This month was one of those that’s at times representative of what it means to be a staff photographer. One week you’re shooting assignments like marathons and high intensity sports while the next is dominated by court appearances, press conferences (and a golf game). Nonetheless, September was a really good month. Iv’e started pitching and pursuing my own stories for the first time, and have gotten back into shooting long exposures at night; something I used to do a lot and very much have missed. All this combined has had me feeling very good about where I am and what i’m doing. I’m also writing other blog posts that I’ll be putting out soon, including a second part to my post about advice to photographers starting out.
I’ve got a couple trips planned to various parts of the state as Fall sets in and the leaves change.
This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for a long time. While I’m just starting out in my own career and have a long way to go, I’ve learned some valuable lessons that i’d like to share. Here’s a list in no particular order of personal truths based on my own experiences and others that have helped me. I don’t take my own opinions as gospel, so take from them what you will. Hopefully there’ll be something in here that’ll be useful to you.
Note: This post is about advice on a more personal level. I have another post coming up for more practical tips regarding getting into photojournalism. I’ve also made a list at the bottom of this post of working photojournalists all over the country that are doing great work while highlighting some of their work throughout this post. See if one of them is near you and see how they shoot places that might be familiar to you.
There is a place for you, no matter what kind of shooter you are.
No matter what kind of a photographer you are, there is a place for you in this industry. I didn’t know that for years myself though. I thought for a very long time that photojournalism was one thing only; LIFE magazine style photo essays; structured storyboards from beginning to end, focused on one subject that you spent days, weeks or even longer working on. I always felt this underlying pressure that If I wanted to be taken seriously as a photojournalist, I just HAD to do that kind of long form work. The problem was that I didn’t really want to. Even though I appreciated and admired other photojournalists who did, I preferred short stories and daily assignments. I had convinced myself though that that wasn’t “real” photojournalism; that what I did wasn’t “good enough”. I wrestled with this completely self-inflicted guilt of not feeling like a true photojournalist for a long time. It took years of different experiences and conversations with others to learn that it was actually okay to not want to be a social documentarian, and that the term “daily shooter” wasn’t something to be ashamed of; to realize that there was in fact a place for me in this industry.
That’s not to say that I’m still uninterested in photo essays, In fact I’m more interested in them than iv’e ever been. The point I’m making is you should never, ever feel like you have to force yourself into shooting a certain kind of work or adopt a style that isn’t yours because you think it’s what people want or that it’s the only way editors will take you seriously. I still remember being told by a staffer at a paper that different interns would come in and shoot in a way that they thought the editors wanted, when really the editors chose the interns because of the fact that they saw things differently. Be honest with yourself and embrace the kind of work that you really want to do, because that’s the work that editors want to see. I remember another editor telling us that they didn’t care what it was that you wanted to do. That if you wanted to shoot something like a series of dressed up dogs they’d still take a look at it. So do everything you can to express your own vision in your work, and I promise you, there will be people who WILL appreciate it.
It’s okay to not know what kind of photojournalist or even what kind of photographer you want to be.
I didn’t know that I wanted to be a photojournalist when I first picked up a camera. I got my start in shooting landscapes, and kept shooting them as I got more involved in photojournalism. I particularly loved panoramas and long exposures; not exactly hard hitting photojournalism. It turned out that my love for long exposures and other aspects of landscape such as color and composition were ideas I could bring to the way I shot photojournalism. No matter what kinds of other photographs you enjoy taking, there are aspects that you can apply to your own shooting. More than that, many photojournalists have other passions that they funnel into their work. Think about those other passions and interests you might have. Ask yourself how they may better inform your personal vision or what kind of work that you gravitate towards. Give yourself the space necessary to grow and experiment. Master the technical aspects of your equipment and pursue a deeper understanding of how you see and what you are drawn to.
