Side Trips

Medieval manor house

I love to wander, to travel slowly. Side trips are a refreshing joy to me. Let me encourage you to join in the adventure.


I am a wanderer. It seems to be deeply ingrained in me. A good way to frustrate me is to put me in a situation with a tightly planned itinerary. It feels so scripted and limiting.

For years I resisted my wife’s pleas to go on a cruise. I knew I would not like the regimentation and fixed schedule. Reluctantly, I finally relented, but only because we would be gong with close friends. I was right. It was frustrating and I was always concerned about getting back to the ship in time. Seems like we are always leaving port just as the light was getting good for photographing on land. I don’t totally hate cruises. We have been on several now. but I have to put myself in cruise mode and accept that I am not going to be doing much photography that is interesting to me.

Some of my peak travel experiences came back when we owned a timeshare. Ours was exchanged in blocks of 1 week. They were very nice properties, but often in out of the way places. After a day or so we had “seen everything”, but we were there for a week, so then I could get down to hard core wandering. I would get the most detailed map I could find (can’t count on data service in these places) and we would head off. We encountered places we had never heard of or envisioned. Things that were not on any tourist brochures. It was a great joy.

BTW, don’t buy a timeshare now. the prices and rules have changed so much that they are not a great deal. Timeshare now is VRBO.


This kind of wandering I described from our timeshare I would call excursions. We had a great fixed base and went off exploring on day trips. I prefer this to planning a route, packing up every day, estimating where we will get to, and trying to arrange ahead for lodging in unknown places. What can I say, I am spoiled.

I also frequently do similar excursions from home. Recently I had to take my wife to the airport for a short trip. The airport is about an hour from our house. After dropping her off, I went for an excursion in eastern Colorado. It turned out to be a 12 hour trip. No itinerary, no real goals, just the freedom to wander and explore the wilds of the plains. I loved it. I haven’t processed them fully yet, but I think I got some shots I will love long term.

Side Trips

Another example: on a family trip coming back from the southeastern part of the country, we were passing through Arkansas. We were on 2 lane highways, as I prefer, when I saw an intriguing sign talking about a marker for the Louisiana Purchase Survey. Never heard of it before. Curious, and always up for possibly interesting side trips, I turned off on a very small road that took us about 5 miles out into what became swamps! Did you know Arkansas had swamps? Neither did I.

Anyway, after the Louisiana Purchase in the early 1800’s the government devised a system for surveying the land so they could start parceling it out. Two survey teams were sent out and where they crossed was designated the”Initial Point of the first survey of the American West” . A marker stone was set there. in the middle of the swamp. Lucky for us, it is in a nice Arkansas park now with boardwalks to take us over the swamp to the survey marker.

This was a fascinating bit of history I did not know and the location was spectacular – to me, since I love swamps. We probably took over an hour seeing this bit of interest we did not know existed. A great side excursion. Sure it put us “behind” on our trip, but so what? This side trip is what I remember.

I love interesting side trips to find obscure things I did not know existed.


Long ago I figured out that I am an explorer by nature. Not a Lewis & Clark “head out into the uncharted wilderness for years” guy. But someone who likes to discover new and interesting things. I will get out in all kinds of weather, but I don’t sleep on the ground anymore. 🙂

Exploring doesn’t require long treks in the wilderness. I explore all over my small town all the time. I am surprised that I can still find new and interesting sights. When I’m in town, almost every day I take side trips a few miles around my studio. I have done it so much that is is getting harder to see compelling new sights, but sometimes there is the thrill of discovery. Sometimes familiar things take a whole new look in different light or weather.

If I go to a new city I usually head out on the streets to get oriented and familiar with the sights and looks. Sometimes I even take a camera. Exploring is creative fun. There are always surprising new things to discover.

Don’t be in such a hurry

I know it is totally counter to the modern lifestyle and expectations, but slow down. Look around more. Find new interesting things where you thought you had seen it all. Be willing to take side trips and excursions. It is a creativity exercise that keeps your mind open to discovery.

