Things are quite here up in Rocky. We are almost half way through the winter season and it still feels like we’re awaiting its arrival. While its not uncommon to have dry January and Februarys, the lack of snow and interesting weather seems more pronounced this season then previous seasons. Most of our moisture will arrive as we move towards and into spring. So I’m looking forward to what is usually the best time of year to photograph winter scenes in Rocky Mountain National Park.
So as a landscape photographer how do you keep yourself busy while waiting for some weather to arrive?. For me I try to get out and explore no vantage points and locations in the park. I want to be ready when when some exciting weather and light arrives and have a handful of new locations that I can parse through and photograph when its primetime.
With the lack of snow in RMNP right now, its pretty easy to travel around the park on foot, especially in the lower elevations of the park in which conditions are much more like autumn than mid winter. There is no need for snowshoes or spikes in lower elevations as of this writing, no snowdrifts to posthole through and no head scratching moments when you lose the trail in the snow and spend 10 minutes getting yourself back on course in the pre-dawn light.
It’s easy sledding right now (pun intended) in Rocky Mountain National Park for photographers looking to be mobile in the middle of winter. I used the easy trekking to head into Upper Beaver Meadows again to look for some new compositions post fire.
While almost all the areas in or near the burn area from the East Troublesome Fire are still closed, the trails through Upper Beaver Meadow are open and skirt right along the boundaries of where the fire came down Spruce and Fern Canyon and down Beaver Mountain into the meadows burning the hillsides and in the process opening up some new locations and views.
There is a lot of potential for some new vantage points, especially looking south towards Longs Peak. I had a decent sunrise while out exploring but will need to get back to these spots after some snow or fog graces us with her presence. Until then, I’m going to keep exploring, hope for some good weather and most importantly some good light.
106 years ago today, President Woodrow Wilson signed into law the Rocky Mountain National Park Act protecting and creating Rocky Mountain National Park. It was the culmination of years of hard work and dedication by people like Enos Mills who fought so hard to make sure the place we now call Rocky Mountain National Park would be protected and accessible for generations of people to visit and enjoy.
With snow falling on the park last night, I was up and out the door early hoping to capture something interesting with my camera. I’d be lying to you if I said we have had lots of good opportunities for sunrise and sunsets this winter with lots of fresh snow on the mountains. Truth is, Colorado and the Front Range have been very dry since the fall and decent snow has been few and far between the past few months. Hopefully the pattern is changing as we are desperately in need of some moisture here in Colorado. Selfishly, snow and unsettled weather also makes for a lot more interesting photography as well.
Snow was falling lightly as I passed through the Beaver Meadows entry long before dawn. I was hoping for a possible inversion or some breaks in the cloud cover around sunrise. About 2 inches of snow had fallen over night, just enough to coat the pines and landscape with something other than the mostly brown grass we’ve been plaque with since the autumn. I checked the cloud layer as I always do trying to figure out just how high up the inversion was and whether I would be able to possibly get above it either by driving Trail Ridge Road to the winter closure point at Many Parks Curve, or throw on spikes and hike up Flattop Mountain.
With the thermometer on my truck in the single digits, I took the easy way out and headed up to Many Parks Curve as opposed to hiking up Flattop Mountain to see if I could get a better feel for how high up the inversion was.
When I arrived at Many Parks, it was socked in with fog. I parked the truck and took a look around. While walking around the overlook checking out the frosty landscape, the Mummy Range started coming into view through the fog and clouds. This of course meant the inversion layer was right at about 9400 ft or so. I had about 40 minutes to sunrise at this point so quickly packed up and started hiking up Trail Ridge Road.
I have a few spots along Trail Ridge Road when its closed in winter that I like to shoot the Mummy Range from. I settled on one about .5 miles up from the gate and watched as I could see a burst of color begin to form to the east. There were lots of clouds in the sky and fog below in Hidden Valley so it wasn’t a for sure bet that I would see any color or sunlight over the Mummy Range.
