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Our Road Trip Comes Full Circle at Arches Nation
al Park

Under an arch

Over two months after we set our compass for the Canadian Rockies we circled back to Arches, one of our favorite national parks.  From there Chaco Belle was like a horse headed for its barn.  We arrived home on October 16, warm with treasured memories of stunningly beautiful places and adventures often shared with visiting friends.


Antielope Island: A Quiet Oasis Amidst Salt Lake City's Sprawl

Antelope Island

After two magical months, mostly in Canadian and U.S. national parks, the solitary beauty of Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake was the perfect antidote to culture shock from the traffic madness around Salt Lake City.  We camped overnight on Antelope Island, a Utah state park, and hiked its beautiful trails.  It gets a many-star recommendation for anyone traveling that way.


Toe to Toe with the Athabasca Glacier

Athabasca Glacier

Brrrrrrrr.  Polly, John, Dorcas and Pat planted our poles on the Athabasca Glacier, one of six glacial “toes” fed by the Columbia Icefield, the largest icefield in the Canadian Rockies.  Sitting astride the Continental Divide along the border of British Columbia and Alberta, the icefield lies partly in Banff National Park and partly in Jasper National Park.  The Athabasca Glacier’s depth is from 270 to 1,000 feet. We were well-fortified with a fabulous breakfast at the Discovery Centre’s Altitude Restaurant overlooking the Athabasca Glacier.


Chaco Belle Burrows in for a Fridgid Night Across from the Columbia Icefield

Chaco Belle

It was a gorgeous drive from Banff up the Icefield Parkway to the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre, the jumping off point for our glacier tour the next morning.  A monster storm was scheduled to cross our path that night, but a Colorado low pulled it south where it dumped three feet of snow on Waterton and Glacier National Parks (ultimately changing our exit-from-Canada plan).  It was frigid nonetheless, and all of us—Pat, Dorcas, John, and Polly—layered up for the night in just about all of the winter clothes we had with us.  Our Bonnie Lass, then an 18-month-old border collie, wore Polly’s down vest, and burrowed deep in the valley she dug between us in our Siberian goose down comforter.


Kicking Horse River Roars through Natural Bridge in Yoho National Park

on a Natural Bridge

Our friends Pat and Dorcas on 09.24 flew into Calgary.  We met them at the airport and they encamped in Chaco Belle for the coming week.  Our home base was Tunnel Mountain Campground, an ideal perch above the town of Banff.  On a side trip to Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park—beautiful, but too cold and snowy to put our canoe in the water—we stopped at the Natural Bridge, carved out by the powerful Kicking Horse River with a variety of waterfalls flowing around it.  From Pat’s and Dorcas’s vantage in the photo they are watching the wild Kicking Horse narrow itself through the opening that created the bridge.  Never averse to world class microbrews and good food, we topped off our Yoho visit with lunch at the Truffle Pigs Bistro in Field, British Columbia.  More stars for fellow adventurers.


Walking Along the Bow in Banff

Bow River

It seemed that the Bow River flowed nearly everywhere we went, including through the heart of the town of Banff.  We enjoyed a beautiful walk with Beverly and Warren on a footpath along the Bow, and later floated the river with them in a raft.  Bonnie the Border Collie enjoyed the walk, too.


Hiking to Grassi Lakes with Friends

Grassi Lake
On 09.16 our friends Beverly and Warren flew to Calgary from California where they had gone in search of pelagic birds and whales.  From one extreme to another!  We enjoyed a hike together to the Grassi Lakes, whose green and blue waters are surreal.  Afterward we enjoyed dinner in nearby Canmore, a wonderful little town full of good restaurants, natural beauty, the Bow River, wildly patterned rabbits, plenty of charm, and absent the tourist pressures on Banff.

Elk on the Athabasca River in Jasper


The Athabasca River, wild as it plunges over Athabasca Falls in Jasper National Park (scene of Bonnie the Border Collie’s Great Escape), meanders through the town of Jasper, mellowed by a gentler drop and sand bars.  We kept coming across the elk on the middle sand bar with the magnificent rack, always accompanied by members of his very ample harem.  (see John’s photo of the “bull elk in wildflowers” in the “Wildlife” section of this website).  The source of the Athabasca River is in the Columbia Icefield.


