Archive for the ‘autumn’ Tag

Two for Tuesday: Autumn’s Brief Glory   7 comments

Quaking aspen, Wasatch Mountains, Utah.

Quaking aspen, Wasatch Mountains, Utah.

This fall, it’s sad to say, has for me been unlike most years.  I’m not in a place that has real seasons, and so am missing the show that deciduous trees put on at this time of year throughout the northern hemisphere’s temperate latitudes.  But don’t feel sorry.  Over the past few years I’ve been able to take a lot of time, mostly in the Rocky Mountain states, photographing fall colors.

Autumn in the Rockies is all about the quaking aspen.  Starting in early September in the north and going to first of November in New Mexico, aspens spend all too brief a time showing off the dazzling golden hues they are famous for.  Since I love transitions, I like shooting aspens as their color is just coming on, when a lot of subtle greens and other hues compete with the yellows.  I like going late too, when they are starting to lose their leaves.  It’s when the trees’ graceful silvery trunks show through, and when an early winter storm is more likely to mantle them with new-fallen snow.

This pair of images, though from two different places, purposely show only the trees, with no mountains, cabins or other elements to distract your eye.  I even avoided colorful sky and dramatic light.  The first picture, at top, was captured in early October near the peak of color.  The second image below was actually captured a few days earlier than the first but on a different year and at a higher elevation near Aspen, Colorado.  These trees were desperately holding on to their last leaves, exposing their elegant white trunks.  A beautiful forest of blue spruce is in the background.

I hope you’ve been able to get out and enjoy some crisp and colorful fall days this year.  If not and you’re in the right place, don’t waste anymore time.  Winter is coming!  Thanks for visiting.

Nearly bare quaking aspen: Maroon Valley, Colorado.

Nearly bare quaking aspen: Maroon Valley, Colorado.

Posted October 11, 2016 by MJF Images in trees

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Friday Foto Talk: Subjective vs. Objective, Part II   6 comments

Scenic ranch country, SW Colorado.

Scenic ranch country, SW Colorado.

This is the second of two parts on how to approach your photo subjects.  Check out Part I for an introduction to this fairly subtle but important topic.  Thinking about how you tell the story of your subjects is a key step in any serious photographer’s journey.  The reason why I’m not calling this “literal” vs. “abstract” or “interpretive” is that it’s a much more subtle distinction than that.  Now let’s look at a few specific examples.

Example 1:  Fall in Colorado

Last autumn I traveled through Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, which is my current favorite for fall colors.  The image at top is an objective take.  It’s a level-on, standard composition.  It’s shot in good but not unusually awesome light.  I zoomed in to exclude more of the same.  I’m just trying to show the mountains and trees being their spectacular selves.

In the shot below, I zoomed in again, focusing on the contrast between the golden aspen and green spruce trees, all set off against new-fallen snow.  It’s somewhere between objective and subjective.  The light is flat and there is mist in the air, perfect for showing colors and textures.  The composition excludes all but the trees, giving it even more objectivity.

Fall color and the season's first snowfall: San Juan Mtns., Colorado.

Fall color and the season’s first snowfall: San Juan Mtns., Colorado.

 

However, the photo is partly subjective because of its focus on the snow.  It shows the transition from fall to winter.  I feel pretty strongly that transitions are the most interesting photo subjects.  So this overlap of seasons, common to mountains, naturally attracted me.  That’s a subjective viewpoint and one that plenty of people share.  I timed my trip in part to see this transition.  I also knew that most other photographers, who time their visits for the peak of fall color, had come and gone.

Towards the end of autumn, I was in the far west of the state poking around the Colorado River.  I found an off-trail route to some bluffs overlooking the river, with beautiful cottonwoods lining the banks.  Being late fall, clear cold nights caused dense fog to form each morning along the river.  The fog combined with the viewpoint shooting downward gave me the chance to abstract the form of the trees, which being cottonwoods were still in full leaf.  I think in our enthusiasm for fall color we often lose sight of the beautiful forms, which is one reason why I like going post-peak when leaves begin to fall, revealing the ‘bones’ of the trees.

Cottonwoods form silhouettes in the fog.

Cottonwoods form silhouettes in dense fog along the Colorado River near Fruita, CO.

