Blues Over Boulder

Moody blue light drapes the landscape of Boulder as sunrise sets the Flatirons ablaze in red. The lightshow this morning lasted only a few minutes, but its experiences and scenes like these that keep me out in the field early and often. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24-70mm F4 IS
Moody blue light drapes the landscape of Boulder as sunrise sets the Flatirons ablaze in red. The lightshow this morning lasted only a few minutes, but its experiences and scenes like these that keep me out in the field early and often. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24-70mm F4 IS
The theme of late around here seems to be blue. While I’m not making a conscious effort to create images tinged in blue, it seems to be the meme of late and I’m going to just keep going with the flow.

After a week of chilly, cold and snowy weather, It was time to get out on the trail and see what subjects I could find to photograph. Some snow still clung to the pines along the flanks of the Flatirons and the sky above was filled with clouds.

Standard operating procedure on a morning like this is to take the dog out for a walk while scanning the eastern plains for breaks in the cloud cover. While walking the dog I can usually get a pretty good idea if there are breaks in the cloud cover over the eastern plains which might allow for some spectacular early morning drop under lighting.

Conditions were not looking all that promising when I scanned the horizon. The cloud were increasing and most of the eastern horizon appeared to be shrouded in clouds. Even so, I could make out a break or two in the dark skies or as we photographers like to call them ‘sucker holes’. Small breaks in the cloud cover are known as ‘sucker holes’ for their propensity to sucker you into thinking you are going to get some epic drop under light only to be left standing in the cold when the clouds block sunrise and the light fails to materialize.

I learned a long time ago that while it helps to assess and adapt to the conditions when photographing, not making excuses and being in the best position possible regardless of what you think may happen is the best policy for success. So with that I mind, I was going to head out regardless of how unlikely it appeared that the lighting would cooperate.

As is always the case, the minute I hit the trail and start hiking, the pretenses start to fade away and experience and thrill of being out in nature alone in the predawn hours quickly takes hold. Capturing the light is now secondary to the experience of the sights and sounds of the natural world.

Forty minutes later I arrive at my destination. I’m pre-occupied, enjoying the hike in so as not to be paying much attention to the skies over the eastern plains. I know there are plenty of clouds in the skies this morning as the snow covered landscape around me is draped in blue light prevalent in the pre-dawn hours. Trees now block my view to the east preventing a good assessment of whether or not I’ll have any drop under light.

I take off my pack, setup my tripod and camera and wait under the cool blue pre-dawn light. Shortly before sunrise the clouds over the Flatirons begin to take on a slight magenta hue which quickly begins to intensify. Soon the top of the Flatirons joins in and turns red amongst the backdrop of a cool, snow covered landscape. For a few short minutes the sky and the mountains standout against the backdrop of the blue shadows. As I release the shutter and photograph the magnificent scene before me I can only chuckle to myself that I would have even considered missing this opportunity.

Blue Adams

As the seasons transition into Winter in Rocky Mountain National Park, lots of photographers will pack away their gear and avoid heading out to explore Rocky. Sometimes photography during the 'brown season' is not as rewarding as Summer and Fall photography, but with a little imagination and exploration opportunities abound. Adams Falls is slowly giving up its flow of water and freezing over for the long Winter months. Rocks and deadfall freeze over and make for a beautiful scene of water and ice. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24-105mm F4 IS L
As the seasons transition into Winter in Rocky Mountain National Park, lots of photographers will pack away their gear and avoid heading out to explore Rocky. Sometimes photography during the ‘brown season’ is not as rewarding as Summer and Fall photography, but with a little imagination and exploration opportunities abound. Adams Falls is slowly giving up its flow of water and freezing over for the long Winter months. Rocks and deadfall freeze over and make for a beautiful scene of water and ice. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24-105mm F4 IS L
With Winter and the holidays approaching things around here are slowing down a bit. Work continues to repair damaged roads and property from the historic flooding in September but some sense of normalcy is beginning to return to the Estes Park, Rocky Mountain National Park and the northern Front Range.

