The Skeletons Of Trail Ridge

Limber Pines along Trail Ridge and Tombstone Ridge, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
The harsh elements of life in the sub alpine zone of Rocky Mountain National Park have finally taken their toll on these two limber pines. Relentless winds, cold and snow have sculpted these tree's and all that remains is there sun bleached skeletons. I've been waiting for conditions such as these to photograph these two tree's and I was lucky enough to have everything fall into place for me last week. Technicial Details: Canon EOS 1Ds III, 17mm TS-E F4 L
Treeline in Colorado occurs on average just above 11,000 ft above sea level. The determining factor for treeline is an average mean temperature of fifty degrees. Hiking or driving through the transitions from the montane zone, to the sub alpine zone and lastly the alpine zone can be a thrilling experience. The transition zones in these particular areas make for amazing places for photography.

Most visitors to Rocky Mountain National Park get their first taste of this other worldly experience when they drive over Trail Ridge Road. Trail Ridge Road being the highest continuous paved road in the continental United States allows visitors to Rocky the experience of this beautiful but difficult existence with fairly little effort and from the comfort of their vehicles. Stop at one of the many pull offs along Trail Ridge Road even and one is likely to find shorts and a t-shirt offer little comfort even in the middle of a summer afternoon.

The sub alpine zone in Rocky Mountain National Park hosts a wide variety of interesting photography subjects. Wildflowers such as blue columbines, red paintbrush and alpine sunflowers amongst the talus slopes, boulders and stunted plants. What really peaks my interest in these sub alpine areas are the tree’s. The limber pines and krummholz trees which are in a constant struggle for life against the harsh elements.

These limber pines and kummholz tree’s are often contorted and twisted by the wind and elements. The constant air flow at these high altitudes prevents the tree’s from growing in a windward direction. They are often only able to grow in a leeward direction. These tree’s will eventually succumb, sometimes after hundreds of years of existence. Even at this point, mother nature is not quite done sculpting and bleaching there remains.

I’ve been spying this particular pair of dead limber pines near Trail Ridge for sometime. This particular area of Trail Ridge has quite a few limber pine skeletons littering the ridgeline. Finally on Wednesday, the lighting and conditions came together perfectly. The winds were blowing at a pretty good clip, but would subside just long enough to allow me to capture these two tree’s free of any motion blur caused by the high winds. There are limber pines like these two scattered all over the high ridges near treeline in Rocky Mountain National Park, and I’ll continue to scour these ridges for new and interesting subjects.

One final shameless self promotion tidbit. One of my images of Watermill Beach was used for this week’s online edition of Vogue magazine. You can find a link to the article here. Vogue Magazine Watermill Beach Image

Beauty In Nature Is Not Always Fair

Nymph Lake Sunrise, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
A rainbow of colors fills the sky east of Nymph Lake and Rocky Mountain National Park this morning. Particulates and smoke from the High Fire northeast of Estes Park are the reason for the colorful sunrise. It's been a difficult start to the Summer for photography in Rocky Mountain National Park but it's been much more difficult for many of Colorado's residents displaced by the wildfires. Technical Details: Canon EOS 1Ds III, 70-200mm F4 IS L
It’s been a difficult couple of weeks here in Colorado. We’ve had a very dry Winter, which turned into a very dry Spring and has continued on as an even hotter and dryer Summer. The conditions have made photography in Rocky Mountain National Park a challenge. The hot weather, combined with a general lack of clouds and persistent winds oftentimes means my Plan A agenda, quickly turns into a Plan B outcome.

Regardless of how challenging the photography has been in Rocky this Summer, it’s been a real life and death struggle for many Colorado residents. As of this writing, there are 8 wildfires burning in the State.

The second largest fire in the history of Colorado, the High Fire, is burning 20 miles or so northeast of Estes Park and has already claimed 191 homes and one life. To compound that, a house fire in Estes Park yesterday, just a few hundred yards from the Beaver Meadow entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park quickly burned 21 homes before being brought under control. Lastly, the Waldo Canyon fire is burning out of control just outside of the Garden of the Gods and Manitou Springs.

