I’m really excited to be starting in on this series.  My parents are moving away from their decades-long home in Colorado to spend their retirement in the Northwest, so we wanted one last chance to knock a few of our Rocky Mountain-ish bucket list items off our list.  My parents wanted in on the fun, so we planned a one-way road trip that would take us through Colorado, down to Mesa Verde, then up through Moab, and back to Oregon where they could scout out some neighborhoods.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2016

Our first stop was Colorado.  We haven’t been to my parent’s cabin in Grand Lake since Aaron proposed to me almost 10 years ago (geez, has it really been that long??), so that was hot on my list (and if you find yourself in the area, it should top your list, too – it’s for rent, and it’s an amazing cabin – not to mention it’s right in the heart of an outdoor playland!).  We didn’t have a firm agenda for once (as you know, we vacation hard); it was nice to just chill for a while and enjoy the fresh mountain air.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2016

The cabin made for a good home base from which to launch hikes, canoe trips, and walks around the neighborhood’s Columbine Lake (in the winter, it’s well-positioned for ski resorts, snowmobiling, and snowshoeing).  This lake is the perfect play-puddle for my dad’s Hobie Cat, and you’ll frequently see kids splashing at the shore.  And it was on this lake that Aaron sang me a song, lit some floating candles (don’t worry – no flames involved), and put a ring on my finger.  Needless to say, this is generally a happy place for me, so I’m glad we were able to return one more time.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2016Grand Lake is also a very tiny town.  With fewer than 500 permanent residents, the night sky isn’t poisoned with urban lights.  If you’re heading to the mountains from Denver, the stars will take your breath away.

The moon woke me around 3am one of our first nights, gayly shining into our window.  So, of course, as a dutiful photographer would, I strapped on some shoes and made my way (in the pitch black) down to the lake.

It’s dead silent in the woods at night.  My footsteps were obnoxiously loud on the dirt road.

By the time I got down to the lake, the moon had all but set, but I stuck around for pictures anyway, hoping for some stars.  The moon glow was still too bright, but I liked the cloud remnants.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2016

All the while, I was standing on the edge of a quiet lake.. in the woods.. in the middle of the night.. alone.  Call me paranoid, but I know many predators are nocturnal.  Every tiny sound had me glancing backwards.  I didn’t care to encounter a bear, and I was certain I wouldn’t survive a cat.  What would I do if one came down to the lake for a midnight drink?  I was on a slight outcropping, with water on three sides.  Do I swim?

Ah, the mind loves to toy with you when you’re alone in the dark silence.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2016

This is the same location – in the daytime

My apprehension battled valiantly against my inner photographer, and the latter won out for a bit longer.

I quickly tried some other angles, but without a Milky Way or an interesting foreground, there wasn’t much to look at.  I then tried to capture Orion toward the east, and I discovered the sun was already beginning to rise.  I couldn’t really tell with my bare eyes, but the camera sure picked it up!

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2016

I didn’t want to wait any longer for the cougars to find me, and the moonlight that receded was quickly being replaced by the embers of sunrise, so I knew my quest for stars had become quixotic.  I quickly packed up my tripod, keeping it in-hand in case I needed an impromptu blunt weapon and walked home (faster than I had arrived and as far away from the trees on either side of the road as possible).

While they weren’t my best star shots, I think they turned out alright.  However, it wasn’t until the next day that I discovered with horror that I had failed to first remove the polarizer from my lens…  Can you say, whoops?


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