Perched up on a high hillside trying to stay warm I watched as the inversion stayed low enough so as not to block the mountains and the skies over Chiquita, Chapin, Ypsilon and Fairchild started to glow pink and magenta. The light show lasted all of 5 or 6 minutes before the clouds obscured the sun again and I packed up and headed back down to find other subjects to photograph.
106 years after its creation, the area that we now know of as Rocky Mountain National Park continues to give. Even on its own birthday, it would be hard to ask for a much better place in all of Colorado to get out and photograph sunrise on this cold January morning. Happy Birthday Rocky Mountain National Park and as always, thanks for all the great memories and experiences over the years!.
Rocky Mountain National Park experienced two of its most devastating wildfires congruently this summer. The Cameron Peak Fire and the East Troublesome wildfire were the two largest wildfires to hit Rocky Mountain National Park in years. The last large fire was the Fern Creek Fire in 2012, followed by the Ouzel Fire in 1978.
Many places in Rocky Mountain National Park have gone hundreds of years without being touched by wildfire and combine that with drought, beetle kill and low humidity and common high wind speeds it was only a matter of time before additional parts of RMNP were affected by wildfires.
While the East Troublesome Fire and Cameron Peak fires burned nearly 30,000 acres within the park, the actual impact of these fires wont be known for years. With the exception of part of a portion of the East Troublesome Fire burning through the Kawuneeche Valley and up the North Inlet and over into Spruce Canyon and the Fern Lake area, many of the more popular areas of Rocky Mountain Nation Park remained untouched.
Access to the burn areas is off limits at this time. The plan is for the NPS to get back into burn areas when the snow melts and clear downed timbers and rebuild the trail system where its been damaged so that visitors may return to these areas. The park service is optimistic that much of this can be done throughout this summer though it remains to be seen at this point when one will be able to safely visit areas where the Cameron Peak Fire and East Troublesome fires burned.
One small area that was just recently reopened to access is Upper Beaver Meadows. While much of the area just west of Beaver Meadows remains closed, one can now hike into Upper Beaver Meadows along the closed road or trails and wander through a very small portion of the burn area.
I headed back into the area early this week to not only get out on the trail for a bit, but to get a better glimpse of some of the damage as well as to try and find some subjects to photograph that would convey the damage and destruction of the wildfire but also to document what is an important part of the natural cycle that forests experience.
The sub alpine area of Upper Beaver Meadows consists of sub alpine stands of Ponderosa Pines, some spruce and aspen trees. Many who follow my blog know the striking red trunks of the Ponderosa Pine is one of my favorite subjects to photograph in the park. Wandering through burned out husks of beautiful Ponderosa’s was unnerving but it was also proved to be therapeutic as well. While the damage is striking, the trees and forest will return healthier than before for generations long after I’m gone.
the charred husks which looked like molten steel was enjoyable as well. I’ve spent time photographing in the Fern Creek burn area scar after the fires, and once you get past the destruction and loss, there are interesting patterns, shapes and colors to photograph that where not present prior to the fires.
Would I prefer that neither of the two fires that rolled over RMNP this summer hadn’t occurred?. Of course I would. The untold damages, damages to houses, personal property, wildlife and forest will most likely never be replaced. Documenting the damage and trying to find beauty in some of the natural destruction that took place is as much a part of the process of observing a place as is watching the transition from summer to fall. It’s not my most favorite subject to photograph currently in the park, but walking the burn zone gives photographers some new subjects to incorporate into their portfolios as well as something we hopefully don’t have to repeat for a long time.
Fresh snow on the mountains always gets the juices flowing for this landscape photographer. Mountains covered thick with fresh powder and pines covered in the white stuff can make for that perfect winter image.
As I’ve detailed in pervious blog posts, living in Colorado and photographing Rocky Mountain National Park, both clients and other photographers assume that capturing beautiful wintry scenes is like shooting fish in a barrel. If you’ve been a reader of my blog for any length of time you know that on the Front Range of Colorado, and specifically RMNP, its much easier said than done.
