Vedauwoo. It’s name is said to be a variation of the Arapaho word "bito’o’wu," describing the "Land of the Earth-born Spirit." Despite being just off I-80, this vibrant ecosystem of granite outcrops inside the Medicine Bow National Forest is truly a world of it’s own. It’s hard to describe this ancient space, but after spending some time in it’s noticeably pure air it is easy to understand why the Natives spoke of this area as a holy place. Unbelievable and impossibly improbable sights and experiences happen almost regularly with the diverse wildlife that inhabit the area and the nearby military base in Cheyenne along with world class rock climbing. One of the more notable happenings to occur on my latest visit was an encounter with a moose. The second one in two days at that.

I awoke after a frosty night and sat down next to the still warm coals of the fire. The day was looking to be warm with a chance of severe clear. As I stumbled around with morning grogginess, cleaning up camp, I heard a woman yelling from across the field. After she got my attention, I could just make out her words.

"There’s a big ass moose just over there! Be careful!"

She pointed towards camp, and it wasn’t long before the full sized buck I had met the day before came trotting through camp not 10 yards away. I froze and watched the magnificent creature hastily make his way towards the treeline to get away from the cars and yelling women. I returned to my seat after the moose disappeared into the brush and sat for a good half hour. Upon fully waking up, I decided it would have been a waste of a day if I didn’t go try and find him. Armed with my camera and the arsenal in my backpack, I head out to the thick of the woods to track the dinosaur of an animal and to escape any more potential instances of yelling women.

It didn’t take me long to find him; he was hard to miss. The massive dark brown beast stood tall with a great rack, grazing in a patch of brightly illuminated forest in the late morning sun. I slowly backed off before he took notice of my presence and aimed for higher ground up the sloped hill, ahead of his position so that I might observe his habits and try to predict a good vantage point. The moose need only take one or two wide steps a minute, only moving in longer stints periodically; his mighty neck got him to wide swashes of leaves at a time without effort. This game of slow motion leap frog continued for quite some time until I lost the moose in a thick of woods that I wasn’t comfortable following him into. Fortunately for me, geology was on my side.

A nice pile of boulders lay in the forest between the beast and I, and a little bit of scrambling left me on a safe perch to watch from. After patiently ascending the rocks that amounted to the reach of an 18 wheeler’s cargo trailer, I made my way over to the edge. Prime realistate—a stretch of relatively flat rock that cut straight down to the forest floor that made for an incredible vantage point to quite a bit of territory. I slowly crouched into a prone position and lowered my breathing pattern, scanning the area trying to sense any rustling. And there he was.

Under the trembling trees and through the rustling leaves was my target, munching away without a care. Shrouded behind foliage, I waited for him to make his way to a clearing directly underneath me so that might pull off a shot. As he shifted and made himself more visible, however, I noticed something. Or the lack of something. 

The trophy worthy rack was blatantly absent. This fine specimen was not the one I had been after, but rather where he planted his wild oats. I suddenly heard another rustle just a few yards away on the other side of the rock. I slide over to catch a view towards the noise, repeating the mantra.

"Please don’t be a calf, please don’t be a calf…" 

Sure enough, it was lil’ Oats. The excitement that flooded through my veins was equally met with a wave of adrenaline. The dynamic of the situation drastically changed, and despite my relative safety on top of the boulder, I was still in somewhat of a situation.

With the understory making for impossible shots from my angle I remained motionless, basking in the moment as the animals grazed on leaves, listening to the occasional moaning from the calf and mother as they discussed politics. The original buck finally revealed himself a ways down the tree line with a shake and a trot. I was looking at a family of Moose in their natural habitat. It was incredible.

After watching for some time, I was debating whether or not I should give up on a clean shot and head back while these guys were on the opposite side of the boulder. A clean hike out. I lingered on the idea long enough for Pappa Oats to decide it what he was going to do. He let out a groan that sent the others around the rocks and up the hill. Despite my perch and the wall between us, their path would be right at my eye level in a complete clearing through a trail, considerably closer than they had been. If they didn’t already know I was there, there was a good chance they would spot me on their way.

The two calmly made their way up and reached the other side of the trail, directly across from me. The intimidating size of even the baby calf, roughly the size of a grown man, made the hairs on my arm raise as they made their tracks passed me so close that I felt that I could reach out and touch them. The buck remained on the low ground, but was slowly plowing through the forest towards his kin. Staying low, I watched Nature play out before me, totally in awe of what I was witnessing and taking shots where I saw them. Suddenly, the silence of the forest was abruptly interrupted. My stomach dropped as I saw a jogger barreling down the trail with his dog, directly in the crossroads of the moose. Things got real weird real quick.

"Buffy, STAY!" I heard the man cry after one surprised bark was let out towards the moose. The buck stopped in his tracks less than 10 feet away, looking just as surprised as all of us. I waved down the man, indicating that there were two more just up the way. He restrained his dog as the buck looked around in a tense moment. The man stayed crouched, with his hand firmly grasping the collar of the dog. The buck stood his ground, scanning the area. He looked up towards his family and quickly headed their way, guiding them further up the hill. I gave the jogger a thumbs up for clearance after they had reached a safe distance into the forest, and after a nod he quickly made his way back on the trail, dog at his side. The relief was palpable.

I followed soon thereafter and made it back to camp for a nice sit and smoke after an exhausting series of events.

