An image of mine was featured on the Humble Arts Foundation site. They featured the work of 30 photographers who have shot strange pictures of the Golden Arches (in my case, they're turquoise!) It is literally at the veeerrrrry bottom, as in, the last one.
When I came back from the road, I knew I had a lot of work to do examining the hundreds of images I took, and editing them down to a particular theme.
It's not enough to do a linear story about myself going on a trip. That's not terribly interesting or insightful. What can I offer to the world of photography that will set it apart from other stories about the southwest, motorcycles, etc?
What continuously stood out in my mind was the juxtaposition of nature vs manmade, and how stark the contrast was between the two at times. I layered two opposing images in a series of ten as a visual representation of what I saw and ultimately came away with after my journey.
It's now under Stories > Eden's Shadows!
A few months ago I was chosen to be part of Feature Shoot’s “The Print Swap” project, where your image is printed and sent to another photographer at random, and you receive a surprise print in return.
Little did I know that it would also be selected for a show called “On the Outside”, comprised of many submissions from around the world. I found out when I was in Arizona. I think this is the first exhibition I’ve been apart of that wasn’t hosted by my school, so I’m pretty excited!
It opens in 5 days on May 25th at the Berlin Blue Gallery. How amazing would it be to attend the opening, but my Europe adventure days are over (for now!) Berlin is a fascinating city, and as a country overall, I really think Germany was my favorite.
I was excited to go from Blanding to Grand Junction, which seems quite boring, but you go right up to Moab then turn off on Highway 128. Checking out Google's "street view" looked promising—you're right alongside Arches National Park for a ways, go through a ghost town called Dewey, and are next to the Colorado River. Sounds nice, right?
Well, I clearly wasn't paying attention to my maps. To be honest, it was a small miracle that I hadn't gotten lost until this point. I'm the kind of person with the broken compass, relying heavily on my phone to tell me which way to turn with that friendly, sterile voice. I wasn't lost per se, because I was technically on the main route, but I had completely missed 128.
I was still enjoying myself turning off on beautifully barren, desert dirt roads (before I realized I missed the turn.) One particular road was incredibly washboarded, and I thought at any moment the engine would get rattled clear out of the frame. I pulled off on the side to take some photos, and realized just how hot it was out here. I figured I'd be done because it was scorching, and it probably wasn't good for my bike to be shaken around so badly, not to mention I was probably getting all sorts of new chips and dings.
I flipped the 'run' button and heard the usual hum, priming the motorcycle to start up. I then pressed the 'start' button and there was nothing. Oh, shit. I'm a mile down a totally random dirt road with no cell reception whatsoever, and the sun is mercilessly beating down with no shade in sight (I also had maybe a few sips of water left.) I hadn't seen anyone go down this road yet. Slightly panicking, I tried starting it again, and again, and again. Still nothing.
I moved it around a bit forwards and backwards in neutral and tried again. Strangely enough, that worked. Why, I don't know, but I was just so immensely thankful that I wasn't going to be forced to walk down that road to the freeway and wave down help. That very thought was terrifying, being alone and a woman.
Back on the road, I was beginning to wonder where that turn was. I looked down at my directions and realized just how many miles I'd gone past 128. I was upset. But, at least my motorcycle was still running. I eventually made my way onto I70, and was into Grand Junction before I knew it. The town itself is pretty ho hum, but the surrounding beauty is amazing. I was planning on another sunrise expedition to the Colorado National Monument, which seems to be an overlooked park. I'd never even heard of it before. I checked into my room, with a sign on the table that said This Is A Smoke Free Hotel. Hotel was more like "motel", but the scent of cigarettes was not contaminating the room, a refreshing change from last night. I watched cars audibly zoom down the freeway with illuminated gas station signs framing the view.
Early that morning, I set off into the cold and made my way up the winding road in the dark. One nice thing about going to a national park before the entrance kiosk opens is that you won't have to pay the fee.
I began to see light. I had to pick a spot quick. That's the one unfortunate thing about sunrise—the window is so small, so you have to choose your spot wisely. I began to see what looked like the view in some images I'd seen. I pulled off into the first lookout area I could make out. Where I ended up was overlooking "Redlands View", showing part of the road I had gone up nestled in the middle of two red rock formations.
