100 Year Flood

Pioneers like Abner Sprague endured many difficulties and hardships during their early years in Colorado. Even with the hardships settlers like Abner Sprague endured, the flooding that has pummeled Colorado in the last week is something very few have witnessed. Like Sprague, Coloradans will endure hardships and move forward. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24mm TS-E F3.5 L II
Pioneers like Abner Sprague endured many difficulties and hardships during their early years in Colorado. Even with the hardships settlers like Abner Sprague endured, the flooding that has pummeled Colorado in the last week is something very few have witnessed. Like Sprague, Coloradans will endure hardships and move forward. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24mm TS-E F3.5 L II

When my alarm sounds long before dawn to wake me for a morning in the field, I’m tempted to hit snooze or shut the alarm off. There is a little voice in the back of my head however, that pushes me out of bed and gets me moving. Part of that voice is telling me not to take for granted the opportunity before me. It reminds me that nobody promises you tomorrow.

When out photographing and hiking it’s always there in the back of my mind. It’s the big ‘what if’. What if a major forest fire destroyed large areas of Rocky Mountain National Park, or Chautauqua in Boulder?. What if a microburst sends 4 inches of rain down one of these mountain canyons?. What if these public lands were no longer public or accessible?

Over the last few years we’ve had a little of all of these things happen periodically. Threats to shut down park operations through sequestration and budget shortfalls, The Fern Lake fire in Rocky Mountain National Park, and then the disaster of this past week cemented my worst fears.

Beginning on September 8th, rain started falling over Boulder, Estes Park and the foothill communities of the northern Front Range. It rained and rained and over the course of the next few days it became apparent that this was going to be more than just a wet week. Over the course of the week Boulder received over 16 inches of rain, blowing away the previous record of just under 8 inches. Communities in the foothills received over 20 inches of rain in this same timeframe.

The amount of rain falling on the mountains over the course of the week was nothing short of biblical. The water streamed down mountainsides and funneled into the nearest stream, creeks and rivers which quickly became raging torrents sweeping downhill obliterating everything in it’s path.

The amount of destruction caused by the flood is staggering. Entire neighborhoods have been destroyed by the flooding. The roads in the foothills are in total disarray. Many canyon roads are washed out for miles and miles. This has nearly isolated communities such as Estes Park from the outside world and has made travel to these areas impossible except for residents and essential services.

Currently there are no timelines regarding repairs to roads and highways. Engineers have yet to survey the damages but its a safe bet it will be years until Boulder, Estes Park and the foothill communities are returned to pre-flood condition.

My photography will take a back seat for awhile as things sort themselves out and a clearer picture of the devastation unfolds. There is lots of help required here in Boulder and until the road situations improve, Open Space proprieties reopen along with Rocky Mountain National Park, there are few options available for photography.

Towns such as Estes Park are faced with a difficult predicament. Access is limited, and the town needs time to cleanup, reopen and cope with the loss in the community. At the same time Estes Park business depend heavily on seasonal tourist travel with the month of September being one of the towns busiest. People visit Estes Park from all around the country this time of year to view the fall colors and watch the Elk rut. It appears that much of that business will be lost for the season, leaving many business owners to fend for themselves over the slower winter and spring months.

When access to towns like Estes Park improves all of us who love visiting the town and Rocky Mountain National Park need to do our best to help the local business out. We need to show support by visiting the town, spending money and letting people know Estes Park is open for business.

Down the road, the damages will be repaired, towns will reopen for business and visitors and homeowners will return to their normal routines. Nobody will forget the flood of 2013, but Colorado has a long history of hardy inhabitants who weather the forces of nature, brush the dust off and climb right back on their horse and move forward. I expect things will be no different this time.

