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Sweet Huston was SUCH a cuddly baby… in fact, so cuddly that he got seriously bummed out anytime I put him down. Luckily, I am ALL ABOUT the baby snuggles, and in time, with a quiet house and warm blankets and snacks and all my favorite lullabies, he and I were able to work together to make some beautiful images for his parents & grandparents. Babies grow and change so fast at this age… I bet he doesn’t even look like this anymore in just 10 days!

A few faves:


You guys are absolutely precious. I’m so excited for you, and I can’t wait to watch Huston grow!

  • Leslie Martin - We LOVE these images! As always, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU for capturing the very best moments of our lives with such beautiful photos!

  • JoAnn Martin - Good luck picking a favorite. They are all so wonderful!

  • Vickie Lukens - What adorable pictures. Chelsey, as always you did an awesome job of capturing the perfect moments.

I can’t believe Miss MK is a year old.

Of course, when I think about it like that, I can’t believe it’s been four and a half years since we shot Megan & Guy’s engagement session, three and a half years since their wedding, and nearly 2 years since Megan texted to announce that this precious princess was on the way. Basically, time moves really fast around here.

Megan & Guy asked me to do a little session to celebrate their girl’s first birthday, and totally trusted me to come up with something that would really show off her spirit. Sure, we got some cutesy photos with her adorable birthday crown, but I mostly focused on letting this joyful, curious sweetheart splash & play in the creek while her Mommy sang her favorite songs and her Daddy held the bribery cookies. All in all, a beautiful evening.

Happy birthday, little lady!


We love all three of the Grivas’s… can’t wait to see you soon!

  • Megan - I can’t even thank you enough for these beautiful pictures of our sweet girl. These images display her gentle and happy personality so perfectly. Thank you, yet again. Love love love!!!

  • Cara - Love these! They really did capture her beauty! Love my sweet niece.

I was so excited when I got the call to come meet Miss Bobbie Lynn. I haven’t seen her mama & sister for years, but I love keeping up with them online, and I just knew this new little girl would be just as lovely. Alyssa wanted the session to be less “posey sleepy baby”, and more like what it looks like when they’re all just hanging out at home. I can totally make that happen, especially with such a snuggly family, beautiful light, and a curious kitty!

Here are a few stand outs…


Alyssa, your family is just so beautiful. I’m so happy you’re happy… and can’t wait to see you again in the spring!:)

Welcome to the third Road Trip recap post. This one wraps up the last week of our trip (a little longer than that). Mack¬†might post something for tomorrow’s blog if he feels inspired, but if not, I’m pretty sure 3 blog posts worth of adventure photos will totally work. ūüėČ

We left off yesterday after hiking at Mt. Baker near Bellingham, Washington. Before we left the state, we absolutely HAD to go up and take the kids to the border.

I mean, we weren’t going INTO Canada, but from Peace Arch State Park, they can technically be standing in Canada, so it’s close enough to make them officially international.

What we didn’t count on was getting confused by the lines in traffic, and instead of turning sharply to head to the park, we turned slightly¬†and ended up in the border crossing line, unable to escape. So there we sat for 45 minutes, singing songs and telling the kids about Canada, until we got to the booth and explained that we really had no interested in going INTO Canada, we’re just stupid and trying to turn around.

Aside from the usual questions they ask to make sure we’re not carrying AK-47s and a stash of narcotics, it was no big deal. They actually opened some traffic barriers so we could sneak closer to the front of the line going back into the US, instead of waiting for another hour and a half.

The real funny part was the looks of disbelief on the US Customs agents when we explained why we were trying to get back in. “Do you have passports for the kids?” … “No, do we need them?” Not technically, but if we want to verify the identify of everyone in your party…” “Well, I didn’t actually want to go to Canada, and now I’m just trying to get back to AMERICA, where I live, which is 20 feet away, so if you’d kindly just get out of my way, this 5 year old really has to pee.”

And that’s the story of how our kids spent their first trip to another country.

Let’s move on to some photos now,¬†taken after we got completely and legally back into the United States and needed to run off some stress before the drive to Montana.


