Rested and Ready To Go

With a space of recent late spring snowstorms over Rocky Mountain National Park this past week, I headed up to capture some of the beautiful conditions. Sunrise from Many Parks Curve was spectacular on Wednesday as the sun rose over the plains of Colorado and illumated the snow covered trees. Technical Details: Nikon Z7II, Nikkor 24-120mm F4 lens

Sorry for the lack of recent blog posts of late. After and amazing autumn season in Rocky Mountain National Park, winter started early in November and never really seemed to let up much. To be honest, with the cold weather and snow we had early this year, I took the liberty of stepping back this winter and did not make nearly as many trips into the park.

With April arriving and a slew of late season snowstorms running through the park every few days, with signs of spring even so slowly starting to appear. I’ve been re-energized and I’m back to getting out and photographing RMNP early and often again.

Everybody needs a break from their creative pursuits now and then, and while I had not planned on taking a break from photographing Rocky this winter, It just kind of happened. Rather than fighting it, for the first time in my photography career I went with the flow and found some other things to occupy the time until spring thaw started and I felt inspired and motivated to get back out in the park and break out the camera once again.

I dont plan on taking a break anytime again soon, but its been a rewarding and refreshing experience for somebody who obsesses about getting out in the field as much and as often as possible. To any of my fellow photographers struggling with burn out or just and overall malaise, I’ll be the first to tell you its ok to take a break and step away for a little while.

Regardless, I’m fully recharged now and pumped up for my favorite seasons of summer and fall in Rocky Mountain National Park. The park is slowly thawing out, Trail Ridge Road should be open in the next thirty days give or take and other sections of RMNP are already opening for the season such as Upper Beaver Meadow Road and Wild Basin Road.

I’ll make sure to both keep posting on my Twitter and Facebook accounts as well as to keep this blog updated with the latest conditions and images from recent outings. Here’s to thaw and hope to see you out on the trail.

Compress That!

Light beams shine down around the Needles in the Lumpy Ridge section of Rocky Mountain National Park. I was able to photograph this scene from along Tombstone Ridge far across the valley using my 100-400mm lens to compress the scene. Wide angles are great, but often in Rocky, a long lens can save your bacon!. Technical Details: Nikon Z7II, 100-400mm F 4.5-5.6 lens.
Every landscape photographer gets a special tingle when they start talking about using their widest angle lens. Shooting at 11mm or 14mm with a field of flowers in the foreground and a stream winding through the scene with beautiful mountains, clouds and light filling up the background is enough to make any us want to print up a 40×60 inch print to hang on the wall.

While very wide lenses are awesome, here is a little secret. Many of my best landscape images are taking with my mid range zoom of 24-70mm and if not with that lens, something longer like my 70-200 or now recently added 100-400mm lens.

Being able to compress the landscape and focus in on the nooks, crannies and other nuances of light have saved my bacon more than once on an outing into the field. This morning up in Rocky was no exception and I was more than thrilled to rack out my 100-400mm lens to capture some interesting light that would have otherwise been to far away.

To make a long story (and blog post) short, my morning up in Rocky Mountain National Park started with an inversion or low lying cloud layer of the park. As is usually the case, when an inversion is present, I try to get above it. This morning is was up Trail Ridge Road and then a few miles out on the alpine tundra and Ute Trail to get an interesting vista.

Another example of using a long telephoto lens this morning to compress this scene of McGregor Mountain and the Needles of Lumpy Ridge as the sun rises over Rocky Mountain National Park. Technical Details” Nikon Z7 II, Nikkor 100-400mm F 4.5-5.6
The only problem was, these inversions layers can be quite fickle. The rise and fall like a wave but also ebb and flow just like a tide. This morning, the beautiful layer of clouds that filled Moraine Park, Horseshoe Park and Forest Canyon below me had moved on out to the east by the time I arrived at my vantage point.