Face to Face with Bison Bob
During my recent drive to cover the Sasquatch Music Festival over in Washington, I had the pleasure of passing through some incredibly beautiful country along my chosen route. One of those places would be Yellowstone National Park, entering through the Southern pass and exiting out the North. Being that it was my first time setting foot in this land of legend, I was a little excited. During my tranquil drive up the winding Highway 89 through the thick lodgepole pine forests and into the vast valleys surrounded by mountains bigger than God, I had quite the run in with a buffalo. Down the road a ways was a lone brute graising along side a pull off, and since I was in no hurry I stopped to investigate.
Now I’ve seen my fair share of buffalo grasing in the valleys below the Grand Teton, but this sap sucker was notably bigger than any of the ones I had previously encountered. Perhaps it was because I was parked much closer than I’ve ever gotten to one before, but this big bastard was just as big—if not bigger—than my Ford Fuckus. It was absolutely unreal. The little guy was slowly closing the gap between us, munching his way down the curb just a stones throw ahead of my position. I had a laugh when the car in front of me, who was parallel with the wild animal and admiring it in all its majesty, got to witness a release of about 3 gallons of liquid shit without a break in its flow. The tourists decided at that moment it was time to leave. I suppose they had seen a little more Nature than they bargained for. It was just myself and Bison Bob now.
The easily three ton titan continued down his path, heading right towards my location at a snails pace. That’s when the instinct kicked in. There were signs everywhere in the park stating not to approach the wildlife, but I’d be damned if I could think of one sign about letting the wildlife approach you. With my car parked along the curb I grabbed my camera, opened the door and carefully crouched behind it as a buffer between myself and the behemoth that inched closer with every shuffled step. I sat and waited patiently as the sounds of munching and deep, heavy breathing grew louder and louder until a giant nose slowly appeared behind my door. I remained still and calm as the face of the buffalo revealed itself, which was about the same size as I was in the couch position, and before I knew it his entire body towered over me like some kind of furry mountain. He was about three feet away and directly across from myself. I could feel the reverberation in my chest as he let out a mighty breath to clear his meal of rocks and dirt. I was momentarily stunned by the scene as I sat and admired this unbelievable moment in Nature that played out before me. Then the shutter fired.
The beast slowly and calmly swung his head over to my direction, still chewing his cud, and stared into my soul with his huge, dark eyes. I was ready to scoot into my car on the sign of any agitation, but I felt no aggression in his glance. He wasn’t about to interrupt his afternoon lunch by wasting energy going after another animal that posed no obvious threat, especially after a bowel movement of that size. He was just as curious as I was. His three second stare felt like minutes as I watched the magnificent buffalo return to his meal and continue on down the line. I stayed still until he was well passed the Focus before I slowly returned into the vehicle. I held up my shootin’ hand and watched it tremble from the incredible adrenaline rush I was experiencing, and a good stretch of Highway 20 was spent laughing, hollering and hitting the steering wheel at the Wonder I had just lived. 
And down the road I went.

Face to Face with Bison Bob

During my recent drive to cover the Sasquatch Music Festival over in Washington, I had the pleasure of passing through some incredibly beautiful country along my chosen route. One of those places would be Yellowstone National Park, entering through the Southern pass and exiting out the North. Being that it was my first time setting foot in this land of legend, I was a little excited. During my tranquil drive up the winding Highway 89 through the thick lodgepole pine forests and into the vast valleys surrounded by mountains bigger than God, I had quite the run in with a buffalo. Down the road a ways was a lone brute graising along side a pull off, and since I was in no hurry I stopped to investigate.

Now I’ve seen my fair share of buffalo grasing in the valleys below the Grand Teton, but this sap sucker was notably bigger than any of the ones I had previously encountered. Perhaps it was because I was parked much closer than I’ve ever gotten to one before, but this big bastard was just as big—if not bigger—than my Ford Fuckus. It was absolutely unreal. The little guy was slowly closing the gap between us, munching his way down the curb just a stones throw ahead of my position. I had a laugh when the car in front of me, who was parallel with the wild animal and admiring it in all its majesty, got to witness a release of about 3 gallons of liquid shit without a break in its flow. The tourists decided at that moment it was time to leave. I suppose they had seen a little more Nature than they bargained for. It was just myself and Bison Bob now.

The easily three ton titan continued down his path, heading right towards my location at a snails pace. That’s when the instinct kicked in. There were signs everywhere in the park stating not to approach the wildlife, but I’d be damned if I could think of one sign about letting the wildlife approach you. With my car parked along the curb I grabbed my camera, opened the door and carefully crouched behind it as a buffer between myself and the behemoth that inched closer with every shuffled step. I sat and waited patiently as the sounds of munching and deep, heavy breathing grew louder and louder until a giant nose slowly appeared behind my door. I remained still and calm as the face of the buffalo revealed itself, which was about the same size as I was in the couch position, and before I knew it his entire body towered over me like some kind of furry mountain. He was about three feet away and directly across from myself. I could feel the reverberation in my chest as he let out a mighty breath to clear his meal of rocks and dirt. I was momentarily stunned by the scene as I sat and admired this unbelievable moment in Nature that played out before me. Then the shutter fired.