Jasper, Alberta Train Station

Jasper Train Station

The Jasper train station, a favorite point of debarkation for riders on The Canadian, the train that connects Toronto and Vancouver, is located in the heart of the town of Jasper. Our visit to the station certainly stirred our own dreams of a trans-Canada train journey. We enjoyed walking all around Jasper, stopping in microbreweries and bakeries to sample their culinary offerings.  Our rolling home lived northeast of Jasper, first at Pocahontas Campground, where we serendipitously found our way to the famed Miete Hot Springs, then at Snaring River Campground.


Paddling Moraine Lake in Our Yellow Canoe
Morain Lake

After watching dawn break over Moraine Lake we hiked the trail alongside Lake Louise, but the power of Moraine Lake pulled us back for a midday paddle in our yellow canoe.  Imagine the feeling of dipping your paddle in that water!  Adding an element of excitement, a bear traversed the rocky sidewall of Moraine Lake as we paddled along in tandem with it.


Watching Dawn Break Over Moraine Lake, Banff National Park

Moraine Lake

Up at 0 dark 30 we arrived at Moraine Lake, just miles from Lake Louise at the foot of the Icefield Parkway, when it was still dark—and even then snagged the last available parking place.  Moraine Lake, especially as dawn breaks and the sun moves across the mountains, is a photographer’s dream (see John’s classic photo in the “Landscape” section of this website).  Situated in the Valley of the Ten Peaks, the lake is an azure beautiful beyond the power of words to describe.  The color comes from the refraction of green and blue light on the rock flour deposited in the lake by surrounding glaciers.  This photo was taken after John had photographed Moraine Lake through stages of dawn breaking until the sun lit up the peaks across the lake, which were reflected in the azure blue-green waters.


Rendezvous in Canmore with Kate, Will & Ruth

Kate,Will,Ruth Grassi Lake

We were delighted to discover that our paths could easily cross with Kate, Will, and six-month-old Ruth, who were taking a Canada vacation from their summer vacation in Montana.  On 08-28 we drove through Kootenay and Banff National Parks to meet the North Carolinians in Canmore. Together we trekked to Grassi Lakes on 08.29, our first visit to the stunningly beautiful little lakes, then indulged in microbrews and poutine, the Canadian national dish, at Tavern 1883.  Speaking of microbrews:  The tagline on every can from Canmore Brewing Company is “Think Outside.  There is no box.”  Reason enough to drink it!  In the photo of Kate, Will, and Polly at Grassi Lakes, Ruth is in the photo, too—catching a ride on Will’s back.  A couple of days later we would rendezvous in Banff with friends Seetha and Asoka Srinivasan, enjoying breakfast together at the Fairmont, dinner at Masala, and a boat cruise on Lake Minnewanka.  Banff was a magnet for friends that summer.


Columbia River Wetlands by Canoe and Foot

Columbia River wetlands

We experienced the Columbia River wetlands by canoe from Invermere and by foot, on a trail overlooking the river.  And yes, that’s the same Columbia River that flows past Hood River and Astoria into the Pacific.  Before putting our canoe into the Columbia we explored the farmers’ market at Invermere, just south of Radium Hot Springs.  We of course did a tasting at the Arrowhead Brewing Company in Invermere.


Hiking Trails from Redstreak Campground in Kootenay National Park, B.C.

Redstreak Trail

After a fabulous stay in Missoula we wound our way toward the Canadian Rockies via Flathead Lake and Glacier National Park, entering Canada at the small Roosville border crossing, which connects Eureka, Montana and Grasmere, British Columbia.  We broke the next leg of the journey with a night in the parking lot of the Real Canadian Superstore in Cranbrook (venue of the wild deer attack), then settled into the Redstreak Campground in Kootenay National Park, just above Radium Hot Springs.  We enjoyed hiking trails right out of the campground, including the one in this photo overlooking Radium Hot Springs.  Eventually we took a soak in the radioactive waters!


Good Times in Missoula, Montana


Caroline and her band, “Junior,” entertain at the Farm Party, an annual “Taste of the Farm” event in Missoula.  Caroline, shared with us by Kate, once again offered us open-arms hospitality in Missoula, inviting us to the Farm Party, going with us to an indie movie, eating Missoula’s best pizza and ice cream, walking along the Clark Fork.  Caroline’s warm hospitality echoed her welcomingness when we visited Missoula in 2007 during our three years as rolling stones. 


Lunch at the Fiesta Mexicana Taco Bus in Dillon, Montana

Fiesta Mexicana Taco Bus

With Missoula as our first real destination after leaving Moab, we traveled to Provo, past Salt Lake City, up through Idaho, and finally into Montana.  Caroline Keys, Kate Medley’s good friend, advised us “not to miss lunch at the Fiesta Mexicana Taco Bus in Dillon” and miss it we did not.  Polly swigs a soda as she waits for the delicious mushroom taco they ventured to make for her.


