Every explorer encounters times when things just don’t go the way you planned for them to go. Every time I plan to go on a trip to explore a place, the night before, I get prepared. I charge my cameras (I have three of them: a Cannon, an Olympus, and a Nikon), clean the lenses, get the camera bags ready, lay out my clothes and boots (always boots even in the summer), and get my protein shakes, fruit and water ready to take for the following day. I also load everything for Mia, one of our two dogs, who is half Labrador Retriever, half Doberman. No matter how much you prepare, sometimes shit just goes awry, and there is absolutely nothing you can do but go with the flow.
I can never, and I mean hardly ever get out of the house or out of town on time when I’m about to go out on a trip to go exploring. I usually get up super early, and it just doesn’t happen. The dog throws up or has diarrhea, I forget to pack stuff, I remember I need gas, etc. Then there are those extra special times every, single thing goes wrong first thing, and I leave three hours behind schedule. A recent trip I took with my mom was like that. She texted me that she was running five minutes behind, so I slowed down in getting ready. I had already gassed up the night before, had coffee ready to go, food, everything loaded and ready. Then the dogs needed to be fed and to go outside. One of them refused to come inside, so that took forever. I finally got out the door, forgot if I remembered to shut the garage door, so I had to turn around. I arrived at my mom’s place, and she still wasn’t ready. I waited for her. We were excited once we got on the road, and then Google Maps said there was a bad accident on the route I planned to take, and it said we would be significantly behind. I altered my route just a tad. An hour into our drive, once my phone got down to 8%, I realized I forgot to bring my phone charger, and my mom does not own an iPhone. We were in the middle of nowhere at this point so I freaked out. I have daughters, and I don’t like not being able to be in touch with them if they need me. After driving through a small town searching, we finally found an open hair salon, and they told us to go back to the last town and where to go. Twenty minutes and $19.99 later, I found an iPhone charger, and wasted an hour in total. The remainder of the trip just snowballed. Since we were so behind, after visiting the two main locations I planned the trip around, I had to head home without exploring further, as I originally intended. We wasted more time searching for a restroom, and then my mom wanted something specific to eat, and that added another 20 minutes. BUT I enjoyed spending extra time with my mom, and I am very happy with the photos from that trip.
One thing I almost always plan on is to have the police called. My husband, Bob and I have an ongoing joke about how long it will take for the police to show up. I always have my ID, a business card, my registration, and insurance ready. The Israel Beetison mansion (below) is the first place I had a run-in with the police. He requested my ID, insurance, and registration. Once everything checked out, he gave me the go-ahead to finish taking my pictures as long as I didn’t try to go inside.
The ghost town, Gilman, Colorado was evacuated in 1984 by the EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, due to toxic pollutants, such as contamination of soil and ground water. The land is still toxic, so there are many signs warning trespassers. Before our trip, I read more than one article from people warning to be careful because the town is heavily watched by highway patrolmen, sheriffs, and rangers. The town is nestled in the cliffs of Eagle County, overlooking Eagle River, next to Battle Mountain. Most of the town is visible from the main road (the photo below was shot from the main road), and the main road is visible from in town, so if you do trespass, they can see you –unless you are a ninja! I snuck in there, my husband dropped me off and drove away (because if he parked anywhere it would have drawn attention to us). I scurried in like a little red-headed mouse. The town itself has such an eerie vibe to it, especially with how and why it was abandoned. You also never know who could be hanging out in one of these places, AND I WATCH A LOT OF HORROR MOVIES!!! So my husband made me take my 17-year-old in there with me, which made things so much worse. He did not want me to go in alone, which I understand, but a trespassing charge in another state with your child is not a good idea, plus it was not a safe place for her. All of this is going through my head, along with the thoughts of murderers lurking in every house waiting for us. In my head, every single leaf was someone coming, and I got increasingly jumpier with every moment we were there. Then we crouched down and looked toward the main road, and I realized everyone who drove down the road could see us! I was wearing the brightest hoodie in Colorado with my bright red hair. I spotted a sheriff winding down the road, and my stomach flip flopped. Oh no! They were coming! Was that tires crunching close to the entrance? Should we go back? I texted my husband to come back. Another noise reverberated through the peaks and valleys. What is that? A helicopter appeared over the horizon. We have to go NOW! They are coming for us! I had convinced myself the police were coming, and every little noise terrified me. My daughter and I ran as fast as we could. I have never been so relieved to get into my car! I felt ridiculous once we got back into the car!!
