WEST // 2015

4600 Miles // 11 States // 9 Days - Our Great American West Adventure

Disappointment struck early in Arkansas; a What-A-Burger charlatan (notice the extra “T”) broke our stride but thankfully not our spirits. We never did find a proper What-A-Burger…what a shame.

Water tower just over the Oklahoma - Arkansas line. Fact: Everything seems a bit brighter and fresher in Oklahoma.

We passed through Oklahoma city just as the sun was setting. This is downtown as seen from Shadowfaxx (my white Toyota Camry aka The Beast) on I-40.

We were exhausted, having driven nearly 24 hours, but the rising sun over Arizona and sudden realization that we were almost to our first destination gave us a much needed boost.

Our adventure began with a formidable 26 hour drive from Nashville, TN to a place that it is quite difficult to truly capture the grandeur and immensity of in photographs, the Grand Canyon. We were road weary when we arrived early Saturday morning, but as we walked to the edge of the rim, every trouble and worry seemed to slip into the enormity of this mighty chasm. We were transfixed. We were present, and yet we were completely lost in time.

On our final stretch from Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon’s South Rim, we passed a small chain of mountains known as the San Fransisco Peaks. The remnants of an eroded volcano, this range is Arizona's highest point.

Zak and Alex catch a glimpse of the Grand Canyon for the first time.

A lone raven sits staring out into the mighty abyss. 

Zak steps to the edge of one of the Canyon’s many sheer drop-offs; he is a but an ant in comparison to all that surrounds him.

The Colorado River can be seen to the left, as the Grandview Lookout Tower sits high above on the right.

That face says it all - take a deep breathe in and leave all your worries behind!

Alex sits on a steep and narrow spine; the drop-offs on either side of this 3ft. wide formation were ridiculous.

Stars shine brightly above the crimson stone of the Grand Canyon. This was taken on my first, whirlwind 5-day trip in November 2014.

The Colorado River cuts through the canyon nearly a mile below.

Two low flying ravens soar above the road departing GCNP. 

A blue song bird sits atop a tree overlooking the majestic Arizona landscape that awaits.

One abyss meets another; my first view of the Grand Canyon on my initial visit in November 2014.

A small primitive house and horse stall sit in the shadows of the Vermillion Cliffs.

Lost in time.

After several hours of scrambling along the Canyon's rim, we headed north toward our home for the next two days, Lake Powell. We arrived as the sun dipped below the horizon and quickly put up our tents, despite our delirious stupor. Though our first opportunity at real sleep in 48 hours was ours for the taking, we couldn't help but get lost in the stars.

The Milky Way cloud shimmers faintly over our tents on the beaches of Lone Rock Beach.

Lone Rock sits alone in the beautiful (and extremely clean) Lake Powell under a sky full of stars.

We stayed at Lake Powell for two days and two nights, but we would have stayed a week if given the chance. Just look at that view...

I awoke the next morning to a soundscape of playful birds, gentle winds, and the splashing of water against the base of a shadowy Lone Rock. After washing my face in the chilly lake water and starting a pot of coffee, I settled back into my tent to watch the sun which had yet to rise. As the first rays broke the horizon, the most beautiful golden light washed over the otherworldly landscape. My fellow explorers would awake soon after, but for a few brief moments, it felt as if this beautiful performance was just for me.

The sun peaks above the horizon and Lone Rock.

Alex and Zak in a moment of synchronicity as they enter the waters of Lower Antelope Canyon.

The water level was 55ft. lower than normal, making our entrance even more surreal. Can you spot Alex and Zak?’

Making my way through Lower Antelope Canyon.

After a hearty breakfast on the beach, we picked up our kayaks and began the journey to Lower Antelope Canyon. The wind cut across the lake and seemed to face us no matter which direction we paddled. Forward progress was a constant battle and my muscles burned as we made it to the Canyon's entrance. Thankfully, the towering sandstone walls that rose from the crystal clear waters below helped diminish the winds effect, and provided a silent, still sanctuary to view the grandeur set before us.

Smooth, striped sandstone walls in gradients of red rise above a tumbleweed on the canyon’s floor.

Alex quiets his mind and finds peace in one of the many small rocky crevasses.

Zak leads the way through a towering, narrow passage.

As the water became increasingly shallow, we pulled our kayaks ashore and continued the trek through Antelope Canyon on foot. The smooth sandstone walls began to narrow after several minutes, and paired with the considerable height, made the light streak and dance around us. It was quite impressive, but what awaited us around the next bend was unlike anything I've ever seen. The world was suddenly new.

Sunlight enters through small gaps in an otherwise covered passageway, illuminating the alien like stone below.

