Have you ever taken a photograph of something – a sunset, flower or the Milky Way – that made you say “wow!”?

Having had a life-long love for photography, when I moved to Phoenix, Arizona ten years ago, I decided to take my very first photography workshop. A coworker handed me a magazine called Arizona Highways which advertised a three-day wildflower workshop in August in Flagstaff, Arizona with a non-profit called Arizona Highways PhotoScapes (formerly Arizona Highways Photography Workshops).

While taking the workshop, I met trip leader Bruce Roscoe, a Vietnam veteran and one heck of a photographer and story-teller. We became fast friends during that workshop, and within the following year, I had also become a volunteer workshop trip leader for Arizona Highways PhotoScapes. Knowing I was going to be a trip leader where I would lead customers on a workshop, it made me feel excited and nervous. I really didn’t know what to expect. But this was the beginning of a journey for me and a renewed passion for photography.

Over the course of the next six years, I volunteered as a Trip Leader but also as a Planning Committee Member for our 30th Anniversary as well as a New Volunteer Mentor. Being a workshop trip leader can be a lot of fun, but it can be serious business too.

As a trip leader planning for a week-long workshop, the process begins at least 10-12 weeks in advance of the workshop and includes coordinating logistics with the office, contacting the photographer, creating and sending a detailed itinerary and welcome letter to all of the customers and calling every customer to make introductions and answer any questions.

During the workshop, the trip leader will coordinate transportation, lodging, daily meals as well as water and snacks while being completely focused on top-notch customer service. The trip leader must ensure each customer is drinking enough water and getting desired photographs while at the same time not losing a customer along a trail or even back at the hotel (constant headcount is important!). On top of all of that, weather behaving badly, surprise wildlife or even a flat tire on a 12-passenger van somewhere in Death Valley can and does happen.

I’d like to show you a few photographs that I took that struck me in a deep way. The photographic moments I enjoyed the most over the years were the wildlife and sunrises.

Mama Bear 399 is arguably the most well-known bear in America. The hump at the top of the neck indicates she’s a grizzly bear, not black bear – which is important to know because if you run into one of them, you have to do something different for each of them. If it is a black bear, gather together, stand tall and make lots of noise. If it’s a grizzly, remain still, calm and speak in an appeasing voice.

See why I said it’s important to know your bears 😉

In this second photo, moose are among the largest animals in the Northern Hemisphere (actually, the largest in the deer family). Moose are strictly herbivores and eat 50-60 pounds of plants a day and do not have any front upper teeth. Amazingly given their size of roughly 800-1500 lbs, they’re excellent swimmers and can run as fast as 35 miles per hour.

Finally, aside from being a beautiful place, this part of Glacier National Park was photographed very early in the morning at Swiftcurrent Lake with Many Glacier hotel on the left. This hotel was built in 1915 and has 214 rooms. The stillness of an early morning before and during a sunrise is always breath-taking to me. In the winter time there’s one caretaker and his wife who manage the hotel and typically don’t leave the hotel for five months during the dead of winter; hence, it does make me think of the movie The Shining.

So what does all of this mean?

If you have an opportunity to be a volunteer and give to an organization that taps into a passion, do it. Don’t hold back. Make the time for it. It may not be easy, but it can be incredibly rewarding. Aside from educating and inspiring through photography workshops, Arizona Highways PhotoScapes raises money for college scholarships that can be applied to a student’s fine arts degree.

When each workshop is over – which always includes lots of hugs and laughs and wonderful memories – I often stay in touch with many of the customers. I’ll always treasure the opportunity I had to volunteer over those six years. I’ll always be thankful for that part of my journey.

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