Smoke Filled Days

With four large fires currently burning over the state of Colorado and one of those four burning just a few miles outside the northwest corner of Rocky Mountain National Park, smokey skies are the order of the day. Even though these conditions might not be ideal for landscape photography, one can use the conditions to create moody images. I shot this image earlier this week from near the summit of Flattop Mountain. With signs of autumn starting to appear above 11,000 ft, the sun is seen rising east of Bierstadt Lake and Sprague Lake in this image. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 14-30mm F4 S lens

Dry. Thats the operative word for the current conditions in Rocky Mountain National Park. After a winter with above average snowfall and a more or less normal spring, moisture has been tough to come by as summer moves along.

Moisture and active weather patterns are not only good for the ecosystem of Rocky Mountain National Park but dynamic weather is great for photographers. Other than a few gully washers we’ve had in July during the peak of the monsoon season here in Colorado, rain, fog, or just plain cloudy skies have been hard to come by this season.

While out in the backcountry of RMNP camping at Mirror Lake a few weeks back with my friend and fellow photographer Erik Stensland, we were discussing just how mild and placid the weather had been this summer. We both remarked at how we badly needed moisture and then both tried to remember the last time we had an entire day or rainy weather or even upslope conditions and or fog to get out and photograph in. The best we could come up with was sometime during the COVID-19 lockdowns when Rocky was still closed and photography in the park was not possible.

During the conversation it was never stated but its always implied that if we dont get moisture soon the risk of a large fire in or near the park is always looming. Combine all of the pine beetle kill of the last 20 years with the fact that many parts of Rocky Mountain National Park have not seen fires in hundreds of years and you realize our favorite location on earth is also a tinder box.

Another image of sunrise from Flattop Mountain earlier this week. This was shot just as the sun crested the horizon ot the east. Blue smoke fills the valley while the sky begins to turn red. Even Bierstadt Lake which looks tiny from this perspective picks up the color of the sky on its calm surface. Tecnical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 70-200mm F2.8 AF-S FL lens

Fast forward to today and there are now 4 major fires burning across the state of Colorado, with the Cameron Peak fire burning just a few miles outside the remote northwest corner of Rocky Mountain National Park. Ironically, the Cameron Peak Fire is burning only a handful of miles from the Mirror Lake area where Erik and I were discussing our dry weather just a few weeks back. The fires are so close in fact that the NPS has closed the area around Mirror Lake as well as much of the Never Summer Range, The Poudre River headwaters and the Hagues Creek area. If we were back camping in this area today we would have been forced to evacuate the area or cancel the trip.

Currently the park service is only closing these areas of Rocky Mountain National Park out of an abundance of caution. The fire has jumped across Highway 14 near Long Draw Reservoir a few times but luckily firefighters have been able to quickly extinguish the growth and hold the fire line on the north or west sides of Highway 14.

With the 4 large fires burning and one burning only a few miles from the boundary of RMNP, smoke has become a major issue in the Estes Park and Grand Lake area over the past week. The thick smoke which comes and goes based on wind direction and humidity has created very poor air quality in the park but has also made photographing landscapes more difficult as the light is diffused and the visibility is reduced.

It’s difficult to get motivated to wakeup just past midnight and head out 7 or 8 miles into the backcountry when you know the air quality is likely to hinder your quality of light on the landscapes. I find the best thing to do in this situation is to just ‘embrace the suck’ and use the current compromised atmospherics to the best of ones advantage.

I photographed this image just after the Cameron Peak fire had started. Looking northeast at the back of the ‘CCY’ or Chapin, Chiquita and Ypsilon, the subtle colors are reflected in a high alpine tarn between Trail Ridge and Fall River. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 14-30mm F4 S lens

strategy is to go high and shoot into the sun when possible. All that smoke and haze not only creates colors and patterns that may not exist on clear days, but it also can enhance mood, texture and obviously the light.

Mountain ridges, the sun rising over the eastern plains of Colorado, every valley and peak take on a different quality when sifting through the blue smoke hovering over the landscape.

While it may not be ideal right now to be out photographing grand landscapes in Rocky Mountain National Park, theres plenty of unique and subtle photography that can still be done that will help to document and capture one phase of life in the Rocky Mountains. So while I’m hoping for a few nice days of rain soon, I’ll still get out there in the smokey air hanging over RMNP and try to get some unique compositions and color palettes not typically present when our air quality and visibility is excellent.

Mirror Lake

Not a bad way to start off the trip to Mirror Lake. On my first night backpacking this remote section of RMNP, I headed up above Mirror Lake for this view of the backside of Fairchild,Ypsilon and Desolation Peak. Normally, I’m looking at this exact view from the opposite side of the ridge. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikon 70-200mm F2.8 AF-S VR FL lens

One of the natural evolutions of photographing in a place like Rocky Mountain National Park for so long is the need to continually explore and search for new locations, images and compositions. The natural evolution here is that the more one spends time photographing in Rocky, the farther and longer one will head in from the trailheads to explore new locations.

