Leave No Trace

When traveling in the West, you’ll often see that phrase stuck to the back of Subarus and campervans, as well as printed on many of the brochures and maps handed out at national parks, national grasslands and other hiking and camping destinations. While on the road in New Mexico back in May, I was revisiting an old book that I had brought along and I found a new appreciation for the following passage, which takes the concept of “Leave No Trace” to a higher level. The book is God’s Dog: Conversations with Coyote by Webster Kitchell…

   After breakfast we snooped around the ruins, and then we climbed
to the mesa top. We looked down on Pueblo Bonito. We were silent.
Then I spoke what I was feeling.
   “It’s sort of sad and sort of moving to see the ruins people leave.
They worked so hard, and all that’s left are ruins. But because they
worked so hard and left ruins, we remember them. We know at least
they existed. They weren’t completely swept away by the sands of
the desert and the sands of time.”
   “We don’t leave ruins.”
   “And people don’t remember you a thousand years later.”
   “So what? Who wants to be remembered?”
   “We humans can’t imagine not existing. We want to exist at least in
someone’s memory. Or leave a monument that someone will find a
thousand years later and say, ‘Some clever folks lived here.’ ”
   “So what? If you’re not alive to appreciate their wonder at the
monument you left for them, what good does the monument do?”
   “It’s psychological, Coyote, an emotional thing. I admit it isn’t
reasonable. People want to be remembered, so they build monuments.
They have to make their mark on the earth, even if it’s only carving an
aspen. It’s part of being human; the persistence of being.”
   “The point of being alive is to be alive! Why do people waste their
lives constructing a monument so people will remember them when
they’re dead? They could have put that energy into having a good time
or making life better for the human race. Or for coyotes, for that matter,
like you do.”
   “It’s called ego, Coyote. I have been reading some heavy sociology
about the stages people go through. When they’re little, they are child-
like. They don’t have all this ego. They take life as it comes, as you say
they should. Then they get to a stage when they have to differentiate
between self and parents. They start to develop an ego. Which is fun!
It means I am I. I do not exist just as an extension of my mother or my
clan; I exist! And so I want to leave my mark on the earth; maybe on
the Universe.”
   “Maybe ego is what is wrong with humans. Maybe that’s why you
were evicted from the garden way back there.”
   “You could be right. Which may be why in later life, people become
aware that life and goodness and beauty transcend the human ego. In
later years, they get some child-likeness back, but at a more sophisti-
cated level. They see the whole thing and appreciate it and understand
it and don’t have the emotional need to carve their initials in it anymore.
They can just accept it as a wondrous happening, a gift.”
   “Well said!”

~ ~ ~

Quoted text © 1991 by Webster Kitchell

One Moon Ago

Preceding yesterday’s Halloween blue moon was the Harvest Moon of October 1. This autumn’s road adventure marks the first time in the past 14 years of travel that I’ve packed only film cameras and left my DSLR at home. I have lost interest in digital photography in recent years and I find that I’m much happier when shooting film. However, DSLRs are clearly the superior choice when it comes to astrophotography; if I hope to capture the Milky Way or the northern lights, I will pack my digital Nikon.

The rise of the Harvest Moon is something I look forward to each year. As that date approaches, I tweak the Pontiac’s course to put myself in an area with good weather and an open horizon. This was my first attempt at preserving the event on color film.

(My time-lapse video of this moonrise can be viewed here.)

Crook County, Wyoming
Kodak Ektar 100 film (35mm)

Cumulus

After several days of empty, blue sky, it’s nice to see the arrival of a few puffy, white clouds. They add a little something to your landscape photos.

Niobrara County, Wyoming

Carl on the Rocks

Waving to you from the rim of this magnificent stone formation in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming. I have now shown you all of the images from my September/October road trip. I hope you enjoyed riding along and seeing these pictures from the obscure corners of the US and Canada that I was able to explore on that long drive.

Of course, another long road trip will unwind this fall, though the dates and destinations have yet to be selected…

Free Range

Meanwhile, north of Colorado…
I’ve yet to share any of the photos that I shot in Wyoming back in September. Last autumn’s epic 8448-mile road trip brought me through central Wyoming for the first time; a shame it took me so long to visit the area, as this part of the state is a showcase of natural beauty. I hope to explore this region often in the years ahead.