 

Now for two examples from a recent stay in one of my favorite places in the world, Death Valley National Park in the California desert:

Example 2: Wildflower Bloom

Winter rains from the current El Nino have led to a great bloom of wildflowers in Death Valley this year.  Some are calling it a “super-bloom”.  I’m not too sure about that.  We’re already calling nearly every full moon a “super-moon”.  But you can’t deny that the flower display is unusual this year and certainly worth photographing.

One subjective take on it is fairly obvious.  Death Valley is well named.  It’s an arid and hot place with sparse life adapted to the harsh waterless conditions.  When colorful flowers burst forth literally overnight from the dusty-dry desert floor (and later die off, just as suddenly, after going to seed), it’s hard to avoid thinking about themes of renewal, impermanence, and the yin-yang of life and death.

A simple bloom breaks through the desert floor of Death Valley, California.

A simple bloom breaks through the desert floor of Death Valley, California.

The image above highlights this subjective view of the bloom.  A fairly narrow aperture helped, but increasing the camera-subject distance relative to the subject-background distance did even more to give the cracked desert floor a prominent role in the image.  Otherwise with the macro lens it would’ve been too blurred.

I also did a few objective close-ups, with defocused and indistinct background (image below).  This was to highlight the flowers for their objective qualities.  After all they’re vibrant and colorful no matter where they happen to bloom.

Desert Gold, Death Valley, CA

Desert Gold, Death Valley, CA.  Canon 100 mm. macro lens, 1/250 sec. @ f/13, ISO 200.

 

Example 3: Pupfish Pools

I’ve been to Death Valley National Park a bunch of times but have never really focused on pupfish and their habitats.  Pupfish are small, active little fish that resemble guppies.  They are evolutionary left-overs from Ice Age times when enormous lakes filled the valleys here.  The one that occupied Death Valley is called Lake Manley.  Through the millennia, as Lake Manley slowly dried up, the few surviving fish split into separate species that now live in spring-fed perennial pools and small streams scattered around the region.

The species of pupfish here are all endemic.  Endemic means they live nowhere else, and because of that they’re quite rare and protected by U.S. law.  Pupfish are also quite the cute little guys!  They’re named for their playful antics.  But if you look closely you can see the scars.  What looks like play is actually aggressive territorial behavior.  Their small size and active movements make pupfish difficult to photograph, at least without getting into the water with them (which is illegal of course).

Pupfish habitat: Ash Meadows, Nevada.

Pupfish habitat: Ash Meadows, Nevada.

I can’t think of the wetlands where pupfish live without imagining what things were like when Lake Manley existed.  It was filled with fish and other life which attracted huge flocks of birds and other animals (including humans, scattered bands of hunter-gatherers living along the lakeshore).  Today’s pupfish pools can in a way be thought of as windows into that distant time.

These ideas have a way of influencing photography in a subjective and often unconscious way.  In the image above (which also appears in a previous post), I drew close to the deep blue pool, shooting to capture the steam rising over the warm water on a frosty morning.  I furthered the slightly mysterious nature of the image with editing on the computer.

The largest spring-fed pool in Death Valley: Saratoga Springs.

In the next image (above), I got close to the ubiquitous reeds lining the wetlands and set them in stark contrast with the deep blue water.  I consider this one partly subjective because it almost looks as if it’s not really a desert environment, like it could be part of ancient Lake Manley.  That was really luck.  During that trip early spring storms moved through the area, filling the springs and decorating the high Panamint Range with snow.

Reeds at Saratoga Springs, Death Valley National Park, California.

Reeds at Saratoga Springs, Death Valley National Park, California.

When I shot the image above I was observing the pupfish.  I decided to get subjective in an abstract way and used camera movement to impart the feel of being there.  I was surrounded by reeds taller than I am, waving in the breeze.

I wasn’t purely interpretive though.  I captured a few documentary (objective) shots of the springs as well as the fish themselves (mostly getting frustrated by the little scamps!).  For the last photo at bottom, I climbed up a nearby hill at sunrise and used a wider angle in order to show the springs in their desert surroundings.

Pupfish showing off his iridescent blue flank.

Pupfish showing off his iridescent blue flank.

 

Let me know what you think.  How important is this to you?  Do you mostly have an objective or subjective approach to photography?  Or something in between?  Have a fantastic weekend and happy shooting!