The beast slowly and calmly swung his head over to my direction, still chewing his cud, and stared into my soul with his huge, dark eyes. I was ready to scoot into my car on the sign of any agitation, but I felt no aggression in his glance. He wasn’t about to interrupt his afternoon lunch by wasting energy going after another animal that posed no obvious threat, especially after a bowel movement of that size. He was just as curious as I was. His three second stare felt like minutes as I watched the magnificent buffalo return to his meal and continue on down the line. I stayed still until he was well passed the Focus before I slowly returned into the vehicle. I held up my shootin’ hand and watched it tremble from the incredible adrenaline rush I was experiencing, and a good stretch of Highway 20 was spent laughing, hollering and hitting the steering wheel at the Wonder I had just lived. 

And down the road I went.

Hear my Train A Comin

Wednesday morning was greeted by a freak May snowstorm that would go on to throw down 8 inches of snow in the Dubois area that contributed to a record snowfall in Fremont County. The statewide storm marked the official beginning of ‘Third Winter.’ We had wrapped up another successful “Live at the Dennison” production, this time around showcasing an incredible duo that provided two sets worth of contagious musical energy that had the crowd moving to the drums and guitar. While the rest of the crew prepared to make the trek home, I was once again heading out to another excursion. Steve and I were set to race across the state to meet Union Pacific 4014, or “Big Boy,” at Wamsutter at 11am, and now we had some weather to get through for our southbound trip.

The powerful steam locomotive Union Pacific 4014 was built back in 1941 to conquer the strenuous mountain tracks and to overcome the shortfalls of it’s predecessor, the Challenger. 25 of these brutes were assembled and used on Union Pacific rails, and being the longest engine body of any reciprocating steam locomotive in the world at just 100 feet short of a Boeing 747, they earned the appropriate “Big Boy” title. 4014 was on a “Heading Home Tour,” starting from a railroad museum in Pomona, California and landing in Wyoming’s state capitol, Cheyenne for a 3-5 year restoration project. We were charged with documenting it on it’s final stretch back home, a total of about 800 collective miles over two days.

We harvested shots at whistle stops in Wamsutter, Rawlins, Medicine Bow and Laramie, while chasing along side the metallic marvel on both highways and back roads in between each. We weren’t the only ones hunting Goliath that day, however. Around 30 other cars were aggressively fighting for position in the caravan, some of which were with other journalists (including a real stand-up fellow from a different PBS outfit) while most of which train enthusiasts—some of whom that had traveled across state lines to catch a glimpse of the rare creature. This made for an interesting scene on the thin and usually deserted two lane highways that were already being made treacherous by the late winter storm. Media speeding around vehicles for shots and pedestrians fighting back for a once in a lifetime sight, all with clueless and confused locals cussing at the insanity on the roads. 

Steve handled the Jeep well through the wet and wild conditions, taking it over the 200k mile mark, as we did our best to anticipate the train along Interstate 80. The Creedence was turned up to 11 to keep troop morale high as I took 60 mph ice pellets to the face acquiring shots out of the sunroof. The shot of the trip came when a full rainbow appeared across the sky as the storm broke. We managed to pull off to the side of the road to capture the train passing underneath the rays for an unbelievable shot just before the colors dissipated. Exhausted from an adrenaline draining day, the trip ended in Laramie for a soak in the hot tub and some rest before the final push to Cheyenne in the morning.

Hundreds awaited Big Boy’s victorious arrival at the Cheyenne Depot museum at the end of its 1000-some-odd-mile trip. As the train rolled in about 20 minutes behind schedule, a small cheer spilled out of the crowd as cameras and phones were raised over heads to snap a shot of the behemoth slowing rolling into the station, including my own camera. However, as shots were snapped and Facebooks were flooded, I couldn’t help but think about the jubilee that could have been. If a homecoming event of this magnitude were to have occurred during the age of the 4014, the 1940’s, there would have been cheering that could be heard throughout the town with confetti and hats in the air instead of cameras. Something to remember and be apart of. Big Boy’s homecoming in 2014 fell short of that, and as I looked out over the sea of cellphones, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed—and not just because I was in Cheyenne.

Dago Diaries: Return to the West - Day 1 

It was four in the morning when the alarm went off. The great grey owls were still making small talk as I rolled out of bed to greet the otherwise still and quiet Pavillion. As nice as it was, I was planning to interrupt that silence. There was a long drive ahead of me to the annual National Association of Broadcasters convention down in Vegas to see the new tricks and toys of the film industry as well as check in on the pimps and scoundrels of Sin City. The planned route would take about 15 hours, 4 hours more than the shortest route, but the extended path would cut straight through some of the most scenic parts of the Great Wide Open in Utah and Nevada. Some parts I had seen and most parts I hadn’t, including a pair of National Parks and a long stretch of Scenic Byway 89. I had a quick coffee and bowl of Frosted Flakes, tossed my suitcase and backpack into the Focus, fired her up and hit the road.

Aside from the roaming pack of Rez dogs that suddenly appeared in my headlights outside of Ethete, the drive was without stress. The star-filled skies dimly illuminated the desolate drive, deer free and peaceful with the subtle silhouettes of surrounding mountain ranges on the eastern horizon that foreshadowed the rising sun. The soundtrack of a pan flute fluttering from the local Indian radio station made for a surreal scene while rolling across the Reservation hills—a welcome change of pace from the weeks prior.

Because of the death of my colleague a week before I started the new job, things had been at a standstill at the station, with little—if any—work to do. I tried keeping up the momentum after the nonstop work schedule in Cheyenne by finding and shooting stories of my own, but most of my ideas were shot down by the Queen and the ones that I did manage to jump on just weren’t enough to keep me occupied. The idle time in the office box was slowly beginning to driving me mad. Finally, this pent up energy would be unleashed in a proper and (mostly) controlled manor.

