A Day Among the Bristlecone Pines

A few weeks ago, my husband and I celebrated our 10th (!?) wedding anniversary.  Because it fell on a Friday, we made a long weekend out of it and went hiking.  The only real issue we had was where to hike.  It’s still too snowy up high, and lower down the snow is melting and making things a muddy mess.  Add to that the high temperature forecast for the day was 100+, we definitely needed to find cool!  That’s when it hit me – let’s go to the Mt. Goliath Nature Area outside of Idaho Springs!

The Mt. Goliath Nature Area fit the bill because it sits at 11,500′ of elevation meaning it’d be cooler than down here on the plains, the road to the Nature Area is right along the road up to Mt. Evans that opened up for the season a few weeks ago, and the hiking trails shouldn’t be too snow-packed or muddy.  Add to that that we haven’t been there in years and the drive from our house isn’t too long and we were on our way!

Getting up there in the morning worked out perfectly because we had the entire place to ourselves for the first few hours of the day.  Just us and the bristlecone pine trees.  These trees are some of our favorites – for my husband, it’s b/c he loves any and all trees; for me, it’s because they can be insanely photogenic.  Bristlecones can live to be almost 2,000 years old.  The trees in the Mt. Goliath Nature Area range in age from 700-1,600 years old!!  They’re weathered, they’re twisted, and that makes them immensely interesting.

Straight out of the gate, my eye was going bonkers looking at the different grains and shapes the trees make.  For a tree that’s so weathered and bleached on the outside, the grain on the inside that is exposed at points is so bright and vibrant that it’s a clear reminder that they’re very much alive and thriving.

The trail we hiked takes you through some mundane mountain forest, and then turns into groves of bristlecones the higher you get.  I found myself crouching down and bending into awkward positions quite a few times, trying to get shots of the spooky shapes they were making against the crystal-clear blue skies we had that day.

Reaching Higher

We were even lucky enough to get some wildflowers along the way.  Couldn’t believe they were already out in June!  A welcome pop of color along the way, especially as we got up real high and saw my husband’s favorite – Alpine Forget-Me-Nots (on the left, below).

Even though it had been 5 years since we were last at Mt. Goliath, I recognized some of the trees along the trail from the pictures I took back then.  I think part of that was simply having worked on the pictures and I loved so many of them that they stuck in my brain after all that time.  Another part was that some of those shots became desktop wallpaper at my “day job” to help remind me of days not spent whiled away at a desk.

All that aside, there was one tree that was memorable simply because it was that amazing.  I call it my “tree arch” and I couldn’t wait to see it again to see how (or if) it had changed.  As it turned out, it was there waiting for me without having changed a bit!

Tree Arch & Purple Flowers (HDR)

I took a ton of shots of this tree 5 years ago, and this day it was very much the same.  Better yet, on this particular day, we had the trail to ourselves and all the time in the world for me to play with my camera because we weren’t having to race weather even though we were above treeline (~12,000′).  Simply seeing Tree Arch had me giddy and I think the volume of pictures I brought home reflected that a bit.

I had to temper my giddiness a tad because I was <slap my wrist> going slightly off the trail above treeline </end wrist slap>.  I know I shouldn’t stray off the trail, especially above treeline because the grasses and flowers are so fragile since you’re in an alpine tundra climate where the greenery fights so hard to survive harsh conditions and short growing seasons.  I kept my footsteps to just rocks and sand to be safe, so no plants or other delicate greenery were harmed in the taking of these pictures.

Peek Through the Arch
Peek Through the Arch
Ages
Ages
Drinking Arch
Drinking Arch

Turns out I got all up in Tree Arch’s “business”, taking shots from inside the arch, different angles, just going wild.  I had a blast (and I already want to go back and take more pictures of it!!).

Random aside:  When we got home and I showed the shots to my folks who were visiting, they immediately said how they could see faces in the grains – especially in Drinking Arch (above)… they said it looked like a horse drinking.  Since then, I can’t help but see creatures’ faces in the wood!

Eventually I did pull myself away long enough so we could get up to the loop trail at the top of the mountain that gives a spectacular view of the Continental Divide.  Not a bad place to stop for a light lunch before heading back to the trailhead and civilization.

Continental Divide Pano from Mt. Goliath

Shockingly, we had the entire trail to ourselves the entire day until just yards from the parking lot.  We were totally spoiled, and that made for a superb way to start our anniversary celebration that ended with a wonderful dinner at one of our favorite local restaurants.  Simply a perfect day to celebrate 10 years together!