The atmosphere along the northern Front Range has been filled with smoke for a few weeks now. Because of the smoke, much of the early morning light reaching the mountain peaks is diffused and lacks intensity and pop. Today, the smoke was as thick as it has been in weeks.

In an ironic twist, the smoke combined with high clouds rewarded me with a beautiful sunrise. Just above Nymph Lake, I was able to capture this image of the Sun rising through the smoke from the High Fire and clouds to the east. The colors were spectacular and the Sun rose as a blood red orb over the high plains.

While the sunrise was spectacular this morning, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the heat subsides and rain falls from the sky. Let’s hope the weather pattern changes and we start to see some moisture out here in the tinderbox that Colorado has become.

Ordering The Chaos Of Wild Basin

Bitter Cress along the North Saint Vrain, Wild Basin, Rocky Mountain National Park
Bittercress and Mountain Bluebells bloom along the banks of the North Saint Vrain Creek. I photographed this image just below Ouzel Falls in the Wild Basin Section of Rocky Mountain National Park. Wild Basin is a fascinating place for photography, but also a very challenging location. Wild Basin's streams and water features make for great photography subjects. Finding compositions that are not to busy or cluttered is difficult with all the downed timber due in part to the Pine Beetle infestation. Technical Details: Canon EOS 1DsIII, 24-105mm F4 IS L
It’s hard to put into words exactly what it is about the Wild Basin section of Rocky Mountain National Park that feels so different and unique from others areas of Rocky. Wild Basin certainly does not get the fanfare other areas of Rocky Mountain National Park get such as Bear Lake Road, Dream Lake or Trail Ridge.

Perhaps it’s the lack of parking at most of the trailheads, or the windy and narrow dirt road used to get to the trailheads. It’s more likely its the fact that you cant drive a car right up to the many hidden treasures to found in Wild Basin. To me at least, Wild Basin has a much more understated beauty than many of the other areas of the park.

Wild Basin makes you work before revealing itself. The alpine lakes of Wild Basin are some of the most beautiful in all of Colorado, let alone Rocky Mountain National Park. Want to see Mount Alice and Lion Lake up close?. Well then your going to have to commit to a 14 mile round trip hike to do so.

Even for those not feeling spry enough for a 7 mile hike up into the beautiful alpine wilderness of Wild Basin, the lower regions are beautiful in their own right. The North Saint Vrain emanates out of this Basin on the south side of Longs Peak. The banks of the North Saint Vrain as well as many of the other creeks and streams found in Wild Basin are loaded with more subtle photographic opportunities.

Wild Basin is packed with great water features for photography. The trick is trying to find compositions that are not to busy or cluttered. The Pine Beetle infestation has felled many tree’s along the banks of the creeks. This means lots of log jam’s and dead tree’s strewn in and along the creeks, which of course can make photography of Wild Basin’s water features both interesting and difficult.

Copeland Falls, Calypso Cascades and Ouzel Falls are some of the more popular water features in Wild Basin. I settled on Ouzel Falls when I headed into Wild Basin last week. Wildflowers are starting to bloom along the creeks now and the spring runoff is starting to ebb making photography of the North Saint Vrain a bit more manageable.

I finally settled in on this image just below Ouzel Falls. It certainly does not have that smack you in the face beauty as a location such as Dream Lake, but images like this typify Wild Basin to me. Wildflowers, water, downed timber and rock’s entrenched deep within a subtle but beautiful area of Rocky Mountain National Park.

