But It’s An Afternoon Shot!

To date my favorite image that I've created from the Rock Cut along Trail Ridge Road. I almost passed up photographing from the Rock Cut this week because typically it's considered best to photograph during the afternoon. In reality, there is no such thing as optimal times to photograph a landscape, only optimal lighting conditions which can come in the morning as well as the afternoon. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24mm TS-E F3.5 L II
To date my favorite image that I’ve created from the Rock Cut along Trail Ridge Road. I almost passed up photographing from the Rock Cut this week because typically it’s considered best to photograph during the afternoon. In reality, there is no such thing as optimal times to photograph a landscape, only optimal lighting conditions which can come in the morning as well as the afternoon. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24mm TS-E F3.5 L II

It’s an afternoon shot. Typically that’s what I would tell people who asked me for a recommendation as to when the best time to photograph from The Rock Cut along Trail Ridge Road is. While mostly true, the more I photograph locations in Rocky, especially iconic ones, the more I find equally as pleasing images when photographing during times that are considered less ideal. This also applies to exploring and photographing from vantage points that may not actually highlight the actually icon or depict the iconic scene seared into our consciousness.

Having just returned from my fall jaunt to photograph autumn colors in New York State, I was keeping my fingers crossed that Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park would stay open while I was out of town. Mostly mild weather over Rocky Mountain National Park allowed Trail Ridge Road to stay open into this week. For those not familiar with Trail Ridge Road, it’s the highest continuous road in the United States and reaches and elevations just of 12,183 ft above sea level. Typically Trail Ridge Road is closed during the first significant snow storm of the season which on average usually pans out to be the third week of October.

Essentially at this point in the season any inclement weather is likely to close Trail Ridge Road at Many Parks Curve on the east side of Rocky and the Colorado River Trailhead on the west side of Rocky for the winter season. So as soon as I set foot back on Colorado soil, I was dead set on spending time photographing along Trail Ridge prior to it becoming a long, cold, and difficult winter hike.

Tuesday was the first day I was able to get out to photograph Rocky Mountain National Park. With conditions looking promising for a nice sunrise, up Trail Ridge Road I headed long before the break of dawn. I drove Trail Ridge Road all the way to Medicine Bow curve trying to decide where I wanted to photograph from. Normally, I’ll spend a few afternoons photographing from the Rock Cut, but I had yet to do so this year.

The sunrise was looking very promising and the early morning glow was just starting to color the skies over the eastern plains of Colorado. A large lenticular cloud was forming east of Longs Peak and the skies to west had started to clear. The Rock Cut seemed like the perfect vantage point to take in sunrise. ‘It’s an afternoon shot’ is the thought that raced through my head. With little time left to mess around with what now looked like a slam dunk sunrise, I headed to the Rock Cut. I was prepared to go down in flames for photographing a location that’s supposed to be an afternoon shot.

Thoroughly enjoying a rare late October morning at just under 12,000 ft, with a light breeze and mild temperatures, I grinned ear to ear as sunrise unfolded and my shutter clicked with the constantly changing hues of a spectacular sunrise. I often have to relearn this lesson, but mornings like these are a great reminder. There is no such thing as a morning or afternoon location. There is good light, great light and spectacular light, chase the light, not the location!.

Autumn On The East Coast

A beautiful sunrise unfolds over Harriman State Park. Harriman is located just north of New York City but plays host to some of the best fall color in all of New York State each year. This makes Harriman State Park a popular destination for many photographers from the Tri-State area. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24-70mm F4 IS L
A beautiful sunrise unfolds over Harriman State Park. Harriman is located just north of New York City but plays host to some of the best fall color in all of New York State each year. This makes Harriman State Park a popular destination for many photographers from the Tri-State area. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24-70mm F4 IS L

Having just finished with photographing some of the best fall color in Rocky Mountain National Park that I’ve seen in some years, I’ve headed back to the east coast and New York State to photograph fall color here. As is typically the case when I’m back east my time is split between visiting family and getting out in the field to photograph.

Watkins Glen located in the Southern Tier of New York State is also an amazing location to photograph fall color. Even when the leaves have fallen from the tree's they make a great subject lining the bank of the stream. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24mm TS-E F3.5 L II
Watkins Glen located in the Southern Tier of New York State is also an amazing location to photograph fall color. Even when the leaves have fallen from the tree’s they make a great subject lining the bank of the stream. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24mm TS-E F3.5 L II

Autumn along the east coast is special and I would recommend that photographers who mostly spend time photographing on the west coast at least make one attempt at heading east to photograph the colorful show the trees put on here. I’ll be back in Colorado in a few days with fall being mostly a distant memory and winter knocking on the door. Until then I’m splitting my time photographing Harriman State Park and Bear Mountain State Park and some of the beautiful gorges and waterfalls in the Southern Tier region of upstate New York. So until I can get back out into the field in Rocky here are a few images of the fall color back east.

