Journalist • Photographer

Bobby Magill is a journalist and photographer based in Port Jervis, NY and Alexandria, Va.

Filtering by Tag: Cooper River

A decade in the West and the perpetual vacation continues...

A decade ago this week, I completed my move West. The move started as a vacation, and it seems like it hasn't quite ended despite my daily trip to a corporate cubicle.

The move from Charleston, S.C., where I was born, happened over a matter of months. I scored a job at a private high adventure summer camp near Durango, Colo., right out of college, so the day after graduation, I hit the road, spent a few days with my parents in Texas and headed northwest to southwest Colorado. Eight weeks, more than 100 miles of backpacking and half a summer later, I found myself in Albuquerque, where I lived off a credit card until I found a job at a local bookstore.

Since heeding the call of the West, I've lived in two states and eight cities, visited every county in both of those states and explored countless wilderness areas, national parks, miles of backcountry trails and endless expanses of back highways spider-webbing across the empty expanses of the region. Compared to coastal South Carolina, the spectacular and luminous landscapes of New Mexico and Colorado have made every day feel more like a vacation in a national park than all the time I spent growing up in the South.

The camp I worked for was one of these "non-competitve" rich-kid camps that exalted egalitarianism above all other virtues. It was fun: No listening to music on headphones if the whole group couldn't listen. Individualism meant little, it turned out. As safety precautions in the backcountry, they insisted we sleep with our food to keep it away from bears (!) and carry giant 80s-style brick cell phones encased in makeshift weatherproof PVC-pipe containers to call for help if necessary in the middle of the wilderness — wilderness where no cell service existed then and still doesn't today. Of course, when we received a camper pre-injured for our convenience (a bad ankle), the brick phone didn't work when we had to evacuate him from 10 miles inside Colorado's Weminuche Wilderness. It was beautiful country, but ditching that job led to spending four fantastic years in New Mexico, where I worked in Socorro and Taos.

I began to realize how lucky I was to have replanted myself West of the 100th Meridian when I visited the top of Sandia Crest overlooking Albuquerque exactly 10 years ago today, and wrote this in my journal:

ALBUQUERQUE, JULY 22, 2001 — Sandia Crest, 10,600 feet. Black cloud overhead, Albuquerque far below, myriad radio towers to my right, smog directly in front. Only 45 minutes from my humble urban apartment lies such a spectacular view — a tourist attraction, of course. May as well be a freeway up that mountain.

But having real, tangible grandeur virtually on my backdoor step — accessible nature 365 days a year, save for those days of higher alpine blizzards — is the most wonderful thing. Spruce, fir, mesa, mountain, flying ant, roaming bear, clandestine cougar — all just an eyeshot and a short drive from my place. The virtues of living in New Mexico.

From atop Sandia Crest, Albuquerque is a surprisingly insignificant sprawl in the grand scheme. The city only takes up the valley immediately below, several hundred square miles for sure, but you can see much farther. The giant towers of downtown are reduced to mere sprouts of high society in the flatness of high desert. The mountains (Mt. Taylor, the Sierra Ladrones, the Magdalena Mountains, the Manzano Mountains, the Jemez Mountains on the Pajarito Plateau and the Sangre de Cristos) loom far away. They're far more impressive than the city below.

A decade later, with Rocky Mountain National Park and Longs Peak visible from our backyard in Fort Collins, the vacation (a working vacation, perhaps?) continues.

Grits, collards and a little Carolina on my mind

A visit to South Carolina to see family this week reminded me  how much I love visiting there. I was born and raised in Charleston; I graduated from both high school and college there and my first jobs were there. Of course, Charleston's history is more rich, colorful and controversial than many of its neighbors throughout the South, and as a native, I took it all for granted while I lived there. But, man, is it fun photographing the place.

While I was in Chucktown this week, I picked up two small packages of North Carolina stone-ground grits at the James Island Piggly Wiggly. We can't get grits like that in Colorado, so it's necessary to stock up whenever I get back to the Carolinas. On the way through the security line at the Charlotte airport, the tortoise-slow TSA agents saw two brick-like objects full of a powdery substance in my carry-on and freaked out. They swabbed my grits for explosives, ran them through the X-ray scanner again and gave me a stern lecture. Never again am I to queue up in an airport security line with grits in my bag. They have to be taken out and scanned separately lest I be subject to another stern lecture. I hate fried food and I don't talk with a twang, but grits, collards, okra, she-crab soup and mustard-based barbecue put me in a happy place faster than you can say "sweet iced tea." A little hassling by some she-crabby TSA agents is worth it all once I slather my grits in jack cheese when I get back to Fort Collins.