Sometimes it’s easy to forget what a short history Rocky Mountain National Park has. While the geographic area that is now Rocky Mountain National Park, has soldiered on for eons, the protected entity drawn out on a map that is Rocky Mountain National Park is not even one hundred years old.
While there are many who were responsible for establishing Rocky Mountain National Park, none other than a former Kansan named Enos Mills. Enos Mills had a greater influence in establishing Rocky Mountain National Park than any other individual. Furthermore, Mr. Mills was a talented photographer and his images of Rocky taken with his Kodak Pocket camera are images of locals in Rocky Mountain National Park never before photographed.
While the Estes Valley was filled with strong pioneering type personalities such as F.O. Stanley and Abner Sprague, it was Enos Mills strong belief in the conservation movement that helped establish Rocky Mountain National Park as a protected and treasured piece of America.
In remembrance of Mr. Mills efforts in helping to establish Rocky Mountain National Park, a lake was named in his honor. Mills Lake is one of Rocky’s most popular and spectacular locations. Located 2.6 miles up Glacier Gorge, Mills Lake resides on the backside of Longs Peak in a beautiful glaciated valley. It’s a location worthy of the man’s name who lectured and educated citizens on the need to protect these beautiful and unique areas.
Mount Meeker is Rocky Mountain National Park’s second highest peak. Rising to 13,911 ft above sea level, the ridgeline of Mount Meeker towers over Rocky and the Front Range. Even with it’s impressive sight and ridge lines, Meeker does not get the attention and respect of Longs Peak, it’s nearest neighbor and only fourteener located in Rocky.
While both Mount Meeker is shorter in stature than Longs Peak, it is in fact a more technical mountain than the already difficult and challenging routes up Longs Peak. For us photographers it’s also easy to overlook Mount Meeker with the siren of Longs Peak towering just to the north.
I’d like to tell you that the morning I decided to hike half way up the Twin Sisters was to indeed photography Mount Meeker in all her majesty. I’d by lying of course if I wrote that. My intent in fact was to capture sunrise unfolding over Longs Peak and the Diamond instead. The Twin Sisters reward hikers and photographers with some of the best views of Longs Peak and Mount Meeker anywhere in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Sunrise this particular morning had more or less fizzled out. The clouds that had circled above Longs Peak prior to sunrise had for the most part dissipated. The northern area of Rocky had a nice set of clouds over it, but I was committed at this point to photographing from the Twin Sisters.
A small set of clouds started to form along the flanks of Mount Meeker just as I was about to pack up my gear and hike out. The inversion along the flanks of Meeker were just enough to get me to reframe my shot and train my lens and camera on Meeker instead of Longs Peak. In my many previous images from this location, I had never thought to concentrate on Mount Meeker’s impressive lines and ridges alone. Longs Peak was always to much of a distraction.
It was because of a busted sunrise and a set of small clouds rolling up the flanks of Meeker that allowed me to train my camera on the red headed stepchild of Longs Peak known as Mount Meeker.
Sunrises on the High Plains of Colorado are often magnificent. No two sunrises over the plains are ever alike. Each sunrise is as unique as fingerprints are to one’s hand. The intensity of the colors, the shape of the clouds, and the richness of light are always changing and varied.
In this day and age of digital photography and the use of software to enhance and refine imagery, some may be skeptical of the intensity of the colors and light that some of my sunrise images exhibit. When photographing a location, it is never my intent to reproduce an exact carbon copy of the scene. There are tweaks and adjustments made to some of my images, but sunrises photographed over the Front Range and High Plains rarely need much work after they are photographed.
When photographing sunrises, I prefer to head out long before dawn on mornings when there is a good amount of cloud cover overhead. Before the sun appears, the light show begins. Clouds will begin to pickup the colors of the sun and the hues an intensity of the light will change rapidly as sunrise approaches. Like a kid in a candy store, I use this time to vary my compositions and experiment with my exposures. My advice, get out early, capture the intensity of the sunrise and spend less time in front of the computer after your shoot.
As I sit here at my desk processing some files on Monday, a story on the news declares this as ‘Blue Monday’. Apparently the day people will feel most depressed. The news story cites debt and lack of motivation as some of the reasons behind declaring this day ‘Blue Monday’.
Of course the story wrapped up by stating that most will attempt to treat their ‘Blue Monday’ depression through retail therapy. Initially the story caught my attention as I personally find this time of year a little less motivating and exciting for photography than other times of the year.
Of course once they mentioned retail therapy the cynic in me quickly dismissed the story as just another attempt to get people out spending money they don’t have on items they don’t really need. ‘Blue Monday’ quickly sounded like our familiar friends of ‘Black Friday’ and ‘Cyber Monday’.
I happened to be working on this image from last week when the story aired. It certainly seemed to fit the them well. Of course, I find nothing depressing in spending a chilly morning in Rocky Mountain National Park photographing the surface of a frozen lake.
