There's something Kerouacian on traveling the varying topography and temperaments of America from West to East. Here, photographer and traveler Kellen Mohr shares his most recent summer story of a great American road trip with friends and companions along the way.
Read our exclusive interview with Kellen here in Lomography Magazine.
Hi Kellen! Welcome to Lomography Magazine. Firstly, we'd like to ask, what prompted you to make this roadtrip?
Hi! Thank you so much for having me. A few things came together to make this possible – my friend Chris has been regaling me with tales of his family place in the tiny mountain town of Marble, Colorado for years, and I’d always promised to make it out there at some point to experience it for myself. We also made a promise to some mutual friends of ours, Ruby and Presley, to come visit Presley’s hometown of Bend, Oregon years ago and conditions were right for both trips to come to fruition back to back this summer.
May you share us your road map? What where the itineraries and places you've visited?
Gladly! My friend Nick and I left Los Angeles and headed east. We drove through Las Vegas, stopped for a very strange lunch at a budget hotel’s food court inside of their casino, then continued on through Nevada and Arizona in scorching heat before finally crossing into southeastern Utah. We spent the impossibly long night of the summer solstice on the banks of the Little Virgin River, woke up the next morning and made a beeline for Marble, Colorado. We showed up in Marble in the late evening, came inside for a huge dinner prepared by the lovely Naum family, who have been in Marble for several generations, and headed out for some evening fishing.
We spent a glorious week hiking, camping, fishing, offroading, gorging ourselves on BBQ, Frisbee golfing, and exploring the enchanting town of Marble and the surrounding mountains. All too soon, it was time to say goodbye, and suddenly we were zooming back towards Los Angeles with Chris in tow. With a brief pit stop at the Grand Canyon, we made the drive in one continuous push, and were back in LA by nightfall. The next morning, we were back on the road headed north to pick up my longtime friend Ajay in Berkeley.
Pulling up to his apartment hooting and hollering, we were soon loaded up and cruising north. We scored a stealthy camp spot on the banks of a river in northern California that night and after a morning swim in the crystal clear waters we were back on the road. Screaming north, we made a brief pit stop at the astounding Samuel H. Bordman State Park in southern Oregon before heading inland. We crossed the Columbia River as dusk was falling, Portland awash in glimmering lights, and arrived at my house in Vancouver (Washington, not BC) minutes later to burgers and beer galore. The next day, we linked up with another longtime friend of ours, Evan, for a day of Portland exploration and set sail the next morning for Bend.
We arrived in Bend midday on the 4th of July, and boy do they take the 4th seriously! After loading up on requisite supplies, we met up with our friends Presley and Ruby and proceeded to cruise all over town, popping into various house parties, parks, bars, and everything in between. We spent a simply perfect few days in Bend afterwards, reveling in the beauty, climate, and number of breweries the town has to offer before reluctantly saying our goodbyes and heading south.
Along the way, we discovered we were minutes away from Crater Lake and made a quick detour there, only to realize we were dangerously low on gas. We had to turn around and head back to the tiny resort town of Diamond Lake to refuel, but decided we were better off spending the night on its shores.
After scoring another perfect stealth spot feet away from the lake, we hit the road again in the morning and continued south. With a flat tire temporarily slowing our progress in the city of Redding, we luckily were able to swap to a spare, made it to a dealer, got the tire patched for a mere $14 and were soon back on the road headed for Mt. Tamalpais near San Francisco. We threw up our hammocks and woke up wrapped in a blanket of fog, hiked around the state park, and were headed into Berkeley to drop off Ajay before we knew it.
Saying our goodbyes, Chris and I headed back to Los Angeles, and collapsed in our beds immediately upon arrival.
Most of the photographs were seem to be taken in the West Coast areas. Unlike East Coast in which you'll have cooler climates and atmospheres such as New York, what makes the destinations special from all the areas in the US?
The West Coast is truly special. I grew up in Spokane, a city in eastern Washington, and for pretty much my whole life I have known nothing but the glorious natural beauty and bountiful good times the West effortlessly provides.
The mountains over here are unbeatable in my opinion – from border to border stretches a seemingly endless range of adventurous possibilities, mountains soaring into the sky and crashing into the sea, rain falling in sheets, vegetation bursting forth from the ground in an ecstatic dance – there’s nothing like it. The West Coast is offers a dizzying variety of topography and climate, too – from the beaches of southern California to the North Cascades of Washington, the most glaciated mountain range in the lower 48, from the deserts of Arizona and Nevada to the rain soaked woods of coastal Oregon, the West has it all.
To travel is to learn more about an unfamiliar place. Did you learn anything in particular during your trip?
I learned that I would need a much better organization system for my car if I were to spend longer periods on the road. Just having a barebones means of dividing clothes, gear, cooking supplies, and food while still having them remain easily accessible would have been incredibly helpful…labeled crates or something along those lines would do the trick. In terms of learning about places, this trip confirmed what I already know – I am immensely happier in climates with clean air, immense skies, dry heat and lots of pine trees!
Since this is a roadtrip, it is likely you've faced some challenges. What were they?
Honestly, it was pretty smooth sailing besides a few unforced errors. In Bend, I was feeling down for some minor reason and set my pack down harder than was necessary, which caused a couple of the beers inside to blow up and soak my camera in a sticky film of cheap beer. Not a good look. Pondering the repair costs definitely didn’t cheer me up either!
What was the most memorable part of your travel here?
Oh man, so many memories are in the running for this title. Since I have to pick one, I’ve got to go with Chris, Nick and I’s backpacking trip into this deserted valley outside of Marble filled with aspen groves and a babbling brook. Chris’s grandfather took him out here for his first time backpacking years ago, and we had the entire valley to ourselves, so it was quite the special place.
We set up camp right on a bend of the river, and whiled away our day fishing, reading, lounging in hammocks and exploring our surroundings before catching the sunset twice – once from camp, and once when we sprinted up the hillside to catch it for a magical second time. We also got our first look down the valley, which turned out to be four majestically symmetrical peaks with their runoff system and forest-draped foothills perfectly framed by the end of the valley we were in. None of the photos I snapped of this incredible sight turned out, but I remember dancing down the hillside back to camp riding on a wave of giddy euphoria so it must have been good.
As a photographer, what elements you usually look for when composing a photograph?
Light! Light and feeling are the most important elements to me. I try to put myself in situations with great light for two reasons. One, I just love light. Every situation is at least twice as enjoyable with killer light! Two, light registers really, really well on film – often in ways that are totally unexpected, yet end up being the centerpiece of the shot. The feeling or vibe of a moment is what brings the camera up to my eye to begin with.
If I can manage to frame it well enough to draw attention to whatever is causing that feeling, be it vastness or isolation or freedom or a host of other sensations, to make someone who couldn’t be there with me in the moment feel the same way as I was then and there – then I’ll pull the trigger.
Lastly, what's next for you? Do you have a current project or plan? Where's the next destination for you?
The next chapter of my life is rapidly approaching. In a month, I’m moving from Los Angeles to work in the ski town of Mammoth Lakes in California’s Eastern Sierra. Located ridiculously close to Yosemite and smack dab in the Sierra Nevada range, Mammoth is the jumping off point of many of my past trips and is riddled with more hot springs, alpine lakes, desert plants, razor-sharp mountains and scraggly pines than you can shake a stick at.
I’m launching Cairn Visuals with a group of extremely talented friends (including Chris Naum, the creator of these incredible videos) in the very near future focused on telling stories through captivating still & moving imagery. Check us out, keep your eyes peeled for the projects we’ve been working on for the last several months to go live here in a bit, and keep us in mind for all your storytelling needs!