Archive for the ‘Rocky Mountains’ Tag

Mountain Monday: The Mogollons   20 comments

This post is one day late for International Mountain Day.  But right on time for Mountain Monday!  It highlights a relatively remote place in western New Mexico.  I’d been wanting to go to this part of the southern Rockies for a long time, and earlier this year I finally made it.  I drove up a dirt road that ended at a gate marking the boundary of the Gila Wilderness.  The road continued beyond the gate, growing worse and clinging to the side of a mountain.

I parked and began to hike along the rough jeep track, recognizing it as an old mining route.  I followed it toward the head of a canyon.  Poking around I found some weathered shacks, a couple adits and other remnants of the gold & silver boom of the late 1800s.  There is a ghost town not far from here called Mogollon.  On the way back, as the sun sank lower, the air cooled and fog began to form over the mountains to the west.  It made for a mystical scene.  The sunset that followed was nice, but this shot was my favorite because of its mysterious feel.

The Mogollon Mountains of New Mexico's Gila Wilderness march off into the distance.

The Mogollon Mountains of New Mexico’s Gila Wilderness march off into the distance.

Friday Foto Talk: Likes & Dislikes ~ Shooting in National Parks, Part I   17 comments

Sunrise over the Continental Divide, Rocky Mtn. NP, Colorado.

After several weeks of relatively involved Foto Talks, I’m in the mood for short and sweet this week.  As my annual pass to National Parks (NPs) expires, I’m trying to decide when (or even if) I should buy another one.  I probably will.  But it’s made me consider all that I love (and all that I don’t) about America’s National Parks.  I’d love to hear what you think of my likes or dislikes.  Or if you have any of your own you’d like to add.  So fire away in the comments!

On the Ute Trail, Trail Ridge, Rocky Mtn. NP, Colorado, in the very early morning when all my fellow hikers are behind me, to be met on my return hike.

On the Ute Trail, Trail Ridge, Rocky Mtn. NP, Colorado, in the very early morning when all my fellow hikers are behind me, to be met on my return hike.

LIKE

National Parks are photo-worthy.  Of course it’s easy to like the scenery and wildlife of the parks.  It’s mostly why they were protected in the first place.  Nearly all of the parks are photogenic.

DISLIKE

NPs are crowded.  All that beauty and wildlife draws a lot of visitors.  Nearly all of the parks have seen steady increases over the past few decades.  And with recent drops in the price of gas, people are on the road, flocking to the parks.  Visitation is exploding.  Of course a few parks have always been busy: Yosemite, Great Smokies, Grand Canyon.

But two fairly recent trends are bothersome, at least for those of us with some history in the parks.  One is the increase in off-season visitation.  Another is exploding visitation in parks like Zion and Rocky Mountain (which has recently leapfrogged both Yosemite and Yellowstone).  Even small, out-of-the-way parks like Great Basin (which I recently visited) can get busy in summertime.

Colorful rocks and the lichen that like them:  Rocky Mtn. NP, Colorado.

Colorful rocks and the lichen that like them high up in Rocky Mtn. NP, Colorado.

LIKE

NPs are diverse.  Most parks are all about mountains, forests and streams.  Others are more famous for their wildlife.  But many others feature history or pre-history.  The newest unit, Stonewall National Monument in New York, even celebrates LGBT (gay) rights.

DISLIKE

NPs attract very non-diverse visitors.  I don’t know how much of a dislike this is because I think it’s slowly changing.  But parks are lily white.  Black Americans in particular are few and far between, especially in the big nature-dominated parks of the west.  Latinos are beginning to visit in greater numbers, probably because they have families to entertain.  But they’re also under-represented.

A mated pair of pronghorn (which are not true antelope) in Wyoming well outside of any NP.

A mated pair of pronghorn (which are not true antelope) in Wyoming well outside of any NP.

So-called cave shields in Lehman Caves, Great Basin NP, Nevada.

So-called cave shields in Lehman Caves, Great Basin NP, Nevada.

LIKE

NPs are managed for people.  Most parks go out of their way to make parks accessible to everyone.  And this includes the disabled.  It’s actually in their charter.  They were created with a dual purpose in mind, which if you think about it is a pretty difficult pair of opposing values to simultaneously succeed at.

But they do a good job.  There are accessible trails and fishing platforms at Yellowstone and other parks, for example.  Roads give access to the best attractions, and lodging plus camping allow staying inside the park (as long as you make reservations early enough).

