The road West is not an unfamiliar one for me. From a pipelining family I grew up on the road and as it is looking back on my childhood I seem to always be on this proverbial road westward. The thing about the westward road is that it’s unlike all others. You can’t really miss it, as the sun is either at your front leading you onward or at your back cheering you on as you go, and the road flattens out, turns wide and beckons you forward into the biggest sky you’ve ever seen in your whole life and if you aren’t careful you just might slip into it and be swallowed up. There are a few different ways you can arrive in the west but the best way is to get in the car and just find it. Drive until the sun dips too low to see and then rise again and race it to the finish line- you’ll know when you get there and each step west is a little more west than you were before and the next thing you know the sky surrounds you 360 degrees and the stars are so close you just might knock your head on them when you walk outside.
Our westward road consisted of 1,280 miles, 6 different states, one little car, a trunk full of camera equipment and a cooler full of salami, potato salad and an infamous bottle of wine. 5 states later and we slipped into our 6th almost unnoticed, with the Welcome to Colorado sign emerging on the roadside out of the blue, we were almost to our destination. A couple hours later we were zooming around the mile high city and arriving at our destination, perched just between Denver and Boulder we could see the sunset afflicted sky at 360 degrees and were welcomed by the most beautiful blue to pink gradient that my eyes have ever gleaned upon.
A day later with the mountains ahead and wide open plains behind us we turned the car north and headed into the mountains. 4X5 in tow we couldn’t help wondering about the westward pioneers, the first people to travel what we traveled across all of the plains and flatlands of the midwest surely to almost want to give up and then to wake up one morning and spot the first mountain, the first mammoth of land rising up out of the ground in attempt to touch the sky, with peaks so high up that they get lost in the clouds to never come back down again.
Although we were not pioneers on the same scale by any means, we couldn’t help but feel a little more in touch with the roots of our photographer forefathers. Maybe it was the camera, the slow and calculated process of aperture closed shutter cocked film back in dark slide out release the shutter replace the dark side and maybe, just maybe we’ve made a picture. Maybe it was the landscape, existing seemingly forever and captivating the attention of all of the greats from Ansel Adams to Minor White, where sky and cloud and mountain and trees all work together to draw in the photographer, laughing and teasing as we all make the trek up the mountain, overwhelmed by beauty in all directions, the land pushing and pulling you in like the model that knows she is beautiful but still hides shyly in front of the camera. Oftentimes we would be so focused on one view that we would forget to turn around and gaze upon another, but the fluttering of a bird wing or the highlight of a cloud would always catch the corner of an eye and then you’re turning around and answering the call of the landscape behind you and responding with a gasp.
On our trip we encountered killer bugs clinging to the inside of the car window, Chinese tourists with whom we broke a language barrier simply with the shake of a polaroid sliding out of my camera, one surprise blizzard, a glorious bucket of fried chicken accompanied with two jugs of sweet tea, the most amazing sunrise in Missouri carried by enormous American flags billowing in the wind and Johnny Cash playing through static on the radio. We saw snow capped mountains, grass covered plains, and the rocky terrain of Garden of the Gods.
We learned that failure brings understanding, as we left apertures open and accidentally slid dark slides on the wrong side of film. We learned that Colorado is home to some of the most amazing sunsets, and we learned that adventure is as attainable as you wish it to be.