Water and Wildflowers (Arapaho National Forest)

Water, life, desert, death, an entire family of ecosystems cover our planet, none comfort me the way a granite mountain range can.
— George Barnett

Colorado has become an annual getaway for me over the past three years. I've chiseled out 1-2 week adventures in the remote areas of the Rocky Mountains and other beautiful mountain ranges that this incredibly wild state has to offer. You can leave the 21st century behind pretty quickly in some areas, where my mind and soul are better off anyways. This year, I ended up in the deep interior of the Arapaho National Forest, outside the small town of Georgetown, Colorado (population 1,060 as of 2016).

After spending three days out in the burning hot Canyon country of Utah, I made a shameless retreat back east to Colorado's snow fed mountains. I decided on spending the remainder of my week in Arapaho National Forest, hiking and backpacking the many beautiful lake trails.

Murray Lake

Murray Lake

The best reading material in the backcountry

The best reading material in the backcountry

Photo by: The humble man who offered/gave me a ride up the 4x4 road to the Silver Dollar lake TH

Photo by: The humble man who offered/gave me a ride up the 4x4 road to the Silver Dollar lake TH

Naylor Lake

Naylor Lake

I can't quite put into words the feelings I have while being out in this wilderness, alone with the wildflowers, ptarmigan, elk, marmot and bighorn sheep. Glacier fed springs surrounding me on every corner and slope of the mountain, sudden drifts of wind, sunshine and incredibly fresh air. My head remained clear and life became simple again, I hiked where my feet wanted to take me, ate when I wanted with what view I wanted. I slept on meadows in granite arenas, using the moonlit lakes as a source of ambient light (once the headlamp was off). The morning rituals were slow, starting with coffee and ending with licorice, the sun rising once again, to give me the energy to hike to the next place I'll call camp.

(Prior to my solo adventures in Canyonlands NP and Arapaho National Forest) I also spent some time in Colorado with one of my favorite guys, Robert Mudd. He made the move out to Denver in the middle of Spring this year and is loving every minute of it (except maybe having to sleep on his friends floor). But Robert makes do, like all passionate minded folks have over the years. When we weren't jamming to The Greatful Dead, we were hiking. We drove the hour and change to Guanella Pass from Denver and hiked up to the summit of Mt. Bierstadt. Our hopes and intentions once we reached the summit of Bierstadt, was to hike along the Saw Tooth ridge over to the summit of Mt. Evans. However, when me made the summit of Bierstadt, we knew our weather window was all too short this time. The storm clouds were climbing over Grays & Torreys Peak, towards us. Robert and myself made the decision to bag the Saw Tooth another day, so we began hiking back down after some snacks and a well absorbed view. Once we reached the car (after storm dodging like bunnies the last 2 miles), our minds were on one thing & one thing only. Lunch.

Photo by: Robert Mudd

Photo by: Robert Mudd

All images are shot with 35mm color films.

Alone in the Wilderness (Abbey Country)

I am convinced now that the desert has no heart, that it presents a riddle which has no answer, and that the riddle itself is an illusion created by some limitation or exaggeration of the displaced human consciousness.
— Edward Abbey (Desert Solitaire)

It wasn't a mistake, I intended on an adventure like I've not yet experienced. Alone. The high desert of southeastern Utah offers so much beauty in the backcountry, but in the summer months the landscape is considered deadly. The July heat that consummates the completely dehydrated washes and mesas cause backpacking extremely difficult. I had all this in mind, along with the thought that I'd not be elbowing anyone over the sandstone saddles and ridges like mid Autumn weather would bring. I knew it was risky, hard work this time of year. But I had to try and see what adventure the Canyon country would offer me. Over the past two years I've completely fallen in love with the desert landscape and have began reading all of Edward Abbey's literature. I felt it was important to become more educated and physically involved within it's ground, it's slot canyons and ridges. I also knew that in order for me to be fully introduced and immersed into this rough terrain, that I had to go alone and get an ass kicking or two while hiking through it. (Just a hard headed wilderness freak that's too passionate for his own good).