Dawn Breaks Over Arches National Park, Utah

Dawn at Arches

John takes a break from photographing Arches National Park in the early morning hours.  On our first visit to Arches in the 1990’s we mountain biked past dinosaur tracks to Klondike Bluffs just as dawn broke, and we’ve loved the park ever since.  On this trip we visited with Dell Keys, who in 2008 as an NPS volunteer had taken us on an off-limits hike in the Fiery Furnace restricted-use area of Arches.  Our sojourn in Moab made us feel like our great Canadian roadtrip had begun in earnest—and it had taken a village to get us underway.  Neighbors Annie and Andrew welcomed us and Chaco Belle into their driveway for two weeks when we were on the countdown.  To get us back in practice for dry camping Scott, one of John’s Tesuque firefighter friends, provided hospitality for us and our rolling home on the grounds of Shidoni Foundry and Galleries for a few days before our 08.08 departure.  Finally underway, our first stop was in Durango, Colorado.


Dancing NIA to Celebrate Nance’s Birthday

Nance BD NiaNance BD Nia

Studio NIA was alive this morning with friends and the full range of Lopez family members celebrating Nance on her birthday. Yarrow, the youngest Lopez at nearly 11 months, does his own almost-crawl dance with Sarah, the NIA teacher.


Suzanne Plays the Blues at Tiny’s in Santa Fe

Suzanne Playes the blues at Tiny's

Tonight bass guitarist Suzanne played the blues at Tiny’s with other musicians in the Santa Fe Workshop. The music moved Tiny’s customers to move on the dance floor!


Bringing in the Light at Santa Fe Photographic Workshops

Santa Fe Photoworkshop1Santa Fe Photoworkshop

Santa Fe Photographic Workshops never fail to bring new perspectives and new techniques to my photographic work. All week I’m immersed in a workshop on portrait lighting techniques using speed lights. These photos of a couple of the models illustrate techniques using my newest lighting equipment.


Cross-Country Skiing in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park

The GangRocky Mountain NP

It’s getting to be a habit, meeting friends from Washington, DC for winter skiing in beautiful places. This year we’ve gathered at Snow Mountain Ranch near Winter Park, Colorado. Today our group geared up for cross-country skiing on a trail in Rocky Mountain National Park. The tracks into snowy terrain are an inviting reminder of the quiet beauty of gliding into winter.


A Cactus Wren at Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix
Cactus Ren
A cactus wren sits atop…a cactus, of course. This morning we visited the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix with Ellen Dement, who now lives in Mesa not far from the “Arizona Dements”: Aimée, David, Cayden, Hannah and Kendall. This botanical garden is stunning. We plan to go back again and again. (Can’t help but add that Phoenix’s Musical Instrument Museum is another wonder. Don’t miss either place if you get to Phoenix).

Darcy, Andy and Delia Come to Santa Fe for Christmas


Our friends Darcy, Andy and Delia flew into snowy New Mexico from sunny Burbank, California—their nearly-new home—on the evening of Christmas day. Yesterday we explored Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return. Today we tromped around the Plaza in boots with poles—and with Darcy wearing John’s cowboy hat and boots. She looks like a natural! This happy photo in front of the New Mexico Museum of Art doesn’t foreshadow what the Florida-bound travelers will face in just a few hours. A huge snow storm has socked in Albuquerque and Santa Fe airports, probably for days, and the three Sawatzkis have embarked on a 30-hour drive in a rental car for Safety Harbor, Florida and a holiday visit with Darcy’s family.


Roadtrip in Southern Utah

delicate  archP & D

Pat and Dorcas, our good friends from DC, our six-and-a-half month-old border collie puppy, Bonnie, Polly and I have embarked on an 11-day roadtrip in Southern Utah with Chaco Belle, our Airstream, as our rolling home. Today Dell Keys, a physician by profession in Moab and also a longtime Park Service volunteer guide in Arches National Park, took us on a great tour of Arches. Delicate Arch is an iconic landmark in the park. The looks on Pat’s and Dorcas’s faces mirror our love of Southern Utah, which we feel is like one big national park filling the southern third of the state. In coming days we’ll explore Capitol Reef National Park, the town of Boulder (including Hell’s Backbone Grill) and the Trump-threatened Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Kodachrome State Park and Bryce Canyon National Park.