Lenticular Clouds Over Cub Lake

Sunrise at Cub Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
I had no idea what I would be photographing when I started my hour long drive up to Rocky Mountain National Park. Many of my freinds think I have a screw loose waking up at 1:45 AM in order to photograph sunrise in the park. It's morning like these at Cub Lake that keep my going. I cant get enough of mornings like this in the park. Each sunrise is so different from the next that I never tire of the morning reveille. Technical Details: Canon EOS 1Ds III, 17mm F4 TS-E L
Each time I hit the road at o’dark thirty and head up to Rocky Mountain National Park the excitement of what I might photograph is palatable. Fortunately, that excitement remains just as palatable for me as the first time I headed up to Rocky Mountain National Park in the pre-dawn hours to capture sunrise.

Some of my friends, family and fellow photographers wonder why the fixation with photography and in particular Rocky Mountain National Park. I don’t have a perfect answer for them, but both photography and Rocky Mountain National Park continue to be an obsession of mine.

For me, it’s the thrill of the unknown. Even though Rocky is a location I spend much of my time exploring, I leave feeling like I have not even scratched the tip of the iceberg. The possibilities are endless and no two days or sunrises are ever the same.

I had no idea what I would walk away with this morning at Cub Lake. Rocky was quite breezy when I arrived and the outlook for clouds in the sky or a colorful sunrise did not look promising.

Regardless, I was still pumped up for the hike and the potential on the ride up. Getting out on the trail in the pre-dawn hours regardless of the ultimate outcome is therapeutic to the soul. Rocky Mountain National Park is just to majestic a location to walk away empty handed, image or not. It’s mornings and experiences like these that keep me mesmerized with photography and Rocky Mountain National Park. What get’s you out of bed at 2:30 AM?

Flagstaff Mountain Yucca

Spring Yucca on Flagstaff Mountain, Boulder, Colorado, OSMP
Yucca plants make for great photographic subjects. It can be difficult finding a Yucca plant with it's pointy and sharp leaves arrainged in a manner that allows a composition that's not too busy. After scouting out dozens of Yucca plants along the hillside of Flagstaff Mountain in Boulder, I finally settled upon this Yucca. This particular plant was open enough, and free enough from encroaching leaves to allow for a clean view of the inside of the plant. Technicial Details: Canon EOS 1Ds III, 24-105mm F4 IS
Yucca plants are symbolic of the dry landscape of the American West. They are hardy plants that can survive in climates that are dry and experience great temperature swings. On the Front Range of Colorado, and in particular many of the hillsides around Boulder and on Open Space properties they are quite prevalent.

Native peoples have utilized Yucca plants for all sorts of helpful purposes. From cooking skewers to fibers for baskets and clothing, the Yucca plant provides a hearty staple. For photographers, Yucca plants make for equally interesting subjects in their many forms.

This particular Yucca was located on a hillside of Flagstaff Mountain in Boulder. The flower bloom on the Yucca plants this year has been quite spectacular in this section of Colorado. For the most part, the bloom has peaked, but I still figured I’d explore this hillsides to see if I could find anything of interest to photograph.

I eventually settled on this composition of these Yucca leaves fanning outward from the flower stalk. It was actually quite a challenge to find a clean composition. I attempted a similar composition on over a half a dozen other plants before finally finding this particular plant.

Moraine Park’s Silent Sentinel

A beautiful Ponderosa Pine stands watch over historic Morane Park in Rocky Mountain National Park
This is one of my favorite tree's in all of Rocky Mountain National Park. This Ponderosa Pine tree which is located in Moraine Park, has been bent and twisted by the wind and weather but is as majestic as ever. On this particular spring morning, fog was rising out of the Moraine Valley and off the Big Thompson River. The warm rays of the sun contrasting with the cool blues of the fog made my favorite tree a perfect subject. Technical Details: Canon EOS 1Ds III, 70-200mm F4 IS L
The Moraine Park area of Rocky Mountain National Park is a photographers hot spot. Moraine Park is easily accessible, host to beautiful scenery and trailheads, and sports a good diversity for photographers.