Three Ways To Columbine Falls

Looking east over the Twin Sisters, sunrise unfolds over the plains of eastern Colorado. The waters of Columbine Falls go rushing by but not before picking up the colorful hues of the morning sky. Chasm Lake was my destination this morning, but with the changing conditions, Columbine Falls offered more opportunities for photography this particular morning. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24-105mm F4 IS
Looking east over the Twin Sisters, sunrise unfolds over the plains of eastern Colorado. The waters of Columbine Falls go rushing by but not before picking up the colorful hues of the morning sky. Chasm Lake was my destination this morning, but with the changing conditions, Columbine Falls offered more opportunities for photography this particular morning. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24-105mm F4 IS
The plan was to hike up to Chasm Lake at the base of Longs Peak for sunrise. Chasm Lake is both a favorite location to photograph and also a favorite hike of mine in Rocky Mountain National Park. As I often emphasize in my blog, plans change and one needs to remain flexible. This morning was no different.

It’s rare for me to see other people out and about on most of my pre-dawn hikes into a given location. Occasionally, I’ll see a climber or two prepping at the trailhead on my way out but mostly its solitary adventure.

The hike to Chasm Lake shares the same the route to the summit of Longs Peak for over three miles. Because this route is shared with one of the most popular hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park, it differs from most of my pre-dawn adventures in that I’m hiking the route along with a lot of other hikers, even at 3 AM. Most of these other adventures have their sights set on summiting Longs Peak, Rocky’s only fourteener and highest peak.

The view of Columbine Falls looking towards the south is also impressive. Columbine Falls dives over the ledge which beautiful Peacock Pool glows a dark shade of blue far below. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24-105mm F4 IS
The view of Columbine Falls looking towards the south is also impressive. Columbine Falls dives over the ledge which beautiful Peacock Pool glows a dark shade of blue far below. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24-105mm F4 IS

An early morning hike from the Longs Peak trailhead is one of the most unique experiences visitors can have in Rocky Mountain National Park. The parking lot and trailhead buzz with activity and excitement long before sunrise as hikers and climbers prepare to ascend this Colorado landmark in time to avoid violent late afternoon weather common to the area.

I broke through the hustle and bustle of the parking area and pushed on past the ever lit trail register at the start of the trail and off into to the darkness of the forest. The hike was uneventful as I passed a few parties resting and eating breakfast along the side of the trail.

In less than an hour I was above tree line. I could see the silhouetted mantle of Longs Peak ahead. Just below Mount Lady Washington I could see a string of lights bobbing along the alpine tundra headed towards the summit of Longs Peak. The view of headlamps emitting light like fireflies along the trail is a sight to behold. It’s hard to imagine there are this many other people out and about at this time of morning.

As I neared Chasm Junction, the clouds that had filled the air on the hike up had quickly begun to dissipate over the peaks. The wind was picking up in strength as well and I quickly started to assess my ‘Plan B’ options. Without clouds over Longs Peak and with a stiff breeze blowing Chasm Lake was becoming less than optimal for the morning shoot.

The classic postcard photo of Columbine Falls is looking west towards the summit of Longs Peak and the imposing east face known as 'The Diamond'. Technical Details: Canon Eos 5D Mark III, 24-105mm F4 IS L
The classic postcard photo of Columbine Falls is looking west towards the summit of Longs Peak and the imposing east face known as ‘The Diamond’. Technical Details: Canon Eos 5D Mark III, 24-105mm F4 IS L

Luckily, there are no shortages of choices when it comes to alternate locations to photograph in the area. Chasm Meadows was and option but as I scanned the skies, there were still clouds over the eastern plains of Colorado. Columbine Falls looked like just the place to be for sunrise.

I often photograph Columbine Falls on my way back down from Chasm Lake as you essentially hike right over the top of Columbine Falls on your way to and from Chasm Lake. One shouldn’t short change Columbine Falls however, as it deserves to be a destination all its own.
Columbine falls essentially runs west to east. Being orientated as such, it’s a good location to work in varying conditions as you increase your chances for dramatic lighting when you can photograph in both directions. This is what makes it such a great fallback location when things are not coming together as planned.

Sunrise unfolded over the plains of eastern Colorado and although clouds had pushed away from the divide, Columbine Falls was a better location to be in this day then Chasm Lake from a photographers standpoint.

