Glacier National Park: Autumn Approaches

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Autumn's Arrival : Prints Available

Maple leaves changing color in early September.

As my week long vacation approached a couple weeks ago, I was trying to decide whether to backpack in the San Juans or head north to Glacier National Park. The forecast of snow for the National Park made it an easy decision; nothing beats early season snow! Plus, I hadn’t been up in Glacier since I was a kid, and I was anxious to get back. This time, I hit all the touristy spots–hopefully I can hit the backcountry for my next visit. As the top photo shows, Fall was already well underway in Glacier even though it was Labor Day. I started my trip with a hike up to Iceberg Lake near Many Glacier; as the photos that follow show, it was a rather showery afternoon (I got drenched by cold wind-driven rain at the lake) but the summer wildflowers were still going strong.

Glacier National Park, Montana,Iceberg Lake

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Flowers still going strong in early September in the Glacier high country.

Glacier National Park, Montana,Iceberg Lake

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Flowers on the slopes surrounding Iceberg Lake

I went to St Mary Lake for sunset. I had seen a lot of shots taken at sunset from various vantage points along the lake. I hadn’t researched shot locations beforehand, but it was pretty obvious from the terrain where the best vantage points were. I just picked the first turnout off the road and made a bee line for the lake shore down a little ‘trail’ that quickly turned into a semi-bushwack, probably carved out by other photographers since I quickly recognized the landscape from photos I had seen of the lake. It was a nice windy sunset with lots of waves crashing on the rocky shore!

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September Storm : Prints Available

Waves break across the rocks at St. Mary Lake as a September storm approaches. Note the quarter moon rising.

The next morning, I set up for sunrise at Two Medicine. The clouds were already on the way from the upcoming storm, enough clouds to prompt one photographer from Texas to take off from the lake shore before sunrise. This left one other photographer and myself at the shoreline waiting for sunrise, and sure enough, the clouds broke in time for a colorful post-sunrise display. As I have learned time and time again, when it comes to sunrises and sunsets–it aint over til it’s over!
I spent the rest of the day exploring Going to the Sun and all the little stops and trails along the way. Thanks to road construction and labor day, it was a rather traffic congested day…

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Good Medicine : Prints Available

Sunrise at Two Medicine Lake

Glacier National Park, Montana,Iceberg Lake

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Fields of flowers near Logan Pass in Glacier NP.

Glacier National Park, Montana

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A mix of colors in early September along Going to the Sun Highway.

The rain began falling that night, and the NWS put out a snow advisory for Logan Pass and the high country for 3-6 inches of snow. I was hopeful; my goal was to photograph an area near Logan Pass after the fresh snowfall. I sent the next day waiting out the weather. I hiked to a few waterfalls, but the showers were plentiful and it was a better excuse to try some of the beers at St Mary Lodge… Next blog entry: the photos from after the storm. Hint: the 3-6 inches didn’t materialize–most of the snow was 1,000 feet higher up. Here’s a shot from the day of snow and rain, see y’all next blog entry!

Glacier National Park, Montana

Transitions : Prints Available

Snow Line at about 6,500 feet.

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A Billion Sunflowers

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A Billion Sunflowers : Prints Available

Endless flowers and glowing skies at sunset.

*REVISED, AUG 2017: NOTE: I am no longer giving out information on the location of this field, so please do not contact me asking for the “exact location of this field” unless you are 1) purchasing something or 2) have a life-saving need for it. I have received over 140 (one hundred and forty) emails from people asking for this information and I no longer have time to respond individually anymore. It is somewhat annoying to get these requests when I have spent many thousands of dollars getting these images, and get very few sales in return to compensate for these efforts. These photos were taken in 2014 and I have no idea if the field even exists at this point; crops are frequently rotated so it easily could be wheat this year and not sunflowers. If you are interested in photographing sunflowers, do what I did and drive around in locations known to have fields, do some exploring and even if you don’t find this exact field, you will surely enrich your life by discovering something equally beautiful in this beautiful country. Good luck!

I was planning on going to the mountains on my days off this week–but then I spotted a photo on Facebook by my friend Todd Caudle of a humongous sunflower field. I knew I had to check this field out, so I immediately called him to find out where I had to drive. There are numerous sunflower fields in northeast Colorado, but this particular field is not only humongous, it is relatively undisturbed by buildings, roads, and power lines, and it sits on a slight hill so the full extent of the field can be seen from the road. The size and accessibility sets it apart from other fields I’ve seen. So, I headed up in the afternoon after checking the weather charts; it looked like a storm would form just east of the field as sunset approaches. When I got to the field, there was one other photographer, Mike Renner, already set up to shoot the field. Another half-dozen photographers showed up, but Mike and I were the only ones to stay in this particular location and wait out the storms for sunset.

