It’s Memorial day so we now have the official start to summer upon us. Summer seasons in Rocky Mountain National Park is here and much of the terrain in Rocky Mountain National Park will soon be more accessible and easier to access.
Trail Ridge Road officially opened for the season a day late on Saturday, May 28th after being delayed a day due to snow falling on the road on Friday. As of this writing, Trail Ridge Road is typically cleared each night and closed at 8:00 PM due to the potential for ice on the road. Depending on the conditions in the morning, the rangers usually reopen Trail Ridge Road around 8:00 AM the following morning. Within a few weeks Trail Ridge Road will once again be open 24 hrs a day as the snow melts away from the shoulder of the road. Fall River Road won’t be open until July 4th as it typically is each year.
The high country trails and lakes are starting to thaw out and melt. Sloppy intermittent snow covered trails can be found now above 8000 ft. From about 10,000 ft on down most lakes are open or partially covered with ice. You can expect to be postholing on portions the trails and if you plan on going much higher in elevation than 10,000 ft expect near winter travel conditions in Rocky.
It’s an exciting time in RMNP now as summer finally begins to descend upon the park. Access gets easier and the potential for landscape photographers increases on a daily basis as temperatures warm and last winters snow melt. Have fun out there and make sure to take advantage of this all too short but sweet time of year.
People often ask me if I ever tire of photographing Rocky Mountain National Park. After all, I spend the majority of my time in the field photographing in Rocky. When I field this question people assume that I most get bored photographing in the same locations in RMNP time and time again. In reality I find the opposite actually holds true. The more time I spend photographing in Rocky Mountain National Park, the more I realize just how much there is to photograph and just how much of a folly it is to every think once can photograph an amazing location like Rocky to the point of no longer being able to find new or unique compositions.
While I still photograph many of the well known locations in RMNP, I’m constantly on the lookout for new viewpoints or scouring my topographic maps trying to figure new locations which may hold great potential. New locations, varying lighting conditions, changes in seasons all make it easy to find new locations and opportunities for photography in Rocky Mountain National Park.
This past Friday I was able to get to a location I’ve been eyeing quite a few times but had yet to shoot. High above Moraine Park on the side of Beaver Mountain are some nice vistas of Longs Peak, Chiefs Head Peak, Thatchtop, Otis and even Hallett. I’ve been waiting for the right cloud setup before photographing from this location. As the high country of Rocky Mountain National Park thaws out I’ll end up spending much of my time photographing from those locations so I have a somewhat short window to photograph from this area before I start dedicating much of my time to locations that become more accessible as the temperatures warm.
Conditions where just about perfect on Friday from the side of Beaver Mountain and I was able to capture the image I had been envisioning for sometime. I have quite a large list of locations like this one on Beaver Mountain that I have yet to photograph from, so I don’t think I’ll be running short on locations to photograph in Rocky anytime soon.
Who doesn’t love fog? Well besides some of good friends who live in and around the bay area of San Francisco most photographers I know also love fog. Theres no question we all love dramatic sunrises and sunsets with colors exploding over the skies as mountain peaks turn a fire red. Nothing however, changes and alters a familiar landscape like a cloak of fog does. Fog can take a common unremarkable landscape and transform it into a mystical and magical location in mere seconds. Common landmarks become hidden from sight and the feel of the landscape changes by the minute as fog drifts in and out of valleys and canyons hiding or revealing only portions of mountains as it see’s fit. Photographing in fog is a bonanza for landscape photographers keen on searching for unique images of familiar locations.
The unsettled weather pattern we’ve been experiencing here in Colorado for what feels like the last two months has presented quite a few opportunities of late to photograph in the fog. Generally speaking, fog on the Front Range of Colorado and in the foothills in particular while not rare, is also not a common every week occurrence. Colorado’s quick moving weather systems often mean that storms move in and out of the Front Range with speed. The back end of these weather systems often leaves us with beautiful clear blue skies and little in the way of lingering clouds, fogs or moisture.
