Following up on yesterday's post sharing a little bit more about each of the monthly photos chosen for my 2023 Iowa Nature Calendar (which can be seen HERE) I'll offer the same now for next year's United States edition. The U.S. calendar features scenes from seven different states (Arkansas, California, Colorado, Iowa, Montana, Utah, Wyoming) and highlights the natural beauty of a variety of county and state parks, as well as national parks and national forests.
You can see all of the images with details and a brief story behind each photo below. The calendars are available for purchase now- as supplies last, and orders must be placed by November 30 this year to guarantee your copy is reserved (I'll still accept orders after, dependent on if I have stock left following my final show... but once they're gone, they're gone!)
The 2023 U.S. lineup is as follows...
January- Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Bryce Canyon is a truly spectacular place to visit any time of the year, but there's nothing quite like seeing it in winter, when the white snow contrasts brilliantly against those unmistakable red rock hoodoos. I took this photo on new year's morning, 2021- having traveled to the park to follow a tradition I have of beginning each January 1st in a natural setting, taking photos of the first sunrise of the year. Following a dramatic daybreak, I spent several hours walking along the canyon rim admiring this scenery cast in soft morning light.
I'd actually forgotten about this until just now, but I made a short video from that morning- showing the sunrise shoot and some of the incredible views. You can check that out HERE if you'd like to see more.
February- Rock Creek, Cedar County, Iowa
This one will look familiar if you've already seen my Iowa preview. It's a photo of Rock Creek, which runs through my family farm (back in the hills, as we always say) west of Tipton. When creating these annual calendars I generally choose a few scenes to carry over across all editions. This year there are three, two of them from Cedar County, one from Maquoketa Caves. My reason for doing this is to add an extra personal touch- to share a piece of where I come from or what is special to me, with all of you. Often times, especially with the Cedar County shots the photos chosen may carry extra sentiment. In other cases, as this year with the Maquoketa Caves photo, it's to throw some extra Iowa imagery into the mix- upholding my long held professional goal of demonstrating to people that we do have scenery there capable of holding its own beside views of other beautiful places.
Each year I get requests and send these calendars out all over the country (and I'm endlessly humbled by that.) And it's through these little tributes and traditions, that continue to matter so much to me, that I pour my heart into this project year after year. I'm honored for the chance to share more than just a collection of pretty photos, but who I am, things I've been touched by, and where I come from, with people far and wide.
March- Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Nature photography often provides a very isolated and calculated look at a scene. As photographers, our job is to compose a view that evokes emotional response in our viewers. We may tell a story, or seek to inspire, the latter of which is often my goal. But there's usually a lot going on just beyond the edges of the frame that a photo doesn't fully reveal. The long hike to get to the location, maybe if closer to a road power lines or a crowd, swarms of buzzing mosquitos... or in this case the five year old tugging at my arm on the verge of tears with a tummy ache.
I've been trying to take my son Caden to visit different national parks, aiming for at least one a year. Unfortunately we didn't make it to one last year, so I was pretty determined to do so in 2022. It's something that probably means a lot more to me at this point, but hopefully one day will to him too.
On this trip, a quick drive to Yellowstone earlier this year, he'd been semi-enthused at best. I sold it to him as a wildlife safari, making sure to pack binoculars and counting on being able to find bison or elk to make it exciting for him. But entering through West Yellowstone, Cade started to say his stomach hurt when I pulled over for a picture together at the Montana state line. I told him we could just take it easy, enjoy the ride and see what we see- but hoped to at least get him out of the car a little bit. We stopped here, at Grand Prismatic Spring, and despite his objections set out on an easy mile long hike along the boardwalk loop. I thought some fresh air would do him some good, but in hindsight the sulphuric smell of the hot spring probably didn't help. We walked a bit, me pointing out the amazing colors of the water and explaining the bacterial mats surrounding the spring- of which he could not have cared less.
Right after pausing to snap this shot, I looked down at Caden who had carried his tablet to take some photos of his own.
"You wanna take a picture, bud?"