Disclaimer: Photographing ice can be a dangerous and deadly activity. Conditions in Rocky Mountain National Park can change rapidly causing ice to quickly become unstable. Before wandering out on the ice to explore, I strongly advise that you check with NPS Rangers for the latest conditions before heading out on the ice.
It’s that time of year again. That time of year when you start to see shots of ice fractures and patterns from Rocky Mountain National Park popping up all over the internet. It’s a subject that has been photographed quite a bit, but even still some may wonder where and how to capture images of ice in Rocky Mountain National Park.
While there are many locations in Colorado where one can photograph ice patterns on our lakes and streams, Rocky has some of the best locals in all of Colorado to photograph icy surfaces. Combine plentiful locations to photograph ice, with your typical winter doldrums and photographing ice can be the perfect cure to get you back out in the field with your camera.
Rocky is chock full of watery locations that will freeze over once the colder weather settles in. There are however, a few locations that are more accessible and more popular locations to photograph ice in the Park.
Dream Lake tops the list of my popular locations to photograph ice in Rocky. The high winds that race down from the peaks above Dream Lake act like nature’s Zamboni. Even when there is heavy snowpack, winds will often sweep the surfaces of Dream Lake exposing large swaths of the icy surface of the lake. Dream Lake is also a fairly short hike in the winter. The trail is heavily used and will most likely be hard packed. It rarely requires snowshoes to access but I would recommend snow spikes or Yak-Trax type equipment to make your footing a little more sure on the ice and snow.
The Loch, like Dream Lake is also a very good location to photograph ice. The winds at the Loch in the winter can be relentless. This of course will keep large areas of the good size lake free of snow and ready for exploration. The Loch requires a bit more of a physical commitment to reach than Dream Lake but you are likely to encounter fewer photographers here than Dream Lake.
For those who want to avoid long hikes or extended periods out in the cold and wind, Fall River in Horseshoe Park, and the Big Thompson River in Moraine Park can provide some nice areas of ice, especially if the snowpack is lower. Keep in mind you will be able to find interesting ice patterns in just about any location in Rocky Mountain National Park where there is water present.
As for actually photographing the ice and the patterns, I recommend taking your time to observe the patterns, bubbles and fractures present on the ice. Try lots of different compositions and look for patterns or anomalies in the ice that will make for an interesting subject. My favorite lenses when photographing ice are my 100mm Macro lens and my 24-105mm lens. I find the 85-105mm range to be best at isolating the patterns.
Furthermore, keep in mind that weather conditions will play a big part in your results in the field. Cloudless Colorado bluebird days will result in the ice taking on a bluish hue from the sky reflecting in the ice. Cloudy days will result in the ice taking on a more milky white like hue. I recommend you photograph the ice in Raw. Why you ask?, mostly because this gives you the option of adjusting your white balance when processing your shots. This will result in much more dynamic images as you can decide to warm and or cool the white balance based on your desired results.
When I head up to Rocky to photograph at sunrise, I usual have some idea in mind of where and what I want to shoot. Sometimes I have a location in mind that will require a long hike to reach, and sometimes I have a general area in mind that I would just like to explore and photograph what strikes me as interesting. Over the years, I’ve found that I need to remain flexible and have a good ‘plan B’ location in case my pre-determined areas are looking less primary.
For me personally, I find having a location in mind allows me to make sure I’m at a good location when the action starts happening and the sun rises. I’ve found the ‘lets go hike around and see what unfolds’ approach often ends up with me running up a trailhead rushing to capture the unfolding sunrise leaves me rushed, detached and unprepared.
On very few occasions do I head up to Rocky Mountain National Park with little to no idea on where or what I want to photography. 90% of the time I have a fairly good idea of where I want to be and what I want to photograph.
A few weeks ago I found myself in the position of being up in Rocky with no game plan at all. It’s the middle of the brown season and most of the waterways and lakes in the park have frozen over. The peaks and the mountains though are still only covered with snow in all but the highest locations.
For me, any day in Rocky Mountain National Park, regardless of the conditions is better than spending a morning anywhere else on the planet. Because of this, I headed up to Rocky with no agenda, and no plan for where I wanted to be at sunrise. I took a lets just see what happens approach, contrary to how I normally photograph most mornings.
I’ll admit the conditions and lack of a plan left me feeling a little uninspired as I approached Estes Park. There were no clouds in the sky this morning, it had been a week or so since any fresh snow had fallen and so I really had no good ideas on what I wanted to shoot that morning when I entered the park.
That all changed in a heartbeat as I round a corner in Moraine Park and glimpsed off to the west. A beautiful full moon was quickly setting to the west and over the continental divide. At that moment I knew what I wanted to photograph. I quickly headed up a hillside near the Moraine Park Museum to get an unobstructed view of the setting moon.
As I was setting up my camera and tripod, admiring the beautiful setting moon, a pair of Coyotes wandered out into Moraine Park and started barking, yipping and howling. It was an impressive display with the full moon setting over Beaver Mountain while the chorus from the playful Coyotes howling echoed through Moraine Park.
