Nature

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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Prairie Silhouettes – Stanley County, SD

Cows are anything but sexy, so thinking of them as a good photography model or subject would probably be considered a bit odd.  I must say, my opinion of cows is probably less romantic than the average person.  After spending six years of my youth working on a large scale dairy farm, I’ve lost nearly all interest in spending my free time around these big and smelly animals.  I have no illusion of how “cute” baby calves are and how much “fun” it would be to feed and take care of them.  Spoiler alert: when you have over one hundred calves to feed twice daily, seven days a week, the “fun” runs out in a hurry!

Despite my current lack of interest in bovine, cows are not difficult to spot on the great plains and a lot of areas in the American West.  After all, much of the landscape has been modified by man in order to raise cattle.  Indeed, they are an important food resource and without them the world would be a less tasty place!  Can you imagine the world without ribeye steak or a good beef roast with mashed potatoes and gravy?!?

This weekend I went for a drive down the Bad River Road outside Pierre, South Dakota.  After driving around for an hour or so, I was confronted with a beautifully colored sunset but the majority of the landscape was still nothing but short, brown, and wholly uninspiring grass, I turned my attention to these large four legged residents of  the expansive ranch land and said to a herd of cows, “You will be my models tonight!”  Well, cows are not sexy, but it turns out they can still look good in a picture!

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Casper Mountain Road – Casper, WY

The other week, as a spring storm cleared out of town, I ran up the Casper Mountain Road to try to get a few shots of the fresh snow.  The snow was really wet and heavy down in Casper, but up the mountain, I was surprised by how light the snow was and also that all the trees were covered in frost!  The sunset wasn’t all that bad either…  🙂

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Backcountry Skiing in the West Elks – Colorado

I may have moved to Wyoming, but I still have a lot of ties back in Colorado; ties to friends and also ties to the mountains.  I am especially fond of the West Elks and particularly the Ragged Mountains, a sub range of the Elk Mountains.  The Elks are the same mountains that surround the popular ski town of Aspen, Colorado, but the West Elks are much less traveled.

It was in the West Elks where I went backpacking solo for the first time and also where I fell in love with backcountry skiing.  The tiny town of Marble is an incredible place; buried in the mountains and bordering wilderness areas on three sides, the scenery around this town with population of less than 100 will likely never change.  Also, the quarry that supplied marble for the columns of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers and the pillars of the Lincoln Memorial came from this secluded corner of the Rocky Mountains.

Last weekend, a couple for friends and I drove up the road to the quarry to access some of the best backcountry skiing terrain I’ve ever explored.  Powder hunting was my primary objective, but I did stick my small Canon mirrorless camera in my backpack to snap a few shots along the way…

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Mika the husky surveys the scenery as Lee pauses just before topping out on our goal for the day.

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It is hard to get a good look at your line below with cornices blocking the view.  Still, the more distant views aren’t anything to complain about!

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Cornices?  What cornices?  Mika isn’t concerned about approaching the edge and getting a better view!

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It’s a long and steep trip up from the valley floor.  The only way to get to the top is by putting one foot in front of the other; Jason is busy doing so in fine style as he nears the last pitch of uphill.

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Lee drops in along a steep ridge while Mount Justice looms in the distance.

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Lower in the bowl and out of the steepest terrain, Lee lets loose and makes big and fast turns down the mountain.

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After Lee enjoyed his run down the mountain, Jason dropped in and enjoyed the untracked powder snow.

I absolutely enjoy Wyoming, but to be plain and simple, I miss this special place…

 

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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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Icy Evening Along the Missouri River

While driving in to Pierre, South Dakota in early February to visit my folks, I couldn’t help but notice the ice build up on the Pierre side of the Missouri River.  I thought, “Hey, that ice might make an interesting foreground subject!”  So, on a brisk Saturday evening, I took  stroll down by the river with my camera.  I had to carefully negotiate the rock lined river banks to get close to the ice, and being careful not to get out onto the ice (I had no idea how thick it was) was able to get a few enjoyable images.

