If you have read my blog or social media posts long enough then you know I get least excited when the skies are blue and cloudless. Odd as it may seem, clear and cloudless days are some of the most difficult days to photograph as the light can be harsh with little drama occurring above the landscape to add intrigue to a photograph. Clear, cloudless deep blue skies are perfect for just about any other activity other than photography. Out here in the western United States, clear, cloudless deep blue skies are affectionately referred to as ‘Bluebird Skies’.
In this post, I’m not about to go on about the best way to handle capturing quality images during a cloudless day in Rocky Mountain National Park. While thats a good idea for a future post, I just going to post an image of a Mountain Bluebird.
Each spring Mountain Bluebirds return to the meadows and open spaces of Rocky Mountain National Park and are a harbinger of warmer weather to come. These beautiful birds can be found foraging for grubs on the ground, flittering from rock to rock and branch to branch. This time of year, the male Mountain Bluebirds will turn a deep blue in color with the more mature males displaying more intensely then the younger birds.
The best places to find Mountain Bluebirds in Rocky Mountain National Park are any of the open meadow and sage areas. Hollowell Park, Moraine Park, Beaver Meadows and Horseshoe Park are all good places to find Mountain Bluebirds. Drive one of the park roads that traverse these areas and keep an eye out on the ground and rocks for these colorful creatures. I find its best to use your vehicle as a blind and combine that with the use of a longer telephoto lens and its relatively easy to photograph the Bluebirds.
Each day more signs of spring and summer appear in Rocky Mountain National Park. The return of the Mountain Bluebirds to the meadows of Rocky are one sign but if you pay attention the signs of spring are becoming more obvious each day. Of course in typical Rocky fashion don’t count out a few more good dumps of snow before all is said and done with.
Saturday in the park. I’m channeling a line from the band Chicago here as it was the tune playing in the back of my head as I both attempted to stay warm as well as trip the shutter on my camera in between blasts of wind yesterday morning in Rocky Mountain National Park. Coincidently, the band Chicago recorded many of its songs just down the Peak to Peak highway from Rocky Mountain National Park at Caribou Ranch just north of Nederland.
Saturday’s sunrise was typical of what we often find in Rocky during the winter months. The high peaks of Rocky shrouded in clouds and high winds keeping things interesting below. It snowed the previous day but as is often the case in RMNP, the window is short before the winds and sun make quick work of the freshly fallen snow.
Pro tip for mornings like these which are common in Rocky is to turn your back on the mountains and point your camera in the opposite direction. I know it sounds like some heck of a tip I’m giving but hear me out. Mornings like these often have great cloud cover to the east. You may not be able to include Rocky Mountain National Park’s impressive and iconic high peaks in your image, but weather conditions would have prevented it anyway.
Find a subject to photograph and work in the great skies and more subtle landscapes that are found just east of the high peaks. It will save the angst of feeling like your journey out in to the windy wilds of Rocky Mountain National Park have been for naught and who knows, you might actually come away with some exceptional images. This options surely beats sitting in your vehicle sulking over the conditions and complaining once again RMNP left you empty handed.
February on the Front Range of Colorado probably conjures up thoughts of cold and snowy landscapes. While we certainly get our fair share of snowy days in February, more often than not February is often a tame month when it comes to weather. Our blizzards and large snowstorms tend to occur early in the season in October or November or later in the season come March and April. February as was the case last week is often mild with seasonally warm weather and lots of sunshine. One caveat to mild February weather on the Front Range is our good friend the wind. These mild weather days or often powered by strong downsloping winds which warm the air as the descent the mountain range.
Last week was just that. Warm and mild in the Denver and Boulder area while at the same time being insanely windy. This made it nearly impossible for me to head up to Rocky Mountain National Park or even the foothills of Boulder for photography. Winds of over 80 mph were recorded in Estes Park and Boulder and Berthoud Pass above Winter Park even recorded gusts as high as 104 mph. If you have had the pleasure of trying to photograph landscapes in hurricane force winds you know that more often than not it can be a test in futility.
Windy days on the Front Range make photography tricky but the winds themselves often help to create beautiful lenticular clouds and some of Colorado’s best sunrises and sunsets. So while its hard to photograph in these conditions, its equally as difficult for a photographer like me to stay indoors and watch these spectacular sunrise and sunsets without attempting to photograph them.
