Snapshots of the West During the Pandemic

This spring, photographer Kiliii Yuyan gathered his camera equipment and, practicing social-distancing guidelines, explored the West Coast to find out how it's been faring in the age of COVID-19

Throughout the pandemic, we'll keep publishing news to help you navigate the state of travel today (like whether travel insurance covers the coronavirus), as well as stories about places for you to put on your bucket list once it's safe to start going more far-flung.

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Photo: Kiliii Yuyan

This photo project was done in partnership with High Country News. You can see more of Yuyan’s work on its website here

Photographer Kiliii Yuyan stumbled across a lone woman on the beach by accident. Flying his drone over Oregon’s iconic northern coastline at the start of the pandemic, he expected to capture miles of empty sand. Instead, in the midst of giant swaths of deserted shore, he saw a tiny figure on his UAV screen, weaving and bobbing in front of the waves. 

“As I got closer,” he says, “I finally realized she was dancing—whirling and twirling on the sand. It was so beautiful.”

Yuyan describes this as his favorite moment during a road trip this spring to capture the American West amid the pandemic.

Traveling around Oregon, Washington, Utah, and Idaho, the photographer spoke with people getting outside during the COVID-19 crisis, asking each the same questions: How has the virus affected you personally? And what advice do you have for humanity right now? 

Yuyan’s own advice is simple: “The more you know, the less you need. That’s one of the things they say in the survival-skills world,” he says, drawing on wisdom he got from working with the likes of Lynx Vilden. “I think we’re having to look inward a lot during this time.”

Photo: For a period during the pandemic, the Sun Valley Resort town of Ketchum, Idaho, had one of the highest caseloads of COVID-19 per capita in the nation. 

Photo: Kiliii Yuyan

Cherry blossoms blooming on the University of Washington’s campus days after its March closure. Groups of Seattleites came out to see them, albeit in small and socially distanced groups.

Photo: Kiliii Yuyan

Normally packed highway junctures in Seattle, near the city’s stadiums, saw traffic reduced to a trickle in early April.

Photo: Kiliii Yuyan

A bird’s-eye view of a beautiful evening in Westport, Washington, a destination for both tourists and surfers alike in better times. Closed parking lots meant the rare beachgoer had to hike in for miles if they wanted to hit the sand.

Photo: Kiliii Yuyan

Surf kayaker Chris Welch carrying a retro Wold Ski from the eighties at a Westport beach in April. “I hope people are able to get back in touch with nature right now,” says Welch. “I see a lot of overemphasis on work here in America. The air is cleaning up around the planet right now. Maybe we can learn from this.”

Photo: Kiliii Yuyan

Lila Danielle, creator of Beach Dance, an event series that invites participants to interpretive-dance in natural settings, twirls on her hometown shore in Cannon Beach, Oregon. “I can’t not dance. If I sit inside, it’s not the best way to be emotionally and mentally healthy,” says Danielle. “If I can move what I feel inside through me, I feel much better.”

Photo: Kiliii Yuyan

 “The natural beauty here calls me,” says Danielle. “Deep healing can be found here. It brings me peace.”

Photo: Kiliii Yuyan

With automobile traffic greatly reduced during the coronavirus crisis, few cars were out on the road in rural eastern Oregon in April.

Photo: Kiliii Yuyan

Ginger Edwards, an organic farmer and a co-owner of North Fork 53 Tea Gardens, is self-isolating at her farm in Nehalem, Oregon. 

“I used to live off-grid, so I used to think about resilience 24/7,” she says. “But over time, I began to think about hosting all these other things at our farmstead. The pandemic brought me back to my roots, thinking about resiliency. The positive thing is, we’re putting in more gardens—we’re really focused on growing.”

Photo: Kiliii Yuyan

Windsurfers from Hood River, Oregon, found a way to get out and recreate during the state’s lockdown in April.

“Windsurfing is one of the few activities we can do without being near other people,” says Kelsey Cardwell, one of the participants pictured here and below. “We want to set a good example for everyone else—we don’t want to flaunt access to the outdoors. That’s why we’re not getting outside nearly as much as we otherwise would.”

Photo: Kiliii Yuyan

Left: Phil Soltysiak, a professional windsurfer, standing on the shore of the Columbia River in Oregon. “Now that it’s April, warm and sunny out, it’s a good time to start the windsurfing season,” he says. “I’m just out with Kelsey. We live together, so we can stay safe. We’re fortunate to have a friend with private property right on the water, and we can take advantage of that without enticing other people to break any rules.”

Right: Cardwell, in Hood River, posing after a session on the water. “It’s about finding that balance between staying safe and making smart decisions about where you put yourself,” she says.

Photo: Kiliii Yuyan

Kayakers Marco Colella (right) and Max Nielsen of Leavenworth, Washington, spent a day out on the Icicle River during the pandemic in April. 

“I think we’re all going through the various stages of grief,” says Colella. “What we were doing was unsustainable. Now we’re all realizing things are going to be different. Eventually, we’re all going to come together and realize how blessed we are.”

Photo: Kiliii Yuyan

Farmers Chuck Goldmark (right) and Kayla McIntyre walking their ranch and farm in Okanagan, Washington. “I feel like COVID is really stripping things away from people, in terms of what is essential and what is not,” says McIntyre. “Although that can be the hardest thing in the world, it can provide a lot of clarity, and it can be grounding.”

Photo: Kiliii Yuyan

Left: Goldmark, owner of Double J Ranch in Okanagan, has continued farming during the coronavirus. “On one level, the pandemic is kind of an obscure thing happening elsewhere, because we are pretty physically distanced,” he says, though he still remarks that the feeling of isolation is very real. 

Right: McIntyre looks out over the ranch. “I am hopeful, among all the myriad of emotion and experiences that people are going through, that we can better recognize and appreciate the interconnectedness of our humanity,” she says. “I hope the pandemic provides people with that sense of interdependence.”

Photo: Kiliii Yuyan

Cattle roaming the range at Double J Ranch. “In terms of our work, our livelihood, ranching has a lot of inherent uncertainty, and COVID adds another layer,” says McIntyre.

Photo: Kiliii Yuyan

Suzanne Sherman, host of the local radio show Red Hot Chili Preppers, holds one of her hens at her property in Coalville, Utah. “Because of the time I have spent preparing for a disaster—whether it be economic, pandemic, man-made, natural disaster—I was ready for COVID,” she says. “It’s affected me very little. I think what’s troubling is seeing how people are overreacting to it. People need to take more personal responsibility.

“Use this time to learn what you need to do,” she says. “Get ready to simplify your life, because there’s going to be hardships. If you get depressed, get out in nature, reach out to your friends, focus on the positive—because that’s something you can control. There’s still so many blessings that life has to offer.”