A Sagebrush Insurgency: Covering the Oregon Occupation

The best holidays are the ones you get to work and play. That is, if you love your work. On my winter vacation, I had the opportunity to explore the Sugar Pine mining claims where militias protected and stood ground for miners who were given notice to file a plan of operations. I met with the coordinator of the Josephine County Oath Keepers, Joseph Rice, who gave me lessons on the constitution and more background as to why the Hammonds were in court again. Photographing this story for High Country News eventually led me to a peaceful protest in Burns, Oregon on January 2.

That’s where it got interesting. I was photographing a “town hall” meeting for the self-described Patriots who attended the Burns protest and people started getting angry. Ammon Bundy had not joined their meeting. Instead, he was with a few other armed men, taking over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. So off I went to stand around a fire with men with big guns, and report whatever happened.

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Robert LaVoy Finicum, who was killed at a roadblock set up by the FBI and Oregon State Police on Jan. 26. Brooke Warren/High Country News

The Oregon occupation has been in the news now for over a month. You may have read how the debacle is affecting birding and scientific research. Or maybe you’re following the play by play and know the last of the occupiers still haven’t left town, even after Robert “LaVoy” Finicum was killed. There are still tons of people from out of town flooding the restaurants and hotels around Burns, which may be good for business, but it has created division and stress for the community.

I didn’t stay at Malheur for long – I came back to Colorado to design and create infographics for a larger package – but I did witness the beginning of the protest over public lands. It’s been wonderful seeing other photographers, such as Jim Urquhart and Matt M. McKnight covering the event after it became a media madhouse.

Also, High Country News just launched its “Sagebrush Insurgency” package, which provides background to the movement that paints the beliefs of those who began the occupation at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon. You’ll find an interactive graphic that connects politicians and militia groups as well as some robust stories about constitutional sheriffs, Sugar Pine mine, and how well-armed the BLM really is.

Here are some of my favorite pictures I took while in Oregon, both on another assignment before, and during the Malheur occupation. You can also check out this gallery of the day the occupation began.

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Allyn Belangie of Phoenix, Arizona an Airforce veteran, drove 15 hours to attend the protest for the Hammonds. He said he was also at the Bundy Ranch standoff in 2014. Brooke Warren/High Country News

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Brandon Curtiss, of the Idaho Three Percent, hugs Dwight Hammond while Brooke Agresta of the Three Percent hugs Hammond’s wife, Susie. Dwight was reported to Terminal Island, a low-security prison in California, on Jan. 4 for arson charges. Brooke Warren/High Country News

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KP Presta, 15, left, and Samantha Young, 24, pick up change in front of the Harney County sheriff’s office that was thrown by protesters earlier in the day. “They said this was going to be a peaceful protest,” Young said. “Throwing pennies at the sheriff’s office is not peaceful.” Brooke Warren/High Country News

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Rosella Talbot drapes an American flag over the sign for the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center. She brought supplies to the refuge headquarters, where militia had occupied U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service buildings. Brooke Warren/High Country News

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Armed men stand guard at the entrance to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters, the buildings the Bundy brothers and other armed individuals occupied in early January to protest federal management of public lands. Brooke Warren/High Country News

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Mel Bundy fills his plate with rice, beef, and chili on the first night of the Malheur occupation. The armed protestors were reusing paper plates and plastic utensils because, as one man said, “ We thought this place would be stocked, and it ain’t.” Brooke Warren/High Country News

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Deputy Jim Geiger gestures at the leftover in the empty part of the Josephine County Courthouse where the Sheriff’s department used to be. In 2012 they moved to one small room in the back of he county jail and reduced the patrol staff from more than 30 to three or four at a time, due to budget cuts. Brooke Warren/High Country News

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Miners Rick Barclay and George Backes, who were offered three options after the Bureau of Land Management discovered unapproved surface activity on their mining claims:: Cease mining; file a plan of operations to account for the level of surface activity; or file an appeal. Brooke Warren/High Country News

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George Backes pushes an ore bucket into the lower adit of Sugar Pine Mine in Josephine County, Oregon, where Oath Keepers set up camp last April to support the miners in their dispute with the Bureau of Land Management. Brooke Warren/High Country News

