Autumn in Rocky Mountain National Park

There is no better time than autumn for a camping trip in Rocky Mountain National Park! The colors and the wildlife action are at their peak, the weather is cool and dry and the crowds of summer have largely subsided. So photo buddy Kevin and I loaded up our gear and steered towards Estes Park for the once a year elk photography bonanza. Last year we only gave ourselves one day and found there was far too much to take it all in.

Headwaters of the Big ThompsonThis year we decided to give ourselves the best part of two days, a nice trip up on the first day for the sunset scene followed  by a night of camping with the idea of catching the sunrise action on the second day. The only  problem with this plan was that even two days isn’t enough to take it all in! Rocky Mountain National Park is so vast and beautiful that you probably could not even take it in if you had a week to explore it.

But our plan as it was came together perfectly. We arrived in the park by early afternoon giving us time to look around, survey all the best elk viewing locations and get our gear set up for the evening appearance of the Moraine Park Elk Herd. And quite a scene it was… The main herd was lorded over by one huge bull who stayed busy until dark keeping his cows together while watching diligently and listening intently for any

Herd of Elk on a Foggy Morning

threats to his domain. At one point he heard the bugling of a rival bull over the ridge and trotted off to address the threat. Some unruly cows crossed the road and his harem was split, which would have been no big deal were it not for the unbroken line of cars and spectators right through the middle. Some of the cows were afraid to cross so eventually the big male returned and was forced to address the chaos. He crossed the road and ventured to the distant

Elk Herd on a Beautiful Rocky Mountain Evening

boundaries of his domain to warn off some bachelors that were nosing around his perimeter. The park ranger patrolling the road, when she discovered the issue, separated the crowd, moved some cars and made way for the herd to pass back and forth. The bull was then able to round up all the wayward females and reassemble them in the meadow on the west side of the road.

The inevitable onslaught of darkness finally brought the photography to an end and we

Elk Herd on a Beautiful Rocky Mountain Evening

make the short journey over to Moraine Park Campground to set up camp. Tent campers are provided an entire loop on the far end of the campground away from all the RV’s and their generators, so we proceeded to our designated spot in D loop. It’s a beautiful quiet campground with clean facilities, flat tent pads, bear boxes and fire pits. It’s also the only campground open in the winter months, which is fine but if you plan to go there you should definitely call the park for a reservation. Due to the presence of bears there are no trash receptacles, any packaging or food wrappers will need to be stored in the bear box until can get to the main dumpster at the entrance.

Cold Foggy Morning in Moraine Park

I’m not going to lie, the autumn night air is going to be chilly so bring the proper winter wear! It was only 35 degrees at sunrise when we once again took up our position in Moraine park. The big bull and his harem were already gathered on the east side of the road in the heavy fog of the cold morning. It was here that I captured some of my most dramatic imagery as the morning sun lit the fog and the autumn leaves in the background. The animals were quite active, making use of a tripod a bit difficult but necessary due to the subtle morning light.

Autumn on Trail Ridge Road

By the time the sun was completely up we were ready to check on some other locations and wander into Estes Park for some breakfast while we discussed the plans for the day. At length we decided to break down camp and explore Fall River Road, the old dirt road that carried travelers to the park summit which is now the Trail Ridge Road visitor center.  Fall River Road is a rough nine mile one way dirt road that skirts the south side of the ridge with beautiful views of Longs Peak to the east with a beautiful hike and waterfall about halfway into the drive. The falls were in harsh light by this time, with shadows too deep for  good photography but that didn’t stop me from capturing some video with my phone 🙂

The wind and cold on the summit were horrendous, blowing so hard that I was barely

Summit on Trail Ridge Road

able  to stand still enough to even capture this phone cam picture! After scouring the visitor center for a couple of souvenirs we began the drive through the fierce winds down Trail Ridge Road in view of massive Longs Peak. I tried a couple of spots for pictures but the wind and harsh afternoon light got the better of me, not overly excited about the images I captured from the high alpine reaches of the park.

By the time we were back in the valley it was early afternoon and Bear Lake was the last thing we had in mind to explore. However by that time the park was filling with visitors and the parking lot was full, according to the sign at the park and ride. A ride on the bus with an armload of camera gear wasn’t too appealing by this time so we decided to call it a day and head for home.

Today of course finds me at my computer monitor looking over almost 900 images and reveling in the memory of an amazing trip. As always the best of  the day’s capture are available for purchase on my website as wall art on glossy metal and acrylic sheets, stretched canvas and traditional framing and matting. Also available are tons of cool gift items, apparel, tech gadgets and handy household items with a S.W. Krull Imaging picture.

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Sangre de Cristo Mountains Up Close

I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time… to go see the Sangre de Cristo Range of Colorado up close. I can see them from my favorite vantage points on my hiking trails around home, but I have never actually seen them up close. I tried once but the road on which I turned was in a valley and I didn’t really get to see much except foothills.