DISLIKE

NPs attract all sorts of people.  Here’s a sad fact:  many people bring way too much with them when they go on vacation, yet they routinely leave common sense at home.  People arrive ready to have a good time, and that’s fine.  But for so many, a good time means getting loud and raucous.  You won’t see the same people in a NP that you see at a trailhead for a remote wilderness area, getting ready to hike in for a week of self-sufficient existence.  That doesn’t mean you won’t find these hikers in NPs (I for one, haha!).  It’s just a numbers thing.

In nature, around wildlife especially, being the typical noisy human being is simply not appropriate.  It ruins the atmosphere and impacts all sorts of creatures, including other humans.  But sadly it’s all too typical.  Many young people don’t learn how to have a different sort of good time until well into adulthood.  It’s one of the things I am thankful for.  I learned early on.

Next time we will continue with some general advice on shooting in national parks.  Happy weekend everybody!

Dusk falls at Bluebird Lake in the alpine terrain of a less-traveled area of Rocky Mtn. NP, Colo.

Friday Foto Talk: Point of View & Staying Safe   13 comments

A recent shot from a lovely place in the Colorado Rockies called Bluebird Lake.

Let’s follow-up on the topic point of view (POV) and in particular last week’s Foto Talk on ethics and legality.  As you begin to dream up and try a wide variety of positions to shoot from, you’ll find yourself getting more deeply involved with it.  It’s what photography is all about.  But before you get lost in the moment, take another moment to consider the following cautionary tales.  The phrase “safety comes first”, after all, applies to photography like it does to any undertaking.

Flowers grow on a lichen-covered rock outcrop at 11,000 feet in Rocky Mtn. National Park, Colorado.

Flowers grow on a lichen-covered rock outcrop at 11,000 feet in Rocky Mtn. National Park, Colorado.

POV & Safety:  People

  • Property Territoriality.  I mentioned last week how you might run afoul of property owners or officials.  Yet anybody could take strong exception to your shooting near their “territory”.  One time in a lonely rural area I was getting some sunset shots.  Not far away was a farm house.  I was on the side of a county road, not even pointing the camera directly at the house.  But driving away in the gathering dark I noticed a guy following me in a pickup.  He continued for quite awhile until I stopped, got out and challenged him (something I don’t recommend).  Later I was pulled over by a cop (the guy had called) and had to explain who I was and what I was doing.
While shooting this barn in central Oregon I was approached by the owner who told me I was on a private road. I was honest about my reason for being there and he let me shoot away.

While shooting this barn in central Oregon I was approached by the owner who told me I was on a private road. I was honest about my reason for being there and he let me shoot away.

  • Compositional Territoriality.  It’s not always property owners who have issues.  You can also get in the way of other photographers too.  Although I generally shy away from popular locations and subjects and so don’t run into many others, on occasion I have inadvertently stepped in the way of a fellow shooter.  Some of these guys (they’re always guys) are extremely possessive of “their” compositions (see bottom image).  I don’t know why but they seem to like shining flashlights or (worse) laser pointers at me in a sort of passive aggressive way.  Weird.
  • See Below for more on staying safe in populated areas.
Dusk falls at Bluebird Lake. I balanced on the edge for this shot 'cause I wanted a POV highlighting the metamorphic rock textures in the foreground.

Dusk falls at Bluebird Lake. I balanced on the edge for this shot ’cause I wanted a POV highlighting the metamorphic rock textures in the foreground.

SOLUTIONS    

  • Stay Cool.  I probably don’t have to tell you that situations involving angry people can spin quickly out of control.  But if you remain relatively calm and listen to what the person is saying you’ll thank yourself later.
  • Be Honest.  It’s always best to state honestly what you’re doing.  If you try to obfuscate in any way you’ll just put yourself under suspicion.
  • Be Sensitive but Firm.  I try to strike a balance between (1) being sensitive to both the law and to people’s concerns and (2) being firm about my right to be on public property and my right to use (especially to keep!) my camera gear.
  • Know when to Walk Away.  I don’t always handle people the way I later realize I should have.  The main thing I’ve done wrong in the past is to not apologize and walk away when someone gets very angry.  Apologize even if you don’t think you’re in the right.  If they won’t let you go and want to get physical, just pull out your phone and dial 911.
St. Vrain River, Colorado.

St. Vrain River, Colorado.

POV & Safety:  Animals

People are obviously the biggest danger, but other animals can be dangerous as well (see what I did there?).  How close to that buffalo do you really need to be?  Seems we read on a weekly basis about tourists getting hurt when they get too near buffalo or other wild animals in Yellowstone Park.  And it’s not just tourists.  Pro photographers with not enough wildlife experience or common sense get too close.  Don’t take domestic animals too lightly either.  For example I give Brahma bulls more respect than most wild animals.

