Sand Hill Cranes and the Dunes

Well we took a much longer road trip than usual yesterday, all the way over to the Great Sand Dunes and the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge. The journey started early, with a 3:30 a.m. wake up alarm followed by a sleepy drive over the pass where I met up with Kevin in Divide. We were already heading over Poncha Pass in light snow before the sun even

Sand Hill Cranes

started to rise. One stop for fuel and a gas station cappuccino later we were at our first destination, the wildlife reserve at Monte Vista hoping to spot some sand hill cranes to photograph. We knew we were pushing the limits of the great semi annual migration and the spring flight to the Nebraska Sand Hills, but were still hopeful that we might see a few of the amazing birds lingering behind.

The morning visit yielded a few captures of a small number of the great birds wandering around the refuge but we quickly decided to move on. The plan was to try another refuge located a few miles to the east, near Alamosa called the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge. It was exciting to see the Rio Grande River for the first time, and a beautiful northern harrier, but once again, the visit resulted in limited success.

Northern HarrierOnward to the Great Sand Dunes… It looked like it was going to be a cold dreary day at the dunes as heavy clouds were building over the Sangre de Cristo Range, but really it wasn’t too bad. We hiked a bit in the soft sand but the imposing dunes and the approaching winter weather convinced us that a trip to the summit of the dunes at this time of the day was not in the cards. I did get a few nice pictures of the towering piles of sand and the magnificent

Sangre de Cristo Range though, which I was pretty pumped about ๐Ÿ™‚ One thing I learned, even though the wind wasn’t that bad, the fine sand blowing across the surface is not going to be friendly to camera equipment. Next time I’ll bring and old camera and lens with a rain cover over the gear for good measure. And no changing lenses while on the dunes! That fine sand could grind up internal DSLR parts in a hurry!

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

From there we decided another visit to the Monte Vista Refuge was in order. We were hoping some more of the birds had completed their daily travels in pursuit of food and had returned to the wetlands. A quick stop at the riverside viewing area proved the decision to be a good one. Several hundred of the gangly birds had gathered near the viewing area in a large bunch and we had a blast photographing them walking and hopping around as they foraged in the richย  grasses along the banks with a magnificent panorama provided by the snow capped San Juan’s in the background.

_MG_0983Eventually the birds began to squawk and hop around while stretching their wings so we believed that a mass take off was imminent, the very event we had been hoping to photograph. Unfortunately the entire flock didn’t take flight at once but we did get some nice pictures of a number of good sized groups leaving the wetlands for their nightly roosting locations in the fields.

At that point it wasย  getting late and we decided to head for home… but the photo ops were not completely over with, the view of the western slopes of the Sangre with the afternoon sun shining through storm clouds was magnificent! Some of the scenes were so fantastic that photo stops along the roadside were necessary! And that wasn’t the only excitement on the way home… the wildlife began to come out for the evening and we saw deer, buffalo and a huge herd of elk in the Platte River Valley on the high prairie between the front range and the big mountains of the continental divide.

Beautiful Sangre de Cristo Mountains

Today finds me sorting through over a thousand images as I identify the best ones for my website and a few for the YouTube video that I have just completed! I hope you enjoy the video and please don’t forget to give it a thumbs up and hit that subscribe button! My channel is finally beginning to grow with all of your help ๐Ÿ™‚

As always, the best of these images and hundreds more are available for purchase on my website as wall art on glossy metal or acrylic sheets, stretched canvas and traditional matting and framing. Tons of cool household and gift items are also available with any image you like including coffee mugs, t-shirts, blankets and pillows, battery chargers, phone cases, stationary and much much more! Just click on any image you like and all the choices, sizes and prices will appear! For my viewers interested in images for commercial use, please visit my image licensing portal! I should mention at this time that this blog post is not sponsored by Canon or any other firm. All equipment used in the making of the blog and video have been purchased by me on my own volition.

Herd of Elk

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Aftermath of the Snowstorm

Colorado’s fourth biggest snowstorm in history went on for three days so I was really happy to finally get out and enjoy the mountains again today! I was planning on snowshoeing my trail but when I got to the trailhead it became apparent that the oddities of Colorado’s weather had defeated that idea. Although parts of the county had received as

Snowy Traill

much as three feet of snow with drifting even deeper than that in place, my trail had received almost none. I was concerned on the drive down that there wouldย  be so much snow in the parking lot that I would have to abandon ship and think of something else to do… But when I arrived there was no one flake of snow in the parking lot.