He looked back at me, pekid, retched and let out a horrendous belch. He gagged once more and started to cry. I think it scared him- and I know it terrified the people walking past us who thought they were about to have vomit wash over their shoes. He didn't throw up, but felt embarrassed and continued to sob. I ended up carrying him most of the way back to the car.
And that, my friends, is how we'll remember Caden's first trip to Yellowstone back in 2022.
April- Maquoketa Caves State Park, Iowa
So I already spoke of the unique geology at Maquoketa Caves, and of my friend with the rattlesnake impersonations, in my Iowa writeup. And I think most of my audience back home is fairly familiar with this place. But here's one for the "tell me something I didn't know" crowd... Are you aware that there used to be a dance hall in the frame of this photo? Of course one of the large caves, which would have been behind me from where this was taken, is called Dance Hall cave- and it once hosted dances (I'm guessing probably in the 1930's and 40's) where people would gather to escape the summertime heat. And long before that it is believed to have been a meeting place for Native American councils. But I actually have a photo, which I inherited from my Great Grandfather, that shows a building that existed on the other side of Natural Arch, which is the feature you are looking through here. I don't know how old the photo is, perhaps the 1920's- and my Grandma explained when she gave it to me that she'd heard the building was a dance hall. I'll have to take a closer look at the photo next time I'm home, but having just done some quick research it seems that would have actually been more of a pavilion, built over a dance floor... I think maybe a blog post is in order once I investigate this further. (Stay tuned!)
May- Buffalo National River, Arkansas
Though I think I've only been through the state maybe five or six times- and this trip the only one that was more than just passing through- I absolutely love Arkansas. From what I've seen, it is extremely underrated and a place that I cannot wait to get back to and explore. This image was taken from a narrow cliff ledge high above the Buffalo River. In 1972 this waterway was designated as America's first national river, with its lower 135 mile stretch placed under jurisdiction of the National Park Service to preserve it in its wild and natural state.
This photo was from the first of two nights that I hiked out to this point for sunset, and soon after it was taken I had a pretty interesting encounter in the dark. I can't remember right off hand- it was maybe 3 or 4miles back to the car- through unfamiliar forest with things like bears and copperheads to keep in mind. I wasn't too worried though until about halfway back, when I was reminded of another animal that lives in these woods- which pierced the night with a sudden squeal.
"Oh right... they've got wild hogs here," I thought to myself, though 'right' isn't the actual word that I used (we'll keep this one PG...)
I stopped and listened for a minute and could hear a litter of piglets and the mothers instructive snorts, somewhere in the dark just off the trail. I wasn't sure how much of a threat the animals might be- obviously you never want to mess with a mother and its babies- so I scurried past as quick as I could.
The next afternoon I met a local hiker, while returning to this spot, who mentioned also seeing the family of hogs. When I asked if they were any reason for concern he just shrugged and said, "no, not really..."
I came across the group again a short time later, which included a boar with big tusks, and sat down on a log for fifteen minutes or so, watching them forage in a ravine. It's always so neat to see animals in their wild habitat- and getting to know a species for the first time always makes for a meaningful experience.
June- Glacier National Park, Montana
One of the things I'm most commonly asked during art shows is which of the national parks is my favorite...
It's Glacier. I was fortunate enough to live in nearby Whitefish, Montana for several years, and to this day- outside of Iowa- returning here is the only place that truly feels like coming home. I've spent a lot of time in Glacier and have gotten to know the park pretty well; but no matter how often I visit, something blows me away each time.
This photo was taken last July while I was back for the weekend doing the Whitefish Arts Festival. I usually stay with friends in Columbia Falls (like 20 minutes from West Glacier) so even amidst a busy show schedule, being that close to one of my favorite places in the world makes it impossible to resist at least a quick stop to say hi. Glacier is one of the parks that now has limited entry by permit during the summer months (necessary to cut down on overcrowding) but you are allowed to enter without a permit early in the day, before 6 am. So I made it a point on this particular morning to go over and shoot sunrise from the Apgar boat dock.
