I recently spoke at the 2016 Shooting the West Photography Symposium, in Winnemucca, Nevada, talking about being able to get off the grid and find your wild side. I was super nervous, maybe because I had at least 30 minutes worth of content which I had to squeeze into 15 minutes. I skipped around a bit, jumping over some of the information I planned to share, but the feedback was supportive, and everyone seemed to enjoy the presentation. I’m posting the entire speech below, just for posterity.
I am a Florida native and happily moved to the Mountains above Reno, Nevada in 2006, taking a giant leap of faith and following a boyfriend all the way across the country. My friends have told me that they are now living vicariously through me, and that I inspire them with my adventures. They call me a trail blazer. I Laugh at that, BUT
I think I’ve always been fearless. As a child, I loved to climb trees, spending hours in the tree fort my Father built which towered, (in my eyes) a good twenty feet off of the ground. I swung down from the fort from a rope swing, which would rocket to the ground then fly right back up in the air taking me with it. It was exhilarating, but the best part was being up in the trees, looking down on the world from up in the sky.
I read science fiction, and fantasy novels, where worlds were beautiful beyond imagination, where the land was colored every shade of the rainbow. As an only child, I spent hours alone, learning to enjoy being alone with myself. I chose to stay away from the herd mentality, instead choosing to do things my way. Not one to settle for an ordinary life, I chose paths, and made decisions that led me ultimately, to the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range over Reno, Nevada.
I’ve had a camera, like most people, since I was a teenager, but my semi professional photographic journey began with a Canon Rebel, which that same boyfriend bought for me after I moved to Reno. I saw the images of Elizabeth Carmel, and others who captured light and color on Lake Tahoe and started to started to read about how they achieved the results I desired, reading about Magic Hour and how light reflects and refracts. How clouds affect everything you photograph adding depth to an image, texture, color. My photographs lit up! Color everywhere, but especially at sunrise and sunset. The Magic hour! I found what I’d been seeking, the magical landscape described only in novels. Lake Tahoe became my playground, until I grew bored with the same lines and shapes of the beautiful images. Isn’t it true that when you go somewhere new, your creative mind lights up? You’re inspired? Time for a change!
My other half has no desire to leave Lake Tahoe, having traveled extensively in his younger years. That’s what he says but I think that’s actually just an excuse, he doesn’t like road trips, hiking or backpacking either. I think that some people just have wanderlust.
So, I started traveling alone, which is easier than asking someone else to get up at O Dark Thirty to photograph sunrise, or to skip dinner because the clouds look like there are going to blow up at sunset. I was a little uneasy at first, but since there’s nothing to fear but fear itself, I Jumped in the Jeep and started driving. I started with weekend trips, Yosemite, Mono Lake, Lundy Canyon. Just 3-5 hours away from Reno. Then I ventured down to Death Valley, got lost in the Valley of Fire, and hiked all over Big Sur. I photographed wildflowers and fall foliage, sunrises and sunsets to my hearts content. How peaceful to be alone on the road, to make U-Turns without anyone complaining, to follow the clouds, to wait for the sun to set, to stay out till midnight photographing the Milky Way! And then I found an Extreme photography workshop in The Narrows of Zion. Hiking in the Virgin River, wearing a dry suit, wet shoes, walking into the current of a cold river ,it sounded extreme so I signed up as fast as I could.
I fell in Love with Utah !
After capturing one of my favorite images, Pillar of Light on that workshop, I decided it was time to really get off the grid so I planned a road trip for April of the following year, driving from Reno down to Death Valley, up through the Valley of Fire, through Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, over to Canyonlands and Arches, Moab, Antelope Canyon, Vermillion Cliffs, South Coyote Buttes, Kanab, Coral Pink Sand Dunes, then Yosemite, and back home. I drove in deep sand to South Coyote Buttes, and hiked all the way down to the Subway and Archangel Falls. Over 3000 miles in two weeks…Heaven ! The layers of color in the Desert Southwest are amazingly beautiful, magnificent mountains, stark desert landscapes with HooDoos and Toadstools. Places where you felt like you’d stumbled into another world, one that you’d read about, or seen in a movie. And only a few hours away, off the grid, out of the mainstream, into the Wild. I stayed in hotels, did laundry on the road, had the best time! It was empowering !!!
So, how does one become wild, to lead the way, instead of following the pack?
