Do Over

Well, for whatever reason, yesterday’s fall picture trip was a bust. I failed to notice power lines in a lot of the images and those things are really time consuming to remove with Photoshop. Also it was too windy so the blowing leaves just made the images look blurry. And the wasted time… yesterday I decided that it would be a good idea to drive up Rampart Range Road  which I just noticed has made the most dangerous roads list, and photograph the Peak behind the golden aspen of autumn. However, the golden aspen are still green up there, the road is absolutely wretched and the Peak just looks like a big brown rock. Outside of Kansas, it was just about the ugliest scene ever.

Historic Gold Mine Colorado

So as I was pondering what adventure today might bring I was thinking a do over was probably the most profitable remedy possible. The autumn leaves around Cripple Creek seem to be the most magnificent that I have seen anywhere and the loop is an easy one to complete. So I arose early this morning and loaded up Big Dog for a hike. Fortunately we were able to beat the wind this morning so the leaves were behaving nicely on the trees and as luck would have it there were the coolest cirrus clouds hanging around high in the bright blue Colorado sky. They reminded me of angels… perhaps there were angels helping me today 🙂

After our little hike we headed south to Victor in hopes of getting some images of the mines and the north face of the Peak… without power lines :-|I was thinking that maybe the polarizer was to blame for some of yesterday’s failure but I could see the colors were so much more saturated with my sunglasses on that it was going to be necessary to use the dark blue glass again. Today the effect was amazing… it really brought out the blue sky and the angel clouds! To account for the one stop of light loss I was just extra careful to steady the camera on the hood of the old Dodge or on handy fence posts. Now that I’m back home in front of the computer I can say I am extremely happy with the results. The images are clear and sharp, the blue sky magnificent, and the colors deeply saturated just as I had hoped.Pikes Peak in Auutmn Aspen

Now I’m ready for tomorrow… truck all gassed up and maintained, pictures backed up, memory chips cleared, camera equipment ready to go… and with a clear head from our nice hike today I think tomorrow’s destination is going to be Twin Lakes. I have seen some images from there lately that make me confident that the leaves have achieved  peak color, the water should be awesome, the sky clear and the temperature amazing! I made that trip a decade ago and ruined the day with a bad choice. When I rolled into Leadville I went out to Turquoise Lake first only to discover that there really isn’t any autumn color there, only pine trees. By the time I got to Twin Lakes it was an ugly cloudy gray day… the trees up Independence Pass were beautiful, but the gray skies and wind made the water choppy and murky and with no light on the color it was a total bust. It has been a long wait for my return to that location, but it should be worth it!

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Trail Ridge Adventure

Been waiting for this outing for a long time! Vehicle repairs, too many hours at work, too many life commitments… This trip to Rocky Mountain National Park has been on delay for an entire decade! Finally, yesterday was the day… truck running in tip top shape, camera equipment all working and autumn in full swing 🙂

Set my alarm for 2:30 a.m., in fact I set two alarms… didn’t want to miss this event because I didn’t wake up in time! 1:30 a.m. came around and suddenly I was wide awake. Thought about rolling over for another hour but my heart was already pounding and more sleep was just not going to happen!

It’s been hot lately, in fact I heard Colorado Springs set a record for most days over 90 degrees in September. But as I sat in the dark sipping my Morning Joe it felt unusually cool and there was a strange sound of water dripping. Thinking that the kitchen faucet might be dripping I wandered in for my second cup to notice that the dripping sound was coming from outside, a cool rain was steadily drenching the southern mountains. My first inclination was to call my buddy and suggest we pick another day… Second thoughts reminded me however that weather is my friend, some cool mist can turn an ordinary mountain meadow in to a spectacular moody mystical masterpiece!

Soon I was off and on my way to pick up my buddy at the planned time of 4:30 a.m. in hopes of entering the park at about sunrise. It was not until we were on our way did we finally decide to enter the park from the west side in hopes of catching some wildlife in the western meadows during the rain while exploring Bear Lake on the east side after the rain had hopefully ceased.