As far as originality goes this scene isn't one I can take credit for. It's probably one of Glacier's more popular photo locales, kind of what you might consider a trophy shot- and certainly low hanging fruit as far as ease of access goes. But it's clearly a pretty spot, I hadn't come away with a photo that I'm happy with from this location before- and with Going to the Sun Road closed for overnight construction, my options were fairly limited. And as I can still hear the sound of those gentle waves lapping along the shoreline, while I looked across Lake McDonald at this place I love and have come to know so well- I actually think this photo is pretty special. You can find other versions like it, but this one means a lot to me.
Honestly, I wasn't sure if I'd be able to use this image for the calendar or not. The crop is kind of funny. The original was shot straight on looking down the boat ramp, but sizing it for a calendar page meant either cutting out the sun to maintain the original perspective, or working with some hard angles. I probably played around with it for over an hour, tweaking minor adjustments and trying to make it work. It's crazy how balance can make or break a photo, and in some cases if you don't get it just right the image becomes visually confusing and off-putting. One of my favorite parts of this scene though is the tiny little sunstars reflecting off the ripples in the water, so I was determined not to cut that part out. In the end, I think it actually turned out pretty well.
July- Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
As I mentioned before, oftentimes there is reason or special meaning behind the photos I choose to include in these calendars.
This one is dedicated to my friend John...
John suffers from a condition known as hydrocephalus- an accumulation of cerebral spinal fluid in the brain that causes a build up of immense pressure. He had his first instance of this about twenty years ago, and annual recurrences with the shunt they'd installed becoming clogged for several years after. Eventually, doctors tried a new procedure to allow increased draining of the ventricles in his head. This proved successful, and he'd gone well over a decade without issue.
I received a message from John's sister about a month ago. He'd developed a severe headache and began vomitting, so his wife took him to the ER. The build up had returned so they tried to install an external shunt to relieve the pressure. During the procedure John began having difficulty breathing and slipped into a coma. An MRI revealed that he'd suffered a stroke in his brain stem. He has yet to regain consciousness.
You know, sometimes when I'm writing I can sit and struggle for hours or even days, just trying to find the right words. But other times it just flows. I think in this case, while I've been overwhelmed by many emotions in the weeks since finding out- I summed my feelings up best soon after getting the news (and after John's family decided to make a public announcement) when I spontaneously sat down and wrote the following in a Facebook post...
"There's a line at the end of that old movie 'Stand by Me'...
'I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?'
That was John for me. Constant companions through our youth we navigated all the challenges of our formative years together, and found plenty of adventure and mischief along the way. Camping trips, school dances, track and cross country practice... there was the night we rode mopeds from Tipton to Iowa City to watch a football game... the time shortly after graduation when we were drinking (underage obviously) and got so goofy drunk that we jokingly called 9-1-1 on ourselves... things got serious fast when the dispatcher insisted that an officer needed to be sent to check on us (my desperate pleas of 'please dude, no!' for some reason couldn't dissuade her, but John giggling in the background and urging me to ask her out probably didn't help either.) -I'd better stop there.
You all get it though. One of the greatest blessings in life is getting to grow up with a friend that becomes family. One you share all your secrets with- your fears, hopes and dreams. One that in time and in memory was always there by your side.
That was John for me.
Ever the life of the party and known for his upbeat attitude, friendly outgoing demeanor, his contagious smile and laugh, John was going to be loved and shine light on this world, wherever he would go. As life happens and even the closest paths part, in time we went from every day fixtures to hanging out on weekends to 'hey buddy, I'll see you when I do.' John met a great girl, fell in love, got married and is raising a beautiful family. We've kept in touch, but these days it's more of a random out of the blue text, oftentimes months apart. It's not awkward though. We've both come to understand that's just how life goes- and always pick up like old times.
My friend John is in a pretty serious fight right now. We're asking everyone to keep him and his family- Erika, Jackson, Lexi and Nicole- and his mom, brother, thirty seven sisters (that's a joke, they have a very large family) and all of his extended clan in your prayers.
