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!

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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...

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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

White Sands National Monument - February 2014

A couple weeks ago I took a trip down south to the dune covered desert of White Sands National Monument with Robert Micsak.  All I can really say is that this place is truly amazing!  The gypsum sand is purely white as far as the eye can see, which means it catches all of the unusual hues of the sun just the way snow does. I was initially unsure of going to this place just because of the odd regulations that come with being in the path a missile testing range.  For some reason, the government has decided that this wild and beautiful location would be the best spot in the country to launch missiles for testing purposes.  The range covers 3200 square miles and allows for testing flights well over 100 miles.  Since the National Monument is in the potential path of these projectiles, it needs to be shut down anytime there is testing.  This had me worried as I didn't want to drive 12 hours to come to a closed park.  The most important part about planning a trip to White Sands is flexibility.  You need to call ahead the day before you leave and make sure there is no scheduled testing.  We got pretty lucky, just a week before we went down the park was closed due to a drone crash for 10 days and there was testing scheduled for 10:30am on the day we left to head home.

White Sands


I'm quite glad we fell into the perfect window of opportunity!  We even ended up with wonderfully calm and warm weather, a nice break from the Colorado winter.  Sand dunes don't exist without wind, but they can be miserable when it's blowing (check my blog post on Great Sand Dunes last year!)  The days were warm in the 70°s and the nights were chilly, but there wasn't a breeze the whole time.  We set out onto the dunes in the early afternoon to start exploring this bizarre landscape.  The first thing we noticed is how unbelievably bright it is!  Sunglasses were barely enough eye protection, it seemed brighter than any snow covered alpine slope on a bluebird day.  It's just miles and miles of white sand everywhere.

Dune shadows in afternoon light.  Prints available.


In many landscapes it's usually not worth trying to photograph in the middle of the day, but dunes are a whole different story.  The harsh light brings out the shadows, so as long as the angle of the light is good it doesn't matter if it's high noon.  This is particularly true in the winter months when the sun is still at a lower angle.  The sun kept poking in an out of the clouds, but eventually gave me enough light to make the above image, my favorite from the trip.

White Sands Campsite


Another thing to keep in mind about White Sands is that you are only allowed to stay in the park if you backpack in with your tent and gear.  No car camping is allowed at all, the closest car campground being more than an hour drive away.  The park also closes and hour after sunset and doesn't reopen until an 8am, so the only way you'll get a sunrise photo here is by spending the night among the dunes.  I quite like the backpacking experience so it worked perfectly for me.  The designated camping sites are about a mile hike in from the parking area, and offer plenty of solitude.  For those looking for dark skies, this doesn't seem to be the place.  The nearby Air Force base created a lot of light pollution, but it didn't help that there were also a lot of clouds overnight.  I still decided to take an 8 hour exposure of the campsite for fun.

Soaptree Yucca


After a good night's rest (for me anyway, Robert was blowing up his sleeping pad all night after thorns poked a hole in it the night before) we awoke to a beautiful crisp morning and headed back out onto the dunes.  I had spotted the above plant the afternoon before and wanted to get a good shot at sunrise.  I set up early with plenty of time, all I had to do was wait for the sun to clear some low clouds on the horizon and everything worked out perfectly!  This was that soft moment of light that only lasts for maybe 10 seconds as the was still half covered by the clouds, which shows that it pays to be ready early.  It's tricky enough having a large format camera set up and ready for a brief moment of light, but you have to have your film ready and meter in just a matter of seconds so you can get the exposure just right.