Saratoga Springs, Death Valley National Park.

Wordless Wednesday: Late Fall in Colorado   2 comments

Single-image Sunday: Fog and Fall Color   4 comments

Cottonwoods dressed for autumn peek out of a fog bank along the upper Colorado River in northern Colorado.

Cottonwoods dressed for autumn peek out of a fog bank along the upper Colorado River in northern Colorado.

Photographing fall color is never quite as easy as it seems.  It’s so easy to get excited about the vibrant trees, especially when they first turn.   I often find myself pointing the camera wherever the trees are, forgetting about finding interesting compositions and light.  And I know I’m not alone in that.  But after a bit of the enthusiasm wears off, it’s easier to settle down and shoot properly.

This morning in north-central Colorado was pretty dull.  The light at sunrise was not cutting it, and then the sun rose bright and harsh.  Although elevations are high in this area south of Steamboat Springs, there are no sharp rugged peaks.  But the area is spectacular in its own way.  The Colorado River, still fairly modest in size this close to the headwaters, winds through farmland and then plunges into Gore Canyon.

Gore Canyon was one of the major obstacles to a trans-continental railroad.  An early Denver railroad magnate named David Moffat dreamed of building tracks through and over the Rocky Mountains to tap the mining and cattle trade.  But it took a crew of death-defying men, called Argo’s Squirrels (J.J. Argo was crew leader) to complete it.

To survey the route through Gore Canyon, considered unnavigable at the time, the Squirrels came up with a plan.  Some of the crew floated logs down the river while others lowered themselves by rope down the vertical granite walls to river level.  Once there, they drove steel pegs into the rock, then caught and attached the logs to the pegs by rope, forming a precarious scaffolding.

This way the crew had a walkway, just above the raging whitewater, from which to survey the route.  Old pictures show the Squirrels seemingly at ease on the spindly logs a few feet from certain death by drowning.  They wore no life jackets, but amazingly no lives were lost.  It’s also interesting that most of the men were immigrants.

Nowadays Gore Canyon is famous among rafters and kayakers for being one of the roughest sections of whitewater in the country.  Gore Rapid is a solid Class V.  You can do a commercially-guided raft trip through the canyon, but you better be ready.  It’s considered by many to be the wildest whitewater accessible by guided trip in the U.S.  A much calmer way to see the roadless and remote canyon is to take the California Zephyr, a scenic train trip over the Rockies and on to the west coast.

Back to the picture:  I had stopped to make coffee, at a place that overlooks the river valley just upstream from Gore Canyon.  The sun was busy burning off a bank of ground fog that had collected overnight along the river.  Cold fall mornings that give way to warm sunny afternoons are perfect for this kind of fog.  I could see cottonwoods along the river, in full color, just peeking out of the fog bank.  I was some distance from the river, so I got my long lens out and zoomed in on groups of the golden trees as they emerged from the fog.

I hope you enjoyed this little glimpse of a remote but interesting corner of Colorado.  Have a great week!

Two for Tuesday: A Close Call   31 comments

Maroon Bells, near Aspen, Colorado.

Maroon Bells, near Aspen, Colorado.

Normally my Two for Tuesday series is about someone (or something) other than myself.  This time I’ll share a personal story, something scary that happened to me recently.

I’ve been traveling in Colorado, and made a swing through the Aspen area for the quaking aspen in fall color.  I wasn’t really planning to go to the ever-popular Maroon Bells, but found myself  driving up there as sunset approached.  I knew there was no way I would be shooting the “Bells” from Maroon Lake.  There are already about a million too-many shots of this on the internet and on walls everywhere.

Instead, I hiked past the throngs milling around the lake and on up-valley.  The lake is only a few minutes’ walk from the parking lot, and is admittedly quite scenic.  If you visit this area for the first time, go ahead and shoot from there.  I did on my first visit.  I’m really not trying to be smug.  But if you’re a serious photographer, I think you’ll want to get your own take on the place and avoid the tired composition that has been shot to death.

I climbed up an avalanche chute, bushwacking through the colorful but infuriating undergrowth.  I was sure I’d miss sunset, or rather the colorful skies as the sun set behind the mountains.  The trees and brush were in my way and it was getting steeper.  But I found a rock outcrop and, breathing hard, scrambled up.  I crept out to the edge and got a great view with aspens in the foreground (image at top).  I switched lenses from my Zeiss 21 mm. to the 50 mm. lens.  This was a crucial decision.