The Logan Memorial Hospital in Guthrie, OK is another location where the police instantly show up. I was only standing on the very edges of the property in the grass, using my zoom lens when the officer below pulled up. He was so nice though, explaining to me the second the neighbors see one toe on the grass they call the police. He explained I was fine to take photos as long as I stayed on the sidewalk or the street.
The JFK College in Wahoo, Nebraska is in the middle of a neighborhood. All of the neighbors look out their windows, step outside and stare. Every single time I have ever been there, the police show up. The photo below is from one of my visits. I was going one direction, he was going another. Luckily, I was finished with my photos.
A sheriff showed up once to a farm outside of Mead I have photographed three times, and he offered to stay as a chaperone while I finished my photos to ensure no one else bothered me or tried to write me a ticket.
The strangest experience I’ve probably had with the police was outside of Las Vegas, New Mexico. My friend Richard and I were driving around looking for abandoned places, and we came across an abandoned asylum. I could tell part of it still had patients residing in it, so I was careful to only take photos of the abandoned, boarded up part. I heard a car pull up behind our car and noticed it was a cop. This was my first time dealing with tribal police, but I assumed they would not be that different. He apologized several times, but told me I could not photograph the property, and he had to watch me delete every photo I took. After all of them were wiped out, he pointed me in the direction of some other abandoned things in the area (below), which was SO NICE I couldn’t be upset.
This past summer, my sweet husband bought a commercial van that we could stand up in, and together (more him) we converted it into a mini-camper. He added insulation, electricity, hot water, a shower and a sink, a toilet, a murphy bed, an air conditioner, and heater. I stained the wood, and that was about the extent of my expertise.
My youngest daughter, Cami and I took it out for one of the first trips. The first couple of hours, we accidentally let the side door close without slamming it, which meant it would not open again for the remainder of the trip nor would it close all the way. It made a swishing sound while we drove, you know, like the wind is actually gusting through the vehicle? Exactly like that! It also made it more difficult because without the side door, it was extra difficult to empty the sink water, and to exit the van. The shower clogged while I took a shower, and without the side door, Cami basically had to walk past me to go through the back doors! We also had a creeper who walked by our campsite that night and the next morning, who really gave me the creeps. I also saw a GIANT dog multiple times just outside of the campgrounds. We were both super jumpy that night, and as a thunderstorm rapped on the roof of the van, and the wind rocked us back and forth, we realized how vulnerable we were. After that trip, I try to always have my dog, and a weapon with me for that reason!
In order to take a shower, you have to remove the boards, put up the shower curtain, shower, and then put the boards back. The bed folds down on top of the shower, so that’s why you have to shower first.
On one of my trips, the water tank came loose, and leaked all over the van. I had to pull over, get the flashlight out, and the wrench. I had to fix it myself. One of the best things about going to take photos by myself, and especially since I’ve started camping alone, it forces me to resolve so may issues on my own. The side door locked on another trip, that time when it was just me and Mia. She refused to climb to the back of the van over the front console, and that stupid dog would not let me pull her with the leash either. I begged her. I pleaded with her. I reasoned with her, presenting her with every point imaginable. I bribed her with food, but the dog refused to climb to the back. I had to climb out the back of the van, walk around to the front to let her out to walk her, and then put her back in the front. The stubborn-ass-dog slept the entire night in the front seat! She tried to burry her food rather than eating it, and she refused to poop until her paws hit the grass in our backyard.
One of the most memorable trips I had last summer, started with me getting stuck in the mud! I drove down a dirt road to get a couple of pictures of an abandoned farm. The road looked safe to drive down, but once I started, I soon discovered it was a low maintenance road. I tried to turn around, but by then it was too late. Looking at the photos, where the back tires were stuck, the road turned into a downhill runoff. The more I attempted to get the van out of the rut, it dug in deeper.
I had Mia with me, and we were in the middle of nowhere. My choices were to keep trying to get it out on my own, or take Mia out of the van and find the nearest house to see if they could help me. I found the leather case for the tire jack, so I wedged it beneath the tire and tried to get it out of course there were no scraps of wood or branches anywhere to be found I could wedge beneath the tire). I drove from reverse to drive, then back again, to no avail. I finally pulled one of the little wooden cabinet doors off from inside the van, wedged it beneath the tires, and we finally moved forward! Once it moved, I didn’t want to stop! I left that little cabinet door back in the mud, while Mia and I went on our way two hours late!