Such a man would rather lie drunk in the gutters of Gallup, New Mexico, a disgrace to his tribe and his race, than button on a clean white shirt and spend the best part of his life inside an air-conditioned office building with windows that cannot be opened.
— Edward Abbey (Desert Solitaire)

I spent the majority of my time backpacking through the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. July 17th came, the date of my birth 25 years ago, I Parked at the Squaw Flat trailhead and quickly got my Osprey packed up, this is when I officially realized how fucking insane this all was. How dry the air was, the heat, the sun. I literally left behind half of the gear in my pack to make more space for water. Who needs a stove/fuel when the water on your back becomes hot enough to brew coffee in an hours time in the sun? I was able fit four gallons of water into my pack, along with a small amount of food (almonds, spicy Verde peanuts and raisins), my tent and rainfly (It was monsoon season after all) and a reliable map. Typically back home, I can get away with a 40 pound pack for two-three days in the backcountry (purifying water in the many streams found in eastern Kentucky). Here in Canyon country, I was my own water mule, carrying a 69 pound pack into the silent desert. I was ecstatic with curiosity and deep appreciation for my current surroundings. Once I strapped my pack onto my back, I headed into Lost Canyon with squinted eyes and a heart filled with love.

The trails in Canyonlands NP are largely made up from cairns (a human-made pile/stack of stones), they pick up through sandstone saddles over rims and ridges. It's a lot of eye scanning over the dark red ground for the next pile, sometimes in questionable locations. But ultimately very trustworthy, at least where I was backpacking in the Canyonlands. The backcountry was unbelievably dry, every wash and shadowed crack was arid as could be. The junipers were giving off a brilliant scent throughout the days when I'd be graced by some portions of shade. I never left one area of shade unvisited, I took my time out there. I recognized each blistering back breaking moment, relished in them all and pushed back the memories of modern life as I've known/lived it. One of the most intriguing things about backpacking to me is how quickly your life can become as simple as it always should be. It's like a light switch, a flash, a blink. Simplicity pours over me as I begin to count and pack the things I, as a human being will need to sustain life for however many number of days I'll be in the wild. That idea is refreshing, reassuring and constantly on my mind back at home in the city.

In the first place you can’t see anything from a car; you’ve got to get out of the goddamned contraption and walk, better yet crawl, on hands and knees, over the sandstone and through the thornbush and cactus. When traces of blood begin to mark your trail you’ll see something, maybe. Probably not.
— Edward Abbey (Desert Solitaire)

After a night sleep in Lost Canyon (including a late night show of the Milky Way) I decided to head out early the next morning after "trying" to eat some mini bagels. The heat kept my appetite very far away. I made it to my next campsite (Chesler Park) around noon and immediately setup my tent, it was time to rest while the mid day sun ran its course. I remember waking up after an hour long nap inside the tent, my mouth covered in this resin like film, I shot up from my resting position and grabbed one of the gallon water jugs and put it to my mouth to drink, the burn was painful, but not as painful as the split down the middle of my bottom lip. After a beautiful evening hike to Druid Arch, I made the decision to get the hell out of dodge when morning came. It was time for me to get back to the mountains, the water, the wildflower filled meadows, the granite peaks. The desert knows my face well enough for now, as I know its touch and sounds. I learned some new internal material of my inner self out there in the Canyon country. Just as I had during my last visit in 2015. I'll be back to Abbey's country as frequently as possible, probably for the remainder of my lifetime. Just as I'll continue (re)reading his visionary work. I sure did feel his energy in the canyons surrounding me, especially during my afternoon wandering around Arches NP before heading back east to Colorado. The La Sal Mountains staring back at me during each hike, the pool of beauty was deep, and I was drowning in it.

I never truly knew the western sun, until today

The trails are made up of dense, hot, scorched sand

The lizards part from the sage brush like water

zigzagging and covering the rattlesnake tracks.

How does life exist here? A burnt landscape,

A desert, A wasteland, A paradise unlike any other.

If only I could exist here.

 

-GB

 

All images are shot on Fuji PRO 400H film

Introducing friends to Sandstone

Once in awhile, the right people are all in the right place together at the right time. This month, myself and Levi had the pleasure of spending four days camping at Whittleton Campground (Red River Gorge) with some of our favorite family members and their passionate friends/kids. We spent the week hiking around portions of the Sheltowee Trace trail and Auxier Ridge trail, my intention was to show the crew some of the best views of this incredible Sandstone gorge we found ourselves in. I live for getting folks outdoors, into something that's bigger than ourselves and our daily problems. Setting up appointments for Mother Natures beautiful shoulder tap of a reminder. Guiding these hikes was an absolute pleasure and I'm looking forward to showing many more people these astonishing trails and their offerings this year.

