So Dreadfully Behind, It’s Still Winter!

I have no idea where 2018 has gotten to.  As I write, it’s mid-August and I just came across pictures from back in February that I hadn’t processed!  Clearly life got a little busy and – quite honestly – saying goodbye to our little girl Sydney back in June threw me for quite a loop.  Pictures were definitely the last thing on my mind as we went through that.  (I’m sure at some point I’ll write a post about that – I’ll be sure to hydrate myself before I write since it’s bound to be a teary one.)

So here we are late-summer, looking back at snowshoe pictures I took in February during the one and only time we got out on the trails this winter.  We trekked up the winter trail to one of our favorite places – Loch Vale (a.k.a. The Loch).  The winter trail is pretty easy until the last quarter-mile or so when it gets pretty steep.  It’s worth the trip though!

As usual, it was really blustery when we reached The Loch itself.  We had to find some shelter out of the wind just to eat our lunch.  Luckily for me, we plopped ourselves down for a nosh right near a really interesting curl of snow on a rock.  I think that’s the one thing that I took the most pictures of during our hike!  Though it was tricky to avoid over-exposing the picture using my phone, I did snag a few shots that I was fond of…

The Loch is a good hike any time of year, though winter is probably our favorite because it’s not nearly as crowded as it is other times of year.  Naturally, that comes with trade-offs that you have to prepare for… like bundling up and leaning into powerful winds to get up there in the first place!  Totally worth it though…

 

– JC

Pursuit of Petroglyphs

Before we left Mesa Verde National Park for the last stop on our trip in Durango, we had time for one quick morning spin to Petroglyph Point.  We hadn’t done that hike since the first time my husband took me to Mesa Verde back in 2007.  (In fact, this may be the very first hike I ever went on in Mesa Verde!)  Ten years later seemed like a good time to check it out, and the length of the hike certainly fit our itinerary for the day.

We decided to hit the trail as soon as it opened.  Since the trail starts near the popular Spruce Tree House site and the museum, access to the trail is controlled by a locked gate that’s only open during daylight hours.  We thought the gate opened at 8am.  Surprise!  It wasn’t going to open until 8:30.  What to do with time to kill and good morning light?  Take pictures of yucca, of course!

Eventually 8:30 came, so we schlepped down to the gate to start our day and it was still locked.  Huh?  We waited a few minutes, figuring maybe the rangers were running late, yet still no signs of it opening.  I hiked back up to the museum at the top of the trail to ask the rangers was up and it turned out there was some sort of coverage miscommunication, so one of the rangers came back down with me and opened it for us.  Sweet!  That guaranteed we were the first ones on the trail for the day so we could set our own pace and have some peace and quiet along the way.

I took some pictures along the way out to Petroglyph Point, but much of the trail was in shade since the sun wasn’t very high in the sky yet.  I tried not to slow our pace too much with picture-taking, but there was one exception…

We came upon a rock along the trail that had some huge holes eroded in it.  The way the light was coming through the holes, it looked like mini caverns or slot canyons.  The lighting was so delicate that it took some time to get the exposure dialed in, and then a little more time in post processing to bring out the light the way my eyes saw it.  I think it was time well spent based on the results.

A couple of miles down the trail, we reached Petroglyph Point and still hadn’t seen or heard another soul on the trail.  It was wonderful!  We took quite a bit of time at the petroglyph panel itself because it’s really interesting to study in detail when you have the opportunity to do so.

Petroglyph Point

Only mere yards after you reach the petroglyphs, you start your ascent up some ladders back to the mesa top to walk back around to the trailhead through some pinyon and juniper forest.  Before we climbed out, we turned around and found that the canyon was lit up beautifully in the morning sun.  Picture time!

Around the Bends

Turns out that wasn’t the only cool view.  There was a tiny one right next to us as we were looking out across the canyons – a cluster of cacti thriving in a crack on one of the big boulders next to us.

Prickly Rock

Once we returned to the car, it was time to leave the park.  Always a bittersweet feeling, but we still had an afternoon and a night in Durango to look forward to before the long drive home.

Since we couldn’t check into our hotel quite that early, we went directly to Ska Brewing in Durango.  We’ve enjoyed their beer many times, but had never managed to make it to the brewery itself to check it out.  I was sold the second I saw what might be one of the best traffic control signs ever in their parking lot (complete with aspens changing color in the background)…

Best Brewery Parking Lot Sign (Ska Brewing)

Wonderful brews and a tasty lunch were had by all.

The melancholy of our trip coming rapidly to a close was starting to set in, but we enjoyed our short stay in Durango.  It was a whirlwind week in Utah and southwest Colorado, but a really fun one.  Can’t wait to do it again!!

– JC

Hiking for Art

The main attraction for the Utah portion of our trip was Horseshoe Canyon to check off a “bucket list” item for my husband – seeing the art galleries on the canyon walls.  You’re probably asking yourself, “Art in a canyon?  What?”  Yes, art in a canyon.  But first, we had to get there – and that posed potentially the greatest challenge of all.

Horseshoe Canyon is located in eastern Utah and is a satellite part of Canyonlands National Park.  That doesn’t mean it’s close to anything – it’s just in the middle of nowhere.  (Sensing a pattern here with our trips yet?)  To reach the trailhead, you have to traverse 32 miles of dirt road that’s only sometimes passable by a 2-wheel drive vehicle with enough ground clearance.  4-wheel drive is recommended, but even then it can be a crapshoot with the road conditions if winds suddenly pick up and bury the road in fine red sand.  So, it’s a tricky trek to the trailhead that also requires a touch of luck to make it all the way.

