Colorado: Rocky Mountain National Park: August 2017

When you get up at 3am to take pictures of the Milky Way and things do not go as planned.


I hope that everyone enjoyed my first post yesterday. To keep my momentum and yours for my stories going I’m posting two days in a row. If you have visited any of the places I have, I’d love to hear your thoughts and stories. Please add them to the comments below. Enjoy and may your adventures be as wonderful as my own!

            My boyfriend and I just recently returned from our first extended trip together (by that I mean more than just a weekend). We stayed in Granby, Colorado and from there spent the day in various other mountain towns and Rocky Mountain National Park. We made some fantastic memories on the trip but my favorite was our last full day in the National Park. The day before we had the brilliant idea of getting up stupid early (3 am) to drive up Trail Ridge Road to the Alpine Visitor Center to take pictures of the Milky Way and then later take photos of the sunrise. Why 3 am you ask? Because where we were staying in Granby was about an hour from the visitor center and we planned to drive slow because wildlife likes to wander the roads at night and an accident would definitely have messed up our plans.

            Most of the drive was quiet but about 3:45am, just a few minutes after we have passed into Rocky on Trail Ridge Road we turn this curve in the road to see what looked like some creepy tall figure out of a nightmare. After our slight heart attacks we realize that it is a moose running away from us on the other side of the road. My sleepy brain decided that the best way to describe its movements were similar to those of a young horse. I think the moose was a yearling calf, all long legs and with a slight bit of incoordination in its gait. We come to a turnoff in the road and the moose goes its way and we continue on ours.

            As we start up the switchbacks it appears as if there is a solid wall of trees on either with occasionals openings into inky darkness. We get above tree line and suddenly there is nothing. The dark, silent world presses at us from all around. It seemed like the only things that existed was the car and the road beneath our tires. The only world visible was the one illuminated by our headlights; everything else was nothing. At the visitor center there is one light in the restroom area but the far end of the parking lot is pitch dark. We get out of the car, both wrapped in several layers, and my boyfriend gets the camera and tripod set up. I, in the meantime, was moving my little flashlight beam all over the empty parking lot and the open tundra beyond. When the camera is set up and it is time to take the photographs the flashlight has to be turned off so as not to interfere with the camera light sensitivity. Those were some some of the longest 30 seconds in my life. All around us is a void and all I can imagine is a predator sneaking up on us two whitless humans out and alone in the night. The moment the sound of the shutter reached my ears the light was back on, until the next picture.  

            Unfortunately the pictures didn’t turn out. Clouds moved in and the longest shutter speed on our camera is not nearly long enough to capture more than a glimmer from the brightest stars but, apart from our fear of the void, it was a good learning experience with the camera. After our star pictures we had to wait for the dawn. The world came to life slowly, starting with a gray predawn light that grew gradually. Before the first specks of rose and gold colored light touched the sky, we were driving again along Trail Ridge Road towards the east. My boyfriend stopped at an overlook that had been suggested the day before by a park ranger. As he is setting up the tripod in the dawn’s early glow a flock of about six to eight (what I think were) White-tailed Ptamigan landed on the stone barrier of the overlook. They were all squawking at each other and making all kinds of noise. As a joke my boyfriend yells at them, “hey be quiet! I’m trying to take pictures here.” The goofy birds got louder.

            We look at each other and just start laughing as we are sleep deprived and birds seemed ridiculous. The pictures from that morning turned out fantastic. We moved to one other spot to get pictures of the actual sunrise. We took a park trail along the tundra to get the pinks of the sunrise reflected on the mountains. I was freezing. It was in the mid forties (Fahrenheit) and above tree line there is nothing to block the wind but despite on my griping it was worth every second and I wouldn’t trade it. Besides the one flock of chittering fowl the tundra was quite early in the morning. Few cars and even fewer people out of those cars. It is a deep silence and something that cannot be found but out in the wilderness.

           Some will argue that where we were wasn’t true wilderness and I’ll agree because we were on or near a road. But that does not lessen the majesty of the dawn and the beauty of the tundra silence.

The Pre Dawn Glow. Photo By Laci McGee: August 2017

My Boyfriend Taking Pictures of the Sunrise. Photo By Laci McGee: August 2017


**Featured Image – Sunrise Over the Tundra. Photo by Laci McGee: August 2017


4 comments on “Colorado: Rocky Mountain National Park: August 2017”

  1. Beautiful and very witty story! So glad you two got out before THE GOLDEN HOUR passed you by. Being out in nature is so much more than driving thru it in the closed up car. One needs to get out, breathe in the fresh air, take a walk, sit and ponder it’s natural beauty, take time. Thank you for sharing this adventure.

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