We hit Winter Park just as the sun was rising in the east with a fog bank in view to the north, probably hovering over Grand Lake but it had mostly dissipated by the time we arrived at that point. The sun was gaining in strength as we entered the park, unfortunately maybe a little too much strength as there was no wildlife to be found 😦 We eventually encountered a small herd of elk hiding in the shade of the dense forest along the road, but nothing like the large herds we were hoping for.

Autumn Tundra on Trail Ridge

Soon we were past the bottoms and on our way up to the lofty elevations of Trail Ridge Road, The drive wasn’t as long as I remembered and soon we were above tree line looking at some of the finest scenery Colorado has to offer!

The visitor center was the first place that looked worthy of a stop along the “highest continuous motorway in the United States“. It was cold there at 12,300 feet of elevation and the wind was blowing hard. We grabbed a couple of cameras and made a beeline for the gift shop where I was hoping for a nice heavy hooded sweatshirt as my prize for reaching the summit. Unfortunately I didn’t find just what I was looking for so I left the gift shop empty handed. As we made our way outdoors the unmistakable sound of a bugling bull elk filled the crisp thin air, so we ventured onto the observation deck to see if the source could be located. Far beneath the visitor center in the colorful valley below the huge bull elk was visible. Clamped on my long lens and steadied the camera on the wall for a few shots of the distant beast hoping that this would not be the closest I was going to get to the majestic animals.

Storm Clouds on Trail Ridge

Soon we found ourselves traversing the pinnacle of the drive, hugging the yellow line all the way! It looked like the clouds were going to clear and a magnificent warm afternoon was in the offing… Lol, soon Colorado struck back and it was snowing in earnest as we explored  one of the many trailheads on the way down the east side of the drive. A quick look back at the high peaks revealed an angry looking snowstorm enveloping the rugged range, well worth taking the time for a few shots of the action high in the majestic western mountains.

By the time we got to the lower elevations of the east side of the park the snow was but a fond memory. The sun was beating down and the Gortex had to come off. We did begin to encounter a few small herds of elk and deer but in fact it was so hot by that time that the animals were hiding in the shade. Hard shade surrounded by bright sun makes for impossible wildlife photography.

So I was thinking that Bear Lake is surrounded by tall mountains, a location that might be enhanced by some direct light from above so I turned the blue Dodge to the south towards the lake. Along the way we tried our hand at some motion blur whitewater along the creek, but getting to a location where the water was even visible proved to be a daunting task. In fact it soon became apparent that getting the water shots was more than daunting… it was downright impossible! Back to the task at hand, photographing the lake and mountain scenery. Soon we neared the the lake and encountered an unwelcome packed parking lot but by some miracle we managed to snag a spot, albeit the most distant one possible.

Bear Lake Peaks

Knowing the price that would be paid in footsteps for leaving some necessary piece of equipment behind, we loaded ourselves up with four camera bodies and probably twice that many lenses. That plus lens filters, extenders, maps and sustenance for a long hike made for a pretty heavy load! The arsenal of camera equipment proved to be well worth it though, as the location demanded nearly all of it’s use. Wide angles to take in the lake and the magnificent scenery beyond, long lenses to capture the rugged mountains surrounding the water and polarizers to enhance the water and filter out bright sunlight! Of course all that gear also serves to encourage the tourists to run up and hand you their phone cameras in hopes of a professional looking free portrait 😦 Oh well… what do you do. Should have had some business cards handy! Live and learn.

Finally we were satisfied that we had sufficiently captured the lake scene and headed for the truck. The sun was still beating down making good wildlife photography unlikely, so we decided to try our luck with some lunch in Estes Park. After some quick reconnaissance we decided upon some nice barbecue at Smokin’ Dave’s. We still had a lot of work to do in the park, but I was confident that one pint of Smokin’ Brunette was not a bad idea 🙂 At least I think that’s what that particular brew was called! I tried to make a post at the time but my phone wasn’t cooperating 😦 Anyway, great place, great beer, I’ll definitely be returning for more!!!