My footprints in the sand


We wandered around the dunefield for a little while, noticing how incredibly quiet the place is.  It was so silent my ears would ring.  Well, silent until some fighter jets took off from the nearby Air Force base.  Two jets ripped by us overhead, filling the valley with a deep roar before heading up to higher altitude.  After a short while we couldn't hear them anymore and thought nothing of them.  Robert continued to compose photos under his darkcloth as I wandered around to find some more spots.  Suddenly, there was a terrifying BOOM-BOOM BOOM!!  that shook the entire earth, my legs and chest.  For a split second I wondered if we were subjects in an experimental missile test while Robert threw his darkcloth on the ground and cursed the heavens.  It then occurred to me that those planes we had seen an hour before must have broken the sound barrier, something I'd never witnessed before.  It seemed louder than anything I had ever heard in my life, especially in contrast to the silence of this place.

Another one of the odd regulations at this park is that you are required to personally check in at the visitor center each day before spending another night, just in case there was some new missile testing scheduled.  While you've already driven the 7 miles to the visitor center, you might as well fill up on water or head into Alamogordo for lunch.  After reloading film and filling up on nutrients we head back into the dunes for another beautiful afternoon and evening.  I found a spot where all you could see was endless white dunes without any vegetation or mountains in the view.  I waited until sunset, and when the clouds turned to shades red and magenta the sand also reflected those hues and created colors I had never before seen in the natural world.  It was something truly amazing to see.

White Sands Sunset


The morning after this didn't really end up with any light and we needed to get home so we packed up and left by 8am.  If you need somewhere to stay or shower on the way into or out of White Sands, I can recommend Valley of Fires near Carizozo.  It wasn't the most photogenic place, but had a fantastic campground facility with a shower at a really cheap price.  We needed to spend the night there on the way in, so we wandered around the loop trail to get a look at some of the youngest lava flows in the continental US.  Hard to imagine this whole place filled with lava just 5000 years ago.

Yucca and Lava Flow


Did you find this blog post helpful?  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!

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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


Memories Revisited

Back in May of this year I took a short trip out to rural Pennsylvania to see my grandfather and visit with other relatives.  It had been far too long since I had made it out this way, so I was excited to see the land and people that had brought me so many fond memories in the past.  It wasn't a long trip so I have just a handful of photos to share and you may notice that these are a bit different than images you would typically see from me. The landscape is much different than what I'm used to in Colorado.  There are beautiful rolling hills covered with vibrant greens and yellows, and the view is frequently interrupted by a thick, lush and green forests.  But it goes much deeper than that.  Every building is older, and things seem to change much slower.  There is such a different feel to the place.  As usual, I'll let the photos do most the talking.

Pennsylvania County Road

It's amazing how you remember your way around a place you haven't been to in ages.  This dirt road looked just the way it did in my head, and even though I had hardly driven around here before it all comes back.  You also just don't see forests like this in Colorado.

The Red Barm

The weather was unseasonably cool while I was there, with mostly cloudy skies and a brisk breeze, but all I wanted to do was walk around the farm and explore the familiar sights.  Photography has really become a much bigger influence in my life since the last time I was there, so it was interesting to see it all over again with a different sense of vision.

Tree in the Field

This view is from a perfect place to end an evening walk and watch a sunset.  Time is much different here, and you can just lose yourself in the moment.  It's great that I had a place like this to visit as a child, to get away from the suburbs and really grow.  The view from this small hill looked better now than I had ever remembered.

My Grandfather

Photos of people is something you'll rarely see from me, but I wanted to capture one decent portrait of my Grandfather while I was out there.  A truly great man, and someone I could spend weeks visiting with and enjoying his company.

The view from inside

The view my grandfather has from his table inside.  He isn't really able to get out and about the property too much these days, but he does get to enjoy this view with his morning coffee.


When we visited as children, we all slept in this large upstairs bedroom that was actually an addition to the 100+ year old home.  I remember many great vacations spent up here and looking out the window you could always see who was out in the park, enjoying an evening around the fire.  I'm not sure my grandmother was ever able to finish the painting on the easel.

30 Minutes of Fireworks and Cheap Beer

Speaking of the park, that's where everyone goes to eat, drink, and enjoy a fire outside.  Or in this case, leave the shutter open while drinking cheap beer and shooting off fireworks for half an hour.  Hey, we don't get use many fireworks at all in the bone-dry state of Colorado, so my brother and I had to shoot some off for ourselves.  You could pretty much say it's a tradition at this point.