The barren and other worldly landscape was gradually revealed by the cool light of dawn.  I was eventually rewarded near South Pass by the sun rising behind the distant mountains accented by soapy streams of clouds stretching across the big sky. The inaugural shot of the trip had to be the initial sunrise, but I couldn’t find the shot. Nothing was catching my eye. As the sky slowly turned ablaze and the road that rapidly turned into a distant memory in my rear-view looked all too familiar to the road laid out before me, I became discouraged. Just before the sun made its appearance at the peak of the mountains, however, I spotted a peculiar blue school bus parked along the side of the road, custom painted with fantastic scenes of mermaids, sailboats and sea life. I knew then and there that that was my shot. I quickly turned around and made my way back to investigate the scene.

A dog stood at attention as I stepped out of the Focus and made my way towards the bus, trying to see if there was anyone inside. Indeed there was. Tom, along with his son and his dog, had escaped the harsh Winter of Montana and spent the cold months sailing around Central America and the Caribbean. The older man had a face that shown a life of hard work and hardship, but his eyes had a youthful hope to them that almost smiled as he spoke. He spent much of his life with his wife outside the northern most Anchorage working for a newspaper and fighting the elements. After 20 years of loyal service, he and his wife retired to the lower north until her recent passing. He’s since uprooted himself and began traveling across the world in his trusty magic bus. We shared conversation that culminated to this exchange.

“How old are you?” He asked.

“About 26 or 27.” I answered, after some thought.

“These are some great years for you.” He said with a hazy morning grin.

“I plan on taking advantage of them. Seeing as much as I can before we destroy ourselves or destroy this planet.” I responded without hesitation. “One day I hope to get out in a bus like yourself. You’re living the dream.” He laughed, looked down and pondered for a moment as his dog circled around his feet excitedly.

“This is a dream,” he finally stated, “You’re a part of it.”

Those words resonated with me as we said our farewells and parted ways. I turned around and kneeled in the dirt to snap a shot of the scene as I left it; the man and his trusty dog boarding the magic bus between myself and the sun. Content with the shot, I boarded the Focus and returned to the road. 

Echoes

I heard the rest of the crew pack up from the Branding Iron Inn down on West Ramshorn on a cool Friday morning just right at 8am. It had been a great two day production with the usual grade A crew and a class act musician at the Dennison Lodge in Dubios. The trip started off on an interesting note with a standoff inside the cramped motel lobby between the five of us and a stranger, with his holstered revolver in plain sight and ammo belt at the ready. I walked in alone, ahead of the rest of the gang and greeted who I assumed was the motel manager. Standing under a stetson hat was a stocky man wearing what could be described as modern day cowboy attire with a scruffy beard and squinty eyes. I mentioned that I was with the PBS and wasn’t sure if I would be checking in with my name or Kyle’s or the company’s. His response was a blank stare that I endured for a good 37 seconds. A dog slowly crawled out from around the corner that added to the odd.  In the thick of the awkward tension, I took a deep breath and let out a soft yet audible, “Mkay.”

Kyle and the rest finally let themselves in, laughing and enjoying the end of a good story, and walked right into the party. Their laughter fizzled out and the eerie silence returned to envelop the 3 by 9 foot space. The four of them stood there along with myself, the stranger and the mangy grey dog that looked around just as bewildered as we were. It was about that time I noticed the man’s loaded firearm, and the situation got just a bit more weird. After what felt like minutes, Matt finally says nervously, “Uhhh, we’re trying to check in?”

After a pause, the man responds, “I don’t work here.”

We all kind of looked at each other until he broke his character and revealed that he was in fact the manager. We had a laugh and finally got our rooms after dealing with more bullshit. I ended up beating the man in a game of pool on the last night out after he sunk the eight ball and before being thrown out of the local tavern along with Kyle and Shawn. The rematch has yet to be scheduled.

Come Friday morning, as the others headed home to enjoy their three day Easter weekend after the gig, I rolled over and nodded back off. With my own personal vehicle and a Friday off to enjoy, I wasn’t quite ready to go home yet and I was going to need all the energy I could get after a late night of last call shots. The original plan was to hike around and explore the Dubios area, but an approaching rainstorm spoiled that thought. The only acceptable option was to make the trek over Togwotee Pass and get to the back side of the front. With rain turning to thick flakes of snow falling on still warm roads at the top of the pass, conditions were manageable, and I was greeted on the other side with blue sky mixed with waving clouds caressing the Grand Teton Range like blankets of silk as the tail end of the weather headed East. It was a scene worth taking off the rearview mirror for. The day was spent roaming around Teton Valley, hunting for wildlife with my telephoto lens, and stopping by Jackson to check in on the slow moving landslide. There was one moment that topped the day, however. One that stands out from most of my other memorable moments out in the wild.

While hiking around the area near Halfmoon Lake, I happened upon something I had yet to encounter before on foot. A small heard of wild buffalo could be seen far off in the distance through the lifeless brush, merely grazing and existing. I ventured in as close as I felt comfortable with to see what kind of opportunities would present themselves. I stayed low and crept swiftly as I inched closer to the army of two ton behemoths, at one point shedding my backpack to lessen my racket. Soon, the impressive beasts were within 50 yards from my position, and they began to take notice of my presence. Suddenly dozens of eyes were upon me, and I hunched down as low to the ground I could get. Their incredible size and lazy blank stares reminded me of the motel manager.

