Winter in the Rockies are magical – yes any time of season can be defined as magical so what makes the winter different? For me it is the dead silence that envelopes one of our nations most populated/visited national parks. In the summer I’d probably encounter one, if not two other people, on the trails pre-dawn but in the winter….not a single soul. It is just me and the watchful eyes of the elk wondering what the hell it is that I’m doing that early when it is this damn cold!?!
Dream Lake in the dead of Winter (Rocky Mountain National Park)
Regardless of the temperatures there is nothing that makes me happier than seeing the light hit the peaks as daybreaks on the Rockies. I only wish that during these trips I knew better how to use my GoPro because I would have taped it to a tree and captured the movement of the sun over the mountains as the day announces itself.
I spent a cold morning taking pictures of Hallett’s Peak over Dream Lake. As the sun rose and the late morning hikers gathered I started my descent down the trail. On my way down I gazed over at Long’s Peak and noticed the unique cloud formation building above it. I unpacked my camera gear and waited a few minutes as the clouds passed over top of the highest mountain in Boulder County (rising to 14,259 feet).
Clouds over Long’s Peak (Rocky Mountain National Park)
I’m not sure what kind of cloud it is – does anyone have any ideas? I thought it was lenticular at first but think those build vertical up through the sky and these clouds seemed pretty flat.
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)
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.
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)
I took this shot during my trip to the Rockies back in August (2014). One of my clients out there had just had me over at his house for dinner with him and his wife. Earlier in the day we hiked all the way up to the top of Hallett Peak which is still the highest elevation I’ve ever been outside of an airplane at 13,000+ feet above sea level.
The Ute Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park is unique because the majority of it sits above the treeline (11,000 feet in the Rockies) which allows expansive views along the entire route.
View from the Ute Trail (Rocky Mountain National Park)
A quickly rising trail from the Bear Lake Trail head in Rocky Mountain National Park takes you the 3.25 miles to the shore of Lake Helene at the base of Notchtop Mountain. I was hiking in the dark so that I could catch sunrise at the lake and though I had been there the day before I missed the turn initially and hiked right past it. Fortunately, I knew the general vicinity where I was looking and realized pretty quickly I’d hiked right by it.
Sunrise at Lake Helene (Rocky Mountain National Park)
After backtracking a bit the sky was starting to light up and there was only around 15 minutes before the sun was set to start lighting up the peaks of the mountain. I heard some rustling through the trees and thought for sure it was going to be a bear or an angry moose (while hiking the day prior I saw a moose on the trail and was told she frequented the lake) but was happy to see a flash of light as the being turned to face me. I started in the direction of the light (another hikers headlamp) as I knew that he too was photographing sunrise at the lakefront. Typically, I’m not happy seeing other hikers/photographers when I’m this far out but given the circumstances I was pleased to just be able to follow his light to my destination.
There are a ton of elk/deer in Rocky Mountain National Park and on my last trip there I spent an hour or so watching a herd of them near the Fall River entrance station near the Sheep Lakes. I kept a respectable distance but was able to get reasonably close to them as I walked a wide circle from the main road and came up behind them next to the lake they were drinking out of.
Rocky Mountain Elk (Rocky Mountain National Park)
We are off to the Smoky Mountains this week on Wednesday for a few days and hoping to see some good fall color. To my surprise this is the most popular time of year in the Smokies (I figured it’d be summer) so everyone must be as interested in the fall leaves as I am.