The Southwestern United States is a frequent object of wanderlust. The perfect setup for road trips — demonstrated in classics such as Into the Wild and Thelma and Louise — the Four Corners of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah harness a powerful sense of rugged beauty and peaceful isolation. With so many natural wonders scattered throughout this windy desert, we asked photographer Maddy Minnis to give us a tour of the 'modern wild west' through her own eyes (and camera lens).

What brought you to the Four Corners? 

I was born and raised in Yorktown, Virginia. After high school I bounced around between Colorado, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, North Carolina and finally settled in New Mexico about four years ago. I came out here on a road trip and the west completely blew my mind. It changed something inside me and I didn't want to leave. I’d never been so sure of anything in my life. So by some crazy circumstances I landed a photography job (despite having never used a real camera before), flew back a week later, and have been living in the wild west ever since. That experience shaped so much for me: it changed my career path, gave me a renewed sense of autonomy, and revealed this passion for shooting landscapes that I never would have thought was inside me. 

What made you stay?

The sky is the first thing I noticed out here. I came from the East Coast where the horizon was smothered in vegetation and the sky was just the specks of blue or grey that poked through the pine needles. Seeing the world open up all around me was breathtaking. You can watch ferocious weather patterns forming miles away while standing in a sunbeam. You can observe how all of the invisible forces of nature have shaped the landscape over millennia, like a time lapse played out in one frame. And with so much space devoid of civilization, you can really experience silence. This is all tip of the iceberg for me, but it’s an incredible area. With so much wild and unregulated land you get the chance to explore and discover it for yourself, which is the kind of adventure I crave.

What challenges did you face shooting in this landscape?

Time is my biggest enemy. I work full-time during the week and there is just so much space out here to cover, I sometimes find myself driving up to 10 hours to get to a destination. The fickle weather is certainly a force to be reckoned with too. It could be 100° in the afternoon but you’d still have to haul around a wool sweater because it can drop to at least half of that in the evening. But if you hold out for dawn or dusk, that light will start to transform everything around you and then your camera can do no wrong.

If a visitor had just 24 hours in your favorite city, which 3 spots would you recommend?

I’ll go with Abiquiu, New Mexico; you can ride horses at Ghost Ranch, explore Plaza Blanca, and camp on Abiquiu Lake. A close second would be Santa Fe: grab brunch at Café Fina, explore the fantastical art at Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return, then take a deep soak at Ten Thousand Waves.

What's next on your travel bucket list?

I would love to explore more outside of the country (Central America, South Africa, Armenia – the list never ends) but really anywhere new will do!

To see more of Maddy's amazing work, check out her website and Instagram.