It wasn’t until I spent a lot of time actually looking at the work of photographers I admired that I began to move away from my own narrow view of photojournalism. The way Alex Webb used color, Damon Winter of NYT used light or Matt McClain of WaPo used composition. I loved how these photographers could take anything from a general news story or an everyday element of life and could turn it into something that escaped the daily news cycle and stood by itself as something memorable and beautiful. I remember one photo in particular that, silly as it may sound, changed almost everything for me. It was a photo McClain took of a church that was building a pipe organ. He shot it through a cutout in the shape of a cross in the doorway. Seeing the photo now I think it’s still pretty clever, but when I first saw that photo it made my mind explode like a supernova. Through seeing images like that and others, I started to consciously grasp the concept that photojournalism could be and is so much more than just documenting a subject or event. That there is in fact a deeper language to the medium; of not just seeing light, color and symmetry but actually feeling them as viscerally as one feels emotions. Ever since, Iv’e been addicted to finding those kinds of images in the day to day; those little moments where humanity is shown and in which light, sound and motion intertwine with one another. I truly believe that there can be just as much magic in an everyday moment as there is in a major news event. It doesn’t happen all the time, but that’s the goal day in and day out.
Professionals shoot awful photos (too)
I spent my first couple years starting out looking at the work of other young and talented photographers. I’d count on my fingers the number of years between their age and mine, to the point that I felt like if I wasn’t on the front page of the New York Times by the time that I turned 21 i’d be a failure. Looking at the work of others stopped being constructive and just became self abusive. All i could think about was how much better those shooters were than me. I truly felt that the work they did was something I couldn’t do myself; that their vision was something inherent in them, not honed through years of learning and practice. I didn’t understand at the time that the problem with looking at only the highlights of other peoples work is you begin to assume that they’re always shooting great images, and that couldn’t be further from the truth.
I was at a workshop where a photojournalist who’d been working for many years gave us a presentation of an assignment that they shot for the New York Times. We were able to see their entire take from that assignment, and I saw that a whole lot of those images weren’t good. In fact, some of them were just awful. If any of us are being honest, there are hundreds, sometimes thousands, of photos we take on our assignments that no one will ever see (or at least we hope not). But I think it’s important that newcomers know that there’s a lot of truth to the saying that “most people only see 2% of an artist’s work. ”
It’s a marathon, not a race.
Sure, there may be some prodigies of photojournalism, but the vast majority of the people who work in this industry are people who just refused to quit. Even when you reach a level you’re proud to be at, there’s still more to learn and even more bumps in the road to overcome. you’re going to have times when you feel insecure no matter how good you get; times where you wonder if this is what you’re really supposed to be doing or if you even have what it takes. The answer is simple: you do. As one photographer I listened to said “if you spend your time wondering about where you’re going to be ten years from now and try to plan it all out, you’ll freak yourself out and defeat yourself before it can even happen. All you have to do is focus on the next picture; about the assignment today and what you’re going to be doing tomorrow. If you do that every day, I promise you that the rest will take care of itself”.
So go out to shoot, even in the times when you don’t feel like it or don’t have a clear idea of just what it is you’re going to photograph. Look up different photo exercises you can do. Petapixel has a slew of articles to get your mind going. It’s hard to really notice your vision developing from one day to the next, but if you put the time in, step back after a month or a year, and you’ll be almost sure to see a clear and discernible difference in your work. After all, the moon isn’t moving fast as you look at it, but it still makes it to the other side of the sky each night.
You can make great work anywhere.
There is fantastic work being done every day by photojournalists all over the United States in areas large and small.That’s because there is an entire world of photojournalism that goes beyond the daily news cycle or the major national stories. You don’t need to live in a big city or move to a different country to create compelling images. Great moments are everywhere, and the more you shoot the more you will intuitively recognize them around you. Check out some of the work of people I posted below, and seriously, check the monthly clip contests of NPPA. Take note of how many of those great images are of moments that happen in your own town or city.
Rejection and disappointment happens, and that’s okay.
If you do this for even a little while, you’ll be rejected, whether it’s for pitching a story or applying for an internship, staff position or workshop. Sometimes the rejection hurts a lot, even after it’s already happened times before. Iv’e been a finalist for internships and staff positions at more than a dozen publications only to end up not being chosen, and no one feels pride about the dozen times they almost got the job. Sometimes it’s hard to not take it personally as a referendum on your work or even yourself. Trust me, its not. There are a lot of reasons for why you might not have been the one chosen that have nothing to do with you.