Five Reason I Love Rocky Mountain National Park

This image I made near Lake Haiyaha illustrates a few of the many reasons I love photographing Rocky Mountain National Park. Fresh snow covers Hallett Peak and this small outlet just south of Lake Haiyaha has partially frozen over. It's only October 1st but snow and ice are already part of the landscape while fall colors peak in the lower elevations of Rocky. A small break in the clouds to the east allowed for this intense sunrise to illuminate and color the clouds and peaks over Rocky Mountain National Park this morning. Technical Details: Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III, 16-35mm F4 IS L
This image I made near Lake Haiyaha illustrates a few of the many reasons I love photographing Rocky Mountain National Park. Fresh snow covers Hallett Peak and this small outlet just south of Lake Haiyaha has partially frozen over. It’s only October 1st but snow and ice are already part of the landscape while fall colors peak in the lower elevations of Rocky. A small break in the clouds to the east allowed for this intense sunrise to illuminate and color the clouds and peaks over Rocky Mountain National Park this morning. Technical Details: Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III, 16-35mm F4 IS L

With the fall color season nearly over and Rocky Mountain National Park transitioning over towards the winter season, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on a few of the reasons Rocky Mountain National Park is my favorite National Park to visit and more importantly to me photograph. A lot of people ask me why I spend so much time in one area when I have all of Colorado and the west to explore as well. Frankly I love photographing Colorado and the western United States, but if I had to chose between those and Rocky Mountain National Park, I’d still choose Rocky any day. One could easily spend a lifetime photographing Rocky Mountain National Park and not even scratch the surface when it comes to all the possibilities Rocky has in store when it comes to photography. Here are five reason I personally love Rocky Mountain National Park.

1. I love Rocky’s diversity. Sure Rocky Mountain National Park is only 415 square miles in total size. While that’s certainly nothing to sneeze at size wise, Yellowstone National Park is just under 3500 square miles and The Grand Canyon National Park is just over 1900 square miles. While these two other iconic National Parks of the west have Rocky Mountain National Park beat in size Rocky has some notable icons of its own. Rocky plays host to the headwaters of the Colorado River. Tucked behind Specimen Mountain near Little Yellowstone Canyon the Colorado River begins its longs journey southward towards the Pacific Ocean. The Colorado River is the engine that helped to form what we now know as the Grand Canyon. John Wesley Powell the first American explorer to discover and navigate the Grand Canyon is also credited with the first summit of Longs Peak the year before his famous travels down the Colorado River. Rocky Mountain National Park is also home to Longs Peak which at 14,259 ft above sea level is Rocky’s highest summit. Yellowstone’s highest peak, Eagle Peak reaches to 11,372 ft above sea level. 2887 ft below the summit of Longs Peak and 811 ft lower than the highest point on Rocky’s infamous Trail Ridge Road which tops off at 12,183 ft above sea level. This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to exploring Rocky. Spending time above tree line in Rocky Mountain National Park will yield a completely different experience then spending time at the lower elevations beautiful meadows and parks.

2. Rocky has two very distinctive sides to the park. The continental divide splits Rocky Mountain National Park into an east side and a west side. Trail Ridge Road which is only open from Memorial Day until mid October is the means for which 99% of all visitors to Rocky will travel and experience each side of the park. The east side of Rocky Mountain National Park plays host to some moderate and short hikes that allow visitors to visit beautiful alpine lakes such as the iconic Dream Lake. The east side is also home to Longs Peak, the highest peak in the park and the challenging eight mile hike to it’s summit has become a goal of many of the park’s visitors. The west side of the Rocky Mountain National Park while just as beautiful as the east side is more mysterious. It’s alpine lakes and peaks are just as majestic as the east side but require long strenuous hikes to visit. Your just as likely to encounter a Moose in the back country of Rocky west side as you are other hikers.

3. Rocky has some of the most beautiful sunrises and early morning lighting anywhere. The geographic location of Rocky Mountain National Park allows it to garner some of the most beautiful light at sunrise. Situated above and just west of the Colorado high plains, Rocky Mountain National Park high peaks have a completely unobstructed view to the rising sun over the flat Colorado high plains. First morning light in Rocky Mountain National Park comes early and is intense. The peaks and summits will glow a fiery red and if one’s lucky enough to have clouds in the sky at sunrise they will begin to change color and hue 30 to 45 minutes before the sun actually rises. The light show in Rocky Mountain National Park on a partly cloudy morning is simply breathtaking to take in and photograph.

