I could write volumes about the highs (trips, time with family, creative pursuits...) and lows (basically any and everything having to do with our ridiculous current presidential administration) of this year, but instead I'll just leave you with these: some of my favorite images from some of my favorite shoots and adventures over the course of 2017.
To understand why I might consider an all-inclusive resort in a popular tourist area in Mexico a "hidden gem," one must first understand my travel history. I am fluent in Spanish. I have lived in South America and backpacked through Peru, Argentina, and Chile. I have stayed in hostels, camped, cooked my own food, lived on very little money. And I have been to the Mayan Riviera four times, staying in modest vacation rentals in a small fishing village on each visit. I scoffed at all-inclusive resorts and wrote them off as not being an "authentic" travel experiences or as too insular.
That was all before kids.
Now I realize - after having discovered the magical place that is Paradisus - La Esmerelda in Playa del Carmen - that an all-inclusive resort can be an amazing haven of recreation and relaxation and family-friendly accommodations. Were it not for our recent #SCAgetaway, I would never have discovered Paradisus, a place where they provided anything and everything we as a family with two young kids might want.
On the day of our departure, Andrew and I awoke to a 3:45 a.m. alarm, threw on our clothes and woke the kids - Julian (5) and Nora (2.5) - for our 4:15 a.m. taxi pick-up. The plane lifted off under cover of darkness at 6:00 in the morning, the kids sitting wide-eyed in their seats, still in their jammies. Both had flown before, but when they were infants, and neither one remembered the experience. They were mesmerized, terrified, and fascinated all at once. At one point, Julian asked me, "are you sure this is safe?" (something I wonder to myself every time I fly). As the sun began to rise - a spectacular sight from an airplane window - any anxiety melted away to pure excitement.
We were met at the Cancun International Airport by a friendly driver from Olympus Tours who fulfilled my lifelong dream of being greeted at an airport by someone holding a sign with my name on it. We sprang for the private transfer to the hotel which was worth every penny - the kids dozed just long enough in their carseats to take the edge off of their tiredness and Andrew and I took full advantage of the wifi in the van to catch up on work emails (Andrew) and post to Snapchat and Instagram Stories (me).
The VIP treatment continued ten-fold when we arrived at Paradisus - a huge resort situated on the beach near Playa del Carmen on the Mayan Riviera, yet not at all visible from the main road. We were whisked to the family concierge desk via golf cart, where we were fed champagne, outfitted with stylish wristbands, and introduced to our family butler Paulina, who gave us a tour of the myriad amenities available: several swimming pools, a rock climbing wall, babysitting services, tons of restaurants, a private beach, and beautiful grounds nestled among a mangrove forest.
We checked out our amazing room, where sand toys awaited the kids, and we discovered that we even had a jacuzzi on our balcony that looked out over the Caribbean Sea. We immediately donned swimsuits. It was then that getting up so early in the morning paid off: the kids were splashing in the pool and Andrew and I were enjoying margaritas by noon.
The rest of our first day in paradise was spent going from the pool to the beach and back. We had a delicious dinner at the resort's Brazilian steakhouse, and we were all sound asleep by 8pm.
Here are some of my favorite images from that first wonderful day.
Huge thanks to Sun Country Airlines, Paradisus - La Esmerelda, and Olympus Tours for this amazing opportunity.
There's nothing quite like a mid-week road trip. To the North Shore. With a dear friend who is also a photographer. One who is totally down to spontaneously pull over to the side of the road for those "hey look!" moments.
Eric and I had a fabulous time soaking up the fall colors along Lake Superior, chasing light, and standing in as each other's models. We explored places we'd never been before and hit up some old favorites. My heart and my camera roll are both full after our 36-hour adventure.
This place is so special to me, I almost hesitate to share photos of it. This year, my family celebrated 50 years of coming to Split Rock Cabins, a place that for many of us feels like church.
