Deer Inspiration

As normally (and unfortunately) happens at Great Sand Dunes National Park, the mule deer meander through the campground looking for sloppy campers who’ve left food out that they can steal.  While it’s cool to see these creatures wandering through each day, it’s sad because they have gotten so used to people that some are a little too tame.  All that said, it doesn’t stop me from carefully taking advantage of the situation for photography reasons.

Every day during our stay, the deer came through the camp around dinner time like clockwork.  I’m not sure what the various campsite “neighbors” had left in their fire ring, but the deer loved it for some reason and kept coming back.  And they didn’t just wander through – they hung out for 30-60 minutes each night until they naturally strolled off or something scared them.

The lighting conditions that time of day were mixed, but I did have enough low-hanging tree branches to act as a blind so I was able to get some shots as they came through the campsite next door and wound their way through the grassy fields on their way to start their evening of grazing and bouncing through the sand.  (Look closely each morning when you walk on the Dunes and you’ll see their tracks all over the place, especially down by the water.)

Of the 800+ images I took during our trip, probably 500 were rapid-fire shots of these deer to see if I could get anything good.  I ditched he vast majority of those deer shots during post-processing because, really, how many shots of mule deer can one girl keep?!  But there were a couple that stood out and caught my eye as I flipped through them for a very particular reason.

Because my first pass at picture sorting is done so quickly to weed out the good & decent from the bad & horrible shots, it can be like watching a stop-action movie when I get to sequences of high-speed shooting.  When I reached the various series of deer pictures, I stumbled on a few shots that I thought would make amusing GIFs.  I’d never made a GIF before from scratch, so I tried my hand at it and I think I came up with a couple of short & cute ones…

Mule Deer Attitude

Mule Deer Flirt

For whatever reason, I always like to think that animals are smarter and have more attitude than most would give them credit for.  I think these 2 GIFs capture that sentiment perfectly!

– JC

Messin’ with Perspective

During our trip to Great Sand Dunes National Park at the end of the summer, I continued playing with perspective in my shots.  The new camera I got last year has a tilt-out screen allowing me to see what I’m shooting even if I can’t shoehorn my body into position behind the viewfinder – a handy feature to have as I get older and I get a little less nimble!  What I discovered during this trip is that this new little trick can really mess with your head when it comes to perspective in a picture.  Naturally, that’s made it my new favorite toy to play with!

I started experimenting with this new technique on our first morning hike on the dunefield.  The low angle on the old, weathered tree stump made it a touch more interesting than just the simple straight-on shot.

Downstream Driftwood

Next up was some greenery.  That’s when things started getting interesting… judging from the picture, is this a 4-inch tall weed or a 3-foot high bush?

A Weed or a Bush?

Believe it or not, that’s just a random weed on the dunefield that’s only a few inches tall!  Looking at the shot on the camera after I took it, I was pleased with it.  It wasn’t until post-processing where I realized that the super-low angle really messes with how to interpret this picture.  Kinda fun!

The next morning, the sun was out in all of its glory, making for better photography conditions.  That’s when we stumbled on this sand… cliff or ridge?

Cliff or Creekbed?

It doesn’t look it, but that’s really only a 6- or 8-inch ridge of sand left from Medano Creek earlier in the season.  When I looked at the picture when we got home, I couldn’t believe how tall the ridge looked!  It reminded me of the cliffs you see along some of the Pacific coast beaches.

Last-up, I tried applying this technique to the ripples in the sand created by the wind on the dunes themselves.  I don’t think it warps the perspective quite as much as the weed or sand ridge, but it lent itself to grabbing detail and playing with depth of focus in the shot.

In the Ripples

I’ll certainly be doing more of these shots down the road.  Can’t wait to see what I can come up with to turn a mundane shot into something really special!!

– JC

Return to The Dunes

When Labor Day rolls around, that means one destination for us – Great Sand Dunes National Park.  We adored this place even when our home base was in Pennsylvania.  Once we moved to Colorado, getting to Dunes was comparatively easy and it quickly became our new holiday weekend ritual to end the summer season.