Rocky Mountain National Park and the foothills were out of the question with the winds so I had to figure something else out. I figured it was as good a time as any to head out to some local spots here in Weld County east of the foothills and make an attempt to capture some of the beauty right here in my backyard.
Weld County is not going to upset the apple cart when it comes to unseating the jaw dropping beauty of Rocky Mountain National Park or other mountainous areas in the foothills, the high plains of Colorado have a subtle beauty that is often ignored by photographers. While Weld County holds a certain charm, its a county that is continually changing. Whether it be from Oil and Gas interests or construction from the housing boom and growth Colorado is experiencing, locations in Weld County don’t remain unspoiled for long.
Truth be told, 99% of the time I’m guilty of ignoring some of this subtle beauty and will drive right past it heading to up to Rocky or to Boulder for sunrise or sunset. With the hurricane force winds abating somewhat as you head further east, I was able to check off a couple of nearby locations and capture some of that subtle beauty that is present in eastern Colorado. Will this be the start of a new project or portfolio?. It’s hard to say for sure but I believe strongly in photographing subjects in your own backyard. I can only be so many places at once so we will just have to see moving forward how much time I can spare to continue to photograph in my backyard. Even so, photographing locally is rewarding and something I’m going to try and make a better effort to do in the future, especially on those pesky windy days.
Autumn always seems to come to end in Rocky Mountain National Park to quickly. While its a wonderful time of year in the park, photographing the fall season is a challenge. Photographers are at the mercy of the weather and trying to be in the right place at the right time always mixes preparedness with a little bit of luck and maybe a dash of serendipity.
The coming crescendo of the autumn season in Rocky Mountain National Park will be met with satisfaction and enjoyment of the season, but also a little bit of sadness as we watch the landscape begin its transformation from the brilliant colors of autumn moving towards its long winter slumber. It’s a both a humbling and somewhat frightening experience to watch winters grip removed by the growth and warmth of spring and summer only to see it wiped away in such a short amount of time. Though I wont say I appreciate the coming of winter and the end of fall, it does allow one sometime to recharge and reflect on the beauty of the past season.
So while the fall season in Rocky Mountain National Park is quickly moving towards and end, there are still some opportunities to photograph the last hold outs of autumn. As of this writing there are still a few stands of aspens in the lower elevations of Rocky Mountain National Park that have some color. Moraine Park, a few areas around Upper and Lower Beaver Meadows as well as Horseshoe Park can still yield beautiful fall photographs. Higher elevations such as the Bierstadt Moraine and the Boulder Brook area are now far past peak.
Dont give up quite yet on fall in Rocky Mountain National Park. There are still a few areas that can yield some nice autumn images over the next week or so in the park. Enjoy the last vestiges of fall while they are still able to be enjoyed.
No sooner had I finished writing and posting my previous blog post about current conditions in Rocky Mountain National Park and the subtle changes in the seasons before the weather in RMNP does what it’s famous for, change dramatically again.
True to form, not only are there signs of autumns impending arrival, but the weather in Rocky Mountain National Park on Friday morning decided to remind us that not only is fall right around the corner, but so is winter. While rain had fallen overnight in most elevations of RMNP on Thursday night, it was cold enough to put a light but healthy dusting of fresh snow on the landscape above 11,500 ft.
I drove up Trail Ridge Road early Friday morning looking to see if there would be any breaks in the cloud cover that morning for sunrise. Approaching the Forest Canyon overlook I could see it was more than just droplets of dew on the grasses and tundra and that there was a light dusting of snow right near timberline. Taking a moment to take a good look at Longs Peak in the predawn light, I could see it was also coated in fresh snow. While its a little early, snow in late August on the high peaks is fairly common. Heck it makes for some nice photographs as well so I’m certainly not complaining, I mean whats better than photographing 3 seasons all in the course of a couple of days?
So lets recap the current conditions in Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s still summer. Most of the park is still green, lakes are free of ice and trails are clean and clear. Signs of autumn have started to rear their head in the nooks and crannies of RMNP. A few aspen trees here and there are showing some color and some of the smaller ground foliage has turned red and orange. Lastly, even though it August, we can and do get occasional snow events covering the summer landscape with a winter like cloak.
Changes are starting to take place in Rocky Mountain National Park as they always do towards the backend of summer. Summer never seems to stick around as long as one would like and as soon as summer is upon us here in Rocky Mountain National Park, it seems like it’s back on its way out. It’s a conflicted period for me as on one hand while I love photographing the summer season in Rocky, Fall narrowly pulls ahead of summer as my favorite time to photograph RMNP.