Our week at Split Rock this July was filled with hours on end spent by the Big Lake, explorations on the Superior Hiking Trail, and visits to some of Minnesota's (and this year, Canada's) finest waterfalls.
After being serenaded by a symphony of tree frogs and falling asleep to the sound of gentle rain falling on the water, I was awakened that first morning by one of my favorite sounds: the long, haunting call of a loon echoing across a glassy lake.
Later that morning, Andrew and I - each with a kid nestled in our laps - paddled out into the middle of the placid lake in kayaks. We caught a glimpse of white about 20 feet up in a majestic red pine on the shore and instantly knew it was a bald eagle. As we paddled closer, it took flight, soaring overhead for a minute before joining its mate in another tree down the shore.
As the eagles made their presence known, the male loon that had been tracking our path from a safe distance, called out loudly. Almost frantically. And it became readily apparent why: nearby a mama loon sat on a nest in the marshy grasses at the edge of the lake.
Thankfully, no circle-of-life scenes unfolded before our eyes. Instead, we just drifted in our kayaks - the kids being remarkably quiet - and watched two pairs of our state's most striking birds in their natural habitat. We were guests on their turf and for those few moments, we felt like the only humans in a world we are fortunate enough to share with these creatures.
I have written before about the mystical quality of Minnesota lake life. "Up North" is more than just a place; it's a state of mind. A way of life. Something we feel nostalgic for even while we're in the midst of it. It's where we go to relax, recharge, and reconnect with nature.
For me, there is a direct correlation between the remoteness of the location and the quality of that unique Up North experience. Hence the appeal of true wilderness like Minnesota's State Parks and the Boundary Waters. Realistically, though, those spots aren't always easy with small children.
Enter Lost Lake Lodge. My friend, Jill, and I were invited up to this small family-owned resort with our families over Memorial Day Weekend (filed under: amazing-experiences-that-have-come-my-way-because-of-photography). Lost Lake Lodge has all the modern conveniences of any major resort on Gull Lake and then some: pontoon boats, fine dining, even wifi. It's a great place for families with kids, with an old-school summer camp vibe and all of the activities that go along with that: campfires, fishing, scavenger hunts.
But tucked behind the cabins that face Gull Lake, the Lodge has its true hidden gem: Lost Lake. The private lake has no boat launch and no motorized watercraft. Save for the resort's small beach, the shores are completely undeveloped, meaning no fertilizer run-off from manicured lawns, no real signs of civilization, and the old growth forests along the banks are still intact. It's as authentic a wilderness experience as I've had in the BWCA, but we were able to stay in a comfortable cabin instead of a tent and eat farm-to-table salads and braised short ribs for dinner.
I am grateful for the opportunity to visit and photograph this magical place. And I'm already lobbying my family to go back. I have the feeling I'll succeed.
Below are some of my favorite photos from our stay.
( c l i c k t o e n l a r g e )
U2's The Joshua Tree album was released in 1987. I was 7 years old and I have been in love with it ever since. Early on, I also became obsessed with Joshua Tree National Park, thinking that visiting the place that inspired the name of my favorite album would somehow bring me closer to the music and band I so dearly worshipped.
I finally made it 28 years later, and the park was truly magical. And of course the album provided the perfect soundtrack to the adventure. Inspired by this connection, I created a photo series pairing my favorite shots from the trip (not just of JTNP, but the greater Coachella Valley as well) with songs from the album as titles.
This week in a special Citinerary, "Weekend Explorer" piece, I shared some photos from our family vacation to the Brainerd Lakes area and I attempted to describe (to the journal's international readers) just what makes cabin country/up north/lake life so special.
Check out the journal article here and see some of the photos from it below.
A yoga retreat on an island in Wisconsin? Yes, please. Hone my photo skills by taking some shots for Align by Adrienne? Ok.
I didn't even realize how much I needed this time to recharge and actually exercise for the first time in years until I got there. The setting (at Stout's Island Lodge) was idyllic, the workouts grueling, and the company wonderful.
Here are some of my favorite images: