With the warm temperatures and early spring continuing, there are lots of current photographic opportunities in Rocky Mountain National Park that are occurring much earlier in the year than is typical. I realize this abstract of Glacier Creek just Loch Vale may be a bit too abstract for some, but I spent a good deal of time photographing this portion of Glacier Creek a few weeks ago and came away with some different views.
Typically, this portion of Glacier Creek would be buried under heavy winter snows through most of April. Stopping to photograph this spot a few weeks ago, the green moss on the rocks of the creek bed stood out in great contrast to the white winter snow that surrounded the small opening that had formed on Glacier Creek revealing the early spring runoff.
I setup my tripod precariously along the banks of Glacier Creek. It was difficult to setup in a location that provided a clean vantage point of the opening on the creek, while not sliding down a large bank and ending up in the creek itself. I attached a polarizer to my 70-200mm lens to cut down on the glare and emphasize the green moss on the rock, contrasted against the white snow. All in all it was an image I had not visualized photographing on my hike up to The Loch for sunrise, but I’m quite pleased with the images I walked away with this morning.
Due to some prior commitments, I had to stick close to town last week. I still managed to get out a few mornings around Boulder and capture some images I’m pleased with. Staying close to Boulder worked out pretty well for me. I had two great mornings with really interesting skies and clouds. I realize Boulder may not be a primary photo destination for photographers visiting Colorado, but it’s often a stop over on the way to Rocky Mountain National Park. With only a morning or two to photograph, a photographer can be quite productive. Because of this, I thought it would be a good idea to share a couple of suggestions for photographing the Boulder area for a morning or two.
Tip 1: The Flatirons from Chautauqua Park and meadow is by far the most popular location to photograph in Boulder. This is the classic view of the Flatirons that you will see hanging in shops and galleries along Pearl Street. Chautauqua Park is a beautiful spot and the meadow allows one to photograph with short hiking distances and lots of interesting props to make strong near/far compositions.
Chautauqua Park is a great morning location all year. Just a short drive from downtown Boulder, one can expect the best light at sunrise. The Flatiron formation east facing orientation allows them to receive the earliest of light as the sun rises over the high plains. The Flatirons will typically glow an intense red as the first light of bathes the granite faces.
Chautauqua meadow provides ample amounts of interesting foreground subjects as well. Starting in the late Spring, wildflowers will begin to bloom over the meadow. Typically Golden Banner will begin to bloom in the meadow around the first week of May. Wild Iris, Silver Lupine and Sweet Pea will all follow along as temperatures warm. Depending on moisture and temperature you will typically find large groups of wildflowers in the meadow from early May through late June. The meadow also has interesting tree’s, boulders and Yucca’s that can be used all four season’s as foreground props.
Tip 2: Photographing the Flatirons does not begin and end at Chautauqua park. As stated above, Chautauqua park is by far the most popular place to photograph the Flatirons. This is partly because of its close proximity to downtown Boulder and easy access. While I love photographing from Chautauqua Park, I think there are some even better locations to photograph the Boulder Flatirons.
In particular, some of the Boulder County Open Space and Mountain Park’s properties south of Boulder offer some of the best vantages of the Flatiron formation. The area around Eldorado Springs offers some great vantage points of the Flatirons and South Boulder peak. Some hiking and exploration around the Doudy Draw trailhead as well as the Flatirons Vista trailhead will reveal some of my favorite vantage points for photographing the Flatirons.
Tip 3: There is much more to photograph in Boulder than just the Flatirons. While many photographers favor images of the Flatirons, exploring Gregory Canyon, Flagstaff Mountain, and trails such as the Mesa trail will all provide rewarding images of Ponderosa Pines, Yucca’s and other more intimate forest scenes. I personally find photographing these areas during or after a recent snowstorm to be the most rewarding time to hit the trails around Boulder.
One of the aspects I love about landscape photography is you really never know what’s going to transpire on any given day out and about. You can prepare, plan, plot, and peruse locations and idea’s but when the golden hours arrive and the Sun rises and falls the outcome is rarely as anticipated.
Take this weekends leap of faith venture up to The Loch in Rocky Mountain National Park. Colorado’s abnormally warm, dry Spring weather pattern has remained the norm. I was hoping there would be some open water to photograph when I arrived at my destination but I had no way of knowing until I had put 3 snow packed miles behind me. I had not hiked up to The Loch since August, so I could only take a guess with the amount of open water at Dream Lake, there might be some at The Loch.
