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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Last year, I wrote a song about winter–winter as a metaphor for overcoming adversity. I recorded the song in the fall, with Gina Rose as lead singer, at Mace’s Hole recording studio in Beulah, Colorado.
Then, I spent the next four months filming video and time lapse throughout my home state of Colorado, primarily using my 5Dmkii for the stills. It was a terrific experience, and I got to see a lot of great Colorado winter including snow storms, bitter cold, and high winds. The video and song can be seen at my Vimeo site, here:
Here is a list and brief description of the scenes in the video, in order of appearance. Time lapses generally ran from a few minutes to an hour–the toughest part was trying to stay warm during the lapses!
1) Maroon Bells, Aspen, Colorado. I wrote about this trip in my blog post in November.
2) Crater Lake, Maroon Bells, Aspen. While I was shooting this sequence, an older couple walked by on snowshoes, and we had a discussion about time lapse–Robert Fricke and his films.
3) West Maroon Creek, and the Bells (Aspen). As a meteorologist, I love the way time lapse really shows you wind motion and the fluid nature of air. This was taken he same afternoon as the first sequences–thanks to the low dynamic range of afternoon light–the tough shots were yet to come!
4) Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs. I was the only one in this popular park this morning–the temperature was well below zero and it was after a fresh snowfall that made the windy narrow roads in the park quite a challenging drive with my 2WD Focus!
5) Monarch Pass. A surprise snow squall hit as I headed east over the pass–and I barely made it over!
I pulled over near the summit to shoot this video of the snow.
6) Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs. The classic overlook shot at sunrise. I was joined by a couple other photographers, including my good friend Todd Caudle. If I recall, the temperature was ten below zero Fahrenheit–so it was a chilly wait!
7) Lake Pueblo. Every winter, if it falls below zero overnight, I know to head to the local reservoir
to experience the steam fog that rises over the relatively warm lake. All of my Lake Pueblo shots were taken on one very cold (subzero) morning, on the north shore of the lake.
8) Paint Mines Interpretive Park, Calhan. I found this frozen pond on a short hike in the park, and shot the rising full moon.
9) Siamese Twins, Garden of the Gods. The toughest technical sequence of the video. I used no exposure software, so had to manually adjust each still for a smooth sequence–quite a challenge! As I was shooting this scene of Pikes Peak (The summit house light can be seen at the top of the 14,000+ foot peak) a group of teenagers gathered nearby and indulged in some of Colorado’s newest cash crop–but they were respectfully quiet! 🙂
10) Arkansas River, Swallows. About a one mile hike to the river. Large chunks of ice flowed downstream, and at one point, a couple beavers (otters?) floated by in the current–unfortunately they must have blurred out in the long exposures here.
11) Arkansas River, Five Points. Part of the recreation area upstream of Canon City. Another bitter cod morning.
12) Barr Trail, Pikes Peak. I hiked a couple miles up trail this foggy March morning after a fresh light snowfall. As I descended I dodged trail runners headed uphill. The toughest part was walking back down Ruxton Ave on the icy streets back to my car.
13) Rocky Mountain National Park, Lily Lake. Bear Lake road was blocked by five foot snow drifts, so I headed to Lily Lake and hid behind a tree to shelter myself from the 70 mph winds. It was fascinating watching snow blow across the frozen lake.
14) Green Mountain Falls. A couple short videos of the frozen cascades coming down the east side of Pikes Peak. I cut my hand after slipping on the icy trail to the falls–fortunately there was plenty of icy water to clean the wound!
15) Green Mountain Falls, Crystal Falls in early winter.
16) Rocky Mountain National Park. I shot this the evening before #13, when the Bear Lake road was still clear of drifts–but the wind was still howling! I trudged through a couple feet of snow to set up my tripod to catch this windy sunset from Moraine Park.
17) Lake Pueblo, steam fog.
18) Siamese Twins, Garden of the Gods. Same spot as #9, this time at sunrise.
19) Maysville. Coming down from Monarch Pass, I pulled over to shoot some video of the clearing snow storm.
20) Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. View at sunset from Rock Point, a couple miles up the (closed in winter) south rim road.
21) Black Canyon, a few minutes later–the moonrise. Nothing but coyotes keeping me company.
22) Two sequences of the rising moon shot from my house in Pueblo West.
23) Second (waning) moon sequence (with token planet)
24) Barr Trail, Pikes Peak fog.
25) Red Rock Park, Canon City. The growing night from this hidden gem in Fremont County.
26) Tomichi Point, Black Canyon of the Gunnison. The sunrise after scene #20.
27) Sun dog, Fountain, Colorado. If you have super clear and fast vision, you can spot a formation of geese flying across the sun dog at the very start of this time lapse on this icy morning.
28) Lake Pueblo steam fog.
29) Lily Lake sunrise, Rocky Mountain NP.
30) McMillan Peak, Red Mountain Pass. I shot this sequence coming down from a steep climb up the 12,800 foot peak on the side of the famed highway that connects Montrose to Durango. This is a popular back-country ski spot, with a remote ski lodge in the heart of the San Juan Mountains.
31) Dallas Divide. Classic overlook of the Sneffels Range on a gray afternoon. Stopped at True Grit Café in Ridgway afterwards for some great beer & grub! 🙂
32) Ice cave, Rifle. Details in my previous blog article.
33) Snowstorm, Gateway Rock, Garden of the Gods.
34) Blue Mesa Lake, Sapinero, in the process of freezing.
35) Garden of the Gods. It was snowing one inch per hour this day.
36) Final video of the Three Graces, Garden of the Gods.
I hope you enjoyed the song and video! Next up–Storm Chase season!!
Every winter, I try to make one or two trips to the ice caves in Rifle Mountain Park, a unique area in northwest Colorado. The park is best known for its world class ice and rock climbing, but I like it for the great photo opportunities. Every year the flow of ice is a bit different due to weather and the pattern of thaw and freeze cycles. There’s always something new to photograph.
This year, my trip in mid-March was marked by very little snow, but lots of ice thanks to all the warm days and cold nights. I found some real interesting ice formations. I also shot some timelapse for a music video that I’ve been working on all winter. That will be next post! 😉