Photographing winter in Rocky is challenging for a host of reasons including high winds that often fill in on the backside of storms as the exit the region, a few breaks of sunshine here and there which will quickly melt and drop the snow from the pines and tree branches, and lastly clear blue cloudless skies which often can be found the morning after a snowstorm moves out of Rocky Mountain National Park.
This can be frustrating for the landscape photographer who gets up early, heads up to the mountains on snow covered roads and then heads out long before dawn in the winter cold to be in the right place at the right time.
One only get so many chances each season at capturing the beauty of Rocky Mountain National Park after a good dumping of snow, so you really want to maximize your chances of coming away with an experience and an image you are proud of.
While you may first wake up to the skies being filled with clouds, more often than not you will find much if not all the clouds in and around Rocky will have a way of dissipating shortly before sunrise. Being left in the lurch with cloudless skies after all that work to be in the right place at the right time can be frustrating.
One trick and tip I like to give clients is not to panic when you watch the skies clearing at a breakneck speed right as you are arriving on location. ‘The belt of Venus’ or the ‘Earth shadow’ will produce a nice magenta glow on the horizon a few minutes prior to the sun actually rising.
If you arrive to clear skies and before you decide to forgo that hike out into the backcountry of Rocky with the mercury hovering around zero degrees, turn off the car heater and get on site before dawn to capture the subtle but beautiful hue created by The Belt of Venus or the Earth Shadow. Doing so will allow you to both take advantage of photographing Rocky Mountain National Park in one of its most beautiful states after snow has covered the park, and capture a dynamic and beautiful landscape not only covered with snow, but also with some added color and beauty.
Farewell 2020, hello 2021. Most are more than happy to bid 2020 adieu and welcome in the new year. Many forsee the return of normalcy or at least more normalcy than we have all experienced in this previous year which will be one for the record books.
I dont think anybody has the slightest idea on what 2021 holds in store for us, but I think most of us are just hopeful that turning the page on 2020 will be in and of itself a positive momentum changing occurrence that many are looking for.
Truth be while 2020 was a challenging year for me, photographically speaking it was actual a very positive year. Business was more difficult with COVID, lockdowns and Rocky Mountain National Park being closed both due to the pandemic as well as the two large wildfires that affected swaths of the park. Even with the pandemic and wildfires making operations more challenging, I was able to narrow down my focus and work on accomplishing goals and projects I had been putting off.
While my Rocky Mountain National Park photography tours and guiding services were down for the year, I was able to use any spare time I had to photograph and backpack into areas of Rocky Mountain National Park that I had not been able to access previously.
Having this time to concentrate on my personal portfolio along with being able to create work that I wanted to was sorely needed. I started running my photography guiding service in RMNP back in 2015. While I very much enjoy getting clients out into the field and sharing with them the beauty of Rocky Mountain National Park, I had not been able to get out in the park and photograph where and when I wanted to the extent I was able to do so in 2020.
This has allowed me to reflect on how I will conduct business and photography tour services going into 2021. It will also allow me to continue to offer photography guiding services to my clients with a renewed passion and energy for both photography, Rocky Mountain National Park and my clients going forward.
So with 2021 underway, I look forward to continuing to photograph Rocky Mountain National Park while also meeting new clients, seeing some old friends and continuing to act as an advocate for protecting and sharing the beauty found in Rocky Mountain National Park.
One day removed from the winter solstice and you’re getting an itch to get out in Rocky and do some winter photography. You have some time off from work, maybe you scored a new piece of gear during the black Friday sales or you’re just trying to get out in nature and enjoy a few hours on the trail.
Now you have to figure out what you want to photograph during the offseason in RMNP. It’s not as easy as it will be six months from today when a short hike up to Dream Lake would lead you to one of Colorado’s and Rocky Mountain National Park’s most spectacular and iconic locations.
