Saturday, December 29, 2018

Better Late Than Never: Images of 2018

I think once upon a time this thing started out as my creative/lazy alternative to sending out an annual Christmas letter. So for those of you who just want the basics, here's my summary take on 2018:

Dear friends, family, and "other,"

In 2018, I graded a lot of papers, reviewed a lot of movies, and took a lot of pictures. I also got some dental work done. Best wishes in 2019!


OK, with that out of the way, you now have a couple of options. If you just want to see some pictures, I've compiled a comprehensive, high-resolution "Best of 2018" gallery on my website here. If you want to see low-res versions of many of the same pictures, along with a vague running commentary that somehow finds its way to a moderately uplifting message by the end, then get comfortable, fire up a little Hall and Oates, and read on...

* * * 

2017 was a hard year to top, what with all the travel and the weight loss and the general sense of self-improvement. For 2018, I was mostly hoping to build on what I'd already started. I rolled into January with most of my routine intact, albeit with a few modifications. In addition to reviewing movies every week, I started writing periodic columns for the Deseret News, and while I continued to teach for Weber State University, for Spring Semester I relocated to the Davis Campus. I still covered a few films for Sundance, per January tradition, but I didn't actually pull out my camera until March.

As it turned out, my two-month rest was just the calm before a 10-month storm. I kicked things off with a spring break road trip that took me to Moab, where I visited Corona Arch for the first time and caught my first sunrise at Mesa Arch since 2010, and then down to Monument Valley, where by staying in the tribal park hotel, I was able to photograph the iconic landscape at sunset, then again in the morning at sunrise.

Corona Arch, Moab

Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park

Monument Valley, Sunset

Monument Valley, Sunrise

As a bonus, I swung over to Cortez, Colorado, for my first visit to Mesa Verde National Park. Thanks to the off-season timing (the Weber State spring break is scheduled quite early in March), I had plenty of privacy as I visited Mesa Verde's Pueblo ruins, walked among fields of dead trees, and caught a nice sunset at the top of Park Point. But to be honest, my favorite memory from that particular phase of the trip might have been the ceviche I enjoyed at La Casita de Cortez.

If I had to nominate a personal Food Obsession of 2018, ceviche would take an easy title. In addition to hounding options around Salt Lake (personal favorite: the ceviche at Park City's Tarahumara), I made a point of seeking out the item wherever I could over the course of my travels. By the end of the year, I'd eaten ceviche in Cortez, Chicago, San Diego, and even Vernal, Utah. And by December, I even learned how to make the stuff myself:

Ceviche is basically pico de gallo with fish and lime juice.

When I wasn't eating, like many fellow members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I was buzzing about the events of the April General Conference, where newly ordained President Russell M. Nelson laid out some major administrative changes. I was actually attending the Saturday night Priesthood Session in the Conference Center with my longtime friend BretO and his son when President Nelson announced the quorum merger for the Elders and High Priests, effectively releasing me from my calling in the Elder's Quorum Presidency. Being in the Conference Center for that Priesthood Session was a choice experience I will never forget. Not so much because of the administrative changes, but the sense that the future was going to be dynamic, exciting, and...big.

Excitement was also in the air for Utah Jazz fans, thanks to the arrival of rookie Donovan Mitchell. In addition to some fun spring shoots out at Bountiful Pond and on I-15 (where I parked in the back of the Cheetahman's Toyota Tundra and photographed the North Salt Lake refineries at sunset), I took my camera downtown one evening before Game Four of the opening round Jazz-Thunder series to try and capture the pre-game energy.

Bountiful Pond

North Salt Lake Refineries (from I-15)

I blended about a half-dozen different shots to create this image.

