Boulder, Colorado

Often times when you head out for the day along Colorado’s Front Range you simply don’t know what the day holds. That’s one of the reasons it’s such fun: that unexpected surprise emerging when you think you’re looking for one thing – and another takes you completely off guard. Such was the case on this day.

Fort Collins was shrouded in cold, gray fog.  There was really no hint of redemption – just unrelenting grayness. Sometimes the cloud base is low along the front range that you can literally climb above it by heading to the hills. This wasn’t the intention, but is exactly what happened as I made my way out of Lyons towards Estes Park.

With the newly repaired 645 in hand and I was eager to try it out – not feeling much like hiking, but just wanting to cover some ground and see if anything interesting popped up along the way. Estes Park was gorgeous – sunny blue skies, fresh snow, and warm. Unfortunately no photographs emerged, so on I pressed.

 

Coming over Lee Hill Road a beautiful, fresh frost covered everything as far as the eye could see. In the distance the sun shone only on the higher peaks to the south of the front range.  (Mamiya 645 Pro TL + Ektar)

The Peak to Peak Highway took me back to Ward and from there, down Left Hand Canyon. I’d re-entered the fog descending the canyon making my way slowly through the same cold gray I’d left in Fort Collins earlier. Towards the bottom of Left Hand is Lee Hill Road, which takes you south along the ridge line, depositing you in North Boulder. I’ve noticed a reoccurring theme I’m beginning to pay more attention to; along the edges of any transition is where the most interesting activity tends to be. The edges of the day, the edges of a storm, the edges of dark and light… you get the idea.

The scene atop the page was a brief moment seen coming around a bend as North Boulder came into view. Late afternoon light was partially obstructed by ice fog – just before disappearing behind higher mountains to the west. What struck me was the pronounced difference between the cold, blue, snowy trees blocked from the warmth of light – and the glowing, warm winter pinks produced by the last light of the day from the west.

I pulled over in a wide shouldered turn out on the tight road hoping I could quickly squeeze off a frame before other cars came. No such luck. As the fog wafted in and out producing holes in the distance – more light was allowed through and warm pinks intensified and I stood mesmerized. The quiet was broken by the sound of a down-shifting engine and I looked up the road to see a school bus making its way down the hill towards me. The car was safely off the road and though it was tight, I knew he could get by. I hopped the guard rail and scrambled down the embankment for a cleaner view – just enough for snow to make its way up over my socks and onto bare ankles.

The beauty of the scene was most uncommon. Snow adds a unique dimension to any landscape. No matter how many times I’d seen this same ridge line before, this day the snow made it uniquely beautiful. Especially the snow tucked in the crags and cracks of rock.

As I finished up and hopped the guard rail back onto pavement a young man in a knit cap heading up the hill slowed, rolled down his window and wagged his finger at me. I could only smile, knowing I’d not put anyone else at risk by taking the time to see something truly beautiful that day.

 

Dark Skies in New Mexico

Looks like I’m going to have another go at the Bisti this weekend. It’ll be the first real road trip of 2017 and I’m excited. After recently getting the 645 dialed in I’m feeling ready for whatever happens.

Dark Sky is a great weather app for the iPhone. At first glance it’s simple, easy to use and understand. But there’s a lot more power under the hood, like the satellite tracking map at far right.

I’ve been watching the weather and depending on how you see things, it looks great. When we were down in October we had – by most accounts – fabulous weather. Clear, sunny days, no clouds, warm temps. Who but a photographer would complain about such weather?

Bisti Wilderness, New Mexico, February 2017

Researching the Bisti before our October 2016 trip I came across a variety of images, many of which seemed to be made under the same conditions. It’s easy to see why. Most people target nice weather (who can blame them?) and therefore come away with the same pictures. This trip I’m hoping for something a little different: rolling, dramatic, billowing skies, maybe even some frost, a little snow, and that gorgeous earthen color only emerging in the soft, diffused light of blue hour beneath overcast skies.

