Rocky Mountain Morning

I have to say, there is something very special about being in the woods high in the Rocky Mountains when the sun clears the ridges. The air is fresh and cool, the mist hovers in the dense pine trees, and the woods are still teeming with wildlife yet undisturbed in the predawn stillness.

This morning was one of those days, I awoke early for my morning coffee and quickly headed out the door hoping to arrive at the trailhead by first light. My efforts were rewarded by a particularly amazing morning in the high country, clear skies, cool air and just enough mist to create a solitude that can only be experienced alone in the Rocky Mountain wilderness.

Pair of Mule Deer Bucks

The first mile of the trail is the steepest here and I quickly climbed a thousand feet or soย  in hopes of seeing some deer or elk just over the ridge. As luck would have it though, I glanced up and noticed a herd of four magnificent buck mule deer grazing just on this side of the summit. The deer were already well aware of my presence so I proceeded slowly, avoiding eye contact and not approaching directly at them so as not to disturb them into flight. As I neared they got a little nervous and trotted a few yards down the mountain to keep a wary eye on me and my camera. Unfortunately there was a border fence directly behind them which was going to spoil my background so I just kept moving, hoping to get past them and beyond the fence where I could get a much nicer image. The animals never took their eyes off of me until I was beyond their comfort zone but they didn’t run! Once past, the trail dipped behind a small hill and curved towards the small herd and I was able to get into position for the shot without them seeing me. The sun wasn’t in the greatest position for the first set of images, but I felt fortunate to be a part of the action at first light high on a mountaintop.

Once I cleared the ridge, the plateau at the summit came into view along with a few smaller creatures that quickly scattered at the sight of me on the rocky trail. None of the larger animals were in sight as I had hoped so I just continued my hike, keeping an eye peeled for any movement along the forest edge. However it wasn’t long before I heard the thunder of footsteps as a huge bull elk ran past towards the safety of the dense pine forest. The massive beast was moving fast and I didn’t have time to squeeze off a shot as he ran by, but much to my surprise I noticed that he had stopped and was peeking over the ridge at me, something I had never seen an elk do before! Deer will stop and check to see if you are actually chasing them, but elk usually just keep right on going and you never see them again. Got one shot of just his head as he peered out from the safety of distance and a steep hill but his head seemed tiny in the distance against the expanse of the wilderness in the image frame.

I continued on to the overlook where I could see nothing but mist and headed on back down the other side of the mountain. Off in the distance I could see another herd of deer much too far away for me to get a good image. I assumed those were the mule deer bucks that I had seen on the other side of the mountain as my trek began. However as it turns out the ones I had originally photographed were still grazing near the same location and were now in much better position for an awesome photo op! I was rewarded by the best photography of the day as the bucks moved into a beautiful misty meadow and stopped to pose for me. The image shown here is one of the ones I captured right at the end of the hike, and is my favorite one of the day ๐Ÿ™‚

This image and a couple others from my hike in the clouds the other day are now available for purchase on my website as wall art, including acrylic and metal glossies, framed prints, cool gift and household items and Royalty Free Stock.

 

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Sheer Joy

I got my first camera over 30 years ago… it was a Minolta X-700 35mm camera, well before the advent of personal computers, camera phones, Photoshop… and even before auto focus. It was state of the art gear at the time though, with auto exposure, aperture priority and shutter priority modes and a sync socket for professional flash units. I didn’t buy the camera to make money, only to finally have a camera that didn’t disappoint me every time I got my film back from the lab. I wanted to have clear pictures of my kids and pets for me to look at and enjoy. I got the camera to experience the sheer joy of photography.

