Touring the West

A few weeks ago, reporter Judith Lewis Mernit and I boarded a bus with Lassen Tours, whose primary customers are Chinese, to discover how foreigners experience the West. In 72 hours we traveled from San Fransisco to Las Vegas with stops at natural spectacles like the Grand Canyon and Death Valley. An outlet mall, fruit stands, singing fountains and Asian restaurants also made an appearance on the quick trip.

Mernit summed up our perspective of the experience pretty well in the resulting High Country News article: “Both Warren and I had lived in other countries, places where we had learned the languages and tried our best to blend in with the locals. But our Chinese friends were having none of that. It occurred to us both in the same moment that we were not observing a troupe of Chinese visitors in the West attempting to adapt to our culture. We were traveling on a mobile China as it moved through the American West. And the American West was expanding — with restaurants, shopping and spectacles — to include them.”

Read the resulting article here and see a few frames that didn’t make it in the story below.

A family on a tour bus and local workers chow down in McDonald's on Interstate 5 in California.

A family on a tour bus and local workers chow down in a McDonald’s off Interstate 5 in California.

Tour guide for Lassen tours Raymond Tse rattles off the day's itinerary once the bus arrives in Las Vegas after driving from San Fransisco.

Tour guide for Lassen tours Raymond Tse rattles off the day’s itinerary once the bus arrives in Las Vegas after driving from San Fransisco.

Henry Lu tries on sunglasses in Sunglass Hut at the Tanger Outlets in Barstow, Calif. Seventy percent of the store's paying customers arrive on Asian tour buses.

Henry Lu tries on sunglasses in Sunglass Hut at the Tanger Outlets in Barstow, Calif. Seventy percent of the store’s paying customers arrive on Asian tour buses.

Chinese tourists Wen Hua Lee and Leo Liu Jun take pictures of their husband/father Jie Qi Liu in Death Valley National Park.

Chinese tourists Wen Hua Lee and Leo Liu Jun take pictures of their husband/father Jie Qi Liu in Death Valley National Park.

Tourists walk in Badwater in Death Valley National Park.

Tourists walk in Badwater in Death Valley National Park.

Korean tourists Zo Sun-Hwa and Park Young-Gu take a selfie at the Badwater salt flats in Death Valley National Park.

Korean tourists Zo Sun-Hwa and Park Young-Gu take a selfie at the Badwater salt flats in Death Valley National Park.

Palm trees cast shadows on a building in Las Vegas, Nev.

Palm trees cast shadows on a building in Las Vegas, Nev.

Leo Liu Jun, 10, contemplates gelato flavors at the Venetian in Las Vegas, Nev. with his mother Wen Hua Lee.

Leo Liu Jun, 10, contemplates gelato flavors at the Venetian in Las Vegas, Nev. with his mother Wen Hua Lee.

(right to left) Vietnamese tourists Tran Phuoc and Nguyen Thi Ngoc Lien walk through Las Vegas, Nev. with their daughter.

(right to left) Vietnamese tourists Tran Phuoc and Nguyen Thi Ngoc Lien walk through Las Vegas, Nev. with their daughter.

Gateways

I’ve been shooting a few assignments for High Country News where I work primarily as a designer and photo editor. I shot a story about a tiny speck on the map in Western Colorado back in October. That speck is called Gateway and with a population so small only 30 K-12 students attend the school, it’s hard to notice as you pass through the canyon. But what many people do notice is a huge resort, number one in Colorado and twelve in the world, that boasts a car museum, rafting, horseback riding, and romping around on gnarly roads.

I visited the place with Maureen Neal, who wrote an essay about watching the town of Gateway disappear for High Country News. She taught at the then one-room schoolhouse in 1985. We walked through the resort-owned land surrounding Gateway to visit the ancient cemetery that overlooks the town and spent the afternoon chatting with Aggie Wareham, 83, who has lived in Gateway almost her entire life. There were no commercial buildings not affiliated with the resort, and the old Vanadium mine that used to fuel the town economy in the 70s has turned into a site full of wrecked and rusting equipment.

The resort, out of sight from the town, is a huge complex of adobe buildings and green lawns with sprinklers spewing across the lawns. In October the place seemed empty, only a few cars in the lot, but apparently they get busy and fully booked during some seasons. Which is why they are building an employee housing complex to house all the workers that tend to visitors at the resort. I suspect the resort’s population exceeds the town’s during high season, maybe even year round.

Here are some shots from the area, including some I didn’t include in the magazine edit:

A construction worker from Grand Junction works on infrastructure for employee housing at Gateway Canyons Resort that will include a pool, a gym and more.

A construction worker from Grand Junction works on infrastructure for employee housing at Gateway Canyons Resort that will include a pool, a gym and more.