Hiking up the crusty snow packed trail from the Glacier Gorge parking kept me on my toes. Typically in the Winter and early Spring months you hike up a frozen Glacier Creek to get up to the Loch Vale area. This spring morning was no different and hiking up a still mostly frozen Glacier Creek was still possible. Other than the annoyance of an occasional slip on the ice, or a leg post holing in soft snow it was an enjoyable hike up to The Loch.
Trolling around the near shore of The Loch revealed lots of snowpack and no signs of open water. There were some high cirrus clouds and little wind, so overall conditions were great. I was finally able to find a small area of open water. Quickly setting up my camera and tripod revealed that I was going to have a hard time photographing the Cathedral Wall reflecting in the Loch.
My camera had to be a few inches from the surface of The Loch in order to capture a full reflection of Mt. Taylor and the Cathedral Wall without the icy mass on the surface of the lake hindering the view. Because of the three mile hike up to the lake, I brought my lightweight tripod with a center column, not my heavier tripod without a center column. For the layperson, the center column hinders one from extending their tripod legs outward in such a fashion that you can set it up level with the ground.
My only hope for getting the reflection in the shot was to ditch the tripod and setup my camera on the exposed granite along the shoreline. One of the rocks was flat enough to allow me to rest my camera setup on top of it in a somewhat stable fashion. The problem was I needed to level my camera so that the scene before me was level.
I was surrounded by only snow. I could find no small rocks or other items to help prop and level my camera. Luckily, there was a small stick submerged in the lake along the shoreline. Reaching into the icy cold lake, I retrieved the stick and used it to prop and level the left side of my camera. Combining that with the use of rise on 24mm TS-E lens I was able to stabilize and level the camera so that I could photograph the reflection. I’m not the first to rig up my camera to get the shot, but I was not leaving The Loch without capturing this beautiful spring scene. Anybody else out there have any good tales on unique circumstances when out photographing?.
I cant think of a better way to spend St. Patrick’s day morning than at Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. Perhaps, aptly named Emerald Lake would be more appropriate, but I can say for sure its still under lots of the white stuff and getting a reflection of Hallet Peak would have required some creative thinking.
I can only suspect my good fortune this morning can be attributed to the luck of the Irish. How else can I explain what appeared to be a completely cloudless and breezy morning transforming into a beautiful and epic sunrise?. Even more surprising was the fact that the wind instead of intensifying at Dream Lake at sunrise as is typical, actually subsided. All of those lucky breaks are not enough to explain the unusually mild and warm weather we’ve been having that has thawed the eastern outlet of Dream Lake and allowed just enough open water to squeeze in Hallet and Flattop mountain reflecting on the lake’s surface. I’ll just have to be content with this spectacular St. Patrick’s day morning knowing I stumbled upon my pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
It’s hard to believe, but I’ve now been publishing my blog for an entire year. I’ll take a minute to pat myself on the back for accomplishing this feat as the majority of blogs will cease to exist after nine months, or so the internet tells me. When I started the blog a year ago today, I wasn’t quite sure how well I’d be able to keep up writing posts, mostly related to my photography in Rocky Mountain National Park, and the Open Space area’s around Boulder.
I’m certainly blessed living so close to these beautiful area’s which give me plenty of content to update my blog and photography portfolio. A quick thanks to all of you who follow the blog, and especially those who comment on the blog. I appreciate all of you taking the time to follow and contribute to the blog and I’ll do my best to post and update the blog as often as I can.
On another note, it’s certainly starting to feel like spring around here on the Front Range of Colorado. We’ve had a spate of nice weather with temperatures in the 60’s the last week. The persistent and seemingly never ending winds that we have been having all winter have also subsided somewhat. Nice weather does not typically translate into dynamic photography however. Regardless, it was looked like to nice of a day not to check out the conditions around Rocky Mountain National Park on Saturday.
I was not expecting much in the way of clouds on Saturday morning when I headed up to Rocky. The IR satellite imagery did not have a cloud with 400 miles of Rocky Mountain National Park the night before. A hike up to Dream Lake to see if any of the lake’s outlet had thawed and what the condition of the ice was seemed like a semi-productive way to spend a cloudless morning in Rocky. To my surprise, portions of the east outlet of Dream Lake had some open water, but also to my surprise, there was still plenty of clean ice on Dream Lake to photograph.
In full disclosure, the Ice on the Dream Lake has been photographed many times by other photographers and has become as much of an iconic image of Dream Lake as the view from the east outlet of Dream Lake has become during the warmer months. In fact, until Saturday, I had intentionally avoided photographing the ice because it has been done so often and so well by other photographers. After shooting a cloudless sunrise at Dream Lake on a warm and windless morning, I could not avoid the temptation to photograph the ice I was standing on. I’d be happy to share a few quick tips on how and when to photograph the ice on Dream Lake.
