Just a quick update here on what is turning out to be a very wintry and snowy month of April in Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s seems like we have been getting snow just about every other day this month with more inbound today and tonight.
It continues to be a great time to head up to Rocky to capture some winter imagery and mother nature has been cooperating with both fresh snow and lots of good atmospherics, clouds and fog as these storms move in and out of RMNP.
Saturday morning in the park was another good opportunity as our latest spring snowstorm moved out of the park right as the sun was rising. Estes Park and elevations below 9000 ft were pretty much cloaked in clouds and fog. I did as I almost always do in these cases and tried to get up above the cloud layer before sunrise.
Being in a little less ambitious mode on Saturday morning I headed up to Many Parks Curve hoping I could get high enough to be above the cloud layer. It’s always a gamble and on mornings like this you would love to be able to be in three of four locations all at once.
When I first arrived at Many Parks Curve along Trail Ridge it was still socked in with fog. Having spent years chasing conditions like this I know that these cloud layers and inversions act almost like waves in the ocean. While they often seem still, they are usually moving in and out, up and down slowly. Find a location near the cloud layer and wait and there’s a good chance the clouds will at least open up and clear out long enough for you to capture some dramatic imagery.
While waiting for sunrise, I quickly spied the massive hulk of Longs Peak through the clouds. I could also now see the stars above me so I had a good feeling I was right on the edge of the cloud layer.
As sunrise approached, first the Mummy Range revealed itself, than 14,259 ft Longs Peak and finally areas to the east of Rocky Mountain National Park started opening up with Deer Mountain and parts of Lumpy Ridge dipping in and out of the fog as the warm sunlight exposed the snow covered landscape of RMNP.
Mornings like Saturday are some of my favorite. I never know exactly what I’m going to photograph, but harbor excitement the entire time knowing that if things just break right I’m going to have some awesome conditions. Thats exactly what happened this Saturday in Rocky and maybe with a little luck there will be a few more before April turns into May.
In many parts of the country right now spring is in full bloom. Grasses are greening up, trees are budding out or already have leaves and freezing temperatures and snow are quickly becoming a distant memory. What does this portend for landscape photographers?. Maybe you want to take a trip out to the desert, find some wildflowers or warm weather. I’d be right there with you but if you want to photograph Rocky Mountain National Park in it’s winter glory, April is just about one of the best months of the year to do it.
After a feast or famine week or so with no new snow, mild weather and really not a whole lot of interesting subjects to photograph in RMNP as we transition between seasons, the weather this week into next week has shifted decidedly wintry. We seem to have put the weather machine in reverse and entered late February or early March based on the current weather in Rocky Mountain National Park but in reality, this is quite normal. April is typically the 2nd or 3rd snowiest month of the year in RMNP so its a good time if one is looking for winter images of Rocky.
It’s hard to believe that Trail Ridge Road is likely to open in another four to six weeks which signals the unofficial start of summer in Rocky Mountain National Park, but judging by this weeks weather it’s hard to picture oneself driving at 12,000 ft on Trail Ridge in just over a month or so.
April not only see’s a lot of snow in Rocky, but its a good month to photograph the landscape covered in fresh powder for a couple of reasons. First off, April tends to be more mild temperature wise than the middle winter months. This makes it more manageable to get out in the elements without feeling like you will loose fingers and toes to the gold. Dont get me wrong, April can be plenty cold, especially at or near timberline but often it is more mild with temperatures moderating much more quickly during the day.
Secondly, the high moisture content of the snow in April means that it sticks to just about everything. Like cake batter, the heavy wet snow of April with cover the trees, pine needles and ground making for dramatic and clean looking photographs. High winds, which are common as weather systems exit the park tend to blow the dry and light snow right off the trees and landscape in the middle of winter.
Speaking of wind, this is a third reason why photographing winter landscapes in RMNP is great in April. These springs storm tend to move more slowly and hang over the region for longer periods during the spring months. This means not only larger amounts of snow, but it also means less violent swings in the weather and much calmer winds in between the ebbs and lows of these springs storms.
Water is also starting to flow again come April. Moderating temperatures means that streams and ponds below 9500 ft will start to break free from ice. Small openings may start to form in some of the higher alpine lakes, though I would only really expect this is we have a really warm streak. Even still, waterfalls at lower elevations as well as streams will allow for reflections or strong composition lines in one’s photographs. This is a good time to remind people to be careful around all water this time of year as the ice can be both unstable, and water that is moving is not only frigid, but moving very fast. A simple mistake around water this time of year can be fatal.
