If you’d had told me what a phenomenal year this 2018 would have been, I would have quoted an oft-spoken Southern condescension ”bless your heart” and sent you on your way. Filled with gratitude and amazement, I give you the first part of two posts recapping this past year.
January - February
As the new year rang in quietly, with no hard and fast plans, just loose ideas of a road trip, and soon! I had no idea it would ramp up so
quickly. By mid-month, I found myself, once again, in South Florida exploring the Everglades and Biscayne National Parks for what began as a two week trip, which quickly turned into eight weeks. It’s such a perfect time of year to be down there, and this year was no
different. Visiting with some of my favorite park rangers, hanging with InstaFriends, and the warmth of the south Florida sun. The visit coincided with a workshop held by two guys whose work I’ve long admired, Gabriel Biderman and Timothy Cooper from National Parks at Night, and Ranger Gary Bremen of Biscayne National Park was so gracious to make sure I got to meet the two of them. Tim came down with a cold, but I spent a little time with Gabe, and was really impressed with how down to earth and open he is. To top off this already awesome trip, I officially became an NPS Volunteer!
Rounding out the month was the honor of being the second
Geek of the Week interviewed by National Park Geek, one of the largest online communities for National Park enthusiasts. NPG was the first online community I discovered when I started this crazy venture and it’s each time a photo of mine is highlighted, it gives me an enormous thrill and sense of accomplishment. When Daniel asked if I could be interviewed, I felt like I won the Geek prize.
By mid-March I made my way back home to Austin. While stopped in Baton Rouge for the night, I perused social media for the local
happenings back home when I noticed my local camera store hosting an event the next day with Olympus Camera for SXSW (the annual geek mecca for Interactive, Film and Music). Figuring out a way to get back in time to attend, I cut out some stops, drove straight through, and pulled into the driveway long enough to shower, change clothes and drive across town. With my car still loaded from the past few weeks, I joined the fun and was greeted by my friends at the shop and Charles, the fun skateboarding Olympus rep.
“Hey, so glad you could make it! We’re making you an Olympus SuperFan ambassador today!”
Now granted, we had been talking about it for a few months, but I had no idea it was real, or happening that day. And they wasted no time at all sending me on my first workshops the very next week down at Corpus Christi Camera for my first Olympus workshop and in-store action.
The calendar let up for a bit, which gave me the ability to catch up on laundry and household chores. But I was soon in the swing of things again with an email from Lisa of Big Blend radio asking if I’d like to participate in a podcast interview with two other National Park photographers. I knew Lisa from her soothing posts of the Arizona flora on Instagram and I was ecstatic and honored to be asked!
Then end of the month, my favorite road trip buddy CP was in town from Seattle and announced she was going to drive back to the west coast via Yosemite. Never squandering an opportunity, I quickly inquired if she’d like a sidekick. She smirked and we plotted the trip half way across the country in four days…
On the road, May 1.
Headed to Dallas to pick up CP, turned left and headed to Albuquerque as we made our way to the first stop: Glen Canyon NRA, by way of Winslow, AZ (because you should at least once in your life, stand on the corner…) and then I had to brake… a brown sign… for Petrified Forest National Park. Now, we hadn’t planned on this being in our path, but after a quick map search and the visitor center being so close to the highway, a short pop-in was a must.
Heading off, it flurried through Flagstaff and rainbows followed us through Arizona. But as we arrived at our destination, it was too late to hike out and we would wait for the next morning to witness Horseshoe Bend.
But we had a larger prize on our mind - Zion National Park, and neither of us had been before. A few hours later, we found ourselves winding through the east entrance of the most amazing cliffs and canyons, filled with terra cotta and crimson layers. We hiked the entrance to the Narrows, took the shuttle to the lodge, and ventured out to the ghost town just outside of the park. Although I would highly recommend more than two days in Zion, we had a tight schedule and pointed our compass south to Sequoia.
I always find landscape transitions fascinating and the drive from southern Utah and its brightly colored hues through the farmlands of central California to our destination of Sequoia National Park proved to be engaging. Our quick venture into the parks’ most iconic aspects gave us an amazing appetizer into the depths that would have to be explored on another adventure, but one that we would not quickly forget.
Arriving at our final destination was everything I could imagine. With pulsing excitement, we ventured into the Valley and wandered
aimlessly. We searched for a park ranger to help us gather our bearings, and we heard a few voices tucked into the shade of visitors center.
As I paused at the disconnection of why I recognized the voice carried by the gentle breeze, I quickly realized we have encountered arguable one of the most famous of all NPS park rangers: Ranger Shelton Johnson. I’ll admit, I froze like a school girl meeting a boy band and my words fumbled out of my mouth as though I had not yet learned to speak complete sentences. But this chance encounter was beautiful and am very appreciative for his kindness and generosity of spending a few moments with us.
Yosemite is everything you think it is and more. Including the echoes of frat boys howling at 2am, much to the chagrin of every camper in the Valley. But all I can say is, Just GO!
I dropped off CP to catch her flight back home and I made my way to Death Valley and the unparalleled expanse of the California desert.
I dropped off CP to catch her flight back home and I made my way to Death Valley and the unparalleled expanse of the California desert. Driving through Arizona would not be complete without a stop at the Western National Parks Association HQ, which was in the
process of renovation, so I dropped in on the staff while being temporarily housed at the local Embassy Suites.
Organ Pipe Cactus was a must, as I had promised Ranger Caroline (whom I had met a few years back at Fort Pulaski) and became enraptured with this under appreciated National Monument. Winding through the small border towns of Ajo and Why (why, indeed) was its own adventure.
With fires closing down the campsites at Chiricauha, I opted to make a straight rush for home, since the next week we were off to the Big Island of Hawaii. but not without a little temptation along the way.
As I hit the border of Arizona and New Mexico, a message came through from Gabe Biderman - he was headed to the Grand Canyon and would I like to tag along to scout it for an NPAN workshop. YES I WOULD! For a brief moment I forgot I was headed home to fly off to the Big Island, and when the realization hit me, I sulked in my car for 50 miles.
The Island of Hawaii was hazy from the erupting volcano, and I didn't get to experience all the parks I wanted to, but I did fall in love with the smaller parks of the island.
The month of May rounded out with a bang with another interview, this time for the website Park Chasers, which was great fun and an honor to be included!
Stay tuned... the second half of 2018 recap coming soon!