*words and images by Sean Raymond Collier
I grew up on old black and white western flicks. Iconic gun-slinging show downs, epic characters based on real legends, true cowboys who ride during the day and sleep under the starry sky at night—it all left a lasting impression. But no visual more so than the endless miles of cactus strewn desert landscape unique to the American Southwest.
As a result of the unusually intense rainfall that blanketed much of the Western U.S. this winter, select regions of the desert experienced a “superbloom,” where flowers exploded with color in the characteristically drab desert. Seeing photographs and news articles was enough to get me scheming for a visit come spring. The excitement of getting out under the same desert sky as in those very western films was the cause of much sleep deprivation.
After days of dropping pins on Google Maps to get an idea of which direction to head, I received an unexpected call from a friend from Southeast Arizona, and my plans effectively fell into place. Without hesitation, I invited him to come along, packed up the rig, and found Beau ready and psyched the next morning, with a heck of a lot of 35mm film.
"Our goal was to feel like modern day cowboys, minus the horse and gun, adding instead an old van and a few cameras."
We spent four days lurking around the Tonto National Forest getting our fill of poppies, rattle snakes, and saguaros. Our goal was to feel like modern day cowboys, minus the horse and gun, adding instead an old van and a few cameras.
We hiked around in the blazing sun, woke up surrounded by 10 foot cacti, and howled at the moon in unison with a pack of coyotes. A few months ago the A/C in my van took a dump on me, so we kept cool by losing the shirts on our back and taking a dip in the Colorado River on our way home to California.
There’s something about the desert landscape that makes me feel more free among it than others. It’s a place where you never see the same cactus twice. A place that I long to return too time and time again.