Last fall I spent four days driving a roughly 400 mile stretch of highway extending from Carson City, Nevada to the Utah/Nevada border pursuing a new project on Highway 50, also known as “The Loneliest Road in America.” People often ask me if the highway lives up to its nickname, and while there are long, isolated stretches of road that are truly lonely, with the halfway point marked by the existence of Austin — which, in many ways, is a borderline ghost town — I was pleasantly surprised by the sparks of life scattered along the way.

Right now, the main tourist push is headed by the Pony Express Territory, who challenge travelers to “survive” The Loneliest Road, offering free survival guides to anyone who wants them. They boast that you “really haven’t seen America until you’ve traveled The Loneliest Road,” and I’m not one to argue otherwise.

The Loneliest Road is a must for any road trip enthusiast — the journey takes you through mining towns harboring classic American West main street charm, and desert scenery ranging from the lush high country to the bare desert plains. Personally, I can’t get enough of the mom and pop diners, especially one in Ely that caters to hunters by covering their booths in camouflage.

I honestly never imagined that there would be so much beauty in Nevada before taking this road trip (some sources I’ve come across claim that Nevada has more mountain ranges than any other state in the continental U.S.), and I hope to return again soon and make more pictures of this incredible highway.

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Sometimes I gain a lot of creative clarity when I just go out and take photos of pretty things. When I started my new project on Highway 50 in Nevada, I spent some time getting inspiration from the motels of downtown Reno and the surrounding areas of Virginia City. I have a weakness for photographing motels, which are such a beloved symbol of the road trip culture I know so well. It’s so easy to get sucked in to the romance of their retro, mid-century aesthetics and adore the simplicity of their design. To me, it’s an art form, and a refreshing backdrop when compared to the cookie cutter presence of the Best Westerns and Holiday Inns of today.

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Prepare yourselves: I’m about to get all fangirl on this blog.

The only upside of the family emergency situation in France was that I was no longer going to be on a cruise ship docked in Venice, Italy the day of the Royal Wedding. A few days prior to April 29th, we realized my grandmother’s health had improved enough for me to part ways without it weighing on my conscience. The second I booked a last minute plane ticket from Nice to London I could barely contain my excitement: I was going to be IN THE STREETS for the ROYAL. WEDDING. Shut. Up. like, omygawd.

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These are a handful of quiet images leftover from my wanderings around one of my favorite cities — London. A place where I learned the following:

1) They don’t like it when you call parking garages “castles”
2) They don’t like it when you call Tower Bridge “London Bridge” and refuse to acknowledge it actually moving to Arizona
3) Regardless of what he may promise, don’t expect Colin Firth to meet you at the Buckingham Palace on your birthday — he’ll just stand you up and break your heart
4) Jeremy Kyle’s word is LAW
5) Driving four hours apparently feels like driving for four days if you are British (whimps! I do four hour drives almost as often as I brush my teeth)
6) M&S is the greatest gas station convenience store I have EVER been to — why hasn’t America adopted this chain yet?!?!
7) Bunting flags automatically make everything cuter

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One of my main motivations to travel to England was that two friends of mine, Jenise and Jimmer, live in Liphook — about an hour south of London — and had a standing offer for me to stay with them should I ever come visit. I consider myself lucky to have friends all over the country, let alone the world, but luck doesn’t even scratch the surface of the amazing hospitality provided by Jenise and Jimmer. I totally feel like I won the friend lottery — those two basically MADE my trip to England as amazing as it was. Without them I wouldn’t have had nearly as great of a time as I did, and not just because Jenise made me a BADASS cake on my birthday (complete with a fondant unicorn, flat cat, camera, and rainbow — I seriously cried), and Jimmer not only tolerated my sundried tomato obsession, but also gave into my demands to watch reruns of Friends pretty much non-stop. Seriously, they are the most rock n’ roll couple in England. No one can convince me otherwise.

With the Olivers as my tour guides, we embarked on road trips to Stonehenge, Bath, Brighton (twice), and nearby villages, including a special trip to Colin Firth’s birthplace, which I will always associate with the memory of buying a hideous Posh Spice mask that I think would be good to wear on blind dates. Brighton was such a charming coastal town that is a favorite getaway spot for J&J, and after our time there I can totally see why.

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As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I truly believe that you get to know the beat of a city by visiting their markets. Born and raised in a vastly suburban environment, large, semi-permanent markets were all but a completely foreign experience to me until I first visited Pike Place in Seattle several years ago. Now I make them a priority whenever I explore a new city.