You can't help but be in awe as the sun's rays peek over the horizon. Alone with my motorcycle patiently waiting next to me, I was mesmerized being bathed in such wonderful light. In the future, I'd love to make it over to "Grand View", about 5 miles further up where you see a dazzling collection of sandstone towers.
I thought about a nap, but decided to soldier on and get started on the final 250 miles to my apartment where an anxious boyfriend of mine was waiting. As I was leaving the motel, I noticed that the pool had a mural painted on one of its walls above it. How strange the outdoor scene looked illuminated by cold, sterile fluorescence with chlorinated water below in a jarring shade of artificial blue.
Now that I was back in Colorado, I'd hoped that the week and some days away had greened the state up a bit, but it was wishful thinking. Still, I25 was surprisingly beautiful, maybe because I'd only ever seen it coming back from Christmas when the landscape was completely dead. It was at least halfway alive. I was thoroughly enjoying myself, especially riding next to the Colorado River, until a bee managed to fly right down the sleeve on my left arm. At least I thought it was a bee—I never saw what it was when I exited the freeway and furiously shook out my jacket, looking for the culprit. That hurt. It had been a while since I'd been stung by a bee. My forearm continued to swell and itch like crazy, not fully healing until more than a week later. At least it wasn't my face?
As I entered Boulder, I was exhausted, but I had almost made it home. I laughed to myself thinking of making it all this way, being so close, only to be hit by a car tearing ass out of the parking lot (something that I'm always cautious of because it almost happened to me once.) But I rolled up behind my car unscathed, and felt incredibly triumphant turning off the ignition. I thanked my bike for getting me back safely. It was a long journey for the both of us.
I learned so much along the way, and apart from a few mild hiccups, it went as well as it could. I can't wait to do it again as soon as I'm able to.
After the sunrise, I took a brief nap up until my checkout time. Since I was giving myself an extra day to get back to Boulder, I could be more flexible with when I left. Monument Valley to Blanding would be the easiest day as well—only 75 miles to go.
Leaving Monument Valley, I knew that Forrest Gump Point was near. It's the place on the highway where Forrest, after running for 3 years, declares that he's tired and heads back to Alabama. It was a tourist shit-show, for lack of better words. I went a few hundred feet past it, and pulled off on a little patch of dirt. The view was still fantastic. I figured that this might be the best opportunity for a self portrait, and pulled the tripod off my sissy bar bag. I was pretty happy at the results.
Before I knew it, I was in Blanding and at the motel. Somewhere in the fine print was the fact that the room I booked, the cheapest one available, was a smoking room. I opened the door to that faint, but still wretched scent of stale cigarettes. I was equally amused and revolted. Well, I should take advantage of this, and go buy some cigarettes. I had the idea for some images in my mind.
The town of Blanding, innocent enough, was the catalyst of a realization I had—these beautiful national parks, forests, and deserts I had been going through, filling my thoughts with amazement, did not deserve to be surrounded by manmade creations that seemed so out of sync with the beauty. Sometimes garish, stark, pitiful, bleak, or a mixture of all, the peace and satisfaction of your soul gets sucked out. This sad, stinky room was certainly a representation of this.
I didn't feel lonely on my motorcycle, flying next to natural wonders, but these towns bring about that feeling. They are out of place, and in return, you feel out of place.
But of course, it's intriguing at the same time, almost like a morbid curiosity of sorts. I walked around Blanding in search of cigarettes and images.
The morning after John died, I began my journey back home to Colorado. I had all my rooms booked and was going to leave on Tuesday no matter what as the weather was good for those four days. He just happened to pass Monday evening.
The ride was off to a good start. The weather truly was blissful. What a change it was—no more ducking under my fairing trying to escape the cold wind, shivering until it hurt, or feeling like I was going to get bowled over at any moment.
I pulled off at this abandoned motel, drawn in by the funky southwest colors.
Monument Valley was a joy to ride into. Where on earth can you name a more iconic desert landscape? I was happy to finally be experiencing these red rock formations in person.
