My 2020 | National Parks, Elevated Landscape Photography, Food, and More!

Wow, that was a long year.

What a year it has been.

For me, I saw lots of changes and a whole new chapter of my life opened up. I was rehabbing my knee from my nasty injury that took place in October of 2019, and I also moved to a new place, only about ten minutes from my first place in Utah! Rehab was long and hard and it came with its fair share of frustrations and successes. As I started to walk around again, I yearned to get outdoors. After moving out to Salt Lake City in June 2019, I never really got outdoors much and I’m not exactly sure why! This blog will cover some of the best parts of the year and be jampacked with pictures. My photography really took an elevated lift here!

February 8 | Mouth of American Fork Canyon, UT.

After January, February brought some early adventures outdoors, including a visit to Tibble Fork and Antelope Island State Park in Utah with my friend to yield my first photos of 2020. Salt Lake has some gorgeous canyons, so I took many trips to those nearby treasure troves.

February 8 | Tibble Fork Reservoir, UT
February 8 | Antelope Island State Park, UT
March 21 | Bear Lake, UT
March 21 | Bear Lake, UT
March 22 | Mercedes and me | Bear Lake, UT

I also visited Bear Lake State Park in Utah during the winter time and it was gorgeous! It was absolutely wonderful being up here – the water is seriously so blue! Seeing snow-capped mountains in the background amid the bright blue lake was something to behold. My girlfriend Mercedes and I traveled around the whole lake and took some pictures while we were at it. Such a fun time! I got my car stuck in some snow up there which was a fun learning experience: my Civic cannot do as much as I think it can. Luckily a kind-hearted older couple in a truck were gracious enough to save my Civic and push me out. Thank you so much, strangers!

March 22 | Shore of Bear Lake, UT

Well, that was a fun couple months, wasn’t it? April came and it was all indoors. This wasn’t bad, however. I discovered I had a love for food photography. Mercedes and I made tons of recipes and I ended up taking pictures of many of those delicious breakfasts and dinners.

Food photography is something that I had an interest in but had never taken it seriously. I had only ever done one small shoot during photography class in college and I enjoyed doing it, so this was the perfect opportunity to take it to the next level! Some of those are detailed on my website with more on the way. One of the more popular recipes that friends keep asking for is this easy chicken recipe – check it out!

April 15 | Parmesan garlic salt chicken, UT
March 22 | Banana pancakes, UT
June 14 | Chicken Alfredo, UT

May comes around, and by this time of the year, the coronavirus became more prominent in our lives. All these summer plans I may have had said goodbye. But, by then, I was getting tired of not being able to get out. I had told myself that I promised to get to a National Park or more in my first year of living in Utah, and I was coming up on that one year anniversary in June. So, what’s the nearest National Park? Grand Tetons!

May 25 | Grand Teton National Park, WY
May 25 Mercedes | Grand Teton National Park, WY

Mercedes and I trucked up early one weekend for a day trip and planned out what we wanted to do. We were both so surprised at how much snow was still on the ground while we did the Bradley and Taggart Lake trails! There was probably a decent 8-12 foot base layer of snow on some good chunks of the trail – so crazy! We had a little bit of down time, including eating lunch on the trail by the lake. There’s something so peaceful about this region, and it was certainly fun to be among the mountains and lakes.

May 25 | Jackson Lake, Grand Teton NP, WY
May 25 | Jackson Lake, Grand Teton NP, WY

This trip became one of the crazier ones as we decided to truck a little bit more north to Yellowstone, just to see if we could make it! We did, and we got out for a quick picture at the entrance sign, and drove a little ways in. This was before we realized how big the park was, and knew we would have to come back later in the year. And we will in 2021 for sure!

May 25 | Yellowstone National Park, WY
May 25 | Grand Teton National Park, WY

After all of that driving to Yellowstone just for an entrance sign photo, I finally got an unobstructed view of the Tetons in the afternoon – the photo wasn’t the greatest, but it’ll do until I get back there in 2021!

This sparked a whole plethora of trips I took this year, including Tetons again, Yellowstone, and all five of the Utah National Parks. Here’s some of my best shots of Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Parks. I hope to get to a bunch of them again in 2021!