Buffalo can seem to be docile, cow-like creatures. However, just like any other wild animal, they can attack unpredictably and irrationally when they feel that their territory or calves are threatened. On average, there are 5 times the amount of bison attacks than bear attacks in Yellowstone National Park due to the unfamiliar tourists exiting their vehicles going in for a closer look. Buffalo can reach speeds of about 35 miles an hour and their bulky frame makes them surprisingly more agile than they appear, making a head on assault difficult to avoid in wide open spaces. One must be mindful of the risks and respect the situation on an approach of any formidable animal or situation in the bush, equipped with complete concentration and situational awareness of the moment. All with the knowledge that even when care and precautions are taken, anything could go wrong at any time. With my eagerness to get the shots that I want, I’ll be in these situations more than I probably should be. If I ever should be gored, gouged, trampled or ripped to shreds while exploring this great land, it should be known that I’ll have gone doing what I love while being about as content with the world as I can be. And you can bet your ass I won’t go down without a fight.

They acknowledged me, seemingly deemed me as a non-threat, and went about their business. I sat in my perch behind a tree and the veins of still dormant sagebrush, closely observing and studying the heard. I watched them swing their heads around like wrecking balls to graze on the next patch of grass, looking for any change in body language that might hint towards agitation. A nearby climbable tree would be my escape route should I happened to overstay my welcome, which as the Rustic Pine can attest to I can do from time to time.

It was such a pleasure to watch these brutes mingle in the quiet, dead forest. I was able to get a good 15 minutes of observation in before the leader of the pack decided it was time to move on, and the lot of them sluggishly shuffled off behind him like obedient dinosaurs until they dissipated into the thick of the trees. It was truly an unreal scene, and truly a Good Friday.

Good trip, great fun.

An Open Letter to Hughesnet

Hello *******. My apologies for the earful you are about to receive, but I am very unhappy with my Hughesnet service. Borderline furious with it. 


I’m requesting that I be taken off the extra 10 gig plan, as I have interrupted my sleep for the past nights in order to attempt to download an essential file; since I am lucky if I can check my email during the day. And my connection has been absolutely useless even though my late night gigs should be untouched. 

Like I said before, I was swindled into getting the extra 10 gig plan after being told that it would be useful during the day. If I’m paying extra money for something that’s not only disrupting my healthy way of life trying to use but in the end I’m also not even able to take advantage of them during the hours that they should be available, then I want out. That is absolutely criminal, and I honestly can’t believe you guys are able to get away with it. I could go on with the amount of times I have to deal with router and connection issues at any and all hours of the day, but I may begin bleeding from the ears again from rage should I go on.

I’ve never received worse service from any service provider in my life. This is absolutely unacceptable and I demand an answer. If you’re not the person this email should be directed to, please forward it to the appropriate parties.

