From May 4th until May 21st I journeyed across the American Southwest with two companions starting in Denver, Colorado and finishing in San Francisco California. Over the course of the trip I spent my time hiking, camping, and exploring several National Parks, including some of the most iconic such as Grand Canyon and Yosemite.
During my trip I was able to take the time to reflect on my college experience thus far as well as focus on what I want out of the final two years, develop my artistic photography skills, and gain new perspectives as I visited places in the US that I had never before seen.
Going into this trip, I hoped that the long car rides, picturesque hikes, and extended downtime would allow me ample time to reflect on my first two years at Ohio State as well to think about the quickly approaching final two. Several times over the past year I have doubted the choices I have made that have set me on a certain course. I felt utterly overwhelmed by my day to day life and I stressed about the future incessantly. The wilderness has always been a calming place for me, a second home, so I hoped that this trip would give me a much-needed opportunity to clear my head. I come away from the trip feeling rejuvenated and more comfortable about where I am. While on the trip I that I felt fully present in the moment. I was not concerned about upcoming projects and responsibilities nor stressing about a recent bad grade. Instead, I was fully conscious of the happenings around me. Experiencing the sights, sounds, and smells of the trail led to a more fulfilling experience. During the academic year I am often preoccupied with other worries which takes away from my experience of the present moment. Coming away from my trip I have tried to take this approach with me, to live more in the present and not be drawn away by things that lie down the road. Worrying about the future creates a malicious cycle. One worries about the future events and when those events come they are worried about new future events. You can go through life without every truly being invested in the present reality. There is nothing you can do about the past or the future. You are only present in the moment that is occurring. I have found this practice to be a productive way to deal with unwanted stress and I am excited to test it out when I return to school.
I awoke at 3:30 in the morning on May 9th. A small glow of light shone from the horizon to the east. We loaded our packs with necessary items for the day and headed north along highway 64. Before five we reached the Bright Angel Trailhead and peered down into the famed Grand Canyon. After filling our water bottles we began our descent into the canyon on what would amount to be a twelve-mile hike, six miles each way. I assume it was due to our early wake-up time that we did not converse for much of the beginning of the hike. I found this extremely pleasant. Shortly into the hike I noticed how observant I was, taking in every bit of information about my surroundings. I studied the trail beneath my feet the layered walls of the rock and remained in awe of the magnitude of the Grand Canyon. My thoughts never strayed to future matters nor dwelled on past occurrences. I was fully immersed in the hike and the present reality that was playing out in front of me. I continued this practice over the remaining portion of the trip, pushing myself to remain present in the experience that was unfolding in front of me. I also widened this practice to include limiting social media. During my time in the car I read The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts. This book addressed many of my fears as well as reinforced the idea of being present. I come away from this trip feeling much more comfortable with where I am. Reflection and reading have helped me to realize the importance of making most of the present as well as helped me realize what is within my control and what is not. There are things that I can worry about and stress over, but it is in no way constructive.
In addition to being able to reflect and refocus, I was able to improve my photography skills. As discussed in my proposal I felt that my coursework and extracurriculars restricted my opportunities to be creative and artistic. This trip gave me a chance to practice my photography and build on skills and techniques that I learned when taking photo classes last summer. Prior to the trip I was nervous that I would be disappointed in how my work would turn out. However, I found success applying techniques from the classes I took last summer as well as trying new things by reading my camera manual. I found some of the most enjoyable moments of the trip to be when I was free to shoot as I pleased, whether it was during a stop on a hike, downtime in camp, or even from the back of the car.
I gripped my camera as our car throttled along the freeway. The stark, burnt landscape of the desert valley surrounded us. We had just left the iconic Monument Valley near the Utah-Arizona border where I had been able to shoot some satisfying photos. I continued to play around with my camera and see what I could capture from the back seat of the car. Then, as I peered out of the rear window of the car I noticed a vehicle approaching us, it passed us and was nearly out of sight all in a matter of forty-five seconds. I took pictures the entire time and came away with some of my favorite shots of the trip. The vehicle was a yellow 1970s era Chevrolet pick-up truck, an American classic. Its yellow paint let it blend in yet also stand out from its desert environment. Shooting from the car added a rushed effect. I knew immediately that these pictures would be This event made me realize the importance of a photographer’s need to capture an instantaneous moment. The perfect shot is fleeting, and you need be ready it at any second to capture it. Realizing that I could have missed this opportunity had I not already had my camera out, I kept it close to me for the remainder of the trip, always prepared to capture. In addition to this lesson I was able to practice shooting on different settings on my camera and gain much more confidence in my ability. Since returning from my trip my enthusiasm for photography has been reinvigorated and I have spent a day each weekend dedicated to shooting more whether it be street photography in Cleveland or nature photography in the Metroparks.
Lastly, this trip changed some of my perspectives of the US. From the moment I stepped off the plane in the Denver airport I noticed a shift in the demographics. This continued as I traveled through Utah, Arizona, and up into California. Although I have traveled out West before to Denver, Phoenix, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, I had flown every time. I found driving between destinations to be very insightful. I gained a better understanding of the geography of the US as well as the lifestyles and living conditions of its inhabitants.
My favorite drive from the trip was our journey from Zion National Park to Kings Canyon National Park. The drive takes you through 4 states: Utah, Arizona, Nevada, ending in the southern Sierras in California. After passing through Las Vegas you enter the Mojave Desert, a dry, arid environment, enclosed in all directions by distant mountains. The road rises as you approach the Tehachapi mountains. As you descend the other side you are transported to another world. The San Joaquin Valley is the most productive agricultural region in the world. Lush fields of crops, orchards and dairy farms extend in all directions. The only way I knew that they ended was due to the mountains that marked an end to the valley far in the distance. Everything is green. Massive population centers thrive due to the booming agriculture industry. Fresno, Bakersfield, Modesto and Stockton all boast populations greater than two hundred thousand inhabitants. There is a sense of prosperity and positivity that perpetuates the air. And I never new this place existed. It came as a shock to me. I pride myself on my geographic knowledge, yet I was ignorant of much of the interior of California. This trip gave me greater insight into American life across the spectrum. I saw distressing poverty on the Navajo reservation in northern Arizona and incredible wealth in the neighborhoods of San Francisco. On the trails I conversed with people from across the world. I was shocked by the number of international travelers that come to our National Parks. Another thing I noticed was the persistence of the man vs nature conflict. Where I live in Cleveland, nature rarely affects our lives. There is the occasional thunderstorm or snowstorm which may cause inconveniences for a day or more, but for the most part, nature has been tamed. Out West, there are fire restrictions when the weather has been too dry to prevent devastating forest fires, my friend from Denver carries cat food in the trunk of his car in order to provide traction were his car to be trapped in a Colorado blizzard, in the canyons flash floods may compromise you in a matter of minutes, and of course there are dangerous animals like bears and mountain lions that can be encountered on the trail. People who live out west, particularly in more remote places are still engaged in a conflict against nature that we don’t partake in in the Midwest.
When all is said and done, this trip expanded my horizons. It opened my eyes to things that I had not seen in our country before and gave me new perspectives on the many different lives that people are leading. It gave me an opportunity to fulfill the creative and artistic gap that I felt in my life during the academic year. It revitalized my passion for photography and allowed me to grow as an artist, gaining not only technical skills with my camera but also artistic skills in composition and design. Lastly, it gave me a much-needed opportunity to reflect on the current state of my life, where I am, where I want to go, what I need to worry about and what is unnecessary. I come away with a new life philosophy: be present. I feel comfortable with where I am, and excited and prepared for my next two years.
PHOTOJOURNAL LINK: https://arcg.is/POTHn