Over the winters I’ve gone to Cody, Wyoming for the ice climbing in the South Fork of the Shoshone River. Each of these trips consisted of arriving to Cody well after dark, driving up the canyon before sunrise, whacking ice all day, returning to town late, eating one pot meals off a single burner stove in a motel room, sleeping, then repeating the process until I was too tired to continue. The trips always ended with a bleary-eyed drive home to Salt Lake City without ever exploring the town and its surroundings. This February I fell into an opportunity to fix all that.
Travel Wyoming had put together a Wild West Wyoming Winter Tour through the northwest corner of the state. Two days in and around Cody and one day in Thermopolis. Through luck, persistence, and perhaps a lack of oversight from Travel Wyoming, I managed to get an invite and before they could rescind or catch their error I was on the road rolling north through the sage plains of central Wyoming.
Below the eastern slopes of the Absaroka Mountains near the banks of the Shoshone River is the town of Cody. The main drag through town, Sheridan Avenue, runs east/west and is lined with western themed hotels, cafes, restaurants, bars, and shops, all tipping their hats to the area’s frontier past.
The tour began by meeting the rest of the crew of Brandon Eckroth, Courtney Steeves, Jenna Spesard, and Tia Troy at the Yellowstone Regional Airport then heading down Sheridan Ave to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. At first glance you could easily write the center off as a tourist trap, but that would be wrong. Within its walls are five museums. And when I say five, I mean that each of them could easily be stand-alone destinations in any metropolitan area. The Cody Firearms Museum houses the largest collection of American-made firearms in the world. The Whitney Museum of Western Art is a fascinating look at the western United States through the eyes of numerous artists and mediums. The Plains Indian Museum is a comprehensive look into the evolving lives of the Plains Indians. The Buffalo Bill Museum is focused on the life of guide, scout, frontiersman, actor, showman, and founder of Cody who became an American icon. The Draper Natural History Museum is an in-depth journey that takes you deep into greater Yellowstone ecosystem. Our entire group agreed that there are so many things to see and study at the Center of the West that one visit is definitely not enough. Luckily, a pass to the center is actually good for two days. I will definitely go back.
After having my mind blown at the Center of the West we drove down the avenue to the Cody Firearm Experience. The owner Paul Brock, a former curator for the Cody Firearms Museum, had the brilliant idea of combining the history of firearms in America with a gun range, giving visitors a one-of-a-kind interactive experience. A prominent display of replica firearms at the entrance shows the history and evolution of the guns in the West. Visitors have their choice of which firearms to use, ranging from way back up to the latest makes and models. Under Paul’s supervision we were allowed to squeeze off a few rounds. Our group settled on a Colt Walker Conversion revolver (cowboy gun) and a Winchester Colt 45 Rifle. Paul offered up a Gatling gun to test out, but none of us had the nerve.
Day two began in the dark with a predawn drive up the North Fork Highway, not too different from my previous visits to Cody. But for this early start we were rewarded with a technicolor light show above the Shoshone River. After a quick photo snapping session, we met Terry Dolan from Gary Fales Outfitting in the tiny town of Wapiti then headed west to where they stopped plowing U.S. Highway 14. Terry would be guiding us on a snowmobile tour of Yellowstone. We suited up as he ran us through the operations of the sleds and the do’s and do nots of a winter tour in the park. Stay on the road, single file, obey the speed limit, and pull over as far as possible when we stop.
Under cloudy skies we hummed into the park via the east entrance. Up to Sylvan Pass we wound our way along the snow-covered road and witnessed the scenery open up into swaths of evergreens, steep canyons, and stark ghost forests – loud reminders of wildfires from the recent past. Descending to Yellowstone Lake the horizon opened to an undefinable expanse layered with subtle hues of winter. Along the way Terry pointed out land marks and wildlife. Snowy bison, a lethargic coyote, trumpeter swans, and birds of prey. We stopped to eat lunch at the Fishing Bridge Warming Hut while Ranger Miller give us an update on the winter happening in Yellowstone. After lunch we made our way to the jaw dropping views of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. I’ve never really considered taking a snowmobile tour of the park before this trip but having experienced the undeniable beauty of Yellowstone in winter, without the crowds, the pressure, and expectations, I have to say that it’s something I won’t forget. If you have the opportunity I highly recommend it.