As a shy person, it's always a challenge for me to step out of my comfort zone and engage complete strangers, but I've noticed that when I do, the experience usually leads to my most rewarding shoots. This was the case as I finally took the initiative on a project I'd been filing away for years. I wanted to do a tribute to the drive-in theaters I loved so much as a kid, and try to re-create one of my all-time favorite LIFE magazine photographs, taken in a since-defunct Utah drive-in back in the late 1950s. In May I finally got up the nerve to contact the management of the Redwood Drive-In in West Valley, and the resulting effort led to two memorable shoots, a feature article for the Deseret News, and the chance to get to know some really great people.

Southwest screen at the Redwood Drive-In, showing "Avengers: Infinity War" back in May.

Shot this one at the northwest screen, which was showing the latest "Hotel Transylvania" movie.

Speaking of getting out of your comfort zone, my break from church callings lasted all of about six weeks, as the end of May brought my first ever appointment as a Primary teacher. For the rest of the year I team taught a small crew of 4-5 year olds, and quickly learned that sometimes it's nice to get away from deep fried doctrine and just focus on the basics of the Gospel. I'm also starting to wonder if I should start bringing Goldfish crackers for my students at Weber.

May might have marked my first calling to the Primary, but the arrival of summer ushered in a run of notable anniversaries. The beginning of July marked a full year of tracking calories (apparently I'm in "maintain" mode now), and just a couple of weeks before that, I celebrated ten years of SLR photography with a special "100 Images" album that brought back all kinds of memories. Best of all, at the end of June I hit 20 years of consecutive daily journal entries, which is just crazy to think about.

But rather than get too lost in nostalgia, in July I photographed the traditional fireworks display up at the Eaglewood Golf Course from a now-favorite viewpoint, as well as a more intimate production at my sister's place in Kaysville. My longtime neighbors Milo and Georgia Paskett were also kind enough to take me along for a day trip to the San Rafael Swell, where I photographed a number of off-road spots I never would have reached in my Volkswagen GTI.

At the beginning of the display, I was still able to get a little blue in the sky.

I've never been all that interested in neighborhood fireworks shows, but they are fun to photograph.

Abandoned truck cab near The Hondu in Southern Utah

Thanks to an early block class that started a week after the close of spring semester, it felt like summer started late this year. Once again, the theme seemed to be, "better late than never." Rather than take a road trip in the May-June window, as is the usual plan, I had to wait until late July to get out of town in any extended sense. I decided to make the most of the opportunity, though, devising an elaborate eastern states road trip whereby I flew to Chicago, rented a car, drove to Washington DC via Cleveland, then returned to Chicago via Louisville. (Handy travel tip: one of the reasons I designed the trip this way is because you save a lot of money on car rentals when you drop off the car at the same location where you picked it up.)

The 10-day swing saw me shooting sunsets in Chicago and over Lake Erie, getting up early to shoot the sunrise over the National Mall in DC, and on the capstone of the trip, shooting the Louisville skyline at sunset from my cousin Jim's boat on the Ohio River. I could probably fill this entire post with images from that trip (and yes, back when I was more diligent with this blog, it would have likely yielded a multi-post series on its own), but as time moves forward, I'll remember the experience just as fondly for all the quality time I spent with friends and family along the way.

Chicago skyline at sunset, photographed from outside the Alder Planetarium.

Sunset over Lake Erie, photographed from Lakewood Park outside Cleveland, Ohio.

There are lots of joggers on the National Mall around sunrise.

View of downtown Louisville (and its bridges) from on the Ohio River.

Soon after getting back from the east coast, I swung up into Idaho to join my longtime friend Brian and his family at their traditional Willow Flats campsite. I only stayed one night, but in addition to photographing the night sky--and getting my first solid star trails shot of 2018--I also got to indulge in a new passion: off-roading.

A little hazy thanks to late summer forest fires, but I'll still take it.

The trees were lit from our campfire, which was nice.

Shot this at sunset while Brian drove in loops with his kids.