I didn’t even bother to bring my snowshoes with me as I climbed the east side of the mountain. As I suspected, there was a pretty good sized snow drift in the trees through which someone had already cut a trail, making the trek an easy one for me. The scenery on the mountain was even more incredible than usual so I shot a short YouTube video to document the visit, I hope you enjoy it!

Storm on the Sangre

The storm clouds over the Sangre de Cristo Range were particularly incredible looking so I stopped there to shoot a few stills which I will be uploading to my website for sale.

As always, the best of these images and hundreds more are available for purchase on my website as wall art on glossy metal or acrylic sheets, stretched canvas and traditional matting and framing. Tons of cool household and gift items are also available with any image you like including coffee mugs, t-shirts, blankets and pillows, battery chargers, phone cases, stationary and much much more! Just click on any image you like and all the choices, sizes and prices will appear! For my viewers interested in images for commercial use, please visit my image licensing portal!

Weathering the Storm

New YouTube video of my snowshoe hike in the howling wind and driving snow on top of Grouse Mountain Colorado. Wasn’t able to record audio on the mountain due to the tremendous winds but I hope you enjoy the beauty of such harsh conditions! My Ruggard rain cover performed admirably on my camera, very easy to use and provided excellent protection for the camera, especially for such a great price! Looks like my minor repair on my MSR snowshoes is holding after accidentally running over them with my truck last year ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

Ground Blizzard

Neither the video nor this blog post was sponsored, all equipment used in the production were purchased on my own volition.

As always, the best of these images and hundreds more are available for purchase on my website as wall art on glossy metal or acrylic sheets, stretched canvas and traditional matting and framing. Tons of cool household and gift items are also available with any image you like including coffee mugs, t-shirts, blankets and pillows, battery chargers, phone cases, stationary and much much more! Just click on any image you like and all the choices, sizes and prices will appear! For my viewers interested in images for commercial use, please visit my image licensing portal!

Between Storms and Monochrome Toning

It finally warmed up a bit this morning, well above zero with mostly clear skies so I thought it was a good day for a hike. As it turns out it was also a pretty good day for pictures! Although it was just partly cloudy here there were thick ominous clouds hanging over the Sangre de Cristo range at sunrise and it was quite a sight!

Stormy Sangre Sunrise

I saw a lot of evidence of recent wildlife activity in the snow but saw no actual animals on my two mile trek through the fresh snow. Still, there’s something therapeutic about a walk in the mountains.ย 

These images looked pretty nice in color, but so early in the morning with a lot of haze from the previous storm there wasn’t much color to work with. I decided that these would look much more dramatic in black & white so I used the channel mixer to create the best monochrome version possible. They looked pretty good but I thought I could do even better with a little bluish toning which I accomplish using the “hue and saturation” tool in the Photoshop adjustments drop down. First I click the colorize check box which adds a horrific color and hue to the image. From that starting point I adjust the saturation, in this case I chose 12 to apply just a bit of color. Then I change the hue to the value most representative of my plan for the image, which was 242 in this case. The lightness value I left alone, at zero.

I actually got the idea for doing this while reading an Ansel Adams book filled with some of his best landscapes. I noticed that the default values for black and white weren’t nearly as dramatic as the ones in the book so I read up a bit and learned about the process of toning from the era of photographic film processing. I wanted to find a way to recreate that look and it was just through experimentation and trial and error that I eventually came up with this method.

And of course no day of hiking would be complete without a quick trip over to historic Victor for some biscuits and gravy and coffee at the Gold Camp Bakery ๐Ÿ™‚

As always, the best of these images and hundreds more are available for purchase on my website as wall art on glossy metal or acrylic sheets, stretched canvas and traditional matting and framing. Tons of cool household and gift items are also available with any image you like including coffee mugs, t-shirts, blankets and pillows, battery chargers, phone cases, stationary and much much more! Just click on any image you like and all the choices, sizes and prices will appear! For my viewers interested in images for commercial use, please visit my image licensing portal!