This large African elephant in the Okavango Delta gave us a fright when he bluff charged.

This large African elephant in the Okavango Delta gave us a fright when he bluff charged.

SOLUTIONS

  • Learn.  Start by reading about your animal subjects, paying particular attention to body language, territorial behaviours, “comfort distances” and related info.  But remember to take anything you learn on the internet or in books as a general guide only.  Animals are like people.  It’s not just that each individual is unique; it’s that each situation you find it in is unique.  Animal behaviour depends not just on instinct but on the individual and its circumstances.
  • Observe.  There is no substitute for careful observation of body language while you’re anywhere near a potentially dangerous animal.  Don’t approach until you take a good look.  For example, ears back is a common warning sign with prey animals.  For predators you may get ears back if they’re feeling defensive, or ears forward and alert if they’re on the hunt.
  • Go Slow.  Approaching slowly will not only avoid frightening the animal and blowing your chances, it will also give the animal a chance to get comfortable and keep it from becoming defensive.  It will also allow you more time to observe your quarry and stop if a behaviour indicates you should.  As a rule you should never turn your back on or run from any potentially dangerous animal.  There are exceptions to this however.

I’ve posted this one before, but it shows so well how animals use body language to warn you about getting any closer (arched tail).

POV & the Blinder Effect

  • The blinder effect is when you are dialed in to what you’re doing, changing positions and POV.  Our minds are on the shot, not on possible dangers.
  • As photographers we are more vulnerable than the average person.  To see why, let’s take mountain lions as an example.  If you’re a smaller man or a woman you need to be particularly careful in cougar country.  But even if you’re big and ugly like me, think about it.  As a photographer we often choose to shoot near dawn or dusk when the light is good.  And that’s when most predators are active.  Further, we tend to crouch down (making ourselves smaller) with faces pressed to the camera instead of directed toward danger.
  • In populated areas, simply substitute the word mugger for cougar and the situations are perfectly parallel.

ANIMALS

It’s not just when they’re the subjects that wildlife is a potential danger.  On a couple occasions I’ve been so focused on a landscape shot that I allowed a curious animal to approach me quite closely.  Depending of course on the animal and the situation, this could be either a pleasant surprise or a dangerous development.  For example cougars inhabit even populated areas.  And don’t forget venomous snakes.  Adjusting POV often means walking through tall grass or thick brush.

I definitely avoided turning my back on this Komodo dragon on the island of Rinca, Indonesia.

This Komodo dragon on the island of Rinca, Indonesia snuck up on me while I was photographing a bigger one. It’s a bit chilling to be stalked.

PEOPLE

  • Urban Areas:  In cities, wandering into a sketchy neighborhood near dark is easy to do when chasing a shot.  I did it in Kuala Lumpur once while trying for a photo of the Petronas Towers at blue hour (dusk).  That is, until a kind local noticed and let me know I was putting myself (or at least all my camera gear) at risk.  I got a shot but it wasn’t right, so next night I did something different (see image).

Not as famous as the Petronas Towers, but still worth shooting, the Kuala Lumpur Tower & the perfect POV on my hotel’s roof. I don’t think I was supposed to be there.

  • Remote Areas:  One reason I like wilderness areas is because there’s normally no need to worry about other people.  But the other side of that coin means you are more vulnerable if a bad character does appear.  Several years ago I was in Colombia on a hike through a jungle known for its bandits.  I stopped to watch some very cool-looking monkeys.  There was a small noise and I turned around to find that two young native guys with machetes had caught right up to me.  Chills went down my spine.  But happily they turned out to be friendly and we ended up hiking together.  One even climbed a tree and used his machete to cut a huge fresh papaya down (yummy!).

SOLUTION

For the blinder effect there is really just one solution:  Be Aware of your Surroundings.  Take your face away from the camera and look around from time to time, particularly in lonely places.

Summary

I feel like I’ve sounded a tone that’s a bit too paranoid.  We all know what can result from too much fear: paralysis.  In fact you’ll probably never run into most of these situations.  But they are worth being ready for in the same way that it’s wise to prepare for a natural disaster that’ll probably never happen.  So be careful out there, just not too careful.  Shoot with as many POVs as you think is necessary.  Practice awareness and common sense and all will be well.  Have a great weekend!

At Deadhorse Point, Utah, a popular spot, I arrived pre-dawn & was able to shoot this gnarled juniper while another photog. who arrived after me circled around with his little flashlight.

