Photo Essay: The Best of 2009 in 20 Pictures & Stories

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As 2009 creeps to the horizon, I'm taking a moment to think back and hand pick 20 photos that sum up my 33rd year on planet Earth.

I'm talking about the memories and stories here - if you find technical prowess in the photos, it's just coincidence because I picked these for multiple reasons. We managed some superb trips and massive memories. Brooke trained for, and competed in, her first triathalon. I managed to make this website a reality. At the top of the "2009 FAIL" list: Chloe, our 2-year-old, isn't potty trained yet. It's not for lack of trying.

Here They Are in Chronological Order:

New Year's Eve in Devil's Canyon

I think I can let the cat out of the bag: getting this shot took about 15 tries to make it legible.

We were camped in Devil's Canyon with Wil and Wendy (from Sierra Expeditions) over New Year's Eve. We got the girls to sleep up in the tents and then stayed up, kicking logs into the fire and telling old stories until midnight.

Then, in a drunken flash of inspiration, we figured out that we could create this New Year's wish with our red flashlights and a 30 second shutter speed. We each took responsibility for a letter and a number, practiced drawing them backwards, and finally made it happen after trying for a half an hour. I won't tell you who was responsible for that sad, puny H. But it wasn't me.

Nevertheless, we have set ourselves up for a yearly tradition, I think

Mexico Beach Camping Adventure on The Sea of Cortés

It's because of places like this that I enjoy backroad travel in Mexico. This beach, right on the Sea of Cortés, has no broken beer bottles, condom wrappers, or other trash lurking on the surface. Nor does it have any crowds. A busy day in this fishing village means a fisherman has to bring out his pick-up and tow a dead seal off the beach and away from town. Business as usual goes to the tune: catch some fish, eat some fish, siesta, cerveza, eat some fish, sleep.

At this camp on the beach, we read books, tossed a frisbee, cooked some meals fit for royalty, built a killer sand castle, and simply let the kids roam as they pleased.

And where might this be? Do I have coordinates? Yes. But I suggest you look at the map and decide for yourself if the route here looks like much fun at all.

Big Hike & Big Meals in Guadalupe Mountains National Park with JPFreek Adventure Magazine

I spent a weekend in February with the editorial crew from JPFreek Adventure Magazine; we camped in Guadalupe Mountains National Park. On the second day we had high hopes that Mark DeNittis, a professional chef and author of the backroad cookbook Jeep Grille Adventures, would be arriving before lunch. High hopes.

So I headed up Guadalupe Peak, the tallest mountain in the notoriously flat state of Texas, with Frank, Alan, and Jackie before dawn for a sunrise hike. On the way down the mountain, I kept talking about Chef Mark D and his ripping breakfast burritos that I was looking forward to pounding down when I hobbled back into camp - put that dude to work refilling my tank.

He was there, and he was happy to cook. I'll never be the same again. I highly recommend a professional chef to man the grill during your next adventure too.

Family Backroad Road Trip Published in Overland Journal

Ah, here's one for you.

I actually shot this in 2008. It's from Murphy Hogback along the White Rim Trail in Utah.

In 2009 I had a story published in Overland Journal, part of which included some details from the White Rim Trail. They selected this frame for a full page insertion.

What's cool about the photo, I guess, is that the road winds through the desert below and disappears somewhere "out there." It's exactly what ignites a little wonder inside the heads of backroad explorers. I snapped like 30 frames at this scene.

This had to be one of the most inspirational places to camp that I've ever been.

Kidless Weekend to Crown King

Once in a while, we parents have to get together with other parents and do the things we used to do before we were parents.

We clobbered our way up the rough back road to Crown King, set up camp outside of the little Arizona drinking village, and hung around a campfire all night. The trail took longer than we anticipated, and while we recharged with some jerky and Mountain Dew on the side of the trail at one point, a team of about 10 dudes and their babes in Jeeps rolled up.

