Team name: Wander With Us
Participants: Shawn & Pietrina
2018 Road trip details:
We are going to see the best of Colorado's alpine environments and iconic deserts of the american southwest in one trip. Our trip dates were chosen to coincide with the darkest of the moon phases to accommodate astrophotography. We plan to complete the alpine loop, followed by a modified version of the grand circle. We will begin in western Colorado on Engineer pass which will lead us into the high alpine environment and to the American Basin. This will give us an opportunity to hike and explore with our dogs. We will bring them along for this first leg of the adventure, while the temperatures are reasonable for our golden girl, Abby. Prior to our Utah leg of the trip we will meet some of our family to surrender our pooches and spare them from the harsh desert environment and full day hikes. We also plan to hit the White rim trail which will offer spectacular views. Then we'll head to Horseshoe Canyon, where we will tour the Grand Gallery. Natural Bridges NM will allow us to capture dark skies, absent of light pollution. We will pepper in a few more fun spots, but those are some that we are excited to see. We have purchased a vehicle and rooftop tent that makes such long and remote overland trips possible and comfortable. The accessibility to uniquely beautiful environments will give us the opportunity to film some of the most beautiful places we can imagine and to share them with the world.
Can't leave home without:
Shawn: Sunglasses! I have photosensitive eyes, so I almost always wear some shades, but otherwise my camera!
Pietrina: My Hydro Flask water bottle covered in stickers, which brings back smiling moments from past adventures. Also my running shoes, so I can try to catch a few miles, whenever possible.
Favorite tune to listen to on the open road:
Shawn: The Streets Have No Name
Pietrina: Walking on a Dream
Signature/go-to camp food:
Shawn: Coffee (coffee is food too) and Bob's oatmeal! It is quick and easy so I can get out and start my sunrise photography!
Pietrina: Salmon is a yummy treat on trail or back at camp.
"Best known for"/"claim to fame"/"trip role":
Shawn is the main photographer. He typically begins a camping trip by setting up the time lapse rig to allow a program to run into the night for a motion time lapse sequence. When the location allows both Pietrina and Shawn are proficient at flying the drone and looking for ways to create unique aerial footage.
Pietrina is a great trip planner, she has great ideas! She is known for calling the rangers at the various parks and getting the logistical information that helps the trips to roll along smoothly. Any time we go out she always looks at the surrounding areas to see if there is something cool that we should check out while we are in the area.
We both roll with the punches, our trips never turn out quite like we plan them, but the unexpected surprises are part of the fun.
A perfect trip would include these three items:
Shawn: Camp kitchen (we make some pretty awesome meals while camping) Photography gear, good company/friends
Pietrina: Our pups, time, long & steep trails!
Recreate their trip
After months of preparation and what felt like forever, it was finally that time. Our endless adventure began near Ouray, Colorado on the Alpine Loop. One of the primary reasons for our entry was to be able to spend more time with our dogs and to get out further onto longer and more technical 4WD roads like this one. When we learned about the contest we created our “dream” trip to include places we had on our own wish list.
The Alpine Loop is over 63 miles long and provides for rugged solitude out in the beautiful San Juan Mountains. While traveling these roads, shared by 19th century ore miners, we took in breath-taking views, summited 12,000 + ft passes, visited abandoned towns, and even came across a shepherd and his hundreds or thousands of sheep to top our initial entry video. We could only make out the white dots, at first, moving across the saddle and had to check it out. We met up with two Great Pyrenees and a Border Collie, who herded these animals along the mountain side. The Great Pyr took his job very seriously and barked and attentively herded us, as we made our way through. This was very special for me, as my zio (uncle) Cesare in my mother’s hometown of Santo Padre Italy, used to take my family’s sheep to pasture from the house my mother was born in. We spent the afternoon hiking with our dogs and enjoyed lunch and refreshments. We could have spent an entire week here. We absolutely loved the area, but the Alpine Loop was just the beginning of many great adventures to come. We camped at an abandoned mine site, near a ghost town named Animas Forks. This first campsite had a gorgeous backdrop, we were but a small part of the beautiful canvas that made up this area. The colors on the mountainside were so vivid. One could only imagine what the miners thought when they discovered this place. They honestly struck gold just by being able to spend time in this gorgeous landscape. There were times, I felt like Mary Poppins, jumping into a water color painting with penguins, only we had our dogs.
