I just wrapped up a busy week of photography and photo tour/guiding. Summer season is in full swing both weather and visitation wise. Lots of people in Rocky Mountain National Park again enjoying all she has to offer and lots of opportunities in Rocky for photographers.
In between 3 really good sunrises last week I was reminded of something I preach to clients and those seeking advice on photographing Rocky Mountain National Park. Make sure you remember to look behind you. All to often we head out into Rocky dead set on capturing the perfect iconic Colorado view of a jagged mountain peak reflecting perfectly in the still waters of a tarn or lake.
When the conditions are right and you have the opportunity to photograph peaks reflecting in still mountain lakes you should cherish and take advantage of the situation. While I have many of these images in my Rocky Mountain National Park portfolio, many have taken years and years and dozens of visits to these locations to capture. Wind, clouds, lack of clouds and poor lighting can all work against you in Rocky’s alpine environment. Whats important is to keep and open mind and be prepared to look for alternative images to what you planned on photographing.
Last Sunday I had just this type of scenario unfold before me. As I always am, I was up long before dawn checking out conditions. Cloud cover was ample and there were nice breaks to the east of Rocky Mountain National Park. I had a short amount of time but decided that I would head up to some mountain lake and see how sunrise unfolded. As I approached the Bear Lake parking lot it became apparent that the cloud cover was mostly east of the mountains and not directly over them.
This is a common setup for clouds in Rocky. Winds aloft will often cause the skies directly over the peaks to be clear of cloud cover while the skies just to the east of the mountains will have cloud cover or lenticular clouds that will explode with color as the sun rises. When conditions are like this you should look to play the hand your dealt and find a shot that is going to maximize the drama and conditions unfolding before you.
While Dream Lake may be one of the top five most iconic images in all of Colorado, the traditional image from the outlet of Dream Lake on the it’s east side was not going yield an average image with clear blue skies and some nice color on the peaks. I opted to head to the inlet of Dream Lake and photograph looking east. The cloud layer east of Dream Lake would explode with color and better yet, the west side of Dream Lake was mostly sheltered from the winds that were raking the surface on the east side of the lake, hence ruining ones chance for a reflection.
All in all It worked out to be one of the more dramatic mornings I’ve spent at Dream Lake. If I had stayed with my original plan I would have captured Dream Lake with a choppy lake surface and little color. As I always like to say, have a good game plan for your morning shoot, but be prepared to find an alternative image or location if conditions don’t materialize like you intended them to do. Doing this will open up many more opportunities for photography in Rocky Mountain National Park as well as add new imagery to your portfolio.
The wildflower parade is now well underway in Rocky Mountain National Park. Lots of flowers blooming all over the park and it’s only June. Golden Banner, Wild Iris, Calypso Orchids, Marsh Marigolds, Aster and many others can now be found. I’m always amazed at not only how quickly the weather can change in Rocky Mountain National Park, but also how a week of mild weather can catapult us so quickly to summer like conditions in the park. Higher elevations are mostly covered with snow but even areas where the snow is rapidly melting, wildflowers can be found. My advice is to enjoy this time of year in Rocky and quickly take advantage of the rapidly changing season. Enjoy the start of the wildflower bloom, because I’m sure I’ll be commenting sooner than later about golden aspen leaves.
With Trail Ridge Road opened late last week, all that stood in the way of being able to easily return to the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park was the nightly 8:00 PM closure that was in place. On Wednesday June 1st, the NPS removed the nighttime closure of Trail Ridge Road and with that a whole lot of options opened up for photographers visiting Rocky.
With the removal of the nighttime closure of Trail Ridge I headed out first thing the next morning for sunrise on Trail Ridge Road and then I figured a few nights camping on the west side of Rocky to survey the conditions and photograph some areas I had not visited since last October prior to Trail Ridge closing for the season.
I spent most of my time this trip photographing mainly in the Kawuneeche Valley and along the East Inlet just outside of Grand Lake. There is still a fair amount of snow to be found along some of the trails especially as you move higher up in elevations but the both the Kawuneeche Valley and the East Inlet are clear of snow. As of this writing, snow could be found on the trails above Lone Pine Lake and I found trails covered in patches of snow starting near Big Meadows.
Moose were plentiful on the west side and while the grasses have just started to green, wildflowers such as Marsh Marigolds and Calypso Orchids were plentiful. The highlight of my trip over to the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park was watching a large cinnamon colored black bear amble across Harbison Meadows and into the trees. I made an attempt to photograph this healthy bear but he managed to cross the road behind my vehicle and quickly scamper up the hillside before I could photograph the bear.
Even though I did not manage to photograph the bear it was a productive trip nonetheless will a nice sunrise and two beautiful sunsets mixed in. I’m already planning my next trip over to west side and I only expect ease of access and conditions to improve with each passing day.