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Flower Power : Prints Available

Layers of flowers in a huge sunflower field.

I spent the next three hours or so scouting and shooting this one gigantic field. I drove up one farm road as far as my car would go, then back-tracked to the original location which had the advantage of sitting up on a slight hill overlooking the field. The light was constantly changing as storm clouds tried to organize south and west of the field.

Rays and Field : Prints Available

Crepuscular rays.

Forever Field : Prints Available

Flowers seem to go on forever looking west.

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Sun Dog and Sunflowers : Prints Available

Sun dog in late afternoon at sunflower field.

About an hour into my shoot, a storm started building to our south. It was the storm I expected to develop, but it was a little closer to my location than I anticipated. As thunder started to build in frequency, the other photographers left as Mike and I continued to test various angles on the field.

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Sunflower Storm : Prints Available

Thunderstorm builds on the edge of a sunflower field.

The rain started falling, and as I looked east it looked like the sun might briefly dip below the clouds, so I set up in anticipation of a rainbow. As the rain got heavier, a couple rainbows did briefly appear, but they quickly disappeared as the rain picked up in intensity. I was soaked!

Rainbow 1 : Prints Available

A rainbow appears briefly before heavy rain.

Rainbow 2 : Prints Available

A second rainbow.

As the storm moved away to the east, a few lightning flashes appeared but they were few and far between. I set my sights to the east, as the sun dipped lower on the horizon. With sunset getting closer, the textures and colors in the sky became more intense.

Textured Skies : Prints Available

It looked like sunset might be a bust as the sun dipped below some gray clouds hanging on the horizon. But you never know with sunsets; colors can explode when moments before everything looks gloomy. This one did not disappoint as the horizon began to glow red. I took out my telephoto lens to concentrate on the endless rows of flowers against the glowing horizon. It was a great afternoon!

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Field on Fire : Prints Available

Sunflower field at sunset.

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Monsoon Dunes

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Monsoon Panorama : Prints Available

Overlooking the Dunes as sunset approaches.

Every August, I hit the Great Sand Dunes National Park to photograph the sunflowers and dunes in that light that comes every year in late summer, monsoon light. There’s nothing quite like the dunes when sunlight is dancing in between storm clouds. The light, colors, and shapes are always changing and there’s always something new and exciting to photograph.

Even before I got to the park, the mix of wildflowers on the side of the road–sunflowers and aster–was too much to resist and I pulled over to take a few shots of the distant dune field and flowers.

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Aster and sunflowers.

My initial plan was to look for some sunflowers, so I started hiking up towards High Dune. About two thirds of the way up the dunes, a monsoonal shower hit and I had to stay put as I got pelted by biting rain and wind-driven sand. When the worst of the storm had passes, I turned around to find a rainbow framing the Sangre De Cristo Range to the east.

Western Colors : Prints Available

Rainbow looking west to the Sangres.

The storm had chased most of the visitors from the dunes, and since I had not hiked to the top of High Dunes in a while, I decided to continue hiking to the top. I was joined by a family vacationing from Germany, and later a group of young guys who were driving cross-country. There were plenty of scenes to photograph from the high point at the top of the dune field!

August Rays : Prints Available

Hazy Dune Day : Prints Available

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Monsoon Vista : Prints Available

Great light from the August monsoon.

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Light and Curves : Prints Available

Storm light on the dune field.

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Alien Landing : Prints Available

Odd curves and light from the top of High Dune.

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Monsoonal Ballet : Prints Available

Sunset light filters through distant storms from the top of High Dune.

Touched by Light : Prints Available

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Medano Ripples : Prints Available

Crazy shapes and colors looking down on the dunes and Medano Creek.

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Monsoon Peak : Prints Available

Storm light from the top of High Dune.

Great Sand Dunes,High Dune

Monsoon in Black and White : Prints Available

Dramatic light approaching the top of High Dune.

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There wasn’t much color at sunset, as the sun dipped below a bank of clouds hanging over the distant peaks of the San Juans, but I couldn’t complain after being treated to such a great display of light from the top of the dunes!

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Morning on Shrine Pass

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The mosquitos were murder!

I had limited time to enjoy the wildflower peak this season in the Colorado Rockies; one weekend to be exact. My original plan was to head for the San Juans, but the weather forecast (as detailed in my e-book!) and time constraints led me to one of my favorite go-to spots for flowers, Shrine Pass near Vail. Shrine isn’t the most dramatic mountain location, but the views are wide open and the flowers are thick! After hitting the trail at 4am, I listened to the coyotes cry as I made my way to the top of Shrine Ridge. Sunrise did not disappoint!