It’s a good time to review images made over the past year and work on some that I may have placed on the back burner awaiting a second look. I like to look for some of my more subtle work to showcase. Photographing and showcasing icons is fun, but for me the real reward is in creating images of moments that may have gone unnoticed.

So as the seasons transition and from the endless opportunities of summer to the completion of the colorful displays of fall, it’s tempting to put the camera away for awhile and find other things to occupy one’s time. Amongst photographers this time of year is known as the ‘brown season’. Ironically, the more I look to photograph during the ‘brown season’ the more beauty and opportunities I find during mother natures demure transition.

Whoa, Bierstadt

One of the most colorful and dramatic sunrises I've been lucky to experience unfolds over a frozen Bierstadt Lake. Lenticular clouds formed east of Longs Peak and the rising sun lit the underbelly of the clouds in rainbow like fashion. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24-105mm F4 IS
One of the most colorful and dramatic sunrises I’ve been lucky to experience unfolds over a frozen Bierstadt Lake. Lenticular clouds formed east of Longs Peak and the rising sun lit the underbelly of the clouds in rainbow like fashion. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24-105mm F4 IS
What do you do when the scene unfolding before your camera is one of the most intense and colorful sunrises you’ve been lucky enough to witness?. Is it a good or bad dilemma to be faced with?. Is the scene believable?, will your clients think you just went a little to far with your interpretation of the scene in Photoshop? I’ve spent a lot of time in the field photographing some spectacular kaleidoscopes of color, but one in particular from last week takes the cake.

I could tell heading up to Rocky Mountain National Park that there was some great potential for a colorful sunrise setting up over the park. It had been a very windy but mild night. The high winds aloft formed beautiful Lenticular clouds that extended from the Continental Divide eastward over the Front Range but not far enough east so as to impede the light from the rising sun over the plains.

Sprague Lake was a tempting destination, as was Moraine Park for sunrise. The location of the clouds and sunrise would have made either of these a great choices. I really wanted to get out on the trails and into the forest after all the distractions and closures over the last few months and hike. So with that in mind, I decided that Bierstadt Lake would be a good destination.

Looking east over a frozen Bierstadt Lake provided this serene but awesome view of the sky over the eastern plains of Colorado. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 17mm TS-E F4 L
Looking east over a frozen Bierstadt Lake provided this serene but awesome view of the sky over the eastern plains of Colorado. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 17mm TS-E F4 L

I love hiking to and photographing from Bierstadt Lake. It’s been one of my favorite locations in Rocky Mountain National Park since I first visited Rocky in 1998. It was the experience of locations such as Bierstadt Lake that inspired me to become a landscape photographer. The lake is named for Albert Bierstadt, the famous nineteenth century landscape painter from whom I admire and gain inspiration from in my photography pursuits.

Bierstadt Lake holds one of the most impressive views of the continental divide in all of Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s view to the east is more serene and not as pronounced as that of Sprague Lake below. From atop the shelf like plateau Bierstadt Lake is sits on, the sky is all that can be viewed to the east. And although there are no mountains in view when looking east from Bierstadt Lake, the view of the open horizon and sky is impressive.

So after a short but enjoyable 1.3 mile hike up the Bierstadt Moraine to the lake, I setup my camera and watched sunrise unfold. It was the most intense and colorful sunrises I’ve photographed anywhere. Words and images fall short of capturing the intensity of the sunrise this particular morning other than to say it felt as if I had just walked into a scene from none other than one of Albert Bierstadt’s dramatic paintings.

