Awesome Autumn

Crystal Creek AutumnEverything came together like a dream. For years I have been looking longingly at photo magazines, facebook posts by other photographers and online articles dreaming of actually going somewhere new to do some shooting. There was always something, somebody was sick, not enough money, truck broke down, whatever… always something to keep me from going anywhere.  This year though was truly awesome! Made it to several places I have been wanting to get to, like forever it seems. Rocky Mountain National Park, Phantom Canyon, Crystal Reservoir

Sunset on the Collegiate Peaks

My week long autumn blitz is about over… Fitting that I was able to get this wonderful sunset picture on the last night of my project 🙂 Not that I am done shooting for the year, I will still get out on days off and on the mornings when I don’t sleep too late! Already though I can see that the wind has taken it’s toll on the autumn leaves, some of the trees are already looking a bit threadbare. The actual fall color season in the Colorado high country is quite short…. wind and rain and even snowstorms are quick to bring the amazing color show to an end. At lower elevations it is quite different, I’m sure down in the cities the trees haven’t even begun to change yet. But up here where I live the long Rocky Mountain winter is making it’s steady advance, bringing with it a stark beauty of it’s own.

 

Steve on Trail Ridge Road

Today finds me at my computer screen, looking over all that I have captured over the last week, happy in my memories of successful photo shoots. The day in Rocky Mountain National Park though will be the one day that stands out in my memory the longest. It is so amazing there, the rugged beauty of Trail Ridge Road, the wildlife, the amazing blue Colorado sky and fresh air are unparalleled 🙂 Please be sure to check in on my website often, I will be putting up new imagery as quickly as I can!

 

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Trail Ridge Adventure

Been waiting for this outing for a long time! Vehicle repairs, too many hours at work, too many life commitments… This trip to Rocky Mountain National Park has been on delay for an entire decade! Finally, yesterday was the day… truck running in tip top shape, camera equipment all working and autumn in full swing 🙂

Set my alarm for 2:30 a.m., in fact I set two alarms… didn’t want to miss this event because I didn’t wake up in time! 1:30 a.m. came around and suddenly I was wide awake. Thought about rolling over for another hour but my heart was already pounding and more sleep was just not going to happen!

It’s been hot lately, in fact I heard Colorado Springs set a record for most days over 90 degrees in September. But as I sat in the dark sipping my Morning Joe it felt unusually cool and there was a strange sound of water dripping. Thinking that the kitchen faucet might be dripping I wandered in for my second cup to notice that the dripping sound was coming from outside, a cool rain was steadily drenching the southern mountains. My first inclination was to call my buddy and suggest we pick another day… Second thoughts reminded me however that weather is my friend, some cool mist can turn an ordinary mountain meadow in to a spectacular moody mystical masterpiece!

Soon I was off and on my way to pick up my buddy at the planned time of 4:30 a.m. in hopes of entering the park at about sunrise. It was not until we were on our way did we finally decide to enter the park from the west side in hopes of catching some wildlife in the western meadows during the rain while exploring Bear Lake on the east side after the rain had hopefully ceased.

We hit Winter Park just as the sun was rising in the east with a fog bank in view to the north, probably hovering over Grand Lake but it had mostly dissipated by the time we arrived at that point. The sun was gaining in strength as we entered the park, unfortunately maybe a little too much strength as there was no wildlife to be found 😦 We eventually encountered a small herd of elk hiding in the shade of the dense forest along the road, but nothing like the large herds we were hoping for.

Autumn Tundra on Trail Ridge

Soon we were past the bottoms and on our way up to the lofty elevations of Trail Ridge Road, The drive wasn’t as long as I remembered and soon we were above tree line looking at some of the finest scenery Colorado has to offer!

The visitor center was the first place that looked worthy of a stop along the “highest continuous motorway in the United States“. It was cold there at 12,300 feet of elevation and the wind was blowing hard. We grabbed a couple of cameras and made a beeline for the gift shop where I was hoping for a nice heavy hooded sweatshirt as my prize for reaching the summit. Unfortunately I didn’t find just what I was looking for so I left the gift shop empty handed. As we made our way outdoors the unmistakable sound of a bugling bull elk filled the crisp thin air, so we ventured onto the observation deck to see if the source could be located. Far beneath the visitor center in the colorful valley below the huge bull elk was visible. Clamped on my long lens and steadied the camera on the wall for a few shots of the distant beast hoping that this would not be the closest I was going to get to the majestic animals.

Storm Clouds on Trail Ridge

Soon we found ourselves traversing the pinnacle of the drive, hugging the yellow line all the way! It looked like the clouds were going to clear and a magnificent warm afternoon was in the offing… Lol, soon Colorado struck back and it was snowing in earnest as we explored  one of the many trailheads on the way down the east side of the drive. A quick look back at the high peaks revealed an angry looking snowstorm enveloping the rugged range, well worth taking the time for a few shots of the action high in the majestic western mountains.

By the time we got to the lower elevations of the east side of the park the snow was but a fond memory. The sun was beating down and the Gortex had to come off. We did begin to encounter a few small herds of elk and deer but in fact it was so hot by that time that the animals were hiding in the shade. Hard shade surrounded by bright sun makes for impossible wildlife photography.

So I was thinking that Bear Lake is surrounded by tall mountains, a location that might be enhanced by some direct light from above so I turned the blue Dodge to the south towards the lake. Along the way we tried our hand at some motion blur whitewater along the creek, but getting to a location where the water was even visible proved to be a daunting task. In fact it soon became apparent that getting the water shots was more than daunting… it was downright impossible! Back to the task at hand, photographing the lake and mountain scenery. Soon we neared the the lake and encountered an unwelcome packed parking lot but by some miracle we managed to snag a spot, albeit the most distant one possible.