Streaking At Mills Lake

The summit of Longs Peak, Rocky Mountain National Park's highest peak illuminates as sunrise unfolds over Glacier Gorge deep in the heart of Rocky Mountain National Park. I've been riding a streak of very favorable conditions in Rocky that have enabled me to capture some dramatic light over some of Rocky's most beautiful locations. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24mm TS-E F3.5 L II
The summit of Longs Peak, Rocky Mountain National Park’s highest peak illuminates as sunrise unfolds over Glacier Gorge deep in the heart of Rocky Mountain National Park. I’ve been riding a streak of very favorable conditions in Rocky that have enabled me to capture some dramatic light over some of Rocky’s most beautiful locations. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24mm TS-E F3.5 L II

Hot streaks and slumps. Athletes all go through them from time to time, particularly baseball players and golfers. Like athletes, photographers are not immune to these circumstances either.

As photographers we’ve all had trips in the field where it seems like everything is falling in to place for us. Sunrise and sunsets are beautiful, winds are calm and we always seem to be in the right place at the right time. The opposite holds true as well. Any photographer worth their salt has spent countless hours in the field waiting for sunrises and sunsets that never materialized.

Like most athletes who are slumping, the key is to stay persistent and work through the slump. Everyday is a new day and if you keep putting yourself in a position to be successful, your persistence will pay off and your slumping ways will reverse.

I’m lucky enough to be on a streak at the moment. The conditions in Rocky Mountain National Park the last few weeks have been nothing short of spectacular. There seems to be rain showers every afternoon and evening and the additional moisture means clouds have been hanging around the peaks most mornings. Streams are still running well and the winds have been calm most of the time, a rarity for sure.

The streak continued for me as I headed up to Mills Lake in Glacier Gorge one morning last week. Typically, Mills Lake is photographed in the afternoon. In the afternoon the sun illuminates the backside of the Longs Peak and much of Glacier Gorge making it more favorable on paper at least. I’ve been planning for sometime to shoot Mills Lake in the morning when the conditions and clouds would be such that dramatic sunrise was light the sky above Glacier Gorge.

Arriving at Mills Lake I found the water smooth as glass. Fog curled over the ridge between Pagoda Mountain and The Spearhead and some hung in the valley itself. Most importantly, the clouds in the sky were looking perfect for a dramatic sunrise. A beautiful sunrise unfolded and I hiked back down from Mills Lake satisfied and still feeling the rush of the mornings sunrise.

Mornings like these make you feel blessed and when I arrived back at my truck in the parking lot, I wanted to pinch myself to make sure this was all real. A quick check on the display of my camera dispelled any chance that the morning was imagined. I’m on a good streak I thought to myself, here’s hoping that I can continue on this streak for just a little longer.

Lyric Falls

Hunters Creek tumbles over the chutes and boulders of Lyric Falls in the Wild Basin region of Rocky Mountain National Park. Lyric Falls is one of the hundreds of beautiful waterfalls and cascades found in Rocky Mountain National Park. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24-105mm F4 IS
Hunters Creek tumbles over the chutes and boulders of Lyric Falls in the Wild Basin region of Rocky Mountain National Park. Lyric Falls is one of the hundreds of beautiful waterfalls and cascades found in Rocky Mountain National Park. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24-105mm F4 IS
Rocky Mountain National Park is filled with hundreds of named waterfalls as well as unnamed bubbling cascades. You can find these waterfalls all over Rocky from just above the meadows to high above treeline.

It’s fun to look at a topo map and try to guess what a location or waterfall is going to look like when you finally get to the location. I find these places often appear nothing like I think they will when just trying to imagine them on a map. It makes the adventure to the falls more fun and as a photographer keeps you on your toes.

One of these particular locations I’ve been eyeing on my map for quite sometime was Lyric Falls. Lyric Falls is formed by Hunters Creek just below Sandbeach Lake in the Wild Basin region of Rocky Mountain National Park. A perfect sunrise at Sandbeach Lake followed by overcast conditions made for a great opportunity to explore Lyric Falls on my hike out from Sandbeach Lake a few weeks back.