We Done Goof’d - Found Footage
With the stereo projecting the strangely calming voice of Carl Kasell singing Golden Slumbers between his hypnotic ramblings, my mind is now dwelling on a more unsettling experience that has been brought up twice in recent days after spending much time in the back of my mind. On March 5th of 2012, while shooting a documentary in Nicaragua, my team and I were temporarily detained by the military. At the time, we weren’t sure whether or not we’d be taken in for a more permanent stay—or worse—so I shot insurance footage in the moments following the encounter to act as our voice in case our voices were silenced. (I’ll be posting excerpts at the end of the story.) Just last week, I found that footage and viewed it for the first time since the incident, and though said footage and scattered notes I plan on reliving the experience from the comfort of my home with the aid of a pack of Winston’s and Carl Kasell. I’ll save the whiskey for this last coming week in Cheyenne.
The scene in Managua, the capitol city of Nicaragua, is one of melancholic serenity. A picturesque tropical paradise juxtaposed to the vast human suffering enveloped in the unregulated emissions and unfortunate upkeep of the third world. The country has seen its fair share of civil war and bloodshed in recent history, including the infamous Iran-Contra affair waged by President Reagan in the 80’s. While in past years there has been compromise and a relative “peace” in the region, the recent election stolen by the corrupt Sandinista President Daniel Ortega has stoked the flames of bitterness inside the hearts of the Contra. Citizens show their discontent by blocking city streets with burning tires while the Government continues to abuse imminent domain to stifle those who they feel are a threat to their movement. We were Americans conducting business inside a very volatile political climate where anything could happen. While it was an incredible thrill and privilege, the threat of our situation was very real.
We had the luxury of spending our time working in the heat of spring without the burden of the bugs and heavy humidity of summer as we bounced around the countryside collecting our interviews and b-roll. The reward for a long day’s work could be found in the sweet embrace of the patio hammock, gently swaying to the tempo of the cool evening breeze with a nice glass of Flor de Caña rum resting on the table and the song of tropical birds serenading the air. The temporary sanctuary was used to quietly recap the chaos of the day inside the safety of our quaint compound before the next day of action. The job was an absolute dream—but that dream quickly turned into a nightmare.
The day prior to the disaster, the team and I were driving through the neighborhood of President Ortega. Evidence of his unpopularity and paranoia of the new generation of rebels was apparent with the numerous militants patrolling on every corner, armed with AK-47s and pineapples—keeping the “peace.” From the back of the bus, one of the producers suggested we get some shots of the guards, as our film was heavy with military content and such b-roll would prove useful. I declined the task, mentioning that as a bus full of white people filming inside the country under false pretenses to begin with, the last thing we wanted to do is draw attention from the crooked military to our presence. I wasn’t exactly sure they grasped the reality of where we were and what could happen. The conversation didn’t end there, however.
Our security guard, José-Luis, overheard our discussion and claimed that he knew a place where we could get what we needed. He had a contact who worked at a military base just a short way through the mountains. The team liked the plan, and we decided we’d go check out the place the next morning. While the idea of a supposed “in” for the location was somewhat reassuring, I still had a bad feeling about the whole idea.
The following morning, after a peaceful drive overlooking the impossibly green landscape and the postcard worthy waterfront, we arrived to a military compound in the middle of a dry, barren land. With the assurance of José-Luis, the director Dan and I exited the safety of our bus and ventured out into the wild with our cameras into the streets outside of the base. We then proceeded to, as most people with cameras do, get the shots. No questions, no hesitation, just a mission to get as much footage possible so we could get the hell out of there. A grand archway proudly praising the “Sandinista” army, parked tanks on display from the Contra-Sandinista conflict, and patrolling grunts wandering around the grounds scattered the desolate stage. It wasn’t much, but it was enough, so we went at it.
When filming in extreme situations, your mind and ego are erased; replaced by only the most basic of instincts, a healthy shot of adrenaline and the eye of the camera to guide you through the moment. This heightened sense awareness is somewhat similar to a ‘combat high’ that infantry experience in fierce fire fights. The ramifications and risk of your actions are second only to the importance of doing what you set out to do the best you can do it. It can be a dangerous phenomenon, and will one day probably be the end of me, but it’s an absolutely essential skill to have in this field. This high dulled me to the first armed Sandinista walking our way. It wasn’t until the second guard in our vicinity that I was jarred from my tranced state. Before I knew it, we were surrounded by a handful of AKs and militants representing a ruthless dictator of a third world hell hole. That’s when I began to get a little bit concerned.
It was now Dan, our Puerto Rican audio specialist Marco, José-Luis and myself surrounded by military police with our driver and producers still on the bus. The two in our group that spoke Spanish began explaining ourselves as a sixth soldier approached the group, who was dressed differently than the others. It was the commanding officer, and the gravity of our predicament truly manifested itself when he arrived on the scene as he forced his way through the five other soldiers who were containing the situation. The man was only in the area of five foot tall, but his presence was stifling with a telling gut and physique of a privileged lifestyle that stuffed his decorated dark green fatigues and a face that radiated with the air of a Bond villain. With a thick, jet black mustache that matched the midnight pitch of his sunglasses, the entire presentation was complete with a golden canine tooth hanging in his mouth that spoke with a slow, commanding voice as he interrogated Marco. While they were dealing with us, with one guard snapping photos with a small digital camera, two of the other MPs let themselves into our bus where they proceeded to interrogate the producers of their side of the story. We now had the potential to get our stories mixed up, which would not be a good thing.
While the militants backed off for a moment in a huddle, I slowly shuffled over to ask Marco what story he had given them. His answer was that we were filming the history of Nicaragua and the Sandinistas, hence our presence at the base. It was a good enough answer that was spoken just in time as the officer made his return to our group and began collecting passports. I was last in line when Señor Sadam approached me in a fashion that would make Lyndon Johnson proud,
“Your passport?”
My physical passport was stored on the bus, but I had a photocopy in my camera bag that I handed over to him. He laughed.
“This is not passport!”
I explained my situation and was allowed to get on the bus to acquire my papers. It was now just the ladies in the vehicle, and during my brief window of opportunity I asked them what story they gave the soldiers. They said their story was that we were filming for a church group to get more people to come and help out their cause. My stomach dropped to my feet. Our stories didn’t match up. We were doomed. Hopefully we’d have a nice story for the producers at Locked Up Abroad to pursue.
I returned to the dire heat of the sun and the unfortunate situation and handed over my passport. His eyes slowly scanned back and forth from my photo to my face. He finally spoke, “Are you afraid?”
“No.” I replied with a stone cold expression and a boldfaced lie. It took everything I had to keep from succumbing to the doomed situation; the potential of being imprisoned abroad in a place where Americans are despised, the idea of never seeing my friends and family again, the fear of the unknown boundaries of a third world dictatorship. My brain was bleeding and my legs struggled to stand, feeling powerless in the situation. After having our footage forcibly wiped and an excruciating 15 minutes of listening to foreign tongues deciding our fate, we were all allowed to get back on the bus.
After another moment of uncertainty and suspense waiting for their huddle to break, the officer finally climbed aboard the bus with one other soldier at his side. He spoke slowly and imposingly in broken English with a peculiar grin that revealed his golden tooth and eyes hidden by darkness.
“We are sorry we had to meet under these circumstances. We welcome you to our country and want you to enjoy your stay in Nicaragua. You are free to go now.”
His tone was hard to read because of his inflection. Was he being sincere? Or was this a Bond villain setting us up for a later arrest after they had researched our names and the Twitter trail of our project? We drove off and made it back to our home where we assessed the situation. The rest of the day had an ominous vibe hanging over it, and it took a second glass of rum to get the hammock as comfortable as it should have been. But the night came and passed and there weren’t any raids on the compound, and the next day was business as usual. The nightmare had ended, and it was smooth sailing the rest of the trip.
It’s hard to say how close we actually were to a disaster scenario. With the arrest and imprisonment of the main subject of the documentary for supposedly false pretenses in the months that followed, one can only speculate whether or not that came about by our folly. And you can bet your ass that our passports will be flagged in future visits to the country. But we made it and I only lost one good pair of underwear on the trip. It was a wild ride, one that I’m thankful of making it out of. 
[Here] is a clip from just moments after leaving the scene. 

