Quite a Day with the Bighorns

Fog Bank Sangre de Cristo

I have to say, yesterday was quite a day… the plan was to arise early and drive to Waterton in hopes of catching the bighorn sheep in full rut. The day got off to a bit of a rough start though, a heavy blanket of freezing fog had enveloped the entire region the night before and it took me about 20 minutes to chip my way into the truck before I could even depart!

On the way up the pass I looked back and noticed that the fog bank had created a beautiful blanket in the Arkansas River Valley at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Range, so I had to stop and snap a few pictures of that! There was a pretty good haze in the air to go with the fog so the images aren’t as clear as they could be, but it was still an amazing sight to behold 🙂

We began our mountain bike ride up the canyon fully expecting a good long ride before

Bighorn Rut Season in Waterton Canyon

seeing any sheep but after just a few short minutes of pedaling a group of the critters came into view. I assumed it was the usual herd of ewes and youngsters that so often inhabit the entrance to the park, but much to our surprise the little herd was also occupied by four good sized rams causing trouble among each other, one in particular who was kicking the others in hopes of starting a fight.

Bighorn Rut Season in Waterton Canyon

I have long desired to witness the rams butting heads, and it looked like this day was going to give me that chance! I wanted to capture a still of the moment of impact, but I also wanted to get some video so my readers could also experience the excitement of the moment. As a group of three rams circled each other, jostling and kicking… I switched my camera to video to record the action. There was not the classic charge and clash impact in this scene, but I did manage to record the nudging and little head knocking on this video now available to watch on my Youtube Channel 🙂

We watched transfixed by the action for at least two hours as the rams hassled each

Bighorn Rut Season in Waterton Canyon

other. They would graze for a couple of minutes while it looked like they might finally give it a rest and relax for a while, but soon the tension would again arise and the tussle would begin anew.  Just when we would think that nothing was really going to happen, all of a sudden without warning they would square off, take a couple of steps on two feet and smash heads. It was very difficult to photograph, zoom lenses were required to get the best view of the action, but too close to capture both animals when they were setting up for the action. It was also difficult to be focused in on the area where the impact would occur since it all happened so quickly without warning.

Bighorn Rut Season in Waterton Canyon

But I do believe I managed to capture the exact moment of impact on this image, the huge beasts with their heads together and eyes closed for the crash. I think maybe it would have been better if my camera had fired a millisecond earlier, but again… maybe the smashed heads is what I was after!

Rumors of a bear further up the canyon finally tore us away from the sheep herd and off we went. We rode to approximately the 4 mile point without seeing any other wildlife so we turned back around to return to the herd for a few more images. The river was magnificent in the winter light and the ride an excellent aerobic workout. I’m looking forward to really getting in shape for some more serious riding in the spring!

As I crested the final ridge on the journey home I was greeted by this magnificent sunset,

Sunset on the Sangre de Cristo

beautiful golden colors and the remnants of fog from the storm the night before. A perfect ending to a perfect day 🙂

As always, these images and more are available for purchase on my website as wall art on glossy acrylic or metal sheets, stretched canvas and traditional framing and matting! Click the link to explore!

Running the Numbers

River running that is! Most summer days are pretty mild here at almost 9,000 feet at the base of 14,115 foot Pikes Peak. However once in a while it becomes apparent just how close Colorado is to the hot desert land of the southwestern United States. Yesterday was one of those days. I have always wanted to explore the Numbers recreation area between Buena Vista and Leadville during rafting season and when the desert heat started to bake Woodland Park by 8:00 a.m. I decided this was the day!

Rafting the NumbersI was getting a bit of a late start, which is a bad thing if you are going to shoot landscapes or wildlife, but for rafting, I figured they wouldn’t really get going until after noon anyway. So I loaded up the doggies for a road trip along with the camera and soon we were rolling west on 24 to the quaint river town of Buena Vista. Once there, the traffic was horrendous, the main road through town was all jacked up with construction cones and I missed my turn down to the river. I know of another access point so I decided to just get the heck out of the mess and go down to the dirt road along the river further north of town.

Well that turned out to be fortuitous because I would discover that the Numbers rapids are actually quite a bit further north than I had imagined. I had tried to explore them one other time a couple of years ago, but at the time my truck was not available and with only a Miata to negotiate the dirt roads I was not too successful! From my known access point I turned north on a one lane jeep road until I found a wide place to park. Hiked down to the water where I discovered another photographer working for one of the adventure photo companies. The rapid she was staking out was #4 and I was not too impressed with the vantage point there so after a bit of chit chat I was back out onto the highway looking for the start of the Numbers.

Finally I saw a sign for the Numbers Recreation Area and turned in. Another one lane road, probably about 20 miles north of Bueni… soon another sign indicated that the put in was only a mile upstream so I decided I didn’t want to get trapped in river company traffic on that one lane road and went back to the bridge and parked, hoping that there would be a hiking trail along the river.

Well there wasn’t exactly a trail on the west side of the Arkansas there, but it is possible to walk along the river and I found a couple of nice spots with a good view of one of the rapids. Not sure which one yet, but it was very close to the beginning of the famed river run. Made my way down to the bank and over a couple of natural rocks steps in the water onto a boulder that was sitting out in the river a bit. Perfect, a seat in the shade, perfect lighting, perfect view of the action and the river upstream! According to the adventure photographer lady, I had about a half hour to kill before the afternoon action was scheduled to begin. Fiddled with my camera a bit to make sure I was going to get good exposures with a shutter speed fast enough for some good stop action. For stock photography, images need to be razor sharp so I wanted shutter speeds of around 1000th and an aperture in the F11 range. A quick check of the histogram indicated that I was going to need to need an exposure bump of a third of a stop.

I had seen the rafting companies going in with vans and buses, so I knew there was going to be a good number of rafts coming through soon and right on cue at about 2:00 p.m. the colorful rafts began drifting past, along with a few batches of kayakers. I also decided to try my hand at shooting a video for my Facebook status updates that I was posting… Pretty easy to do with phones these days! I may make it a habit to do that regularly. Only thing I noticed is that the microphone must be in the front because rather than getting the sound of the river I noticed it sounded more like the water gurgling in the rocks behind me. Need to make a note to check into that.

Well, by 2:30 the action was dying down considerably already so I decided I had what I came for and let the doggies take a splash in the water at the boat access near the bridge before heading for home. All in all I collected about 200 captures so I will be busy processing these for a while! And I feel confidant that I have thoroughly explored the Numbers and am on to dreaming up a new idea!

 

Steve Krull is a prolific sports and nature photographer selling prints and stock images online as S.W. Krull Imaging at various sites and agencies. Click this link to view all the products and services offered by Steve Krull and S. W. Krull Imaging. Additional services include, wedding photography, portraiture and model portfolios, and event photography. Additional products include fine art stock imagery, prints and gift items