I’ve never travelled through the Southwest of America. I’ve only seen pictures, like these here from Chicago photographer Matt Lief Anderson. When I look at Matt’s images, I envision an Alabama Whitman lookalike sitting in the passenger seat of the car.
The warm desert wind is blowing through her hair as we race down the empty highway in our beat up car, a suitcase full of cash & narcotics hidden in the trunk. But what do I know? I asked Matt for the firsthand scoop on his latest road trip across the heartland of America. Turns out it reads just like a movie script.
I drove from Chicago to Denver on assignment to shoot a music festival in Boulder. My Air BnB was at a dilapidated flat with the windows boarded shut. I had a yoga mat in the corner of the room for $15 a night. Every time I left, I took anything I considered valuable and tossed it in the trunk of my car. I took off after a few days of shooting music and exploring the nearby Roosevelt National Forest. I grabbed some weed on the way out of town at one of the dispensaries. It’s so simple; ID, money, gram of grape kush, and out the door.
I hit Rocky Mountain National Park on the way out, hiked through some intense snow and almost fell to my death taking a shortcut to Dream Lake. I flew my phantom drone around for a few minutes before it fell out of the sky and smashed into a bunch of trees. I cheered up a bit when I started driving south. The road to the Great Sand Dunes follows route 285 the entire way, which may be the best highway in America. It winds through some beautiful mountain passes and dusty desert turnoffs lightly powdered with fresh snow, and you pass through several national parks before reaching the dunes.
I arrived at the park just in time for magic hour and hiked as far in as I could go before the sun set. I was deep into the dunes enjoying the stars and legal weed when a giant cloud of death blacked out the entire sky. I tried finding my way back without the light from the moon or stars. My flashlight ran out of batteries and I was forced to use an iPhone app. I followed a creek back to where I thought my car was parked but I couldn’t see it anywhere. I kept seeing signs about bears and started getting extremely paranoid. I finally found my car when the hail started to fall. I could barely see 10 feet in front of my car and almost ran over a family of deer sprinting across the dusty road. I knew my old tent couldn’t handle these weather conditions, so I found a cheap motel. I knocked on the door and could clearly see an old woman in a rocking chair. She was either deaf or ignoring me. It felt too much like a scene from Pyscho, so I took off. The next best place was a town called Alamosa. I was pulled over by a cop without any explanation. He let me go with a warning and I checked into my fleabag motel. The lady at the desk said that the cops were everywhere because it’s 4/20 and they were expecting smoke to come billowing out of the car.
I spent the next couple of days driving around Arizona and Utah, camping in the most epic spot in the Southwest. You can literally pitch a tent on the lip of a giant winding canyon called Goosenecks. It’s overlooking a giant ravine into the San Juan river. It’s a great place to set up shop for a day while exploring Monument Valley and winding down with a campfire and a glass of bourbon.
I picked up my girlfriend in Phoenix and we slowly made our way back north through Arizona, Utah, and Colorado before driving back to Chicago. I just landed another gig in the Southwest, and I’m ready for round 2.
Photos & words: Matt Lief Anderson