Traveling around the park is a little easier as well. Snow tends to melt on the roads during the day and pull offs and parking lots with the exception of monster blizzards tend to be clear and free of snow sooner than the middle of winter when the radiant effect of the sun is not nearly as powerful as it is now.
Lastly, the most important part of all photography is light. The light in Rocky Mountain National Park in April is some of the most conducive to photography on the east side of RMNP as it is all year. As the sun swings farther and farther to the north as we approach the summer solstice the lighting becomes optimal for some of Rocky’s best locations. The northeast facing peaks around Bear Lake and Glacier Gorge are now getting beautiful lighting again. These are popular locations all year, but for photographers, the lighting will be best in the Bear Lake corridor between now and September.
So there is a quick run down of the current status of Rocky Mountain National Park in the middle of April. If you love snow and you love to photograph in winter, April is as good a time as any to come visit Estes Park and RMNP.
Hard to believe its the last day of March. I never know what to expect this time of year other than to expect there to be some interesting weather. Typically there is a lot of snow in March in Rocky Mountain National Park but last year that was not the case. We also tend to see a few days that are more summer/spring like than winter like. The kind of days that get you excited for the summer season which is quickly nearing.
March 2021 in RMNP will be remembered as a month which was a great improvement from March 2020. For one, we saw a lot more moisture and snow in March 2021 in Rocky than we did in 2020, but also for the fact that Rocky Mountain National Park was closed for much of March 2020 due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
So overall March 2021 was a pretty good month in Rocky. Lots of moisture, a handful of good snowstorms and some pretty good conditions for landscape photographers to work in. If I have any thing to complain about wrapping up this month, its that the exit timing of many of the March storms was a little off in that sunrise was often obscured or blocked by clouds when the most dramatic light would have occurred.
On a positive note, many of the March storms saw the clearing occur shortly after sunrise and allowing for decent light, combined with still interesting atmospherics to photograph the snow covered landscape of Rocky Mountain National Park in. As your typical obsessed landscape photographer, I can always find one small issue here and there with the light, timing, amount of snow that I would liked to have seen occur differently but as my wife tells me, I cant get frustrated about things I have not control over.
It was a good month. March 2021 has me exited for April which also typically offers lots of opportunities to photograph more snowy landscapes in what is usually more moderate winter conditions. Some of our first wildflowers should also be sprouting under the base of Ponderosa trees soon (Pasque Flowers). Streams and even some of the lakes may start to see ice off as well in areas where the water is moving. Lots of dynamism to come from RMNP in the next month and as we hurdle towards summer its easy to stay motivated and excited for next visit to Rocky.
March came in like a gentle lamb but its certainly going out like a roaring lion. After an early start to March in Rocky Mountain National Park that looked a lot like it was going to be a dud of month snow wise, things changed fast. In the words of Ron Burgundy from the movie Anchor Man ‘That escalated quickly’.
Shoveling snow from the driveway may get old, but getting out in the field after a spring snow never does. Photography tour and workshop clients looking for winter images often ask me when the best time to photograph Rocky Mountain National Park is during the winter. My response is the best time for winter photography in Rocky is the spring months of March, April and May with a sprinkling of late September or early October when we usually get one of our first tastes of snowfall.
The unsettled weather patterns of spring, along with milder temperatures makes this time of year one of the best of winter like landscapes of RMNP. With the first week of March being mild, one weather impulse after another has been moving through the park. Seems like every other day or so the weather has been changing and snow has been falling on Rocky.
This our great to help make up for the deficit in moisture and water we have been experiencing since early last summer and its great for kicking the late winter photography doldrums and adding a little spark and excitement to expeditions out in the park.
Not every weather impulse of snowstorms timing over Rocky Mountain National Park makes it ideal for photography, but its always worth taking the chance and making sure you’re in Rocky when the sun rises.
One thing I find about shooting landscapes in RMNP this time of year is that even during some of the strongest winter storms that move through, there are often breaks and pauses in the systems that allow for the sun to make a brief appearance or a dramatic sunrise to break before the snow picks back up again. Inversions and fog also seem to be more commonplace this time of year as well which helps to add to that subtle drama and mystery we all seek in our landscape photography.
