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.

Olympic National Park, Washington

HOH Rainforest Tryptich no.1
HOH Rainforest Tryptich no.1
Blue Hour, Rialto Beach, Olympic National Park, Washington
Blue Hour, Rialto Beach, Olympic National Park, Washington
Kalaloch, Olympic Peninsula, Washington
Kalaloch, Olympic Peninsula, Washington
Hall of Mosses, Hoh Rainforest, Olympic National Park, Washington
Hall of Mosses, Hoh Rainforest, Olympic National Park, Washington
Marymere Falls, Olympic National Park, Washington
Marymere Falls, Olympic National Park, Washington
Northwest Maritime Center, Port Townsend, Washington
Northwest Maritime Center, Port Townsend, Washington
Blue Hour, Rialto Beach, Olympic National Park, Washington
Blue Hour, Rialto Beach, Olympic National Park, Washington

 

Blue Hour, Medicine Bow, Wyoming

I wonder how many things we intently search for, training every last bit of energy focusing our gaze – only to be met with darkness. Then I think about the times peripheral vision catches a glimpse of something unintended, and off we go alit, into the beautiful, dim blue.

“…the present is the most difficult period to apprehend; only with distance does the value of certain forms of photography and photo objects become clear.” – Joel Smith, curator of photography at the Morgan Library & Museum,

If only I were a poet. Or at least eloquent enough to convey thoughts and feelings regarding a photograph. There are some who feel to say anything at all about a photograph means it failed to visually convey a message. Others believe a photograph isn’t completely realized unless a snippet of information provides a point at which to enter and begin exploration. Then there are those who simply don’t care.

Medicine Bow, Wyoming (2016)
Medicine Bow, Wyoming (2016)
John B. Crane in the Weminuche Wilderness, southern Colorado's San Juan range, 1985
In the Weminuche Wilderness, southern Colorado’s San Juan range, circa. 1986

If it’s possible to exist between these categories, that’s where I find myself.

“The difficulty of literature is not to write, but to write what you mean; not to affect your reader, but to affect him precisely as you wish.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

The other night I let the dog out in the back yard. The porch light switch was broken and I listened as she ambled down the deck’s wooden stairs and stepped onto the lawn beneath a quasi-full moon. As I stood on the deck attempting to locate a brown dog against green grass with no light – I was unable to see her dim, hunched form when looking directly at her. As I looked off to the side, however, my peripheral vision was able to identity she was indeed there, and was indeed fulfilling the mission. I tried again, peering intently, concentrating my direct gaze at where I last saw her. Again I saw only blackness. Averting my eyes to the side confirmed she was there, now finished, and sniffing about as dogs do.

I wonder how many things we intently search for, training every last bit of energy focusing our gaze – only to be met with darkness. Then I think about the times peripheral vision catches a glimpse of something unintended, and off we go alit, into the beautiful, dim blue.

“…the present is the most difficult period to apprehend; only with distance does the value of certain forms of photography and photo objects become clear.” – Joel Smith, curator of photography at the Morgan Library & Museum.

Fort Collins, Colorado
Fort Collins, Colorado

Special thanks to Denver Digital Imaging Center for their E6 expertise. #believeinfilm

 

Random•osity

Frozen hydraulic hoses on logging truck after snow storm, Fort Collins, Colorado (2016)
PUMPER 3, New Raymer, Colorado (2016)
PUMPER 3, New Raymer, Colorado (2016)
Heat shields from nose cone of space shuttle Atlantis, Cape Canaveral, Florida (2015)
Heat shields from nose cone of space shuttle Atlantis, Cape Canaveral, Florida (2015)
South Delaney Lake, North Park, Colorado (2015)
South Delaney Lake, North Park, Colorado (2015)
ELEVATION 7,360 FT. Granite, Wyoming (2015)
ELEVATION 7,360 FT. Granite, Wyoming (2015)
Cherry Creek Arts Festival, Denver, Colorado
Cherry Creek Arts Festival, Denver, Colorado
Church, Briggsdale, Colorado (2016)
Church, Briggsdale, Colorado (2016)
North Omaha, Nebraska (2016)
Bank, North Omaha, Nebraska (2016)

Medicine Bow, Wyoming

Sometimes when visiting a new place surrounded by such emptiness there’s a mild reservation about leaving the imagined security of whatever semblance of civilization there is – and striking alone into the void. With minimal maps and no idea what really lay out there I check the fuel gauge and tires, listen to the car carefully for any indication of malfunction and make sure a little food and water are close at hand.

