Journal

See the National Parks Project

Some time ago I came up with an idea. It was definitely bigger than anything I've tried before. It wasn't something that I could do from the safety of my home, I would have to pack up my car and go. I decided that I wanted to get a sunrise and sunset photo of every national park. There are 59 of them from Maine to Florida to Alaska to American Samoa, and I plan on going to all of them. Whether I do this through one big trip or pieced together through shorter stinks, time will tell. But whatever the time frame and logistical challenges this presents, a stop at each park is in my future and I am looking forward to it. 

Since this idea crept into my head, it has been on my mind constantly. Planning, wondering, research, etc. Along with excitement of organizing a trip like this comes some negativity also, thoughts intermingle with my research... "I don't have enough money, I don't have enough equipment, traveling by yourself is lonely, the time just isn't right...". 

Then a strange thing happened. I just decided to do it. Overthinking of this can lead to this indecisiveness and the thought of "I can't go yet because I don't (insert your excuse here)." There will never be the exact right time to go. I could save more money, wait for better weather, do more research...but that keeps me here. Now the questions are "What am I packing, where am I sleeping, which route do I take, etc."

I plan on driving my Subaru to as many places as I can. With a mix of car camping, ground camping and asking anyone I know that lives near a national park if they have any couch space, the journey will be as much a part of the story as the destinations. So if you live in an area that is close to a national park, you've been warned.

I'll be hitting the road January 5th. The first leg of this trip will take me towards Arizona and California. I like these times in the winter months because, while still cold, there will not be as many other humans out there. It will also provide a different photographic perspective than what is seen by most people. There are three parks in Arizona - Petrified Forest, the Grand Canyon and Saguaro. The first two are well known but the latter is a little more obscure. I will be able to give more detail about these parks when I get there and start exploring.

I will be updating this as often as I can. I'm sure I will be without an internet connection for long stretches of time and, quite frankly, I'm ok with that. A computer has dominated my life (and paid my bills) for the last few years and stepping away from one is going to be a challenge in itself but one I am looking forward to facing. 

I realize this is a very unconventional thing to do, leave your job, your home and all the comforts that come with that, but it is an idea that has gotten ahold of me and won't ease up until I am actually doing it. So after the new year I will be in the Southwest, taking photos, trail running and exploring. If anyone lives in the area or has done this type of thing before and has any advice, I would love to hear it. 

I want to send a big thank you to Don and Shelly from 59nationalparks.com for the help so far. They answered a lot of my dumb questions and have pointed me in the right direction to get my trip started. They also have some really good photos and stories about their travels. Besides their website, you can find them on Twitter @59NationalParks or on Instagram at 59NationalParks.

That being said, I'm ready to go. Wish me luck and you can find me and what I'm doing on this blog, my twitter and/or Instagram

Dogs of Wayside Waifs

Not too long ago I read an article on Huffington Post about the relationship between quality photos and the adoption rate of dogs and cats at shelters. The better the photo, the more likely they were to get adopted. I had a camera and some time I knew I wanted to give to a shelter so I decided this would be the perfect fit. I called someone at Wayside Waifs and asked if they had any need for someone else to come and take pictures. They said yes and I was out there assisting another photographer later in the week. By the time I took my own camera out there that weekend I had an idea of just how I wanted the photos to look.

It turns out the dogs are not as patient with the photo process as I am. Even with the idea in my head of the shot I want, I've learned the dogs determine the outcome. I take what they give me and, as it turns out, that is what makes the photos more interesting. It gives me the ability to show off their personality. I love the challenge presented every week, you never know what you are going to get. Some are crazy, some are scared and some just want to lay next to you, but in the end they are all just happy someone is there to interact with them. This is far from a one way street, it's what I look forward to every week and it makes me incredibly happy to see the dogs that I photographed show up on the adoption list.

If you are considering adding a new family member to your household, I suggest you go check out a shelter first. There are several in the Kansas City area all would be happy to talk to you about what dog would be the best fit for you and your family. Below is a partial list of shelters that have adoptable animals.

  1. Wayside Waifs
  2. KC Pet Project
  3. Great Plains SPCA
  4. Humane Society

These are also great resources if you are thinking about volunteering. There are no special skills required, just your ability to get out there once a week and interact with dogs, and I promise it will make your day.

Jackson Hole - Yellowstone Part 2

Having not seen anywhere close to all I wanted to while we were in Jackson but short on time, we packed up our room, went out for breakfast and headed north on US 26 towards Yellowstone. I wasn't really sure what to expect as we drove up, but the Tetons were just outside of the drivers side window and I hoped the next stop was a stunning as this was. 