Finally by 5:00 p.m. the sun was losing some of it’s power and we ventured back into the park. I had once encountered a huge herd of elk in Morraine Park in a snowstorm so it seemed worth a check to see if the elk might also like that park on a sunny autumn afternoon as well 🙂 As we neared the meadow it quickly became apparent that my instincts were correct… at least by the sheer number of vehicles that had gathered along the road! It seemed like we had to drive forever to reach the end of the line where we could finally find our own place to park… once again, the long walk back meant that we were going to be packing everything from the previous hike, plus tripods for shooting in the inevitable darkness that was soon to be upon us.

Pair of Rocky Mountain Elk

As we neared the scene, the reason for the large crowd became apparent. A huge bull elk in perfect late afternoon light and his harem were enjoying the mountain grass on the west end of the meadow. Unafraid of the people and unconcerned by their antics, the elk were just going about their business of being elk. The majestic bull appeared to be posing for pictures, stopping occasionally to rear back his head and voice his loud opinion. Here we tried every conceivable combination of camera, lens and filter in hopes of the perfect capture. This one was my favorite of the day. There were many that I really like, but this one with the young cow in the scene seems to best depict the moment.

Finally darkness fell and the the elk began to meander off to the east further from the throngs of people with their big lenses, phones and ipads. We were tired but happy in the knowledge that we had made the best of the day and would be coming home with even more good images than we could have possibly hoped for 🙂 Already we are plotting a return to the park, and possibly one of the nearby campgrounds in hopes of capturing the activity that is sure to occur in the park at first light. One day in the park was good… but two would be even better!

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Autumn Blitz Day 1

Do or Die… my most lucrative time of the year, autumn in the Rockies. Today was my first full day off in the midst of peak aspen leaf season and so far I have made the best of it.  Woke up early and took off for the trailhead with Big Dog. After a short analysis of the situation I decided on the polarizer to add some drama to the bright clouds and sky. Not too much of great autumn interest along the trail today, was kind of hoping for a deer or elk as a subject, or maybe a neat shot of the mining equipment against some golden aspen, but no such luck. There were a few trees changing in the direction of the Sangre de Cristo so I tried a couple of captures in that direction, time will tell if it was worth the effort.

Autumn Color on Historic Mines

After the hike we were off to the Goldfield mine fields where there was one nice view of a series of abandoned mines in the midst of a colorful aspen grove. That turned out to be one of my favorites of the day 🙂

Then it was off to an unofficial overlook at the top of Victor Pass for a view of the north face of Pikes Peak. Upon arrival there I was surprised to see a lineup of ladies in lawn chairs and umbrellas… looked like a picnic might be in the making! Turns out they were the local Cripple Creek painting club on scene to paint the magnificent view on such a beautiful morning. Lol, I needed to get in front of them to get the shot I needed but was hesitating… the ladies assured me that I would not be accidentally painted into their pictures if I quick jumped in for my photographs… Which cracked me up because for a second that exact thought crossed my mind! Guess I’m not used to seeing painters at my scenes 🙂

Autumn on Pikes Peak Colorado

After that I decided on the loop behind the Newmont mine to see if maybe the aspen were in peak form at the top of that pass. Looks like the trees in Cripple Creek are going to need another week or so to reach their full color so I didn’t bother to stop, deciding to hurry home to process the ones I already had.

