On Halloween, I studies the weather maps and decided there was a good chance for a terrific sunrise the next morning. So, after a few hours of sleep, I drove three hours to arrive at Estes Park and the Bear Lake Trail head. I met up with a photographer friend, Kane Englebert, and we hit the trail a couple hours before sunrise. THe last time Kane and I hiked this trail, it was raining and sleeting and despite a brief break at sunrise, the peaks never really lit up. This time, the weather cooperated and we ended up with a beautiful sunrise from Two Rivers Lake, a small lake that is off-trail. Kane used his GPS to give us a short trip off the trail to reach the half-frozen lake shore. The colors were already starting to blossom when we reached the lake, and I couldn’t resist taking one shot of the brilliant colors to the east!
Then, I slipped along the ice on the shoreline in search of a good angle on the lake and distant peaks. The wind was really starting to pick up and it was biting cold; between the wind and the ice it was tricky finding a steady spot to place my tripod. But persistence paid off and I came away with a couple of my favorite shots from one of the premiere spots in Colorado.
Every year, I make a pilgrimage to Mueller State Park to photograph the fall colors after the first snowfall of the season. This is usually sometime in October; this year it fell on October 13th. Mueller is a hidden gem of a park in any season, but it’s especially beautiful in fall, and after a light early snowfall, it’s a place that will bring you goose bumps.
I had scouted the park the week before this shoot, in order to find the best spot for a planned sunrise shot. It looked like a couple of storms would move through the area in the coming week, and I was pretty sure at least one of them would bring some snow to the park. The first storm proved to be a bit too warm, and all the snow fell above the park’s elevation, which ranges from about 9-10,000 feet. The next storm was starting to weaken as it approached eastern Colorado, and I was starting to get nervous. I watched the park webcam the afternoon before my planned sunrise adventure, and as it got closer to sunrise, the parking lot at the visitor center just looked a bit wet, with no snow to be seen. Finally, just as it started to get too dark to see anything from the webcam, I noticed a light coating of snow on some of the structures in the background of the lot, and I was convinced that there would be enough snow to make the sunrise interesting.
I got up a couple hours before sunrise, and as I drove up through Woodland Park and then Divide, I could see the light snow on the sides of the road. By the time I got to Mueller, there was even some snow in the road on some of the windy curves that lead up through the park, and it was clear that I was the first vehicle to make the drive up the park road that morning, so I had sunrise all to myself. I hiked a bit up Overlook Trail, and took some time lapse of the clouds rolling off the west side of Pikes Peak and out towards the south and west. The glow on the Sangre de Cristo Range in the distance was beautiful, and I took the photo at the header of this story. I could even make out the 14,000 peaks of the Crestone group on the left side of the photo, more than 70 miles away!
I took a number of photos as I hiked back along the trail; the light was magical as it shone through the brilliant aspen trees and onto frosty ground and grass.
Usually, the “magic hour” that is best suited for photography last about an hour after sunrise (what a coincidence…) but this morning, the light and colors just kept on shining well after sunrise, so I spent all morning photographing the snow and aspen. My favorite spot was at Peak View Pond, where I found some great subjects in the leaves and reflections.
There’s only one first snow at Mueller each year, and I already am looking forward to next year, for this great combination of magic in the company of Pikes Peak and the aspen forests of Teller County.
Because the Bells are the most awesomest thing to photo, EVER! You can go there on even the dullest, grayest showery morning of September and still walk away with superb photos that will get 3 million likes on FB, and Peter Lik will beg you to hang your prints in his Aspen Gallery. Never mind that you will be elbow-to-elbow with 200 other photographers who share your undying love of the Bells, because the three inches between you and the guy-leading-the-workshop next to you will result in a slight angular difference that will make your photo your unique vision! 🙂
With no vacation time off from work this season, I had to make do with a weekend
which did not look too promising for a good sunrise. But, it looked like there was at least some chance of light Sunday morning before a storm moved in, so that was my target. With little time to plan, I stayed at a hostel Saturday night, then headed for the Maroon Bells at about 4:30 am. Since there had been a thunderstorm the night before, and the main area of rain was still on the way, I wasn’t very hopeful. But my main goal was to shoot some time lapse for a video I am working on, and the beauty of time lapse is that even overcast skies can be interesting when set in motion.