The temperature plummeted going into the third day of our trip making it the perfect time to head to Hot Springs County. A short 85-mile drive through snowy pronghorn country landed us in the energy and tourism town of Thermopolis. Surrounded by mountains and sitting just north of the dramatic Wind River Canyon, Themop, as the locals call it, is home to one of the world’s largest natural hot springs and dinosaurs. That’s right, dinosaur remains were discovered in the area in the 1990’s and soon after the Wyoming Dinosaur Center was created. This paleontological gem is filled with life-size replicas, prehistoric skeletons, and numerous dioramas, a visit to the center is an awesome look back to a land before time and makes for a perfect pre-hot springs outing.
Water from the Big Horn Spring flows over beautiful mineral colored terraces into the river at the north end of Thermopolis. This spring, which has been used by native Americans for millennia, was sold to the government from the Shoshone and Arapahoe tribes through a treaty in 1896 with the condition they remain free to the public. Hot Springs State Park with it trails, swinging bridge, flower gardens, boat launches, bison herd, parks, picnic areas, and free public bathhouse is the result.
Full disclosure; I’ve been to Thermopolis several times during summer climbing and camping trips to Ten Sleep Canyon. At only sixty miles away the free bathhouse offered a great rest day recovery activity with the added bonus of a free shower! But, soaking in the public bathhouse’s outdoor pool in the middle of winter, with a water temperature near 104 degrees and an air temperature in the teens, was more refreshing than can be described. Doing it alone on Super Bowl Sunday, when everyone had gone home to watch the game, was more priceless than the admission.
After having a good long soak, I opted for a quiet walk in the park while the rest of the crew headed into the Wind River Canyon. Watching the steam rise over Smoking Water Park is as amazing as the ice formations that cling to the mineral terraces. Making my way across the swinging bridge, over the Big Horn River I was given a fabulous vantage point of the entire park.
The final morning of our trip was spent with Barb and Merlin Heinze at their place in Thermopolis. The visit was an incredible look inside the handcrafted fur and leather clothing trade. Merlin’s Hideout is a tannery, sewing studio, and custom clothing retail shop with a reputation for buffalo fur coats. Quick trivia: Merlin made eight buffalo coats for Kurt Russell’s character in the Quentin Tarantino movie “The Hateful Eight”. Stopping in and being shown around opened my eyes to a world I knew very little about and hearing Merlin’s story of making a pair of beaver gaiters for himself that quickly led to making a whole line of fur products for others was incredible. We concluded the visit with trying on a few of their jackets, being blown away by their warmth and comfort, and then promptly being turned down when asked if they would be willing to trade one for my nappy jacket.
And just like that the trip was ending. Back in Cody after loading up the car and waving good bye I asked myself “why”. Why come to the northwest corner of Wyoming in the dead of winter? By default I’d be coming back for the ice climbing, but would I return for the history of the Wild West, Yellowstone, paleontology, or the hot springs? Or might I come again to meet and be inspired by folks living their very own American dream? While these thoughts ran through my head I recalled a quiet moment from the first day of the trip.
Before meeting the rest of the crew, I’d walked east along Sheridan Avenue leaving the shops and restaurants behind. At the top of a short hill I looked west over town to the Absaroka Mountains then turned my gaze north to Heart Mountain. Soaking up the scene I was startled by a prairie falcon sitting on a fence post not 20 feet from where I stood. At first the bird gazed at me with one eye then rotated its head and looked at me with the other. It repeated this a few times shaking its head before taking flight.
Recommended lodging –
Recommended restaurants –
Rawhide Coffee Company, Cody
One Eyed Buffalo Brewing, Thermopolis
At the beginning of May Jacki and I traveled to Bend, Oregon where we rented a small bungalow near downtown. Having been in ski mode since December I’d been struggling with the concept of actually doing other activities. It sounds funny, but by nature I am a one sport focus kind of a guy and only by extreme effort am I able to mix things up. A vacation was the perfect time to help in the transition. Taking the lead, Jacki orchestrated each day in Bend for a different activity. Tuesday we skied, Wednesday we climbed, Thursday we mountain biked, and Friday we ran. Sounds somewhat busy right? Actually it was the exact opposite. The key was that other than those activities we had nothing else planned. This allowed for plenty of reading, writing, walking, talking, visiting friends, exploring and sleep.
