Monthly Archives: July 2013

A Dozen Wildflowers

Gothic Road : Prints Available

Magnificent light before sunset over Gothic.

There is nothing that quite compares to the crazy display of wildflowers that occurs in the Colorado high country every year during the mid-summer months. The peak usually happens sometime in mid July to early August, so with a week’s vacation to work with this year, I just had to spend a few days worth in the annual quest for wildflower extravaganza.

I have photographed most of the ‘hot spots’ for flowers in Colorado, so this year I wanted to hit a couple of new locations.
The Crested Butte area was looking good, and while I have been there in previous years, I had yet to visit the high basins north of Crested Butte. In my last attempt a couple years back, the road to the high country was blocked by an avalanche. This year, the road was open, so I headed up to Schofield Park, a trailhead ten miles up a dirt road from the Crested Butte ski resort. A sign that recommended 4WD greeted me as I drive my low clearance Ford Focus up the narrow, windy, bumpy road. So much more fun with 2WD! And all those Jeeps coming down the road in the other direction were certainly not getting the wonderful gas mileage that I was! 🙂 At one point, I asked a passing SUV if I was going to make it up the road. I noticed him glance quickly down at my tires, then he said, “If you made it this far, you’ll probably make it the rest of the way.”

I set out on the W Maroon trail, which connects Aspen to Crested Butte via the road I had just come up. The trail quickly entered a series of basins that were just choking with flowers.

Afternoon Delight : Prints Available

Backlit flowers in late afternoon.

Endless Fields : Prints Available

Flowers as far as the eye can see!

Flower Power : Prints Available

Field thick with flowers!

Maroon Colors : Prints Available

Magnificent display of wildflowers in the high basins of Maroon-Snowmass wilderness.

After hiking much of the afternoon, I decided to head back to the road for sunset, since I had scouted out some favorable locations on the way up to the trail.

Purple Pano : Prints Available

Wildflower panorama from Gothic Road.

Gothic Reflections : Prints Available

Small pond reflects the summer sky along Gothic Road.

Then, as the sun set, I headed back towards Crested Butte to catch the East River in the bright light of the rising full moon. For some reason, this moon seemed bigger and brighter than many I had seen before. It was just a spectacular sight; I can only hope my photo captures some of the magic.

Gothic Moonlight : Prints Available

The full moon rises above the East Fork and Crested Butte.

I also consumed some fine brews in town, which was quite hopping for a Sunday night; a great place to meet an odd assortment of outdoor fanatics and artists,

The next day, I headed to Ridgway in the San Juan Mountains, to head up the Blue Lakes trail, one of the more spectacular trails in the state. The last time I hiked it was eight years ago, where I had about 10 pounds less camera gear, and 20 pounds less beer fat. So, I was a bit slower this time. I ended up spending most of the afternoon exploring the meadows above Lower Blue Lake, which is where the flowers seemed to be the most profuse.

Layers of Blue : Prints Available

Wildflowers and lake reflections at lower Blue Lake.

Mountain Paradise : Prints Available

Outlet stream at Blue Lake.

Blue Moods : Prints Available

Summer afternoon at Lower Blue Lake.

I dropped back down to the campground to catch Mount Sneffels as it lit up just before sunset. Magnificent! This shot rounded off my goal of a dozen decent photos for the trip. I’m usually lucky to grab two or three per trip, so I consider it a productive trip overall. Oh, and if you’re ever in Ridgway be sure to stop at the True Grit (yes, we’re talking John Wayne) Cafe and have one of their awesome deserts. I had the blueberry pie this time. A La mode. 🙂

Sneffels Sublime : Prints Available

Flowers explode in the meadows below 14,125 foot Mount Sneffels

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Monsoonal Madness

There are two things the Southern Rockies photographer looks forward to in July–wildflowers and the monsoon. With one week off to work with, I decided to get both in one week. First trip, a four day dash to Arizona to catch the monsoon. I wasn’t expecting classic monsoon, with a strange westward-moving low pressure system in the upper atmosphere (these lows usually move east!) expected to bring me my storms. I knew there would be plenty of storms, just wasn’t sure how much lightning there would be. If it rains too much, the usual surface heating gets stifled and the storms aren’t as strong. Turns out, that’s pretty much what happened–lots of storms, not so much lightning. And of course, all the big bolts happened off frame or in between clicks of my shutter!
But I did get to see this classic monsoonal sunset in the Arizona desert near Tuscon.

monsoon,Arizona,saguaro national park

Desert World : Prints Available

Sunset in the desert.

And there’s nothing quite like the big cactus against a beautiful sky!
Saguaro National Park,Arizona,sunset

Saguaro Sunset : Prints Available

Brilliant July sunset in Saguaro National Park.

