It began with an Instagram ad...

And it became some of the most amazing memories I've made in my entire life.

If you read this post, you’ll go on a summer of adventure with me! I have more stories to tell than I can include, but I think I’ve got a pretty good summary here, so I hope you enjoy reading about it. 

 In 2022 I saw an Instagram ad for Rocky Mountain School of Photography. They offered a six-week summer intensive photography course in Missoula, Montana and I was very, very interested. At the time, the course was about to start, and I knew it wasn’t an option that year- so I messaged their Instagram page to see if the dates for 2023 were planned yet. They weren’t, so I agreed to wait and stay in touch. 

As soon as the dates were released in the fall, I knew it was something I wanted to do. I had spoken over the phone with the head of admissions, prayed about it, confirmed that the dates didn’t overlap with my brother’s wedding on June 17th, and I was ready. I made payments, counted down the days, bought a new car, found an apartment to stay in, and by June I was all but in Montana. 

My brother was married on Saturday, and the next morning at approximately 4am my mom and I started out on the 30-hour drive.  She started, and we took turns of driving about 4 hours at a time. Classes started at 9am on Monday, so we HAD to get to Missoula. We drove the bulk of it on Sunday, visited the Corn Palace in South Dakota, and spent the night in Chamberlain SD, on the banks of the Missouri river. The next day was a lighter load of driving, so we made time to stop in Broadus, MT to meet up with cousins and get some coffee and food. Back on the road, we drove til past 9pm and made it my apartment, in a quiet residential area just outside of town. My apartment was in the basement, and we had to go through a gate and walk around the house. It was dark and quiet, so it kind of felt like we were breaking in, but the key worked so we decided it must be the right place. 


The next morning I drove to the school for orientation. Mom took my car and explored town for the day. I had already been in contact with two of my classmates, so I hoped to sit with them, but I was one of the last to arrive so most of the seats were full. I sat in the very front and introduced myself to Megan, the other girl at the table. 

The school is a big warehouse essentially, but there are classrooms and a lunchroom (called the “Common room”) and a beautiful lobby. We met the staff and instructors and got a tour of the school. Kaitlynn (Katie) and Grace recognized me and came up to the table and we were all four introduced. There wasn’t much education on the first day, just getting accustomed to the school and meeting new people. 


That first week the students became friends very quickly. There were 44 of us, if I remember correctly. Tuesday night after classes there was a tour of downtown, some of us arrived early, some stayed late, and a friend group began to form. I had planned to have a lot of free time in my evenings while on this trip, so I packed books to read and yarn to knit and a journal to write in. Already in the first couple of days the “kids” started making plans. We were going to go to the Bison range on Friday, and Ninepipes Wildlife refuge after that. Quite a few of us carpooled into two cars and made the drive. The bison range was explored via a gravel road up over a mountain, there were bison, birds, elk and deer that we photographed. On the way there our two vehicles had become separated, I was in the second car with Katie and Carsten. We didn’t know where everyone else had gone, but we found them when we showed up at Ninepipes around sunset. It was a wetland, full of all sorts of birds and waterfowl. The sunset was among the most beautiful I’ve seen in my life. 

All week at school we had been told of an upcoming Rodeo on Sunday in Augusta, MT. I wanted to go and began asking around about who else was going. Most of the younger students (aged 17-20) ended up there, and I drove my car.  The rodeo was a blast, and I got some really fun shots. The roping and bronc riding was fun to watch, but we really wanted to see the bulls and barrel racing. I was sitting on the ground next to an older photographer, not a student, so I chatted with him a little bit. I believe his name was David. We began to realize that it was going to rain, and worried for our gear (I was using a borrowed lens from the school) David asked me to watch his camera, and he walked away to the concession stand- and came back carrying empty bread bags! We used them to cover our cameras, and ourselves got absolutely drenched. A lot of people left, but Katie was with me, and we waited, watched a few of the bulls and barrels, and decided it was time to leave. It was a good time to eat, so we stopped at a little bar/restaurant, I believe it was in Lincoln, played pool and got food with some of the guys. After that, mostly dry now, we drove up to Garnet Ghost town and took some photos. It was my first time driving up a gravel road to the top of a mountain, and it was a little terrifying at moments, but I got the hang of it by the end of six weeks! 

That first week of school the students were divided into two groups for special editing software based classes, and there was a lot of setting up our computers and prep. 


The second week we were divided into letter groups- I was in group “C” and none of my new friends were in the same group with me. The classes covered backing up processes for saving photos, correct exposure and understanding the settings that get it, a couple field shoots, editing, how to shoot stars and fireworks, and a few classes on gear, light, careers, ethics, etc. 