That next day, I was out taking pictures all day in the heat. I had planned to get to a reservoir and camp where Mia would enjoy walking near the lake to watch the birds. The longer I was out taking photos in the heat, the worse I felt. Overcome with a migraine (and if you get them you understand the gravity of the situation -out in the heat alone, nauseated, light-sensitive), I felt like I could throw up at any second, and I was really dizzy. Once you find a place to camp it still takes a bit of time to set everything up and get settled, so I knew I needed to find a place soon. Thunderheads loomed on the horizon, so I had limited time to find my campsite. I called my husband and asked him to help me find something closer. I reached the campsite just before the storm. I managed to pick up some food, pay for my spot, park, and plug in. I noticed a wasp’s nest where the plug for the van went when we arrived, but when I tapped on it nothing happened. I assumed it was dormant. Once inside the van, the clouds unleashed.
Mia also barrels through everything, running straight inside with no regard for rickety foundations and floors caving into their basements. One of our first stops, she almost pulled me too far, and we both would have fallen down under the house. As you can guess, about 85% of my trip is spent talking to my dog.
The next morning, when it was time to pack up to leave, I realized I plugged the van in beneath an active wasp’s nest. As soon as I walked near the plug, a wasp came out of the nest, sitting on top of it, and waiting for me to come back to pull the plug out. I found a long stick, trying to unplug it from a distance, but the second the wasp knew I came close, he charged me! I swear that wasp was waiting there for me with a plan! I’m telling you, he had it out for me, because I screamed and ran away, trying over and over again. The funniest part was the elderly woman and her dog across the street watching me making a fool of myself. My husband was also on Facetime for part of it, laughing his ass off at me! Plus, my own dog walked right up to the wasp, got stung, and acting like it was no big deal, which made me look like a wuss! I finally grabbed the cord from a distance and yanked it as hard as I could, pulling it out, but bending it beyond repair.
The next morning, I noticed two little marks where a spider bit me on my leg! I did not want to sleep in there another night without finding it, but of course I could not find it!
Another trip, the van got a flat, so I had to spend a couple of hours to get it fixed. Mia and I waited beside the building for 50 minutes, because they said they were super backed up, to wait in the parking lot (because I could not take my dog into the waiting room) and they would be right with me. Time slowly ticked by. I finally got restless enough, and called to see how much longer they would be. The manager answered. They forgot me, but they made it up to me by giving great service. No need to get angry or mean to people, that usually gets you nowhere anyway.
Another trip I went on, I drove by myself to Colorado, again in the van (but without the dog this time). I stayed with a friend, and her husband noticed something leaking from under the van. I took it to a mechanic, and he showed me where the leak was coming from and what I needed to do to fix it long enough for my trip, and to get it home. I checked it from then on, and filled it up multiple times.
On my trip home, I was able to see the most beautiful sunset, and a massive storm in the distance, well worth the extra hours of my drive.
One of the things I always encounter is GIANT freaking spiders! In Nebraska and Kansas, the two states I explore most, the are everywhere! I often walk through them, and usually with my FACE!
Ticks and mosquitos are a constant struggle every season, especially ticks. I can remember one particular house (it’s one of my favorites), on one summer morning, I stood beneath a grove of trees behind the house to get a few shots. I had ten ticks after that! They were actually running up my arms!
I went to Western Nebraska, and South Dakota as one of the last trips I took before my first book came out, and I took both my mother, and my youngest daughter. We stopped at one of the pull offs with a historical marker, and you could see the river, so it was ideal for taking photos. I started wading through the sea of grass, when I heard a distinct rattling sound. The unmistakable sound I have heard since I was a child in West Texas: a rattlesnake! Needless to say, we took off! One of the places I had to reshoot was Monowi, Nebraska, an almost ghost town of Nebraska, with the population of one! Monowi, and its one resident, Elsie has been featured on more than one news outlet. During this particular trip, I was excited because not long after my arrival, I was approached by a local. He asked if I was there for the commercial. He explained there were people from Arby's coming to shoot a commercial for the largest sign in the smallest town. The local told me the commercial people called and asked if anyone knew how to drive a tractor, and everyone almost fell over laughing (because everyone who lives in rural areas here knows how to drive a tractor). He said they were showing up in heels and suits, without the appropriate clothes to wear in the middle-of-nowhere-Nebraska. I spent most of the morning photographing the decaying homes, the church, and everything else. We ate lunch at the tavern, while enjoying the company of all of the locals of surrounding towns, and of course, Elsie.