I waved at the first driver. He looked at me and stopped and put on his serious face. "We're going to go pretty fast through the trail." You know that vibe, that scent of machismo so apparent that suggests, "we're pretty important, so get out of the way."


At one of the early big obstacle hills, the boys got busy digging new ruts by spinning their tires and driving reactionary lines up the rock ledges. So we drove around them on the bypass and watched for a while from above. Never saw them again until we got to the Saloon in Crown King. Live and let live, boys.

We made camp margaritas and toasted life, children, and long happy years on this big blue planet.

Memorial Day at Cochise Stronghold

Cochise Stronghold will soon be choked off by private property and development with little public access.

Until then, I'll enjoy these views and dirt roads around the mountain. The grainte boulders and grasslands makes me think I could mistake this for some exotic African scene. We found a sweet camp nestled between a pile of boulders and under tall mesquite trees.

My 7-year-old niece, Samantha, climbed the rocks and loved it. Her dad, my brother, used a phrase that's since bit him: "Not the big ones, unless we have a rope!"

Guess what Samantha has asked for since that trip? A rope. Every time we head out for a trip Sam's asking, "DADDY DID YOU PACK A ROPE?"

The good news is that she'll be getting a climbing harness for Christmas this year.

These Girls and Their Bubbles

For Father's Day we drove up to Colorado and camped in the San Juan Mountains outside of Silverton.

These two cousins are perfect playmates. First, they just about flip out at the idea of us all going camping together. You can't tell them a week before we leave because when they find out, they want to go like RIGHT NOW.

Give them camping and a bottle of bubbles, they'll be just fine.

For a Moment the Mountains Stood Still in Colorado

Another from Colorado, but this was a cool trip. And it was Father's Day.

For the most part, the rain came down in a light shower the entire time we were there. Just a few miles up the road at Animas Forks it was snowing.

And then a break - no wind, no rain, no snow. Just perfect quiet. By "perfect" I mean Chloe was even taking a nap, and she rarely takes a nap when we're camped. I hunkered under the awning, drank a Bass Ale and read a book. When the mountains stopped, I took my camera and tripod down the road and found this.

A Week in Louisiana in June

After Colorado, we kept on driving east for Louisiana.

In the town of Natchitoches (NAK-ə-təsh), MeeMaw's house backs up to the Cane River. The kids fish and play with the dog out here. Those of us in the middle generation - we're not "the grown ups" and we're not the kids - come out here at night and send Darren to take his Jeep and go get us beer.

I'm not from the South, but it feels like an age old Southern tradition to sit outside on June nights with a bug repelling lantern and a bucket of ice and cheap canned beer. Brooke's cousins tell their stories of when they were young and breaking curfew, and the law, while meeting up with high school boys down at the gas station.

This year, Brooke and I even camped down here by the river in the Eezi-Awn because there wasn't enough room in the house for everybody. It was really a lot of fun, and really hot. For some reason, this was one of my favorite trips to Louisiana.

Somebody Turned Two Years Old

This bright eyed little girl is a whole two years old now.

Birthday party theme? ELMO.

Elmo cupcakes, Elmo plates, Elmo cups, Elmo napkins, Elmo baloons, and that grinning puppet is also on Chloe's shirt.

She's not only putting sentences together, but she's also melting my heart when she walks into the room and asks me, "Papa, should we go to Mexico?" Or another variation is, "I WANNA GO CAMPING. OPEN DA TENT." One time we were driving down the highway on a trip for the weekend. She started crying the backseat and whining, "I WANNA GO ON A ROAD TRIP." She might not quite understand what a road trip is, but I'm glad she wants to take one.

She counts to ten, knows her ABCs, likes to wake me up in the morning, will recite the books and poems I read to her at night. Why have another child? This one's perfect.

Work Related: A Browse Through the Fresh Wood Student Woodworking Competition Finalists

Every other year or so I get to see the finalist projects in this woodworking competition. And it's encouraging to see that there are high school kids out there actually using their hands and brains for creativity and creation.

