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!.