To hit such weather patterns means skirting the edges of the habitable. In my research I found a great web site, weatherspark.com plotting annual average temperature, cloud cover, precipitation, snow, humidity, dew points, wind… you get the idea. It’s a gold mine for determining the most statistically probable time of year to experience one weather pattern instead of another. Not surprisingly, October is one of the highest probable times of year to experience perfect, blue bird weather. Not such great news if you’re looking for the drama fringe weather provides.

Dreaming of the Bisti, Fort Collins, Colorado (2017). It’s one thing to plan a trip in the warm comfort of home with a good cup of coffee. Quite another to be out there in the elements.

I began looking for those times of year in the transitions where things happen. Early in the year (January/February) is one of those times. The down side is, it’s cold and possibly rainy – which unfortunately means mud. Mud is no friend of a car, or hiking boots. Getting stuck in the mud in the middle of nowhere isn’t a best case scenario. Hopefully it’ll get cold enough the mud will freeze, allowing firm footing – which will present its own challenges. My sleeping bag is rated to 0 degrees and if worse comes to worse the heater in the car has brought cold appendages back to life more than once already. As I write this the wind howls outside my window in northern Colorado. Weather-wise I can take just about anything – except the wind.

At the moment it appears Friday night and Saturday morning are my highest probability of success. Looks by noon Saturday things begin to get wet and stay wet through Sunday night. I can work with that, as long as I’m on gravel roads. I have 15+ rolls of Chrome film and more C-41, as well as plenty of Pan F and Delta 100. I’m ready to go. Oh and I almost forgot: this Friday night is a full moon. So ideally what I’m hoping for is brightly moon-lit badlands beneath dramatic skies before the rain makes everything too muddy to get out. When all is said and done you just have to roll the dice and hope for the best. It’s impossile to know what the weather will do. Be there and f8, right? But if you’re not there – you’ll certainly get nothing.

Picked up a new headlamp earlier this week in preparation, a Black Diamond Storm. A good headlamp is worth its weight in gold. Late last year Tecla dismembered the old Petzl I’ve had for years, along with my favorite, tattered Lowe Pro gloves. I guess she was after the salt soaked into each of those items. These gloves are thin and therefore not that warm – but highly usable with the fine controls of something like a camera. After checking around, they’re no longer made. Fortunately my wife had a spare pair I’d given her years ago but she never used. The Storm headlamp is a significant step up in terms of Lumens and will more than light my way on long returns from shooting sunset deep in the badlands.

More to come.

 

Trail Ridge Road, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

I have had the privilege of living in Colorado since 1981 when I moved to Fort Collins to attend Colorado State University. Having moved from Illinois, I’d literally do anything to get into the mountains. At first a poor college student with no car, I once borrowed a friend’s bike – two sizes too large – to pedal up Thompson Canyon from Fort Collins, backpack with ice axe and all. I remember a sleek, streamlined peloton of cyclists in fancy gear and even fancier bikes whizzing by up the canyon, looking at me and smiling. Like they knew… ‘yeh, I’m new here and I’m not going to let anything stop me from getting up into those hills.’

All these years later that same drive hasn’t diminished one bit. Living along Colorado’s Front Range, any opportunity to get deeper into the mountains usually involves at least one trip over Trail Ridge Road. For those unfamiliar with it, Trail Ridge Road (also known as U.S. 34) is a 48 mile stretch of road connecting Estes Park, Colorado with Grand Lake, Colorado by traversing Rocky Mountain National Park at a elevation high point of 12,183. If I can’t get up there for sunrise (leaving Fort Collins by 4am usually) – then I try to time the return trip with late afternoon/evening light. Many times I’ve gone up and just spent the night on the road, sleeping in the back of the truck. Coffee on the tail gate in the morning at 12,000 watching the sun rise over the Mummy Range, Gore Range, and the Medicine Bow’s is pretty tough to beat with a hot cup of french roast.