One location that I’ve been eyeing for years on the map but had yet to visit was the Mirror Lake area in the remote northern section of Rocky Mountain National Park. Mirror Lake is one of those areas that I’ve always wanted to visit but to be honest it quite difficult to get in and out of, especially if you are not spending a few nights in the backcountry.

The following morning we had nice clouds form over 12,232 ft Mount Ikoko just as the sun came over the ridge lighting the ramparts above Mirror Lake. I would have been happy enough to have just come away with these two images but the excellent conditions continued for photography. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 14-30mm F4 S lens

When the backcountry office of RMNP opened the lottery up this March for backcountry sites, Mirror Lake was on the top of my list. I was lucky enough to secure two nights in early August at the Mirror Lake backcountry sites and had been eagerly awaiting for the day to come to travel back to Mirror Lake to explore and photograph this beautiful area nestled deep in the Mummy Range.

To reach Mirror Lake, the most common entry point is through the Corral Creek Trailhead. The Corral Creek Trailhead is located about 9 miles in on Long Draw Road off of Colorado Highway 14. Its a rough dirt road that heads between Highway 14 at the top end of Poudre Canyon, and Long Draw Reservoir which helps to feed the Front Range and Denver Metro area with its water supply through the Grand Ditch diversion which brings water from the Colorado River through the Continental Divide over to the east side or Atlantic Side of the Rocky Mountains.

From my home here in Erie its a slow 3 hrs and 111 mile drive up to Ft. Collins, than through the beautiful Poudre River Canyon to Long Draw Road and eventually the Corral Creek Trailhead. Once at the Corral Creek Trailhead, I met my friend and fellow Rocky Mountain National Park photographer extraordinaire Erik Stensland who would join me on this two day trip. Erik had been back along Thunder Pass the previous night and after eating a quick lunch at the trailhead, we started the 6.3 mile hike up to Mirror Lake.

After an exciting sunrise at Mirror Lake, myself and Erik headed up above Mirror Lake to climb Mount Ikoko, Revision Peak and Comanche Peak. Here’s the view of the beautiful turquoise tarn just above Mirror Lake from near the summit of Mount Ikoko. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 70-200mm F2.8 AF-S VR FL lens

After a few hours of hiking with our heavy packs loaded with camping gear, bear canisters and of course tripods and photography gear we arrived at Mirror Lake. There are 3 backcountry sites at Mirror Lake and sites 1 and 2 were already occupied so we took up in site #3 which is the southernmost and farthest site from the lake itself. We setup camp, ate dinner and we each headed off in different directions to photograph what would be a beautiful sunset that evening.

The following morning looked promising once again. Clouds hovered over Mirror Lake and Mount Ikoko with a nice break to the east. As is typical during the morning hours, the clouds dissipated then reappeared shortly after sunrise. This worked out well as the valley that Mirror Lake sits in does not get sun on Mount Ikoko this time of year until a little after 6:30 AM anyway.

With a great sunset and sunrise already in the book it was time for some exploring and climbing. Erik who is one never to squander time or opportunities was looking to climb Mount Ikoko, Revision Peak and Comanche Peak which all rest in the basin above Mirror Lake. We climbed up the scree slope on the north west side of Ikoko and reached the alpine tundra which would allow us to loop around the basin and climb the 3 12,000 ft peaks. With the threat of summer thunderstorms a good possibility we made good time to the summits of Ikoko, Revision and Comanche Peak. As we headed down Comanche Peak and back to the faint trail that is the Comanche Peak trail back towards camp we got down into the forest canopy just as the rain and thunderstorms moved in.

After resting up and grabbing something to eat it was time to head back out again for sunset in the basin. This particular sunset was not quite as dramatic as the one the day prior. There were lots of nice clouds and action going on over the backside of Ypsilon and Fairchild Mountain but sunset was blocked by some clouds and was more on the modest side. Tired from the hiking and climbing it was time to head to bed and get ready for one last sunrise at Mirror Lake.

Again our last morning at Mirror Lake did not disappoint at all. I headed up into the basin above Mirror Lake to get a closer view of Mount Ikoko. Both the wind, light and clouds all cooperated as Ikoko catches the early morning light in this northernmost remote section of Rocky Mountain National Park. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 14-30mm F4s lens
I was up long before sunrise checking out the skies and making a cup of coffee. When you are out in the backcountry for a few days you only have a 48 hr old forecast to guess on what conditions would be like. I suspected we may have some clouds on this last morning based on the previous forecast before I left, but the last forecast I read showed mostly clear skies and a stiff 8 to 9 mph breeze. Thats not what happened in actuality at all. Instead, there were even more clouds than the day prior and what appeared to be a break in the cloud cover to the east again. There was no wind and conditions were looking close to perfect. I headed up to the tarn above Mirror Lake and waited to see where the sunrise would be most dramatic, either over Mount Ikoko or farther south over Ypsilon and Fairchild.