– 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.

Enjoy!

– JC

Warped Perspective

Don’t worry – this post isn’t some deep, meaningful, philosophical, thoughtful spew of perspective on the world.  I’m merely talking about perspective in photos and how tools – cough, Photoshop – can help with that.

For years, I’ve wanted to get shots of a plaque embedded in the sidewalk of downtown Longmont of the original map of those who founded the town ages ago.  Since it’s in the middle of the sidewalk, you can’t really get straight ahead on top of it to get a shot at the right angle without too much skew in the lines.  Bummer for me because it’s a pretty cool inlay.  (Remember – I’m also married to a self-professed map geek.)

While I was shooting the “Play the Plaza” art installation, I figured I’d take a stab at snagging a shot or two of this map in the sidewalk.  I’ve waited this long, so why not?

Since I wasn’t carrying a ladder to setup in the middle of downtown, the best I could do was stand on the edge of a stone flowerbed nearby.  That gave me this shot:

Original Shot of the Longmont Chicago Colorado Colony Map
Original Shot of the Longmont Chicago Colorado Colony Map

Detail was certainly good enough, but the perspective wasn’t thrilling me.  I knew in the back of my head that Photoshop’s Puppet Warp feature might be able to help me here – so long as I had the patience to place and move pins around to get the image to look right without skewing it entirely out of whack!

Cut to later that afternoon and I’m processing all my shots from the day when I get up to this one with the map.  What to do, what to do?  I make my usual toning adjustments, some sharpening, etc. and then tackle the big one – how to change that perspective?

Well, with my new camera’s arrival, that meant a long-delayed Photoshop upgrade for me.  (Fantastic – just one more minor thing to learn while I figure out the new equipment…)  I went poking around to see where Puppet Warp went hiding in the menus of the latest software and I saw an entry for “Perspective Warp”.  Hmmm… certainly sounds useful, if you can believe the name Adobe used for the feature (which isn’t always the case).

Wincing just a little bit, I clicked “Perspective Warp” and waited to see what happened.  Not much – since it was waiting for me to do stuff.  I quickly figured out what it was aiming at and in just a few minutes, I took my original shot and got it looking more or less exactly how I wanted it – like I was on a ladder standing directly on top of it!  (All without googling for tutorials, no less!!)

After some fine tuning and some other clean-up on the image, I ended up with this:

Longmont Chicago Colorado Colony Map
Longmont Chicago Colorado Colony Map

After years of literally walking over this map whenever we’re downtown, I finally got the shot I wanted (with a little help!).  I’m so stoked about how this shot came out that I may end up printing it for display in my home office.

I’m anxious to try Perspective Warp on other scenes down the road and see what results I get.  This picture turned out to be a simple example to work with because it is so linear in nature, but I’m so pleased with the results that I can see how this new tool may help me out down the road when I can’t possibly climb up a tree or a rattlesnake-filled hill to get the exact angle I want on a shot.

– JC

Playing the Plaza

I just need to say this straight out at the start – I love the town we live in!  When we landed in Colorado nearly 3 years ago, I had no idea we’d end up in a place we’re really proud to call home.

We live in a little town called Longmont about a 45 minute drive northwest of Denver and less than an hour’s drive from Rocky Mountain National Park.  We picked this town mainly because of proximity to job markets and RMNP.  Little did we know that the first day we walked through downtown we’d fall in love with it instantly and made it our goal to call this town home.  My husband hadn’t been through the town in 15 years and it grew up – a lot – since then and they’re still doing so many cool and smart things in the town and the community that we just feel so fortunate to be part it.  (Oh – and beer… so much good beer in this town!!)

Last weekend, we popped downtown for a spot of lunch (including yummy beers, of course) and I brought the new camera with me for test shots because I knew there were some lively colorful things downtown that I’d been wanting to get shots of – perfect test subjects for the new sensor and exposure meter I’m getting used to.

This summer, the public art installation around downtown is called “Play the Plaza“.  They’ve taken different childhood games and set them up so they’re larger than life in the alleys and parklets throughout downtown.  Seems like every corner you turn, there’s something to play with or something insanely colorful and fun waiting for you.  Yay interactive art for all ages!!  (Isn’t there a kids’ game with the label of “fun for ages 9 to 99”?  Which game it is eludes me at the moment, but that label certainly applies to “Play the Plaza”.)

