Thats Fall Folks!

This last weather system that moved over RMNP this weekend pretty much put an end to the fall color seasons in Rocky. Autumn 2020 was a challenging fall seasons for us photographers with smoke, haze, clear blue skies and a pandemic but even with all of that going on, Rocky has some of the most brilliant color I can remember. These aspens above Hollowell Park were just spectacular last week and they turned red and orange. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 200-500mm F5.6 AF-S VR Lens
Sunday we finally had some rain and snow move in through the park in what seems like forever. Snow fell on the Cameron Peak fire and the park got a decent dusting of snow in the higher elevations. When this new system moved in and out of the region it brought lots of wind with it as well.

As it always is with fall in the high rockies, one quick blast of weather and hillsides go from golden brilliance to down and brown. So was the case with this new system which stripped what remaining fall color there was and ushered in the brown season once again. This last system put mostly to an end what was one of the strangest autumns in Rocky I can remember in sometime.

Not only were we in the midst of a pandemic, but late summer into early fall in Rocky Mountain National Park was absurdly dry. We had very little rain and very little in the way of interesting clouds or weather for what I would estimate to be well over two months. Basically from August through October with the one exception being our early season September snowstorm, we were suffering not only from drought like conditions but also severe clear with little in the ways of interesting cloud cover and skies.

The Cameron Peak fire broke out in mid August and the hot and dry conditions allowed it to spread and grow quickly. Smoke from this fire has been hanging over Rocky Mountain National Park and the Front Range of Colorado ever since. Just 19 miles north of the Cameron Peak fire, The Mullen Fire broke out in September and only added to smoke, ash and haze.

Sunrise from the top of the Bierstadt Moraine on Friday looking back down towards Sprague Lake. Smokey skies were mostly a hinderance this fall season in RMNP but on Friday, clouds and smoke helped to create a colorful sunrise over Rocky. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 24-70mm F4 S lens
As a photographer during what is normally considered the best season of the year to photograph, you try to adapt and go with the flow. If 2020 has taught my anything its that you really need to appreciate your time and freedom as well as learning to make the best of a bad situation.

So while the haze and smoke from the fire, combined with clear skies and non-dramatic skies with weather made it difficult to get motivated or find subjects to shoot, I kept pushing myself to get out in the field and see what I could come away with.

As I always say, field time is always better than office time and if you can push aside your preconceived notions of what you think you should photograph and how the conditions should be and instead work with what you have, I think you will find you can come away with quite a few images that you’ll be pleased with.

So while autumn 2020 in Rocky Mountain National Park was the strangest and most difficult year I can remember photographing in the park, We had some of the most vibrant colors I can remember as well. Overall, fall 2020 worked out nothing like I would have imagined but I’m happy to report that even with the difficulties, I came away with many new images that will eventually be added to my portfolio.

Chasing Our Frenetic Fall

With both clear blue skies at play most mornings along with smoke from the Cameron and Mullen fires, photographing large landscapes in Rocky Mountain National Park has been a challenge this year. Friday morning yielded a decent sunrise over the Bierstadt Moraine which still has some pretty decent fall color this late in the season. While the wind was really blowing on Friday morning, the air quality was decent and we had some high clouds which yielded some nice fall color at sunrise. This is one of the few large landscapes I’ve been able to capture this autumn season due to both the smoke and blue skies. Intimate landscapes have certainly been more fruitful this season. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 24-70mm F4s Lens

I apologize for the lack of updates to the blog the past week or so as i’ve been busy spending as much time as possible out in the field. The fall season in Rocky Mountain National Park is without question my favorite time of year but its also the most hectic. Autumn is both short and frenetic and this means lots of time spent trying to not only chase the light, but also chase where the best color and photographic opportunities are located.

While one location on west side of Rocky Mountain National Park may be hitting peak one day, weather events or just time can cause it to be past peak the following day. That likely means another location in Rocky, likely on the complete opposite side of the park may be hitting peak the following day and one spends quite a bit of resources trying to stay on top of the frenetic pace while also enjoying and savoring the season.

As it stands now, we are in the backend homestretch of autumn fall color seasons in RMNP. We have had incredible stretch of warm dry weather in the park. This has been beneficial in the fact that the fall color season has certainly extended a little longer than it normally would in many areas. As of this writing there is still some decent fall color on the Bierstadt Moraine for example. Normally, I would expect this area to be well past peak come the second week of October but the lack of very cold weather and snow has allowed for trees not stripped by the winds to remain golden a little longer.

While the warm weather is helping to extend the autumn color which is now best in the lower elevations of the park such as Moraine Park, Beaver Meadows and Horseshoe Park, the dry weather has allowed the fire situation to continue to be dire. Currently, the Cameron Peak fire continues to burn just north of the park. While its 43% contained at this point, the lack of moisture allows it to continue to flare up while also putting a good deal of smoke into the air over Rocky when wind directions are favorable.