As it stands of this writing, the unsettled pattern looks to continue through the end of March which is good news. We are getting close to setting some records for the wettest recorded March on history which is sure saying something considering it is typically the wettest month during the season here in Colorado. Heres to looking forward to another opportunity or two here in March and more of the same as we head into April in RMNP.
Well our big March blizzard came and went and in the process dropped over two feet of fresh snow on Rocky Mountain National Park. With a little less than half the month of March left, its possible that we will certainly have more snow though not quite as likely to have as much as this past storm.
As I just wrote about in the blog a few columns back, big snowstorms aren’t always conducive to landscape photography. I stated in the column that sometimes a few inches of the fresh white stuff is better than feet of snow falling and this latest storm was a case in point.
By the time the storm had cleared out on Monday morning, anywhere between 20 and 30+ inches of snow had fallen on the northern Front Range towns and foothills of Colorado. We had a spectacular sunrise down here in Erie as the Boulder Flatirons were covered in snow and clouds over the peaks turned pink along with the skies as the sun rose over the tundra like landscape.
Of course I was out all ready to photograph the said beautiful sunrise after the historic storm?, nope. Not because I did not want to head out but between shoveling through the four foot drifts on my driveway and the fact that all the side roads and streets had also not been touched by plows along with parking lots there was no way to get out to photograph the sunrise as the storm departed. There was just too much snow, too fast for the plow operators and maintenance people to keep up with. I was snowbound for the morning and had to watch this beautiful sunrise unfold from the confines of my office where I suffered from a serious case of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).
The same problem was occurring up the hill in Rocky Mountain National Park. While the mountains in Rocky Mountain National Park remained covered in clouds and snow flurries, the National Park Service closed access to Rocky Mountain National Park down on Sunday so that the plows could work safely.
A very small section of RMNP reopened by Tuesday afternoon on the east side of the park. US 36 to Deer Ridge Jct. and US 34 through Fall River entrance were open. All other areas were closed leaving only a very small section of the park that one could photograph. As of this writing on the morning of 3/18, Bear Lake Road is still closed and being plowed and the NPS is reporting there is 63 inches of new snow that has fallen at Bear Lake.
So while this was a great storm for precipitation which we desperately need in Rocky, it was a terrible storm if one wanted to photograph snowy landscapes or just gain access to the trail system and backcountry area. Good news is that Sunday through Tuesday of next week look unsettled and hopefully we have more snow, but not so much that roads and access are closed off making photography impossible.
March has entered like lamb. If weather forecasts hold it looks like it will want to stick around like a lion for awhile here. Forecasts currently call for snow to begin towards the end of the week in Rocky Mountain National Park with the potential for heavy snows occurring through this weekend.
This is great news for Colorado and Rocky Mountain National Park. February was a good month for moisture and to be able to compound it with a big snow dump in March would be great. March is typically our snowiest month, though in recent years March has actually underperformed. A good spring blizzard feels like a Colorado tradition and a right of passage that every new resident to the state or visitor to the state should experience.
A couple days of good heavy, wet snow followed by warm sunshine and a quick melt off is always welcome here even though many of us are getting the itch for summer and warmer weather to return to RMNP.
The snow and weather changing should help to present some good photography opportunities moving forward. Photographing the storm during and after should lead to some good potential winter images, but the moisture from these storms will help get the rivers flowing, the wildflowers blooming this summer and hopefully keep our fire damage down as we enter the warmer months.
Frankly, by this time of the season, as a photographer I think we are all just looking for some new opportunities to open up as we start to grow tired of the brown season in the lower elevations of RMNP.
Getting a big dump of snow is great, but as I stated in my blog post last week, 3 inches or 3 feet of snow does not really make much of a difference when it comes to actually photography. In fact, if we do get a big dump of snow (some forecasts are saying 2+ feet), it may be difficult or impossible to travel around the park and local roads.
So at this point we will just wait it out and see what develops in the coming week. We certainly will be getting snow in Rocky Mountain National Park, the only question is just how much, will travel be possible and will those westerly winds that follow these storms hold off long enough to give us a window or two to photograph the landscape before blowing the snow off the pines. All I can say at this point is stay tuned!.
I cant believe its already March. Winter is flying by and summer is tangible with it right on the horizon. March is an interesting month here in Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s our snowiest month and one of the best time of the year to hunt for winter landscapes and fresh snow. You can get a taste of all four seasons in March but the one is more likely to get the full brunt of a winter powder dump in March than any other time of the year.