Not all side trips pay off in great images. Probably most don’t. Even if not, there is the joy of trying and learning something new. As has been said by wiser people, “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey”. But sometimes…

This image

Today’s image is a classic “found along the way” find for me. This is in the Lake District in England. We knew roughly where it was, but, as I am prone to do, we came in from a non-normal way. Basically we came in the back door. I won’t say more because I don’t want to rental car company to know what we did. 🙂

it was a great and beautiful place and I’m glad we did the side trips and wandering necessary to see it.

Heartland – Spring, Redux

Kansas cliffs, heartland surprise.

Three weeks ago I wrote an article about reasons I don’t like spring. I thought I should update it and discuss my progression of getting comfortable with spring artistically. It happened via a driving trip through some of the heartland of America.


You know, the flyover country. The middle section of the US that most of you have not been through, or at least, haven’t paid attention to. Most people try to avoid this area. There are long distances to drive and seemingly little to see. Unless you learn to appreciate what is there.

I just got back from driving over 2000 miles without getting on a freeway at all. That was by choice. I love back roads and little towns. I believe driving on a freeway is a type of narcotic. Your senses blur and you get tunnel vision just looking at the road ahead. You become desensitized to the view or the geography or great scenes. And if you have expended effort to pass some slow trucks or campers you certainly can’t entertain the notion of stopping to take a picture. They would get ahead of you again.

So I was making my way through eastern Colorado and Nebraska and Kansas and Ohlahoma. Like I said, most people would pay to fly to avoid these areas. Not me. I would pay more to drive it. A lot of it, not all of it, is very good country.

This is true rural America. Not in a fake dude ranch type of tourist trap, but a land of farmers and ranchers. Hardworking people who earn an honest living and feed most of the rest of us in the process. Generally they are good people.

Great year for it

A few weeks ago I wrote a post talking about it being hard for me to get into spring. Coincidentally, this has been one of the prettiest springs in years. Where I live and most of the area I drove through had near record moisture this spring. Everything is exceptionally green. The grass and hay and crops are tall and healthy. The trees are very green and full.

It became hard for me to not be seduced by the look of this year.

Going for this long trip forced me to be immersed in it. I was there, I wanted to make good pictures, so I began to loosen up and find interesting subjects and compositions. I gave myself permission to stop whenever I wanted to look at things. Pretty soon I found myself liking more and more. Subjects became more frequent.

Some of these things required miles of driving down dirt roads, even 2-track lanes. But there were usually rewards of things I have never seen of even imagined were there. Would you guess the image at the top of this blog is from Kansas? Even if you’ve been through Kansas 100 times, I bet you haven’t seen this.

So now I feel I am fully “into” spring. I see it’s beauty and don’t currently waste my time and creativity longing for fall and winter. I am completely in the moment

Wide open spaces

This trip also steeped me in one of my favorite themes, wide open spaces. I saw a lot of them. There is something both compelling and a little frightening to me about a view with only the road and the horizon in the distance. It draws me to it while repelling me a little.

There are occasional weathered abandoned houses and barns that add to the bleak beauty. I love composing these into scenes that portray the vast distances or bounty of crops.

In a lot of these areas I just park my car in the middle of the road while I’m taking pictures. And I’m talking about setting up my tripod, composing perhaps several shots, maybe shooting HDR brackets or several long exposures to capture motion of the grass. Only 2 or 3 pickup trucks seem to come by a day, so I almost never inconvenience the locals.

Jump into summer

To be honest, this trip almost jumped me over spring into summer too quickly. I talked about the extraordinary moisture that made the vegetation very lush. But in the course of the trip we were hit with an abnormal heat wave that made things seems more like summer.

In some parts of the trip the temperature was 108F. Add a 30-40 mph dry wind and conditions were not fun. That is good for showing the dynamics of the grass or wheat rippling furiously, but not pleasant to be out in.

Amazing country

I have made this journey before. I have family at the destination, so it was not just a random selection. Each time I go I try to take a different route, always avoiding freeways.