Sunrise was beautiful but there were almost no clouds left and for the most part, much of the landscape while spectacular and beautiful, was not all that interesting from a photography perspective.

There was one exception however. The Needles across the valley in the Lumpy Ridge section of Rocky had some awesome light beams coming down as the sun rose over RMNP. Even better, some fog and clouds hung over the lower peaks.

Off went my 24-120mm lens and on went the 100-400mm lens. At 400mm, I was able to compress the landscape to accentuate the light beams, capture the fog and clouds around the Needles and come away with dramatic light. If I only had my 70-200mm on me I would not have been able to compress the scene enough to keep it interesting. Even so, one more time my long lens landscapes with my 100-400mm saved my bacon!.

First Run Over Trail Ridge Road For The Season

Better late than never but I was finally able to make my first trip up Trail Ridge Road since it opened for the season. Weather and timing have not made it possible until this morning but at least I was greeted with fresh snow and some pretty light as I took in the view from the Gore Range overlook of the Never Summer Mountains which were living up to their moniker as always. Technical Details: Nikon Z7 II, Nikkor 24-120mm F4 S lens
Believe or not, I actually made my first run up Trail Ridge Road for the season this morning. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to get out on Trail Ridge but both weather and timing have made it impossible to find a morning to head up since Trail Ridge Road opened for the season just before Memorial Day on May 27th.

For those unaware. Trail Ridge Road is the highest continuous paved road in the United States. It tops out just over 12,000 ft in elevation above the Lava Cliffs overlook and connects the towns of Estes Park on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park, with Grand Lake on the west side of the continental divide and Rocky Mountain National Park.

Each year, millions of visitors come to Rocky Mountain National Park to drive over the hairpin turns and switchbacks of Trail Ridge Road to take in the views and enjoy the alpine scenery and tundra. It’s a great way for visitors to RMNP to be exposed to multiple mountain ecological zones including the alpine tundra above timberline.

Trail Ridge Road also offers photographers lots of opportunities for iconic vistas of snow covered landscapes as well as wildlife such as Marmots, Pika, Ptarmigans, Big Horn Sheep, Elk and just about every other creature in Rocky that at some time or another will migrate up or down from the higher elevations.

To date, I had not made my ‘seasonal’ first migration over Trail Ridge Road but when I awoke this morning to rain falling, it seemed like a perfect time to head on up and see what opportunities for photography might exist.

Longs Peak standing side by side with Stones Peak looks regal as always this morning with a light dusting of snow on its 14,259 ft summit as seen from the Gore Range Overlook on Trail Ridge Road. Technical Details: Nikon Z7 II, Nikkor 100-400mm F 4.5-5.6 S lens
Like I always say when I head up to RMNP, I never really have any idea what I’ll come away with photography wise. I try to keep an open mind and look for opportunities, while using my 20 plus years of photographing in the park to put myself in locations that are likely to have the most interesting conditions or lighting.

That was the case this morning as I cruised past Forest Canyon Overlook and started to notice snow on the hillsides. Soon that snow became snow and ice on the road itself and by the time I had driven to the Rock Cut, there was a decent layer of snow and ice over the road.

Taking it very slowly so as not to end up at the bottom of Forest Canyon I made my way to the Gore Range overlook where the Never Summers had some fresh snow but so did the alpine tundra in the foreground. While I had originally planned to make it down the Kawuneeche Valley, the snow and ice slowed me down enough that the Gore Range overlook was as far as I was going to make it anyway before sunrise.

By the time the sun actually hit the mountains, most of the clouds had dissipated as they so often do in Rocky, but the great thing about this spot is earth shadow this time of year over the Never Summer creates a nice band of color above the peaks as can be seen in the image above.

So I’ve got my first trip over Trail Ridge behind me for the seasons and it was a fun one. Getting some fresh snow on June 7th makes it even more fun and I cant wait to get over to the west side of the park as soon as time allows, which is hopefully sooner than later. Regardless, with Trail Ridge Road now open for the season its really starting to feel like Summer in RMNP, even if there is snow!.