There is only a social trail which follows more or less along the banks of Hunters Creek to reach Lyric Falls. It’s certainly not difficult to locate, but as always you should be prepared when exploring off trail. Legendary Rocky Mountain National Park Ranger Jack Moomaw is responsible for naming Lyric Falls, passing it on his many adventures, rescues and climbs up and around Longs Peak.

Lyric Falls itself is a tiered waterfall that is not so much impressive in its size which is modest, but in the beauty of the cascade itself. Lyric Falls tumbles and cascades over boulders and chutes making for a beautiful symmetrical cascade. The detour from the main trail along with the exploration of Hunters Creek is well worth the effort.

Sandbeach Lake

Pink clouds drift over a calm Sandbeach Lake deep in the heart of Rocky Mountain National Park. Mount Meeker, Longs Peak and Pagoda Peak can be seen reflecting in the calm waters of Sandbeach Lake. John Wesley Powell is said to have camped near this location nearly 145 years ago prior to making the first successful ascent to the summit of Longs Peak. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 17mm TS-E F4 L
Pink clouds drift over a calm Sandbeach Lake deep in the heart of Rocky Mountain National Park. Mount Meeker, Longs Peak and Pagoda Peak can be seen reflecting in the calm waters of Sandbeach Lake. John Wesley Powell is said to have camped near this location nearly 145 years ago prior to making the first successful ascent to the summit of Longs Peak. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 17mm TS-E F4 L
Most would consider the center point of Rocky Mountain National Park to be Longs Peak. At 14,259 it’s massif dominates much of Rocky’s skyline. Longs Peak was also a great point of interest to early pioneers who settled and travelled through the region. Many of those early pioneers believed reaching the summit of Longs Peak was impossible, and there failed efforts only reinforced that idea.

These early pioneers were a different breed however. Failures and challenges were embraced. Obstacles could be overcome and opportunities in the pioneering west were limitless to these early explorers. Few personified these traits more than John Wesley Powell and its fitting that it would be Powell who would summit Longs Peak first.

John Wesley Powell’s ascent of Longs Peak on August 23rd, 1868 would lead him on an even greater adventure the following year. Powell would become the first American of European to discover and travel through the Grand Canyon.

Upon summiting Longs Peak with his party, Powell is said to have unfurled an American Flag on the summit of Longs Peak and then proceeded to give a speech in which he stated that the adventure of summiting a peak which the summit was thought to be unreachable was to be one of only many challenges that the future would hold.

Before summiting Longs Peak, Powell and his party setout from Grand Lake on August 21st, 1868. The night before they made their famous ascent they are said to have camped near Sandbeach Lake on the south side of Longs Peak and Mount Meeker.

It was from the vicinity of Sandbeach Lake that one of Powell’s assistants, L.W. Keplinger found the route that would lead to the successful first ascent up Longs Peak the following day.

Sunrise at Sandbeach Lake this morning was special. The clouds prevented the high peaks from lighting but the beautiful clouds and calm conditions more than made up for that. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24mm TS-E F3.5 L II
Sunrise at Sandbeach Lake this morning was special. The clouds prevented the high peaks from lighting but the beautiful clouds and calm conditions more than made up for that. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24mm TS-E F3.5 L II

Visiting Sandbeach Lake today, it’s apparent why the area served as a base camp for the Powell expedition in 1868. Sandbeach Lake holds on commanding view of Mount Meeker, Longs Peak and Pagoda Peak. Keplingers and Powell’s first route (Keplinger Coulier) is situated in the basin next basin from Sandbeach Lake.

Sandbeach Lake is certainly a unique gem. Since Powell visited the area, It’s been damned and used as a water supply for Longmont and farmers on Colorado’s eastern plains. The Park Service has since restored Sandbeach Lake to it’s original state. It’s sandy north shore makes for a perfect beach in this mountain setting.

Like most places in Rocky, Sandbeach Lake can be very windy. That’s compounded even more by its close proximity to Rocky Mountain National Park’s two highest peaks. So I was pleasantly surprised to arrive before sunrise to find Sandbeach Lake smooth as glass. Clouds were floating over the top of Mount Meeker, Longs and Pagoda.

