Dream Morning (Rocky Mountain National Park)

Temperatures are in the teens and there is fresh layer of snow covering the mile and a half climb to Dream Lake. The smell of winter and wind chills dipping into the single digits convinces me to throw that extra pair of mittens into my bag – you never know if I’ll need them when not operating the camera.

I’m leaving from the trailhead at Bear Lake two hours before sunrise because I want to be sure that I don’t miss first light kissing the peaks of the Rockies. There are three other cars in the parking lot that holds 150 so cars generally. I presume the others are up in the mountains some place camping – I’m envious in a way and feel that my four hours of sleep in a warm hotel room are cheating somehow. Still I value that warm bed and most importantly value those precious outlets that allow me to re-charge camera batteries, laptops and cell phones – I can’t give those modern day conveniences up so easy. I’m a city kid from the Midwest barely equipped for the hike on a well maintained – albeit snow covered – trail. Still my knowledge of Rocky Mountain National Park has improved greatly in the past four years and I’m full of confidence as I start out. In those past years I’ve visited 12 times and know that on this last hike up the mountain that it very likely will be last (at least for sometime). I’m dreading that but am happy that I will some photos to remember the morning by.

Dream Lake Sunrise (Rocky Mountain National Park)

Dream Lake at Sunrise (Rocky Mountain National Park)

This place is where I fell in love with photography – if I wasn’t making quarterly trips out here for work I most likely would have given it up at some point along the way. I got lucky my first trip to the park and was fortunate to get some recognition in a photo contest from a shot I submitted of Fog Over Sprague Lake (Link Here). There were a few hundred entries in the contest and somehow I placed in the top 32 which may not seem like much but as someone who had just bought their first DSLR camera a few months earlier it was everything. My time spent outside of the office became increasingly dedicated to learning about photography – in fact at one point I posted a picture for 560 days in a row (which just seems absurd now) but trying to do that daily forced me to stay at it and learn to be better. At many times during those first eighteen months on the blog I’d get four or five visitors a day but none of that mattered because I was doing it primarily for me. I wanted to capture beauty with the camera and document the fortunate experiences in my life. It drove me to be better and now as I go back and look at some other photo – like the one below (from almost the same time of year and the same spot) it really makes me realize how much I’ve learned.

Winter in the Rockies – Version from April 2012

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The processing is pretty shoddy and colors just aren’t realistic. It is not a great example of HDR but I was so happy with it at that point and thought it was wonderful. I look at it now and I can pick out all the flaws in it – I wonder if in four years I’ll be doing the same to the more recent version of this shot?

Who knows but I’ll continue to enjoy the journey and try to get better. There will be more ups and downs but that’s the fun of it.

“Life is not always perfect. Like a road, it has many bends, ups and down, but that’s its beauty.”
― Amit Ray, World Peace: The Voice of a Mountain Bird


Lake Helene Sunrise (Rocky Mountain National Park)

Last August while spending a weekend out in Rocky Mountain National Park I woke up before 4 AM to make the moderately difficult hike to Lake Helene. I had visited the lake on the prior day to make sure that I knew exactly where it was but still got a little lost a couple of times and had to backtrack to find the trail. Eventually, I made it out to a spot where I could capture the first light hitting the peaks and reflecting back down on the lake below it. There was another photographer standing on the far edge of the lake taking a different angle on the 12,000+ foot Notchtop Mountain which dominates the scenery from this position.

Lake Helene Sunrise (Rocky Mountain National Park)

Lake Helene Sunrise (Rocky Mountain National Park)

I’m not sure I’ll have a chance to make it out to Rocky Mountain National Park this summer but I’m hoping to get the chance to go to Banff in June and September. I usually go every six months but the March meeting got moved to June so hopefully the weather will be more cooperative there than it was last week in Paris where we didn’t see too many sunrises or sunsets because of low hanging grey skies.

Two Jack Lake – Banff National Park

So the streak had to come to an end at some point. For as much traveling as I’ve done the past year my delays and time spent parked on the Tarmac has been minimal. In fact, it is hard for me to recall my last delay that was more than a half hour or so. Today I was hit with a bit of bad luck in that we took off from Houston expecting a break in the weather in Chicago around the time of our scheduled landing. We circled in a holding pattern a few hundred miles from the airport before they finally gave us the clearance to go in thinking that it might be clear when we arrived.