Tomorrow will be a much bigger day… planning to leave the house by 4 a.m. to make Rocky Mountain National Park by sunrise. I will hit Bear Lake first I think to capture the sunrise on the lake, followed by an attempt at seeing some wildlife in Morraine Park. From there I hope to drive Trail Ridge Road followed by some more wildlife viewing on the west side of the park at dusk. Also hoping for my first visit to Fontenot’s Restaurant for some blackened catfish… back in the day the wife and I used to make a special trip up to Winter Park just for the pleasure of a meal at one of my favorite places 🙂

After that, who knows? I still have my sights on Quandary Peak in hopes of bagging at least one 14er this season! I would also like to make it up to Twin Lakes and maybe some fall colors along the river along the bottom of Independence Pass. Anyway, stay tuned, I’m just  getting started 🙂

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Bighorn Fortune

I always take my Canon DSLR with me… usually to no avail. Sometimes I tell people that I carry it as protection from wildlife… as long as I have it with me there is no chance that I will encounter any wild animals 😦 Fortunately this day was different, I encountered a herd of bighorn sheep on the side of the mountain posing in a grove  of beautiful autumn colored aspen 🙂

Leaping Bighorn

I quick snapped off a few pictures and then noticed that the nimble beasts were intent upon crossing over a large crevice by jumping from one large boulder to the next. So I quick set my camera to ISO 400 in hopes of getting a sharp action picture. One by one the critters deftly leapt from one boulder to the next over to a rock clearing where they could rest. As fortune would have it, they decided to take their afternoon break right in a grove of aspen trees that were some of the few that have already taken on their autumn colors.

It was a bit bright by that time in the afternoon and I noticed that my highlight warning was indicating quite a bit of  clipping on the light end of the scale so I decided to reach into my pack for the polarizer. One quick turn of the dark filter and the leaves took on the expected amazing deep saturated coloring that I was envisioning.

Trio of Autumn Bighorn

The sheep, safe on their high precarious perch were completely unconcerned by the activities of any humans far below and I was able to shoot for as long as I wanted. When the entire herd had made it across the boulders to the clearing the leader began another short migration to the next vantage point but I knew I had the shot I wanted and departed the scene as well.

My plan for today was to head over towards Breck in hopes of scouting out the trailhead to Quandary Peak. I’m not too confident about completing a 14er in style this year, but the thought of spending another entire winter thinking, “maybe next year” is too disheartening to contemplate. I have to see 14,000 feet this year, that’s all there is to it and 14,265 foot Quandary looks doable even in my less that optimal physical conditioning. According to 14ers.com the East Ridge route is only a little over six miles with a difficulty rating of Class 1 all the way. Since I already live at nearly 10,000 feet and regularly climb to over 11,000 feet extra elevation training is not that big of a concern.

So next week I will make the drive to scout out a camp site on Hoosier Pass and have a lookat trailhead parking. Don’t want to be fumbling around in the dark looking for a place to park when I should be getting a jump start on the climb!

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Autumn 2018

My favorite and most lucrative time of year for photography is getting off to a slow start… The flu, a lot of clouds and gloom, more truck trouble and too much working for a living are definitely a drag so far this season. Fortunately the truck is still running, just making a very annoying noise, perhaps a worn fan belt so at least I have been able to get around a bit, including the short drive over to my favorite trail where there are a few trees and sometimes even some elk and deer to shoot… Not going to rat out the location of my deer to hunters though! And finally after months of complete black out of the Sangre de Cristo and Collegiate Peaks, the smoke has cleared enough to actually see them through the low hanging haze.

This herd of mule deer bucks have been hanging around the trail head and seem to be getting warmed up to me a bit so that I can get a few shots off before they run off into the wilderness. Looks like they are quite healthy going into autumn so they should have no trouble surviving the long rocky mountain winter.

Today I noticed the clouds moving into the Arkansas Valley between me and the Sangre de Cristo so I was thinking this might be the perfect time of year for a shot of the  Victor / Goldfield mines with the Sangre in the background. Well worth the short drive up there, this is one of the best images I have ever captured of these mines and the Sangre.Victor Gold Mining District

Some new snow on the distant Collegiate Peaks got me to thinking that there might be a new dusting of snow on Pikes Peak as well, so a short drive to the top of Victor Pass was in order. Indeed there was a light layer of fresh snow to behold along with a nice view of the massive grove of aspen trees that have barely begun to show off their autumn glory.

