Solitude in the Tetons - September 2014

The Grand Tetons are some of the most dramatic peaks out there, rising more than 7,000  feet above Jackson Hole without any foothills whatsoever.  With all the awesome mountain ranges there are in Colorado it can be easy to forget about the wild beauty of Wyoming, so I had never really been able to explore the Tetons before.  This September, I decided to head out there and see them for myself.  

Grand Teton Sunset


The Tetons are well know for their epic beauty, endless reflecting lakes and ponds, and long-lasting sunrises with amazing hues of pink and purple.  These traits have brought people here for decades, by the bus load.  Since I hadn't had the opportunity to explore the Tetons before I still enjoyed the roadside vistas (let's face in the views really are outstanding along the highway), but I also wanted to take the opportunity to get away from the crowds and the beeping sounds of 2-second timers that come with modern cameras.


Teton Range Horses


With that idea in mind, my friend Lance and I decided to get a permit and hike into the backcountry to spend the night.  I chose Lake Solitude as our destination, because it looked like it would give a good view around the back of the peaks and it was near the Cascade Canyon backcountry zone where we could camp.  The hike is just under 10 miles, but we decided to take the Jenny Lake shuttle and save 2 miles.  For me that still makes for a good day's hike when loaded with cameras and camping gear.  Right away I noticed I was breathing easier because the elevations here were a little lower than the hikes I'm used to in Colorado.  Lake Solitude is only at 9,000 feet, which is lower than most starting points for the trailheads that I'm used to.


Lance enjoying the views of the Tetons during the hike.


One of the special things about this hike is that the views are downright amazing the whole way!  I feel like many hikes I take are in the forest the whole time until you reach a lake or treeline, but this hike takes you through a sparsely vegetated canyon with epic views of the Grand Tetons the whole way.


Tetons through the Tent


Even at the backcountry campsite the views were still awesome.  This has to be the best view from a tent I've ever had.  We ended up making the hike with plenty of time to get up to the lake for sunset, so we set up camp and continued on.  Lake Solitude is about a mile from the campsites.


Sunset Above Lake Solitude


The late summer tundra around the lake was a mix of green and reds.  Soon this place will be covered in feet of snow and won't be seen again until next summer.  There were a lot of interesting white granite boulders scattered about.  After watching the Grand Tetons soak up the last of the day's sun, we headed back to camp.  I left the shutter open most the night for this star trail image.


Stars over the Tetons


We awoke a couple hours before sunrise and hiked back up to the lake.  The air was as still as could be, and we were even lucky enough to be treated to some clouds in the sky and get a beautiful sunrise!  This came as quite a pleasant surprise as the forecast said we wouldn't have a cloud for days.  We even had some off and on rain falling throughout the sunrise.  Gentile droplets pattering away on the perfectly calm lake, it was a special experience.


Lake Soiitude Sunrise


A while after sunrise, bands of clouds started to move in and fill the sky.  The lake was still perfectly calm and the reflection was outstanding.  The Tetons catch a very interesting light in these late summer mornings.  The sun rises too far south to light them directly, but the still seem to glow from reflected light coming through the canyon.  As a photographic note, I want to mention that one particular lens focal length really seemed to come in handy for the entire trip: 35mm (on full frame cameras).  Whether I was on the roadside or in the wilderness, that seemed to be the equivalent focal length I was using the whole time.  With how tall these peaks are, it surprised me that I wasn't using a wider lens.  If you come to the Tetons, you may want to bring a lens around 35mm with you!


Lake Solitude Reflections


After such an awesome sunrise and backpacking experience, I didn't want to go.  I spent some time just enjoying the views from the lake, laying in the grass.  I will have to spend a lot more time in the Teton backcountry!


Relaxing at Solitude Lake


The hike down was a pleasant trip through the amazing scenery.  Once we were about a mile from Jenny Lake, the crowds started to become apparent again.  It made me very happy to get out there and away from them.  As is typical with National Parks, most people will only venture up to a mile away from a trailhead.  If you're willing to put in a little sweat equity and hike further, you can almost always have the place to yourself.  On the way out of the park the next day, we caught a sunrise at Oxbow Bend.  It's no doubt a very popular place but with good reason.  Standing on the shore watching the sunrise go on and change colors for nearly an hour was fantastic.  The sunrises really seem to last forever in the Tetons, changing from shades of pink and red to purple and blue.  It seems as if the winds die down completely every morning as well, just to make these perfect reflections.  I exposed sheets of film throughout the sunrise, but something about this light on the trees that only lasted a minute really struck me.


Oxbow Bend


I will certainly be returning to the Tetons again!

Did you enjoy this blog post?!  Feel free to make a small donation.  By clicking the button below, you can give me a $5 donation easily through PayPal (no account needed) that helps me greatly. Every sheet of my large format film costs about $5 so your donation can keep me out there photographing the beautiful landscape!

