About Michael Collier

I had the good fortune to be given five mentors early in life. John Running shared his love for honest photographs. Chuck Barnes showed me how to think like a geologist. Chris Condit, bless his soul, taught me to fly. Walt Taylor will always be the most effectively caring physician I could ever imagine. And Wesley Smith, that night above Crystal, taught me how to pray to the river. My thanks to you all. www.michaelcollierphoto.com

Get Over It


Phil and Rocky Shoemaker came to Alaska in the 1970s. I’d known them in Flagstaff where we paddled in the same riverrunning circles. Since then they’ve worked as hunting guides, homeschooling two kids during long winters out in the bush. Continue reading

Leaving Vancouver


Leaving Vancouver, I overflew Lion’s Gate Bridge, topped off in Powell River (at just under $10 a gallon!), and struck out over the Strait of Georgia. Comox was restricted and Campbell River was blotted out by rain, so the Buzzard kept us east of mid-channel. Continue reading

Television for Dummies


I don’t own a television. Never have. So it’s odd that I’ve occasionally become entangled with films for TV. I got a phone call once from a producer who was filming a series for the Discovery Channel about processes on earth that are bigger than mankind, things that humans shouldn’t be able to affect — like torrential rains at Hilo, Rhode Island sized icebergs breaking off of Antarctica, the silence of the Sahara desert. In retrospect, as we humans tinker with earth’s climate, I realize that the basic premise was flawed. Nevertheless….  Continue reading

Will Fly For Food


I got an early start from the east side of the Sierras once, knowing that I had to get to Wayne Wonderland later that day. I took off without making breakfast or even brewing coffee. I hadn’t been airborne twenty minutes before regretting the decision. I am a gastroemotional pilot; I do poorly on an empty stomach.

Masters of Science


Chuck Barnes taught me an important lesson when I was trying to pick geologic topics to study. He advised first choosing a good location, then figuring out the relevant scientific questions later. His advice struck a chord when I was a graduate student and it continues to resonate now. I avoid photographing or writing about a place if I haven’t grown fond of it. Continue reading



“Betcha can’t land there,” I said to Chris. We were photographing our way north along the Waterpocket Fold in southeastern Utah. The Fold is a seven thousand foot wave of Mesozoic rock that appears to have suddenly frozen as it surged eastward sixty-five million years ago. I’d spotted a straight stretch of road on top of Thompson Mesa on the down-thrown side of the Fold. If we could land, it would be nice to stroll over to the nearby cliff that afforded a beautiful view of Halls Creek and the Waterpocket Fold. Continue reading

Flying Scientists


In 1906 the San Andreas Fault violently unzipped a 296-mile seam through coastal California. At the epicenter, San Francisco was badly shaken, much of it burned. A century later, it’s still possible to find lingering evidence of the earthquake — broken headstones in the Graton cemetery; offset fences at Point Reyes; a redwood tree torn asunder, its two halves continuing to grow near Fort Ross. Details like these are scattered along the ground from San Juan Bautista to Shelter Cove. But the best overall view of the San Andreas is from the air. Continue reading

Red Creek


I can tell you about the geology at Red Creek – grain by grain. I flew here with a shovel and spent the afternoon filling pot holes. A small but growing arroyo had to be directed away from the narrow dirt track. Two-hundred-pound basalt molars needed to be extracted before they erupted any farther above surface. I shoveled boatloads of pea gravel that had broken down from the surrounding granite hills – pink feldspar, white quartz, black amphibole. Now my back hurts. Continue reading



A curved two-hundred foot cliff outside of Grover, Utah faces southwest, cupping the prevailing wind in its palm. I once watched a pair of sleek black ravens playing above the cliff. Each hovered, surfing on the rising air for a moment, and then spiraled down through a four-foot notch in tight aileron rolls. Immediately without wing beats they would soar back up and do it again, and again, and again until I thought my heart would break with the sheer joy of their flying. Continue reading

Where It All Started

Once there was gas at the Trona airport. But that service ceased when the attendants–a leather-skinned couple married for centuries–could no longer climb up to fuel high wing Cessnas like mine. I stopped at Trona in 1989 before they left. I was writing a geology book about Death Valley. I told the couple that I wanted to fly north and Continue reading