Off the grid
In April, I had a very interesting assignment for Suffolk University's Alumni Magazine: travel to northern California, make portraits of one of their alumnus from the Native American Yurok tribe, and make photographs that show the beauty of the place where he had returned to help his people. This project took me to the small towns of Klamath and Wietchpec, California.
While I was on the phone working out the details with the subject of my editorial assignment, Javier Kinney, I realized several things. One, I was going to the middle of nowhere. Two, I was going to need my beloved Land Cruiser to navigate the wild terrain. The Cruiser has racked up about 315,000 miles now, and she isn't exactly the most comfortable ride to travel in for hours on end, but I was looking forward to some quality time with her off-road. I packed up the truck and left early on a Monday morning for my adventures. I've spent quite a bit of time in the northern California Redwoods, so the journey to Crescent City was familiar. I stocked up on some snacks, a sixer of good California beer, and something for breakfast the next morning. What I wasn't planning on later that evening was not being able to pick up dinner when I rolled into the very small town of Klamath located 20 twisting, long, slow miles from Crescent City.
Once I arrived in Klamath, the service bars on my cell phone disappeared and the only food available was at the gas station, an unappealing option, but my only choice. One and a half gag-inducing hot dogs on Wonder Bread later, I contemplated my two options for places to stay that night: a run-down motel or an upscale bed and breakfast. I chose the bed and breakfast. With all of my lighting equipment exposed in my truck, I wanted a safer location. As Javier and I chased the light right up to sunset, I made some great images of the excited alum, his tribal council office, and the breathtaking beauty of the Redwoods and Bald Mountain. After dark, I was hungry, tired, and happy. The only restaurant in Klamath is a bar, which is closed on Monday nights, so all I could do was beg for mercy from the bed and breakfast proprietors, and rustle up a pork loin sandwich.
But before putting in for the night, and in an attempt to find a cell signal to call my sweetheart to say goodnight, I drove to a beautiful spot that overlooks the Klamath River as it meets the Pacific Ocean. Winding down from the long drive, breaking into the six-pack, and chatting about my adventures thus far, I admired the clear night, bright stars, and almost full moon illuminating my secluded surroundings and the calm sea of blue. With the absolute quiet except for the ocean waves caressingly crashing against the shoreline, I felt a contented peace and sleepiness wash over me.
The next morning began at dawn. Only 45 river miles separate Wietchpec and Klamath, but it takes nearly two hours on single-lane roads climbing and descending the coastal mountains. Tracking the morning light coming up over the mountains and trees was wonderful and made for some great photographs, which I have included below. The rest of the day went smoothly, if the Land Cruiser ride was bumpy on the area's undeveloped logging roads, as I got to make family portraits of Javier and his two children and shoot in some pretty incredible, remote locations, including End of the Road, where the small village of Pek-won is. Juxtaposed against the beauty of the natural surroundings was the poverty of Pek-won, evidenced by a complete lack of electricity and a two-room schoolhouse for the tribe's children. As I finished up my day's work, and headed out of this isolated location and the natural splendor of the Redwoods, I made one last photograph using one last gleam of warm California sun to light the Klamath River, a stunning farewell.