It’s also important to be happy for other people, even when that’s the last thing you feel. Earlier this year, three months after I’d been laid off by the Rapid City Journal in South Dakota, I applied for an internship at another paper in the region. My lease was up in a month and I knew i’d have to go back to DC if I didn’t land something, so I did everything I could to get it. I even offered to drive the couple hours to get there to meet everyone in person. I spoke with their editor, went on a ride along with one of their reporters, was given a tour of the city and the paper itself, and then met up with the editor again the next morning. I was so sure I was going to get the internship I even mentioned I was looking at apartments. I drove back home without an offer but was convinced I’d get one.
And then I didn’t. Instead I was told that they offered the internship to a college student.
Was I disappointed? Yes, deeply. but I also understood that it was going to be a great opportunity for the person getting it, even if that person wasn’t me. Iv’e had my opportunities, and this one was theirs. You might forget it sometimes, but you’re not entitled to anything no matter how skilled or qualified you might think you are. It’s important to be grateful for the things you’ve already been able to do and to be happy for the successes of others. Recognize that this is not a competition and that we really are all in this together. Yes, It’s okay to feel depressed and dejected at times. It happens. But you can’t let those feelings fester into sustained bitterness and resentment. It helps no one and only hurts you.
You might not change the world, but you can effect someone else’s.
There are plenty of images that come to mind as examples of imagery that moved many and reshaped public opinion; the Vietnam Napalm Girl, the Iwo Jima flag raising, the falling man on September 11th or the body of toddler Alan Kurdi on a turkish shore. The list goes on. We all hope to make such impactful images at some point in our lives, but really, the greatest gift that this profession has to offer is that it allows for the ability to make little differences each and every day, whether you’re starting your first entry level staff position, shooting a class assignment for school or just working on your portfolio.
And just because a certain assignment or subject may not matter to you doesn’t mean that it doesn’t matter to someone else. That restaurant shoot? It means a lot to the owner of that restaurant who just opened and is trying to get people through the door. That charity organization profile? It means a lot to the people that have been doing their work for years without being publicly recognized. Another night shooting another high school football team? That team captain is carrying a copy of the paper to show his friends and his parents are sharing those photos on facebook. You have no idea how much of a difference you might be making, even with something as simple as sending someone a feature photo you took of them. For all you know they hadn’t received a photo of themselves in years. No matter what level you’re at, you have the ability to make this kind of difference every day. That’s something to aspire to, and that’s something to be really proud of.
I really hope you were able to gain something from this post. Feel free to post any questions or comments you might have, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for reading.
Various working photographers whose work I admire in no particular order. Of course, the amount of photographers who’s work I admire is longer than this list, but for practical reasons I’m keeping it a reasonable length.
The air is getting cooler and pumpkin spice lattes have made their triumphant return, which means that Fall is upon us! Since the green leaves of summer will very soon be turning to their autumn hues, I thought i’d make a short post of one of my favorite places to experience the season while still remaining in the DC area. I’m talking about Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, and if you haven’t already been there, the next couple months are gonna be just the right time to do so!
Note: Iv’e linked most of the images here to my website where you can see them fullscreen.
Beginning at the foot of Front Royal where the two branches of the Shenandoah River meet, Skyline Drive is one of the most majestic roads that there is in the entire Mid-Atlantic region. Built by the WPA in the 1930’s, Skyline Drive follows the crest of the Blue Ridge for over 100 miles South to Waynesboro and Charlottesville, offering stunning views of the Shenandoah valley and beyond from its 75 overlooks.
Skyline Drive is a part of Shenandoah National Park, with trailheads from the drive leading to waterfalls and mountain crests like Old Rag, and wildlife such as white-tailed deer and black bears abound. While the drive is wonderful at any time of the year, I truly believe it is at its best when the sun rises and sets, the former especially in the autumn months when the forests covering the blue ridge turn into a vast sea of crimson, yellow, purple and orange, with the air itself being refreshingly crisp and smelling of the season. Little Devil’s Stair, Hogback, Pinnacles, Rattlesnake Point and Big Run are just a few of the overlooks that offer great vantage points for sunrise and sunset, with sweeping views of the series of crests that make up the blue ridge and the many small valleys they create and the towns that line them; lighting up the valley as the sunset gives way to dusk.