With only the high plains of Colorado between Rocky and the high peaks, brillant and colorful sunrises like this one over Lake Helene are magical. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 16-35mm F4 IS L
With only the high plains of Colorado between Rocky and the high peaks, brillant and colorful sunrises like this one over Lake Helene are magical. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 16-35mm F4 IS L

4. I’m a student of history and Rocky Mountain National Park is chock full of interesting events and people. From the early Ute and Arapahoe tribes that spent time in what is now Rocky Mountain National Park to characters that seem to read from a movie script such as The Earl of Dunraven, Rocky Mountain Jim Nugent, John Wesley Powell, William Byers, Abner Sprague,Squeaky Bob, and Enos Mills the park has been visited and explored by some of the hardiest, most interesting and in the case of the Irish Earl, self interested people to visit Colorado and the west. While many of the people listed above helped paved the way towards making the area a destination, none played a more integral part in having the foresight to protect and conserve the area than Enos Mills. Enos Mills is considered the father of Rocky Mountain National Park. His conservation efforts, explorations and writings on the area acted both as a treasure trove of information, but also helped in getting congress to set aside this land for protection in 1915. While Enos was a great outdoorsman and spent countless days wandering the forests that now makeup Rocky Mountain National Park, it was a chance encounter with John Muir, the father of the Sierra Club movement that spurred Enos to champion conservation of what is now Rocky Mountain National Park. There is a clear and distinct line between Rocky Mountain National Park founding and John Muir, the person considered the father of the American conservation movement. For that we have Enos Mills to thank.

5. Last and not least one of my personal favorite things about Rocky Mountain National Park is sharing and experiencing the beauty of the park with friends, family and visitors from all over the country and the world. Rocky Mountain National Park was the first National Park I ever visited when I moved to Colorado in 1998. It had an immediate and indelible effect on me the minute I drove through the entrance. I had spent time all over Colorado prior to visiting Rocky Mountain National Park and had figured the whole state of Colorado is practically a National Park, why do I need to go fight the crowds and cars?. Rocky’s unique and it only took one visit over sixteen years ago in which I had to be egged on by a friend for me to figure that out and fall in love with Rocky. Watch for the change in visitors when you bring them to Rocky to show them around. See how friendly and happy people become as they hike farther from the trailhead and into the backcountry. Once away from their vehicle and the influence of man one can easily see the effect wilderness and wild places have on people. Did you ever notice how almost everybody makes eye contact, says hello and smiles when they are four or five miles from their car?. You can almost gauge how close you are to the trailhead based on how friendly, outgoing and engaging people are on the trail. That’s a powerful effect and one that was not lost those that had the foresight to protect and preserve what I now consider my favorite place on the planet, Rocky Mountain National Park.

Quickly Fleeting Fall

Fall is quickly slipping into winter in Rocky Mountain National Park. Fall color seaons in Rocky is quickly making it's exit and Winter is knocking on the door. Fresh snow coats the pines over Glacier Gorge and the Bear Lake area on Tuesday morning as Rocky's second winter storm of the seaons dumped snow on the higher eleveations of the park. Technical Details: Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III, 16-35mm F4 IS L
Fall is quickly slipping into winter in Rocky Mountain National Park. Fall color seaons in Rocky is quickly making it’s exit and Winter is knocking on the door. Fresh snow coats the pines over Glacier Gorge and the Bear Lake area on Tuesday morning as Rocky’s second winter storm of the seaons dumped snow on the higher eleveations of the park. Technical Details: Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III, 16-35mm F4 IS L

Fall in the Rockies is like natures great tease. Golden foliage, warm days and sunshine make it a favorite among many. Then, wham!. Snow, wind and freezing temperatures put a quick end to the beautiful and easy pace of autumn in the high country. As discreetly as autumn weaves its way into the meadows, forests and canyons that make up Rocky Mountain National Park, Old Man Winter arrives with all the subtlety of a canon blast.

This week Rocky has gotten it’s second significant blast of cold winter weather. The first blast which arrived on September 10th was too early to cause any damage to the foliage and in my opinion did nothing to dampen what was a very good color year in Rocky Mountain National Park. This second cold blast however has caused snow to fall over Rocky three nights in a row. Trail Ridge Road has been closed down because of snowdrifts 2-3 ft high according to the NPS and much of the Autumn foliage has either fallen or is now past peak.

The Elk Rut is still in full swing in Rocky Mountain National Park but even it's pace has slowed in recent days. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 100-400mm F4-5.6 IS L
The Elk Rut is still in full swing in Rocky Mountain National Park but even it’s pace has slowed in recent days. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 100-400mm F4-5.6 IS L

There are however, a spotty areas of fall color in Rocky Mountain National Park which may hold up through the end of the week. Higher elevations such as Bear Lake have been past peak for over a week now so I wont go into much detail regarding color status in those areas.

The Bierstadt Moraine is pretty much done. There are a few decent stands near the base of the Moraine but otherwise it’s pretty spotty. Moraine Park will still have some color through the week. There are still a fair amount of aspen stands that are mostly green. The aspens in Lower Beaver Meadows and near the Beaver Meadows entrance station are a past peak. There are a few decent stands with color and one should be able to frame Longs Peak with some color into the weekend. There are a few smaller groves in Upper Beaver Meadows that are just starting to turn and may offer some of the best late color in the park.