Better yet, purchase a copy of my new inspirational eBook “Photographing the Plains” by clicking here!

If you would like any of these images on you walls as prints, please contact me by email or by calling me at (970)412-0679

Thanks for reading!


Spring on the Plains 2014

With summer just a few days away, I wanted to take a look back on the most beautiful spring season I have ever seen on the plains.  Since there were frequent snows through the winter and unusually abundant rainfall the last few months, the prairie has turned green and blossomed like I never could have imagined!  As a result, I've been enjoying the unique opportunity to capture this moment that may not happen again for the better part of a decade.  Much of this beauty was found right on the plains of northeast Colorado, but I did also take a trip through Wyoming and the Badlands area of South Dakota. Wild Purple Mustard Field


I've always considered the wild purple mustard to be the first sign of spring in the area.  It comes out in April as soon as the first bits of grass turn green, but it is usually only seen along roadsides and in small patches of disturbed land.  I knew this spring was going to be special when I saw it blooming in fields covering acres!

Red Barn Sunrise and Moonset


The grass started getting green very early on and from there the fields just became more lush and vibrant.  Incredible sunrises that are common on the plains helped with the scenery.

Irrigation Valve Fence


Road and Fog at Sunrise


I found myself going out as often as I could for sunrise, especially on mornings after a thunderstorm.  The cool, moist air often results in outstanding displays of thin fog at sunrise that makes for some very special light.  The simple scenes of the plains really transform into something else in the right light.

Service Road in the Fog


The endless fields of wheat show wonderful subtleties in the fog.  I returned to this location many times before there was a perfect morning.  The thin fog still reveals the overlaying hues of sunrise, but softens them to a level that isn't often seen.  This was a spring to connect with the plains, to let them reveal their true beauty.  There is much wonder in the open views they inspire, and after residing here for several years I'm not sure I'd want to live anywhere else.

Wyoming Storm


Much of my loop trip to the Badlands was centered around severe weather.  Storms crossed my path on the way up and soaked my tent overnight while camping.  This particular storm had an impressive structure and was intensely dark, made even more apparent by the brief moment of bright light on the grass.

Badlands Valley View


When I arrived at the Badlands, I found the open prairie around them to be as verdant as possible.  This made an interesting contrast to the towering rock formations.

Stormy Sunrise Over Deer Haven


I wanted to explore some of the Sage Creek Wilderness while I was there.  It's the largest patch of grassland wilderness in the country and is seldom visited.  It's also a land without any trails, just miles of badlands formations surrounded by prairie.  I decided to head to an area called Deer Haven to spend the night.  It's a rare wooded section of the Badlands, and ended up having a view almost resembling a scene from the mountains.  I didn't see a single other human up here, just me and the true wilderness experience.  Overnight and morning severe storms made this a rushed trip out after sunrise, but I'm glad I had the chance to see this area.

Badlands in Bloom


Here's another photo from the Badlands for now.  I'm still working on some of the images from this trip, so expect to see more from me soon!

Prairie Primrose


When I returned to Colorado, I found we were in the middle of the most incredible spring blossom I've ever seen!  Endless fields of wild primrose was covering the hills, almost looking like snow drifts in the distance.  It was truly an unbelievable sight to see and something that certainly doesn't happen like this every year.

Pawnee Buttes and Primrose


For years, I've been looking for the perfect sunrise image at the Pawnee Buttes.  I've been very happy with ones I have from sunset, but the experience of sunrise it totally different and really comes through in the photos.  It's also tricky to photograph the Buttes during a summer sunrise because the sun is behind them.  This spring had one final treat for me this week and brought a sunrise with a very unusual quality of light that brightened everything much more evenly.  The small bush of wild primrose made the perfect finishing touch.  All in all, it's been a fantastic spring, I can't wait to see what lies ahead for the summer!  Now I'll be spending a lot more time in the mountains...

Did you enjoy this blog post?!  Feel free to make a small donation.  By clicking the button below, you can give me a $5 donation easily through PayPal (no account needed) that helps me greatly. Every sheet of my large format film costs about $5 so your donation can keep me out there photographing the beautiful landscape!

Better yet, purchase a copy of my new inspirational eBook “Photographing the Plains” by clicking here!

If you would like any of these images on you walls as prints, please contact me by email or by calling me at (970)412-0679

Thanks for reading!

