fueled by

the trek

Photographer Jay Kolsch is fueled by the majesty of America’s national parks.

Photographer Jay Kolsch is fueled by the majesty of America’s national parks.

Countrywide, the jaw-dropping splendor that exists within America’s National Parks is a point of pride. There’s no wrong time to plan a trip and start exploring. However, there is one week set aside each year to celebrate all the awesomeness they offer: The soul-staggering sights, the culturally enriching history and the spiritually invigorating landscapes.

During National Parks Week (Saturday, April 21, to Sunday, April 29), photographer Jay Kolsch and his partner Christine Walsh set out to experience some of that raw beauty firsthand — and capture it in photos. Where did they go? How did they get there? What did they see?

Planes, cars, boots, climbing ropes, tents, water sacks, backpacks, and campsite cookery — everything that made their voyage viable was made possible by innumerable instances of petroleum.


DAY 1: Saturday, April 21, 2018

ITINERARY: Travel from Brooklyn, New York, to Salt Lake City, Utah, and drive out to the Bonneville Salt Flats National Recreation Area.

After a quick five-hour flight from Brooklyn (all our bags made it!), we rented a station wagon and headed into Salt Lake City. Our first order of business was to buy our necessities. We bought ratchet straps to secure our luggage to the roof and then picked up groceries. Most importantly, we stopped for tacos. Yum.

During the 90-minute trip out to the Bonneville Salt Flats, we drove alongside the Great Salt Lake, which is the largest saltwater lake in the Western Hemisphere. It’s actually a vestige of our destination, Lake Bonneville, a prehistoric lake that once spanned more than 22,000 square miles. This whole area feels like it exists in another time, or on another planet.

We drove past Metaphor: The Tree of Utah, a nearly 90-foot-tall sculpture by artist Karl Momen. But I swore it was just a cell tower. We also passed an antelope. And I’m 100% sure it was an antelope. After a sherbet sunset, I saw what I consider a “normal” yet still beautiful shooting star. Jay, however, saw what he described as a “life-changing” meteorite soaring across the sky. We pulled into a campsite at a Bureau of Land Management area and, as we fell asleep in the car, I noticed how quiet it was out there. Just a few crickets.

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DAY 2: Sunday, April 22

ITINERARY: Drive across the state of Nevada toward Bishop, CA, which sits east of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Venture to the Alabama Hills National Recreation Area.

By the time we watched the sun come up, it was already warm — in the 60s. Jay made coffee and cooked a great breakfast: bowls of bacon, scrambled eggs, cheese, salsa and avocado. That’s pretty much what we would eat for the next week. Staying near the flats, it’s important to keep your bottle of water full at all times. Eye drops aren’t a bad idea either. This is land that requires the right gear. Note: Do not wear your favorite footwear to a salt flat.

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It was a long day of driving across the state of Nevada. We saw a solar farm and filled up on gas at a Valero station, where we saw some peacocks. After six hours, we arrived in Bishop, CA and hunted down some iced coffees. We would need that caffeine kick to continue our journey. Jay texted a climber friend named Tammy to meet us at the Alabama Hills. As soon as the sun set, we were inundated with mosquitoes! We ran back to the car and watched the bats come out to gobble up the mosquitos. Once the coast was clear, we set up our chairs and watched a trillion stars come out.

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DAY 3: Monday, April 23

ITINERARY: Climbing the Alabama Hills

Waking up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains does not get old. Inundated by beauty, our jaws dropped at pretty much every turn.

Our climber friend, Tammy, met up with us and brought along some friends. We met Blake and Nicole, as well as a rambunctious border collie named Benton. Everyone ate breakfast together and left camp around nine to go climb some rocks in the Alabama Hills, which is known for its unusual rounded rock formations and natural arches. Truth be told, they climbed and I took a nap in the sun on the rocks. Around noon, we went to look for a climbing spot on a rock called the Shark Fin. But, by then it was hot, mid-80s, with very little wind. I took another nap.

Jay got really great light there at the end of the day, shot a lot of photos, and was really happy with how the climbing captures turned out. But he stepped on a cactus during the shoot, and three spikes went through his sneaker and into his foot. Ouch! After some sunset climbing — more beautiful shots — we parted ways with Tammy and her crew. I picked some sage and wild flowers, then we found the same camp spot from the night before. Evidently, no one else wanted it. But we loved it. It felt like home

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DAY 4: Tuesday, April 24

ITINERARY: Check out the Mobius Arch rock formation in the Alabama Hills, and trek up to an area called the Buttermilks for boulder climbing and camping.

We woke at 8:30 a.m. and the sun was coming down hot. It felt like noon. Two hours later, we made a pot of coffee for the road and started driving. Jay and I have an arrangement: I do the long hauls on the highway, and he does all the off-road stuff. Jay navigated us through the park to the Mobius Arch, where time has chiseled a hole through the center of a large boulder, fashioning a wild archway. Many Westerns were filmed around here, and it definitely feels theatrical. The road that takes you to the Arch is actually called Movie Flat Road.