The Horseshoe Park area is also now past peak. Most of the larger aspen groves in Horseshoe Park are past peak and have dropped their leaves. There are a few isolated trees and groves hear and there in Horseshoe Park that still look good. If you take your time there is the potential to photograph more intimate scenes of color in and around Horseshoe Park.

The aspens on the west side of RMNP were past peak as of last Saturday. I would expect most trees to be well past peak on the west side at this point in time. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 100-400mm F4-5.6 IS L
The aspens on the west side of RMNP were past peak as of last Saturday. I would expect most trees to be well past peak on the west side at this point in time. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 100-400mm F4-5.6 IS L

I’ve not been over the the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park since Saturday. At that time much of the color was just past peak. I would have to believe that this last storm has stripped many of the tree’s of their leaves in and around the Kawuneeche Valley. The large stand of aspens at the Timber Creek trailhead was well past peak as of last Saturday. Even though the foliage in most of Rocky Mountain National Park is now past peak, many of the grasses in Moraine, Horseshoe and the Kawuneeche Valley are now golden and looking very good.

Lastly the Elk Rut is still underway in Rocky and while the Elk are very active in Moraine, Horseshoe, Beaver Meadows and the Kawuneeche Valley, especially at dusk and dawn their seems to be a noticeable turn down to the intensity of the rut at this point in time. As always theres a million things to do and photograph in Rocky Mountain National Park. Regardless of the seasons or the weather the next few weeks photographers should have little problem staying busy and creative.

Rocky Mountain National Park Fall Color Update

I photographed this beautiful rainbow over the Bierstadt Moraine yesterday morning. This view gives one a good idea what the current fall color conditions are like in Rocky Mountain National Park. While the higher elevations are at peak or just past peak, lower elevations should be good for the next week or so. Technical Details: Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III, 16-35mm F4 IS L
I photographed this beautiful rainbow over the Bierstadt Moraine yesterday morning. This view gives one a good idea what the current fall color conditions are like in Rocky Mountain National Park. While the higher elevations are at peak or just past peak, lower elevations should be good for the next week or so. Technical Details: Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III, 16-35mm F4 IS L

It’s hard to believe it but we are now well into fall in Rocky Mountain National Park. It seems like just weeks ago the lakes were thawing and the snow was melting. The Elk rut is well on it’s way and as of this writing, we are for the most part at peak, or just past peak for fall color in most of the higher elevations of Rocky. As always, fall is fleeting and much to short.

This years colors were spectacular. We survived an early season snowstorm on September 11th through the 12th which did little damage to the trees or the vibrance of the colors. I’m not exactly sure why, but many of the aspen groves in Rocky Mountain National Park had vibrant reds and oranges along with your more typical yellow coloration. So here are the latest observations and recommendations regarding the current status of fall colors in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Even though the winds of the last few days have stripped many of the aspens of leaves at higher elevations. Places like Boulder Brook are great when the forest floor is covered with fallen aspen leaves. Technical Details: Canon EOS 1Ds III, 16-35mm F4 IS L
Even though the winds of the last few days have stripped many of the aspens of leaves at higher elevations. Places like Boulder Brook are great when the forest floor is covered with fallen aspen leaves. Technical Details: Canon EOS 1Ds III, 16-35mm F4 IS L

Overall, fall color in Rocky appears to be peaking three to five days earlier than an average year. In my opinion the higher elevations of the park, specifically the Bear Lake, Glacier Gorge and Bierstadt Moraine peaked somewhere around Sunday 9/21 to Monday 9/22. Starting on Sunday 9/21, the weather became a bit more unsettled in the park. Rain and gusty winds on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday have stripped many of the aspen tree’s around Bear Lake of their leaves. Bierstadt Moraine, while just past peak still was holding on fairly well as of Tuesday.

Lower elevations of Rocky Mountain National Park such as Moraine Park and Horseshoe Park are certainly showing their colors as well with much of the scrub and underbrush having already turned. The aspens in the lower elevations are starting to turn as well, and barring that the wind does not wreak to much havoc on the leaves, should be looking good into next week.

So what would I recommend as far as photographing the fall colors in Rocky Mountain National Park over the next week?. There are still plenty of opportunities but I would emphasize looking past grand landscape type views and instead concentrate on photographing the remaining autumn color on a smaller scale. Locations such as Boulder Brook look great right now. This is one of those locations that looks better when the aspens have dropped from the tree’s and line the forest floor and banks of Boulder Brook with gold. I could spend hours and hours right now photographing along Boulder Brook.

There is still plenty of fall color to photograph in the park. Look for smaller scenes of peak color like this one along the base of Bierstadt Moraine. Technical Details: Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III, 24mm TS-E F3.5 L II
There is still plenty of fall color to photograph in the park. Look for smaller scenes of peak color like this one along the base of Bierstadt Moraine. Technical Details: Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III, 24mm TS-E F3.5 L II

Bierstadt Moraine still has quite a few stands of large aspens that are still looking good. Instead of looking to photograph the entire moraine, concentrate on finding batches of golden aspen trees and work those areas. The ferns along the moraine are looking very good right now so look low for compositions of colorful ferns and fallen aspen leaves. Beaver Meadows, Moraine Park and Horseshoe Park will also be providing ample fall color over the next week. Instead of looking to spend time around Bear Lake and Glacier Gorge, look for locations in the lower elevations to provide a colorful backdrop.