Starry sky over Lone Rock Beach.

A very faint Milky Way over Lake Powell.

A six shot panorama of Lone Rock Beach. The moon hangs above our tiny tents on the horizon to the right, while the stars shine above Lone Rock and the many sandstone cliffs below.

A pack of bikers speed around the winding road that descends to the floor of Zion.

After another starry night on Lake Powell, we made our way to Zion through the red canyons of Arizona along 89A. We arrived with just 3 hours of sunlight left, but we didn't let that stop us from finding a place to properly survey our new surroundings. We made it up to the spine of Angels Landing in just 35 minutes.

A hawk soars high above Zion and this lone tree on the ascent to Angels Landing.

Alex navigates the very narrow ascending path to Angels Landing. The river can be seen over 1000 ft. below.

The spine leading to Angels Landing as seen looking back. Those are 1500 ft. drop-offs on either side.

A four point buck watches over a pack of doe grazing on the brush at the base of Watchmen Mountain.

The view from Angels Landing. Heavenly.

Perhaps my favorite view of Zion, as seen from Observation Point. The trek is no joke - at over 8 miles and an elevation change of over a mile, this is by far the one of the most grueling hikes I've ever done. Worth it.

A crescent moon rises above the Watchmen Mountain.

The Virgin River flows through Zion; it's chilly waters made for a nice break from the heat.

A sandstorm blows through. At times, winds reached speeds of 70 mph and made visibility and breathing difficult.

It lasted nearly all day, and at times blotted out the sun.

By the next morning, we were beginning to feel the effects of our nonstop, action filled days. Needing all of our strength for the trek through The Narrows, we chose to take it easy, hiking only a few small trails on Day 5. Around noon, strong winds with gusts up to 70 mph ripped through Zion. This kicked up all of the loose sediment in the area, and before we knew it, we were in the midst of a sandstorm. This continued late into the evening and significantly limited visibility - not to mention our ability to take a clean breath.

A small reflecting pool on our way to The Grotto.

Taken on Thanksgiving night 2014, this is how I spent my holiday - alone under the stars.

The entrance to The Narrows.

Alex prepares to venture in.

Approaching Wall Street.

After the others awoke, we picked up our gear and headed to The Narrows. After a short hike along the Virgin River, the trail ended and the journey continued for several miles through the water. Crystal clear, it rose gradually and danced with reflected blues and greens. I was surprised at how well my footings held on the rocky riverbed; good thing, too, as I was lost in the scenery above. Tremendous sandstone walls towered liked Titans on each side, and were dotted with lush gardens that hung delicately from the rich red rocks. It was chilly and the water was cold, but none of that mattered. It was almost like dreaming.

Zak hikes through thigh high water.

It's hard to fathom just how massive this corridor is until you're in it.

I make my way through chest deep water as we push onward. Photo by Zak.

One of the many breathtaking passages of The Narrows.

My first test shot of the Milky Way over Zion.

The Great Rift can clearly be seen above the red stone of Zion. This image is a six shot panorama taken in the early morning hours on our last day in Utah. I chased this shot for nearly 18 months, and I can't begin to explain what it was like to see these images finally come across the back of my camera's LCD screen.

We left Zion early the next morning and made our way to Bryce. About 50 miles outside the park, the warm, sunny conditions changed suddenly and a heavy snow began to fall. The fluffy white flakes added the perfect amount of contrast to the already alien hoodoo sandstone formations and scattered pines, making for a truly spectacular landscape. I can't imagine what the first explorers must have thought when the stumbled upon this place a few hundred years ago.

Snow falls heavily on the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon.

A lone raven guards the entrance to Thor's Hammer.

Zak didn't mind the snow one bit.

Rainbow Bridge in Bryce Canyon.

The snow relented and the skies cleared after leaving Bryce, making for a gorgeous drive and final southwestern sunset along I-70. We stopped in Glenwood Springs, CO for much needed showers and a decent night's sleep before our long journey home. Mother Nature wasn't through with us yet, though; we would encounter 100 miles of Colorado blizzard through the Rockies (nearly shutting down the tunnel) and severe storms and tornados in Kansas before arriving safely back in Nashville. 

As we left Bryce, the snow began to fall more rapidly and the dessert terrain began to look more like a winter wonderland. 

We were faced with whiteout conditions as the blizzard worsened. This was shot by Alex around Vail as we desperately tried to make it out of The Rockies.

Kansas didn't welcome us too kindly. Lightening, hail and tornados were next on the agenda. Shot with my iPhone as we tried to race ahead of the forming cloud.

The adventure continues later this summer...stay tuned!