Jane and I, along with our photo buddy Bruce, spent the last week of June in the rarefied air of Colorado’s high Rocky Mountains. Since there were three of us traveling, and since it was a photography journey, there was too much luggage for the back of the 4Runner. This trip required use of the “Thule”, a rooftop cargo carrier. The Thule had been patiently waiting in the garage for the next trip it was needed. We last used the Thule on our Alaska Highway adventure in August 2013. So the Thule and the three adventurers were looking forward to another great sojourn.
We stayed at a vacation rental cabin just outside Idaho Springs along Chicago Creek. Doesn’t sound like Colorado from these names, but we were definitely in the high Rocky Mountains. From the relatively low elevation of 7,600 feet at the cabin, we made day trips to the top of Mount Evans at 14,000 feet. Why, you ask, would we deny ourselves the dense, thick air of sea level? The answer is to photograph mountain goat families that forage near the summit of Mount Evans.
From our rental cabin, the trip to the top of Mount Evans takes about an hour along a paved, winding, steep and narrow, two-lane, roadway. The scenery along the way was stunning with dense, healthy stands of conifers. Above timberline, the road traverses subarctic rocky tundra with a myriad of delicate, small wildflowers. Above timberline, the road also becomes steeper with numerous switchbacks, limited sight distance, and no guardrails along the steep downhill side of the road.
We typically made this trip early most mornings in order to be at the summit of Mount Evans with good morning light and to maximize the possibility of sighting wildlife. We were not disappointed with these early departures. Every trip to the top resulted in our being able to photograph mountain goat nannies with young kids playing along the boulders, yellow bellied marmots soaking up the warm sun, and small pika, the most elusive of our targets. When not looking through the camera viewfinder, we were entertained by the antics of the energetic young mountain goat kids. At this early age of their lives, they were already pushing and shoving to show who was boss. Their favorite game was to play “king of the boulder” with as many as five or six of the lively white fur balls vying to be the last one remaining on top.
As can be expected on top of a 14,000 foot mountain peak, the wind was ubiquitous, cold and blistering. We had to seek shelter in the 4Runner on several occasions. We were also not alone on the mountain top. Other photographers and wildlife enthusiasts were there to appreciate being so near to these wild animals. During one of our forays to the protection of the vehicle, Jane engaged a fellow photographer in some shop talk. She found out there was a lake some distance north of Idaho Springs that was a sure bet for photographing moose. That night we Googled the location, found directions and decided to head there the next day.
Brainard Lake was nearly a two hour drive from the cabin. In order to ensure good lighting for photography, we were up at 4:30 AM, out the door at 5:00 AM and at Brainard Lake at 7:00 AM. Of course, we had no idea where to look for the moose. After parking the 4Runner in the day-use parking area, we just headed towards the lake. Not knowing where to go, we turned right at the lake’s edge where we ran into another photographer we told us we were heading in the wrong direction. We turned around and hustled over to a dense area of willows behind a stand of pine trees. Jane, our premier spotter, was first to see the moose. We crept through the stand of trees and counted four big male moose with outstanding racks covered in velvet browsing on willow shoots. By about 8:30 AM the sun was getting hotter and the moose wandered off into the cool, dense forest. What an extraordinary experience that was.
To complete our Colorado adventure we spent the first week of July at Mesa Verde National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Although over 7,000 feet in elevation, Mesa Verde is far enough south to result in temperatures much higher than the cool atmosphere of the high Rockies. We changed to cooler attire and put away the long telephoto lenses in favor of the shorter wide angle ones. The popularity of this unique archaeological area has resulted in the Park Service limiting access to the most outstanding cliff dwellings only by Ranger led tours. Fifty tickets are available for each tour and could only be purchased up to two day in advance. We were in the Park long enough to be able to get tickets for all three of the Ranger led tours.
Photographing the Ancient Puebloan ruins was a challenge. It is not like photographing wildlife where the unique characteristic of the animal carries the image. This is landscape photography where the need for a dynamic composition, exceptional lighting and a dramatic sky are mandatory. All I can say in my defense is that I tried.
You can be a judge. The images from Mesa Verde are located in the National Parks and Monument gallery. Images from Mount Evans and Brainard Lake are located in the Mount Evans 2017 gallery for the time being. I will probably be moving them to the Hooves, Antlers and Horns gallery and the Young Animals gallery in the future.