Prior to this epic trip, we did quite a bit of planning and prep, to allow us to let go and enjoy the adventure as it happened. Shawn’s parents had agreed to meet up with us in Silverton, Colorado after we came off the Alpine Loop to pick up our dogs. One thing we did not realize, until just weeks before our trip was that this time coincided with Labor Day weekend, which is a popular travel time! Rut Ro… : / We were able to come up with a great spot in the end. We met Shawn’s parents (Vikki and Don Ferguson) at Lake Molas Campground, which is rated as one of the “most scenic campgrounds in Colorado” by AAA. It was beautiful! We were so happy to be able to provide this small gift as a token of our appreciation. They came in one day before us and arrived to find their site ready and a beautiful lake view to welcome them. When we joined up with them, we headed into town to cheers with a beer in hand and to grab lunch at Natalia’s 1912 restaurant. We sat outside in their patio area, with our dogs, and listened to live music. We took in a wonderfully, slow-paced afternoon; which is what you can count on in Silverton, Colorado. The coolest part of our time spent with his parents was that we were able to get them on the Alpine Loop and summit a pass with their newly bought 2005 Rubicon Wrangler. It was fun to do some technical driving and spend time 4-wheeling together. Later, we grilled kabobs and made smores at their campsite. In the morning we made breakfast at our campsite and showed them our route on the map. We wanted to have a small gift to give our family and friends as we spent time with each of them on our adventure. RPL Supplies helped us customize enamel camping mugs with the Tepui logo on one side and our logo on the other. We filled them with candy corn and added a Tepui sticker. The time with Shawn’s parents flew by and just as quickly as they came, it was time to say goodbye. This also meant saying goodbye to our dogs.
Though we would have loved to have them with us, for the entire lag of our journey, we respect the National Parks and understand why they restrict dogs to parking areas and campgrounds. Once the RV was packed with the Wrangler in tow, it was time to wave good bye to our family and our pack. Lake Molas was a neat spot. It was a chilly spot, compared to the desert that we were headed toward but the paddle boarding was great because we practically had the lake to ourselves. The water was calm, and the reflections were great. We watched as an Osprey hunted above our heads, fish swam beneath us, and fisherman fished on the shore. We were so grateful for this entire start to our adventure, the opportunity to paddle board was icing on the cake, right from the beginning!
From the Alpine Loop we headed toward our second dose of overlanding on White Rim, in Canyonlands NP. This began the first of many stops on our modified grand loop trek through Utah. Our second reason for entering was our own love for exploring and hiking the National Parks and wanting to share the beauty in these places with the rest of the world. The environment around us took a dramatic turn. We went from cool climate with alpine scenery to desert heat. We reserved our backcountry permits prior to the trip. We began the 100-mile journey heading down steep switchbacks from the Schafer Trail entry point within the Islands in the Sky District. Our first destination was a backcountry campsite about 19 miles in called Airport D. The scenery at this site was something out of a Clint Eastwood movie. We had a towering formation behind us with red hues of Navajo Sandstone and expansive desert in front revealing black desert varnish. Desert varnish is a patina of decorative bands like tattoos made from nature overtime that cascade down the fronts of many surface rocks like streamers at a party. The color comes from manganese and iron oxides, making for an interesting backdrop. We got there in time to set up a time lapse sequence and enjoyed a colorful sunset. The night was beautiful with storms on the horizon. Our next campsite was 45 miles away. We drove along the eye catching “white-rimmed” rock ledges. Beneath that ledge was an immense drop and crumbled rock that had fallen into the canyon. It was like a Zen garden on steroids. The desert is such a beautiful and fragile ecosystem. We were amazed that plants and animals could survive and thrive here, in such a harsh environment. By the time we made it to Potato Bottom C, our second backcountry campsite we found ourselves surrounded by a grove of healthy Cottonwoods. We looked at each other and said “slackers”!!! The Potato Bottom site was a huge change from the night before. We still had the timeless western desert back drop but large and healthy trees and green was all around us. We set up camp, a time lapse, caught a lizard, and setup our slackline by Slackers. The night was picture-perfect, and the stars were especially beautiful. The morning came with an invitation to make a last push to finish the trail. We exited at Mineral Road, which brought us back to the Islands in the Sky district. We both agreed this was one of our favorite places ever, in our many journeys together. We left feeling re-energized and ready to do some hiking!
