COLORADO // AUGUST 2017

Colorado is beautiful. Period. Granted, most people don't account for about half of the state being high plains. A vast undulating landscape stretches out across the horizon like a sheet on a giant's bed in Eastern Colorado. Most people think of the Rocky Mountains or Denver when Colorado comes to mind. I have visited Colorado at least 10 times in my life but never had much of an opportunity to explore freely. I've been here mostly on tours with bands, driving tour vehicles, passing through on cross-country road trips with friends, or simply touching down at the Denver airport for a few hours between flights. I was glad for the experience of this adventure. 

I should really be writing this blog post for my wedding photo/video brand but I wanted this to be more about the experience than the work. Here's the groundwork that lead to our trip:

Passenger Atlas, our wedding brand, booked a wedding in South Georgia early in 2017 for November. Over the summer the client called me with some news, "We're cancelling our wedding..." My heart sunk a little bit but immediately perked back up when they said "...and now we're eloping in Colorado!" So, after readjusting everything me, Nella, and Robbie flew out to Colorado for the wedding in Estes Park. The wedding turned out great and I hope to post the gallery soon on Passenger Atlas. Enough about the work! We booked EXTRA days in Colorado just to hang out and see stuff!

After arriving in Denver we started west in our rental car. Home base was the town of Dillon. Smack dab in the middle of the Rocky Mountains, Dillon is home to the Dillon Reservoir. The 3,200 acre lake is a water supply reservoir for the city of Denver. Nearby to Dillon are the resort towns of Frisco, Breckenridge, and Vail. Our AirBnB was situated on a steep slope that offered a great view of the mountains in the distance. It was a gorgeous place to be.

We shot the wedding on Saturday in Estes Park. Sunday we explored Vail, Breckenridge, Frisco, and the Dillon Reservoir. Walking around the Vail Farmers' Market was interesting. The vendors were artisan and unique. We had some delicious Spanish Paella from a street vendor. Local cheese, wines, crafts, woodworks, and of course produce were on display and for purchase. Ski slopes were visible from virtually everywhere in Vail, Frisco, and Breckenridge. I have always wanted to ski in Colorado.

The highlight of our trip was Rocky Mountain National Park. We had a great breakfast Monday morning at the Log Cabin Cafe in Frisco before starting our drive. I ate my entire plate of Eggs Benedict and was glad for it later on in the day. It's a good idea to bring along some snacks and water bottles when visiting a national park. I knew this park was going to have some big mountains and amazing landscapes but I never really know what to expect until I get there. And once you're there it's hard to take it all in. Being there is important, I think, when visiting special places. 

We approached the park from the west on US-34 coming out of Grand Lake. It was dreary day and I had done my best to accept the fact that many of the views would be obscured by clouds. I also realized that the rain and clouds would make for an interesting experience. It was cold and damp out on the mountains and the mist lingered on my clothes. Clouds were passing right in front of me as I walked among tall trees and even taller mountains. Everything was dark, green, and moody. I loved it. 

Trail Ridge Road ventures through the park from Grand Lake in the west to Estes Park in the east. The road runs for about 50 miles through some of the most unique terrain in America. Trail Ridge Road has the distinction of being the highest continually paved road in North America topping out at over 12,100 feet above sea level. Climbing the winding road provided genuine geological display everywhere we looked. We crossed the Continental Divide at Milner Pass, saw elk grazing in meadows, and rain drops falling on the surface of alpine lakes. A good stretch of the road is above the timberline. The trees grew shorter and shorter until they finally gave way to rocky tundra. Snow is on the ground year round at this elevation in places. Even though it was August, the temperature outside was in the 30s and it made me wish I had dressed warmer. 

Bear Lake is a clear alpine lake. The fog on the lake's surface, the dramatic peaks rising in the background, and tall evergreens all around created a surreal atmosphere. It was quiet except for our footsteps and faint raindrops landing. Evidence of time and changing landforms are everywhere. Glacial activity carved out Bear Lake and others in the area. Glaciers left behind moraines throughout the park over great periods of time. A few very small glaciers still remain in the park to this day. Bear Lake Coordinates: 40.31324°N 105.648222°W

I'm already wanting to plan another trip to RMNP. I recently bought a nice tent by MSR and haven't been able to use it yet. Camping in the Rockies in late summer would be incredible. Maybe next time! 

