Happy 106th Birthday RMNP!

106 years ago today President Woodrow Wilson signed into law the Rocky Mountain National Park act creating what we now know as Rocky Mountain National Park. RMNP celebrated its 106th birthday with a celebration of light and snow over its beautiful landscape. From a vantage point along Trail Ridge, I photographed the Mummy Range this morning in all its splendor as one of the best sunrises this winter unfolded in front of my camera. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 24-70mm F4 lens

106 years ago today, President Woodrow Wilson signed into law the Rocky Mountain National Park Act protecting and creating Rocky Mountain National Park. It was the culmination of years of hard work and dedication by people like Enos Mills who fought so hard to make sure the place we now call Rocky Mountain National Park would be protected and accessible for generations of people to visit and enjoy.

With snow falling on the park last night, I was up and out the door early hoping to capture something interesting with my camera. I’d be lying to you if I said we have had lots of good opportunities for sunrise and sunsets this winter with lots of fresh snow on the mountains. Truth is, Colorado and the Front Range have been very dry since the fall and decent snow has been few and far between the past few months. Hopefully the pattern is changing as we are desperately in need of some moisture here in Colorado. Selfishly, snow and unsettled weather also makes for a lot more interesting photography as well.

Snow was falling lightly as I passed through the Beaver Meadows entry long before dawn. I was hoping for a possible inversion or some breaks in the cloud cover around sunrise. About 2 inches of snow had fallen over night, just enough to coat the pines and landscape with something other than the mostly brown grass we’ve been plaque with since the autumn. I checked the cloud layer as I always do trying to figure out just how high up the inversion was and whether I would be able to possibly get above it either by driving Trail Ridge Road to the winter closure point at Many Parks Curve, or throw on spikes and hike up Flattop Mountain.

With the thermometer on my truck in the single digits, I took the easy way out and headed up to Many Parks Curve as opposed to hiking up Flattop Mountain to see if I could get a better feel for how high up the inversion was.

As is always the case when there is an inversion in Rocky Mountain National Park, it’s like two different worlds above the clouds vs. below the clouds. Below the inversion layer the Ponderosa Pines along Deer Mountain were covered in frost and snow. It was the best of both worlds on RMNP’s 106th Birthday. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 70-200mm F2.8 S lens
When I arrived at Many Parks, it was socked in with fog. I parked the truck and took a look around. While walking around the overlook checking out the frosty landscape, the Mummy Range started coming into view through the fog and clouds. This of course meant the inversion layer was right at about 9400 ft or so. I had about 40 minutes to sunrise at this point so quickly packed up and started hiking up Trail Ridge Road.

I have a few spots along Trail Ridge Road when its closed in winter that I like to shoot the Mummy Range from. I settled on one about .5 miles up from the gate and watched as I could see a burst of color begin to form to the east. There were lots of clouds in the sky and fog below in Hidden Valley so it wasn’t a for sure bet that I would see any color or sunlight over the Mummy Range.

Perched up on a high hillside trying to stay warm I watched as the inversion stayed low enough so as not to block the mountains and the skies over Chiquita, Chapin, Ypsilon and Fairchild started to glow pink and magenta. The light show lasted all of 5 or 6 minutes before the clouds obscured the sun again and I packed up and headed back down to find other subjects to photograph.

106 years after its creation, the area that we now know of as Rocky Mountain National Park continues to give. Even on its own birthday, it would be hard to ask for a much better place in all of Colorado to get out and photograph sunrise on this cold January morning. Happy Birthday Rocky Mountain National Park and as always, thanks for all the great memories and experiences over the years!.


Rocky Mountain National Park was hit with two large wildfires this summer. Both the East Troublesome and Cameron Peak wildfires burned large parts of RMNP. Most of the burn areas remain off limits but some small areas such as Upper Beaver Meadows allow limited access to the burn zones. I hiked into Upper Beaver Meadows earlier this week to explore some of the damage and look to capture some of the beauty that can be found even amongst the destruction. The charred husks of the Ponderosa Pine trees made for an interesting subject as the wildfire had turned the normally red trunks to metal husks full of detail. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 24-70mm F4 S lens
Rocky Mountain National Park experienced two of its most devastating wildfires congruently this summer. The Cameron Peak Fire and the East Troublesome wildfire were the two largest wildfires to hit Rocky Mountain National Park in years. The last large fire was the Fern Creek Fire in 2012, followed by the Ouzel Fire in 1978.

