Somehow I ended up visiting Wyoming, somehow this wonderful family ended up living there and somehow it all happened to work out for a session.
I guess it really isn't about somehow, though. My husband had worked there a few years back -- sharing stories of wide open spaces that seemed so remote and beautiful alongside harrowing, stupid tales of nearly falling down cliffs or driving along unpaved roads miles from civilization with an unreliable jeep. He'd come home with rocks and fossils and old beer cans he had collected along the way, which left me feeling even more confined at the desk of my old job. Point being, it sounded so different from my well-padded life at home and I really wanted different.
There has always been something very appealing and curious about Wyoming, coming from someone who was born in California where the entire population of the former is considered a "small-ish town" in the latter. It seemed like visiting somewhere so completely foreign and yet quintessentially American at the same time. For instance: how can the concept of cowboys and vast open space seem so inherently familiar to someone who thinks an 1/8th acre suburban backyard is a "good size"?
Stupid questions ran through my head as we drove through the state, like "Can they still guarantee Amazon Prime Two-Day shipping here?" and "What happens when you don't have a Target?". Ultimately, I answered myself: it doesn't matter, because you're in fucking Wyoming, and this place is so awesome you don't ever have to mindlessly spend money as a means of numbing your pointless existence like you do back home. You can see the wagon ruts of the actual Oregon trail, ride your bike through the Tetons (glaringly obvious I did not do that but I saw several who did), see a shitload of bison, eat a shitload of bison, and go check out Old Faithful alongside 10,000 Chinese tourists if you want to. Ain't nobody got time for browsing through the dollar bins of Target.
How on earth one state can contain nearly every kind of landscape is beyond me, but it was incredible. Rolling high desert hills covered in sagebrush turned to badlands more colorful than in South Dakota. Ten-thousand foot snowy mountain peaks turned to green valleys turned to calderas with chromatic hot springs.
Among one of these green valleys is where Gretchen and her family live. I had to keep reminding myself the mountains in the backdrop of their yard weren't fake -- mountains are as mystical as unicorns in my part of the world (but feel far less mystical as you're experiencing them real time with altitude sickness sprinkled with a dash of driving anxiety). I loved how they allowed their daughters to be wild and free, so much a reflection of their surroundings. The day of their session ended up being the final day in their home as they moved to town life -- but I have a feeling these girls won't let that get in their way. They had the best names for their chickens (my favorite by far was Orange Peel), had skeletons as members of the family, and spent an impressive amount of time jumping on the trampoline without ever needing a break.
Lauren Mitchell is a documentary family photographer located in Central Florida. She is available for travel, especially if that somewhere is back to Wyoming. For more information, go here.