This past Labor Day was no different and the weather was absolutely perfect for most of our trip.  (Ok, the first full day down there the weather was a bit meh for the start of the day, but it rebounded from there on out.) . In between lengthy bouts of relaxation and laziness, we did do some hiking in the dunefield and I snagged a few shots.

Our first full day started with quite a treat at our campsite – a teeny tiny rain shower passed over the dunes just as the sun got above the Sangre de Cristo mountains to the east of us giving us a small bit of a rainbow!  Talk about luck.

I thought for sure I wouldn’t be able to stash my camp coffee, get the camera out, and get it setup before the rainbow went away so I figured on simply enjoying it in the moment.  I’m so happy I was wrong!  It stuck around long enough that I was able to take quite a few shots with both my standard walk-around lens and my super-wide angle lens before it faded away.  Like I always tell folks – there’s always something new for us down at The Dunes!!

Lucky Charms - Sand Dunes Style

Once we got out on the dunefield for various hikes during our trip, I snagged shots of my prairie sunflowers (of course!).  According to the park rangers, this year’s bloom was a little late in terms of timing, but wildly big and colorful thanks to the week of off-and-on rain Colorado got in early August.  Yay for me!!  Here’s 2 of my favorites that I got…

Solitary SunshineBlown

We also stumbled across somebody’s old meal leftovers…

Leftovers

And as always, the sands and the shadows were fun to play with – both for large-scale scenery shots & some more mellow close-up work…

Shadow ValleysRelaxing Waves

We had another good trip to The Dunes and I bagged another round of good shots.  I’ll share those in a couple of upcoming posts about this trip.  Stay tuned!!

– JC

Marmot Peek-a-Boo

A few weeks ago we headed up to Rocky Mountain National Park for a hike up to Lawn Lake.  It’s a trail we haven’t done in a few years, even though we really enjoyed the trip the one and only time we’d gone up there.  The hike isn’t steep, but it is very long – we clocked nearly 14 miles by the time our day was done!

This time around, I was crazy enough to take the big camera with me for the entire trek, only adding weight to the pack I had to carry.  No worries though because it meant more calories burned (which translates into less guilt over celebratory food & beverages afterward!) and I was rewarded with some fun with a marmot.

The hike up was uneventful.  Gorgeous, but uneventful.  Not a ton of wildlife, but plenty of scenery and wildflowers in bloom…

…some shadows out to play along the Rolling River…

Shadows & Rocks

…and some downed trees that made for an abstract that I can’t help but think looks like a rhino or a triceratops tilting its angry head.

Creatures in Wood

Lawn Lake is spectacular on an average day.  Add the fabulous weather we had and it was simply scrumptious!

Approaching Lawn Lake

While we were plopped down on the lake shore for a spot of lunch, I got inspired.  The rocks on the opposite side of the lake – for some reason – every time I looked at them, I kept thinking they looked painted.  That gave me a post-processing idea… once I got home, I tossed the Photoshop oil paint filter on it and voila!  Not quite what I pictured in my mind, but it still came out funky, especially with what it did to the grasses and pines along the shore:

Oil Painted Rocks

If it seems like I’m glossing over the hike, I sorta am, but for good reason.  Not only can I say “it’s so gorgeous up there” so many times and bore even myself, but also we had more fun on the way down the trail after lunch thanks to a new marmot friend we made during a lengthy game of peek-a-boo!

I saw the little guy scoot across the trail about 25 yards ahead of us and park himself in a set of boulders on the side of the trail.  Knowing that marmots tend to graze in and around rocks scrounging for little bits of lichen and mosses, I knew he’d be back out, so I started to get into position for when he did.

Bingo!  Oh, hello there…

Why, Hello...