Landscape photographers love Moraine Park for it’s impressive views of the snow covered Continental Divide. The Big Thompson river meanders through Moraine Park making for great subject matter. Moraine Park is also host to an abundance of wildflowers which will begin to bloom in early June.

Wildlife photographers flock to Moraine Park during the fall Elk rut. Hundreds of photographers line the roadway’s and trails in and around Moraine Park to photograph the herds of Elk and this put on their mating display early in the morning, then late again in the evening. Mule Deer, Coyote, Fox and a large variety of Avian life keep Moraine Park popular with photographers all year.

Moraine Park has an interesting past as well. Moraine Park was homesteaded by some of the Estes Valley’s earliest settlers. Abner Sprague’s, one of Estes Park’s earliest settlers, guide, and hotelier, had his original homesteading plot located in Moraine Park. During this period of time, Moraine Park was known as Willow Park.

Abner Sprague eventually sold his homesteading plot to a cousin and settled a new claim opening a lodge near present day Sprague Lake. Abner Sprague would eventually reclaim the property he had sold in Moraine Park to his cousin and there he would run Steads Ranch and Inn as well as Sprague’s Lodge.

Spending a morning hiking through present day Moraine Park it’s hard to imagine that not all that long ago Moraine Park was a vacationers paradise. Steads Ranch had it’s fare share of modern world amenities and billed itself as a resort hotel. Steads had a large in ground pool, a golf course, stables, croquet, beautiful lobby and restaurant. Paradise at Steads could be had for a mere $8.75 a night or $58.20 for the week for a single room in 1953. The National Park Service eventually reclaimed this property in the early 1960’s and began restoring the area to it’s natural state.

It must have been an amazing experience to have visited Steads Ranch. While modern world amenities are nice, I have to say I much prefer Moraine Park restored to it’s natural setting. For the most part, very little signs remain of Willow or Moraine Park’s past history. Moraine Park’s biggest threat today are from the overabundance of Elk which eat and damage much of the fauna in the Park.

One of the old vestiges that harkens back to the Steads Ranch days are some of the older Ponderosa Pine tree’s that remain. There is one particular Ponderosa in Moraine Park that has always fascinated me. It’s divides into two sections and has been twisted and twirled by winds and weather. Large branches have been remove by lighting but even still, this sentinel of Moraine Park stands tall and beautiful.

This tree has stood witness to many events in it’s day. It stood watch when Steads hosted thousands of tourists at it’s swimming pool, golfers played rounds near it’s base, and fisherman walked the banks of the Big Thompson searching for trout. On this cool spring morning, with a fog and dew lifting over Moraine Park this tree now stands over a setting more becoming of it’s beauty and dignity.

Like A Moth To A Flame, Dream Lake Again

Dream Lake Sunrise, Rocky Mountain National Park. Hallet and Flattop Mountain reflect in the glassy surface of Dream Lake
I had been purposefully attempting not to photograph at Dream Lake. It's much too tempting of a location for a photographer and it's easy to pass up all the other spectacular lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park. After all, I only have a limited amount of time to photograph all the wonders of Rocky. This scene was just to irresistible to pass up. Fresh snow, a lake surface of glass that had not frozen, and beautiful clouds overhead stopped my in my tracks. Technicial Details: Canon EOS 1ds III, 17mm F4 TS-E L
As I mentioned in my entry last week, I had some epic conditions last week in Rocky Mountain National Park. As such, I figured I’d save the best for last.

Having the photography Gods shine down on you can be one of the most rewarding experiences one can have in the field. Of course you have to make sure your actually in a position to take advantage of the conditions your presented with. There is not a worse feeling than watching an amazing sunrise a half mile short of your intended destination, and I’ve been party to that on more than one occasion.

The end of last week was cloudy, cool and rainy on the Front Range. It was cool enough that the snow line was hovering around 9000 feet. Above 9000 feet, heavy wet snow was falling, even though the temperature was right around the freezing mark. It was supposed to stay cool and wet from Friday right through Sunday.

