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.

Schwabacher Independence

What a way to welcome in the Fourth of July!. I had only one morning to photograph from this location in Grand Teton National Park. All the elements came together and I was able to photograph this iconic location. Even more surprising, I was the only photographer present for sunrise. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24-105mm F4 IS L
What a way to welcome in the Fourth of July!. I had only one morning to photograph from this location in Grand Teton National Park. All the elements came together and I was able to photograph this iconic location. Even more surprising, I was the only photographer present for sunrise. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24-105mm F4 IS L

Long road trips over short periods of time usually wont produce a great return on investment when it comes to photography. These kind of trips usually lend themselves best to expeditionary roles for future adventures when you have more time to spend in the field with your subject.

I just returned from just such a road trip to Bozeman, Montana for a friends wedding. The trip which extended over the fourth of July holiday required that I be back in Denver on Saturday with only four days to travel to and from the wedding. With Bozeman being ten hours from Denver and my wife needing to be in Bozeman for the rehearsal and ceremony, my time to get out in the field was going to be very limited.

I was able to convince my wife to make a stop over for a night in Jackson Hole, Wyoming on the way up to Bozeman. To be honest, I never have to convince Holly to make a stop over in Jackson Hole as it’s one of our favorite places on earth. Needless to say the stopover in Jackson would be brief and would dovetail with the busy fourth of July holiday.

We’d only have one night in Jackson Hole and I’d have a few short hours around sunrise to photograph the Tetons. The chance of walking away with a portfolio worthy image of Grand Teton National Park with only one morning was slim. Worst case scenario meant a night in Jackson Hole checking out the sights and galleries with my wife, followed by a morning in Grand Teton. I could only hope all my worst case scenarios in life would be this sweet.

After a beautiful night of checking out the sights around town which included a few cocktails at the Silver Dollar Bar, I awoke early and surveyed the skies over Jackson. The sky above was filled with clouds. As is always the case when I see clouds in the sky, my blood starts pumping with anticipation for a potentially great sunrise.

I was on my way out of Jackson Hole by 4:00 AM for the short trip north to Grand Teton National Park. The plan was to get to Schwabachers Landing early to setup for a prime location of this iconic location. I’ve photographed Scwabachers in the past as the location is always a popular one with other photographers and often times there can be over twenty to thirty photographers lining the shores of the ponds before dawn. Being a holiday, I figured Schwabachers would be a busy location.

I was aware that the current sequester of budget funding to the Park Service had caused them to close the mile long dirt road that takes visitors to the landing and Snake River. I held out hope that the additional effort required to get into Schwabachers would limit the amount of photographers along the banks of the river and ponds this morning.

Schwabachers is not only a popular location for photographers, it’s also a very popular location for the resident Grizzly Bears, Black Bears, Bison and Moose. Having the sequester close the gate to the landing makes the experience of getting to Schwabachers before sunrise all the more primal.

I arrived at 4:30 AM on a nearly moonless night to find no other cars parked at the gate and plenty of clouds still swirling above some of America’s most majestic peaks. Sunrise was looking like it was going to be great. I grabbed my backpack, turned on my headlamp and started my hike across the sage flats down to the landing.

Because it was nearly moonless, it was very dark on the hike down to the landing. Your senses become heightened when hiking in areas popular with Grizzly Bears. On nights when the moon is out, I often don’t need a headlamp. I like to let my eyes adjust to make out shapes and silhouettes.

Dark nights like this night are more problematic. You can see with your headlamp, but you get tunnel like vision. You can only see your immediate surroundings only a few yards from where your light is shining. Turning off my headlamp just left me standing in the dark in the same predicament.

I made lots of noise on my hike down to the landing. I even had a somewhat comical moment on the hike down when I had a hard time discerning a whether or not a large sagebrush growing on the side of the road was not in fact a large mammal. To an observer, it must have been an interesting sight watching a guy try to carry a conversation on with a piece of brush.

Needless to say I may it down to Schwabachers Landing without incident. I found a great location to setup for a sunrise that looked like it was going to be magical and waited for the hoards of photographers to arrive. I had envisioned tangled tripods, tensions running high and the one guy who always has to setup in everybody else’s shot.

But this fourth of July at Schwabachers would not fulfill my expectations of a mob scene. A beautiful sunrise came and went and I remained the only photographer at this iconic location. I had to keep looking around to make sure this was indeed the case. I not only had one of my most memorable sunrises in recent memory, but I was able to soak up this spectacular location in total solitude.