Pikes Peak AutumnLater today I am going to drive over to the repair garage and see if I can schedule an oil change and have them take a listen to the terrible squealing I have had to endure for the last couple of weeks… hope it isn’t anything too serious, thinking maybe the power steering pump might be going out but we shall see. Hoping to have all this done before late September, I’m getting my first vacation in three years to go shoot some fall color. Wouldn’t it be nice if I was so successful that I didn’t have to even go back to work! Lol, highly unlikely but it is hopes and dreams that do keep us going!

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Go With Your Gut

Finally over the hump… The blazing sun of summer is beginning to fade and Labor Day Weekend is finally here. Two of my biggest photography obstacles are nearing an end for the year as the tourists pack up Monday and head en masse to whence they came and the color killing direct sunlight continues it’s steady retreat to the winter solstice in the south.

Sunset on the Sangre

As evening approached yesterday I was thinking the clouds looked like they were setting up for a nice sunset. The smoke from the summer fires is slowly dissipating and the Sangre de Cristo are becoming visible again so I decided to go with my gut and head over to the overlook with Big Dog and the camera. On the way out the door I could see that my instincts were correct… a huge storm cloud was already glowing in the beautiful orange early evening light. By the time I got to the overlook the scene was even better, layers of misty mountains to the south back lit by the soft glow of the evening sun setting in the west. As an extra bonus, there was a small herd of mule deer grazing in a meadow that were willing to hang around for a few minutes as I prepared for the sunset, that is at least until Big Dog noticed them and voiced his hello 😦

Magestic Buck Deer

Normally I would have just stayed in the one spot to catch the last vestiges of the day, but I had another gut feeling… that the valley visible from the bridge was going to provide an even more magnificent vantage point for the light show that was unfolding. Not sure it was actually better, but it was at least equally amazing and also gave me a view of the storm cloud that I had seen earlier. A few shots there and I decided to try to capture the storm cloud with the Sangre in the background… off to the Grouse Mountain parking lot. There are so many power lines in the parking area that there was no choice but to grab the leash and head up the mountainside with Big Dog in hopes that I would arrive at the top of the first ridge before the sun became too low to provide any picturesque light.

Sunset on the Sangre

The sun was retreating fast, so Big Dog and I had to make a run for it. And I can tell you, I am not used to running up mountains right at this point in my life! But we did make it in time and I was able to use the gate post to steady the camera for a few last shots before the sun disappeared altogether. All that remained now was a walk in the dark back to the parking lot. It was a great evening of photography and I’m glad I went with my gut… Had I listened to my mind, I would have just thought, “naaaa, we haven’t had a decent sunset all summer.” and just sat it out on the couch!

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Dog Days of Summer

My photography really struggles this time of year. The landscape is all dried up and the lighting is harsh. Sunrise is way too early and by sunset I am so tired I’m ready to drop. Hence… not many pictures taken lately.

Sunrise Mine

But the time has not been wasted. I have had an Instagram account for a long time but it was pretty lame, only a couple of dumb pictures of myself taken with my phone. I briefly tried to use the laptop to upload a couple of better ones from my DSLR, but couldn’t find a button that would let me do that. So my account has languished for years, until now. I purchased a data wire so my laptop and my phone can work together and found a way to upload my best ones from my laptop 🙂

Don’t know if an Instagram portfolio is going to do me any good. I got off to a roaring start with tons of followers but they are slowly beginning to dwindle, probably in direct correlation with the number of images I am uploading. Time will tell, but I am having fun going through all my old best images, reminiscing about the adventures that I have undertaken 🙂

Morning Bucks

Did pick up a couple of nice shots of this mine the other day though… Big Dog and I working hiking out in the mining district hoping to see some wildlife. As we were strolling along just after sunrise I happened to glance up at the mine and noticed the beautiful splash of color directly behind it. That was about it for the day, but sometimes one good one per outing is a pretty good day!

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