Knowing full well, that’s it’s hard to keep the Colorado Sun hidden behind clouds for an entire 3 days, I figured we could have an interesting sunrise. Even if a good Sunrise failed to materialize, I love shooting water features and other more intimate landscapes under the diffused and cloudy light. All the conditions were setting up for a no lose situation for photography.

With the conditions in mind I planned on hiking up to Emerald Lake above Dream Lake to photograph sunrise. This summer, I’m trying to avoid Dream Lake like the plaque. Not because Dream Lake is not one of the most beautiful alpine locations in all of Colorado, but very much for that reason.

So starting my hike from the Bear Lake trailhead, I had no intention of stopping or photographing Dream Lake. There was a nice fresh layer of snow coating all the tree’s and the Ranger cottage leaving Bear Lake. Fog and clouds were present over the lower lying areas of the Plains below, but clear blue sky was present above Rocky Mountain National Park.

Arriving at Emerald Lake after the 1.5 mile hike in, I found the surface of the lake to be frozen over with a thin layer of ice and snow. I would not be getting a reflection shot of Hallet in Emerald Lake, but the lake’s frozen surface with fresh snow looked intriguing enough. I was disappointed that it was looking like a cloudless, clear blue sky morning. As if on queue with my shutter firing off at first light, some clouds started to appear above Hallet.

I photographed at Emerald for 25 minutes or so. I was able to capture a beautiful red hue lighting Hallet, with clouds skating overhead. A small band of fog even formed over the surface of the frozen lake making for some nice images. Satisfied with the images I had captured of Emerald Lake, I packed up and headed back out towards my vehicle, the hike of course, would take me right past Dream Lake.

I’ve photographed Dream Lake plenty, for photographers Dream Lake can be like a moth to a flame. It’s hard not to be tempted by it’s idyllic scenery, symmetry of Hallet Peak and Flattop Mountain rising above. As I hiked around Dream Lake on my way out from Emerald, I half heartedly attempted to ignore the unfrozen and placid lake surface. I looked for some images of snow covered trees reflecting in Dream Lake, but found none that interested me.

I was making every attempt to photograph images other than the iconic image of Dream Lake from the eastern outlet. As I neared the eastern outlet, the moth in could no longer resist the flame. This was especially true when I stopped to look back at Hallet and Flattop and noticed that the early morning cloud cover was quickly intensifying over the Lake.

It was at that point, that I could no longer resist temptation. I hastily flung my backpack off and quickly started making images of this beautiful morning. As soon as I framed Hallet and Flattop reflecting in the glass surface of the lake, I was grateful I temporarily at least ended my Dream Lake embargo.

Fresh Produce

Translucent spring Aspen leaves in the McGraw Ranch area of Lumpy Ridge, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Fog and rain are a great way to convey mood's through weather. The soft diffused light and fog sifting through the Aspen boles helps to set the stage. When Aspen tree's first bud out each spring, their leaves turn an intense key lime like color. The translucent lime green leaves will last only a short while before the leaves turn a darker green. I photographed this nice grove of spring Aspen tree's in the McGraw Ranch area of Rocky Mountain National Park on the backside of Lumpy Ridge. The light rain on the leaves, fog and diffused light are the perfect conditions to showcase the tree's spring green. Technicial Details: Canon EOS 1Ds III, 24-105mm F4 IS
The last few days have been very productive for me in the field. It’s no coincidence that we’ve been having a very unsettled weather pattern here on the Front Range the last few days. I like nothing better than to work in and on the edges of weather. Dynamic weather leads to dynamic photography.

I was treated to rain, snow, and fog all in the last few days. While it’s been grey and dreary down here around Boulder and most have my Sun worshiping friends are experiencing withdrawal symptoms from lack of Sun the last three days, I’ve been reveling in what I consider great weather, for photography at least.

I had some of the most amazing conditions on Saturday which I’ll share in my next post. For now, I’ll leave you with an image I made this morning in McGraw Ranch area of Rocky Mountain National Park.