As a stood along the shores of Sandbeach Lake photographing a beautiful sunrise over these famous peaks I could not help but think it John Wesley Powell and his party
observed similar conditions when they conquered and climbed Longs Peak nearly 145 years ago from this date.

Thunder Lake

Pilot Mountain and Mount Alice catch the first rays of sun and clouds skirt over North Ridge deep within Wild Basin. Without a doubt Thunder Lake is one of the most beautiful places in all of Rocky Mountain National Park. It takes some work to get to Thunder Lake but it's worth the effort. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 17mm F4 TS-E
Pilot Mountain and Mount Alice catch the first rays of sun and clouds skirt over North Ridge deep within Wild Basin. Without a doubt Thunder Lake is one of the most beautiful places in all of Rocky Mountain National Park. It takes some work to get to Thunder Lake but it’s worth the effort. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 17mm F4 TS-E
There are hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park, and then there are, lets just say ‘hikes’ in Rocky Mountain National Park. There’s not a lot of low hanging fruit for photographers in the Wild Basin area once you’ve photographed Copeland, Calypso, and Ouzel falls all which require hikes of less than 3 miles to reach.

Wild Basin is host to some of Rocky Mountain National Park’s most beautiful alpine scenery and mountain lakes. Wild Basin lives up to it’s name while at the same time requiring visitors to put in the time and work to witness it’s beauty.

Anyone who has visited Thunder Lake has no doubt stopped to admire the idyllic patrol cabin near its shore. At the same time you have to get a chuckle from the sign attached to the front door of the cabin. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24-105mm F4 IS
Anyone who has visited Thunder Lake has no doubt stopped to admire the idyllic patrol cabin near its shore. At the same time you have to get a chuckle from the sign attached to the front door of the cabin. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24-105mm F4 IS

All of the alpine lakes in Wild Basin require travel of over 4 miles one way to reach. Areas like Bluebird Lake, Thunder Lake and Lion Lakes require you to invest in one way hikes of at least 6.5 miles over moderate to strenuous grades.

For me, this makes these places and hikes even more special. It’s remote, there are far fewer people and the scenery is breathtaking. Most visitors to Rocky Mountain National Park wont visit places like Lion Lakes, Bluebird and Thunder Lake. I was lucky enough to spend a morning photographing sunrise from the outlet of Thunder Lake. It’s without question one of the most beautiful locations in all of Rocky Mountain National Park.

Residing at the base of Pilot Mountain and Mount Alice, Thunder Lake makes for a spectacular composition that can only begin to convey the beauty and wildness of this alpine basin. If you have the ability and time Thunder Lake should be on the top of your must see list.

East Meadow And Mount Craig

Being a morning person and all I just could not accept the fact that photographing East Meadow and Mount Craig is an afternoon only image. I had envisioned photographing this location in conditions such as these for sometime. I finally managed to get all the conditions working in my favor and came away with this sunrise image. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24mm TS-E F3.5 L II
Being a morning person and all I just could not accept the fact that photographing East Meadow and Mount Craig is an afternoon only image. I had envisioned photographing this location in conditions such as these for sometime. I finally managed to get all the conditions working in my favor and came away with this sunrise image. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24mm TS-E F3.5 L II
I’m a morning person. Most of the time, I’ll wake up before my alarm goes off, even if it’s set for 2:00 AM. I’m energized, refreshed and ready to go when I wake up. People who like to sleep in become easily annoyed by my morning routine, just ask my wife.

The opposite holds true for me in the afternoon’s and evenings. By early evening the battery’s are running low and need a recharge. Getting up early means I have no qualms about going to bed early.

My morning routine suits my photography just fine here on the Front Range of Colorado. I’ve conditioned myself to be ready to go early and often. That works great for photographing sunrises on the eastern facing peaks that catch the first brilliant light of the day. The problem is, my ‘routine’ is not as favorable for those images that require one to be in a location at sunset or late in the day.

