Saturday in the park. I’m channeling a line from the band Chicago here as it was the tune playing in the back of my head as I both attempted to stay warm as well as trip the shutter on my camera in between blasts of wind yesterday morning in Rocky Mountain National Park. Coincidently, the band Chicago recorded many of its songs just down the Peak to Peak highway from Rocky Mountain National Park at Caribou Ranch just north of Nederland.
Saturday’s sunrise was typical of what we often find in Rocky during the winter months. The high peaks of Rocky shrouded in clouds and high winds keeping things interesting below. It snowed the previous day but as is often the case in RMNP, the window is short before the winds and sun make quick work of the freshly fallen snow.
Pro tip for mornings like these which are common in Rocky is to turn your back on the mountains and point your camera in the opposite direction. I know it sounds like some heck of a tip I’m giving but hear me out. Mornings like these often have great cloud cover to the east. You may not be able to include Rocky Mountain National Park’s impressive and iconic high peaks in your image, but weather conditions would have prevented it anyway.
Find a subject to photograph and work in the great skies and more subtle landscapes that are found just east of the high peaks. It will save the angst of feeling like your journey out in to the windy wilds of Rocky Mountain National Park have been for naught and who knows, you might actually come away with some exceptional images. This options surely beats sitting in your vehicle sulking over the conditions and complaining once again RMNP left you empty handed.
It was a mild week weather wise in Rocky Mountain National Park. There was no snow to speak of and the temperatures were very mild. Even the wind which usually accompanies warm weather during the winter months was mostly ‘average’ for Rocky. Much of the snow that has been hanging around the lower elevations of the park has melted and other than quite a few trees that have blown down or been uprooted from last week winds storms, the landscape remains dormant.
While the weather was temperate and above average there were a few mornings at the end of the week that hosted spectacular sunrises. Both Friday and Saturday mornings sunrise was spectacular over Rocky. On top of having two really colorful sunrises, the sun is now rising noticeably more towards the north as we move towards spring and summer. This is a welcome change as with the exception of the Mummy Range, most of Rocky Mountain National Park’s high peaks and ranges on the east side of the park are oriented in a northeasterly facing direction. In other words the lighting conditions for landscape photography are improving each passing day.
With the sunrise moving more northward each day, I decided to take advantage of the light and photograph Longs Peak on both mornings. While one can photograph Longs Peak anytime of year, the iconic face of Longs Peak known as The Diamond is oriented to the north and east making it optimal as we move towards the longer days of the year.
Friday morning I headed up the Twin Sisters to photograph Longs Peak. I was badly in need of putting some miles a trail and a hike up the Twin Sisters for sunrise was just what the doctor ordered. Saturday with the prospects for sunrise looking less like a slam dunk I hedged my bets at the Many Parks Curve overlook along Trail Ridge Road. Many Parks gives you a few options for sunrise but it also gives you a great vantage of Longs Peak with Beaver Mountain in the foreground. Both sunrises were beautiful and as always, Longs Peak looked majestic, imposing and iconic.
It’s easy to see why Longs Peak is not only the highest peak in Rocky Mountain National Park at 14,259 ft above sea level, but also why its a favorite subject of mine as well as the thousands of photographers the visit Rocky Mountain National Park each year.
February on the Front Range of Colorado probably conjures up thoughts of cold and snowy landscapes. While we certainly get our fair share of snowy days in February, more often than not February is often a tame month when it comes to weather. Our blizzards and large snowstorms tend to occur early in the season in October or November or later in the season come March and April. February as was the case last week is often mild with seasonally warm weather and lots of sunshine. One caveat to mild February weather on the Front Range is our good friend the wind. These mild weather days or often powered by strong downsloping winds which warm the air as the descent the mountain range.
Last week was just that. Warm and mild in the Denver and Boulder area while at the same time being insanely windy. This made it nearly impossible for me to head up to Rocky Mountain National Park or even the foothills of Boulder for photography. Winds of over 80 mph were recorded in Estes Park and Boulder and Berthoud Pass above Winter Park even recorded gusts as high as 104 mph. If you have had the pleasure of trying to photograph landscapes in hurricane force winds you know that more often than not it can be a test in futility.
Windy days on the Front Range make photography tricky but the winds themselves often help to create beautiful lenticular clouds and some of Colorado’s best sunrises and sunsets. So while its hard to photograph in these conditions, its equally as difficult for a photographer like me to stay indoors and watch these spectacular sunrise and sunsets without attempting to photograph them.
Rocky Mountain National Park and the foothills were out of the question with the winds so I had to figure something else out. I figured it was as good a time as any to head out to some local spots here in Weld County east of the foothills and make an attempt to capture some of the beauty right here in my backyard.
Weld County is not going to upset the apple cart when it comes to unseating the jaw dropping beauty of Rocky Mountain National Park or other mountainous areas in the foothills, the high plains of Colorado have a subtle beauty that is often ignored by photographers. While Weld County holds a certain charm, its a county that is continually changing. Whether it be from Oil and Gas interests or construction from the housing boom and growth Colorado is experiencing, locations in Weld County don’t remain unspoiled for long.
Truth be told, 99% of the time I’m guilty of ignoring some of this subtle beauty and will drive right past it heading to up to Rocky or to Boulder for sunrise or sunset. With the hurricane force winds abating somewhat as you head further east, I was able to check off a couple of nearby locations and capture some of that subtle beauty that is present in eastern Colorado. Will this be the start of a new project or portfolio?. It’s hard to say for sure but I believe strongly in photographing subjects in your own backyard. I can only be so many places at once so we will just have to see moving forward how much time I can spare to continue to photograph in my backyard. Even so, photographing locally is rewarding and something I’m going to try and make a better effort to do in the future, especially on those pesky windy days.