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Flattop Mountain
Once again it's the dead of winter and finding a photographic subject can be a challenge. The craggy spires on the side of Flattop Mountain make for a nice winter photo. In the winter, the sun cross-lights the mountain, giving more definition to the surface texture. Later in the year, the sun has moved northward and the mountain is more front-lit so it loses some of its contrast. At least sunrise comes after 7AM now, so you don't have to get up at some ungodly hour to get here in time.

March Snow
Mornings like this make everything look so pretty, with snow-covered trees and clear blue skies. But I find that days like this are very rare. You need a fast moving storm with wet snow to coat the trees and be gone by the next morning. This particular morning I went up to the park in spite of a forecast of overcast skies. The storm wasn't completely gone, and some haze still lingered. First I took some sunrise photos of Hallett Peak which unfortunately turned out brown instead of orange. Then I wandered around and ended up at Many Parks Curve and took this photo of Ypsilon Mountain. Usually I have trouble keeping the foreground trees out of the bottom of the frame, but this time I could stand on the 4-foot-deep pile of snow alongside the road.

Recent Photos - City Foxes III
Once again, the urban foxes returned to their favorite den hole in the middle of town, where I had photographed them in previous years. (see here and here.) Unfortunately for me, photographing them was very difficult this year due to all the weeds. They were out romping and playing as always, but always behind a clump of weeds. The photos may not be great but at least they were great fun to watch.

Mountain Bluebird
Late June is the time for bluebird photos, that is, if you can find a nest hole in a photogenic tree with cooperative birds. A lot of time is required to search for active nest holes, standing around idly in meadows until a flash of blue catches your eye. Typically woodpeckers prefer to drill their holes in aspen trees because the wood is softer, but this year most of the bluebird nests I found were in ponderosa pine trees. I like the pines better for photos because the colorful orange bark contrasts so nicely with the blue bird.

This cooperative fellow liked to perch on this tiny vestigial branch that was just below its nest hole on the side of a huge dead ponderosa pine. He would pause and pose briefly for a few seconds on his way in and out of the nest. I watched as both parents flew around the meadow, gathering bugs and bringing them to their nest. By the last day, the chicks were getting pretty big and peered curiously from the hole before getting up the courage to jump out and fly. The world must seem pretty big to a baby bird.


Hiking in the Dark

A classic landscape photo is that of some big mountain glowing orange at sunrise and reflecting on a placid lake. While Rocky Mountain National Park has plenty of lakes, there are only a few that are readily accessible from a road. Once you have seen Bear Lake, Sprague Lake, and Lily Lake, you have to hike to the others.

Hallett Peak and Dream Lake is one of the most-often photographed sites in the park. It is just a mile hike from Bear Lake. You have to get out of bed pretty early to arrive at the Bear Lake lot about a half hour before sunrise. Then it's no big deal to hike up to Dream Lake and set up your camera before the sun comes up. There is no problem with parking or crowds, it's cool, quiet, and calm, in fact it is quite pleasant. There is enough twilight at that time so you don't even need a flashlight.


Other lakes are further away and require more hiking. For example, Notchtop Mountain rises quite dramatically behind Lake Helene, and it lights up very nicely at sunrise. The hike is about three miles from Bear Lake with a gentle elevation gain of about 1200 feet. Once again, an early start is required, about 90 minutes before sunrise. This time a flashlight is a necessity so you can pick your way along the rocky trail. (These aren't called Rocky Mountains for nothing.) It is unlikely that you will see another person until you are nearly back to Bear Lake, which will be seething with people and vehicles by then. Or you can continue downhill to Odessa Lake and Fern Lake and ride the shuttle bus back.

Then there's Chasm Lake. This little lake is tucked at the bottom of the vertical east face of Longs Peak. The hike is about 4.2 miles and 2500 vertical feet, so you have to get up really early for this. Unlike other lonesome night hikes, there is a lot of activity here because the trail is the same one that leads to the summit of Longs Peak Anyone climbing Longs itself needs to start this early to beat any afternoon thunderstorms and their dangerous lightning, so the parking lot is bustling with people at 3AM. Hiking along the trail is dark and relentlessly uphill. At first you're in lodgepole forest but after a while the trees start getting shorter as you approach timberline, and pretty soon there are no trees at all. It is quite easy to hike by moonlight alone. You can see the vague outline of the peak up on the horizon, stars above, city lights to the east, and the string of lights from other hikers on the trail below. All in all, a very unusual experience.

After 3.5 miles the trails separate, and you're pretty much alone for the last 0.7 miles to the lake. There is plenty of twilight by then, so you can see the rugged mountain landscape. From the lake, you can see all the way to Kansas and see the sun rise over the plains, right on schedule as always. Then the whole half-mile-tall east face of Longs Peak lights up, pink at first and then orange and ever brighter. You photograph madly for a half hour, until the orange light turns to white. Photos seem a bit disappointing since they just can't convey the size and magnificence of the place. At this point you are still only half done with the trip. You still have to hike all the way back down. At least now it is light and you can see all the stuff that you missed on the way up.


Winter Coyote
It's winter and everything is covered with new snow, so the coyotes are out in the daytime looking for a meal. I was cruising through Rocky Mountain National Park one morning after a snow storm and saw this coyote trotting right down the road. I parked in the nearest pullout (since I never stop in the roadway), got out my camera and the 400mm all-purpose wildlife lens, and knelt beside my car. Before long, this wiley fellow walked right past me, on the opposite side of the road. I was wondering how to get the black asphalt out of the bottom of the frame, but he was so close that it took care of itself. He paused ever so briefly to glance at me, and I got one frame before he resume his trot. Then he headed out into the snow, snooped around, heard a mouse, dived headfirst into the snow, got it, and promptly turned his rear end towards me (like all wildlife seems to do). He proceeded to wander around a bit more, posing by one nearby ponderosa pine tree for another photo. Then he disappeared into the forest.

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