Arkansas River by S.W. Krull Imaging

I almost went up to Waterton Canyon to look for bighorn sheep today, but I was tired and a six mile hike up the dirt road didn’t seem to be in my best interests, so the Sangres it was! Drove down High Park Drive from Cripple Creek over to Highway 9 and then down to 50 where me and the big dog proceeded west along the Arkansas River. I had to make one stop on one of the many pull outs along the river so Big Dog could stretch his legs. Didn’t get the big camera out there, but I did get a nice shot of the river with my phone camera 🙂

Finally we arrived at Highway 69 where we turned south and it was just a few miles up a

Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range of Colorado

canyon  before the big mountains came into view. I took my first opportunity to pull over and get some shots because the light was good, but rapidly changing. I brought along both of my zoom lenses, the 70-200 and the 100-400 and it turns out they both came in handy. My polarizer only fits on the 70-200 and there were a few times when the sun was bright and from the side where that filter came in handy! Moments of sunlight and longer periods of overcast skies were a challenge today but by the time I got to Westcliffe I was satisfied that I had captured what I came for.

Westcliffe is a quaint little mountain town way out in the boondocks in southern Colorado. It took but a few minutes to cover the entire town in both directions as I looked hopefully for a micro brewery. There were none to be found and my phone didn’t have a signal there so that a search could be performed so I just decided to head on back. There was a BBQ place there that looked intriguing but I wasn’t that hungry yet and there were some antique stores and art galleries and a coffee shop that also caught my eye! Sometime when I can get an earlier start I’ll have to go back and check it out 🙂

Beautiful Herd of Mule Deer

On the trip back I was keeping a close watch on the hillsides hoping for a deer or elk sighting and just when I thought I was going to be disappointed, I encountered a herd of mule deer right along the side of the road! I snapped a few out the truck window as the herd moved up the mountainside. This bunch was so cute, all of them looking at me, especially the three all perfectly lined up in the middle of the frame! Eventually they had moved far enough away that I was able to get out of the truck without scaring them off and captured a few images while they looked on from this neat looking rocky knoll (below center). Some sunlight would have been nice for these pictures but by this time the sky was pretty well overcast. Oh well, it was still fun to see them.

All in all I collected about 110 images for the day so I have a lot of processing to do! As always, these images and more are available as wall art and gift items on my website. Please check back in often as I will be displaying many more!

Beautiful Herd of Mule Deer

Lot of Catching Up

Not much happens in the world of stock photography between Christmas and the new year… But in January the publishers will go back to work and begin their ad campaigns and projects for the new year. So I am spending the time catching up. I still have

Historic Mine in Autumn Aspen

hundreds of photographs from throughout the year that I have not yet processed and uploaded.

I remember this photo shoot well, just as the leaves were reaching peak color in the Cripple Creek area. I did load a few of these into the autumn gallery on my website, but for the most part any images I work on now will be uploaded to my stock agencies where they will be on sale for commercial purposes.

Road Trip Salida

Took Big Dog out to the mountain for our morning hike as usual and got some really nice shots of the fresh snow on the Sangre de Cristo along the way. Completed the relaxing trek through the local mountains and Big Dog jumped back into the cab of the old Dodge. Then I just sat there thinking… I really don’t want to go back home and my thoughts turned to the distant mountain range that I had just been photographing. I have been longing for a closer visit to those mountains, but there is always something… too much to do, not enough gas money, you name it. And today I was thinking… gas will cost too much, the pictures probably won’t sell, I don’t even know if its a nice day there, blah, blah, blah.

And I still couldn’t go home. Got to thinking, sometime someday has to be today! So off we went for some Gatoraid and a breakfast burrito. Once I had made that little move towards leaving town we were off. Headed down High Park Drive towards Canon City. This time though, instead of going on into Canon we turned west on Highway 50.

Autumn Arkansas River

It wasn’t long before I was rewarded with some beautiful views of the Arkansas River lined with beautiful golden trees of the Colorado autumn. I had been rafting on this section of river many years ago in my Leadville 100 running days but it was so long ago. Thirty years had pretty much erased my memory of this section of river and lately I have been wondering where to find it. Well I found it and now I have a river to get some winter ice flow pictures which is also something I have been planning! As we got closer to Salida I came across this wonderful view of the river and autumn trees with the Sangre de Cristo in the background and as luck would have it there was a great little pullout from the road where I could walk Big Dog and get this shot. I think it is my favorite of the day 🙂

Storm Clouds on the SangreCotopaxi is about where I thought I would really start to see some views of the Sangre but unfortunately I discovered why I had not been impressed with the Sangre all those years ago. For one I wasn’t really looking for them then, and two… there is a wretched ugly ridge between the river and the mountains making it all but impossible to get a decent shot of the mountains. Apparently the only way you can get the best view is to take Highway 285 south from Buena Vista or maybe Highway 69 south from Texas Creek to Westcliffe. But today I chose to make the turn back east on Highway 285 back home. Perhaps  the thing to do would be to just make a run down to Westcliffe and then back up to Texas Creek for a return trip back home the way  I came. I was going to look for a nice micro brew in Salida but a stop at the time I went through didn’t feel right, I was still thinking I was going to get some more pictures. I did get a couple  of the Collegiate Peaks from an overlook on Highway 285, nothing to jump up and down about.

