The Ways of Wilderness Photographers

Wilderness photographers are a breed apart. Some folks question their sanity. The rest know for sure.

They traverse into the most gawdawful places where nobody in their right mind ever goes; all in a never ending quest for the perfect picture. The truth is out there! Trust no one!

To learn the weird, wild and wacky ways of a wilderness photographer I’m gonna take you on a little mini-adventure to one of those gawdawful places… described exactly as it happened.

That place is called Smokey Mountain Road.

Along Smokey Mountain Road looking toward the Kaiparowits Plateau

A little background first before we go…

Danger! Danger! Will Robinson!

Friends ask if I ever get myself into predicaments out all alone in wilderness areas.

The Rimrock Hoodoos - 35 miles from Smokey Mountain Road

If you consider a predicament as waking up before dawn 40 miles from the nearest human being in sub-zero temperatures where nobody goes in winter, and finding 5 inches of new snow on your SUV, and then have to spend a couple hours chiseling the ice out of your wheel wells before the wheels will turn again… then… perhaps.

Horseshoe Canyon - near the start of Smokey Mountain Road

If you consider a predicament as leaning precariously out over a cliff edge where it’s a 1,300 foot plummet STRAIT DOWN to a rocky death just to take a picture… then… maybe I do.

A Northern Arizona Rattler

If you consider a predicament as laying flat on my stomach while scooting backward over cactus spines in 100+ desert heat while getting chased by an angry diamondback rattlesnake who lacked my enthusiasm for having its picture taken… then… yup, I do!

I have a perfectly valid excuse for doing such things… I’m not very bright!

It beats burning yourself on hot studio lights, though. lol!!!

Going Into The Wilderness

You just don’t up and wander off into wilderness unprepared. You get stuck somewhere without serious survival gear and you’re in a world of hurt. Ain’t no cell service where I go!

In my vast experience as a wilderness photographer I’ve discovered there is an inverse relationship between how well prepared you are and whether or not you’ll need any of it.

That is, the better prepared you are then the less likely you will ever need whatever it was you took. If you take everything then you will need nothing! I think it is a corollary of Murphy’s Law.

On the flip side, if you take nothing then you’ll need everything. The technical term describing that special case circumstance, as spoken of by highly trained wilderness photographer professionals is… “That’s bad!”

I take lots and lots of stuff!

Another applicable corollary of Murphy’s law I’ve found is that the more stuff you have, the less likely you will be able to find a particular thingy you need.

In this corollary, if you take everything then you will not be able to find anything. Fortunately, I don’t have room enough to take everything. In my case, I can’t find anything without a massive search.

Because ya gotta hike and usually don’t have some flunky to con into carrying heavy equipment, most wilderness photographers take light compact camera equipment.

I’ll save describing all the survival stuff you’ll need for another time. But rest assured you’ll need it all on Smokey Mountain Road.

Smokey Mountain Road – An Introduction

U.S. route 50 across Nevada bills itself as the “Loneliest Road in America”. Pashaw!

It doesn’t hold a candle to Utah’s Smokey Mountain Road that goes up and over the remote Kaiparowits Plateau. Highway 50 may be longer but its paved and it normally has some traffic. About the furthest I ever went on Hwy 50 without encountering another vehicle is only about 20 miles.

Heck, I’ve driven Smokey Mountain Road three separate times and spent a day and night on it once and never once saw a soul. That might be because it requires serious 4-wheeling to drive it.

Smokey Mountain Road - Big Water to Escalante

Smokey Mountain Road crosses the largest wilderness area in the lower 48 states of the United States. It has no permanent human residents.

That is not to say there isn’t anyone ever there. There are. Scientists go there in the spring and summer hunting dinosaurs all the time. But they don’t exactly announce their presence. They are surprisingly selfishly about keeping their finds secret… the buggers!

I can’t rightly tell you exactly how long it is either. It goes between the towns of Big Water and Escalante and is variously described as between 78 and 135 miles long.


I’ve given you a very, very brief introduction to wilderness photography and its unique challenges. Its different from other kinds of photography.

You’ve had the tiniest bite-sized morsel of Smokey Mountain Road itself.

Bet you are on pins and needles wanting to know more. πŸ˜‰ πŸ˜‰

In the next article in this series we’ll move on to the main course!

Be sure to bring survival gear. You never know what you might be in for.

About azleader

Learning to see life more clearly... one image at a time!
This entry was posted in Desert, Geology, Hoodoo, Landscape, Photography, Utah. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Ways of Wilderness Photographers

  1. Pingback: Smokey Mountain Road – The Beginning! | Living Among Landscapes!

  2. Pingback: Moon Rovering Photographer! | Living Among Landscapes!

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