I passed some latecomers on the hike out of Schwabachers that morning. The experience, hike and sunrise of this morning had left me exhilarated. While I’m sure some of the late arrivals made some beautiful images and had a great experience, I could not help to think of what an amazing morning I had just had.

Losing Expectations

Clouds glide over Longs Peak and Mount Otis as seen from the shores of Nymph Lake. This particular morning clouds filled the sky above Rocky Mountain National Park. My expectations mountains peaks and clouds in colored in fiery red light where not met. Instead, the sun mostly stayed behind the clouds on this peaceful morning. The more subtle sunrise lightly colored the skies and peaks in a more subdued pastel palette. Even though I missed out on an intense sunrise, I find the subtle nature of the light in this image to be one of my more pleasing images from Nymph Lake. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24mm TS-E F3.5 L II
Clouds glide over Longs Peak and Mount Otis as seen from the shores of Nymph Lake. This particular morning clouds filled the sky above Rocky Mountain National Park. My expectations mountains peaks and clouds in colored in fiery red light where not met. Instead, the sun mostly stayed behind the clouds on this peaceful morning. The more subtle sunrise lightly colored the skies and peaks in a more subdued pastel palette. Even though I missed out on an intense sunrise, I find the subtle nature of the light in this image to be one of my more pleasing images from Nymph Lake. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24mm TS-E F3.5 L II

Expectations go hand and hand with most endeavors. Partaking in landscape photography, one is certainly not immune to expectations. For most of us, pursuing landscape photography is endeavor that requires us to have lots of ‘skin in the game’. It’s a double edged sword that can fuel our passion, or cause us to miss out on our own unique expressions of subjects.

Landscape photography requires study in the field with your subjects, miles upon miles of travel both on the soles of our feet as well as our vehicles. It requires some level of competence with a camera and hopefully some form of personal vision and expression. Most importantly for many of us it requires a time commitment which is finite.

Expectations are what drive many of us out into the field in search of images. Expectations can be the root driver behind many of our explorations and travels to certain locales. Expectations can drive us to areas far and wide at all hours of the day and night to create images.

Expectations also can act as blinders. They can cause us to overlook the sublime, the subtle, the not so sexy. Expectations can cause us to dismiss locations and subjects. We quickly move on to places where we perceive more potential while leaving less interpretation for our own unique vision.

I’m in no way immune to the power of expectations. They have benefited me both positively and negatively as a photographer. Personally I find my most rewarding images are created when I let loose of my expectations.

Serendipitous images are my favorites. By their very nature they are exploratory, unique and creative. This kind of images make strong statements about the person behind the camera, not the camera itself or the subject. Embrace serendipity and leave your expectations behind. I think you will find the rewards outweigh the detractors.

West Creek Falls

The upper section of West Creek Falls tumbles over the granite walls along West Creek. This was my first visit to West Creek Falls and the location did not disappoint. If your looking for a quiet, out of the way location to photograph waterfalls in Rocky Mountain National Park, this certainly is a great place to visit. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24-105mm F4 IS
The upper section of West Creek Falls tumbles over the granite walls along West Creek. This was my first visit to West Creek Falls and the location did not disappoint. If your looking for a quiet, out of the way location to photograph waterfalls in Rocky Mountain National Park, this certainly is a great place to visit. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24-105mm F4 IS

Having just spent a week back on the east coast where I immersed myself in waterfall and stream photography, this past week saw me continuing that trend.

While I’ve been antsy to get out an photograph mountain peaks and alpine lakes, this past week saw mostly bluebird clear sunrises combined with haze and smoke from the wildfires burning across Colorado and the west.

Since it was unlikely I was going to be able to capture any portfolio worthy images of peaks and mountains with the smoke, haze and clear blue skies, I figured water features would be the most productive way to spend my time.

Over the last fifteen years, I have photographed many of the waterfalls in Rocky Mountain National Park. Even so, I still have a huge list of falls and locations I have yet to visit and photograph. Rocky is big, and getting to each and every waterfall in the park requires lots of dedication and effort.

I had never visited West Creek Falls prior to last week. I’ve spied it on my topo maps many times but it’s somewhat out of the way location has kept me from passing by it or making it the sole purpose of and expedition.

