What is a “stranger”?

"God's country"

“God’s country”

Montana has been described to me as “God’s country”; a place where the valleys are wide, mountains are tall, and the forests deep. How fitting it was then that in a place so perfect and grand, I encountered a rare adventure and learned a lesson of life I’ll never forget. Starting as only a walkabout through the woods of Montana, this small action soon grew into an adventure never expected, taking me clear across mountains and valleys alike.

I met Tom for the first time somewhere in the wilderness of Montana while wandering along a few muddy trails. This wasn’t like any other human introduction I had ever had encountered before. A typical encounter (like one of the thousands I’ve had in my life so far) would consist of a swapping of names, a handshake, and a smile to put forth a good face. This introduction was different from the start in that there was one question before all others that begged for an answer: “What are you doing out here?”. For me it was simple, “I’m just checking it out”. For Tom the answer seemed simple as well, “I’m getting myself an elk”. So our reasons for being there differed, yet a shared passion for the enjoyment of the outdoors fueled us to become friends. It was right after I left this part of the mountains that this friendship really began to lead me down an adventure of learning.

Tom was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Ouellette, a wonderful couple who lived all their long lives enjoying the peace and calm that comes from a life in the far Northern reaches of this country. For 80+ years, Mr. and Mrs. Ouellette both spent their days appreciating the place they called home. When life brought changes and times of strife, neither lost their passion for what Mrs. Ouellette called her “God’s country”. I knew this to be true the first time I met them on a cold October night in Hamilton, Montana late in 2014. A simple dinner invitation from two strangers to me in itself was an experience I wouldn’t soon forget; but right from the start, I saw the Ouellette’s unique form of kindness, generosity, and hospitality.

Going into that dinner, I believed to them that I was just some “stranger” their son met deep in the woods; but then I had a night of conversation with them. After a dinner invitation turned into an opportunity to do laundry, take a hot shower, and a warm bed for the night; I realized I couldn’t have been more wrong. Listening to both Mr. and Mrs. Ouellette tell me the story of their lives, I quickly realized they both knew something I did not, and it took a few more months of reflection before I realized exactly why we met. They saw me that night not as a “stranger”, but rather as an untold story. The people all around us and the introductions we encounter are nothing but the beginnings of untold story’s. Everyone has a story to tell and everyone’s life will be a story of some type. The lesson I learned from this wise couple was to treat people exactly like that, and to me it’s quite obvious why I met Mr. and Mrs. Ouellette and their son Tom when I did. Never again will I let an untold story pass me by.

In Memory of Ben Ouellette (1928-December 2, 2014)

At the end of your life and the beginning of mine, you instilled in me a valuable lesson. A lesson that will forever be a part of who I am, thank you for this Ben.

-Warren Hylton

1-1-DSC_0016

Hamilton, Montana

 

Finding the Pacific Ocean

My last sunset in California, the night before I met Oregon

My last sunset in California, the night before I met Oregon

So after a wonderful week with family celebrating Thanksgiving, I decided I could no longer ignore the call of new places. I left Las Vegas with a destination in mind, the entire Pacific coast. As soon as I crossed into California I realized this journey would be anything but expected. The normal route out of the Las Vegas area consists of crossing the wide dry Mojave desert, but this particular crossing was definitely not dry. Instead of being greeted by a blistering sun and the sight of no ground water, I received quite a different greeting.

For a hundred miles I drove through some of the nastiest rain storms I have ever been in. While my focus was obviously on trying not to slide off a road that sees less than 5 inches of rain a year, I still couldn’t help but notice every thing else going on around me. For maybe the only time in my life, I went to this fiercely dry desert and encountered nothing but rain and flooding. The desert I had driven through before a few times was all together a different place. The noises, the smells, the visuals; everything was different in a beautifully unique kind of way. There was something special about watching huge thunderstorms slowly move along the endless desert leaving behind nothing but water and flash floods. The middle of the day dark spots on the land, uncommon for a desert as sunny as the Mojave, also looked to be performing an elegant almost choreographed dance on the desert floor as the storms moved by casting down shadows the size of mountains.