I knew that I'd be having to go down a dirt road to get to the cabin I rented through Airbnb. I tried convincing myself that I'd be fine, because after all, I was able to not drop my bike on a two mile long gravely dirt road (gravel is THE WORST!) As I approached it, I saw the road was steep and very uneven with rocks jutting out every which way, but I got up it no problem. I couldn't help but feel accomplished. I left my belongings at the cabin and meandered around, not wanting to stray too far. I'd be getting up for sunrise anyways. Clearly I puffed myself up too much with confidence as I went down another dirt road that looked like a piece of cake until I found out just how bad soft, silty earth is. My pride was knocked down a little after nearly dropping my heavy Harley numerous times pulling off on the slightly raised sides of the road for pictures. It's a horrible feeling when your front tire begins to sink and slide around, which only gets worse from using the front brake!
The night before, I scoured the internet on my phone, trying to find people who had ridden the road below the famous buttes on a motorcycle. I was not about to just wing it then realize how screwed I truly was and drop my bike, possible damaging it (or myself.) Okay, so some dual sports had done it. But I had a Harley, low and heavy, without knobby tires. I googled "Harleys on The Valley Drive Monument Valley." I found an article written by what looked to be a seasoned old pro who said it was miraculous he and his friend made it without dropping their hogs. Yeah, I've only been riding for two years, so it'll be a 'no' for me. Maybe one day I'll rent a dual sport and do it! Or when I've got decades of experience on my belt... I may ride a motorcycle, but I play it on the safe(r) side.
I wished that the sunrise was as spectacular as the one I witnessed in the Grand Canyon 5 years ago, but the colors were very mediocre. Regardless, it was a sight to behold.
When I left on my trip, my cousin John had suffered acute kidney and liver failure at the age of 31 and wasn't going to last more than a week. I photographed him and his wife Kelly's wedding back in 2015. It was all so sudden, leaving doctors scratching their heads. Dialysis was actually going to make him die sooner. There was nothing that could be done. He was taken to my parents' house for hospice care.
The night he died on Monday, April 23rd, I took his adopted son, Scotty, to the vet where I picked up Buffy's ashes. Yes, Buffy died in September, but my dad had a mental block about getting them, and my mom just kept forgetting! I had never explained to a child what cremation was before, but figured this was probably a good opportunity for him to start wrapping his brain around the concept. I said that when you die, your soul leaves the body, so you either get put in a coffin and buried in the ground, or your body gets put in a fire and it turns to ashes. He seemed to understand, then asked me what a "soul" is. I said, well, your soul is what makes you, "you." It's your personality, and what makes you special from everyone else. Hey, I was trying my best. How do you explain such a philosophical concept to a six year old?
"Can I see Buffy?"
He carefully opened the little wooden box, and as soon as he saw the plastic bag with Buffy's remains, he said, "Oh!" He really got it now. He touched them very gently, then closed the box back up.
Scotty seemed to be handling his father's imminent death extraordinarily well. Kelly, had already explained to him that he was going to die, so he was prepared. I can't imagine what it would be like to see my dad at that age on a bed in the living room in such a terrible state. John's breathing was getting slower and more labored, and his skin tone was a greying yellow. But as my mother says, "still waters run deep," and he had a breakdown that evening. My dad went outside to console him and they sat together in the swinging bench from his father's old cabin.
The light was lovely so I went outside with my camera after it looked like my dad had cheered him up. Little did I know what a ham Scotty is.... So instead of candid, tender portraits, I was instructed to take picture after staged picture in various locations. When he's older, I'll get a kick out of showing them to him and ask if he remembers.
Later that night, he sang a song to John that they used to sing together called "Slow it Down" by The Lumineers. About 3 hours later, with his favorite Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin playing in the background, he took his last breath and left this earth.
As we sat on the couch in tears waiting for the nurse to come and officially declare him passed, Scotty asked me, "Will he be dead forever?" I said yes, but it's okay, because he's up in heaven now and not in pain anymore.
Have you ever been so tired that you can’t go to sleep? My mental and physical state should have been perfect for sinking into blissful slumber, but there was a small part of my brain that was still amped from the ride, I guess. I must have been merely closing my eyes the whole night. I tried sleeping in, which put me an hour behind.
A quarter of my day’s journey would actually take me back up into Colorado. Jonathan rode with me to Tres Pierdas where there was this cute little pink adobe school house.