With great conditions for a second great sunrise in a row, a real rarity in Rocky Mountain National Park, I was able to capture Ikoko reflecting in the placid waters of the tarn above Mirror Lake. Once the sun had risen high enough in the sky it was a quick hustle back down to Mirror Lake for a few more images and then back to break down camp and hike the 6.3 miles back out to the vehicles.

Its always a little easier to hike out with heavy packs and sore legs after a successful few days in the field. We made good time and were back at the vehicles by 10:30, a little over 2 hrs after we left campsite #3 at Mirror Lake. With raindrops starting to fall I said goodbye to Erik and started the slow journey back out on Long Draw Road and then into Poudre River Canyon.

Arriving back in Erie in the early afternoon there is always excitement as one downloads images from the journey. Mirror Lake did not disappoint and we were blessed with both amazing conditions, great weather and a little bit of luck. Mirror Lake may take a little bit of effort to get into than many other locations in Rocky Mountain National Park but I can guarantee I’ll be back as soon as I can.

Two Days At Lost Lake

Hard to ask for any better conditions for photography my first two mornings at Lost Lake. In a location known for being windy, I was blessed enough to have to beautiful mornings out in the filed. On my first morning after camping at Lost Lake, I headed up to Lake Husted for sunrise. With no wind present, I was even more lucky when some clouds appeared over Little No-Name, Middle No Name and Rowe Mountain. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 14-30mm F4 S lens

How many of spend countless hours eyeing a topo map of a given location thinking about all the scenic wonders and photographic possibilities?. So as not to date myself, perhaps many now use Google Earth and simply scroll around trying to imagine the possibilities. Regardless of if you are old school or new school, its always fun to seek out new locations and enjoy the anticipation and excitement new exploration is going to bring.

For me, the Lost Lake area of Rocky Mountain National Park was one of those places. While I’ve been lucky enough to get around to many areas of Rocky over the years, the truth is to get to all 415 square miles of the park not only requires years, but requires planning as well as physical endurance. But back in March I was able to secure two nights at the Lost Lake backcountry site so I’ve had a few months to plan my couple of days to photograph the area for my first time.

Nestled deep in the Mummy Range, Lost Lake is just shy of ten miles from the Dunraven Trailhead in Glen Haven. While you could certainly do and out and back to Lost Lake in a day if you were really motivated, doing so with photography in mind would be nearly impossible. Ten Miles and about 2800 ft of elevation gain get you to Lost Lake, but the real beauty of the area lies in the basin above Lost Lake itself.

After picking up my permits at the Backcountry Office, I arrived at the Dunraven Trailhead shortly before 11:00 AM. The trailhead was nearly full already as this location is popular with day hikers who are typically hiking shorter milage along the North Fork of the Big Thompson River and into the Comanche Wilderness area. It takes nearly 5 miles of hiking before you get to the eastern boundary of Rocky Mountain National Park. One maintains a steady grade as you head west following the North Fork of The Big Thompson River.

My second morning in the basin above Lost Lake was just as beautiful as my first. Almost no wind and some beautiful high clouds in the sky. I chose to photograph from Lake Louise that second morning and was rewarded with this image of Little No Name reflecting into the placid water of Lake Louise. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 14-30mm F4 S lens
Once one crosses back in Rocky Mountain National Park, encounters with other hikers becomes less and less. Most day hikers or people with their dogs who are hiking in the National Forest area east of the boundary of Rocky Mountain National Park have turned around leaving the trail mostly empty with the exception of other backpackers heading to their respective backcountry site.

After stopping for a quick 20 minute lunch break just past ‘Halfway’(half the elevation gain to Lost Lake has been climbed at this point), I made it up to Upper Lost Lake campsite # 1 in 3 hrs and 45 minutes. I setup camp, ate dinner and then headed up into the basin above Lost Lake to explore Lake Husted and Lake Louise.

The monsoonal weather pattern had yet to really kick in so sunset this evening was for the most part subtle. The following morning I was up long before sunrise setup in the basin at Lake Husted. It was clear when I hiked into the basin but the wind was calm so at a minimum I should be able to capture a reflection of Little No Name, Middle No Name and Rowe Peak reflecting in the waters of Lake Husted. Just before the sun was set to rise on the aforementioned peaks, some nice clouds began to stream in. I watched the sunrise and was able to capture near perfect conditions at Lake Husted, a lake nearly 11 miles from the trailhead, and one I’m told is often blanketed with wind.

Sunrise my first morning at Lake Husted alone already made this long trek into the backcountry of Rocky Mountain National Park well worth it. After the feeling of euphoria began to wane, I decided to do some more exploring and headed up further into the basin to explore Lake Dunraven, Whisky Lake and Scotch Lake. Hiking up into this basin required a good deal of bushwhacking and careful navigation, but the upper part of the basin was spectacular. Getting back here for sunrise is a goal of mine the next time I get a chance but it’s takes a fair amount of cross country navigation and bushwacking to do so it’s going to be a challenge.