West Side Transitions

A chilly sunrise unfolds over Mount Baldy and the East Inlet on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park. Snow covers the meadow and the East Inlet has started to ice over for the winter with only small open areas of water left to reflect the colors of sunrise. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24mm TS-E F2.3 L II
A chilly sunrise unfolds over Mount Baldy and the East Inlet on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park. Snow covers the meadow and the East Inlet has started to ice over for the winter with only small open areas of water left to reflect the colors of sunrise. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24mm TS-E F2.3 L II
Spending time on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park in the offseason is one of my favorite things to do. The crowds are long gone from the west side of the park and Grand Lake. Trail Ridge Road is closed at the Colorado River trailhead and for all intents and purposes the west side of Rocky becomes an island on to itself with miles of open trails and light traffic on the roads.

Snow has begun to coat the high peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park and the meadows and valleys are also seeing the snow accumulate over their trees and grasses. Ice is forming along the edges of the streams and on top of the boulders and winters coming grip is slowly ebbing the flow of water downstream. In short order, feet of snow will begin to accumulate over the land and the streams and waterfalls will completely freeze over.

The transition time between autumn in Colorado and winter is brief and manic. Warm sunny days can quickly morph into full on blizzards which cover the peaks with snow and freeze the many streams and waterfalls.

Winter is coming on quickly along Tonahutu Creek. Water cascades over the boulders along the river while the rounded rocks begin to accumulate ice along their flanks. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 70-300mm F4-5.6 L
Winter is coming on quickly along Tonahutu Creek. Water cascades over the boulders along the river while the rounded rocks begin to accumulate ice along their flanks. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 70-300mm F4-5.6 L

Some years however, the transition from autumn to winter is slow and more pronounced. Ironically, with all the historic weather we’ve had leading up to autumn, this has been one of those years in Rocky. So before winter fully settles into Rocky, I spent time venturing around the west side of the park photographing some of the creeks and falls before they completely freeze over for winter. The combination of freshly fallen snow and ice was perfect. There were still open areas of water, but winter is methodically creeping over the landscape of Rocky Mountain National Park.

The next time I photograph the west side of Rocky, the transition from autumn to winter will be complete. Winter will have asserted her grip on the park and sealed the peaks and streams with a coating of snow and ice, only making for more opportunities to photograph the ever changing seasons.

Ten Years In The Making

Beautiful Eagle Cliff Falls in Havana Glen cascades over the rocks and past some beautiful autumn colors. Havana Glen which is located in Montour Falls, New York is only a short distance from the more well known Watkins Glen, but equally as beautiful. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 16-35mm F2.8 L II
Beautiful Eagle Cliff Falls in Havana Glen cascades over the rocks and past some beautiful autumn colors. Havana Glen which is located in Montour Falls, New York is only a short distance from the more well known Watkins Glen, but equally as beautiful. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 16-35mm F2.8 L II
It’s been nearly ten years since I’ve been able to get back east to photograph fall color. It certainly was not from a lack of desire to do so, but sometimes life and schedules get in the way making what was once commonplace, rare.

So finally after nearly a decade and a less than stellar autumn color season here in Colorado, I was able to make the trek back east to New York to photograph the fall colors and visit with family. The visit was shorter than I would have liked, but still a very productive and fun one.

Autumn was in full swing throughout the Hudson Valley and Finger Lakes region while I was back photographing so the timing was just about perfect. For the most part most days were mild but overcast. Perfect weather in my opinion to shoot the colorful fall canopies under nicely diffused light.

Lake Nawahunta in Harriman State Park is a favorite spot of mine. Seeing vibrant reds such as these is a rare treat and something I don't see often out west. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24-105mm F4 IS
Lake Nawahunta in Harriman State Park is a favorite spot of mine. Seeing vibrant reds such as these is a rare treat and something I don’t see often out west. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24-105mm F4 IS

Since it’s be awhile since I had photographed fall back east, I was very much like a kid in a candy store. The vibrant reds, oranges and yellows all looked spectacular along the hillsides and streams I hiked explored and hiked along. Even in New York, autumn seems to slows the bustling pace allowing one to contemplate and enjoy the colorful surroundings.