Stormy Sangre Sunrise

My Mountain Morning

My day started out iffy… Dang I was tired when the first rays of sunlight began to pierce the darkness, and I seriously considered devoting the day entirely to catching up with my computer work. I’m a bit behind with my uploads and with the high wind warning and real feel temperature of -4 this morning it was looking like a

Stormy Sangre Sunrise

good day to catch up.ย  But as the morning light descended upon the Sangre de Cristo I could see there was a storm brewing over the rugged peaks and I sure didn’t want to miss that!

So I scrambled to gather my gear and get dressed for extreme cold and wind. A thick layer of frost had to be scraped off the windshield and I was off. Fortunately I arrived at the trailhead in time to capture the alpenglow on the Sangre de Cristo and I was able to just sit and photograph them in all their glory until the phenomenon passed.

Pair of Buck Mule Deer

I glanced at the trail to the south where it winds back down the mountain and spotted a lone buck crossing the high meadow. Soon there was another buck and I sneaked around a pine tree to capture a few images of them crossing the meadow in the beautiful light of dawn as they made their way to the dense forest to the south.

A beautiful clear mountain morning met me at the summit and I stopped for a panorama. It required about a dozen images to capture the entire range which I hoped would be successfully stitched in Photoshop using the auto merge function. As you can see my efforts have been rewarded by a beautiful wide image of the northern section of the Sangre de Cristo Range.

Stormy Sangre Sunrise

It was still early when my trek brought me back to my truck so I decided to continue on to Victor in hopes of seeing a fox or hawk to go along with the amazing mountain images I was collecting… No luck there but by the time I found myself in town hunger pangs were starting to get my attention. Nothing better than an order of coffee with biscuits and gravy at the Gold Camp Bakery. I was happy to find that I was the first one there and I had the place to myself for quite a while. I love just sitting and staring out the window at the historic old west Victor downtown area while sipping a cup of coffee ๐Ÿ™‚

Stormy Pikes Peak Sunrise

From there I journeyed on to the top of Victor Pass and an excellent view of the south face of Pikes Peak. It wasn’t the most spectacular scene I have ever encountered there, but well worth the stop for a few more captures.

On the return trip I discovered an even better view of the Sangre de Cristo Range than I have previously discovered. From the Mollie Kathleen road past the top of the big mine there is a spot where you have an unobstructed view of the entire range. Most views I have found so far have a mountain or hill obscuring part of the range. In fact the view was so wide I decided not to even attempt a panorama, I think it would probably require 30 images or more. With that degree of complexity involved, I’m sure I am going to want my best tripod. I’ll wait for just the right day and go directly there for such a major capture! I did grab a few more frames of the magnificent mountains, my favorite of which is shown below ๐Ÿ™‚

Stormy Sangre Sunrise

As always, the best of these images and hundreds more are available for purchase on my website as wall art on glossy metal or acrylic sheets, stretched canvas and traditional matting and framing. Tons of cool household and gift items are also available with any image you like including coffee mugs, t-shirts, blankets and pillows, battery chargers, phone cases, stationary and much much more! Just click on any image you like and all the choices, sizes and prices will appear! For my viewers interested in images for commercial use, please visit my image licensing portal!

Also, this blog post is not sponsored by any other business entity.

Simply Spectacular

My main goal this morning was to be the first one at the trailhead. Others have been arriving before me to frighten away all the wildlife with their loose dogs before I even get a chance to get my camera out of the bag ๐Ÿ˜ฆ I saw the elk herd on my way but unfortunately it was too dark to get a picture of them, but at least now I now know where they are!

Sunrise on the Sangre

As I cleared the ridge the scene before me was truly spectacular… the sun reflecting off the clouds above me was lighting the distant Sangre de Cristo Range with beautiful pink light glowing brightly on fresh fallen snow. The majestic peaks are now buried in their winter mantle of snow and are just amazing to behold.

Sunrise on the Sangre

First to come in to view is what I believe to be Galena Peak. According to the little direction finder gizmo that the parks dept. has placed at the summit, the major feature close to that direction is Hayden Pass, which is also close to Galena Peak.ย  Even though I was in a hurry to get past all the trees to capture a pano of the entire scene, I didn’t want to take a chance of losing the light so I stopped here to capture the one peak in the beautiful glow of the rapidly approaching sunrise.