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The Buttermilks are one of Jay’s favorite places in Sierra Nevada. After cruising around for a bit, we found a really great campsite there. It was out of the way, flat and large, with trees that provided some much-needed shade. Not too far from the campsite, there was a stream with a little waterfall; we could hear the meditative sound of flowing water from our campsite. We made a campfire and roasted marshmallows. I ate 10 of them before dinner! Jay started a time lapse around 5:30 p.m. and let it run until we went to bed around 10. Lots of little lizards around here. The tent was super comfy, but mysterious sounds of nocturnal nature kept us up all night.

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DAY 5: Wednesday, April 25

ITINERARY: A mountain voyage to Yosemite National Park.

We awoke at 6 a.m. to the sound of a rather talkative pack of scavenging coyotes. After they moved on, we watched a mother and baby elk pass our tent. Beautiful, natural experiences can happen anywhere at any time in these parks. Next is the big drive to Yosemite!

The mountain pass is still closed from snow, so we have a seven-hour drive ahead of us. The drive was long and winding, down roads that were just as narrow as they were scenic. At sunset, deer came out in droves and gathered by the roadside. We turned a corner, and our view opened up to the entire valley — gorgeous at dusk. Waterfalls from the heavy spring melt were running down the rocks. It was breathtaking. We drove alongside the Merced River, staring up at the towering walls above us, and an incredible feeling came over me. I was humbled by the majestic beauty and ancient history of it all. Around 9 p.m., we made it to the tent and had to be extremely careful to get food, and anything else that could have a scent, outside. Bears! While thinking about bears, I fell asleep to the sound of owls.

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DAY 6: Thursday, April 26

ITINERARY: Explore the Yosemite Mist Trail.

In Yosemite, we stayed in a tent community called Curry Village. At the dining hall, we each had the classic “Half Dome Bundle.” That’s two scoops of scrambled eggs, meat (sausage or bacon) and potatoes. Free refills on the coffee!

On Tammy’s recommendation, we hiked the Mist Trail, which took us past Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls, as it ascended the valley walls. A mile into the hike, the mist from Vernal Falls refreshed us as we crossed over a bridge. But the mist became more and more intense until, finally, it felt like it was raining. When we looked up, we saw a double rainbow! After passing Vernal, we found a large, warm rock and rested in the radiant sun. We filled our bottles with water that we filtered from the river before heading up to Nevada Falls. The whole hike was about 1,900 feet up the mountain — and steep — but well worth the trek for the view we got at the top. It was exhausting, but it was just amazing.

We walked back to the valley, got changed in the tent and then headed out to the Pizza Patio for some celebratory drinks. After we both showered — our first on the trip thus far — we relaxed outside our tent with the lizards and blue jays.

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DAY 7: Friday, April 27

ITINERARY: Trek the Yosemite National Park’s Four Mile Trail

The funny thing about Four Mile Trail is that it’s more like a five-mile trek up to Glacier Point. But we don’t mind having to earn our views, especially when they’re two of the most famous rock formations at Yosemite — El Capitan and Half Dome.

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The trail was rated harder than Mist Trail; it’s a 7/10 on the way up. They consider this to be “very strenuous.” As soon as we left the valley, the sights were mind-blowing. We got our first really good views of El Cap early in the hike, as the crashing and pounding of the waterfalls provided the soundtrack. About halfway up the trail, we laid our eyes on the magnificence of Half Dome. After lunch, we had a snowball fight. Because that’s what you do when it’s sunny and you’re on a snowcapped mountain. Crazy how you can be so hot, but there’s still snow!

It took us about three and a half hours to reach the top of the trail. We only stopped for necessities — water, snacks and photos! After such a demanding hike, we took a 20-minute nap at the top of a rock wall. Then we commenced with the easier but still challenging descent. We left the top around 3 or 3:30 p.m. and made it back to the trailhead around 6 p.m.. We were completely worn out. The best kind of exhausted.

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DAY 8: Saturday, April 28

ITINERARY: A much-needed down day in Yosemite.

We were so utterly drained from our hike the day before, plus it was really cold outside, so we stayed in the tent until around 9:30 a.m.. We ended up driving to the nearest picnic spot where Jay turned on a propane cooker and whipped up some pancakes. They were delicious, but he was feeling ill — dehydrated. If you think you’re drinking enough water on a mountain or in a desert, you’re probably wrong. Drink more. We had a very chill day of recuperation, which is important when you’re pushing your body to the max in extreme conditions. The road to Glacier Point had just opened that day, so we drove up for the sunset. It was so cold at the top, just 32 degrees, but it was brilliantly beautiful.

After dinner, when we got back to the tent, it was late and cold. The coldest night in the valley we’d experienced. Jay was feeling so sick and really had to bundle up. Thermal socks and long underwear, a fleece hat, and an insulated jacket kept him from shivering in his sleeping bag.

Rest is not overrated.

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DAY 9: Sunday, April 29

ITINERARY: Yosemite to Yellowstone.

We slept until a.m. because Jay needed it. To further his recuperation, Jay indulged at breakfast and got biscuits and gravy — his favorite. For the third day in a row, I got the “Half Dome Bundle.” After checking out at 11 a.m., we headed to Housekeeping Camp, where I did laundry and Jay downloaded all the images he’d been capturing. After saying goodbye to Yosemite, we started our two-day journey to Yellowstone.

To be continued…

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Jay and Christine spent another week traveling to Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, Antelope Island and back to the Great Salt Lake. Stay tuned for part two of their trek.