It’s still summer and it’s still a bit on the early side (though not that early) to be talking about fall color conditions in Rocky Mountain National Park. With that said and keen observer will already notice that impending signs of autumn have begun to settle into the park.
The tundra grasses above timberline have turned brown and red high on the mountainsides, Bull Elk have shed their velvet and the bulls are starting to collect harems and bellow that beautiful and haunting bugle. Some of the aspen trees which typically turn golden yellow early in the season are showing yellow leaves. Lastly heavy frost has coated the meadows of Rocky Mountain National Park and some of the smaller deciduous ground cover have started to display their intense autumn colors.
On the west side of RMNP this morning fog drifted through the Kawuneeche Valley and a heavy frost covered the grasses of the Kawuneeche. Taking a minute to study the frozen grasses in the meadow I found not only the remnants of summer in the form of some frozen wildflowers, but also some beautiful reds, orange and yellow brush on full display. While there is no need to panic and things are very much on schedule, when in Rocky, take a minute to inspect the hidden and oft overlooked and you will be amazed at the autumn beauty you can already find.
One last note: I still have a few opening for photography tours in Rocky Mountain National Park during the end of September into early October. Availability is quickly filling up and if you think you would like to book a tour date it would be a good idea to do so soon.
Dream Lake, The Rock Cut, The Loch, Chasm Lake, Moraine Park all these constitute some of the most beautiful locations in Rocky Mountain National Park. These qualify as icons and as such photographers flock to these locations when visiting Rocky Mountain National Park. These locations are iconic because they are stunningly beautiful locations with or without a camera in hand. We all love photographing these icons of RMNP, but what about photographing locations in Rocky that are less iconic but have their own unique beauty and aura to them?.
Photographing non-iconic locations is by far more challenging then setting up along the shore of Dream Lake to photograph sunrise. For me at least, every nook and cranny of Rocky Mountain National Park holds beauty. That beauty may be more subtle than the knock your socks off, in your face beauty of Dream Lake but its there if you look for it. I find some of my most rewarding images of Rocky Mountain National Park are ones taken in locations that other photographers feel are either blasé or ones other photographers consider somewhat pedestrian when it comes to the landscape.
Every location in Rocky is beautiful and for me it’s about finding the right conditions and light to bring out the beauty and mood of a given location. Take for example the image above. Big Meadows on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park is an often visited location. That being said you wont find many images of Big Meadows in books, calendars or postcards. For the most part, hikers and photographers to Big Meadows will travel right on through on their way to what they consider more scenic areas of Rocky.
I’ve done this very thing many times myself but each time I pass through Big Meadows I think what a beautiful location it is and what conditions would I need to be able to convey the mood and spirit of this location. Big Meadows is exactly what the name describes it as. It’s a large grassy, marshy meadow surrounded mostly by some of Rocky more nondescript and less iconic peaks. There is no lake here, no giant granite mountain face towering over the the meadow. It’s a more subtle beauty, one where you are more likely to be photographing alongside a moose grazing along Tonahutu Creek then alongside another photographer.
So while its fun photographing the iconic locations of Rocky Mountain National Park, I feel it is just as important if not more so to photograph the beauty of the less iconic locations. A few weeks back conditions were perfect for what I had envisioned would be necessary to successfully photograph Big Meadows. Clouds drifted over the mountains and fog was present in the meadow. I had made a mental note to myself that the next time conditions unfolded like these I should make an attempt to hike into Big Meadows and see if I could capture the feel and mood of this beautiful spot.
I’m sure Dream Lake would have yielded a beautiful image as well this particular morning, but squishing around the wet grasses and soil of Big Meadows on this magical morning was not only worth it, but I was rewarded with an image of Big Meadows that I think perfectly captures the beauty of this location.
It’s Memorial day so we now have the official start to summer upon us. Summer seasons in Rocky Mountain National Park is here and much of the terrain in Rocky Mountain National Park will soon be more accessible and easier to access.