Case in point, the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park. I’ll admit, much of my portfolio of Rocky Mountain National Park is focused on the east side of the park. There are many reasons for this. It’s closer to home, the lighting is often more favorable, access is better, the density of photographic locations is much closer and the weather tends to work in your favor more in the morning.

This of course is nearly the opposite of what is required to photograph the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park. Access is more limited on the west side of the park and the distances required to get to many of the alpine locations which are often more accessible on the east side are much greater.

I’m trying to make it a point to get out and photograph the west side of Rocky as much as I can. I love the west side of the park. It has a vibe and a feel of wildness and isolation that many of the locations on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park do not.

So in taking to my promise to spend more time photographing the west side of Rocky, I spent the last few days on the other side of the divide. There has been a particular image and location I’ve wanted to shoot for sometime. East Inlet flowing through East Meadow with Mount Craig (or Baldy) rising above the valley.

Of course I photographed this location not in the afternoon when the sun sets of the peaks on the west side of Rocky, but in the morning. Hey, I’m not complaining.

Inversions and Upslopes

Here is a great example of conditions I encountered last week in Rocky during an inversion. Estes Park was mired in clouds, but driving Trail Ridge Road up to Rainbow Curve allowed me to get above the clouds to photograph a brief sunrise along the flanks of Deer Mountain. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 70-300mm F4-5.6 L
Here is a great example of conditions I encountered last week in Rocky during an inversion. Estes Park was mired in clouds, but driving Trail Ridge Road up to Rainbow Curve allowed me to get above the clouds to photograph a brief sunrise along the flanks of Deer Mountain. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 70-300mm F4-5.6 L

It doesn’t happen often in Rocky Mountain National Park, but when it does occur you can bet I’m going to be somewhere in the park trying to capture it. What exactly am I talking about that will have me scrambling or driving to the highest points in Rocky?. That would be what’s known as an inversion.

Weather inversions are typically caused when colder air is trapped at lower elevations where in turn warmer air resides above the colder air below. Inversions are pretty much the opposite of how temperatures are typically encountered in Rocky Mountain National Park where normally climbing in altitude will result in cooler temperatures than at lower elevations.

Glassy eyed, some of you are probably what the heck I’m talking about and what relevance does this have to photography in Rocky Mountain National Park. My reason for babbling on is quite simple, inversions open up and create lots of opportunities for rare and dramatic photography in the park.

A dramatic sunrise over the granite comprising Lumpy Ridge last week. Again, the inversion helped to trap clouds along the peaks of Lumpy Ridge while the sunrise kissed the top of the fog and clouds with some warm light. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 70-300mm F4-5.6 L
A dramatic sunrise over the granite comprising Lumpy Ridge last week. Again, the inversion helped to trap clouds along the peaks of Lumpy Ridge while the sunrise kissed the top of the fog and clouds with some warm light. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 70-300mm F4-5.6 L

In Rocky its common for it to be both windy and dry. Monsoonal moisture flows from the southwest can create opportunities for moisture in the summer. These flows typically cause late afternoon thunderstorms and rain which are triggered by daytime heating. Come sunrise, one will usually find all the clouds and rain from the monsoonal flow will have dissipated once the atmosphere has cooled overnight leaving you with our more typical clear, Colorado blue bird morning skies.

Lower pressure to the south and east of Denver is what will allow for conditions that will produce a weather inversion. Counterclockwise or as we call them here on the Front Range, ‘upsloping’ winds out of the east/northeast will often trap cooler air at the surface and suspend warmer air aloft. When this occurs, Viola!, you have nature’s cloud machine working in your favor.

During a temperature inversion, it can be easy to be fooled into thinking its just a cloudy morning. In these conditions, the best thing to do is to get as high(in altitude!) as is possible. Every inversion is a little different but I would recommend trying to climb around or above 11,000 ft, or simply drive Trail Ridge Road until you get above the inversion and cloud line. Once you get above the inversion, the possibilities for photography are endless.