Not So Fast

I for one certainly thought we were done with any and all remaining fall color in Rocky Mountain National Park for the 2021 season. Heading out in Moraine Park yesterday morning to break in my new Nikkor 105mm Macro lens, I stumbled on what is the last remnants of fall color in RMNP. Just a small reminder of the great autumn season we had this year and a beautiful subject to test my new lens on. Technical Info: Nikon Z7 II, Nikkor 105mm F 2.8 VR S lens

Ok I admit it. I was wrong. I put a fork in the autumn season in Rocky Mountain National Park and declared it officially ‘brown season’. I was wrong but still mostly right. It most certainly is brown season in RMNP but there are still some minuscule pockets of autumn hanging on in Rocky which I happily discovered yesterday while out hiking in Moraine Park.

With my new 105mm Micro S lens freshly delivered from Allens Camera in my pack, I headed out looking to find some nails to try my new hammer on. Small intimate fall color scenes always work well with macro scenes, I figured we were passed that and was thinking more along the lines of frozen water and ice to test this new lens on.

After photographing a beautiful sunrise from Moraine Park, I headed off in search of something to point the shiny new 105mm macro lens out. It was a pleasant morning, mild with a slight breeze and lots of fresh snow on Stones Peak in the distance. As I ringed the perimeter of Moraine Park looking for intimate scenes and small subjects, there were still lots of signs of our just departed fall season.

Scanning the hillsides lots of brown leaves still clinging to the bushes and underbrush but no signs of any lingering color until finally I spotted a tinge of orange and red along the base of pine. There it was, a few vines creeping along the ground with a mix of brown and red leaves.

While not the highlight of the fall season, I dropped my backpack and broke out the 105mm macro to break it in and enjoy what will surely be the last of the fall color I will photograph in Rocky in 2021, or will it?.

2021 Fall Wrap Up

It was a tremedous fall season here in Rocky Mountain National Park. I cant remember a better season in recent years where we had both beautiful and interestind weather, vibrant fall colors in both the trees and understory while also enjoying an exteded season due to the mild weather and lack of wind storms. Here’s and image from the morning of September 30th along the Bierstadt Moraine. Fresh snow on Otis, Hallett and Flattop with fog and brilliant colors on the Bierstadt Moraine itself. Technical Details: Nikon Z7 II, Nikkor 24-70mm F4 S lens
It’s a wrap. Sure its still technically autumn in Rocky Mountain National Park but we’ve pretty much moved on to the down and brown season here. It’s always a sobering watching summer move to autumn in the park and then within a few short weeks its over and done with.

Fall 2021 in Rocky was awesome however. The colors were spectacular, the weather was mild but also interesting. We had a nice dusting of snow on the high peaks, fog, some rain and very vibrant reds and oranges along with our traditional yellows and golds. With the mild weather much of the underbrush turned in unison with the aspens and cottonwood trees.

From my perspective of photographing RMNP over the past 23 years, I cant remember a season with such great color, weather. To build on those two great factors, I also cant remember a time that fall color hung around for as long as it did this season either. The first week of October still had great fall color on places like the Bierstadt Moraine which is typically long past peak by this time.

I’m still working through a backlog of images from the fall and I’ll have plenty of material and images to post here as we move into winter. Hoping many of you were able to get out and enjoy what was an amazing few weeks for us landscape photographers.

Let It Begin

Hard to believe it but the autumn season in Rocky Mountain National Park is slowly starting to reveal itself once again. Subtle signs of fall are becoming more obvious with each passing day. I photographed this colorful underbrush on the Bierdstadt Moraine just last week. Stay tuned for more updates on the current conditions in RMNP moving forward. Technical Details: Nikon Z7 II, Nikkor 24-70mm F4 S Lens

Well its happening. Summer is quickly transitioning into autumn in Rocky Mountain National Park. While the fall is my favorite season in RMNP, with over 23 years of photographing the fall color in Rocky behind me, I’m always sort of shocked out how quickly we transition from summer to fall in the park.

