2015 was an amazing year, and I feel more fortunate than ever to have had so many incredible experiences. Photographically, it was perhaps my most productive year yet. I photographed a number of incredible locations that The Wilderness Society is working to protect, and also went on lots of "for fun" adventures in the best of company.
Below is a collection of some of my favorite images from 2015. I tried to be selective with my choices, but still couldn't bring myself to narrow it down to an arbitrary ten. Check out my Recently Added gallery for lots more photos from the past year.
As always, I hope these images convey a small fraction of the magic of wild places. More than that, hope they inspire you to get out there and explore them for yourself. Thank you for taking a look!
Pre-dawn light on a windy morning in the Mesquite Dunes of Death Valley National Park.
In February I took a trip to the California desert to take photos of unprotected lands that are under threat of energy development, but I couldn't resist stopping through Death Valley on my way back to Vegas where I would catch my flight home. The cloudy skies didn't show much promise for color that morning, so I decided to focus on the blowing sand with a telephoto lens.
Sunrise at Shadow Lake in Wyoming's Bridger Wilderness. This was taken on one of the final mornings of our August trek across the Wind River Range, which was by far my most challenging yet rewarding experience of the year. By this point we were eager to finish our grueling hike, but it was also tough to leave a place as beautiful as this...
Despite the countless hours of planning and training that went into this trip, I don’t think there was any way we could have totally prepared ourselves for such an intense journey. We traveled 95 miles in eight days—with the majority of our hiking done off-trail over unforgiving terrain. The trip tested our patience with each other and with ourselves, but I still couldn’t have chosen two better friends to embark on such an amazing journey with.
Uncompahgre National Forest, CO
Morning light breaks through the clouds for a fleeting moment before the season's first snow begins to fall on Dallas Divide.
In October a friend and I took a quick jaunt to the San Juans to catch the last phase of fall colors. Unfortunately we couldn't stick around for the snow, but I'm happy to have at least been there for a moment like this.
Kevin McNeal's incredible photo from this location is what initially inspired me to seek this spot.
Over Memorial Day weekend my fiancée and I met my dad and his girlfriend in Moab for a weekend of camping just outside of Canyonlands National Park. We set up an excellent home base on the rim of Horsethief Canyon, and spent several days exploring the area.
On the last evening, Jill and I hiked out to Murphy Point in Canyonlands. Just as we arrived, the sun broke through the clouds and into the canyons below. If I had to choose one shot this year as a favorite, this would probably be it.
Creative credit for this image goes to Miles Morgan (see his better photo here), one of my favorite photographers.
In early spring I was touring the California desert to document some of the places that are too special for development. Shooting on assignment is always a challenge because you're expected to deliver regardless of conditions. To add to the challenges, you're often confined to a very short timeframe with no opportunity for scouting.
I got the best light of the entire week on this evening, and when I stumbled upon Miles' composition I decided to work with something I knew to be tried and true. Reaching this spot on the side of a tufa was probably far more difficult than finding a unique comp of my own, but I was committed by the time I was perched some 15 feet above the ground. The only spot for a tripod forced my camera all the way to the side of the tufa, so there was no way to look through the viewfinder or even see the LCD. It was a process of shoot, check, curse, realign and repeat. Most of the poorly attempted shots were tilted as much as 30 degrees and totally unusable, but luckily I came away with one I was able to work with.
Oregon? Nope. Colorado... I spent a good seven summers of my life within a half hour of this waterfall and never even knew it existed. Just goes to show there are always new places to be explored.
In July we spent five nights in the Eagles Nest Wilderness. Despite its proximity to Denver, the rugged Gore Range sees significantly less visitors than other areas along the Front Range. That’s because it generally requires a long haul to reach any part of the range’s interior. We decided the remote Upper Slate Lake would be the perfect place to spend our 4th of July away from the crowds. It was nice to have so much time at one location—once we finally reached the Upper Slate Creek Basin, we spent four days exploring and taking it all in.
I only saw colorful light on one particular sunrise—pictured here from just steps away from our campsite. Another one of my photos from just moments earlier features a more complicated composition and even more dramatic light, but this one made it to the favorites list because its simplicity better conveys the experience of place. This is the type of scene that drives my affinity for alpine wilderness.
In March I hiked to the top of Flattop Mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park to photograph Longs Peak. It was an extremely windy afternoon, and I really liked the patterns the wind had etched out on the snow. This image is a blend of two exposures at different focal lengths, taken from the same location within a few seconds time. The first exposure was shot at a wide angle in order to incorporate the foreground, and the second was zoomed in on Longs Peak in order to retain a sense of its massive scale. This technique was necessary to effectively convey my experience of the scene in while the field.
Erik Stensland's dramatic winter shot from this location is what inspired me to find this unique perspective of Longs Peak.
In July I spent a few days shooting around Gunnison County in Colorado to support a new wilderness proposal that would protect some truly breathtaking landscapes. After a rainy few days, I was treated to the best light on my final morning as the soft light broke through the clouds and onto Star Peak outside of Crested Butte. This idyllic Colorado scene made the long, wet pre-dawn hike from our campsite all worthwhile.
Sometimes you don't see the light at the end of the tunnel until it's right there in front of you, as was the case during parts of a our August trek across the Wind River Range.
My two friends and I were battered and exhausted by the time we reached this rugged alpine basin—one of the most remote areas in all the Winds. With five more days and countless miles of tedious boulder hopping still ahead of us, we were growing a bit wary of our ambitions.
Storms threatened throughout that morning, and an afternoon downpour halted progress as we descended our second mountain pass of the day. A couple fleeting hours of sunshine at the end of the day made all the difference in our tired morale.
Then the lightning storm came.
High in an alpine basin there's no "safe" place to be during a storm like that, and it barreled into the basin right as the sun began to set. We endured the lightning for over an hour, and the rest of the night brought howling wind and persistent rain.
The next morning my alarm went off just in time for my daily sunrise shoot. Having hardly slept at all, I hit "snooze" four times in a row until finally it started getting brighter in my tent.
Knowing that we had a lot of ground to cover, I began the painful process of shucking myself out of my sleeping bag and slipping into my frigid wet boots. We were in one of the most amazing places I've been all year, but I was just too bushed to care about taking photos. That's when I opened my tent to see the sky lit on fire. And instantly, I was awake.
I grabbed my camera and ran down to the stream beneath our camp, shouting plenty of expletives along the way. After frantically snapping no more than a dozen ill-conceived frames, the color faded. I didn't think I got anything worthwhile, but luckily in a place like this you can haphazardly point a camera in virtually any direction and still get a half-way decent shot.
This year we spent our Thanksgiving at Valley of the Gods in southeast Utah. We brought a turkey feast with all the works and braved the cold for what will certainly be a Turkey Day we'll remember for some time to come.
Hopefully in 2016 we'll see this incredible region of Utah protected as Bears Ears National Monument.