Watkins Glen, One From The Backlog

Watkins Glen is one of my personal favorite locations when photographing the Finger Lake regions of New York. Waterfalls abound in the Glen and the possibilities for photographers are endless. Rainbow Falls area is an iconic location in Watkins Glen for obvious reasons. Photographing in Watkins Glen is quite different from the normally arid locations I used to photographing out west. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24-105mm F4 IS L
Watkins Glen is one of my personal favorite locations when photographing the Finger Lake regions of New York. Waterfalls abound in the Glen and the possibilities for photographers are endless. Rainbow Falls area is an iconic location in Watkins Glen for obvious reasons. Photographing in Watkins Glen is quite different from the normally arid locations I used to photographing out west. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24-105mm F4 IS L

Before we get too far along with summer, I’m still working on a backlog of images. Some of these images are from as far back as June. While I don’t find backlogs particularly fun to work through, it’s a good problem to have.

I spent a week in early June visiting family in New York. One of my favorite places for landscape photography when I’m back in New York is Watkins Glen. Some may know of Watkins Glen because of the NASCAR race they hold there each year, but photographers and hikers go because of the spectacular gorge baring the name.

For those unfamiliar with Watkins Glen, Glen Creek drops 400 feet through a narrow rocky gorge. The gorge, which is now as deep as 200 ft in some locations has numerous waterfalls and features which carry on for almost 2 miles. Glen Creek starts just above Watkins Glen in Seneca Lake, one of New York’s famous Finger Lakes.

For a photographers there’s an image around every corner. Compared to the more arid locations I typically photograph out west, Watkins Glen is the exact opposite. Mist and spray from the falls and rocks are everywhere. Combine that with the above average rainfall that had fallen in June and the greens were lush and practically iridescent.

In some ways Watkins Glen is reminiscent of a slot canyon from the southwest only with lots of water and greenery. It can be a challenging place to keep your gear dry but I would certainly recommend it as a must see location for photographers and visitors to the Finger Lake region.

Rocky In A Rush

Sunrise lights Hallet Peak and Flattop Mountain from a small tarn just below Dream Lake. Hallet Peak at sunrise is iconic, and a short hike before sunrise to Dream Lake should leave photographers satisfied. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24mm TS-E F3.5 L II
Sunrise lights Hallet Peak and Flattop Mountain from a small tarn just below Dream Lake. Hallet Peak at sunrise is iconic, and a short hike before sunrise to Dream Lake should leave photographers satisfied. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24mm TS-E F3.5 L II
As photographers, we’ve all been there. Were visiting town on business or other personal matters but a must photograph location is nearby and beckoning to us. The problem is we only have a small amount of time to get out an photograph the said location. You do your research, study maps and keep your fingers crossed the gods of photography are on your side.

I’m a big proponent of investing time with your subjects and really getting to know a location or area. I’m a realist also. We all have busy lives and schedules and sometimes you’ve got to take the time your given and run with it. In situations like these where you just need to tune out the background noise and just get right to the meat and potatoes.

I’ll do my best here to lay out a quick, half day guide to photographing Rocky Mountain National Park that give you the best chance of success with your limited time. I’m basing these recommendations on photographing Rocky Mountain National Park during the busy summer season when access and weather are most favorable for a half day visit. I’m also basing my recommendations based on photographing Rocky Mountain National Park in the morning. Mornings in Rocky will more often than not provide favorable conditions at the locations recommended.

Just to preface this recommendation, I find all of Rocky Mountain National Park beautiful. I don’t personally have any one location that’s my favorite. Locations in Rocky are like your children. I don’t have a favorite, they are all full of limitless potential, but some are a little more receptive and productive then others.

Lets cut right to the chase. It’s one of the most popular locations in Rocky Mountain National Park for a reason. The Bear Lake Road area, and in particular the trailheads emanating from the Bear Lake parking lot will give a photographer visiting for a half a day the greatest chance of capturing Rocky in all her glory.

