I apologize for the lack of blog posts lately. After wrapping up a very busy 2018 year of guiding and tours in Rocky Mountain National Park, I took a brief hiatus only to have the latest government shutdown make access to Rocky Mountain National Park difficult. As a reminder you can always check my Twitter or Facebook feeds that are linked at the bottom of this page as I post to them at least a few times a week if not more.
While you can technically walk into Rocky as of right now, services are limited and getting into most areas of the park is fairly difficult. Furthermore, most of the better locations for winter photography would require quite a commitment to get to without the ability to drive to a trailhead.
As of writing this it’s difficult to tell when the current government shut down may actually end as we have just past the 23rd day of the shutdown. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for all involved that a resolution can be found sooner than later and we can get back to Rocky Mountain National Park operating as is normal once again.
While we wait out the shutdown, I’ve been keeping myself busy photographing in and around the Boulder area. Not only is this area my second favorite place to photograph after Rocky Mountain National Park, but I’m thankful I have a fallback that allows me the ability to get out and keep productive while the machinations of our current political climate grind away.
I’ll again be offering photography tours in Rocky Mountain National Park for the 2019 season. If you are interested in heading out with me feel free to drop me an email and I’ll be more than happy to discuss dates, locations and times with you.
Until we get some more clarity here, I’ll be out traversing the landscape and open space properties in and around Boulder and will try to make a few expeditions into Rocky because I miss getting out and exploring the park as much as you all do. Stay tuned for lots of posts and images as 2019 unfolds here.
Just wanted to give my readers a quick update on the current fall color situation in Rocky Mountain National Park as I’ve been questions daily on how things look. What I will say in a broad generalization is the following based on my observations being out in the field everyday the past week.
I believe we are running five to seven days ahead of what the normal timing is for fall color in RMNP. Whether this is because of a warm and dry summer, or because of all the smoke and haze over the park much of the late summer triggering the plants in to thinking there is less sunlight I’m not sure. At this point what seems obvious is that we are certainly running ahead of schedule and that the warm and very windy week we just had is not helping in extending fall color any.
First things first, the autumn color in Rocky Mountain National Park is nearing or just past peak in many areas now. Bear Lake was at peak on Friday, September 14th I would say. This is about 5 days earlier then when peak typically occurs at Bear Lake. While the leaves are at peak, the winds have done a number on many of the aspen trees around Bear Lake. You will stay be able to photograph fall color this week at Bear Lake but its going to be slightly past peak and depending on how strong the winds are, there may not be much left by the end of the week.
The Bierstadt Moraine is currently about 50-60% turned. Many of the trees are showing the stress from the drier summer and while there are nice patches of yellow and orange, there are also some areas that have just turned brown. This week, Bierstadt might be one’s best overall location for autumn color.
As for other areas of Rocky, I would say the mid level elevations will be at peak this week with the lower levels starting to show decent color in the ground cover as well as some of the trees. The Boulder Brook area of the park is only about half turned and should be good over the next week or more as this area does well even after the leaves have fallen as they cover the forest floor.
The elk rut is also well underway and if your timing is good you should be able to find some good groups of bull’s with their harems in Moraine, Horseshoe and the Kawunneche Valley. I do think the warm weather has caused the rutting activity to slow quickly after sunrise and I would also say I’m still observing a fair amount of elk activity in higher elevations of the park stll.
Now is really a great time to get out in Rocky and take advantage of the fall color and autumn elk rut. I think overall color this year is going to be on the fair to marginal side but there is plenty of opportunities to find subjects to photograph if you look. At the current pace, I would expect most fall color in Rocky Mountain National Park to be well past peak by the first week of October.
Spring has arrived in Rocky Mountain National Park and summer wont be far of it’s heels. As I write this we are a little over a week away from Memorial Day which is the traditional unofficial start of the summer season here.
Both winter and spring here have been for the most part mild and more or less seasonal. Snowpack is at about 90% of average so we are a little behind but not much off the mark. We had some good late season snows as well as some good rain in the lower elevations the first few weeks of May so things are starting to green up nicely in the meadows and lower elevations of the park. Pasque Flowers and now Mountain Ball Cactus are blooming and more of the traditional wildflowers will begin appearing in the next few weeks in the lower elevations of Rocky.
Trail Ridge Road has not yet opened for the season but barring any crazy weather should open right before Memorial Day weekend. Trail Ridge Road has been open above Many Parks Curve where it is closed for the winter season all the way to Rainbow Curve for the last two weeks. Having Trail Ridge Road open to Rainbow Curve just above 10,800 ft allows the more adventurous to hike up the plower road and get above timberline with a little more ease and a lot less people than during the summer season when the road is open.