There’s a different pace to fall in the east as opposed to fall out west. The colors in the east peak more slowly than out west. Barring a nor’easter or hurricane, leaves stay on the trees longer and fall more slowly. In the west the transition from fall to winter is much more pronounced. One day it can be sunny and seventy degrees and the next day there can be a foot of snow, bare tree’s welcoming winters arrival.

I spent most of my time photographing Harriman State Park in the Hudson Valley and the area around Watkins Glen in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Like most expeditions there are plenty of places you want to photograph but run out of time to visit.I’ve got scouted out some new areas and have plenty of ideas for my next fall visit, I just hope it’s not ten years in the making.

Few places are more dramatic in fall then Watkins Glen. The numerous waterfalls, fall colors,and rocks covered with colorful autumn leaves make it feel as if there is a new image to be created every few feet. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24-105mm F4 IS
Few places are more dramatic in fall then Watkins Glen. The numerous waterfalls, fall colors,and rocks covered with colorful autumn leaves make it feel as if there is a new image to be created every few feet. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24-105mm F4 IS

Welcome Back Rocky

Longs Peak greets a beautiful but windy morning in Rocky Mountain National Park. Fresh snow has fallen on Rocky's highest peak and the high winds have formed beautiful lenticular clouds which glow in the early morning light. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 70-300mm F4-5.6 IS L
Longs Peak greets a beautiful but windy morning in Rocky Mountain National Park. Fresh snow has fallen on Rocky’s highest peak and the high winds have formed beautiful lenticular clouds which glow in the early morning light. Technical Details: Canon Eos 5D Mark III, 70-300mm F4-5.6 IS L
I’ve just returned from a short but very productive trip back east to photograph the fall colors. I’ll be posting some of these images in the near future so stay tuned. Even more exciting is the fact that I was able to get up to an open and welcoming Rocky Mountain National Park for a beautiful sunrise.

It always feels good to be home after traveling and it feels like forever since I’ve had a productive morning photographing Rocky. Being a creature of habit means I have a fairly regimented routine. While traveling and exploring new places is essential to learning, creating and improving your craft, photographing on your home turf always feels rewarding.

While it takes a little longer to get up to Rocky Mountain National Park than it did previously the trip over the Peak to Peak highway is worth the extra time involved. With the government shutdown out of the way for the time being, Rocky is open and Estes Park is bustling and busy again with visitors. It’s as great a time as ever to get back up to the park and spend time with old friends.

Navigating Through Autumn

Historic Flooding, cold and snow and a government shut down have all contributed to making photography in Boulder, Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park very difficult. While autumn has not lived up to its usual hype here in Colorado because of these events, one is still able to find beautiful scenes even in the midst of difficult times. Ironically, the flooding and heavy rains caused this seasonal puddle to form in Boulders Chautauqua Park. The tree's in Chautauqua Meadow were peaking as a beautiful sunrise unfolded over the Flatirons. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 17mm TS-E F4L
Historic Flooding, cold and snow and a government shut down have all contributed to making photography in Boulder, Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park very difficult. While autumn has not lived up to its usual hype here in Colorado because of these events, one is still able to find beautiful scenes even in the midst of difficult times. Ironically, the flooding and heavy rains caused this seasonal puddle to form in Boulders Chautauqua Park. The tree’s in Chautauqua Meadow were peaking as a beautiful sunrise unfolded over the Flatirons. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 17mm TS-E F4L

In a nutshell, the last few weeks have been a hard go here on the Front Range of Colorado. In what is typically my favorite time of year for photography, conditions and circumstances beyond control have placed a damper on many of the places and locales I often photograph between Estes Park and Boulder.

At time like these, landscape photography can seem trivial compared to the damage and devastation the flooding in and around Boulder has caused to peoples homes, business and communities at large. Even so, I look to my photography as a temporary diversion to the reality of the situation that will now accompany us for sometime.

