Dream Lake in the dead of Winter (Rocky Mountain National Park)

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)

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.

Cottonball Basin

I spent two mornings at Cottonball Basin in Death Valley waiting for the sun to rise. Cottonball basin was noted in an ebook I purchased before the trip called ‘Desert Paradise: The Landscape Photographer’s Guide to Death Valley National Park’ by Sarah Marino and Ron Coscorrosa as being among the best locations to watch the sunrise in the park. The unique salt flat shapes that form periodically throughout the year and the mountains that surround the basin on all sides make it highly photographic. However, the area is fragile so it is important to be sure that you leave no trace while hiking there so you need to be sure the weather conditions are right or else you may leave footprints in the mud for years to come. The authors noted they were fearful of including it in the book but that photo safari/groups had popularized the area in recent years so they did not feel like they could leave it out without the book being complete. Luckily, in my several days in the park I didn’t see a single soul down in this area.

Death Valley – Morning from Cottonball Basin

Cottonball Basin in Death Valley

In this image it appears like the salt flat shapes may stretch forever but this was really a rather small area of the overall ‘Cottonball Basin’ which stretches for miles in all directions. Somehow these shapes shift periodically throughout the year so it is imperative to go out the day before with a handheld GPS and pinpoint the location or you won’t be able to find them in the morning. Unlike other national parks the ‘trails’ in Death Valley are essentially non-existent as you are free to roam everywhere – however, this means you have to work to find unique and photographic opportunities as opposed to walking up to a well known viewpoint. Without the GPS I would have been completely lost many times out there in the desert.

Window in the Garden (of the Gods)

The Garden of the Gods Park in Colorado is located in Colorado Springs, Colorado about an hour south of Denver but a world away when it comes to the red rock formations scattered throughout the area. There are a number of relatively easy hikes (all one to three miles round trip) that I was able to knock out in half-a-day or so since they are also relatively close to one another. I’m sure there are more challenging hikes but the park is set up to really be family friendly and this would make a nice stop for someone visiting Denver and looking to get a quick day trip done (of course Estes Park – the home of Rocky Mountain National Park – is also only about 90 minutes away and I’d favor that over Garden of the Gods if I had to choose just one).

Photo of the Day – The Window of the Gods

Garden of the Gods Siamese Trail Pikes Peak
Pikes Peak in the Continental Divide of the Rocky Mountain Range is visible through a rock window on the Siamese Twin trail in Garden of the Gods. A quick, well-marked trail takes you to this spot with duel rock formations with views onto the Continental Divide in the distance. Positioning yourself perfectly allows you to clearly see Pikes Peak in the distance. This was a terrific fall day in Colorado – one could really get used to living out amongst all this beauty. Each time I visit I’m really jealous of those lucky enough to live in the Denver area.

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.

Perfect Sunset, Perfect Location

Where else on Earth can a sunset be better than over the Pacific Ocean? The conditions were absolutely amazing as the sun set and the haze lifted. Above the clouds started to take on the oranges and pinks of the setting sun and then the Pacific Ocean (which was quite calm this afternoon) started reflecting the colors back up. The color seemed to stay for 10 – 15 minutes and I walked up/down the beach getting various angles of the pier with the clouds above. For this one I did break one of the ‘cardinal’ rules but I couldn’t decide what I liked better – the clouds or the receding waves at my feet – so I decided to give them both appropriate attention.

Photo of the Day – Santa Monica Beach Sunset

Santa Monica Beach Sunset

The temp in Chicago is -2 degrees right now with wind chills in the negative teens. Ten days ago when I took this picture the temperature in LA was 80 degrees. What a difference a few weeks can make. I’ll be putting this as my screen saver until we break 40 in Chicago!

Daybreak in the Grand Canyon

“Everything you can imagine is real.”

― Pablo Picasso

If I didn’t see it I wouldn’t believe it existed. A simply amazing place.

Photo of the Day – Daybreak Grand Canyon

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Upcoming Trips

Looking forward to a couple of busy weeks of work and travel – there will be a lot of late nights but also some fun nestled in between.

In two weeks I’ll be in Calgary for meetings and then on to Banff (Aug 1 – 4). Two weeks later I’ll be in Dallas for a few days. Late August (21st – 25th) I’ll be in Denver for meetings and then on to Rocky Mountain National Park for a couple of days of hiking. I’m also excited that I just booked a four day trip to Glacier National Park in September (21 – 25) which is also for meetings in Calgary (Glacier in Northern Montana is only 4 hours away from Calgary)! Lastly, I’ll be in Philadelphia and New York in mid/late October (dates aren’t finalized yet but I have some reviews to do and I’ll make sure to get out for some photography).