Ponds and lakes are really starting to open up as well. Many of the lakes around 10,000 ft are starting to open up large sections of ice on their surface. Lakes below 10,000 ft are ice off and good for photographing reflections on calm days. Lots of spots of hard packed snow on trails above 9500 ft but lower elevations like Lumpy Ridge Moraine and Horseshoe Park are great for hiking right now with the usual muddy spots.
Overall, Rocky is in great shape and becoming more accessible each day. While there will still be snow and ice around until late June and early July in the highest reaches of the park, access is already great and only getting better. This is one of my favorite times of years and as always I’m looking forward with great anticipation at getting out into the park and exploring new areas as well as visiting old stalwarts.
It’s been a little quiet around here on the blog the past few months. While I’ve been busy posting to my social media feeds on Facebook and Twitter most days I’ve somewhat neglected updating my blog for which I apologize. Having recently moved into a new house it’s taken more effort than I’d care to admit just to be able to get time out in the field in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Good news is that I’m finally settled in and I’m quickly getting myself back on track and back into my routine which some would say borders on obsessive compulsive.
Overall, conditions along the Front Range of Colorado this winter have been fairly bland. In fact we’ve not had much weather to speak of since October and this winter so far has been mild and dry. Rocky Mountain National Park has had some snow, but i’m keeping my fingers crossed that the weather pattern shifts as we head towards spring and we get a good run of storms and moisture to not only make for dramatic conditions for us photographers, but also to increase the snowpack and keep the park from drying out.
Besides the mild winter we have been experiencing so far, a few other notable items have been happening in Rocky. We’ve already had one government shut down this year in which contrary to past years funding shut downs did not close Rocky completely. Many services were limited for the few days the federal government shut down but Rocky was able to operate on a limited basis with the exception of being able to plow snow which lead to the park being closed one day due to dangerous road conditions.
Another hot button issue has been the proposed increased entry fee for 2018. While the final decision has not yet been made, daily entrance fee’s at Rocky Mountain National Park along with over a dozen other popular National Park’s look to be increasing dramatically. Rocky’s proposed daily entrance fee would increase from $20 a day to $70 a day. While the overall trend in visitation to Rocky Mountain National Park continues to increase (with a less than 2% decrease in 2017) these newly proposed increase in daily fee’s are striking most as excessive.
These increase in fee’s are likely to have an impact on my guiding and photography tour services in Rocky Mountain National Park as well. Not only will participants in my tour services have to pay additional fee’s to enter the park, there is another proposed fee to holders of Commercial Use Agreement guide passes or CUA’s of $170 a tour. This proposal is also still being discussed but if you combine the cost of my photography tour services, a $70 entry fee along with another $170 fee for guiding each client or group in the park, the cost of my services my become prohibitive to many of my participants.
Currently, I’m keeping an eye on how these shakes out and at this point are still booking photography tours for 2018. I’ve renewed my CUA pass for 2018 but if these fee’s do come into effect and greatly affect my photography tour services and guiding, I may no longer be able to offer those services in 2019.
Lastly, I plan on doing a better job in 2018 keeping my blog updated. Keeping my social media feeds updated on Twitter and Facebook while effective, take away time from posting on my blog. I only have time to update so many feeds and blog posts and currently my social media feeds have been winning that battle. With Facebook’s new policy changes regarding business accounts being more or less hidden unless one pays to advertise on the site, I’d like to continue to shift my content and energy back to keeping this site updated. I’ll still be updating Twitter and Facebook as often as I have in the past, but I’m going to prioritize keeping my site updated with my content.
So while its been a quiet season in Rocky so far, there have been many a beautiful winter sunrises (Rocky has some of the best). I’ll be out and about in the field as often as I can get out and I’ll keep all of you updated on the new fee proposals and what the final outcome is along with how it will impact my photography tour services in RMNP.
Autumn in Rocky Mountain National Park is one of my favorite times of year. I look forward to the fall season in Rocky all year only to find it both arrives and departs much more quickly than I am ever comfortable with. It’s a spectacular time of year to visit RMNP and its also and amazing time of year to photograph the park. The autumn hues, golden aspens and elk rut make it a very popular place to be once mid September rolls around. Even with autumn being one of my most favorite times of year to get out in the field, the harried pace of the season in Rocky can make the autumn seem like a blur.
No two fall seasons in Rocky are ever alike. The colors are different each year, the location of the best and most vibrant color are different each year, the timing of peak colors in areas of the park are different each year and the total duration of the autumn season is different each year. Some autumn seasons linger on and on with little to no early season snow or windstorms to expedite the end of autumn.
Some years it’s just the opposite. For one reason or another the fall color may never really pop. Snow and high winds may also rake across the park quickly stripping the trees of their leaves as well as making access to locations more difficult. As is always the case when dealing with mother nature, you just don’t know and there’s not much you can do even if you do know.