This past week has been an exception to that rule. One slow moving system after another has blanketed the Front Range with fog, rain and snow depending on elevation. At first blush it’s easy to want to make a back handed comment about another cloudy, rainy day but it’s also apparent that it’s a good idea to take advantage of the unsettled conditions in the field while one can.
I spent the past few days in the foothills just west of Boulder taking advantage of the foggy conditions. Walker Ranch Open Space on the backside of the Flatirons was just about perfect on Sunday morning. Thick fog enveloped the slopes on the backside of the Flatirons as well as the South Boulder Creek drainage making for countless opportunities to photograph the moody landscape. I could spend hours photographing in conditions like those at Walker Ranch Open Space on Sunday morning. There were literally new opportunities and compositions by the minute as I stood high on a ridgeline observing and photographing the conditions.
So while part of me was yearning for a little sunshine, the photographer in me was happy to be out in less than ideal conditions taking advantage of the conditions mother nature had in store.
It’s beginning to look a lot like spring down here in Boulder now. Snow, rain and sunshine have turned the hillsides green. Along with the hillsides turning green another sure sign of spring has appeared in Chautauqua Meadows. The parade of wildflowers that blanket Chautauqua Park have begun their procession that typically lasts right up until early July.
The first wildflowers have started to bloom in earnest in Chautauqua with beautiful yellow golden banner appearing amongst the green grasses. The golden banner still has a little while to go before it will reach peak in the meadow but it’s always great to welcome these yellow blooms back. Golden Banner is typically one of the first wildflowers to appear in Chautauqua Meadow in early May but other wildflowers such as silver lupine will be making appearances as we move towards June. Here’s an image of the conditions at Chautauqua Park just below the Flatirons taken this past Sunday. Exciting times lay ahead for photographers as the change of season settles in.
The last few weeks in Rocky Mountain National Park have been a teeter totter of conditions when it comes to the weather and transition between winter and spring like conditions. Sunny warm days have been followed by blizzards, snow and ice. All in all typical spring weather for Rocky Mountain National Park. But throughout all the crazy weather that constitutes spring in Rocky Mountain National Park there are definite signs that conditions are quickly moving towards late spring and early summer.
While I love winter in Colorado, this is a welcome change for me. The transition is now palatable in the air. The snow has melted from all the meadows and parks at the lower elevations of RMNP, and the mid level locations are quickly following suit and the melting off rapidly. The rivers are starting to flow at a healthy clip and lakes like Sprague Lake, Bierstadt Lake and Dream Lake are ice free or nearly ice free. The continental divide is still covered with a healthy snowpack but photographing Rocky’s high peaks reflecting in lakes below is now possible again in many locations.
I took the opportunity this morning to get out and hike up to Bierstadt Lake this morning to take advantage of it’s recently thawed lake surface. It didn’t hurt that much of the Bierstadt Lake trailhead is now snow free with only the upper half of the trail around the lake still covered in snow. Bierstadt Lake in my opinion has one of the best viewpoints of the continental divide in all of Rocky Mountain National Park. While Taylor, Otis, Hallett, Flattop and Notchtop are still covered with a healthy snow pack early in the season it makes for a tremendous location to photograph at sunrise.
I was fortunate enough to hit what I call the Rocky trifecta this morning when I hiked up to Bierstadt Lake. The Rocky trifecta being of course beautiful clouds over the peaks, a windless and still morning allowing for a reflection, and a cloud free horizon to the east allowing for stunning and vibrant first light on the peaks of the divide. In Rocky Mountain National Park it can be a challenge to get two out of three of the ideal conditions to work in ones favor. Anytime you nail all three you likely are going to be walking away with an image to add to your portfolio.
From hear on out, conditions should only improve. I fully expect it to snow in Rocky Mountain National Park a few more times this season, but momentum has now shifted and any snow will be mostly short lived. When Trail Ridge Road reopens for the season in a few weeks it will be officially summer season in Rocky and I for one cant wait.
Just as a reminder to those reading this. I will again be offering photo tours in Rocky Mountain National Park for the 2016 season. Feel free to visit the link at the top of the web page or email me for more information regarding photography tours and open dates in Rocky Mountain National Park.