We all have the ability to do so many things in life.
We are driven by stories, examples, personal goals and sometimes a belief.
Whether if that is a faith based belief or just believing you were meant to do something unique with your time on earth.
For me, it is absolutely being a husband, a father and a photographer…. in that order.
My wife and I have been extremely blessed to both work from home. We know not all circumstances can allow such a lifestyle; for that, we are ever grateful.
I’m grateful to spend a lot of time with her and of course, spend time with Denali, Aurora and Deutsch, our dog who has lived a very, very long life.
As each New Year approaches, I always went on some road trip. Most times I go alone. Sometimes, I bring close friends.
This year, I went alone.
The Creator lined up some incredible weather for Northern Arizona and Southern Utah. Most places got slammed with snow. I grew up about 30 minutes South of Page/Lake Powell, Arizona and the hogan (pronounced hoa-one) sits at 6,250′ in elevation.
We got about 14″ of snow. Quite honestly, the last time I remember it snowing that much was about 25 years ago when I was in middle school!
The weather was wonderful, epic and proved winter is winter.
I left our home in Utah and drove through Wednesday night. From Panguitch, Utah to Page, Arizona, the 168 miles were covered with ice and about 4″ of snow. In fact, around the Paria area, a semi had jack knifed his rig!
I got to Page, AZ around 11pm and tried to find some snow chains – just in case if the weather got really crazy….
All places were closed except Wal-Mart. Frankly, I saw the clock hit mid-night in the automotive isle. Of all places, Wal-Mart. Waahhhooo 2015!!!
I then proceeded to my roots; home. Mom and dad were both asleep at 2:30 am and like times of old, dad woke up at 5am. So did I. Even after being awake for nearly 20 hours straight, I was excited to see the snow on Navajoland.
Mom woke up and made her delight-some breakfast. I told her I had to pass because I wanted to drive in a lot of snow.
The Nissan Armada is very well equipped for different terrains. I’d been across massive sand dunes, downtown Los Angeles, deep back in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah and the colorful back roads of Colorado and out to the Bonneville Salt Flats…. But, I hadn’t spent any time in pure powder.
I’ve snowboarded in pure fresh powder from the heavens and that feeling was just in the backyard. Going around the back country roads of home, the roads where I learned how to drive a 4 speed 1984 GMC with granny low. These sames roads also taught me about 4-low and 4-hi with Warn locking hubs thanks to dad.
Our backyard wasn’t like what most probably had. It was literally a 30 square mile of beautiful terrain. It looks like this in the spring/summer:
(You can click on the image above for a larger view.)
After wheeling around on familiar roads, I returned home and enjoyed having breakfast with my parents. Nothing like spending time in the home I grew up in.
Home wasn’t huge nor massive. All total, the house was no greater than an average living room. The lessons we learned were much greater than that….
Dad and I talked a little about winter. He asked me where I was going on my next big – big trip. I said “Alaska in February!”
His eyes got big and told me to dress warm!
He asked why Alaska since I specialize in photographing Navajoland. I told him we are going to show Denali, our son, where he got his name from and the stories that come with it.
Not only that, we are going to make this trip special for the lovely ladies in my life. My wife Anita and our beautiful daughter, Aurora.
We fell in love with the name Aurora and gave her the middle name “Winter Sháńdíín” meaning Winter Light. Anita has always wanted to see the Northern Lights.
My dad then shared an amazing story with me about the blizzard of 1968. Long story short, it was known as the Storm of the Century dumping 86″ of snow in 8 days. (That’s just over 7 feet of snow!!!)
One thing dad remembered about the 68′ blizzard was for a few nights, it got super cold! So cold that my great grandmother made blue corn mush and placed it in a bowl and put it on top of the her home.
I asked why she did that.
Dad said that great grandma Sarah made an offering to nurture the Holy People of those from the North. The way my dad described it was so beautiful. I almost wanted to shed a tear of joy or two. It was just real cool!
My great-grandma Sarah said the (Northern) lights were so beautiful that it looked like the Yei’Bi’Chei wearing different color blankets and they moved so swiftly with a beautiful dance high in the air.
Her offering of blue corn mush to Them was an example of what she always did. Anyone who came over, was always fed and taken care of as a special guest before they continued on.
Hearing that story only got me more excited and grateful for the opportunity to photograph The Holy People of the North that visited my great grandmother that night in the 1968 blizzard.
It was a very humbling story dad shared. I had a quick minute to close my eye’s and remember all that I had learned from my great grandmother Sarah which was a lot….
After breakfast, I had to leave. I left to spend more time in the “backyard” and I was on a mission to find a nice place to kneel in the snow and to give an offering myself.