This makes it important to take advantage of the conditions whenever they are favorable. If there is one thing I’ve learned in photographing fall in Colorado and Rocky Mountain National Park it’s get the shot while you can. Waiting for better conditions or planning on coming back at a later date is often a fools folly. I’ve personally missed a few opportunities thinking I’ll come back to a location a little later only to have wind, snow or weather decide otherwise.
Autumn season is Rocky has pretty much wrapped up for the year. We’ve had a very dynamic fall season in RMNP and one that offered many great opportunities for photographers even if I would rate the color this season as average to below average. Weather was the story this season along with snow dropped on the park almost once a week since the colors began changing. While the snow and cool autumn hampered some of the fall color, it did allow for some really neat opportunities to photograph the clash of the seasons.
Overall the season was both short and awesome. The frenetic pace of autumn and the need to maximize your time in the field with your subjects while the getting was good takes precedent over sleep, rest and contemplation. Now with the season waining the pace can slow and we can begin looking forward to winter in Rocky Mountain National Park.
How quickly time seems to fly. Seems like only a few weeks ago I was lamenting a late spring blizzard in Rocky that dumped 3 feet of snow on the park while awaiting summer. While that late season May blizzard dropped a load of snow on Rocky it was only a temporary obstacle to the oncoming summer season in the park and all the glorious beauty that comes along with the thaw out of the high country. Now here I am lamenting the fact that summer is already on its way out and the autumn season and fall colors that grace Rocky Mountain National Park each season are quickly nearing their peak.
Of course lamenting is not really the right word as the transition from summer to fall in Rocky leads us into my favorite time of the year in the park as well as one of the most fruitful times for any photographer visiting Rocky. The only issue most photographers have with the fall season is that like the summer seasons its too short so one needs to take advantage of every opportunity as you may or may not got a second chance with the fleeting and frenetic nature of autumn in RMNP.
As of this writing, many area of Rocky are just starting to dawn their fall colors. There are some areas of Rocky Mountain National Park that are currently at peak but for the most part the color show will really start unfolding starting this week.
A few area of aspens on the west side of Rocky are at peak. Those include the groves near the west entrance of the park at Grand Lake, and the hillsides below the Never Summer Mountains. The tundra grasses have taken on their red hue and many of the small ground plants and brush near timberline are now peaking.
On the east side of Rocky the autumn colors are just starting to look good at the higher elevations. The areas around Bear Lake which tend to peak right around the 20th of September (give or take a few days on either side) now are showing color. The Bierstadt Moraine is showing hints of color though we have at least 10 days to go before peak. The area around Boulder Brook is starting to get some nice color but should remain fruitful for the next two weeks.
As a reminder the fall color in Rocky Mountain National Park tends to peak in the higher elevations first and then will move its ways down to the lower elevations which include the meadows and parks. One can easily photograph fall color in Rocky from about September 15th all the way through mid to late October depending on temperatures, snowstorms, and cold temperatures so its important to keep an eye on the weather and remain flexible.
So get outside and enjoy the autumn season in Rocky Mountain National Park because like summer, it wont last long and its only a matter of time before the snow starts flying and accessing some locations in RMNP become a lot more difficult.
Notchtop Mountain is one of Rocky’s most iconic features. While Notchtop can be seen from portions of Trail Ridge Road and Bear Lake Road it takes a little more effort to view and photography it up close and personal. The best way to view and photography Notchtop is to hike the moderate three plus miles to the area around Lake Helene from the Bear Lake trailhead.
This area around Lake Helene is filled with potential for photographers. Besides the spectacular views of Notchtop Mountain from Lake Helene, there are many other beautiful more secluded locations to photography both Notchtop Mountain, Grace Falls and the Odessa Gorge.
I often recommend this hike to photography tour clients who are both fit and looking to explore off the beaten path. It’s a great destination in Rocky Mountain National Park for sunrise and most of the time you will be the only photographer within miles. Last week I lead a client up to the area near Marigold Ponds for a beautiful sunrise shoot. As always the area did not disappoint and Notchtop looked glorious as the sunlight and high cirrus clouds filtered onto the dramatic face of the peak.
As is always seems to be the case here in Rocky, summer is progressing at a pace much more quickly than I am comfortable with. Summer always takes awhile to take hold here in the mountains and once it does it can feel like a mad scramble to try and take advantage of each day to the fullest extent. Add on days when the weather just does not want to cooperate and a busy schedule guiding clients in the field and summer really begins to fly by.
I always figure one can catch up on sleep and socializing when the first snow starts to fall but summer in Rocky Mountain National Park is about maximizing your time in the field and taking advantage of these beautiful days when the high country is easily accessible and the conditions for us photographers are prime.
