Earlier this year I attended Ben Sasso’s Heck Yeah Photo Camp located in Joshua Tree, CA. I had never been to Southern California, much less explored it’s incredible coast. For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to look down the coastline of Big Sur or see the Sequoias. After some super last minute travel planning, I found myself with 3 photographer partners for an amazing adventure. We decided we would start at sunrise in Joshua Tree, head south to Salvation Mountain and the Imperial Sand Dunes and then begin our trip north where we would end a week later in San Francisco.
Since this was all put together in last minute fashion, we decided we’d pick our place to stay day to day, that way we could drive and explore until we were too tired and then crash. We used the Kayak app like crazy, along with Yelp of course. I’d love to say we really explored the small town dining opportunities a ton, but we found ourselves at In-N-Out more times than any of us are probably proud of. There was definitely a time in Petaluma, CA that my friend and I snuck out after everyone else was asleep and snagged ourselves some shakes and burgers for some bro time. We did however find the most incredible gluten-free cornbread waffle at the Tea Room Cafe in Petaluma that continues to haunt my breakfast dreams of delicious.
We began our trip early in the morning at sunrise in Joshua Tree National Park, climbing to the top of rocks with our incredible workshop speakers and fellow attendees. We had just spent 3 days hearing inspiring talks about our industry and our minds were totally ready to go create stuff. No complaints about hanging out in such a martian like place with rad people like Benj Haisch, Sam Hurd, Parker Fitzgerald, Dylan Howell and so on. We made a quick stop at Salvation Mountain on our way down south to the Imperial Sand Dunes. As we drove, we anxiously awaited to see these dunes, which seemed to literally appear out of nowhere, and just as quickly disappear. We had an idea for a styled shoot at the dunes and it was really the first time I put together such a shoot with a wardrobe and direction. We stuck around till sunset, and I found myself snapping the final images with an iPhone light in the car because I just couldn’t get enough. We grabbed the obligatory In-N-Out burger and headed to LA to drop part of our crew off as they had their own trips coming up, crash and begin our full adventure the next morning.
We decided to drive as far north as Point Lobos, and then make our way back down the coast for sunset at a spot we’d pick along the way. We found ourselves struggling to refrain from stopping at every spot along the coast. We spent a good amount of time soaking in McWay Falls and the Bixby Bridge. We didn’t even pick our final spot off the map, we just stopped, grabbed some snacks and hung out until the sunset because, darn it, everywhere was gorgeous.
Our goal the next couple of days was to make our way to Sequoia National Forest. We got ourselves east and found a storm approaching. Being from Illinois, I really had no idea how much snow California receives, as I always imagined it as sunshine all of the time! Driving into the park I was quickly shown I was wrong, and also disappointed. The snow was so heavy that chains were required for cars and we found ourselves stuck just outside the park at the most textbook “random middle of nowhere” stop grabbing some wifi and deciding what to do with our day. Since the storm was covering the entire northeast of California, we couldn't continue north to Yellowstone either. We decide to head straight to the SF bay area and get ourselves hunkered down and call it home for a few days.
We stayed at a really great hotel called the Hotel Petaluma. We knew we really wanted to check out Point Reyes, as we had all seen the famous row of trees online and wanted to take our crack at it. What we didn’t expect was how absolutely windy it would be. There’s this really amazing set of stairs that lead all the way down to a lighthouse, and of course some railing that says not to jump over it…so we jumped over it to get some better shots. It was probably the only time on the trip I found myself scared. The winds were strong enough to throw me around on the cliffside, so I decided to crawl back for safety. My friends and I just knelt down, and soaked in how awesome the winds were in that moment. There wasn’t anything to even see, it was just a moment of feeling on the coast in this amazing state.
On our second to last day we were determined to see giant trees one way or another, so we headed to Muir Woods. I never knew that redwoods and sequoias are different types of trees! (Redwoods are thinner and taller than the thicker and shorter Sequoias). The Muir Woods trailhead we chose was probably the easiest of the trails (the Redwood Trail) and only a couple of miles long. The trail led us into some really great tree groupings, and quite frankly we were tired by this point but determined to see cool trees dang it! I think out of all the spots, this may have been my personal favorite part of the trip. It was quiet, not super busy at the time and it had just rained so it felt a little like the PNW and I’m a sucker for browns and greens. It makes for photos that make me feel peaceful and relaxed, even on a crazy hectic trip with a bunch of cool people.
On our final day, we roamed around San Francisco and the bay area- of course checking out the Golden Gate Bridge, as well as making our way to this neat, little hidden gem in Chinatown called the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company. It’s such a neat place, it has been featured on a couple of travel channel shows, but fresh hot unrolled fortune cookies are such a cool thing to add to the whole crazy fury of the Chinatown market experience.
With over 30 flights a year, I’d like to think of myself as a pretty seasoned traveler, but a trip like this strictly on the road was such a new and challenging experience really. But the moments in the car, jumping out for photos, listening to new music from myself and everyone, with the changing scenery and weather everyday was something a trip through an airport just can’t provide the same feelings for.
That’s not to say I wouldn’t change some things up.
Plan ahead. I know we lost some time exploring by not planning where we wanted to be, failing to get our buttsup
a little earlier and traveling after the sun went down.
Plan meals. I don’t consider myself a foodie, so I think one of the best things I did on the tripwas buy
a cheap cooler and filled it with sandwich meats and snacks for the road to save some time and money.
Make meeting arrangements. (this ties into the planning ahead) If we knew where we would be days in advance, I could have arranged to meet various photographers or models along the way and had even more cool meet up stories and interactions!
I think the ability to travel a lot comes from having a view that money is totally “just a thing, that get’s more things.” I could easily spend my money on fancy meals, big screen tv’s or other things that I would totally love to have and enjoy. But I choose to spend it on cheap meals at home, simple yet fun trips with friends, and traveling. I’d much rather spend time at home with friends just hanging out and enjoying each others company rather than spending it by going out all of the time. This gives me the ability to book more flights, stay with friends, eat reasonably and enjoy an experience driven way.
I cannot put a price on the first time I woke up to the sounds of the crashing waves at Rialto Beach on the Washington Coast, just like I cannot put a price on stepping into the Sheik Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi and heard the prayers over the speakers echo through the structure. I can however put a price on the “things” I could buy at home that just wouldn’t build me as a person. Traveling can totally be a lifestyle, and just like anything else, if you want it, be hungry for it.
Thanks to all my travel buddies: Luis Hermosillo, Jenna Mahr, Diana Albrecht, Wendy Shepard, and Nicole Stitch
I am a full time wedding & portrait photographer based in Seattle, WA and one bearded half of Hinterland Stills. I seek the cross between nostalgia and genuine couples. Love is a spectrum and I choose to live and work on the more nuanced and quiet side of it. In my free time I’m hiking, hanging with my pup or searching for the best pizza possible.
To view more of Kyle's work, visit him here.