Many places in Rocky Mountain National Park have gone hundreds of years without being touched by wildfire and combine that with drought, beetle kill and low humidity and common high wind speeds it was only a matter of time before additional parts of RMNP were affected by wildfires.

While the East Troublesome Fire and Cameron Peak fires burned nearly 30,000 acres within the park, the actual impact of these fires wont be known for years. With the exception of part of a portion of the East Troublesome Fire burning through the Kawuneeche Valley and up the North Inlet and over into Spruce Canyon and the Fern Lake area, many of the more popular areas of Rocky Mountain Nation Park remained untouched.

Access to the burn areas is off limits at this time. The plan is for the NPS to get back into burn areas when the snow melts and clear downed timbers and rebuild the trail system where its been damaged so that visitors may return to these areas. The park service is optimistic that much of this can be done throughout this summer though it remains to be seen at this point when one will be able to safely visit areas where the Cameron Peak Fire and East Troublesome fires burned.

Snow falls on a downed tree in the forest along the edge of the meadow in Upper Beaver Meadows. The contrast of charred wood and freshly fallen snow crystals made for a new subject to photograph. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 24-70mm F4 S lens
One small area that was just recently reopened to access is Upper Beaver Meadows. While much of the area just west of Beaver Meadows remains closed, one can now hike into Upper Beaver Meadows along the closed road or trails and wander through a very small portion of the burn area.

I headed back into the area early this week to not only get out on the trail for a bit, but to get a better glimpse of some of the damage as well as to try and find some subjects to photograph that would convey the damage and destruction of the wildfire but also to document what is an important part of the natural cycle that forests experience.

The sub alpine area of Upper Beaver Meadows consists of sub alpine stands of Ponderosa Pines, some spruce and aspen trees. Many who follow my blog know the striking red trunks of the Ponderosa Pine is one of my favorite subjects to photograph in the park. Wandering through burned out husks of beautiful Ponderosa’s was unnerving but it was also proved to be therapeutic as well. While the damage is striking, the trees and forest will return healthier than before for generations long after I’m gone.

Only a small portion of red bark remains on this Ponderosa Pine tree in the burn area in Upper Beaver Meadows. The rest of the tree appears frozen in steel. Even amongst all of the damage of the East Troublesome Fire along the meadows edge in Upper Beaver Meadows, concentrating on the small details and beuaty found in those details allowed for some interesting subjects to photograph. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 24-70mm F4 S lens
the charred husks which looked like molten steel was enjoyable as well. I’ve spent time photographing in the Fern Creek burn area scar after the fires, and once you get past the destruction and loss, there are interesting patterns, shapes and colors to photograph that where not present prior to the fires.

Would I prefer that neither of the two fires that rolled over RMNP this summer hadn’t occurred?. Of course I would. The untold damages, damages to houses, personal property, wildlife and forest will most likely never be replaced. Documenting the damage and trying to find beauty in some of the natural destruction that took place is as much a part of the process of observing a place as is watching the transition from summer to fall. It’s not my most favorite subject to photograph currently in the park, but walking the burn zone gives photographers some new subjects to incorporate into their portfolios as well as something we hopefully don’t have to repeat for a long time.

Working Around Cloudless Winter Skies

Its been mostly quiet on the weather front in Rocky Mountain National Park for the start of this winter season. Saturday night however, we did get a few inches of fresh snow falling on the park. Like other landscape photographers, capturing RMNP after fresh snow has fallen on the landscape is something I always look forward to photographing. Capturing clouds in the skies at sunrise is a bit more difficult than one would think. Here I photographed the Earth Shadow or The Belt of Venus as it is known to capture and add some color to the skies over the Mummy Range, and Ypsilon Mountain just before sunrise. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 70-200mm F2.8 S lens

Fresh snow on the mountains always gets the juices flowing for this landscape photographer. Mountains covered thick with fresh powder and pines covered in the white stuff can make for that perfect winter image.