Thursday night, four of us- myself, Katie, Carsten and Josiah decided to hike to the “M”. The “M” is a big, white, concrete letter that sit in a mountainside above the university of Montana. There’s a trail up to it, and the view of the city from there is amazing. 

That upcoming Tuesday was 4th of July, so we got a 4-day weekend from Saturday to Tuesday. On Saturday I went to the local farmers market at Caras park with some friends. Late that evening I drove to the Missoula airport to pick up my boyfriend, Josh, who was flying in for the holiday. Sunday morning, we went to church, and the group had big plans for that night. 12 of us drove up in 7 different vehicles to “Mormon Peak”, a mountain in Lolo MT. We built a little fire and stayed up all night long. We had cameras, music, sparklers, smore’s, good conversations, and signs of the sunrise began to show around 4:30 am. When the sun had risen, we rode in Ty’s truck bed to the very top of the mountain to get pictures, then back to our cars, we made our way to Missoula to “Paul’s Pancake Parlor”. We were a large group of exhausted young adults, and the waitress didn’t have much patience with us, but the food was delicious. When all was finished, we went to our respective homes and slept the rest of the day away, until about 4pm. I then took Josh on a local coffee shop tour (I had tried most of them in town by this point) and got pizza for supper from Biga Pizza. The next morning, I picked Josh up from where he was staying and we got breakfast and coffee, then did some souvenir shopping. After that we went to the blue mountain disc golf course, and he won. Next was an hour drive to Seeley Lake for fireworks. It was an amazing show, people from every side of the lake were setting off fireworks!


As far as education goes, some of my class assignments included:

·      a depth of field exercise (taking several shots at different f-stops to see how much of the frame would be in focus)

·      a shutter speed exercise (learning to freeze motion and show motion and ICM)

·      using different methods to focus (manual vs AF, etc.)

·      Getting a signed model release form (I met someone at the farmers market and asked to take a photo, then had them sign the form)

·      A compositional assignment 

·      Using the zone system for metering 

·      Using a flash unit successfully 

·      Landscape 

·      Portraiture 

·      And more!

For all these assignments I was required to take photos and upload them to a server for review and occasionally critique. 


Katie had been informed by a teaching assistant of a “secret spot on the river”, the coordinates of which he disclosed to her in confidence. Apparently, this special spot had a bridge that could be jumped from, maybe 20 feet high. It was over two hours away, near Glacier national park. Our group made plans to spend a day there. There was a sunrise shoot scheduled for the morning, but when it was done, we headed for the river. Upon arrival, we realized quickly that it was not a secret spot. Lots of people were there, and the bridge… was definitely more than 20 feet from the water. The water was so clear and clean- and COLD. I spent some time getting accustomed to the temperature while watching people jump off the bridge. There were rafts and kayaks coming down the river, so occasionally observers would scream up to someone who was about to jump and tell them to wait while a raft passed under the bridge. Katie had a paddle board that a few of us took turns floating around on, and Grace and I bailed off it just before hitting some rapids only to watch later as others went effortlessly over them. We painted rocks, jumped off the bridge (it was thrilling and not as scary as I thought) ate snacks, played music, took photos, and met new people. When the day was done, some of our group had left, but those who remained went to a diner to eat. I had the most delicious elk bratwurst you can imagine, but it better have been because it cost $16.00. (The entire menu was that expensive). We went back to the river to watch sunset a little bit after that, and then headed back to Missoula. 


In the next week I encountered something unfortunate. The zipper on my bag had been broken, and a few times my MacBook fell out of it. There was no visible damage, and it worked fine, until it didn’t. I took notes for a print outsourcing class, closed the Mac, walked up to the common room, opened it, and the screen glitched and went black. I talked to Forrest, one of the instructors, and he told me where to get it fixed. After dropping it off, I got the call- “the good news is, it’s still under warranty. *relief* the bad news is, the warranty doesn’t cover physical damage and the glitch was caused by a barely visible chip on the edge of the screen.” Then he told me what it would cost to replace the screen. 

