Rocky Mountain High

October 11, 2011 at 6:56 pm (Colorado, National Parks, Photography) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

Longs Peak at dawn

Artists and photographers were instrumental in helping to establish this country’s national parks.  The Hudson River School of artists, who painted in a very romantic style of dramatic mountains and billowing clouds luminous with golden light, as well as black-and-white photographer Ansel Adams, helped “sell” the park to the public – and the politicians.

Moraine Park sunrise, in the Hudson River School style

Through their works, Americans were shown the splendors of wilderness, and now millions of people from all over the world visit these natural and cultural wonders.

Mt. Ypsilon at first light

In fall, Rocky Mountain National Park’s elk seem to be the major draw, but the first light of day on the high peaks provided drama while the sun was yet to warm the valleys full of these magnificent beasts.  I was the only photographer at the prime sunrise overlooks on the two mornings I was there.  I thought it would be like Maroon Bells in Aspen, with phalanxes of tripods lined up along the lake at sunrise.

Longs Peak at dawn

These are the last mornings before the first winter snowstorm really hit the Colorado mountains.  “Red sky in morning, sailors take warning” portend the approaching storm, and make for unbeatable color.  The magic only lasts a few minutes, then the corals and vermillions turn to rich gold.  Within an hour, the best drama is gone.

Cub Lake Trail

But even midday light can be pleasing with the right subject matter.

Aspen in its glory

Overcast light, even a light rain, create a lovely luminescence that makes photography of certain scenes just perfect.  For instance, a rushing stream or a waterfall benefits from low light levels and still winds, so that harsh shadows and washed-out highlights are not an issue.  Of course, the best results come with a tripod and very slow shutter speed, to blur the water into silk.

Stream near Moraine Park

On the park’s West End, the damage done to the pines and spruce trees by native beetles is shocking.

Aspen and beetle-killed conifers

There were hundreds of these deadwood teepees lined up along the road, to be made into bonfires when the weather allows.

Beetle-damaged wood ready to burn

I traveled over the extremely narrow road through the high tundra as the evening was darkening the landscape.  The sharp drop-offs were reminiscent of the “Million Dollar Highway” through the San Juan Mountains, and I had no desire to retrace that drive.  So I stayed at the Estes Park end – where the rest of these images were taken.

Black-billed Magpie

Bull Elk polishing antlers on bushes and grass

King for a Day

These Pronghorns weren't in the park, but in Kremmling, near the West entrance

The next day I was stopped just short of Wolf Creek Pass by the first winter storm of the season.  Two days later, the ski area there opened with three feet of snow.  I’ll bet the Rockies I had just left were transformed as well.

See gallery of high-resolution photographs:  Rocky Mountain National Park


  1. Jim Chalfant said,

    Cindy: Spectacular!! The dawn light on Long’s Peak is as perfect as it gets. You have certainly captured fall in the Colorado Rockies as well as any photographer I know. Just beautiful!!


  2. Bob Zeller said,

    Gorgeous, gorgeous, Cindy. As Jim said, Spectacular!!

    I thought I had subscribed to your blog before, so I am a little behind.

    I do have you on my blogroll now.


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