Moraine Park’s Silent Sentinel

A beautiful Ponderosa Pine stands watch over historic Morane Park in Rocky Mountain National Park
This is one of my favorite tree's in all of Rocky Mountain National Park. This Ponderosa Pine tree which is located in Moraine Park, has been bent and twisted by the wind and weather but is as majestic as ever. On this particular spring morning, fog was rising out of the Moraine Valley and off the Big Thompson River. The warm rays of the sun contrasting with the cool blues of the fog made my favorite tree a perfect subject. Technical Details: Canon EOS 1Ds III, 70-200mm F4 IS L
The Moraine Park area of Rocky Mountain National Park is a photographers hot spot. Moraine Park is easily accessible, host to beautiful scenery and trailheads, and sports a good diversity for photographers.

Landscape photographers love Moraine Park for it’s impressive views of the snow covered Continental Divide. The Big Thompson river meanders through Moraine Park making for great subject matter. Moraine Park is also host to an abundance of wildflowers which will begin to bloom in early June.

Wildlife photographers flock to Moraine Park during the fall Elk rut. Hundreds of photographers line the roadway’s and trails in and around Moraine Park to photograph the herds of Elk and this put on their mating display early in the morning, then late again in the evening. Mule Deer, Coyote, Fox and a large variety of Avian life keep Moraine Park popular with photographers all year.

Moraine Park has an interesting past as well. Moraine Park was homesteaded by some of the Estes Valley’s earliest settlers. Abner Sprague’s, one of Estes Park’s earliest settlers, guide, and hotelier, had his original homesteading plot located in Moraine Park. During this period of time, Moraine Park was known as Willow Park.

Abner Sprague eventually sold his homesteading plot to a cousin and settled a new claim opening a lodge near present day Sprague Lake. Abner Sprague would eventually reclaim the property he had sold in Moraine Park to his cousin and there he would run Steads Ranch and Inn as well as Sprague’s Lodge.

Spending a morning hiking through present day Moraine Park it’s hard to imagine that not all that long ago Moraine Park was a vacationers paradise. Steads Ranch had it’s fare share of modern world amenities and billed itself as a resort hotel. Steads had a large in ground pool, a golf course, stables, croquet, beautiful lobby and restaurant. Paradise at Steads could be had for a mere $8.75 a night or $58.20 for the week for a single room in 1953. The National Park Service eventually reclaimed this property in the early 1960’s and began restoring the area to it’s natural state.

It must have been an amazing experience to have visited Steads Ranch. While modern world amenities are nice, I have to say I much prefer Moraine Park restored to it’s natural setting. For the most part, very little signs remain of Willow or Moraine Park’s past history. Moraine Park’s biggest threat today are from the overabundance of Elk which eat and damage much of the fauna in the Park.

One of the old vestiges that harkens back to the Steads Ranch days are some of the older Ponderosa Pine tree’s that remain. There is one particular Ponderosa in Moraine Park that has always fascinated me. It’s divides into two sections and has been twisted and twirled by winds and weather. Large branches have been remove by lighting but even still, this sentinel of Moraine Park stands tall and beautiful.

This tree has stood witness to many events in it’s day. It stood watch when Steads hosted thousands of tourists at it’s swimming pool, golfers played rounds near it’s base, and fisherman walked the banks of the Big Thompson searching for trout. On this cool spring morning, with a fog and dew lifting over Moraine Park this tree now stands over a setting more becoming of it’s beauty and dignity.

Like A Moth To A Flame, Dream Lake Again

Dream Lake Sunrise, Rocky Mountain National Park. Hallet and Flattop Mountain reflect in the glassy surface of Dream Lake
I had been purposefully attempting not to photograph at Dream Lake. It's much too tempting of a location for a photographer and it's easy to pass up all the other spectacular lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park. After all, I only have a limited amount of time to photograph all the wonders of Rocky. This scene was just to irresistible to pass up. Fresh snow, a lake surface of glass that had not frozen, and beautiful clouds overhead stopped my in my tracks. Technicial Details: Canon EOS 1ds III, 17mm F4 TS-E L
As I mentioned in my entry last week, I had some epic conditions last week in Rocky Mountain National Park. As such, I figured I’d save the best for last.

