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

 

 

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

Shapes & Shadows

One of my favorite things to do at Great Sand Dunes National Park is watching for shapes and shadows in the sands.  What makes it really fun for me is that you can play this game all day long, no matter where the sun is in the sky, and looking at things up close or from afar.  It’s a photographer’s treat in terms of what nature offers up each minute.

In the past, I’ve typically focused on medium- to long-range shots of the dunes in the early morning or late afternoon hours when the shadows get really dramatic.  The lighting at any given moment may highlight a contour in front of you or drop a dark haze down a hill showcasing the different shades of sand, similar to these shots I captured years ago during earlier trips to the Park.

This trip though, I kept my focus tight on things right in front of me on a smaller scale – and wow, did I ever find some good stuff!

I think I had the most luck during our morning hikes on our trip.  That might have been because of the thunderstorms that had come through before and during our stay, making the sand just moist enough that it would clump and ripple in interesting ways as the wind tore across the surface and I’d catch the sands while they were fresh and not yet disturbed by hikers.  Even more fun for me was, when I got home, really bringing out the most in the shapes and textures by converting my shots to black & white to make them more stunning than they were in the Technicolor of real life.

I think what I liked most about this shot above on the left was how it plays tricks on your mind in terms of perspective.  (I’m putting aside the game of “Am I seeing a face in there?” for the shot on the right at the moment because you can play that all day at Dunes.) Even now looking at the shot on the left, I know this ridge wasn’t that big at all – no more than a few feet long and 6 inches high – but I can take a step back and reinterpret it almost as a vast overhead shot of a much larger dunefield.  To quote Dana Carvey doing his Johnny Carson impression, “Weird, wild stuff!”

Later on during this hike, the shapes and shadows went from strong and craggy to soft and serene.

Sand Pool Path

These little piles of sand reminded me of flat, black riverbed stones rubbed smooth and round over time (only to wind up in a hot stone massage at a spa?).  Something very Zen struck me during this shot, and still does looking at it months later.

I always tell people that Dunes is a photographer’s treat simply because there’s always something to get creative with.  For me, it’s usually the shadows and shapes, and the park never disappoints!

– JC

 

Dancing Sands Greet Us

Let’s just face it – I’ve been a little delinquent with blogging this fall.  Now that fall is about to turn into winter faster that I’d ever imagine, I guess it’s time to catch up – no excuses!  (Plus, doing all of this catch-up on a new computer that replaces the previous one that was 5+ years old will make it all go a helluva lot faster.)

I think last we left off we were nearing our annual trip to Great Sand Dunes National Park for a weekend of camping.  Of the trips we’re fortunate enough to take most years, we probably look forward to this one most of all.  And once again, the park didn’t disappoint.  (Does it ever, really?)  As soon as we got camp setup, I grabbed my camera and went out to play for the afternoon.

Driving into the park, I had my eye on the skies and saw the clouds building – might be thunderstorms, might just be happy puffy white clouds Bob Ross always so effortlessly plunked down on canvas on PBS back in the day.  No matter because, for me, the clouds meant drama.

The muffling of the sun that afternoon scratched any chances of getting late day shots of the shadows as they set in on the dunefield.  The trade-off though was that they created shadows on the mountains in the distance, making highlights pop a little more vibrantly than usual in the hills.  I was just happy the clouds and the highlights held on long enough for me to get in position and play a little.

An unwelcome partner with the clouds though was the wind.  Wind is one of the key ingredients in why the Dunes are there in the first place, so as annoying as it can be as it’s sandblasting your ankles, you learn how to deal with it knowing that it’s just nature at work rebuilding and shifting the piles of sand.  For me, it provided some opportunities to catch the grains in motion.