Shrine Ridge,sunrise,Colorado

Morning has Broken : Prints Available

Beautiful sunrise from Shrine Ridge in July.

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Looking northeast from Shrine Ridge.

The mosquitos were not as nice. I couldn’t stay in one spot for more than 10 seconds before thick clouds of the blood-suckers would surround my head. This gave me more incentive to keep moving for new views!

Shrine Ridge,Colorado,sunrise,paintbrush

Shrine Paintbrush : Prints Available

Paintbrush glow in morning light on Shrine Ridge.

I spent another couple hours hiking the ridge while the light was still good. I didn’t see anyone else until I started hiking back down the trail; then I encountered several groups of hikers and photographers headed up the trail. They missed a great sunrise!

Shrine Sunflowers : Prints Available

Sunflowers light up in morning light.

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Evans Tradition

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View from the edge of Sawtooth Ridge at sunset.

Every year in late June or early July, I make a trip up to Mount Evans for a sunrise-sunset shoot from the upper reaches of the mountain, which is one of the highest peaks in the state at 14,265 feet high. It’s a bit of a tradition. Shooting sunrise or sunset this time of year is a bit of a 50/50 proposition thanks to the monsoon. If the monsoon is active, sunset is usually a washout as storms surround the summit, often with lots of lightning. But the increase in storms can also bring more clouds for sunrise, whereas in a weaker monsoon, clear skies are almost a given for sunrise. I’ve had some success in past trips at sunrise, so this year I targeted a break in the monsoon for a chance at a nice sunset, which has eluded me in previous years.

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Sunset closeup.

My initial plan was to hike out to the Sawtooth, a jagged ridge that separates Evans from
nearby Mount Bierstadt, another 14,000 foot peak, for sunset. I got out to the start of the Sawtooth, and it suddenly occurred to me how crazy it would be to have to scramble back through this field of talus and boulders in the dark, even with a headlamp to guide my way. There is some tricky exposed climbing in this area. So, I decided to backtrack to s higher point closer to the summit of Evans. I got back there just in time for a real nice sunset, complete with sun rays and a nice red glow!

Mount Evans, Colorado,sunset,Sawtooth

Last Light from Evans : Prints Available

Panorama at sunset from near Mount Evans summit.

Mount Evans, Colorado,sunset

Fire on the Rocks : Prints Available

Looking southeast.

The next morning, as expected, there was not a cloud in the sky. So, I needed to focus on shots that required minimal sky. I decided to hike down from Summit Lake on the Summit Lake trail. There were lots of little tarns along the way, and a nice stream cascading down the mountainside. It was the perfect location for sunrise, and the wildflowers were pretty abundant.

Mount Evans, Colorado,sunrise,Summit Lake

Summit Lake Trail Sunrise : Prints Available

Outlet Stream from Summit Lake at sunrise.

Mount Evans, Colorado,sunrise,summit lake

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Beautiful meadow near Summit Lake at 12,000 feet.

I headed back before the crowds of tourists descended on the summit. It was a great evening and morning to be out on the mountain!

Path to Evans : Prints Available

Mount Evans at sunrise from outlet stream of Summit Lake.

Squeak! : Prints Available

Pika

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Last Chase

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Lightning at sunset, east of Sharon Springs, KS.

A couple weeks ago, I had one last chance to get out to the plains in hopes of catching a tornado this season. But, as the trend was all season, I chased some supercells that were tornado-warned, but just couldn’t get the right combo of ingredients to produce the elusive twister. After putting in another 600 miles or so of driving, out to west-central Kansas and back, the highlight of the trip was an electric storm that really intensified as the sun set. All of my ‘keepers’ were shot in that short time right before sunset to about half hour afterwards.

Shocking Brown II : Prints Available

Great light show in west Kansas

Electric Farming : Prints Available

Interesting stormy scene.

Red Skies at Night : Prints Available

Incredible Sunset in western Kansas.

Was it worth a long day of driving? I dunno, but it was a pretty cool sunset, and a nice light show! I may have to head back out in August for my annual sunflower-and-lightning shoot.

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Shocking Brown : Prints Available

Interesting colors after sunset with tornadic storm in the distance.

