About this image: Not every image needs to be an iconic feature. While working ten summer seasons as a Park Ranger on the North Rim Grand Canyon I was fortunate enough to see the canyon in many moods. Monsoon season became my favorite time to have the camera ready for whatever beauty showed up. Visitors were often disappointed when a heavy inversion obscured their canyon view. I told them to have patience. Everybody has at least seen a photo of the Grand Canyon under iconic Arizona blue sky, but only a few witness the phenomenon of clouds, rain, snow, and rainbows.
JM: Please tell us a bit about yourself.
GO: I grew up during the 50s, 60s, and 70s in Chicago's western suburbs. I was a wanderlust as a child, frequently getting into trouble for not being where I said I’d be and getting home late. I played outside as much as possible and learned many outdoor skills as a Girl Scout.
I received a hand-me-down Brownie Box camera at age nine with one roll of film for 12 pictures to use over a two week family vacation. Thank goodness for digital.
I was a wife and step-mother for 14 years, moving the family to Washington. A late blooming college student , I graduated with a BS in Environmental Education and Mass Communication from Huxley College at Western Washington University, Bellingham. That introduced me to being a summer seasonal Park Ranger at Mt St. Helens. I’ve also worked along the Columbia River, Oregon Caves National Monument, Mesa Verde National Park, North Rim Grand Canyon National Park, and most recently Bryce Canyon National Park.
I am a storyteller, writer, photographer, public speaker, Park Ranger, naturalist, full-time RVer, traveler, blogger, most frequently solo. I’ve had no formal training in photography but studied other arts. I read, practice, and learn, repeatedly. Always thought a workshop would be advantageous but never in my schedule or budget.About this image: It takes time to really get to know a landscape, where will the early light fall and what lights up at sunset. I learn these things, but honestly am not what I call a “chaser”, a photographer that puts much time into the plan and/or set up for a shot. I did make a plan for this early morning light falling on Angels Window at the North Rim Grand Canyon National Park. And although I am very happy with the results, I’m still not really a chaser.
JM: How and when did you decide to become a ‘gypsy?’
GO: Officially, when I graduated from high school, my dream that I’m still trying to totally achieve. I thought National Geographic would pay me to take a horse-drawn covered wagon across the country while writing and taking photographs. I wanted, and still do, to travel, write, take photos, and get paid for it. The last hasn’t happened yet.
A few years after high school I lived, with a large dog, in a Chevy Vega for three summer months and traveled from IL to southern CA then north and back east stopping at National Parks along the way. Followed the “blue lines” as Steinbeck would say. Now those are interstates and nobody remembers Vegas. The following year I moved west in a Chevy van converted like a VW bus inside. But with only a 6-cylinder I could almost walk up the Rocky Mts faster than it. California, the land of golden opportunity, didn’t work out so well and within a year I returned to Illinois.
Partially settled down while married for 14 years but did move with two step-children to Washington. After divorce in the 1990s I got into a groove working summers as a Park Ranger and playing/traveling/exploring winters in the Southwest and three times to South Africa. I would follow endless summer if possible, with a bit of spring and fall thrown in.About this image: I am usually back to work in a national park at 8000 feet in elevation by spring when the Arizona desert blooms. So imagine my surprise on the way to shop in Wickenburg mid-March when I saw large swathes of brilliant orange Poppys. Bonus growing on a hillside so I could get a different perspective.
JM: Do you have a physical home? Or is it just RVing?
GO: I own two RVs, big 36’ 5th-wheel with three slide-outs during summer and little truck camper for winter travels. I have no permanent physical house.
JM: What are the practicalities and impracticalities of life on the move?
GO: I take my own toilet and bed, plus more, wherever I go. If I don’t like the neighborhood, I move. Working seasonally in national parks, I don’t have to share housing which can’t be done with pets.
It’s a flexible lifestyle. I prefer boondocking on public land which means I can dry camp up to 14 days in one location. And those locations are getting more difficult to find. Especially uncrowded ones. RV Parks are frequently quite expensive but may be cheaper than renting. RVs need repairs just like S&B (stick and brick = house), and it’s always expensive. When it breaks you might be sleeping along the road or in a parking lot not out of choice.
Because I’m not part of a land-based community it’s harder to make ‘real’ friends. I have lots of virtual friends.About this image: I challenge myself to night photography and shooting the moon is as close as I’ve gotten. And I really try to catch full moon every month. This shot at Bryce Canyon National Park was taken during a Ranger lead photography moon walk. I don’t really teach photography, my focus was about balance, in life, nature, and photography. So this was definitely a planned shot.
JM: You touch on the potential costs of RV ownership. For me, it has been one of the largest barriers in concept. If you had to guesstimate the actual cost of living in your RV, what would they be annually?
GO: It’s much cheaper for me to live in a RV than rent or own a house. Never buy new at ridiculous prices. I own both my wheelestate. Other than maintenance and repairs my cost of living is about $800-1200/month. How about you?