Red Fox Napping

Red Fox Napping

It never occurred to me that I could make money with a camera until I was going through a divorce… a guy at work admonished me to be sure to keep the camera, that I could make money with it! I didn’t really think too much about it at the time but I knew that I wanted the camera anyway, so it was the one thing that didn’t go out the door with the ex along with everything else I owned ๐Ÿ˜ฆ But… as it turns out, child support is expensive and so was photography at the time. Buying film was pretty low on the things to do list and the camera remained unused in the bag for years, except on special occasions like trips to visit the kids and my rare trip to Phoenix with my buddies for the first annual Phoenix Marathon.

In he early 90’s, the computer business was changing rapidly and I could see the writing on the wall… there wasn’t going to be much use for mainframe operating systems analysts much longer. I wondered what I was going to do for a living if my computer career went completely south. People kept telling me that the pictures I took were better than the ones they hired someone to shoot and I recalled the words of my friend about making money with my camera. So I thought what the heck… a little research about how to go into business and I put out my shingle. A decade of senior portraits and wedding photography later I purchased my first digital camera, the Canon EOS-1D. It was awesome and without the cost of film and processing to consider I could finally consider my dream of becoming a stock photographer. Those were great times, not many photographers had made the transition to digital, prices for images were good and the internet was exploding along with the need for quality imagery. The future looked bright!

But then the price of the cameras came down, image quality at all levels improved by leaps and bounds and it wasn’t long before everyone was getting in on the action. Not long after I started submitting images I had a large enough portfolio that I could count on receiving a check every week and I was making plans for a new career. But it wasn’t long before the industry was awash in imagery, prices were crashing as big players cashed in trying to corner the market with profits on volume and razor thin margins.

Now I’m lucky to get one minuscule check in an entire month. Photographers are treated like dirt by the agencies who profit from their work, some taking as much as 85% for themselves and their stock holders while often paying the photographer just pennies for an image. Stock photography has become barely worth the effort, in fact it has become little more than an insult to the artists.

So today I almost left my camera behind, what was the point in bringing it along? But as I strode along through the woods I was glad I had it with me. I love the feel of the cold steel in my hands, the sound of the lens jumping to attention in it’s effort to quickly focus and the clack of the mirror scrambling to get out of the way in less than a thousandth of a second to make way for the light to come pouring in through the lens and onto the sensor. Today I didn’t see much, the mountains were the same, the trees the same, the lighting the same… but I was still happy to be carrying the camera. Then I spotted the distant fox sunning himself in the prairie grass. The animal was way too far away to get a salable shot but I stopped to shoot anyway, I couldn’t resist. As I shot the images I thought back to the days of my clunky manual Minolta X-700 and the joy that it brought me to just create for the sake of creation. Not that long ago I would have passed the fox by knowing that he was not going to make me any money… but now I realize, I still love photography and I still love creating for the sake of creating.

Once again, it may be time for a change in philosophy, from a mind focused on business to simply a camera focused on the sheer joy of making pictures. Mr. Fox here could be the turning point, the first sign of a new life focused on joy instead of profit.

First Light

Did three things before first light today that I was not planning to do… The first was to get out of bed before first light. I had the day off and was planning to sleep in and catch up on some shut eye, but apparently I am used to arising at 4:30 a.m. now and that is just the way it is. I was also not going to take any pictures and the third thing I was never going to do again, ever… was to ride my mountain bike! After I tried it last week for the first time on these hills that was going to be it forever. My legs were quivering when I got done ๐Ÿ˜ฆ The reason I was not going to take any pictures is because I am tired of shooting from the same location all the time and also I watched a Youtube video where the title and theme were, “Nobody cares about your photography.”, which is probably true but just the same, a very discouraging thought.

Sangre de Cristo Lake of Fog

So unfortunately I was awake at 4:00 and Big Dog as eager to go for a walk. So without the camera we headed down the trail for his morning duties. Saw some deer in the darkness running towards the hills and then I noticed that there was an odd white glow coming from the direction of the Sangre de Cristo range. In the darkness I couldn’t tell if it was a new mantle of snow or clouds or fog or what. I could tell the sky was clear though and that the red band of alpenglow was descending upon the mountain range. So I thought, well… I’d better not miss this, it could be good!