So while the fall colors may be just past peak now in most of the areas of Rocky Mountain National Park, there still should be plenty of opportunities to photograph fall color for the next few weeks. Stay open and flexible and if the grand landscapes are past peak, look to smaller scenes to find unique compositions.

Battle Of The Seasons

While snow has already fallen on top of the high peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park, the night of September 11th into the morning of September 12th saw snow fall at mid and lower elevations in Rocky Mountain National Park for the first time this year. The early season snowfall combined with the start of fall color seaons in Rocky made for some interesting conditions for photography the morning of the 12th. I hiked up to Bierstadt Lake in hopes that the clouds would break and reveal the snow covered peaks to the west. While the clouds did not part at sunrise, I was able to photograph beautiful winter like scenes along the shore of Bierstadt Lake. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 70-300mm F4-5.6 IS L
While snow has already fallen on top of the high peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park, the night of September 11th into the morning of September 12th saw snow fall at mid and lower elevations in Rocky Mountain National Park for the first time this year. The early season snowfall combined with the start of fall color seaons in Rocky made for some interesting conditions for photography the morning of the 12th. I hiked up to Bierstadt Lake in hopes that the clouds would break and reveal the snow covered peaks to the west. While the clouds did not part at sunrise, I was able to photograph beautiful winter like scenes along the shore of Bierstadt Lake. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 70-300mm F4-5.6 IS L
The first significant snow of the season fell over the lower elevations of Rocky Mountain National Park last week. By significant I mean about an inch or less fell over area around Bear /Lake, Sprague Lake, Moraine and Horseshoe Park. It’s significant in that it that September 11th is fairly early to see the white stuff at the lower elevations of Rocky. Meanwhile, at the same time the snow began to fall the night of September 11th into the morning of the 12th, fall color in the park is just starting to show signs of beautiful autumn color in amongst the aspen leaves, mountain maples and underbrush. I’d be remiss if I was to mention I did not find some irony in the fact that on the anniversary of last years historic flooding in Estes Park and the Front Range, snow fell instead of rain.

So as they often happens this time of year two seasons collided. This collision of course resulted in stunning conditions for photography. When the weather changes this quickly and it causes winter to overlap fall it can be somewhat bittersweet. While it creates great opportunities to pick up the camera and capture imagery of overlapping seasons, it’s also likely to mean the fall season may be shortened by the cold snap and snow. Many of the aspen trees were still green when the storm hit so at this point it will be a bit of waiting to see how this early season storm affected the fail foliage in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Grasses along the shores of Bierstadt Lake are covered in fresh snow. Even without the mountains revealing themselves, it was still a dynamic morning at Bierstadt Lake. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24mm TS-E F3.5 L II
Grasses along the shores of Bierstadt Lake are covered in fresh snow. Even without the mountains revealing themselves, it was still a dynamic morning at Bierstadt Lake. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24mm TS-E F3.5 L II

Looking to maximize both my chances to photograph sunrise as well as a combination of the fall color and fresh snow on the landscape, I hiked up to Bierstadt Lake the morning of the 12th to see what sunrise had in store. I knew it would be too early in the seasons for Bierstadt Lake to have frozen over, so I had my hopes on being along the shores of Bierstadt Lake when the inversion broke and the clouds cleared the sky and revealed the Continental Divide covered in fresh snow. These kinds of opportunities to photograph snow covered peaks with lakes not yet frozen over are rare and short lived in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Hiking up to Bierstadt Lake takes you up and over the Bierstadt Moraine. This is one of the better locations to photograph stands of aspens turning yellow in Rocky. My plan was to photograph sunrise at Bierstadt Lake and then hustle back over to Bierstadt Moraine and see if I could find some color along the hillsides.

I hiked up to Bierstadt Lake with it still spitting snow from the sky. I could still see the nearly full moon behind the clouds so I had hope that the inversion and clouds would clear as sunrise approached. It was peaceful and silent as I made my way through the forest at the top of moraine. Only when I arrived at the east end of Bierstadt Lake was there any signs of activity in the untouched snow. A fresh set of black bear tracks lead the way around the south end of Bierstadt Lake. While I did not see the bear, the tracks had been laid very recently. The Bear tracks in the snow only added to the mystique and aura as fog and snow drifted through the pines along the shore. Knowing a good size bear was ambling around the woods somewhere close by only enhances the experience of wild places and wilderness.

