Supreme Commander of the Valley

Still reveling in the images captured on our autumn excursion to Rocky Mountain National Park… I was thinking this image really captures the essence of the entire experience, with the majestic herd of elk that call Moraine Park home in the high mountain autumn season.

Elk Herd on a Beautiful Rocky Mountain Autumn Evening

In the background you have the aspen trees donning their autumn gold and red glory while in the foreground the big bull is rounding up his herd for nightfall. This big bull doesn’t get much rest during the fall rut, he has cows to keep safe, other bulls to fend off and territory to maintain. While the cows grazed on the mountain grass the stately beast stayed alert, maintaining vigil over his hard fought harem. The crowd of people gathered on the road with their cameras didn’t make this fellow’s job any easier 😦 In this particular scene some of the cows had crossed the road, while others were afraid to pass through the opening between the cars and people that the rangers had made for them.

Eventually the huge male crossed the road and rounded up the cows that were scattering on the eastern side of the park. Not a single creature in the entire park dare challenge him, the cows obeyed without question while several bachelor bulls watched on with envy

Lone Bull Elk

advancing no closer than a couple hundred yards, appearing tiny in the distance even through our powerful zoom lenses. There was one lonely bull bugling in vain over the ridge, out of sight but close enough to draw the ire of the massive leader. Eventually he trotted to a high vantage point at the top of the ridge to investigate, but returned when he was sure there was no challenge to his domain. Even the people lining the road scattered in fear as his thundering hooves shook the ground when he passed by.

Eventually dusk overtook the valley and there was no more light for our cameras to capture as the cows began to lie down in the quiet of a beautiful Colorado autumn evening. Finally, the supreme commander of the valley would finally get some rest.

As always, this image and  more are available for purchase on my website as wall art on glossy metal or acrylic sheets, stretched canvas and traditional framing and matting. Tons of cool gift items are also available with one of my images, including Christmas cards, coffee mugs, t-shirts, blankets, pillows, and tech gadgets including battery and phone chargers. Click the link to enter the site and explore the possibilities! The images are arranged by collection or by product if you desire!

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Tough Day in the Canyon

The week began with bitter cold and snow, a lot of snow… but as luck would have it there would be a break in the winter weather just in time for our planned adventure in Waterton Canyon. The forecast was calling for sunshine and 40’s on Thursday and the plan was, the sheep would be ready for a break and would come down into the canyon to pose for us 🙂

Red-taile Hawk in Waterton Canyon

Previous experience told me  that the road into the canyon was going to be a muddy mess from the melting snow, terrible conditions for a mountain bike ride so the decision was made to attempt the journey on foot. Spirits were high as we began the trek into the wilderness wonderland along the cascading South Platte River, looking forward to another awesome bighorn sheep encounter. Soon we rounded the bend by the water pipe where we often see the herd of bighorn… no sheep in sight. No matter, there are other likely locations further in. Second likely location, no sheep…

After a break for some Gatorade at the picnic area we decided to press on to the old dam by the house… also no good. Finally we decided to continue past the halfway point dam to the highest point in the park where we have seen the elusive creatures this year. Again, no luck and we decided to head back down in hopes that the animals had come down from the upper reaches behind us on their daily visit to the river for water.

Once again, nothing but a long walk back to the bottom of the canyon. Finally we spotted a bike riding photographer stopped near the water tube looking up into the high peaks north of the  canyon… sure enough, there were a couple of rams way up near the summit, pretty much out of range for decent photography. In the end we decided that at least one snap of the majestic beasts would be better than none, but while we were preparing for the shot they disappeared into the brush. it looked like a climb up the slippery slope might provide a better view so we began the ill advised ascent to the service road, which proved as treacherous as it appeared.

With a couple of slight mishaps and lenses covered with a good scoop of snow, we arrived safely at the plateau where the search for the better view began. Unfortunately all the climb accomplished was to increase the angle of view to the point where we could not see at all over the dry brush covering the mountainside 😦

Wintry Manitou Springs Colorado

On the way down the service road I spotted a white object on a cliff above us, so when we arrived at the closest point and best view we took a look through the long lens to ascertain it’s identity. Turns out it was a majestic looking Red-tailed hawk gazing fiercely over the canyon, I assume in search of prey that might become a good lunch. This would become my only wildlife photograph of the day 😦

The day wasn’t a complete bust though, we did get the benefit of a seven mile hike 😦 Plus  on the way through the Colorado Springs area, there was an amazing view of Manitou Springs from the highway that I have been wanting to acquire for years. Sometimes I don’t have my camera, often I’m in a hurry and don’t have the time… But yesterday I had  the camera and the view was extra fantastic, no excuse not to stop!

These pictures and more are available on my website as wall art on glossy acrylic or metal sheets, stretched canvas and traditional framing and matting. Also on my website is a new gallery just for birds, raptors, birds of prey, song birds, waterfowl, you name it! I finally feel that I have enough images of birds to warrant the new collection!