Before I was able to escape the rain storms of the desert, night set in. Now instead of seeing a surrounding desert, I saw nothing but darkness. And not a darkness we city livers are used to, but rather a true darkness. Out in the Mojave there was no glows of far off lights or street lamps, just a 360 degree view of darkness. It wasn’t until the smell around me began to change that I first knew I was close to my destination.

Replacing the smell of fresh rain, was the smell of salt in the air. Within a few miles of this new smell, I arrived on the Pacific coast. My next few days were to be spent traveling up the coastline seeing what California had to offer. For me personally, this part of the coast was like stepping back into my home of South Texas. Every little city I passed through flashed the same common heritage I came to know of my home in San Antonio. Spanish missions and catholic churches occupied some part of almost every area I saw. To be able to see a common heritage occupy two completely different today’s in two completely different states was fascinating to me. The power of a couple hundred years of time showed me how one idea today can lead to an endless number of differing results in the future. It was during this period of historical cultural sightseeing that I stumbled into San Francisco.

I had never been to quite an international city such as San Francisco before. I’m not talking about a multi-cultural large city that you can find anywhere in America, but rather a city that was founded by 5-6 different cultures at the same time. No where else in my travels had I been to such a place. Today San Francisco is still a hugely international city full of a rooted diverse people happy to share with travelers what makes them so diverse. For two days I walked all over the peninsula, every street being a new place to explore. From Japantown to Chinatown and Russian hill to Little Italy, the whole city consistently caused me to see a city as something else than what I knew. I’m glad I entered the bay area with history on the mind because San Francisco isn’t truly seen until you see it for exactly what it is, an international city founded together. I think I could have stayed and wandered for many more days, but the coastline continued North and so I continued on.

While the entire coastline south of San Francisco was unique and special in it’s own way, it lacked the wild element that I seem to gravitate to. Northern California to me was a place I had been waiting for. The idea of huge redwoods and rocky coasts excited me for the chance to see an untouched wild California coastline. I got exactly what I was looking for after hiking a few miles through redwood forest to get to some untouched beach. I immediately knew I was on the right path when the smell of salt became evident and the far off noise of water crashing began to engulf my senses. And then all of a sudden there it was below me, a wild California beach. Once I got down out of the hills and onto the beach I looked both north and south. I was so happy that I saw untouched land for miles in either direction. Huge boulders dotted the grayish beach and there was little much else except for the occasional long sharp antlers of a Roosevelt Elk sticking out of some tall grass. This was what I came to the Pacific coast for, to see what happens at the boundary of the North American plate and Pacific Plate.

Looking back at the hills and forests I hiked through to get to this Northern California beach

Looking back at the hills and forests I hiked through to get to this Northern California beach

Looking north on the first truly wild stretch of beach I encountered in California

Looking north on the first truly wild stretch of beach I encountered in California

Looking south on the first truly wild stretch of beach I encountered in California

Looking south on the first truly wild stretch of beach I encountered in California

Getting closer to the border of California/Oregon, the coastline slowly began to change

Getting closer to the border of California/Oregon, the coastline slowly began to change

With high spirits I continued north along the coast. Now before I crossed the California/Oregon border, my history with Oregon consisted of only a quick drive through the state at night only to see a whole lot of darkness and highway. So I saw Oregon under sunlight for the first time after leaving California one early morning. Immediately past the usual border town you find everywhere, the scenery began to change drastically. Beach after beach came at me, each with unique personalities. Also the road began to climb and drop at higher grades as the hills of California became the mountains of Oregon. Everything around me was changing. The rivers became wider and slowed down. The forests became wetter. The fog became thicker. All around me, I witnessed a new place I hadn’t seen before. This all occurred to me within the first 50 miles. After a quick hike and climb on a beach of Oregon, I decided to continue on to see how the rest of the state could ever compare. I decided to follow a road going upstream of the first major river I encountered. This turned out to be an excellent idea because what started as a very windy paved road soon became a dirt road, but not the dirt road you might think. This wasn’t like the dirt roads of Colorado or Montana where traveling on them in a Ford Focus would be a horrible idea. This was basically a network of manageable dirt roads spanning the Coast mountains. My focus had no problems and I found that only my level of ambition and common sense would be my limit in this state.

