First Light at Emerald Lake (Rocky Mountain National Park)

I came down with a pretty nasty cold last week that took me out of commission for a few days. I’m finally feeling a bit better today which is good because I’ve got a bunch of travel coming up the next three weeks. No personal trips mixed in there though so will have to keep drumming up old travel photos like this one from Rocky Mountain National Park during the summer of 2014. I was with my wife vacationing after a business meeting and woke up one morning to make the 3.5 mile round-trip hike to Emerald Lake.

The easily accessible trailhead, Bear Lake Trailhead – the busiest in the park, is often over crowded by 10 AM so if you plan on going hiking here be sure to get there early or just plan on parking in one of the remote parking areas and taking the shuttle to the trailhead. Alternatively, you can hike to this spot by adding some distance if you start at the Bierstedt Lake Trailhead. The trail is well maintained and takes you by two other lakes – Nymph Lake and Dream Lake – as it winds through pine and aspen trees.

First Light at Emerald Lake (Rocky Mountain National Park)

First Light at Emerald Lake (Rocky Mountain National Park)

I scouted this location out the day before when my wife and I hiked up to this spot. I envisioned framing the shot with this funky looking dead tree anchoring the foreground. If there were only a few more colorful clouds in the sky this shot would have been perfect but the clouds weren’t picking up the sun the same way the peaks of the mountain were.


River to Hallett Peak (Rocky Mountain National Park)

Often overlooked as a photographic spot is ‘Storm’s Pass’ on Bear Lake Road which offers nice views of Hallett Peak at sunrise. Storm’s Pass has a tiny parking lot that fits maybe four cars and it is surrounded by much more popular destinations along Bear Lake Road – like Bear Lake itself, Glacier Gorge, Sprague Lake, etc… all of which draw hundreds of hikers and photographers daily. As I sat here photographing cars flew by but not a single person stopped to catch the view.

There is a river leading down from the mountain which draws a leading line through the trees which also help to provide a nice foreground. The only negatives are the two trees that have jumped up and partially blocked the views of the mountain….if only I had a saw (just kidding of course).

River to Hallett Peak (Rocky Mountain National Park)

River to Hallet Peak (Rocky Mountain National Park)

Morning in Rocky Mountain National Park

After photographing Lake Helene at Sunrise I headed back to find the trail that I somehow lost in the morning. Hiking through a number of trees and overgrown bush – trying to make some noise in case the moose and her babies that are known to frequent this area were nearby – I stumbled onto this scene which was magical with the sunlight poking through the trees creating a ‘sunstar’. There was a light rain the night before and so the grass was still wet – as the sun hit the top blades of grass a glow was created that came through nicely in the photo.

Morning in Rocky Mountain National Park

Morning in Rocky Mountain National Park

In order to capture a ‘sunstar’ in your image it is imperative to set a narrow aperture on your lens – if you click the link above there is more detail around the specifics – but essentially think of the narrow aperture as if you are squinting your eyes. The more you squint the bigger the ‘sunstar’ effect will become and that is true in photography as well. The larger your aperture value (i.e. smaller opening, less light getting through, etc…) the better the sunstar. The sunstar here was shot at f/22.

Nature’s Frame (Garden of the Gods)

An easy 1-mile round trip trail in the Garden of the Gods State Park near Colorado Springs, Colorado leads to the well known rock formation – Siamese Twins. A popular hike, as the trail is well maintained, so you are likely to encounter a fair amount of people (and pets) on the trail to and from the formation. In the distance is one of the iconic peaks of the Colorado Rockies – Pike’s Peak. Pike’s Peak stands at over 14,000 feet (one of 52 peaks in Colorado to reach that height) but is pretty accessible to most of the public via a 13-mile (one way) hiking trail (called the Barr Trail) which also contributes to how dangerous it is. Gaining nearly 8,000 feet in elevation it is exposed to lightning throughout much of the trip up and down. Often, as I saw when I hiked to the top of Hallet’s Peak in August, storms come out of nowhere in the summer months in the mountains. A cloudless morning can quickly turn into a heavy storm by 11 AM and most hikers are not aware of the dangers that an exposed peak brings as there is no cover from deadly lightning strikes.

Nature’s Frame (Garden of the Gods)

Long's Peak through a Natural Frame (Garden of the Gods)

Big Horn Sheep – Rocky Mountain National Park

Last August when I had my meeting in Denver my wife and I spent an extra couple of days in Rocky Mountain National Park. I usually go once every three months but because of flight cancellations I haven’t made the past three meetings. This week I have a meeting out there on Friday and I’m planning to stay through the weekend and get a few nice hikes in. This will be a pre-cursor to our BIG trip at the end of this month to Alaska. I’ve started to plan that one out to and I think we are going to have an opportunity to explore some ice caves, kayak and hopefully spot some wildlife (Bald Eagles, Whales, Sea Lions, Bears) up close and personal!

Big Horn Sheep – Rocky Mountain National Park

Big Horn Sheep - Rocky Mountain National Park

Wildlife sightings in Rocky Mountain National Park are fairly common and in the summer you can see big horn sheep near the side of the road grazing on the summer grasses. There were around twenty sheep up on this ridge on this afternoon but I got as close as comfortable to this guy who was pretty relaxed and was able to isolate him and cut the others out. They are so used to people that he didn’t move until I got about 50 feet away and then his head turned towards me and he started to watch me a little closer.