First Time Canoeing

Our neighbors own a canoe, and within reason it's available to us any time. ROCKS.

We strapped it to the roof and took Chloe to the Blue Ridge Reservior for a weekend of paddling over Labor Day.

The canoe comes with a stabilizer bar because our neighbors take their rowdy dogs in the canoe, which came in handy because Chloe's quite fearless and unaware of consequences - like the consequence of tipping a canoe over. She'd get up and want to walk around the canoe while we were waterborne. Crazy kid.

Anyway, at the boat ramp, this older fella in a sizeable kayak looked right at me, burped, and shook his head at me, "I don't know about those training wheels, man."

That night around the campfire, as I'm sure you can tell here, was pleasant cuddle time.

Only She Could Do It

Happy doing anything, Chloe will go anywhere, do anything, and wear whatever we feel like putting her in.

My brother Greg says, "Only that kid could pull off pants like that."

This is during our canoe weekend. We paddled out then found a lunch spot where we could chill out in the grass and eat peanut butter and honey sandwiches.

I swear, she has no idea how cool she looks in those pants.

Hiking Escudilla Mountain, Third Tallest in Arizona

Check it out. Samantha and Fred here get a chuckle while hiking up this trail to the top of a pretty tall mountain, Escudilla.

I turned around to see this and just had to snap it.

Tree In The Road to Point Sublime at the Grand Canyon: Well, What Do We Do?

I know.

Winching didn't work. We needed to cut this tree into managable pieces. We took turns whacking at it with a hatchet until we could break through, which took a little over an hour between the initial winch session that just jammed the log into a small stand of aspens, planning our next move, then going for it.

Lucky us, Chloe had fallen asleep and slept through this whole ordeal. The thing is that we had just driven this road the day before; we camped at Point Sublime where the wind hit 40 miles-per-hour. I won't say it sucked, but it wasn't terribly fun except for the good company. The wind had brought down several trees, but this was the only one that we actually had to do something about if we wanted to avoid cannibalism when the food supply ran out.

Proving That We're Men: Annual Idiots Camping Weekend

Every year for the last four years I've gone camping with my old high school buddies on the weekend before Thanksgiving.

It's a lot of food, a lot of firewood, and a lot of laughs.

We chop wood because we think splitting 30 logs apiece will burn more calories than what we take in with the 30 beers we each drink.

You should see us. WHACK WHACK WHACK. Then we check our abs real quick, believing that a few swipes with the ax will give us the body of a professional surfer.

Nope. Not there.

Another Weekend at the Kofa Wildlife Refuge

I could spend weeks out here.

Kofa is the perfect quiet desert place with dirt roads, brutal mountains, crisp skies, and wild openness.

It's not for everybody, but I like it.

This Picture Will be Around a While

We cut down our Christmas tree each year, bring it home, and decorate it.

I caught Brooke and Chloe screwing around on the job. Turns out, this is kind of a neat picture.

Hi, Papa

Of all the places we've been this year, the canyons, the wilderness, the rivers, the mountains ---- it seems this view makes me the happiest. Good thing she'll come on trips with me.

She'll put a cherry on top of this sweetness, too, with a squeaky, "Hi papa!"


+2 / 0
# Rick 2009-12-22 00:29
This was very cool. Nice job great pictures and stories.
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Mark Stephens
0 / 0
# Mark Stephens 2009-12-22 09:07
Thanks Rick. Super-glad you enjoyed it.
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Nathan Woods
0 / 0
# Nathan Woods 2010-10-15 13:27
LOL, I sorta expected THIS to be the photo for your "Mexico Beach Camping Adventure on The Sea of Cortés" trip memoir....

LOL :-)
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0 / 0
# Mark 2010-10-15 15:23
Well. Now. That picture wasn't shot until 2010. Note to self: it'll go into next year's reflection.

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