-Daniel
 

 

WEST VIRGINIA // OHIO // KENTUCKY — SPRING 2017

West Virginia is one of my favorite states. To me it is a land of wild and wonderful yet obscure places. I grew up going snow skiing in WV at resorts like Snowshoe and Winterplace. In August of 2015 Nella and I stayed at an Airbnb in Beckley, WV in order to do three photo shoots. We enjoyed it so much we decided to go back and see more of the state and surrounding areas! On this trip we stayed in Parkersburg and Huntington and took day trips to Marietta, Ohio; Ashland, KY; Buckhannon, WV; Point Pleasant, WV; and visited Valley Falls State Park as well as Audra State Park

MAY 10-11: The very first thing we did after leaving home was take in an awesome acoustic set by Joe Purdy in Atlanta. The next day was spent driving through GA, SC, NC, VA, and WV to Parkersburg. We both slept hard that night after the long drive. 

MAY 12: On our first full day in West Virginia we actually decided to go to another state to see the sites in Marietta, Ohio. It was an overcast, cool day with occasional brief and sprinkling rainfall. In spite of the dreary day the air wasn't particularly muggy or think like it is in Georgia this time of year. In fact, the high temperature for the day was in the 60s. I've always been fascinated with the Ohio River Valley so I was excited to explore a new town. Marietta was the first permanent settlement in the Northwest Territory and was founded in 1788 by officers of the Revolutionary War who were given land grants for their military service. We drove around the beautiful little downtown and eventually stumbled upon a quaint cemetery at the top of a hill that formed a square surrounded by historic homes. At the center of this cemetery is an ancient Native American burial mound known as Conus and was estimated by archaeologists to have been built between 100 B.C. and 500 A.D. We were not expecting to find this so we decided to explore and take the stairs to the top of the mound. The view was largely shrouded by the tall, old trees in the cemetery but it was none-the-less a great view of the surrounding land. We also located a plot of Revolutionary War veterans. Before leaving Marietta, Nella and I stopped by Jeremiah's Coffee House and it was pretty awesome. 

MAY 13: We decided to take a jaunt over to the central part of West Virginia to do some hiking at two state parks. Again, it was a cool and overcast day. I decided to take my Yashica Mat-124 G twin-lens camera along with me on the trails. I don't develop my film very often and have about 5 rolls sitting around my studio — So, I often take a through-the-lens photo to have something more immediate than the physical print. Being out in the hills, walking along rivers and waterfalls with Nella was amazing. We saw some pretty interested sites as we moved on from the parks as well. We came across something known as the "Pringle Tree" near Buckhannon, WV. Two brothers, John and Samuel Pringle, once lived in a hollowed out sycamore tree for the better part of three years starting in 1764. They eventually founded the first permanent settlement west of the Allegheny Mountains. Nella and I got to see the third generation sycamore that occupies the same spot and it too is a hollow tree. We continued on to Buckhannon, WV and discovered that the West Virginia Strawberry Festival was going on! Honestly, it wasn't any spectacular but it was nice and we could tell it meant a lot to the little town. We had the most delicious chocolate covered strawberries and also purchased some strawberry syrup for my mother.

MAY 14: After breakfast at Tim Horton's we left Parkersburg, WV and crossed over the Ohio River. Hugging the river we traveled down Ohio State Route 7 through Pomeroy and Gallipolis before crossing into Huntington, WV. Nella discovered something interesting on the Internet — Camden Park. Founded in 1903, Camden Park is one of the oldest amusement parks still in operation. Walking around this obscure yet popular local fun park was a genuine treat for Americana-Kitsch enthusiasts like myself. As soon as I walked in I couldn't stop smiling. I wasn't sure if it was because I had found the epicenter of working class America, if it was because I has been essentially taken back in time, or both. We took a ride on a 64 year old  roller coaster complete with chipped paint and semi-rotten wood. We also got our bones rattled on a ride called the "The Whip". Camden Park has a legit carousel and twister ride called the paratrooper as well. We got raspberry slushes and walked around taking it all in. Being at Camden Park feels like you're watching a 90s movie set in the 1960s. 

MAY 15: Our hotel was in Ashland, Kentucky but only because we found a mega cheap hotel there. I think it was $47 per night with tax included. Ashland was a starting point for our next set of adventures. We drove up through Ohio and stopped by the tiny town of Rio Grande, the home of Bob Evan's. Imagine a restaurant like IHOP, Denny's, Cracker Barrel, and Shoney's crammed all into one and you'd have Bob Evan's. At the farms in Rio Grande we briefly tour THE Bob Evan's homestead and museum dedicated to his entrepreneurial spirit.