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Miner George Backes stands near a chopping block on the Black Jack mining claim land, part of the Sugar Pine mines. Brooke Warren/High Country News

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Josephine County Oath Keepers Joseph Rice and Rob Lee install a wheelchair ramp for a paralyzed man, one of eight such projects the group completed last year. Brooke Warren/High Country News

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An elk head peers out from behind a refridgerator in the Adel Store off Hwy 140 in Adel, Oregon. The small store has about forty mounted heads decorating the walls. Brooke Warren/High Country News

 

Best of 2015

January is flying by! I meant to post this earlier in the new year, but got caught up with breaking news coverage and designing and preparing a magazine for print single-highhandedly. It’s been a year of changes and introspection for me. I’ve felt isolated as a photojournalist and I’ve been shedding layers of my identity to find what’s at my core. Changing means growth, but it can be hard. I’ve found myself bursting into tears for no known reason, yet still pushing my physical and mental limits. I think I’ve found a lot of solace in the past by associating with other photographers, dancers, outdoor adventurers, and I still do. Yet I’m learning, slowly and surely, that those things are what I do, not who I am.

Check out some of my favorite images from 2015 in a grid! (Because why not make more art out of my primary medium?)

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And here’s some highlights from 2015, including personal adventures and career developments. I’m grateful for all the people and experiences I encountered in 2015.

  • Spent many weekends backcountry skiing, fully embracing the chill of winter and snuggling with fluffy huskies post ski.
  • Took the Amtrak train to San Francisco, and a Chinese tour bus back home, to photograph a travel story.
  • Danced through a winter bluegrass concert with my best friend.
  • Skied under the full moon on the largest flat top mountain in the U.S.
  • Performed to live piano music written by Debussy, an innovative French composer.
  • Mountain biked at night, for the first time, in Sedona, Arizona.
  • Danced and modeled chainmail in the annual Paonia, Colorado fashion show.
  • Backpacked through Canyonlands National Park in Utah.
  • Taught dance and watched young girls get more comfortable with their bodies.
  • Shoveled 700 pounds of coal in just over 2 min!
  • Trekked in the Weminuche wilderness in Colorado, stopping to swim in every alpine lake along the way! We also met a herd of mountain goats!
  • Ran the four pass loop in the Maroon Bells wilderness of Colorado, finished multiple trail races, and my first trail marathon!
  • Attended NPPA’s Women in Photojournalism conference, Geekfest, Summit Workshops for Adventure Photography, and Mountain Workshops in Kentucky, meeting many passionate photographers and visual journalists along the way.
  • Built a bed and storage in the back of my Subaru Outback.
  • Spent my birthday and Thanksgiving climbing sandstone cliffs in Indian Creek, Utah with my whole family
  • Met my partner’s family in Oregon for Christmas, climbing and skiing in the midst of the chaos.
  • Completed a personal portrait challenge, taking someone’s portrait every day for a month.
  • Moved into a beautiful farmhouse with 13 fabulous folks, where we create, share delicious meals, and have spontaneous dance parties.
  • Worked on multiple photo stories throughout the West, helped redefine print and web design elements, and developed a more robust data visualization system for High Country News.

 

Hunt like a girl

A 3:30 am wakeup. A rumbling drive up a dirt road. A silent walk to a predetermined outlook, then a frigid hour or so watching light creep across the sky and land. This is at the core of hunting, when you take out the guns and animals and meat processing.

I spent a few days with Laura Palmisano and Katie Richman during the fourth elk rifle hunting season in Colorado. Richman is a seasoned ungulate hunter, and this was Laura’s second year with an elk tag. Although the animals didn’t show up where they expected, they did bring some firewood home.

Laura Palmisano and Katie Richman dress for a sub-zero morning trudging to a lookout spot at 4 a.m.

Laura Palmisano and Katie Richman layer up for a sub-zero morning trudging to and waiting for elk in a meadow in unit 521 on Grand Mesa in Colorado.

Laura Palmisano and Katie Richman hunt for a bull and cow elk on private land during the fourth season in 2015. Richman talks to Ryan Strand, who owns 100 acres, about the elk they found that morning that had been dead for weeks.

Katie Richman talks to Ryan Strand, who owns 100 acres of land in unit 521, about the dead elk they found that morning that had been decomposing.