Every beach of Oregon held a unique personality unlike anywhere I'd been before

Every beach of Oregon held a unique personality unlike anywhere I’d been before

The rivers of the Coast mountains. An outdoorsman's paradise

The rivers of the Coast mountains. An outdoorsman’s paradise

By two in the afternoon I had come to a conclusion. I had pretty much 7 more days until I planned to tell myself to turn around and head southeast, but I realized I had nothing more to gain. I knew that 7 days would simply be spent becoming more and more frustrated that I would soon have to leave. All while becoming more and more interested by this new state. Oregon’s Pacific coast could not be summed up in a 7 day adventure. So I did what anyone would do in that situation, I immediately knew I’d be coming back. With this information in hand, my new daily goal was to go back to San Antonio and make that happen. As soon as I entered Oregon, I not only began to see new places but discovered new places within myself that I wanted. So I turned my path south and east by two in the afternoon, and began the journey home. (Passing through California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas)

Days 44-45: Colorado to Wyoming to Idaho

Hello from beautiful Idaho Falls! So after spending some time enjoying the mountains of Colorado, I decided it was time to move on to somewhere new. It just so happens that right now my family in Idaho is in the process of building a custom home for themselves, so I figured now would be a great time to come visit and check something new out. Back in September when I hit the road, I knew I wanted to see many new wonders of nature; but I never imagined I’d have the opportunity to see so much of the wonder of humanity. My journey has taken me to not only beautiful places, but across some beautiful people as well. The people I meet along the road all walk different ways of lives. From an outdoors-man who is more comfortable in a thick forest than a thick corporate jungle, to an older recently divorced gentleman trying to find his way back through life; the people and stories I get to meet along the road define my adventures just as much as the nature around me. Being able to see all these different outlets of humanity is something I’ve enjoyed almost as much as the changing nature. There’s just so much out there in this world to see, whether it be natural or a product of humanity. So for the next week, I’ll be exploring a few different areas in Idaho as well as spending some quality time with my family here. Idaho is another one of the many underrated states as far as natural beauty goes, and I hope to capture some of what makes this state so special over the next week. Stay tuned for updates on the blog, as I explore new areas that very few people would make a trip to come see.

-Warren

Pictures from Days 44-45:

There's something about the Grand Tetons that keeps calling me back. Third time I've been fortunate enough to see these goliaths in person.

There’s something about the Grand Tetons that keeps calling me back. Third time I’ve been fortunate enough to see these goliaths in person.

Dare to explore the road less traveled. You'll never know what lies at the end until you reach the end.

Dare to explore the road less traveled. You’ll never know what lies at the end until you reach the end.

Looking back at the Colorado Rockies from the Wyoming/CO state line.

Looking back at the Colorado Rockies from the Wyoming/CO state line.

You don't need an over the top 4x4 brand new vehicle to see this country's beautiful places. You just need desire and a plan.

You don’t need an over the top 4×4 brand new vehicle to see this country’s beautiful places. You just need desire and a plan.

More of the Rockies of Colorado.

More of the Rockies of Colorado.

Brooks Lake WY.

Brooks Lake WY.

Incredible rock formations and mountains around the greater Yellowstone area.

Incredible rock formations and mountains around the greater Yellowstone area.

Grand Teton, WY.

Grand Teton, WY.

A closer view of Grand Teton. Such an impressive mountain range.

A closer view of Grand Teton. Such an impressive mountain range.