I did grab this shot of the saguaro just after sunset, as the storms kept building over the mountains that surround Tuscon. Then I had to feign ignorance that the park closes at sunset, as a park ranger spotted my car and started inspecting it for contraband…

Electric Cactus : Prints Available

Saguaro shortly after sunset during a monsoonal storm.

The next day, after stopping to say high to some old friends in Tuscon, I decided to head north, since there were fewer clouds in northeast Arizona and I figured that would lead to better storms. I targeted Petrified Forest in northeast Arizona. On the way, I stopped at Salt River Canyon, a spectacular landmark that I had never even heard of before. Too bad they defaced it by running a highway through it–not to mention all the garbage at every pullout along the way 🙁

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Salt Weather : Prints Available

Rainy weather over the Salt River Canyon.

I turned out to be correct about my target–a strong storm began moving into the National Park as sunset approached. But once again I was unaware that the park closed at sunset until I was already at the front gate. So of course, I kept shooting until a ranger pulled over with lights flashing, and I made my apologies and packed up, as the storm of course became highly active. I guess next time, I’ll hike in with an overnight permit…

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Petrified : Prints Available

A monsoonal storm hits the Arizona grassland.

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Independence at Evans

Inspired by my friend Todd Caudle’s recent photographic odyssey on Mount Evans, I decided to go get some
of my own. Unfortunately, that meant leaving on July 3d, which I soon learned is probably the busiest travel day of the summer in eastern Colorado! The trip from Pueblo to Idaho Springs ordinarily takes me less than two hours, but this time I sat, and sat, and sat, in traffic that would put Los Angeles to shame. At one point, I crawled for an hour to gain the final ten miles to the Idaho Springs exit, and the start of the drive to Mount Evans, a 14,264 foot mountain that has the highest paved road leading almost to the summit.

It was now late afternoon, and the thunderstorms were in full swing over the peaks. It was clear in town, but as I drove up the Mount Evans Highway the clouds opened and I was in a heavy downpour as I navigated the narrow, winding road that leads up the peak. At 12,000 feet, I started to notice bits of ice in the big drops hitting my windshield, and I knew what lay ahead. By 13,000 feet, the rain turned to driving wet snow, big wet flakes driven by strong winds. It was a full-fledged blizzard, and at one point I nearly turned around, but I knew the pavement was warm enough to keep the road mainly ice-free, and I expected the storm to clear by sunset.

Finally, I reach the observatory below the summit. One other photographer was there, flaying with his Goretex, and he shouted to me through the 50 mile-per-hour winds that he was canceling his plan to hike to the summit for sunset.
A wise decision, since the snow was about an inch deep but the wind was ferocious, and it was crazy cold for July 3d!
I waited a bit for the snow squalls to slow down, and as they moved to the south side of the peak and started pushing away from the summit, I grabbed a shot of the squalls below me, and one of the road switchbacks. With partial clearing around the summit, I started hopping boulders and took a shortcut to the west side of the summit block, a spot I had scouted in previous trips that has good views to the west. No great sunset this time, but enough clearing to make out the distant peaks. I hoped for better luck at sunrise.

Snow in July? : Prints Available

Snow squalls hit the Mount Evans Highway

Cold and Lonely : Prints Available

View at sunset from the summit block of Mt Evans

I decided to focus my sunrise plans on one of my favorite spots in Colorado to take in a sunrise, the Chicago Basin on the north side of the peak. The basin holds a number of lakes and is carpeted in flowers this time of year. The trailhead for an overlook of the basin begins at Summit Lake at 12,000 feet elevation. It was still a cold, raw morning, with thin layers of ice covering some of the tarns, but the skies were clear enough for a good sunrise. I hiked the short trip to the overlook of the basin, then hopped some more boulders to descend onto some of the flowery meadows that rise up from the lakes. I took a sequence of shots with my Canon, using my 24mm tilt-shift lens to compose larger photos of the basin. The first is about 20 minutes before sunrise, the second at peak color, then sunrise, and finally 20 minutes after sunrise. I chatted with another photographer who was taking in the spectacle, then made a dash back up to Summit Lake and grabbed some shots of the tarns, and wildflowers. A great sunrise, and a great way to spend the July 4th morning!

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Evans Independence I : Prints Available

Twenty minutes before sunrise, overlooking the Chicago Lakes Basin on Mount Evans.

Evans Independence II : Prints Available

Mount Evans,sunrise

Evans Independence III : Prints Available

Colorful sunrise from an overlook on the slopes of Mount Evans.

Evans Independence IV : Prints Available

Summit Lake Reflections : Prints Available

Tarns reflect the morning sky.

July 4th Bouquet : Prints Available

Flowers were exploding all over the Mount Evans wilderness!

Evans Reborn : Prints Available

Summit Lake.

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