You Dont See That Everyday

One of the reasons I can never get enough of Rocky Mountain National Park is that every visit to the park is different. Every experience is different and you really never know what your are going to end up photographing and experiencing. I was surprised to find this pod of American White Pelicans resting on the banks of the Big Thompson River in Moraine Park earlier this week. Our latest late season spring snowstorm likely caused these birds to put down in Moraine until the storm passed. While these birds probably did a number on the trout in the Big Thompson, it was awesome photographing them with the backdrop of all our recent fresh snow. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 70-200mm F 2.8 S lens

One of the things I love most about spending so much time in Rocky Mountain National Park is that no matter how many times I visit, I always see, find or experience something completely new. It’s why my mantra has always been you just have to be out in the park as much as you can be as a photographer. No matter what you think you may see, or how you believe the conditions or atmospherics will unfold, you will likely be off the mark.

Being wrong can lead to being pleasantly surprised as long as you just remember to keep pushing, keep heading out even when it looks like things wont break like you want. Earlier in the week I had another experience that just reinforces the need to ‘get out there’.

Winter just wont give up the ghost this season, and earlier in the week the park had snow dumped on it from another late spring barnstormer. While I’m looking forward to warmer days and summertime conditions in RMNP, I cant ever pass up the opportunity to photography Rocky when its covered in the white stuff.

With this latest storm clearing, I headed up to the park hoping to catch something good. I had another photographer friend in town who wanted to get out to shoot, and to be honest if he had not been in town I may have passed on heading out this particular morning as it looked like the clouds and storm would have cleared out.

When I got into to Rocky and performed my usual due diligence, things did indeed look less than promising. While the trees and landscape were covered with beautiful, paste like spring snow, the skies were pretty much clear. There was some fog around Lake Estes and Lumpy Ridge and I thought that might make for an interesting opportunity, I noticed Moraine Park appeared to have a low hanging layer of ground fog over the Big Thompson River.

My buddy Robert and I decided we would hang in Moraine Park and hopefully the ground fog would stick around and give us some decent atmospherics to photograph with all the fresh snow. As luck would have it, the ground fog did stick around long enough to make for some nice landscapes. Even better, Longs Peak had a string of clouds trailing over the top of it adding a little excitement.

While I thought about passing this particular morning in Rocky as I figured most of the clouds would have cleared the park, having a freind in town persuaded me to head up. I would have been pleased enough capturing this view of Longs Peak from Moraine Park with fresh snow, a few clouds and this beautiful low hanging ground fog over the Big Thompson. Finding the pelicans was just icing on the cake at this point. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 70-200mm F 2.8 S lens
After capturing a nice image of Longs Peak covered in fresh snow with ground fog settling just below the south lateral moraine in Moraine Park, I was feeling pretty good when out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw the snow moving along the banks of the Big Thompson down below me.

Doing a quick double take, I realized that the snow was not indeed moving but that a pod of American White Pelicans had hunkered down along the banks of the Big Thompson to wait out this latest storm before heading east, down towards the plains. While I’ve seen pelicans on Lake Estes and Grand Lake, I cant recall ever seeing them in Rocky proper before.

Getting over the initial excitement of seeing this pod of pelicans in Moraine Park, I was able to get some nice shots of the birds as they started moving around and coming to life. On top of finding the birds, the snow covered landscape and ground fog clearing only made for an even more amazing experience this morning in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Once again, my well worn mantra of ‘just go’ let me experience something new and exciting I had not expected to see and photograph. Who knows if photographing White Pelicans along the banks of the Big Thompson will be the highlight of this spring, but I’ll certainly be spending as much time as I can hoping to have more of just these kind of mornings in RMNP.

This Is May?

One of the best sunrises I’ve photographed from Bierdstadt Lake happened on Tuesday morning. While many people think of May as spring, thats not really the case in the high country of Rocky Mountain National Park. May offers opportunities for the adventurous photographer to capture some great winter landscapes without all the difficulty that one typically finds in the middle of winter. With Bierstadt Lake still frozen over, its hard to beat this sunrise unfolding over Otis, Hallett and Flattop Mountain. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 70-200mm F 2.8 S lens
Most photographers when thinking about May, think of green landscapes, flowering trees and warmer weather. Thats true for many areas of the United States this time of year, but for Rocky Mountain National Park, reality is quite a bit different.

While hints of spring, greening grasses and warming temperatures can be seen starting to emerge in the lower elevations of Rocky Mountain National Park, May in much of RMNP feels an awful lot like March or April.

Tuesday morning was a good example of the reality of spring in Rocky. Heavy wet snow starting falling on Sunday and continued right through Monday in the park. The snow struggled to accumulate at the lower elevations but above 8500 ft it was as much winter in Rocky as it was the middle of spring.

While I’m ready for summer in the high country, these late spring snowstorms in Rocky offer some of the best opportunities for landscape photographers. While access and travel can be tricky this time of year, often these warmer late spring storms end up with a lot of melting, especially on pavement and roads in the park. If it was the middle of winter, Bear Lake Road might be closed after a storm like this, but this time of year there were only a few areas of pavement in Rocky where the snow actually stuck,

The same is also mostly true for cross country travel on trails in Rocky this time of year. The heavier wet snow compacts on the trail and with snowshoes or micro spikes, one can usually get around without the need for skis.

I took the opportunity to head up to Bierstadt Lake this time around and see if I could catch the sunrise over the continental divide as the storm was clearing. While I trudged up the Bierstadt Moraine in 6 to 7 inches of fresh snow, I was hoping some of Bierstadt Lake might be open for a reflection with clouds and fog to boot.

Arriving at the west end of Bierstadt Lake first, my wish for open water was quickly squelched. Even still Bierstadt Lake looked awesome. Heavy wet snow was pasted over the pines lining the lake. Fog was starting to clear just as the sun rose and within a few minutes of arriving at Bierstadt I could make out a hazy Hallett Peak and Flattop Mountain.

The fog quickly cleared just as the sun lit the peaks but some great clouds hovered and moved over Otis, Hallett and Flattop. It was just about as perfect a winter morning as there could be. Of course it was actually spring but whose counting.

Regardless, be ready for a few more coating of snow on the higher elevations of Rocky Mountain National Park before we put this winter season to rest. Trail Ridge Road should be opening in only a few short weeks and summer will be here before we know it. Even so, be ready for a few more of these spectacular ‘spring’ mornings in RMNP.