I’ve never had a panic attack, but I was driving when I got the call, and I pulled over into a parking lot and felt something that may fall into that category. I called Josh, and he talked me through it, prayed for me and calmed me down. It all worked out thankfully, and I had my Mac up and working in a couple days. After dropping it off and paying for the repair, I got a text from Katie and headed back to the school. An idea was proposed for a weekend trip to Utah. We would drive the nine hours down to the Salt Flats Friday night in Grace’s car and spend the next day there, then drive back. I agreed to go, and four others would be going along, and Ryker, Grace’s dog. We headed out around 7pm the next day and drove all night until about 4:30am. I was driving the last hour and pulled into a truck stop in Utah. We realized that the Salt Flats were right in front of us, parked the car, climbed over the concrete barrier and started walking. The stars were AMAZING. The salt was so strange, it was like a mix between sand and snow, and parts of it were wet and squishy. We watched the sun rise, and it was lovely. Cameras out, we took a lot of photos, and the others in the group took some portraits. I looked around as other people started to show up and wander around on the flats. I saw two girls, probably my age, and they were dressed up and taking pictures of each other. I introduced myself and offered to take photos for them, explaining that I was a photography student and needed the practice. I learned that they were twin sisters, and that they had seen on TikTok that this was a good place to take sunrise photos. Upon further conversation, I also learned that they were from Ohio! 

After taking a lot of photos, we headed to Salt Lake City. Four of us slept while Grace drove, and when we woke up, she told us that she had come up with a plan. We would eat breakfast in Salt Lake City, drive north to the Tetons and Yellowstone, then possibly camp out somewhere and make it back to Missoula by Sunday. We had breakfast at the Hub and Spoke diner and began the drive. I was driving along a busy highway in Utah, and Grace was sleeping in the passenger seat, when suddenly everyone in the backseat was telling me to pull over and there was an awful smell…it was the dog. We hadn’t thought to stop for him, and he had taken care of business on the dog bed in the trunk. We woke Grace up, and got things sorted, then back on the road. The Tetons were the first stop, and it was lovely. We passed over a lot of places where we could have stopped, just for time’s sake, but we did pause at a lake and get some pictures. We headed into Yellowstone, stopped to see Old Faithful, who put a show on for us almost immediately, so we didn’t have to wait very long. There was a stop later to see some elk, and a lot of driving. Eventually, by 2:30am on Sunday we had made it back to RMSP, where the rest of our cars were parked, and we went to our homes and beds. 

There was a class the next Friday that went into the evening, and when I left there was a plan to hang out at Blake’s- the place where he was staying had a pool table, movie room, cornhole, volleyball net, etc. so it was a good place to chill. A lot of us were there, we played some games, went to WinCo to (because they were open 24/7), watched shows and stayed up all night because there was a sunrise shoot the next morning and we knew it was so late that if we went to bed we may not wake up on time. When it was time for the shoot, at like 5am, we headed out in our individual cars. The shoot was set to be at McClay flats, near the base of blue mountain. We had been to the top of the mountain before, and a few of us decided that the view of sunrise would probably be better from the there rather than the flats. So, we drove the gravel road in the dark to the top and were met with an incredible view. The sunrise was breathtaking. As had become tradition, after staying up all night we had to go get breakfast at Paul’s Pancakes. Driving back down the mountain, my car notified me that a tire was low. I decided to at least make it to the ens of the road, but as I was driving it kept getting lower and lower, and I had to pull over when next there was a place to. The tire was flat. Carsten pulled over behind me, and he and Megan and I got the spare tire on. We got to Paul’s, ate breakfast, and everyone went home and to bed, except me. I went to the tire shop. Within two hours I had my tire fixed and went to sleep. I woke up in the afternoon to get Katie, several weeks prior we had booked a Glacier Photo Tour, and it was scheduled for sunset that evening. I had made a mistake when determining what time to leave, and we were running a whole hour behind. I contacted our guide, and she assured me that it would be fine because she had accounted for an extra hour in case the Going to the Sun Road had construction delays and that everything would be fine. We finally got there, parked my car and hopped in the tour van. We saw so many beautiful places, Lake McDonald, the Cedar trail, and the tour was supposed to stay in the lower part of Glacier, but our guide asked if we’d want to go all the way to Logan Pass because it was a hot day and it would be much cooler up there. So, we followed the Going to the sun road, and thankfully the construction didn’t delay us at all. There were some amazing views, I think Glacier is my favorite national park so far. We were up there for sunset, and by the time we got back to my car it was after 10pm. Starving, we hoped to find a place that was still open. We settled on Arby’s and drove to Kalispell where the nearest was. We sat at the speaker for the longest time waiting to order, but finally had our food and got back on the road.  It was late, and a long drive back to Missoula. The rest of our friends were planning to meet us at Flathead Lake the next morning, and we figured we’d just spend the night in my car somewhere near there- but I didn’t know where the best place for that was. Katie messaged Ty, who we knew was familiar with all kinds of camping spots. He sent some coordinates, and I followed them- all the way up a gravel road in the middle of fields on the Flathead Reservation. This was not Flathead Lake, but he said it was a beautiful view to wake up to. Part way up a mountain there was indeed a lake, a small one, but we couldn’t even see it. It was pitch black everywhere, no civilization anywhere near, and we were two girls alone at the end of a gravel road. Neither of us felt safe spending the night there, so we decided to make our way to St. Ignatius, the nearest town. I began driving back down- and saw it again- the notification that a tire was low. I wasn’t about to stop there, so we made it to St. Ignatius on it and looked for a place to spend the rest of the night. I finally settled on a grocery store parking lot. The same tire was flat, but I decided to let it wait for morning. It was a long night for me, I kept waking up each hour and strange things kept happening, dogs were barking, and I felt uneasy. Finally, at 6am when it was light out, I got out of the car and put the spare back on. We went into the grocery store when it opened and used the restroom and filled water bottles, then went to get coffee. It was Sunday. I looked everywhere, but no tire shop was open. So I drove the 30 minutes north to Flathead. We stopped at Walmart, hoping they had an auto center, but they didn’t. we bought a few things, got cleaned up in the restroom, and headed to the lake to find a spot to spend the day. We found a nice beach and listened to a church service then wandered around while we waited for everyone else to arrive. They made it and we spent the time swimming around, getting Jamaican food from a truck and jumping off a wooden platform into the lake. It was a long, hot day, and I was exhausted from not sleeping the night before. Everyone decided that it would be fun to go back up to that little lake where we had gone that previous night, so we left Flathead and made a stop at Subway. I couldn’t eat, but I knew I needed food. I got a sandwich. I asked Katie to drive and slept in the passenger seat for half an hour. We parked my car at a little church because I didn’t want to take it back up that gravel road. I felt much better and could eat my food, then rode with Katie and Megan in Carsten’s car, and we found that the water in the lake was lower than it had been but was still beautiful. There was a cliff, some of us made our way to the top and the sunset from there was one of the most stunning from the whole trip. We climbed back down, and the others had built a fire. We hung around for a while, but it was getting late, and Megan and I headed back to the car so we could leave. A few people weren’t as ready to go as we were, but Josiah was leaving so I moved my stuff to his truck, and he dropped me off at my car. Megan was riding with me back to Missoula, and I realized that my phone was gone. I was terrified that I had left it up at the lake, but I wasn’t about to drive back up there to find it. She messaged to see if anyone knew where it was, and no one did. I got her back to her apartment, and headed for mine, praying the whole way because I had no phone, and was driving on a spare tire through Missoula at 2am. I checked my mac when I got back, and the “Find my” app revealed that my phone was in Carsten’s car. I got it back safely and went to sleep- safe and sound and exhausted in my apartment. 


