Rocky’s weather at the back end of April and early May never leaves a dull moment. Warm days, early wildflowers and blizzards can be commonplace. In fact, all these can happen within a few hours of each other in Rocky Mountain National Park during the springtime.
The end of April and the start of May has lived up to the hype that typically comes with springtime weather in Rocky Mountain National Park. While its been cold and rainy down here in the lower elevations of Colorado’s Front Range, Rocky has been getting good amounts of fresh snow. Even with the snow and unsettled weather, the past few mornings in Rocky have yielded some great moments of light intertwined with the rain and snow.
Monday snow started falling in the park by mid morning. It continued throughout the day and by the time it stopped early on Tuesday morning over a foot of fresh snow had fallen on Rocky.
More snow was scheduled to fall later on Tuesday in RMNP and the weather forecasts looked like there may be some break in the cloud cover or a possibility of getting above the cloud layer or inversion.
Inversions being when of my favorite type of conditions to photograph in, I was not going to let the opportunity to possibly catch a break in the cloud cover pass my by after lots of fresh powder had fallen on the park.
Leaving my house early in the morning for Rocky, the snow was still falling at a pretty good clip but predicted to stop about an hour before sunrise. One of my main concerns on a morning after a heavy snow is the conditions of the roads in Rocky. While the park service does and excellent job keeping the roads of Rocky Mountain National Park in great shape, they don’t plow roads from 7:00 PM until 7:00 AM.
This means one of two scenarios are likely to occur. Either the rangers are going to close the gates and access to the park until the roads can be made safe, or you are going to arrive to find unplowed roads and the need to make first tracks to your destination.
I arrived to find the second scenario had occurred. The park and gates remained open over night but the roads in Rocky had 12-14 inches of unplowed fresh snow on them. While I drive a four wheel drive vehicle its important to note that you are on your own when you decide to head into the park in these conditions this early in the morning.
I’ve got a good amount of experience driving in these types of conditions and I know the limitations of my vehicles. That being said I’m always prepared to get stuck or turn around if conditions dictate. If you get stuck at this time of day in the deep snow you will have to wait hours before the park service is able to get the plows to your vehicle and clear the roadways. Keep in mind that if you choose to enter the park in these conditions and you do get stuck, you will be a low priority on the grand scale of park service operations.
I headed into the park plowing through the bumper deep snow on my truck. The cloud layer was low and I kept heading up Trail Ridge Road with the hope that I would be able to avoid getting stuck in the snow and break above the cloud layer before I hit the seasonal road closure at Many Parks Curve. Shortly after Deer Jct. I broke through the cloud and could see Longs Peak glimmering in the distance.
Things looked promising as long as I could continue up the road to Many Parks without getting stuck. Selfishly, I always figure that if I get stuck I hope its at least in a location that will still yield a good vantage point. Its also important to remember that while there may be 12 inches of snow at the Beaver Meadows Entrance station, there could easily be 6 inches more snow by the time one reaches Hidden Valley.
Finally I arrived at the road closure at Many Parks Curve and turned around to head back to the overlook. Longs Peak was still towering high above the clouds and inversion that covered Horseshoe Park, Upper Beaver Meadows and Moraine Park below. I go my camera setup and waited for the sun to clear the lower cloud layer blanketing the Front Range below. Shortly after sunrise the sun rose above the cloud layer and 14,259 ft Longs Peak and The Diamond glowed regally in the early morning light and clouds.
All in all it was a typical late spring morning in Rocky Mountain National Park that resulted in some spectacular conditions for photography. With some help from the sun and a little bit of white knuckle driving behind me, it was the kind of spring morning in RMNP that I won’t soon forget.