After that we continued on to Point Pleasant, West Virginia. This town is home to one of America's greatest modern folkloric tales and pop culture elements. Referenced on TV shows, fireside ghost stories, and even a movie starring Richard Gere called The Mothman Prophecies. You should read up on the real legend on your own time but a brief description is in order: Point Pleasant is a small town on the Ohio River that was the location of the Mothman sitings and influence. Many of the town's people claimed to see a large creature resembling a human except it had moth-like wings and red eyes. It terrified the community from 1966 to 1967. During this time hundreds had various experiences ranging from sitings of the creature, UFOs, strange military personnel, premonitions of doom, individuals experiencing unusual emotional stress, and other strange phenomenon. The culmination of events occurred on December 15, 1967 when the Silver Bridge collapsed killing 46 people. Some people in the area claim to have had precognitions of the bridge's collapse. All-in-all it's a very weird account! We thoroughly enjoyed touring the roadside attraction known as the Mothman Museum as well as the Mothman statue in downtown. We even went to the old "TNT" area north of town to explore the military weapons storage igloos dating from WWII. Supposedly Mothman was sited in the vicinity many times. 

Out of Point Pleasant we headed south along West Virginia Route 2 hugging the banks of the Ohio River. Outside of Huntington we stopped at another kitschy road-side attraction called Hillbilly Hot Dogs. I absolutely love hot dogs. I tried the Harrison Dog which comes with "hot dog sauce", nacho cheese, sautéed onions, sour cream, and bacon bits. It was insane but good. The attraction to the place is all of the stuff they've collected over the years. Old school buses, cars, strange little artifacts of yesteryear which lost their purpose long ago. They even have a Hillbilly wedding chapel. It was quite the experience.

MAY 16: Once we got to Beckley, WV I had two shoots. One was a video shoot for a friend named Ryan Smith whom I met in 2014 when I photographed his band. This go 'round he wanted a video of him playing acoustic songs to present to venues for booking purposes. His style is traditional mountain finger-picking. His goal is to play more shows at local festivals, music venues, and even churches. The other shoot I did was for Emmalea Deal, whom I had also worked with in the past. After the shoots, Nella and I had dinner that night at Poncho & Lefty's, a Baja style taco restaurant in West Virginia. 

MAY 17: It was time make the long drove home. Me and Nella ended up stopped in Asheville, NC for dinner as well as exploring some other things we spotted along our drive home. It was wonderful trip!

-Daniel

 

CAIRO, ILLINOIS — SUMMER 2015

Cairo, Illinois is located at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. Locals in Southern Illinois refer to the region as "Little Egypt". With a turbulent history, Cairo is one of the most interesting small towns in America that I have visited. 

The city's population peaked in the 1910s. Though the city's infrastructure was built for around 20,000 people, less than 2,600 live there today. Once a bustling river town and center of transportation, economic depression struck the city over half a century ago — Cairo never recovered. Racial tensions, economic decline, floods, and changes in river transportation were all factors to the city's entropy. Today it is essentially a ghost town with a few roads passing through. The Lewis and Clark expedition also passed through what was to become Cairo in the year 1803. 

I have been to Cairo on a number of occasions. The first time was in 2008 with my brother, Philip. The photos in this blog post were taken in the summer of 2015 with my girlfriend, Nella. The city has changed considerably in some ways but hardly at all in others. For instance, when my brother and I visited the first time, it was as if we were in a bombed-out, war-torn city. Buildings had collapsed into the street, empty bottles littered the entrances to abandoned buildings, and stray dogs roamed the streets. I visited in 2008, 2011, 2015, and 2016. I discovered on each trip that a little more of the town was gone. When I arrived in 2015 the majority of the downtown area had been demolished since my first visit in 2008. I would say 85% of what I saw in 2008 was gone eight years later — And who knows how much had already been torn down before '08. The city does look cleaner now. There are more vacant lots but at least the rubble in the streets had been removed. I am not sure why more was not done for the city as it floundered. I suppose there just wasn't enough interested or funds to do anything before it was too late. It's upsetting that Cairo has essentially lost its entire historic downtown.

Each visit to the near-ghost town leaves me with thoughts about the lives of the people who once inhabited the city, as well as those who still call it home. For me, the atmosphere is thick with a lingering residue of depression, racial tension, floods, and all of the hardships the community has endured. I am hopeful for the future of Cairo.