Like almost every time I make it, I come back with a renewed love for this heartland area and the people there. It is a good place. Good country. It makes me feel better about America.

At one point I stood at the exact geographic center of the contiguous 48 states. The point where a map of the 48 states would balance exactly. I couldn’t help thinking that I hope America can stay balanced. Revisiting the heartland would help.

Not All Who Wander Are Lost

Sunset, wide open spaces

You are probably familiar with this quote, even if you can’t place exactly where it is from. I’ll get to that. The point here is to talk about my need to wander. I am seldom lost, especially when I wander.

This quote is part of a poem by J.R.R. Tolkien in The Fellowship of the Ring:

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

This is only half of the poem. The rest is specific to the plot of the story. But these 4 lines are golden. I may write about each line sometime.

This time I am drilling in to the second line: “Not all those who wander are lost.”

Get lost

I am admittedly weird. I intentionally try to get “lost”, in the sense that I end up in places few people visit, that aren’t apparent on maps, and I don’t know what I’ll find when I get there. One characteristic of this kind of place is that there are few if any people around.

Perhaps I am just an anti-social loner, but this kind of place invigorates me. I experience a kind of freedom I don’t feel in well populated areas.

No, I don’t think I am dangerously deranged. As a matter of fact as I’m writing this I have to leave in a few minutes to meet with a group of friends. As much as I like friends and companionship, I will leave them for times to seek out the “off the map” experiences I crave.

So far I find that these times of solitude are best experienced alone. I am shy and quiet. If people are around I find the “noise” drowns out the voice of the wilderness I am trying to listen to. With people around I feel compelled to “get on down the road” or get to dinner at a reasonable time. Not so when I am alone.

One of my joys is to get an extremely detailed map and try to explore the tiniest, most remote roads I can find. And that is paper maps – a lot of the places I like to go don’t have cell phone service, so forget Google Maps, and I often can’t trust my Nav system in the car. They are seldom detailed enough.

Don’t be foolish

I am painting a picture of just heading off into the wild randomly and getting into all kinds of predicaments. When you go out to explore barren areas, don’t be stupid. Even though I generally travel alone, I have a good 4-wheel drive vehicle (with a large gas tank), food, water, and winter or summer survival kits. And I try to give someone a general idea of where I am going and when I should be back. And I’ve done this type of travel for a long time.

Getting stuck in some of these places can be dangerous, even life threatening. Know what you are doing and be prepared. Ease into it to get a lot of experience before heading off solo.

So, what’s it going to be — safety, or freedom? You can’t have both. – Louis Sachar

I personally am willing to take a fair amount of risk to live a more free and rewarding life.


I find that getting away and taking time to “listen” to that part of the world is refreshing and renewing. It does not have to be a conventionally beautiful place. I can easily be as renewed in the barren plains of eastern Colorado or Wyoming as I am in the mountains. The image at the top of this post is in eastern Colorado.

When I come to one of these places and I feel a connection to it, I have a better chance of getting images I love. Ones where I feel I have something to say. I find I am usually missing that deep connection in a place that is just beautiful and where other photographers often record the same scene.

Even if I do not get any great images, the renewal of my mind and soul is well worth it.

Get found

We live in an increasingly noisy world. Our jobs demand almost full time engagement. The giant media companies demand we be “plugged in” 24/7 because of fear of missing out. Learning to be content in solitude is an antidote to this. It is a way to take back control of your mind. Don’t be afraid of missing something. Those things actually don’t matter much compared to the benefits of our mental health.

I don’t fully understand it, but there is something about the wild or neglected places that are uplifting to me. I don’t really know what it means to “find yourself”, but I often experience something that must be like it when I spend time in some remote places.

Right now it is not as important to me that I understand the why. It is sufficient for my psyche that I know how to get found. And when I am found I can do work that calls to me, lifts me up, and pleases me.

I hope it calls to you, too. Try it sometime. You might not know until you unplug for a while and try. Let me know what you find.