One of the last messages I sent John was this past summer. I was in the Tetons, which in our many travels together had been one of his favorite places. I sent him a little video clip of sunrise lighting up the mountains, to which he replied, 'oh man, that's beautiful buddy!!! I need a road trip!'
And he will. He'll get that chance again still. I know my friend's spirit, I know his heart and I know his fight, and I'm confident he's going to pull through this. And some day I'm going to make it a point to take him back to that very spot, just to watch the sun light up those mountains, and see his smile to match.
Love ya, buddy..."
The above photo was taken during that sunrise. And John's birthday is in July.
At the time that I'm writing this, my friend continues to fight. There have been many positive developments. Scans show no evidence that his stroke caused permanent damage. He's beginning to exhibit promising behavior- in the past couple weeks he's opened his eyes, and is now starting to squeeze hands on command and will visually track people across the room. But the doctors are confused as to why he hasn't fully "woken up." He's been approved for, and will soon be moved from the hospital to, a long term rehab facility; which we hope will be more comfortable for John, and easier on his family.
Like I said in that post- John has always been the life of the party. That dude has a lot of friends, and I know he has a lot of people pulling for him. Do me a favor though... when you see this photo, especially those of you who end up with a calendar and are flipping through the pages a few months down the road... please remember this story. And take a moment to reach out and let a friend know that you love them. Life is too damn short, and it's crazy how we never really know when a gesture or message to someone we just always assume will be there, might be the last. Please don't take time for granted. Let those who are special to you know that you care.
And if you would, please send a few healing thoughts John's way too.
August- Arapaho National Forest, Colorado
Photographing this iconic mountain deep in the Colorado wilderness has been on my bucket list for a long time. I first saw photos of it about five years ago and was drawn to the distinctive peak. Some scenes just speak to me- even before actually seeing them in person- and if we all have mental "vaults" where we store important thoughts and information, mine is probably overflowing with locations that I've noted and want to experience for myself.
I definitely had to earn this one though. The mountain sits in designated wilderness of Arapaho National Forest- a pristine and scenic area that for good reason is very popular. To protect against the impacts of overuse, overnight camping in the backcountry is highly regulated, and by permit only. To get a permit you generally have to apply months in advance- and I hadn't. This was more of an "oh hey, since I'm in the area" opportunity for me. But... you can hike in and out of the wilderness in a single day without need for advanced reservation.
I'd done my research and knew that I wanted to photograph this scene in the early morning- both for the way the light would hit the mountains, and because that's when the lake surface is more likely to be calm and reflective. The problem with that was sunrise came around 5:45 and it was about eight miles, uphill, from the trailhead to the lakeshore. I set my alarm for 1:30 that morning and was on the trail by two. (You can read about the hike and see more photos HERE.) It ended up being my most ambitious outing of the summer, but worth it to finally take in this view.
September- Rock Creek Timber, Cedar County
This is the other scene from home that I decided to carry over from my Iowa calendar, and I don't have a lot to add from what I wrote in the previous post. As photographers/artists, whatever you want to call those of us who delve deeper into this pursuit than dabbling as a hobby, there are images that really become meaningful to us on a personal level which end up getting zero acclaim when shared with the public. (And that's definitely the case here. As a fine art print, this piece is part of my special limited edition collection... but I haven't sold any yet.) I'm okay with this though, and I know many other photographers have works in their portfolios of which they could say the same. When this happens, I'm not sure if it's because of the sentiment we attach to our photos, or if maybe they appeal to our own unique vision in ways that don't speak so much to a broader audience- but in time you get to the point where you're just fine with that. We all have our reasons to love what we love- and this is a personal favorite of mine. From the location to the bright boughs of golden rod and the pastel twilight and moon, it just reminds me of things in life that I'll always hold dear.
October- Cache National Forest, Utah
I've always been a proponent of the fact that you can find gorgeous autumn colors no matter where you go. There are places that tourists flock to- New England, the Smokies, Colorado- and justifiably so, as the views are reliably spectacular. But it's not hard to find a bit more solitude- without compromising the scenery- a bit off the beaten path.