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The Oahe Dam is just a few miles upriver from Pierre.  Because the flows from the dam vary day to day, so does the level of the river downstream.  Because of this fluctuation, ice sheets along the Missouri shore can crack apart and fall back into the river.

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Wind and water currents pile up ice blocks along the banks of the Missouri below the 100+ year old train bridge that is still used by trains on a daily basis.

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A historic flood hit this area a few years ago, with currents so strong, the sandbars and deep channels of the river were rearranged.  This stretch of river used to be much deeper, but after the flood is very shallow, which probably promotes the ice formation along this section of shoreline.

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A Prairie Morning – Along the Bad River Road, South Dakota

Over Football’s Super Bowl weekend, I visited my parents in my hometown of Pierre, South Dakota.  On that bitterly cold Sunday morning, I took a drive down the Bad River Road outside Fort Pierre to see what I could see.  What I saw was a disappointing lack of snow in the area.  I’ve been down the Bad River Road in the fall when the prairie has gone dormant and turned brown, so I was really hoping to get some prairie shots with snow!

Even though I was bummed at the lack of snow, I quickly took notice of the hundreds of deer that were calling this area home for the winter.  I rarely seek out wildlife photos, but with literally hundreds of deer running about, I turned my mood around and kept my camera at the ready.

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I thought the deer in the above shot was thinking, “Whatcha looking at?”  I was able to only get off a few hand held shots from my truck before he turned tail and ran off, taking his friends with him.  Can you spot this buck’s friends?

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I saw this lonely, isolated tree close to the road when it was still really dark out.  As the morning twilight gave the sky interesting color, I still didn’t have a composition I was excited about, so I drove like a mad man back to this tree and took its picture.   The few trees that do live out on the prairie do not have a lot of company and this one is definitely living “The Lonely Life.”

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Once twilight waned and the sun began to rise, I headed to a small creek bottom that I thought would make interesting leading lines in an image.  I took a few shots of the image I originally had in mind, but was feeling uninspired.  But once the sun broke the horizon, it lit up the long grass near the creek, and with the frost beginning to melt off the grass, made it appear to glow.  I crouched down really close to the ground and positioned my camera just a few inches away from an area of grass that was untrammeled and blasted off this image;  it turned out to be my favorite image of the trip.

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January in Jackson Hole, Wyoming

I have a severe backlog of other images to edit and post, but I couldn’t help myself and went ahead and edited a few photos from my recent trip to Jackson, Wyoming.  The main reason for the trip was to ski, but I did get up early and stayed out late with my camera on a few occasions.  Jackson Hole is absolutely stunning any time of year, but the gigantic Teton Range covered in snow is an extra special site to see.  Another bonus of visiting Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park in the winter is that the crowd levels are way down compared to the summer and fall months.

Driving in Thursday night, I noticed a full moon rise and looked at the moon set time and saw it would set near sunrise the next morning.  So, I woke up early with high hopes for a great morning shoot.  I drove north out of Jackson looking for a good composition of Grand Teton.  I found a cool looking group of trees that would make a great foreground with “The Grand” behind and set up my camera along the side of the highway.  I first made the panorama below when it was still quite dark out.

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A few minutes later, the scene exploded in color.  I zoomed out slightly and included more of the pastel clouds, creating my favorite image of the trip.  Amazingly, a few other photographers that were also parked along the road stopped shooting and loaded up their camera gear and drove off looking for a different spot during these precious few seconds of peak color!  Yes, these first two images are very similar, but if I were in a hurry to get to the next spot, I would have missed this incredible moment.  In landscape photography, sometimes it pays to be patient.

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The vibrant pinks and purples began to fade quickly, so I pulled out my wide angle lens and decided to focus on the sagebrush in the valley.  The sage caused drifts and patterns and textures in the snow that I found interesting.  The moon still refusing to dip behind the Teton Range was a nice little bonus.  Less than a minute after taking this image, the moon was lost behind the mountain ridges.