I was able to spend one sunny day hiking across scenic BLM ground located in the western foothills of the Bighorn Mountains. As is the case with most land held by the BLM, only motorized vehicles must remain on marked trails; hikers and those riding horses may roam freely.

Certainly, more than 99% of the miles that I have hiked to date were logged on established trails. But I have been fortunate enough to walk through a handful of places in the world where off-trail travel is permitted, and those experiences bring a deeper level of satisfaction, as did this trek. It was quite special to be so close to these big, beautiful rock formations, and to be able to immerse myself in the silence and solitude to a degree that I could never attain in a crowded national park. In places like these, far away from the visible reminders of civilization, you can really sense the timelessness of the landscape.

I think I was being followed…

The 6000-Mile Mark

6000a

Rain ruled the road every minute of the two days that I was driving south through Montana, so no photos from The Treasure State to share. Happy to see the sun again in Wyoming, pictured above. Stay tuned for more Wyoming and Colorado scenery in the days ahead.

Do It Again

Christmas Day, 1994. This is the photo that started it all. Over the next several years and several thousand miles, I would accumulate 53 such pictures…48 states, the District of Columbia and four Canadian provinces (I’ve been to a fifth province, but was unable to find an “Ontario” sign). Years later, for reasons unknown, I had grown to loathe photographs of this car with the top in the up position. It just didn’t look right to me. I realized that, going forward, I didn’t want to shoot another photo of the Pontiac unless the top was down. And I decided to replace the existing inferior images with some new top-down shots.

Looking over the collection, it was clear that I would need several years to accomplish this overhaul; of the 53 original photos, 40 would need to be redone. In those 40 scenes, the top was up due to rain, snow, bitter cold, oppressive heat or simply due to the fact that, back then, I didn’t care. A lot of miles will have to be covered in order to get the pictures I want, but I’m certainly not complaining…I’m happy with any excuse to tour the continent yet again. During October’s long journey, I was able to cross seven more states off of the reshoot list. Let’s start with Texas…

tx1

This border crossing has changed a little over the last 21 years…the old buildings in the distance have been razed, a rusty trash barrel has been placed in front of the stone Texas monument (considering the large amount of garbage on the side of the road, it appears that no one is actually using the barrel), the New Mexico portion of the highway has been widened to four lanes, vehicle traffic has increased substantially (oil service trucks heading down the ranch roads) and, sadly, this cool vintage right-of-way marker has been removed. On the day I arrived, a trucker decided to use this spot to park and take a nap. I wasn’t too keen on the revised scenery, so, for my updated Texas photo, I opted for a different arrangement…

TX

One thing that all of the old photos have in common is that they were shot in front of state line signs. It was during the first of the reshoots that I realized there was a better solution: small-town post offices. Shooting at the state line was usually problematic. Border signs are rarely posted along minor roads; they’re reserved for highways. In addition to the hazard of the increased traffic on these highways, it was often difficult to park near the signs due to the presence of guardrails, bridges, ditches or simply due to the complete absence of a shoulder, meaning that some percentage of my vehicle was parked on or near the travel lane. At the post office, however, parking is usually a breeze, especially after hours, and the town and state names are both identified. Plus, each state has many cool post offices to choose from…

Tie Siding, Wyoming…

WY

Pep, New Mexico…

NM

Kenton, Oklahoma…

OK

Manter, Kansas…

KS

Salisbury, Missouri…

MO

In Colorado, I was enjoying a Sunday drive through scenic Pleasant Valley with my friend Sarah when we spied this tiny post office across the street from a wayward cow. All of my state photos up to this point (with the exception of New York) have been self-portraits. But on this day, I had an excellent photographer riding in my passenger seat…

co2

So I asked Sarah to take my official Colorado portrait…

CO

Many states and provinces remain on the reshoot list. And, I’m eager for my very first look at Alaska, the Yukon and all of eastern Canada. One step at a time.

You can view the whole collection via this link to an album in my Google Photos account.