Took the dog home, grabbed my backpack and jumped on the bike. I was not going to make it back there in time on foot and the mountain bike was the only way I was going to make the show. Fortunately my legs seem a bit stronger this week, maybe my decision to quit the bike riding was a bit premature? As I neared the overlook to the mountain range I could not believe my eyes, the fog bank and cloud action was some of the most amazing that I have seen in the Arkansas River Valley at the base of the Sangre.

Sangre de Cristo Lake of Fog

I sat on a rock at the best spot and watched it all unfold. The alpenglow effect descended upon the mountains and the fog began to blow around building into tall spires almost as big as the mountains they were obscuring. I put into effect all the information I have been gathering about the best way to photograph this valley at the base of the Sangre, trying various shutter speeds and even my B&W circular polarizer for a bit. Finally the sun crested the mountains behind me and the fog began to burn off. As the mist turned to vapor in the air the Sangre became too obscure to get good pictures and I headed for home.

Lol… as it turns out though, my bike riding was not yet done for the day… Big Dog saw something he wanted to chase and snapped his wire cable in a bid for some temporary freedom. It wasn’t long before he had me on mountain bike along with two of Cripple Creek’s finest circling the blocks in their black and white SUV’s. After about an hour of chase he finally blundered into a fenced yard and decided to visit the people having a hitherto relaxing morning on their deck. Knowing him he was probably hoping for some burgers and fries, but they corralled him and I was able to give the police a thumbs up and they too went about their business.

Now I’m working on the pictures… have to say the scene was pretty amazing! Hope you enjoy them too ๐Ÿ™‚ I will soon be putting these on my website for sale as wall art and RF stock so stay tuned!

Dust in the Wind

Tremendous wind howling up from the Arkansas River Valley last night. Big Dog was startled out of a sound sleep at 5:00 a.m., leaping to his feet and letting out a massive woof that woke up the entire town I think. I looked around with the flashlight and didn’t see anything so I was going to just go back to sleep, but instead got to thinking I would like to see the sunrise over the Sangre de Cristo. Sunrise would not be until 6:30 though, so there was time for one of my favorite activities… morning coffee ๐Ÿ™‚

Sangre de Cristo Sunrise

The wind overnight had created a dust bowl out of the valley making the mountains barely visible, but it was still an inspiring sight when the alpenglow band settled down over the peaks. The effect was only good for a few minutes and we were headed back home for some more coffee.

The old 1970’s song by Kansas, “Dust in the Wind” was going through my mind as the wind whipped the dirt up into a veritable cloud around us. Got me to thinking about the truth of the song, “Everything is dust in the wind”. Everything in this life is truly temporary, jobs, houses, relationships… I was thinking back on my computer career realizing that all the software I had been paid to write is now gone, along with the very computers that it was meant to operate. Even the company I worked for is gone, like it was never there. The job seemed so important at the time, deadlines, overtime, status meetings to explain how it was all going to get done on time, weekends misspent at the office, and now that it is all gone it seems so silly to have been so stressed out, so stupid to have spent so much time away from family, to have lost so much sleep.

Even life itself is temporary. For some people, life is long and fulfilling. For others like my wife, life itself can be unexpectedly swept away far too soon. We never know when we are going to be struck down by illness, accidents or natural disaster. Cancer took my wife along with all the things she dreamed of, collected and worked so hard for. Everything we had together is now like the song, just dust in the wind. Her life itself is a faded memory in the minds of few, the fruit she and I measured our lives with now remembered by no one.

In the end it all comes down to the words spoken at the final judgement, “Well done good and faithful servant.” If we have lived our lives in friendship with Him we will never have to hear the bitter words, “Depart from Me, I do not know you.”, our legacy will live on in the afterlife and all we have done in this life will not be blown away forever, like dust in the wind.

