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A Morning With a Moose at Brainard Lake

August 22, 2015
brainardmoose

I consider myself a morning person but I don’t consider 4 a.m. to be “morning”. 4 a.m. is pretty close to “middle of the freaking night”. And that’s what time my alarm went off. I may have hit snooze a few times but at 4:30 I was pouring a cup of espresso down my throat and by 5 a.m. I was out the door, on a mission to find some moose.

Last summer was my first time shooting the moose at Brainard Lake and I had such a great time doing it that I knew I wanted to get up there again. I was hoping to go on a weekday (you’ve heard of the “bear jams” at Yellowstone, right? Same thing happens at Brainard with the moose.) but it wasn’t in the cards so this weekend I just decided to go for it.

One of last summer’s moose.

Another one from last summer.

I made the long and winding drive up Lefthand Canyon, paid the entrance fee at Brainard, and found a parking spot near the lake. I hung out by the shoreline for a while, hoping to get a picture of one of these beasts as it wandered down to the water for a drink. It didn’t happen. I saw no moose and the longer I waited the more I felt like maybe I was missing something. I walked back up towards the car and then down the road.

When I heard a rustling in the bushes next to me I damn near jumped out of my skin. There, about 10 feet away, was an enormous bull moose. He munched happily on the willows as I tried my best to collect myself. I watched him for a moment and then scurried away to the relative safety of some nearby trees and a group of photographers that were hanging out a short distance away.

We have a lot of “dangerous” animals here but it’s the moose that worry me the most. I feel like mountain lions and bears are smart and skittish enough to move away when they see you coming. They want nothing to do with you and do their best to keep their distance. The moose, on the other hand? They don’t like you either but they also don’t do much to move out of your way. They just do their thing and watch you get closer and closer until you are suddenly WAY TOO CLOSE. And then they’re all antlers and hooves and hundreds of pounds of pure, unpredictable fury.

Yeah, I’m a little scared of moose.

But just because I have no interest in tangling with a moose doesn’t mean that I don’t want to shoot them. In all honesty, I love these guys. Their enormous size, cartoonish appearance, and honeybadger-don’t-care attitude makes them hard not to love. You have to just let them do their thing and hope to get a good shot.

The big bull that I saw today was just doing his thing but, unfortunately, that thing was standing in really tall willows, munching away. It was impossible to get a good shot of anything but his antlers or butt without crowding him, which was unfortunate because he was a beauty!

Not cooperating.

Almost cooperating!

Nope.

Eventually I gave up, went back to the car, and began heading toward home. And that’s when he decided to leave the willows behind and venture back across the road. I jumped out of the car and shot a few frames before he headed back up into the forest.

I had high hopes for this morning’s outing but didn’t walk away with any shots that I loved. But it was hard to feel to down on the experience. Any morning that I get to spend in the presence of an animal like this (without getting trampled to death …) is a pretty good morning in my book.

Happy weekend, y’all!

 

 

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Snapshots: A Cool and Creepy Night Up on Hoosier Pass

August 9, 2015
hoosierpass

I’m not afraid of the dark, I said to myself confidently as the furry dog and I headed out the door.

It was around 11 p.m. and the first clear, moonless night since I had arrived in the mountains. I had been waiting for a few weeks to go shoot the stars and if ever there was a time to do it, this was it.

I’m not afraid of the dark, I thought, as I made the short and twisty drive from my family’s house in Blue River up to the summit of Hoosier Pass. With no light and no moon, the hairpin turns on the winding mountain road were infinitely harder to see. I found myself slowing to a near stop to make sure I stayed in my lane.

I arrived at the trailhead parking lot near the road’s summit and pulled over. I noticed the semi parked across the street and the white van that was nestled in over by the trees. I fiddled with my camera settings, got out of the car, and set up my tripod. I had forgotten a headlamp and was relegated to using the flashlight on my phone for light. It was less than ideal.

I’m not afraid of the dark, I said, less confidently now, as I waited out the 30-second exposure I was using to try and capture the Milky Way. Those thirty seconds, so short in normal life, seemed endless with no one around, no light to be had, and nothing to do but wait and think.

It doesn’t sound like much but thirty seconds is really an awful lot of time for thinking.

