Rocky Mountain National Park is filled with hundreds of named waterfalls as well as unnamed bubbling cascades. You can find these waterfalls all over Rocky from just above the meadows to high above treeline.
It’s fun to look at a topo map and try to guess what a location or waterfall is going to look like when you finally get to the location. I find these places often appear nothing like I think they will when just trying to imagine them on a map. It makes the adventure to the falls more fun and as a photographer keeps you on your toes.
One of these particular locations I’ve been eyeing on my map for quite sometime was Lyric Falls. Lyric Falls is formed by Hunters Creek just below Sandbeach Lake in the Wild Basin region of Rocky Mountain National Park. A perfect sunrise at Sandbeach Lake followed by overcast conditions made for a great opportunity to explore Lyric Falls on my hike out from Sandbeach Lake a few weeks back.
There is only a social trail which follows more or less along the banks of Hunters Creek to reach Lyric Falls. It’s certainly not difficult to locate, but as always you should be prepared when exploring off trail. Legendary Rocky Mountain National Park Ranger Jack Moomaw is responsible for naming Lyric Falls, passing it on his many adventures, rescues and climbs up and around Longs Peak.
Lyric Falls itself is a tiered waterfall that is not so much impressive in its size which is modest, but in the beauty of the cascade itself. Lyric Falls tumbles and cascades over boulders and chutes making for a beautiful symmetrical cascade. The detour from the main trail along with the exploration of Hunters Creek is well worth the effort.
Most would consider the center point of Rocky Mountain National Park to be Longs Peak. At 14,259 it’s massif dominates much of Rocky’s skyline. Longs Peak was also a great point of interest to early pioneers who settled and travelled through the region. Many of those early pioneers believed reaching the summit of Longs Peak was impossible, and there failed efforts only reinforced that idea.
These early pioneers were a different breed however. Failures and challenges were embraced. Obstacles could be overcome and opportunities in the pioneering west were limitless to these early explorers. Few personified these traits more than John Wesley Powell and its fitting that it would be Powell who would summit Longs Peak first.
John Wesley Powell’s ascent of Longs Peak on August 23rd, 1868 would lead him on an even greater adventure the following year. Powell would become the first American of European to discover and travel through the Grand Canyon.
Upon summiting Longs Peak with his party, Powell is said to have unfurled an American Flag on the summit of Longs Peak and then proceeded to give a speech in which he stated that the adventure of summiting a peak which the summit was thought to be unreachable was to be one of only many challenges that the future would hold.
Before summiting Longs Peak, Powell and his party setout from Grand Lake on August 21st, 1868. The night before they made their famous ascent they are said to have camped near Sandbeach Lake on the south side of Longs Peak and Mount Meeker.
It was from the vicinity of Sandbeach Lake that one of Powell’s assistants, L.W. Keplinger found the route that would lead to the successful first ascent up Longs Peak the following day.
Visiting Sandbeach Lake today, it’s apparent why the area served as a base camp for the Powell expedition in 1868. Sandbeach Lake holds on commanding view of Mount Meeker, Longs Peak and Pagoda Peak. Keplingers and Powell’s first route (Keplinger Coulier) is situated in the basin next basin from Sandbeach Lake.
Sandbeach Lake is certainly a unique gem. Since Powell visited the area, It’s been damned and used as a water supply for Longmont and farmers on Colorado’s eastern plains. The Park Service has since restored Sandbeach Lake to it’s original state. It’s sandy north shore makes for a perfect beach in this mountain setting.
Like most places in Rocky, Sandbeach Lake can be very windy. That’s compounded even more by its close proximity to Rocky Mountain National Park’s two highest peaks. So I was pleasantly surprised to arrive before sunrise to find Sandbeach Lake smooth as glass. Clouds were floating over the top of Mount Meeker, Longs and Pagoda.
As a stood along the shores of Sandbeach Lake photographing a beautiful sunrise over these famous peaks I could not help but think it John Wesley Powell and his party
observed similar conditions when they conquered and climbed Longs Peak nearly 145 years ago from this date.
There are hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park, and then there are, lets just say ‘hikes’ in Rocky Mountain National Park. There’s not a lot of low hanging fruit for photographers in the Wild Basin area once you’ve photographed Copeland, Calypso, and Ouzel falls all which require hikes of less than 3 miles to reach.
Wild Basin is host to some of Rocky Mountain National Park’s most beautiful alpine scenery and mountain lakes. Wild Basin lives up to it’s name while at the same time requiring visitors to put in the time and work to witness it’s beauty.
All of the alpine lakes in Wild Basin require travel of over 4 miles one way to reach. Areas like Bluebird Lake, Thunder Lake and Lion Lakes require you to invest in one way hikes of at least 6.5 miles over moderate to strenuous grades.
For me, this makes these places and hikes even more special. It’s remote, there are far fewer people and the scenery is breathtaking. Most visitors to Rocky Mountain National Park wont visit places like Lion Lakes, Bluebird and Thunder Lake. I was lucky enough to spend a morning photographing sunrise from the outlet of Thunder Lake. It’s without question one of the most beautiful locations in all of Rocky Mountain National Park.
Residing at the base of Pilot Mountain and Mount Alice, Thunder Lake makes for a spectacular composition that can only begin to convey the beauty and wildness of this alpine basin. If you have the ability and time Thunder Lake should be on the top of your must see list.
I’m a morning person. Most of the time, I’ll wake up before my alarm goes off, even if it’s set for 2:00 AM. I’m energized, refreshed and ready to go when I wake up. People who like to sleep in become easily annoyed by my morning routine, just ask my wife.
The opposite holds true for me in the afternoon’s and evenings. By early evening the battery’s are running low and need a recharge. Getting up early means I have no qualms about going to bed early.
My morning routine suits my photography just fine here on the Front Range of Colorado. I’ve conditioned myself to be ready to go early and often. That works great for photographing sunrises on the eastern facing peaks that catch the first brilliant light of the day. The problem is, my ‘routine’ is not as favorable for those images that require one to be in a location at sunset or late in the day.
Case in point, the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park. I’ll admit, much of my portfolio of Rocky Mountain National Park is focused on the east side of the park. There are many reasons for this. It’s closer to home, the lighting is often more favorable, access is better, the density of photographic locations is much closer and the weather tends to work in your favor more in the morning.
This of course is nearly the opposite of what is required to photograph the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park. Access is more limited on the west side of the park and the distances required to get to many of the alpine locations which are often more accessible on the east side are much greater.
I’m trying to make it a point to get out and photograph the west side of Rocky as much as I can. I love the west side of the park. It has a vibe and a feel of wildness and isolation that many of the locations on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park do not.
So in taking to my promise to spend more time photographing the west side of Rocky, I spent the last few days on the other side of the divide. There has been a particular image and location I’ve wanted to shoot for sometime. East Inlet flowing through East Meadow with Mount Craig (or Baldy) rising above the valley.
Of course I photographed this location not in the afternoon when the sun sets of the peaks on the west side of Rocky, but in the morning. Hey, I’m not complaining.