My first solo road trip changed everything. In the span of two weeks I came face-to-face with a bear in the middle of the night, got chased by an elk, backpacked 40 miles through the Rocky Mountains with my best friend, saw more beautiful landscapes than I’d ever imagined, and found my new home away from home, New Mexico.
It was my first real adventure. It scared me to death, but it didn’t kill me. I was hooked. There’s a strange sense of loneliness, fear, freedom and inspiration out there. I didn’t know it at the time, but that feeling would become the driving force behind everything I do. About halfway through the trip, I can remember standing on top of Hallett Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park. I could taste the blood on my lips. They were chapped from side to side. I had about 40 pounds of unnecessary junk in my pack, half a bottle of water, a camera I barely knew how to use, and absolutely no clue what I was doing. None of that mattered. Right then and there, I knew exactly what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I’ve been doing it ever since. Today I’m a lifestyle photographer by trade and a traveler by pure personal obsession. The American West has a direct line to my soul and I spend as much time exploring it as I can. Every year, I load up the truck with camera gear, fill the back with camping supplies and head west on Interstate 40 to find new, interesting places and get to know the people who call it home.
Life on the road is pure freedom. There’s no sense of ordinary. Nothing is clockwork. Everything is new. There’s a path, a handful of destinations, and thousands of miles of undiscovered territory in between.
It all started with landscape photography. Today, my work has become a wider look at the culture, lifestyles, and natural environments that make up some of the wilder parts of this country, but landscapes remain the foundation my work is built on.
Shiprock Pinnacle is one of the most beautiful yet controversial landmarks in the Southwest.
The slot canyons of Page, Arizona are some of the most iconic formations of the American West. The most popular is Antelope Canyon. If you ever make the trip, do yourself a solid and check out Rattlesnake Canyon (pictured) while you’re at it.
Monument Valley. I don’t care how “over-photographed” a place is. These landscapes are ancient. They don’t belong to anyone. Not in the grand scheme of things. They’re just as amazing now as they ever were. I value originality as much as anyone, but I never let it interfere with things that inspire me.
Dusk at White Sands, New Mexico. This image is one of my favorites.
There’s an important difference between “life on the road” and “living on the road.” An essential part of my workflow is having a home-base and time to reflect. More importantly, the contrast between life on the road and life at home is what makes travel so special to me. It’s about stepping away from everyday life into something new and inspiring. Regardless of the destination, travel is thrilling. I would never extinguish that by making an everyday routine of it.
I don’t always travel alone. If I’m on a solo trip, it’s usually because no one I know felt like living out of the back of a truck for two weeks. Every once in a while I hit the road with someone who does. Traveling with others is what ultimately broadened the scope of my work from landscape to lifestyle photographer. Pictured is one of my closest friends and fellow photographer, John David Pittman breaking in his slick, new Stetson Royal Flush just south of Las Vegas, New Mexico.
Meeting new people is a natural part of traveling – one I took for granted for a long time. Over the years, I became more and more interested in getting to know them. Their personalities and stories brought so much more meaning to the work. From there, friendships formed. Today, it’s become a wider look at culture, lifestyle, and natural environments. I seek out the people and places that make the West so weird, beautiful and inescapably interesting. This is a portrait of Phillip Manycattle. We crossed paths somewhere near the New Mexico and Arizona border. After lunch I asked him if I could make his portrait. He stood against this wall and said, “I think this would be a good picture. What do you think?” I think he was right.
He introduced himself as Drifter. I eventually learned his given name. Not many people know it, and he likes to keep it that way. We crossed paths in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He’s as wild as they come. If real outlaws still exist, THIS guy is one of the few.
If I’ve learned anything about people in my travels it’s that most are genuinely good. They’re nice. People care about each other. I’ve also found that the most special among them don’t ask for attention. Those who exude a sense of purpose and peace about themselves seem to be the least concerned with how they’re perceived by the world around them. Their personalities, style, and perspective seem to be shaped by genuine personal interests rather than crafting a persona. This is a portrait of Wild Bill Rivas, a local artist in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
J.D. Noble, the hat smith of Santa Fe, putting a few custom touches on a Stetson classic.
Don’t let the get-up fool you. Among other things, Rob is the official skateboarding competition announcer of Northern Arizona. He’s a father, a skater, and a friend to many a weary traveler passing through Flagstaff. He’s as real as they come.
More than pictures, stories or adventure, the greatest thing to come from this path is the lifelong friends I’ve made along the way. I’ve met so many wonderful people. Most encounters become distant memories and a stack of pictures over time. But a few special encounters go on to become lifelong friendships.
Michelle and I first met when we both lived in Hawaii. I was only there for a short time, and we only met in passing. It wasn’t until years later that we met again through the wonders of social media and a mutual love for the Southwest. She’s a brilliant artist, photographer, scholar, and a perfect example of lifelong friendships forged on the road.
On a typical day, you can find me wearing gratuitous amounts of denim and doing my best to tame a head of ridiculously curly hair under any hat that might hold it. This one is a Stetson passed down from my great-grandfather. I like new cameras, film cameras, wide open landscapes, road trips, saucy pizza, cowboy boots, craft beer, junky motorcycles, backpacking, deserts, mountains and keeping it real. I shoot every day. I never stop pushing forward, and I fully believe that where there is passion there is an opportunity. Find yours.
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About Heath Herring:
Heath Herring is a lifestyle and travel photographer.
His work is a unique portrayal of outdoor culture and life in the American West.