Posted by: kerryl29 | February 21, 2023

The Story Behind the Image: Home on the Range

2017 was probably the single busiest photography trip year I’ve ever had. I’ve been taking dedicated photo trips, in some form or fashion, for more than two decades now, and 2017 is the only year during which I took three trips to remote (relative to my Midwest base) locations. I decamped to southern Florida in February and California in May before heading to Colorado on a trip that began in late September and lapsed into early October.

The Florida and California trips involved plane rides, but I drove to southwest Colorado from Indianapolis–a trip of roughly 1500 miles, one-way. The main reason I drove out to Colorado was to avoid the substantial limitations that would have been placed on what I could take with me, had I chosen to fly. Given the amount of time I was gong to be on the ground in Colorado (two weeks) and expectations of dramatic variation in weather conditions, I wanted to bring far more with me than I’d be able to stuff into a suitcase, (This was partly informed by experience on the California trip a few months earlier.)

While the advantages stemming from having a vehicle to place all of the overflow gear paid off handsomely, the driving itself was grueling. In addition to the 3000-mile round trip, I probably put a comparable amount of miles on my (rental) vehicle while in Colorado. By the end of my time on the ground, after the Big Wind took down just about all of the remaining leaves, I was pretty well worn out, and still facing two long days of driving to get home.

Since the first day of that return trip began in Ouray, I had to clear the Rockies just to get to eastern Colorado. The day was to end in western Kansas, and the next day was to finish with me back in Indianapolis, after 850 more miles of (mostly) flat driving.

I was 400-odd miles into the drive that first day, having completely cleared the Rocky Mountains and was traveling north on nearly deserted U.S. Highway 24 through rural Elbert County in eastern Colorado. I was on my way to a junction with I-70, which would take me the final 1100 miles or so back to the Midwest.

It was late in the afternoon, the light was lovely, the sky was filled with wispy cirrus clouds and the scenery was pleasant enough. As I zipped along, I noticed open pastureland to my left. Then I spotted an old-style farm windmill…and then I saw a group of horses. An idea briefly popped into my head: should I stop and take a look a closer look? It was a thought that I rejected more or less immediately. I had been awake, at that point, for more than 12 hours. I had just gone through two weeks of extremely long days in the field, filled with countless hours of driving. I still had more than three hours of driving to do that evening, and another 14 hours on tap the next day. I had clicked the shutter thousands of times over the prior two weeks and would ultimately see fit to process more than 600 distinct compositions from the trip. I could afford to just let this go. I wasn’t even certain that there was a single decent image to be made at this spot. Relax. Let it go.

About a mile further down the road, I had reached a different conclusion. As I wrote when I chronicled this experience in an epilogue to the trip:

I got about a mile farther along the road and then asked myself–out loud–what are you doing? The light, the subject matter…if you’re not going to stop for a few minutes to photograph this, why are you bothering to photograph at all?

So, I turned around and headed back, found a spot where I could pull completely onto the shoulder of the road, and took a closer look…and was immediately glad that I had done so. Not so much because I thought I’d make any once-in-a-lifetime images as a result of my decision. I probably clicked the shutter a dozen times at this site, and processed about half of the frames. None of these are, in my view, among the best images I made on this particular trip, let alone ever. But my goal isn’t to produce an all-time great image every time I photograph or, frankly, any time I photograph.

Exactly what my goal is when photographing is something I’m still sorting out (and probably always will be), but at least part of the answer has to do with the notion of photographs as memory stimulants, and in that regard the below image serves aptly.

Home on the Range, Elbert County, Colorado


  1. I prefer driving to flying for the reason you mentioned: a much greater capacity to carry things. There’s also the bonus of being able to stop along the way whenever something interesting presents itself.

    • My general rule of thumb is that if the location is within a two-day drive, I’ll drive. If not, I’ll fly, because a three-day one-way drive means six days of driving, round trip, and that’s just too much. Maybe if I was going to stay somewhere for a month or more I’d consider more than two days each way, but that’s never happened.

  2. I agree with the last statement – memory stimulant. I browse through my photographs and memories just come rushing back on what happened that day.

    • Same here. Looking at one of my images almost invariably puts me right back to the time and place where it was made.

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