Hoar frost and snow cover golden aspen leaves along the slopes of the Bierstadt Moraine after Rocky's first snow at mid and lower elevations this year. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 70-300mm F4-5.6 L
Hoar frost and snow cover golden aspen leaves along the slopes of the Bierstadt Moraine after Rocky’s first snow at mid and lower elevations this year. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 70-300mm F4-5.6 L

I setup along the south shore of Bierstadt Lake and waited for the clouds to lift and the sun to shine. Sunrise came and went and the clouds remained. There were a few breaks in the cloud cover from time to time but never enough to let the sun through or reveal the snow covered peaks to the west. Even without the sun peeking through at sunrise the scene at Bierstadt Lake was magnificent. The fog, snow covered pines, and unfrozen lake made for nearly limitless potential. Truth be told, these kinds of conditions along with diffused lighting are some of my favorite to photograph in. After spending over 2 hrs photographing various compositions along the shore of Bierstadt Lake in the 26 degree weather, I spent some more time photographing a few of the aspen trees on the Bierstadt Moraine that had already turned.

So even though the shot of snow covered peaks reflecting in the still, and unfrozen water of Bierstadt Lake did not materialize the way I had hoped, the resulting images and experiences that morning were equally as rewarding. Now I’m just keeping my fingers crossed that fall will hang on a little while longer so I can photograph golden aspen leaves against Colorado bluebird skies.

Signs Of Autumn

Fall is quickly settling into Rocky Mountain National Park already. Snow has already coated the high peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park on two occasions with more predicted on Thursday night. These aspen leaves had already turned along Trail Ridge Road late last week. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 70-300mm F4-5.6 IS L
Fall is quickly settling into Rocky Mountain National Park already. Snow has already coated the high peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park on two occasions with more predicted on Thursday night. These aspen leaves had already turned along Trail Ridge Road late last week. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 70-300mm F4-5.6 IS L

It happens like clockwork every year around this time. Somebody spots an aspen grove changing colors somewhere in Colorado and then loudly proclaims on the internet that fall is coming early. Photographers from all over the country chime in to the forum in a panic, fearing that their year long trip planning or vacations have now gone awry In my experience, while there are sometimes small changes in peak fall color, especially due to weather, the timing is fairly predictable and consistent year in and year out. So let me just be perfectly clear. I don’t want to be that person proclaiming fall in Colorado is coming early this year, but I can say signs of autumn are quickly starting to appear in Colorado and Rocky Mountain National Park.

An inversion covers Glacier Gorge and Forest Canyon as fresh snow coats the summit of Longs Peak last week. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24-70mm F4 IS L
An inversion covers Glacier Gorge and Forest Canyon as fresh snow coats the summit of Longs Peak last week. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24-70mm F4 IS L

Everywhere you look, the subtle signs of autumn approaching are becoming less subtle. Temperatures are certainly starting to noticeably cool. The alpine tundra has turned red and orange in Rocky Mountain National Park along with some of the ground cover in the lower elevations. Even a few aspen tree’s and maybe a grove here or there in the park has started turning from green to yellow, red and orange. The Elk rut has really ramped up in the last week and the sound of Elk bugling in the morning is now nearly as common as chirping birds. As for subtlety in change, last Friday, Longs Peak received a healthy dusting of snow on it’s summit while many of elevations of the park above 11,000 ft received enough of a dusting today that Trail Ridge Road was closed overnight.

As I write this, the National Weather Service is predicting a cold front from the north that will bring snow again to Rocky Mountain National Park Thursday night into Friday night. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that the snow coats the peaks but leaves the aspen trees still in good shape once the storm moves out. Because as we all know, fall color and snow capped mountains look pretty darn good.

The weather in Rocky Mountain National Park continues to be unsettled. This morning was another great example of the seasons quickly changing. Snow fell on much of Rocky last night above 11,000 ft. In this image from Marigold Pond this morning, Flattop Mountain and Notchtop Mountain are coated with a fresh layer of snow as the clouds and system that brought the snow moves out. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 16-35mm F4 IS L
The weather in Rocky Mountain National Park continues to be unsettled. This morning was another great example of the seasons quickly changing. Snow fell on much of Rocky last night above 11,000 ft. In this image from Marigold Pond this morning, Flattop Mountain and Notchtop Mountain are coated with a fresh layer of snow as the clouds and system that brought the snow moves out. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 16-35mm F4 IS L

Have Your Cake

It's hard to keep hiking by The Loch when it looks like this. This is the view I had from the western edge of The Loch this particular morning. This was just to nice to pass up even though photographing this scene caused me to miss sunrise from Sky Pond. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 16-35mm F4 IS L
It’s hard to keep hiking by The Loch when it looks like this. This is the view I had from the western edge of The Loch this particular morning. This was just to nice to pass up even though photographing this scene caused me to miss sunrise from Sky Pond. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 16-35mm F4 IS L

It’s been an age old issue in landscape photography since it’s inception. When conditions are dynamic but changing should you settle on one location or perhaps move to another location that may yield an even better image. Even more difficult, should you make an attempt to photograph two locations in a hurried fashion?. The second approach leaving one essentially attempting to try and both have your cake and eat it. The risk may pay off in multiple images in conditions that are rare and often no duplicated, or of course it may backfire and leave you scrambling around with nothing to show for frenetic efforts once the dust settles.