The Garage

The smell of this particular garage came right back to be as soon as I opened the door.  Oil, gas, grass, rust and humidity.  I remember being tasked with trying to fix the golf cart in here years ago after driving it over too large of a "bump" out in the field.  Ah yes, the old golf cart has been the preferred method of transportation on the farm for quite some time.

Storage shed and tank

Just another view from the property.

Springfield Gas Stop

This was from a trip into town.  The farm is just about one mile from the Ohio border and maybe five miles from Lake Erie.  This part of the country hasn't exactly had the best economic fortunes recently, so many things are closed down and crumbling apart.  This gas station had a sign claiming the price was a dollar and some change per gallon, so you know it's been out of commission for a while.

That's all I have from this trip for now.  I'm so glad I was able to get out there, and I need to do so again soon.  I was glad to see some places that had such a great influence on my youth.

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Zion Subway: November 12, 2013

Well it's that time of year in Colorado where autumn is long behind us but the mountains have yet to get their full coat of winter snow, so I got a little cabin fever and decided to get out and go to Zion National Park in southwest Utah.  I had been there once before a few years ago, for a very short trip of less than two full days.  The views of the towering canyon walls and peaks left such a warm memory with me that I had to see it again, but this time I wanted to spend some time exploring the canyons and getting to see the area on a more personal level.  This included a hike to the famous Subway, as I just had to see it with my own eyes. If you look through the rest of the images on my website, you'll see that I don't typically shoot landscape "icons" like this.  I rarely see any people in a lot of the places I photograph (let alone other photographers), and I spend a great deal of effort finding places where I can find new images and views that aren't being seen by the masses.  Well, I put all that behind me as there's nothing wrong with seeing a place as magical as this in person.  I also went with a friend and fellow photographer, Kurt Stevens, who is mostly a portrait photographer but was glad to come along.  I'm going to write this post to give you all an idea of how incredible and rewarding this hike really is, and a few tips if you ever plan to do it yourself (which I recommend!)

Kolob Terrace

Kolob Terrace

We started early, arriving at the Left Fork trailhead about 30 minutes before sunrise.  This time of year the days aren't very long so I would recommend getting a pretty early start, especially if you plan on spending some time enjoying the scenery or taking photographs.  This is by no means a roadside attraction, it took us all day from dawn to just past dusk to hike the 9 miles through a trail-less streambed.  It doesn't sound like very much distance to cover in a day, but when you factor in the amount of scrambling over boulders and route finding you'll be doing it adds some time.  Of course I spent plenty of time setting up and taking photos, but in general I would recommend keeping a decent pace throughout the day.  Kurt had been here before, so he kept telling me to get moving!  Don't forget to get your permit at the Zion visitor center, as it is required by law.  They only allow a certain number of people per day (I believe 80) to keep the environmental impact and crowds low, but I would say we saw no more than 20-25 people on the day we were there including the people that were taking the technical canyoneering route from the top down.  As far as landscape icons go, this one is no where near as crowded as most of them and requires a bit more effort too.

The hike starts with an easy half-mile of nice trail, then descends very steeply about 400 feet into the canyon of the Left Fork of North Creek.  Pay very close attention to where you enter the canyon, you'll have to be able to find the trail and hike up this steep canyon wall at the end of the day.  Now you just keep following the river upstream.  The sooner you get over the fantasy of keeping your feet dry all day, they quicker and easier the hike will be.  At some point you're going to get your boots all wet anyway so don't hesitate to just walk through the river.  I wore some neoprene socks to keep my feet warmer.  After maybe 2 miles of hiking up the canyon you'll come across this first notable cascade.