The next day was Monday, and there was a night shoot scheduled with the school. I skipped the first class (I’m pretty sure it was just an extra help lab) and took my car back to the shop. The result was four brand new tires, but at least I knew my cart was safe to drive. Our last class for the day was with Gabe, a representative from B&H photo. The class was very interesting, and he gave us stickers and coupons for free ice cream. After class some of us used the coupons, then headed for the shoot in Megan’s car. We were going back to Garnet Ghost town and would be there until midnight. I didn’t come away with very many photos, but it was still one of my favorite shoots. Gabe taught me how to do “star trails” and my shots weren’t successful, but I left knowing how to do it. There was a lot of fun experimentation with light and overall, it was so much fun.


Friday, classes had come to an end. Some other classes leading up to this point included:

·      Portraiture

·      Critiques

·      Astrophotography

·      Building websites

·      Masking in lightroom

·      Photoshop

·      Advanced settings

·      Macro photography 

·      Black and white photography 

·      Abstract photography

·      Multiple images 

·      Exhibiting your work

·      Off camera flash

·      And more!

That last day we didn’t have any classes, just celebration! There was a cookout and a casual ceremony, we got certificates and cake. Some of our work was displayed in a slideshow, and a few students had friends and family there to see it. There were a lot of hard goodbyes and hopeful see-you-laters.


For a few of us though, the graduation didn’t mark the end of the adventures. We headed back up to Mormon Peak that night to reminisce. The back seat of a car had been left up there (not by us) and with a sharpie we signed our names on the “couch”. We sang, stargazed, had smore’s and good conversations. According to tradition, in the morning we got breakfast at Paul’s. The next few days were spent soaking up our last few hours with the friends who hadn’t already gone home. During this time I tried more coffee shops, we went to the climbing gym a couple times, drove to Idaho to the hot springs, and stopped in to Pie Hole (a pizza shop that’s open til 3am)  and Break Espresso (one of our favorite coffee shops) a few times. 