In addition to what is set I will have some meetings scheduled in California and Houston in September but not 100% sure on the dates yet. It will be hectic but looking forward to it.

“When we get too caught up in the busyness of the world, we lose connection with one another – and ourselves.”

― Jack Kornfield

Photo of the Day –
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Daybreak on the Vishnu Temple

The Vishnu Temple in the Grand Canyon is one of three prominent rock formations named after Hindu Gods. It received its name in the 1880s from Charles Dutton who published one of the first books on the geology of the Canyon. He believed that the canyon was such an important place that the names of its features should reflect all of the world’s cultures (from mythology to religion). Other examples of some of the rock formations names are Solomon Temple, Jupiter Temple, Cheops Pyramid and Tower of Ra.

Photo of the Day – Daybreak on the Vishnu Temple

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It was too dark in the morning to see into the depths of the canyon but the horizon was lighting up and the colors were framing Vishnu’s Temple in the distance. I zoomed in the camera as far as it would go and took a single shot of the outline of the temple against the pink sky. As the sun breaks over the top of the canyon and everything below you lights up and the canyon comes to life…I’m not sure there is a better place in the world than the Grand Canyon to watch the day break.

Seattle Skyline

In Seattle we spent an evening in the needle overlooking most of the city. They do allow tripods up top but it is so windy that it still makes it challenging to get steady shots of the skyline without some (small) blur.

I read a brief article the other day about the most infuriating parts of flying (each point is also supplemented with a funny GIF which makes the reading easier) and all I can say is….YES! So very TRUE! I hate each one of these things…especially #4 and I’m not even tall. I can’t imagine being on a plane if you are six feet or taller. Torture! Planes were built for the average heights of people in the middle ages.

Photo of the Day – Photo from the Spaceship

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The Day I nearly Died for Photography

I go out early and I stay out late. Often I am out hiking before the sun rises and I’m out well past the time the sunsets. I have multiple head lamps that I keep in my pack at all times because I never want to be without some sort of guiding light but as anyone whose used those knows your sight line is only limited to what is illuminated with the head lamp. The rest of the world remains completely dark and mysterious and what lies in the darkness can often be fierce and deadly if you sneak up on it. A few weeks back while hiking around one of the most frequented and easy to access places in Rocky Mountain National Park I had an encounter with Mama Moose. Now many wouldn’t think a Moose could be a violent creature but when they are protecting their young they will certainly turn from docile to attack mode pretty quickly. In fact, in the state of Alaska there are more Moose attacks annually then bear attacks.

It was pre-dawn – around 45 minutes before sunrise – so the sky was starting to light up a little bit. My eyes were adjusting to the darkness and I wasn’t paying enough attention to what was in front of me because I was distracted by the beauty of the lake and the mountains in the distance. I was also focusing and trying to figure out the best possible place to stand for what I hoped would be a great sunrise. It wasn’t until I heard the grunt about 15 feet in front of me and slightly off the trail that indicated to me that I was in trouble. I picked my head up and illuminated by the headlamp was a fully grown female moose with two young calves behind her. Her head and ears were back indicating that she didn’t want me to come any closer. I froze and didn’t know what to do but instinctively I knew I needed to get away so I dimmed the headlamp and started to slowly back away never letting the moose out of my sights….eventually when I sensed the moose was comfortable with where I was I turned and walked quickly, than trotted in the opposite direction. I came across a few other photographers on my way back around the lake and warned them of the potential ‘killer moose’ up ahead.

Photo of the Day – The Killer’s smile

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After capturing a beautiful sunrise over Sprague Lake with the Continental Divide reflecting in the calm waters I started to pack up my gear. It was then that I saw the mama moose hop into the water. She spent the next half hour to forty five minutes just walking around, bathing and drinking water while the calves trailed her on the other side of the lake (you can see them in the distance). In this particular shot she had just reached down for a drink of water and picked her head up. I fired off six shots and in this particular one as the water is dripping out of her mouth it seems like she is smiling at me (if you click the image – and all images on the blog – it will bring up a larger version and you can also make it larger with some options on that page). I took that to me that she forgave me for my intrusion earlier in the morning. As the great portrait photographer Peter Hurley would say….’Shabang!’