Even though I was more tired than the previous day, my confidence was already increased. The landscape was still fairly barren, but then I entered the Carson National Forest, which greeted me with the fresh scent of pine. My enjoyment quickly disappeared when the elevation shot up to over 10,000 feet at the summit of Pinorealosa Mountain and snow was everywhere you looked, (except for the road, mercifully.) There was a scenic lookout (beautiful but I was too cold to care) which I pulled off at and sat huddled next to my bike, trying to escape the wind. I warmed my hands by pressing them against the primary, which wasn’t as scorching hot as the engine or exhaust. I looked into the trees and thought I was hallucinating: a herd of deer were making their way deeper into the forest, but it looked like they were just standing in one place jumping. It was mesmerizing for a few seconds as they slowly got smaller and smaller. Then I realized I could hit a deer—hadn't thought about that before.
I still don’t know what’s worse, cold or high winds. The cold finds its way to your bones, reducing you to a shivering, tense mass of muscle. It laughs at your insulated gloves Sean let you borrow, as well as the hand warmers you stuck to your wool socks inside your sturdy leather boots. Everything goes numb. Your teeth hurt from the chattering, but still you must command your iron steed. The silver lining is knowing how appreciative your motorcycle’s engine is— its heart loves nothing more than the icy winds that pierce through your flesh. And wind… Even warm wind, if it has no effect on your own temperature, is perhaps worse. It can blow you off the road, off your bike, into another car. At best, it’s still plain difficult to deal with, especially on a winding road, which is what was waiting for me at the base of the mountain and into New Mexico again. There’s nothing you can do but fight it and tackle the curves as gracefully as you can, and be prepared for a gust to throw you around at any moment.
I was relieved to arrive at my lodging for the night at around 5 PM. Another day conquered. I was amused to see that there was a “night club” in the motel, but it looked to be basically a bar of sorts. I figured I’d have a beer there after a shower, since I was not about to get back on the bike with the high winds that still were plaguing the area and search for a liquor store.
Upon inspection of a large sign just outside the entrance, I was shocked to see that there was an actual dress code that required women to be in a dress or skirt. It was probably too early for that to be enforced, maybe, but this was all just too weird. Remembering that I wasn’t in Colorado anymore, I walked over to the nearest gas station and got a tall boy of the fanciest beer I could find, which was Shock Top. Good old Shock Top; I really do appreciate you, but when you live in Colorado spoiled with the choicest of craft beer, Shock Top tastes like a Budweiser. I was thankful that I could at least get something in a gas station (you can’t in Colorado, or even a grocery store for that matter.)
I couldn’t even finish my drink I was so tired that night—I went to sleep with no problem. It was 9 AM when I left, right on time, but unfortunately the winds were STILL hanging around. Looking at the weather, it all had changed. The wind was not supposed to be terribly high when I left but instead was looking to be a steady 25 miles an hour with gusts up to 40 all the way up to Flagstaff. There was nothing I could do but endure it, and at least I had a very good amount of experience the previous day. But the wind is tiring. The cold is tiring. They were both present, so it was fairly grueling.
I stopped off at a McDonald’s in Shiprock to warm up with some coffee. This is where Rob was born—a dusty Navajo town that’s only claim to fame is a nice view of the ‘Shiprock’, which was hazy from all the desert particles being whipped into the atmosphere.
A nervous little Canadian woman approached me and said just how worried she was for me, seeing that her and the hubby's RV was getting shaken around by the cross winds. Apparently they were right behind me. A Navajo man chimed in and asked where we were going. Turns out we were both headed in the same direction. He said not to worry—the winds won’t be as a bad in the west. Mrs. Canada (okay, her name was Lorraine) was incredibly relieved to hear that. We ended up chatting for far too long, and then got into another conversation with a Navajo family outside. I realized that I was not going to meet my dad in time. I didn’t want him waiting on me forever (Tuba City isn’t quite a tourist destination, after all), so for lack of better words, I hauled ass. I was getting up to 90 miles an hour, but then I slowed down reasoning with myself that my dad would rather meet me alive (and I also didn’t want to be paying an exorbitantly priced speeding ticket if it came to that.)
I stopped in Kayenta, freezing. I was miserable, but so close to meeting my dad and having less winds and warmer temperatures. I made it to Tuba City and we had lunch at Subway. “This is the best restaurant here,” my dad said, and he wasn’t kidding. I was finally able to let my guard down because he was with me. Being alone is nice because you’re totally in control, but I love having company as well (especially if it's my own dad!)