As I was praying for a wonderful year in 2014 and giving thanks for our beautiful daughter, our home, our professions, all the new clients I generated, record breaking this and that….. I was in a deep moment of counting my blessings.
Just as I was ready to close my prayer, the Great Spirit asked me to “look up”.
I did and I saw two amazing Eagles. My grandfather taught me so much about Eagles and what they mean to us as Navajo people. Grandpa was such a spiritual giant among men.
As The Creator invited me to look up, I saw these two Eagles looking over me. It was an emotional tear jerker moment for me. It was a nice “Welcome Home”. I had my Nikon D800 in hand and was able to take 2 photographs. Here’s one:
(To see the higher resolution image, click on the image above.)
I couldn’t help but feel the presence of my Grandparents. They always knew I loved to travel and they also knew how much I loved to come “home”. I felt them very near that morning….
I then left because the weather looked like it was going to get better towards Monument Valley. Before I left for MV, I drove up to another wonderful overlook and just spent some time laying there with snow all around me.
Our hogan door faces the East to welcome a new day. I always place my front door facing the East when I camp to greet the morning light and welcome a new beautiful day.
I was able to set up my Tepui Tent and just enjoy the nice and quite snow fall.
After a few hours of laying out, I made my way into Page to see my friend Marv. He was getting over loosing his voice and the flu. When I told him I was going to Monument Valley, it seemed like his sickness just went away.
We left and started heading towards the great valley.
On our way there, we saw numerous cars off the highway. Most slid off and fortunately, we didn’t see any major wrecks or serious injuries.
One lady slid off by a busy part of the highway and I couldn’t hook up my tow strap like usual. Instead, I had to park and pull her out with my Warn Winch. I have the Warn Zeon 12 which is rated at a whopping 12,000 POUNDS!!! The winch pulled her out like nothing!
This was the first time I had used the winch and it was very easy to use and install. Most importantly she got out of that mess and we were all safe. It’s important to #GoPrepared
Shout Out to Warn Industries for making great 4 Wheel hubs for my 1984 GMC 4×4 and the 12,000 pound winch. Visit them at www.Warn.com Also Fab Fours Bumpers for building me a masterpiece to house the winch and have some protection up front! www.FabFours.com
We made it into Kayenta then over to Monument Valley. The roads there were nasty! The snow was hard packed that it was like walking on ice!
This is where having a good footprint really matters. As my dad always said, “any truck and get stuck, it’s just the driver.” Another famous line of his was “You could have all the horsepower but the wrong tires for zero traction, you might as well have 5 Horsepower and the best tires”.
This is why I love my Toyo Tires. The meanest All Terrain set out there. It’s all about traction.
As we got into Monument Valley, cars were left and right like bowling pins. Stuck here and there. I was going there to generate a few wonderful images for a potential Winter Navajoland Workshop.
That game plan changed immediately.
I intentionally built my Nissan Armada to get me where I need to…. and I also built it to help others too.
Quick important side story of where photography began for me and why I love helping other people on the roads….
About that 1984 GMC half ton 4×4…. My mothers parents lived in Steamboat, AZ. Steamboat was about 40 minutes Southwest of Canyon De Chelly and often, we would visit my grandparents during the summer.
One time, the Ol’ Truck broke down on the Hopi Reservation. We were miles from any store. And many more miles from any auto-part store. One gentleman came and helped my father. He was so helpful and didn’t bother driving 3 hours out of his way to get us new parts.
He was a miracle. It was a blessing!
As we waited, I took my father’s camera. A Minolta 35mm with a 200-400mm lens and snapped a few photo’s of the truck, dad, Hopi land and my mother. I’ll never forget that image I took of my mom. She was sitting on a rock. Calm as a bird. Optimistic and had that smile. She had some sunflower seeds in her mouth and she was playing cars with my younger sister. Instead of HotWheels or Matel cars, they had rocks. She was happy and not bothered.
What a memory…..
That is where photography started for me – in the 3rd grade. Dad promised me to always try to be like the guy that helped us while we were in the middle of nowhere – broke down. Be like the guy who went 3 hours out of his way so we could be ok. I said I would and to this day, I’ve tried to keep up on my promise.
That is the foundation to why I built my Nissan Armada the way it is and also why I enjoy helping others get to where they need to be.
As we got to Monument Valley, it was a beautiful mess.
Beautiful because of all the snow. A mess because of everyone who wasn’t prepared. Here are some images of a few fun folks we met or helped:
All total, there were well over a dozen vehicles stuck throughout the park. Fortunately, we had the proper items to help them out. Remember to #GoPrepared
Our main objective was to photograph the sunset light with the snow. We were miles from where I wanted to get sunset and our goal turned to getting these people out of the frozen wonderland. It was a good reason we missed the sunset light.