The Wall

 

No not the border wall… a different wall. I expected worse this morning after a night of snow and the sound of the wind thundering across the high plains of the southern Rockies. Nevertheless, the alarm was set for 05:30 and it was going to stay that way. The coffee pot was ready to brew, the camera ready to go and the hike set.

Sangre de Cristo Alpenglow

Sangre de Cristo Alpenglow

Sipping my morning coffee and getting the weather stats I discovered that the wind was still strong enough to bring the windchill down to -1 and it looked like all I was going to be able to see was fog. However a few minutes later when it began to lighten a bit I noticed that I could just barely make out the snow capped peaks of the Sangre de Cristo. Big Dog was ready to go so I bundled up and headed out the door.ย  As we headed down the trail I noticed that the alpenglow sunrise was already taking effect in the sky and I was dismayed to realize that I hadn’t accounted for the sun rising about 15 minutes earlier than the last time I tried this! So we had to run a couple of miles to make up for the miscalculation and still nearly missed the show. On the way I snapped a couple of sub par compositions just in case I managed to miss the entire thing from the top of the ridge ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

Deer on the Mountain

Pair of mule deer on the mountain

Fortunately we arrived on the mountainside in time to witness a pretty cool sunrise. The Sangre were a beautiful red wine color, the color that Spanish explorer Antonio Valverde y Cosio must have seen when he named this range the “Blood of Christ” mountains. After making sure I captured the scene to the west I noticed that the rising sun in the east and pink glow on the morning clouds made a beautiful backdrop for some aspen trees and a rustic country fence. I was really cold and wanting to get back home, but we had to stop and explore that subject for a while. After we froze our butts long enough the show was over and we turned around to head home. As we strode through the frozen landscape I noticed a couple of spots on the mountainside across the valley that looked new. Upon closer inspection I determined that they were actually a small herd of deer and although I could not get very close they did turn the usually boring mountainside into a worthy composition ๐Ÿ™‚

As we made the return trip I was still reveling in the magnificence of the Sangre de Cristo sunrise. The Sangre de Cristo range is called a fault block mountain range, a rugged wall of mountains rising directly up from the plains much like the Tetons in Wyoming and the Sierra Nevada in California. As a result of their formation by risingย  or falling cracks in the earth’s crust there are no foothills, just an imposing massive impenetrable wall of mountains.

When standing in the presence of such beauty it is impossible for a spiritual minded person to neglect the Creator of such majesty. While considering the towering wall formed by the “Blood of Christ” mountains I began to ponder another wall created by the Blood of Christ, the wall between the carnal and the spiritual.

Lately many in the media and social media feel themselves to be eminently qualified to comment on and gleefully insult concepts they know nothing about. “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” That they know nothing about what they are saying is not their fault. They cannot comprehend the other side of the “wall” because they have never seen the other side and knowledge of it has been closed to them. Fortunately there has been provided one and only one door for mankind to pass through and obtain access to the other side of that wall.

ย โ€œEnter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” The Sangre de Cristo is the narrow gate that few will discover. Only those who have accepted that truth will experience the other side of the great divide separating the spiritual from the carnal. Until then those who have not passed through remain unqualified to comment on Christianity, the scriptures and the faith of the believers that they so despise. In fact they are not even qualified to read the scriptures… they can try but they will read in vain, without understanding. My hope is that the blind leaders of the blind will honestly seek answers to the questions they so glibly and hatefully attempt to answer, and open the door to the Savior who stands ready to open the narrow gate to all who truly want to enter,Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.”

 

Alpenglow

โ€œIn 1719 the Spanish explorer Antonio Valverde y Cosio named the Sangre de Cristo (“Blood of Christ”) mountains after being impressed by the reddish hue of the snowy peaks at sunrise.โ€œ, according to Wikipedia.