Having the photography Gods shine down on you can be one of the most rewarding experiences one can have in the field. Of course you have to make sure your actually in a position to take advantage of the conditions your presented with. There is not a worse feeling than watching an amazing sunrise a half mile short of your intended destination, and I’ve been party to that on more than one occasion.

The end of last week was cloudy, cool and rainy on the Front Range. It was cool enough that the snow line was hovering around 9000 feet. Above 9000 feet, heavy wet snow was falling, even though the temperature was right around the freezing mark. It was supposed to stay cool and wet from Friday right through Sunday.

Knowing full well, that’s it’s hard to keep the Colorado Sun hidden behind clouds for an entire 3 days, I figured we could have an interesting sunrise. Even if a good Sunrise failed to materialize, I love shooting water features and other more intimate landscapes under the diffused and cloudy light. All the conditions were setting up for a no lose situation for photography.

With the conditions in mind I planned on hiking up to Emerald Lake above Dream Lake to photograph sunrise. This summer, I’m trying to avoid Dream Lake like the plaque. Not because Dream Lake is not one of the most beautiful alpine locations in all of Colorado, but very much for that reason.

So starting my hike from the Bear Lake trailhead, I had no intention of stopping or photographing Dream Lake. There was a nice fresh layer of snow coating all the tree’s and the Ranger cottage leaving Bear Lake. Fog and clouds were present over the lower lying areas of the Plains below, but clear blue sky was present above Rocky Mountain National Park.

Arriving at Emerald Lake after the 1.5 mile hike in, I found the surface of the lake to be frozen over with a thin layer of ice and snow. I would not be getting a reflection shot of Hallet in Emerald Lake, but the lake’s frozen surface with fresh snow looked intriguing enough. I was disappointed that it was looking like a cloudless, clear blue sky morning. As if on queue with my shutter firing off at first light, some clouds started to appear above Hallet.

I photographed at Emerald for 25 minutes or so. I was able to capture a beautiful red hue lighting Hallet, with clouds skating overhead. A small band of fog even formed over the surface of the frozen lake making for some nice images. Satisfied with the images I had captured of Emerald Lake, I packed up and headed back out towards my vehicle, the hike of course, would take me right past Dream Lake.

I’ve photographed Dream Lake plenty, for photographers Dream Lake can be like a moth to a flame. It’s hard not to be tempted by it’s idyllic scenery, symmetry of Hallet Peak and Flattop Mountain rising above. As I hiked around Dream Lake on my way out from Emerald, I half heartedly attempted to ignore the unfrozen and placid lake surface. I looked for some images of snow covered trees reflecting in Dream Lake, but found none that interested me.

I was making every attempt to photograph images other than the iconic image of Dream Lake from the eastern outlet. As I neared the eastern outlet, the moth in could no longer resist the flame. This was especially true when I stopped to look back at Hallet and Flattop and noticed that the early morning cloud cover was quickly intensifying over the Lake.

It was at that point, that I could no longer resist temptation. I hastily flung my backpack off and quickly started making images of this beautiful morning. As soon as I framed Hallet and Flattop reflecting in the glass surface of the lake, I was grateful I temporarily at least ended my Dream Lake embargo.

Fresh Produce

Translucent spring Aspen leaves in the McGraw Ranch area of Lumpy Ridge, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Fog and rain are a great way to convey mood's through weather. The soft diffused light and fog sifting through the Aspen boles helps to set the stage. When Aspen tree's first bud out each spring, their leaves turn an intense key lime like color. The translucent lime green leaves will last only a short while before the leaves turn a darker green. I photographed this nice grove of spring Aspen tree's in the McGraw Ranch area of Rocky Mountain National Park on the backside of Lumpy Ridge. The light rain on the leaves, fog and diffused light are the perfect conditions to showcase the tree's spring green. Technicial Details: Canon EOS 1Ds III, 24-105mm F4 IS
The last few days have been very productive for me in the field. It’s no coincidence that we’ve been having a very unsettled weather pattern here on the Front Range the last few days. I like nothing better than to work in and on the edges of weather. Dynamic weather leads to dynamic photography.