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Buck Talbert works on a Baja racing vehicle at Gateway Canyons resort. For the past eight years he has commuted over an hour from Grand Junction to work as the resort off-road vehicle mechanic.

Aggie Wareham, 83, looks through old photo albums, remembering her lifetime spent in Gateway, Colorado.

Aggie Wareham, 83, looks through old photo albums, remembering her lifetime spent in Gateway, Colorado.

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Bighorn sheep stand roadside on Hwy 141 on the route to Gateway, Colorado.

 

On Track(s)

Last week I traveled from Colorado to California by train to catch a bus to Las Vegas for a photo assignment. I know, complicated. But it worked. Riding the train was an interesting way to see the West and learn about the historic route. The section between Denver and Salt Lake City is said to be one of the most scenic routes on the rail. Still, the most interesting sights on the train to me were the people.

A passenger reads in an Amtrak train at the Grand Junction station on Feb. 15, 2015.

A passenger reads in an Amtrak train at the Grand Junction station on Feb. 15, 2015.

Conductor Tom Rawlings has worked the scenic route between Grand Junction and Salt Lake City, where he lives, for 2 years. Before working for Amtrak, he spent 30 years as an engineer on historic steam engines.

Conductor Tom Rawlings has worked the scenic route between Grand Junction and Salt Lake City, where he lives, for 2 years. Before working for Amtrak, he spent 30 years as an engineer on historic steam engines.

Passengers disembark the Amtrak train on Feb. 16, 2015.

Passengers disembark the Amtrak train on Feb. 16, 2015.

Passengers focus on their electronic devices while riding the train.

Amtrak passengers focus on their electronic devices.

Memories from 2014

Like many people I looked back through all the pictures I’ve collected in 2014 and sifted and sorted to find photo’s that sparked a special memory or spoke to a new style. These aren’t necessarily my best pictures of 2014–although some of them are favorites–but they each tell a story.

They tell stories of courage, travels, new friends, exploration and beginnings.

Girls twirl in their wool polleras in the village of Perka, Peru on the shore of Lake Titicaca.

Girls twirl in their wool polleras in the village of Perka, Peru on the shore of Lake Titicaca on June 24, 2014. Each village or region has a different style, which is influenced by indigenous and Spanish colonial clothing.

Cahalen Morrison & Country Hammer perform on top of a haystack in Paonia, Colo.

Cahalen Morrison &; Country Hammer perform on top of a haystack in Paonia, Colo.

Fiery leaves rise above Aspens that have already shed their fronds on Kebler Pass in Colorado.

Fiery leaves rise above Aspens that have already shed their fronds on Kebler Pass in Colorado.

Morgan Foster

Morgan Foster in the snow in Bellingham, Wash.

Steve capes a buck dear for a wall mount.

Steve Kossler capes a buck deer for a wall mount in Paonia, Colo. “Some people don’t like hunting,” he says. “but it’s just part of the West.”

Climbing trip in Indian Creek brings people out to crush cracks and get high.

Michelle Brugiere starts a climb in Indian Creek, Utah while Jeff Montgomery dons his festive pimp hat.

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Morgan Foster approaches South Six Shooter on the morning of March 28, 2014. South Six Shooter and North Six Shooter, in the background, are two solitary towers that stand northwest of the cragging buttresses in Indian Creek, Utah.

Brian Calvert searches for elk in the West Elks wilderness. This was the first time he has gone out hunting since childhood.

Brian Calvert rests while tracking elk in the West Elks Wilderness. This was the first time he has hunted since childhood.

On his 90th birthday, Gerald Warren reads The Economist. He reads the magazine cover to cover every time it arrives at his doorstep. When asked about what he read he says, "I don't remember, but I know it was good."

On his 90th birthday, Dec. 21, 2014, Gerald Warren reads The Economist. He reads the magazine cover to cover every time it arrives at his doorstep. When asked about what he read he says, “I don’t remember, but I know it was good.”

Victor Ayma Qoyso plays the harp. Brooke Warren 2014

Atop a mountain 13,000 feet above sea level near Maracuay, Peru, Victor Ayma Qoyso, 71, gently strums his harp and sings a high pitched melody in Quechua that extends across the hills. The harp came to the Andes of Peru during the Spanish colonization and has become part of the sound of the Andes.

The costumes come out….

…and the treats accumulate!

It’s been a whirlwind of life changes over the past few months. I graduated from Western Washington University, guided and photographed for Rustic Pathways in Peru for the summer (blog posts to come!), returned to Bellingham, Washington to grab my belongings, catch up with friends, and try to buy a car, then rolled over to Paonia, Colorado to work for High Country News as their new Associate Designer.