Drop your camera at Dream Lake in late June and you are likely to have a wall hanger. Maybe it’s not quite that easy but you get my point. This time of year it’s a little more difficult to jump out of bed on a cold and windy morning and get motivated to get out in the field. Cold, snow, and wind are waiting for you right on the other side of the front door.
Once you get done fretting about the weather and get done scraping the ice of your vehicle, the next step is figuring out where and what to photograph in Rocky. Getting out far into the backcountry like one would in the summer requires dedication, physical endurance, knowledge own winter safety and avalanche protocols and proper equipment to ensure you are prepared for the weather and difficult conditions often found in the mountains this time of year.
So maybe your not gung-ho about heading out into the backcountry but still want to get out and get some winter photography done and kick off the rust thats accumulated since the last aspen leave fell this past fall.
The good news is there is always something to photograph in Rocky, especially when the light is good. Even better, Rocky Mountain National Park gets some of its most dramatic light in the middle of winter.
There are plenty of subjects to photograph in Rocky even during the short days of late December. My strategy this time of year is to take the time to photograph subjects and locations I would likely not be photographing during the summer and fall. Many of these locations are also short hikes from the trailhead or vehicle which is welcome on chilly mornings in the park.
Favorite locations and subjects for me this time of year are any of the lower elevations in the park such as Horseshoe Park, Moraine Park (access currently limited), and Beaver Meadows. It’s also a good time to photograph some of the man made structures and objects this time of year as well.
Even with the brown and white landscape and the short, cold days found this time of year in Rocky, there is plenty to see and photograph to keep ones creative juices flowing. Concentrate on the light and compositions this time of year more than just the drama found in the landscape and you should be able to satiate your photography appetite and come away with some images that will hold you over until your next winter adventure.
Icy and brown. That’s the current state of the season in Rocky as I write this. Nights have been clear and cold and days mild and sunny. Our stretch of dry and mild weather has continued right into December now.
While there is some snow on the higher portions of Rocky Mountain National Park right now, the lower elevations are mostly just brown. Nights are cold enough that most of the lakes and streams have frozen over. Overall, Rocky is immersed in its early winter slumber.
I keep checking the weather looking for dramatic sunrise or the hope of a few good days of snow but so far no dice. Dry Novembers and December are not uncommon in Rocky, but one can usually bet on some colorful sunrises and sunsets this time of year. Wild wave or lenticular clouds are often common when the winds pick up, as are some colorful sunrise on account of high clouds over the region. So far, neither of these scenarios have come to fruition.
So it remains quiet and calm here in Rocky Mountain National Park as the park enters its winter slumber. We could use both the moisture and some dramatic weather to spice things up, hopefully the pattern shifts shortly and the drama awakens the slumbering and brown landscape for us photographers.
Rolling into the Bear Lake parking lot long before sunrise always brings excitement. So many of Rocky Mountain National Park’s most scenic and beautiful locations emanate from the Bear Lake Trailhead. Bear Lake itself is a classic iconic Colorado location in itself and its only a few hundred yard walk from the parking.
As somebody who photographs RMNP a lot, its really easy to take the accessibility and beauty found in the Bear Lake area of Rocky for granted so after the entire area was closed for the past few weeks due to fire activity from the East Troublesome Fire, it was great to be able to get back up to Bear Lake for a sunrise.
Even better than getting back up to Bear Lake for sunrise was fining a small portion of Bear Lake with open water and clean ice. Normally by the end of November Bear Lake would be covered with snow and lots of footprints.
Warm weather had kept a small portion of the east side of Bear Lake open and free of snow making for a nice welcome back and a short trip from the parking lot. As I write this snow is falling on Bear Lake so it will now remain covered until late spring when the thaw starts.
While access is still limited on many of the trails around Bear Lake, including the Fern Lake section, its good to see snow falling on the dry landscape and access to Rocky Mountain National Park opening back up once again.