The off-roading passion was inspired earlier in the year when my former singles ward friend/current family ward friend Aaron Pack took me for a night cruise along Davis County's firebreak road in his four-seat RZR. The follow-up ride in Willow Flats had me thinking hard about off-road options in August when, after four and a half years, I decided to trade in my Volkswagen GTI and get a new car. Since there wasn't anything technically wrong with the GTI, I was a little apprehensive about the preemptive break-up, but without a warranty, I was increasingly nervous about fixing whatever was coming down the road. I started my search at a Mercedes dealer in Farmington (here's to misguided ambition!), and came pretty close to picking up a Toyota Tacoma in Salt Lake. But the journey eventually led to a Honda dealer in Riverdale, where the lure of a black Accord with a manual transmission and a turbocharged engine got me behind the wheel of a Sport 2.0T. Top Gear Josh may have won this round against the up-and-comer, but I fully expect to do battle with Off Road Josh in the years to come.

No, my license plate doesn't actually read 888-888.

As a final send-off to what was a great run with the GTI, I took the Volkswagen on one last mini-road trip to photograph the Perseid Meteor Shower out at Dinosaur National Monument. As a strange footnote to the tale, my GTI wound up getting bought by one of the employees at my favorite local butcher shop. So I still see my ex all the time.

The haze at the bottom is the lingering effect of summer forest fires.

Before summer had a chance to slip away, my buddy Tyler and I decided to take a quick trip to San Diego, where we photographed surfers at sunset in La Jolla, saw all kinds of animals in the San Diego Zoo, and took in a car show in Escondido with my mission friends the Thompsons, who relocated to California from Illinois several years ago. Thanks to my strange work schedule and even stranger travel habits--let's get up at 4:30am and photograph the Milky Way!--it's kind of rare that I actually travel with someone anymore, so it was nice in this case to have a friend along for what was a very fun SoCal ride.

Even with my telephoto, it was hard to get close shots of the surfers.

This was probably the most laid-back lizard in the San Diego Zoo.

Not sure I've ever come across a better example of someone who was so totally at one with his vehicle.

As summer faded into fall, I started a promising new semester at Weber State and promptly hit a metaphoric wall. My classes were great, but almost out of nowhere I started fighting a series of illnesses, and from September through October it felt like I spent more time sick than well. This amplified other frustrations, and the cumulative effect felt like trying to fight my way through a wood chipper. There were still highlights, but like the little island in the picture below, the moments of sunshine in Fall 2018 just felt like brief respites in the midst of the storm.

Pineview Reservoir

Fortunately illness didn't hold me back from taking a nice road trip in mid-October during Weber State's fall break. For this run--my first real trip in the new car--I headed past the flooded Bonneville Salt Flats into Nevada, then down into California for my first visit to Death Valley National Park before looping east to Vegas and up into Valley of Fire State Park. From there I drove north to Cedar City in time to attend my cousin's wedding, which put me in just good enough of a mood to avoid a total meltdown during the crowded nightmare commute back up I-15 at the close of the holiday weekend. Seriously, any future fall break trip must avoid a Sunday afternoon return north on I-15.

Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park

Badwater Basin, Death Valley National Park

The Fire Wave in Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Not a bad backdrop for wedding photos, I'd say.

At the end of my fall break trip I had hoped to spend some time photographing the Cedar City Temple, since it wasn't completed the last time I had passed through town. But the morning I drove by, I arrived just before a nasty rain storm that prevented anything but a handful of hasty so-so shots. While I was agitated with the results, I soon realized that while it's nice to take pretty pictures of temples, it's all for naught if I don't take the time to actually go inside them from time to time. From that perspective, the storm outside actually made a lot of sense.

Got this shot from my car while the rain came in my open window.

Of course, I did manage a number of successful temple shoots throughout the year. I took pictures at the Bountiful Temple several times, and returned to Salt Lake in November once the Christmas lights were on to try out a new angle or two. I was also able to visit some new temples along the way as well, like Indianapolis, Louisville, and Vernal, and I had a fun night in the spring shooting the re-dedicated Jordan River Temple. Before the year was out, I crossed the Provo City Center and Mount Timpanogos temples off my list, which means technically I've now photographed every operating temple in Utah.

