No sooner had I finished writing and posting my previous blog post about current conditions in Rocky Mountain National Park and the subtle changes in the seasons before the weather in RMNP does what it’s famous for, change dramatically again.
True to form, not only are there signs of autumns impending arrival, but the weather in Rocky Mountain National Park on Friday morning decided to remind us that not only is fall right around the corner, but so is winter. While rain had fallen overnight in most elevations of RMNP on Thursday night, it was cold enough to put a light but healthy dusting of fresh snow on the landscape above 11,500 ft.
I drove up Trail Ridge Road early Friday morning looking to see if there would be any breaks in the cloud cover that morning for sunrise. Approaching the Forest Canyon overlook I could see it was more than just droplets of dew on the grasses and tundra and that there was a light dusting of snow right near timberline. Taking a moment to take a good look at Longs Peak in the predawn light, I could see it was also coated in fresh snow. While its a little early, snow in late August on the high peaks is fairly common. Heck it makes for some nice photographs as well so I’m certainly not complaining, I mean whats better than photographing 3 seasons all in the course of a couple of days?
So lets recap the current conditions in Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s still summer. Most of the park is still green, lakes are free of ice and trails are clean and clear. Signs of autumn have started to rear their head in the nooks and crannies of RMNP. A few aspen trees here and there are showing some color and some of the smaller ground foliage has turned red and orange. Lastly, even though it August, we can and do get occasional snow events covering the summer landscape with a winter like cloak.
Changes are starting to take place in Rocky Mountain National Park as they always do towards the backend of summer. Summer never seems to stick around as long as one would like and as soon as summer is upon us here in Rocky Mountain National Park, it seems like it’s back on its way out. It’s a conflicted period for me as on one hand while I love photographing the summer season in Rocky, Fall narrowly pulls ahead of summer as my favorite time to photograph RMNP.
It’s still summer and it’s still a bit on the early side (though not that early) to be talking about fall color conditions in Rocky Mountain National Park. With that said and keen observer will already notice that impending signs of autumn have begun to settle into the park.
The tundra grasses above timberline have turned brown and red high on the mountainsides, Bull Elk have shed their velvet and the bulls are starting to collect harems and bellow that beautiful and haunting bugle. Some of the aspen trees which typically turn golden yellow early in the season are showing yellow leaves. Lastly heavy frost has coated the meadows of Rocky Mountain National Park and some of the smaller deciduous ground cover have started to display their intense autumn colors.
On the west side of RMNP this morning fog drifted through the Kawuneeche Valley and a heavy frost covered the grasses of the Kawuneeche. Taking a minute to study the frozen grasses in the meadow I found not only the remnants of summer in the form of some frozen wildflowers, but also some beautiful reds, orange and yellow brush on full display. While there is no need to panic and things are very much on schedule, when in Rocky, take a minute to inspect the hidden and oft overlooked and you will be amazed at the autumn beauty you can already find.
One last note: I still have a few opening for photography tours in Rocky Mountain National Park during the end of September into early October. Availability is quickly filling up and if you think you would like to book a tour date it would be a good idea to do so soon.
Dream Lake, The Rock Cut, The Loch, Chasm Lake, Moraine Park all these constitute some of the most beautiful locations in Rocky Mountain National Park. These qualify as icons and as such photographers flock to these locations when visiting Rocky Mountain National Park. These locations are iconic because they are stunningly beautiful locations with or without a camera in hand. We all love photographing these icons of RMNP, but what about photographing locations in Rocky that are less iconic but have their own unique beauty and aura to them?.
Photographing non-iconic locations is by far more challenging then setting up along the shore of Dream Lake to photograph sunrise. For me at least, every nook and cranny of Rocky Mountain National Park holds beauty. That beauty may be more subtle than the knock your socks off, in your face beauty of Dream Lake but its there if you look for it. I find some of my most rewarding images of Rocky Mountain National Park are ones taken in locations that other photographers feel are either blasé or ones other photographers consider somewhat pedestrian when it comes to the landscape.
Every location in Rocky is beautiful and for me it’s about finding the right conditions and light to bring out the beauty and mood of a given location. Take for example the image above. Big Meadows on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park is an often visited location. That being said you wont find many images of Big Meadows in books, calendars or postcards. For the most part, hikers and photographers to Big Meadows will travel right on through on their way to what they consider more scenic areas of Rocky.
I’ve done this very thing many times myself but each time I pass through Big Meadows I think what a beautiful location it is and what conditions would I need to be able to convey the mood and spirit of this location. Big Meadows is exactly what the name describes it as. It’s a large grassy, marshy meadow surrounded mostly by some of Rocky more nondescript and less iconic peaks. There is no lake here, no giant granite mountain face towering over the the meadow. It’s a more subtle beauty, one where you are more likely to be photographing alongside a moose grazing along Tonahutu Creek then alongside another photographer.
So while its fun photographing the iconic locations of Rocky Mountain National Park, I feel it is just as important if not more so to photograph the beauty of the less iconic locations. A few weeks back conditions were perfect for what I had envisioned would be necessary to successfully photograph Big Meadows. Clouds drifted over the mountains and fog was present in the meadow. I had made a mental note to myself that the next time conditions unfolded like these I should make an attempt to hike into Big Meadows and see if I could capture the feel and mood of this beautiful spot.
I’m sure Dream Lake would have yielded a beautiful image as well this particular morning, but squishing around the wet grasses and soil of Big Meadows on this magical morning was not only worth it, but I was rewarded with an image of Big Meadows that I think perfectly captures the beauty of this location.