When I headed out from Maroon Lake, even in the darkness I could tell that there wasn’t much hope for spectacular sunrise light on the Bells. But there was a glimmer of light on the southeast horizon, which gave me some hope. My plan was to hike up to Crater Lake, about two miles and 1,000 feet above Maroon Lake. In my opinion, the views of North Maroon Peak and the Bells are superior from Crater–plus it gives one the option of shooting from more varied directions. There are few options from Maroon Lake, especially when you are surrounded by throngs of other photographers.
The hike up to Crater was quiet and peaceful. A couple of guys passed me on the way to climbing Pyramid Peak, one of the toughest 14,000 foot-plus mountains in Colorado to climb; they were seemingly unconcerned about the downhill trend in the weather. When I got to Crater with plenty of time to spare for sunrise, I was the only person up there. All the signs posted warning of bears in the area were a little unnerving, but I saw no signs of bears. As sunrise approached, it became clear that the higher clouds above would block most if not all of the sunrise light from hitting the Bells, so I shifted strategies and set up from the far side of Crater Lake looking east, where I could see the light was trying to break through at the horizon. Just before sunrise, there were more breaks in the clouds to the east, and the sky began to light up in hues of pink and then yellow. The reflections on the lake were ever-changing, and made for an exciting time lapse. I felt sorry for the mob down at Maroon Lake–they probably missed all of the excitement that was happening behind them as they focused on the gray skies above the Bells. The photo above was at peak color; without a second camera I was forced to halt my time lapse to grab a shot of the spectacular sunrise. As expected, a few rain drops started to fall as I made my way back down to the parking lot.
I didn’t come away with the ‘classic’ views of the Bells that draw the crowds to the area each year, but I was far from disappointed. I just hope my secret stays safe in the coming years, so I can continue to have Crater Lake all to myself!
Triple Falls is one of those icons every landscape photographer has on their ‘bucket list’. Most photographers were introduced to this location by the late Galen Rowell’s photos of this area taken in the 90’s. My introduction came by way of one of Galen’s protege’s– Marc Adamus, a well known adventure photographer based in the Pacific Northwest. His fresh look at the place got me thinking about getting a shot of the falls with some unusual conditions. I was hoping for some fresh snow, but the snow fell a little bit too high–not quite cold enough in early September! Fortunately the strong west winds ensured a bank of fog would form west of the Continental Divide. A quick look at the weather maps convinced me that would happen. So my plan shifted to trying to get a shot of the falls as fog cleared from the peaks at sunrise.
The stars were out as I headed up Going to the Sun to get to Logan Pass. A large bull moose stood in the middle of the road at one point, and I had to break to avoid hitting him. I could see the clouds banked on the other side of the divide, and when I finally got to the parking area it was completely fogged in, and pretty dark as well. I was a bit wary of hiking in the dark off trail in heavy fog through prime grizzly bear habitat. I ran into another photographer, Denis Dessoliers, as we both prepared to hike out to the falls, and we agreed to stick together to minimize the bear threat. The fog was dense enough that I was not optimistic that it would clear for sunrise. Here’s Denis setting up at the head of the falls.
For the next half hour or so, before and after sunrise, the fog toyed with us and kept revealing pieces of the surrounding peaks but never the whole grand landscape. While Denis patiently waited, I ran around frantically from spot to spot, trying to grab a shot of the emerging peaks with the falls in the foreground!
Finally, the fog started to break up a bit as the sun tried to rise above the distant peaks. It was a magical period of time as the light bounced around the fog bank and pushed its way over the peaks. The light and the spectacle were changing dramatically from second to second, and I blasted through about half a memory card as I shot from the edge of the waterfalls.
With the best light behind us, We hiked to another waterfall and grabbed some more photos as the fog continued to make advances and retreats into the valley. The atmosphere was special; nothing can really top morning fog in the high country of the northern Rockies!
When we got back to the parking area at the pass, it was well past sunrise but the fog was still hugging the divide and spilling over into the eastern portion of the park. I grabbed a few last shots of the mountains and fog before heading back down the scenic highway. It was a great way to wind down my short stay in Glacier–hopefully when I get back I’ll be able to go deep into the back-country to see the heart and soul of Glacier.
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.
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!
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…
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!
*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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.