In the autumn months you will see cars dotting the overlooks facing towards the setting sun like a drive in movie theater, while surprisingly enough you’ll find even in the autumn months the drive almost deserted at dawn, allowing you your own private show of a brilliant sunrise. It’s also a good way to avoid the crowds of leafers, as they’ll be choking up the road going one way as you go the other. When autumn is at its peak, the forests lining the road turn vibrant hues of yellow, with tourists parked along both sides of the road to get out and take a look.
And for those who love stargazing…
There are few places more magical at night than Big Meadows, true to its name lying almost at the midway point of skyline drive and offering an unobstructed view of the night sky from one end of the horizon to the other. Big Meadows is one of the more popular areas to watch meteor showers, and on a clear night one can easily make out the milky way. While it is most visible in the summer months, the milky way can still be seen any time of year.
Big Meadows is also a wonderful place to experience the dawn, as one end of the horizon may still have stars dotting the darkened sky as the first hues of sunrise begin on the other.
Note: Check for weather updates if you happen to be up there at night. Sometimes heavy fog will inundate the ridge, making driving a little difficult…
To get there: The Northern Entrance to Skyline Drive is located just outside of Front Royal, a small town 75 miles West of D.C. directly off of I-66, the drive itself there averaging around an hour and a half.
Entry Fee: $25.00 for a 7 day unlimited pass. However, their payment booths close at night while the road remains open. So if you’re trying to be cheap, or just want to leave a donation of your choosing, you can do that too.
So since it’s now September, I thought I’d make a little post about the month of August, which was a fantastic month for images. Easily the best so far since I started in late June. Shooting nearly every day again after not doing so for almost 5 months has me feeling sharper visually, and with fall right around the corner, a time in which West Virginia explodes in color, the photos will hopefully continue to keep coming.
Of course, we all know that the Great American eclipse stole the show this month, and for perfectly good reason; It was nothing short of breathtakingly ethereal. I drove down to South Carolina for it, where my good friend Josh Morgan is currently working as a staffer for the Greenville Tribune. It was great catching up with him and our friend Angus Mordant, who does work as a stringer for the NY Daily News. We spent the weekend together and shot the totality, Josh from the top of the highest building in the city and Angus & I down in Falls Park where hundreds had gathered to watch. As totality neared the area began to turn a golden hue as though it were late afternoon, and the crowd cheered with every noticeable shade the area became darker. As soon as totality hit however, late afternoon almost instantly turned to dusk. People shouted and applauded witnessing this unbelievable spectacle; a black orb vivid in a cobalt blue sky where the sun had been a moment ago. Looking through my camera, the corona of the sun was clear as a beautiful and delicate light that seemed to dance around the moon, rolling outward like a shining wave. Knowing time was very short I quickly snapped a few close images before shooting what I could of the surrounding landscape and the people lining the bridge directly above us. I was glad to be able to have some kind of foreground in the image, as it was 2:39 in the afternoon and the sun lie almost straight up above us.
This month started out continuing ride alongs with EMS supervisors in the city as they went from scene to scene, with breaks in between at the firehouses on either side of the city. While the focus of the written story was on new mindfulness classes offered to fire & ems personnel, I had the opportunity to speak with them more directly about the effects that the opioid epidemic is having on their resources. I learned that one of the largest issues that they are facing is the avalanche of calls received that turn out to be false alarms, one common scenario being calls from bystanders calling about someone lying on the ground who they believe might be overdosing, only for personnel to show up and discover it’s just a person taking a nap on the grass. While personnel are grateful that bystanders do call in when they think their might be a problem, they are frustrated that most of the time, bystanders themselves will do nothing to see if the person is in fact just someone napping on the grass, instead their first and only step being to call 911. Another issue is that because the epidemic is so pervasive, crimes that in the past may not have been necessarily drug related, from domestic abuse to car accidents and robberies, are now often a factor. It seems, there are few crimes committed now in which drugs are not involved.
This month was also the first time that I photographed one of Pres. Trump’s rallies. I think anyone that knows me already is well aware of my feelings regarding him, so i’ll move past this one.