Of course when I go on vacation there’s always a little work tied in. Since we were going to be doing all these activities I knew it would be a great chance to create new images of a place I’d never been and add to my stock archive. What do I consider a little work? It began with research and talking about some likely possibilities with Jacki, scheduling the outing for ideal lighting, doing the activity (anywhere from 2-5 hours), shooting a few frames, returning to the bungalow, downloading the files while enjoying dinner, editing, and repeating the process. Not too stressful since there was no client involved. Shot less than 100 images per outing, closer to 50 each, which for me is way low, but makes editing easier. Will any of them be money makers? Who knows? This was a great way to break away from my winter routine, which allowed Jacki and I to slow down and discover new things. – More t
It’s not unusual for me to stay in complete ski-mode well into the month of May, but this year was different. By April I was beginning to feel stale on the creative front and the fact that we had such a low snow year in the Wasatch Mountains I was looking for something new to focus on. So when my friend and fellow photographer Dane Cronin invited me down to Moab, Utah for a long weekend to create a batch of new biking imagery I didn’t even have to ask about the details, I was in.
I waved farewell to wintery peaks of granite, limestone and shale and said hello to towers, walls and buttes of sandstone. Gone were the snow-covered slopes and glades of pine. They were replaced by dirt, water, and rock. Instead of sliding over a frozen surface we pedaled our knobby tires over waves of stone, along narrow trails and through rust colored talus cones peppered by twisted junipers and the faded green of sage. All beneath a tumultuous sky.
Halfway though our third day, while waiting out a slight drizzle, I noted the vibrancy of the blooming cacti, penstemons and paintbrush opening their petals to the drops of rain. Spring had brought a new season of growth to the desert and to me as well.
On the morning of April 15, 2015 I was up around 430 AM. I couldn’t sleep. Looking out the window I saw that a blanket of fresh snow covered the lawn. I brewed coffee, surfed the daily headlines and tapped my fingers waiting for Snowbird to update it’s overnight storm totals.
24″ and still snowing! I immediatley loaded up the car and met Hannah Follender at Snowbird’s tram. These are a few of the images from throughout the day. When it finally stopped coming down it added up to 40″ in less than 24 hours. Not bad for Tax Day!
I slept in this Sunday morning. By the time I heard Chip roll out of the back of his car everything was illuminated. Unzipping the tent I saw the sky was glowing pink. I dressed quickly then grabbed the camera and tripod. The shutter snapped as Chip walked down toward the San Rafael River and the color in the sky faded.
Window Blind Peak and Assembly Hall held court above the grey and meandering creek bottom. Thin clouds had moved in over night holding on to some of Saturday’s heat. It felt relatively warm for March. Soon water was boiled and coffee was brewed…
I have never regretted waking before dawn… Especially in the snowy months.
Somebody once said that climbers DO get scared because if they didn’t, they wouldn’t continue climbing.
The sun sagged toward a forest of juniper and pinions that surrounded the rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. It was the first week of October and having passed the Fall equinox, daylight had transitioned to the lesser half of 24 hours; this fact had been ignored when Paul and I decided to climb Scenic Cruise, a thirteen-pitch route that slithered up to the north rim. Cams slotted into granite eyelets and small flakes for my over gripping fingers kept my exhausted body from falling 1300 feet to the river below. Pausing beneath a bulge and asking no one in particular, “When will this climb end?” I extended my hand West measuring two fingers between the sun and the horizon. It would be less than 30 minutes before it set.