A triple whammy would be the best way to describe what’s happened here this autumn. First the historic flooding that inundated Boulder and Estes Park which in turn closed roads and trails. Secondly, a spate of wet, cold and windy weather over the Front Range at the end of September combined with an above average year for moisture tempered the fall colors rendering many tree’s leafless, brown or still green. And the lastly, our good friends in government provided us with first hand kabuki theater and shut down the government, or at least thirty percent of it making access to National Parks and in particular Rocky Mountain National Park, impossible.

I can only describe the last month in one word, frustrating. It would be hard for me to believe that cabin fever could settle in over the month of September, but that’s what its felt like for me. Not being able to access places I find vital to my soul has been difficult. I daydream in envy thinking of the herds of elk, or solitary black bear trudging through the meadows or back country of Rocky Mountain National Park with nary a human for miles. A return to primal times is what it must feel like in all these once so easily accessible locations.

Things are starting to look up however. Roads are starting to reopen including Colorado highway 119 through Boulder Canyon. This will make getting to the Peak to Peak highway and Estes Park much more convenient. I’m holding out hope that our federal government can come to some sort of compromise on funding and Rocky Mountain National Park can reopen sooner than later.

So until Rocky Mountain National Park reopens and many of the trails on Open Space and Mountain Park property in Boulder are repaired, I’ll be looking for other opportunities to photograph and keep the rust off, including a quick trip back east for fall color. Patience will be paramount, but sooner than later we can all put these bumpy few months behind us and start returning to our usual haunts.

Rocky Update

The past few weeks have been quite hectic in Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park after the historic flooding that hit the northern Front Range of Colorado. Things are rapidly getting back to normal and much of Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park are now open for business. Here's an image from Lake Haiyaha a few weeks prior to the flooding. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 17mm TS-E F4 L
The past few weeks have been quite hectic in Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park after the historic flooding that hit the northern Front Range of Colorado. Things are rapidly getting back to normal and much of Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park are now open for business. Here’s an image from Lake Haiyaha a few weeks prior to the flooding. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 17mm TS-E F4 L

Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park are back open for business. Repairs will be ongoing for quite sometime and were all going to have to get acquainted with flashing signs and orange cones great progress has been made in getting things up and running.

Nearly all of Estes Park is open for business again. Most likely you will need to take a less direct routes to get to Estes Park, but nonetheless the stores and restaurants and hotels welcome your visit.

As far as the roads go, timelines have now been set and repairs have started to the major routes in and out of Estes Park. While it looks like US 34 through the Big Thompson will be out of service for the foreseeable future, road contractors along with Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper have set a December 1st deadline for US 36 to reopen to traffic albeit in a state that makes it passable. Colorado 119 through Boulder Canyon is also slated to reopen by mid October making for another alternative route to the Peak to Peak highway and Estes Park.

Rocky Mountain National Park has now reopened much of the east side of the park for travel and hiking. There are still numerous closures in effect but a large area of the park was reopened on Thursday including Bear Lake Road. Many area of the park including Old Fall River Road are closed and will remain so for the considerable future as damage is severe in areas.

Snow also fell above 8000 ft twice in the last week. Trail Ridge Road was closed mid week, then reopened and now closed again. Warmer weather allowed the National Park Service to reopen Trail Ridge again, but its seasonal closure is rapidly approaching with each new storm that enters the state.

The folks in the foothills communities as well as the northern Front Range have endured a lot of hardship over the last few weeks. Residents of Estes Park are now living by the credo of ‘Mountain Strong’. I’ll be heading up there over the next week to photograph the autumn colors and elk rut and I would suggest it’s as good as time as ever for to reconnect with Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park and help the business and services of the community dig out and get back on the path to recovery. Now lets keep our fingers crossed that Congress can come to an eleventh hour resolution that avoids shutting the government and National Parks down by as early as tonight.

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.