Next day I drove to another part of Colorado.  A couple evenings later I was shooting sunset and noticed an empty spot in my camera pack.  My Zeiss 21 mm. lens was gone!  This is a fairly new lens, currently the most expensive one I own.  So I was devastated.

On the computer I reviewed the metadata for all my recent images.  Although I had stopped and shot at a bunch of different spots to shoot, the last time I had used the Zeiss was shooting at the Maroon Bells.  Hooray for metadata!  Next morning I started the journey back across central Colorado, checking every place I had stopped, just in case the lens had somehow dropped out.  In the back of my mind I suspected it was at either at that rock outcrop or it was gone for good.

By late afternoon I was back hiking past all the photographers at Maroon Lake.  I had trouble finding the spot again.  It was just a random spot on the mountainside, away from any trail.  But toward sunset I recognized a tree and then the rock outcrop.  I was nervous; this was my last chance.  But I finally allowed myself to look down at where I’d been shooting.  And there it was!  It sat happily in the aspen leaves a foot or so from the edge of the cliff.

My shouts of joy echoed off the Maroon Bells.  I thanked the gods that I wasn’t the type of person who shoots from all the usual spots.  Needless to say, had I been at the lake that night, the lens would be long gone.  But nobody would likely ever shoot from that rock outcrop.  So except for the odd bear finding it and using it as a chew toy, I knew if I’d left it, it would still be there.  The sun was setting.  So to celebrate, I turned around and shot back toward the lake, where you can’t see but 50 or so tripods were lined up along the shore.

Maroon Lake sits in its aspen-lined valley, Colorado.

Maroon Lake sits in its aspen-lined valley, Colorado.

It’s a special kind of happy to find a lost $1600 lens on a mountain.  But I was also dismayed at my forgetful nature, which I’ve lived with since I was a kid.  Oh well, at this point in life you either accept all your failings or you drive yourself nuts.

Thanks for checking out the story and photos.  Have a wonderful week!

Wordless Wednesday: Fall is Here!   6 comments

Wordless Wednesday: A Pond in Autumn   5 comments

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Friday Foto Talk – Taking a Break: Is it Worth it?   20 comments

Quaking aspen in peak color not far from Telluride, Colorado.

Quaking aspen in peak color not far from Telluride, Colorado.

Earlier this year I took a break from serious photography for a few months.  Finally in late July I purchased a new DSLR and began shooting seriously again.  Although my break was essentially forced on me by the loss of a camera, I now see the benefits (and cautions) of purposefully taking a break from shooting.  Here are a few things I learned.

Why take a Break?

  • Burnout:  If you are shooting a bunch for a long time you will  undoubtedly become better with all that practice.  But you may also reach a point of diminishing returns.  It’s possible, even for the most enthusiastic photographer, to get tired of it.  And as soon as you begin to lose even a little motivation, you are not doing as good a job.  You stay in your comfort zone.  You don’t work quite as hard for that image.  If you find yourself not searching as much for unique compositions; if you’re shooting the same subjects in the same sort of light, if you aren’t working the subject like you used to, you could be burned out.  And it could be solved simply by taking a break.
  • New Creative Outlet:  Although you can certainly continue to shoot while trying your hand at painting or writing, for example, it may be best depending on your personality and time demands to focus your attention and efforts solely on the new undertaking, without the distraction of shooting.
  • New Subject or Genre:  If you want to transition from one type of photography to something completely different, you’ll need to learn some things.  Of course you will need to shoot to learn, but before you do this it may be advantageous to take a break from all shooting.  Then you can read about and view images of the new genre.  Also, you’re going to define a different style, or at least a variation on your shooting style.  This takes some time and some thinking.  It may help, before you jump right into the new genre, to pause and view it from an outsider’s perspective.  While doing this you can do some serious thinking about how you want to approach the new thing.
  • Renew your Passion:  This reason is relevant to all of the above points.  For example, if you will be changing photography genres, taking a break will help you really get into it when you return to shooting.  This goes double if you are borderline burnt out.  In fact, it may be because you are burnt out that you consider a new type of photography or a new creative outlet in the first place.  I’ve found that photography is no different than anything else.  In order to do well you need to really go for it.  You need to be passionate.
Sunset approaches at Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado.