Clearly I’d been spotted, but he didn’t run away.  Knowing that they can be skittish and don’t move nearly as fast as say, a chipmunk, I bided my time.  Each time he popped back into his little hiding spot, I slowly crept up another step or two to get closer to him.  (I always keep a healthy and respectable distance away from critters, balancing not spooking them with where I need to be for grabbing a shot.)

Every time after I’d step forward, I’d see a little nose pop out and check out the situation:

Still There?

After about 15 minutes of this dance, I think he decided to “smile” (unlikely) or was simply annoyed with my presence and my taking so many shots of him:

Smiling

And with that, we bid each other adieu and everyone went about their day:

Bye Now

Another successful day on the trails in the books!

– JC

Late April Snow Day

We got one of our typical mid-spring snowstorms yesterday in Colorado.  It was an instant reminder that I still had snowshoeing pictures to share now that my computer has been back up and running for almost 2 months.  (Whoops!  Life away from the computer got busy during that span, so as usual, I’m a little behind on my posts.)

There’s still snow up in the mountains, but it’s doubtful I’ll get out to snowshoe again before next season.  That means I only got out twice this season.  But, twice is better than none!

As it turned out, all of the snowshoeing I got to do happened in January.  Our first snowshoe outing was on New Year’s Day where we celebrated the start of 2017 by cruising along the Flattop Mountain trail for as long as we felt like going.  (It’s a very long and somewhat difficult trail for snowshoeing that I’m just not up to handling yet.)

The day started out with nice weather, but as it seems to always happen in the winter, another storm was on its way into the area as the day progressed.  We had to cut our day a little short just to be on the safe side.  On the left, you can see the storm starting to blow down and into the park over Hallett Peak at the start of our hike.  On the right, the storm settled in and the snow began.  We were only on the trail for maybe 2 hours, so the change in weather didn’t take too long.

Along the way I did get a couple of fun shots, including a shot of my “big winter feet” just for yucks.  Even though we had to cut our day short, it was a fun hike for our first trek of the season.

The only other time I got out snowshoeing was at the end of January.  (My husband got to sneak in another trip or two without me later in the season – lucky!)  That day we shot up the trail to Emerald Lake, also in Rocky Mountain National Park.  The weather was a little nicer than our previous hike earlier in the month, but the wind was utterly brutal by the time we got to Emerald Lake.

Winter Mountainside

After being blasted by wind and cold at Emerald Lake, we came back down into the shelter of the trees and strolled across Bear Lake for yucks before going back to our car.  Luckily for me we came across something interesting – some inverse footprints that were caused by the mixing of melting, new snowfall, and wind over the winter on the lake.

Reverse Footprints in the Snow

This winter was very much feast or famine in terms of snow in the mountains of Colorado.  In the end though, we were fortunate to get enough snow to build the snowpack to an almost normal level which will be very good for our summer because we’ll have water thanks to the snowmelt running off the mountain and down into the plains.  That’s the important part I try to keep in mind even if those random storms and changes in weather put a kibosh on our winter hiking plans during the season.

– JC

 

 

Down & Out

What’s that you ask?  That’s my empty shell where my 2 month old computer used to be. Something went majorly amok in my spankin’ new MacBook Pro & it died last week. Zero power. Totally dead. Hardware failure. To say I wanted to scream is an understatement…

So it’ll be 7-10 business days waiting for Apple to get me a replacement. Figures it happened just as I was getting close to posting a new blog. ‘Tis life, and majorly frustrating at that.

Once I’m back up & running again, I have 2 snowshoe outings to share. And only one set of those pictures has to be reprocessed, so maybe that’s the silver lining?
–JC

Burning Off Turkey Day

One last bit of catch-up to take care of before 2016 is no longer… my last set of pictures in queue from this fall.  This time it was a quick trip up to the Rabbit Mountain county open space not far from our home to try to work off just some of the Turkey Day calories we gobbled up the day before.

