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!

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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!

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!

Window to Pikes Peak

Siamese Twins at Garden of the Gods

I’ve been wanting to do this short hike for a long time, for the sole purpose of photographing Pikes Peak through the little window in the Siamese Twins Rock Formation in Garden of the Gods Park. My family from the midwest was in Colorado for a visit, so going on so a hike with my brother Jim was the perfect reason to take the trek!

You could make the climb to the famous formation by parking close by and making a short climb just to see the red spires but we decided to make a longer journey and see the rest of the park by beginning our hike at the visitor center. GPS later informed us that it is about a four mile round trip journey from that starting point.

And it was a perfect clear sunny Colorado autumn day to photograph the Great Peak through the Siamese Twins window through the sandstone rock.

Siamese Twins at Garden of the Gods

Changing aspen leaves are visible on the foothills and the sky was that famous Colorado signature blazing blue color!

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 materials. Many cool gift, household and tech items are also available, just click to explore!

 

Sunrise Stag Club

Sunrise Stag Club

Encountered a small herd of bucks this morning who were gracious enough to pose for me 🙂 My first shots were not the best as the deer were backlit at best and standing at shade at worst with the bright blue Colorado sky in the background. So I snapped a few hoping that they might be salvageable before passing by so that I could quietly circle around the mountain and shoot with the advantage of some sunlight on their faces.

When I came around the mountain I wound up a slightly different place so I had to do a little searching which scared off one of the big guys despite my best efforts to be stealthy. I wasn’t too happy to have made one of them run, but I looked around to see if I could find the rest of the herd. Much to my surprise I was

Sunrise Stag Club

standing almost face to face with the other two! I stood motionless so as not to scare them and to see if I could read their intentions.  They seemed relatively unconcerned about the photographer that they see so regularly so I quietly put down my trekking pole and raised my camera to my eye.

I did manage to get off a more shots before the handsome fellows began to get nervous. Eventually they walked off in the direction of their other buddy and I just called it a day and wandered down the mountain.

I put the best portraits of the bucks on my website for purchase as wall art on glossy metal or acrylic sheets, stretched canvas and traditional framing and matting. Cool gift items and apparel are also available with my artwork!

Sunrise Stag Club

Exploring Mueller State Park

Finally after all these years of wondering what was up the dark road in the trees along highway 67 I have taken the plunge 🙂 Drove up to the ranger station and paid my daily pass fee. The nice lady gave me a map of all the attractions and trails available in the park and off I went!

I decided to first just drive all the way through and get the lay of the land before delving into any trail exploration and the winding road took me a few miles back into the vast park, past picnic grounds, campgrounds, horse facilities, an RV park and finally to the turnaround at the north end.

Forest of Mueller State Park ColoradoI was most intrigued by the Ridge View Trail so I opted to hike that one. It looked pretty rugged and I’m no expert mountain biker so tackling that one on foot was my only option. It wasn’t a long walk before indeed there was a stone outcropping and an overlook. Unfortunately there is so much haze and smoke in the air these days that there wasn’t much of a view, just some close by hills in the Pike National Forest.

Finally the turnaround came into view at about 1.5 miles in and there was another

Golden Eagle in Flight

overlook with a little better view than the first spot… I think I would have been able to see the Sangre were it not for all the stuff in the air. As I was preparing to take a picture some kind of eagle soared majestically toward my position so I switched my camera to wide area focus and tried for a couple of captures. At first I was thinking this was a golden eagle, but now I’m not sure what it is, possibly even just a turkey vulture. Don’t know and I don’t feel like trying to find out, I simply don’t have the patience to be a  bird photographer. Then I was trying to decide whether to go back the way I came or to continue on into some more rugged terrain hoping for a loop back to the trailhead… by the way, the map that they give you at the park entrance, bring it with you on your hike… those trail numbers may come into play later on. Eventually I did the smart thing and just went back  the way I came. As it turns out the trail I was on came to and end right where I was and there was a possible loop back but it would have involved two additional numbered trails, which of course were on the map that I failed to bring with me 😦

Mule Deer in the Wilderness

I was also interested in exploring the Elk Meadow trail, sounded like a good place to find some elk to photograph! Not so much… but I did see a fine specimen of a mule deer buck who just stared at me so I could photograph him. After a few shots I went back to my truck for the 1.4x lens extender and the tripod, but by the time I was ready again the huge buck had disappeared into the woods.

