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That's A Wrap On 2022

After an adventurous few months, I realized it was time to update my blog and share some of my favorite photos.

They say foreshadowing is a powerful narrative tool.

My autumn got off to a great start with some good old-fashioned leaf peeping. Shorter days signal to deciduous trees that winter is on the way and their production of chlorophyll begins to slow down. I discovered there are evidently a number of other factors that contribute to the change, such as the availability of water, so the leaves begin to change a bit earlier in the year at higher elevations.

This was the case when I took this photo in Keystone, Colorado, in early October. The ski town rests at about 9,500 feet above sea level, which was tough even for my Denver-acclimated lungs. Regardless, groves of aspen trees among the pines put on quite a show!

Did you know these get used more in the winter?

That was not the only show I saw up in the mountains. From September into October, male elk will fight each other for control over harems of females to mate with. During this time, their trumpet-like calls, appropriately named “bugles” echo through meadows around Rocky Mountain National Park.

Their fights are often brutal, with victors and losers becoming easier to distinguish as the season goes on. I saw this elk below in a meadow just outside Estes Park, limping after his harem. He may have won his most recent challenge, but it certainly was not easy.

An elk with moss-covered broken antlers stares at the camera.
"It is not a phase, mom."

But as much fun as the autumn can be, it also signals the end of Milky Way season in the northern hemisphere. As the Earth orbits the sun, the night-side gradually shifts from facing “out” of our galaxy in the winter months, to facing “in” toward the galactic core during the summer.

My photos of the Milky Way that probably look the most familiar are of the galactic core. Incidentally, these also tend to be the adventures that are the most fun for me to recount.

The end of October was no different. Weather in the alpine tundra is always unpredictable, so I do not usually have a good idea of if I will even go out for photos until that day actually arrives. The darkest nights in October this year were toward the end of the month, increasing the risk of snow and ice. But all seemed well in the forecast so out I went for my last nighttime excursion above tree line for the year.

I would also extend a huge shout-out to one of my coworkers who came along with me for my last Milky Way photo. She had asked earlier in October that I let her know when I next went out because she was interested in learning how to photograph the Milky Way herself. When I extended an offer to ride along with only a few hours’ notice (which is itself a significant time commitment), she immediately signed on. She had fun – I think – despite the howling wind and cold, and even helped me capture this final shot of the Milky Way for 2022.

The Milky Way hangs above the mountains as seen from the Gore Range Overlook
Fun fact, the wind blew my trunk shut on my head.

November brought a nice change of pace and scenery. Election Day coincided with a lunar eclipse, the second of the year! I managed to catch the first one from up in the mountains, but I was unprepared for the wind and unfamiliar with my newer camera at the time. I was hopeful that I would be able use my knowledge gained from that experience to capture better photos of this one. On top of that, I put extra pressure on myself to succeed (as is customary) because this was the last total eclipse until 2025.

My attempt got off to a rough start. I wanted to capture the moon hanging above the Colorado state capitol building, but the weather had other plans. It was cold and misty at ground level, with cloudy skied above. I stuck it out for a while, hopeful the clouds would move on. Compared to the clouds in the Midwest, the clouds here always seem like they are in a hurry, so it seemed like a reasonable wish.

Eventually I lost my patience for a break in the clouds and went back to my apartment, pretty disappointed. But the universe decided to toy with my emotions and dispelled the clouds almost the moment I got home. Although the moment of maximum totality had already passed and the moon was reemerging from Earth’s shadow, I still managed to capture a decent shot of the event. Some (potentially me) would even say I improved on my last one.

A full moon is a deep red, stained by Earth's umbra.
That’s no moon – actually, yes, it is.

The rest of the month saw me visiting the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. This refuge, the nation’s most in-need of a better acronym, sits right outside metro Denver. As a matter of fact, it is actually a shorter drive to this wildlife refuge than it is to Denver’s own international airport. Although that may not mean very much, on second thought, considering Denver International is essentially in the middle of nowhere.

But I digress. Rocky Mountain Arsenal is a nice escape from the city without having to travel too far. The rolling hills and tall grass remind me of Iowa and the wildlife is large, abundant, and absolutely stunning. Mule deer and bison are common, with signs posted frequently urging drivers to remain in their cars at all times. I took this photo below from the shelter of my vehicle, not that my sedan would offer much protection from a bison should I enrage it.

Bison graze in front of a tall mountain.
The mountain, now an adult, stalks its bison prey from afar.

I did not get back up into the mountains for all of November and much of December. I only even came to this realization once I began reflecting on the past couple of months. Anyone who will listen has heard me say that the mountains are good for my soul, so I do not know why I was surprised that not visiting for so long had negative impacts.

I made one last trip up to Rocky Mountain National Park for the year and took the panoramic photo I started this blog post with. An added bonus of putting that photo at the top of the article and the explanation down here is that I had a legitimate reason to end the previous sentence with a preposition, if you are the kind of person who cares about that type of thing. I also got to see some elk again, this time in a clearing in front of a small grove of pines.

An elk waits for Santa to show up in front of some pines.
In keeping with tradition, no blog post would be complete without a photo of an elk.

If you made it this far – either reading this blog post or just, you know, this far in life – thanks for taking the time to check in. I appreciate you and I sincerely hope 2023 brings you what you are looking for. I am still not quite sure what I am hoping to accomplish in the next year, but that is part of the adventure of it for me.

If you are interested in prints (no pressure), keep an eye out for some announcements early next month! There is a good chance I will be experimenting with printing and shipping my own art instead of going through a provider, so we will see how that goes.

In the meantime, take care, happy holidays, and fly safe!


John Johansen
John Johansen
Jan 01, 2023

Extremely talented!


I did notice the preposition! Lol. You crack me up. Love the story and the photos as per usual. Hope 2023 is your best year yet.


Love the photos and story Zaak! What a year you’ve had sharing your fun adventures and stunning pictures - thank you. Excited to see what 2023 brings 😎

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