With the fall color season now well in the rear view mirror in Rocky, we’ve officially entered the brown season. I don’t personally like using that term as I found this time of year to be beautiful in its own right.
Snow is back on the peaks, grasses are really more golden than brown, and access to much of the park is still fairly decent. There’s no denying the brown season is a transitional season, but the slower pace, smaller crowds are often welcome after the hectic summer season and fall crush of visitors to Rocky Mountain National Park.
One of the things photographers can look forward to during the brown season is the first decent snowstorms of the season. Snow has been falling in earnest in Rocky all week but a nice early season winter storm dropped nearly 8 inches of snow in the lower elevations of RMNP Wednesday into Thursday morning.
The weather forecast looked great for Thursday morning as the storm was predicted to move out of Rocky Mountain National Park early in the morning leaving partially cloudy skies and very light winds. Typically when these storms move out of Rocky, the backside of these storms come in with very high westerly winds. Not only are these winds a nuisance for photographers trying to keep their cameras steady on a tripod, but they tend to blow all the powdered snow from the pines and trees.
One can arrive the next morning in Rocky Mountain National Park after a winter snowstorm to find that other than fresh snow cover on the ground, much of the park (mountaintops and trees) look as they did prior to the snow falling. This storm had all the variables for winter like photography in Rocky looking good.
Rocky Mountain National Park looked spectacular when I arrived at 4:45 AM. Clouds covered the sky and light snow was still falling when I first arrived. The park roads were not plowed and about 8 to 10 inches of fresh snow covered the park roads depending on elevation. I headed out the yet to be closed Upper Beaver Meadows Road to wait for sunrise.
When I arrived it looked like sunrise was be clouded over. As is so often the case in Rocky, clouds hanging out before sunrise quickly begin to dissipate just before sunrise and its not uncommon to go from completely clouded over skies, to cloudless skies in short order and thats exactly how this morning panned out.
I hunkered down in Upper Beaver Meadows as it gives you one of the best views of Rocky’s peak from north to south. I could see the cloud cover was breaking quickly and I wanted to be in a location where I could quickly adapt my composition to adjust for the light and cloud cover. These beautiful snowy mornings are actually quite rare in Rocky Mountain National Park and I don’t like to miss out on the opportunity to photograph Rocky when conditions are perfect.
While I was able to eek out a couple of compositions before the clouds completely dissipated from the skies over RMNP, this image of Ypsilon Mountain from Upper Beaver Meadows just before sunrise was one of my favorite. The fog was clearing in front of Ypsilon Mountains iconic face just as the alpenglow was adding color to the landscape. Its hard to think of any mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park that received better lighting during the winter months or looks better with fresh snow than Ypsilon. In minutes the sun had risen and the fog and clouds were gone leaving only a few short moments to capture Rocky Mountain National Park draped in fresh snow.
Besides yesterday mornings beautiful conditions at sunrise in RMNP, one other item of importance occurred as well. The NPS closed Trail Ridge Road for the season yesterday. This storm, combined with what looks like more snow and winter conditions early next week put an end to another great season on Trail Ridge Road. If feels like just yesterday that Trail Ridge Road opened for the season. I’ll look forward to it reopening next May ushering in the unofficial start to the summer season in Rocky Mountain National Park.