We Done Goof’d - Found Footage

With the stereo projecting the strangely calming voice of Carl Kasell singing Golden Slumbers between his hypnotic ramblings, my mind is now dwelling on a more unsettling experience that has been brought up twice in recent days after spending much time in the back of my mind. On March 5th of 2012, while shooting a documentary in Nicaragua, my team and I were temporarily detained by the military. At the time, we weren’t sure whether or not we’d be taken in for a more permanent stay—or worse—so I shot insurance footage in the moments following the encounter to act as our voice in case our voices were silenced. (I’ll be posting excerpts at the end of the story.) Just last week, I found that footage and viewed it for the first time since the incident, and though said footage and scattered notes I plan on reliving the experience from the comfort of my home with the aid of a pack of Winston’s and Carl Kasell. I’ll save the whiskey for this last coming week in Cheyenne.

The scene in Managua, the capitol city of Nicaragua, is one of melancholic serenity. A picturesque tropical paradise juxtaposed to the vast human suffering enveloped in the unregulated emissions and unfortunate upkeep of the third world. The country has seen its fair share of civil war and bloodshed in recent history, including the infamous Iran-Contra affair waged by President Reagan in the 80’s. While in past years there has been compromise and a relative “peace” in the region, the recent election stolen by the corrupt Sandinista President Daniel Ortega has stoked the flames of bitterness inside the hearts of the Contra. Citizens show their discontent by blocking city streets with burning tires while the Government continues to abuse imminent domain to stifle those who they feel are a threat to their movement. We were Americans conducting business inside a very volatile political climate where anything could happen. While it was an incredible thrill and privilege, the threat of our situation was very real.

We had the luxury of spending our time working in the heat of spring without the burden of the bugs and heavy humidity of summer as we bounced around the countryside collecting our interviews and b-roll. The reward for a long day’s work could be found in the sweet embrace of the patio hammock, gently swaying to the tempo of the cool evening breeze with a nice glass of Flor de Caña rum resting on the table and the song of tropical birds serenading the air. The temporary sanctuary was used to quietly recap the chaos of the day inside the safety of our quaint compound before the next day of action. The job was an absolute dream—but that dream quickly turned into a nightmare.

The day prior to the disaster, the team and I were driving through the neighborhood of President Ortega. Evidence of his unpopularity and paranoia of the new generation of rebels was apparent with the numerous militants patrolling on every corner, armed with AK-47s and pineapples—keeping the “peace.” From the back of the bus, one of the producers suggested we get some shots of the guards, as our film was heavy with military content and such b-roll would prove useful. I declined the task, mentioning that as a bus full of white people filming inside the country under false pretenses to begin with, the last thing we wanted to do is draw attention from the crooked military to our presence. I wasn’t exactly sure they grasped the reality of where we were and what could happen. The conversation didn’t end there, however.

Our security guard, José-Luis, overheard our discussion and claimed that he knew a place where we could get what we needed. He had a contact who worked at a military base just a short way through the mountains. The team liked the plan, and we decided we’d go check out the place the next morning. While the idea of a supposed “in” for the location was somewhat reassuring, I still had a bad feeling about the whole idea.

The following morning, after a peaceful drive overlooking the impossibly green landscape and the postcard worthy waterfront, we arrived to a military compound in the middle of a dry, barren land. With the assurance of José-Luis, the director Dan and I exited the safety of our bus and ventured out into the wild with our cameras into the streets outside of the base. We then proceeded to, as most people with cameras do, get the shots. No questions, no hesitation, just a mission to get as much footage possible so we could get the hell out of there. A grand archway proudly praising the “Sandinista” army, parked tanks on display from the Contra-Sandinista conflict, and patrolling grunts wandering around the grounds scattered the desolate stage. It wasn’t much, but it was enough, so we went at it.

When filming in extreme situations, your mind and ego are erased; replaced by only the most basic of instincts, a healthy shot of adrenaline and the eye of the camera to guide you through the moment. This heightened sense awareness is somewhat similar to a ‘combat high’ that infantry experience in fierce fire fights. The ramifications and risk of your actions are second only to the importance of doing what you set out to do the best you can do it. It can be a dangerous phenomenon, and will one day probably be the end of me, but it’s an absolutely essential skill to have in this field. This high dulled me to the first armed Sandinista walking our way. It wasn’t until the second guard in our vicinity that I was jarred from my tranced state. Before I knew it, we were surrounded by a handful of AKs and militants representing a ruthless dictator of a third world hell hole. That’s when I began to get a little bit concerned.

It was now Dan, our Puerto Rican audio specialist Marco, José-Luis and myself surrounded by military police with our driver and producers still on the bus. The two in our group that spoke Spanish began explaining ourselves as a sixth soldier approached the group, who was dressed differently than the others. It was the commanding officer, and the gravity of our predicament truly manifested itself when he arrived on the scene as he forced his way through the five other soldiers who were containing the situation. The man was only in the area of five foot tall, but his presence was stifling with a telling gut and physique of a privileged lifestyle that stuffed his decorated dark green fatigues and a face that radiated with the air of a Bond villain. With a thick, jet black mustache that matched the midnight pitch of his sunglasses, the entire presentation was complete with a golden canine tooth hanging in his mouth that spoke with a slow, commanding voice as he interrogated Marco. While they were dealing with us, with one guard snapping photos with a small digital camera, two of the other MPs let themselves into our bus where they proceeded to interrogate the producers of their side of the story. We now had the potential to get our stories mixed up, which would not be a good thing.