Bighorn Afternoon

Winter weather is on the way, 8-15 inches of snow they are saying, but this morning it was beautiful! Checked the forecast and it looked like I would have until about 5:00 p.m. to go off and do something! Over coffee and a cinnamon roll I decided another run at Waterton Canyon would probably be the most profitable. I arrived at the canyon at about 10:00 a.m., strapped on my pack and headed into the canyon on mountain bike hoping for some good photography, but planning only on a good workout and a beautiful ride along the beautiful blue South Platte River in stunning autumn colors.

Bighorn Sheep In Waterton Canyon

I wanted a good cardio workout so I was pedaling hard past the lowest bighorn viewing area with no beasties in site. Breathing hard I pushed ahead watching the cliff to the north for sign of the animals. Another mile passed and I thought I could see some large animals on the path ahead. I slowed down and carefully pulled up to park my bike at a safe distance to unpack my gear and ready myself for photography. As I neared on foot I noticed that the trio was a small group of rams wandering along the river while occasionally sparring with each other.

One of the beasts eventually moved into the grass to graze while the other two stood head to head, waiting for the other to make a move. Hoping for a clash I started a video but the two gladiators eventually separated and moved apart, the smaller one joining the other for lunch on the riverbank.

While I was getting some good portraits of the biggest ram, I noticed he had begun to

Bighorn Sheep In Waterton Canyon

stare intently up the canyon towards the west. When I looked over to see what he was so interested in I saw the herd of ewe sheep and young ones walking toward us. Eventually the males and females joined and walked downstream together, grazing on the vegetation along the bank while occasionally approaching the river for drinks when a path to the water was available.

Bighorn Sheep In Waterton Canyon

I just followed along with the herd, hanging with  them trying to get the best shots of especially the rams and the cute little yearlings who would occasionally butt heads as if trying to get the feel of the big game the rams were playing. The steep bank along the north side of the river finally gave way to a shallower approach and the rams took interest on some vegetation on the other side. All three of the big brutes walked to the edge of the stream and I could see that they were going to jump in. I thought they might just walk in and stroll across, but instead they leaped in and powered across as fast as they could! I wasn’t really ready for that but I think I got a couple of good shots of the action 🙂

One of the bigger females joined the rams in the feast when all of a sudden the little ewes

Bighorn Sheep In Waterton Canyon

and lambs took off running downstream. Something obviously spooked them and they quickly headed for their favorite rocky cliff where I usually find them in the morning. I stopped for a few shots, and I would have liked to just stay forever… but dark clouds had already begun to move in and I sensed  that the weather was going to turn ugly earlier than predicted. Eventually I gave in, climbed back on my bike and pedaled for the truck as fast as I could.

Good thing too… it was snowing hard in Monument and raining and snowing already in Colorado Springs. At the time of this writing tonight, snow is falling hard in many parts of the state and car accidents are already piling up at an alarming rate.

I did manage to get some video footage which you can view on my Youtube Channel. Please subscribe if you like,  I need 100 subscribers so I can get my swkrullimaging URL!

As for me, I’m happy to be back home in the glow of my computer monitor as I review the splendid day that I had 🙂 As always, these images and more are available for purchase on my website as wall art on glossy metal or acrylic sheets, stretched canvas and traditional framing and matting. Cool gift and household items and tech gadgets are also available with a picture. Just click the link to explore!

Where I’m Most at Home

Autumn on Trail Ridge Road

The alpine tundra, high above the treeline… that’s my favorite place to be. Never have been a big fan of hiking in valleys or dense forest. I like to be up high, above the treeline where I can see stunning peaks and valleys! It’s not always the most hospitable place to be, the winds and weather can be ferocious here and this day was one of the worst! It was a nice toasty warm day down in Moraine Park in Rocky Mountain National Park, but up here, at the summit of Trail Ridge Road, the winds must have been blowing at least 50 mph. And it was cold too, can’t imagine what the wind chill was!

These were also difficult conditions for photography, the wind was blowing so hard I could barely open my eyes which were watering profusely from the horrendous draft. It was difficult to steady the camera and it was too uncomfortable to be messing with the tripod which would have probably blown over anyway. I tried to steady the camera on boulders where possible, guard rails when present, anything I could find. From the

Autumn on Trail Ridge Road

look of some of my images I was not always successful, even though I was using my 18-55 wide angle lens with image stabilization turned on.

But it was so beautiful up here, rugged peaks, aspen and tundra turning to gold before the onslaught of the harsh Rocky Mountain winter. There was no question about it, weather notwithstanding, I was going to get the pictures of this magnificent place!

As always, these pictures and more are available on my website as wall art on glossy acrylic or metal sheets, stretched canvas and traditional matting and framing. Cool gift, household and tech items are also available with one of these images, including t-shirts, coffee mugs, battery chargers, stationary, greeting cards, blankets and pillows and much more!

Autumn on Trail Ridge Road

My Go To Move

One go to move has served me well throughout my entire life, when I am down and can’t think of anything I want to do I can always find the motivation to “get in shape”. Since my best buddy crossed Rainbow Bridge last week I haven’t felt like doing anything, nothing sounds good, nothing sounds fun and I have been just laying around the house watching stupid shows on TV.