Trail Ridge Road officially opened for the season a day late on Saturday, May 28th after being delayed a day due to snow falling on the road on Friday. As of this writing, Trail Ridge Road is typically cleared each night and closed at 8:00 PM due to the potential for ice on the road. Depending on the conditions in the morning, the rangers usually reopen Trail Ridge Road around 8:00 AM the following morning. Within a few weeks Trail Ridge Road will once again be open 24 hrs a day as the snow melts away from the shoulder of the road. Fall River Road won’t be open until July 4th as it typically is each year.
The high country trails and lakes are starting to thaw out and melt. Sloppy intermittent snow covered trails can be found now above 8000 ft. From about 10,000 ft on down most lakes are open or partially covered with ice. You can expect to be postholing on portions the trails and if you plan on going much higher in elevation than 10,000 ft expect near winter travel conditions in Rocky.
It’s an exciting time in RMNP now as summer finally begins to descend upon the park. Access gets easier and the potential for landscape photographers increases on a daily basis as temperatures warm and last winters snow melt. Have fun out there and make sure to take advantage of this all too short but sweet time of year.
People often ask me if I ever tire of photographing Rocky Mountain National Park. After all, I spend the majority of my time in the field photographing in Rocky. When I field this question people assume that I most get bored photographing in the same locations in RMNP time and time again. In reality I find the opposite actually holds true. The more time I spend photographing in Rocky Mountain National Park, the more I realize just how much there is to photograph and just how much of a folly it is to every think once can photograph an amazing location like Rocky to the point of no longer being able to find new or unique compositions.
While I still photograph many of the well known locations in RMNP, I’m constantly on the lookout for new viewpoints or scouring my topographic maps trying to figure new locations which may hold great potential. New locations, varying lighting conditions, changes in seasons all make it easy to find new locations and opportunities for photography in Rocky Mountain National Park.
This past Friday I was able to get to a location I’ve been eyeing quite a few times but had yet to shoot. High above Moraine Park on the side of Beaver Mountain are some nice vistas of Longs Peak, Chiefs Head Peak, Thatchtop, Otis and even Hallett. I’ve been waiting for the right cloud setup before photographing from this location. As the high country of Rocky Mountain National Park thaws out I’ll end up spending much of my time photographing from those locations so I have a somewhat short window to photograph from this area before I start dedicating much of my time to locations that become more accessible as the temperatures warm.
Conditions where just about perfect on Friday from the side of Beaver Mountain and I was able to capture the image I had been envisioning for sometime. I have quite a large list of locations like this one on Beaver Mountain that I have yet to photograph from, so I don’t think I’ll be running short on locations to photograph in Rocky anytime soon.
Leaves are starting to bud on the tree’s, early season wildflowers have begun to make an appearance, the grass is turning green and the days get longer and longer. Spring is in the air here in Colorado and what better way to enjoy a mid April spring weekend with anything other than a nice big drop of fresh snow. It would not be a true Colorado spring if it was not for the warm weather head fake that the Front Range of Colorado is so well versed at performing.
As I write this, heavy wet spring snow is falling hard outside my office window and the mountains are covered with snow reminiscent of a scene straight from a Christmas movie. While meteorologists were calling for some of the areas of the foothills to receive between two and four feet of new snow, warmer temperatures seem to have kept the snow totals down in many areas. Even so, there is a significant amount of snow that has fallen over the higher elevations of Rocky Mountain National Park as well as the foothills just west of Boulder. So while my excitement grows each day as we move towards my favorite season (summer) in the Rockies, we photographers get another chance to get out in the field and enjoy this white winter landscape that now sits before us.
So when the weather gives you lemons, it’s best to make lemonade as they say. Break out the winter parka’s, snow boots and gloves and get out and make some new images. These spring storms often offer the best opportunity to photograph your favorite landscapes covered in snow.
I spent the early part of the storm enjoying a beautiful hike up Flagstaff Mountain in Boulder. I love to get on Flagstaff Mountain when its snowing. Not only is it a great hike, but Flagstaff Mountain has in my opinion some of the most beautiful sets of Ponderosa Pines in all of Colorado. Ponderosa’s and there red colored bark make for beautiful subjects when their pine bows are crusted in snow. Before you know it we will quickly resume are melt off and the snow will once again be gone. With mild weather and temperatures predicted to near 80 degrees by the end of the week, this opportunity to photograph the snow wont last long. So while many of us are looking forward towards summer, unfrozen lakes and wildflowers have fun with the weather curveball we are so often thrown here during spring. Who knows, maybe we will get a few more chances at snow before its all said and done for the season.