Unfortunately the weather stayed stubborn and despite landing safely on the ground they shut O’hare down because of lightning in the area which prevented ground personnel from doing what they needed to do to safely get planes in and out of their gates. Therefore, despite being a hundred yards from happiness we sat on the plane for a couple of hours waiting for a gate to open up so we could get off the plane.

Photo of the Day – Two Jack Lake

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Winter in the Rockies

I flew last year on September 11th as well but unlike last year I wasn’t at the airport for the moment of silence that all of them have. However, flying on this date is unlike any other – it is quieter, more somber (probably as it should be) – and much less busy. My flight from LA to Chicago which is normally packed is essentially empty. Sure it is a Wednesday but I typically don’t have rows around me empty as I did when I just looked to change seats. Maybe people purposely avoid flying on this date – I didn’t do it by choice – but I can’t imagine that other business travelers somehow can avoid this date completely.

Photo of the Day – Winter in the Rockies

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Winter comes early in the Rockies – when I’m in Rocky Mountain National Park in November this is probably how the Dream Lake area will look. The lake may not be completely frozen yet but the tops of the mountain will be snow covered. I’m off to Glacier National Park in ten days. It will be my first trip back to Montana since I went to Yellowstone/Grand Tetons shortly after college. Admittedly, the grizzlies scare me quite a bit so I will not be hiking (solo) before sunrise like I typically do in RMNP where bear sightings are a very rare thing (and black bears at that). However, I’ll still be out at sunrise for pictures and staying out past sunset to get that beautiful light. I’ll just make sure to stay a little closer to civilization while doing it…..just in case.

Fire in the Sky

Last week while in Rocky Mountain National Park I witnessed one of the most beautiful sunsets that I’ve ever seen in my life. It was a cold, rainy night and I wasn’t sure that anything was actually going to happen. I had a hope that the sun would drop below the rain clouds but I never imagined the clouds were going to light up like they did. I’m not sure the picture does it justice because the clouds everywhere in the sky were lit up with shades of blue, pink and orange. As far as the eye could see the sky was seemingly on fire.

Photo of the Day – Fire in the Sky

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My wife was in a different location trying to shield herself from the sun and the rain but as soon as the sun dropped below the clouds and the sky lit up (for only about two or three minutes) she was sprinting down the road yelling at me to make sure that I was taking lots of pictures of the sky. She agreed that it was one of the more memorable sunsets of her life. That is what keeps all of us landscape photographer’s going though….chasing the light and being in the perfect location to capture light like this high above a historic peak or prominent landmark.

First Look at Lake Moraine

When I was in Banff in March the eight mile road to Lake Moraine was closed to automobile traffic so I wasn’t able to get a look at the most photographed lake in North America. It wasn’t until this past trip that I was able to get out to Lake Moraine for a sunrise. This picture is literally the first glimpse of the lake that I got. You walk up a flight of steps to the top of a rock pile overlooking the lake – an observation deck with benches and the like sits on top of the rock pile for the throngs of other tourists that arrive in the middle of the day. As soon as I stepped foot on the observation area I took my tripod out – mounted the camera and took this picture. Over the next hour or so – as the light changed (marginally because of cloud cover) – I took a number of other shots from different angles/perspectives. Without a doubt I can see why this is considered on of the most beautiful places in the world and Lake Moraine was worth the wait.

Photo of the Day – Lake Moraine Pre-Dawn

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Rocky Mountain Sunrise Over Bear Lake

I was going back through some pictures from last August when I was in Rocky Mountain National Park. I like ‘saving’ pictures so that I can work on them at a later date because it brings back the memories of being there watching the sun come up. It also allows me to keep a little variety in the pictures that I post each day on here so there is something new every day.

Photo of the Day – Bear Lake Sunrise

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Bear Lake typically isn’t a ‘popular’ spot for pictures because you don’t get unobstructed views of the Continental Divide like you do from Dream Lake or Sprague Lake. However, since it is one of the easier hikes in the park it is the most crowded trail in the summer. This morning there wasn’t anyone else around but by the time I left a few hours later the parking lot at the trailhead was filling up fast.