Have I mentioned that I love this little Polaroid? Sure, it’s not super sharp, but I’m not using it for something I’ll deliver to a client… I’m using it for nostalgia. I love having pictures of my little family on an American Road Trip that feels like the same photos my parents have from their childhood. These are going to be SO much fun in our big album.


Our Bellingham hosts, Sean & Sara, highly recommended that we make our trip to Butte a little longer by avoiding the highway and driving up and through the Cascade Mountain Range. We thought, “Oh, ok, it’ll totally be worth two extra hours”. But that turned into 4.5 extra hours because I had to stop SO OFTEN to take photos. This water… these views. I’m thoroughly obsessed. This area of Washington is now my retirement plan, and I am quite literally putting it on our office dream board of places to shoot a wedding. GIMME.


Jack heard stories about us drinking out of a rushing mountain stream in Taos this past June when we were hiking, as rain & snow had all the rivers swollen and state signage said it was safe to drink. He said that was his ONE goal from this trip… to be able to drink from a stream. We found this waterfall, and he decided it would do. I love these little weirdos.


What good is a roadside gorge if you can’t pull over and chunk rocks down into it?


Leaving Washington and heading into Idaho was completely surreal… honestly, we didn’t even get out of the car in Idaho, so I don’t feel like it’s fair to cross that state off my visiting list.

OH WAIT! No, we totally did stop to go to the bathroom. There. I’ve officially been to Idaho.


We stayed that night in Butte, Montana, and it wasn’t a long drive to get to Yellowstone the next morning. The kids were so excited to set up camp and spend three solid days exploring our country’s first national park.


Geysers and hot pools, you guys. Coolest thing EVER.


On our way back to camp one night, we saw this river on the side of the road, and it looked “get-at-able”. So we went!


We practice what we call “free range” parenting, in that we love our children and do our best to train and protect them, but we also let them make their own mistakes and go on their own adventures. I was watching Dorothy closely as she played on these rocks, making sure she didn’t get too deep… when a woman pulled her car over and SCREAMED from the road, “OMG! Watch your baby! That river will sweep her away and she’ll drown!!!”

Dorothy looked up at her, then at me with a questioning eyebrow, and I told the good-intentioned stranger, “Thanks! I got it.” She huffed and drove away.

And miracle of miracles, Dorothy managed to survive.


This is another off-trail hike… actually, come to think of it, we didn’t do any ON TRAIL hiking in Yellowstone. We saw this waterfall from a lookout point, but weren’t satisfied with the view, so we drove back up the road to see if there were any places to leave the car. We found one, and we all scaled the side of the hill to get down to the river. It’s SO nice to be the only people in a magical spot like this!


Before bed on our second night, we found a swimming hole. It was cold at the banks, but warm near the waterfall where it was being swirled by geyser runoff. The kids swam and swam and swam until I thought they would pass out from happy exhaustion.


Our last day started with Bison… lots and lots of Bison.


They’re so weird and loud and ornery… I could have watched them for hours.


We took a guided fishing trip around the lake, but a cold front with a storm blew in just as our appointment got started. We caught A fish. One. And gave it to another boat that had three people and had only caught two. So whatever, no fresh fish over the campfire, but it was fun!


The drive from Yellowstone to Denver took us through Grand Teton National Park, and now that’s on my bucket list, too. The more I see of the world, the more I NEED TO SEE of the world!


The majority of the drive was just flat… but at least it was FAST. We did have to pull over a time or two for cattle driving across the highway…


But the kids slept right through most of it.


We got to Denver and were warmly greeted by the DuBois family. This is another online friend I’d never met in person, but Amy was such an absolute doll. We stayed in their basement apartment and got to do laundry and have drinks, and the kids had OTHER kids their ages to play with. It was such a perfect little stop.


Our last stop of the trip was Hacienda del Sol, in Taos. We fell in love with this beautiful property when we shot Jess & Ashley’s wedding here in June, and we were STOKED that they asked us to come back anytime and trade photography of the B&B for a free stay. The kids loved every second of it, from delicious breakfasts and exploring the downtown shopping, to hiking up mountains and braving river crossings (with the help of our own Gandalf, of course).