Sunset my second night at Lost Lake was again placid and calm. The thunderstorms that began to build over the plains of Colorado quickly dissipated and moved east away from RMNP. My last morning at Lost Lake began much as my first one did. After a quick cup of coffee at camp, I headed out on the unmaintained trail towards Lake Husted. This morning had a little more excitement from the get go as I ran into a large animal in the woods shortly after leaving camp and heading up the hill towards Husted. While I’m pretty sure It was a large Moose I ran into on the trail based on the eyeshine coming from my headlamp, its possible it was a bear as well. It was too dark for me to get good look at the silhouette of the animal and as I stood there staring at two eyes spaced well apart, the animal urinated and moved off into the woods. I’ve run into plenty of animals in the middle of the night hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park and this was the first time I was unable to really confirm what I was looking at.

With the caffeine from the coffee hitting me, along with the adrenaline of running into something large on the trail, I quickly made it up the hill to the basin and surveyed the landscape trying to decide where I should setup for sunrise.

Before I headed back down to Lost Lake and packed up camp my last morning, I had to make one more stop at the the unnamed tarns below Lake Husted. The conditions were just to beautiful and the ‘No Names’a and Rowe still looked great reflecting in the calm waters. Technical Detail: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 14-30mm F4 S lens
When I had awoken at camp, it appeared the skies were clear but as it began to lighten towards sunrise I could see that we had some nice high clouds in the sky that should really pop with color at sunrise. I was tempted to photograph Lake Husted again knowing that there was a good chance I would come away with another great image of what now had become my favorite lake in RMNP. I was not going to have the time to bushwhack it up to Lake Dunraven in the dark and while Lake Louise is spectacular, it does not have the commanding view of the 3 peaks that make up Rowe Mountain. That being said, variety is the spice of life and I figured I best photograph Lake Louise to keep things fresh.

Sunrise from Lake Louise was a beautiful as I could have imagined. Subtle pastels graced the skies and peak just before sunrise. The shoreline of Lake Louise is lined with both willows and stunted pines bordered by marshy grasses. There’s not a lot of places one can photograph from unless you want to be in the lake. I had found a nice spot near the eastern inlet the day before and setup in this location. Even with a slight breeze blowing this morning, the east end of Lake Louise stayed calm enough to allow me to still capture a reflection.

After photographing Lake Louise at sunrise I was know for 2 for 2 on this trip as far as morning photography goes. At this point the trip had far exceeded my expectations and I could probably make 10 more trips to Lost Lake and not have the conditions I did on these two mornings. Before I would call it a morning and begin my hike back out, I wanted to take advantage of the beautiful clouds and still nice light I had. I hustled east to some small unnamed tarns and continued to photograph Rowe Mountain from this area. With the sun now high enough to warm my back I just took it all in and felt grateful for not only being able to enjoy the beauty of this location, but also the opportunity to photograph this area in near perfect conditions.

With a big smile on my face I headed back to camp to pack up. By 7:45 AM I had my camp packed up and cleaned and my now heavy backpack hanging on my shoulders. At least the 10 miles back to the car would be almost all downhill so that was good.

With a spring in my step I headed out of camp and down the hill back towards my car at the Dunraven Trailhead. Hiking downhill was indeed easy and being mostly in the shaded forest in the early morning made it very comfortable for hiking. 2:45 minutes after leaving Lost Lake I was back at my car. Two days had passed in what seemed like a blink of an eye but I was more than ecstatic about not only my exploration of a new area of Rocky and all the potential it holds, but some of the new images I was able to capture in those short two days and nights at Lost Lake.

Lazy Days Of July

Sunrise on the morning of July 4th in Rocky Mountain National Park started out with some fireworks. Alpine tarns have thawed, grasses are green and the scene above Forest Canyon on the morning of the 4th was about as summer like as one can get in Rocky. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikon 24-70mm F4 S lens

Hard to believe that the 4th of July holiday has already come and gone but here we are. It’s now officially summer season in Rocky Mountain National Park. Although Estes Park and Grand Lake both had to cancel their fireworks shows this year, both towns along with RMNP have remained relatively busy as we sort our way through the COVID-19 pandemic.

We are officially now in the summer season in Rocky. With a few exceptions, conditions are turning to prime in the higher elevations of the park. Grasses have greened and wildflowers are not starting to take hold. Paintbrush is filling meadows and it looks like we are going to have a great year for alpine sunflowers on the tundra.