It should go without saying, but wandering onto the surface of a frozen alpine lake in Winter can be a very dangerous and potentially deadly activity. Always check the conditions of the ice before walking out onto the lake. If possible have another person with you as a spotter and somebody who can assist and help in the event you fall through the ice. Backcountry winter protocol should be followed when hiking to Dream Lake this time of year.
Typically the best time of year to photograph Dream Lake are the months of January and February. Intuitively, it would seem that the lake’s surface would be buried under 6 ft of snow that time of year, but in fact the high winds that scrape the surface of the lake help to keep much of the surface of the ice free of snow. Furthermore, some of the cleanest and flattest ice will be located on leeward side of the boulders found at Dream Lake. Secondly, you wont require a macro lens to photograph the ice but it may be helpful. Focal lengths from wide angles to telephoto’s can all help at capturing the patterns in the ice. I find that I often am using a focal length of around 100-105mm to isolate patterns on the ice. Lastly, the best time of day to photograph the ice is the period after sunrise but prior to the sun hitting the surface of the lake. The diffused Colorado cobalt blue sky reflecting in the surface of the shaded lake that causes the ice to take on a deep blue hue. Once the Sun is high enough in the sky to illuminate the surface of the lake you will lose that affect and the lighting will become to harsh.
Or so the weather report said the night before. I was expecting two to four inches of fresh snow on Friday morning. I woke up Friday morning per my usual routine, hit the gym and walked the dog. Those who know me well, know I’m a hardcore morning person (and think I’m nuts). I get up and start my day every morning around 2:30 AM. It work’s well with my photography routine and it allows me to accomplish quite a bit before most people are even awake.
In my town of Erie, east of Boulder we had a light dusting of snow. Not the two to four inches I was expecting, but enough to coat the ground and make things interesting. Erie which is 12 miles east of Boulder will typically get a little less snow then Boulder proper so I figured the area around the Flatirons and the foothills west of town probably had a bit more snow. Not the amount of snow the weather people promised, but enough to get the adrenaline pumping thinking about the possibilities.
Heading east into Boulder it didn’t take very long for my hopes of seeing the Flatirons covered in fresh snow to be dashed. By the time I drove into Lafayette, there was literally no snow cover remaining on the ground. After some choice words directed towards the weather folks from the confines of my vehicle I continued on into Boulder. There’s a real temptation to visualize how you want a particular scene to look before you photograph it. Sometimes that works well for the photographer and sometimes it is to their detriment.
Disappointment can make you veer from your intended course. My first reaction was to turn my car around and head back home. What was the point I thought to myself?, no snow, probably no clouds. Sure the hike in would be nice but so would a nice cup of coffee back home. Early on in my photography career I would often succumb to this line of thought. While I’ve always considered myself motivated, it was an easy trap to fall into. I’ve slept through many beautiful sunrises or not been in the right location to photograph a beautiful image because I delayed and made excused to be out in the field. I just figured I’d go out another day with better conditions, etc. I’ve learned to ignore this voice in my head and forge ahead with the plans. Being flexible and adapting to the conditions is important, but I’ve learned getting out into the field regardless of what you perceive the end result to be is the most important action I can take as a photographer.
It might be a little too early on a Monday morning to be thinking about having that kind of Crown on ice, but its not too early for this view of Boulder’s Crown Rock and frosted pines from last week’s storm. Crown Rock is a popular destination for Boulder’s famous rock climbing crowd. It’s located roughly 2 miles up Flagstaff Mountain and offers stunning views of Chautauqua Park and downtown Boulder. The rock formations around Crown Rock have a distinct reddish hue.
I’ve hiked by Crown Rock many times looking for an opportunity to photograph the formation and distinctive red rock’s but have never found anything compelling enough to even get the camera out of my bag. This day I very nearly missed out on this image. I was photographing the frosted hillsides above Crown Rock essentially oblivious to beauty of the frosted Ponderosa’s contrasting against the formations red rock’s. I was wrapping up and put my equipment away when I pointed the viewfinder downhill towards Crown Rock. I had done this in order to make it easier to detach my camera and lens from my tripod and I caught just enough of a glimpse of this scene through my viewfinder to stop myself in my tracks and spend some time working on this composition. Just another day in the field with dynamic conditions and a little bit of luck on my side.
One of the reasons I love photographing in Rocky Mountain National Park, is that each trip to the park is unlike any previous visit. I never tire of photographing Rocky Mountain National Park because I always feel like I’m coming away with new images, even if its from locations I’ve photographed many times before. The weather, the wind and the light are always a little different each time I go to Rocky enabling endless photographic possibilities.
