Having just spent a week back on the east coast where I immersed myself in waterfall and stream photography, this past week saw me continuing that trend.
While I’ve been antsy to get out an photograph mountain peaks and alpine lakes, this past week saw mostly bluebird clear sunrises combined with haze and smoke from the wildfires burning across Colorado and the west.
Since it was unlikely I was going to be able to capture any portfolio worthy images of peaks and mountains with the smoke, haze and clear blue skies, I figured water features would be the most productive way to spend my time.
Over the last fifteen years, I have photographed many of the waterfalls in Rocky Mountain National Park. Even so, I still have a huge list of falls and locations I have yet to visit and photograph. Rocky is big, and getting to each and every waterfall in the park requires lots of dedication and effort.
I had never visited West Creek Falls prior to last week. I’ve spied it on my topo maps many times but it’s somewhat out of the way location has kept me from passing by it or making it the sole purpose of and expedition.
West Creek Falls lies just inside the eastern boundary to Rocky Mountain National Park. Much of the actual hike into West Creek takes place outside Rocky Mountain National Park. Starting at McGraw Ranch, and traversing the North Boundary Trail through the Comanche Peak Wilderness area you eventually come to a spur trail that leads you on the hike up to West Creek Falls.
West Creek Falls is located in the West Creek Research Natural Area. Besides the small spur trail to the Falls, the West Creek Research area is essentially a trailess, little visited section of Rocky Mountain National Park tucked within the Mummy Range.
Like many locations in Rocky now, fallen trees and deadfall can present a problem in capturing unhindered views of locations. West Creek has its share of deadfall, but with some careful placement of my tripod and camera I was able to photograph the beauty of West Creek Falls.
West Creek Falls is a beautiful, secluded spot in Rocky Mountain National Park. I’m definitely planning on visiting the falls again most likely in the fall which looks to be promising.
I spent all of last week traveling through and around New York State photographing some of my favorite places in the Empire State. One word comes to mind whenever I leave Colorado and head back east and it’s water.
The contrast between the arid and dry climate of Colorado, compared to the moisture laden areas of the east coast is always striking to me. In New York you are always near, around, in, or over some sort of water it seems. Colorado, not so much.
When I’m out photographing locations in Colorado, I seek out water. Small lakes and bodies of water become destinations for photography because of the impact they bring to landscape photography in a dry climate. When photographing locations in New York, water becomes almost an afterthought. It seems to always be part of the landscape and location.
Neither situation is better or worse. To me they are just part of the makeup of the unique locations and it’s the contrast is climates that continues to make these different destinations so much fun to shoot.
So even though I expect to be photographing lots of bodies of water and water features when I travel through New York, heavy rain helped to keep already green and saturated areas even more vibrant and green than I could have expected.
In fact while an average June typically see about 5.5 inches of rain the entire month, nearly 9 inches of rain fell last week alone. Even with the rain it was a great week of photography and being in a different environment is always a great way to keep the creative juices flowing.
Even still it’s good to be back in Colorado and will be even better to get back up into Rocky to see how our snowmelt and thaw out is progressing in our thin dry air.
The parade of wildflowers continues in Chautauqua Park in Boulder. Are wet spring is providing enough moisture to keep the meadow green and the flowers blooming. Currently the flavor of the day in Chautauqua Meadow is Silver Lupines and if things go as they usually do, I would expect the Sweet Pea to start blooming just west of the Ranger cottage shortly.
As I’ve stated before in my blog, I’m a sucker for storm light. Pretty much any subject looks good in storm light, including fast food joints, garbage cans, and even proverbial eyesores like strip malls and cell phone towers.
Some may wonder what exactly constitutes storm light. Clouds of any sort always help to add depth and perspective to landscape photography. Having clouds in your image alone does not constitute storm light photography. For true storm light we need a little bit more than just some wafting and drifting clouds in the sky.
For true storm light we need ominous dark clouds swirling above or around our subject. Dark ominous clouds alone are not enough. We then need the special ingredient of some ‘drop under’ light. There needs to be a small break or opening in those ominous clouds that allows just enough of the sun’s magical first or last light of the day peak through and bathe our subject with intense, colorful, long angle lighting.