After seeing many new mountain ranges in the U.S., the Tetons still top my list.

After seeing many new mountain ranges in the U.S., the Tetons still top my list.

Days 41-43: Colorado

Hello from Northern Colorado! I’ve spent the last few days climbing mountain passes and circumventing mountain ranges, making my way from southern CO all the way through the state to the northern reaches. Over the last few days I’ve gotten to know these Rocky Mountains pretty well, and I’ve realized there is so much more I have to see here. These particular mountains here in CO are different than any other ranges I’ve seen so far across the western U.S. The mountain ranges here are full of tall (14,000+ ft) peaks, but just driving by these ranges you’d miss seeing half those peaks. The reason for that is the tallest mountains here are sometimes hidden and engulfed by slightly smaller mountains as well as an intricate network of raging rivers and deep canyons. I feel like to see the true natural beauty of Colorado, you would need to break out the backpack. There just seems to be a whole different world up in these high mountain ranges that no car or permanent mark of civilization can reach. The ruggedness of this state is something I didn’t expect before coming here; but looking back, how could there be 53 different 14,000 feet peaks without insane rivers, smaller ranges, and deep canyons coming down from them? This state is full of natural wonders, and is still forming new ones through the constant power of water and ice. From the highest mountains in the lower 48, to 1000 foot deep canyons, to the headwaters of some of this country’s major rivers; Colorado has got it all it seems.

-Warren

P.S.: New website, http://www.warrenhylton.com! I’ve got this blog, my photo gallery, and soon a print store all on that website; so feel free to give it a look.

Pictures from Days 41-43:

In a narrow valley surrounded by ice covered mountains, lays the small town of Ophir. What an incredible place to call home.

In a narrow valley surrounded by ice covered mountains, lays the small town of Ophir. What an incredible place to call home.

Colorado is a geologist's dream come true.

Colorado is a geologist’s dream come true.

The pass coming out of Telluride CO going over into the next valley where Ophir is located.

The pass coming out of Telluride CO going over into the next valley where Ophir is located.

One view of the Rockies.

One view of the Rockies.

This is what 2 million years of water erosion will do. Black Canyon National Park

This is what 2 million years of water erosion will do. Black Canyon National Park

Another view of Black Rock Canyon National Park.

Another view of Black Rock Canyon National Park.

This is where I camped one night.  A meadow in the middle of Gunnison National Forest.

This is where I camped one night. A meadow in the middle of Gunnison National Forest.

Tall mountains surrounded by smaller mountains.

Tall mountains surrounded by smaller mountains.

Sunset over CO. Rocky Mountain National Park in the back right.

Sunset over CO. Rocky Mountain National Park in the back right.

Sunrise at 6:30 AM. Can't think of a better way to start the day.

Sunrise at 6:30 AM. Can’t think of a better way to start the day.

Lake Granby is a huge lake surrounded by mountains. Beautiful place.

Lake Granby is a huge lake surrounded by mountains. Beautiful place.

Another shot of the lake with some of the surrounding mountains.

Another shot of the lake with some of the surrounding mountains.

The whole lake was surrounded with massive mountains like this.

The whole lake was surrounded with massive mountains like this.

A meadow in Rocky Mountain National Park.

A meadow in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Mt. Bowen. The area surrounded this mountain is protected wilderness, meaning no roads or signs of humanity.

Mt. Bowen. The area surrounded this mountain is protected wilderness, meaning no roads or signs of humanity.

A partially frozen creek in Rocky Mountain National Park.

A partially frozen creek in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Rocky Mountain National Park.

Rocky Mountain National Park.