For some reason Medicine Bow, Wyoming calls to me. In the late 1800’s Medicine Bow was a mildly prosperous stop along the transcontinental Railway due to its proximity to water provided by the Medicine Bow River. Later – it was a vibrant stock and cattle holding operation and a stop for auto travelers along the old Lincoln Highway. In the early 70’s Medicine Bow was effectively cut off when Interstate 80 was built 35 miles to the south. Medicine Bow is one of the windiest places in America, a fact I can attest to from my visits. Often times when opening the car door, the wind catches and violently cranks it against the hinges causing the car to lurch.

Medicine Bow River, Medicine Bow, Wyoming (2016)
Medicine Bow River, Medicine Bow, Wyoming (2016)

 

 

Rock River, Wyoming
Rock River, Wyoming

 

Rock River, Wyoming
Rock River, Wyoming
Rock River, Wyoming
Rock River, Wyoming

My first intentional trip to Medicine Bow was several years ago as I determined to follow 287 north as far as I practically could. Outside of Laramie there’s not much topographic relief as one travels along the bottom of the enormous Laramie River Valley, ringed with high, wild peaks in the distance. The car drifts sideways in ever present wind as you unconsciously pull to the left while heading straight North. All but empty enclaves like Bosler, Rock River and Como Bluffs distantly dot the highway – a mirage providing the hope of relief that vanish as you approach, then roll through with no visible sign of activity. For a large portion of the drive the highway parallels the railroad and trains pass in either direction, the smile of their headlights providing brief companionship. Beyond the tracks, hidden from site by the risen berm lies the Laramie River, winding its way down from Wheatland Reservoir, 30 miles to the north east.

“Let Them Know” Highway 287 north of Laramie, Wyoming

It’s the very definition of solitary.

Medicine Bow, Wyoming (2016)
Medicine Bow, Wyoming (2016)

Upon arriving in Medicine Bow I was struck by its sparse, barren landscape, wind, and intense, western afternoon light. Long, coal and cattle-laden freight trains regularly tear through the town’s center at full speed as I prowl around the tracks. Sometimes when visiting a new place surrounded by such emptiness there’s a mild reservation about leaving the imagined security of whatever semblance of civilization there is – and striking out alone into the void. With minimal maps and no real idea what lay out there I check the fuel gauge and tires, listen to the car carefully for any indication of malfunction and make sure a little food and water are close at hand.

Medicine Bow, Wyoming (2016)
Medicine Bow, Wyoming (2016)

On this most recent trip the emptiness is tempered by the presence of our one year old chocolate lab Tecla. As the sun begins to sink I start the car. 4 mule deer amble across the dirt road in front of me. Tecla erupts in the back seat, bouncing back and forth from passenger to driver side angrily barking at these large, four-legged invaders. Though the windows are up they glance briefly at the car, assess the threat, then pick up the pace as the rail road crossing sounds yet again. I drop the car into drive and head into the late, windy afternoon.

Lincoln Highway designation sign, Medicine Bow, Wyoming (2016)
Lincoln Highway designation sign, Medicine Bow, Wyoming (2016)

Coming home that night, topping the snowy pass separating Wyoming from Colorado the headlights catch a large, still shape sprawled across the road. It’s a deer. She’s been hit and killed and lay still, alone in the night. I stop. At the top of the cold, foggy pass visibility is low and I sit for a moment in the dark car deliberating. If another car hits her it’ll surely create problems for everyone. Tecla wakes up in the front seat and looks at me as I open the door and step into the night.

I grab the doe by the front legs and drag her across the road. She’s heavier than anticipated. ‘I’m so sorry, sweetheart’ I say as her head arcs back and the friction of the blacktop tries to prevent us from our task. The hair on her legs above her hooves is wet and my bare hands slip, then grab tighter. Leather gloves  are somewhere in the car but I couldn’t risk the time to find them. A trail of blood is left behind on the road pointing to where she lay, and a large, round organ the size of a small beach ball that’s been dislodged, sitting in the road like a rock cairn on a hiking trail.

When I climb back in the car Tecla is awake and smells the dead animals’ scent on my hands. She aggressively sniffs and licks as one arm shoes her away, while the other searches the console for something to clean up with. There’s nothing. I drive 20 minutes down the pass and stop at Ted’s Place for a $2 bottle of hand sanitizer, then wipe down the steering wheel. This is life in Colorado and Wyoming, I think to myself – knowing I can’t share the event with my wife. “How was your trip,” she’ll say as I walk in, hungry and tired of being in the car. “Good. Really good.” And leave it at that.