One of the most common ways to catch the sand shifting is simply on a ridge within the dunefield.  The wind blows up one side and the sand goes clear off the top and somewhere else in the field.  Over long stretches of time, that’s how the dunes change their shape.  Each day though, the wind acts as nature’s Etch-a-Sketch shaking things up and erasing the footprints left by folks scampering the hills.  I caught that Etch-a-Sketch shake at work knocking out some footprints left earlier that day…

Windy March

Later on, we dipped down into one of the valleys in the dunefield and I turned around and saw the winds swirling just the right way to make the sands dance along a slightly dampened surface.  The sand in the shade hadn’t quite dried out from showers earlier that day or the day before, letting the lighter, drier sand twirl across it in the sweetest dance.  It was truly mesmerizing to sit and watch, and even harder to capture that grace on film…

Dancing Sands

Hard to believe that this was just the start of our long weekend at Dunes!  It was a really promising beginning that didn’t disappoint the rest of our stay.  (More on that in future posts – consider yourself teased!)

 

-JC

Procrastination Didn’t Pay

This post has actually been a long time in the making only because it involved 2 separate hikes.  Desperate to get away from the already-record crowds in Rocky on 4th of July weekend, we made a little diversion to a lesser known area for a quiet hike.  No only did we hardly see any people, the views were amazing!!  Full kudos to my husband for scouting out and correctly guessing that St. Vrain Mountain was the place to be!!

The St. Vrain Mountain trail runs mostly in Indian Peaks Wilderness, but towards the end veers in and out of Rocky Mountain National Park.  The trail head is a bit off of the beaten path, so that helps keep crowds down.  Add to that the 4 or so miles of moderately difficult hiking just to get to the base of St. Vrain Mountain before going up a mile’s worth of boulders to the summit, and you’ve got the perfect mix of “crowd suppression” we so often seek when hiking.

Summer hiking, especially above treeline, means early mornings.  That’s probably the toughest part some days – just getting going.  For the first hike, I only toted my phone because we weren’t sure what we’d find or how hard the boulder field would be to traverse on the way to the summit, so I made it easy on myself.  The sun was just starting to come up as we set out on the trail through a forest of aspen trees, then along a stream where wildflowers were just opening to greet the day.  We even came across a tree felled by a beaver near the stream!

Good start to the day noted, we kept trudging up the hill.  The aspen forest seemed to go on forever, but eventually it gave way to pines.  The purple and yellow and red wildflowers combined with the early sun of the day and a crispness in the air was simply fantastic.  We even lucked out and found some picturesque columbines peeking out along the side of the trail.

Eventually – and what seemed like took forever – the pine trees disappeared and we were above treeline.  That’s when things got really spectacular!  Not long after leaving the forest, we were up on the saddle between hills just to the south of RMNP.  We looked to the north and our jaws just dropped.  We were staring at the south faces of Longs Peak, Mount Meeker, Mount Lady Washington, and the whole gaggle of peaks that make up that southern section of the park.  Add to that some fluffy clouds throwing dramatic shadows on the jagged mountains and the brilliant yellows of wildflowers in the meadows and it was something to behold (even if the camera on my phone couldn’t quite do it justice).

On the Border - Panorama

I think at this moment, we looked at each other and knew immediately that we’d be doing this hike again, and soon.  The “big gun” camera and its accoutrements must make it to at least the saddle to really capture what we were seeing before us.

Putting that thought aside, we still had time and the weather was cooperating, so we decided to go on and summit St. Vrain Mountain.  From the saddle, it didn’t look so bad… (St. Vrain Mountain is the hill on the right closer to the foreground.)  Looks are very deceiving in the mountains.

Some Context - St. Vrain Mountain

So we whip around the hill a little more and start to go up.  Then kept going up.  That last mile up the hill was a slog of boulder hopping and figuring out how best to navigate to the top sans trail.

Plotting the Course

The climb was tough, but the bonus was when you stopped to rest.  That’s when you could look to the north and see the peaks in RMNP and then to the south and see Indian Peaks.  Not bad scene to catch your breath.