While the landscapes in Rocky Mountain National Park are now hitting prime summer season, there are lots of great wildlife opportunities as well in the park. Hiking up in the alpine tundra, I was able to photograph this beautiful male Ptarmigan amongst the wildflowers. Halfway through his summer molt, enjoying a mild summer morning on the alpine tundra is one of the great experiences when photographing Rocky Mountain National Park. Technical Details: Nikon Z50, Nikon 70-200mm F2.8 AF-S VR FL lens
While there is still some snow present on some trails, especially above 11,000 ft, conditions are rapidly improving and with a few exceptions, trails are snow free and travel on trails is for the most part snow free and easy. One of Rocky Mountain National Park’s oldest harbingers of summer opened on the afternoon of July 3rd. Even in the midst of the current pandemic, the National Park Service did a great job getting Old Fall River Road open for the season right on schedule.

Rocky like many National Park has been facing a shortage of seasonal workers, so maintaining large parts of the park has been a challenge. Wild Basin reopened in mid June, and now with Old Fall River Road opened for the season, pretty much all of Rocky Mountain National Park is open and accessible. What seemed questionable only a few months ago, has been reopened and restored allowing for a sense of normalcy along with access to places in the park that have become a summer tradition to so many of the visitors of Rocky Mountain National Park.

While I have not posted quite as much as I typically do, its only because I’ve been getting out more this year than years past. With the COVID-19 pandemic still in the background, my photography tour business has been much slower than in years past. While I miss seeing old clients as well as showing new clients around RMNP, from a personal portfolio standpoint, I have not been able to spend this much time during the summer months photographing Rocky Mountain National Park in years.

I’ve got lots of locations on the bucket list that I will try my best to get to this summer and I also have two backpacking trips planned to locations in Rocky that I have previously not photographed. I’ve got a whole lot of processing to complete in the backlog and more to come as we move into the heart of the summer season. Stay tuned, and hopefully you get a chance to get out and photograph Rocky Mountain National Park this summer to enjoy what in my opinion is one of the best times of year in the park.

Shaking The Rust Off

Old familiar places are certainly looking good these days. Spending sunrise on the Bierstadt Moraine earlier in the week led to a sense of normalcy. A June snowstorm coated Otis, Hallett and Flattop with some new snow and the green of the spring aspens looked great as colors exploded over the Continental Divide. Lots of great things to photograph right now in Rocky Mountain National Park as we transition to the summer season. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 24-70mm F4 S lens

Rocky is finally opening back up and while things are much different this year in the park due to the coronavirus pandemic, there is finally a tinge of normalcy that appears to be settling into the park.

Crowds and visitors are smaller than a typical year, but I’ve been surprised by the volume of visitors to Rocky Mountain National Park even with the timed entry permit system in effect. To me, people are looking forward to getting back out into nature and returning to normalcy after a long period of stay at home orders throughout the United States this past spring.

Not all of Rocky Mountain National Park is currently open. The National Park Service is dealing with staffing issues as many of the seasonal workers they come to count on each summer season have opted to remain in their home states and towns. For example, the Wild Basin section of the park still remains closed with no known date of reopening at this point. Trail Ridge Road was closed all week after another June snowstorm dumped a half of foot of snow on the road earlier in the week. Old Fall River Road remains closed as it traditionally does until July and the park service is working on making an attempt to open the road sometime this summer.

For us photographers who love visiting Rocky Mountain National Park it just feels great to be able to get back out into Rocky and soak in all the beauty and opportunities the park presents for landscape and wildlife photographers. It’s a great time to work those legs out on the trail and to shake the rust of your cameras. Here’s a couple of suggestions for subjects and locations to currently photography in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Besides landscapes, lots of new life to be found in RMNP right now. These Marmot babies were enjoying the sun outside of their den in Upper Beaver Meadows this week. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 500mm F4 AF-S G lens

1. As always the landscapes of Rocky Mountain National Park are a personal favorite of mine as well as many other visitors and photographers. Lots of traditional summer locations are now moving into prime season for photography. While there is still some snow on the trails in the Glacier Gorge and Bear Lake areas, lakes are free of ice below 11,000 ft and travel is for the most part summer like. Lower elevations in the 9000-10,000 ft ranges are coming are rounding into form and grasses lining lakes are greening up and wildflowers such as Wild Iris and Golden Banner are flourishing.

2. The west side of Rocky is also starting to look great again. The Kawuneeche Valley is nice and green right now and as always Moose are plentiful anywhere in the valley. Best time to spot Moose in Rocky Mountain National Park is always at dawn or dusk. Look for them grazing in the willows along the Colorado River. For landscapes on the west side of the park, look for lots of opportunities with water as the Colorado River is currently running over its bank in many areas and flooding low lying areas with water.

3. Babies!. Lots of new life to be found everywhere in the park right now. Elk are still dropping calves and if you are lucky enough to stumble on a group of females and sub adults you will see plenty of newly born elk taking in their new surroundings. Moose have new babies with them as well now and Marmots and many of the cavity nesting birds in Rocky Mountain National Park also have newborns they are attending to. While its fun to photograph the little ones its extremely important that you give these creatures space for both their well being and your safety. Animals such as Elk and Moose are extremely protective of their young. Birds can become extremely stressed by your presence near a nest so be aware and limit your time spent with any of these creatures. From first hand experience, I can tell you one experience you dont want to have is to be caught out on a trail with a female elk protecting her calf.

