A photo trip to Mount Evans is always on the top of my favorite things to do list and time was running out on this season’s opportunities at that place. So yesterday was the day when all the stars aligned for our second road trip of the year to this beautiful 14,265 foot peak. I was able to get a timed entry ticket for 10:00 a.m., so Kevin and I met in Woodland Park at 7:30 for the journey. It was a beautiful day for a road trip… 46 degrees at sunrise with nothing but sunshine all around 🙂
By the time we hit Evergreen it was warming up pretty good so we were thinking that it was going to be brisk but pleasant on the summit. Our first warning that the pleasant part of that was at risk came at the entrance to the fee area at Echo Lake where the bulletin board showed zero animal sightings and a 25 mph wind at the peak. No matter, we continued the journey looking forward to seeing the mountain goats on the summit area.
We successfully navigated the narrow winding road past all the terrifyingly steep cliffs and found a good parking spot at the top. As I attempted to open my door, the reason for the warnings on the board became suddenly apparent. The wind by this time was probably blowing 40mph and I could barely open the door. We had to strategically open one door at a time so that the entire contents of the vehicle didn’t fall victim to the wind tunnel effect and become scattered debris all over the mountain.
In that kind of wind I knew that I wouldn’t be changing lenses so I attached only the 100-400mm without the 1.4x extension and left everything else safely in my backpack. There were no goats to be seen so we took the short hike around the summit house into the full force of the gale in search of the herd. It wasn’t long before my ears and fingers were stinging from the cold, and I was breathing hard in the thin air of 14,000 feet of elevation as the wind sucked the remaining oxygen out of my lungs.
Our usual trek to the very summit was unanimously abandoned as we agreed that we both seen it plenty of times and there was little to prove by going up there on this day. With no wildlife to photograph, I snapped a few images of the distant peaks and we hiked back to the vehicle for the trip down. A couple of switchbacks later I spotted a small herd of the bright white mountain goats slowly making their way to the summit. We found a place to park on the narrow road and got out for a few shots of the beautiful creatures before they crossed over the next switchback above.
Since it appeared the animals were on their way to the summit we got turned around and went back up. By this time it was considerably warmer and the wind had died down to a more comfortable velocity, much better for a good session with the wildlife 🙂 We followed the beasts around for an hour or two as they clambered over the boulders, up and
down, here and there… until they eventually tired and lay down for a nap. The last goat standing stopped on top of a boulder with the beautiful blue Colorado sky in the background and posed for a bit, allowing for what was arguably the best images of the morning!
The trip down the mountain was also fruitful, as we saw some awesome scenery, a couple of herds of bighorn sheep and a few chubby and fairly friendly members of the marmot population. There was a considerable delay as one herd of the sheep had decided to own the road for a while, backing traffic up in both directions. the main attraction / problem here was a youngster who couldn’t quite decide where he wanted to be. So he was all over the road, at times worrying his mother as he climbed the embankment on the high side.
Eventually we reached the end of the treacherous road at Echo lake, however the day was far from done. A recent tip from a parks ranger had us on the trail of the elusive moose at Jefferson Lake, a place neither of us had ever been. It appeared Guanella Pass out of Georgetown was going to be the quickest and most direct route so down the mountain we went, to Idaho Springs and I70 over to Georgetown and the entrance to the pass. Guanella pass is now a pleasant completely paved byway past Mount Bierstadt and down along beautiful Geneva Creek, eventually to Highway 285 and a short jaunt to the west to the town of Jefferson which is also the highway 77 junction and a shortcut back to Highway 24 near Lake George. So what looked like a difficult and long trip to this newly discovered wildlife area actually turned out to be pretty conveniently situated as a place we can visit regularly, less than half the distance to Waterton Canyon and on paved roads all the way except for the last few miles back into the recreation area! Plus I discovered that my season pass to Eleven Mile Canyon is also good at the new recreation area 🙂
As we entered into the fee area it became obvious that this was indeed excellent moose country. The lady ranger told us where the huge beasts could be found, but unfortunately none had been seen in recent days. Two trips through the beautiful wetlands produced only tracks, no actual moose.
By this time the day was well spent and we decided to take Highway 77 down past Tarryall Reservoir for one last attempt at seeing some of the large lowland animals. We soon discovered that we were in prime red-tailed hawk country and were able to capture some excellent images of the beautiful raptors in flight in the golden light of dusk. Here at the computer looking over the images in Photoshop I can see that I have garnered some of the best raptor in flight images that I have captured!
All in all it was a hugely successful day and I will be at the computer for some time processing, uploading and printing the best of the best 🙂
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