Springtime In Wild Basin

Spring runoff along the North St. Vrain, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
This image has a very Yin and Yang feel to me. The spring runoff along North St. Vrain Creek was turbulent. On the other hand, a large granite boulder rested in the middle of the creek, unmoving and unwavering. Wild Basin is chock full of potential when it comes to photographing the streams and falls located in Rocky Mountain National Park. It's a favorite location of mine, especially on rainy ovecast days. Technicial Details: Canon EOS 1dsIII, 24-105mm F4 IS, Circular Polarizer.
Spring has sprung in Rocky Mountain National Park. In fact, lately there have been many more hints of Summer than of Spring. Regardless of the abnormally warm weather here on the Front Range, creeks are flowing, aspen tree’s are leafing out and flowers are blooming at the lower elevations.

I spent last week wandering around the Wild Basin area of Rocky Mountain National Park. Wild Basin is a lesser visited section of Rocky located in the southeastern half of the Park. It’s a favorite photographic destination of mine. While there are beautiful alpine lakes in Wild Basin, they require one way hikes of up to six miles or more to visit. Wild Basin requires a bit more effort than some other areas of the park if your looking for peaks reflecting in lakes.

What makes Wild Basin so interesting to me is all of the creeks, streams and falls that course the area. In many ways it can feel more like your on the wetter western slope of Colorado, than the drier eastern facing mountains. The North St. Vrain, Cony Creek and Ouzel Creek all make for great subjects in the spring, feeding many of the interesting water features located in Wild Basin.

Wild Basin is a good change of pace for me. The scenery in the lower half of Wild Basin may not be as dramatic as other areas of Rocky, but it’s unique and rewarding to scamper along the boulders of the creeks looking for interesting and unique images.

I prefer to head to Wild Basin when it’s rainy and overcast. The diffused lighting is great for photographing the streams and forest. I could spend a lifetime of cloudy days photographing and exploring along the banks of the many creeks.

Does Persistence Really Pay Off?

Fresh Snow coats the Flatirons of Boulder, Colorado
Persistence can be a gift and a curse. Most photographers probably have a little bit of 'OCD' in their bloodlines. How often do you visit a given location to create and image worthy of your portfolio?. I've visited this location many times over the last few years, waiting for all the elements to come together. Finally, my persistence paid off and I managed to capture the Flatirons of Boulder coated with fresh snow as the storm cleared the Front Range of Colorado. Technicial Details: Canon EOS 1Ds III, 24mm TS-E F3.5 II w 1.4 TC
Persistence can be both a virtue and a detriment to photography. How many times do you attempt to photograph a given location to create an image that represents your vision?. What constitutes as a good enough image to move on to another subject?. Can you create such a thing as a final statement image at a given location, such that you are not likely ever to capture a better image of the subject your in pursuit of?.

Contrast this with the possibility that over saturating a given location or subject may be stifling your creativity, or even worse causing you to miss out on better opportunities elsewhere. Is your persistence causing you to become shortsighted and curbing your overall creative opportunities? These are certainly questions that run through my head each time I set out to create new images.

In general, I view persistence as a positive aspect with regards to my photography. There are certainly times when obsessing over a given location hampers my ability to expand my portfolio and explore and photograph new locations.

Contrary to how many clients and non-photographers view my work, time in the field is not typically spent wandering aimlessly around with my camera hanging around my neck hoping that serendipity strikes and I create an image worth sharing.

While on occasion I may create images in this manner, most of the locations in my portfolio have been visited on numerous occasions, at varying times and seasons in an attempt to create an image that I think best represents the subject matter.

Many times I’ve visited a given location hundreds of times over many years before I create an image that I’m pleased with. While some of my fellow photographers may be more proficient at creating images, I believe locations must be visited and photographed numerous times for one to be successful. I’m curious to know what approach others take when visiting locations.