Hiking

Backpacking to Slide Lake – Park Range, Mt. Zirkel Wilderness, Colorado

I have spent little time in the Park Range in Northern Colorado.  Admittedly, I’ve spent more time skiing at the ski resort in Steamboat Springs than I have hiking in the same mountains.  I spend a lot of time researching and am very discriminant when choosing potential backpacking adventures.  When I lived in Colorado, other mountain ranges were closer, and now that I am in Wyoming, the Bighorn Mountains too are closer than the Park Range.  When I am willing to drive, exotic areas like Yellowstone and the Wind River Range tend to draw my attention.  As a result, I have mostly overlooked the Park Range.

Even though I have largely avoided the Park Range, the Mount Zirkel Wilderness that encompasses a great portion of these mountains and it should not be ignored!  The mountains may not be as tall as others in Colorado (not a single 14er in the range) but they are still plenty rugged and are great to look at and, of course, photograph.  In 2014, I met some friends on the fourth of July for a two night backpacking trip to Slide Lake.

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The outlet to Slide Lake starts as a stream but then fans out on immense slabs of granite that were pitched just enough that I could manage to walk around in the (cold!) flowing water looking for compositions.

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I was surprised how much snow was lingering around Slide Lake but also how rapidly it was melting.  I took the above picture by carefully walking out onto a snow penninsula that stuck out into the lake.  I was luck to have captured this photo; by the time we packed up camp and headed out at the end of the weekend, this snow bridge had collapsed and floated out into the lake like a small iceberg.

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Although the Mount Zirkel Wilderness is not as well known as other areas in Colorado, I am glad to have visited and look forward to backpacking it again.

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Circle Park Wildflowers – Bighorn Mountains, Wyoming

A few weekends ago, I ran up to the Bighorns for a quick weekend getaway.  I had planned my first backpacking trip of the summer starting out from the Circle Park trailhead in the southeastern part of the range and drove up to near the trail head Friday after work to car camp before hitting the trail the next day.  When driving in to Circle Park after sunset on Friday night, I could see in the twilight that the meadows were packed full of wildflowers and knew an early rise to shoot sunrise was in order.  The 4:40 alarm came around way too soon but crawling out of my warm sleeping bag was surprisingly easy; I was excited to get out and check out all those wildflowers!  Once up and about, I was bummed to see that not as much as a single cloud was in sight!  Still, I can’t complain about how the sun back lit some of the taller flowers and made them appear to glow.

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Backpacking Yellowstone National Park – Loop Hike from South Boundary Trail to Heart Lake

In late August last year, I spent a week with several friends visiting Yellowstone National Park in northwest Wyoming.  The highlight of that week long vacation was a four day, thirty mile backpacking loop hike into Yellowstone National Park’s backcountry.  Before we even arrived in Yellowstone, it had been raining…a lot.  On the first leg of the backpacking trip, which started on the south boundary trail (8K7) right at the south entrance, we had to cross the Snake River.  By mid August, the river at the South boundary is only supposed to be knee to thigh deep, but to my surprise, the incessant rain had turned the river into a waist deep raging torrent.  After some searching for “the best crossing” and some heated debate, my group linked arms and crossed the river as a team making it across without major incident.  Then, after hiking for several hours, we arrived at our first campsite (campsite 8C1) near the Snake River Hot Springs.

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Around sunset, the storm broke up just a bit to create some interesting light and cloud formations while several extinct hot springs along the river banks made for some interesting and very unique views.  The next day, we continued on our hike and the rain continued to fall.  We had to ford the Snake River again (which was still deep and fast moving) and then continued up the Snake River Cutoff Trail to press on to our second campsite on the upper Snake River (campsite 8C4).  While hiking the cutoff trail, the trail faded in and out and I eventually lost the trail completely.  Thankfully, I’m quite comfortable hiking off trail with just a map and compass to navigate, but from the looks on my companion’s faces, especially the two from NYC, they were less comfortable with the situation!  We arrived at our camp later than expected, soaked to the bone, and cold.  We built a big fire to warm up and attempt to dry off, ate dinner, and then crawled into our damp sleeping bags for the night.

The next day, we continued on to Heart Lake.  While hiking, we saw two wolves including one feeding on a bull elk carcass!  What a rush!  Too bad my camera was stored safe and secure in my backpack.  By the time we arrived at our camp on the shores of Heart Lake (campsite 8H3) the rain had finally stopped and the sky was even flirting with clearing up.  I spent a couple hours exploring the shore near our campsite and ended up capturing several enjoyable images in the constantly changing weather conditions.

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Our first campsite was great because of the proximity to hot springs, the second campsite was neat due to how remote it was, but the third campsite at Heart Lake was my favorite.  There is simply something special about camping on a lake shore miles away from anything that can be described as civilization.  How peaceful.

