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Where did I go?

Roughly a month ago it had occurred to me that I had been neglecting my blog. And when that realization struck, it had already been two months. If you are wondering why it took me an additional month to put anything together to show you, I am here to say, “that is honestly a fair question.”


To that I would add, “I have been so busy, it is almost comical.”


Zaak leans against an alpine rock at sunset.
Pictured above, the face of stress.

So, with that somewhat terse explanation out of the way, allow me to provide you a more detailed retelling of the past three months of my life. I will include some of my favorite photos I have taken, of course, but this is already shaping up to be a long post.


As I am sure you have noticed, I have gone to some lengths to avoid discussing my work on either my personal blog or on my social media. However, filling you in on my life and my absence from my own blog will require a brief foray into my job. So, please bear with me.


This is the first job I have had with ominous and foreboding “grant deliverables.” Even better, these deadlines follow a fiscal calendar, not our completely flawless and definitely perfect Gregorian calendar. Despite starting my job in late October 2021, I still had to get brought up to speed, understand, and complete ongoing projects by the end of June 2022.


A moose cow walks through a wetland.
The deadlines were coming down on me like a moose on an over-eager tourist.

So, starting in May, I began focusing much more on my work – the data collection and curating, the research and writing – and took a bit of a step back from my photography. Thankfully, I did complete the two projects on time with the help of my colleagues. If you have a deep love of combing through databases of statutes related to police officers (I don’t know why you would, but if you do, no judgment), try checking out the two databases I put together here or here.


“But Zaak,” I imagine you interjecting, “surely two databases is doable in a couple months. That was it?”


Well, no, that was not it. While working on those two databases, I was simultaneously helping my team plan for a conference in Las Vegas that was also scheduled for late June. I opted not to take my camera with me for that trip, but I was able to get a decent shot of the desert with my phone on my way back.


An aerial view of a large canyon.
I cannot believe places exist where plants simply do not "just grow."

To celebrate getting those two databases done alongside a successful meeting, I took a couple mornings off work to go out and take some astrophotos. This was a bit of a gamble; the late June weather was not being especially cooperative, and I only had two nights to try before I was off to Tampa, Florida, for yet another conference. Despite not exactly getting the results I wanted, I was able to see some good stars from a new vantage point.


The Milky Way rises above the Rocky Mountains.
Downside of taking photos off a highway is other people may drive past. Upside is an illuminated mountain.

The trip to Tampa bridged June and July, and it was surprisingly stressful. Thanks to a delayed flight and the magic of time zones, I did not get into Tampa until well after 11:00 p.m. when most food places had closed. I had an allergic reaction to something in my hotel in the days following, leading to an overall crummy personal experience.


I will say, though, that the sessions were super informative, and I left feeling quite professionally developed. I also snagged some decent photos of a variety of birds, organic and mechanical alike. I am not an ornithologist, though, so I will leave it to you to determine which is which.



Once I was back in Denver, I was able to get to planning one more conference with my team. This one was set for the beginning of August and would bring in folks from all around the world to learn about public policy. But it dawned on me I had not been back to see my mom since Christmas, so one last detour was in order.


I took a week to work remotely in Iowa, visit some friends, and take a couple photos. As much as I miss my friends and family, I cannot say I miss the ten-hour commute to see them in person. But it was worth it to seem them, decompress, and prepare for the ultimate conference.


Fireworks explode over a bridge in Des Moines, Iowa.
I decompressed, but not explosively.

This last conference concluded last week and was, for lack of better words, “an experience.” I staffed meetings from Monday through Wednesday, with an extra day of pre-conference meetings on the Sunday prior. Our sessions were informative and well-received, but putting them together and hosting the participants required an exhaustive amount of emotional capital. Even once our official meetings had concluded for each day, receptions, events, and other after-hours gatherings crept up and filled my calendar.


Thankfully, the conclusion of our conference brought a long weekend and a chance to recharge. I took the opportunity to get back out to Rocky Mountain National Park for some stargazing, and managed to get some decent shots despite the clouds.


The Milky Way hangs over rocks and moss in the alpine tundra.
Pictured here are the specific rocks for which the Rocky Mountains are named.

Now that you know what all I have been up to the past few months, please allow me to share a few more of my favorite moments form the past few months (if you are interested, of course).


A coyote stands in the snow.
This is not an "albino fox."

I got this photo of a coyote during Memorial Day weekend. Due to the elevation, Highway 34 through Rocky Mountain National Park is only open for about five months out of the year. The earliest it usually opens is for the holiday weekend, so I made sure to block out some time to get up to the tundra.


And as you can see above, I was not disappointed. I will fully admit to being ill-prepared for the cold weather, but it was still an awesome adventure. After encountering some serious ice and blowing snow (at the end of May!) I decided to head back down to lower elevations.


On my way back, I spied this coyote on its way up to snowier slopes. Of the two of us, it was certainly the better equipped to handle the cold. I hoped to get a photo of it howling, also known as “coyote yelling” to some Midwesterners, but it was content to just glare at the traffic on the road. Perhaps it had seen the same Subaru that had cut it off earlier.


A bull moose walks through a marsh.
This is a different moose, I promise.

A few weeks after seeing my first coyote, I decided to get back out to Estes Park. Rumors were circulating about some moose roaming nearby and I wanted to see them. I struck out in the morning, so I decided to begin making way higher up Trail Ridge Road.


I did not have to wait much longer before I saw a moose from the road. I stopped at a vehicle pull off and walked back to the wetland up the road. I was crushed to see the moose had wandered into some considerably thicker brush – getting a good shot was the whole reason for my trip! But just as I was about to turn away to head back to my car, the moose pictured above emerged from the trees, apparently following the first one. I would say it was worth the wait.


A snowshoe hare looks at the camera.
This hare and I both wear a size 13.

Later in June, I made a “spontaneous” decision to get up into the mountains and hike to Loch Vale. I say “spontaneous,” but it still required me to get online the night before and book a reserved timed entry ticket. I am not a morning person, but I will say the drive up to the mountains during sunrise was absolutely spectacular. It was almost enough to make me a convert – but not quite.


However, hiking in the early morning did give me a chance to encounter some wildlife I did not even know existed! While on the trail, I saw this snowshoe hare snacking on grass between some rocks. I almost missed it, but its glowing ears caught my attention. According to the park rangers, their ears to not naturally glow. Who’d’ve thought?


An elk stands in the alpine tundra.
No jokes here, just satisfaction.

And to round this post off, I will close my favorite photo of an elk I have taken since moving here. To date, most of my encounters with these creatures have occurred at lower elevations. But in the summertime, they move high up into the alpine tundra for food, and I follow for cooler temperatures.


This specific elk was grazing up near the Alpine Visitor Center, and it could not have been in a better position. I tried to close some of the distance between us while it was still standing in profile, but moving quickly at nearly 12,000 feet was a bit more challenging than I anticipated. I managed to do it though, and I would say the end result was well worth the driving, hiking, running, and catching my breath.


That about wraps up this blog post for me though. Between a slightly lighter work schedule and a deeper bank of available paid time off, I will try to get out and post more regularly throughout the fall. In the meantime, though, thanks for reading and fly safe!

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