2014 has been a great year with many exciting changes. Most notably, I moved to Colorado with my best friend and amazing partner where I started a new job with The Wilderness Society, an organization who's mission aligns perfectly with my motivations as a landscape photographer. I've already had the privilege of shooting several assignments in the new position, and I also went on a number of amazing short personal trips all in great company.
This wasn't necessarily the best year for me photographically, and the vast majority of my photo excursions saw only clear skies. Considering what a year of transition it was, though, I'm still very fortunate to have explored as much as I have. Now that we're settled in Colorado, I'm excited to get out on some longer trips and find better light in 2015.
Below are some of my favorite images from the past year in no particular order. They were all processed to be viewed on black, so please click on each image to dim the lights. As always, I hope these images convey even a small slice of the magic that I experienced in these wild places, and I hope they inspire you protect these places and explore them for yourselves.
In April I took a bit of a whirlwind trip with a friend to Death Valley National Park. Despite our jam-packed itinerary, I had planned on the Mesquite Dunes as our primary destination. Before sunrise that morning we climbed Telescope Peak, the highest point in the park, where temperatures were well below freezing. Some hopeful yet benighted part of me was actually looking forward to the heat that awaited us down in the valley, but it wasn't long after arriving in Stovepipe Wells—where my car's thermometer read 102°—that we were regretting our decision.
I had initially planned on spending several hours in the dunes in search of a solid composition before sunset, but instead we took a quick trip to the parking lot, fired off a few quick frames and headed for higher elevations and cooler temperatures. Luckily a couple of other photographers were crazy enough to be brave the heat, and made for a perfect addition to this image.
Capturing a decent shot of Rodeo Beach was near the top of my bucket list before moving away from California. I used to live in the park intern dorms right on this beach, so it has a special place in my heart. It's also an extremely popular location for photography, which had always sort of deterred me from actually shooting there. In my few attempts, I was never been able to find an original composition. Yet part of me still felt like I needed a good Rodeo Beach shot in my collection, more for a personal keepsake than anything else. Oddly enough, this probably turned out to be my favorite image of the year.
Last spring I spent an afternoon on Mount Tam scouting locations for an upcoming workshop. The wildflowers were in full bloom and lush green hills were bathed in warm golden light, nicely emphasizing the rolling contours of Bolinas Ridge. The skies were clear that evening, so I decided to turn my attention to the hillsides with a telephoto lens. Spring is without question my favorite time of year in the Bay Area.
In early August I went on a short backpacking trip to explore some of Rocky Mountain National Park's southern backcountry. The wildflowers were at their peak here above Pear Lake, which really pulled together this idillic Rocky Mountain scene. If I were to describe my own version of paradise, it would probably look a little bit like this.
I'm thrilled to be living so close to this awesome park—95 percent of which is designated wilderness—and I can't wait to explore these mountains for many years to come!
In November we saw our first glimpse of winter in the mountains, so I drove to Rocky Mountain National Park to shoot the fresh snow. I hiked out to Emerald Lake well before dawn in single digit temperatures hoping the clouds might break for sunrise, but I wasn't entirely surprised when it just kept getting snowier and grayer.
It's always a roll of the dice to get out of bed at 3:00 am and drive a couple of hours to shoot sunrise, especially when the forecast isn't all that promising. The thought of sleeping in on a precious day off is always on the front of my mind during these decisions. Laying in bed during a snowstorm is actually my second favorite activity of all time, but the decision to get up and go is usually always the right one. Even if you don't get the shot you're going for, you'll never know if you don't show up. Despite the less-than-ideal conditions for shooting, I still really enjoyed the quiet and peaceful hike as winter settled into the mountains.
I wasn't able to shoot as much fall color as I would have liked this season, but we were able to at least get out for a quick hike in the Evans Wilderness during the tail end of the peak colors. I accidentally laid down on a colony of fire ants when I took this shot, but now that the bites are gone I think it was worth it!
Jill and I took a trip up the Mendocino Coast in January and spent a couple of days in exploring the Stornetta Public Lands, which is the most recent addition the the California Coastal National Monument. This is where we spent out Super Bowl Sunday, with no crowds and and a gorgeous Mendocino sunset.
I never imagined the desert could bloom vibrantly until our April trip to Death Valley. My previous annual trips to the park always seemed to miss the blooms, but this year we lucked out and arrived just in time for this spectacular display. Dozens of wildflower species spread throughout Wildrose Canyon on this particular evening. I could have spent days here photographing the colorful palette on the valley floor.
In September, on assignment as The Wilderness Society’s new photographer, I took a jaunt through some of New Mexico’s most scenic and wild swaths of unprotected land in hopes of capturing a small slice of their beauty. The last stop of my tour took me to Otero Mesa, an area we're trying to protect near the Texas-New Mexico border.
At first I thought open grasslands would be drab, but I couldn’t have been more wrong about Otero Mesa. It was immediately clear to me that this area is truly wild. In a single day we saw more wildlife than I had seen all year. Not even the dreariest of lighting conditions could put a damper on my Otero Mesa experience. I was already sold on this magical location before the overcast day gave way to a picture-perfect rainbow and an explosive sunset.
In mid-December I went on a winter backpacking trip in Rocky Mountain National Park with a good friend. I had long wanted to shoot at Sky Pond, one of the most dramatic areas in the park, and the conditions were perfect on the first day of our trip. The forecast called for overcast skies and high winds, but the clouds cleared throughout the afternoon and it was absolutely still by the time we reached this majestic alpine basin. It hadn't snowed in a week, which made for a fantastic hike on mixed terrain without the summer crowds.
A winter storm rolled in later that evening, and it snowed over a foot on our camp throughout the next day. If we had been just one day later, this ice would have been covered in snow and it may not have been possible for us to reach this special destination from our camp 1,000 feet below.
In late October I made my first trip the Great Sand Dunes National Park. Here you can find the tallest dunes in North America, all tucked beneath the rugged Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
This image was taken shortly after one of the most intense wind storms I’ve ever experienced. A friend and I were camped in a small depression at the foot of a dune with steep walls surrounding all sides, hoping to be sheltered from the squalls that seemed inevitable as dark clouds built overhead. After setting up camp, I climbed out of our little hole to get a better view of the approaching weather. Upon reaching the ridge above our camp, I noticed an opaque wall of white slowly encroaching from the far side of the dune field. I began exploring when I realized the wall of white was suddenly half the distance it was before—it was moving much faster than I thought.
The next thing I knew, I was sprinting back to our camp as the white wall barreled over dunes, spewing whirling dervishes of sand over 40 feet in the air. Within seconds of unzipping my tent door, a hurricane-force gust slammed into my tent, instantly uprooting all 6 stakes from the firm sand and flipping the tent on its side. If I had been 5 seconds slower, my tent and everything in it would have ended up somewhere high in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. I spent the next 25 minutes in a fetal position on the ceiling of my tent (which by then was the floor), hugging my backpack and making sure my camera gear stayed covered. Our theory about camping in a depression proved ineffective. Rather than being sheltered, it seemed we were more caught in a total vortex.
The rest of the afternoon brought calmer winds and dramatic light. I still haven't had a chance to process most of my images from this trip, but wanted to include one here since this adventure was a particular highlight of 2014.