July came as a bit of a slower month; in Utah, it’s HOT in the summer. A visit down to Arches also yielded a visit to nearby Canyonlands National Parks – when Mercedes and I visit a National Park, we can never pick which one we want to do, so we just pick both! We planned only one night in Arches since campgrounds were hard to come by, but we were lucky and found a site on Bureau of Land Management Land by the Colorado River,, which was pretty cool! Arches and Canyonlands have some untapped beauty and are some of the most gorgeous places in the southwestern United States. If able, definitely get there! It’s breathtakingly beautiful and well worth the visit. Just make sure to visit during cooler months and not in the dead heat of July. It’s pretty darn hot, as we discovered. Water and Gatorade become your best friends in your cooler.

July 24 | Arches National Park, UT
July 24 | Arches National Park, UT

I tried my hand at more astrophotography for the first time in forever – Arches National Park is a good spot for some dark skies! And, in fact, all of the Utah National Parks are International Dark Skies. So, I will be back for more star photos and with better equipment!

July 24 | Arches National Park, UT

Our second day in Arches brought one of my best shots of my career and also some pretty good trails! There’s a hike in Devil’s Garden campground that leads to some pretty neat arches and along the way, I snapped this incredible photo! It’s not of an arch, but it’s one of my best shots to date.

July 25 | Arches National Park, UT
July 25 | Arches National Park, UT

And let’s bring on the rest of the photos from this trip, too! Arches and Canyonlands National Parks!

Now for the rest: let’s bring on the rest of the Utah National Park trips. I went in two stints down to southwestern Utah, hitting Zion National Park and Bryce National Park in September with Mercedes and then again visiting those, plus Capitol Reef National Park in October with my sister. I’ll let the photos do the talking here – these are some absolutely gorgeous places, and they’re all right in my backyard. Utah is gorgeous, isn’t it?

September 25 | Zion National Park, UT
September 25 | Zion National Park, UT

Fall weather in Utah gave way to gorgeous fall colors up the canyons in northern Utah and plenty of lovely photos with yellows, oranges, and reds. I got to take advantage of the stunning fall for the first time, since last year I was sidelines with that inconvenient knee injury. I wish I took more than I did, as always, but here’s a few favorites of when I got when out by myself or with friends.

With the autumn season comes the winter season in Utah, and generally it’s a pretty fast transition. Luckily this year, it was not! I got to enjoy the fall amidst trips to National Parks and some hangouts with friends. But, when the winter season does arrive in Utah, it’s there for good. I got a bit of a taste of Utah winter but not before I escaped to California for a trip! I headed down there for Thanksgiving week, and got to see plenty of beaches. It was my first time at the beach since mid 2019, so I was soaking up the sun as much as I could.

When I was out in California for an internship during the summer of 2018, I fell in love with Malibu. It seriously is one of the most gorgeous places I have ever been! From the beautiful beach to the rocky coves and the high cliffs, this place is a treasure trove for photographers.

I had a couple bucket list shots I knew I wanted to capture and I was able to get both of them in the same trip. There was this little cove I knew about that I didn’t have a wide enough lens for two years back, but this time, I was ready for it. I also was able to capture a magnificent sunset, too!

November 25 | Malibu, CA
November 25 | Malibu, CA
November 25 | Malibu, CA

My time in California came to an end and a whirlwind of a couple days saw me back in Utah, ready to close out November and begin December. Winter is in full effect in Utah now! I headed home to Boston so I could spend Christmas with my family. We had Christmas together, binge-watched the Mandalorian, watched a couple movies, set up our backyard rink, and even shot off a potato cannon. And of course, there’s Christmas cookies aplenty.

November 8 | Logan Canyon, UT
December 12 | Banana Muffins | Logan, UT

It’s been a pretty crazy year for me, and I realized how much I actually did in one year. I got to visit seven National Parks and visited seven states (and drove through another) with much more to be visited next year. While this wasn’t the year of seeing friends, I still managed to forge some new friendships and strengthen some others through calls or video chats.

There’s talk about “2020 this” and “2020 that” but wow, I did a lot. It was perhaps one of my best years ever, and I didn’t even realize it. Just living in the moment is sometimes your best option; I always remember to take a couple photos (or a couple hundred) and I’m glad I do. They’re fun to look back on, even if they aren’t the best photos I’ve ever taken.

I know plenty of people who may say that this year was one of their worst, and some that may say it was their best. For me, all I had to do was get outside.

As it turned out, this is what made all the difference in my year.

And God is good.

~ Justin

Parting shot:

November 25 | Malibu, CA

Next blog: Starting strong in 2021. You ready?

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