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Pronghorn antelope in western Wyoming. Grand Teton National Park pronghorn migration, this herd of 400 pronghorn form the longest land mammal migration in the U.S.; Photograph by Joe Riis

Freedom to Move: Legendary Help

Bottom line, a bunch of people helped me become a photographer. I did not do it alone, idols became friends, researchers shared years of experience, and locals gave me a place to call home. People from all walks of life, who have done all kinds of things, have stuck their necks out for me, and have guided my work in so many ways.

Almost eight years ago, I got a cold call from Rick Ridgeway, the Rick Ridgeway, my idol and role model. He introduced himself and told me that he wanted to join me on the pronghorn migration trail, essentially walk the migration together. I couldn’t believe it. He heard about my project via the National Geographic Young Explorer Grant program in which I had received a grant. My interest in migratory ungulates was first spurred by Rick’s work organizing the Tibetan antelope Chang Tang trek with Galen Rowell, Conrad Anker, and Jimmy Chin. I saw him on Good Morning America and read his article in National Geographic. He was the real deal from my perspective, a true conservationist who had real impact.

Rick and I walked the Path of the Pronghorn from Jackson to Pinedale, Wyoming. Ten days of pure bliss with someone who I never imagined I would ever get the chance to meet. He brought me into the Freedom to Roam initiative at Patagonia and elevated my photography to a whole new level and audience of people. (Watch a timelapse video of how Joe Riis sets up camera traps.)

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Tracking pronghorn antelope migrations in Grant Teton National Park, Wyoming; Photograph by Joe Riis

In addition to Rick, I’ve been super lucky to work with some of the premier wildlife migration researchers in the West who have legitimized my work. These researchers—Dr. Hall Sawyer and Dr. Arthur Middleton to name a few—understand the importance of communicating the story of the animals they study to a general audience.  Hall first studied the pronghorn migration in the late 90s and helped me on the ground with locations and specifics with the migration trails. And, Arthur, a research scientist at Yale, has dedicated the past decade to work on elk in the Greater Yellowstone and is my collaborator with on my current project on elk migrations.

The Adventurists blog series “Freedom to Move” is sponsored by Toyota TRD Pro, which provided a vehicle for this adventure.