Monday, June 29, 2009

Wild Life

Wyoming is huge. Huge, as in massive. Florida is huge too, but to put things in perspective, Florida is 66,000 square miles while Wyoming is 98,000 square miles. If you’re not surprised yet, then check this out: from the last census taken, Florida has 18,000,000 people. Wyoming on the other hand is just below 550,000.

I think my favorite thing about the Cowboy State is the space; the romantic, healthy kind of space: rivers, mountains, streams, rocky outcroppings, sagebrush, aspen groves and fields of wildflowers. This is not to say that Florida doesn’t have beautiful, natural areas. To set the record straight I am completely infatuated with my flat homeland, but with the presence of so much unoccupied land Wyoming exudes the essence of uninhibited, untamed wildness.

Over the past three days I’ve been blown away by the array of wildlife here on the ranch. The A Bar A could even be considered a wildlife sanctuary as it's managed with a conservationist’s mentality, lending itself to close encounters.

Saturday, I went hiking with two of my teens from the program and we came across a herd of five big horn sheep. Resting under the shade of a ponderosa pine, they casually gathered when we approached. The light was poor for photographing but I finally managed to get a portrait of the famed uni-horned sheep.

On the way back, a male blue grouse strutted and cooed in search of a mate.

That evening while fishing on the river, I looked to my right and only fifteen feet away a family of beavers was sharing a leafy branch. Unfortunately, my camera was elsewhere.

The next morning on the way to breakfast I spotted a female moose and her two calves resting in the willows. The male, not too far away, approached slowly and I moved cautiously for cover. Moose can be extremely dangerous when they feel threatened or challenged, especially when the young are involved, but I felt safe behind the buck-rail that bordered the river. This was my first encounter with a moose and I couldn’t get over how weird she looked. Somewhere mixed between a giraffe, horse, and cow, moose appear as though they wound up on the wrong-end of some twisted science experiment. They’re beautiful though, in a funny way.

Later on in the afternoon while taking pictures of the kids playing in the pool, I heard loud screams coming from the golf course. Looking up, I noticed a small black bear lumbering towards the ranch road. Quickly, I set off on a dead sprint to head the bear off and get a candid photo amidst the sagebrush. Generally, black bears are far less-aggressive and smaller in size than brown or grizzly bears, so I felt comfortable pursuing the animal. Not too long into my endeavor, however, I heard the manager yelling at me to come back. Unfortunately, despite several more encounters, this would be the only photo I made of our friend the bear.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Mile High Cookout

Named after a mysterious cowboy who lived and died amidst the gnarled ponderosa pines and coarse sagebrush, Slim’s Draw leads to the top of one of the highest mountains on the ranch property. Every Friday night the ranch hosts a cookout for guests and invited staff members. Bathed in Wyoming’s special brand of late afternoon light, Slim’s Draw offers a spectacular lookout on the North Platte Valley.

For the city slickers and east-coasters, their childhood love affairs of western freedom and wildness are consummated here. Cottonwood crackles in a burn pit, horses stir in the corral, folk songs dance off the frets of an acoustic guitar, and the smell of grilled meats and beans weighs heavy on the wind.

In celebratory fashion, children are escorted up the winding road in a restored fire engine from the 1950’s - its bright red frame glowing against thunderous skies in the distance.

As the sun dances over the mountains on the horizon, a few rays ignite the rain clouds in a fiery orange.

With full bellies and shuffling boots, the crowd disperses and heads for the catch pin to saddle up before the two-hour ride home.

In the distance, familiar silhouettes briefly crest the ridge as the last light of dusk gives way to the night.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Wyoming Skies

Leaving South Carolina early on Thursday morning, I set out for Encampment, Wyoming to begin a second summer working with the A Bar A Ranch. After 1,970 miles of mosaic bug splatters on my windshield, 7 fill-ups at the gas pump, and a miserably desolate drive across Kansas and Nebraska, I rolled into Encampment on Saturday afternoon.

This year, my job title is a little more specific as photographer, teen counselor, and fishing guide. Luckily for me, I have the flexibility of making my own schedule and most of my job consists of a daily improvise to entertain the guests. I have taken a loose definition of “entertain” to suite my style of fun - particularly camping, hiking, photographing, fishing, and exploring backcounry sections of the ranch. As long as the teenagers are happy, I’m doing my job. At the end of each week, I present a slideshow to the guests specifically focused on their stay and experiences.

One of my goals last year was to publish a coffee table book to highlight the rich history, the wildlife, the vast landscapes, and the eco-friendly management of the A Bar A Ranch. By the end of March 2009 the book was ready for print, complete with 120 pages and over 150 images. You can purchase a copy of the book or preview some of its pages on

In many ways after such a long publication process and a full portfolio from last year, I feel satiated and contented to the point where I see my creativity stagnating.

The test this year will be to see if I can push past the pride of a job-well-done and convince myself there are more images to be had.