Bountiful, Utah Temple

Indianapolis, Indiana Temple

Louisville is one of those long, flat temples like Monticello. Kind of challenging to shoot.

Also hard to shoot: temples behind walls (Vernal).

Jordan River Temple

The Provo City Center Temple was closed when I dropped by, so I had to get a little creative.

I put off shooting the Mount Timpanogos Temple for a long time, since it shares the same design as the Bountiful Temple.

A slightly different angle on the Salt Lake Temple at Christmastime.

The most famous "red" tree on Temple Square wasn't lit up this year, but a different red tree still did the trick.

November fell victim to some of the same cold symptom malaise that marred September and October, though it didn't stop me from enjoying a great Turkey Bowl with my ward friends the morning of Thanksgiving. I even emerged from my social cave a little bit and started to put more energy into dating again (thought technically, just typing the words, "put more energy into dating" constitutes putting more energy into dating than my efforts over the last couple of years).

Anyway, as the semester wound down and the Christmas season wound up, I determined to approach the annual madness with a firm sense of balance. Rather than compartmentalize the final grading, the movie reviews, and the obligatory Christmas to-do list to the point that I missed out on actually enjoying the season, I focused on enjoying the ride along the way, while trying to be proactive enough to get those to-do items off my plate as quickly as possible.

As part of that effort, I found myself back in Moab about ten days before Christmas. I'd been wanting to get back to Delicate Arch for a while, and since I opted to hike to Corona Arch back in March, I decided to head back down in December. To help justify the excursion (though to be honest, $59 hotel rooms in Moab are a pretty easy justification on their own), I also stopped at Goblin Valley on the way down. In addition to my return hike to Delicate Arch, I also got some of my best star trails of the year during an early morning shoot at Balanced Rock. (See...there's that balance thing again.)

Goblin Valley hoodoo at sunset.

Delicate Arch, Arches National Park

About 30 minutes worth of star trails at Balanced Rock in Arches National Park. Also some meteors.

Altogether, my quest for balance worked out pretty well. I got all the final grading and the Christmas reviews out of the way, and actually managed to take care of the shopping and the obligatory to-do items done quite early. But in the midst of that stuff, I was attending Christmas parties, spending time with friends and family, going to the temple, and a couple of days after Christmas, I got together with the Thunderlips crew for dinner and a surprisingly good jam session. December still felt like it came and went in the blink of an eye, but at least I could feel better about the way I spent it.

Christmas Eve dinner with the family at Tepanyaki...always a good photo op.

A slightly more disorganized family photo compared to the studio shot on the wall behind us.

Thunderlips reunion photo...and rumors of a comeback show in April?

As the year started to draw to a close, I wanted to finish strong, with something worth writing about in a post like this. Part of that stemmed from watching inspirational movies like "Free Solo" and "First Man" earlier in the year, movies that focused on what we can achieve when we dedicate ourselves to lofty goals. Thanks in part to my photo siesta during January and February, 2018's theme seemed to be "better late than never," and as I mulled over moves that would close the year with an appropriate nod toward the future, I decided to do something I'd been putting off for a very long time. That's how on a cold morning a few days before Christmas, I finally marched into the local post office with a birth certificate and an ugly $15 portrait from Walgreens to apply for my first passport.

* * *

Looking back, I don't know that I can name another year that was as prolific in terms of travel and pictures than 2018. Even with two months of the year missing, I scroll through this thing and shake my head at such a sprawling, incoherent mess. I left a lot of stuff out, too...good and bad. Still, for all the pretty places and all the great food and all the mileage, 2018's best moments were almost always connected to family and friends and people I met along the way. I've always been a bit of a loner, and I'm only half kidding when I tell people my most sincere desire in life is to be left alone. But even I have to admit that life is better with good people around, and whether it was hanging out with my nieces, having lunch with an old friend, or meeting kindred spirits in an open field in Arches National Park, 2018 was always better with company. It may have taken me a while to figure that out, but hey...better late than never.