I thought about that semi and that van. I thought about how someone could exit either of those vehicles and I’d never see them coming. I got spooked. I took three shots and packed it in. I had been out of the car for maybe five minutes but my nerves had gotten the best of me. I am not easily rattled by these types of situations but, for whatever reason, this time I was. Goosebumps popped up on my arms as I drove down the mountain.

I’m not afraid of the dark, I thought. But, tonight, I am afraid of what it hides. 

I wandered into my parents house and breathed a big sigh of relief.

I though the night was a bust, a waste. I thought I would have been better off sipping wine on the couch and finishing the book that I’m currently obsessed with. And then I pulled up the pictures on my camera and saw, in those three shots, this one. When I was up on that dark and spooky pass I didn’t notice the thin layer of clouds covering the stars or that a UFO had apparently landed in Fairplay, which sits down the hill in the bottom left side of the frame. And the night didn’t seem like such a waste anymore.

I’m not afraid of the dark, I thought, but next time I’m taking a damn flashlight. 

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The Goats of Blue Lakes

August 6, 2015
bluelakesgoat

It’s no secret that mountain goats are favorite animals on the planet.

They are adorable, character-filled creatures that look like they are straight out of a fairy tail. They’re also tough as nails. They live in places with shaky footing, low temperatures, and very little oxygen, the kind of places that leave most animals (and most humans) longing for lower ground. But not these guys, and do you know why? Because despite their friendly appearance, they are certifiable badasses.

I like to think that the mountain goat is my spirit animal. I’m probably flattering myself.

A few days ago my mom, son, and I went for a drive up to Blue Lakes, outside of Blue River, Colorado. It was the middle of the afternoon when the light was terrible and the toddler was desperately in need of a nap. And there were mountain goats everywhere! I knew that I needed to go back as soon as possible. And lucky for me, my chance came that very night.

When that evening rolled around I loaded up my camera gear and made the short drive from my parents’ house up the road toward the Quandary Peak trailhead. I was desperately hoping that the goats would be out and, let me tell you, I was in luck!

I spent a good hour or two watching and shooting them before heading down the hill a bit to check out the waterfalls. I could have watched them all night.

Here are some shots from the evening. Enjoy!

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Photographing Colorado’s Waterfalls

August 2, 2015

Last year, in preparation for our trip to Kauai, I made it my mission to learn to shoot waterfalls. I did a ton of research, boned up on the techniques, and bought myself a good ND filter. I had everything I needed to get started except for one thing – any idea of where to go.

So I turned to Google, asked friends and family, and found some amazing – and easy to access – spots. And now I’m going to share those with you!

The waterfalls on this list all have a few things in common: they are gorgeous, easy to access, and somewhat off the beaten path. While you will most likely find other people at all three of these locations, you probably won’t see these on the “best waterfalls in Colorado” lists. And for you, the photographer, that’s a good thing! Don’t get me wrong, I love Hanging Lake as much as the next person, but sometimes it’s nice to get away from the crowds (or at least some of them!).

This list is mostly Front Range and Summit County focused because that is where I have been spending most of my time lately! If and when I find more spots in other parts of the state, I will share those with you as well. I understand the motivation to keep secret places secret, but I also love to share what I’ve learned!

So without further ado, here are a few of my favorites:

Montgomery Reservoir (Alma, CO)

Montgomery Reservoir is situated near the summit of Hoosier Pass in between Breckenridge and Alma. A short drive up an easy dirt road takes you to the reservoir. If you keep following the road around, you’ll hit the place where the Blue River comes rushing down the side of the mountain. There are SO MANY cool spots to shoot here, you guys! I feel like I’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of what is possible in this place. If you continue up the waterfall a bit you’ll see an old millsite (which would also make a really cool foreground for Milky Way or star trail shots!). The road to the reservoir is not plowed in the winter so get up there before the snow starts to fly (or plan on snowmobiling, skiing, or snowshoeing in).