The last day was long… so long. Jack was tired of his sister, sister was tired of missing her bed, I was tired of watching my To Do list grow, and Mack’s butt was tired of the car. But we made it from Taos to home in great time, and settled in on our OWN couches for the first time in three weeks. Mack documented our mileage (shown here with starting mileage the day we left), and one last video diary from the kids.


And just like that, it was over. A trip we’d been planning for a year, now it’s just a memory. I’m so glad we took so many pictures… not just because it’s fun to share them, but because I know that little stories, tiny moments… those will fade with time. I want to remember as much as possible, and help my kids remember it, too.

I also have to say thank you to you guys… our clients. If it weren’t for your support of McGowan Images, at least one of us would be having to work a “real job” to support our family, and a trip like this would never be possible. We’re not rolling around in dollars, and we live in a very old tiny house… but we can give our kids TIME like this in the summer, and that’s something we’ll never take for granted. Thank you for your patience¬†while I was answering emails on the road, for your understanding¬†while we’re getting caught up on editing, and for your constant encouragement that we take care of ourselves and these kids. I know that not everyone in our industry… even in our DFW market… is blessed to have clients that¬†actually care about them like ours do. We really really really appreciate every single one of you.

And now… time to start Summer 2016. ūüėČ

  • Adria - Gorgeous, gorgeous stuff and such wonderful memories for your family! I’m sad that this series of posts is over! Is it wrong that I’m not-so-secretly hoping you including me in the sure to be epic summer 2016 plans?

    Also, I once let my kiddo open the front door. I knew who it was (pizza delivery), and I was 5 feet away. The delivery dude yelled at me for allowing her to do that, and momma bear came OUT. You let me worry about parenting my own kid, thankyouverymuch. Proud of you for allowing your kids to make their own mistakes and for not letting that meddler meddle.

Welcome back!

We left off yesterday at the end of the Disney portion of our trip… I mean, it’s just a requirement if we’re in Southern California, we can’t help it! And yes… Mack and I totally have to go even if the kids aren’t with us.:)

The next morning, July 24th, we hit the road again and headed for San Francisco!


Jack has, at one point or another, said every single city we saw was his favorite. But he really soaked up San Francisco.


That is…. until he fell asleep on his salad plate at Mel’s Diner. ūüėČ


Having not gotten enough of the Golden Gate Bridge for the kiddos, we drove up into the hills so they could get a better view.


When we left San Fran, we were still headed north, and the drive was GORGEOUS. We arrived at Humboldt Redwood State Park just in time to get our tent up before it got dark, but we were all excited for our first camping stop of the trip.


We hiked a lot that next day, thoroughly exploring all the trails we could find anywhere near our campsite. The walk through the forest around the Founders’ Tree was our favorite.


We told this story on Instagram but I can’t resist telling it again.

Dorothy saw graffiti inside the huge old trees. That kind of thing immediately gives me rage, because WHAT KIND OF PUNK DOES THAT? Ugh. Anyway. Rather than seeing it that way, Dorothy immediately assumed the best, and told us all they were messages from the fairies who protect the forest and have important meetings in these old trees. Near every single scrawled message she could see, she drew a heart in the sand. She said it was to let the fairies know that she had been there, and she’d help keep their secret.

She also told this tree, which had been badly burned but continued to grow, “I am SO proud of you for still growing after that fire. When I’m old, you’ll still be here, and you’ll be good as new.”

So yeah, I basically cried the entire time this magical girl was in the forest.


Sometimes Jack is such a “tween”… even an early teenager. But other times he’s still just my boy, like when he uses ash to draw warrior designs on his face and pretends to be a forest Indian.


That evening, we decided to try our luck at finding a swimming hole on Eel River. We knew there WAS one, but the map was unclear… and then a family we passed on the trail said they’d hiked “forever” and never found it, so they were giving up.

I’m glad we pressed forward! While they’re right, we never got to anything that looked like a sanctioned swimming hole, we did find a PERFECT spot to splash & play. Jack immediately started diving off boulders…


… but it took a little longer to convince Dorothy to brave the cold.