All images shot with 35mm films and a Canon AE-1.

Spring Backpacking on Auxier Ridge Trail

Spring is upon us, myself and my son Levi joined along with Geraldine Chavez for a warm April weekend backpacking in the deep wilderness of Daniel Boone National Forest. Wild flowers were in full bloom and the streams are flowing freely and loud. Levi has spent the majority of his childhood in nature with me, he's grown to respect and adore this planet we all call home. Wilderness is essentially important.

Photograph: Geraldine Chavez

Photograph: Geraldine Chavez

Photograph: Geraldine Chavez

Photograph: Geraldine Chavez

This weekend was an amazing experience for us all, from spending lunchtime barefoot in a stream to making our way onto Auxier Ridge just before sunset. After picking our preferred site to setup camp, we all stripped our boots and socks off again to soak up the sunset on top of the sandstone mammoth sticking up out of the forest below. Levi made himself at home by building little stick houses for his action figures and snacking on veggie straws. I laid on the sandstone with nothing more than my dirty Patagonia baggies, enchanted by the panoramic view around us. A team of well fed Hawks lurked and circled the orange and pink sky, searching for dinner or maybe just enjoying this evening view like we were. Once the Sun finally drifted underneath the tree line, a breeze picked up and chilled our sun kissed skin. Stars covering twenty galaxies were overhead, Levi made his way into my lap and drifted quickly off to sleep after witnessing his first shooting star sighting (that was entirely special to us both). I rocked him gently in my slender arms cradled like I had all his five years prior, except now not as a baby but a young boy. A quickly growing boy at that. The next hour remained silent as we star gazed into a transcendental euphoric slumber spell. The tent was calling our name and we answered not long after.

Photograph: Geraldine Chavez

Photograph: Geraldine Chavez

Once morning came, I woke up to find Levi asleep deep in his sleeping bag. Never so peaceful until now. I peered out of the thick plastic viewing slots of the tent to see the weather conditions. The sun was out to the East and a wind was howling up and over the ridge, I slipped into my Danner's and grabbed my Canon AE-1 to lurk around before breakfast. After taking a slow stroll down the path (snapping a handful of photos along the way) I headed back to camp to get Levi up for the day. Just as I was walking up to our tent I heard him in there singing Neil Young's "Old Man" to himself while snacking on some pretzels and juice. I greeted him with a good morning and he excitedly put his boots on for me to lace them up. He and I were now headed to the ridge to sit and enjoy the morning view when we noticed a beautiful rainbow accompanying an oncoming rain shower. It was damn cold rain but it didn't stay around too long. Levi played around the ridge making friends with beetles and other little insects while I slowly broke down camp and packed our snacks for the hike back to the trailhead. Geraldine rested in her hammock for most of the morning until the rain revisited us. The hike back to the trailhead was peaceful, beautiful and eventually wet (rain showers the last mile). This wilderness isn't a bad place to raise a child in, I'm sure Levi could agree.

Grown Interacting with Nature

Learning the textures of tree & moss across petite fingertips

Gaining insight from sights of downed limbs & strong hardwoods splintering in the sky.

Listening to trees sing in the gusts of January air

Taking a leak on a pile of already dampened leaves, cause Dad said "Pick a spot."

Grown interacting with Nature, because it's here for us all.

 

All images shot with Kodak Tri-X 400 film

Winter Backpacking with Robert Mudd

I had the recent privilege to spend a weekend backpacking in the DBNF with a childhood friend of mine named Robert Mudd. Heading out to the frosted forest with anyone is bound to be a good time. When you happen to be in exceptionally awesome company, it's an experience you may not forget for many years. With this trip being the first of many frigid journeys in the new winter season, I spent my time breathing in the deep sweet cold air while talking literature/composition with Robert. This weekend seemed like it was just the two of us out here, probably having something to do with that 20 degree wind chill.