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

The above view is accessible to anyone who has made the journey up Trail Ridge to the Alpine Visitor Center. This view looks down what I call the Fall River Valley – the prior route up to the Visitor Center years ago. There is a one way, dirt road buried in the trees at left that winds up from the valley floor – an alternative to the paved Trail Ridge. A common route is to go up Old Fall River Road, then down Trail Ridge Road. Often time elk may be seen grazing in this valley, high above treeline. If I were an elk I’d sure elect to eat dinner here.

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
A distant storm forms over the Gore Range, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Ypsilon Mountain and the Mummy Range, RMNP
The Mummy Range from Rainbow Curve, RMNP
Longs Peak and Glacier Gorge, RMNP
Longs Peak and Glacier Gorge, RMNP

And finally, the Monarch of Colorado’s northern Front Range, Longs Peak and Keyboard of the Winds on the upper left horizon recedes into the east flank of Glacier Gorge, surrounded by high, wild country in beautiful light. The views on Trail Ridge Road are constantly changing, largely driven by weather and of course time of day. Storms move in fast – and often are gone just as fast. If you’re not prepared you’ll be soaked and freezing – for a time. Then the sun will come out and the high altitude mountain air will whisk away the water and leave you dry and chilly.

We recently had family from North Carolina visit who had not yet been up Trail Ridge. I was excited for them with anticipation knowing what a thrill that first trip over can be. Several times since moving to Colorado, when I’ve found myself temporarily living in other places, the realization that I can’t hop in the car and – in an hour be up in Rocky Mountain National Park – is a cold smack in the face. I’m humbled to realize that others save their vacation time all year just to spend a week’s vacation in Colorado. And I wake up here every morning. Even after all these years I will never take living in Colorado for granted.

Spieker Wedding
Longs Peak, with the lesser peak Mount Lady Washington along the ridge line in front. Mount Meeker can be seen to the left of Longs Peak’s “knob” like appearance from this angle.
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Alpine Visitor Center Trail, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Spieker Wedding
Medicine Bow Curve, with the Never Summer Mountains in the background.
Spieker Wedding
Upper reaches of Forest Canyon
Spieker Wedding
Hayden Spire looms over Forest Canyon from Forest Canyon Overlook.

Elk Mountain, Wyoming

South Brush Creek, Snowy Range, Wyoming
South Brush Creek, Snowy Range, Wyoming

At first it looked like a dead animal – a brownish, furry lump in the middle of the dirt 320. The wind blew and late morning sun peeked in and out of an active sky. Through a dirty windshield it was tough to make out. As the car slowly rolled closer, the profile of a small head emerged from the fur, then turned a few times trying to get her bearings and let out a cry. As she began struggling to rise my first thought was she’d been hit by a car . Once erect I could see new, young legs, thin and delicate wobbling as they tried to support her tiny mass. She couldn’t have been more than a few days old. The baby antelope took a few steps then stumbled, her front knees dropping to the dirt road. I wondered if she’d have bruises or abrasions on her bony, new skin. She struggled to get up again, now in a panic. “I’m not gonna hurt you… just calm down” I said to no one.

Elk Mountain, Wyoming
Elk Mountain, Wyoming

Out of the corner of my eye to the left I picked up a flash moving fast across the sage. I turned to watch momma hurtling towards us full tilt. She was strong and powerful, leaping 8 foot spans each stride until she appeared heroically 10 yards in front of the car – between baby and me. She turned and looked squarely at me, then swiveled her tan and white head towards baby who was continuing to stumble in a panic down the road.

Pass Creek Road, Wyoming
Pass Creek Road, Wyoming

She stood for a moment – which itself is remarkable – out here antelope have learned to fear vehicles; rifles emerging from a slowed truck’s rolled down window. After a moment she took off for baby who had continued to run. Momma took the lead, baby trying to keep up, her head turning this way and that attempting to assess the threat. Momma led the way until they both crossed the road again and bounded up the hill.

Virga, The Medicine Bow, Wyoming
Virga, The Medicine Bow, Wyoming

In the distance they stopped; baby nowhere to be seen, having dropped in the sage somewhere. Mom and dad stood together 200 yards away watching the car slowly drive off.