With another large November snowstorm about to descend on the Front Range of Colorado, I took a run up to Rocky yesterday morning. Based on the weather forecast, cloud cover and timing of the storm it looked like we might have some nice light at sunrise before the weather started changing over RMNP.
As I’ve stated many times, the lighting in Rocky Mountain National Park can be simply stunning in November when sunrise or sunsets cooperate. While the lighting can be amazing this time of year in Rocky Mountain National Park for photographers, there are still challenges when photographing this time of year.
The biggest challenge is accessibility. Trail Ridge Road is closed at Many Parks Curve on the east side of Rocky and the Colorado River Trailhead on the west side. Old Fall River Road is closed at the Alluvial Fan, Wild Basin is open a short distance from the entrance station to the winter parking lot. Bear Lake Road will stay open to the Bear Lake Parking lot though the road may be snow packed and icy, especially after recent storms.
While Bear Lake Road will stay open, many of Rocky’s classic landscapes in and around Bear Lake, Dream Lake, Glacier Gorge etc., are not lit very well during the shortest days of the season. Most of the peaks in the Bear Lake/Glacier Gorge area orient facing northeast. Combine this with towering mountains and valley’s and the lighting can be tough this time of year in this area of the park (contrary to the summer months when the sun is farther north and the lighting is amazing).
This leaves the Mummy Range, Moraine Park and Upper Beaver Meadows as the most accessible areas in Rocky in the winter with the best light for photography. This is a fairly small geographic area so if your not creative you can quickly run out of new or different locations to photograph.
As somebody who has been photographing Rocky Mountain National Park for well over twenty years now, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to photograph these areas so its always a challenge for me and my personal portfolio to find new locations and compositions. Of course, weather, lighting and conditions are never the same twice so it’s less difficult than I’m making it sound.
I ended up settling on a composition that is very close to a popular pull out along US 36 that has a commanding view of the continental divide and many of the prominent peaks in Rocky. I’ve seen many others photograph from this location as I have, but I’ve never incorporated this tree into the image (as others have).
While watching this colorful sunrise unfold in front of me, I couldn’t help but thinks how much the image in the viewfinder reminded me of many of the Lyman Byxbe copper plate etchings of Rocky Mountain National Park made famous in wall art and postcards.
Lyman Byxbe spent many years in his Estes Park studios creating beautiful copper etchings of what are some of the parks most iconic scenes. In fact, I would argue that Lyman Byxbe pioneered many of the compositions that photographers such as myself end up emulating today.
Often found in Lyman Byxbe’s beautiful copper etchings is the use of tree’s to add depth to a landscape presented on a two dimensional medium. Like myself, it’s obvious that Mr. Byxbe was fond of the beautiful and unique trees found in Rocky Mountain National Park and sought them out in his art.
Like a lot of artists, Lyman Byxbe’s work does not receive the credit and acclaim it probably should. In recent years with the ever growing popularity of Rocky Mountain National Park, Byxbe’s work has become more sought after and appreciated. I know I certainly feel his influence in my work often as was the case yesterday morning.
There are a few books available through third parties that chronicle Lyman Byxbe’s work but other than those books, his work is available for viewing throughout various pages on the internet. I would highly recommend anybody interested in viewing one of Rocky Mountain National Park’s most interesting artist when it comes to the landscape to use a search engine and search for Byxbe’s work. If you have not taken the time to do so I think you will really appreciate his love for the landscapes of Rocky Mountain National Park.