Enjoying The Warm Up

While out photographing sunrise west of Moraine Park this morning. I was overtaken by a large herd of elk which was grazing on the lush green grasses now abundant in Rocky Mountain National Park. While I was enjoying the warm up and the start of summer, these newborn elk calves also seemed to be enjoying the warmer weather. These little guys have had a rough introduction to Rocky Mountain National Park’s weather earlier this spring. Technical Details: Nikon D500, Nikkor AF-S 300mm f/4E PF ED VR lens w/1.4 TC III.

Finally!. After what seemed like a winter that would just not go away, it’s really starting to feel like summer is upon us here in Rocky Mountain National Park. We’ve now almost gone an entire week without any new snow and it looks like we are finally out the water for awhile.

I say that tongue and cheek of course but we did have nearly 3 inches of snow(above 9500 ft) last weekend which occurred after the official start of summer. While I was guiding clients and photographing the last storm, I have not yet posted any images from our summer snow in RMNP on the blog as of yet.

The June 22nd storm managed to close Trail Ridge Road for nearly 5 days I promise I’ll get around to posting an image or two but to be frank, with the wildflowers really starting to bloom and the temperatures warming up, I thought it might be best to wait a post or two before revisiting snow.

As stated earlier, summer is really starting to officially settle into Rocky. Most lakes below 10,500 ft are now free of ice. Snow on the trails can still be found above 10,000 ft but its melting pretty quickly at this point. Wildflowers are blooming in Moraine Park and Horseshoe Park and the grasses at the lower elevations are a beautiful green.

The wildlife seems to be enjoying the warmer weather as well. The elk which will move to the higher and cooler elevations of Rocky are still lingering in many of the lower elevations enjoying the verdant grasses.

While out photographing sunrise this morning along the Cub Creek drainage just west of Moraine Park, I had a large herd of elk overtake me as I was setup. In this large herd of elk which was grazing the green grasses were a handful of newborn elk calves. These little guys who have had a rough introduction to weather in Rocky Mountain National Park seemed to be enjoying themselves in the summer like conditions.

Before they moved up the drainage, they relaxed and grazed giving me just enough time to capture a few images of the herd while staying a safe distance from the calves and of course mama. While enjoying both the sunrise in Rocky Mountain National Park as well as photographing this elk herd, it was hard to decipher who was having more fun, me or the newborn elk.

Dancing With The Sun

Sundance Mountain yesterday looked spectacular as a late June snow squall cleared Trail Ridge Road early in the morning. Sundance Mountain often is overlooked by visitors to Rocky Mountain National Park as the best location to view this peak in is also one of the more nerve wracking sections of Trail Ridge Road for many drivers. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 24-70mm F4 S lens

Sundance Mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park does not have the cache and name recognition of many of the other iconic high peaks in Rocky. Ironically, most visitors to Rocky Mountain National Park drive right on past it on Trail Ridge Road.

It’s not that Sundance Mountain isn’t a beautiful peak. It’s granite face, pyramid like summit and beautiful cirque high rising high above Hanging Valley is impressive. The reason why most visitors to RMNP don’t get a chance to admire Sundance Mountain like many of the others is it’s location along Trail Ridge Road.

Just above Rainbow Curve, Trail Ridge Road really starts to test the faint of heart or those for whom fear of heights and exposure to heights is difficult. Winding past Rainbow Curve, Trail Ridge Road quickly continues it’s climb towards timberline. Here, high above Hanging Valley Trail Ridge clings to the side of the mountain with a thousand foot plus drop below with only a rock wall between the road and the drop.

This spot on Trail Ridge Road is exactly the spot where many visitors simply freak out. The exposure and height and is just too much for many and their reaction is to close their eyes or turn away from the drop off. At this location, I’ve encountered many other visitors to Rocky who will literally be driving in the middle of Trail Ridge Road to avoid the edge. Of course a collision with an oncoming vehicle is just as dangerous as sliding off the edge but to many, the fear of heights outweighs rational thought.

What does this have to do with the beauty of Sundance Mountain you might ask?. Well its at this very spot along Trail Ridge Road where one gets the best view of Sundance Mountain rising high above the very valley and drop off that frightens drivers along Trail Ridge Road. Many drivers at this spot are too busy concentrating on the road to take in the view of Sundance Mountain and it’s beauty. So for many, admiring Sundance is secondary to keeping the car on the road.

While driving past Sundance can be difficult, photographing it can be a challenge as well. For one, there’s not many good locations on Trail Ridge Road to stop and get out to take and image. The road is narrow here with no shoulder and only a small pull off. Secondly, there is no lake, stream or tarn here to frame Sundance in. Essentially, one needs some dramatic lighting and conditions on aptly named Sundance Mountain to make her shine.

With our wild spring weather continuing in Rocky Mountain National Park, Sundance Mountain was bathed in just the right kind of light as a late June snow squall cleared timberline. With fresh snow on her summit on June 19th, and some beautiful dappled sunlight coming through the clouds. Sundance Mountain showed why you should take a minute to admire and photograph her beauty, even if it means getting over one’s fear of heights for a few short moments.

Reflections Along The Colorado River

With Trail Ridge Road opening for the season on June 5th, it’s finally easy to get back over the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park. Like visiting with and old friend, getting back over to the west side of RMNP is always refreshing and inspiring when it comes to landscape photography. All of our snowmelt has the Colorado River running at capacity which is causing meadows to flood. This makes for great pools of water to capture reflections of Baker Mountain like this one from Thursday morning. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikon 24-70mm F4 S lens

With all the snow Rocky Mountain National Park received this winter, the park service was finally able to open Trail Ridge Road for the season on June 5th. Thats quite a bit later than the week of Memorial Day which is typically the unofficial opening date the NPS attempts to have the Trail Ridge Road open.

So our large storms stymied a late my opening on Trail Ridge Road but nonetheless the road is open from Estes Park to Grand Lake and that means getting back over to the west side of Rocky just got much easier for many of us.

Between photography tours and a quick trip to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon via Moab, I had not yet had a chance to make a run over to the west side. I was able to remedy that earlier this week and made a trip over at sunrise to check on things.

As it is every year, getting back over to the west side of Rocky early in the season is always a treat. It’s like revisiting with an old friend. Most years I make a few trips over to the west side of Rocky during the winter months, but this year I was unable. This meant the last time I had actually been over to the west side of Rocky was in late September, just before snows closed Trail Ridge Road for the season.

Arriving on the west side of the park, I found the Kawuneeche Valley greening up nicely. Moose and elk were abundant in the meadows and wet lowland areas. Most interesting was the Colorado River snaking through the Kawuneeche Valley. With all the snowmelt and precipitation, the Colorado River is running at capacity. Many of the adjacent meadows are now flooded with the excess snowmelt being carried down from the high peaks.

These flooded meadows create perfect reflecting pools in witch to capture reflections of Baker Mountain in locations it’s not normally possible. This is true of not only the area along the Colorado River on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park but also along the East Inlet area just outside of Grand Lake.

Conditions were perfect last week when I photographed this scene along the Colorado River. It won’t be long before these pools of excess water start to recede and dry up. Obviously, now is the time to take advantage of both access to the west side of RMNP, but also the benefits of all our excess moisture is providing.