Shifting Direction West: Part One

Rocky Mountain National Park

In delving into a new endeavor and into the unknown or unfamiliar, we create an opportunity to become a vessel for learning. This July I took a month off from work and embarked on a road trip to go visit several National Parks out west. I had never been to any of the National Parks in that area except for Rocky Mountain NP in Colorado once before briefly. My well-stacked itinerary included Rocky Mountain NP, Zion NP, Bryce Canyon NP, Joshua Tree NP, Sequoia and Kings Canyon NP, Yosemite NP, Crater Lake NP, Capitol Reef NP, and Arches NP. The prospect of new landscapes, new terrain, and the chance to flex my photography skills with new subject matter was thrilling. As an east coast native, I was headed into terra incognita.

Despite the laundry list of amazing destinations on this trip, Rocky Mountain National Park easily ranked among the upper echelon. My first day there was spent visiting some of the well-known and incredible scenic alpine lakes; their mountainous backdrops and stunning colors left me dumbfounded. One thing that I already wasn’t used to was the number of people in the park and the fact that you had to rely on shuttle systems to get from place to place. I’ve always been one to appreciate the seclusion and simplicity of hiking. Nonetheless, I fell into the system with the knowledge that I wouldn’t be disappointed by the trip. When I was finally able to step off the bus, grab my gear, and take to the beginning of Bear Lake trail, I was welcomed by a surge of joy as I fixed my eyes on the truly beautiful trees and surrounding peaks. I moved quickly through the crowds, making sure to keep to the standard of trail etiquette as much as possible. This was especially tough due to the sheer number of people, families, and kids there. Even though I was shocked by the sight of the first spot, Bear Lake, I tried my best to shoot and take it in on the go.

By the time I reached the next one, Nymph Lake, the crowds had already thinned out. Before I had begun the trip, I made it a personal goal of mine in every park that I visited to get at least one candid shot of a stranger secluded from the crowds, adding scale to a major attraction. Maybe it is every photographer’s dream to be able to have scale in all their landscape shots. For me, though, it was about the challenge: it required a lot of patience, choosing uncommon trails, decreasing and increasing the speed at which I hiked based upon opportunity, and sometimes even pushing myself to climb intimidating obstacles.

Each lake that I came upon had a distinguishing characteristic of its own. For Nymph Lake, it was the hundreds of lily pads that floated on the water’s surface. The others had distinct colors, crystal-clear reflections, and my personal favorite was one nestled among jagged cliffs and peaks covered in patches of snow. I remember distinctly telling myself that this couldn’t possibly be real; it couldn’t possibly exist. My energy seemed like it was endless. I did make sure to take my time, sitting at each lake in different areas to make sure I cherished the uniqueness of each one. But, I also moved swiftly, taking each step as if it was my first. If I had more days in the park, I no doubt would have taken the time to explore every inch of these lakes.

Both Dream and Emerald Lake were nothing short of gems. The weather had been overcast the whole day, and yet, it didn’t seem to detract from the splendor. My way up to Lake Haiyaha was the only one that required some real elevation gain. After a few more miles, I finally reached my destination. The end of the trail led you out onto a flat rock overlooking the unmistakable glow of turquoise, alpine water. I immediately was unsatisfied, though, as it was situated drastically to the left of the center of the lake. I found myself searching for solutions to the skewed view. To the right, I saw what I wanted. There was a giant cluster of uneven and misshaped rocks; perfect for scrambling and as many climbers knew, perfect for bouldering. I spent a good hour maneuvering the rocky field, climbing up and down until I finally leveled off with the water again. Along the route, I had passed many climbers all getting in their afternoon sessions. I took to a rock closer to the water and sat. If I hadn’t felt the pressure to get back and catch the bus again, I likely would have stayed there well past sunset. I settled for a good hour and decided it was time to head back. The indelible impression that Rocky Mountain NP left on me assured me that I would most certainly return; it was a photographer’s dreamland.


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About The Author

Corey McMullen

I’m a 25 year old photographer and avid hiker based out of Massachusetts. I’ve only very recently taken up photography, but having been a hiker all my life, I’ve quickly discovered how much I enjoy documenting the lifestyle that comes with spending time outdoors. Some of my favorite adventures always include the White Mountains of New Hampshire, camping overnight, waking up for a sunrise hike, and of course, a good group of friends to share the experience with. 
Instagram: @coreyoutdoors