Digital photography allows us to be perfect, whether it’s the landscapes we see or the smiles we flash for the camera. There's always more space on a memory card, or the possibility to fix something on the computer. This summer I spent a few weeks capturing moments from the road on instant film, and it put me in an entirely different artistic mode.
I snapped photos of real, raw, poorly-lit, boring and sometimes beautiful flashes in time that all have a part in telling the story of this trip, which took my friend and I through ten states. Before the quest to stage photos for social media, we stuck photos in leather-bound albums, and we'd later look back fondly at some of the less-than-ideal moments, like traffic jams and muddy paws. They were snapshots that were just as important to the journey as the main events — little pieces of the puzzle that fit in perfectly alongside the mountains, lakes and cotton candy skies. I’ve certainly had a fair amount of fun flipping through these photos with my own hands, as evident from the occasional fingerprint on the scans.
Here are my favorite Fujifilm Instax shots from five weeks in California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona, Utah and Nevada.
(If you are on a desktop and would like to view the full-size slide gallery of these images, please click here.)
There are a lot of dogs in the world, but there its only one queen, and you’re looking at her. Marley has the kind of eyes and expressions you never forget, and her quirks (eating icicles and throwing other dogs serious shade, among other things) make her one of my favorites. I'd like to think that Marley is winking in this photo, but really, she's about to shake herself out on the beach blanket and swoop in for more snuggles. From a day of relaxing by the shore to a lovely dinner with friends, Tahoe was a perfect place to kick off our trip.
2. half dome
Yosemite National Park feels like home to me, but I am not a fan of visiting in the summer. There are too many mosquitoes by the lakes and there are just as many tourists wandering through the valley with selfie sticks, not paying attention to where they’re walking.
However, choosing to visit Yosemite on the Fourth of July proved to be a surprisingly good move, as the crowds were noticeably thinner than the last time. While a bartender at the pizza deck was filling up my Nalgene, I asked what was going on. She seemed pretty convinced that Yosemite’s lack of fireworks was the reason the park wasn’t a total zoo, and that oddly made sense. Tahoe, on the other hand, does allow fireworks, so had we flip flopped our schedule, we would have been dealing with far more crowds there. On top of that, much of our time was spent away from the valley, so that helped as well. So, we went a bit out of our way after Tahoe, but being able to find parking and some solitude in the woods made that detour well worth it.
3. I hike for pizza
I’ve had some amazing Half Dome Village pizza experiences after hiking in Yosemite, so I live for this. It’s not the best pizza in the world, but it’s something you really look forward to after backpacking meals and a few miles on the trail. After hiking and an overnighter in the high country, we were salivating and craving some cheesy, crunchy goodness. And we got it.
4. Brews in Brookings
If you’re driving from California to Oregon, there is a good chance you’re cruising up the coast — and through the town of Brookings. Brookings has a decent amount of restaurants, but The Vista Pub has amazing burgers and a solid selection of beer. It’s always packed and the servers are super chill, and I always come here when I’m in town.
5. Foggy nights by the fire
After Brookings, we made our way to Cannon Beach, which is a town I would move to in a heartbeat. When I visited for the first time in 2016, I snapped some incredible photos of the tide pools at sunset, and the patterns in the sand looked like they had been drawn just to compliment Haystack Rock. I figured it was common enough, but I’ve been back three times since then, and still haven’t seen anything like it. Maybe it was a once in a lifetime shot, but, I’m totally fine with that, because every time I go back now, I can enjoy the fog, trees and ocean air.
I’m also big fans of the folks at Insomnia Coffee Co (and their bacon/cheddar biscuits!), and I always end up camping at the Sea Ranch RV park near town, because there are laundry, showers, fire pits and as an added bonus, there are tons of feral rabbits running around. I mean, if you’re into that. But who doesn’t love bunnies!
6. Eerily beautiful
In nature, it’s not often that you get to experience the same thing twice, but I had a major case of deja vu when I drove right by this foggy cluster of trees in Olympic National Park. I shot a nearly identical spot off the road in Glacier National Park two summers ago, and I felt like I was walking through a dream — and back in time.