This month was very varied in subject matter. While July saw mostly tennis and golf, this month had me shooting a little bit of everything. I particularly loved going to spend a day at the state fair, despite having a pretty bad cold at the time. I’d never photographed a state fair before, and I love the visuals they bring about in my head-The stock shows, the carnival rides that turn into a sea of blinking vivid lights in motion at dusk, the cheap food and of course, waves of people from every corner of the state.
This month also saw the beginning of football and soccer! Two sports iv’e come to very much enjoy shooting, not only for the action on the field but even mores for all that happens off it!
Well that’s it for now. Iv’e got a number of other written blog posts on the way, so they’ll be coming out soon! Thanks for stopping by.
I’m afraid that iv’e been away from the desk for far too long! For those of you who don’t already know, I moved to West Virginia exactly one month ago to take a staff position at the Charleston Gazette-Mail, the state’s largest newspaper. Since then I have largely set up my new apartment (I now own a washer and dryer, guess that means i’m an adult now?) and have gotten to know the city and the surrounding area.
So for any of you who might be wondering, why West Virginia? There are a couple of reasons. I wanted wherever I was going to go to be a place where I could share impactful stories. To be sure, this is something that can be done anywhere, as there are always stories to be told no matter where you are.
4th of July along the Kanawha River. Charleston, WV.
Late Afternoon at Blackwater Falls. WV.
However, West Virginia in particular is ground zero for some of the larger issues facing the country today; from the decline of once dominant industries that millions depended upon for their livelihoods to the effects of the opioid epidemic on addicts, their families and the communities that they live in. Those are issues that I want to cover. However, I also don’t have any desire to engage in making work that does nothing but reinforce simplistic (and to many of those who live here, blatantly offensive) stereotypes of the region. Iv’e only been here for a month, and I already know that there are so many good people here who love their state and are doing everything they can to make it better. Those are the people whose stories in particular that I want to tell.
I also like moving to places that have a certain mythos about them. Places that hold a certain image, no matter how true or false, in the American psyche. It’s one of the reasons that I moved to the Black Hills region of South Dakota, an area often associated with “The West” and all of the concepts that come with it. Like the West, Appalachia is more than just the name of a region based on the series of mountain ranges that form it.
Appalachia conjures up images and ideas of a culture, of a certain kind of lifestyle. To cite an example: Don’t act like you haven’t drunkenly belted out the chorus lines to John Denver’s “Take me Home, Country Roads” at least once at some bar or late in the night at your friend’s kegger. I want to experience for myself these kinds of places and see just how much of those ideas and assumptions are made up or hold water.
That’s about what I have for now. I’m going to make a point of writing more frequently on this blog now that I am shooting full time again. I want to write not only about the experiences I am having now but also what experiences i have had and the lessons learned from them that someone else looking to become a photojournalist themself might find useful. I also want to start sharing more of my travel guides again, as I have a lot to say about the places that iv’e been, including a comprehensive guide to Washington, D.C.
This was an unplanned trip, unplanned in that I only knew I wanted to see Glacier National Park and possibly the Tetons. I left Friday afternoon and came back early Tuesday morning, and in that time covered nearly 2000 miles. Supplementing my current writings are notes jotted down in my pocket journal while on the trip, which are in italics.
Starting out from Rapid City, the highway led along the northern border of the Black Hills to 212, a direct route through the Northeast corner of Wyoming into Montana. I had never been to Montana before and was looking forward to this trip.
Broadus, MT. 4:25 P.M:In Powder River country now. Montana is so far a continuation of Wyoming in terms of landscape, however taking into account its ridges and rocky outcroppings I think larger differences are to come.
While I had driven through Central and Northeast Wyoming; an impressively expansive land, Montana posessed a terrain I was not prepared for in scope and vastness. While ranch lands were aplenty, much of the landscape remained unrepresented by human intervention save for the nonnative grasses that permeated the land. The valleys, foothills and ridges stretched onward to the bighorn mountains; named so for the sheep that inhabit them.
I had arrived too late to tour the little bighorn battlefield which closed about an hour earlier, but I could easily say that the land itself was among the most beautiful that I have ever seen of any battlefield. Hawks flew high above the prairie dog towns that dotted the landscape.