Bucks in Grouse MeadowBut today the old message finally came through, “You can’t get all out of shape now.”. So even though I didn’t want to and I knew I was going to feel nothing but sadness on top of the mountain that I have never climbed without my Big Dog, I packed up my gear and drove to the trailhead.  It took a lot less time  to reach the summit without having to stop and dig up every prairie dog hole along the way and I got a lot more out of breath with the more steady pace that I can set without so many distractions.

But without the unbridled enthusiasm of my big four legged buddy to light the way, most of the joy has been removed from the experience. However there is still the idea in the back of my head that I am training for something greater, perhaps there will be a 14er in my future, or maybe a long hike into the wilderness to see a waterfall. I have been looking at Mount Quandary on my 14ers.com account… Maybe it will be my first peak in my sixth decade of life on this earth. Time will tell.

I didn’t see any animals at the summit, but on my way down I encountered my three buck mule deer friends who were on their way in a hurry, probably to some favorite location in the high meadows 🙂

Bucks in Grouse Meadow

Over the Hump

Read an interesting factoid the other day… Apparently August 2nd is a significant day in Colorado, it is the day that marks the beginning of the rapid falloff in temperatures in the slide towards fall and winter. The chart below from the U.S. Climate Data site shows in dramatic visual form the steep curve of change in temperature and precipitation as the heat of summer loses it’s edge to the receding light of the sun.

And to me that means I am over the hump of my most Screenshot_2019-08-04 Climate Colorado - temperature, rainfall and averagedifficult time of year 🙂 For a landscape photographer, the harsh direct overhead light of the summer sun is death to an image. The bright sun drains out all the color and shadow that can make an image compelling. For a Colorado wildlife photographer, stifling heat by 8:00 a.m. means all the animals are lying down in the shade in the dense pine forest well out of view. Sunrise at 5:00 a.m. means a 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. start to the day if you want to catch the best light, a difficult goal when you are up until 12:30 trying to make a living the night before. For Big Dog, the heat of the summer sun shining through the truck window means he has to stay home a lot more often, and without my hiking buddy along my weekend excursions a lot less enjoyable.

Here in Cripple Creek it was a beautiful cool morning, the birds are chirping happily and

Trio of Autumn Bighorn

the Teller County Fair is over, the legion of trucks and campers are pulling out and making their way home. I’m tired today, the sun is already shining brightly and I think I’ll take a day off from hiking and shooting to just sit here and enjoy the peace that the end of the hustle and bustle of summer brings with my favorite time of year just around the corner. Autumn… and I have wisely scheduled two weeks off so that I can make the most of it 🙂 Teller County has some of the best aspen color viewing in the state and this year I will be able to enjoy the Fall Color Festival, something I bitterly missed last year because I was working through the entire thing.

By autumn the sun has traveled significantly to the south, it’s low profile in the sky creating a much more friendly lighting scenario for photography. The leaves of the great aspen stands will be in full glory and the crisp clear mountain air sets an inviting stage for hiking and mountain biking in the back country.  The animals will emerge from the dark of the forest, the elk, deer and bighorn sheep in full glory for the autumn rut and the bears all out in their determined search for enough calories to nourish them throughout the long Rocky Mountain winter.

So today I rest in the knowledge that I am over the summer hump, my mind turning toward the joy of autumn, my laptop trained on topo maps of the great Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Ahhhh….

Crystal Creek Autumn

 

Dumb Mistake

Whitewater in Eleven Mile Canyon on the South Platte River

Me and the big dog went out again this morning in search of the beautiful buck mule deer that we’ve been seeing on the trail… We didn’t see the bucks but there was a nice looking elk cow meandering across the meadow that was visible when we reached the summit of our little mountain. My camera was ready to go… or so I thought, so I zoomed in and snapped the shutter. The usual satisfying mirror slap and shutter click sounded a bit off but I paid it no mind and captured a few more before she disappeared into the dense wilderness of the Pike National Forest.

Eventually our trek was complete and we found ourselves back at the parking lot where Whitewater on the South Plattte in Eleven Mile CanyonI gave Big Dog his drink and loaded ourselves back in the vehicle. As usual I made a quick check on the LCD screen of the day’s captures… First picture I looked at didn’t look too good, out of focus maybe? I always refocus a few times to make sure I get the shot so I checked another hoping to find at least one usable picture… no such luck, I stupidly didn’t check the mode wheel on the top of the camera and it was still set to Aperture Priority, which was still set for a long exposure of the river a couple of days before. Absolutely no chance of getting a sharp image of a moving elk at dawn with a 30th of a second shutter speed 😦 Nothing else to do but hit the reformat button on the memory chip and vow to do better next time.

That means I have nothing to work on today except the trip to Eleven Mile Canyon earlier this week. No wildlife to share today, but I do have a few more of the South Platte River whitewater for this blog!

As always these images and more are available on my website for purchase as wall art on glossy metal or acrylic sheets, stretched canvas and traditional matting and framing. Cool gift items, apparel and handy tech gadgets are also available… just click an image to see the options!

Whitewater in the South Platte River in Eleven Mile Canyon