Next on our trip list was Horseshoe Canyon which is an obscure district that did not become a part of Canyonlands NP, until the 1970’s. We wanted to incorporate some longer hikes and history on this trip in places we had never been before. This area boasts some of the largest and best-preserved representations of Rock Barrier Art in the form of pictographs and petroglyphs in the country. The drive out there is very remote. We passed sand dunes and antelope herds before arriving to camp near trailhead. We hit the trail in the morning. This area recently became popularized from the movie 127 hours where a hiker named Aron Ralston, played by James Franco in the movie was forced to cut his own arm off with a dull pocketknife after being trapped by a boulder; while canyoneering in Blue John Canyon. We learned that Blue John Canyon is just South of Horseshoe Canyon where we hiked to the Grand Gallery. The hike was great. We came across four other panels on our way to the Grand Gallery, which is over 200 feet long and 15 feet high with life size pictographs. It is believed that Shamans on hallucinogens painted these figures onto the canyon walls. There is even an alien-like figure. The story is left untold with room for the imagination to take over. It was unreal to be able to get so close and, in many cases, climb up into the areas where people once lived. It was incredible to turn from that vantage to take in their perspective thousands of years later. Things must have looked much different back then, but it was neat to try to imagine what it was like to live there. One of our favorite surprises on this trip was seeing what I thought was white mountain goats through the brush. They were making a sound we have never heard before. We quietly approached the sound and found wild burros. The Horseshoe Canyon area was discovered during oil exploration and search for uranium back in the 20’s. It turns out burros have been there for over 100 years. These Pinto – Donkey hybrids had horse and donkey features. They were beautifully white and black spotted animals with XL- ears that outsized their small bodies. It was cool to spend time with the herd. Upon emerging from the canyon, we signed out in the register and headed back to our 4Runner for popsicles. It was a delicious treat and great day!
Our drive from Horseshoe Canyon to Bryce Canyon was beautiful. We took a more scenic route on HWY 12. We were surprised to find the place packed! We originally planned to stay at North Campground, which is first come first serve at this time a year, but everything was full! We were lucky to find a spot in the Ruby Inn Campground. Though we normally avoid commercial campgrounds, this was a welcomed surprise as we had a chance to do laundry, eat breakfast, shower, and refuel on groceries. We hiked part of the Fairyland Loop from the North Campground. It is best to camp there if you can find a spot because the trail branches right from the campground into the trade mark hoodoos that give Bryce its uniqueness among all other places. The Fairyland Loop lives up to its name as it whimsically leads to some of the most spectacular views in the park. It is like becoming a part of a chess game or even better wizards’ chess, if you’re a Harry Potter fan? The hoodoos take on figurine-like status and you feel like you need to be strategic to make a pass. We did not have as much time on trail as planned, but it was a beautiful day and Bryce as always did not disappoint.
On our way from Bryce Canyon to Capital Reef NP, we grabbed a delicious lunch at 4th West Pub in Escalante, before heading to Posey Lake on a Ranger’s recommendation. The drive off HWY 12, to get to the lake was story book-like as we went from hoodoos, down into a lush valley, up over an alpine pass, to petrified sand dunes and then ending at an alpine lake. This all went down in about 112 miles. The lake provided relief from the heat and returned us to that vanilla-piney smell of the forest, that just feels like home. We had a great time at Posey Lake, which is part of the Dixie National Forest. We spent the day on our Red Paddle - paddle boards and experimented with smart tracking modes on our drone, which followed us on the water. We had a lot of fun on the lake and we were thankful for the recommendation. Afterward, we were back on HWY 12 and headed toward our next National Park – Capital Reef.
