Working full-time and balancing a more-than-a-hobby, but not quite a full-time photography life has its fair share of challenges, but something I've learned along the way is to take full advantage of maximizing holidays and working remotely whenever I can (which I'm hugely grateful to my company for giving me this flexibility). So naturally, the time between Christmas and New Years is a great time to plan a trip. This year, I chose to spend that time on the road in a campervan solo traveling through the Southwest and Colorado. I've never spent longer than a weekend traveling on my own, much less driving around and living out of a van, so I knew this was going to be a memorable way to kick off the new year. I started my trip by picking up my home-on-the-road in Las Vegas (thanks, Rocky Mountain Campervans!), and drove east almost 200 miles to my first destination.
Day 1 — Zion National Park: I had been to this park a few times before, but decided to start by visiting the Kolob Canyons section before swinging back down to the more frequented parts of the park. Kolob Canyons Road is a 5-mile scenic drive along beautiful red canyons and tons of opportunities to stop at viewpoints. The road ends high up on a ridge at a viewpoint known as the Kolob Canyons Viewpoint, but you can also access the Timber Creek Overlook Trail from here, which is where I took a short 1-mile roundtrip hike to catch my first sunset of the trip.
That night, I drove south to the more popular sections of the park and because the campground was full (which I was completely surprised by considering winter is not typically peak season), I found some nice BLM land about half an hour away to sleep for the night before heading out for sunrise the next morning.
After a few hours of sleep, I made my way to the trailhead for the Canyon Overlook Trail. This is another short 1-mile roundtrip hike, with an incredible payout with the view at the end. I got there about an hour before sunrise and sat there waiting for the canyons below me to light up. I was soon rewarded with a beautiful sky that lit up pink and orange. This was an incredible way to start the trip and I immediately knew that my decision to do this was 100% worth the brief moments of anxiety or worry about being on the road alone. I only spent one night in the area as I had a plan to be in Colorado by New Years Eve and had a tight schedule to follow. But while it was a short visit, I was lucky to see some gorgeous scenes before heading out.
Next up, I drove over 200 miles to catch this sunset at Monument Valley:
Day 2 — Monument Valley: I had never been here before despite coming to the Southwest a few times over the last couple of years. And while I knew it was going to be a heavy tourist area, I didn't care. It was absolutely stunning to see the last light hit this beautiful landscape. The main view here is located at the Visitors Center and barely a quick walk outside your car once you've parked.
That night, I stayed at Goulding's RV Park and Campground with no trouble. That second night was really when I hit my stride and felt more comfortable in my "home". By that point, I had figured out how to use all the buttons and functions in the van, and because winter nights come so early in the day, I had tons of time to relax at night and read. The next morning, I caught one last look at the "mittens" before heading east to Colorado.
Days 3, 4, 5 — Telluride, Crested Butte, Gunnison: Here is where the trip really started to pick up momentum and the days start blending together. After spending New Years Eve with some new ski bum friends in Telluride, I spent the next couple of days driving almost 300 miles chasing snowy scenes and enjoying my time alone. Highlights include: the Dallas Divide, driving south to Silverton, the Ouray Ice Park, seeing the Curecanti National Recreation Area partially frozen over, exploring the cute ski town of Crested Butte, and spending time in Gunnison. During these nights, I relied on finding free campsites where I could.
This was also around the time that I started my "remote working" part of the trip. And while I was still able to visit some really beautiful places, I also spent a good amount of time logged on to my work emails and taking calls. This was really only made possible by having my own portable wi-fi hotspot, and coffee. Lots of coffee.
Days 6, 7, 8 — Rocky Mountain National Park: The last time I was at this park was during the fall, and being here during the winter was such a beautiful experience. And even though it seems to be a bad year for snow, I was still in awe of how special these landscapes look in winter. This was the part of my trip where I was able to meet up with some Colorado photographer friends for some fun sunrise hikes, and after days of traveling alone, I was ready to be around people and have actual conversations again ;)
And it was also during these last few days that I was able to check something off my bucket list — ice skating on a frozen lake. Ever since I picked skating back up a few years ago, I've wanted to skate on a frozen lake, which is not easy to do when you live in California. So when I decided to sacrifice precious luggage space by bringing along my ice skates, that would turn out to be one of the best decisions I made for this trip.
It was during the very last morning of my trip that I met up with my friends Eric, Christin, and Jason at 4:00am for a sunrise jaunt to Chasm Lake. While not the most difficult hike (~8.5 miles roundtrip, ~2500 elevation gain), my sea-level lungs were not ready to climb to nearly 12,000 feet. After taking a slower pace than the rest of the group and hiking in the dark, it was quickly made very clear to me that it was absolutely worth it once we got to the lake. After taking a couple of shots, I immediately laced up the skates that I brought along with me while the others snapped away. Jason caught this one of me, which will always remind me of one of the best mornings of my life:
That night, I dropped off my campervan in Denver and flew back to San Francisco.
Coming back home after this trip has not been easy.
I immediately jumped back into a high-priority project at work, and I've barely had time to reflect on too much of this trip (more blog posts soon about how I prepared, what I brought along, and lessons learned), but I can say without a doubt that it was the best way to start the new year. It has given me important perspective on not only how I want to spend my time, but it's given me so much more confidence to travel solo as well as balance work with this other huge part of my life.
I'm incredibly lucky to have a job that allows me the flexibility to work remotely if I need to, and because I don't plan on quitting my job for permanent #vanlife anytime soon at all (I actually really like my job), this opens up a lot of options for me.
It's not always easy finding the time to get away, and it's not without sacrifice (such as time with my dog and family, or going into some major sleep debt), but it's incredibly important to me to have balance in my life and while I haven't perfected it quite yet, I'm confident that 2018 will be another year of me figuring that out.