Autumn in Rocky Mountain National Park is sly. It slides in slowly, covertly than all at once. Subtle color changes in the grasses and underbrush portend to the looming changes in weather and seasons and then just like that, were full on with the fall season here in Colorado.

It’s been and incredibly challenging year for photography in Rocky. We’ve had smoke and poor air quality nearly from the get go of summer. Smoke settled in over the park in early June and with a few short durations, it’s remained entrenched over RMNP. Top that off with a very placid weather pattern and weak monsoonal impulse most of the summer and we have had lots of warm, clear mornings and evenings in Rocky. Great for hiking and camping, not so great for us photographers yearning for dramatic light and weather.

With that said, fall always brings a newfound enthusiasm for photographers in RMNP. The season is short and we want to take advantage of as much of its gifts and bounty as possible before the abrupt and crashing decent into winter.

I’ll try my best to keep the blog updated as we move into fall. I can tell you the elk rut is starting in earnest and they herds have begun moving towards the lower elevations. The bull’s are active and bugling and there are already lots of opportunities to photograph the rut if you happen to be in the right location.

A few aspen trees here and there are starting to turn golden and I would expect by next week some of our traditional early turning areas (west side of the park) will be looking decent. As always, keep and eye out for the smaller details as much of the autumn color in RMNP will be in the subtle nooks and crannies of the park before unveiling their full autumn splendor.

Regardless, even after a difficult summer of photography in the park, the oncoming fall season in Rocky Mountain National Park has renewed my vigor and has me excited for the great potential and beauty each fall season holds in Rocky.

Sunrise on Flattop

Unfortunately, the smokey conditions from wildfires around the western United States has persisted over Rocky Mountain National Park this week. Even so, when conditions arent perfect its always good to get out on the trail and enjoy a great hike in the park. Photographing sunrise from Flattop Mountain is one of my favorite things to do and even though conditions were not perfect yesterday, the lighting on Hallett and the view of Longs Peak from the Emerald Lake overlook is always awe inspiring and motivating. Technical Details: Nikon Z7 II, Nikkor 24-200mm F 4-6.3 Lens

One of my personal favorite hikes in all of Rocky Mountain National Park is the Flattop Mountain Trail. While it can be a strenuous climb to the top of Flattop, the views are well worth it. The Flattop Mountain trail also connects to many of the parks other formal and informal trail systems at the summit. It’s a gateway to access much of Rocky Mountain National Park and in particular a gateway that allows hikers the easy access to the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park short of driving over Trail Ridge Road.

My good friend and fellow photographer extraordinaire Erik Stensland likes to call trails like the Flattop Mountain trail, the ‘Superhighways’ of Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s a great analogy and I think its a perfect description of for trails like the Flattop Mountain Trail.

With smoke from forest fires all over the western United States still affecting the air quality in and around RMNP, It’s been tricky getting out and photographing Rocky in what is one of the best times of year. Smoke and an overall lack of colorful sunrises to start the month of July has me getting itchy to get out and do something. When I dont have photography clients out in the field in Rocky, and if I am conditions for dramatic landscape photography are not cooperating, I do what anybody else does and just like to get out for a good hike and enjoy the trails and scenery.

Yesterday morning with that in mind, I did just that and headed up Flattop Mountain about an hour and half before sunrise. The smoke was not as bad as it had been but it was still present. There were actually clouds hanging over Rocky this morning but the predicted break in the cloud cover did not appear to be forming as thunderstorms from the previous night still hung over the eastern plains of Colorado as I got a clearer view heading up the trail.