So far March 2021 in Rocky Mountain National Park has come in like a lamb. They early weather pattern looks fairly mild over the next week with a few chances for some light snow. We need the moisture here in Colorado and we have slowly been working our way back towards normalcy as winter winds down. Snowpack in Rocky is at about 90% of what it should be right now. Thats pretty decent considering how dry its been since the fall.
Even if we get some of our classic March blizzards and snow dumps we are still going to have a very difficult time getting our snowpack back to 100% for this season. Because March is our snowiest month, catching up to at or near 100% normal snowpack will be very difficult as we would need a lineup of large storms to really dump on the area in an above average pattern.
Still we can remain positive knowing we have made up some of the deficit and while I would say it’s likely we enter the summer months at a slight disadvantage, we should still be looking better than we were at the start of 2021.
More importantly, it’s a good time to plan a trip to RMNP if one is looking towards capturing winter landscape images. The storms this time of year tend to be packed full of moisture but they also tend to move out quickly which opens up opportunity for snow covered landscapes, fog and dramatic lighting if one’s in the right place at the right time.
One other benefit to capturing the snow covered landscapes this time of year in Rocky is that the lighting angles on the east side of the park are really improving. Many of the classic Rocky Mountain National Park landscapes have peaks that face north and east. As the sun rises further north on the horizon each morning as we head towards summer, the lighting gets better on the northeast face of Longs Peak, Hallett Peak, Taylor Peak and Notchtop.
Contrary to the middle of winter when the sun is rising at its southernmost point, these iconic locations will be getting nice frontal lighting now. In the middle of winter mountaintops such as Longs Peak and Hallett Peak will be mostly in shade or side lit when the sun rises leading to long shadows and often poor lighting.
Keep an eye on the weather and be prepared for just about anytime of weather this time of year. If you want winter landscapes to add to your photography portfolio, March and April are the months to circle your calendar and keep your winter gear tucked in the back of your vehicle. With a little luck we can improve the snowpack and our winter portfolios all in one shot. Good luck!.
I’m a big fan of landscape photographer Michael Frye. I’ve been reading his articles in Outside Photographer and blog for a long time now. Michael’s skill as a landscape photographer are second to none and his ability to teach and educate are also top notch. Much of what Michael states resonates with me and in many way our approaches and philosophy on photography seem very similar. I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Michael in person, but from following along as a fan for a long time now, I’ve come to believe we have similarities.
When reading his blog a couple of weeks back he was discussing a recent outing to Yosemite National Park to get out and photograph one of the recent snow storms that had moved through the valley. Michael spends as much time photographing Yosemite as I do Rocky Mountain National Park so he has great insight into photographing locations over and over again in different conditions as I like to think I do.
Frye commented in his blog post that ‘Photographically, it’s not the amount of snow that matters. I’ve made most of my best Yosemite snow photographs with just a few inches of new snow on the ground. For me, other factors are more important, like having fresh snow still in the trees, and some mist to accompany that snow. It’s fun to see a big snow dump, but all that snow makes it difficult to get around, and it’s not necessarily more photogenic’
I’ve had this thought many times, and when I reading Michaels blog post thought to myself ‘at least I’m not the only one who thinks this way’. Sometimes I feel like a bit of an imposter when posting winter imagery from Rocky Mountain National Park because of the fact that big snowstorms are not required to make beautiful winter images of Rocky.
People are obsessed with how much snow there was and how hard was it to travel and get around. The truth is in landscape photography, 2 inches is just about as good as 20 inches of snow is. As long as it covers the trees and the landscape with fresh powder the weather conditions such as wind, clouds, fog and of course composition and light will all be more important in determining how impactful the landscape photograph is.
Secondly, snowshoeing in 2 feet of fresh snow is much harder than walking in 2 inches. Driving in 2 feet of fresh snow on unplowed roads is much harder than driving in 2 inches of fresh snow. The point being here that you don’t need to wait for big storms to hit a given location to make great images. You need weather, light, atmospherics and most importantly great timing and vision to make it all come together. When looking back on images 10 years from now you wont remember if the storm dropped 2 ft of snow or 2 inches, you will just remember how great the light and conditions were that day.