Away We Go

We had more than a little luck on our side the day we attempted our hike.  The vicious winds from the day before had died down and didn’t blow too much loose sand on the road.  Considering the conditions this road sometimes sees, it was in really good shape.  That didn’t make it any less nerve-wracking for my husband doing the driving though.  Thankfully we didn’t encounter any iffy areas along those 32 miles on the way in – win!  (Getting back to camp we’d deal with later in the day, then breathe easy once we were done.)

As soon as we reached the trailhead, the canyon was a sight to behold.

Horseshoe Canyon Panorama

The hike starts with a quick trip down to the canyon floor about 750 feet below.  That first mile was full of treats too.  We saw some fabulously interesting rock formations, some sort of old watering or irrigation trough, and a dinosaur print!  Not too shabby for the first mile.

A little further into our descent, we came across a horse gate that is used to limit access via horseback into the canyon.  (Access via horseback is by permit only.) . I thought the sign was absolutely fabulous – even if the letters may have been a little too small to drive the point home to some visitors, in my opinion.

Serious Reminder

Just past the gate, we were greeted by some of the native burros that live in the canyon.  These burros were left in the canyon by the Spanish ages ago and have thrived in the environment since then.  They were on the opposite side of the canyon from us, so not close enough to be bothered by our presence (or for me to get a really good picture of them – look for the white & brown creatures near the middle of the picture below).

Burros

The canyon floor itself became a real treat for my photography eye as we trekked… much to my husband’s chagrin because he came to see the art in the canyon, not be slowed down by me making art.  The mud had cracked and curled all over the canyon floor.  To me, it looked like a vast expanse of chocolate curls.  (Yes, my brain always goes back to food someway, somehow.)

Clay Cigars

The near-frenetic pace of sights and things I wanted to take pictures of pleasantly surprised us a little.  And we hadn’t even reached the first art gallery!  Finally, I did put the camera away long enough so we could pick up the pace and we arrived to see what we came for – ancient pictographs & petroglyphs!

There’s 4 galleries in the canyon with panels that are considered to be the finest examples of Native American rock art in North America.  The first gallery we arrived at was the High Gallery.  When you see how high up it is, you realize how that panel got its name and then you start to wonder, “How in the world did they get up there to make those images?!”

Not too far after the High Gallery, you reach the Horseshoe Gallery.  This one was also fairly high up on the canyon wall, but not as much as the previous display.  It was also in the sun on light-colored rock, making for a completely different photography challenge for me.

Horseshoe Gallery

After that one-two punch of the High and Horseshoe Galleries, we meandered through the canyon bottom following the dry stream bed and trail.  Thankfully it wasn’t too terribly hot that day since it was autumn, after all.  I couldn’t imagine doing that hike in the middle of summer where temperatures would be well over 100.  Ugh – too dang hot!

About halfway down to the next gallery, we heard a loud squawking noise in the canyon.  We couldn’t believe how loud it was and started looking up for birds.  We didn’t see anything in the sky or tucked into the rock walls, so we had a little mystery on our hands.  Something to ask the ranger about if we ran into one back at the trailhead at the end of the day.

Eventually, we saw a huge alcove that almost looked like the shell of an outdoor amphitheater.  That’s precisely when we realized we were nearing the 3rd gallery – the Alcove Gallery.

The Alcove

Where the first 2 galleries were high off the ground, the rock art in the Alcove Gallery was smack at ground level (behind a thin chain fence to deter visitors from touching it, naturally).  Being able to get up close to the art was really cool.  I was able to get some lovely detail shots of the images.  We even noticed places where cowboys coming through the canyon in the 1920s had etched their names in the rock – with pretty decent penmanship no less!

The grand finale was still about a mile ahead of us.  So… trudge, trudge, trudge… walk, walk, walk.  That brought us to the Great Gallery.  It’s the oldest and most elaborate panel in the entire canyon.  This panel is what my husband came to see, and boy did he ever enjoy it!  (Click on the pictures to enlarge them & check out the detail of the rock art.)

After a spot of lunch, it was time to head back to the trailhead.  Since the sun was more or less straight above the canyon, that lit up some of the features that were in deep shadow when we set out on our hike that morning.  Yay for me!

Heading Out & UpAlmost Up & Out

Not long after I snagged that 2nd shot above, we heard that squawking again.  Only this time it was really, really loud.  We had just seen some of the burros on the other side of the canyon and that’s when it clicked – the squawking we heard in the morning at least a 1/2 mile from where we first saw the burros was the burros!  Holy hell they’re loud in that canyon!!

Once we got back to the rim and the trailhead, it was time to pack-up and go after a fabulous outing.  Before we left, I did snag a quick shot across the canyon up to the northeast since the La Sal Mountains were shining out on the horizon with a fresh coat of snow on their peaks from the storm that passed through the day before.

La Sals Far Away

With the gear stowed, we were off to conquer the 32 miles of dirt road once more.  Some sand blew across the road while we were hiking, but thankfully it remained passable.  Back at camp we cracked open some beer and celebrated a really good day of hiking and an item successfully checked off of my husband’s “bucket list”.

– 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

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

 

 

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