Colorado Sept 23 Adventure Recap


Another 2023 trip down in the history books! And, as we have seen with our adventures through 2023, it wasn’t without its own mishaps. This was our longest adventure away from home at 3 very eventful weeks. We learned that Washington’s normal weather patterns were stolen by Colorado, as they had much more rain than usual and Washington has been missing all of its rain this year.


First off, we got to enjoy our second time showing at the Affordable Arts Festival in Littleton. This one-day show has certainly become one of the most entertaining shows we do. With it only being one day, it has quite the action and people line up way before the show to get in. It brings back memories of waiting in line for hours for midnight releases. We also had the pleasure of meeting and connecting with more artists from all over the US. Personally, I really enjoy swapping stories with others of our favorite shows, how we got into art, and the many stories we collect on our journeys.


After rocking the show, Dan thought it best to warm up to the Colorado elevation. How does he do that you may ask? He plays hours of DDR/PIU (Dance Dance Revolution / Pump it Up). He has been addicted to all kinds of rhythm/music games since he was young and has a habit of making friends at arcades. Now the only problem with spending so long at arcades like Round 1 is I am addicted to ticket games or prize games, and I desired this sushi cat plushie. But alas, I really do not have skill at any kind of claw game ~haha. And Dan was obviously exhausted the next day from his playtime.

Next up is the true adventure portion of the trip where we go up to Rocky Mountain National Park. We spent most of our time staying in Estes Park, which made for the perfect little home base in the mountains. As usual, when we set out on any adventure, I have a slew of ideas, projects to get done, and photos to capture. And, as usual, life has other plans for me. Our first night in Estes, we got to experience a premier storm. It brought in these funky clouds called Mammatus clouds, and it was right at sunset, so absolutely stunning yellows and pinks came out in full from the storm. The mountains you see under the storm are Mount Olympus and Mount Pisgah. We even had two separate evenings where we saw double rainbows after storms and even had a few times where we got to see a herd of elk pass right by our room in the parking lot.

Next morning, when we went off to procure much needed caffeine at the local Starbucks, we got surprised by the drive through being completely blocked by a gathering of elk just chilling. I am sure this happens quite often here and the people who live in Estes must be beyond tired of elk constantly causing traffic jams, but it was a pleasant surprise for us. This was just the first of many animal sightings that day. We followed up by heading to Sprague Lake for sunset and moonrise. A quick note for all you Photopillers out there: make sure when you change time zones and signal is weak, check your Photopills to make sure it is set to the right time zone as mine was off by an hour ~haha. While we were waiting for the sun to set, we caught our very first moose! I was ecstatic as I have always wanted to see one, and he hung out in the lake for quite a while munching on the vegetation in the lake, walking around and just cooling off. It was an incredibly relaxing and cool experience to sit by the lake and capture this moose just enjoying nature. While we were taking pictures of the moose, we made many friends around the lake sharing the photos we captured and even had a super sweet couple from Loveland, CO hang out with us until the night to see the moonrise. It wasn’t just any moonrise though; it was a super blue moon which meant it was the second super full moon of August.

We had planned to go back down from Estes Park to visit my Grandma for lunch, and this is where our first car problem hit. Just outside of Boulder, our front passenger tire area started billowing smoke like crazy. We both knew this couldn’t be good, so we pulled over to the nearest parking lot and started calling all the shops around. It was right before Labor Day weekend, so as to be expected, it took quite a bit of time to find a shop that could fit us in same-day. We were mainly just glad that this happened while we were in signal versus if it happened in the national park where we definitely didn’t have any. I ended up finding a brake place nearby and we got AAA to tow us to it. They squeezed us in their already busy schedule and we are forever grateful to Paul from BrakesPlus for making sure we could get our car back that day so we could get back up to our hotel in Estes. It did blow our whole day away though, and by the time we got our car back, we decided to just grab a bite to eat and head back for the night. We were looking for where to grab some cheap fast food when we stumbled upon a place called Snarf’s. The marketing screamed weird 90’s style and unsurprisingly that really worked on us. We sent a pic to our friends back home, and it was quickly voted a must-try place so we went in and ordered. It turned out to be the best subs we had ever had—I mean seriously—we questioned how we could pack the store in the van and bring it back home with us. Once we filled up on food we hit the road again, and just then, Betsy decided we didn’t need working headlights. It was one of those days that just never ends with problems. We pull into an O'Reilly’s and Dan gets to work installing the new headlights. A quick fix later, and with all the drama of the day behind us, we finally got to the hotel for the night and hoped tomorrow would be a little less dramatic.



I started off the day finishing up some test requirements for my Wilderness First Aid training. This picture showcases how I treat Dan for hypothermia; the hardest part of this one was making sure I didn’t give him heat stroke with how hot it actually was lately ~haha. After my lovely emergency treatment, we were off to check out some more spots. We went out to Lily Lake, which decided to give me a few epic sunset shots, but it was always super cloudy at night when I went there. However, the lake housed many spunky and demanding chipmunks, which we should all remember: even though they are super cute, we shouldn’t feed the wildlife. This little dude tried so hard to get food from us, but we never gave into that adorable pouty face. He came up to Dan’s foot and patted on the ground with some attitude. We also got to see some voles here, which were such cute little puff balls and apparently they are talented swimmers, which I didn’t know until I saw them diving all over the place. It was hard at first to tell if we were seeing the voles swim or beavers. Turns out both were out and about swimming in the lake. 