Continuing on after stopping briefly in Billings, It became dark as I was nearing Bozeman Pass. Stopping briefly to walk under the bright neon signs lining Livingston, I continued through the pass and down into Bozeman. Being home to Montana State University, Bozeman has a solid nightlife scene with a main street lined with bars, dance clubs, restaurants and cheap eats.
Bozeman, MT. 11:15 A.M. Trying to make time to Helena, but land is incredible. The foothills and ridges surrounding Little Bighorn are among the most beautiful i’ve ever seen, stretching all the way to the Bighorn Mountains. Bozeman a wonderful college town with quite the nightlife for its size.
Being that I came through Bozeman pass at night, It was the next morning that I saw the series of mountain ranges that surrounded Bozeman. From there I immediately got on the road, wanting to make it to the area surrounding Glacier National Park before nightfall.
Helena: 1:15 P.M.The only place i’ve been that I can compare West Montana to would be Alaska.
The route to the state capital Helena was 287, with tilled fields and railroad tracks on one side and the Missouri river on the other.
Kalispell: 10:00 P.M. I started the day by drivingup from Bozeman, The drive up went well enough; though the distances are vast it certainly doesn’t feel that way with the terrain being as it is.
From Helena I took route 12 further West where the road abruptly rose into the hills, from which there were fantastic views of the surroundings valleys.
Descending from the ridge into another large valley, I suddenly turned onto a rural route that winded through ranch land that seemed to go on forever, only stopping at the foot of the nearest mountain ridge where a series of rainstorms were inundating the landscape.
Driving past a series of lakes and mountain peaks, I eventually reached route 83, which hugged the Swan range for hundreds of miles to reach the Kalispell valley.
The road up was through a wide valley with mountains towering on each adjacent side, passing through little towns such as Swan Lake while rolling the windows up and down sporadically with each passing microclimate.
I saw two bald eagles feeding off of a carcass on the side of the road here. Also saw what I thought to be a black bear sneaking off of the road as i passed it before the lake itself.
I eventually arrived just outside of Glacier in the late afternoon as a series of rainstorms were passing over the range and surrounding area.
Passing through these farmlands, I turned Northeast onto a road that hugged the North Fork of the Flathead River, whose waters originate in the Canadian Rockies.
I drove up adjacent to the north fork of the flathead river; a sizeable river with a beautiful turquoise hue that very much reminded me of the waters in Alaska.
The road zig-zagged through the immense gorge following the river until coming to a bridge over it which was gated off; closed for the season.
The road was closed over the bridge of the fork leading further into Glacier National Park, but I managed to get some decent pictures over the river before giving into the temptation of driving up the nearby trail creek road that ascended over the valley.
I tried to find a clearing in those bastard juvenile pine trees but gave up after becoming exhausted trudging through knee-deep snow and failing to find any clearing significant enough for a clean shot of the best part of the sunset over the mountain peaks.
However I was able to see with my own eyes the violet and before that golden light surrounding the towering peaks as the sun went down, and that has been good enough for me.
That night I decided to head for Missoula, in order to put myself in a better position for the drive to the Tetons the next day. Even without the moon I could still make out the massive body of water that was flathead lake. Continuing on through small towns and rural areas, I was trailed by no less than four separate police vehicles; the officers most likely being bored out of their minds in rural Montana at 2 am.
I spent a little time walking around Missoula before heading South on I-15 to Northern Idaho.
Tetons. 3:45 PM. Drove down from Missoula through mountain passes into Northern Idaho. I have never seen a valley so vast as that of which interstate 15 passes through. Coupled with one of the most visually fascinating concentrated rainstorms I have ever seen over an almost desert like terrain, it was quite a sight.
Upon getting out of the rainstorm and driving through gentle rises the land changed again to tilled fields that stretched for miles.
I photographed what I could of the tetons from the Idaho side before entering the teton pass…
was a bit riveting as it was dark and the highbeams of my car lit every piece of snowfall. It was a bit like being in the millennium falcon at lightspeed, stupid as that sounds. Found a good room and was given two slices of free pizza from a guy at Pinky G’s before having a beer at Snake River brewing.
Jackson hole itself is beautiful, with the town square and look of the town was everything I hoped it would be.