Longs South Side

After what seemed like one of the slowest climbs ever – including stopping because we came upon 2 ptarmigans near the top!! – we made it to the summit.  The view was simply sublime and made it worth the extra effort to reach the top.

St. Vrain Mountain - Summit Panorama

Once we grabbed a bite to eat, we headed back down before those cute clouds potentially turned into storms that would be a bad thing to be caught in above treeline.  All the while we were already planning our trip back.

Park Hopping

Successful maiden hike over, we headed home and plotted to come back in a couple of weeks with my big camera and really get into shooting in the saddle.  (There’s no way I’d try to summit at this point with all of my gear.  My conditioning is much better than it was years ago, but climbing a boulder field that long with the extra 20 or so pounds of equipment isn’t happening any time soon.)

Cut to the end of July – time to go back!  I was super excited to go with the “big gun” and take some time shooting the streams, the wildflowers, and especially up in the saddle.  Unfortunately, in the few weeks between trips, things changed a lot up there.  Summer is a fickle and fleeting thing in the high country and by the time we returned, the wildflowers in the saddle were done.  On top of that, it was a cloudless sky that was flat and off-color because smoke and other particles from wildfires to the north in Colorado and even from way down south in New Mexico were blowing in creating a nasty haze that not even my polarizer could cut through.  Talk about disappointment!

Just Over the Hill

I was so bummed about the conditions that when I offloaded my images for post-processing, I just let them sit for a few weeks.  I felt a general malaise about what I captured that day.  I hoped some had potential to be “rescued” and turned into something good, but I didn’t have much luck with that.  I ended up keeping only 3 images from the entire day!  That’s the thing with shooting in nature – some days you get incredibly lucky, but other days are simply an icky washout.

In the end, delaying our return trip and postponing my post-processing led to a massive delay in finally getting this post done.  Procrastination didn’t pay off in terms of pictures in this instance, but I think I learned a lot of good things about timing and the weather in this location just on these 2 trips alone so come next summer I can really try to nail the beauty of this area when things are at their peak.

 

– JC

My Birthday with My Dad & Rocky

The last full day of my parents’ visit with us just happened to be my birthday, so I ended up spending my birthday with my dad back up at Rocky Mountain National Park playing with our cameras.  My dad already had thousands of shots at this point of their trip – both from Rocky and from their “side trip” to Yellowstone.  While his shots of the wildlife were phenomenal, the legwork was starting to catch up to him and he wanted something different to shoot, so I suggested we do some easy hiking around Glacier Gorge and Bear Lake so he could get some stream and waterfall shots.  He loved that idea because then he could play with a new graduated density filter he got before the trip but hadn’t been able to use yet.  So off we went (and at the usual, absurdly early hour too)…

Before I get to the shooting day, there is a bit of a back story to share from about 9 years ago.  That’s when I got my first DSLR setup – the swank new Nikon D300.  Around that time, my dad was also ready to upgrade his gear, and he ended up with the same camera!  So now, not only had photography become a new language that my dad and I could share, but now we could talk camera-specific tech details (and I could serve as tech support from time to time).  After most of my life not knowing what the hell he was talking about or understanding what he was shooting (on film too!), this was a really cool development.

In the years since the D300 came out, my dad (who’s retired and primarily does bird photography) had continually asked me every few months if I had heard any new rumors of a D300 replacement.  Just like all D300 owners, we were frustrated with Nikon as the years went by and no DX-format, “pro-sumer” body replacement for the D300 was announced.

Then lo and behold this year – finally! – the D500!  My dad ordered his as soon as they started accepting pre-orders, but I had to wait a while before pulling the trigger on mine.  I have to admit – I was a little jealous when he got his, but about a month later mine finally showed up.  Fun thing is that I didn’t tell him I had ordered it, let alone it had arrived, and he still didn’t know I had it until they arrived and I pulled it out!  Needless to say, he was surprised and then came the litany of “have you found this?” or “how did you set this?” questions more or less immediately.  That’s ok though because I think both of us were still figuring it out together.