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Colorado Chasing

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Stormy Paths : Prints Available

Arkansas River and approaching supercell thunderstorm, June 6, 2014

Yet another season where I schedule my chase vacation in May, and all the tornadoes occur in June. 🙁
But I still got out a few times this month for local chases within a couple hours drive of home; one of the prettiest storms was this one that formed up by Limon and tracked southeast into Kiowa and Bent Counties in southeast Colorado on June 6th. I caught up with it around Arlington, and shot some shaky time lapse of the storm sucking up dust over the dry plains. Close to sunset, I set up near the Arkansas River and took some shots of the approaching storm to the north. It was still kicking up a lot of dust, and was quite impressive as dusk approached!

Arkansas River,sunset

Go West : Prints Available

The Arkansas River at sunset, June, 2014

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Tornadic Supercell, June 6, 2014

Right around sunset the storm produced a brief tornado near Hasty, Colorado, but I was already headed home at this point (and I didn’t miss much based on the photos!)
Finally, I took some lightning shots near Las Animas, as the storm continued to be highly electric well after dark. Definitely a worthwhile chase in the familiar plains of southeast Colorado!

Twilight : Prints Available

Hasty supercell after sunset

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Supercell Mania

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Tornadic supercell at sunset in western Kansas, May 11, 2014.

Every May, I set aside a week or so for an annual trip to Tornado Alley in search of monster storms and tornadoes. As has been my (lack of) luck the past couple years, tornadoes have been in bit of a drought this year, and despite being near tornado-warned storms 6 of the seven days that I have chased so far this May, I came up short in catching any photogenic tornadoes. For the last segment of my trip, I drove nearly seven hundred miles southward into Texas, only to see the one photogenic tornado of the day hit way up in North Dakota. Such are the trials and tribulations of storm-chasing…it aint Twister!

I warmed up my season with a one day solo trip into western Kansas, where I caught this beautiful storm at sunset. Then, for my official week of leave, I teamed up with a coworker from the Pueblo National Weather Service, and we headed up into the Nebraska Panhandle, then into the Denver area of our home state. The highlight of that trip was intercepting this monstrous storm just outside the Denver metro area.

Closing the Airport : Prints Available

Tornadic supercell near Denver International Airport, May 21

After a day off back in Pueblo, I hit the road solo once again, and played the upslope in southeastern New Mexico, then the Midland, Texas area. The first couple days were a bit of a dissapointment, but my final day took me down to San Angelo for this amazing storm that developed near Andrews, tracking southeast towards the Texas hill country. Despite the massive numbers of storm chasers and local gawkers on the road, the storm put on quite a show, with terrific structure and a rain-wrapped tornado (which I could not photograph!). Highlights of that intercept below. Hopefully Ill get another chance or two on days off this June to get out for another shot at the elusive twister!

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Tornadic storm beyond a cemetary in Westbrook, Texas


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Birds ride the rising air currents surrounding this monster storm.


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Massive storm charges through Texas farmland.


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Chasers line the road as the monster supercell marches eastward.


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Deer Supercell : Prints Available

Massive tornadic storm marches down highway 87 in central Texas, May 26, 2014. Deer carcas in foreground, thousands of storm chasers on the road.

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Medano’s Return

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Beautiful sunset in April at Medano Creek.

Every spring, usually in early to mid April, I make a pilgrimage to my favorite National Park to catch the return of Medano Creek. The creek is a shallow (usually only inches) stream that flows down the east side of the Great Sand Dunes each spring, fed by the melting snows of the Sangre De Cristo Range. The creek usually only flows for a few months; often it dries out by late summer unless there are some heavy monsoonal rains. The past few years it has been choked by black ash and tar from a big forest fire a few years back–but this year it is looking relatively clean. I spent a few hours in the afternoon just watching the complex wave and flow patterns in the creek, and taking some abstract photos.

Creek Lights : Prints Available

Medano Creek, Great Sand Dunes, Colorado

Marbled Medano : Prints Available

Abstract patterns in Medano Creek.

Then, a couple hours before sunset, I hiked to the creek’s end, where it disappears into the sand. I scouted for a good sunset composition, and took shots of the creek and snow-capped Mount Herard in the distance. A lenticular cloud above Herard was particularly attractive.

April Flows : Prints Available

Sunset was brief, with only local flashes of color, so I used a telephoto lens to focus on the small section of brilliant color in the sky and creek reflections. Another spectacular return of beloved Medano Creek! May it flow swift and deep this year.

Last Chance : Prints Available

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Why I Love Fog

Barr Trail, Manitou Springs, Colorado

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Hiking up through dense fog on the Barr Trail, after a light overnight snowfall in March.