There wasn’t anything super special about the day other than it was simply a gorgeous morning.  Just a great time to sit back and enjoy the views in the golden sunlight…

And since I procrastinated with this blog post, I have a new WordPress toy to play with to show off one of my panoramic shots from this jaunt – 360° view!

For those who want to see the whole scene in context or don’t feel like playing with the 360° toy, here’s the full scene from atop a rock bluff at the end of the trail we hiked:

Arise

With this post, I’m finally caught up – just in time for the year to end!  I’d like to say that I’ll be more on top of things for 2017, but let’s face it – “real life” gets in the way a little too much sometimes and I’m to mentally or physically exhausted to futz with pictures.  Maybe having better equipment throughout my workflow will speed things up and  help me stay on top of things, if for no other reason it gives me an excuse to play with my toys.  Guess we’ll have to wait and see on that one.

Goodbye 2016 & hello 2017!!

 

– JC

PS – Seeing how this new 360° plugin works is already giving me some ideas for taking pictures that will more fully realize the feature down the road.  Could be fun!

Hidden Gem

One of the bonuses of my husband’s job in conservation is that some of the conferences he attends include “sessions” that involve hikes and other outdoor activities in and around the host city.  (For those of us who are stuck in dimly lit hotel ballroom/dining room settings on uncomfortable chairs for hours on end for conferences, it seems like a dream!  So jealous!)  This year’s Colorado Open Space Association annual meeting in Estes Park did just that.

One of his “sessions” (and I can’t make the air quotes big enough online!) was a hike in some Larimer County open space called Hermit Park just outside of Estes Park.  Turns out we’d driven by the entrance a few times going to/from Rocky Mountain National Park, but we’d never turned in since we were aiming for “the big park”.  Boy, were we missing something good!  Even though it was cloudy and crappy the day my husband’s conference took him up there, he saw enough that he knew he’d be taking me back there.

And so he did.  A few weeks later we went for a jaunt up to the highest point in Hermit Park and it was stunning!  Since you’re sitting slightly south and just east of Rocky, the views are phenomenal!  These shots are just a sampling of the visual goodies we found that day, shot on my phone since it was a “test run” of sorts.

Mountains Surround

I’m sure we’ll get back here down the road and I can’t wait!

 

– JC

Fall on the Solstice

Fall is officially over today and now we’re in my favorite season – winter!  Unfortunately, I’m still in clean-up mode with my pictures, so mentally there’s still a chunk of my mind stuck back in fall.

The job the last few days has been clearing the backlog of pictures log-jammed on my phone.  In today’s quick post, the taste of fall is brought to us courtesy of some shots at Rocky Mountain National Park that I snagged while visiting with my sister’s family on their vacation in early October.

Enjoy!

– JC

Outdoor Furniture Art

On the way home from Great Sand Dunes National Park, we stopped in Buena Vista for a spot of lunch.  Buena Vista is a cute little mountain town that’s in the middle of reviving their riverfront property along the Arkansas River.  What’s emerging in that pocket of town is really, really cool.  They’re doing an excellent job with mixing styles of architecture, keeping the historic buildings, making things pedestrian friendly, and giving the area some charm with cute shops and restaurants within the residential neighborhood.  We liked Buena Vista before, but this little chunk of town is really turning into something.

During this year’s stop in town, some new art had been installed – seating areas made to look like living rooms but made entirely out of decorative tiles and mosaic work.  It was so fun and funky!  While I might not want to sit on this stuff on a bright, sunny, hot day for risk of searing my tush off, it’s quite something to look at.

Sit a Bit

Stay a While

Fun and as cute as the sets are on their own, you really start to marvel when you get in close on the detail.  There’s a ton of intricate mosaic work or painted tiles on each piece.  Unfortunately, we had some time constraints on our drive home, so I couldn’t take it all in, but I did get a few shots of those details.

Mosaic Madness

Oh, Kitty

Here, Doggy

Just another fun find along our annual journey to and from Great Sand Dunes!

 

– JC