I was nervous about falling from the bulge, but I was more worried about being stuck on the wall after dark. Out of water and food and with only light jackets we’d survive, but it wouldn’t be fun. So with arms cramping I groveled upward. Paul arrived as the sun set, quickly took the rack, and beneath a sky of glowing pink clouds stretched the 70-meter rope to its max. Squinting in the pale light we wandered through cactus-filled ledges, squeaking onto the North Chasm View Trail as the rising moon bathed us in its cool, indifferent light. The moon didn’t care whether we spent the night on the wall or not.
Some climbers say they’ve never been afraid, but I don’t know them.
A few days after escaping the Black Canyon Paul and I joined some friends in Castle Valley, Utah. One pair in front of the other we all climbed a route named Crack Wars on the west side of the Rectory. The first three pitches were quality. Only a little dirty and if you’re into wide hands and fist cracks it could be described as enjoyable. Then above a roof on the fourth pitch the solid sandstone gave way to something closer to the consistency of Graham crackers. After tiptoeing through 50 or so feet of crumbling rock only a short bulging off-width remained. Moving gear, adjusting my knot and thinking of skinny things, I repeatedly tried to squeeze into the slot. It was useless. A bold lieback was the only option I could fathom. Falling from the lieback would be messy. If the cam wedged in soft stone at the base of the bulge actually held then the flake that I was standing on would likely grab a leg and try snapping it. Down-climbing could provide okay rock to build an anchor affording the possibility of a retreat to the ground, but failure would be a disappointment.
Trying one more time to fit inside the slot I recalled a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Always do what you are afraid to do.” Damn it! Would Emerson really tell me that if he saw the situation I was in? I took a deep breath, pulled my head out of the slot and told myself not to fall. The slowest moving lieback possible commenced, which if anyone had been watching they would have mistaken me as a statue attached to a cliff, but after what felt like an eternity the lip was reached. Once we were all on the summit plateau I joked about the climbing phenomenon of moving at a snail’s pace when you’re petrified, “I climb that slow so I can savor the moment… To be sure and never forget that six feet of rock.” I am certain within a matter of months that sections will be buried and forgotten by better memories.
The following weekend on Bottleneck Peak in the San Rafael Swell Paul and I received yet another lump from climbing. Torrential rains from September, which flooded the town of Price 30 miles to the north, had left the cracks frosted in layers of sand. Jams that typically felt bomber were now insecure. Leaving our egos at the base we immediately resorted to pulling and tugging on gear to get through the first two pitches. But it was the third and final pitch, which was rated the easiest, that proved most memorable.
Above a fist-jam roof, which I stuffed full of gear leaving little for the remainder of the pitch, one six-inch cam protected twenty feet of climbing above a flake that sounded like a gong when I tapped it. Next was a choss-choked corner. The stacks of rubble that were loosely collected in cracks and on shallow ledges required precise movements and my undivided attention. A tipped out cam was followed ten feet higher by a tcu nested beside a chockstone that appeared to be floating in the crack without a single point of contact. If there was faith in any of the cams to hold body weight I would have bailed immediately. Falling was way too gnarly to think about so instead, while stemming gingerly upward, I began a conversation with Bottleneck.
“I think a break would be healthy. Really… It’s not you, it’s me… It’s over between us.” Passing the hallowed chockstone I placed my foot on it; at first with no weight, but slowly, ounce by ounce, I transferred onto it. To both my disbelief and relief it stayed in place.
From the summit we soaked in the day’s light, which cast a warm glow to the surrounding peaks and walls. Below, in the shadows, was the glimmering water of the San Rafael River reflecting back to us through stands of cottonwoods and tamarisk. Despite the drama of the climb everything in the world around us carried on as if nothing was wrong.
Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Do one thing every day that scares you.”
Back at the car, after rappelling the north face of Bottleneck Peak using corroded ¼ inch star-driven nails and homemade hangers from the 1973 first ascent, each station backed up by a single 20+ year-old oxidized 3/8” inch bolt, I asked Paul what he had planned for the next weekend. “Sport climbing!” he replied speaking over the last couple words of the question. I was in complete agreement, but I wonder if Mrs. Roosevelt would approve?