Halloween and the start of a new month seemed like perfect timing to show off some pictures. I captured the antics of trick-or-treating in a small town, which I remember fondly from childhood. The night progressed from little toddlers shuffling up to doorways, with their parents in tow, to pre-teens crashing through fallen leaves to knock on as many front doors as possible and collect as much candy as they could. My 8-year-old friend Ellie gave me the “in” and let me trick-or-treat with her while I took pictures of the holiday tradition.

Ellie Feder eats candy on her way to another trick-or-treating destination on Oct. 31, 2014 in Paonia, Colo.

Ellie Feder eats candy on her way to another trick-or-treating destination on Oct. 31, 2014 in Paonia, Colo.

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Parents accompany their children while they roam the streets and trick-or-treat on Oct. 31, 2014 in Paonia, Colo.

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A front walkway gets a lot of costumed foot traffic as kids come to the front door for candy on Oct. 31, 2014 in Paonia, Colo.

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Ellie Feder spilled her candy at the end of the night, but managed to salvage it from the leaf-covered ground on Oct. 31, 2014 in Paonia, Colo.

Cleaning up toxicants..in the lab

I had the privilege to be in a class (The Science and Management of Contaminated Sites) that explored the relationship between science and media during my last quarter at college. The class prepared graduating toxicologists and journalists for the important work of talking about science to the general public. With a dream team of a toxicologist, a writer, and me (the visual journalist), we created a documentary about activated carbon, an emerging sediment cleanup technology, and reported on a lab group studying the effectiveness of activated carbon under a variety of environmental conditions.

I spent a ton of time with the lab group documenting their progress and learning about the experiment they designed. Unfortunately not all environmental science can be done outside, so I had to make sure I could portray the lab environment in a variety of ways.

Cabiyo and Craig inspect the control solutions of PCBs. Their experiment consists of 16 variations of environmental factors and a control. The factors include water hardness, a low pH of 6 and high of 8, and humic acid, which is when decomposed organic material is present in water.

Bodie Cabiyo and Thomas Craig inspect control solutions of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) , toxic organic chemicals that are harmful to living organisms and stay in the environment for a long time. Their experiment consisted of 16 variations of environmental factors that include water hardness, a low pH of 6 and high of 8, and humic acid. They tested how these factors affected activated carbon’s ability to capture PCBs.

Craig retrieves sodium hydroxide (NaOH), which the team will add to water to raise its pH level to 8. When they first began adjusting pH, the concentration of their NaOH solution was not strong enough. “We can’t get much more concentrated than this!” Craig said.

Craig retrieves sodium hydroxide (NaOH), which the team added to water to raise its pH level to 8. When they first began adjusting pH, the concentration of their NaOH solution was not strong enough. “We can’t get much more concentrated than this!” Craig said.

Daughtrey mixes solutions of varying water hardness, which is one of the environmental factors they add to the sediment.

Shannon Daughtrey mixes solutions of varying water hardness, which is one of the environmental factors the team added to the sediment containing PCBs.

After initial samples of PCB toxicity are tested, Cabiyo mixes activated carbon into the sediment samples. They will wait a few weeks until the samples are thoroughly mixed before measuring how each environmental factor affects the ability of activated carbon to reduce availability of PCBs in the sediment.

After initial samples of PCB toxicity are tested, Cabiyo mixes activated carbon into the sediment samples. They waited a few weeks until the samples were thoroughly mixed before measuring how each environmental factor affected the ability of activated carbon to reduce availability of PCBs in the sediment.

(From left) Thomas Craig, Bodie Cabiyo and Shannon Daughtrey sing in the lab while preparing environmental factors to test their effect on activated carbon’s ability to capture polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in sediment, the soil under lakes, rivers and oceans. PCBs are toxic organic chemicals and even a tiny amount in the environment are harmful to living organisms and stay in the environment for a long time. Activated carbon is a new treatment that can reduce the availability of PCBs in the environment.

(From left) Thomas Craig, Bodie Cabiyo and Shannon Daughtrey sing in the lab while preparing environmental factors to test their effect on activated carbon’s ability to capture PCBs in sediment, the soil under lakes, rivers and oceans. Scientists have fun too!

Dance: It’s No Big Deal*

Dance has been a huge part of my life ever since I can remember. Expressing music artistically through my body is both exhilarating and meditative. I dance to smile, I dance to cry, I dance to love.

I was recently in a performance that featured choreography by the Bachelors of Fine Arts dance students at Western Washington University. The beautiful culmination of their hard work exhibited mastered technique, told fascinating stories, and made the audience laugh as well as stare in captivation. I was able to photograph the performance during dress rehearsal as well as backstage. These are some of my favorite performance moments:

*”No Big Deal” was the name of the piece in which I danced.