On our way back through town at the end of the day, we stopped one more time. I waded through the waist-high grass surrounding one particular house, going even further back behind it. I was in this stuff for a good 30-40 minutes. When I finished, I climbed back in the car to get ready to go. Before we pulled out to leave, Cami screamed. There was a tick crawling up the back of my shoulder. She had already killed two others in the car. I found two others in the car crawling off of my clothes as we drove back. We had one more stop before our hotel, we needed to run into Walgreens. My mom headed in one direction, while Cami and I were near the refrigerated goods. As I stood staring at everything behind the glass, I suddenly felt a tickle in the middle of my back. NO! Oh, yes. I felt tiny legs making a beeline for my hair!
Quick, Cami. Look and see if there’s a tick on my back! I lifted the back of my shirt in the middle of Walgreens, not giving a heck who was around at the time. All I knew was if there was a bug on me, it needed to come OFF!
No, I’m sure there isn’t! she said, without even looking.
The tickling was approaching my bra-line. Just. Look. Please.
Okay fine. She looked at my back and shrieked. There’s a tick!
Then get it before it gets to my head!!!!
I don’t want to touch it, it’s nasty! She backed up, as I felt the tiny legs trail above my bra strap. Move your bra, Mom.
Just then, a Walgreens employee with glasses, and what I remember as a bandana on (but that sounds weird now when I mention it) walked around the corner. He glanced at Cami and I, looked away quickly, and then back again with his bottom jaw unhinged and his eyes wide.
The back of my shirt was all the way up to my neck, I was pulling the middle part of the back bra-strap up so she could get to it easier while simultaneously holding the front part down so no one saw my boobs! Cami squealed and slapped me in the back. Without thinking, I said, We’ve been in the wilderness all day, and I have a tick on my back.
Without saying a word and without changing his exasperated face, he turned and slowly walked away, disappearing into another isle. Cami and I busted out laughing (after the tick was dead, of course), and continued laughing for the remainder of the night because I chose the words: in the wilderness all day. I have no idea why that even came out of my mouth! I found even more ticks when we finally returned to our hotel room.
The picture above is of my youngest daughter walking through tall grass in shorts, slides, and socks. I got a stick and used it to move the grass in front of us, to look for snakes, listening for the rattle of their tails. I grew up in Texas, mostly West Texas, so I'm used to rattlers. As soon as one of the locals confirmed there were in fact rattlesnakes in the tall grass. The rattlesnakes, along with the insects buzzing around her ears, and the dripping sweat was enough for Cami! She made a beeline for the car!
I have many funny, ridiculous stories, along with the spooky tales from various trips. You learn when you travel to just roll with it and have a good time, as I’m sure many of you have also learned to do. I would love to hear some of your stories!
Trish Eklund’s first book, Abandoned Nebraska: Echoes of Our Past, was released in November of 2018. Her second photography book, Abandoned Farmhouses and Homesteads of Nebraska: Decaying in the Heartland will be released on February 22, 2021. She is finishing up her third book; Abandoned Farmhouses and Homesteads of Kansas: Home is Where the Heart is. Trish’s photography has been featured on Only in Nebraska, Raw Abandoned, ListVerse, Nature Takes Over, Grime Scene Investigators, and Pocket Abandoned. She is the owner and creator of the photography website, Abandoned, Forgotten, & Decayed. Trish has an essay in the anthology, Hey, Who’s In My House? Stepkids Speak Out by Erin Mantz. Her writing has been featured on The Mighty, Huffington Post Plus, Making Midlife Matter, and Her View From Home. She has written four young adult novels and is hard at work on her first adult novel.
Categories: Abandoned Buildings, Abandoned Colorado, Abandoned Kansas, Abandoned Mining Town, Abandoned Motel, Abandoned Nebraska, Abandoned PLaces, Beetison Manson, Funny Moments, Ghost Town, Guthrie, NE, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Photography, Rural Nebraska, Trish Eklund, Unexpected