Nature Conservancy: Cutting a Clear Path

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The Escalante is remote, vast, and wild. From the desert floor to well over 10,000 feet, this region follows the course of the Escalante river, a twisted, winding, and beautiful river stretching from southern Utah into Arizona. This unparalleled beauty is under siege though – invasive species threaten the vulnerable ecosystem of the river and pose a threat to all plant and animal life in the area, including those who take it upon themselves to remedy the situation.

In the fall of 2013 we spent a week in the Escalante, shooting stills and motion for The Nature Conservancy. Our goal was not only to document the people involved and their conservation efforts, but to bring the river itself to life, a prominent player in the cast of characters that make up this wildly remote and beautiful landscape.

Our experiences in the Escalante were so diverse that we couldn’t limit the story to one blog post. Over the month of April, we’ll be sharing different parts of our behind the scenes story. Today we’re excited to share some of the images that ran in the story as well as behind the scenes from our adventure. Keep reading for more…

Utah Escalante River Watershed Photography - NCM13021

Our story in the Escalante begins with the the inspiring people we encountered and had the privilege of working with and photographing while we were out west. Living their lives dedicated to caring for and preserving the Escalante river and surrounding region, we were amazed at how deep of a connection an individual can forge with their natural surroundings; a connection which we tried to bring out in our portraits.

Even at five months pregnant, Kristina Waggoner was more than willing to not only pose for portraits on horseback, but also guide us on multiple excursions into the backcountry in Utah. She was a quicker hiker than most of our crew!

Utah Escalante River Watershed Photography - NCM13021

Utah Escalante River Watershed Photography - NCM13021

One of these excursions was a day that we won’t soon forget. Early in the morning we embarked on a 10 mile hike into the back country to meet and photograph a team of Youth Corps volunteers who had spent the entire summer camping and working to contain an invasive species of tree, the Russian Olive.

Utah Escalante River Watershed Photography - NCM13021

Spending weeks at a time camping out in the wilderness and cutting down the invasive Russian Olive tree, crews like these volunteers have worked along the river for the years now, cutting and trimming the trees to try and restore a more natural balance to the ecosystem.

Before getting our feet on the ground in the Escalante, we had no idea how directly one tree can negatively effect an entire ecosystem – but after seeing first hand the devastation that these trees can wreak on the area, we realize the importance of the work these crews are undertaking. Working way out in wild, the number of trees still standing greatly outweighs the number they’ve cut down, but that didn’t deter the volunteers, they seemed to enjoy the challenge and took pride in the work they’ve done.

Utah Escalante River Watershed Photography - NCM13021

chris crisman nature conservancy escalante utah

I wasn’t kidding when I said wilderness. To reach the Youth Corps crews cutting down Russian Olive trees, we had to hike six miles in and six miles out, crossing the near-freezing Escalante river over 20 times. In recent memory there may have never been a night where a cold beer tasted better than after our crew completed that hike. Good thing we hired a local assistant to carry all of our gear though…

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Meet Bing, our assistant for a portion of the shoot. Bing hiked with about 200lbs of gear for over 10 miles with us – and he didn’t even complain. We never thought we’d be able to get a 2000 watt generator into the backcountry of Utah, but if there’s a will, there’s a way.

Utah Escalante River Watershed Photography - NCM13021

Bing wasn’t the only horse making the trek to the Youth Corps camps during our stay in the Escalante. Our visit to the area was on the last days of the tree cutting season and as we were wrapping up our shots, the horse pack teams were headed in to transport the volunteers and their campsite out. Not to mention posing for photos for us.

chris crisman nature conservancy escalante utah

chris crisman nature conservancy escalante utah

When we weren’t hiking into the backcountry, we hit the road (and went off-road) to capture the Escalante from every angle that we could. When you’re surrounded by such natural beauty, you just feel compelled to capture every piece of it.

chris crisman nature conservancy escalante utah

chris crisman nature conservancy escalante utah

All of this shooting made for some very long days for our entire team. We rose with the sun and worked into the night shooting for almost a week straight.

Utah Escalante River Watershed Photography - NCM13021

Utah Escalante River Watershed Photography - NCM13021

All of the hiking, trekking, and exploring made for a truly unique shoot. We were able to immerse ourselves in an environment so remote and beautiful that it was hard to understand the full beauty of what we were experiencing. More impressive than the natural beauty were all of the amazing people we spent our week working with and photographing. From members of the Youth Corps, to TNC employees, park rangers and private citizens – everyone was deeply concerned with preserving the natural beauty of the Escalante and we feel that strong connection of the people to the land around them certainly came through in our images.

Want to read more? Read the story and explore exclusive interactive features on Nature Conservancy’s website.

Stay tuned throughout the month for more stories from our adventure. We’ll go up into the sky, behind the scenes with video and even review a brand new piece of gear we used to make this shoot happen. For now though, let us know what you think below or @crismanphoto and /crismanphoto!

3 replies to “Nature Conservancy: Cutting a Clear Path”

  1. I always appreciate your comments and thank you for producing such a wonderful and enlightening blog. You guys are too kind for sharing so much. Been following you from the very beginning and you continue to inspire.

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