Storm lighting is short lived and fleeting. Your only going to have a few seconds or minutes to take advantage of the conditions. This was the case when I photographed the Flatirons from Chautauqua Meadow last week. I had a little over 2 minutes of light this particular to make this image work. It was a fleeting moment, but the storm light over the Flatirons this morning more than made up for the duration of light. Now where are those fast food joints, cell phone towers and strip malls!.
Colorado and Rocky Mountain National Park have been feeling the effects of a prolonged drought for over a decade now. Combine that with the pine beetle outbreak that has been ravaging are evergreen forests and you quickly comprehend the powder keg our forests and Rocky are sitting on.
Up until October 9th, 2012 it had been not a question of if a major forest fire, but when. Significant fires had broken out in close proximity Rocky Mountain National Park prior to the 9th of October but the park had been spared from a large fire within its boundaries.
Everyone’s fears were realized on October 9th, when what is believed to have been an illegal campfire on the rocky ledges above The Pool and Big Thompson sparked what would become known as the Fern Lake Fire.
The fire spread quickly through the rocky and difficult terrain just west of Moraine Park in Forest Canyon. While the fire was the most significant blaze in Rocky Mountain National Park since the ‘Ouzel Fire’ was sparked by lighting on August 9th, 1978 burning almost 1100 acres in the Wild Basin area of Rocky. The vestiges of the Ouzel Fire are still very evident even today in Wild Basin, nearly thirty five years later.
While the thought of the Fern Lake fire burning in Rocky was disturbing, most of us figured it’s start so late in the season would cause it to be quickly extinguished by the early snows that typically cover the high country by October.
The snows remained absent through much of October and November but firefighters had been able to keep the Fern Lake fire contained. Some hot spots remained here and there in the rocky crags of Forest Canyon but everyone was confident the snows would soon be coming to finish the firefighters work.
By December 1st the Fern Lake fire had mostly become and afterthought. High winds during the night raked Rocky and the Estes Valley on December 1st. The nearly dormant Fern Lake Fire exploded once again with the help of the high winds.
Within a few hours the fire had sprinted through Moraine Park and had made it all the way to Bear Lake Road. If the fire jumped Bear Lake Road, there was nothing to stop it from running outside the park boundaries and right into the town of Estes Park.
Fortunately, Bear Lake Road acted as a natural fire break. Firefighters were able to setup a fire line at Bear Lake Road and prevent the fire from moving any further east. The snows eventually came and although the Fern Lake Fire smoldered in small areas late into winter, it was finally put down by heavy spring snows.
3500 acres later, the Fern Lake Fire stands as the largest wildfire to burn through Rocky Mountain National Park in modern times. The damage from the fire is significant in the Forest Canyon, Cub Lake and Moraine Park area of the park.
Like all things in nature, wildfires are part of the cycle and though destructive are a necessary means to refresh and renew old forests. The burn area will not look the same during our lifetimes. In the long run however, the burn areas will be healthier and will eventually return to their former beauty.
Last week I took my first hike up to the Cub Lake post fire. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect, but I knew the area around Cub Lake had taken on some serious fire damage. Cub Lake has always been a favorite place in the park to photograph for me. The last few years however, the area around Cub Lake had been inundated pine beetle damage. To be frank, the trees around Cub Lake were already in transition before the fire burned through the area and Cub Lake through still spectacular has lost some of its beauty due to the loss of many of its trees.
As I neared Cub Lake, the fire damage became more evident. Pines and aspens were scorched along the creek and trail near the outlet to Cub lake. Arriving at Cub Lake it was humbling. To look upon the landscape and see the burnt tree’s and ash all around the lake and hillsides felt almost like being on another planet.
I took some time to wander around the lake and within the forest just before sunrise. Sad as it was to see the changes that had occurred due to the wildfire, I could see beauty in what was left behind. Fascinating patterns had formed on the burnt out trees, and the charcoal stumps and logs flittered with metallic like colors and patterns.
After shooting sunrise at the lake, I headed up into the hillsides to photograph the shapes, textures and patterns along left over from the fire. Change is difficult, but it only took a little while before I was enjoying the experience and documenting the changes.
Change is part of mother nature’s bigger picture. I certainly wont see the area around Cub Lake rejuvenate in my lifetime, but I feel privileged enough to have witnessed both the before and after effects of the fire. Cub Lake is still a beautiful location to visit and photograph just make sure to keep an open mind when wandering trailside.