Generally speaking I advocate taking a more methodical, contemplative, mindful and less hurried approach to photography. There are times however, when spectacular conditions combined with equally spectacular locations transcend one’s contemplative approach and we throw caution to the wind and let our excitement overrun our sensibilities.

I’ve run into this quandary often when out photographing in the field. Conditions for dynamic landscape photography look perfect. The stars are aligning in your favor. The earlier morning hike to an alpine lake 4 miles from the trailhead looks like its going to reward your hard work in getting to the remote location long before sunrise.

Of course there’s that pesky little voice inside your head that both harbors doubt,questions your original intent and begins suggesting different or more favorable destinations. For me, I may find myself questioning whether my original location is really going to be ‘the shot’. Maybe a seed of doubt has now been planted, maybe that next alpine lake another mile higher will be even more dramatic. And for those now concerned for my health, don’t worry this is all part of the creative process for me. It’s my discussion with my muse, it’s my attempt at rationalizing something that most rational people wont attempt to accomplish. Somewhat counterintuitive as it may seem, it can actually be a way for me of being more immersed in the moment. I’m sensing, feeling, moving all the while attempting to anticipate how the ‘moment’ is going to unfold before my eyes and camera.

I found myself in this very situation a few weeks back. The plan was to get to the Glacier Gorge trailhead early so that I could be up at Sky Pond for sunrise. Arriving at the trailhead a little after 4:15 AM I found the skies over Rocky Mountain National Park still covered with clouds. Skies to the east over the plains of Colorado were clear so the conditions were shaping up to be perfect for this four and half mile trek up to Sky Pond. Sunrise was around 6:15 AM, so this particular morning so I had a good amount of time to make it to my destination but not so much that I could dilly dally along the way.

The consolation prize. Lake of Glass and Taylor Peak at sunrise. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 16-35mm F4 IS L
The consolation prize. Lake of Glass and Taylor Peak at sunrise. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 16-35mm F4 IS L

I set out from the trailhead with my headlamp lighting the way feeling pretty good about my prospects. Clouds drifted overhead and the wind was still as I bounded along the trail. I made it to western edge of The Loch in good time. I stopped briefly to survey the eastern horizon to confirm there were still nice breaks in the clouds. Sure enough it looked great, maybe too much so. It was not even 5:30 AM but the pre dawn colors had already begun to explode in the sky and The Loch was still as glass. While I was set on photographing Sky Pond, the little voice inside my head said ‘you have to photograph this!’. Anyone who has attempted to photograph Loch Vale enough times knows windless mornings are rare, and windless mornings with beautiful clouds even more so. I glanced at my watch and attempted to reason with myself. If I was going to photograph from Sky Pond and give myself enough time to setup, I really needed to keep moving. I’ll be quick I figured, Just a few exposures and I’ll be on my way.

So I quickly setup my tripod and camera and started making images of this beautiful and tranquil scene unfolding before me. Photographers of course know that photographing in predawn light often requires very long exposure times. So even ‘a couple’ of exposures was taking much longer that I had anticipated. But I could tell from reviewing the display that these images were worth making. My five minute pit stop quickly turned into fifteen minutes and I forced myself to pack up and start heading up the trail towards my original destination.

It was now 5:40 AM and I was still one and a half miles from my final destination. The sky looked great, the clouds looked great and I was beginning to strongly question my decision to stop at The Loch. The last 1.5 miles to Sky Pond include a fairly steep ascent from The Loch as well as a scramble up and over Timberline Falls. I knew I was cutting it much too close for comfort at this point. Worst case scenario I figured I would stop short of Sky Pond and shoot Lake of Glass just below Sky Pond. So I pushed onward at a very fast pace huffing and puffing as I ascended the steep switchbacks just below Timberline Falls.

As I started the scramble up the side of Timberline Falls, the sky was really starting to explode with color. There was no way that I was going to be able to get to the western edge of Sky Pond for sunrise and the last thing I wanted to be doing was hiking along the trail as an epic sunrise unfolded over the peaks and lakes. As I crested the top of Timberline Falls and arrived at Lake of Glass it was apparent that I would have to setup here if I wanted to catch first light.

While I was unable to get to Sky Pond for sunrise, the lighting remained good enough for a few short moments when I finally did make my way to the lake. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 16-35mm F4 IS L
While I was unable to get to Sky Pond for sunrise, the lighting remained good enough for a few short moments when I finally did make my way to the lake. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 16-35mm F4 IS L

Tired and sweaty from the final push up Timberline Falls I setup along the shore of Lake of Glass just as the sun started to illuminate Taylor Peak and the Cathedral Spires. Sunrise was beautiful and if only for the fact that my original intent was to be at Sky Pond for sunrise I was quite pleased with my results from Lake of Glass.

