For over 28 years I lived and worked in Utah, and in that time I learned most of what I know about photography. Beginning after my 2-year church mission to Montana, first in Provo (BYU) and Utah County, then St. George and southern Utah, and finally Providence in Cache Valley – I spent tens of thousands of hours exploring every back road I could drive on, every canyon, and every valley in those areas. I learned about the wildlife, the wildflowers, the scenic vistas, the state parks, and national parks. Along with my sons and friends I hiked famous trails like the Lefthand Fork of North Creek trail to the Subway in Zion, descended the Navajo Loop trail in Bryce Canyon to shoot among the hoodoos, and ventured out along the sheer cliffs that dropped to the Colorado River at Tuweep, 3000 feet below – in the extreme western edge along the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park.
As the safari trips piled up over the decades in the American West, so to did the experiences that I had on those long days that began hours before sunrise and didn’t end until late at night. I felt an urgency to search, though I’m not sure what I was looking for then – yet, I knew something was out there waiting. I felt an anxious determination to discover what was around me, maybe to see what others had already seen, but to photograph those experiences with my own eyes, my own interpretation.
Even on my church mission in Montana on our half-day off (Monday), we hiked, fished, and explored the areas where we lived. I learned the forest service roads around Bozeman, Stevensville, and Whitefish; fished the Bitterroot, the Blackfoot, and the Flathead rivers; hiked high into Glacier National Park, Lolo Peak, and the Gallatin Mountains; and explored the infamous Missouri Breaks country of Eastern Montana where the mighty Missouri river serpentines through the bluffs and plains heading east.
It was in Utah where discovery met photography. I bought my first SLR 35mm Camera (an Olympus OM-10FC), grew out of that camera (Olympus OM-4T), then grew out of that Camera and System (Nikon F5) over the course of the next decade. My first photographs were published (Deseret Newspaper Sunday Travel Section Cover Story – 1985) and I began to get images accepted by magazine photo editors. Images being held turned into images being published. I photographed my first wedding in 1988, shot my first commercial job (Great Western Savings of California – starring Dennis Weaver) in 1988, had my first magazine cover (St.George Magazine) in 1988, and my first national magazine cover (Audubon’s American Birds) in 1989. Publication credits and author credits piled up over the next two decades.
It was also in Utah where my passion for wildlife photography began. It began with Lyman Hafen, then the editor of St.George Magazine, spotlighting a wildlife image of mine on the back page of the magazine each issue. While the quality of the landscape photography in the magazine was impressive, as was the writing – showing off a wildlife image was something new for this blazing red rock country magazine. My first images for that feature were ok, but not great.Each wildlife encounter led to another, and another. I began looking for wildlife first, and landscapes second. While living in St. George I began making trips north to Yellowstone National Park – mainly in the fall for the bugling, rutting bull elk – a key publication species for hunting and nature magazines, like Field & Stream and Ranger Rick. It was only a decade later when I made a spring trip for baby animals and realized what I had been missing.
After moving to Providence, in Cache Valley in Northern Utah, the quality of wildlife encounters really increased. Besides the local moose, elk, and mule deer – there were large populations of red fox, sage grouse, and raptors of every kind. My photography expanded into portraiture (weddings, families, seniors) and more commercial shooting (products, brochures, stock) to go along with the nature (landscape, wildlife, macro) photography I was already involved with.
For those 28 years I lived in Utah I was only been able to photograph about 20% of the state’s amazing beauty, whether landscape or wildlife. The state is a vast space that refuses to give up it’s treasures to just an occasional visit. Without living in Moab there is no way to discover all the intricate beauty surrounding eastern Utah. While I did my best to find those amazing spaces in southwestern Utah, northern Utah, and along the Wasatch Front – so much of the state’s beauty eluded me.
Now in California where I grew up, my trips back to Utah are more selective. While I do my Utah Raptors Safari every year in mid-February, I alternate years doing a Southern Utah Spring Safari and a Fall Safari. Some of the amazing spots I’ve found and photographed just don’t lend themselves to being part of those three photo safaris – and now it’s been years since I’ve shot them. Luckily Salt Lake City is my major layover location for trips north to Yellowstone and Glacier – and with one of my sons and his family living in Logan in Cache Valley, I have more reasons to stop and linger on my trips through.
On those layover trips through SLC, Antelope Island State Park is a usual morning destination before heading north. It is part of my Utah Raptor Safari trifecta of winter shooting locations. After the fall’s Yellowstone/Grand Teton Safari I come south from Jackson via Bear Lake and Logan Canyon into Cache Valley, then south to SLC. I know where every dirt road leads, I know where the cool barns, waterfalls, or stands of colorful aspen are – and I know where to look for which animals. It takes a lifetime of photo safaris to learn that information about a state as vast as Utah, and then, I really only know about 20%. Now I live in California, and that anxious determination to search continues to bubble up within me. BRP