Long ago, my wife Kristin and I came up with some simple rules for road trips: Avoid interstates whenever possible, no chain restaurants, try new roads, and stop driving before dark (to find a good place to park the van, our home on the road). Not exactly revolutionary concepts, but they have defined how we have travelled the American West, an area we are drawn to especially now, for family trips with our five-year-old son, Hawkeye.
When I met Kristin, 13 years ago in Santa Fe, New Mexico, we fell in love fast. Within three days we set out on our first road trip, along back roads in New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah, tracing our route with an orange marker on a fold-out map of the U.S., which I kept in the glove box of my Volkswagen van. It would be the start of a series of trips that forged our sense of family. When Hawkeye was born, we continued the tradition, introducing him to our favourite deserts and parks—and life on the road.
The wide-open spaces and changing landscapes of the American West are perfect for young children, who thrive on novelty and adventure: climbing (and falling from) sandstone formations, eating Navajo tacos at an Indian market, hiking under stars far from the light pollution of cities, watching a rodeo in a small town, sleeping in tents. In his first years Hawkeye hiked Joshua Tree National Park (on our backs) in southern California and saw the colourfully painted slopes of “Salvation Mountain,” by the Salton Sea. Once he began walking, I took him on solo trips to places his mother and I had marked on our old map, places I’d especially loved, from the well-trodden lookouts in Arizona’s Grand Canyon and Monument Valley on the Arizona-Utah border, to such lesser-known spots as Utah’s Newspaper Rock and Shiprock, New Mexico. I wanted to instil in him a love for adventure, scraped-up knees, and the smell of rain on sagebrush.
In his fourth year I bought him a camera like the ones I had in my youth, where real photos pop out and develop in your hand—physical reminders of that moment in time, not images swiped on a screen. The pictures he took, and others he has shot since, are great treasures to me. But most important are our family adventures along the roads that wind among America’s natural cathedrals—places that were sacred to the native peoples—and the stories and lessons we collect along the way. Hawkeye will get dirt in his mouth and cactus spines in his shoes. And that’s the way it should be in the land of “thunder beings,” the great billowing storms that sweep the desert clean with their rains and winds—then paint their rainbows across the horizon.
is a Seattle-based photojournalist and documentary photographer.
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