Last fall (2021, when this photo was taken) was the first that I really started to photograph the area around Logan, Utah. Most of you know that I live out here now to be near my son, and that's been difficult, because beyond him it's not where I want to be. And I think I've harbored a lot of resentment for that situation, which manifested in ways that caused me to turn a blind eye to the natural landscape around me. The mountains here really are pretty, and it's been ridiculous for me, as a photographer, to overlook that. I came to terms with this a little bit last year and pushed myself to get out and explore- just enough to at least get a taste. And though I've had some setbacks, I've worked to get to know the area even better in 2022.
I'll have some new fall images from here coming out soon, but what really struck me this past season was a shift in my mindset in not only recognizing the untapped photographic potential of this area, but also the instructional possibilities. I've wanted to start leading workshops for a very long time- and honestly I've been getting requests for years. As I was out in the field this fall, familiarizing myself with new locations, I kept thinking about the technical aspects of my approach and how I could use this to teach others. I was also stricken by the advantages of photographing here- with easy access from Salt Lake City, yet for the most part away from the crowds. It would allow for a relaxed workshop environment, ideal for individual or small group instruction, with a personal touch where I think I could really thrive. (And for these same reasons, I've long thought of leading workshops in Eastern Iowa, which I know intimately.)
So with that, I think I'm gonna take the plunge. I'm still working out all the details and probably won't have specific dates, locations, or an official announcement until the spring- but I do plan to start leading custom photo tours and small group workshops in 2023. My goal is to launch this new venture in the fall, and I plan to start off by offering opportunities in both Northern Utah and Eastern Iowa to coincide with peak foliage. Then we'll build from there.
If you'd like more information on these workshops please sign up HERE and I'll be in touch once the plans are in place.
November- Crystal Mill, White River National Forest, Colorado
Much like the previous photo from Colorado, Crystal Mill is a site that's been on my photographic "to-do" list for awhile. It's one of the state's many iconic scenes, and to be honest, I probably overlooked it for a long time because it is a trophy shot. (A scene that everybody has on their "photographic to-do list.") Professional photographers often have a love-hate relationship with such places. Most of us don't want to build our portfolios or reputations solely off of them, because the resulting images have become so overdone and cliched. But at the same time, these places are attractive for a reason. They're incredible to see, and beautiful to photograph.
I went through a phase for a few years there where I kind of turned my nose up at such popular spots, but ultimately realized I was only hurting myself. Photography is very much about being in the moment and the experience, and even when a place has been photographed a million times before, it's still rewarding to get there in person and try to put your own twist on the scene.
Once I got past all of that, my desire to photograph Crystal Mill took on a new sense of urgency. It dawned on me, as bad as wildfires have been in recent years across the west (and with climate change only making this worse) that there's no guarantee this structure will be there for years to come. So I made it a point to get there, and am definitely grateful that I finally got to see it.
December- Sequoia National Park, California
I mentioned in my Iowa Calendar writeup that it's been hard to resist using spring images of Red Haw State Park for several consecutive years, and will confess that I think this is three in a row now with winter scenes from Sequoia as well. Confess, not apologize, because this was taken on a really special afternoon. I'd wanted to see the giant sequoias in winter all my life, and got this opportunity during a photo trip in 2019. The drive into the park was pretty sketchy (and even worse coming out in the dark) as it was absolutely dumping snow- but I will never forget how silent and still that forest was, with big magical flakes falling all around.
Moments of such profound peace and enchantment are too rare in life, and often that's by our own doing. We get so caught up in everything, stuck in own heads and chasing our own tails, that we forget what blessings wait just outside our little self-constructed bubbles of existence and daily routine. I know that I do. And that's something I really want to change. So I included this photo as another reminder of what this world offers, and in the hope we can all open ourselves to more of these experiences in the year ahead.
Well there you have it, a summary of all of the images in my 2023 calendar lineup. I hope that these previews have given you a little more depth and understanding of why the photos mean so much to me, and with these backstories I hope the calendars are a little more meaningful to you as well.
All the best for a wonderful new year!