Formula One Grand Prix in Austin

Formula 1

Today I’m perched on Turn 15 of the Formula One racetrack in Austin for the Grand Prix. The technology of the cars is breathtaking—as is my race to catch them in the eye of my camera! Fred Vang and Chris Judge, your enthusiasm for racing has caught up with me. 

Austin is all the more wonderful for our visit with friends Hester and Jim Magnuson, who have taken us to their favorite restaurants, Central Market and the LBJ Library. Everywhere we’ve gone Austin-ians heap kudos on Jim, who will receive the Texas Writer Award at the Texas Book Festival next week-end. Kudos from us, too!


Golden Aspen on Santa Fe Mountain

Santa Fe Fall

Polly and I hiked our favorite “golden aspen trail” on Santa Fe Mountain for the third time this fall. When you’re in the midst of an aspen forest at its peak in autumn, it seems like the whole world has a golden glow. Our five-month-old border collie, Bonnie, thinks the millions of golden leaves on the ground are all for her!


Santa Fe Tech Rescue Team Drills at Nambe Falls

Santa Fe COunty Tech Resque

The Santa Fe County Technical Rescue Team practices taking a patient with a compound fracture out on a litter over slippery rocks at Nambé Falls on the Pueblo of Nambé, just north of Santa Fe. My teammates and I practice one Sunday every month for rescues that require technical expertise—airplane crashes (we had one in January), cliff falls, rollovers into arroyos. Accidents happen all too often.


Hiking in Santa Barbara Canyon Near Penasco, New Mexico


After a morning visit with Stanley Crawford and Thomas Conboy at El Bosque, Stanley’s garlic farm in Dixon, NM, and brunch at Sugar Nymphs in Penasco, our well-fortified band enjoys a walk through the aspen forest and along the Santa Barbara River (a real, free-flowing NM river). August has been rich in all kinds of outings with friends visiting Santa Fe, including on the Santa Barbara hike: Michaela Buhler (DC), Roy Winkel (Shepherdstown, WVA), and Hester and Jim Magnuson (Austin).


International Folk Art Market Community Celebration


For us the most exciting moments of Santa Fe’s International Folk Art Market come during the procession of artists from all over the world at the “community celebration” on the Plaza. Carrying country signs, wearing traditional dress, eyes dancing—feet, too!, often singing as they parade across the bandstand, the artists don’t hold back on their excitement about the upcoming market and being in the U.S. In today's procession a silver jewelry artist from Mali brings a roar from the crowd gathered on the Plaza. Polly and I volunteer every year for the market, this time in the “artists hospitality” area—up close and personal.


Our Bonnie Lass Comes Home

BonnieBonnie and Tay

Our lovely border collie puppy joined our family today. Just eight weeks old, straight from a ranch in the Albuquerque East Mountains, Bonnie has a huge personality and promises to heal our still-sad hearts from the too-early loss of our beautiful border collie, Zen. Our “negotiations” in the parking lot of Sprouts with Matthew, the teenager who raised her litter, took an unexpected turn and we came home with Bonnie and her brother!  For now we’ll fittingly call the puppies Bonnie and Clyde (feeling in our hearts that “Clyde” will find a loving home in Galisteo with our friends Ken and Terra).


Punting at Cambridge University


A roadtrip to Cambridge topped today’s agenda. Punting with Chris and Fiona on the River Cam was a fine way to see the ancient university, which dates to 1209. Our visit with the Judge family—godson Sam, Fiona, Chris and Nathan—at their lovely home in Wilby (Northamptonshire) has also included an amazing variety of British pubs!


Seashore on the Ring of Kerry, Ireland

Ring of Kerry Lighthouse

The southwest coast of Ireland is stunningly beautifu. I took this photo on today's trip around the Ring of Kerry. Truth is, we absolutely love the Greenmount House, where we're staying in Dingle (one peninsula further north), and could happily just explore the Dingle Peninsula's coast and trails, and its pubs with traditional Irish music.


Falling in Love with Ireland

Irish Crow

IrelandIrish Sheep

After a couple of days in the very happening city of Dublin we drove today to the town of Dingle. En route we had lunch in Kilkenny, then explored the Rock of Cashel (above), an ancient fortress rising from the plains in County Tipperary. There we encountered the first of unending photogenic Irish sheep! (we’ll watch border collies herd sheep in a couple of days). The Irish crow sitting atop the fence post is evocative of its cousins, the ravens, back home in New Mexico.


