“Nearly all the best things that came to me in life have been unexpected, unplanned by me.” ~Carl Sandburg

I remember the moment vividly, but to this day, cannot tell you why.  In the summer of 1997, after completing my final college course, “Creative Writing,” I candidly shared with my then-boyfriend-now-husband, Craig, “You know, I would love to write a book someday.  But I have no idea what to write about.”

Without salable topics and content, the notion of ever becoming a writer seemed far-fetched.  Instead, I happily headed to my first job at Intel Corporation in Phoenix, Arizona as a business analyst, ready to put my brand new Business Administration/Computer Information Systems degree to good use.  Corporate life was stressful for this Type-A personality, though.  At my mother’s insistence, I took an “Introduction to Photography” course at the local Chandler-Gilbert Community College to give me a creative outlet.  I showed up to the first class without a camera or a clue, and left five semesters later with an improbable dream of becoming a professional photographer someday.

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Paul Gill began photographing in 1975, after receiving his Bachelors of Fine Arts from Arizona State University and working as an art director for 17 years, designing and producing publications and fine art books for companies like the Scottsdale Center for the Arts.   Fifteen years ago, while exploring every nook and cranny of Arizona and building his landscape portfolio, Paul came up with what he thought would be an interesting tagline, “Wild in Arizona.”  But he had no idea how he could incorporate it with his photography.

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Paul's Poster

A draft of the poster Paul wanted to create in 2008 for Arizona's national and state parks using the tagline, "Wild in Arizona."

Our paths crossed in September 2003 while on an Arizona Highways Photography Workshop “Colorado Fall Colors” with photographer Jim Steinberg.   Paul was the trip leader/assistant; I was an eager student wanting to learn how to photograph using color slides, since my early training was exclusively in black and white film.  I also made some great friends on that trip, and Paul and I kept in contact once the trip ended.  After a phenomenal learning experience with Jim and Paul, I started to sell my photography at art shows and to editorial and commercial clients.  Then in early 2007,  I left Intel to pursue photography and writing full-time.

As I was trying to get my new business off the ground, Paul was reconsidering his “Wild in Arizona” idea.  In 2008, he pondered developing posters for Arizona’s state and national parks, each of which show the tagline, “Wild in Arizona” with a photograph of the unique wildflowers for that area.  A good idea, but it succumbed to higher priority submissions and assignments.  Arizona Highways, Natures Best, Smith-Southwestern, and numerous other paying gigs took precedence.

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On April 21, 2010 – in another moment I’ll never forget – Paul forwarded an email to me from a lady wishing to organize a private photography workshop to capture Arizona’s wildflowers.  After seeing Paul’s amazing wildflower photographs, she also asked, “I have googled Devils Potato Patch, Hills of Silver King and Silly Mountain to no avail.  Is their (sic) some resource book that would guide me to these locations?  Any help you could give me would help.  Thanks.”

Paul taking a break during a working session for the book at Colleen's home. Yes, that's a growler of Epicenter from San Tan Brewing, our "unofficial sponsor" who provided numerous liquid assets during our journey.

The answer to her question was, “No. There isn’t a book out there that shares this information.”

We hear these kinds of questions from people all the time.  I’m not sure what it was about this particular email, but it screamed, “OPPORTUNITY!!”

I typed a message back to Paul as fast as my little fingers would hit the keys, “Did you catch this – she’s given you an incredible opportunity!  “Write a book that guides people to the very best areas to photograph wildflowers in Phoenix or Arizona.”  Who else has done this?!”

Paul immediately responded, “Yes you can have all my images if you want to write and publish.  A book on locations and how to shoot. Love it. Should be called ‘Wild in Arizona.’  See all the opportunities opening.”

Five days later, Paul and I met at San Tan Brewing to review a proposal and outline for a book called “Wild in Arizona.”

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Today, we both chuckle when we reminisce about the many past, seemingly ridiculous thoughts we never let go of for some reason:  to write a book, to become a photographer, to put a great idea to use…somehow, someway, someday.  Here we are, after 10-15 years of dreaming and 15 months of the hardest work we’ve ever done, combining our unique talents and working  together on our final edits and preparing our book, “Wild in Arizona:  Photographing Arizona’s Wildflowers, A Guide to When, Where, and How” to go to the printer in mid-September.

It was unplanned, it was unexpected, but certainly it has been one of the best things we’ve worked towards in our lives thus far.  And we can’t wait to share it with all of you soon!

–Colleen

Wild geranium. Canon 5DMII, 100mm macro, ISO 400, f/5.6 @ 1/200 s.

When Paul and I decided to pursue this book idea last spring (more on that story in an upcoming blog post), we knew it was going to take combining our different skills to get the book completed.  Since then, we’ve “divided and conquered.”  Paul is responsible for most of the photography and all of the graphic design for the book, while I’m doing some of the photography and all of the writing.