The scene quickly inspired me. Heading up to Rocky with little to no idea of what I would photograph had now placed me in Moraine Park experiencing a unique and memorable experience that one can only experience in the American west. That’s why in the end I like to say, a morning in Rocky is better than a morning anywhere else, and sometimes the journey and unknown is inspiration alone.
Happy 2013 to everyone. Here’s hoping to a healthy and productive year to all. I managed to keep my tradition of shooting the first sunrise of the new year this morning. This gets easier to do the older I get, as in some years past I probably would be going to bed as the sun was rising.
This year I wrangled myself out of bed and made the short drive over to Boulder and the Flatirons Vista trailhead to photograph the first sunrise of 2013. It was a chilly morning with temps in Boulder hovering around 12 degrees, give or take a few degrees depending on your location.
It had cleared off to the east over the high plains of Colorado but a nice set of clouds remained over the Front Range, and the Flatirons. The conditions were coming together to form one of our classic and intense sunrises here in Colorado. I hiked the few miles back to my location in the pre-dawn light and waited in the stillness and silence of the morning for the light show to unfold.
This mornings sunrise was more amazing than any fireworks show celebrating the new year and as I stood their watching it unfold there was no better place to be to start 201
It’s time to say farewell to 2012. It’s been a good and productive year for me personally. I was able to photograph many of locations on my ‘to do list’. I had great luck with weather and clouds and I ended up in the right spot more often than a spectator from afar.
The majority of my time and energy was spent photographing Rocky Mountain National Park. When I wasn’t photographing Rocky, I spent time photographing the open space properties in and around Boulder.
2013 is looking to be more of the same for my photography. I have quite a few projects in mind, but my energy and resources will be spent photographing Rocky Mountain National Park.
There’s just and endless amount of subjects and locations to photograph in Rocky. I plan to do my best in 2013 to continue scratching the surface to the unlimited potential Rocky holds for photography. So here’s looking to 2013, and all the potential she holds.
The east side of Rocky Mountain National Park is primed for photography at sunrise. It’s east facing peaks high above the Colorado plains are privy to the intense alpenglow of dawns early light. With the peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park perched high above the eastern plains of Colorado, there are no physical barrier blocking the horizon or sunrise. The end result of this is beautiful and intense lighting or alpenglow occurs on the peaks at sunrise.
I first photographed Rocky Mountain National Park in 1998, the year I moved to Colorado from the east coast. I was awe struck when I photographed my first sunrise from Dream Lake.
I had seen images of Dream Lake in calendars and books but the experience of hiking to the lake before sunrise and watching the sunrise unfold and bathe Hallet and Flattop mountain in rich red and orange light had me hooked. With my trusty Nikon F4s in tow, a few rolls of Fuji Velvia and Kodachrome 25 in my bag I clicked away in awe. Ever since that sunrise at Dream Lake, I’ve spent my time hiking around Rocky Mountain National Park during ungodly hours to photograph her beautiful alpine lakes at sunrise.
It’s become a near obsession for me to photograph different lakes at sunrise in Rocky. A funny thing happened along the way however. Forgive the cheesy pun, but somewhere along the way it dawned on me that some of the best photographs at sunrise were actually looking east away from the peaks and not directly at them.
Perhaps it was my migration over to digital photography which allowed the camera to capture a greater range of detail in the shadows. Possibly it’s due to the fact that some of the best cloud formations in Rocky actually setup east of the high peaks. It’s likely that it’s a desire to capture images a little bit different than those taken from the usual locations.
Regardless, photographing Rocky with an eastern facing vantage point has resulted in the creation of some of my favorite images of the park. So the next time you head out to photograph Rocky, keep your options open and don’t overlook photographing with your back to the high peaks.
Ok, I’ll admit it’s been somewhat slow around here. A perfect storm of sorts has come together, which has slowed me down a tad. The combination of the holidays, the Fern Lake Fire, and the lack of any real snow in the park has been a challenge.
It’s difficult enough to successfully photograph Rocky Mountain National Park in the best of conditions, but throw in a fire that has closed off access to one of the most beautiful parts of Rocky Mountain National Park, a lack of any new snow pack to cover the transitional browns, and the holidays adding their typical chaos and it’s been an interesting end to the year here in Colorado.
None of this has stopped me from getting out and photographing. It’s just kind of reshaped the areas and subjects I’ve been photographing. This has indeed been a positive development for me. I’ve been forced to think outside the box a little more, and look for images I might normally hike or drive right past.
The Fern Lake fire has closed off access to Bear Lake Road, and Old Man Winter has shut down Trail Ridge Road and now suddenly, Rocky Mountain National Park has gotten a lot smaller. Smaller is a relative term of course as there are still humungous areas open for photography, but even still I’ve had to be a little more creative in searching out opportunities.
But as stated in a previous blog entry, it’s been a good experience for sure. I’ve been able to spend time photographing areas that are usually lower on my priority list or overlooked completely. I’ve been concentrating on smaller subjects and details which has been a great exercise and changeup. Here’s to hoping things get back to normal in the park in 2013, until then I’ll just keep enjoying photographing areas and subjects I’ve neglected in the past.