Sunset approaches at Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado.

Driving up into the mountains of SW Colorado in autumn, and Chimney Rock looms ahead.

Things to Do While on Hiatus

  • Think:  One thing I’d recommend while on hiatus from photography is to think about how you’re going about it.  Are you developing a style you are comfortable with or merely chasing popularity on Facebook?  Think about the way you’re shooting, the types of subjects you’re naturally attracted to vs. the ones that elicit the “wows”.  Envision the way you’ll go about photography when you return to it.
  • Read:  This is also a great time to do some reading on photography.  While there’s nothing wrong with reading up on technique and how-to, this is the best time to read about the history of photography and some of the great early photographers.  Anything that gets your mind working as you reevaluate your approach and style is a great use of your time.  And while shooting, especially if you are shooting every day, it’s harder to find the time for this.
  • Look at Images of other photographers:  I’m not really talking so much about the internet here.  It’s more related to the above point.  As you read, for example, about Edward Weston or Dorothea Lange, you will naturally be viewing their work too.  Of course you can do this while shooting too, but during a pause the effect on you might be different, more conducive to objective analysis of your approach.
  • Try something else creative:  Even if this is not your reason for taking a pause, it’s a great way to recharge your batteries and broaden your outlook on the arts.  Even something as simple as model railroading or origami can pay unexpected and unpredictable  dividends when you return to shooting.
  • Get your Portfolio squared away:  There are plenty of ways to improve your portfolio of images, from re-editing a few of your older pictures to a wholesale reshuffling of the images displayed in your online galleries.  Is it time to design or redesign a website?  All of this is more easily done when there are no new images coming in.  This subject is worth its own post.  But a break in shooting is the perfect time to go through your existing portfolio and improve it.
  • Get your Images in front of more eyes:  After going through your portfolio, the logical next step is to look at ways to promote it.  Whether you want to start selling some images, want to get some of them critiqued, or simply want to connect with new people via your images, you now have time to focus on getting your images circulated.  Now is also a great time to print some of those you’ve been wanting to print, to look into art shows, farmer’s markets and even galleries.
  • Catch up on the Blogging World:  You knew this was coming!  Now you might be also taking a break from the internet.  While that’s worth considering too, there’s no reason it has to be the same time as a photography break.  This is a great time to expand (in moderation – see below) your reading and image-viewing online.  Find new bloggers and connect more with those you already know.  If you don’t blog, why not start one now?

 

A blustery-cold snow-squall moves in and the fall colors just soften.

A waterfall near Creede, Colo.

A waterfall near Creede, Colo.

 

 

Cautions and Caveats

  • Getting rusty:  It’s very likely that your photography skills will, depending on how long your break is, suffer a decline.  But this “rustiness” is only temporary.  It’s certainly not a reason, in my opinion, to forego a photography hiatus.  Just be aware of it when you return to shooting.  Don’t beat yourself up if you screw up some shots that you would’ve nailed before.  You’ll get it back.
  • Equipment envy:  It’s amazing to realize how quickly new camera gear comes out these days.  Especially if you decide on a months-long break, there will be new “breakthrough” cameras and other toys to tempt you.  Friends you shot with before may have fancy new equipment when you get back together with them.  My recommendation is to ignore it.  Invest in new gear only if you feel you’re at a point to make it really pay (whether in real money or in significant advantages in your ability to make the images you want).  Returning from hiatus you’re unlikely to be at a point where new equipment will pay off.  Shoot for awhile first.
  • Image envy:  It’s probably inevitable that a pause in shooting will enable you to view a lot more online imagery than you previously had time for.  Depending on where you are as a photographer, you’ll need to rein in this inclination to a greater or lesser degree.  It’s a good idea to search for new and different photographers while on pause, but moderation is the key.  Don’t fall into the trap that others are racing ahead of you, or that you’re missing out on a great time of year to shoot (they’re all great!).
  • Shooting Casually:  I did this but I’m not sure how productive it was.  I had a little point and shoot and occasionally shot with that during my break.  It was pretty casual but I found myself trying to make the camera do some pretty heavy lifting.  While I did get some nice images this way, it sorta defeated the purpose of taking a break.  If you’re sure you can do snapshots only and not get too serious, I say go for it.  But realize it’s a little like taking a drink or smoking just one cigarette.  Realize also that when you return to shooting you’ll need to get completely out of snapshot mode and back into serious shooting.  That’s not always easy.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison just before dark, Colorado.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison just before dark, Colorado.