Over the past week, Paul has been finishing the last round of edits to the maps, photos, and layout, while I’ve spent my time finalizing and “fact-checking” all of the different flowers, directions, and photographic instruction we provide in the book.  I had a handful of little details I wanted to check out in the field before we started our final edits, particularly the impact of the Wallow Fire, Arizona’s largest wildfire in history.

We’ve tracked this massive wildfire closely since it started in late May, as two of our favorite locations featured in the book – Hannagan Meadow and the Thompson Trail – fell within the burn area boundary.  Last Monday, the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest started opening large chunks of the forest, giving us the chance to confirm before the book went to print whether or not these areas had burned.

I left at “0-dark-thirty” on Wednesday morning with my “assistant,” my wonderful mother, Jacque, and headed towards the White Mountains.  En route, we made a quick stop at Black Canyon Lake, where we were delighted to see a healthy mix of monsoon blooms such as wild geranium, yellow hairy aster, penstemon, Hooker’s evening primrose, and western dayflower along its shores.

Before traveling on to Hannagan Meadow, I joined a very special group of people who can say they’ve been locked in a porta-potty!   I spent about 10 minutes (felt like two hours) in the smelly confines of the primitive john, banging on the plastic walls and yelling for help until one of the fisherman nearby came to my rescue.  “Jam the handle up hard and all the way to the right,” he suggested calmly – a handy tip just in case you decide to visit the lake and nature calls.

Western sneezeweed sits on the edge of the burn area of the Wallow Fire a few miles north of Hannagan Meadow. Canon 5DMII, 16-35mm @ 19mm, ISO 400, f/20 @1/40 s.

After a quick spin through Overgaard to check on the common sunflowers (not much going on there right now), we finally made it to Hannagan Meadow.  Though the wildfire burned nearly 540,000 acres across the White Mountains, this idyllic place remained completely unscathed!

The Thompson Trail near Big Lake didn’t fare as well but wasn’t in as bad of shape as we had feared.  The creek bed of the West Fork of the Black River near the trailhead was predominantly untouched, save for the ridgelines above the trail.  As the forest regenerates over the next two to three years, disturbance wildflowers like lupine and fireweed will grow abundantly in the nutrient rich soil next to the western sneezeweed and aspen fleabane you see there now.  In other words, an amazing place to photograph flowers is only going to get better!

Rocky Mountain Beeplant near Flagstaff. Canon 5DMII, 24-105mm @ 90mm, ISO 1250 (windy and captured after sundown), f/18 @ 1/15 s.

With the majority of my work done early Thursday morning, my mom and I agreed we would drive as far west as we could to escape the constant downpour and lighting, even hail!  Our aimless wanderings landed us at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon under sunny skies.  Until that evening when we fell asleep to the sounds of crackling thunder and pitter-patter of rain hitting our tent.

The next morning, we toured the areas on the North Rim we recommend in the book, specifically DeMotte Park, Point Imperial, and the road to Cape Royal.  Golden-eye, goldenrod, and Kaibab paintbrush were blooming prolifically along the roads, as patches of skyrockets graced the lush meadows.  Unfortunately, I needed to be home by Friday evening, otherwise I would have stayed another week to capture the spectacle.

On the way home to Chandler, we made a brief stop at Jacob Lake Inn to stock up on their famous homemade cookies (when I go to heaven, I hope I’m surrounded by piles and piles of “Cookie on a Cloud”…YUM!), and then took a quick spin to Bonito Park near Sunset Crater National Park outside of Flagstaff.  The prairie sunflowers that normally blanket the field need about another week to fully develop, but a bunch of Arizona gilia is growing nicely on the hillside across from the meadow.

After all was said and done, we drove 1,119 in just three days!  Here’s our route:   http://tinyurl.com/WIAAugustRoadtrip.  The key for the various destination shown on the map is as follows:

  • A/G = Chandler
  • B = Overgaard
  • C = Hannagan Meadow
  • D = Thompson Trailhead
  • E = North Rim of the Grand Canyon
  • F = Bonito Park

Hi everyone!

Thanks for stopping by our new blog!

As you may know, my buddy and fellow professional photographer, Paul Gill, and I are working to publish our first book, “Wild in Arizona: Photographing Arizona’s Wildflowers!”  It’s almost here!!  Pre-sales should start in October, as the book will be available this November.

We’ve started this blog to give you a behind-the-scenes look at how the book came together, share our current status, and perhaps most importantly, provide an on-going online community for those interested in photographing all that the amazing state of Arizona has to offer.  We hope to provide photography tips as well as “eyes on” reports from the field as we travel around the Grand Canyon State so you too can join in on the shooting fun.

Paul and I are new to the blog world, so we’d welcome your thoughts about what you’d like to see from us.    Don’t be shy, we’d love to hear from you!

–Colleen

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