Medicine Bow, Wyoming (2016)
Medicine Bow, Wyoming (2016)
Medicine Bow, Wyoming (2016)
Medicine Bow, Wyoming (2016)
Medicine Bow, Wyoming (2016)
Medicine Bow, Wyoming (2016)
Lincoln Highway Garage, Medicine Bow, Wyoming (2016)
Lincoln Highway Garage, Medicine Bow, Wyoming (2016)
Medicine Bow, Wyoming (2016)
Medicine Bow, Wyoming (2016)
Medicine Bow, Wyoming (2016)
Medicine Bow, Wyoming (2016)
Medicine Bow, Wyoming (2016)
Medicine Bow, Wyoming (2016)
Medicine Bow, Wyoming (2016)
Medicine Bow, Wyoming (2016)

 

Santa Fe reprise

Rio Grande Gorge, Taos County, New Mexico (2015)
Rio Grande Gorge, Taos County, New Mexico (2015)
Ghost Ranch, Abiquiu, New Mexico (2014)
Ghost Ranch, Abiquiu, New Mexico (2014)
Truchas, New Mexico (2015)
Truchas, New Mexico (2015)
Truchas, New Mexico (2015)
Truchas, New Mexico (2015)
Truchas, New Mexico (2013)
Truchas, New Mexico (2013)
Museum of Art, Santa Fe, New Mexico (20150
Museum of Art, Santa Fe, New Mexico (20150
Chimayo, New Mexico (2013)
Chimayo, New Mexico (2013)
Canyon Road, Santa Fe, New Mexico (2015)
Canyon Road, Santa Fe, New Mexico (2015)
Canyon Road, Santa Fe, New Mexico (2015)
Canyon Road, Santa Fe, New Mexico (2015)
Chamisal, New Mexico (2014)
Chamisal, New Mexico (2014)
Chimayo, New Mexico (2014)
Chimayo, New Mexico (2014)
Water Street, Santa Fe, New Mexico (2015)
Water Street, Santa Fe, New Mexico (2015)
Coyote Cafe, Santa Fe, New Mexico (2014)
Coyote Cafe, Santa Fe, New Mexico (2014)
Cerrillos Road, Santa Fe, New Mexico (2015)
Cerrillos Road, Santa Fe, New Mexico (2015)

 

Old Lincoln Highway, no.1

Old Lincoln Highway, outside Sterling, Illinois (2015)
Old Lincoln Highway, outside Sterling, Illinois (2015)
Morrison, Illinois, along U.S. Highway 30 (2015)
Morrison, Illinois, along U.S. Highway 30 (2015)
TRENDY, U.S. Highway 30, Rock Falls, Illinois (2015)
TRENDY, U.S. Highway 30, Rock Falls, Illinois (2015)
Old Lincoln Highway, outside Rock Falls, Illinois (2015)
Old Lincoln Highway, outside Rock Falls, Illinois (2015)
HOTPOINT, Morrison, Illinois (2015)
HOTPOINT, Morrison, Illinois (2015)
Off U.S. Highway 30, Mechanicsville, Iowa (2015)
Off U.S. Highway 30, Mechanicsville, Iowa (2015)

The 440

A few weeks ago I needed to get out – as in far away from the computer – in a big way. The weather wasn’t good along the Front Range and checking the iPhone confirmed pretty much any place within easy driving distance was experiencing the same. It looked like the only thing to do was out drive the front. I fueled up, stopped for the requisite Americano and headed into the rain not knowing what the day held. Not knowing what lie ahead isn’t just part of the fun – it’s the reason I go.

There are a number of different ways to connect with my favorite haunts – North Park/Southern Wyoming. Memorial Day this year marked the opening of Trail Ridge Road, which connects the front range with the deeper mountains through Rocky Mountain National Park. It was a bit circuitous route, but any day beginning on Trail Ridge Road is a good day no matter what happens next. I headed up to the Park, bought the annual pass and wasted no time getting high. That’s a eyebrow-raising phrase here in Colorado these days… what I mean  is quickly gaining elevation. On a week day there was little traffic – one of the wonderful benefits of being able to take off in the middle of the week instead of waiting for the weekend.

Highway 14, North Park, Colorado
North Park along Highway 14 south of Walden, Colorado (2015). Nikon F100 + Ektar

At the bottom of Trail Ridge you wind up in Grandby T-boning at the intersection of Highway 40. A right takes you towards Hot Sulphur Springs and Kremmling. I stopped at the market in Kremmling for a break, the weather already improving, and considered my route. I only had the day, needing to be back that night – so was somewhat limited by daylight. The western edge of North Park is unofficially bound by 40 as it winds up over Muddy Pass. From there I picked up 14 and headed east towards Walden.

White gate near Rand, Colorado, North Park, Colorado (2015)
White Gate, North Park, Colorado (2015). Nikon F4s + Velvia

A great thing about being open to the day is a willingness to detour onto new roads. There are roads I’ve driven by many times making a mental note to return someday to explore as time allows. Nearing Walden I came upon one of those roads; a dirt road peeling off across the pasture lands to the east. With plenty of fuel and a cooler full of fruit and water this was the perfect opportunity and I didn’t hesitate.