While the militants backed off for a moment in a huddle, I slowly shuffled over to ask Marco what story he had given them. His answer was that we were filming the history of Nicaragua and the Sandinistas, hence our presence at the base. It was a good enough answer that was spoken just in time as the officer made his return to our group and began collecting passports. I was last in line when Señor Sadam approached me in a fashion that would make Lyndon Johnson proud,

“Your passport?”

My physical passport was stored on the bus, but I had a photocopy in my camera bag that I handed over to him. He laughed.

“This is not passport!”

I explained my situation and was allowed to get on the bus to acquire my papers. It was now just the ladies in the vehicle, and during my brief window of opportunity I asked them what story they gave the soldiers. They said their story was that we were filming for a church group to get more people to come and help out their cause. My stomach dropped to my feet. Our stories didn’t match up. We were doomed. Hopefully we’d have a nice story for the producers at Locked Up Abroad to pursue.

I returned to the dire heat of the sun and the unfortunate situation and handed over my passport. His eyes slowly scanned back and forth from my photo to my face. He finally spoke, “Are you afraid?”

“No.” I replied with a stone cold expression and a boldfaced lie. It took everything I had to keep from succumbing to the doomed situation; the potential of being imprisoned abroad in a place where Americans are despised, the idea of never seeing my friends and family again, the fear of the unknown boundaries of a third world dictatorship. My brain was bleeding and my legs struggled to stand, feeling powerless in the situation. After having our footage forcibly wiped and an excruciating 15 minutes of listening to foreign tongues deciding our fate, we were all allowed to get back on the bus.

After another moment of uncertainty and suspense waiting for their huddle to break, the officer finally climbed aboard the bus with one other soldier at his side. He spoke slowly and imposingly in broken English with a peculiar grin that revealed his golden tooth and eyes hidden by darkness.

“We are sorry we had to meet under these circumstances. We welcome you to our country and want you to enjoy your stay in Nicaragua. You are free to go now.”

His tone was hard to read because of his inflection. Was he being sincere? Or was this a Bond villain setting us up for a later arrest after they had researched our names and the Twitter trail of our project? We drove off and made it back to our home where we assessed the situation. The rest of the day had an ominous vibe hanging over it, and it took a second glass of rum to get the hammock as comfortable as it should have been. But the night came and passed and there weren’t any raids on the compound, and the next day was business as usual. The nightmare had ended, and it was smooth sailing the rest of the trip.

It’s hard to say how close we actually were to a disaster scenario. With the arrest and imprisonment of the main subject of the documentary for supposedly false pretenses in the months that followed, one can only speculate whether or not that came about by our folly. And you can bet your ass that our passports will be flagged in future visits to the country. But we made it and I only lost one good pair of underwear on the trip. It was a wild ride, one that I’m thankful of making it out of. 

[Here] is a clip from just moments after leaving the scene. 

Rocky Mountain High

After a mildly chaotic week of 12 hour work days and 6 whiskey soaked hour nights attempting to keep up with the wild animals performing in the two ring circus that is the Wyoming House and Senate (three ring circus if you count the journalists,) it was time to take a short break from the madness in Cheye City and jump across the boarder to the Square down south to do my best at checking out the scene, checking out the sights, and meeting up an old friend over the big three day weekend. All the while cursing the city traffic and content hunting for my next package covering the Marihuana situation in Wyoming—set to air the following week. Play time and crunch time were speeding towards each other at ludicrous speeds with an inevitable head on collision predicted somewhere within the next 72 hours.

After a little hiking and a little bit of investigative journalism regarding the new recreational refers law, that collision happened on Saturday night, approximately 9:10 PM at a Motocross event.

More to come

Doc Martin’s Day
More to come.

Doc Martin’s Day

More to come.

The Wild Wild West

After a grueling seventeen hour drive and a series of hiccups during the initial moving in, things have finally settled down in my new home in Wyoming—and besides one remaining leaking faucet, things couldn’t be better. Following the gracious help from family and friend, and the good times we shared, I was left alone to live in a strange place for the first time. Hundreds of miles away from everything I know and love with nothing more than some furniture and food, dozens of empty whiskey bottles, and hundreds of empty beer cans from the prior nights of good company. One of the most unsettling situations I’ve ever gotten myself into.

But that feeling quickly faded as the excitement of possibility and discovery settled in. The bitter cold of the Polar Vortex couldn’t even phase me as I sat in the car in the early morning with nothing more than my house robe and a curiosity about the western elements to check the temperature on the dashboard. Minus 15 degrees; so cold that the car’s digital display was lagging. Satisfied, I scuttled back into the house with frozen nose hairs and incredible shrinkage.

The clean air, the panoramic view of the surrounding mountain ranges, and the deafening silence wakes up a part of a man that has been long since sleeping. It is now apparent to me the appeal of the western expansion in the days of old; the search for the Elephant. The biting cold and the sacred wide open land makes one ponder what it might have been like for an expedition of fur trappers or gold miners traveling across these vast lands ages ago with nothing more than a wagon, simple supplies, and the constant threat of Indian attack on the horizon. 

I’ve yet to see the Elephant—but when I do I’ll take a picture of it.

Until then, here’s some [photos].