Left Fork Cascades

Left Fork Cascades

This is a great place to enjoy some of the grand scenery, the further you keep going upstream the narrower the canyon walls will become.  I believe I exposed more sheets of film on this hike than I ever had in a single day before, as I kept coming across views like the one above.  This is where I started to get the feeling that I was somewhere incredible, and it just keeps getting better from here.  Feel free to walk right up the cascades like a staircase.  Seeing the water flow around your feet and blur the deep red sandstone layers is something special.  Ok, onwards!  The next set of falls are even better.

Archangel Cascades

Archangel Cascades

About a mile after the last waterfall, you'll come across this amazing staircase of sandstone layers called Archangel Cascades.  I could have spent all day here.  These cascades are unlike any I have seen before, with just the perfect amount of water flowing off in so many different angles.  At this point in the hike I was ecstatic!  I was also getting really close to The Subway.  Just a little further, but there was one more sight along the way.

The Crack

The Crack

This incredible feature called "The Crack" is where almost all of the Left Fork of North Creek rushes through a narrow crack in the rock.  Some notes I'd make about this is to photograph it early, before getting to The Subway as the afternoon reflected light may get far too strong depending on what you're going for.  I felt the light here had a perfect balance of gold and deep reds, but when I looked at it again later in the afternoon the golds were too overwhelming for my taste.  Another note is that because some of the water runs over the rock and moss grows just right, it is very slippery!  It took me minutes to find a spot where my tripod wouldn't just slide around, and then my composition didn't work out so I had to keep trying to get the tripod to stay still!  Quite a fun challenge.  Side note: I managed to survive this entire hike without slipping on wet rock and falling with my feet up in the air.  Others were not so fortunate, and I'm pretty sure I saw someone's camera take a quick dip in a pool of water.  Alright, once you've seen the Crack you are literally just one more bend away from seeing the Subway.

I'm going to start off by showing you a quick video of the Subway.  This is the end point of the hike for those who don't have climbing gear and wetsuits.  Hopefully this will give you a little idea of what the inside of this chamber looks like.

A short note about photographing landscape icons: Once we finally arrived at the Subway, it was about the time of day where the people who started miles upstream and were repelling down into the canyon were also reaching the Subway, the mid-point of their journey.  This is truly an unbelievable sight to see for yourself, and for many people it may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  When I arrive at a place like this, I'm completely struck by awe just as anyone else probably is.  The last thing I ever want someone who isn't a photographer to feel is that they are rushed to keep moving because they are in the way of someone's photo.  Please, enjoy it for as long as you want!  It's your National Park too, and you've just taken one of the most amazing journeys of your life that not many people will ever be able to do.  If you happen to be in my shot, that's my fault for choosing a popular destination or not having enough patience to wait.  Places like this are here for all of us to experience and enjoy at our own pace, so don't feel like you ever need to keep moving to get out of the way of photographers.

The Subway

The Subway

Anyway, here it is!  The Subway!  I figured I'd make a few notes about the photo.  While I have seen several photos of this place before while glancing through a gallery or website, I made it a point not to do any active research for photos of the Subway before this trip.  Actually, it had probably been quite a while since I had seen any photo of it.  I didn't want the composition that others used to dictate what I did with my photo. I wanted to see it for myself and decide what I would do from there.  Perhaps due to the angle of light at this time of year, the water did not have a very emerald tone but the entrance in the upper center had quite a warm glow from reflected afternoon light.  The darker parts of the canyon were filled with a mix of open shade colors from cyan to blue.  I decided I would use a warming filter to remove a good bit of those cyan tones, and carefully use a polarizing filter to strengthen the orange glow as well as cut some blue glare from the wet rock.  The image above was taken on a film that many of you probably know I have become quite fond of, Kodak Ektar,  The image below was taken on one of my last sheets of Fuji Astia, and shows a bit of a different color palette and stronger contrast.  Both images were exposures around 30 seconds long at f22.  It's pretty dark in there.