West Creek Falls lies just inside the eastern boundary to Rocky Mountain National Park. Much of the actual hike into West Creek takes place outside Rocky Mountain National Park. Starting at McGraw Ranch, and traversing the North Boundary Trail through the Comanche Peak Wilderness area you eventually come to a spur trail that leads you on the hike up to West Creek Falls.

West Creek Falls is located in the West Creek Research Natural Area. Besides the small spur trail to the Falls, the West Creek Research area is essentially a trailess, little visited section of Rocky Mountain National Park tucked within the Mummy Range.

Like many locations in Rocky now, fallen trees and deadfall can present a problem in capturing unhindered views of locations. West Creek has its share of deadfall, but with some careful placement of my tripod and camera I was able to photograph the beauty of West Creek Falls.

West Creek Falls is a beautiful, secluded spot in Rocky Mountain National Park. I’m definitely planning on visiting the falls again most likely in the fall which looks to be promising.

Water, Water Everywhere

I just returned from a week long jaunt to New York State. Compared to my usual stomping grounds in Colorado, water is plentiful. While it rained much of the trip, I was able to capture a few sunrises in between weather systems. Pastel colors light a private dock along the shores of Shinnecock Bay in Southampton, New York. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24-105mm F4 IS L
I just returned from a week long jaunt to New York State. Compared to my usual stomping grounds in Colorado, water is plentiful. While it rained much of the trip, I was able to capture a few sunrises in between weather systems. Pastel colors light a private dock along the shores of Shinnecock Bay in Southampton, New York. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24-105mm F4 IS L
I spent all of last week traveling through and around New York State photographing some of my favorite places in the Empire State. One word comes to mind whenever I leave Colorado and head back east and it’s water.

The contrast between the arid and dry climate of Colorado, compared to the moisture laden areas of the east coast is always striking to me. In New York you are always near, around, in, or over some sort of water it seems. Colorado, not so much.

When I’m out photographing locations in Colorado, I seek out water. Small lakes and bodies of water become destinations for photography because of the impact they bring to landscape photography in a dry climate. When photographing locations in New York, water becomes almost an afterthought. It seems to always be part of the landscape and location.

Neither situation is better or worse. To me they are just part of the makeup of the unique locations and it’s the contrast is climates that continues to make these different destinations so much fun to shoot.

So even though I expect to be photographing lots of bodies of water and water features when I travel through New York, heavy rain helped to keep already green and saturated areas even more vibrant and green than I could have expected.

In fact while an average June typically see about 5.5 inches of rain the entire month, nearly 9 inches of rain fell last week alone. Even with the rain it was a great week of photography and being in a different environment is always a great way to keep the creative juices flowing.

Even still it’s good to be back in Colorado and will be even better to get back up into Rocky to see how our snowmelt and thaw out is progressing in our thin dry air.

Stormy Chautauqua

Just enough drop under light illuminates the Flatiron formation at sunrise in Boulder. Silver Lupines blooming in Chautauqua Meadow combined with the dark ominous clouds made for a brief but awesome morning of photography with the help of a little storm lighting. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 16-35mm F2.8 L II
Just enough drop under light illuminates the Flatiron formation at sunrise in Boulder. Silver Lupines blooming in Chautauqua Meadow combined with the dark ominous clouds made for a brief but awesome morning of photography with the help of a little storm lighting. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 16-35mm F2.8 L II
The parade of wildflowers continues in Chautauqua Park in Boulder. Are wet spring is providing enough moisture to keep the meadow green and the flowers blooming. Currently the flavor of the day in Chautauqua Meadow is Silver Lupines and if things go as they usually do, I would expect the Sweet Pea to start blooming just west of the Ranger cottage shortly.

As I’ve stated before in my blog, I’m a sucker for storm light. Pretty much any subject looks good in storm light, including fast food joints, garbage cans, and even proverbial eyesores like strip malls and cell phone towers.

Some may wonder what exactly constitutes storm light. Clouds of any sort always help to add depth and perspective to landscape photography. Having clouds in your image alone does not constitute storm light photography. For true storm light we need a little bit more than just some wafting and drifting clouds in the sky.

For true storm light we need ominous dark clouds swirling above or around our subject. Dark ominous clouds alone are not enough. We then need the special ingredient of some ‘drop under’ light. There needs to be a small break or opening in those ominous clouds that allows just enough of the sun’s magical first or last light of the day peak through and bathe our subject with intense, colorful, long angle lighting.

