Chasm Falls

Chasm Falls and Fall River flow through the rock gorge along Old Fall River Road
Fall River flows through the rock gorge that makes up Chasm Falls. The granite slot is an impressive location to view Fall River. Hiking to this location with Old Fall River Road still closed allowed me to take in my surroundings without the normal distractions found during the buys season when Old Fall River Road is open to car traffic. Technical Details: Canon EOS 1Ds III, 24mm TS-E f3.5 L II
Chasm Falls, Rocky Mountain National Park’s closet thing to a Utah slot canyon. Located a little more than a mile up Fall River Road, Chasm falls is an impressive location to watch Fall River tumble through the aptly named slot of granite which violently funnels Fall River on down the mountainside towards its terminus with the Big Thompson River.

Old Fall River Road is the original right of way that tourists and visitors would travel through Rocky Mountain National Park. In fact, Fall River Road predates the inception of Rocky Mountain National Park and at one time was the only road connecting Larimer and Grand Counties. Trail Ridge Road is now the main thoroughfare through Rocky, but Old Fall River Road remains a popular destination when open for one-way car travel from July until early fall or the first snowfall.

The seasonal closure of Old Fall River Road makes Chasm Falls a great hiking destination the remaining portion of the year. With Fall River Road closed for the season and the parade of cars held at bay by a locked NPS brown gate, time spent photographing Chasm Falls is a far more intimate experience.

I’ve visited and photographed Chasm Falls many times in the past. Prior to this visit, I’ve always photographed Chasm Falls like most park visitors, by driving to it. Chasm Falls is in reality the first actual pull off along the steep windy road. Most visitors to Rocky Mountain stop here to view the falls on the way to the Alpine visitor center. Because it’s so popular in the summer with Fall River open to auto traffic, it can be difficult to connect with the place.

Edward Abbey, a favorite author of mine advocated removing all the roads from the National Parks. Abbey felt that if these natural areas were of such importance, visitors should have to put in the effort and see them on foot, in a more natural and less corrupted setting. While I don’t share Abbey’s viewpoint on the matter, spending time alone at Chasm Falls without the parade of auto’s and visitors made for a much more organic and enlightening experience.

Photographing alone at Chasm Falls, there were no distractions, no human voices or sounds of cars and car alarms. With only the sound of Fall River and the birds in the trees I was able to take my time, slow down, and really enjoy and connect with my surroundings. Abbey’s thoughts lingered in my head for the remainder of the day. My experience this day at Chasm Falls, devoid of cars and on foot was enlightening. Maybe Abbey was on to something?

Bierstadt’s Light

Sunrise at Bierstadt Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
It was a perfect sunrise. All the elements came together and I was lucky enough to be on the shore of Bierstadt Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park to photograph it. It's rare enough for all the elements to cooperate and come together like this, but when photographing in conditons such as these, the experience is as exciting as the first sunrise I photographed. Albert Bierstadt was known for his dramatic landscape paintings. Bierstadt Lake provided and equally impressive light show this morning. Technical Details: Canon Eos 1Ds III, 24-105mm F4 IS L
I can only imagine Albert Bierstadt taking in this awesome sunrise at the lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, named in his honor. The lighting, clouds and color are reminiscent of the nineteenth century Hudson River School artist’s paintings.

Albert Bierstadt’s paintings of the American West, featured dramatic skies, clouds and mountains that helped to dramatize, some would say overly so, the landscapes of the early American West. There are two landmarks named after the famous Hudson River School painter in the state of Colorado. Mt. Bierstadt, and Rocky Mountain National Park’s Bierstadt Lake.

Bierstadt Lake lies atop the Bierstadt Moraine and boasts some of the best views of Hallet Peak, Flattop Mountain, Mt. Otis, Thatchtop, and Notchtop. At sunrise, Bierstadt Lake presents the photographer with impressive lighting and views of the these northeasterly facing peaks.

Bierstadt Lake is a fairly good size lake compared to the other lakes Alpine and Sub-Alpine lakes of Rocky. If you can happen to be at Bierstadt under the right conditions, with little wind and clouds floating over the famous peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park you can easily be transported into a scene that seems reminiscent of a Bierstadt painting.

This particular morning was just one of those very mornings at the lake. Bierstadt Lake is a favorite location of mine. I’ve photographed quite a few beautiful sunrises from the shores of Bierstadt. A large approaching storm from the west was starting to settle in over Rocky this day. This was a ‘calm before the storm’ moment. Even as the storm moved in, there was no wind present and the clouds had not yet moved far enough east to obscure the sunrise.

I setup my camera on my tripod and waited for the first rays of the morning to illuminate the peaks. As a photographer who has been lucky enough to witness and photograph many beautiful sunrise’s, I still get just as excited, if not more so when I’m on the cusp of photographing a location under what I believe is going to yield dramatic conditions and light. The anticipation and excitement as the scene unfolds is difficult to describe in words alone.

With the click of the shutter as the first rays of light hit the peaks, time seems to slow as the light show unfolds. In many ways for me, it’s like I’m not even photographing at all. It’s an experience and a feeling I don’t want to come to an end. As soon as it begins it’s just as quick to come to an end. The light fades and flattens and it’s time to pack up and hike out.

Albert Bierstadt’s paintings were often criticized for their overly dramatic and indulgent lighting, color and size of presentation. After morning’s like this at Bierstadt’s lake, I can deeply appreciate what Bierstadt was attempting to convey in his paintings. To those of us lucky enough to witness lighting such as this we know that Albert may have been too conservative in his presentation of his art and vision.