The Subway II

The Subway II

That's it!  We had to keep an eye on the time and get out of the Subway by 2:30pm to make it back to the car before it got too terribly dark.  I wanted to avoid wandering through a trail-less streambed in the dark.  All in all it was a fantastic hike that I couldn't recommend enough, and a very rewarding day.

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Macey Lakes: 7/13 - 7/15, 2013

A few weeks ago I took a spectacular backpacking trip into the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness of Colorado.  These mountains are steep and rise dramatically out of the valleys below like pointy triangles.  This makes for some good altitude gain on most of the hikes in this range, which can be quite punishing (and rewarding) with large format camera gear on your back. Meadow and cliff along the Macey Lakes Trail

My friend Tyler and I arrived at the trailhead around 11am after making a 5 hour drive from Greeley.  From there, we started the steep 8 mile trek to the Macey Lakes area.  The first  half of the trail is along a multi-use trail that skirts the side of the range and gets you around private property before arriving at the actual Macey Lakes trail.  From there you have about 4 more miles to go.  Most of the hike is through forest, with only a few views of the higher peaks.  The trail is continuously uphill, with a few places that are fairly level as well as some good uphill pushes.  About a mile from the lake we came across this open meadow with a dramatic cliff to the north.

We made it to the lower lake about with a few hours of daylight, so we set up camp and ate.  I spent some time scouting out locations for the sunrise.  Being on the east side of the range, there isn't a whole lot of light for sunset, but I knew there should be a great sunrise.  According to the map there is a Macey Lake and an Upper Macey Lake, but in reality there are three lakes in this area: one lower and two uppers.  The one to the south of the lower lake doesn't really seem to be named.

I crawled out of the tent at 4:15 am to make the 3/4 mile hike to the western upper lake.  Even though it was mid-July, there was a slight chilly breeze while waiting for the sun.  It's always nice to break away from the heat of the plains in the summer.  The lake was a bit choppy from the breeze, but I found a very calm and quiet part of the lake near the outlet.  The water made a fantastic reflection of all the unnamed 13,000+ foot peaks that surround the valley!  This is my personal favorite photo from the trip.  The views and feeling of solitude here were incredible!

Sunrise on the peaks above the Upper Macey Lake outlet.  Sangre de Cristo Wilderness, Colorado - July 2013.  Prints Available.

After sunrise, I wandered down to the stream between the lower lake and the southern upper lake.  This stream was just covered in wildflowers!

Macey Creek Wildflowers

Shortly after taking this photo, the clouds started growing and blocked the sun so  I made my way back to the tent for some much needed rest.  By the time we woke up there was thunder rumbling around the valleys.  The summer monsoons had arrived.  I was expecting some afternoon thunderstorms but had no idea how long the rain would last.

A little rain wouldn't stop us from exploring so we wandered up to the upper lake again.  It looked quite different than it did several hours earlier at sunrise.  Thanks Tyler for holding the darkcloth and keeping the rain of the lenses so I could take these photos!

Macey Lake Storms

We ventured far back into the bowl in the center of the image and gazed at how rugged these mountains really are.  We had the whole places to ourselves too, which really makes you feel even deeper in the wilderness.  On the way back down to the tent I took this photo between the two lakes.


Summer Monsoon

We spent the rest of the evening drying off in the tent.  My camera had become rather wet from the rain.  At one point, I actually turned it upside-down and dumped water out of the rails and bellows.  Good thing it doesn't have any electronics!  The bag ended up getting pretty wet too, as I kept letting some water in as I reached for film/lenses/etc.  I left the camera bag open inside the tent hoping things would air out, but when I woke up in the morning all of the lenses were completely covered in fog and looked like this:

Soaked Lens

Colorado being as dry as it is, I rarely have to worry about these kind of problems.  In the future, I will have to pack the lenses into individual plastic bags to keep them from getting so humid.  I'll also have to find a more waterproof darkcloth to keep the rain off the camera.  Always good to learn new lessons!