The Bear Lake trailheads can take you far and wide to locations around the park. For this scenario however, the most productive trail will be the Emerald Lake trail. The Emerald Lake trail will take you past Bear Lake(.01 mi), Nymph Lake(.5 mi), Dream Lake(1.1 mi) and Emerald Lake(1.8 mi) if desired. It’s a fairly short trail and moderate to easy in its climb so that out of town visitors in fair condition should be able to traverse the trail with little difficulty if they give themselves enough time.

For this scenario, the farthest most photographers will need to venture is the 1.1 miles to Dream Lake. Dream Lake is one of Colorado’s most iconic locations. Next to the Maroon Bells from Maroon Lake, I cant think of another alpine lake more photographed than Dream Lake.

Give yourself enough time to arrive at Dream Lake at least 30 minutes before sunrise. You probably wont be the only photographer at the lake and arriving to the lake early allows you to explore locations and find a nice vantage along the eastern outlet of Dream Lake. The eastern outlet area affords the nicest view of Hallet Peak and Dream Lake and is also the area of the lake most likely to have smooth water if winds are present, which is probable. The shallow water and more sheltered location on the east end of Dream Lake mean that often Dream Lake may be rippled and copy while the outlet area remains smooth. Furthermore, I would recommend you have a wide angle lens available to capture the scene. Depending on whether its a horizontal or vertical image, I find a 17mm to 24mm lens work best a capturing the peaks, sky and reflections(Full Frame DSLR equivalent).

Nymph Lake allows photographers to capture more intimate scenes of Rocky Mountain National Park. The Pond Lilies on Nymph Lake are a favorite subject of mine. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 75-300 F4-5.6 L
Nymph Lake allows photographers to capture more intimate scenes of Rocky Mountain National Park. The Pond Lilies on Nymph Lake are a favorite subject of mine. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 75-300 F4-5.6 L

Photograph sunrise from Dream Lake. First light over Hallet Peak and Flattop Mountain are something to behold. After first light has bathed Hallet Peak and Flattop Mountain in pink and gold, be prepared to move and explore the vicinity around Dream Lake.

Both the stream running from the outlet of Dream Lake and the small tarns the stream forms just east of Dream Lake can make for impressive views of the area. After photographing Dream Lake at sunrise one can either hike an additional .5 miles up to Tyndall Falls, or instead head back downhill towards Nymph and Bear Lake.

On your hike back down from Dream Lake, be prepared to spend sometime photographing Nymph Lake. The area around Nymph Lake has been hit hard by Pine Beatle kill in the last ten years. Even so, Nymph Lake offers terrific views of Hallet Peak and Rocky Mountain National Park’s on Fourteener and highest mountain, Longs Peak.

While Nymph Lake offers impressive views of Hallet Peak as well as Longs Peak, there is plenty of opportunity to capture more intimate scenes at Nymph. Pond Lilies bloom on the surface of Nymph Lake from late June through early August. The possibilities are nearly limitless.

You’ve now capture sunrise at Dream Lake, spent sometime photographing the views and pond lilies and your ready to complete your morning hike and make one last stop at Bear Lake.

Fog rolls over the summit of Longs Peak from the northern shore of Bear Lake. Bear Lake offers great vantage points of both Hallet Peak and Longs Peak. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 24-105mm F4 IS L
Fog rolls over the summit of Longs Peak from the northern shore of Bear Lake. Bear Lake offers great vantage points of both Hallet Peak and Longs Peak. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 24-105mm F4 IS L

Bear Lake offers numerous possibilities as well. View of both Hallet Peak and Longs Peak are impressive from Bear Lake. The eastern shore of Bear Lake is a great location to capture Hallet Peak. Hike around to the northern shore of Bear Lake for equally as impressive views of Longs Peak.

Bear Lake is particularly photographic during the Autumn season. Aspen trees line the hillsides around Bear Lake making it a prime photographic destination in the fall. One could easily spend their entire morning photographing at Bear Lake alone, especially during the third week of September which typically coincides with peak fall color.

Well there you have it. These are my suggestions on how to use your limited time in Rocky Mountain National Park to increase your chances of a successful but short but productive photographic adventure.