Play the Plaza
Play the Plaza

I started with “Candy Lane” – the take-off on “Candy Land”.  I spent most of my time here probably because it was the biggest and most colorful installation.  The setup has spinners every few spaces and people move themselves down the painted sidewalk as the pieces through the different lands to the end of the game about 50-100 feet down the way, curling around the old church that houses the St. Vrain Historical Society.

As we wandered down “Candy Lane”, we noticed they temporarily converted the permanent tables and chairs installed in the parklet to games too – complete with bags attached to each table that hold the game pieces to use on the game boards.

One of the last shots I took near the end of “Candy Lane” was a classic – Tic-Tac-Toe.  The eternal child in me loved spinning the pieces around like a spaz while the adult in me loved the simple industrial elegance of how it was constructed.

Tic-Tac-Toe
Tic-Tac-Toe

Definitely not a bad way to spend some time for a Saturday afternoon.  If you’re located near Longmont, I highly recommend stopping by and checking it all out before it’s gone!

At the risk of being a little cliche, Longmont is our Home Sweet Home…

Home Sweet Home
Home Sweet Home

– JC

 

Hiking the Learning Curve

Last Friday was pretty exciting for me – my new camera came!  After waiting 6 1/2 years for Nikon to update their semi-pro DX cameras, they finally did it and my D500 came!!  (This camera will replace my nearly-9-year-old D300.)  With all that time between updates – holy steep learning curve Batman!!

Luckily for me, we finally had nice weekend weather for the first time in a month and my husband was amenable to my “hijacking” his planned hike at Hall Ranch and slowing it down to more of a photography hike so I could start learning my new “toy” – er, I mean “tool”.  Friday night was spent with a wonderful beer in one hand (Duchesse de Bourgogne – an awesome Flanders Red Ale, for anyone interested) and the D500 manual in the other.  Exciting life, huh?

I got through enough of the manual and played with enough settings (or so I thought) to give it a go on Saturday.  Off we went and the first thing I wanted to snap a picture of was a poster about rattlesnakes as a joke for my sister after her encounter with them during her visit last year.  I go to click the shutter and notice it’s not focusing!  What?  It was focusing last night.  I took a few minutes to dig around the menus, stumbled on the setting I needed, and I was good to go.  Ok – first crisis of the day avoided, and I didn’t even have to get out the manual!

The Procedure
The Procedure

Right of the bat, I notice that the exposure meter on the D500 is a little different than what I’m used to, so I kept clicking away on this sign until I got it right.  Then the panic of the day set in – fatal memory card error!  Say what the !*&!@! what?!  Brand new card, brand new camera, all top quality… what is happening!?!

As a last resort, I turned the camera off, then back on again, and it seemed to be working fine.  Concerning moment (to say the least) but no images were lost, thankfully.  Mental note made to do some web hunting on errors being reported by other photographers out there and off we go.

It was a really gorgeous day to be out at Hall Ranch for a hike, though I think my brain was on overload most of the time looking for shots, figuring out settings, finding where Nikon added or slightly moved buttons, and discovering new features.  Luckily for me, nature was cooperating too with some fun things along the way…

Puff
Puff
Bloomin' Ball Cactus
Bloomin’ Ball Cactus

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even remnants from old activities back in the day made for some fun shots:

Barbed Wire Rounds
Barbed Wire Rounds

The hike is about 9 miles round trip, and not long after we set out, I kept getting the memory card error.  So frustrating!!  Nonetheless, we kept pushing forward towards our destination a few valleys over that gives us a great view of Mount Meeker and Longs Peak.  When we arrived, there was a little welcoming committee waiting for us – just chilling out in the trees watching…

Baby Doe Don't Care
Baby Doe Don’t Care

After a bite of lunch, my husband and I split up and wandered a bit.  The skies clouded up a bit on this oddly hazy day, but I did find a few things worthy of pictures as I poked around.  Here’s just a couple of them:

White Wildflower
White Wildflower
Meeker, Longs, & Pine
Meeker, Longs, & Pine

Thankfully the memory card errors subsided as the day went on, but it was always in the back of my mind.

In the end, I think it was a pretty successful first day with my new toy – until I got home and remembered that I’d have to upgrade all of my processing software to work on the new camera’s files!  Talk about making the learning curve steeper!!  I’ll get there though – this mountain to climb is just a mental one that will take practice and time.  Just one more reason to play with my new toy more often, right?

-JC