We did get to reschedule the visit with my grandma, and we made it down the mountain without a hitch this time too! It was a very lovely lunch with a trip to a nearby antique store together afterwards. I adore the adventures through time antique stores provide in different states because the stuff is so unique to each area. It was so fun to point out the things and guess their uses, time periods, and histories. My grandma pointed out these old antique bottles that she thought had something to do with mixing drinks so she asked Dan what he thought they were as that's a hobby of his. At first, he thought he probably wouldn't know, until he turned around and instantly recognized them as vintage soda siphons. We also found a hilarious poster that showed all the slang of the 80's. Dan and I felt very called out with Punk, Goth, Radical, and a few other words we actually use. Afterwards, we hung out at my friend's new house into the wee hours of the night. We have been friends for almost 20 years now, starting our unbreakable friendship in elementary school. Even when I moved out of state we were still thick as thieves.

I wanted to really show Dan the Rockies I grew up in. So we decided to go to the highest point we could, heading up to the Alpine Visitor center and hiking to the lookout point which was 12,005ft above sea level. That's over 2 miles above sea level! Seeing all the sharp jagged peaks of the Rockies surrounding me was truly awe inspiring. The hike that a ranger told us was only a few stairs really knocked the wind out of us though. The air was quite thin at that elevation but after many breaks and a few words of encouragement from fellow hikers we made it to the top. It’s only 0.6 miles in-and-out and roughly 200 feet elevation gain, but it is rough at that elevation level for those of us not used to it. It was only at the top that I realized I should have timed this for sunset, cause there was no way we were going to do that again this trip. On the way back down into Estes, we were stuck behind a camper van that was riding its brakes all the way down the mountain. We didn’t have a lot of experience with this at the time, but can definitely tell you now that, if you are stuck in this situation, it is best to take a pull out and wait for them to get down the mountain. We ended up making our breaks very hot getting back to Estes and started hearing them squeak a little here and there (later turned out we smoked the new rotors, and yes, we shifted into lower gears to help with the downhill section). 


After our adventures and surviving our mishaps, we got to start the workshop that I was teaching in the park. Meeting at the Estes Library and getting to know each other before heading out that night ended up being a blast. I have always been enthusiastic about teaching and actually was a Photoshop and Lightroom tutor in college. The night started off great with me giving the low down on gear, apps that help with astrophotography, and a few other tips and tricks. Then, when we moved locations, someone tripped a bit but like a ninja I caught their camera and tripod. But my skills weren’t good enough to catch my own camera, and my poor Z6 ate rock hard. In one fell swoop, the Z6, 24-70mm lens, and the Polarie all hit the ground with a clack.  I dusted them off and put them in my gear bag after a bit of examination. Luckily the student was okay and we could keep going with the class. Joking that this is one of the many reasons photographers have insurance, we continued shooting the night. I still had my D750 clicking away on a timelapse, so we could still have fun while I taught. I was also very pleased to see the water at the lake calm down while the night went on, so we were able to get the perfect glassy reflection of the stars on the water. Packing up from that area, we then headed to the other lake facing the opposite direction, so we could capture panoramas with Jupiter featured high in the sky. It was fun to experiment with different landscapes and pass on the techniques I know to capture the night sky.

Teaching editing in the newly remodeled Estes Library room was awesome! It was so smooth to get setup and work in which made covering editing all the better. We got to process some of the images from the night before and discussed all the different ways to use Lightroom and Photoshop to make your images look more like how the night sky appeared that night. Throughout the days we would check the weather (almost obsessively) to make sure we were still in the clear. Unfortunately, a storm came in early and hit the whole Estes and surrounding areas hard with lightning and rain. You never want to be the tallest thing during a thunderstorm, and having metal tripods out just really drives that point home. So, we decided to pack it up early and head back. Sadly, we missed out on that last night, but we all had breakfast together the next day and chatted about any new questions that came up while editing. Gotta say, Claire's Restaurant and Bar is a phenomenal place for breakfast if you find yourself in Estes Park. 


Finally, it was time to leave Colorado and begin the long drive back home. I took the opportunity to tack on a one-night stay over in Grand Teton though, as I have always wanted to see it, and it wasn’t very far off on the path home. Before we left, we did have to go back to the brake place to get our rotors fixed again from when we smoked them out from earlier in our adventure (luckily under warranty). Then it was off to a new-to-me national park! Due to needing those additional car repairs, we did hit the road late and ended up getting to Grand Teton National Park after it was already dark. We rushed to get settled into our hotel room, and then we zoomed off to capture some of the Tetons with the stars. Without any day scouting, the night shots are significantly more difficult, as I don’t really know what I am looking for composition-wise, but we figured it out with test shots. What was really insane was the amount of airglow out that night painting the sky a bright hue of green! It was almost totally green to the point where I thought my white balance might be off. The Milky Way looked incredible with the colors though. We were even able to find this perfect pull out to see Mount Moran with the Snake River in the foreground. It was a few hours shooting in the night after a long drive, but totally worth it.

After a very very long adventure, we finally got to go home. The storms we saw while driving through Montana were so dramatic in both color and lighting. And, we learned that there is a pottery shop in Jeffery City, WY in an old gas station called Monk King Bird Pottery. The city is quite out of the way with less than 30 residents. We didn’t stop there, but the story of the potter, Bryon Seeley, seems to be a very interesting one, so keep your eyes peeled if you drive through the area. Once we got home, we were welcomed by our cat Kimi with lots of snuggles, and we were so thankful to be able to sleep in our own bed again. During the trip, we ended up buying a Garmin inReach Mini 2, because not only does it help when you are out of signal on trails, we can also send our location to one of our parents and have them get us a tow when we don’t have signal to do it ourselves (lots of Wyoming and Montana were out of signal during the drive). We didn’t need to use it this trip, thankfully, but we have it now for peace of mind and it helps a lot. This trip was a rollercoaster of emotions with ups, downs, fast days, and slow days; but that’s just how adventures go sometimes. Keep adventuring everyone!

Kimi was very excited to finally have us back home.