 

Days 35-40: Washington to Texas to Colorado

Hello my loyal readers! I’m sorry it’s been so long since I’ve published any posts, but my last 3 weeks have been anything but normal for me. I had to leave the traveling life for just a few weeks, and take a little detour down to San Antonio to attend to a close family member’s health issues. I basically got a call saying it was a good time to come home, and left right away for a 33 hour drive back to Texas. After two weeks of being around family and living back in San Antonio, I was chomping at the bit to get back out on the road. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very happy I went home to see my family when I did. But after seeing so many incredible things along the road, things I would NEVER see in San Antonio; I decided it was time enough to head back out. So first stop of course for me had to be some insane snow covered mountains, the Colorado Rockies. I was fortunate to pass through Colorado on the very beginning of my trip, and got a chance at that point to see these incredible mountains. Now that it is November, snow and ice are definitely becoming a part of daily life in Colorado. Yesterday I got to travel over a mountain pass during an active snowstorm. For 17 miles I grinded my teeth, death gripped my steering wheel, and sat at the very edge of my seat as my little Focus slowly made it up and down over the mountainous pass. My little car made it though and brought a new meaning to the saying, slow and steady wins the race. My stops so far in Colorado have been a few national forests, a few state parks, and a few national parks. Yesterday was cool in that I got to see Pueblo cliff dwellings in the Mesa Verde National Park. I’ve always known about this cliff dwellings and even have had a chance to see something similar in Texas, but seeing these fortresses high in the mesas truly astounded me. In just the national park’s boundaries there were between 600-700 cliff dwelling structures. The whole mesa and canyons area was like an ancient community of hundreds of small (and sometimes very large) cliff dwelling villages making up a population of Pueblo Indians that would’ve numbered 20,000 plus. The other extremely interesting part is that these cliff dwellings were all built around 1100-1200 AD, well before any North American exploration. These are the native people to this North American landmass and seeing how they used to not only live, but thrive here almost a thousand years ago; was truly something remarkable. So without further ado, please enjoy some of my latest pictures. The first few were from Washington state right before I left, and the rest are from my time here in Colorado so far.

-Warren

P.S.: I got a new website! Check it out at http://www.warrenhylton.com to see my current gallery and this blog. Also sometime very soon, I will be opening my first online store for some of my prints on the same website!

Pictures from Days 35-40:

Where the Pacific meets Washington state.

Where the Pacific meets Washington state.

Unlike any other beaches I've ever seen before.

Unlike any other beaches I’ve ever seen before.

Another view of the Pacific coast beaches of Washington.

Another view of the Pacific coast beaches of Washington.

Sunset over Utah on the drive back to Texas.

Sunset over Utah on the drive back to Texas.

Mountain Creek in Colorado. Definitely plenty of snow and ice at night in this area.

Mountain Creek in Colorado. Definitely plenty of snow and ice at night in this area.

Rushing water in the Colorado Rockies.

Rushing water in the Colorado Rockies.

The creek bed was covered in an orange color showing some sort of mineral in the water.

The creek bed was covered in an orange color showing some sort of mineral in the water.

This creek winds throughout the mountains and around different trees.

This creek winds throughout the mountains and around different trees.

Beautiful forests in Colorado.

Beautiful forests in Colorado.

There's something special about these mountains out here in Colorado.

There’s something special about these mountains out here in Colorado.

Navajo Lake state park in CO. This lake goes from CO down south into New Mexico.

Navajo Lake state park in CO. This lake goes from CO down south into New Mexico.

3 different mountain ranges in southwest Colorado.

3 different mountain ranges in southwest Colorado.

A side view of a series of mesas and canyons. The cliff dwellings were found in these canyons.

A side view of a series of mesas and canyons. The cliff dwellings were found in these canyons.

One of the largest cliff dwellings. I believe this compound had 30+ rooms.

One of the largest cliff dwellings. I believe this compound had 30+ rooms.

The inhabitants of these cliff dwellings would live high in these canyons making for impenetrable fortresses.

The inhabitants of these cliff dwellings would live high in these canyons making for impenetrable fortresses.

Built in 1200AD. Truly remarkable use of land and resources to build a community.

Built in 1200AD. Truly remarkable use of land and resources to build a community.