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On the last morning of our backpacking trip, we woke up to incredibly dense fog blanketing the area.  The fog was so thick, you couldn’t see more than a few yards!  The conditions were quite eerie and I imagined the scene could have easily been described in a Stephen King novel.  I was just waiting for a zombie, or maybe more realistically, a grizzly bear to come lumbering out of the impenetrable fog to bring an early end to our backpacking trip!  Alas, we saw no zombies or grizzlies for that matter.  However, with the limited visibility, I was glad the final leg of the hike was on a well established, easy to follow trail!

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Once back on the trail, we passed several hot spring areas in the aptly named Witch Creek Drainage before reaching the Heart Lake Trailhead (8N1) before noon.  My companions settled down and rested while I stuck my thumb up in the air on the shoulder of the South Entrance Road.  It took probably twenty minutes or so, but a curious elderly gentleman picked me up and gave me a ride back to the South Entrance where we left my truck four days earlier.  I jumped in my truck, picked up my friends, and we raced to the Town of Jackson to stuff ourselves with good food and amazing beer at the Snake River Brewery.

Even though it was a soggy trip and I didn’t see a grizzly bear (yeah, I know it is weird that I WANTED to see Smokey), I had a fantastic time backpacking in Yellowstone!  I guess I will just have to come back for another trip!  So many miles of backpacking trails existing within Yellowstone you could spend a lifetime hiking here and enjoying both the unique landscapes as well as the abundant wildlife!

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Following in the Footsteps of Butch Cassidy – Hole in the Wall Country, Wyoming

Butch Cassidy, born Robert Leroy Parker, was born in Utah in 1866 and grew up to become one of  the most infamous outlaws of the American West.  Butch robbed banks and trains and also engaged in horse theft and cattle rustling.  Although born to a religious Mormon family, Butch Cassidy devoted his life to crime.  Well, I’m certainly not following the Butch Cassidy’s footsteps  in the concept of following his career path, but a few weeks ago on a recent trip to a remote area in north central Wyoming, I literally walked in his footsteps!

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During Cassidy’s life as a criminal, he favored a few locations to hide out in between committing his crimes; one such location in Wyoming is known as The Hole in the Wall.  “The Wall” is a red rock escarpment that runs for nearly fifty miles and is broken at only one notch along its entire length.  The remote location coupled with difficult access via the one passage through the wall made for an easily defensible hideout for late 19th century outlaws.  Cassidy was not the only outlaw that spent time hiding here, but a conglomeration of bandits also used the Hole in the Wall hideout.  Ultimately, the loose band of criminals became known as the Hole in the Wall Gang.

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Only a handful of ranches and hunting outfitters still operate in the area making Hole in the Wall country as remote as it was in Cassidy’s time.  Other than the grass, sagebrush, and expansive views, the only other thing I would describe to be in abundance is barbed wire fences; I drove through numerous gates to get to The Hole in the Wall and it was a challenge to keep fence lines out of my photographs.

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Butch Cassidy spent time in prison for some of his crimes but later in his criminal career he fled the United States and was killed in a shootout in South America in late 1908.  Thankfully by tracing his footsteps I won’t meet the same fate!

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Lupines, Lupines, Lupines! – Laramie Mountains, Wyoming

The Laramie Mountains of South East Wyoming are not well known to most people.  They are not the high peaks of Colorado nor are they the strikingly rugged mountains such as the Teton Range and Wind River Range of western Wyoming.  Despite the Laramie Mountains’ lowly status among the ranges of the Rocky Mountains, they should not be ignored.  At the northern terminous of the Laramie Mountains is Muddy Mountain and Casper Mountain; two unassuming flat topped peaks that are below 9000′ in elevation.  These unassuming peaks are just high enough to support large and incredibly beautiful stands of wildflowers; a large contrast to the dry basins that lie in every direction around the Laramie Mountains.

I missed the peak color of the Baslsamroot flowers and a couple of other dominant wildflowers you see in Wyoming, but I caught the lupines at their peak!  One of my favorite things about living out West is that open space and incredible scenery of all types are just a short jaunt from my front door here in Wyoming.  I can’t imagine calling anywhere but the American West my home!

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Jackson Hole – It Never Disappoints!

I recently returned from a backpacking trip in Yellowstone National Park, a trip in which my group never saw the sun and was constantly wet.  Heck, it was the last week of August and one night the snow line came within a few hundred vertical feet of our camp!  With the weather making things such a struggle to stay dry and warm, it was a real challenge to get out and take great pictures.  Don’t get me wrong, I am busy editing a bunch of photos that I did take in Yellowstone, I just wasn’t as successful as I had hoped to be.