Satisfied that I had captured that peak properly, I continued my trek through the snow on the summit of Grouse Mountain to the edge of the clearing. From there you can see the entire Sangre de Cristo Range and the light was still showing the effects of today’s Rocky Mountain sunrise. The conditions lingered long enough for me to capture both a close and a wide pano before the sun was too high in the sky to be able to capture the detail I was hoping for with this scene.

Cute little dark eyed junco

Eventually I continued my trek around the other side of the mountain and back to the trailhead. Along the way I encountered a flock of these curious little “dark eyed junco”, according to my phone app Merlin anyway. I was trying to get closer to them but every time I took a step the flock flew another 10 feet in front of me. I managed to snap a couple of images of these cute little fellows, this being my favorite one ๐Ÿ™‚

As always, the best of these images and hundreds more are available for purchase on my website as wall art on glossy metal or acrylic sheets, stretched canvas and traditional matting and framing. Tons of cool household and gift items are also available with any image you like including coffee mugs, t-shirts, blankets and pillows, battery chargers, phone cases, stationary and much much more! Just click on any image you like and all the choices, sizes and prices will appear! For my viewers interested in images for commercial use, please visit my image licensing portal!

Sunrise on the Sangre

Sunrise on the Sangre

A Good Omen

Whenever I see a fox in the wild I think of it as a good omen ๐Ÿ™‚ Not sure why but it just seems like life is a little better when I have an awesome wildlife encounter like this! We had a pretty good snowstorm yesterday so I was ready to jump in the truck at sunrise in the hope that I would experience a great opportunity for one of those magnificent “after the storm” panoramas on the Sangre de Cristo Range to my southwest.ย  As I rounded a couple of sharp curves on highway 67 it was becoming apparent that my trip out into the cold early morning sunlight was going to be richly rewarded!

Snowstorm on the Sangre

I was going to have to hustle though, already another storm was moving in and the scene was changing rapidly. I leapt out of the truck at the overlook, switched my camera to custom mode 2 which I had set up for rapid access to my favorite motion blur and panorama settings. C2 takes me directly to full manual, shutter speed at 160th of a second, aperture f8, and the ISO set to 100 in order to get a uniformly exposed series of images with good depth of field and low noise to work with in the automate function of Adobe Photoshop. I snapped off about 15 images to cover the entire range followed by a blank frame to mark the end of the series. Then I turned my attention to a few more intimate images of the individual peaks as I watched the storm clouds roll in over the picturesque range of towering mountains.

Red Fox HuntingThen off to a hike on my favorite trail to hopefully capture some elk or deer in the beautiful fresh fallen snow. As I cleared the top of the ridge much to my surprise I came almost face to face with this beautiful red fox happily chowing down on a freshly caught rodent of some sort, probably a mouse I imagine. Even more to my surprise the little fellow didn’t immediately run off! He just looked at me like he recognized me and kept on with his business. Eventually he strode toward me and walked right past me not four feet away! Too close to even get a shot, with my long lens and 1.4x teleconverter attached for long distance wildlife photography! He just slowly made his way over the ridge, back to his den with a full belly I suppose ๐Ÿ™‚ I just stood there in disbelief at what I had just experienced. Most fox encounters I’ve had have been long range sightings, barely close enough to get an image large enough to display in my blog… much less a print quality closeup!

Red Fox Hunting

Eventually I resumed my trek through the winter wonderland on the summit of the mountain. I have to say I love the snowstorms, the times when I have the mountain completely to myself ๐Ÿ™‚ Not much was stirring on the mountaintop this morning. Perhaps the wild creatures are all aware of the oncoming weather on the heels of the first storm, snug and warm in their nests and dens.

As always, the best of these images and hundreds more are available for purchase on my website as wall art on glossy metal or acrylic sheets, stretched canvas and traditional matting and framing. Tons of cool household and gift items are also available with any image you like including coffee mugs, t-shirts, blankets and pillows, battery chargers, phone cases, stationary and much much more! Just click on any image you like and all the choices, sizes and prices will appear! For my viewers interested in images for commercial use, please visit my image licensing portal!

Snowstorm on the Sangre

Disclaimer – This post is not sponsored and I have not received compensation from any of the products or equipment used in the creation of this post.