Bear Lake Peaks

Knowing the price that would be paid in footsteps for leaving some necessary piece of equipment behind, we loaded ourselves up with four camera bodies and probably twice that many lenses. That plus lens filters, extenders, maps and sustenance for a long hike made for a pretty heavy load! The arsenal of camera equipment proved to be well worth it though, as the location demanded nearly all of it’s use. Wide angles to take in the lake and the magnificent scenery beyond, long lenses to capture the rugged mountains surrounding the water and polarizers to enhance the water and filter out bright sunlight! Of course all that gear also serves to encourage the tourists to run up and hand you their phone cameras in hopes of a professional looking free portrait 😦 Oh well… what do you do. Should have had some business cards handy! Live and learn.

Finally we were satisfied that we had sufficiently captured the lake scene and headed for the truck. The sun was still beating down making good wildlife photography unlikely, so we decided to try our luck with some lunch in Estes Park. After some quick reconnaissance we decided upon some nice barbecue at Smokin’ Dave’s. We still had a lot of work to do in the park, but I was confident that one pint of Smokin’ Brunette was not a bad idea 🙂 At least I think that’s what that particular brew was called! I tried to make a post at the time but my phone wasn’t cooperating 😦 Anyway, great place, great beer, I’ll definitely be returning for more!!!

Finally by 5:00 p.m. the sun was losing some of it’s power and we ventured back into the park. I had once encountered a huge herd of elk in Morraine Park in a snowstorm so it seemed worth a check to see if the elk might also like that park on a sunny autumn afternoon as well 🙂 As we neared the meadow it quickly became apparent that my instincts were correct… at least by the sheer number of vehicles that had gathered along the road! It seemed like we had to drive forever to reach the end of the line where we could finally find our own place to park… once again, the long walk back meant that we were going to be packing everything from the previous hike, plus tripods for shooting in the inevitable darkness that was soon to be upon us.

Pair of Rocky Mountain Elk

As we neared the scene, the reason for the large crowd became apparent. A huge bull elk in perfect late afternoon light and his harem were enjoying the mountain grass on the west end of the meadow. Unafraid of the people and unconcerned by their antics, the elk were just going about their business of being elk. The majestic bull appeared to be posing for pictures, stopping occasionally to rear back his head and voice his loud opinion. Here we tried every conceivable combination of camera, lens and filter in hopes of the perfect capture. This one was my favorite of the day. There were many that I really like, but this one with the young cow in the scene seems to best depict the moment.

Finally darkness fell and the the elk began to meander off to the east further from the throngs of people with their big lenses, phones and ipads. We were tired but happy in the knowledge that we had made the best of the day and would be coming home with even more good images than we could have possibly hoped for 🙂 Already we are plotting a return to the park, and possibly one of the nearby campgrounds in hopes of capturing the activity that is sure to occur in the park at first light. One day in the park was good… but two would be even better!

These images and more are available on my website as wall art, available on glossy metal and acrylic sheets, wrapped canvas and traditional mat and frame. Also available are tons of cool household and gift items including t-shirts, phone cases, battery chargers, yoga mats, shower curtains, throw pillows and more! Images can be viewed there from newest to oldest, or by category. In gallery view just click the category that you are most interested in and the appropriate images will be displayed. Click the images you like and receive product possibilities and pricing will be displayed! Businesses requiring commercial use of my images can view the stock portal for licensing information.

Wolves in Rocky Mountain National Park

OK, so I know this is a picture of a coyote… But perhaps the reason for that is because wolves in Colorado were hunted  to extinction a long time ago and Yellowstone is a long way from Cripple Creek Colorado 😦

Coyote

Coyote in the Colorado winter landscape

But I just want to throw this out there, if wolves can thrive in Yellowstone, why could they not thrive just as well in Rocky Mountain National Park? Both are huge tracts of rugged land mostly inaccessible to people, both good habitat for wolves. Every year I have to hear the state wildlife people whine that there are too many elk in Rocky, basically they have no competition. The elk there just lay around all the time, sometimes causing traffic jams on the highways and sometimes just wandering into town to hang out with the tourists.

I have read accounts of how wolves have entirely renovated the landscape in Yellowstone once they began to thrive in significant numbers. The elk and deer herds became stronger as the animals were forced to move around and the wolves culled the weaker members. Aspen trees are healthier, forest grasses taller, and because coyotes and fox have to move around more there are more rodents for the eagles and hawks. The entire ecosystem is healed in a process called Trophic Cascade. Coyote-&-Magpie

Tourists and photographers come from all over the world to view the animals in Yellowstone, immensely benefiting local economies. It seems that Rocky Mountain National Park would benefit from the presence of wolves as well. Just throwing this out in hopes that like minded people will join and bring the miracle of wolves to my state. Sure, we might get some argument from the surrounding ranchers but it is my contention that the world does not need those ranchers or their cattle, many of which are living on and spoiling the federal public land experience for others who would also enjoy that land. Perhaps they could learn non lethal wildlife management or just sell some land to create buffer zones between the park and their ranches.

And once again, since the Obama administration caved to the hunting and ranching lobby in Washington, wolves have been unjustly removed from the Endangered Species List. Please go online and donate money, sign petitions, call congressmen, and do whatever it takes to get our beloved wolves (and grizzlies) back on the endangered list. If you don’t know where to find those lists and petitions, please visit my Facebook page dedicated to the preservation of our precious wildlife.