We planned our trip to coincide with moon phases. Capital Reef is a Dark Sky Act Park, which means even adjacent cities are restricted on the amount of light pollution emitted. Capital Reef is one of the darkest spots in the US, if timed right. This makes for extraordinary dark skies and great stars! We were headed into the astrophotography portion of our trip, which got us excited for night hikes and long exposure photography. We arrived mid-day, which was perfect timing for a secret hike called Sulfur Creek. It is considered a backcountry hike and not marked on the map. We hiked through the wash itself and the cold river as it snaked through the canyon. This hike can be compared to the experience of hiking the narrows in Zion, in certain areas but takes less time. The water was a refreshing relief from the heat. From there, we visited the Chestnut Orchard and picked pears and apples from very old trees, near the visitor center. We were surprised to see deer just chilling in the grass less than 3 feet from us. We ate homemade ice cream at the Gifford House and then headed toward Cathedral Valley. The night was incredible. The sky was littered with amazing sparkle! We ended up at the Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon. We laid on the hood of our Toyota 4Runner together and counted multiple shooting stars; while our time lapsing rig captured some of the best night skies we have ever seen. Capital Reef is another place that ranks high up on our list and never ceases to amaze us.
With the dark skies in full force, we headed next to one of our favorite places for night photography. Natural Bridges NM is home to three natural bridges in the White Canyon. We hiked Sipapu Bridge that afternoon. Sipapu means “place of emergence”. The Hopi believed this to be a place where their ancestors crossed into this world. There is a humbling reminder when in the presence of these immense bridges of the power of water. The meandering of water through these snake-shaped canyons eroded new paths through canyon walls. The Sipapu hike has Hopi-like ladders built to scale down to the canyon floor, where the size of the bridge itself can be truly appreciated. Sipapu Bridge is second only to Rainbow Bridge in Lake Powell. At night we headed to Owachomo Bridge for a night hike and to create a time lapse. We had the bridge to ourselves. We light painted the bridge with our new Neewer light panel and set up our Dynamic Perception slider under a blanket of stars. Again, the stars were incredible! As we settled in for a few hours we heard coyotes in the distance, and our time lapsing rig as it moved and exposed. We hung out in our sleeping bags to stay warm and commented on the breathtaking scenery that fell into night. It felt good to return to camp that night and did not take long to drift into deep sleep with all that fresh air. We caught some needed Zzzz’s and tried to imagine what Bears Ears NM would be like.
Bears Ears NM was one of the best surprises yet and just a short distance from Natural Bridges NM. We stopped at the Kane Gulch Ranger Station to pick up our permit for Moon House the next day and hiked Fallen Roof Ruin that afternoon. The roads and trailheads we visited in Bears Ears were remote and unmarked. We took advantage of having our GPS with us. The Fallen Roof Ruin trail was a fun hike. We followed the wash, as it weaved and turned with only the occasional cairn to assure we were still on trail. We saw a bunch of life teaming in small temporary pools of slip rock around us; including tadpoles. This brought back memories for both Shawn and I, as we both caught our fair share of tad poles as kids. We saw a ton of toads all throughout our trip. They were our sign of good fortune from the contest and reminders of how lucky we were to share in this adventure together. After a few hours of exploring, the ruin site appeared on the cliffside to our left. The climb was also fun because there was no distinct trail. We found it to be very wild and untamed in Bears Ears. It was a privilege to spend time in this area and to share in the historical significance. We camped on a road near our trailhead for Moon house with dispersed camping and shared the night with a glutenous beetle who stole a piece of our Jiffy popcorn. We could even hear him crunching. We try to make sure all our food gets picked up and pack out, but somehow, that little guy found a feast and savored the moment. We could not bring ourselves to pick up that last piece, until he had his fill. The next morning was September 13th and I woke up to “breakfast in Tepui”. Shawn surprised me with a full breakfast and presents on my birthday. Moon House Ruin limits 20 people per day and got its name for a celestial pictograph inside one of the rooms. The archaeological site is well preserved although looters took many of the artifacts here before the area was instated as a National Monument. The hike involves a steep descent from the top to bottom of McCloyd Canyon and then a steep climb to the ruins on the direct opposite side of the canyon wall. We learned about Moon House, while doing research on the Cedar Mesa area, within Bears Ears right before the trip. There were still permits available for this date and we figured, why not? We did not realize it at the time but later saw the coincidence between visiting this archeological site and our intention to plan this part of the trip around moon phases. We were amazed to be able to get so close to history and go inside the main room. The inner rooms were restricted, but we brought our headlamps. We shined light into the room with the white band around it to reveal the famous full moon pictograph on one side and half moon on the other that gave Moon House its name. Archeologists estimate the ruin dates to the Puebloan people who they believe built the dwellings around 1264AD. Archeologists connected these dates to a full and partial eclipse event that occurred during the late 50’s from that time. As we both have a deep appreciation for astrophotography and with my background teaching 8th grade students about moon phases and astronomy, it was a truly amazing experience. We quickly realized there were more ruins all around us. Bears Ears stole our heart. It is so rich with history and played to our shared love of remote wilderness. We look forward to returning and dedicating a full week to exploring this area.