Days 33-34: Pacific Cascades

Hello from Washington! Since my last post, I’ve been able to spend a few more days enjoying these Cascade Mountains, but have moved out of the North Cascades area and more in to the central part of Washington’s cascade range. Make no mistake though, there’s still plenty of lush forests and never ending mountains where I’m at now. The last few days have also seen an increase in weather activity. These incoming storms have made for some real interesting nights in the woods when the winds really picked up. The sounds of the wind were whipping through tree tops so quickly and in such a chaotic sounding manner that at points it was impossible to not feel surrounded by a tornado passing through the forests. I’m not sure there is anywhere else in the world where these noises could be replicated other than a different deep, mountainous forest. But that makes me very happy, as I’ll still be spending some more time in these mountains exploring those peculiar moments of noise.

Pictures from Days 33-34:

These mountains are known as the "Alps of America"

These mountains are known as the “Alps of America”

Diablo Lake. Another dam made lake in Washington state.

Diablo Lake. Another dam made lake in Washington state.

I enjoy playing with the mountains' reflections in the reservoirs.

I enjoy playing with the mountains’ reflections in the reservoirs.

View of Ross Dam, one of the dams in the cascade mountains.

View of Ross Dam, one of the dams in the cascade mountains.

Got to be one of the coolest looking dams I've seen before.

Got to be one of the coolest looking dams I’ve seen before.

Highway 20 climbing up to Washington Pass.

Highway 20 climbing up to Washington Pass.

View of a creek meeting a reservoir from very high up.

View of a creek meeting a reservoir from very high up.

The river banks in these forests are all beautiful and covered in a multitude of plants and trees. These riverbanks go on like this for miles.

The river banks in these forests are all beautiful and covered in a multitude of plants and trees. These riverbanks go on like this for miles.

Eventually these trees will be carried away down the mighty river behind them. It's only a matter of time.

Eventually these trees will be carried away down the mighty river behind them. It’s only a matter of time.

Sometimes the forest breaks it's dense underbelly and exposes a moment like this.

Sometimes the forest breaks it’s dense underbelly and exposes a moment like this.

Changing seasons in the Cascades.

Changing seasons in the Cascades.

Days 31-32: North Cascades Mountains

These mountains and forests are doing well in keeping me occupied. The more time I spend in a particular area, the more I see within the surrounding woods. It’s very easy to quickly get lost in the depth of all the greenery here in the Cascades; but when you look past the sheer number of green colors, you begin to see the thousands of plants and animals that make up all this. From the mice running around the forest floor to the 15 story high Douglas fir trees towering above, every part of the forest is a small piece of an overall environment. I’ve got some more days ahead of me exploring these beautiful forests, so stay tuned for more pictures coming soon!

-Warren

Pictures from Days 31-32:

Waterfalls are everywhere in these mountains, just hidden by thick forests.

Waterfalls are everywhere in these mountains, just hidden by thick forests.

In the old forest woods, light is prevalent at the top but becomes much scarcer closer towards the ground.

In the old forest woods, light is prevalent at the top but becomes much scarcer closer towards the ground.

These fir trees were the giants of the forest. They would rise sometimes twice as high as any other tree type around them. Literally the skyscrapers of the woods.

These fir trees were the giants of the forest. They would rise sometimes twice as high as any other tree type around them. Literally the skyscrapers of the woods.

Mt. Baker seen through the forest.

Mt. Baker seen through the forest.

One of the nicest sunsets I've seen in a while.

One of the nicest sunsets I’ve seen in a while.

And then the sunset turned red.

And then the sunset turned red.

Mt. Baker from Baker Lake.

Mt. Baker from Baker Lake.

Reflections in Baker Lake.

Reflections in Baker Lake.

A better view of Mt. Baker.

A better view of Mt. Baker.

It's easy to get lost in the depths of these woods.

It’s easy to get lost in the depths of these woods.