7. Fern friends
After spending time in Port Angeles (and making a few stops at Blackbird Coffee and Country Aire Natural Foods for snacks), we continued around the peninsula to the La Push side. Beach camping is the best camping, and we had a few perfect falling asleep to the sound of the ocean. Bear cans and wilderness permits are required if you want to pitch a tent out here, and it’s mostly because of very grabby raccoons. Not only did we have a raccoon creep up to our campsite, but after we scared him off, we watched in disbelief as he made his way to the ocean and played in the waves. It was as though he was body surfing, and he didn’t seem rabid, so I’m left to assume that he was doing it for fun, because the beach is his home.
8. Enchanting forests
A decent amount of trails in the park have boardwalks, and the moss, trees and golden light have a way of working together to create a certain magic...
9. Home for the night
Though our tent was soaked in the morning, we had epic views, there were hardly any bugs, and being lulled to sleep by the sound of waves is something I wish I could experience every night.
10. All wolf everything
Props to the folks at Chito Beach Resort for designing the Wolf Den room — and filling it with every imaginable kind of wolf decor. From paintings to statues to wolf shower curtain hooks (!), it was a treat to stay in a cozy cabin and see how many wolf items we could find.
11. Paradise in central Oregon
After hitting a few spots on the Oregon coast, we had to get to Washington for my project with the tourism bureau, so we skipped Lost Lake on the way up. However, I made sure we blocked off some time to visit here on the way back from Washington, and I am so glad we did. Though there weren’t any clouds, Mount Hood still glowed as the sun set, and the water was so calm, I barely needed my ND filters when shooting on my DSLR.
12. If these feet could talk…
Ah, so we DID take an Instax in Idaho! I thought we didn’t. After hightailing it from central Oregon to Idaho, we had plans to go on a 3 day backpacking trip in the Sawtooths. After getting eaten alive by mosquitoes on our first night, we tossed in the towel and hiked back out the following day. We only logged about 15 miles and kept our feet covered with socks much of the time because the mosquitoes were swarming any patch of bare skin they could find, but we still managed to get pretty filthy. And then you realize why motels in towns like Escalante, Utah and Stanley, Idaho, both of which are very close to some awesome backpacking spots, offer guests no less than 6 washcloths. Because you need one for your body — and one for each foot.
13. Boiling blue
Yellowstone is one of those parks that challenges me as a photographer. I’ve gotten a few shots that I absolutely love, but there aren’t grandiose mountains and lakes around every turn. Instead, focusing on colors, textures and mini landscapes has been my approach when I shoot in Yellowstone. And though it’s a tourist hot spot, the blue deep within the Morning Glory pool will always put my jaw on the floor.
14. No zoom required
There aren’t many spots where you can drive around and capture incredible wildlife photos right from your car, but then again, there is only one Yellowstone National Park.
15. Welcome to the Tetons
We were lucky enough to snag a primo spot at one of my favorite national forest campgrounds, but during the day we spent some time in Jackson knocking out work in local coffee shops. (Because some of you care, Cowboy Coffee for killer lattes and fast wifi, Jackson Hole Roasters for incredible sandwiches.) When returning to camp one afternoon, a storm rolled in, and after dumping buckets, a vibrant rainbow burst through the clouds. This road doesn’t have a speed limit, but you don’t go faster than 20 on it, thanks to potholes, cracks and the fact that you can’t always see who (human or animal) is around the corner. We weren’t sure if we’d make it in time to shoot the rainbow, so I quickly snapped a shot from the road. While it was an agonizingly long drive to get back in time to capture the light, it was a successful mission, as the rainbow managed to get even brighter by the time we put the car in park. I don’t always get lucky, but when I do, I feel like I’ve earned it.
16. Car views
Despite the fact that it was 5:30am, there were still hordes of people at Schwabacher Landing. After grabbing one of the last prime parking spots, I didn’t even bother getting out to shoot it. It was nice to sit back, curl up with my fuzzy blanket and watch the sun hit the peaks, and knowing that I was 30 minutes away from coffee made me decidedly less grouchy.