We spent a few more hours oooh-ing and awe-ing at the snow, moonlight and the Tepui Tent. It was just a great combo of snow, stars and camp site:
After the moon light went away, we left. We headed back for Page, AZ only to sleep for a couple more hours. All day, my Sherpa 100 from Goal Zero was charging from my 2 Nomad 20 Solar Panels. As the Sherpa was fully charged, I then recharged my GoPro’s and Nikon D800 batteries. Here’s all my gear that I packed. My favorite is the Yeti 400! That thing is a tank of portable power!
We got back to “town” only to see a few minutes of the Ohio State vs. Alabama game. Go Ducks…. Hahahha…..
I hit the sheets and set my alarm for 3am. (If you’ve been counting, by this time, I had had a total of 6 hours of sleep in 2.5 days.)
3am came so fast. Though I wasn’t recovered, adrenaline came in as more snow dumped on Page, America. In fact, Page received over 8″ of snow!
This only meant sunrise could be epic! Marv drove to Page and we got some MOAB food at Maverick. (MOAB = Mother Of All Burrito’s) That burrito filled us up and we were off…..
We slowly made our way to the North side of Lake Powell. A place I was very familiar with. Earlier in 2014, I did an interview with NBC about water and prior to that, I had been to this view point well over 50 times. It is such a wonderful drive and it too can get nasty!!!
We pulled up and waited for the light. The air was crisp and not a soul was around. We waited for the sunlight to do what it does best; surprise me! We had a little window of light in the far distance.
With a lot of faith and hope, I knew the Light would break through. I loaded some medium format 120 FujiChrome film into my Fuji 617 format. (The size of the film is about a half inch longer and just a tad bit shorter in height than a dollar bill.)
After waiting for about 45 minutes after the sunrise, some light broke through the clouds. And like the light in Antelope Canyon, the beams of light connected with different parts of the water and Navajo sandstone.
Since snow was everywhere, the color was reflecting all over and generating amazing hue’s of turquoise, blue and even some lavender! (I lived in Southern France for a couple years and love those rich colors!)
Anyways, the light and colors were amazing! The only time I had seen some of the aqua-blue-ish colors was in Alaska within the rivers and streams a few years ago. Here is what I was able to capture:
I HIGHLY recommend you click on the image above to see a larger version. The colors in the far back of the canyons were amazing. The reason why that is is because the canyon walls are a lot closer to one another and this allows the colors to reflect of the sand stone covered walls and floor.
To area of clouds that had the rays of light come through were very, very bright. Fortunately, I had my 3 Stop Hard Graduated Neutral Density filter on hand. I’ll tell ya what, whenever I need these Singh Ray Filters, like a 12,000 pound winch, you don’t want to be without em!
Here’s how I used the filters with my Nikon D800:
After a couple exposures of the moving light, it was time to move on out. The Light was some of the best I had seen. Let alone, seeing Lake Powell in snow was something very unique which doesn’t happen a lot!
I like to say we were spoiled beyond measure!!!
We then returned to our homes and fell dead asleep! I slept for over 10 hours and was able to catch back up. It was wonderful!
The next morning, I headed to another place on my drive home to Utah. The snow was everywhere and more light was available. When hiking in any condition, it is super smart to have a cap and sunglasses!
The last image I created from my Fuji 617 was the following panoramic below.
Fortunately, I had the company of a red tail hawk. This location also reminds me of a concert hall. Years ago, I hiked around these walls and played a few songs on my Native American flute. The sounds echo so well.
I photographed here with my D800 and Fuji 617 with the 105mm lens. I’m looking forward to comparing the results. I’d say the Fuji 617 will take it over the Nikon.
All total, I put on 2,228 miles on this 4 day trip. Another milestone I had was hitting 160,000 miles on my Nissan Armada.
Back on September 8, I tweeted the image of hitting 150k!
10,000 miles in about 3 months? Sounds accurate!
Every now and then, I enjoy and need to go on trips alone. I use this moment to process my life and vision. I use this alone time to recommit to goals and to nature. This time alone is essential in my work.
Like The Beauty Way ceremony, my photography trips realign me mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Each year, I go on an annual multi-day New Years trip. 5 years ago, I asked Anita and her friends to join me. They did and as a result, Anita and I fell in love. These trips truly allow me to prepare for the greatest things in life.
Being a husband, a father and a photographer.
May You Walk In Beauty in 2015.
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