Big Bend National Park - April 2014

Big Bend National Park is one of America's lesser visited parks, especially considering its size.  This allows for a great chance to find some solitude in a variety of environments from barren desert to forested mountains and lush river valleys.  I took the opportunity to head down there in early April, when the park is in the tail end of spring and the scorching heat of the summer hasn't yet arrived.  I'm going to share some highlights of my trip and let the photos do most of the talking. The Window


When I first started looking into Big Bend, I knew I wanted to take an overnight trip to the edge of the South Rim of the Chisos Mountains.  Centrally located in the park, the Chisos Mountains have the highest elevations in the area at just under 8,000 feet above sea level and can be seen from just about anywhere in the park.  Even though I see all sorts of mountains in Colorado, I knew these ones would be different so I made sure to start my trip off in the Chisos.

Skyward Reach


It's a 12 mile round trip hike to the South Rim and as you can see, the view really was worth it!  Some people hike it all in one day, but I wanted to get a sunrise and a sunset out there so I got my overnight permit at the Chisos visitor center and packed in with my tent and camera.  A small note about backcountry permits: try to plan all of your overnight stays onto one permit.  You can put up to 14 consecutive nights on just one permit and the price is the same for one night or 14, just $10 total.  This can include nights backpacking in the mountains and nights spent primitive camping along the unmaintained dirt roads, so ideally you should try to figure out a game plan ahead of time and get the permit as soon as you arrive.

South Rim Sunrise


Expect to see a variety of life in the Chisos, from vibrant wildflowers to the robust century plant.  That's the plant in the foreground of the image above, I was very interested in the form it had and how it contrasted the surrounding landscape.  In just a few weeks after I was there, some of these plants will shoot a flowering stalk up to 20 feet high.  This happens only once in the plant's lifetime of about 25-30 years and it dies shortly after the bloom.

Texas Wildflowers


After the Chisos Mountains, the next spot I wanted to see was the incredible Santa Elena Canyon.  I took my time on the drive over there as I'm a sucker for geology and roadside interpretive sites.  I couldn't help but stop at nearly every one to learn about the unusual geology of the area and soak in the grand desert views.  The national park system really is fantastic as there are so many ways to enjoy the parks!

Tuff Canyon and Chisos Mountains


The Rio Grande has carved through the massive cliffs of the Sierra Ponce (Mexican side) and the Mesa de Anguila (US side), creating a staggering view of cliffs 1500 feet tall that make up the Santa Elena Canyon.  The river was flowing lightly and pleasant to stand in.  In theory, one could walk right into Mexico from here though that probably isn't a wise choice legally.  Out here it doesn't seem like an international border at all, just complete wilderness.  It made me happy to see that this place was still wild!

Santa Elena Canyon


Sierra Ponce Cliffs


Of course, there's the vast expanses of Chihuahuan desert that cover the rest of the park.  It's certainly worth exploring this area and the unusual life that has adapted to it.  The ocotillo grows nearly 20 feet tall and was flowering at the end of each branch at this time of year.  Just a few days after a rain, it will completely cover itself in small leaves.  The desert parts of the park have some very nice campsites and plenty of opportunities to find some solitude.

Santa Elena Canyon Ocotillo


Ocotillo Grove


As far as my trip outside the park goes, it was very neat to drive through the endless land of western Texas.  Many towns seem to have gone through periods of boom and bust out in the frontier, with some places doing better than others.  The pumps at this station said gas was $1.29 a gallon so it must have shut down at least a decade ago.

Buck Twenty-Nine a Gallon


This station was in the Ghost town of Orla, Texas and must have been defunct for much longer than that...  Some parts of west Texas look like quite a desolate place.

Orla Texas


On the last day of my trip, the kind gentleman that shared the long drive to Texas with me invited me to the Star Party at the Fort Davis Observatory.  This was very cool and worth the side trip if you're in the area!  They let you look through several of their telescopes and we were even able to see Jupiter's rings and four of its moons!  In case the huge wilderness of Big Bend didn't make you feel small enough, gazing into deep space and seeing a nebula where stars are being born should do the trick.  This is the Hobby-Eberly Telescope, which was completed in 1997 and at 9.2 meters is one of the largest optical telescopes in the world.

Hobby-Eberly Telescope


And here's one more photo from the South Rim, this one taken during a moody and dark sunset.  Leave a comment and let me know which image is your favorite!  If you're ever in the mood to see a quiet corner of the country, I can highly recommend a trip to Big Bend National Park.

South Rim Sunset


To finish up I will leave you with a small video that highlights the trip and shows some of my life behind the lens.  It's really a great experience to do what I do!

Did you enjoy this blog post?!  Feel free to make a small donation.  By clicking the button below, you can give me a $5 donation easily through PayPal (no account needed) that helps me greatly. Every sheet of my large format film costs about $5 so your donation can keep me out there photographing the beautiful landscape!

Better yet, purchase a copy of my new inspirational eBook “Photographing the Plains” by clicking here!

If you would like any of these images on you walls as prints, please contact me by email or by calling me at (970)412-0679