When she finally got in, I said, “See? It’s not that bad.” And she replied, “Whatever, I’m freezing to death, I just didn’t want to miss swimming!” Fair enough.


We left the Redwoods early the next morning, because we really wanted to try to get to Portland in time to eat dinner at a restaurant I was excited about. I definitely didn’t help the situation by demanding to pull over so often for pictures, but COME ON!


Just outside Portland, we made another unplanned stop… this time at the Enchanted Forest.

I have a vivid memory from just before my 4th birthday of visiting this little local theme park with my parents. I distinctly remembered standing in Hansel & Gretel’s witch’s mouth… and not much else. But I remember being thrilled to pieces and loving it. So when I realized we were going to drive right by this place, I just couldn’t help but stop!

I had no idea if it would be super lame, or super crowded, or what… but luckily, it was exactly like when I was a little girl. Which is to say, well, kind of lame. But so beautiful. It’s a homegrown thing, run by one family since the 60s. Because it’s not corporately influenced (and I guess because it’s so small), it’s the kind of place where you can just set your kids free to run around. Rickety stairs without handrails, ridiculously small scary dark stone tunnels to climb through… it feels like being a kid in the early 80s, before everything required helmets and safety waivers.

And thankfully, my kids totally loved it, too.


I was so excited about dinner in Portland that night… we ate at Gruner, a German restaurant downtown, and it was seriously the best meal I had on the entire trip. I want to go back JUST to eat there again.


On our way from Portland to Seattle, we made a few stops. At this one, there was a sign that claimed to have a great view of the bridge… but we hiked for a long time and never saw anything. Certainly longer than the mile it claimed.

But as we headed back to the car, Jack said, “I have an idea! I think if we go that direction off the trail, we’ll be able to see it.”

Dorothy had to go to the restroom, so Mack took her back up to the road while Jack and I did a little off-trail exploring. That meant both of us falling down a scree hill, scraping ourselves up terribly, and finding this amazing spot where we could really appreciate the design of this super cool bridge. Worth it.


We also diverted off the interstate to go up to the crater viewing outpost at Mount St. Helens. To go from such lush forest to the desolation STILL left from 30 years ago by that eruption… it’s really jarring. As beautiful as it is, it’s still pretty crazy to think of the brute power of nature.


Finally… Seattle! Spending a day at the market was one of the most important things to Mack about this trip, and it did NOT disappoint… we all had such a blast, and found so many goodies!


We (spent way too much money and) got fresh sliced meats from an Italian Butcher, fresh bread from a bakery, and plum jam from a farm stand. We found a quiet shady place in Discovery Park where we could rest and watch the dogs play.


Then… well, everyone but Jack fell asleep, and he read comic books & took sleeping pictures of us.:)


Our next stop was just a couple hours up the road in Bellingham, Washington. There, I got to meet a gorgeous lady who I’ve been internet friends with for about 5 years, and her precious husband & his kids. They took such fantastic care of us, and we can’t wait to go see them again!


In addition to her company, I was also super grateful that Sarah took us to Mt. Baker to hike, and actually WANTED to take some photos of us! She is a super talented photographer who recently immigrated from Australia, and I was thrilled to have some “better than selfie” photos of us in this gorgeous spot!

We hiked all the way to the summit of Tabletop Rock, and again, I was so proud of the kids. They are just SUCH great little adventurers.


Jack obtained permission to go ahead of the group when the trail wasn’t too dangerous, so most of my photos from that day are like this…


Can you find Jack in this one??


I think that might have been my favorite day of the whole trip… hiking at Mt. Baker will remain one of my coolest adventure memories of all time, and I’m SO thankful that Sarah & Sean opened their house to my crazy crew and really introduced us to how gorgeous that area is. We DEFINITELY plan to come visit again.:)

There’s a little left of our trip… if you’re not tired of vacation pictures yet, come check out the blog tomorrow for the last installment!

  • Ann - Wow – some seriously gorgeous photos here!!

  • Ambo - Love love love. I seriously need to order some art from this entire trip..

  • Adria - You are officially in charge of planning and photographing all future vacations for me.