A few more areas of Rocky Mountain National Park have opened in the past week. On the west side of Rocky, the East Inlet Trailhead is now open. All of the west side of RMNP was previously closed as of last week as they recover from the East Troublesome Fire so its great to see a small but spectacular portion of the west side of Rocky reopen.
On the east side, the portion of US 36 from the Beaver Meadows entry station to Deer Ridge Jct is now open. The caveat here being that the construction project to improve pullouts and repave the road is still ongoing. This project was to be completed in September but still has a small portion of the road to complete.
Bear Lake Road remains closed so the most popular part of the park is still inaccessible and Trail Ridge Road is closed at Many Parks Curve for what I have to believe will be the remainder of the season even though NPS still is calling it a temporary closure.
Regardless of the fact that its both now the brown season and many parts of Rocky remain inaccessible its still fun to get back out in the grove of things and kick the rust off the cameras. The weather remains very moderate and the pattern other than for high winds has remained tame for the most part.
I’ve been using this time to work on some other projects and look to find locations and compositions I’ve previously not photographed prior. While I’ve scouted out this location awhile back, this morning the skies and sunrise looked like it might be a good time to revisit this composition in Lower Beaver Meadows now that the road has reopened and access is a little easier.
I’m a sucker for twisted and tortured trees and given the fact that the one has very limited options with the restricted access in the park, I was happy to hike out to this spot and enjoy the colorful sunrise with this ‘loner’. Sometimes having fewer options is more preferable to having more after all.
It’s been quiet here on the blog for the past few weeks. After a busy summer and autumn season here in Rocky Mountain National Park, both the Cameron Peak Fire and the East Troublesome Fire’s played spoiler to the end of the fall season.
The two fires which exploded at the end of October and burned nearly 30,000 acres of RMNP as well as large areas outside of Rocky. Snow finally appears to have brought both fires under control and each day that we move closer towards the winter season and snow cover on the ground is positive. In fact other than a few hot spots, there has been no growth of the two fires in the past week.
While the damage is still being assessed, we do know the fires caused significant damage both inside Rocky Mountain National Park as well as outside. Since this blog relates to photographing Rocky Mountain National Park, I’ll stick with what I know as of this writing.
On the west side of the park, the NPS office at the entry station burned down. Somehow, the two kiosks did not sustain any damage. The seasonal employees cabins across from the Green Mountain Trailhead also burned down as well. Portions of Trail River Ranch in Rocky Mountain National Park also sustained damage but Little Buckaroo Barn is ok as is the Holzwarth property.
On the east side of the park, the East Troublesome Fire made a run over the continental divide through Spruce Canyon and down into Upper Beaver Meadows and Moraine Park. To date, the only structure that I know that was damaged by the fire on the east side of Rocky is the Fern Lake patrol cabin which was destroyed.
Small portions of Rocky Mountain National Park are now open again outside the zones where the firefighters are still monitoring the fire, building containment and putting out any hot spots. Currently, the entire west side of RMNP remains closed with no known date of when it will reopen.
The east side of the park is open through the Fall River Entrance through Horseshoe Park and then up Trail Ridge Road to the Many Parks overlook. US 36, Bear Lake and The Beaver Meadows Entry station are currently closed. Old Fall River is open for hiking and bikes until December 1st at which point it will return to a trail until spring. Wild Basin is open to the winter gate and access along Highway 7 including Lily Lake and the Twin Sisters and the Longs Peak trailhead is currently open.
I was able to make a quick run up to the park earlier in the week just to kick off the rust and get out and explore for a morning. While much of the park is not currently accessible, its good to have portions of it back. We’re basically now in the winter season in Rocky, so Trail Ridge will remain closed.
With that being the case, the best locations for photography are going to revolve around smaller areas with access to much of the backcountry of Rocky currently being limited. I’ll keep things updated here as locations open up or I get any new information pertinent to the fires and damage inside of RMNP.