17. Paper maps, please
I have offline maps on my phone, a power pack and a Garmin, but I still carry paper maps on many of my hikes these days. Not only is it a great backup, but when you’re trapped inside a tent during an afternoon thunderstorm in the Colorado mountains, busting out the map and planning future trips is a solid use of your time.
18. One of the bluest lakes I’ve ever seen
The rain eventually stopped, and when the sun is above this alpine lake, it’s a stunning shade of blue, hence the name, Blue Lake. Due to a scheduling screwup, we had to switch plans around and we only spent one night in the San Juan National Forest, so I need to make plans to get back here ASAP!
As we drove on the highway next to this section of Bears Ears National Monument, we could see grey and white sheets of rain making their way in between the buttes. I’ll admit it: I was a little weary of rolling down a dirt road with an “IMPASSABLE WHEN WET” sign posted at the entry. However, I had just spent nearly two weeks in this spot back in May, so I knew where most of the washes and creeks were located, and based on the weather patterns, I wasn’t too concerned about getting stuck. As long as we found a high, safe spot to park before the water hit the dirt, we’d be fine. And just seconds after we turned the car off, we crossed paths with the storm. My Jeep started shaking, and at one point I wondered what speed might cause auto windows to break. Bolts of lightning were flashing all around, and the water pounding my car almost washed one side completely clean. It was wild to watch how quickly the weather system moved through the landscape — and how quickly the earth soaked up the water.
20. This guy
You might be wondering why I keep saying “we.” Well, this is Naude, and he was my other half on this five-week trip. We met in Namibia earlier this year, and after he expressed an interest in coming to the states this summer (for the first time ever!), we made it happen. We slept in my car, in tents and spent so much time in such small spaces I thought we’d be sick of each other by the end of the trip, but we weren’t. He’s smart, appreciates snack time more than me (is that even possible?) and puts up with my hissy fits about bugs, so he’s a fantastic adventure partner. He doesn’t like having his photo taken, but I was able to sneak a few during our time together. Come back, America misses you.
21. Good morning
When you’re camping in the desert, this is exactly what morning coffee from your camp chair looks like. Your sandals make a satisfying crunch on the dry earth, and when you realize you still have a few sips left, you might even crack a smile. And though the landscapes might have changed a bit here and there, there was never a day without coffee in my trusty Yeti mug.
22. The rig!
This is casa de Jeep (aka Black Beauty), and I love her. She gets me everywhere I need to go, and when it’s just me, sleeping in this vehicle is almost luxurious. I have my Yeti Tundra, I sprawl out on my air pad and all of my stuff is in the back with me.
However, cramming two 6’ tall humans in the back for five weeks had a bit of an adjustment period. Every inch matters, as does the fine art of consolidating gear. Everything has a designated place, but when two people are part of the equation, it takes a little bit longer to reorganize and all of the gear goes in the front of the car, which makes the sleeping setup time period a bit longer as well. But, by the end of week one, we had it nailed, and at the very end of the trip, I ended up breaking my Thule box and getting a bigger one at REI, as the product was still under warranty, so now there’s even more space!
23. Love these layers
This section of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument will always wow me, and I’ve been out here on several different trips. This might be my favorite photo of the trip, taken on our final day in Kanab, before we grabbed a bite at Kanab Creek Bakery. Oh, speaking of food in town, because this can make or break an evening, we had a fantastic to-go meal from Wild Thyme cafe, which we ate as we watched the sun set on these rock formations.
24. The way it is
The “LIVIN DIRTY” scrawled on the bottom of this sign in Nevada pretty much sums up this trip. We were stinky and gross for most of this adventure, but to me, livin’ dirty means being able to spend more time appreciating the natural wonders around us. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
To create this media, I used Fujifilm’s Instax SQ6, along with their Share SP3 smartphone printer for a few shots. The prints were then digitally scanned.