At the beginning of the year I was asked to write about my work and how it corresponds to adventure by my agency Tandem Stock to go along with their new book “The Art of Adventure, Outdoor Sports from Sea to Summit”, which I am honored to have a handful of images in along with some truly talented folks. As I am sure it’s the same for everyone we all have our reasons and motivations for doing what we do, but being asked to share and clarify these things was a little intimidating. Ultimately the following essay didn’t make the cut, but it was good exercise that helped me focus on what was important.
Looking for Common Ground in the World of Adventure – Louis Arevalo March 2014
“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity…” John Muir.
Undertaking adventures outside, in the wild, far from the safety of civilization brings profound moments of clarity. There’s something about a pursuit in which the outcome is uncertain that not only drives adventures, but also compels, through image and story, narratives that inspire those who otherwise might never venture beyond their comfort zone. An image of a skier slashing deep powder, a climber cresting the summit, or a runner on a sunlit trail might be all it takes to evoke a long-dormant desire to get outside and explore, and it’s this collective desire that unites us into a community. John Muir understood this connection, explaining, “When we tug at a single thing in nature, we find it attached to the rest of the world.”
For me, it was a conscious decision to pursue a career as an outdoor writer and photographer. It’s only through getting out, off the beaten path and into nature that I regain the simplicity needed to live a beautiful life. The focus of my writing and photography is to make something honest in the same way that connecting with the outdoors makes me honest. I’m continually striving to generate work that will resonate true to everyone. From the sponsored athlete to the armchair enthusiast, if they can see a little bit of themselves in the work then it’s a success. It may be an unobtainable objective, but everyday, week, month and year, as soon as I have revised the last draft or edited the last image on a project I always see room for more authenticity in the work. The desire for this truth, that we all are connected, drives me to go out and produce more.
I’ve been wandering through forests, mountains, rivers and deserts for most of my life. I’ve climbed, skied, boated, swam, surfed, biked, loved, hated, and slept outdoors. Through all of these escapades I’ve found the most enjoyment in doing them with those who have the same passion and sharing them with everyone attempting to have an outdoor life.
I had been sitting on my hands for most of the summer. With a large sailing trip planned for September I convinced myself to lay low for the months of June and July. By the time August rolled around I could sit still no longer. I reached out and invited myself along for a few climbing trips. One to Saddleback Peak(Elephants Perch) and the other to Tensleep, Wyoming.
As the dates grew closer for the Tensleep trip the forecast took a turn. A few people backed out, but others, having taken time off from work were committed. As for me, my schedule was clear because it was a week before the trip to Europe and besides I was excited for time away from the desk and nights of sleeping on the ground. The morning we left the Salt Lake Valley it was raining heavily. Into Wyoming on I-80 we managed to pull out in front of the storm. Knowing it would eventually catch up to us we decided to take it slow and made a couple of stops along the way.
Just west of Lander, Wyoming are the small mining villages of South Pass and Atlantic City. I’d driven to Lander, Cody and the Wind Rivers before and each time had ignored these signs. My impression was that it would be a tourist trap. This time driving to Tensleep, knowing a rainy camp was the only thing we had to look forward, I figured, “Why not?”
The Carissa gold Mine of South Pass City was our first stop. Mining in the South Pass erupted in the 1860’s. The Carissa Mine operated into the 1950’s. At the turn of the 21st Century the State of Wyoming purchased the mine and reconstructed it for the public to see. During the summer months they offer tours. Turning off the main highway we rolled down the improved road until this mine interrupted the horizon of the high plains.
After Carissa we made the short drive to small collection of old cabins and eclectic homes in Atlantic City, where the city sign read, “Population about 54.” We stopped at the Atlantic City Mercantile for sarsaparillas. This bar and grill is filled with antiques and memorabilia and was brought back to the public’s attention by Robert Redford and National Geographic. Built in the late 1800’s it was shuttered in the first half of the 20th Century then reopened in the 1960’s with its original name and look. Dave, the barkeep for the last twelve years, informed us they were fresh out of sarsaparilla so we had to settle for barley pops instead. Yes, it felt like I was tourist, but man it was till cool to stop and check out the history.
We did eventually make to Tensleep Canyon and did wait out the rain for another day before actually climbing. I stayed away from the desk, slept in the mud and did get a little climbing in to boot.