Eldorado Canyon State Park (Boulder, CO)

Eldo is just a quick ten minute drive from my house so I spend a lot of time shooting there. I can notice that the light is starting to get good, have my stuff gathered, and be standing at the base of the waterfall in about twenty minutes. I try to get out there at least once a month and it’s been really fun to see the water levels rise as the snow in the mountains has melted. The main road that goes through Eldo runs parallel to the river and a super quick scramble down any number of paths will take you to the water. If you get bored with shooting the water (is that possible?!) you can always point your camera towards the sky and grab some shots of the rock climbers that cling to the cliffs above the canyon. Eldo is one of the best climbing spots in America and there are always people on the rocks!

Blue Lakes (Breckenridge, CO)

The Blue Lakes area is located just outside of Breckenridge. Pass the busy trailhead for Quandary Peak and keep on driving up the road. Eventually you’ll hit a couple lakes and a great big dam and you’ll know that you’re there. There are plenty of places to shoot the waterfalls that rush through the area, headed for the Blue River. This area has a bunch of fantastic dispersed campsites which could make for a really great weekend of camping, shooting, and general outdoorsy shenanigans. It would be a great place to make a weekend of it! As an added bonus, there are also tons of mountain goats in this area and they make for great subjects.

This list is obviously far from exhaustive! Colorado is a beautiful state with endless opportunities for waterfall photography. If you have a favorite spot to shoot moving water in the Centennial State, I’d love to hear it!

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Down and Out in Arches National Park

July 16, 2015

Sometimes a photograph doesn’t do a time or a place justice. It doesn’t tell you what it was like to be standing on top of a mountain or at the bottom of a waterfall or how it felt to bleed from your eyes in a bike race. This is usually seen as a bad thing. But sometimes it’s not.

I was in a bad mood when I took the above picture of Delicate Arch. An hour or two before this I had been comfortably tucked into a table at Miguel’s, drinking margaritas and eating all the salsa. And then inspiration struck and I decided I would head up to Arches National Park and hike the trail to Delicate for sunset. I scurried back to the hotel, packed up some camera gear, grabbed a bottle of water, and booked it to the trailhead.

Anyone that has hiked up to Delicate Arch knows that it’s a short hike that is also kind of an ass kicker. It rolls a couple times and then heads up a steepish section of slick rock for a half mile or so. It’s not super hard but it’s also not incredibly easy, and it feels a lot longer than a mile. The temperature was still around 90 degrees and I was in a rush to make it up before the sun went down. So I booked it.

Delicate Arch has to be one of the most photographed spots in Utah, if not the country. It sits in a natural bowl high above Arches National Park and when the light hits it at sunset, it glows. Hiking to Delicate Arch for sunset is one of the ‘must do’ things on every Moab visitor’s list. This is a good thing because it means a lot of people get to experience one of Mother Nature’s greatest shows in one of her most beautiful amphitheaters. And it’s a bad thing because you are very much not alone up there.

I had been up to Delicate Arch before and knew to expect a crowd. What I didn’t expect was the type of crowd that was there on this night. There were numerous families that didn’t seem to be getting along and a loud and rowdy group of college kids that were on some sort of school trip. They spent their entire time yelling back and forth at each other and doing yoga poses under the arch. Someone was running around draped in the school’s flag. Someone else had a radio. It was chaotic and loud and the opposite of what you want or expect in this type of place.

I was feeling pretty down on the whole thing. I was hot and tired from my sprint up the slickrock. I was annoyed at the party going on at the arch (I know, I know. Damn kids, get off my lawn!). I knew my husband and son were back at the hotel playing in the pool and I kind of wished I was with them. I wasn’t enjoying myself at all.

The hike back down to the trailhead in the waning light was a lot more peaceful. The desert is eerily quiet at night and the masses had long since dispersed. The setting sun made the sky glow pink behind the silhouettes of the rocks and the cooler air lifted my spirits a little. But I was still down on the experience.

A few days later I went through the photos I took while I was there. Most of them show hordes of people doing what hordes of people tend to do – hang out, be loud, and take a lot of selfies. (Full disclosure: I also take a lot of selfies. No shame in that game!). But the one at the top of this page, which is the only shot I have without people in it, shows Delicate Arch in the way that I prefer to remember it. It reminds me that it really is a magnificent spot and that it’s always worth the visit. It presents an image that was far different than reality. And, in this case, I’m pretty ok with that.