So things are different in Rocky right now then they have been during past summers. That being said, the sense of normalcy that nature and these sacred places provide will endure over whatever turmoil is enveloping our human world. It’s time to get out and visit some old friends again.

Great To Finally Be Back In Rocky!

Sunrise In Moraine Park after Rocky Mountain National Park reopened
Like seeing and old friend, I was finally able to get back in Rocky Mountain National Park after a nearly 70 day hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I spent my first morning along the Big Thompson river enjoying sunrise and some nice clouds from Moraine Park. I cant wait to spend as much time as possible this summer photographing Rocky Mountain National Park again. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikon 24-70mm F4 S lens

Just like seeing and old friend, heading back up into Rocky Mountain National Park after a nearly 70 day hiatus felt great. In one sense it felt surreal heading back into the park after all the craziness of the past two plus months of closures and lockdown. In another sense it felt just like riding a bicycle again.

While the park reopened on Wednesday May 27th, I did not head up until the morning of Thursday May 28th for my first visit since the lockdowns occurred from the pandemic. NPS did not remove the barriers and get the roads opened until after 6:00 AM on 5/27 so it was not possible to be inside the park for sunrise which occurred at 5:38 AM.

Much of Rocky is still closed and there is limited access to other locations. I expect more things to open in the near future but the park service is dealing with limited staff and housing for its seasonal workers as they filter back. Currently Trail Ridge Road is not open (Rainbow Curve on the east side on the Colorado River Trailhead on the west side). Wild Basin remains closed and its unsure if Old Fall River road will open to automobile traffic this year.

Starting next week, June 4th to be exact, Rocky Mountain National Park will have a timed entry permit system enacted between the hours of 6:00 AM and 5:00 PM. If you are planning on visiting the park between those hours you will need to go online, pay a $2 fee and reserve a time slot to enter Rocky Mountain National Park. The park is allowing about 13,000 visitors a day to enter. 90% of the reservations need to be made 48 hrs in advance although the park will allow a small amount of passes to be released 24 hrs before entry.

I’m still trying to figure out my photography tour service into Rocky Mountain National Park and how I will be conducting photography tours moving forward. My commercial use permit to operate in RMNP will allow me access to the park anytime so this will benefit clients of mine who would like access to the park and possibly were unable to secure a permit in time.

Figuring out how to maintain social distancing both in a vehicle and on the trails where I often have to assist clients hiking and climbing over obstacles is more difficult. Much of this will come down to prospective clients comfort level, photographing, hiking and traveling through the park with me. I’m telling all prospective clients to contact me and we can discuss the difficulties and realities of scheduling a photography tour in Rocky Mountain National Park during the current pandemic.

With that said, my tour business has taken a big hit already due to the closure and pandemic. I plan on being out in Rocky Mountain National Park as much as I can be this summer and will use the free time I now have to explore and photograph areas of the park I have not visited recently or have wanted to revisit. I’ll do my best making lemonade out of lemons and hope we will see some return to normalcy by the end of the season and hopefully into next year. In the meantime I’ll be photographing and enjoying getting back out into Rocky more than you can imagine. Stay tuned here and I’ll update conditions and status often. If you would like to schedule a photograph tour feel free to drop me an email with your questions and I’ll be happy to answer any and all questions.

Open or Closed?

Trying to navigate a business through our current COVID-19 pandemic is tricky. While I’ve been keeping close to home photographing, I’m keeping a close eye on whats going on in Estes Park, Grand Lake and Rocky Mountain National Park moving forward. While we appear to be seeing some loosening of restrictions, I am currentyly unsure of how and when I will be able to reopen my photography tour services in Rocky Mountain National Park as we move towards our busy summer season. I’ll keep the blog updated whenever I get updates and information. Technical Detail: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 70-200mm F2.8 AF-S VR FL lens

Just a quick update on what’s going on here in Colorado in regards to the current COVID-19 pandemic and how its affecting people, travel and less importantly photography.

As of this writing we are still under a ‘Stay at Home’ order until April 26th. The Governor of Colorado will change the status from a ‘Stay at Home’ order to a ‘Safer at Home’ order starting on the 27th of April.

The new order will allow some relaxations of guidelines and hopefully allow us to begin to revert to a more familiar and open status. Even with the conservative relaxation of the current ‘Stay at Home’ order, society, towns, and local governments are each going to have to wrestle and debate how they want to move forward.

I don’t currently have any insight on when Rocky Mountain National Park will reopen or the towns of Estes Park and Grand Lake will welcome visitors again. Currently both towns are requesting that visitors and guests avoid the town until further notice. The current sentiment in both of these mountain towns along with many mountain towns in Colorado is to keep visitation to a minimum to help curb the potential spread of the COVID-19 virus in areas where the medical infrastructure could be easily overwhelmed by an outbreak or cluster.