I have now been spending the day checking out areas per the suggestions of Lyford and the bartender at Dornan’s. People here are the nicest I think I’ve ever experienced in any particular place. I have seen quite a few moose around the park as I wait for fog to life which continues to inundate the Tetons. I hope that it will clear if only briefly for me to capture or at least see it before I turn east back to South Dakota.
Unfortunately it was soon after I wrote this that a snowstorm from the West moved in and completely inundated the mountains as well as the valley in quick succession. I decided to leave then, taking the road from Jackson Lake to Highway 26 which passed through the continental divide. The area itself was filled with buttes and peaks whose color and formations astounded me.
Marker for the Continental Divide. Wyoming.
Trees and hills amidst Highway 26. Wyoming.
Eventually, 26 would lead into the fronier-styled town of Dubois and the desertlike terrain of the Wind River Reservation. I’d be hard pressed to think of another place where the difference in terrain from one side of the road to the other is so stark as it is here.
Looking right going West on Route 26.
Looking left going West on Route 26.
The wind river itself snaked under the road many times, adding an additional touch of beauty to a landscape that had suddenly turned into one that looked like Arizona more than anything else.
It wasn’t long before the sun began to set, and I pulled over from route 26 onto a crest overlooking a reservoir. I took a couple frames as dusk was settling in.
There are roads across central Wyoming that stretch 100 miles at a time in total darkness with not a light to be seen except those of oncoming cars and 18-wheelers. With both of us moving at over 80 miles an hour, the semi’s shake my car to an uncomfortable degree as they go by. In such conditions one cannot tell if a car is one mile away or ten, as there is nothing with which to associate the distance. It was a bit of a surreal experience really.
After what felt like a lot longer than 10 hours, I made it home early Tuesday morning. So i’m going to wrap this up. Thanks for checking out this post!
While not as visited or as well know as Joshua Tree, the Mojave or Death Valley, the Anza Borrego is in every way just as beautiful. Spread throughout this vast area are multiple landforms and climates. From the Laguna mountains where snow cakes the ground in winter and the winding pine filled valleys surrounding the road to the miles of desert flats leading to the Salton Sea, the largest body of water in California. This is a fantastic day (or night, whatever your preference) trip from the San Diego area.
The Sunrise highway is one of my favorite roads. The drive is smooth, fun, and the views are wonderful. The drive can last for hours if you want it to, and there is a different view to enjoy at every turn. In the summertime at night the air is still very warm, upwards into the 70’s so you can roll those windows down as much as you like. In the winter however the higher elevations get a decent amount of snow.
To get to the Sunrise Highway-Take Highway 5 North (LA) Out of Downtown and take the exit to Interstate 8 East (Mission Valley/El Centro) Stay on Mission Valley for a good long while (I’d say about half an hour maybe 45 minutes) until you take the exit for County Road S1 aka Sunrise Highway. From then on its miles and miles of forests, hills and overlooks into valleys and canyons.
Just after driving up and through Mt. Laguna, you’ll be driving through hills dotted with forests of charred trees from the Cedar fire that scorched much of the forests, leaving an eerie yet serene landscape.
The Sunrise Highway eventually ends by connecting to highway 79, where the road leads into the small touristy mountain town of Julian.
from there you will have two choices: turn left to enter the town and grab a bite to eat or take a right and continue on the road through mountainous terrain into the Anza Borrego Valley.
Alternate Route to Julian: If you’re a little pressed for time you can take the faster road of Highway 79 to Julian. The road is a curvy, uphill drive. After about 20 minutes, the road flattens out and you reach the plains surrounding Mt. Laguna.
On approaching the mountain, 79 hugs the shore of Lake Cuyamaca, for which the town is named after. It is a serene place, especially in winter when surrounded by a snowy landscape. Cuyamaca itself is not really a town, more a vacation community for the summer crowd. Still, it is a picturesque place.
The drive continues on 79, snaking around Mt. Laguna as the elevation climbs further until you are driving along the ridges to Julian. About 6 miles outside of the town, there is a scenic overlook where you can see the surrounding landscape for miles and miles. On a clear night, one can see the moonlight faintly glimmering off of the Salton Sea.