I have and shoot a lot of cameras – many of which I was carrying on this day – all loaded with different films. I think back to a story once read about Robert Frank (The Americans) who was one day detained in a small town by a police officer who noticed he had an unusually large number of cameras visibly scattered about in the car. I smile as I think about the packed Pelican crate tucked safely in the back of the Subaru, beneath a foil space blanket to keep it cooler in the high-altitude sun shining through the rear window. I also make a note to check the cooler containing extra film brought along at the next stop.

I know some people think you should only only shoot one film, getting used to its characteristics in certain light, the look it produces etc. I understand the reasoning behind this – but toss it out the window. Different films are for different light, different applications, different scenes, different subjects. A film camera loaded with roll film can only practically shoot one roll at a time. Having different cameras loaded with different films allows greater flexibility for an image that may be better suited for a chrome (slide) film, or C41 (color negative) or black and white.

There has been a great deal of rain in Colorado this year; a wonderful break from the high and dry monotony pestering ranchers, farmers and other ag-centric folks over recent past. All this rain has turned browns into greens; refilled drainage ditches, draws and ponds, and contributed to an overall pleasant aroma to the high prairie. Standing water also means lots of bugs.

Roadside drainage ditches and draws are full these days in North Park with all the standing water that's fallen.
Roadside drainage ditches and draws are full these days in North Park with all the standing water that’s fallen. Nikon F4s + Velvia
Clouds hover over Wyoming to the North of North Park, Colorado.
Clouds hover over Wyoming to the North of North Park, Colorado. Nikon F4s + Velvia

After Rand I picked up 125 North towards Cowdrey, veered left at the Dean Peak Junction and was on my way North into Wyoming.

I was eager to shoot my new F5 for the first time and had both it and the F6 on the seat next to me just in case. Sometimes things catch your eye and digging a camera out of the crate takes time. Only a few frames had been made thus far in the trip. Light during mid-day isn’t ideal, which is why that time is spent moving between places – to be in position for the edges of the day. Often times I’ll think I see a shot and head down a dirt road looking for the right vantage point. More often then not things don’t line up, or the light’s wrong, or there’s too much mud (which has happened a lot this year), or I’m met with a “No Trespassing” sign (I always respect No Trespassing signs) and the detour is chalked up to a learning experience as I head back to the main road. As I’m driving down a double track or dirt road I’m always considering my exit plan. Once while trying to turn around on a double track in Sweetwater County the car became stuck – high-centered in the middle of no where. I try to avoid this.

About the time I rolled into southern Wyoming it was later in the day and the light had improved considerably. I’d left rainy skies far behind and was enjoying fresh air, brilliant bluebird skies punctuated by dramatic, enormous cloud masses as the edge of the front just passed through quietly lumbered its way east.

Riverside, Wyoming (2015)
Riverside, Wyoming (2015) Nikon F5 + Ektar

Riverside, Wyoming is a quiet town just north of the Colorado/Wyoming state line. I pass through Riverside often, en route to other destinations. This day it marked the point I was to turn east and head home. The Trading Post sits on the corner of Wyoming 230 and 70. The tired me planned on rolling right on by – until I saw the clouds, and what the light was doing. Thanks to the high pressure system chasing the front east, the air was freshly scrubbed and crystal clear. Brilliant light screamed across a fresh atmosphere and slammed into the wood siding, red roof and white accent signage. I suppose I’ve spent enough time cruising around to notice a gas station or two – and this was spectacular.

No tripod, no filters, no nothing other than f8 and be there. 2 frames clicked off the F5 loaded with Ektar and on I went. My real goal was trying to hit peak light on Snowy Range Road and I knew I’d be cutting it close.

Libby Flats Observation Point, Snowy Range Road, Wyoming
Libby Flats Observation Point, Snowy Range Road, Wyoming. Nikon F6 + Portra 160

Snowy Range Road – like Trail Ridge Road – is closed during winters. Signs along the approach alert the traveler well in advance whether it’s open or closed. Even with all the snow the mountains received this year I knew I was safe and car churned its way up the steep grade. I spent an hour milling about looking for a good composition vantage point based on what the light was doing – but wasn’t able to line up what I’d hoped. I used to become anxious during these moments, but now I’m relaxed. If the world aligns and an image is presented – wonderful. If not – you’re up in the mountains watching this etherial scene unfold. Where else would you rather be? A scene doesn’t need to result in an image. Just relax and enjoy not being parked in front of the computer.

Undiscouraged, I packed up and headed further up the road towards Libby Flats to catch last light on the Overlook. Almost immediately after making the one frame, shadows swept up and over, engulfing the stone structure until morning. It was time to head home. I put in 440 miles that day (and I wonder why I’m chewing through tires so fast). Driving home in the dark I was satisfied; happy to have been out wandering in the west with no agenda and plenty of cameras loaded with film. The net result was, I felt rested and ready to face another day tomorrow – at my best thanks to the break.