JM: What do you do when you have a break-down? What is the longest time you have been 'out' without your vehicle?
GO: Same as you, I call road care and get repaired or towed. Of course before cell phones it wasn’t quite that easy. Repairs on a motorhome kept me in Mojave CA for a couple days, and a couple days in Flagstaff to get truck repairs while I comfortably lived in my 5th-wheel in a KOA. Some RV repair shops offer parking where you can stay in the RV, some even offer hookups (electricity, water, sewer).
JM: Have you ever had a period where you were stuck somewhere in the middle of nowhere?
GO: No, not really, usually stuck is just waiting for the tow truck. Thank goodness not many times or more than a few hours. About this image: Knowing environment and seasons helps pick out certain times and locations. A fresh snow fall in an Autumn forest full of golden Aspen doesn’t happen every year. Certainly was worth a two hour drive to Flagstaff.
JM: Where does photography fit in this for you?
GO: Documenting and sharing my story, the big and small, what’s along the way, not just the destination. Going into nature with a camera gives me an excuse to walk slowly, saunter, stop frequently, and be sensorially observant. Click. I am a visual storyteller. If a picture is worth 1000 words, then most of my blog posts are 20,000, plus 1000 actual words.
Photography is my longest hobby ever. I would love to join some workshops but that’s not in the budget. So, I continue to read, practice, learn, and improve.
After my first visit to South Africa in 2010 I bought a DSLR and only wish I’d known more before shooting with it on the next two visits.
My blog’s tagline is “Capturing the present for future memories of the past.”About this image: During my third visit to South Africa I became more selective with my photography on safari. Yet I can rarely take too many photos of elephants. Their social order and respect is something we can learn from. I can feel the love.
JM: You have been doing this a long time – where did things like health insurance fit in it for you?
GO: It didn’t, is totally unaffordable, and now I’m on Medicare.
Getting mail without a permanent address used to be way more difficult than now that there are services I can pay for.
Communications are so much easier now than when I hit the road 40+ years ago.
JM: Is it fair to say that during the period you started this in the 90s and before Medicare that you went without insurance the entire time?
GO: After divorcing I went without insurance entirely for about 15 years, then got private insurance for a couple years until it got too expensive. I’m on my second year of Medicare.
JM: This may seem random – but go with it. Can you tell us about your cat?
GO: I have traveled with dogs and cats over the years but didn’t replace my last dog when he passed over ten years ago. Had a cat that lived aboard a small sailboat and traveled to Mexico in a truck-camper, similar to what I have now, then she returned to the States by boat, coastal hoping the Gulf of Mexico ( the last one I wasn’t on).
Traveling with a pet requires certain considerations, pay attention to temperature, food, water, temperament, and poop (yes that can tell you a lot). Dogs typically Have to be walked, unless trained otherwise. My last dog took care of business quickly and on command, he could hold it for hours, bless his heart.
I guaranteed my best friend while care taking her for brain cancer that I would adopt her cat, we were already friends, and now I am owned by a usually loving long-haired rescue of indeterminate age and my tiny house is furry. She used to be an in-and-out cat but it’s not possible just to let her run on public land. We’ve tried a harness and leash a couple times but she’s not keen on that. She’s settled in to life on the road.About this image: Photography is about light. My eyes are always searching for patterns and patches of light. Not being a morning person I set the alarm to get up in time for this fabulous display of light rays over the Kofa Mts, Arizona where I camped for several weeks. OK, maybe I am a chaser just a little bit.
JM: Many of the places you go tend towards the warm, particularly in the summer months. This may seem like a stupid question, but you are able to keep the AC running for the cat all the time?
GO: I travel to warm places in the desert during winter. Summers I work as a Park Ranger at high elevation where I rarely need AC. I would never want to cook the cat.
JM: I can imagine. You are living a lifestyle that my wife and I have dreamed about - but have been hesitant to seriously look into because of our concerns about our horde of beasts.
JM: You know, I cannot believe that we have gone through this interview and I did not ask you about the thing that first drew me to you - your name!!! Can you tell us what your relationship is with Frederick Law Olmsted?
GO: Growing up my family didn’t talk about relatives beyond immediate grandparents. When assigned a 5th-grade family tree project my mom’s Loomis family was traced back to the 1400s in Spain. My father told me, “the Olmsted family motto is beget them and forget them.” In the long run he was probably right. But I couldn’t very well share that at school so I went to the library, a place I frequented regularly, and found FLO. His beginnings as a city planner happened in the Chicago area near where I grew up. I claimed him. Can I prove it, no. The Olmsted name worn on my Ranger uniform is regularly remarked on by national park visitors. I claim him.
JM: I want to thank Gaelyn Olmsted for this wonderful interview. If you don't follow her on Facebook or at her website - you should. She is living a lifestyle that many of us dream of doing - and I am so glad to have her as an active part of our Facebook Group.https://geogypsytraveler.com/https://www.facebook.com/Geogpsy https://www.facebook.com/GaelynLOlmstedPhotography/
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