With 2019 in the rearview mirror and the holidays now behind us, it’s nice not only to reflect on the previous year, but also think about all of the potential for 2020. In one sense, turning the page on 2019 brings a feeling of a fresh start, while on the other, getting back into your normal day to day routine after the holidays brings comfort to somebody like myself who enjoys and looks forward to their routine.
During Christmas and the New Years holiday I try to stay busy photographing as often as I can. That can be a tall order with social commitments, photography tour clients visiting Rocky Mountain National Park during the holidays, and weather and conditions which were for the most part blasé.
Working through the holiday parties, social and business commitments at the end of the year means I would have liked to have finished out 2019 on a strong note. It’s a lot easier said then done with all the distractions and average conditions for photography.
I did manage to spend quite a few days out in the field at the end of 2019, either guiding photography clients, are finding locations and subjects to photograph that did not require beautiful sunrises or sunsets. With that said, 2019 transitioned into 2020 with more of a whimper than a bang for me.
Looking to reset and start 2020 off on the right foot, I headed over to Grand Lake and the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park for some inspiration. During the summer months when Trail Ridge Road is open, spending time on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park is one of my favorite things to do. Once the snows start falling in October, and Trail Ridge Road is closed for the season, traveling to the west side of Rocky is a little more involved.
Each year during the winter and spring months I’ll spend a few days at a time over in Grand Lake so that I can photograph the west side of RMNP when its draped in a cloak of fresh snow. Winter on the west side of Rocky is quiet and the hustle and bustle of summer in downtown Grand Lake is only a distant memory.
Grand Lake is about as peaceful, quiet and tranquil as it can get in the middle of winter. Boaters and hikers are replaced with visitors on snowmobiles, but overall the town of Grand Lake and the west side of Rocky see very little traffic compared to the summer months.
It’s not uncommon for me to be the only person in the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park at sunrise, something that does not happen on the east side of the park. The quiet and solitude is great but photographing on the west side of Rocky is difficult during the winter months.
The Kawuneeche Valley and Grand Lake are very cold places in January. Expect single digits to below single digits temperatures at sunrise. Getting a sunny day on the west side of the divide can also be a little more difficult. Snow and fog are common and even if its a clear sunny day on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park, theres a good chance you will find yourself in the snow, fog and clouds on the west side of RMNP.
I also cant emphasize enough how much snow is on the ground on the west side of the park by January. Head even a few feet into the woods or off the roads and you will likely be sinking into the snow up to your waist or chest. Snowshoes help, but instead of sinking into your waist, expect only to sink in to your knees. This makes getting to many of the locations on the west side of the park challenging to say the least.
With Saturday looking like the day the clouds and snow would break I decided to snowshoe out to Little Buckaroo Barn in the middle of the Kawuneeche Valley. It was 9 degrees when I started the short snowshoe in but I quickly was wading through snow up to waist even with snowshoes. Regardless, high clouds in the sky and the hint of pink to the east of the continental divide had me pushing through the deep snow towards Little Buckaroo Barn.
I’ve photographed Little Buckaroo Barn countless times during the summer and fall but capturing an image here during the middle of winter after a fresh snow has always been high on my to-do list.
After finally getting through the deep untouched snow around the barn, I setup my camera and watched as the colors in the sky over Little Buckaroo Barn and the Kawuneeche Valley exploded.
Pastels and pinks are a favorite, but combine that with fresh snow reflecting those colors and I knew I was in the right place at the right time. Feeling like 2019 went out with more of a whimper than a bang, the start of 2020 on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park quickly erased the past few weeks of disappointing conditions and had me looking forward to all the potential 2020 has.