Glacier Creek Abstract

Runoff and Spring Thaw Along Glacier Creek In Rocky Mountain Naional Park
This certainly was not an image I had intended on photographing this morning in Rocky Mountain National Park. After a very succesful sunrise shot at The Loch, I spied this open water along Glacier Creek on the hike back down. The abstract nature of the shot appeals to me, and the green moss on the rock along the creek bed helps to offset the white snow. Technical Details: Canon EOS 1Ds III, 70-200mm F2.8 IS L II

With the warm temperatures and early spring continuing, there are lots of current photographic opportunities in Rocky Mountain National Park that are occurring much earlier in the year than is typical. I realize this abstract of Glacier Creek just Loch Vale may be a bit too abstract for some, but I spent a good deal of time photographing this portion of Glacier Creek a few weeks ago and came away with some different views.

Typically, this portion of Glacier Creek would be buried under heavy winter snows through most of April. Stopping to photograph this spot a few weeks ago, the green moss on the rocks of the creek bed stood out in great contrast to the white winter snow that surrounded the small opening that had formed on Glacier Creek revealing the early spring runoff.

I setup my tripod precariously along the banks of Glacier Creek. It was difficult to setup in a location that provided a clean vantage point of the opening on the creek, while not sliding down a large bank and ending up in the creek itself. I attached a polarizer to my 70-200mm lens to cut down on the glare and emphasize the green moss on the rock, contrasted against the white snow. All in all it was an image I had not visualized photographing on my hike up to The Loch for sunrise, but I’m quite pleased with the images I walked away with this morning.

Suggestions For Photographing Boulder And The Flatirons

Sunrise on the Flatirons at Chautauqua Park in Boulder, Colorado
The classic view of the Boulder Flatirons is from Chautaqua Park and the Meadows. The meadows provide many great 'props' such as wildflowers, tree's and Yucca plants to provide sweeping near to far views. Even though Chautauqua Park in Boulder is a photographers favorite location, there are many other great locations around Boulder to photograph the Flatirons and Boulder's other natural wonders. Technicial Details: Canon EOS 1Ds III, 16-35mm F2.8 L II
Due to some prior commitments, I had to stick close to town last week. I still managed to get out a few mornings around Boulder and capture some images I’m pleased with. Staying close to Boulder worked out pretty well for me. I had two great mornings with really interesting skies and clouds. I realize Boulder may not be a primary photo destination for photographers visiting Colorado, but it’s often a stop over on the way to Rocky Mountain National Park. With only a morning or two to photograph, a photographer can be quite productive. Because of this, I thought it would be a good idea to share a couple of suggestions for photographing the Boulder area for a morning or two.

Tip 1: The Flatirons from Chautauqua Park and meadow is by far the most popular location to photograph in Boulder. This is the classic view of the Flatirons that you will see hanging in shops and galleries along Pearl Street. Chautauqua Park is a beautiful spot and the meadow allows one to photograph with short hiking distances and lots of interesting props to make strong near/far compositions.

Chautauqua Park is a great morning location all year. Just a short drive from downtown Boulder, one can expect the best light at sunrise. The Flatiron formation east facing orientation allows them to receive the earliest of light as the sun rises over the high plains. The Flatirons will typically glow an intense red as the first light of bathes the granite faces.

Chautauqua meadow provides ample amounts of interesting foreground subjects as well. Starting in the late Spring, wildflowers will begin to bloom over the meadow. Typically Golden Banner will begin to bloom in the meadow around the first week of May. Wild Iris, Silver Lupine and Sweet Pea will all follow along as temperatures warm. Depending on moisture and temperature you will typically find large groups of wildflowers in the meadow from early May through late June. The meadow also has interesting tree’s, boulders and Yucca’s that can be used all four season’s as foreground props.

South Boulder Creek Meanders through the bottom of the frame as sunrise lights up the Flatirons and South Boulder Peak
South Boulder Creek meanders through the bottom of the frame as South Boulder Peak illuminates the mornings first light. I photographed this image from Eldorado Springs. This view of the Flatirons is not photographed as often as Chautauqua Park, but some of the best views of the Flatiron foramtion are photographed south of Boulder. Technical Details: Canon EOS 1Ds III, 16-35mm F2.8 L II

Tip 2: Photographing the Flatirons does not begin and end at Chautauqua park. As stated above, Chautauqua park is by far the most popular place to photograph the Flatirons. This is partly because of its close proximity to downtown Boulder and easy access. While I love photographing from Chautauqua Park, I think there are some even better locations to photograph the Boulder Flatirons.

In particular, some of the Boulder County Open Space and Mountain Park’s properties south of Boulder offer some of the best vantages of the Flatiron formation. The area around Eldorado Springs offers some great vantage points of the Flatirons and South Boulder peak. Some hiking and exploration around the Doudy Draw trailhead as well as the Flatirons Vista trailhead will reveal some of my favorite vantage points for photographing the Flatirons.

Tip 3: There is much more to photograph in Boulder than just the Flatirons. While many photographers favor images of the Flatirons, exploring Gregory Canyon, Flagstaff Mountain, and trails such as the Mesa trail will all provide rewarding images of Ponderosa Pines, Yucca’s and other more intimate forest scenes. I personally find photographing these areas during or after a recent snowstorm to be the most rewarding time to hit the trails around Boulder.