At Utah’s Deadhorse Point, a popular spot, I showed up very early (rare for me).  While shooting this gnarled juniper a guy who arrived after me but apparently wanted the same shot circled around trying various ways to hurry me.

Wordless Wednesday: Snowmelt in the Rocky Mountains   Leave a comment

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Wordless Wednesday: Late Fall in Colorado   2 comments

Wordless Wednesday: Fall is Here!   6 comments

Mountain Monday: Big Chief   10 comments

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This beautiful mountain lies in northern Montana not far from the Canadian border.  It has great significance to the local Blackfeet.  It was a major landmark for trappers and other early explorers of the early 19th century heading west across the northern plains to the Rockies.  Big Chief, which is 9081 feet high, is protected not only by Glacier National Park, but also by the Blackfeet.  It’s eastern and northern slopes are on reservation land, and it is sacred to the tribe.

To see it you need to travel up the east side of Glacier N.P., going north from the turnoff for Many Glacier.  Travel up Highway 17 like you’re going across into Canada, and several views of the peak present themselves.  To get even closer of course you need to hike.  Just before the border station a parking area is on the left side of the road.  The trail, which is the northern terminus of the Continental Divide Trail, heads up the valley of the Bow River into Glacier’s heart.  It’s a spectacular area.

Wordless Wednesday: A Pond in Autumn   5 comments

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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.

Rocky Mountain National Park, Part I   13 comments

The view from Glacier Meadows Campground, Rocky Mountain National Park.

The view from Glacier Meadows Campground, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

Time for a travel post.  After all, that’s supposed to be a major focus of this blog!  I’ve been to a bunch of America’s National Parks.  In fact, there are not many that have fallen through the cracks, parks that I haven’t yet had the chance to visit: Sequoia & King’s Canyon in California, Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, Nevada’s Great Basin, the Everglades and Acadia on opposite ends of the East Coast; not many.

Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park is an exception.  It seems strange that I’ve been to all of the other parks in the Mountain West but never this one.  It loomed large in my mind as a blank spot.  I felt I was missing something, until recently that is.  I’m splitting this post up into two parts, because I want to share a lot of pictures of this place.  I only had my little point and shoot camera, but what the heck, it did a nice job of documenting my trip.

With a week and a half off, and considering I’m working within a (long) day’s drive of Denver, I finally got the chance to visit the park.  The hot weather we’ve been experiencing made the decision easy.  I was longing to get out of the unrelenting flatness and heat of the Great Plains and back into the mountains.  The first night camped at elevation, not far from Colorado Springs, was also the first time I’ve used my sleeping bag in quite some time.  It was blessedly cool.  Perfect sleeping weather!

A common sight on the southern Plains these days, on the way to the Rockies.

A common sight on the southern Plains these days, on the way to the Rockies.

 

Getting There & Camping

After a short introductory hike through Garden of the Gods, I headed up to Rocky Mountain National Park northwest of Denver.  The usual gateway to the park that locals simply call “Rocky” is via Estes Park, a little tourist-town on the east side of the park.  Estes Park is about a 2 hour drive from Denver.  From here, after some last-minute stocking up, you have the choice of two entrances: Beaver Meadows, closest to Moraine Park, or Fall River to the north.

An alternative gateway town is Grand Lake, on the southwest side of the park.  At about 2 1/2 hours, this is a bit further to drive than Estes Park, but because I’m recommending a loop through the park anyway, it doesn’t really matter whether you enter or exit through Grand Lake.  However you get into the park, you won’t have to drive far before you find camping.  Campsites (without hookups) cost $20/night.

You can make camping reservations (which in summer is a good idea) at Moraine Park or Glacier Meadows campgrounds.  These are located in the most popular part of the park, the Bear Lake Road corridor.  Moraine Park is the more popular of the two, but I camped at Glacier Meadows and thought it was just fine.  It has a fantastic view (see image at top) and a very friendly ranger to check you in.  At either campsite you can show up early in the day to get a decent campsite.  Not too early before people check out; about 11-1 is a good timeframe.  Campsites are not huge and forested like we have in the Pacific Northwest, but they’re available.  That is, providing you don’t try to do Rocky on a summer weekend.  Do yourself a big favor and go during the week.  It’s a very popular park, and close to a big city.

The terrain at Wild Basin includes this area that was subject to recent flash flooding.

The terrain at Wild Basin includes this area that was subject to recent flash flooding.

One of the many wildflowers I found along the trail.

One of the many wildflowers I found along the trail.