First things first. Get in shape…get outside, walk, run, hike, bike, climb. UPHILL ! If you don’t live at a higher elevation, remember that when you travel, you’re going to be challenged by altitude. Fitness is a daily activity. You’ll feel better, have more energy, and be able to hike down the side of a ravine to a creek filled with wildflowers. And climb back out again ! I’ve taught fitness classes for almost 30 years, and Yoga for 10 years, and being active will save you. You can start practicing yoga at any age, and you will develop flexibility, strength and balance. And that’s really what life is all about…balance in everything you do. I miss a lot of sunrises because I either teach yoga in the morning or I’m out running my 3 mile loop.
Eat healthy, processed food is killing us. The healthier you are, the more energy you have, the further off the grid you can travel.
Get up Early ! Most people start hiking after 9am, If you start hiking before the majority of the world, you’ll have better light, a more peaceful experience, and less people in your images.
We all have locations on our bucket list. Pick one and start researching the location. Find out where it is, and then what else is in the area. For instance, Antelope Canyon is in Page, Arizona, along with Horseshoe Bend, and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, and if you head East, Monument Valley, Bryce and Zion are North West, and so on and so on. Sit down with Google Maps and plug in all of those places. Then start mapping out your trip. Now, just a side note, Antelope Canyon has become a huge tourist trap. There are, on average, 300 people in the slot canyon at the same time. They offer a photographers tour, which is a smaller group, but the rest of the people are still there with you. It’s pretty chaotic and when you’re photographing it there’s nothing peaceful about it. There are more slot canyons in the area. There are books about them. Grab one and start reading. Get off the crowded grid !
Find books about photographing the area where you’re headed. Buy a map and read it before you get in the car and the fine print is too small to see. Thank God for Siri and her friend Garmin. She is pretty efficient about sending you in the right direction, but if she’s sleeping on the job, or thinks you’re speaking a foreign language that day, the map always rules.
Be prepared for anything to happen in the sky, carry your rain gear, flashlight, water and food, first aid kit. If there’s a place to fill up your car in the desert, stop and do it now. Carry bear mace, the kind that has two long 17 foot shots, unless you’re licensed to carry more than that, then take lessons in self defense. It’s unlikely that you’ll experience any issues, but be prepared. Get used to peeing in the woods! Bears do it ! Men do it ! Know how to change a flat tire, carry a compass. Use common sense !
If you’re staying at a hotel, make friends with the locals who work there, ask questions, and if they know any places that are off the grid and worth investigating. Ro sent me up to the top of Winnemucca Peak last year, where I photographed a beautiful sunset. This year I ventured off on a side road where I photogrpahed some lovely wildflowers at sunset and wandered through the Sand Dunes which continue for miles through the desert.
Explore side roads. I just got back from a trip to Hood River, Oregon to photograph wildflowers. I knew that the fruit trees would be blooming, too, so I found some backroads and just started driving. I found some beautiful compositions, and a hard cider tasting event. My favorite was the blueberry.
Be fearless ! Remember all the admonishments from your Mom to stand tall, have a strong handshake, and look someone right in the eye? Someone who can do that exudes confidence ! They also look taller and stronger. *-) I recently photographed street art in NYC, hopping on a subway near East 79th street around 7am, and getting off down in NOHO with camera in hand. I’ll have to admit, I really was nervous at first, but every time I came across someone on the street, I smiled and said good morning to them. I was rewarded with the most beautiful smiles from the scariest people, and even made a new Facebook friend. I wandered for a few hours, walking up and down alleys, keeping my eyes open, but having the time of my life. I went back again the next day! It’s empowering to be fearless !
Don’t forget to Hike with your head held high, and your core held tight, of course watching your step along the way, because there’s probably a 20 or 30 pound backpack hanging from your back. and if your body isn’t used to that extra weight, your experience out there will not be as pleasant as it could be.
All of this brings us to the ability to really get off the grid, and into the landscape where we’re able to find perspectives that echo our true vision. Sure, anyone can stand at the rim of the Grand Canyon, take hundreds of shots at different angles at sunset and get one beautiful photo….. that everyone else has already taken. And if you’re new to photography, that’s probably something that will make you happy. But when you venture down into the landscape, when you have the ability, and the fearlessness to go off the grid, to go deep into the world, your perspective gets much more unique. From there, shooting from a low angle, through trees, finding a composition that tells a story rather than just captures a pretty scene…that is an art. And that’s finding your wild side.