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Southwest Sights with Featured Contributor Denis LeBlanc

05.12.15

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Southwest Sights with Featured Contributor Denis LeBlanc

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I recently asked Featured Contributor Denis LeBlanc and his wife Lynnae about a favorite moment or memory from their extended road trip using a truck and a fifth-wheel trailer, and there was a little pause. In the silence I thought of the travails and challenges from even my comparatively small road trips. Are they tired of the road? Each other? As Lynnae puts it, “We put two people and a dog in 350 square feet, and that was one of the big tests: can we do this and still like each other?” After traveling full time for two years and covering the country from coast to coast, is it time for a break? Not at all, it turns out. Lynnae refers to a perpetual revitalization: “When you’re out there in nature day after day, you get to reflect on how small we are in the universe.” “There are so many amazing places,” adds Denis, “it’s even hard to begin.”

But he gave it a shot and came up with quite a few amazing tales, in addition to an account of a “really excellent Journey tribute band” that was “probably the best show in Branson, Missouri.” More seriously, and with a focus on the American Southwest, Denis tells of a recent adventure at the False Kiva in Canyonlands National Park. “I don’t really allude to it too much in the write-up for the Outdoor Project,” he says, “but this was a hike by myself through a canyon in the middle of an approaching thunderstorm. There was thunder and lightning when I arrived at the cave where this archeological site is located, and the sky opened up and the water was cascading from the canyon walls all around me. And then it cleared up and the sun came out and I got some great pictures. I’ll probably never forget that experience.”

Photographing the False Kiva as a storm approaches. Photo by Denis LeBlanc.

Lynnae reminds him of his hike to Angels Landing in Zion National Park, as well. Denis recalls, “I wasn’t sure I was going to go, but I thought at least I’d hike halfway up to Scout Lookout before you have to climb up the steep dangerous part.

The narrow approach to Angels Landing. Photo by Emily Gillard.

On my way up I met this young woman who was about the age of one of my sons, and she was petrified at going up there. I ended up befriending her and going along with her because I figured if I didn’t go with her she wasn’t going to go. So we kind of supported each other in making it to the top of Angels Landing, and that was pretty amazing.”

And there are plenty of moments that coalesce when the camera creates the motivation. Photo enthusiasts often find themselves in unique places at odd times in an effort to get a great shot, and sometimes those situations gain a life of their own. He describes shooting at night in the Superstitions in Arizona, listening to coyotes howling in the distance. Or tracing a path at 4 a.m. in Arches National Park to grab a shot of the Milky Way. Or sitting with Lynnae at Panorama Point in Capitol Reef watching a sunset, waiting to shoot the moonrise.

Still, clear nights in the Southwest are a pleasure to photograph. Photo by Denis LeBlanc.

Given Denis and Lynnae had committed so much time to exploring the Southwest, I asked about spots that were particularly memorable. “Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument was an amazing, remote, beautiful place,” he says. “There are some really surprising places around Tucson that I’ve written up for the Outdoor Project. I was really shocked with how many beautiful outdoor areas there are within a short reach of that city.

“But I think I have to say the Utah parks, and pretty much all of southern Utah, and add in Valley of Fire in Nevada; it has all been full of highlights. I’m not sure I could pick one as a favorite. I do have to say Capitol Reef was probably the biggest surprise for me because I knew very little about it, and it really is spectacularly beautiful and very remote. I talk about it in a Cathedral Valley adventure I’m working on now; you have to bring extra water, extra food, make sure your tank is full, and bring some warm clothes in case you have to spend the night there.”

Throughout any trip to these magnificent areas, both Denis and Lynnae emphasized the importance of taking your time and enjoying a modest schedule that allows for more focus on a specific area. “We like to find a bit of a home base and spend a week or two and get to know it. We’re very fortunate to be able to do this. We meet so many people in Utah pushing to see the five national parks, and they only have a week, and these parks are hundreds of miles from each other. I think they would get so much more out of that vacation if they would just pick one and spend a week there and really get into it.”

Denis, Lynnae, and their dog, Tucker. Photo by Denis LeBlanc.

And how long will they continue this trip? The wanderlust doesn’t show any signs of abating. “We really don’t know where the end is. We keep checking in with each other to ask, ‘are you still enjoying this?’ And we both are, so I guess the answer is that we’re going to travel like this until we don’t anymore.” Next on the agenda is a photo workshop on the Colorado River floating through the Grand Canyon, so keep an eye out for some great images in the near future. On the whole, it is an enviable journey, and Denis and Lynnae are a perfect match for it.  So, can they put two people and a dog in a fifth-wheel and still like each other? Lynnae answers her own question: “For us, the answer is yeah, we still can!”

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