 

 

Rocky is For Hiking

This is yet another national park that is best seen from the trail, whether on foot or horse-back.  One note: days often start clear, with clouds showing up mid-day and thunderstorms always possible late in the afternoon.  I don’t mind storms (call me strange), but if you want a better chance for calm weather start your hikes early and finish before late afternoon.

I drove up on a Monday afternoon, entering the park via an entrance I haven’t mentioned – Wild Basin.  This is a short gravel road, driveable in passenger vehicles, that dead-ends at a trailhead.  The hike in from here to Ouzel Falls is an easy 2.7 miles.  But you can hike further along to a glacier-gouged subalpine basin, ultimately ending up at beautiful Bluebird Lake 6 miles in.

Another key trail-head lies between Wild Basin and Estes Park.  Long’s Peak is the highest mountain in Colorado at 14,259′ (4346 m.).  You can climb the mountain from the trailhead along Hwy. 7.  In late season when there is little snow or ice, the climb is not technical.  It can be done in a long day, starting before dawn.  Or you can do one of a number of shorter hikes from here.  There’s a small tent-only campground at the trailhead.

The Loch is a beautiful place to hike to in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

The Loch is a beautiful place to backpack in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Flowery grassy meadows are found everywhere at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.

Flowery grassy meadows are found everywhere at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.

Another great hike, one I highly recommend, takes off from Bear Lake Road at Glacier Gorge Trailhead.  This is located just before road’s end at Bear Lake.  A short jaunt up the trail and you find yourself at a gorgeous (and popular) little cascade called Alberta Falls.  But keep going, the best is yet to come.

The Loch, a lovely lake popular with backpackers, is your next destination.  When you come to beautiful Timberline Falls 4 miles in, you’ll need to do a little steep climbing.  But the reward for that comes quickly, in the form of two spectacular tarns.  A tarn is an alpine lake set into a depression carved by a glacier at the base of steep mountains.  Lake of Glass and Sky Pond (image below) are aptly named.

Sky Pond is your final stop before turning around.  Unless you want to do some mountain-climbing that is!  You will be hiking across rocky tundra at the foot of the granite giants.  It’s what you come to Colorado for!  The total mileage for Sky Pond is 9 miles round-trip, with about an 1800-foot elevation gain.  Not an easy hike, especially with the high altitude, but definitely worth it.

 

Sky Pond is a glacial tarn sitting high in Colorado's Rocky Mountains.

Sky Pond is a glacial tarn sitting high in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains.

One more great east-side hike takes off from Bear Lake at the end of Bear Lake Road.  You will need to take a shuttle for this one-way hike.  First park your vehicle at the Fern Lake Trailhead near Moraine Park Campground.  Just back up the dirt road from here is a shuttle bus stop.  The park operates a free shuttle bus that runs daily from mid-June to mid-October, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.  You never have to wait long for a bus.

You’ll actually take two shuttle buses with a change mid-way along to Bear Lake, your starting point.  From Bear Lake, hike along the lakeshore to the right, quickly leaving the crowds behind when you veer right at a junction and begin climbing to a gentle pass.  After skirting a beautiful alpine lake at the base of rugged peaks, drop steeply down to Fern Lake and then out through a lovely valley to the trailhead, where your vehicle is parked.  You’ll pass some spectacular scenery on this 9+ mile hike, with the chance to see bear or mountain sheep along the way.

Elk browse in one of the park's many grassy meadows.

Elk browse in one of the park’s many grassy meadows.

Other Things To Do

After all that hiking you may be ready for some mellow pursuits.  If you have fishing gear (you can rent in Estes Park), fly-fishing along the Big Thompson River as it winds through Moraine Park is so perfect you won’t need to catch any fish to have a wonderfully relaxing time.  Early morning in Moraine Park is also a great time to break out the camera and tripod to get some pictures.  Herds of elk frequent the huge meadow that makes up Moraine Park.

The Big Thompson River, popular with fly fishers, is a crystal clear stream that flows conveniently through beautiful Moraine Park.

The Big Thompson River, popular with fly fishers, is a crystal clear stream that flows conveniently through beautiful Moraine Park.

There are several stables in the park that offer trail rides.  All of them seem to be centered around Moraine Park.  Those that I saw were your typical long trains of tourists perched uncomfortably on bored-looking mounts.  But I’m sure you could arrange to ride in a smaller group where they cater to a more experienced rider with a quicker pace.  However you do it, it looks to be well-organized.  And the scenery is truly spectacular for horse-back riding at Rocky.

Stay tuned for the second part of this post, where I’ll cover spectacular Trail Ridge Road and the west side of the park.  Thanks for reading and happy travels!

Bear Lake at dusk.

Bear Lake at dusk:  Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

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