When I got to the Elk Meadows trail I could see where it went, right through a large meadow and there simply were no elk there. I had also read that there might be more elk on the north end of the park along the old Cheeseman Ranch Trail so I went to check that out. You have to drive all the way through all the camping areas including the tent sites to get to the trailhead, which is also the trailhead for the Grouse Mountain Overlook. It’s a seven mile trail through the meadows at the north end, which seemed longer than I wanted to hike at that point so I just walked a few yards along the wide path to see if I could see anything. There was another trail off to the left with a sign so I went to check it out. No bikes it said…. hmmm well that must mean that there are bikes allowed on the trail I was on!

Wonderful, with my bike I was going to be able to explore that trail after all! I climbed on my bike and began a long enjoyable glide along the well maintained artery through the woods. I became a bit concerned when after a while I realized I had not had to pedal for a long time… approximately four miles of long time 😦 Eventually the trail gave way to an unmarked jeep road with a couple of signs that said “emergency exit” and I was getting a little nervous that I had made a wrong turn somewhere. But I fought the urge to chicken out and turn back and finally the trail veered to the west and then made a turn back into the park through a marshy area just behind the ridge. There were a few tough inclines followed by long flat cruises that I was easily able to handle so I took hope that the designers of the park had found a way to get back to the beginning without any killer hills!

In the marshy area I spotted something in the brush moving around so I stopped and dismounted while

Wild Turkeys

gazing intently into the ground cover. I soon discovered that there was a flock of wild turkeys scampering around near a pool of water so I slowly got out my camera and inched my way towards the little group. Unfortunately they spotted me and made their way into a thicket where I couldn’t see them very well. I did get off a couple of not so good shots in poor lighting as they popped in and out of the branches on their way to safety at the top of the ridge.

And just as I was starting to feel pretty good about a quick return to the trailhead, there it was… the price of an easy four mile downhill ride. A trail pretty much straight up the side of the ridge… I quickly shifted into low and powered up the mountain, sweat pouring down my face and stinging my eyes. I could hear the blood pumping through my ears and the sound of myself sucking wind. I thought I was going to spit out my lungs when I finally gave up and decided to stop and catch my breath. Eventually I got back on and promptly had to jump right back off when I couldn’t get going 😦 At that point there was nothing left to do but push the bike up the hill, a long hard two mile slog to the top of the ridge.

Finally the trail leveled out and I was looking forward to some more pleasurable riding when immediately I came across the sign for the trailhead and that trail was done, just like that!

By then my day was nearing an end and I began the drive back out of the park, hoping to see some stray wildlife in the meadows along the main road. Now that I have some idea of what the park has to offer I’m sure I’ll be back, if for nothing else some nice training rides along the long Cheeseman Ranch mountain bike trail!

Huge Bull Elk

Had to share my mountaintop with a huge bull elk this morning. As I cleared the ridge I spotted a few buck mule deer in the distance running back and forth making it difficult

Lone Bull Elk in the Rockies

to get a decent shot. As I moved around a grove of trees in hopes of getting a closer view without disturbing them even more I spotted something else in the woods staring out at me. A massive bull elk was peering through the branches at me! I quickly attached my camera to the monopod / trekking pole and got off a couple of zooms. Unfortunately my camera must have picked up a branch or twig near the animal’s face because those turned out slightly out of focus 😦

As I continued my way along the trail the elk moved out into a clearing where he was keeping a close eye on me. I got a few captures with him posing against the wildflower filled meadow and then he moved onto the top of the ridge where I was able to include the Sangre de Cristo mountain range in the background.Lone Bull Elk in the Rockies

Unfortunately it was quite a gloomy morning so the images don’t pop as much as I would like, but I’m very happy to have seen the majestic beast and happy to include these images into the permanent record 🙂

As always, these images and more are available for purchase on my website in the elk and wildlife galleries!