Sangre de Cristo Mountain Alpenglow

The beautiful red glow in the morning on these mountains is from an optical effect called Alpenglow that appears as a reddish glow on the horizon just before sunrise. The glow emanating from the solar disk appears as a band of colored light across the sky or mountains reflected by ice crystals or precipitation at these high elevations. I’ve seen the red glow countless times since having moved to Cripple Creek but have never quite found the right time to get out and photograph them. Yesterday I noticed that the effect was most pronounced at exactly 7:20 a.m., so today I awoke at 5:00 to prepare.

Sangre de Cristo Alpenglow

I figured it would take us about a half hour to get down the trail to a point where I have an unobstructed view of the entire range. It was clear and cold this morning as we strode through the darkness, a perfect morning to photograph the Alpenglow effect. As we neared the overlook I was able to barely make out the snow capped peaks through the darkness, with no sign of the anticipated red glow in sight. A few minutes later however, I noticed that there was a band of color forming across the predawn sky, which I surmised was the expected glow from the sun’s curvature still hiding below the horizon.

We arrived at the overlook at about 7:00 as the glowing red band was moving down towards the mountain peaks. Then at 7:15 just as I had planned, the red glow from the rising sun descended upon the rugged range. It was still quite dark however and I was concerned that I was not going to have sufficient light to create usable photographs, but I proceeded with my shooting plan anyway. I chose ISO 200 so as not to get too much digital noise in the images and some I shot on auto for a higher shutter speed while others were shot in Av mode with aperture f8 in hopes of getting some depth of field. Now that I am looking at the images, it appears I was successful and have a good collection of usable captures.

By 7:30 a.m. it was all over, the pink was gone and the beautiful mountains shown in the bright morning sunlight. I hadn’t noticed while shooting, but by this time I was pretty darn cold! My fingers were tingling even with glove liners on and my shoulders and back were aching from the bone chilling cold. So me and the big dog decided to pack it in and make the trek homeward, hoping to see a few of the deer or elk that had left so much evidence in the sand the night before. No luck there, but now back in the warmth of my home I feel privileged to have stood in the presence of the mountains named for the blood of my Savior.

If you enjoy this article and others that I produce, please consider subscribing and you will receive an email each time I publish a new one, ensuring that you will never miss out! Also please feel free to share my work often, for without your assistance many will never know of my work. As always, these images and more are for sale on my website as wall art and royalty free stock

A Better Start


Didn’t set the alarm this morning but was still hoping for an early enough morning to be able to get in on the nice lighting. Didn’t quite hit the perfect moment, but definitely better than yesterday! I awoke at 7:20 a.m. and took Big Dog out for his morning business just in time to notice that 7:20 was the perfect moment to have been down the trail a couple of miles to catch the early morning pinkness still available over the Arkansas Valley and on the distant Sangre de Cristo Range.

Hazy Sangre de Cristo Mountains

By the time I got going it was still the perfect time for some wildlife photography, so I was hoping to see some deer or elk, maybe a coyote or fox still out hunting or maybe even my favorite resident, the Rough Legged Hawk. Other than a few encouraging tracks in the sand, no luck at all in that department. But the mountains were still pretty, minus the pink morning light that I was hoping for. There was however still a hint of early morning color over the valley and on the snow capped peaks and I could not resist snapping a few.

Despite being another major disappointment, the day was not entirely lost… I obtained some good information that I can put to use tomorrow. I know when to set the alarm, 6:30 a.m. should be the perfect time to wake up, giving me plenty of time to be out the door by 7:00 and down the trail a couple of miles to my favorite vista. I need to get this done before the sun starts coming up even earlier later in the spring and summer. Also need to get those shots before the fires start and I can’t see the Sangre at all. It has been a very dry year and the specter of a summer of mountain wildfires is looming large ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

Today’s picture is of course a very hazy view of the beautiful Sangre de Cristo Range over the Arkansas Valley with the layers of foothills leading up to the rugged range and the continental divide separating east from west. Always hoping my readers will take the time to view my website where pictures are for sale as wall art and royalty free stock.