While the clear skies and smoke in the air have been a challenge this fall season in RMNP, working on more intimate scenes has been rewarding. I ventured over to the west side of Rocky last week and spent time photographing in the Kawuneeche Valley. These aspens near Holzwarth looked spectacular as the sun rose over the valley. Backlighting the translucent aspens leaves against a shaded blue backdrop can create some really nice lighting. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 70-200mm F2.8 S lens
Adding a double whammy to the fire situation around Rocky is the Mullen fire which is burning on the Wyoming and Colorado border area. Currently the Mullen fire is burning about 18 miles north of the Cameron Peak fire. The Mullen fire is not contained and this fire is much more active than Cameron and it has also been contributing to very smokey and hazy skies over Rocky.

Last but not least has been the dome of high pressure that has been parked over Rocky for what seems like weeks. This high pressure system with warm days, moderate winds and clear blue skies all day has not been conducive to dramatic sunrise and sunsets. We seem to be regularly going 7 to 10 days with completely clear skies at sunrise. Combine this with smoke from the two fires and capturing grand landscapes in Rocky Mountain National Park this fall season has certainly been a challenge. In fact, in my 22 years of photographing RMNP, I cant recall an autumn season that has been as challenging to photograph as this season has been due to both the smoke and clear skies.

Another example of backlit aspens in the Kawuneeche Valley near Holzwarth Ranch. Again, using the shaded blue lighting present in the Kawuneeche Valley before the sun hit the valley floor added a nice backdrop to these orange aspens on the west side of RMNP. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 70-200mm F2.8 S lens
Even though its been a very challenging fall season (why would we expect 2020 to make anything easy?), there is still plenty to photograph. The autumn color while about average when it comes to the large deciduous trees like aspens and cottonwoods has been average, but the underbrush and scrub has been spectacular this year. Intimate fall scenes are where its best this year as you avoid the clear skies and smoke concentrating on the smaller landscapes less dependent on dramatic lighting.

As it stands I would expect another week of decent fall color in parts of Rocky. The wind is forecast to pickup this week and it does not look like we will have any decent cloud cover until the backend of the week. Currently the best fall color is on the east side of Rocky. The Bierstadt Moraine and Boulder Brook area are decent but look for the lower elevations to provide the best color the next week. So keep an eye on the weather and your viewfinder on smaller, more intimate scenes and you should still be able to come away with some great shots. Lastly, don’t forget the trails area still snow free and the lakes and tarns still open so traditional summer type images may also yield great opportunities once the fall color is past peak.

September Brings The First Snow

The first day of September here in Rocky Mountain National Park did not disappoint. With a cold front moving in over RMNP that night, I found the first snow of the season above 11,500 ft. Here is the sun rising just above the ridge of Mount Chiquita while Marmot Point fills the foreground. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikon 70-200mm F2.8 AF-S ED FL lens

Summer continues to fly by here in Rocky Mountain National Park. August has now come and gone and one of the best months for photographers has now arrived. With the calendar page flipping over from August to September, the first day of September left little to the imagination on what lies in store for us as we begin to say goodbye to summer.

After having an above average temperatures for the months of July and August, and the Cameron Peak fire burning just outside the northeastern boundary to the park since August 13th, the morning of September 1st brought some much needed relief.

The first of two strong cold fronts moved in through the park on the night of August 31st into September 1st. Rain fell over most of Rocky Mountain National Park but just above 11,500 ft, that rain turned to snow. For the first time this season, the high peaks of RMNP had a nice dusting of snow on them.

Finally some fog and clouds for a change in RMNP. Looking at the north side of the Lava Cliffs, Fog and low lying clouds skirt the snow covered ridges above 11,500 ft as the sun illuminates the fall colored tundra grasses just below the snow line. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 70-200mm F2.8 AF-S VR ED FL lens
The combination of snow along with the alpine tundra that is found at nearly the same elevation made for a nice combination of color and contrast. Snow dusting the peaks and reds and yellow alpine tundra displaying its fall glory helped to change the scenery for a change. No smokey or cloudless skies this morning, just some light snow on the peaks and the tundra looking colorful as it was amplified by the moisture on the grasses.

While its hard to know if this is the start of a weather pattern change here in Rocky Mountain National Park or a one off, it was an unmistakable change in the weather that could be felt as we moved into what is regarded by many, as the best month of the year in the park.

A Little Bit Of Clarity

It was great to be able to finally see the mountains in all their beauty after weeks of smokey and hazy skies in Rocky Mountain National Park. I took advantage of the great conditions to photograph on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park. Here we see the Colorado River winding its way through the Kawuneeche Valley only a few miles from it’s headwaters with Baker Mountain looming in the distance. The mix of brown and green grasses adds some color to this later summer seen on the west side of RMNP. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 14-30mm F4 S lens

While the Cameron Peak Fire continues to burn just outside the boundary of Rocky Mountain National Park (21,000+ acres with 0% containment as of this writing), we finally caught a break the other morning with regards to air quality and smoke which has been ever present since the fire started back on August 13th.

Shifting wind patterns and some nice afternoon and evening rain showers helped to improve the air quality over Rocky Mountain National Park on the morning of August 26th. While I’ve been trying to use the smoke as best I can when out photographing in Rocky, sometimes there is only so much you can do .

