–this was going to be a wall that could stop Hannibal and his elephants.

After getting home, I read an article that perfectly echoed my sentiments from that evening in the San Jacintos.  Environmental education (for kids especially) has almost gone so far as to turn kids off from nature.  As the author of the article says, kids need to be untutored savages in nature for just a while in order to appreciate it, treasure it.  My afternoon of asking my son to appreciate being outside went completely unheard; after building the wall together, he asked if we could live in the mountains for the rest of the summer.  All it took was 20 minutes.


Back to Cedar Mesa, and my childhood years running rampant through its canyons.  Today we know the area was colonized at least twice by Ancestral Puebloans, and it is incredibly rich with archaeological sites.  Some of them are well known and can be reached easily (like the sites I visited as a kid), but others are more remote, their locations are more guarded to prevent looting and just to keep them from being “loved to death.”  Today, I feel incredibly connected to this place–probably more so than anywhere on earth–but if you had tried telling the twelve-year-old me the area’s history, I would have tuned out for sure.  Looking back, I feel like I needed to be an untutored savage on those backpacking trips to have the appreciation I do for the place today.

The timing of my recent trips and this article are serendipitous, and it does seem like certain things intersect in our lives at opportune times.  Understanding the nature of nature education is research that needs to be done; instilling a notion of the inherent value of the land in our children needs to be done now, and with urgency.  This is especially true on Cedar Mesa.

Given my years of running freely there, I admittedly have some internal conflict about it, but I can’t help but feel the area needs more protection.  Some pockets–like Natural Bridges National Monument–are protected, but the area at large is managed loosely by the Bureau of Land Management, and the oversight is minimal.  The “guarded” archaeological sites I mentioned are becoming less so by the day with GPS coordinates popping up here and there on the internet, putting them at risk for looting (which is shockingly rampant) or simply being “loved to death.”  Add these threats to the area’s cultural history to potential development, and we are forced to ask at what point we impose stricter rules via protection.  It’s never an easy issue on public lands.

storm cell over Monument Valley, seen from Cedar Mesa, Utah

This recent article from the High Country News summarizes the groups involved in Cedar Mesa’s protection and the compromises being made on that long journey.


“One final paragraph of advice: do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am – a reluctant enthusiast….a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this; You will outlive the bastards.”  — Edward Abbey

An Untutored Savage


Happy Thanksgiving

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

Another year has almost passed and it’s been a relatively quiet one for me on the blog.  Life’s busy-ness has taken up a lot of my time over the last few months, and writing has taken a back seat to other things.  Such is life–I’m sure 2015 will bring change to the natural ebb and flow of things.

Despite my quiet nature lately, I have been thinking much about the holiday season this year, Thanksgiving in particular.  As a child, Thanksgiving was really just felt like a necessary stepping stone on my way to what I thought were much more important holidays: Christmas, and my birthday (which is in January).  However, over the years Thanksgiving has become my favorite holiday; the notion of thankfulness has become very poignant as I’ve grown older.

This year, all I want for Thanksgiving is presence.  Be present in the moment, with whoever you’re with.  Practice the art of deep listening.  Our society is rapidly becoming one in which viewpoints and opinions are so polarized that discussion, common ground, and mutual respect are disappearing.  Not only is this true here in the United States in national news, I see it more and more on social media–just the other day I saw a discussion thread regarding personal preference for hiking boots vs. trail runners de-evolve into personal insults.  Really?

I read an essay by Laura Simms recently that captured this notion perfectly.  In an excerpt she wrote:

“Pulling opinions off of soapbox reactivity can be as agonizing as pulling a bandaid off an open wound. But without fresh air and time, the wound does not heal from within. We managed to listen to each other. Our dialogue became stunning and hard. We had to agree to consider each person’s reflection. With space, and with listening, and with a certain personal discipline, each of us began to melt. Our differences and our listening became our common ground.”

Sadly, Thanksgiving dinner is often the perfect venue for our opinions to clash.  Start small by giving the gift of presence to whoever you’re with this holiday season, and resolve to work towards a common ground of understanding in the new year.

bentonite hill layers, bits wilderness new mexico

2013 Year in Review

Monday, December 23rd, 2013

“Of all the things I wondered about on this land, I wondered the hardest about the seduction of certain geographies that feel like home — not by story or blood but merely by their forms and colors. How our perceptions are our only internal map of the world, how there are places that claim you and places that warn you away. How you can fall in love with the light.”  — Ellen Meloy

“I wonder if ever again Americans can have that experience of returning to a home place so intimately known, profoundly felt, deeply loved, and absolutely submitted to? It is not quite true that you can’t go home again. I have done it, coming back here. But it gets less likely…we have lived too shallowly in too many places.” — Wallace Stegner


Another year has passed and I am re-reading my blog posts and journals from 2013, as well as reviewing my images, retracing my year.  Last year was one in which I grew tremendously in my photographic vision and voice.  This year, I hoped to build on that growth.