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At this point in the morning, I knew I had a few strong images, but wanted to explore the area a little more before heading off to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort to go skiing.  I hopped in my truck and turned off the main highway at the Antelope Flats Road to scout out the often photographed Moulton Barns.  I parked at the winter road closure and while looking to see how far off the barns were, really liked the look of the buried grasses and sage as the sun cast its first direct light of the day on the valley floor.

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I couldn’t help but notice the frosted trees and how they appeared to sparkle with the low angled sunlight hitting them.  I tried to shoot the back-lit trees (the trees right below the sun in the above picture), but my cheap-ish 70-300mm zoom lens is prone to really nasty flare when shooting directly at the sun.  I ended up settling on shooting some trees that were still nicely lit, but not fully back-lit.

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After a hard day’s skiing at the resort, I set out to shoot sunset.  After driving a while I decided to pull over and ended up at the Snake River Overlook.  Ansel Adams made this viewpoint, along with the Tetons themselves nationally recognizable in 1942 with what would become one of him most recognized images.  The trees in the foreground have grown much taller over the last 60+ years, but the view of the Snake River and the Tetons is still breath taking.

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I processed the first two images in this blog at the hotel in Jackson.  When I showed them to one of my friends, he asked, “is that really what the sunrise was like?”  I invited him to come along with me the next morning and find out for himself.  Once again, I got up early, well before sunrise, and drove to the winter trail head for Mormon Row.  We hiked the mile or so out to the Moulton Barns with just enough time to spare before the night sky gave way to pinks and purples of morning twilight.  The sunrise was not nearly as spectacular as the morning a few days prior, but beautiful nonetheless.

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Jackson Hole and the surrounding area are truly a special place any time of year.  I would practically cut off my left arm if it meant I could reside in this beautiful valley.  For now, I will take thanks that I live in the same state as the Tetons and they are close enough to visit over a weekend.

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2010: A few long trips into the mountains (and elsewhere).

2010  was a wild year for me.  After more than two years in the Vail Valley, I moved to Glenwood Springs to be closer to the construction project that I was promoted to manage.  Unfortunately, the new project and responsibility left little time for hiking and photography.  Even though I did not have as much free time as I would have liked, I was able to sneak away from civilization for a few longer backpacking trips. In one trip, I hiked Mount Sopris, near Carbondale, Colorado, and followed the 12000 foot high Elk Mountains Ridge from Mount Sopris all the way South to Capitol Peak.  Four days, thirty miles and twelve thousand vertical feet of hiking later, my black lab Sally and I emerged at the Capitol Peak trailhead  where my roommate had kindly stashed my truck for me!  Another memorable hike of the Summer was over the Fourth of July where I hike nearly thirty miles to the headwaters of  the Piney River in the Gore Range, crossed West Booth Pass and descended the Booth Creek drainage ending my hike near Vail.  During that hike, I had a very close encounter with a friendly mountain goat and spent the night of Independence Day curled up in my sleeping bag hunkered down in my tent during a snow storm!  I lucked out in the Fall when I visited the Kebler Pass area near Crested Butte and the McClure Pass area near Marble during the height of Fall colors.   Of course, when winter set in, I spent as much time as I could sliding down the local mountains on my skis.  Even though I wasn’t able to get out into the wild as often as I wanted, I was very productive with the free time that I did have!  What a great year!

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Brush Creek Headwaters – Holy Cross Wilderness, Colorado

Lake Charles and Mystic Island Lake sit at the head of East Brush Creek; a creek that finds its source in a cirque with towering 13,000′ peaks surrounding the valley.  The scale of the image above is impressive.  More than a mile separates Lake Charles (in the lower right of the frame) and Mystic Island Lake (in the upper left of the frame).

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Ripsaw Reflection – Eagles Nest Wilderness, Colorado

Black Tooth Mountain and Ripsaw Ridge are reflected in a small pond northwest of West Booth Pass in the Eagles Nest Wilderness outside Vail, Colorado.