This time of year I’m out in the field five to six days a week either shooting for my own portfolio or guiding other photographers around Rocky Mountain National Park. When you are lucky enough to get out that often you get to experience and observe Rocky on an acute basis. The weather conditions ebb and flow and often we have a few days laced together with great sunrise and sunsets with stretches of less interesting or more bland conditions. Less interesting conditions in Rocky being clear blue sky days with few or no clouds to add additional elements to one’s photographs.
July started off on the tame side. Many of the higher elevations in the park had lots of snow remaining even into the start of the month. Conditions were fairly tame to start the month of July but as the month ramped up and the monsoonal flow began to strengthen, the conditions got much more interesting. The back end of July blessed us with some great sunrise and sunset conditions, a good amount of rain showers and some a few nice mornings of fog and inversions.
All in all no complaints for me regarding July. I was lucky enough to get some great conditions for photography as were many of my clients I had in the field this month. The only thing I can complain about is that July in Rocky Mountain National Park is just too darn short, and unfortunately that holds true for August as well.
What can I say about Dream Lake that has not already been said. It’s one of the most iconic locations in not only Rocky Mountain National Park but also Colorado. It’s one of the top requests my clients make when book a photography tour with me and if you hike the trail during the summer months you will quickly see its one of the busiest locations in all of Rocky not including roadside areas.
In the 19 years I’ve been photographing Dream Lake I’ve been at the lake in just about every kind of weather and lighting. Windy, snowy, rainy, sunny you name it and I’ve been on the shore trying to compose an image. I’ve shot my Nikon and Canon 35mm film bodies loaded with Kodachrome 25 and Fuji Velvia 50 here, used my 4×5 Large Format camera here, exposed my first digital images with a Canon D60 at Dream (yes that’s the correct model). Heck, I’ve even been lucky enough to compose a few images at Dream Lake that I’ve been pleased with.
Of the hundreds and hundreds of times I’ve been up to Dream Lake both alone or with clients I never tire of this magnificent location. It’s the one location in Rocky Mountain National Park I personally identify with more than any other location in the park where my passion and desire for landscape photography was stoked.
I don’t often head up to Dream Lake most mornings unless I have photography tour clients with me. There are just too many locations in RMNP to photograph and I need to use my time wisely and try to get to these other locations when I can. I most often visit Dream Lake now with photography tour clients. It still thrills me to watch my clients faces as we near the bridge over the outlet of Dream Lake and they see Hallett Peak and Flattop Mountain towering over this beautiful lake for the first time. It’s a feeling I remember like it was yesterday so its still a treat to watch peoples reaction on their first visit to Dream Lake.
While Dream Lake is still one of my favorite locations in Rocky, it takes quite a bit these days for me to get that original feeling back like I did when first visiting Dream Lake back in 1998. That feeling was back last week when I arrived with my client lakeside to find a layer of fog breaking over Dream Lake. I always put my client needs first, but once my client was settled in and setup I had to break out the camera and tripod to capture this magnificent moment. I may have been the guide this morning but I can tell you without a doubt I was just as excited photographing Dream Lake this morning as she was.
Going on my third year of providing photography tours of Rocky Mountain National Park, I’ve got a pretty good idea of what most clients number one request is when visiting Rocky and heading out to photograph landscapes. Without question most of my clients are looking for the classic image of a mountain peak reflecting in the serene and placid waters of a mountain lake. Like my clients these are also some of my favorite scenes to photograph in Rocky Mountain National Park as well.
June is not only when Rocky starts to see visitor numbers skyrocket but its also the time when local business and the town of Estes Park really start to hum along and enter the summer season. This is true for me as well as lots of photographers come out of there winter hibernation and are taking summer vacations looking to dust off the camera and get outside to take photos.
Most visitors to Rocky as well as most of my photography tour clients are coming from lower elevations and locals that have been moving toward mild summer like weather months earlier than the high altitude lakes and peaks of RMNP.
So with clients booking June dates and late season snow storms like the one we had in late may, many of those classic iconic Rocky images of iconic peaks reflecting in a still lake are just melting out. The good news is with warm, summer like weather the past week the delayed melt out is now on a brisk pace.
Clients visiting from out of state last week were a bit surprised to be hiking on lots of snow on the way up to Dream Lake and even more surprised to still find some small pieces of ice floating around on the surface of Dream Lake at sunrise.
Experiencing the huge snow drifts on Trail Ridge Road or hiking on snow to Dream Lake in mid June are part of the experience that makes Rocky Mountain National Park so an awesome place to visit and photograph. So if you head out with me in the next week or so don’t be surprised if I tell you to pack some winter gear and micro spikes to get a first hand experience of late spring or early summer in RMNP.