Photo: Robert Mudd

It's such a pleasure to hear another passionate person telling me of their adventures, hardships & dreams. I do believe that Robert will do great things throughout his life, he has a strong will & equally strong writing ability. We conversed for hours with our visions in life & where we want to ultimately take them. After setting up camp just as the sun began setting, we roamed down the Cloud Splitter ridge & were on a hunt for down limbs for the nights fire. I was happy to see that the fire ban had been lifted due to some recent precipitation. Mother Nature has grown Bi-Polar with this disease of global warming she's experiencing. After collecting the smaller chunks of downed limbs & twigs, we had our sights on a fallen softwood that was lodged between a beautiful bristling pine & sandstone boulder. Me & Robert took turns detaching every limb, each pop & crunch giving off strong aromatic pleasures of citrusy cinnamon & earthy pitch. Surprisingly, we got back to camp with our sixteen foot fire source in just under fifteen minutes. Not too bad considering we hauled it up slick sandstone walls with just the glow of two headlamps. The rest of the night consisted of eating while regurgitating jokes & memories from our years of friendship. Once the fire retreated to an orange blazing simmer, we headed for our tents & called it a night (while in our own tents, still reminiscing on the "sandlot" crew we grew up with & the hijinks we all inherited along with it).

Robert Mudd is a writer & outdoor enthusiast, he's currently spending his life with the intention to see more & own less. That's something we can all appreciate, he currently is dedicated to his project titled "Peregrennials". Give it a look by clicking the photo below.

All images shot with Kodak Tri-X 400 film.

2017: A better Earth awaits

Is it proper that the wilderness and its creatures should suffer because we came?
— Dick Proenneke

I do hope that everyone had an incredible end of the year & are ready, inspired & concentrated on the present. 2017. I'm going to be focusing on conservation as my son grows beside me, sharing my photographs & writing. Three books are expected to be published in 2017 (My newest 35mm film photography collection "Field Portfolio", will be available February 1st). I'll introduce new opportunities this year including group hikes, tree identification backpacking expeditions & conservation workshops. 2017 is the year for us to recognize & pursue ways to better the earth, to really begin nourishing its delicate lands & climate. Spreading & evolving peoples education of the wilderness & its limitless amounts of social equity is an overall goal for me in this new year. We need all heads passionately working together for the same beautiful outcome.

 

GB

Images shot with Kodak Portra 160 film.

Improvisation on the Trail

 

Gnarly

Splitting 18" long rounds from a beetle-kill

pine tree we felled

so it wouldn't smash a shed

-- with a borrowed splitter briggs & stratton

twenty-ton pressure

wedge on a piston push-rod

some tough and thread, knotty,

full of frass and galleries, gnarly

gnarly! --my woman

she was sweet

 

-Gary Snyder

 

 

October flew away & November is just behind in the seasonal race. Heading down to the Daniel Boone National Forest without much of a goal or route, usually (actually always) makes for a memorable experience in the wilderness. Such beautiful hues & colors rest in the late Autumn landscapes. I find myself unintentionally stopping on the trails in intervals of five to ten minutes, I keep falling into a trance of being stuck inside a Thomas Hill painting. Light is seamless this time of year, radiating in the shadows & off the dying plant life. I treasure each night spent on this earth, but no night can compare to a bright moon lighting up your sandstone castle.

All images shot with Kodak Portra 160 film.

Unpublished 35mm collection: Tramping in the Tundra

I'm not one to overshoot images, whether it be a film camera or even just a snapshot with my smartphone. I don't find interest in documenting every single moment, I actually find more pleasure in enjoying most moments for myself & the others involved. Which is considered quite selfish for a "Photographer". Over the years, I've published many images in books & online for editorial work. But more photos go unseen than seen when it's all said in done & that's just me following up with my belief in quality over quantity (yet another reason I shoot film). Unpublished images aren't discarded from editorials for lack of authenticity or beauty, but maybe lack narrative for what story I'm chasing after. Here is the first installment of my unpublished 35mm film images while shooting my field essays "Tramping in the Tundra".

 

All images shot with Kodak Portra 160 film

Following the trees to the Streams

Our senses take us there, to the flowing line of life deep in the quiet forest. The water calls out from a far with it's harsh splashes & echoing rapids through the tree line. "The source is somewhere near", I assured myself. Hiking through low brush & under the sky high spruce & evergreen tree's lay the rushing stream. I took out my water bottle & began to pump myself full of the glacial fed waters before me. The distant sound of two song birds rang across the open stream & I saw them experiencing the same relief I had when taking my first deep drink from the bottle. The wild provides.

All images shot with Kodak Portra 160 film.