Estes Park along with Larimer County has signaled that some lodging restrictions will begin to loosen when our ‘Safer at Home’ begins on Monday April, 27th. While it appears that Estes Park will allow some limited lodging options to reopen, I’m not clear how that will actually be implemented in reality. I would expect some pushback from some of the Estes Park residents and I believe many will want to proceed at a very slow and deliberate pace. I don’t have insight as to how Grand Lake will address this but I assume they will do so shortly.

The push to close down Rocky Mountain National Park during the pandemic was aided by officials from both the town of Grand Lake and Estes Park. The NPS and Rocky officials decided it would be prudent to work with both towns and close RMNP down to slow the amount of visitors and traffic to both towns. I assume these same park officials will work with both towns to help decide when it would be prudent to reopen Rocky Mountain National Park to visitors.

The reopening of Rocky Mountain National Park is going to require a delicate balancing act. With the unofficial start of the summer season only a month away (Memorial Day Weekend), many business in both towns are going to look to reopen their business to tourists and visitors. One has to keep in mind that both of these towns and the business that exist in town have about 7 months a year to either make it or break it for the season. Running a business in a seasonal tourist town is unbelievably difficult in the best of times, losing some, any or all of that prime season business with be a death knell to even the best of run business in both towns.

As far as how COVID-19 will affect my Rocky Mountain National Park Photography Tour service moving forward is as good a guess as anyones at this point. While its already affected my business, I expect it to greatly affect at the least the early portion of the summer seasons. If and when RMNP reopens for the season I will be looking from guidance from both the CDC, the NPS and the local municipalities on protocol. Social distancing, travel, facial coverings and other issues will all have to be addressed when potentially heading out on a photography tour of Rocky with me.

While we are still in a world of unknowns moving forward, certainly at this point in time I am unable to run my photography tour business in Rocky Mountain National Park. As things begin to open and guidance becomes available I will update the blog as well as existing clients who have bookings with me this summer as to whether or not we will be able to conduct photography tours in RMNP this season.

Working Through Limbo

One of the last mornings I was able to spend in Rocky Mountain National Park prior to it closing due to the current COVID-19 pandemic was spectacular. Snow and frost covered the ponderosa pines along Deer Mountain. I’m hoping that we are seeing a little light at the end of the tunnel and that sooner than later we all may be able to visit Rocky Mountain National Park again as well as the towns of Estes Park and Grand Lake. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 70-200mm F2.8 AF-S VR FL lens

I’m still here. Still dreaming about long hikes to pristine alpine lakes deep within the backcountry of Rocky Mountain National Park for a sunrise shoot. Photographing wildflowers, the intoxicating smell of a pine forest after a night a rain, or the clap of thunder echoing through the rocky cliffs and canyons as afternoon monsoonal thunderstorms roll in over the divide. All these thoughts and memories keep me hopeful that sooner than later we may be able to start to return to some sense of normalcy as we begin to emerge from the past month or so of living through and with a pandemic.

It’s been difficult to get out and photograph. I’ve got some great places close to my house that I can walk or bike to, but staying motivated and more importantly avoiding the distraction of all that is going on around the world makes photographing the landscape seem trivial at times.

The good news is that we may be seeing some improvement and signs for hope moving forward. While I expect some of the summer season to be impacted by the lockdown and travel restrictions here in Colorado, I’m hoping that we will begin to see access begin to open up by the time summer rolls around.

What exactly the thats going to look like I have no idea. The impacts of the pandemic on our collective psyche combined with the economic destruction the lockdowns will have on the travel, tourism and service industry can not be understated.

Travel, tourism and the service industry account for a large portion of Colorado’s as well as the towns of Estes Park and Grand Lake’s economy. Even during good times, running any of these business successfully and profitably are extremely challenging for a variety of reasons.

The competition for tourist and visitor dollars is fierce and when you combine that with the seasonality of travel to this region, there is zero margin for error. As it stands, best case scenario might be a loss of 2 or more months of business. It’s likely it will be longer than this and obviously the situation is still very fluid as of this writing.

Obviously my concern is not only that people remain safe and healthy but that the many hard working small business owners in Estes Park and Grand Lake are able to weather this storm. Many of these people are my friends and although its many peoples dream to live and work in the mountains, I am acutely aware of how difficult and stressful this is for even some of the most successful business owners in both towns.

I’ll be ready to start my photography tours as soon as we get the ok to do so and Rocky Mountain National Park reopens. More importantly, I’ll be thrilled and ready to see the towns of Estes Park and Grand Lake come back to life with visitors packing the streets and sidewalks of town. Heck, I may even enjoy getting stuck in traffic on Elkhorn Ave. in downtown Estes Park for once. Stay safe and healthy.

What Now?