Storm lighting is short lived and fleeting. Your only going to have a few seconds or minutes to take advantage of the conditions. This was the case when I photographed the Flatirons from Chautauqua Meadow last week. I had a little over 2 minutes of light this particular to make this image work. It was a fleeting moment, but the storm light over the Flatirons this morning more than made up for the duration of light. Now where are those fast food joints, cell phone towers and strip malls!.

Into The Burn Zone

Sunrise at Cub Lake. This was my first visit to photograph Cub Lake after the Fern Lake Fire. The scenery has changed since the fire but Cub Lake remain a place of beauty. Even in destruction, beauty remains in nature. Technicial Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24mm TS-E F3.5 L II
Sunrise at Cub Lake. This was my first visit to photograph Cub Lake after the Fern Lake Fire. The scenery has changed since the fire but Cub Lake remain a place of beauty. Even in destruction, beauty remains in nature. Technicial Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24mm TS-E F3.5 L II
Colorado and Rocky Mountain National Park have been feeling the effects of a prolonged drought for over a decade now. Combine that with the pine beetle outbreak that has been ravaging are evergreen forests and you quickly comprehend the powder keg our forests and Rocky are sitting on.

Up until October 9th, 2012 it had been not a question of if a major forest fire, but when. Significant fires had broken out in close proximity Rocky Mountain National Park prior to the 9th of October but the park had been spared from a large fire within its boundaries.

Everyone’s fears were realized on October 9th, when what is believed to have been an illegal campfire on the rocky ledges above The Pool and Big Thompson sparked what would become known as the Fern Lake Fire.

The fire spread quickly through the rocky and difficult terrain just west of Moraine Park in Forest Canyon. While the fire was the most significant blaze in Rocky Mountain National Park since the ‘Ouzel Fire’ was sparked by lighting on August 9th, 1978 burning almost 1100 acres in the Wild Basin area of Rocky. The vestiges of the Ouzel Fire are still very evident even today in Wild Basin, nearly thirty five years later.

The charred remains of a spruce tree make for and interesting subject for photography near Cub Lake. The metallic like sheen and patterns made for a reptillian like resemblence. Technicial Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 100mm Macro F2.8 L IS
The charred remains of a spruce tree make for and interesting subject for photography near Cub Lake. The metallic like sheen and patterns made for a reptillian like resemblence. Technicial Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 100mm Macro F2.8 L IS

While the thought of the Fern Lake fire burning in Rocky was disturbing, most of us figured it’s start so late in the season would cause it to be quickly extinguished by the early snows that typically cover the high country by October.

The snows remained absent through much of October and November but firefighters had been able to keep the Fern Lake fire contained. Some hot spots remained here and there in the rocky crags of Forest Canyon but everyone was confident the snows would soon be coming to finish the firefighters work.

By December 1st the Fern Lake fire had mostly become and afterthought. High winds during the night raked Rocky and the Estes Valley on December 1st. The nearly dormant Fern Lake Fire exploded once again with the help of the high winds.

Within a few hours the fire had sprinted through Moraine Park and had made it all the way to Bear Lake Road. If the fire jumped Bear Lake Road, there was nothing to stop it from running outside the park boundaries and right into the town of Estes Park.

Another photographic study of the side of an evergreen near Cub Lake. The outer bark has been charred by the fire and mostly flaked off exposing the redish hue of the inner bark of the tree. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 100mm Macro F2.8 IS L
Another photographic study of the side of an evergreen near Cub Lake. The outer bark has been charred by the fire and mostly flaked off exposing the redish hue of the inner bark of the tree. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 100mm Macro F2.8 IS L

Fortunately, Bear Lake Road acted as a natural fire break. Firefighters were able to setup a fire line at Bear Lake Road and prevent the fire from moving any further east. The snows eventually came and although the Fern Lake Fire smoldered in small areas late into winter, it was finally put down by heavy spring snows.

3500 acres later, the Fern Lake Fire stands as the largest wildfire to burn through Rocky Mountain National Park in modern times. The damage from the fire is significant in the Forest Canyon, Cub Lake and Moraine Park area of the park.

Like all things in nature, wildfires are part of the cycle and though destructive are a necessary means to refresh and renew old forests. The burn area will not look the same during our lifetimes. In the long run however, the burn areas will be healthier and will eventually return to their former beauty.