When we first entered the park through the south gate, there were lots of trees. They were certainly nice, but there was not the big, expansive views I was hoping for. As we drove a little further (and higher up) the trees started to get a little sparser and the views a little bigger. The closer we got to our lodge in Grant Village, more of the picturesque National Park started to show itself.

Once we arrived at Grant Village, we dropped our bags off and started exploring the park. We were there for four days and I knew that I still wouldn't have enough time to see everything I wanted to so we had to get started right away. Pulling out of the long, winding path from the driveway we saw our first elk. As any Kansan with a camera would do in their first hour in Yellowstone, I stopped the car, got out and took about fifty pictures of the elk just standing their eating. Once I was satisfied I had captured every conceivable angle, back in the car I went and off to do more exploring. We didn't get thirty more feet when we saw another three elk roaming around. Lesson learned, there were lots of wildlife in the park and most of it was right by the road...you don't have to stop every time you see one. But, as you can imagine, I usually did. 

I wanted to find a spot to see the sunrise the morning of my 40th birthday. A little internet research before we left and some driving around lead me to the West Thumb Geyser Basin. It turned out to be one of the best decisions of the trip. I couldn't have asked for a better sunrise with the steam coming off the lake and a singular cloud over the mountains to give it some color. Also, no tourists. Getting up at sunrise is the way to beat traffic and see the most wildlife in the park. 

Later that day and the following days we continued to drive around, and that's how we found my two favorite spots, Lamar Valley and Hayden Valley. The amount of wildlife in these two areas is more than I have seen in my entire life and I could have spent our whole trip there. There were bison, pronghorns, elk, badgers, bears and big horn sheep. 

Tourist season from mid June to Labor Day is the busiest with time with literal traffic jams on the roads but if you can get there before or after that and can get up early, you will see the park few others get to. 

Jackson Hole - Yellowstone Part 1

I turned 40 years old this past June. While I don't consider age to be a big deal, I felt like I needed to do something of some significance, or at least, go somewhere that would make it memorable. After doing some research, and I'll be honest a national park was high on my list, Becky and I decided that we should go to Yellowstone and spend a week there. We decided to fly into Salt Lake City. We did this for several reasons, one being it was a whole lot less expensive then flying into Jackson Wyoming and the other, I had never been to Utah, Idaho, Wyoming or Montana which we would be driving through to get there. So we booked a flight then started calling people about places to stay. At some point during our planning I came across Sally from A Teton Tree House. I wish I would have talked to her earlier, she gave us the kind of advice you get from a local, from where to see the most wildlife to where to stay when we weren't at her place. She was extremely helpful and it turned out to be one of the coolest places I've ever stayed at.

Flying into Salt Lake City International is pretty impressive in itself if you live in Kansas City. Mountains and the lake are sights we don't get. After we landed and picked up our rental car and hit the road not wanting to waste any time. We pointed the car north and started for Idaho. My camera at my side the entire drive, we stopped for multiple wide open sky landscape shots, the scenery was just too much for me. I'm a sucker for green fields, blue skies with some clouds floating in there and this area has no shortage of that. So much so that the first gas station we stopped at I was taking photos like a true tourist. After four hours of driving the most beautiful country I've seen we made it in to Jackson. We found our hotel, dropped our bags off and hit the town (so to speak) stopping at the Snake River Brewing Company for dinner and a few beers. I called a friend who is a photographer up there (check out his work here) asking advice on where I should go and what are the good spots for photographers. After our talk, he pointed me a spot to go to at sunrise, so a late night was not going to happen. We finished our beers and headed to one more spot that I can't remember the name of (it was that memorable) and called our first day done.

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Getting up before sunrise on vacation when it's cold outside I realize is not everyone's idea of a dream vacation. But I was in a photography hot spot and I wasn't going to miss it. I got up and looked at my map. I would be driving an hour north. I checked my batteries, memory cards and I was off. Just the drive there I could have stopped twenty times but I pushed through to my destination of the Moulton Barn. It was an amazing scene, even with five photographers already there. There have been so many amazing photos made from this place it's no surprise that anyone with a camera will seek this area out at sunrise and sunset.

This was a perfect start to the day. I had to just stand there for a while and admire the scenery as it was really nothing I had ever seen before. Open, expansive fields surrounded by mountains with the sun rising and dropping a pinkish hue on the peaks. It was amazing start to our trip and I wondered if I had brought enough memory for camera.