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Getting Back into It

 I recommend not rushing it.  Make sure you’re ready to get back to shooting.  It’s okay to miss photography; just don’t use that as an excuse to end your hiatus too soon.  When it’s time, you’ll be chomping at the bit but also ready in a patient and measured way.  As mentioned, expect some rustiness for awhile.  Keep your expectations modest and don’t stress missed shots.  Just work at the basics and, as always, let your own unique vision guide you.  Have fun!

I have the distinct feeling there is more to this than what I’ve written here.  So if you have anything to add, please don’t be shy about commenting.  Have you taken a break from photography before?  Was it forced on you or voluntary?  You may have an argument for or against going on hiatus.  Or perhaps you’ve an additional caution or caveat to relate.  I will definitely consider it again in the future, despite the drawbacks.

Storm clouds gather and the quaking aspen aren't bothered at all: San Juan Mountains, Colorado.

Storm clouds gather and the quaking aspen aren’t bothered at all: San Juan Mountains, Colorado.

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Evening comes on after a glorious sunset at Dallas Divide, Colorado.

Single-image Sunday: Autumn in the Rockies   17 comments

It’s funny how the shortening days have played havoc with my good intentions to do a Friday Foto Talk this week.  But by next Friday it will be different, promise.  This is the area I’ve been hanging around lately.  Because it’s so darn beautiful!  It is an arm of the San Juan Mtns., themselves a part of the Rocky Mountains of southwestern Colorado.  Telluride is just the other side of those mountains.

 I was hoping the aspens would still be going here but I didn’t have very high hopes.  What a great surprise: they were in their spectacular peak!  I’m not one to be on the hotline as far as these things go; I’m sure there’s an app for it.  I’d rather be surprised.  And I don’t want to avoid going to a place I know is lovely, fall colors or not, based only on some narrow-focused recommendation off the internet.

This was captured atop a ridge when the sun finally cleared the storm clouds lingering over the higher part of this range, which is out of view to the left.  I climbed atop this rock and used it and the nice pinyon pine as foreground.  I think this image has everything the Rockies are: rugged mountains, golden aspens, pinyon pines and lichen-encrusted metamorphic rock.

I’ve been exploring this area more completely than I have in the past.  In fact, I’m right now burning daylight!  Since this is my last full day here, I am going to finish this post, stop watching football, and drink the beer I ordered faster than I want to.  Hello golden hour!  Have a great week everyone.

 

A beautiful morning and fall colors go together well in the mountains of SW Colorado.

A beautiful morning and fall colors go together well in the mountains of SW Colorado.

Travel Theme: Unexpected   15 comments

A really great idea for a travel theme, thanks Ailsa!  Check out all the other entries over on her blog: Where’s My Backpack?.

Maroon Lake in the Colorado Rockies at dawn.

Maroon Lake in the Colorado Rockies at dawn.

Last fall I was shooting sunrise at the ever-popular Maroon Lake in the Colorado Rockies.  As usual I let the other photographers go on their way and lazed around drinking coffee and soaking up some gorgeous sunshine.  I decided to walk down to a little pond near the main lake and look for some abstract or macro shots.  The sun was well up by this time and the light full of contrast.  So I was in no hurry.  I stalled for a few more minutes, cleaning lenses and fiddling with gear.

Maroon Bells in Late Fall I

While I had my back turned a visitor showed up.  When I turned around and saw her, I was surprised to say the least!  I had no idea moose frequented this area.  Change of plan: instead of a lazy stroll, now it was a crouching stalk!  Which was probably not necessary; she didn’t seem too bothered by my presence.  As the last picture shows, she was after a sweet (if soggy) mid-morning snack.  She wasn’t about to let some clumsy human with a camera ruin it either!

The Maroon Bells near Aspen Colorado receive an autumn visitor.

The Maroon Bells near Aspen Colorado receive an autumn visitor.

Water plants, yum!

Water plants, yum!

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