I again packed up my camera gear and hiked up to my final destination along the western edge of Sky Pond. The clouds that had made sunrise so beautiful earlier had now obscured the sun. There were still a few breaks in the cloud cover so I again setup and waited to see if the sun would make a brief appearance as it rose in the sky. Shortly thereafter the sun illuminated for one last time the bottom half of The Cathedral Spires before again being blocked out by the cloud cover for the remainder of the morning.

What a morning it had been. A little more excitement and hustling around then I had anticipated but I felt good about the images I had created. It felt like not only did I have my cake, but I was able to eat it as well. While there’s a small part of me that wonders what sunrise would have been like at Sky Pond if I had not stopped at The Loch and Lake of Glass I’m pleased with my how the morning turned out. The next time I’m heading to Sky Pond however, there will be not pit stops made along the way regardless of what that little voice suggests.

Change In The Air

The dramatic and unsettled weather we have been seeing over Rocky Mountain National Park this week is a sign that Summer is on it's way out and Autumn is quickly moving into Rocky. This morning the unsettled weather could be seen over Specimen Mountain and the headwaters of the Poudre River. Fog, clouds and wind roll over the peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park and even hints of red can be seen in the Tundra above tree line. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24-70mm F4 IS L
The dramatic and unsettled weather we have been seeing over Rocky Mountain National Park this week is a sign that Summer is on it’s way out and Autumn is quickly moving into Rocky. This morning the unsettled weather could be seen over Specimen Mountain and the headwaters of the Poudre River. Fog, clouds and wind roll over the peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park and even hints of red can be seen in the Tundra above tree line. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24-70mm F4 IS L

Another busy week photographing Rocky Mountain National Park. The weather has been unsettled resulting in lots of interesting and dynamic images. Each morning this week has brought forward unexpected conditions and lighting, all different, each dramatic in their own way. I personally cant recall another stretch when we’ve had so many continuous days of dramatic weather and changing conditions.

The changing weather conditions are certainly a harbinger of summer ending and autumn quickly settling in over the park. Everywhere you look you can see signs of fall approaching. A few aspen leaves here and there have turned, the tundra above tree line is turning red, the Elk rut has begun in ernest and bugling can now be heard in the meadows and valley, and more importantly snow fell on the Alpine Visitor Center along Trail Ridge Road for a short period on Thursday. So even though its not even the end of August, as the weather and conditions attest, change is coming quickly to Rocky Mountain National Park.

Turn Around

We've had what seems like and exceptional run of beautiful sunrise and sunsets over Rocky Mountain National Park this summer. Additional moisture in the atmosphere appears to be helping in keeping things colorful when the sun rises or sets over Rocky. Use this change in the weather to take advantage of alternative view of iconic locations in the park. This morning for example I was able to capture a strikingly colorful sunrise over Dream Lake looking eastward as opposed to the iconic view looking west towards the peaks. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24mm TS-E F3.5 L II
We’ve had what seems like and exceptional run of beautiful sunrise and sunsets over Rocky Mountain National Park this summer. Additional moisture in the atmosphere appears to be helping in keeping things colorful when the sun rises or sets over Rocky. Use this change in the weather to take advantage of alternative view of iconic locations in the park. This morning for example I was able to capture a strikingly colorful sunrise over Dream Lake looking eastward as opposed to the iconic view looking west towards the peaks. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24mm TS-E F3.5 L II
been spending quite a bit of time in the field these last 3 weeks. I’ve made it a priority to get out and photograph as much as I can this summer. Summer is my favorite season in Rocky Mountain National Park. In my opinion you just cant beat hiking to alpine lakes, the smell of the pines when hiking through the forrest and the sounds of brooks babbling over rocks.

Since setting aside this time in the field to shoot, two things have become apparent to me. First off, perhaps all the time I’ve been able to spend photographing Rocky has skewed my recollection, but as far as I’m concerned we’ve had some of the best sunrise and sunsets on a consistent basis that I can even remember. Not to jinx my string of good luck, but it seems that we have consistently had beautiful sunrises filled with colorful clouds three to four days a week. In the past I can remember going eight or nine straight days with nary a cloud in the sky, especially during our drought years in the early 2000’s. Without a doubt this is tied to the increased moisture thats been present over Colorado the last year or so.

The second thing thats apparent, and is something I stress often is the need to assess and photograph locations both looking towards the peaks and mountains, as well as looking away from the peaks and mountains. For example, some of the best color in the sky occurs over the eastern plains of Colorado during sunrise. While it’s tempting to always want to point your camera towards the mountains, don’t neglect the opposite view.

This morning for example I used this principle to photograph sunrise over Dream Lake. While this image did not include iconic Hallett Peak or Flattop Mountain and in fact did not include any of the prominent peaks associated with Dream Lake, I came away with one of my favorite images of a subject I shoot often. So go ahead and take advantage of both the colorful sunrises and sunsets, but also take advantage of the opportunity to try something new when photographing in Rocky Mountain National Park.