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

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

Photographic Coincidences

We were lucky enough to get snow on Christmas again in 2015, so that meant for the second year in a row that conditions were perfect for snowshoeing that weekend.  Woo hoo!

Last winter or the one prior, we attempted to go to Mills Lake on one of our hikes, but somehow missed a turn and ended up at Loch Vale instead.  Whoops!  This year though, we made it to Mills Lake.  Simply a gorgeous day for a winter hike.

Glorious Winter
Glorious Winter

Along the trail up to the lake, a twisted pine tree caught my eye sitting atop a small hill whose snow was largely untouched.  Light was right, sky was crystal-clear blue, so off I trudged.  Boy was I happy I did…

Twisting Into Blue
Twisting Into Blue

Later that day, I hop online at home and start checking the various feeds to catch up on the world and whatever we may have missed while we were out playing in the snow.  As I’m poking around, I come across a post from the official Rocky Mountain NP account on Facebook or Twitter and it’s got a picture of a tree that looks really familiar.  Hmm…

I started wondering why that looked so dang familiar and then it hits me – of all of the trees and thousands of acres in that park, the Park Service and I took a picture of the same tree!  Unreal…  The Park’s picture was good and composed in a very similar way, but I think mine was better simply because of sheer luck:  I had better conditions to shoot in.  They had a gray cloudy day, and I had all kinds of sunny, snowy, gorgeous-ness!

Funny how things happen sometimes…

 

-JC

 

Colorado Detour

(Originally posted June 21, 2013)

I wanted to get a quick post up to show some shots I took during a hike we squeezed in while looking for a new home in Colorado a few weeks ago.  Our trip was full of “life business”, but we made sure to get out at least once and walk in the woods.  🙂

My husband thought that a hike up Greyrock Trail outside of Fort Collins would be good for a couple of reasons.  First, it’s an easy to moderate trail that would be good for us to tackle having only acclimatized a little bit since landing in Denver and it’d be a reasonable test for my surgically repaired foot.  Second, the trail goes through some of the land that was scorched to the west of Fort Collins in 2012 during the High Park fire and we were curious to see how well the forest was recovering since the fire.  (The fire occurred just about a year ago.)

The good news was that, for as big as that fire was, the forest is already coming back.  Lots of green grasses were already springing up and there were areas where the trees only partially burned, yet survived.  The hills in the distance had gobs of burned trees, but that was punctuated with grasses already – a good sign of recovery!

The remnants of the fire did make for some interesting photographic finds.  Here’s just a couple that I caught that day:

Leopard Fire - Greyrock Trail - Colorado
Leopard Fire – Greyrock Trail – Colorado
Fire Marker - Greyrock Trail - Colorado
Fire Marker – Greyrock Trail – Colorado
Remains - Greyrock Trail - Colorado
Remains – Greyrock Trail – Colorado

So the forest will continue to recover over the coming years, albeit slowly.  Considering how massive that fire was, seeing the land get a jump-start on coming back was a happy thing to see!

 

– JC

 

PS – Ok, so this blog entry does give away our new home that I teased in my PS of my last post a few weeks ago – Colorado here we come (in a few short weeks)!!  The packing is ramping up quickly, so this may very well be my last post from our current Philadelphia-area home base.  No worries though because we’ll get setup and ready to go as quickly as possible once we settle in at our new home in good old CO!