With a statewide stay-at-home order in effect here in Colorado, I wont be making any trips up to Rocky Mountain National Park or Boulder in the foreseeable future. The current pandemic is restricting mobility but will allow many photographers to explore their own backyards. I photographed this image here in my hometown of Erie, Colorado yesterday morning. Behind the windmill is Rocky Mountain National Park 40 or so miles west of my location. Mount Alice,Meeker,Longs Peak and Mt. Lady Washington can all be seen catching the warm light of sunrise. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 70-200mm F2.8 AF-VR FL lens

In the words of the great philosopher Ron Burgundy, ‘Well that escalated quickly’. In our current reality, keeping up with the latest closures, restrictions and advisements is becoming a full time job in and of itself.

First it was maintaining space and social distancing while out in public. Next it was a closure of Rocky Mountain National Park by the National Park Service and then the town of Estes Park. Finally, Boulder County issued a stay-at-home order along with other counties here in Colorado. The coup de grace finally coming when the governor of Colorado extended the stay-at-home order to extend to the entire state of Colorado in response to the outbreak of the Covid-19 virus.

Late last week I was hoping I would still be able to access Rocky Mountain National Park and the foothills of Boulder along with its great open space properties. Photography tours were out of the question but I figured I could continue to photograph, hike and get out in nature and enjoy solitude as I always do.

With the stay-at-home order extending throughout the state of Colorado thats not going to be happening anytime soon. So what am I going to do to pass time, stay busy, enjoy the outdoors and prevent my photography skills from getting rusty?. Thats fairly easy, I’ll photograph the areas in my hometown of Erie which I can walk, hike or bike to. Luckily for me, I live right along open space.

Coal Creek runs right behind my house and acts as great conduit for nature. Birds, Prairie Dog colonies, coyotes, foxes and some great sight-lines of the mountains including Rocky Mountain National Park will help to keep me occupied and outside during this difficult time.

So for the near future, look for most of posts either on my social media accounts or here on my blog to be images close to my house and easily accessible via walking or biking. While I cant wait to get out and get back into Rocky Mountain National Park or the parks of Boulder, photographing in my backyard, something I often dont have a lot of time for, will now become a fun project to dive into. We’ll see how it goes and I would suggest other photographers now restricted to their local municipalities to do the same. It may not be as glamorous as one of our iconic national parks, but it will keep you occupied, outside and your skills sharp.

New Reality

As of this writing, Rocky Mountain National Park is still open for business. While the impacts from the Corona Virus (Covid-19) have been debilatating here in Colorado, I’ll still attempt to keep some normalcy in my routine and will get out as long as I can to enjoy nature and continue to photograph that beauty. Even amongst all the grim news of this new reality, mornings like yesterdays in RMNP still allow for reprive and renewal. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 24-70mm F4 S lens

There has been quite a lot going on since my last post to the blog. The now well known Corona virus or Covid-19 as its known was picking up steam in Asia and starting to affect Europe. While I had been following developments since early January, much of what was going on seemed far off and distance. While I knew with our interconnected world, the virus would eventually appear in the United States, it was hard to know what the impact would be on the United States as well as Colorado.

Here I sit on March 18th, 2020 and the impact of Covid-19 is more than most of us could have imagined. Major cites in the United States are on lockdown and travel has been curtailed in most locations. Currently for Colorado, and more specifically Rocky Mountain National Park the impacts have been severe but not yet crippling.

With restaurants and bars closed with the exception of pickup only, and most of my fellow Coloradans working from home or furloughed, the prudent thing to do limit contact with others in public places and follow the CDC guidelines for our newest catch phrase regarding ‘Social Distancing’. Life has been greatly altered and the apprehension and anxiety that goes with having daily life turned upside down is palatable.

The current situation makes landscape and wildlife photography seem unimportant in the grand scheme of things. While this may have merit on many levels, the truth is being out in nature is still just as important as it ever has been. Trying to adhere to some form of a daily routine is important to allow for normalcy and furthermore, at some point in the future we will move forward from our current situation.

With Rocky Mountain National Park still open with recommendations that social distancing and CDC guidelines be adhered to, I will continue to photograph Rocky Mountain National Park as long as access is possible. It’s a nice distraction to the wave of news that many are exposed to far too long as we isolate in our homes and apartments waiting for the next ball to drop.

So I’ll keep photographing Rocky Mountain National Park as long as I can as we move through this crisis. Photography tours and workshops are still possible during this time but precautions and space will be needed to do so. The situation is constantly evolving so this may change in the near future and it’s possible access and travel could be further restricted.

I’ll keep the blog updated and for some reason if I cant photograph Rocky Mountain National Park or the areas around Boulder in the near future due to restricted access or closings, I’ll find something to photograph and post to the blog.

Lets keep our fingers crossed that we can get through this difficult time quickly and with as little collateral damage as possible to our personal and work lives. As always, nature is still there doing her thing with little regard to what humans are doing or thinking. She still acts as a great reprieve and renewal and even during these difficult times we should attempt to keep some normalcy in our current new reality. Stay safe out there.