Starting in 1992 my son and I started hiking and backpacking in the St. Francois Mountains in southeastern Missouri and taking trips to the National Parks and Monuments in the west. I am not wealthy so we always drove a car on our trips. At that time I owned an economy car fitted with a roof rack and basket. This system would almost comfortably accommodate three people and their gear. I tried to camp as much as possible or stay in inexpensive motels. Having only two weeks in a year for trips, forced me to plan them carefully in order to jamb as much as is possible in the time allotted. As a result of all this trip planning and map reading and driving I discovered that there are thousands of miles of pretty amazing gravel, dirt and two track routes in the west that take you to wilderness or almost wilderness quality areas. As far as I am concerned these kinds of areas are as good as it gets. If I could figure out a way to make a living and get a decent shower in a wilderness I would never leave.
On one of our trips to Utah and Canyonlands National Park I decided to risk driving my car on the Shaeffer Trail. This trail starts from near the Canyonlands visitors’ center and switchbacks down cliff faces to massive rock benches above the Colorado River and then on to Moab. I do not recommend using a standard auto on this route but I did survive the trip. As a result of the thrill of this drive and the risk to my car I committed myself to buying some kind of higher clearance vehicle as soon as possible. I now drive a manual five speed SUV that I purchased used. It is a bit of a gas hog but it is a pretty tough vehicle capable of traveling most backcountry roads. I have had it stuck in sand in Great Sand Dunes National Park, almost stuck in mud forty miles from services on Poison Springs Road in Utah and almost burned the clutch out in Yankee Boy Basin trying to climb to a tarn below Mount Gilpin. I talked to the owner of Stan’s Hamburgers/Chevron in Hanksville, Utah who told me he typically charges one thousand to twelve hundred dollars to tow vehicles out of the backcountry in that area. Hearing this, you know there is some risk in exploring these kinds of roads. However, I think the adventure, the scenery and the escape from some of the artificiality of urban and suburban life make it well worth the risk.
I have always taken a camera on my trips. In the past I used a Minolta SRT101 that I have owned since 1976. This is a solid 35mm camera capable of taking excellent images. I started shooting slides when everybody had a slide projector and took joy in showing their slides to friends and family. Presenting slide shows seems to be history in the United States, but I never stopped shooting slides. I don’t quite know why taking slides has all but disappeared in this country but I understand in Europe it is still very common. I suspect the Europeans are better photographers. There is nothing worse than seeing too many shots of the fam next to this or that sign while on vacation. Good outdoor photography is never easy.
In March 1997 on a trip to Death Valley National Park I rented a medium format Mamiya MF6. I packed it to the top of Telescope Peak and all over the Park. It weighted about the same as the 35mm camera and the detail in the images was amazing. I could not quite fit the purchase of this camera into my always tight budget so I rented it on several more trips. In 1999 my little economy car was totaled in an accident that was not my son’s fault. We received a small settlement and I used this money to buy a Mamiya MF7II and the 80mm lens. I have been using this fine camera since and now also own the 43mm lens. I still take slides and in particular enjoy shooting in and around The Colorado Plateau.
After a very good trip in May of 2001 I decided to publish a 2002 calendar titled “Colorado Plateau – Backcountry Byways”. It was a bit late in the year to start producing a calendar but I did not know any better at the time. Most people thought the photographs in the calendar were taken in the state of Colorado because of the title. I had to explain that The Colorado Plateau was named after The Colorado River and not the state and that the plateau is composed of parts of four states; Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.
I sold a few calendars and this wetted my appetite to do another for 2003. I decided to change the title of the 2003 calendar to simply “Exploring The Colorado Plateau”. This site and my calendar are an attempt to provide a little travel information and hopefully motivate people to get out on the road, get off the beaten path and see some of this unforgettable region.
Jim Ridge April 11, 2003