After an amazing afternoon, we found ourselves bending our circle on the map back toward home. Moab was the next stop, but we were not done hiking yet. After a delicious dinner at Peace Tree, we headed toward Arches NP for a night hike together to delicate arch. When we first arrived, there was still quite a few people there nearing midnight. Shawn had one last birthday surprise for me and timed it right with a small chill in the air. He pulled a new Rumpl down blanket from his pack and we shared it as we waited for everyone to have their fill and dissipate. Once we had the place to ourselves, we light painted the arch with our Neewer light panel and took a “Pie and I” together under the arch. Over the last almost five years together we have started a collection of “Pie and I” photos to document and remember all the amazing places we travel. We took quite a few keepers on this adventure and hands down this was one of my best birthday’s yet!
On our way back through Moab the next day, we caught a quick game of frolf and drove up to Oowah Lake. We spent the afternoon on the water with our paddle boards. There were times we just drifted together and took in the quiet, with an occasional splash from a fish jumping nearby. The water was clear, just like the others we visited along the way. It was a peaceful afternoon and great way to say goodbye for now to the beautiful state of Utah, until next time. When we were deflated and packed up, we started back to Colorado to spend our final night in the mountains together with two of our closest friends; Eric Gregg and Dan Neppl. Eric and Dan found us a great spot on a remote dispersed camping road near Mt. Evans. To culminate our adventure, we toasted with tasty cold mountain craft beer and ate dinner together at Tommyknocker Brewery, in Idaho Springs. It was so great to relive the adventure and share the play by play with our two best friends. We wouldn’t have it any other way.
We cannot begin to express our sincere thanks and gratitude to be a part the Tepui’s endless adventure contest this year. We found out about this contest during one of the busiest times in our own lives. The timing of everything was surreal. Last summer, I had to make a difficult decision to leave teaching for a while, due to a financial setback and Shawn’s Tahoe was totaled on his way home from work. No one was hurt in the accident, which is all that matters but those two events set things in motion for us to purchase a 2013 Toyota 4Runner last fall. We sold our other vehicle and purchased a Tepui Tent, during the holidays. The timing of everything was a push toward chasing our own dream. The things that you gave us have helped us to get a lot closer to the goals that we have been working toward and the priceless gift of time. We were both able to disappear from working our day jobs and fully immerse ourselves in the process. We had an absolute blast on this trip! We fell even more in love, I don’t know how that happens after many days without a shower and being together 24/7 and deeper into our own creative process to tell the story. We ended the trip with a greater appreciation for one another and what we can accomplish together. The original submission video for this contest was our very first ever and I remember us both feeling like we had broken through a personal barrier, which was a win for us. As the trip neared its end, we both agreed we could have stayed out for another month without the blink of an eye. We were just getting warmed up and in a comfortable rhythm! We have always had a dream of seeing and photographing all the national parks, and now our Tepui is helping us to do that. Again, we want to thank you for making all this possible for us. We had a blast and we can’t wait for Tepui Fest. Cheers to the unknown and continued life of an endless adventure!
Shots from their adventure
Gear that got them through