Katie Richman and Laura Palmisano head out for an evening of hunting on private land on Grand Mesa in Colorado.

Katie Richman and Laura Palmisano head out for an evening of hunting on private land on Grand Mesa in Colorado.

Laura Palmisano adjusts her grip on her rifle while waiting for dusk, the time when elk are most active.

Laura Palmisano adjusts her grip on her rifle while waiting for dusk, the time when elk are most active.

Katie Richman points in the direction she expects the elk to walk from when the sun sets.

Katie Richman points in the direction she expects elk to walk from when the sun sets.

Laura Palmisano looks across the landscape while hunting on Grand Mesa.

Laura Palmisano looks across the landscape while hunting on Grand Mesa.

Bands in the Backyard: A Country Music Festival

As part of a story on the pot economy in Pueblo, Colorado for High Country News, I took pictures at Bands in the Backyard. Why? Well apparently it’s the only music festival in the country with a pot shop on-site. The organizer of the festival, Tommy Giodone, owns a marijuana dispensary and a small indoor grow, which he opened up to country music aficionados who grooved to names like Toby Keith and 38 Special.

It was quite the scene, with RVs lined up to camp and tailgate for the weekend, and tons of folks donning cowboy getup. And boy was it hot. I wish I had joined the fun on the giant blow-up water slide, but I made do by making a midday exit to a library to file photos instead.

Here are some frames that weren’t relevant to my marijuana story, but I liked all the same:

Kids keep cool on a blow-up waterside at Bands in the Backyard on June 19, 2015. Temperatures reached 100 degrees during the weekend.

Kids keep cool on a blow-up waterside at Bands in the Backyard on June 19, 2015. Temperatures reached 100 degrees during the weekend.

Josh Kennedy, 24, extracts a dart from a punctured beer can while playing "beer darts" in the campground at Bands in the Backyard on June 19, 2015.

Josh Kennedy, 24, extracts a dart from a punctured beer can while playing “beer darts” in the campground at Bands in the Backyard on June 19, 2015.

Festival-goers cool off while tailgating at Bands in the Backyard on June 19, 2015.

Festival-goers cool off while tailgating at Bands in the Backyard on June 19, 2015.

Joe Quesada and John Downey use binoculars to people watch and improve their view of the stage at Bands in the Backyard on June 19, 2015.

Joe Quesada and John Downey use binoculars to people watch and improve their view of the stage at Bands in the Backyard on June 19, 2015.

People scream while trying to catch merchandise thrown from a balcony by a festival sponsor at Bands in the Backyard on June 19, 2015.

People scream while trying to catch merchandise thrown from a balcony by a festival sponsor at Bands in the Backyard on June 19, 2015.

People enjoy and record videos of the music at Bands in the Backyard on June 19, 2015.

People enjoy and record videos of the music at Bands in the Backyard on June 19, 2015.

Hannah Duran and Tyler Moltrer play fight during Toby Keith's set at Bands in the Backyard on June 19, 2015.

Hannah Duran and Tyler Moltrer play fight during Toby Keith’s set at Bands in the Backyard on June 19, 2015.

CJ Andersen, 23, and Carissa Hiteshew, 20, kiss at Bands in the Backyard on June 19, 2015.

CJ Andersen and Carissa Hiteshew kiss at Bands in the Backyard on June 19, 2015.

Technicians adjust spotlights as the sun sets at Bands in the Backyard on June 19, 2015.

Technicians adjust spotlights as the sun sets at Bands in the Backyard on June 19, 2015.

 

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. Brooke Warren/High Country News

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. Brooke Warren/High Country News

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. Brooke Warren/High Country News

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. Brooke Warren/High Country News

Tourists walk in Badwater in Death Valley National Park.

Tourists walk in Badwater in Death Valley National Park. Brooke Warren/High Country News

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. Brooke Warren/High Country News

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

Palm trees cast shadows on a building in Las Vegas, Nev. Brooke Warren/High Country News

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. Brooke Warren/High Country News

(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. Brooke Warren/High Country News

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. Brooke Warren/High Country News

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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. Brooke Warren/High Country News

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. Brooke Warren/ High Country News

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Bighorn sheep stand roadside on Hwy 141 on the route to Gateway, Colorado. Brooke Warren/High Country News

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.