Regardless, the hike in of itself was more than enough to keep a smile on my face as I headed up the switchbacks before sunrise. Three miles from the Bear Lake parking lot, I reached the Emerald Lake overlook with a few minutes to spare. Sunrise was more or less blasé with the clouds obscuring the sun enough to color the sky, but about 15 minutes after sunrise, enough light scattered through the clouds and smoke to photograph some nice warm light on the flank of Hallett Peak.

I made a few images of the light on the side of Hallett and a touch now on the Diamond of Longs Peak. Even with less than perfect conditions, surveying the views and familiar peaks from this location a thousand feet above Emerald Lake is always one of my favorite spots to take in a sunrise. Lets hope the next time I’m up here the smoke has cleared and sunrise is one to remember. Even so, its hard to beat summer mornings on Flattop.

Feast Or Famine

The summer has offically arrived in Rocky Mountain National Park. My favorite time to photograph Rocky Mountain National Park is now upon us and the amount of variety to photograph combined with excellent conditions and subject opportunities abound. I have been busy guiding photography clients but did manage to grab a quick shot of these beautiful Elephant Head wildflowers near Cub Lake at sunrise last week. Wilflowers are really starting to look amazing right now in RMNP and I would only expect that to improve in the higher elevations of the park. Technical Details: Nikon Z7 II, Nikkor 24-70mm F 2.8 S lens
With the fourth of July holiday now in the rear view mirror, summer in Rocky Mountain National Park is in full swing. The park doesn’t get much better than the period from early July through September as access, wildflowers, foliage and overall weather are just about as good as its going to get. Think verdant meadows filled with wildflowers, placid lakes reflecting mountain peaks and miles of trails in the high country now free of snow.

I’ve been busy guiding photography clients in the park the past few weeks as my summer photography tour season volume coincides with the great conditions and opportunities Rocky Mountain National Park provides this time of year. Guiding photography tour clients in the field means early starts and long days in the park. While I’ll occasionally get to squeeze in a few images while guiding clients, the focus is on them coming away with images of RMNP that make their visit and time worth it.

Conditions have been mixed to kick off the summer season so far. Wildflowers in the lower elevations are really looking spectacular. The grasses are as ever and wildflowers seem to be blooming in every corner and nook of the park right now.

Weather wise we’ve had a feast or famine setup. We’ve had some stretches of unsettled weather with some cloudy and rainy mornings but we also have had stretches of mornings where nary a cloud can be found anywhere near Rocky. This is more or less a common setup this time of year in Rocky, though sometimes it feels like we are experiencing more mornings of of clear sky setups than one usually expects.

Regardless, its an amazing time to visit Rocky Mountain National Park and any morning, cloudless or not is going to provide photographers with plenty of opportunities to find lots of interesting subjects to photograph if they keep and open mind and take time to cultivate new images. As always, stay tuned as I expect lots of great mornings ahead as the always abbreviated summer season in Rocky gives us a few short months to enjoy one of the best times of year in the mountains.

Monday Inversion

Photographers in Rocky Mountain National Park have had to deal with lots of clear skies the past 15 days or so. Sure there have been a few great sunrises mixed in but its been tricky to get any consistency going so far this summer. Monday morning of all days arrived with a nice inversion taking place in the park. I headed out to Ute Pass to photograph Longs Peak rising above the inversion layer as the sun met the mountains. Nikon Z7 II, Nikkor 70-200mm F2.8 S lens

June is stacking up to be an interesting month here in Rocky Mountain National Park. With a few great sunrises early in the month, the weather did its thing and we had lots of warm, clear and dry June days. Not a whole lot of stuff for us photographers to get excited about.

It’s always a bummer to check out the forecasts and see lots of clear days predicted with little to no cloud cover. Makes you quickly start thinking about creative ways to keep the camera from getting dusty in the closet. Of course there is always that one day on the extended forecast lineup that looks like it could be interesting.