I was working a night shift, forecasting the weather for our area in southeast Colorado. A quick moving snow storm was moving through the state, and typical of the storms this winter, the storm was a bit of an underachiever. But, it occurred to me that a light overnight snowfall followed by rapidly clearing conditions aloft was a classic recipe for fog in this part of the country. In addition, the winds looked like they would stay from the southeast much of the following morning. Southeast winds are up-slope along the Rampart Range west of Colorado Springs, and tend to really reinforce foggy conditions along the lower slopes of the range. So, I went home and charged my camera batteries, then set the alarm clock for an early rise. After a bit more than four hours of sleep, I woke and made the trio north towards Colorado Springs. My Initial plan was to photograph Garden of the Gods in the clearing conditions that I expected.

Barr Trail, Manitou Springs, Colorado

Pikes Peak Atmosphere : Prints Available

Barr Trail, Manitou Springs, Colorado

Fog, Moon, Snow : Prints Available

I got to the Garden of Gods exit and turned towards the park. I got close to the visitor center and encountered police lights ahead of me on the icy, snow-covered road. I hit the breaks and slid down the road, narrowly avoiding one of the patrol cars that was stopped for a previous accident. I was not anxious at this point to climb the steep road to an overlook of the park in my 2WD vehicle with worn tires, so I continued along the main road towards the inner area of the park. Sunrise was only 15-20 minutes away, and there was now enough light that it became obvious that the fog was not going to clear by sunrise–it was just too dense. I decided to continue west towards Manitou Springs, with ‘Plan B’ in mind–head up highway 24 towards Woodland Park, with the idea of getting above the clouds to photograph the slopes of Pikes Peak. In the past, this would have been much easier–simply head up the steep narrow Rampart Range Road. Unfortunately, this road has been closed since the catastrophic Waldo Canyon Fire, so I needed to simply get high enough to clear the clouds. Highway 24 climbs from around 6500 feet to over 8000 feet as it heads north, and I knew this would do the trick.

Barr Trail, Manitou Springs, Colorado

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Snow covered trees and fog on the Barr Trail, March, 2014.

It was now close to sunrise; still foggy! I got just before the exit off Highway 24 to the Pikes Peak town of Manitou Springs, and the sign ahead said “lane closure ahead–expect delays.”
I had to make another split-second decision, continue on and risk being stuck in traffic, or go for ‘Plan C’. I realized that it had been a while since I had been on the Barr Trail–the long trail that climbs 7000 feet up the southeast slopes of Pikes Peak. Its the trail used by runners in the annual Pikes Peak Marathon and Ascent. I quickly made the exit into town, and headed up Ruxton Avenue to get to the trail head. This road was icy too, and I didn’t want to risk the last steep section to the trail, so I parked farther down the road and hiked up the road past the Cog Railway station to begin my ascent up the trail. It was still foggy, but it didn’t take long before I started seeing some clearing conditions ahead–maybe a mile up the trail.

Barr Trail, Manitou Springs, Colorado

Transitions on Barr : Prints Available

Barr Trail, Manitou Springs, Colorado

Let There Be Light : Prints Available

It was a Sunday morning, and some early risers were already doing their daily training on the Barr Trail. A couple trail runners descended the trail ahead of me, and as they jogged past they exhorted me to climb a bit higher for even better views of the terrific atmosphere.

Barr Trail, Manitou Springs, Colorado

Above the Clouds : Prints Available

View from above the fog on Pikes Peak’s Barr Trail.

Barr Trail, Manitou Springs, Colorado

Barr Trail Dream : Prints Available

Quarter moon appears in the distance through fog clearing from the Barr Trail on Pikes Peak.

As I finally got above the clouds, about two miles up the trail, the grand scene unfolded below me as the fog layer swirled through the canyon and gradually lifted. I stopped to take some time lapse of the scene–this video clip can be seen in my recent time lapse project, “Winter All Around Us”, which I wrote about in my most recent blog post.

Barr Trail, Manitou Springs, Colorado

Pikes Peak Epiphany : Prints Available

Sun trying to burn off the fog on the Barr Trail in Manitou Springs.

Barr Trail, Manitou Springs, Colorado

Barr None : Prints Available

Magnificent foggy atmosphere on Pikes Peak’s Barr Trail after a light snowfall. March, 2014.

As I descended, it seemed like scores of trail runners were now ascending the trail for their Sunday morning workout. On woman stopped briefly as she noticed my tripod and camera gear set up along side the trail, and remarked, “smart man!” Another remarked, “we’ll see your photos in the paper!” No, not smart–just a benefit of knowing a bit about the weather of this area. And you wont see the photos i the paper–just here in my blog 😉 I shared their enthusiasm though–it was a terrific Sunday morning to spend on Pikes Peak!

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