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Piney Goat – Eagles Nest Wilderness, Colorado

A curious goat says hello deep in the Eagles Nest Wilderness north of Vail, Colorado.

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Desert Survivor – Utah

A lone tree clings to life in the Utah desert somewhere along a lonely highway.

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Desert Tracks – Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

The desert is alive!  Insect tracks crisscross a windswept pattern in the sandy landscape near Lake Powell in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

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Logging Landmarks – Collegiate Peaks Wilderness, Colorado

Even though a large portion of the Colorado high country is now protected as Wilderness, the land was not always held in such regard; the results of past clear cut logging are still clearly visible decades after this area, near 14er Huron Peak, was protected.

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Mount Callahan Clouds – White River National Forest, Colorado

The great thing about Colorado is almost every town in or near the mountains is incredibly scenic.  I took this photo of a clearing storm from from the sidewalk in front of city hall in Parachute, Colorado; no hiking involved!

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Homestead Pond – Moffat County, Colorado

Decaying remains of an old homesteader’s cabin sit right alongside the highway North of Meeker, Colorado.  I drove by these remains this fall and this interesting window has deteriorated greatly in just the three years since I took this picture.

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Fiery Flat Tops – Flat Tops Wilderness, Colorado

A clearing storm is lit ablaze by the last rays of sunlight high above Wall Lake as seen from Trappers Peak, deep in the Flat Tops Wilderness.

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Flat Tops Vista – Flat Tops Wilderness, Colorado

Puffy Clouds drift by a small pond surrounded by a grassy meadow on top of the plateau southwest of Trappers Peak in the Flat Tops Wilderness of Colorado.

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Crystal Mill – Near Marble, Colorado

One must follow a rough 4×4 road into the mountains outside Marble, Colorado for more than six miles to reach this landmark. To see a structure so old in such a remote place is really something special. Unfortunately, as beautiful as the Crystal Mill is, it stands a reminder to me of man’s zeal to exploit nature; even in the most remote and beautiful of places.

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Fall and Fire – Crystal Mill outside Marble, Colorado

A fiery sunrise and fall color combine to create a scene to remember at the often photographed Crystal Mill, deep in the Elk Mountains.

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Arkansas Peak Cloudscape – Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness, Colorado

An interesting cloud forms over a lone tree on top of Arkansas Peak with the massive Treasure Mountain looming in the distance.

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Prairie Ruins – Western South Dakota

A slowly decaying fence stands alone on the vast South Dakota prairie.

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Great Smoky Mountains National Park – Water & Wildlife

In a recent blog post from Great Smoky Mountains National Park, I shared my favorite photos I took around Clingmans Dome.  Even though Clingmans Dome offers sweeping mountain views of the undulating ridges that make up the Appalachian Range, what I remember most about the Smokies was the water and wildlife.

As a photographer, I personally prefer grand landscapes to intimate scenes and macro photography; a quick look at my portfolio and you’ll understand!  In the Smokies, finding the grand sweeping views I love to photograph was much more challenging.  So much so that I really had to push myself to change my photographic style and shoot more smaller scale, intimate scenes.  In the Smokies, water abounds.  Espcially around the Deep Creek area of the Park, that water became an often photographed feature.

Water is not the only thing that seems to be around every curve in the trail.  Critters are everywhere, including the bears!  Strangely enough, in all my hiking in Colorado, I’ve never had a face to face bear encounter.  In the Smokies, I saw four bears in less than two hours!  Two black bears were napping in trees, a giant one walked through a picnic area outside the Cades Cove visitor center, but the coolest experience of all was watching one little bear dig up and forage on underground bees’ nests!  It was absolutely incredible to see bears living in their natural habitat, but now that I’ve moved to Wyoming and entered grizzly habitat, I hope I never see a bear in the wild ever again!

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Deep Creek – Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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Deep Creek Falls – Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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Tennessee Twilight – Little Tennessee River

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Foggy Reflections – Little Tennessee River

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Bear Crossing – Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Categories: Hiking, National Parks, Nature, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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