Personal expectations aside, I did manage a few great images on the morning of my last day of vacation.  I had just dropped my travel companions off at the Jackson Hole airport and was heading north towards Togwotee Pass and on towards home in Casper, Wyoming when I noticed the storm clouds start to part and barely reveal glimpses of the Teton Range off to the west.  I thought the moment was right just as I was pulling up to the start of a construction zone.  I pulled off the road onto the shoulder and jumped out of my truck to get a few images as the clouds lifted off the mountains.  I got a tongue lashing from the flagger for exiting my truck at the start of a construction zone, but after a week of frustrating and lack luster photography conditions, I was fine with taking the abuse in order to capture a special moment in an incredible mountain setting.

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Spearfish Canyon – Black Hills, South Dakota

I spent Memorial Day weekend this year in the northern Black Hills in western South Dakota.  The weekend was mostly a mini family reunion; so, that meant drink coffee, eat, chit chat, repeat.  However, Nancy of Prairie View Imagery and I did find time to hit up a few of the highlights of Spearfish Canyon.  Even though I was raised in South Dakota, I have not spent much time in the Black Hills, but Nancy was an excellent guide!  Sadly, with the cold and rainy spring, even though it was the end of May, few trees had budded out and had leaves.  At least the above average snow in the winter accompanied by the spring rains meant more water flowing through the canyon and over the waterfalls!  I thought Spearfish Falls were especially picturesque.

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Yellowstone National Park – A Look at the Geyser Basins

Yellowstone National Park…I currently own five maps that cover the topography and trails of the entire park.  Yet, I have never been in the Yellowstone backcountry.  In fact, I have only visited Yellowstone once.  Even though I have moved to Wyoming, the park’s closest entrance is still a four and a half hour drive from my home in Casper.  Even with the long drive, I plan to visit America’s first National Park many times to come; in fact, I’ve officially booked a four day backpacking trip into its backcountry this August!

Until August, all I can do is look at my earlier images from the park and dream of what sites are to come.  I’m so excited, I had to share a few…

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Tensleep Creek – Bighorn Mountains, Wyoming

After spending last summer working in southern Florida, I’ve been itching for months now to get out and camp in the mountains.  Last weekend, after nearly a year and a half break from camping in the mountains, I headed up to the Bighorn Mountains in northern Wyoming.  Not only was this trip my first camping trip of the summer, but was the first time I’ve ever camped in the Bighorn Range.  After an above average snow year, I was not able to penetrate very deep into the mountains, but still found a great camping spot in a massive meadow along Tensleep Creek.

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I got into the mountains later than I had hoped and had little time to set up camp and then get out and shoot sunset.  I was only able to get off a handful of quick pictures before darkness set in.  If I would have known it would have been my only colorful sunrise or sunset of the weekend, I may have hustled more to get out of Casper earlier!  I woke up Saturday morning to an inch or so on the ground!  While the sunrise was pretty much non-existent due to the cloud cover, I still had fun running around taking pictures before the snow melted off.

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An uncommon occurrence in Wyoming, there was little wind on Saturday morning.  I took advantage of the lack of wind and enjoyed the reflections of the mountains in the ample pools melt water.

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Even without the high peaks of the Bighorns in view, incredible views still abound.  After my morning photography exploration, I set off on a hike up to East Tensleep Lake.  I was surprised to find that even though the lake sits around 9700′, about three feet of still still holds on in the forests surrounding the lake!  I guess it will still be some time before I press into the high country!

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After hiking to East Tensleep Lake, I ended up enjoying a nap in my tent while another small snow storm blew through.  At this point, I was wondering if it was really mid-June or was it actually mid-May.  The storm did pass and I was able to head back out in time to shoot sunset and then later, the full moon; but, I will share those images another day.

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Favorites Images from 2011

In 2011, I spent a significant portion of the year working in the San Luis Valley around  Alamosa in Southern Colorado and quite a few of my images reflect my time spent in that area of the state.  However, I continued to explore the wild spaces around “home” in the central mountains of Colorado.  It seems every time I go hiking in the wilderness that is right outside my backyard, I see more spots off the beaten track that I want to explore.  Just the mountains of Central Colorado could keep a hiker busy for a lifetime, not to mention all the other backpacking opportunities that abound in the American West!  I typically shoot landscapes, but I included a few images of backcountry skiing and snowboarding.  The majority of my skiing in 2011 year was around the Wolf Creek Pass area on the Eastern side of the San Juan Mountains but I did make it over to Silverton where the mountains are so big and rugged I imagined I had been somehow magically transported to Alaska!

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Aspen Porch – Aspen, Colorado

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Mt. Blanca Star Trails – San Luis Valley, Colorado

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Moon and Wind – Sanford, Colorado

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Couloir Skiing – Silverton Mountain, Colorado

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Rime Trees – Wolf Creek Pass, Colorado

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Self Portrait – Wolf Creek Pass, Colorado

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Horse Portrait – San Luis Valley, Colorado

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Horse Pasture – San Luis Valley, Colorado

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Moon Rocks – Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness, Colorado

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San Luis Sunflowers – Outside Sanford, Colorado

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Clearing Storm – San Luis Valley, Colorado


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