A fresh layer of snow has fallen over Rocky Mountain National Park and the Estes Valley last week. Autumn is on it’s very last leg in Rocky, but we can look forward to snow capped mountains and peaks. The lines between fall and winter in Rocky are often blurred, with the seasons overlapping.
Photography this time of year is about capturing those subtle and not so subtle transitions occurring in Rocky Mountain National Park. Open water and lakes will begin to freeze over, and the grasses will move from golden to brown. This is probably the least ‘sexy’ time for photography in Rocky.
That being said, there are still plenty of hidden gems to photograph in the park. With the return of warmer weather this week, there should still be enough open water around to photograph reflections of the now snowy peaks, especially in the lower elevations. Rocky also has some of it’s most dramatic sunrises this time of year, so it’s a good time of year to scout new locations to take advantage of the light show in the sky.
I photographed the image above with the intention of using the lone tree and Deer Mountain as silhouettes against a very impressive dawn sky in Horseshoe Park. The off season here in Rocky, is a great time to experiment and find new locations and vantage points to work such as the one above. While some of the shooting in Rocky Mountain National Park may not be as glamorous as some of the summer and autumn opportunities, the ability to experiment be creative and capture unique imagery is endless
Elk bugling in the distance, autumn grasses lining the banks of a gently flowing Fall River, and a beautiful lenticular cloud hanging over Horseshoe Park. There are few moments that typify Rocky Mountain National Park more than mornings in the presence of this kind of beauty.
Most mornings last week were cloudless but higher winds on Saturday allowed for a nice wave or lenticular cloud to form over the northern Front Range. Originally, the plan was to head up to Glacier Gorge to photograph sunrise. There is a particular Krummholz tree in Glacier Gorge I had in mind to photograph with the wave cloud above, but that image would have to wait for another day.
I had to quickly alter those plans after arriving at the Glacier Gorge trailhead. The winds were howling down Glacier Gorge. Tree’s were swaying back and forth and it became apparent I was going to need to find another subject to photograph.
Horseshoe Park seemed like a good ‘plan B’ location. Sunrise was rapidly approaching so I did not have a lot of time to horse around so to speak. A short walk out along Fall River yielded this view of Deer Mountain and sunrise reflecting in Fall River. Horseshoe Park, as opposed to Glacier Gorge was nearly devoid of any wind. A large herd of Elk grazed in the meadow just out of sight. The morning turned out to be different than I had envisioned, but only in a great way.
Autumn in Rocky Mountain National Park is rapidly coming to a close. The aspen trees and cottonwoods have shed their golden leaves, the grasses have turned from golden to brown, and snow now coats the high peaks of Rocky.
Even so, if one looks hard enough there are small reminders here and there of fall. Late in the week I headed into Wild Basin with the intention of photographing some of her waterfalls as snow was falling. The streams in Wild Basin are still flowing free of ice and I wanted to photograph some of the water features with fresh snow on them.
I spent what was essentially a spectacular winter like morning photographing Wild Basin under a light coating of fresh snow. Signs of fall had mostly abated, but I kept my eye for hints of any remaining color here or there.
Finally, on the hike out of Wild Basin, I caught a patch of still colorful aspen leaves on the ground. Fresh snow had fallen on the leaves, but there was enough color to catch my eye. Two red aspen leaves on top of the yellow and brown leaves allowed for just one more fall composition.
Readers of my blog know by now the mantra I photograph by. That mantra being bad weather equals good photos. Snow, rain, fog and clouds get my blood pumping and whenever possible find me out in the field photographing the landscape.
Fall is quickly transitioning over to winter in Rocky Mountain National Park. A very cold low pressure system from the north swung down into Colorado late last week and brought with it just the kind of unsettled weather that I look forward to shooting Rocky in.
Saturday morning I headed up to Rocky in a light but steady freezing drizzle. Making my way up through Pinewood Springs I could see the rime ice and hoar frost coating the Ponderosa Pines along the road. Arriving in Estes Park, town was still socked in with clouds but the freezing drizzle had stopped.
While I generally prefer to get out on the trail and into the backcountry to photograph Rocky, I opted to head on up Trail Ridge Road to see if I could get above the cloud deck. There were some small breaks in the clouds around the Beaver Meadows entrance station which gave me some hope that the cloud deck might not be as high up as I first suspected.
Trail Ridge Road was only open to Rainbow Curve, so I kept my fingers crossed as I drove Trail Ridge high above the Estes Valley. About a half a mile before Rainbow curve, the clouds disappeared and the stars where shining brightly above.
The view from Rainbow Curve looking back east over Rocky Mountain National Park and the Estes Valley was spectacular as the sun began to rise. The clouds filled the valley due to the inversion. The tops of the clouds took on the hue of the deep blue pre dawn sky and to the east and orange glow precipitated the oncoming sunrise. It was another great morning to be up in the park and one that further reinforced the bad weather equals good photos mantra.
It’s amazing how quickly the fall colors are coming to peak around the Front Range of Colorado. Even after a hot dry summer, our colors have been spectacular this year. Looking back, it seems like only a few weeks ago that the lakes and trails were thawing and melting of snow. Rainy and cooler weather has put a nice coating of snow on the tops of the peaks and the changing of the seasons is evident.
Autumn to me is one of those seasons that just doesn’t last long enough here in Colorado. It’s a bittersweet season as the opportunities to photograph the fall color while still having good access to the higher elevations begin to wane. Snows will set in soon and the tree’s will be quickly dropping their yellow, orange and red leaves to the ground.
That fleeting feeling of fall is what makes it such a special time to get out and explore, photograph and enjoy the season. Fall in Colorado, feels as if the tree’s, birds and wildlife are all enjoying one last big party before the winter slumber sets in.
I’ll be looking forward to photographing winter in all its glory, but part of my wishes I could slow the clock down just a smidge and allow the fall to take her sweet time in making changes to the landscape. Fall’s not quite over just yet, and there are still plenty of opportunities to photograph it’s splendor and beauty. Lets just hope we can squeeze in another week or two.