The Road Tripping Photographer (Part 1)


Having snapped an insane numbers of frames in and around Estes Park, as well as in the Rocky Mountain National Park (as if that wouldn't be quite enough), I had been feeling the need for an even broader scope of photographic options necessary to fulfill my image-craved desire and experience. For some time I have wanted to shoot rock formations in Utah (a slot canyon specifically) and, if possible, return to Nevada and reshoot certain subjects with even better skill and equipment. I mapped out the logistics of traveling in the car (an SUV) in a manner that would maximize savings and get me where I might need to go. The primary expenses are lodging, food and gas, and hopefully not auto repair. The opportunity came with my second child's high school graduation in Reno in early June. I planned for a road trip -- eight days through central Colorado, Utah and Nevada, mostly along I-70 and I-80, to facilitate driving, but with intent to pull off for numerous side trips along the way.

Rule 1: Have a reliable, serviced and covered vehicle large enough to hold you (in back) and your gear -- a vehicle that can also take you reasonably off road when likely. Keep your packing light and don't take too much -- no more than needed.

In addition to the all-wheel drive Kia Sorento, I packed one duffel bag of personals -- just enough clothes to wear twice for eight days, plus toiletries, my fanny pack with water bottles, knife and small med kit, a camera sling pack for camera gear, business backpack for electronics, small cooler, and a road box with maps and other assorted sundries for traveling. I was not planning to camp, sticking to motels for wifi and power which I needed more. I rely a lot on electronic support, using computers and phones for applications, editing, GPS and communications. I do as little as possible with paper, but keep paper, pens and maps available when "no service" or no power applies in the wilderness, which is frequent. I sleep in the back when camping, affording no need for a tent, though sleeping bag and mattress are essential.

Rule 2: You can't hike with all your camera gear (at least I can't), so I took one camera body (risky) and three lenses to maximize shooting options: wide angle 10-22mm (knew I would need this for the slot canyon), standard 24-105mm, and a longer zoom, 75-300mm. Aside from some filters, the only other equipment included a tripod and cleaning kit.

Already living in Colorado, I basically blew through the western part of the state without stopping knowing that anything worth shooting I could come back to on a day trip from Estes Park -- my goal was further on. I had packed basic groceries in the cooler, and was good for everything but gas along the way. Arriving in Green River, Utah, in mid-afternoon, I had time to prep for my hike into the slot canyon the next morning after checking into the cheapest hotel I scheduled. It was a funky rundown motel run by an old guy tottering about in his bathrobe. I went out at evening twilight to shoot my first scenes in the desert since I left Nevada almost two years ago. I got back after dark to a cooler dinner of plain bagels and baloney.


Rule 3: Preschedule as many trip details as possible, including lodging, routes, shooting locations and subjects, time of day, etc. Unexpected changes will happen, but increasing the odds that you will be in the right place and time for what you're shooting is imperative. Make sure you read reviews of lodging and campsites accordingly, and pay a little more for good facilities if you can. The comfort and chance of everything working will improve your odds of a good rest and having what you need in a timely fashion. Pre-book when you can. Be more deliberate rather than spontaneous, but be open to the chance opportunity.

The hike up the slot canyon at dawn was glorious. I was the first one there in the morning, having gotten up at 4:30am to drive more than an hour to Goblin Valley State Park, but still further to Little Wild Horse Canyon. Clear skies and a cool breeze with morning light a bit on the dark side, but the coolness would offset the summer heat that would come later in the 8-mile hike up through the canyon. Many areas required climbing boulders to move through the slot, or stepping in water pools of residual runoff, soaking the feet pretty well. The hike was a loop trail set through two canyons. I was grateful for the early light, as it played better in the camera, softer than the harsher light in the late morning. Canyon colors were bland and dull, so these worked out better in black and white. I had the whole place to myself, emerging after 11am and meeting only one couple and their dog near the entrance. However, the parking lot was packed full when I came out.




I returned to the motel, exhausted in the early afternoon, crashing in my room, responding to over 70 Facebook birthday wishes waiting in my in-box. The hotel manager stopped by to check for a rogue lizard that might be in the room. I then ventured out to pick up an Arby’s fast food dinner, plus an ice cream bar and a 6-pack of Redd’s Peach Ale -- healthy, I know. I began to understand their might be a problem with food on the trip, realizing the need to better pace my meals and food quality choices. I also had to consider rest breaks that offset the hikes with a need to refresh the body following a previous day of driving long distances. But I was extremely proud to have hiked more than 8 tough miles on my 60th birthday.

The Road Tripping Photographer (Part 2) ....... Salt Lake City and Nevada coming soon.

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Shelton PhotoWorks
Estes Park, Colorado
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