Looking at numbers of images produced, 2013 was relatively light for me.  Some of this was intentional: I spent significant time in the mountains over the summer and fall, but often left my camera at home, focusing on introspection and reflection.  I used to carry my camera everywhere with me, but have learned to let that go somewhat–sometimes being in the moment is more valuable than trying to capture every moment with a camera.  Details and intimacy with the moment get lost that way, as counterintuitive as it may seem.

Despite the few images I made this year, it was productive in other ways.  I was able to redesign my website and restructure my image portfolios.  I had several fantastic backpacking trips and was reminded how good getting off the grid for a few days can feel.  I was fortunate to enjoy two of those backpacking trips with Jackson Frishman, who I have known for several years through our blogs; I really enjoyed getting to know him in person this year.  I also was able to further develop some thoughts on the West, and on sense of place, which is an ongoing subject of interest for me:

Potsherds

In Defense of the West

Preserving Wildness

Personally, it was a year of deep introspection, revelation, and unexpected hope for me; 2014 should be an interesting year photographically as well as personally.   One thing I did confront within myself was the fact that my parents are aging and won’t live forever–this has been a theme since January and in some ways continues to be so.

My biggest recurring theme this year was the concept of ‘home’ and how we fit into the landscape.  I’m not talking about home in the sense of having a street address and a house, but rather the feeling you get when you arrive in a certain location.  Why are we drawn to certain landscapes more than others–why do we feel “at home” in certain landscapes, but not in others?  I feel like this is should be a central tenet of landscape photography: conveying a sense of place, a sense of belonging, to the landscape.

As humans, we are at an interesting crossroads: we can use the landscape to drive our development, we can simply be inhabitants of the landscape, or we can become part of the landscape, existing as part of its rhythm.   Only the latter option is a completely synchronous way of living–the former two are somewhat asynchronous.  The bottom line is that we must strive to create a life that’s in balance with our own needs, but also with the land.

I found balance this year by visiting familiar locations, revisiting places I haven’t been in years, and discovering new landscapes I haven’t visited before.  As I was reviewing my portfolios and images from the year, it struck me that many of my favorites from this year were in monochrome.  Why?  I guess I just saw the world that way in 2013.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the images, and that 2013 was good to you.  I hope you a fantastic 2014 as well!

Markagunt Plateau Aspens

Aspen grove, Utah. September

Aspens and granite boulders

Aspens & lichen-covered granite, California, August

Blooming Mojave Yucca

Mojave Yucca, California, April

Intimate mountain landscape

Tree & Rocks, California, May

Canyon Abstract 2

Canyon Walls, Utah, June

Carrizo Plain National Monument

Shadows and Hillside, California, March

Death Valley Sunrise

Stormy Desert Sunrise, California, January

The Little Colorado River

Little Colorado River Canyon, Arizona, February

Wildflowers, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Mountain Wildflowers, Wyoming, July

Happy Thanksgiving

Thursday, November 28th, 2013

San Gabriel Mountain Cascade

I’ve never thought of myself as a sentimental person, but over the years the meaning of Thankgiving has become more important to me.  Simply put, it’s a time to give thanks.  It’s the beginning of a season in which we celebrate the notion that giving is more satisfying than receiving, that being kind and generous can be an everyday thing, and that hope can be found in unexpected places.

I have been to the mountains a few times this autumn, but haven’t made very many images.  These are from an outing to one of my favorite canyons a few weeks ago.  I was a bit late for the peak of fall colors, as many of the sycamore trees had already dropped their leaves en masse, leaving bare trunks prepped for winter and piles of leaves on the ground.   Perhaps not the most photogenic situation, but it didn’t matter.  It was an opportunity for me to give an early thanks and get ready for the season ahead, filling me with reminders why Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.

Here’s wishing you a very Happy Thanksgiving–I hope you have a wonderful holiday season.

San Gabriel Mountain Cascade