I was treated to rain, snow, and fog all in the last few days. While it’s been grey and dreary down here around Boulder and most have my Sun worshiping friends are experiencing withdrawal symptoms from lack of Sun the last three days, I’ve been reveling in what I consider great weather, for photography at least.

I had some of the most amazing conditions on Saturday which I’ll share in my next post. For now, I’ll leave you with an image I made this morning in McGraw Ranch area of Rocky Mountain National Park.

Springtime In Wild Basin

Spring runoff along the North St. Vrain, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
This image has a very Yin and Yang feel to me. The spring runoff along North St. Vrain Creek was turbulent. On the other hand, a large granite boulder rested in the middle of the creek, unmoving and unwavering. Wild Basin is chock full of potential when it comes to photographing the streams and falls located in Rocky Mountain National Park. It's a favorite location of mine, especially on rainy ovecast days. Technicial Details: Canon EOS 1dsIII, 24-105mm F4 IS, Circular Polarizer.
Spring has sprung in Rocky Mountain National Park. In fact, lately there have been many more hints of Summer than of Spring. Regardless of the abnormally warm weather here on the Front Range, creeks are flowing, aspen tree’s are leafing out and flowers are blooming at the lower elevations.

I spent last week wandering around the Wild Basin area of Rocky Mountain National Park. Wild Basin is a lesser visited section of Rocky located in the southeastern half of the Park. It’s a favorite photographic destination of mine. While there are beautiful alpine lakes in Wild Basin, they require one way hikes of up to six miles or more to visit. Wild Basin requires a bit more effort than some other areas of the park if your looking for peaks reflecting in lakes.

What makes Wild Basin so interesting to me is all of the creeks, streams and falls that course the area. In many ways it can feel more like your on the wetter western slope of Colorado, than the drier eastern facing mountains. The North St. Vrain, Cony Creek and Ouzel Creek all make for great subjects in the spring, feeding many of the interesting water features located in Wild Basin.

Wild Basin is a good change of pace for me. The scenery in the lower half of Wild Basin may not be as dramatic as other areas of Rocky, but it’s unique and rewarding to scamper along the boulders of the creeks looking for interesting and unique images.

I prefer to head to Wild Basin when it’s rainy and overcast. The diffused lighting is great for photographing the streams and forest. I could spend a lifetime of cloudy days photographing and exploring along the banks of the many creeks.

Does Persistence Really Pay Off?

Fresh Snow coats the Flatirons of Boulder, Colorado
Persistence can be a gift and a curse. Most photographers probably have a little bit of 'OCD' in their bloodlines. How often do you visit a given location to create and image worthy of your portfolio?. I've visited this location many times over the last few years, waiting for all the elements to come together. Finally, my persistence paid off and I managed to capture the Flatirons of Boulder coated with fresh snow as the storm cleared the Front Range of Colorado. Technicial Details: Canon EOS 1Ds III, 24mm TS-E F3.5 II w 1.4 TC
Persistence can be both a virtue and a detriment to photography. How many times do you attempt to photograph a given location to create an image that represents your vision?. What constitutes as a good enough image to move on to another subject?. Can you create such a thing as a final statement image at a given location, such that you are not likely ever to capture a better image of the subject your in pursuit of?.

Contrast this with the possibility that over saturating a given location or subject may be stifling your creativity, or even worse causing you to miss out on better opportunities elsewhere. Is your persistence causing you to become shortsighted and curbing your overall creative opportunities? These are certainly questions that run through my head each time I set out to create new images.

In general, I view persistence as a positive aspect with regards to my photography. There are certainly times when obsessing over a given location hampers my ability to expand my portfolio and explore and photograph new locations.

Contrary to how many clients and non-photographers view my work, time in the field is not typically spent wandering aimlessly around with my camera hanging around my neck hoping that serendipity strikes and I create an image worth sharing.

While on occasion I may create images in this manner, most of the locations in my portfolio have been visited on numerous occasions, at varying times and seasons in an attempt to create an image that I think best represents the subject matter.

Many times I’ve visited a given location hundreds of times over many years before I create an image that I’m pleased with. While some of my fellow photographers may be more proficient at creating images, I believe locations must be visited and photographed numerous times for one to be successful. I’m curious to know what approach others take when visiting locations.