Highway 79 comes to an end on the town limits of Julian. There are two roads, one leading into town and down the mountains to the coastline, and the other turning directly East, descending into a series of valleys that eventually reach the flatlands of the Anza-Borrego desert. This is Highway 78, the road to the Salton Sea.
As you turn onto 78, the road quickly takes a sharp turn downward into a series of ravines. The dark outlines of the surrounding cliffs appear menacing at first, their sheer size and magnitude are almost overpowering as they appear ready to fall on you at any moment. The smell of pine sticks to you like sap and the cold pockets of air are crisp, snapping you out of any fatigue you might have been feeling up to now. Depending on how quickly your car reacts on turns it can be quite a ride, though keep in mind that there’s no cell service out here, and rarely will you see another person on this road late at night.
Eventually, Highway 78 reaches the bottom of the ravine and enters the valley. passing through it you find yourself in a completely different environment, driving on a straight path through the vast openness of land that is the Anza-Borrego desert.
The road here stretches onward for miles and miles, dipping and rising through occasional slopes in the terrain but otherwise unbending. Stopping on the side of the road, the silence is almost overpowering, with not even the sound of a breeze coming through. Everything is absolutely still.
Following 78, You can either choose to take the road left into Borrego Springs and from there take the Borrego-Salton Seaway which leads directly to Salton City.
Otherwise, continue on the long stretch of desert. 78 will eventually terminate at the crossroads of highway 86 where you will take a left, turning north toward Salton City. After a stretch you’ll see the signs for it on your right.
Located 100 miles East of San Diego in the Colorado desert, The Salton Sea was created in 1905 from a period of heavy rainfall that overwhelmed irrigation canals stemming from the Colorado river, carving two new rivers from the Colorado itself. This water continued to flow into the Salton sink for nearly two years before engineers could stop the flow, and due to there being nowhere for the water to drain (the Salton Sink itself is only a few feet higher in elevation than Death Valley) the waters created the largest lake in California. In the 1950’s real estate developers worked hard to make the Salton Sea a resort destination as popular as Lake Tahoe, laying streets lined with palm trees, stocking the sea with millions of game fish and dredging marinas complete with hotels and restaurants to accommodate vacationers. However, little attention was paid to the health of the Sea itself.
Over time, chemical laden runoff from the surrounding agriculture of the Valley paired with rising salinity from evaporation polluted the Salton Sea. By the 1990’s fish and birds washed ashore in die offs numbering in the millions, creating a permanently foul stench in the air. Salton City and many of the Sea’s surrounding communities were largely abandoned to the elements. Much of the layout of the planned city and other communities that never came to be still remain, with unfinished houses lining streets leading nowhere and salt encrusted marina docks over dry land. Despite its current condition, or perhaps because of it, the Salton Sea is to me one of the most hauntingly beautiful places there is in California.
Alternative Route: The Great Southern Overland Stage Route.
I was on my way to the Salton Sea when I took a wrong turn off of 78 onto this road, and it having been awhile since I drove there I decided to keep going. It Didn’t end up taking me to the Sea, going almost directly South as it does, but i was glad i took the turn afterwards.
According to the Federal Highway Administration, The Great Southern Overland Stage Route (also just called the S2) was once a dusty trail used by the Spaniards when they still had control of this land in the late 18th century, and was used by Mexicans as a mailing route shortly after their war of independence from Spain. Mexican American War General Stephen Kearney used this trail to lead the Army of the West into Mexico, and miners used it throughout the gold rush period. Hell, even Mark Twain travelled on it in a mail wagon and wrote about it in his 1872 book Roughing It.
After driving for almost an hour I came over a rising and saw in front of me dozens of blinking red lights in the almost total darkness. I realized I had definitely taken a wrong turn and half expected border patrol to show up at any moment to ask why I was driving on a back-country road in what looked like a stolen car near the border at three a.m. That didn’t happen, but I did find out that the blinking lights were windmills turning silently in the early morning. It was quite a sight to see.
Special Mention-Slab City.
Home to Salvation Mountain, Slab City is..well, unfortunately I’ve never been there myself and don’t want to write about what I don’t know. Just read the wiki page on it, or watch this video vice made. I wager you’ll want to check it out yourself.