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

Wildflowers for a Monday

It’s the start of another workweek, but it’s a workweek where I’m off from my “real job” for 2 days.  Why not share some happiness with folks who do have to be at work today?

Here’s some wildflowers from another run of test shots the other week – this time at Rabbit Mountain outside of Longmont, Colorado where the flowers were abundant, colorful, and downright cheery.


– JC

Updated: Prescribed Burn

Continuing with catching up, it’s onto late October when we ventured up to a county open space park not far from our house to check out the aftermath of a prescribed burn completed for forest maintenance.

The prescribed burn at Hall Ranch, coincidentally, occurred the same day we were at Chasm Lake.  You could see some of the smoke in the air, but thankfully it wasn’t nearly as windy at that park as it was on our hike.  They were able to complete the burn as planned, and as crazy as this sounds, they did a really nice job.

Burn Area
Burn Area

Wildfires are a scary thing, but they’re nature’s way of maintaining balance.  For too long, many forests across the US have not burned, putting them at higher risk of being utterly ferocious fires when lightning strikes or – God forbid – a human starts a fire either on purpose or out of sheer ignorance.  (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve caught my breath each time I see someone flick a lit cigarette butt out the car window on the highway – just that little ember can put so many people and the forest at risk of a fire!)  Prescribed burns like this one are carefully controlled to kill the overgrowth and let nature hit its own reset button.

The burn covered a fairly large area.  I was particularly impressed with the lines of control.  They were so clearly defined that the park and forest personnel involved clearly knew what they wanted to burn and kept the rest from catching fire.

A Meeker View Among the Burn
A Meeker View Among the Burn

In its wake, the fire left a black landscape that was oddly pretty.  It’s certainly not something you see everyday, and there were already glimpses of the forest floor regenerating itself even only 2 weeks after the burn.

Already Coming Back
Already Coming Back

Whether it was cactus or yucca plants surviving the fire or little blades of grass popping through the blackened soil, it was more proof that nature is a pretty astounding and resilient thing.


May 2016 Update:  During our hike a few weeks ago at Hall Ranch, we went through this same exact area and it’s simply astonishing how it’s bounced back and is thriving.  This is exactly why prescribed burns – when done correctly and controlled – are so good for nature so it can regenerate itself!!

After the Burn
Hall Ranch – Prescribed Burn Area May 2016

Quick Post for a Quick Shoot

This morning I wandered down to the big park near our house to try to get some shots of the prairie dogs.  Welp, the little critters weren’t exactly cooperative, but I did get a couple of shots around the park worth sharing.



Thistle in August
Thistle in August
Momma's Morning Chill
Momma’s Morning Chill
Lil' Birds on a Sandbar
Lil’ Birds on a Sandbar
Late Summer Thistles, Mount Meeker, & Longs Peak
Late Summer Thistles, Mount Meeker, & Longs Peak


It Gets Dark After Sunset, Ya Know

(Originally posted November 20, 2012)

Sunset Ripples - Great Sand Dunes National Park - Colorado
Sunset Ripples – Great Sand Dunes National Park – Colorado

You’d think it doesn’t take much to remember that it gets dark after sunset, right?  Not the case when you’re so focused on getting your sunset shots as the light and weather start cooperating at Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado!

This day’s sunset shooting session wasn’t shaping up to be much of anything as we set out on the dunes.  That’s when the light started to change and the clouds started coming in to make the scene potentially more dramatic, if not fleeting.  Time to hustle a little to get a great spot for shooting…

Sure enough, in the swirl of my mind that was taking in all of the fantastic shooting options and rushing to get to my position to set up before the conditions vanished, I forgot to bring our headlamps so we could find our way back to the parking lot and our campground.  No problem though because my husband – ever the Boy Scout – would surely have them.  Turns out he forgot too… whoops!

So the sunset session went on as planned, and I pushed it as long as I possibly could while mentally balancing how the scenery was changing, the photographic potential, the rate at which it was getting dark, and how quickly we could get back to the car before the skies were completely black (and the animals – big and small – started to come out for their nightly fun).  I got some really fantastic shots on this particular evening, this image being one of them.

After the sun went behind the dunes, the clouds filled in too much for dramatic sunset colors, so we started back towards the car and our camp.  Much to our surprise, we walked a lot further from the parking lot than we had originally thought!  Double whoops!!  No worries though, because we did make it back with a hint of dusk to spare and went about our night.  (Stargazing at this park is fantastic – so much to see in the night skies!!)

This picture always reminds me of the new addition I made to my routine for sunset shooting sessions – putting a headlamp in my camera bag just in case I need it.  Something so simple, full of common sense, that I simply forgot that day that I won’t let happen again.  Definitely a “duh” moment for me, even though I got some amazing shots!  🙂

– JC

PS – Yours truly is still on the mend after foot surgery.  Things are healing well, just a little slower than little ol’ impatient me would like them to.  Unfortunately, that also means I’m still hobbling and am limited in what I can do.  Hopefully that doesn’t last much longer and our work on the Alpha Pup site (and life in general) can get back to normal!