It might be a little too early on a Monday morning to be thinking about having that kind of Crown on ice, but its not too early for this view of Boulder’s Crown Rock and frosted pines from last week’s storm. Crown Rock is a popular destination for Boulder’s famous rock climbing crowd. It’s located roughly 2 miles up Flagstaff Mountain and offers stunning views of Chautauqua Park and downtown Boulder. The rock formations around Crown Rock have a distinct reddish hue.
I’ve hiked by Crown Rock many times looking for an opportunity to photograph the formation and distinctive red rock’s but have never found anything compelling enough to even get the camera out of my bag. This day I very nearly missed out on this image. I was photographing the frosted hillsides above Crown Rock essentially oblivious to beauty of the frosted Ponderosa’s contrasting against the formations red rock’s. I was wrapping up and put my equipment away when I pointed the viewfinder downhill towards Crown Rock. I had done this in order to make it easier to detach my camera and lens from my tripod and I caught just enough of a glimpse of this scene through my viewfinder to stop myself in my tracks and spend some time working on this composition. Just another day in the field with dynamic conditions and a little bit of luck on my side.
One of the reasons I love photographing in Rocky Mountain National Park, is that each trip to the park is unlike any previous visit. I never tire of photographing Rocky Mountain National Park because I always feel like I’m coming away with new images, even if its from locations I’ve photographed many times before. The weather, the wind and the light are always a little different each time I go to Rocky enabling endless photographic possibilities.
I was expecting there to be some fresh snow on Saturday morning as I drove up to Rocky early in the morning. As I headed through Pinewood Springs, I encountered a light dusting of snow on the roads as well as coating the trees. Things were looking favorable for some nice winter conditions, with one exception. The sky was clear and the stars where bright and shining in the calico sky. When I left Erie, there was fog and clouds, but by the time I gained some elevation west of Pinewood Springs, the clouds and fogged cleared.
Dropping down into the Estes Valley all looked clear. Longs Peak was cloud free as was the Mummy Range. Entering Rocky Mountain National Park and heading over Bear Lake road through Moraine Park, I saw what looked like a hint of clouds over Hallet Peak and Otis Peak. Just enough of the cloud cover from the previous nights storm wrapped over Hallet Peak and the Glacier Gorge area. The wind was picking up so I opted not to head up to Dream Lake to be blown across it’s icy surface and toyed with by the wind. Instead I hightailed it over to the Bierstadt Lake trail, slapped on my Yak Trax and hiked up to the top of the Bierstadt Moraine for the view of Otis and Hallet Peak. The first rays of the morning illuminated Hallet and Otis in a beautiful pink hue. Wind’s wrapped the clouds over and around Hallet and Otis making the trek to the top of Moraine the place to be to view the show.
Winter, albeit a little late seems to be settling into the Front Range and Rocky Mountain National Park. Arctic air that has been staying north in Canada most of the winter, finally found a way to filter down to the Front Range. Most of the arctic air mass settled east of Colorado, but some of it still managed to back into the eastern half of Colorado this weekend and drop the temperatures. The cold air, combined with some light snow made for some pretty dramatic atmospheric conditions in Rocky.
Many times it seems like you are either dealing with clear blue skies at sunrise in Rocky, or beautiful lenticular wave clouds combined with constant 60 mph winds. This particular morning in Rocky Mountain was neither. It was a manageable 16 degrees with almost no wind. Even better, there were lots of clouds swirling over the peaks. So many clouds, that many of the prominent peaks such as Longs Peak, Mt. Meeker and Hallet Peak were engulfed by the clouds. The Twin Sister’s however, were still in view.
Below Estes Park, Ft. Collings, Loveland and Boulder were experiencing snow and single digit temperatures. The upslope storm created enough of an inversion this morning that it was not snowing in Estes Park and it was in fact warmer in Estes Park, then the Front Range towns at lower elevations. Cold foggy air filtered up through the Estes Valley as sunrise rose up out of the fog and snow below creating a short but colorful sunrise over the Twin Sisters formation.
It’s Colorado, so of course images of snow capped majestic peaks come to mind. I’ll be the first to admit that although a large portion of Colorado actually is found on the High Plains, it’s harder to start your photographic adventures heading east, than west. That’s just how my morning started after the Boulder area received 20 plus inches of snow from a rare February blizzard. My intention was to head over to one of the Open Space trailheads south of Boulder, snowshoe into a particular location and photograph the Flatirons formation covered in fresh snow.
My morning itinerary quickly went awry. At 6:00 AM it’s very much still night time driving conditions and visibility is limited and it’s still very much dark. As I was turning off Highway 93 and into the Flatirons Vista trailhead, the unplowed lot and 4 ft wall of snow in front of the trailhead entrance quickly altered my plan. With no place to park and sunrise approaching rapidly, I’d have to come up with a plan ‘B’ quickly. I turned around and headed north back towards Boulder.
I didn’t have a back up plan this morning. I figured the trailhead entrance would be plowed and other than getting a good workout snowshoeing in the deep snow, I’d be photographing the Flatirons. The easy option would have been to head over to Chautauqua Park and photograph sunrise from the meadow. I’ve done that plenty of times before and I’m sure there were lot’s of other photographers who would have that location covered just fine. As I drove north past one of the reservoirs outside of Boulder, I caught the first hint of an orange sunrise reflecting off the partially frozen surface of the water. The light bulb went off and now it was a race to find some water.
I figured Sawhill Pond’s on the east side of Boulder might present some opportunities for open water while at the same time allowing me to get into position before sunrise. I arrived at Sawhill Pond’s to find that fog was now forming over the Pond’s. Thing’s were looking more promising by the minute. Sawhill Pond is located in a low spot between Lookout Ridge to the north and Valmont Butte to the south. This was the only area within miles that had any fog forming. The fresh snow, hoar frost and fog made for a very dynamic conditions at sunrise. I only had a few minutes to get into position but my plan ‘B’ paid off. Hopefully after the next big snow the trailhead parking lot get’s plowed, but I’ll make sure I have a better back up plan the next time in case it’s not.