The discovery of the Borough Market in London was brought about by my friend and former Alaska co-worker, Sierra, who met up with me during her spring break while studying abroad. I had no idea what to expect but I can honestly say that the Borough is, hands down, my absolute favorite food market that I’ve ever been to. The atmosphere alone is worth the visit, as it somehow manages to blend the charms of old London with a modern twist. Not to downplay the food, of course, as I ate one of the best sandwiches of my life in the Borough. I love to support local businesses whenever I travel because it allows me to experience the local flavor, thus giving me the most authentic experience possible. The Borough exceeded all my expectations, and then some — so much so that I went back and spent another full day there before my trip was over.

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Alright, let’s get the unhappy stuff out of the way real quick. The truth is that the Mediterranean cruise my mother, grandmother, and I planned for back in the spring — the main reason I went to Europe in the first place — was drastically cut short. We pretty much missed out on the whole experience because of a family emergency. Two days into the cruise, my grandmother became suddenly ill out of nowhere, suffering from dehydration, heart failure, and a magnitude of other serious health problems and was rushed to the nearest hospital the second we reached our nearest port: Monaco, where we would stay for the remainder of our trip.

During this time, I went through one of the most stressful and heart-wrenching experiences ever shared with my loved ones in recent memory. I’ll be frank: the night she got sick on the cruise ship was absolutely miserable. I had never seen my grandmother so bad before; often I feel like I am strong enough to get my her through whatever situation she may face, but that night I felt completely helpless. It was incredibly hard to watch.

Thankfully, we were supported by our travel insurance, as well as a team of caring individuals — from the kind staff on Holland America, to the employees at Princess Grace hospital (my dynasty-loving grandma got a kick out of that), my brother who was stateside, and, most importantly, our travel agent Michelle, who effortlessly arranged everything we needed within a heartbeat so that I didn’t have to deal with any more drama than what was already piled on.

While this was going on, I was feeling really bad for my mom — I had already been traveling for over two weeks before we met up in Barcelona (where the cruise departed from) and seen quite a bit, yet this was also her first time in Europe and it had come to an abrupt halt almost as soon as it started. Although most days were spent keeping grandma company, waiting on her health to be stable enough to fly her home, my mom and I did manage to sneak away for a couple days and do a little bit of sight-seeing to make up for the cancelled cruise a bit.

We had been told that Nice, France was about a 20 minute train ride away, and the border of Italy was equidistant from Monaco in the opposite direction. My mom — not nearly as savvy with trains and public transportation as I — needed a bit of encouragement for the day trips, but was ultimately impressed by the EU train system.

Personally, I just adored Nice and enjoyed our day there significantly more than my time Paris. Overall I found the people to be friendlier and the city centre livelier. It had the charm of France paired with the colors of Barcelona — a perfect combination for me.

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It’s time to play a little blog catch up. I can’t wrap up 2011 without posting pictures from my vacation in Europe over the spring.

I should start by saying that traveling to Europe was something that came about kind of by accident and fairly last minute. In January my mother and grandmother told me they wanted to go on a Mediterranean cruise and asked me to come along/help plan the trip. After working seasonally as a tour guide in Juneau, the idea of taking a cruise was not terribly appealing. But seeing as 1) I had never been to Europe before, 2) this was fairly important to my family, and 3) I didn’t have anything significant planned for all of April, I may as well go along. I figured that if I could head out earlier and see a few things on my own terms prior to meeting up with my family, I wouldn’t feel so trapped and at the mercy of the time restrictions that comes along with cruising.

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This time last year I was at a crappy place in my life. I had returned from living in Alaska and made a very strict promise to myself that I would not go back–not because I didn’t love Alaska, but because I had found myself working at a job that my heart wasn’t 100% in, simply for the steady paycheck. I was scared to pursue my dreams, which up until that point I wasn’t exactly sure about. For a while, the idea of being a freelance photographer and maintaining a life of bills, student loan payments, rent, etc., was incredibly terrifying to me. But ultimately I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that that was what I wanted to do. Full time.

When I returned to California in the winter of 2010, I had lost touch with virtually all of my networking contacts. I had strayed off course of the freelance path for two years and I honestly felt like I had to start over. So I did, and it seemed impossible at the time. Slowly but surely, I began to build new relationships — I rebranded myself, updated my website, and applied for anything and everything that might help me gain experience and get my foot back in the door. It was painfully slow at times, and I received a lot of rejections along the way.

Yet in between all the discouraging moments, little victories were being made. I was honored as a finalist for the Alexia Foundation for my work on Leadville. I started working with the most rock n’ roll wedding photographers and collective on the planet. And I signed a freelance contract with the New York Times.

On Tuesday, a photo of mine landed on A1. Let’s be fair, the story landed on A1, wonderfully written by James Dao. I was just lucky enough to see my photo alongside it.

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I’ve been on the road a lot this past month, driving on amazingly beautiful highways in the American West. These are a handful of snapshots I’ve taken along the way.

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