On the way out, I was able to get this one more photo of lower Macey Lake completely covered in fog.  It was quite the contrast from the enclosed view you normally have in these valleys, as if you could see forever into the fog.  I'm glad this lens was able to de-fog after sitting in the open for a few minutes so I could get this one last image.


Macey Lake Fog

Also, I took a quick snap of Tyler gazing out into the fog with the digital camera:


Tyler in the Fog

All in all it was a great trip.  I highly recommend this hike for anyone seeking solitude and a great wilderness experience.  There were just a few other people camping at the lower lake, and hardly any people on the trail.  The Sangres are becoming one of my favorite ranges here in Colorado, I'll be going back many more times for sure.  Next time, I'll be ready for the rain!


Great Sand Dunes, March 2013

Last week I went to the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado with my good friend and fellow photographer Lance Roth.  We ended up going there just to get wind battered and beaten, and to have our pockets and camera bags filled with sand.  The dunes are a special and unique place for me.  Sometimes they provide a peaceful, majestic and almost surreal experience and sometimes they beat me up and send me home with nothing but gritty camera equipment.  This trip was more or less the latter... San Luis Storm

I knew it was going to be quite the experience when we saw a massive storm front moving in over the San Luis Valley on our way in.  I pulled over and rushed to set up the camera.  I had no idea it would come in so fast.  I snapped this quick photo just to check composition before setting up the large format camera for a real shot, but as just a minute passed the storm was already upon us and it was snowing hard.  The scene looked nothing like this anymore as a crack of thunder echoed above us.  That's right, thundersnow...  At least I have learned how quickly these storms roll in and I can try to get a shot if these conditions ever happen again.  All I got this time was a wet camera.

Snow covered 4x5

We made our way to the dunes just a little later.  They were now covered in patchy snow and very wet, which makes them a dark, dull brown color that has never really appealed to me photographically.  We made our way up them anyway.  The snow was quickly melting and the weather was peaceful.  We had some time before the light would get better so I tried my hand at a quick time lapse just for fun.  These are not something I normally do but I love the way the cloud shadows move about the dunes so I gave it a try.

Right as I finished up, it came: the wind.  Howling, relentless wind.  We both were quickly startled by a harsh blast of sand to the face and had to get up and moving.  The wind is both a blessing and a curse at the sand dunes.  It can make for dramatic photos of blowing sand but it also makes everything difficult, painful and covered in sand.  The dunes were still frozen from the winter so there were no finely chiseled crests like you see in this photo below from a few years ago.

Dune Winds

We still soldiered on for a while.  I was so glad to have ski goggles on but Lance was not so fortunate.  Here's a quick video of the conditions:

And here's a cool photo Lance took of me as I tried to photograph in the wind, you can barely see me from the knees down.

Alex on the Dunes

I was completely unable to use the large format camera in the winds and blowing sand and resorted to my trusty medium format camera to finish out the afternoon.

Dune and Mount Herard

Dunes View

We kept at it for a few hours and then headed back down to camp for the night.  We awoke for sunrise and started climbing back up, but now the wind had died down a bit and  I was finally able to set up the large format camera.  My favorite thing about the dunes is the simplicity of their shape, and my best compositions there are often visually simple and usually don't show the mountains that surround the dunefield.  This makes for abstract images that give me a much deeper feeling for the place, without a real sense of location as if the image could have been taken in any exotic desert location.  When I came upon this pristine wall of sand before sunrise I knew I had my location.  The skies were empty, but just a few clouds moved in as the sun inched over the mountains behind me.  There is a special moment of soft light that happens for just a few seconds as the sun peaks over a mountain, so I pulled the shutter release and got this.

Sand Patterns and Cloud

After sunrise, we made our way down the dunes and took the scenic route back home including a stop at Zapata falls which were mostly frozen but starting to thaw out.  All in all, it was a pretty good trip.  Even when the dunes don't work out too well for photography I always have a good time!

I want to start writing about my photographic travels to give everyone some insight into the life of a landscape photographer so you will probably see more trip reports like this from me.