Another busy week photographing Rocky Mountain National Park. The weather has been unsettled resulting in lots of interesting and dynamic images. Each morning this week has brought forward unexpected conditions and lighting, all different, each dramatic in their own way. I personally cant recall another stretch when we’ve had so many continuous days of dramatic weather and changing conditions.
The changing weather conditions are certainly a harbinger of summer ending and autumn quickly settling in over the park. Everywhere you look you can see signs of fall approaching. A few aspen leaves here and there have turned, the tundra above tree line is turning red, the Elk rut has begun in ernest and bugling can now be heard in the meadows and valley, and more importantly snow fell on the Alpine Visitor Center along Trail Ridge Road for a short period on Thursday. So even though its not even the end of August, as the weather and conditions attest, change is coming quickly to Rocky Mountain National Park.
been spending quite a bit of time in the field these last 3 weeks. I’ve made it a priority to get out and photograph as much as I can this summer. Summer is my favorite season in Rocky Mountain National Park. In my opinion you just cant beat hiking to alpine lakes, the smell of the pines when hiking through the forrest and the sounds of brooks babbling over rocks.
Since setting aside this time in the field to shoot, two things have become apparent to me. First off, perhaps all the time I’ve been able to spend photographing Rocky has skewed my recollection, but as far as I’m concerned we’ve had some of the best sunrise and sunsets on a consistent basis that I can even remember. Not to jinx my string of good luck, but it seems that we have consistently had beautiful sunrises filled with colorful clouds three to four days a week. In the past I can remember going eight or nine straight days with nary a cloud in the sky, especially during our drought years in the early 2000’s. Without a doubt this is tied to the increased moisture thats been present over Colorado the last year or so.
The second thing thats apparent, and is something I stress often is the need to assess and photograph locations both looking towards the peaks and mountains, as well as looking away from the peaks and mountains. For example, some of the best color in the sky occurs over the eastern plains of Colorado during sunrise. While it’s tempting to always want to point your camera towards the mountains, don’t neglect the opposite view.
This morning for example I used this principle to photograph sunrise over Dream Lake. While this image did not include iconic Hallett Peak or Flattop Mountain and in fact did not include any of the prominent peaks associated with Dream Lake, I came away with one of my favorite images of a subject I shoot often. So go ahead and take advantage of both the colorful sunrises and sunsets, but also take advantage of the opportunity to try something new when photographing in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Being above tree line in Rocky Mountain National Park is one of those special and unique experiences that come with exploring the park. While there are many places in Colorado where one can get above tree line, Trail Ridge Road allows easy access by car and trailheads found along Trail Ridge Road such as the Ute trail allow visitors and photographers the ability to get out on the alpine tundra and explore the world above tree line.
The Ute trail in particular is popular with visitors and it offers some of the best views of Rocky Mountain National Park and many of its high peaks. Because of this its a favorite location of mine to photograph, especially in the summer when the conditions are favorable, which at over 11,000 ft above sea level is often easier said then done.
It is often told that the Ute trail was one of three crossings of the Continental Divide in Rocky Mountain National Park used by Native Americans prior to the arrival of European-American settlers and travelers to the region. While there is no doubt the Ute Indians used this area for travel and game hunting the name itself is mo it’s more likely the route was named by the Colorado Geographic Board as a tribute to one of the two native tribes, the Ute and Arapaho whom inhabited this area prior to the discovery by early European-American settlers.
The Ute trail is a very interesting area to explore and it’s geographic orientation allows for good lighting and photography in both the mornings and afternoons. Whenever hiking above tree line in Rocky, one should be mindful of the weather and avoid being out on the alpine tundra if there is any chance whatsoever of lighting from electrical storms. Lighting storms above tree line are no joke and people are struck and killed by lighting almost every year in Rocky, especially in areas of the park above tree line.
If one is looking for opportunities to photograph some of the finest alpine scenery in all of Colorado, hiking along the Ute trail can make for a very rewarding day. Even a short excursion along the Ute trail will allow one to move away from the crowded and busy overlooks along Trail Ridge Road such as the Rock Cut and Forest Canyon overlook. So be it sunrise or sunset one the Ute trail is one of the best vantage points a photographer can choose to capture some of Rocky Mountain National Park’s best scenery.
The west side of Rocky Mountain National Park is one of my favorite locations in all of Colorado for photography. While I spend eighty percent of my time photographing the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park, the logistics of photographing the west side are much more difficult and therefore I do not get to spend as much time as I would like on the west side of the park. Whether real or perceived, the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park has a distinctive and different feel and flavor to it then does the east side of the park.
The west side of Rocky feels more primal. It’s forests appearing darker and more expansive than other areas of the park. There’s more moisture on the west side of the park so water is more plentiful and cascades and falls seem to be around every bend in the trail. Much of the west side of Rocky is hidden from view. With a few exceptions driving Trail Ridge Road past Fairview curve and the Kawuneeche Valley gives you only brief glimpses of the jagged and towering peaks located on the west side of the park. In fact for most visitors, driving through the Kawuneeche Valley is more about spotting Moose or Elk in the meadows then it is about admiring the mountain scenery on the west side of the park.
I make every attempt to spend time exploring the west side of the park when possible. Last week I had the opportunity to spend part of the week in Grand Lake so naturally I spent a few mornings on the west side of the park photographing some locations I’ve been eyeing for sometime.
Both Cascade Falls along the North Inlet trail as well as the Colorado River through the Kawuneeche Valley have been on my list for quite sometime. While I’ve attempted images at these locations before, I had yet to really come away with anything worthwhile. Luckily for me the conditions were very favorable this time for both dramatic lighting at sunrise as well as cloud cover and overcast conditions later on which where perfectly conducive for waterfall photography.
As the problem always is with these kind of opportunities, one only has so much time to explore and photograph all the locations on one’s list. So while I’m already plotting out my next outing over to the west side of Rocky, I’ll still be spending the majority of my time closer to home on the east side of the park.