Now – back to our day at Rocky… It was very much a learning day for both of us.  We trekked up the trail from the Glacier Gorge trailhead with Alberta Falls being the goal.  I chose that hike because it wasn’t too steep, it was pretty short, and I knew there were a bunch of good shaded mountain streams along the way that would be running like crazy at the end of spring run-off as the snow finished melting.  I didn’t take a ton of shots that day since I didn’t take my full setup (and I’m still waiting for some tripod connection pieces to become available for the D500), but I got some good shots.  My dad hasn’t processed his shots from the trip yet, but I think it’s a safe bet he got the better shots that day since he had his full setup with him!

The first thing we shot was one of the streams I knew off of the side of the trail.  My dad had gotten creative with a grinder and one of his old tripod plates, so he was good to go in terms of a steady setup to do long exposures on the running stream.  My shots were “meh” since I was doing the best I could with a monopod, but I also have the advantage of living near Rocky and can go back pretty much whenever I want.  I did get one shot of the stream that I liked, and it’s from a goofy angle that I just tried for effect.

Sideways Flow

I think this was the only stream shot I had turn out all day.  No matter though, because as my dad was focusing on steams, I was going after ambiance and other little things catching my eye – like the aspen grove a little way up the trail from the trailhead.

When we did finally get to Alberta Falls, it was still early enough that it wasn’t crowded yet, so my dad could really fiddle with shots.  The snow was so bountiful again last winter (yay!) that the falls were really raging – to the point that there was a steady mist blowing at the camera and a long exposure shot wasn’t all that interesting from the main viewpoint.  That’s when I shifted into “location scout” mode, scampering up the trail and the rocks along the falls to see what shots might be available before having my dad trek up with his gear.

Just from looking in the display on his camera, my dad was pretty excited about the shots he bagged up at the highest point of the falls.  Me – on the other hand – I was content with taking some more ambient shots – including one of a little beggar face that kept circling as I ate a snack.

Once we finished up and got back to the trailhead, my dad was game for grabbing a couple of scenic shots at Bear Lake.  Since it’s summer in the park and the volume of visitors is already through the roof in June (Rocky saw a record 4 million visitors in 2015!), we hopped an already-packed shuttle bus to get to Bear Lake.

As usual for summer, Bear Lake was teeming with people.  We didn’t stay long, but my dad did get a couple of scenic shots of Hallett Peak from the lakeside, and I got some shadowy figures for my collection.

Lakeside Mood

Bear Lake was our last stop of the day in the park before we headed back down the hill and then grabbed some lunch at my favorite pizza place in our town.  When we got back to the house, I think both of us crashed for much-needed naps before heading out to dinner with the whole family that night.  What a fabulous way to spend my birthday!!

-JC

Macro Mania – Cactus Edition

With the new camera, I’m finding a rekindled interest in shots I used to mess with all the time.  In this particular case, it’s macros.  I haven’t done a lot of them in recent years, but I’ve been hunkered down with the tripod in the backyard each of the last two weekends grabbing shots.  What’s caught my eye lately?  Cactus.

My husband started a little cactus garden a couple of years ago not long after we moved into our new house.  We had a nook over the TV area that we didn’t know what to do with, so he started filling it with potted succulents a little at a time.  The first year or two they did great, but this winter they didn’t like it so much.  (I blame my black thumb presence simply being near them.)

Come spring, outside they went for “rehab”.  Luckily for us, they’re coming back like champs and growing like gangbusters!  Better for me that their growth spurt is creating all kinds of funky-ness for macro photography.

Below are a few shots I captured – some spines from a barrel cactus, and some sprouting additions on a paddle cactus.  I may be adding to the photographic collection as these guys continue to (hopefully) flourish during the summer!

– JC