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Our National Parks Odyssey: Ups and Downs

This is the second part of an ongoing series about Red River Pro Andrew Slaton and his wife Ellen who, along with their two dogs and a cat, have hit the road full time in a travel trailer to seek adventure and photograph all the National Parks. There have also been some side trips, some ups and downs and…well, let’s hear it from Andrew.

–By Andrew Slaton–

© Andrew Slaton

Redefining Success…

“Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome.” Booker T. Washington

“You know, Andrew,” an old friend and mentor once told me, “I learned early on about entrepreneurial manic depression. Basically, the big highs and deep lows that come with being your own boss. People smarter than me have said that it’s good to not make big decisions at the high points or low points, as your vision is blurred and your ego may be in the way. In the dip it’s easy to cut and run and in the highs it’s easy to spend money and think you’ve finally made it.”

These wise words swirl around in my head as large crystalline flakes swirl slowly outside the frosty windows of our trailer. You may remember from my first post, Our National Parks Odyssey that we named our 29 foot travel trailer “Gertie”. It’s October here in Grand Teton National Park. The leaves have peaked and started falling early this year. And now, the snow is taking over. Gertie is not made for such weather.

It’s my absolute favorite time of year in one, if not the one, of our favorite National Parks. Ellen and I have been to the Tetons a million times it seems, but the jagged peaks, high alpine lakes, and endless dirt roads keep it fresh and exciting every time we come back.

I was supposed to have a workshop up here a few weeks ago, but it fell through. This year has been a tough one for several of my workshops. Really, if I’m being honest, the entire year has been tough on my business in general. It has been a year of extreme highs and lows.

© Andrew Slaton

The American Serengeti…

“If you find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere.” Frank A. Clark

Only a few months ago, we nearly totaled our truck (Hoss) right here in the park, when I hit a bison late the night before the eclipse. Our truck is our livelihood, and our only vehicle.

Of course we were devastated to hit one of our beloved animals in our beloved park. Unfortunately, three were hit that night as several went out to lie in the road. Thankfully, we were only going 30 mph as I knew this particular area was full of wildlife.

All the locals say, when you live out here in the “American Serengeti” long enough, you’re bound to hit an animal. It’s one of the unfortunate realities of living in such a wildlife abundant state.

The worst part was that Ellen and I were both vigilantly looking out for animals on the road. This one just blended into the dark pavement of the highway and we didn’t see it until it was too late.

© Andrew Slaton

Overcoming Difficulty…

“The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” Winston Churchill

It has felt like one misfortune after another has come upon us on this leg of the journey. I can’t even count how many times I’ve had to fix tricky mechanical issues on the truck this year, or had jobs fall through, or have our pets’ vet bills mounting.

As a child in Dallas, I was taught that in business (and life), one must put on the air of success at all times, otherwise, success may elude you. So it’s tough for me to admit when my endeavors are struggling.

It felt as though the first leg of our journey was full of mercy and fortunate occurrences. But this leg has been wrought with disappointments, truck and trailer breakdowns, and poor weather. Oh, but please don’t hear me complaining! The truth to which Ellen and I always return is that we’d rather be broke, pursuing our dreams, than rich in Dallas. No offense meant to Dallas specifically.

I do not share all of this to have a little pity party for myself. I actually toiled over writing from this angle for several reasons. All the reasons though were based on fears. And one thing I’ve learned being on the road is that a life is not a life at all if it is lived out of fear.

And besides, there were a few really wonderful successes this year.

© Andrew Slaton

I’m sharing these difficult truths because I hope that it encourages. Perhaps it will encourage you to embrace difficulty, and at times, even failure. To press forward though the inevitable storms of life, without feeling as though you are alone, or that you cannot share your struggle. We tend to think that if our business is struggling, it means we are a failure. But that’s just a lie.

As Yogi Berra once said: “It ain’t over till it’s over.” So true.

Islay’s Diagnosis…

“Trials teach us what we are; they dig up the soil, and let us see what we are made of.” Charles Spurgeon

As we returned home for the holidays last year, our dog, Islay was diagnosed with a rare infection and  given only a few months to live.

We were heartbroken. At the time she was only 10 months old. We were told she likely wouldn’t make it to see her first birthday. So we went and got another puppy, Skye Blue.

Oddly enough, Skye’s presence, along with a Hail Mary cocktail of medicine, helped Islay–  she began to do better and is still with us. And so is Colonel Bubba, our cat, who just does his own thing.

© Andrew Slaton


“All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me… You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.” Walt Disney

After the new year, we set off for Florida. The fact that we were able to make Florida work for several months was almost a miracle. ‘Cause let me tell you… it is not cheap to winter in Florida. Everyone and their grandma wants to do it.

We slowly worked our way along the crystal waters of the Panhandle and Gulf Coast until we reached the Everglades. Then on to the Keys and back up the Gulf again.

It was a wonderful few months. We spent time raising our new little pup, walking for hours along pristine beaches, hiking through the pine forests, and exploring the swamps and backwater bayous.

After Florida, we wanted to see more of the southwest. I had my flagship workshop, Wildflowers and Stars, to teach in Big Bend National Park in Texas, so we had a great jumping point to head to several new National Parks on our list. But taking an honest look at our finances and the current prospect of work, it was a long shot.

After a lot of talking and prayer, we decided to move forward in faith. We were going to press on, until something stopped us.

Our National Parks Odyssey, Part 3 will appear in the next post. The link for Part 1 is at “Related Posts” below.


About Andrew Slaton

Andrew Slaton is an award-winning photographer who has done assignments for more than 50 clients and specializes in lifestyle and outdoor images.

He is a Red River Pro who outputs his National Parks prints in limited editions of ten each, printed on archival Red River Papers with fade-resistant pigment inks.

You can help Andrew and Ellen achieve their goal by adding one or more of Andrew’s beautiful prints to your collection. From now until November 20, 2017, you can purchase a print for as little as $30! You can also subscribe to a collector’s edition of prints from each of the 59 National Parks he plans to photograph.

Contact Information
Visit Andrew’s web site, view his work, learn about upcoming workshops and order prints here.

Original Publication Date: November 16, 2017

Article Last updated: November 16, 2017

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