Finally, Cornville! I was thrilled to have made it. It wasn't the most pleasant journey, but I had successfully braved the road and that's all that mattered.
The entire month of April was spent planning and finally embarking on my first motorcycle trip, solo. My boyfriend tried to talk me out of it, citing the fact that my stamina probably wasn’t up to snuff, but I was itching to go. I may never get another chance to do something like this again for a long time, now that I’m not working at the moment (or at least very little!) He was also, of course, worried about me being alone.
I was originally supposed to ride out for Arizona Bike Week, but far less than ideal weather threw that idea out the window. I had to turn around at 50 miles desperately trying to make at least Saturday of the rally because Northern New Mexico, my first stop for the night, was getting heavy snow.
The conditions were still not perfect when I finally left, but my confidence was upped a bit from that test run. I can do this. That small, bright voice of positivity was doing its best to shoo away the thoughts of me getting killed by a semi truck, as I’m sure Rob and my mother were also struggling with. I was also hoping that I wasn’t being naive like Rob was trying to convince me of. I have never ridden over 200 miles in one day. Now I was to be logging 300 miles for three days in a row.
I was taking the scenic route on my way down via CO 93, then 85, 105, and 115 on my first day. Seeing that it was early spring, Colorado was still dormant, or in other words, ugly. Flying through the air in 50 degrees might as well been 30. I was stopping so much to warm up (which you never really do) that I was going to be getting to Jonathan’s ranch in Amalia, New Mexico after dark. I decided to take the interstate, I25, down the rest of the way to make up the time—something that I’d carefully avoided in my planning. When you’re a vulnerable little skin bag straddling a cage-less machine, you become very concerned about freeways, or at least I do. People just do not pay attention, and paired with cars doing way over the speed limit of already a high limit, it’s a bit unnerving.
But it was a Sunday, and I was relieved that there was light traffic. I ended up hanging behind a silver Honda CR-V from the same year I once had that was gently doing about 70 miles an hour, technically 5 under. It was my faithful road partner as cars and semis alike roared past us, but I didn’t mind, and obviously neither did they. I was still making up a generous amount of time. When it pulled off at an exit at some point, I wanted to wave them goodbye.
The sun was dipping below the horizon as I barreled up a mountain pass off the freeway— it was my final leg of the journey for today and I just wanted to be there. The sun’s warmth was gone as the wind picked up, making it extra chilly with the significant gain in elevation up to 8,000 feet. The final test was a two mile long, washboard dirt road, but I made it! I took a few pictures with the last glow of fantastic ‘magic hour’ light. I was pleasantly surprised at how little my back hurt, but mentally I was trashed. Jonathan’s wife cooked an amazing dinner for us inside their beautiful adobe style home. I was happy to have survived my first day.
Stop with the snow already, Colorado. No one wants you here anymore.
Looming rain and a sun's dying light just barely illuminating the landscape makes for some nice drama.
My AP art project in high school was a series of cyanotypes. It's been 10 years since I've bought the chemicals to try some more! Ferric ammonium citrate and potassium ferricyanide are mixed with water and then in equals parts together to create the substance used to paint onto the substrate (in this case, watercolor paper.)
The paper is then dried, in as low light as possible, then a negative (printed on transparency paper) gets placed onto it weighed down with a glass sheet.
Everything is carefully transported outside where the print can be exposed by sunlight.
I say 'carefully' because I have a scar on my finger to remind me of what happens when you don't handle glass with care. In high school I was transferring a cyanotype outside when the glass suddenly rotated, its edge making contact with my finger as it dropped off the wood panel I had underneath and subsequently shattered. That wasn't as disappointing as my sliced finger that would not stop bleeding. I went to the ER and got three little stitches to help close that sucker up!
Depending on how bright the sun is that day, it can take up to a half an hour to fully expose. When the chemical mixture begins looking brown, that's when its ready. The paper is then washed in water, then dried. What appears as a lighter blue takes on a rich, dark blue tone after 24 hours.
You get what you pay for: I purchased the cheapest transparency film on Amazon, which printed horribly and turned irreparably wavy from the heat of the printer. Those bubbles and waves were impossible to flatten out with the glass, so the print was not particularly quality once finished.
But, that's okay! I learned my lesson.
Rain is a welcome change.