My Dad flew into Missoula on August 2nd. I had pretty much packed up my apartment, and we got everything loaded into my car, then drove the Notorious P.I.G. for a barbecue lunch. We parked my car at Caras Park, and I told him some of the fun memories and stories from there. Then we were on the road. We passed a wildfire on our way southeast to Wyoming. After half a day of driving, we were in Powell and spent the night with my aunt and uncle who live there. The next day we were given a tour of the Beartooth mountain range, and it was incredible. I was astonished by the wildlife in Wyoming, but I still never saw a bear. After staying one full day and two nights there, we headed for home, but with a few stops planned. We visited Devil’s tower, Mt. Rushmore, Badlands National Park, the Corn Palace, and the Gateway Arch. Unfortunately for us, it was Sturgis week, so there were motorcycles EVERYWHERE. When looking for a place to stay in Mitchell, SD, there were hardly any rooms available, so we booked an Airbnb that was just a bedroom in someone's house.

We made it home late Saturday night with lots of stories to tell!

In conclusion, this adventure was well worth it. The education made a huge difference for me, the school is amazing, the places are amazing, and I love the mountains now! I have new friends who live all over the country, new photos, and new stories. Thank you to everyone who prayed for me and supported me in this journey! 

-Much Love, Moriah 

Stopping for coffee in Broadus, MT

Front doors of RMSP!

Bison at the bison range

Elk at the Bison range

Sunset at Ninepipes

At the Augusta Rodeo

Assignment: show motion with shutter speed

Assignment: ICM (intentional camera movement)

Assignment: Scavenger hunt field shoot (lights on top parking garage)

Stairwell in a parking garage (Scavenger hunt field shoot)

Open sign at the pizza shop (scavenger hunt field shoot)

Stairs on the side of a building (scavenger hunt field shoot)

The three door images are an example of how changing aperture affects depth depth of field and are for a focus field shoot

Chuck- a photo for the focusing assignment

View of the clouds after hiking to the "M"

View of the sunset from the "M"

East view from the "M"

Missoula from the "M" as the sun set

Missoula at night from the "M"

Fireworks the weekend before the 4th

Car show at the Missoula farmers market

This truck was my favorite

Josh made it to Montana!

The stars begin to show at Mormon Peak

Our campfire on Mormon Peak

The moon on Mormon Peak

Ty and Blake by the fire

The stars, more clearly now

The sun begins to rise in the trees

Josh took this photo of me as I photographed sunrise

Fireworks at Seeley Lake

B&W assignment: shot at Buddha gardens

B&W High Key assignment

Composition assignment: red barn at Buddha gardens

From the lily pond at the Buddha Garden

Sunrise field shoot #1

Rafters at the River, near Glacier Ntnl Park

First view of the Slat Flats- 4:30am

The truck stop

First view of the Tetons!

Sailboats on the Lake beneath the Tetons

Old Faithful!

in the river near Old Faithful

In the hillside above the river near Old Faithful

Elk in Yellowstone

Megan-Portraiture field shoot


Alejandro & Yulia: Portraiture field shoot

Jeff: Portraiture field shoot

Sunrise on Blue Mountain

Glacier National Park

Lake Mcdonald in Glacier

At the Garnet night shoot, practicing with light painting

Gabe from B&H helped me get this shot at Garnet ghost town!

The tent at Caras Park

off camera flash lab: product

Off-camera flash lab: Gary

coffee with friends on our last day. My go-to drink: iced americano

Our last day at RMSP! Pictured: (front) Carsten, Megan, Kaitlynn (Katie) (Middle) Ammy, Me, Annalise, Ryan, Ty, Blake (Back) Anastasia, Elijah (Katie's cousin, not a student) Josiah

Final class photo!

Photos from the Beartooth Mountain Range, WY

passing through on the way back to Ohio!

These cacti are growing in my Uncle's front yard!

This owl and others hang out at my Uncle's house

Antelope sighting just as we drove up into the Bighorns

The only moose I saw, and the best picture I got of it.

Along the top of this mountain range, it greatly resembles the Alps and there are cattle everywhere.

Mule deer sighting just as we drove out of the Bighorn Mountain range

Devil's Tower

The path around Devil's Tower

There were prairie dogs everywhere at David's Tower!

Mt. Rushmore was smaller than I anticipated

from inside a small cave

Green fields right before getting to the Badlands

Badlands National Park!

Some "wild" goats in the Badlands

The Gateway Arch! I don't own a wide-angle lens, so I shot 6 or 7 images of parts of the Arch and stitched them together into a panorama!

My favorite part of this city was all the cool buildings!

down by the river

I had SO much fun getting abstract photos of the Arch

It's really the Arch, but my brother said the picture looks like the road to Heaven

Missisipi River

My view of St. Louis through the foggy window in the Gateway Arch