As I sit here in my office and write this post its currently a chilly one degrees fahrenheit outside. A cold arctic blast has settled over the Front Range of Colorado bringing winter roaring back. While i’d prefer to see it a little warmer out, I can really complain about the change in weather for two reason.
For one, we’ve barely had much of winter here on the Front Range to speak of. It’s been mild and dry and we really need to start playing catch up on our moisture and snowpack. Secondly, the change in weather brings with it great opportunities for photographers looking for dramatic conditions and spectacular light and atmospherics. All those mild and dry days we’ve had so far this season have made for so ho-hum lighting conditions in what is typically a difficult season to photograph as is.
When the weather changes around here and the dominant weather pattern changes to an upslope flow on the Front Range, winds out of the east northeast bring with them snow, fog and inversions.
Fresh snow on the landscape with clouds and fog will spice up any landscape photographers day but get yourself in the right location in regards to the inversion of clouds caused by the upslope flow and you are all set to take the drama up another notch.
When chasing and photographing inversions on the Front Range of Colorado, the important part is figuring out at what altitude the cloud layer or inversion is at, and then figuring out how to get yourself in a position to be just above the layer of clouds. You can have ideas where you want to shoot and you may have a checklist of locations you want to shoot when conditions are right, but the weather is ultimately going to determine where you end up.
Some days when I’m out chasing the weather and trying to get above the inversion of clouds, the elevation of the inversion puts me high up in Rocky Mountain National Park. Other mornings, the layer is lower and I’m bouncing around the foothills just west of Boulder working on getting above the clouds so that I can see and photograph the light when the sun rises above the horizon.
With the big changes this week we had a couple of good days of inversions, fog, snow and rime ice on the trees. So far this week the weather has been such that the best locations have not been up in Rocky Mountain National Park but in the lower elevations and foothills just around Boulder. The inversion did not creep up the the foothills high enough to reach RMNP this week and most mornings settled between 6000 and 7000 ft.
This put Walker Ranch as the best area to photograph one morning, and Flagstaff Mountain just west of downtown Boulder as the best place to photograph the second morning this week. While Rocky had some snow, the winds were mostly out of the west at higher elevations obscuring the mountains and pushing the upslope flow with east northeast winds below Estes Park and back up against the high plains of Colorado.
This arctic weather is going to stick around for a few more days. Every morning I’ll be out checking web cams and trying to figure out where the best spots are going to be and if I can even get above the cloud layer for dramatic photography. Regardless, it’s great to see some moisture and change and typically speaking, this pattern tends to strengthen more as we had towards spring. Either way, these mornings albeit cold, can make for some great photography if you can get yourself in the right location.
Things are quite here up in Rocky. We are almost half way through the winter season and it still feels like we’re awaiting its arrival. While its not uncommon to have dry January and Februarys, the lack of snow and interesting weather seems more pronounced this season then previous seasons. Most of our moisture will arrive as we move towards and into spring. So I’m looking forward to what is usually the best time of year to photograph winter scenes in Rocky Mountain National Park.
So as a landscape photographer how do you keep yourself busy while waiting for some weather to arrive?. For me I try to get out and explore no vantage points and locations in the park. I want to be ready when when some exciting weather and light arrives and have a handful of new locations that I can parse through and photograph when its primetime.
With the lack of snow in RMNP right now, its pretty easy to travel around the park on foot, especially in the lower elevations of the park in which conditions are much more like autumn than mid winter. There is no need for snowshoes or spikes in lower elevations as of this writing, no snowdrifts to posthole through and no head scratching moments when you lose the trail in the snow and spend 10 minutes getting yourself back on course in the pre-dawn light.
It’s easy sledding right now (pun intended) in Rocky Mountain National Park for photographers looking to be mobile in the middle of winter. I used the easy trekking to head into Upper Beaver Meadows again to look for some new compositions post fire.
While almost all the areas in or near the burn area from the East Troublesome Fire are still closed, the trails through Upper Beaver Meadow are open and skirt right along the boundaries of where the fire came down Spruce and Fern Canyon and down Beaver Mountain into the meadows burning the hillsides and in the process opening up some new locations and views.
There is a lot of potential for some new vantage points, especially looking south towards Longs Peak. I had a decent sunrise while out exploring but will need to get back to these spots after some snow or fog graces us with her presence. Until then, I’m going to keep exploring, hope for some good weather and most importantly some good light.