Last week I took my first hike up to the Cub Lake post fire. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect, but I knew the area around Cub Lake had taken on some serious fire damage. Cub Lake has always been a favorite place in the park to photograph for me. The last few years however, the area around Cub Lake had been inundated pine beetle damage. To be frank, the trees around Cub Lake were already in transition before the fire burned through the area and Cub Lake through still spectacular has lost some of its beauty due to the loss of many of its trees.

Wildfires have a positive effect on the areas they burn out. They act as a fertalizer and help to renew the soil, grasses and trees. The blackened soil in Moraine Park is already producing vibrant green grasses and wildflowers will be budding through the burn area in the next few weeks. Technicial Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 70-300mm F4-5.6 L
Wildfires have a positive effect on the areas they burn out. They act as a fertalizer and help to renew the soil, grasses and trees. The blackened soil in Moraine Park is already producing vibrant green grasses and wildflowers will be budding through the burn area in the next few weeks. Technicial Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 70-300mm F4-5.6 L

As I neared Cub Lake, the fire damage became more evident. Pines and aspens were scorched along the creek and trail near the outlet to Cub lake. Arriving at Cub Lake it was humbling. To look upon the landscape and see the burnt tree’s and ash all around the lake and hillsides felt almost like being on another planet.

I took some time to wander around the lake and within the forest just before sunrise. Sad as it was to see the changes that had occurred due to the wildfire, I could see beauty in what was left behind. Fascinating patterns had formed on the burnt out trees, and the charcoal stumps and logs flittered with metallic like colors and patterns.

After shooting sunrise at the lake, I headed up into the hillsides to photograph the shapes, textures and patterns along left over from the fire. Change is difficult, but it only took a little while before I was enjoying the experience and documenting the changes.

Change is part of mother nature’s bigger picture. I certainly wont see the area around Cub Lake rejuvenate in my lifetime, but I feel privileged enough to have witnessed both the before and after effects of the fire. Cub Lake is still a beautiful location to visit and photograph just make sure to keep an open mind when wandering trailside.

Flops And Gems

A muted sunrise illuminates the skies over Dark Mountain and Lumpy Ridge. I was able to photograph this view of Rocky from Rainbow Curve along Trail Ridge Road which is now open for the season. Technicial Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 70-300mm F4-5.6 L
A muted sunrise illuminates the skies over Dark Mountain and Lumpy Ridge. I was able to photograph this view of Rocky from Rainbow Curve along Trail Ridge Road which is now open for the season. Technicial Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 70-300mm F4-5.6 L
With Memorial Day past us and the unofficial start of Summer underway, the excitement and anticipation of great adventures and explorations builds. Typically I have a ‘to-do’ list of locations in Rocky Mountain National Park that I would like to explore and photograph.

The list is not rigid. I don’t set dates or deadlines with it. I just use it as a general guide. It’s helps to jog my memory and keep me focused. Experience has taught me that without my list I tend to drift, lose focus and end up too many times caught up in the no mans land of creativity and photography.

Lime green spring aspen trees bud out along Lumpy Ridge and the Gem Lake trail. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 70-300mm F4-5.6 L
Lime green spring aspen trees bud out along Lumpy Ridge and the Gem Lake trail. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 70-300mm F4-5.6 L

Even with Summer just around the corner, I have yet to complete my list. Not that the list is ever completed, but it still needs some additions. There are just so many places in Rocky to photograph and explore that it times is seems a monumental task.

With that said, you have to start somewhere and new possibilities are opening up in the park which each passing day. Trail Ridge Road opened on Friday and each day the lakes unthaw a little more, and snow recedes to higher elevations along the trails
Our cold spring which was very much just and extension of winter has most areas of the park two to three weeks behind a typical year. It’s causing some fits and starts for me and my to-do list as some of the usual locations are not quite ready for primetime yet.

So I’ve been wandering around exploring both known and unknown locations the last few weeks. It’s resulted in a few flops and some surprise gems. Regardless of the outcome, the experience and adventure of being out in Rocky trumps all.