I was expecting there to be some fresh snow on Saturday morning as I drove up to Rocky early in the morning. As I headed through Pinewood Springs, I encountered a light dusting of snow on the roads as well as coating the trees. Things were looking favorable for some nice winter conditions, with one exception. The sky was clear and the stars where bright and shining in the calico sky. When I left Erie, there was fog and clouds, but by the time I gained some elevation west of Pinewood Springs, the clouds and fogged cleared.
Dropping down into the Estes Valley all looked clear. Longs Peak was cloud free as was the Mummy Range. Entering Rocky Mountain National Park and heading over Bear Lake road through Moraine Park, I saw what looked like a hint of clouds over Hallet Peak and Otis Peak. Just enough of the cloud cover from the previous nights storm wrapped over Hallet Peak and the Glacier Gorge area. The wind was picking up so I opted not to head up to Dream Lake to be blown across it’s icy surface and toyed with by the wind. Instead I hightailed it over to the Bierstadt Lake trail, slapped on my Yak Trax and hiked up to the top of the Bierstadt Moraine for the view of Otis and Hallet Peak. The first rays of the morning illuminated Hallet and Otis in a beautiful pink hue. Wind’s wrapped the clouds over and around Hallet and Otis making the trek to the top of Moraine the place to be to view the show.
Winter, albeit a little late seems to be settling into the Front Range and Rocky Mountain National Park. Arctic air that has been staying north in Canada most of the winter, finally found a way to filter down to the Front Range. Most of the arctic air mass settled east of Colorado, but some of it still managed to back into the eastern half of Colorado this weekend and drop the temperatures. The cold air, combined with some light snow made for some pretty dramatic atmospheric conditions in Rocky.
Many times it seems like you are either dealing with clear blue skies at sunrise in Rocky, or beautiful lenticular wave clouds combined with constant 60 mph winds. This particular morning in Rocky Mountain was neither. It was a manageable 16 degrees with almost no wind. Even better, there were lots of clouds swirling over the peaks. So many clouds, that many of the prominent peaks such as Longs Peak, Mt. Meeker and Hallet Peak were engulfed by the clouds. The Twin Sister’s however, were still in view.
Below Estes Park, Ft. Collings, Loveland and Boulder were experiencing snow and single digit temperatures. The upslope storm created enough of an inversion this morning that it was not snowing in Estes Park and it was in fact warmer in Estes Park, then the Front Range towns at lower elevations. Cold foggy air filtered up through the Estes Valley as sunrise rose up out of the fog and snow below creating a short but colorful sunrise over the Twin Sisters formation.
It’s Colorado, so of course images of snow capped majestic peaks come to mind. I’ll be the first to admit that although a large portion of Colorado actually is found on the High Plains, it’s harder to start your photographic adventures heading east, than west. That’s just how my morning started after the Boulder area received 20 plus inches of snow from a rare February blizzard. My intention was to head over to one of the Open Space trailheads south of Boulder, snowshoe into a particular location and photograph the Flatirons formation covered in fresh snow.
My morning itinerary quickly went awry. At 6:00 AM it’s very much still night time driving conditions and visibility is limited and it’s still very much dark. As I was turning off Highway 93 and into the Flatirons Vista trailhead, the unplowed lot and 4 ft wall of snow in front of the trailhead entrance quickly altered my plan. With no place to park and sunrise approaching rapidly, I’d have to come up with a plan ‘B’ quickly. I turned around and headed north back towards Boulder.
I didn’t have a back up plan this morning. I figured the trailhead entrance would be plowed and other than getting a good workout snowshoeing in the deep snow, I’d be photographing the Flatirons. The easy option would have been to head over to Chautauqua Park and photograph sunrise from the meadow. I’ve done that plenty of times before and I’m sure there were lot’s of other photographers who would have that location covered just fine. As I drove north past one of the reservoirs outside of Boulder, I caught the first hint of an orange sunrise reflecting off the partially frozen surface of the water. The light bulb went off and now it was a race to find some water.
I figured Sawhill Pond’s on the east side of Boulder might present some opportunities for open water while at the same time allowing me to get into position before sunrise. I arrived at Sawhill Pond’s to find that fog was now forming over the Pond’s. Thing’s were looking more promising by the minute. Sawhill Pond is located in a low spot between Lookout Ridge to the north and Valmont Butte to the south. This was the only area within miles that had any fog forming. The fresh snow, hoar frost and fog made for a very dynamic conditions at sunrise. I only had a few minutes to get into position but my plan ‘B’ paid off. Hopefully after the next big snow the trailhead parking lot get’s plowed, but I’ll make sure I have a better back up plan the next time in case it’s not.