Heading out yesterday morning, I was surprised to be able to see the stars as I started my drive north towards Estes Park. The smoke tends to settle in the valleys overnight but its been so heavy of late that its often hard to tell if its cloudy or just smokey in the morning.

The forecast showed clouds moving in over the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park around sunrise yesterday, so I figured I would head up Trail Ridge and over to the Kawuneeche Valley to see if the combination of less smokey skies and haze and clouds at sunrise might yield a good old fashioned morning of photography.

For the past few weeks, The Kawuneeche has be inundated with smoke from both the Cameron Peak Fire and the Williams Fork Fire further to the west. With rain that had fallen overnight and clouds predicted on the west side of the park, I was also hoping that maybe some low lying fog would form in the valley to add to the mood.

While the low lying fog only materialized in a few isolated areas of Kawuneeche Valley, the clouds did just as predicted and started moving in just before sunrise. Best of all, while there was still some smoke present in the valley, the air quality was the cleanest its been in over two weeks.

I took the opportunity to setup along the Colorado River at a location I’ve photographed a hundred times before. It’s a classic west side of Rocky image. The Colorado River a few miles from its headwaters with Baker Mountain looming over Bowen Baker gulch to the west. This time of years the grasses which have been growing all summer in the Kawuneeche Valley are waist high and there are hints of golden autumn hues mixed in with still lush greens.

Great clouds, great scenery and more importantly, some great conditions which included the air quality yesterday morning made for a refreshing change. Cooler weather is predicted for the park starting on Friday and smoke from the fires in both California and Colorado are supposed to abate as well. Here’s to hoping for some great conditions again as we hit the homestretch towards the end of summer and fall in Rocky Mountain National Park.

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.

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.

Good News

Good news is that Rocky Mountain National Park will be reopening on May 27th. Things will be very different this season and the NPS will be instituting a timed entry permit system which will make photography access more difficult. That being said, for as long as possible I’ll be getting out to locations this one on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park to enjoy the beauty and solitude. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 14-30mm F4 S lens

Finally some good news to report here. After being closed for over two months, Rocky Mountain National Park announced on Tuesday, May 12th that they were planning on starting a phased reopening of the park starting on Wednesday, May 27th.

Superintendent, Darla Sidles, along with Visitor Use Specialist, John Hannon held a meeting with the Estes Park town board on Tuesday night to explain the plan for reopening moving forward. It’s great that Rocky Mountain National Park will reopen on May 27th, but whats apparent from listening to park officials, is that it’s not going to be business as usual.

Details are still being hammered out, and as of this writing the Department of the Interior has not yet approved the reopening plan, but assuming they do, things will be very different in Rocky this summer.

The biggest proposed change will be limiting the number of visitors to the park each day through the use of a timed entry permit system. NPS park officials will use a timed entry permit system between the hours of 6:00 AM until 5:00 AM to limit the number of visitors to Rocky to no more than 13,500 a day. This will help to prevent overcrowding at trailheads, parking issues and allow the Bear Lake shuttle busses to run at half capacity. Of course this is all being done to allow for proper distancing and spacing as they try to mitigate the effects of the Covid-19 virus from spreading.

With the timed entry permit system, 90% of the permits will have to be reserved at least 48 hrs prior to visiting Rocky. As I currently understand it, Rocky will allow 10% of the permits to be held back and released 48 hrs prior to a visit to accommodate a very small segment of visitors arriving at the last minute. There are many dynamics currently playing out in regards to visitation to RMNP right now, but one thing is apparent. Rocky does not want visitors showing up unprepared at the last minute, or people from the Denver area making spur of the moment day trips to visit the park. If you plan on visiting Rocky Mountain National Park this summer, park officials want you to be prepared, with a reserved permit and time slot in hand.

Obviously this is going to have a tremendous impact on visitation to Rocky Mountain National Park as well as the towns of Estes Park and Grand Lake. How it effects photographers is yet to be determined.

As I currently understand it, if you arrive before or after the 6:00 AM until 5:00 PM timed permit window, you will be able to access RMNP. Superintendent Sidles said this policy will continue “at least until we realize there are 10,000 people going in before six … then we would adjust that.” So while it appears photographers may have a window to access the park without applying for the limited permits, be forewarned that this policy could quickly change if park officials feel its becoming unwieldy.

Park officials stated in the meeting that they are still working out many of the smaller details and policies. Much of this will be adjusted and re-evaluated at the end of June so look for park policy to continue to be fluid and evolve.

As for the status of my photography tour business. I’m currently evaluating what I can and cant do adhering to the CDC social distance policies as well as the parks timed entry permit system. Currently, photography tours are on hold because I don’t see a way I can manage the permit system and travel in vehicles while adhering to recommend social distance spacing. Using multiple vehicles and having to manage multiple permits does not seem like a prudent policy from both an ethical standpoint or an environmental footprint standpoint.

I’ll continue to update the status of my photography tour services and I’m hoping by later in July, I may be able to resume booking photography tours for the late summer and fall season in Rocky Mountain National Park. Meanwhile, I be out photographing in the park as much as I am able and will be keeping my fingers crossed that the current policy remains in place so that access to park is still possible during off-peak times.

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.