Worth The Wait

What's better than this after a long winter?. It's be a long wait, but worth it for images like these. The sky errupts with color over Chautauqua Park and The Flatirons of Boulder on a beautiful spring morning. Golden Banner fills the meadow below the iconic rock formation. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 17mm TS-E F4 L
What’s better than this after a long winter?. It’s be a long wait, but worth it for images like these. The sky errupts with color over Chautauqua Park and The Flatirons of Boulder on a beautiful spring morning. Golden Banner fills the meadow below the iconic rock formation. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 17mm TS-E F4 L
There are few more iconic and beautiful locations in Colorado that Chautauqua Meadows at the base of the Flatirons in Boulder. It’s a beautiful location anytime of year and a place that has a magical quality about it.

Spring in Chautauqua Meadows is particularly special. Flowers bloom in the meadow and the sweet smell of the Ponderosa pines that line the hillsides fills the warming air.

It’s almost as if Chautauqua Meadows puts on slow motion show of changing displays of wildflowers and colors. The Golden Banner will cede to Silver Lupine, which will regress for Wild Iris, then finally the pink, reds and purples of the Sweet Pea as the days warm and summer settles in.

After a spring that has been masquerading as winter, it’s nice to finally have some warm weather and to watch things finally begin to green up. Were at least a good two weeks behind the norm in Boulder as far as the foliage goes so I’ve been eagerly awaiting the first flower blooms in Chautauqua Park.

In a typical year, Golden Banner is the first significant bloom to propagate Chautauqua Park in the spring. That’s true of this year as well.

With nice healthy clusters of Golden Banner sprinkled throughout Chautauqua, I was treated to a spectacular sunrise over the Flatirons last week. Spring has been slow to the party but the wait was well worth it.

Let The Melt Off Begin

Spring sunrise on Dream Lake. It's been a long cold spring in Rocky Mountain National Park. I took this image of Dream Lake the first week of May. The outlet to Dream Lake had just begun to thaw out allowing for me to capture a slight reflection of Hallet Peak in the icy waters. Technicial Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 17mm TS-E F4 L
Spring sunrise on Dream Lake. It’s been a long cold spring in Rocky Mountain National Park. I took this image of Dream Lake the first week of May. The outlet to Dream Lake had just begun to thaw out allowing for me to capture a slight reflection of Hallet Peak in the icy waters. Technicial Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 17mm TS-E F4 L
I’ve been getting a few emails regarding the current condition of Rocky, what lakes have opened up and how much snow there is yet to melt off. I expect conditions to change fairly quickly in the next few weeks as it looks like a longer stretch of warm more temperate weather is about to settle in for at least a week.

I expect this warm up to have a pretty significant impact on melting and opening up of some lakes in the park. That being said we have a long way to go. There is a lot of snow in the higher elevations in Rocky right now.

In the fifteen years I’ve been photographing Rocky, I personally cant remember a year where there was this much snow present so late into the spring. I’d suggest that everybody get used to the fun of post holing when hiking for at least the next few weeks.

The two images included in this post are from the last two weeks. Conditions will change quickly and everybody needs to be prudent and safe when walking near frozen and thawing bodies of water. It’s often difficult to tell whether your standing on snow along the shoreline, or snow on top of soft, unstable ice.

This is how Bierstadt Lake looked just a few days ago. The ice has yet to melt from it's surface and its already the second week of May. Technicial Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 17mm TS-E F4 L
This is how Bierstadt Lake looked just a few days ago. The ice has yet to melt from it’s surface and its already the second week of May. Technicial Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 17mm TS-E F4 L

Moraine and Horseshoe Park are free of snow. The meadows are just starting to green up and both Fall River and the Big Thompson are starting flow at a good pace. I’m eagerly awaiting the wildflowers in Moraine Park this year as the combination of heavy moisture and the revived soil from the Fern Creek fire could make for an interesting display.

Sprague Lake is completely free of ice now. The last little bit of ice on Sprague melted off at the end of last week. Bierstadt Lake was still covered by ice as of this weekend. The edges had just begun to thaw out and I expect Bierstadt to open up quickly from here on out as it was apparent the ice sheet is very soft.

Bear and Nymph lake still remained buried under the heavy snowpack. Dream Lake’s outlet has begun to thaw out and there is open water to be found.

At this point, lakes at about 10,000 ft or higher in Rocky Mountain National Park are going to be frozen well into June. The higher lakes are buried under considerable snow so it’s going to take a lot of energy to thaw them. Until then, the lakes, streams and waterfalls at lower elevations should keep photographers busy.