This time around after about 10 straight days of ‘severe clear’ conditions, Monday looked like it was going to be that day. The weather models looked like we might be setting up for a cooler, wetter morning to start the week off. In fact, as I assessed the weather forecast for Rocky Mountain National Park it looked like we would have a good chance of having an inversion on Monday morning.

Inversions occur here in Rocky when we get an upslope flow or winds out of the northeast. The shear and flow off the east facing peaks creates clouds and moisture on the east side of the continental divide. Because of the wind direction and shear, the cloud cover and rain tends to hover over lower elevations of the Front Range, usually below 12,000 ft or so in elevation.

While photographing the iconic peaks in Rocky Mountain National Park are always the highlight for any landscape photographers, spending time photographing nondescript landscapes with the waves of fog moving through are always one of my favorite things to do. Famillar locations take on personas you have never seen before and capturing compositions that are new and original are easy pickings. Technical Details: Nikon Z7 II, Nikkor 70-200mm F2.8 S lens
The trick here when photographing in conditions like these is finding a way to get above the cloud layer and then finding some interesting ways to take advantage of what are for the most part, fairly rare conditions in RMNP.

Once Trail Ridge Road opens fully for the season, getting above the cloud layer is fairly easy. Finding good locations to photograph can be a little more tricky, but Longs Peak is always as good a subject as any in the park. Photographing the waves of fog and light and they filter through the pines is also a good way exercise the shutter and I spent time doing both.

If we can just get rid of this pesky smoke from wildfires which seems to have plagued us at the end of last summer, and now the start of June, I’d say conditions in Rocky Mountain National Park are just about perfect for photographers now.

Summer Vibes

A perfect sunrise at Bierdstadt Lake is just about the best way you can start your day in Rocky Mountain National Park. After a snowy winter and spring, Rocky is quickly thawing out and summer conditions are rapidly approaching. I’ve photographed many spectacular sunrises at Bierdstadt Lake in my 22 years of photographing the park, but this one from last week was one of the best. Technical Details: Nikon Z7 II, Nikkor 24-70mm F 2.8 S lens

It’s June in Rocky Mountain National Park and that means the arrival of summer is right on our doorstep. Trail Ridge Road is now open for the season and the much needed snow that we were blessed with its starting to melt quickly in the higher elevations of RMNP. Best of all the lakes and streams with the exception of only the highest are thawing out and open.

It’s hard to find a better subject to photograph than snow covered mountains reflecting on the calm surface of a pristine mountain lake. When I take clients out in the field, this is what they request and hope to photograph more than any other subject in the park. Of course for this to work you need a few factors to work in your favor.

First you need there to be little to no wind. That in itself can be a difficult task in Rocky Mountain National Park. Secondly, you need some nice light at sunrise or sunset. This is probably the most consistent variable in RMNP as we get lots of clear and sunny days. Lastly, you need some clouds. Not only do the clouds add interest to the landscape and add dimensionality, they often add color.

With June now here, landscapes of mountain reflecting in water are once again back on the table in Rocky Mountain National Park. Last week, I made the short hike up to Bierstadt Lake for sunrise. Bierstadt Lake had one of my favorite views of the continental divide in all of Rocky Mountain National Park. Its just a spectacular location to photograph a sunrise.

When all three variables come together, you have what I call the Rocky trifecta. Well the Rocky trifecta work out just right for me on this particular morning last week. The wind was calm at Bierdstadt, clouds hung over Otis, Hallett, Flattop and Notchtop and the lighting was otherworldly. Even the Mallards that hang out at Bierdstadt and have a propensity for swimming around in your reflection and foreground right at sunrise only made a few appearances before heading off to the other side of the lake.

Overall, I cant think of a much better way to start a morning in Rocky Mountain National Park than this particular one at Bierdstadt last week. I’ve photographed many sunrise at Bierdstadt Lake over the past 22 years, but this ranks up there as one of the best. While this sunrise was awesome, I’m eagerly looking forward to many more spectacular ones this season as we move into summer.