John Klein: Tulsa woman
Jeanne Sturges never thought she’d be riding in a tundra buggy for a couple of weeks, living in a Mongolian yurt for days at the Golden Eagle Festival or picking up and moving camp across Africa to follow wild animal migration.
Yet, after a long career of accounting with a Tulsa oil company, Sturges has done all of that and more.
“I’ve always wanted to explore the world,” she said. “So, when I retired, we knew what we wanted to do.”
Sturges, the former general manager of taxes and human resources for Citgo, has touched more than 80 countries on all seven continents in the last 12 years.
She did the seven continents with her husband. Then, when he cut back on travel, she started joining small photography tours and has continued to visit some of the most exotic places on Earth.
When she’s at home in Tulsa, she works as a volunteer and board member for LIFE Senior Services.
“I stay very busy,” she said. “I love working with the folks at LIFE Senior Services. They do great things for people.”
Then there are the three or four trips a year she plans for herself. She travels to all corners of the earth.
“I enjoy the experience every bit as much as the travel,” said Sturges.
Usually her experiences are with guided small groups for specific expeditions to photograph exotic animals and landscapes.
She joined a group organized by Frontier North Adventures for a polar bear expedition. It started in Churchill, Canada, a small town on Hudson Bay known for the large population of polar bears in the area.
A tundra buggy is a large vehicle on huge tires that can handle the snow, ice and extreme temperatures for backcountry trips.
They often can get as close as 20 to 40 feet to the bears.
“It is almost like a train car on these huge tires,” said Sturges. “But it is a fantastic way to get close to the bears and other wildlife while moving through snow and temperatures that can drop to minus 50 degrees. We can get very close to the bears. It is pretty thrilling.”
That’s pretty exotic, but no more so than her trip to Bayan-Olgii aimag in Mongolia for the Golden Eagle Festival. It is an annual festival where Mongolians compete to catch animals like foxes and hares with specially trained golden eagles.
She lived in a yurt while photographing the festival.
“It is like their Olympics every year,” said Sturges. “These cowboys ride down from the mountains on horseback in traditional clothing and with their golden eagles on their shoulder.
“It is fascinating and so different. The photos of the people at the festival are so interesting. The competitions are so interesting.”
Sturges has been on two African safaris. Both were with companies that use mobile campsites to follow animals across the continent.
“These are very luxurious campsites,” Sturges said. “Every day you go out on game drives to see the animals. Then they’ll pack up the camp and we’ll move to a location to follow the migration of the animals.
“I’ve seen a lot of wildlife in the last 10 or 12 years. However, I’m not sure anything compares to the first time you hear a lion roar in the wild. It’ll give you chills.”
It isn’t just exotic travel to the wildest places on Earth. She’s also traveled with Dan Cox of Natural Exposures of Bozeman, Montana, and Wolfgang Kaehler of Run With the Wolfies, of Seattle.
Other companies she’s traveled with include Abercrombie & Kent, Tauck and Viking River Cruises.
She’s done a large amount of travel to more well-traveled locations, as well.
Yes, she’s been to Machu Picchu and the Galapagos Islands in South America.
She’s been to the Taj Mahal in India and the Great Wall of China.
“What is really fascinating about traveling around China is that you get a real sense of the history and culture of 2000 years,” said Sturges. “Some places you see history that is four or five or eight hundred years. That’s interesting, but you see history that is several thousand years old in China.”
Like many Americans, Sturges took advantage of relaxed travel regulations to Cuba in the past few years.
“That is a very colorful country,” said Sturges. “I really enjoyed photographing the buildings that are painted with so many vibrant colors. And the people there are always smiling.
“One day I stood at a corner on a main road for about an hour. Finally, at a stoplight, four old blue cars were lined up next to each other. I snapped the photo. It is one of my favorites of all of my photos.”
She said other destinations she’s loved include Myanmar in southeast Asia and Slovenia and Romania in Europe.
“Not many people would think about traveling to Myanmar in Asia or to visit Slovenia and Romania when you are in Europe,” she said. “Maybe the fact that you don’t have many tourists and you can really experience the culture in those type of countries are why I enjoyed those places so much.”
She estimates that she takes between 5,000 and 15,000 images per trip. From that number, she estimates upwards of 300 are “keepers.”
Sturges loaded hundreds onto a mobile device to show people who are interested.
“I really enjoy the experience of traveling to these places and shooting the photos,” she said. “A lot of photographers also enjoy the editing process. I really don’t.
“I’ve got thousands of photographs. I loved shooting all of them. I loved the adventure of travel. But I’m just not good at sitting down and editing photos. I know a lot of photographers love to do that. I don’t.”
She’s not slowing down. She has upcoming travel to Patagonia in southern Chile, winter in Yellowstone National Park, Marfa, Texas, the Dolomites in northern Italy and Norway, where she hopes to see the northern lights.