Our National Parks Odyssey: The Ultimate Challenge, Part 2

Image © Andrew Slaton

By Andrew Slaton—

So here we were in Florida, as March rolled closer to April. News about the Coronavirus sparked fear throughout the country. All of our state and national park reservations were canceled out from under us, and photo jobs were postponed or canceled outright. The world, to most everyone, looked a bit more uncertain. But for us, not too much more uncertain.

Let’s be honest here:­ Our lives for the last four years have been a rehearsal for many catastrophic scenarios— it was finally showtime.

As the saying goes, when God closes a door, He opens a window. Well, when we had nowhere to go, nowhere to park Gertie, we jumped through the proverbial window and “booked” space in my brother’s driveway in Chattanooga, TN, just before the world went on total lockdown.

Image © Andrew Slaton

We figured we’d be there for a week or two. Then the Easter night tornado tore through the neighborhood just 100 yards from where our ultra-lite trailer rested. It was a terrifying experience for us, but we were the lucky ones. Many in Chattanooga and surrounding areas lost their lives and homes that night. We were lucky. We just lost power for a week.

My brother, who is a pastor, helped coordinate community services while I helped with my chainsaw, cutting neighbors’ fallen trees and removing debris. No social distancing was possible in the wake of tragedy on top of tragedy. But the little we did was dwarfed by the response of the kind people of the whole area. They poured in to help and truly made quick work of the devastation. Certainly not all was magically fixed, but the show of love and acts of kindness helped to heal a severely broken community.

Image © Andrew Slaton

We ended up spending the end of March, all of April, and the first few days of May parked in my brother’s driveway in Chattanooga. It was a special time of connection with family that we don’t get very often. Family dinners, games every night, hikes, basketball in the driveway with the kids— despite the uncertain circumstances, we’ll always cherish that time

We even had the chance to sneak away a few times to the nearby Appalachian mountains of North Carolina to get a little car camping in, replete with campfires, smores, hiking, swimming in freezing creeks,  Tolkien essays…all the good stuff.

Then I received word that a few of my clients wanted to proceed with shoots that were previously cancelled; they were now rescheduled for the first week of May. One in North Louisiana/ Arkansas, and the other in West Texas.

Image © Andrew Slaton

I was overjoyed that the jobs hadn’t disappeared; we’d really counted on that income. So we planned our route, and said bittersweet goodbyes to the ones who’d embraced us so fully and graciously for over six weeks. We would miss them dearly. But as is often the case for us, it was time to move on.

With the volatile economy, I haven’t been sure what to expect, since much of my business depends on tourism. However, my workshops have started filling up again, and I’m hopeful that we’ll pull through.

So here we are now, in the ever-warming days of high desert New Mexico, boon docking on a reservoir near Raton. Winds and dramatic spring storms kick up the dust and bring to the nose notes of cattle and hard western living. We’ve planned and re-planned and rerouted our next steps so many times, even I’m getting little confused as to what’s next. But it’s looking like we’ll explore and backpack the nooks and crannies of our beloved Wyoming next, and then up into Montana to revisit Glacier National Park.

As we approach our four-year anniversary of life on the road in early June, we look back with immense gratitude. Ellen and I both laugh and roll our eyes whenever either of us starts to look at the pictures and videos on our phones. It’s a multi-hour time warp. We get completely lost for hours remembering the amazing adventures we’ve had. All on a broken wing and a heartfelt prayer.

Our next step is foggy, but seems to be coming in to focus more and more daily. It may be time for us to plant some roots, somewhere. Where exactly, we’re still deciding. But we’ve both come to the conclusion that we need a proper home base.

Image © Andrew Slaton

At this point, the prevailing leader of the pack is Florida. Low taxes, warmth, beaches, gorgeous land, wonderful and interesting creatures to find—it already feels a bit like home. My first choice was Wyoming, but the winters are too long and brutal. We would prefer to continue our tradition of spending the milder months there, while soaking up the sun and warmth elsewhere the rest of the year. Nothing to prove here.

Last summer, we were seriously considering buying the tourist shuttle business in Wyoming after running it for the season. That fell through but both Ellen and I are actually relieved. Aside from the fact that tourism may be curtailed, we realize we aren’t’ ready to share our time with a new all-consuming business when our own ventures still need much tender, loving care.

What we have learned, though, is that we are ready for a change—this time, perhaps, a more grounded change. But however it plays out, we’ve learned that our years of coping with adversity have seasoned us. In a good way. And though we don’t plan to leave the road until 2021, we’re determined to finish our odyssey on a high note.

About Andrew Slaton

Andrew Slaton is an award-winning photographer who has done assignments for more than 50 clients and specializes in lifestyle and outdoor images.

He is a Red River Pro who outputs his National Parks prints in limited editions of ten each, printed on archival Red River Papers with fade-resistant pigment inks.

You can help Andrew and Ellen achieve their goal by adding one or more of Andrew’s beautiful prints to your collection. You can also subscribe to a collector’s edition of prints from each of the 59 National Parks he plans to photograph.

Contact Information
Visit Andrew’s web site, view his work, order prints and learn about his upcoming workshops.

Catch Andrew and Ellen’s videos at their blog.

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3 Comments

  1. I have followed your adventures for years now, just love your adventures, your stories and your photographs.

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  2. Florida has been an extraordinary adventure for Gayle and I. North Florida in particular still has some hidden wilderness areas that few know about. With the coronavirus and what looks to be a busy hurricane season, it’s been a little chaotic lately. But there is much to do and places to shoot where social distancing isn’t an issue.

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