Prague  through the Eyes of  Holly and  Family

Charles BridgePrauge

Prague is the first stop on our 2018 European swing. We love being with goddaughter Holly, Kevin, Sage and Ansel while in their three-year sojourn in Prague. The family introduced us to the city through a "locals' day," featuring their favorite beer garden, and tomorrow promises "tourists' day," exploring Prague's old town and getting up to the castle. Prague’s iconic Charles Bridge (above), witness to history, took me back to a previous visit while on assignment from the State Department. We look forward to a guided "food tour," but it would be hard to beat our delicious brunch at the Café Savoy (above right), a restaurant that has lived through over a hundred years of Czech history. Sage has promised us a visit to her school, which we anticipate being the best of the "locals' tour."


The Roundhouse, New Mexico’s Capitol in Santa Fe


I was out photographing Santa Fe landmarks today, including “The Roundhouse,”  New Mexico’s state capitol building--appropriately located on the Santa Fe Trail in Santa Fe. The volunteer New Mexico Legislature is one of the few in the country to meet for only one month in even years, and two months in odd years.  Whenever the legislators are in session I serve as EMT (emergency medical technician) stand-by.


Plaza Blanca near Abiquiu, NM – O’Keefe Country

Plaza Blanca

Today we hiked at Plaza Blanca, located in the Rio Chama River Valley between the village of Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch. Georgia O’Keefe’s painting entitled “The White Place” is set here in the heart of O’Keefe Country. It’s hard not to think of O’Keefe when you’re here (“Pedernal” is on the horizon), but if you’ve seen “Cowboys & Aliens,” it will feel familiar for another reason!


Mikey Five-Fingers Plays Rhythm Guitar

Mikey five fingers

Our friend Michael aka Mikey Five Fingers plays rhythm guitar at Skylight Santa Fe as our other friend, guitarist-singer Suzanne, and uber-musician Peter Williams, founder of funk band The Stickey, join in. Photographing this event was pure fun!


Bison: Up Close and Personal

Bison Charging or Discarging?

Think I must have made eye contact with this bison. First thought on seeing that “tail up” was that he was relieving himself, but as the bison charged on, I could see the fire in his eyes. Photographing wildlife in Yellowstone feels almost like I’m back in South Africa’s Kruger National Park.


Hot Water in a Cold Landscape 

Hoops for Hope

I’ve hiked around Yellowstone’s geothermal features in every season, but watching the steam rise off of geothermal pools in sub-freezing temperatures and seeing the geysers erupt against the winter horizon is the most dramatic by far. The natural light of Yellowstone in winter is as inspiring as the light in my home state of New Mexico, and the wintry clouds add to the dramatic effect.


Yellowstone’s Bison in Winter: First Sighting 


first bisonThe gang
On our way into Yellowstone National Park today our first sighting of bison foraging their way through winter took my breath. Our Bombadier-made snow coach (the means for getting into the heart of Yellowstone in winter) rounded a curve along the Madison River, and there they were--a herd of the magnificent beasts. With camera and three lenses in my backpack, I'm homebasing at Old Faithful Snow Lodge for a week of cross country skiing with Polly and friends from DC:(left to right) Sam Stokes, Pat Munoz, Chris Brown, Mary Rollefson, Dorcas Adkins, Polly and me.


Blood Moon Over Santa Fe

Blood Moon

Santa Fe night skies are always full of wonder. Tonight, it’s the blood moon. It helps to live in some of the purest air in the country.


Snow Geese and Sandhill Cranes Lift Off by the Thousands as Dawn Breaks Over the Bosque del Apache

Bosque Del ApacheSandhill Crane

This morning at O’Dark 30 friends Beverly and Warren Jones joined us on a “flight deck” at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge further south in New Mexico, bundled in winter clothes and sipping hot coffee. As dawn began to break a few snow geese began to signal that lift off was near, and within minutes some 40,000 snow geese were in the air. A little later, as the sun broke the horizon, the sand hill cranes used the warming air to lift their heavier bodies and began to take off in flight groups.

Snow Geese in the Bosque Honk About Climate Change

Snow Geese

We warmed up over breakfast, then continued to explore the refuge for hours. I'm reminded once again that the beauty of a camera lens is getting closer subjects like the birds. Not only do thousands of snow geese and sandhill cranes winter in the Bosque del Apache; they are joined by a variety of hawks (we were particularly entertained by a kestrel today), eagles and smaller birds. And the refuge is attractive to plenty of mammals, too.

Photographing the Land of Enchantment:

Its People, Wildlife and Iconic Landscapes 

©  2018 John Mayer – Santa Fe, New Mexico.