July of 2017 was one of the best months of my whole life, and I have had some amazing months. Looking back, there were 30 days in South America traveling from the Galapagos to Peru, then a month in Tanzania and Madagascar on safari (more stories from these trips to come), yet with all this adventure and exploration, July 2017 was still the most rewarding month in my life. After coasting through most of my senior year of high school and being ready to graduate and move on from the struggles of high school, I was so excited for college, and by the end of May I couldn't wait any longer. There were a few things in my way, including another month and a half of school, but my main problem was the 2 months of summer with nothing planned and nothing to do; 60 days of nothing. After having my previous adventures abroad every summer before hand, I knew I had to go out and explore the world more. However, being the poor high school student I was and my parents being busy with their own lives during the upcoming summer, I didn't have anyone to pay for the trip or take me over seas like usual. So, one day in the beginning of June about three weeks before graduation, I had an idea.
My idea was to go on a (cheap) solo road trip across the country and visit two of the most iconic American destinations: Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Having not been there for several years, I figured I’d go out there with my camera and photograph these locations like I've never done before. It took about 3 weeks of planning and discussing with my parents before I managed to convince them to let me go on this road trip, but thankfully I was allowed to go. So I spent the two weeks after my high school graduation preparing everything for my trip. First was 400 dollars of maintenance on my car. From getting the oil changed to replacing the windshield wipers, I had to do everything to make sure the car was safe to drive across the country. Then I had to purchase all the necessary camping materials, such as a portable stove, a tent, a sleeping mat and even a solid steel axe to cut my own firewood.
Finally it was time, July 11th at about seven in the morning, dew on the grass and mist in the air, I was ready to start my biggest and most daunting solo journey of my life. As expected, the beginning of the road trip was fairly boring; ten hours of driving for three days straight. At each campground I stopped at along the way, I slept in my hot and uncomfortable car with the smell of smoke and S’mores wafting in through the windows. It wasn't until about five days in when I eventually realized how amazing my trip was going to be, because I finally made it to one of main destinations: Yellowstone National Park. As soon as I entered the park, all my previous memories came rushing back after being away from the park for nearly 4 years. I remembered the time that my family almost crashed our rental car into the back of a moose as it jumped out in front of us, and the time on Yellowstone Lake when my sister was testing the freezing cold glacier water and I decided to push her in. However, this was different, this time in the park. I was there alone, just me and my camera. At first I didn't really know what to do or where to go, so I had to look back at the itinerary I planned for the trip (if you’re interested in this itinerary email me or message me on instagram, links below), including all the photo shoots and amazing locations I planned to visit. So, as soon as I claimed my campsite in the Norris Geyser Campground (pictured above), I headed out and started my national park adventure. The first day and a half was uneventful, the constant smell of rotten eggs a.k.a sulfur in the air, only seeing a few elk every few hours and hundreds of tourists. However, my second morning in the park was one of my favorite mornings of my life. I woke up at 3 a.m. before the moon even set, looking up through my tent I could see the dark silhouettes of the pine trees around me and the faint lights of stars, so I got up, put on 4 layers of sweatshirts and jackets so I could bear the freezing cold Yellowstone summer morning, and I drove an hour east in the pitch black forest with only headlights illuminating my way. I was headed to artist's point for sunrise. This iconic location is the overlook of Yellowstone Falls, and is photographed by almost every photographer in Yellowstone.
I pulled into the parking lot and got out of my car, only seeing 2 other vehicles on my hour drive there. However as soon as I got out of my car, another one pulled into the spot right next to me. The car was tiny in comparison to my huge SUV; it was small, silver, and full of trash, with some camping supplies scattered around. What I didn't know was that the guy who got out of the car would become one of the greatest people I've met over all my 26 countries of traveling. So as the man with dreadlocks, glasses, and sandals stepped out of his car, I politely said, “hi” with him saying, “hello” back. Due to the fact that I was on my first solo adventure, halfway across the country, with no one to look out for me, I got a little nervous. I thought to myself, “I could get robbed right here” so I put on my gloves and decided to walk ahead of the fellow photographer and start photographing the scene alone.
After capturing the beginning of a beautiful sunrise for about 10 minutes, the man with dreadlocks finally caught up to me and set up his photography gear right next to me. He took a few shots and then we decided to introduce ourselves.
“Hey dude, I said hi to you in the parking lot but I just wanted to introduce myself officially, my name is Phillip,” he told me.
So I introduced myself back. “My name is Mitchell, I’m 18, and I’m from Sparta, New Jersey. What about you?”
“Oh cool man, that's a long ways away. I'm 27 and from Kearny, Nebraska.”
So we continued talking about places we’ve been and things we’ve seen, and at the end of sunrise we finally got to explaining where we were headed next, and it turned out we were both going to be in the Tetons on the same day. So I invited him to go on another photoshoot with me! We exchanged information and we stayed in touch until our next photo shoot in the Tetons. At this next photoshoot, I taught Phillip how to capture the milky way in a photo, and over the course of the night we became good friends. We talked about everything from girl problems, to our families, to where we wanted our lives to go. To this day we still post photos from our two photoshoots together, we talk almost every week over instagram and other social media’s, and we plan on meeting up the next time we are in each others area!
This proves how even when there is nothing to do, you can always go out and explore the world. Over the course of my trip, I taught myself that I can take care of myself on my own, I can find new places, and meet new people. When you go out and explore, good things happen, and you end up meeting random guys with dreadlocks from Nebraska.
P.S. Phillip and I are still great friends, we met up while I was on my second road trip in the summer of 2018, if you want to see the day we hung out check out my YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jrWRhXchNkU&t=4s
Also watch Phillip’s side of the story on his channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bEIDlKuN0Co