Cliffs in the Sangre de Cristo

But on the upside I did get some really nice pictures of the river and of the Sangre in the brief moments that they were visible. Perhaps better planning would have made it a better day but now that I know the lay of the land I am in better position to make a plan. The turnoff to Westcliffe was well marked so I’ll know just what to do next time! As far as camera and equipment go, I used my 70-200 F4L lens today with a polarizer on and it looks like that is a good choice for the winter months as the sun is making its way along it’s most southerly route. The polarizer works best when the sun is close to a 90 degree angle from the direction that the lens is pointing and that worked out well today.  I would like to get a much earlier start though so that the light is more at my back for some of the early shots, giving me a nice warm glow on the mountains and no need for a polarizer.

Well as always, these photographs and more are now available on my website for purchase as prints and wall art. I finally also created a special gallery for the Sangre de Cristo Range that I have been shooting so often these days! Just click on the gallery and then click on an image you like! All available products including wall art, framed art and cool household items and gifts will become visible!

Fall to Winter

What a whirlwind couple of weeks! Haven’t been online much as I have been shooting like crazy to capture as much of my favorite time of year as possible! Pretty sure I went out every day to document the changing aspen leaves in this beautiful corner of the Pike National Forest of Colorado. Unfortunately the window of opportunity up here at 10,000 feet of elevation is small. Tremendous winds, storms and rapidly changing temperatures make sure our beautiful aspen leaves don’t last long!

Snowy Sangre de Cristo

Yesterday left no doubt that the waning days of autumn are near an end as a snowstorm moved in and temperatures plummeted to single digits on the mercury scale. We were supposed to get up to a foot but only received a couple of inches here in Cripple Creek. I was going to take a day off from shooting and just rest but when I saw that the Sangre were blessed a fresh blanket of heavy snow I was again compelled to get out and shoot!

Golden Aspen of Autumn in ColoradoIt was a beautiful autumn here in the mountains around the Cripple Creek and Victor Mining District. One of the prettiest I have seen in years and I definitely made the best of it! So far I have only had time to post a couple out of the hundreds of images I was able to capture over the last few weeks, but I’m sure that I will be getting many more done in the cold and darkness of the winter months when even my trusty Dodge Ram won’t be able to get me into the high mountain passes.

Florence Brewing Company

In the midst of all the shooting I had a great visit with my family who drove out from Iowa and Missouri to see me and my new home here high in the Colorado Rockies. Have to say my favorite part of that visit was our little road trip to Florence to visit the Florence Brewing Company 🙂 I had always wanted to go to Florence but our original destination was Canon City to visit a micro brew there. Unfortunately micro brews do not appear to be a big thing in that town and by the time we got done searching we were not very far from Florence where we knew for sure we were going to be rewarded with a tasty libation. Florence is a beautiful little town and the Florence Brewing Company is truly the crown jewel for micro brew in southern Colorado. The brewery is located in an amazing historical building that was at one time a sheriffs office and more recently a printing company. The building was

Florence Brewing Bar

relocated from another town brick by brick by the original owner who so prized his building that he couldn’t part with it when he moved to Florence. There are many flavorful choices of brew to suit the beer palate of all enthusiasts and the atmosphere is friendly and cheery. I heartily recommend a visit to the Florence Brewing Company!

For now I’ll be working on these pictures, but am going to try to get a road trip to Cottonwood Pass and maybe the mountain goat viewing area. Hopefully I can get there before the pass is buried under snow for the winter.

The holidays are on the way and I need to make plug for Christmas cards with one of my winter images! The prices are pretty reasonable and the quality is great! So be sure to visit the Rocky Mountain Winter and Wildlife galleries on my site for your favorite snowy mountain picture! Just click on the gallery and on the pictures you like and the products and prices will become available!

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!

These images and more are now for sale as wall art on my website, including glossy metal and acrylic sheets, wrapped canvas and with traditional framing and matting!

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!

These images and more are available on my website as wall art, available on glossy metal and acrylic sheets, wrapped canvas and traditional mat and frame. Also available are tons of cool household and gift items including t-shirts, phone cases, battery chargers, yoga mats, shower curtains, throw pillows and more! Images can be viewed there from newest to oldest, or by category. In gallery view just click the category that you are most interested in and the appropriate images will be displayed. Click the images you like and receive product possibilities and pricing will be displayed! Businesses requiring commercial use of my images can view the stock portal for licensing information.