As I’ve detailed in pervious blog posts, living in Colorado and photographing Rocky Mountain National Park, both clients and other photographers assume that capturing beautiful wintry scenes is like shooting fish in a barrel. If you’ve been a reader of my blog for any length of time you know that on the Front Range of Colorado, and specifically RMNP, its much easier said than done.

Photographing winter in Rocky is challenging for a host of reasons including high winds that often fill in on the backside of storms as the exit the region, a few breaks of sunshine here and there which will quickly melt and drop the snow from the pines and tree branches, and lastly clear blue cloudless skies which often can be found the morning after a snowstorm moves out of Rocky Mountain National Park.

This can be frustrating for the landscape photographer who gets up early, heads up to the mountains on snow covered roads and then heads out long before dawn in the winter cold to be in the right place at the right time.

One only get so many chances each season at capturing the beauty of Rocky Mountain National Park after a good dumping of snow, so you really want to maximize your chances of coming away with an experience and an image you are proud of.

While you may first wake up to the skies being filled with clouds, more often than not you will find much if not all the clouds in and around Rocky will have a way of dissipating shortly before sunrise. Being left in the lurch with cloudless skies after all that work to be in the right place at the right time can be frustrating.

One trick and tip I like to give clients is not to panic when you watch the skies clearing at a breakneck speed right as you are arriving on location. ‘The belt of Venus’ or the ‘Earth shadow’ will produce a nice magenta glow on the horizon a few minutes prior to the sun actually rising.

If you arrive to clear skies and before you decide to forgo that hike out into the backcountry of Rocky with the mercury hovering around zero degrees, turn off the car heater and get on site before dawn to capture the subtle but beautiful hue created by The Belt of Venus or the Earth Shadow. Doing so will allow you to both take advantage of photographing Rocky Mountain National Park in one of its most beautiful states after snow has covered the park, and capture a dynamic and beautiful landscape not only covered with snow, but also with some added color and beauty.

Rolling Into 2021

We can finally say goodbye to 2020 and welcom in 2021. Here is one of the better sunrises of an early 2021. Looking across Upper Beaver Meadows, past the fire damage caused by the East Troublesome wildfire, we see the continental divide glowing in the soft winter sunrise. I’m looking forward to continuing to offer my Rocky Mountain National Park photography tour services this coming year as well as continuing to improve my personal work and portfolio. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 70-200mm F2.8 S lens

Farewell 2020, hello 2021. Most are more than happy to bid 2020 adieu and welcome in the new year. Many forsee the return of normalcy or at least more normalcy than we have all experienced in this previous year which will be one for the record books.

I dont think anybody has the slightest idea on what 2021 holds in store for us, but I think most of us are just hopeful that turning the page on 2020 will be in and of itself a positive momentum changing occurrence that many are looking for.

Truth be while 2020 was a challenging year for me, photographically speaking it was actual a very positive year. Business was more difficult with COVID, lockdowns and Rocky Mountain National Park being closed both due to the pandemic as well as the two large wildfires that affected swaths of the park. Even with the pandemic and wildfires making operations more challenging, I was able to narrow down my focus and work on accomplishing goals and projects I had been putting off.

While my Rocky Mountain National Park photography tours and guiding services were down for the year, I was able to use any spare time I had to photograph and backpack into areas of Rocky Mountain National Park that I had not been able to access previously.

Since we are rolling into 2021, what better way than to start by photographing an old wagon wheel hanging on the side of the Gateway Grocery store just outside the Fall River Entry to Rocky Mountain National Park. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 70-200mm F2.8 S lens
Having this time to concentrate on my personal portfolio along with being able to create work that I wanted to was sorely needed. I started running my photography guiding service in RMNP back in 2015. While I very much enjoy getting clients out into the field and sharing with them the beauty of Rocky Mountain National Park, I had not been able to get out in the park and photograph where and when I wanted to the extent I was able to do so in 2020.

This has allowed me to reflect on how I will conduct business and photography tour services going into 2021. It will also allow me to continue to offer photography guiding services to my clients with a renewed passion and energy for both photography, Rocky Mountain National Park and my clients going forward.

So with 2021 underway, I look forward to continuing to photograph Rocky Mountain National Park while also meeting new clients, seeing some old friends and continuing to act as an advocate for protecting and sharing the beauty found in Rocky Mountain National Park.