Emerald Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park

I’m flying to Denver today – normally I’d be really excited because I’d be trying to stretch this into a weekend of hiking and photographing Rocky Mountain National Park. Unfortunately, I have to go right from Denver to Dallas for another meeting the following day and will be unable to spend anytime in the mountains. Work is really putting a damper on my hiking schedule :). I’m thinking of making a trip out to Yellowstone/Grand Tetons in September this year in route to Calgary….hoping I can make that happen. It’s been 10+ years since I’ve been there and I’m getting antsy!

Sunrise on Emerald Lake

Sunrise on Emerald Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

I took this photo in August last year when my wife and I headed out to Rocky Mountain National Park for a four day weekend. The trail to Emerald Lake is fairly short (1.75 miles each way) but it is a steady climb for the first mile or so to reach Dream Lake. Dream Lake is also another great place to stop for sunrise and given my experience both locations should be relatively clear of other photographers that early in the morning. I’ve been to plenty of other national parks where the popular spots for landscape photography are jam packed but for some reason this place and Dream Lake never seem to have any other people there. There is a waterfall coming off the mountain across the lake (hard to see in this photo) but you get to hear the sound of the crashing water which adds to the atmosphere as well.

After the sun has come up I like to take my time hiking back as there are a few mini-waterfalls and rocks shaded from the low sun that make interesting compositions in the early morning light.

Adventures in Cancelling

My flight last night to Denver got cancelled…that was a bummer but little did I know that was only the start of my adventure. American Airlines is normally fantastic! I fly them all the time for work and last year came so close to Platinum status. I’ll get there this year! However, last night the O’Hare Airport luggage department really had me in a mindf#ck situation (excuse my French).

Photo of the Day – Sunsetting on the Rockies

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I checked my bag through to Denver and grabbed a quick bite to eat while I kept an eye on the board as I noticed that other flights – presumably due to the troubles out east – were being cancelled all over the place. I finished eating and was happy to see that my plane was still ontime and set to board at 5:15 – unfortunately at 5:10 they announced the flight was cancelled. I don’t know why it took them until five minutes before we were supposed to board to cancel the plane but whatever it happens so I got on the phone with customer service to learn that everything Chicago to Denver was booked until Friday afternoon. Realizing I wasn’t going to make my meeting tomorrow I just cancelled the whole trip and headed back downstairs to attempt to retrieve my luggage. This is where it got fun interesting idiotic (I don’t know if there is a word to describe it so let’s just go with ridiculous).

I got in the line at the luggage counter at 5:20 and when I finally reached the desk to talk to someone it was 6 PM. I explained my situation and the first guy said okay, took some information punched it into the computer, wrote it on the back of the ticket and told me to go to baggage claim 9 and they would get my bag out in a 1/2 hour. At 6:40 my bag still wasn’t there so I went back to the counter – no line this time so I was able to walk right up to the desk. I asked the lady to check on my luggage and noted that at this point I was sick of waiting and asked if they could just deliver it to my house. She said not a problem but she couldn’t schedule that so I had to call an 800 number. Well with the issues they were having out east I knew this was going to screw me but I was pleased to hear the wait time was only 8 to 12 minutes. 45 minutes later and still waiting on hold I got back in what was now a long line at the baggage counter, waiting, waiting, waiting…an hour after I last talked to someone I finally reach the front of the line and start talking to the lady behind the desk. I tell her the situation and say I want my bag delivered and she says okay takes my ticket and says:

Baggage Lady (BL): Uh oh. I can’t help you
Me: Why?
BL: You haven’t reached your final destination. This bag is going to Denver.
Me: No the flight was cancelled so I just decided to cancel my whole trip.
BL: So you aren’t going to Denver?
Me: No, not until May when I have another meeting
BL: Well you can get your bag then
Me: Wait, what? I have to wait until May to get my bag?
BL: Yes, we can’t give it to you until you reach your final destination.
Me: But I cancelled my flight so THIS IS my final destination.
BL (shows me the ticket and the baggage claim receipt – pointing to the DEN representing Denver): You see here on the ticket it lists your final destination and it says DEN for Denver. Until you make it to Denver we can’t give your bag back that is just protocol. I’m sorry I can’t help you (meanwhile she is reaching over for a pamphlet with the 800 number for me to call and file a claim) but you can call this number and you can see if they can help you.
Me: No, I see the final destination but my flight was cancelled completely and now I am not going to Denver at all
BL (Confused Look): I thought you said you were going in May (at this point as my head is about to EXPLODE the 800 number finally picks up and I am able to start this process over again with her as I begrudgingly collect my belongings off the counter and walk away)

Ultimately, I wind up filing a claim with the 800 number lady 3 hours after I started this procedure at the O’Hare luggage desk. I sigh and head out to hop in a cab and head home….just as my bag pops out onto baggage claim nine. I grab the bag and get the hell out of there. I know I’m not perfect at my job and I’m sure I have some bad days but I don’t generally deal with the public. I feel like if you are representing a major airline and dealing with their customers your IQ should be greater than that of my cat Nola. She could have been as helpful as one of the three counter people at the ORD airport. Morale of the story is – if you check your bag at ORD and your flight gets cancelled you are screwed!

I’d be catching a sunset similar to this right now had I made out from ORD yesterday. The weather in Estes Park looks amazing! 40s – 50s for highs and lows in the high 30s. This after three feet of fresh snow last weekend so it would have made for some glorious winter photos. Ah well – I’ll just have to see capitalize on the May trip.